Wednesday, February 27, 2008

First Visit to the Raphael Centre and Blogging Lessons

This morning I had an appointment with the head of the Raphael Centre, Jabu. I thought that we were just going to discuss the logistics of what I am doing there, but on the way out the door I grabbed some supplies, too, just in case. I made the long trek up the hill to the Raphael Centre and spoke with Jabu about my ideas. She is more excited than I am. We talked about doing drawing and painting, leading up to a photography project in late April, early May. Between now and then I will use the other sessions to get the women thinking about art and photography. The photography project will be a sort of photo journal that will illustrate the daily life of someone living with HIV/AIDS in Grahamstown. I want the women to photograph symbols of their life. The best part is that Jabu will be getting me exhibition space at the National Arts Festival here in June/July. This is the most exciting thing I can think of. Grace and I booked our flights especially so that we could attend the festival, as it begins just after school is done. I couldn't be more thrilled about this opportunity.

After speaking with Jabu she thought that I should be introduced to some of the women and we decided once I got down to the room that I would start working with them here and now. I thought I would begin with talking about symbols. I asked the women to draw something that they believed symbolized who they are. Many of the women struggle with English and they asked me to make an example for them to see.

I drew a brain. "I drew a brain," I explained, "I think this symbolizes who I am. I value my education. I work very hard to feed my brain. My brain is why I'm here in South Africa at Rhodes." This helped them understand and they got to work.

The ladies then asked of they could write as well as draw.

"Absolutely," I responded, hoping to encourage them to really put themselves into the work. I couldn't have imagined that I would end up getting the response that I did.

At the end of about 45 minutes of drawing and writing the women began to share their projects. Each woman got up and showed her drawing and explained what it meant. They were all incredible. The common theme was family. Everyone really believe that their family symbolizes who they are. Some women became emotional as they told their tales and you could tell this was the first time they were sharing some of these things with these people that they see everyday.

I have typed up the narratives that the women wrote and posted them on a new blog which you can view here. Each week I will update this with the work from the Raphael Centre. They ladies seemed to be very excited about the work that we did and they asked that we paint next time. That should be easier to photograph, so I should be able to post images next time.

I was really surprised that the majority of the women wrote their stories in English. Even women who did not speak English to me wrote in English on their page. I had a Xhosa translator with me for awhile, but once we all got comfortable together she left and the English-speaking women helped me with translating.

This was an amazing experience. I never thought that our first session would be so successful. The women were very receptive and really used the project as a medium for self-expression. I was so proud. I'm looking forward to next week. We'll be painting and I think we'll talk about family, since it seems to be a big theme in their lives. Apparently there will be about 25 women regularly, so not all of them have told their stories, I hope perhaps a change in media will allow the women who I worked with today to tell more.


Later in the afternoon Jason invited Grace and me to help teach three students from Nyaluza how to make and use blogs. Grace and I were very excited to join. We met Asie and Nopinki, and were excited to again be in the presence of Sanele, an inspiration to both of us (see the entry from last Friday to learn more about Sanele). Grace and I were paired with the girls, I had Pinki and Grace had Asie, while Jason worked with Sanele. We helped them set up an email address, showed them how to send and read email, then helped them set up their blogs. Pinki was very excited to write on her blog and after we finished her first entry and she saw everything published her face lit up. She's 16 years old, but very different from the 16 year old girls I know. She's smart, sweet and reserved. She was very nice to be with. When I told her that her blog could be seen all over the world she couldn't believe it. I have put links to the three blogs on the right. They each have very little written, but hopefully soon they will be updating more and more. I am looking forward to reading more about these kids. All three of them are truly inspirational and I think that I have a lot to learn from the kids in this area, especially those in the Township.

On Friday Grace and I will be returning to Nyaluza and Eluxloweni. Sanele asked us to come back to Nyaluza on Friday and we couldn't refuse. He is so sweet and charming. An entry on his blog is titled, "Charmer Boy," and he is just that! I'm glad that we've already been able to make an impression on the kids that we've met and I wish there was a way for them to know the effect that they've already had on me. This is going to be a wonderful few months full of excitement, change and realization. I can't wait to see what else South Africa has to offer and what I can give back.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Camping & Addo

I am exhausted after our second trip. Yesterday the WAC kids left bright and early for a nature reserve. We arrived around noon and cooked up some egg and cheese sandwiches for lunch and hung out until our guides took us for a walk through part of the nature reserve. We walked for awhile and our guides, whom we found out later we both younger than all of us, pointed out interesting things like aardvark burrows and termite mounds. We walked for awhile and they showed us a pond we could go swimming in. We walked back to the luxury campsite carrying the wood for our braii and the six of us that were going back to swim changed and we headed back to the pond. As we were walking it started raining, but we were all still excited for the swim. We all headed into the murky water. It was so nice after the hot day. Once we were in the water and we looked down at our limbs we realized that we were the color of Oompa Loompas. It was funny/disgusting. We swam for awhile and Bryce, Kevin and Kieran found overhangs for us to jump off of into the water. It was a lot of fun. We got a chance to test out the waterproof capability of my digital camera, producing several portraits of Bryce, Sonya and me in the orange water. We all walked back after our swim to take showers in the outdoor showers. Each tent, which were very, very nice, had an outdoor bathroom with it. They were nice bathrooms, not like an outhouse, it just looked like a regular bathroom with three. So when you were showering/using the bathroom you were just out in the open. We all ended up taking naps and meeting up a little later for our braii. The boys had a tough time getting the fire started, but in the end we had a great flame-grilled meal of steak, sausage, garlic bread, veggie burgers and salad, fruit and wine. It was delicious. Afterwards we all stayed up for a few hours, enjoyed some drinks and one another's company and talked for a few hours. It was an incredibly funny/interesting/unforgettable conversation. The boys are crazy.

We had to wake up at 7am to leave for Addo and we all crawled out of our tents and onto the bus for the trip to Addo National Park. The scenery along the drive was beautiful. There are just these rolling hills and mountains. Everything is so green and lush. It's gorgeous. At one point we saw a pack of baboons on the side of the road. That was really cool! There were baboons at the campsite; we could hear them, but we never saw any.

We arrived at the park for our Game Drive. Our driver was very fun and the drive was really exciting. Our first animal spotting was an elephant near the road. From there we saw many more elephants at the watering holes (Addo is known primarily as an elephant park, although they have the "big seven"). We also saw warthogs, kadoo, antelope, ostrich, zebra, buffalo, turtles and African birds. It was all very cool. The zebras were close to the road and the a turtle and kadoo crossed the street in front of us. This was something I've always wanted to do. It was amazing seeing the animals in their natural setting. The elephants were very entertaining. They were playful and they had babies with them, it was very cute. Up close a zebra's stripes look painted on. Warthogs are much cuter than they look. Unfortunately we didn't see any lions, but I'm not going home without seeing them. The surroundings at Addo were absolutely beautiful. The mountains and the billowing clouds. It was breathtaking. I plan to return before I go back to the States.

Be sure to check out my Flickr page (link to the right) to see all of the pictures!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Tomorrow morning we are leaving for Addo Elephant Park where we will spend the night on a game reserve. We're going to be camping and having a real South African braii (BBQ). It should be a lot of fun and we're going to get to see some real game! I'm excited. I'll be sure to post pictures Sunday night.

Also, I start teaching art classes at the Raphael Center on Wednesday. That should be exciting. I'm hoping to start receiving donations of art supplies for the classes that I will teach there and at Amasango. It's really hard to get things going without art supplies, but I have faith that I will receive enough donations to do my classes and then have new supplies to leave them with. At the Raphael Center I'm going to be doing a photo-journal project that will put a face to HIV/AIDS. I want to show the real lives of real people dealing will the virus. For that I would like to provide each person with a disposable camera to take pictures of their homes, their lives and what may be left of their families. This is going to be a costly project, so I'm especially asking for donations for this. I think that it will be well worth it since the head of the Raphael Center, Jabu, has now told me a couple of times that she will be getting me exhibition space at the National Arts Festival in June/July. This will be huge. I can't think of anything more exciting! Grace and I flew here separately from everyone else in order to attend the festival and this is the second biggest arts festival in the world. I couldn't be more pleased.

Things are really moving for me here and so far I've had some really enriching experiences, especially because of Jason. No one else has experienced anything like we have, so far. Grace and I were just saying today how lucky we were that he was asked to give a talk in our WAC class. I would never have gotten to meet these really special kids and I can't wait to be a part of their lives!

[anyone interested in donating art supplies please email me at thank you]

Nyaluza & Eluxolweni

Today was another amazing day thanks to Jason. Around noon Grace and I took a cab into the township to meet him at the Nathaniel Nyaluza High School. We were escorted to Jason's English classroom by a very nice young man named Kanya. Immediately upon entering the room we were faced with whistling, cat calls and laughter, but Jason quickly put an end to that.

"If Karen and Grace are going to be a problem, than you are going to be the ones that leave, not them," yelled Jason. Grace and I were alarmed, but the kids we quick to go back to work.

Jason was in the middle of en English lesson about there/their/they're, so we got to help these tenth grade students out with that. We both found it really difficult to explain the differences, even though this is something that comes naturally to us. These are Xhosa speakers learning to speak English from people with unusual accents. I think it would be hard for anyone.

In the middle of the practice problems the bell rang for the students to move onto their next class. Jason waited for a minute for the next class to come in before realizing that the whole school was attending a drama production for the last period. Lucky for us we got to sit in. It was really hard for us to understand what was going on because most of the skits were in Xhosa, but their costumes and their enthusiasm were so exciting. Two skits were mimed and they were hilarious. Another longer skit was entirely in Xhosa, so we didn't know what was going on, but the rest of the audience found it really funny. As I sat outside in this courtyard I found myself looking around at the other faces when I realized that we were the only three white people there. I asked Jason and he normally is the only one, so he was grateful for the company.

After school Jason had to meet with some students about a photography project that he is doing with them. He did a similar project at Amasango and it was very successful. He exhibited the photographs here at Rhodes and at home in Buffalo, and he's going to be doing the same with this new group of students. This is sort of like what I will be doing with the AIDS patients. While we waited for the students to come in Jason showed us some of the photos from Amasango where the kids are rougher and tougher. There were pictures of homes, family, the Eluxolweni Shelter and a few of these very young kids doing drugs. Unfortunately this is the reality of their lives. To lighten the mood Jason then showed us a video of the kids from Nyaluza dancing during recess. Jason sets up his laptop so that the kids can make videos of themselves dancing to popular music in front of the camera. It was so funny. These kids were having the greatest time!

Following the meeting Jason got us two body guards (2 older, tough boys) to walk us to Eluxolweni, since the walk isn't very safe, especially for two white girls and a white guy. On the way I got to see some of the township homes. I walked for awhile with two 14 year old girls who live in the township. They told me about their aspirations to become actresses and move to the States. They asked me questions along our walk.

"Do you have houses like that in America," one asked, pointing to a rusted, tin shack. I wasn't sure how to reply. Earlier Jason had made references to "the Projects" in NYC and LA, so I told them about our ghettos instead, not wanting them to realize that I've never seen a home like this.

They talked to me about their love of reading and how they want to come to Rhodes. We talked about animals as we passed a cow, goats and chickens roaming the streets.

"Do you have animals in America," the other girl asked.

"Yes," I replied, realizing that she meant these kinds of animals, "but at home they're on farms, not walking through the streets."

"Do you have donkeys in America," they asked after telling me about the donkeys people have at their homes.

"Yes," I said, "but people don't usually keep them at their house. Do you ride it?"

"No," they laughed.

A ninth grade boy named Sanele also walked with us. He talked to me about America and college. Asking me questions about phone numbers and "what I do for a living." He was very curious, extremely smart and incredibly polite. Just before we left Nyaluza to head to the shelter Jason sat Sanele down in front of his laptop to give the boy a chance to record a news briefing. Jason, having worked in news business, knew exactly what he was doing. He wrote a short script, turned on news music and Sanele did his best to become a news anchor. He told me all about wanting to be a journalist and as we walked down the train tracks toward town, he shared pieces of news about places we passed. He's well on his way.

Eventually we split up with the two girls and Sanele and our guards escorted Grace, Jason and me the rest of the way to Eluxolweni. Having visited here last week Grace and I knew what we were in for - hyper, excited, funny street kids.

As we waited for the gate to be opened boys stood waiting for us to come in. The boys were everywhere grabbing at Jason, asking our names, telling us theirs. We walked around talking to the boys, joking around, having a great time. We talked to a boy named named Bramwell who cracked us up. He told us about wanting to come to America to go to Las Vegas and gamble. Then he showed us the poker chips in his pocket and told us we could get in on a game for 10 rand. The boys vary in age from 7 to 18, so there's a lot of variety in what was around us. There was an eight year old boy in Superman pajama bottoms running around yelling about pignoses. There's another boy who fancies himself an American thug who had me in tears I was laughing so hard. We asked him to rap for us, but he was too shy, so we challenged him to a battle next time we're at Eluxolweni. He then did his best rapper imitation grabbing at his crotch and throwing his arms around talking about his "brothers," and I almost died. It was so funny. It amazes me that these kids who are living under such awful circumstances can still have such high spirits. It's an inspiration.

As we were getting ready to leave a boy who we've met before (I have no idea how to spell his Xhosa name) was talking to me at the door. He grabbed my un-flexed bicep and made it jiggle. With his hand still on my arm he gave me a disgusted look, so I flexed. His face changed. "Woah," he said, followed by something I couldn't understand. I looked up at Jason for a translation, "it means strong, in shape," he answered. I laughed as the boy had me flex my other arm. Now all the boys were interested in our muscles and they grabbed at the three of us as we all flexed. Then the boy that I was with started playing with Grace's watch. He took it off of her wrist and put it on mine. Then he took her hair-tie off of her wrist and put it on mine. He smiled as he gave me my two "gifts."

We walked outside and Jason had gathered a group of four boys to walk with us back into town so that they could help him gather things in order to sleep at the shelter tonight. As we all walked towards the gate Grace and I were bombarded by boys giving us hugs and saying their goodbyes. The seven of us walked into town, down High Street. Roger, the only white boy at Eluxolweni, kept singing an Eminem song that was rather inappropriate for his age. He kept asking Jason to "shake it." Next thing we know Roger starts "shaking it" as we walk down the street. Yet again I am brought to tears by the antics of these boys. They are so funny. Roger was being difficult and hard to control, but he cracked me up. It was hard to not notice the looks of passerbys as this group of four street children and three white Americans rolled down High Street.

We said goodbye to the boys and Jason for now. We'll be going back next week to see them again and I can't wait. I think spending time with these kids today was the highlight of my week. They are so full of energy and excitement despite their unfortunate circumstances. And although many of these boys fall to drugs or violence, they don't seem to let anything get them down.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


The last two days have been pretty eventful and super hot! Yesterday during our WAC course we got a tour of campus by a woman from a museum on campus. She told us a lot about the historical context of Rhodes, which was interesting. The main building on campus (the clock tower) was a military base in the 19th century. We learned that part of campus was a military prison and another building was a military hospital. She also pointed out some buildings in town that are historically significant. That was interesting.

After the tour Grace and had dinner with Jason to talk about volunteering. It was a great dinner. He took us to Gino's, an Italian restaurant in town, and surprisingly a restaurant we haven't been to yet! We all got pizza and talked briefly about volunteering then we just vented about the huge differences between America and South Africa. We all appreciate the culture here, but a lot of things that take place here could NEVER happen in the States, and for good reason. Power cuts, brown water, and poor service would never be tolerated at home and it's hard to put that behind us and deal with the situation here. It's easy to get worked up by everything. Right now my biggest woe is no air conditioning. It is so hot. I don't think I've ever been this hot before indoors. It's inescapable, which is something that doesn't exist at home. You can always find AC. This conversation led to us teaching Jason about our secret phrase, "T.I.A." It's from Blood Diamond. It stands for, "this is Africa," and it's the perfect phrase to mutter when anything goes wrong. Power's out? TIA. It's 91 degrees with no AC? TIA. It's genius.

Jason offered to bring us to Amasango (the street school) to see the school and meet the kids, so we went this morning. The walk is mostly down High Street, but on the other side of the Cathedral things get a little shady. The school is behind a set of railroad tracks and this morning the tracks were sprinkled with people walking from the township to work, or into town. It was really interesting scene, I hope to get a picture next time. We had to be let into a locked gate and immediately we were greeted by the students. Many of the boys were from the shelter that we visited last week. They were all very sweet and introduced themselves to us. Jason took us around to the classrooms and to meet the teachers. The teachers were all very kind and welcoming. The classrooms, on the other hand, were a lot to handle. In one room the chalkboard had a big gash in the middle of it. The board was just missing. Many of the desks are broken and the chairs are uncomfortable and not sturdy. I didn't see textbooks or supplies. Meanwhile, I recall complaining in high school about there not being enough room in the hallway, or not having a copy of The Great Gatsby. Things like this would never be a concern here. For one, Grace and I spent a little time reading with two boys ages 16 and 17 (the age when we're taught The Great Gatsby) who read at a 6th grade level. These two boys were out of a handful of boys in the 6th grade classroom. Jason asked them who wanted to read before Grace and I left and they raised their hands. While the rest of the class sat back fooling around these boys read to us from a book of Nelson Mandela's stories. It was really eye-opening. Jason also took us to the art room, which was surprisingly the nicest classroom of all (something that definitely wouldn't be the case in America). There were ceramic projects everywhere. The school has a kiln and the kids get to work a lot with clay. I was very excited to see this. I'm going to work on painting and drawing with them, so it should be a little bit of a change for them, but hopefully still exciting. We also got to see the kitchen, where breakfast was not being served today because of a lack of food. This made my stomach turn. When we left the kids waved from all of the classrooms that we passed. It was a nice goodbye.

Jason walked us back a few blocks, until we reached a nicer area. As he was turning to leave he ran into one the boys he used to work with, Mango. Mango is a troublesome boy who has been known to be very violent. Grace and I kept walking as Jason talked to Mango. On the way back to campus we stopped for muffins at a bakery and Mango came in behind us. As I paid our 15 rand (approximately $2) bill for our muffins and water I noticed Mango at the other end of the counter begging for yesterday's leftovers. I offered to buy him a fresh roll and he gladly accepted and chose a roll that cost 80 South African cents (or less than 10 American cents). Mango thanked me and left the bakery. He went outside to share the roll with a friend. As we walked away we marveled at the fact that the kids at the school were not served breakfast, meanwhile that roll cost me less that 10 cents. It's a sad concept. There are many street children begging in front of popular spots in town all day, every day. They all ask for money for food or for a drink, but we've all been made well aware that this money goes to drugs. However, unlike in the States where we have this problem, these kids openly accept food. Last night at dinner I didn't eat my pizza crust. When the waiter came to clear my plate Jason had him wrap it. I then gave it to a kid on the way home. I couldn't believe I was giving this poor child the scraps of my food. It felt so degrading, but the two kids I gave them to were so happy to have them.

This evening we were treated to a trip to the bell tower in the St. Michael and St. George Cathedral in the center of town. The husband of the woman from the museum who took us on the tour of campus is the bell ringer so we got to attend a ringing. It was really cool. The view was beautiful. Grace and I may go back on Monday to start taking lessons and in a month we'll be able to ring the bells which would be something pretty exciting to tell. I believe he said that they are the oldest bells in Africa. It looked like fun and it's something to do! I love the cathedral. I think it's so beautiful. Even though I'm not religious I would like to attend church in it just once because it's so big inside and it's difficult to imagine how a service is run.

Tomorrow morning after classes Grace and I are taking a cab to the township high school to see Jason's English class. He teaches there twice a week and he says it's a big contrast from Amasango. The children there aren't violent and are there to learn, he says. That will be exciting. We haven't really seen the township too much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Tomorrow I will have been in classes for a week now and I think I've finally gotten the hang of things. I assumed that classes here would be more straight forward than they were. I didn't think that class structure could differ that much abroad, but I was definitely wrong. Fortunately I only have two regular courses and then my WAC Seminar Course which covers a wide range of topics surrounding South Africa. Both of my regular classes are very large compared to WAC. I have a couple hundred in my Anthropology 1 class and fifty or more in my Art History 3 class. At WAC Anthro would have 30 and Art History would have 15. In all of my classes my professors switch every few weeks. You don't have the same professor for the whole semester you have a few different ones. This makes things very complicated. Unlike at home where we have the same classes at the same time Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday, here your times change everyday. It's really annoying. Also, since the classes are so big they have these tutorials once a week which are mini classes where we get to have more in-depth discussions. Those are nice, they feel more like WAC!

I like Anthro a lot, it's interesting, but the structure is difficult. Art History is cool, too, but it's very different than at home. I feel like what we're learning does not go along with the theme of the class at all, but I guess I'll just see where we go with it. We fly through things and we don't learn about individual works like at home. It's just a big contrast. I love my art history professor at home, so it really makes me miss her!

Rather than just having a textbook, both of my classes have a lot of outside readings which you have to get at the library. So they have this mini-library where all of the professors put books on hold for their classes then there are a dozen copy machines where students have to photocopy the readings. I went to do my art history copies the other day and I couldn't afford it! There are a ton of them and they're costly. That's another nuisance of academic life here at Rhodes.

Overall, I think I'll get something out of these classes and they're both exciting classes to take in Africa, Anthro for obvious reasons and Art History because it goes along with my major, but also because of the Arts Festival in June/July. I will have a decent background in South African art to take with me to the festival which will come in handy.

Our WAC course is a lot different. It's taught by a different professor from a different department every week (we only have class once a week), this way we'll get a good background in a variety of South African themes: economics, politics, music, etc. This class has a lot of work, but it will all be very rewarding in the end I think. This class was one of the reasons I chose to come to Rhodes/South Africa. It's nice to have time once a week where all the WAC kids get to see each other, and also we get to become more connected to the country through this class.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amasango & Eluxolweni

Today the WAC kids had our first "core course" of the semester. It was interesting. We were just given a brief overview of South African history since 1994, a talk on "anti-Americanism," something I think we've all encountered in small dosages, and then Jason, a former Rhodes student from Buffalo came to talk to us about the "real" Grahamstown. He talked to us about safety and places to help out around town. He is especially involved with the Amasango School for Street Children, a local school that gives street children the opportunity to learn even if they have abandoned school in the past.

Jason has volunteered at the school and the affiliated shelter off and on for the past two years. Following our lecture he offered to take us up to the shelter to meet the boys before they went to bed. We walked up there and we were introduced to the "dodgy" parts of town, mainly anything past the cathedral. The area was very different from those around campus or on the upper stretch of High Street where the shops and restaurants are. For once since I've been here I felt unsafe, but luckily our guide was knowledgeable about the location. When we arrived at the shelter we were immediately greeted by at least half a dozen smiling faces. The boys, ranging in age from lower elementary to late teens, greeted us each individually. They were interested in shaking our hands, learning our names and asking us how we were. The boys then gave us tours around the home, showing us the bedrooms and the kitchen. My tour guide took me by the hand and showed me his room and his bed and then proceeded to break-dance for me. It was very exciting! All of the boys crowed with the six of us in a small hallway. We all talked and they danced for us, it was a great moment.

Something that really struck me was an older boy wearing a Washington DC sweat shirt. The shirt was worn and in poor shape, but that wasn't what bothered me. It was heartbreaking to know that this boy has never visited Washington DC and that most likely that boy will never get the chance to visit our Capitol. Being privileged enough to be in South Africa in the first place makes it harder to put yourself in their places. As privileged as I am being able to afford to come to a place as beautiful and exciting as South Africa, this experience, and similar ones in the future, will stick out more in my memory in years to come than the trip to the beach or our prospective trips to Cape Town or Addo. To me, the life that these children lead is more foreign than any lion or elephant could ever be. It may sound pretentious or snobby, but I think that most people would agree. There are few places that I know of that could compare to the picture we've been painted of the daily lives of these young boys. I may be naive, but I think that it would be difficult to find a fourteen year old drug addict who is routinely involved in begging, stealing and stabbings in the States. Luckily for these boys there is a place like Amasango where they can go to stay safe during the day and continue their education. We met some boys at the shelter who "graduated" from Amasango and are now in high school in the township. I think that's so inspiring.

I plan now to volunteer at the school. Although the children are dangerous and often difficult I do not think that they deserve to be forgotten. Jason informed me that there are far fewer girls at the school than there are boys and that often they are very much forgotten and neglected, so I have elected to teach an art class for just the female students. He and I both think that the girls will be very receptive to the art, but also to a female presence. I am very much looking forward to this experience. In addition, I will be leading a sort of weekly art therapy session at a local adult AIDS center in town. There I will engage the patients in artwork and then lead a discussion in the end allowing them to practice English, which is usually their second language. I knew that I would be coming to South Africa to give back to the community, but I never thought that South Africa would be able to give so much back to me. I've only been here for a week and a half and already I have learned so much in and out of the classroom. The people are genuine and kind, the landscape is breathtaking and every day is just becoming more and more eye opening.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Day Trippin'

Friday night some of the WAC kids went out together. First we went to the Union (a bar/club on campus) for some drinks and dancing. Once that became overwhelming Grace and I headed to the Old Gaol. It's a really cool place. It's literally an old jail which has been made into a bar/hostel. Those who use it as a hostel stay in old jail cells, which I think it's the coolest thing! They were celebrating their 10 and 1/2 birthday and we got to see a reggae band. We each had a South African beer and listened to the music for awhile before heading back to get rest for our day trip on Saturday. Grace and I live on opposite sides of campus so we walked away in opposite directions and as I was walking up the main campus walk I could still hear the band playing and they started doing a cover of Bob Marley's "Jammin'" and as I walked in this midsummer heat past the beautiful flowers and palm trees back to my room, I finally felt at home...

Anyway, yesterday we took our first day trip with Ashwin. It was absolutely wonderful. In the morning Grace and I woke up early and went to an African farmer's/craft market at the Old Gaol. They had the most beautiful veggies and homemade sauces, chutneys and jams (which I will be purchasing next week). We bought a fresh, home-made loaf of olive, rosemary and garlic bread. It was still warm! It was SO DELICIOUS!! We munched on it most of the morning and luckily shared it with everyone else so it's not as bad as it sounds! We also had tea and toast at the Mad Hatter's, a coffee shop near the top of High Street in town. Around 11:30 we met Brian, the owner of the Old Goal who was our driver/guide for our day trip. We drove out of Grahamstown in a direction that we haven't gone before so we all got to see something a little different which was nice. We got to see a lot of the townships which are up on the hill while the campus and town are more in a valley. It was very interesting - extremely colorful.

Our first stop was the town of Bathurst. It's a small, old town on the way to the beach. There they have the claim to fame of housing the country's oldest pub, the Pig and Whistle. We went for drinks (no one booze it up, so I can't comment on the beer) and then continued on to a pineapple farm, or Bikini Bottom as I like to call it! Evidentially this is "Pineapple Country" and giant pineapples are what you find in Pineapple Country. This pineapple unfortunately does not house Spongebob Squarepants, but you can climb to the top and see all of the fields of pineapples and the surrounding landscape. It was a very fun and interesting stop.

Following Bathurst we headed to Port Alfred, a small coastal town. Ashwin told us that it is home to a lot of retirees. It was quaint and quiet, but very pretty. We only stayed for a few minutes. It was very windy, but really nice. Some other international students were staying there for the weekend and we were all talking about going back soon while the weather is still warm.

Next we drove down to Kenton-on-Sea. We arrived at this wooded area with virtually no beach in sight. Ashwin then proceeded to enter this forest and lead us blindly through the woods. After a rather challenging climb we reached the top of this giant, forested dune and we could see down to the water. It was beautiful. The journey still wasn't over, but from here it was all downhill. As we slid down the sand the beach became more and more visible and more and more beautiful. We came out to this private inlet surrounded by large cliffs. The water was absolutely beautiful. We all immediately put on our sunscreen and headed into the water, which was colder than expected, but much warmer than any of us would be used to considering we were at the beach in February. We spent a good about of time in Kenton. Grace and I make the trek to the top of the cliffs, followed by Kevin, Kate and Ryan. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking. I've never seen anywhere more beautiful. I don't think I've ever seen water this color in person, nor have I ever been on a beach so utterly untouched. It had such a pure vibe. It was amazing.
We stayed here for awhile enjoying the scenery and we then headed for lunch in a nearby town. Lunch overlooked a gorgeous river. The restaurant was home to several interesting animals including an African parrot, a beautiful, very limber black cat and an ENORMOUS pig. The pig was quite possibly the biggest animal I have ever seen up close and personal. It was gigantic.
On the drive home we got our first real taste of African wildlife. We saw giraffe, zebra, buffalo, impala and antelope. It was very cool. The giraffes were so cute. They were eating off the tops of the trees. These sightings definitely wet my appetite for safari. That's going to be another amazing experience!
In other, far less exciting news, classes start tomorrow. I am ready for them to start. I'm getting a little antsy, especially now that the horrors of orientation are over. It will be nice to actually feel like I'm accomplishing something on a daily basis. I did decide to drop Sociology, so I will only be taking Art History and Anthropology, as well as our mini WAC course which will introduce us to South African culture and history. Grace and I have anthro together, but I don't think I have anything with anyone else, except the WAC course, which is just the WAC kids. Luckily I am taking a third-year course (art history) so I won't be with freshman all the time like a lot of other international students are. That will be refreshing!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Registration & Out on the Town

Yesterday we got to register for our classes which is exciting. I cannot wait to start classes; I'm looking forward to the routine and seeing the differences between the American education system and the way in which classes are taught here. The classes are much much larger here than they are at WAC, so that's going to be a big adjustment, but luckily it's only one semester. Apparently it's very independent and there is very little work. For the most part it seems like your overall grade depends on your final exam, which will be held in June. Currently I am registered for 3 "real" classes, but I may drop one since I don't really need to take it. I'm registered for Anthropology I, Sociology I and Art History III. The art history seems really exciting since it covers a lot of African art and we're going on a field trip which will be very cool. Also I get double the credit for it, which is great and that's why I can drop one class if I wish. I'm going to feel it out next week (classes start Monday) and see how I like Sociology. That would be the one that I would drop if I were to drop a class.

Last night all of the WAC kids were treated to dinner with our professors (called lecturers here) in town. The restaurant was beautiful, the food was fantastic, and the wine kept on coming. Grace, Ryan and I engaged in conversation with 3 of the lecturers. It was a lot of fun. We discussed everything from apartheid, to the American election, to environmental issues and even Britney Spears and Anna Nicole. One of the lecturers, head of the Anthro department (a class I am taking this semester) was hilarious! He made the funniest comments about Britney. I'm very excited to be in a class with him. It's very interesting how engaged in American culture, news and politics people here are. I'm rather ashamed of the reputation we have here. It's not quite the image I like to promote, but hopefully we will be able to shed a better light on Americans.

Following dinner Grace, Kana, Sonya and I went out on the town. We first went to the Rat and Parrot, a local pub and talked to people and we also hung out with some South Africans from Grace's res. After that we went to Friars, a bar/dance club and danced for a while. It was a lot of fun. It was hard getting up to serenade this morning, though. Luckily today was our last time!

Tomorrow Ashwin, our adviser, is taking all of the WAC kids to the beach which should be a lot of fun. I'm excited to relax; however I have an absolutely horrible sunburn on my chest that I'm afraid of exacerbating. I'll certainly post pictures from that later this weekend.

So far although the adjustment has been extreme, Africa is everything and more than I thought it would be and I'm really looking forward to spending the next few months here. I'm sure that I'll be home before I know it, but I really want to ensure that I make the best of my trip. We're currently trying to plan our first few excursions, around South Africa as well as other Southern African countries. Grace has a few Dutch kids in her res that are really interested in traveling so I think that we'll all be trekking together. We're even thinking about renting a car, which will be very interesting, considering that they drive on the other side of the road here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

We're Here... For Real

We arrived here at Rhodes on Sunday evening. We spent some time registering and then we were placed in our rooms. We all (there are 7 of us from Washington College aka WAC) have singles and we are all in different halls. My room is very nice. It has a window that overlooks a porch with lots of tropical plants. It's very nice. I have a large closet, a built in dresser, a bookshelf, desk, bed and a sink. I love the sink, I wish they had those in dorms at home! The first night I did a lot of stuff with the girls in our residence (res for short). We need the standard meet and greet and ice breaker kind of stuff. We also went over some of the house rules - there are a lot. The residences are MUCH stricter here than they are in the States.

I went to bed very early that night and was awoken at 4:30am for serenading. They have a tradition here that during Orientation Week (O-Week). Every morning at 5am you get up and the boys from one or two reses come to the girls reses and serenade them and we serenade them back. Following the singing (outside mind you) we then precede to a meet and greet with those boys. The girls have to put their keys in a pile and each boy gets a key. You then have to get to know one another and introduce each other to the group. I have now done 4 of these and I hate them! Breakfast starts very early (7am) and ends at 8:30, so in order to eat you have to be up early. There are a lot of rules about the dining hall/food and the portions are tiny. Clearly they're much smaller than American portions, but I mean these are teeny-tiny!

We have orientation activities throughout the day and all of the international students are together, which is really nice. I have a girl from VA on my hall and we've been getting along quite well. Yesterday and today Grace and I, as well as some of the other WAC kids took a walk into town for lunch (the food is dirt cheap here, and much like American food - restaurant food at least) and then we went back down to do some errands. The town is very cute, much like Jamesburg or Chestertown. Everything is very Americanized and everyone speaks English which is nice. The university is kind of in a valley and surrounded by mountains with what we've gathered to be townships on top. The view from the main campus building is beautiful. I'm going to take a photo tomorrow and try to post it here.

Last night I went out on the town for the first time. Our sub-wardens (kind of like RAs) took us all out pub-hopping. It was a really nice time and I got to spend time with the girls from my hall (all freshman - very young). It's strange to me that these 17/18 year old girls can go out drinking and I can't even do that at home for another year! We went to a few clubs/pubs around town and they were all very different, but fun. Tonight Grace and I are going out again together. This will be our first time out to the pubs together which should be nice.

We're registering for classes this week, so I'll be picking those out tomorrow which is good. I can't wait to get into a routine and start working. I also starting getting ready to begin some AIDS volunteering/research soon. I have some applications to do, but I should be able to do what I want and really get a lot out of my visit.

Saturday our advisor, Ashwin, has planned a trip for us to the beach. I'm excited for that. It will be really fun. It's just the WAC kids and we'll be on the Indian Ocean which is a very strange concept for me!

I have posted some photos on Flickr from the drive in be sure to check those out. It's beautiful here.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

We're Here...Kind of

Grace and I arrived in Johannesburg safely a few hours ago. We're currently in our hotel room resting/showering/getting something to eat. The trip was long, but not as bad as I expected. We fly to Port Elizabeth in the morning and will meet our adviser and fellow students in the morning. I'm looking forward to sleeping horizontally and eating real food tonight.