Saturday, January 30, 2010

Good evening friends. I know it’s been a few days but this week was pretty uneventful for the most part. UCT conducted its orientation for both freshman and international students. We had already heard most of the information given to us during the interstudy orientation, so a lot of us (including myself) skipped the majority of the lectures. Friday we registered for classes, which is a huge pain in the ass at UCT. No one is allowed to take any more than four classes per semester and all of them have to be preapproved by both your home institution and UCT. Everybody has to wait in this massive line and then wait even longer in a line of chairs before sitting one-on-one with an academic advisor who basically signs some papers in order to approve your courses. But it doesn’t end there. After this long, tedious process we were directed to “data capture” where someone has to put the courses in a computer to officially enroll you. I’m not exactly sure why they couldn’t just do that in the first place, but then again “this is Africa” (TIA). Everybody here says TIA since everything in Africa is slow and a process. Nothing EVER starts on time, or even happens at all and nothing is EVER easy to accomplish. But getting frustrated never helped anyone around here so we just accept the facts—TIA.
After registration, we had to get our student IDs. The line was massive, curling around the hallway and through the glass doors. Ari and I waited for two hours before we were able to actually get them. Luckily, I brought a crossword puzzle so it helped to pass the time for us. By the time we made it to the front of the line, we realized that the reason it was taking so long was because they were only taking ONE picture at a time when hundreds of students were waiting in line (even though there were four cameras with four people behind them…can you say TIA?). When we finally had the IDs in our possession we ate lunch and waited for Tori, Sabrina and Katherine to get their cards, which took at least another hour. Then we took the Jammie shuttle (the UCT shuttle system) to Claremont, a town next to the one we live in, to shop at the mall. We all bought tickets for the J&B Met, a horse race that happens once a year and is a really big deal around here. This year the theme was “In Full Color” so we all had to get colorful dresses. The J&B is where all of the South African celebrities and socialites come to “see and be seen” so we wanted to at least look decent. We all found dresses—for pretty cheap too. Mine was only around thirteen dollars. So successfully, we left the mall and hit the sack early to prepare for today’s festivities.
Today we all woke up around 9:45 AM to get ready for the races. We did our makeup in an eccentric fashion and prepared mimosas to add a touch of class. It was weird to be drinking so early, but champagne is commonplace among the attendees to the J&B. We took tons of pictures—it felt like prom all over again—so I’ll tag them on FB once they are posted. After a few hours of standing around the front yard and socializing with the thirty or so people who were going to the races, we all hopped into cabs, or in mine and several others’ cases, our landlord’s van. He was kind enough to offer us a ride so we didn’t have to pay the cab fare—it was really nice.
There were so many signs and colorful flags leading into the venue. As we disembarked from the van, we walked past Jaguars and Porsches driven by people dressed like movie stars and walked by women in elaborate dresses adorned with feathers, sequins and the like. Many of the people went all out for this event—a number of them actually competing for “most elegant couple.” The event lasted until around 10 PM but we left around 4:30-5:00.
By the time we got home, everyone was ready for a nap, but as I was falling asleep, drunken singing coming from the back of my apartment interrupted me. When it didn’t stop, I gave up on the nap and headed downstairs to find a bunch of people gathered around Rob, who was playing guitar, singing made up songs to no tune in particular. It was pretty entertaining for a moment, but it wasn’t long before the group broke up, many of them heading to a club called Springbok for the J&B after party. Exhausted and sun burnt, I counted myself out for tonight, especially since we are all going on a Peninsular Tour from 8-5 tomorrow. I didn’t feel too left out since both my roommates decided to stay in tonight as well. I can’t believe people even had the energy to go out again! Anyway, I’m pretty excited for a good night’s rest so I’ll have to depart for now. As always, just keeping you all updated. Hope all is well!
Love, B

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I woke up at 7 AM yesterday morning to go on a sea-kayaking trip with penguins. We went to Simon’s Town, a beautiful place on the coast filled with boats and water sports. The trip was a blast. I was worried that I would be too out of shape to handle it, but I didn’t struggle at all. I still need to work out though. Eliza and I paired up and I steered while she led the way. It was kind of funny because they said to makes pairs in which one person was big and strong and the other was not quite as buff. Needless to say (if you’ve seen Eliza) we’re both pretty small. Still, we were great and didn’t have any problems. Who says little girls can’t be tough? I got a little bit burnt on my face even though I was wearing 70 SPF! What the hell?

Anyway, no complaints except that I thought the trip would have a little more experience with the penguins. Basically, as we were rowing, they were just pointed out to us and we were able to look at them and/or take pictures. It’s not a big deal though. For around 30 bucks, I had a great time. After the excursion, we ate lunch at a little cafĂ© overlooking the water and the mountains. It was a beautiful view and the food wasn’t bad (they had spinach, feta, and mushroom quiche). When we returned from the trip, we all took naps (siestas seem to be habit-forming lately) and went to Long Street for some drinks later. I wasn’t feeling too well so I only had a couple drinks and refused to dance. I’m glad I did because I feel a million times better today.

Since today is Saturday, we all wanted to go to some market people had been talking about throughout the week that only takes place on this day of the week. It turns out that there are at least two, likely more, markets that this applies to. We decided to go to The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, a hippie-ish market with good food and cute clothes. The clothes were really pretty but kind of pricey, especially for Safrica. Although when I broke it down, a beautiful pair of homemade shoes that I wanted came to around 68 US dollars—not the worst price, it just sounds like a lot when someone tells me they are 500 Rand. I didn’t get them because I figured I could find a better deal somewhere else and I can’t really be spending money on clothes anyway. I bought some samoosas and falafel at the market and they were really good. They had a plethora of foods and wine/champagne/beer and desserts for inexpensive prices—all of them delicious. My friend Lindsey and I bought a class of Champagne for about 2 US dollars each (best thing ever) and they even put a fresh strawberry in it.

Since the market was only open until 2 PM we left a little early so we wouldn’t get caught up in a mass of people. From there we went to Clifton, another beach near Camps Bay. This beach was the most beautiful so far—it’s the only one in Cape Town where there isn’t any wind later in the day, which is nice on a cooler day like today. We laid out in the sun for a few hours and I read up on some South African history in the sun. We met a local named Johnny who we thought was just trying to sell us soda or ice cream (a bunch of people on the beach run around with coolers trying to sell you soda or ice cream…kind of random I think) but when Justin told him he had already bought a water from another guy, Johnny started the conversation by asking where he was from. He was really nice and friendly and came to sit and talk with us again later.

Towards the end of our day, he asked me what my book was telling me about South African history. I think that he was curious because under the National Party’s government, white Afrikaaner children (white South Africans) were taught that the black people of Southern Africa had originally arrived in the country at the same time as the Dutch. While the black people were travelling one way, the whites we travelling the other direction causing them to meet in the middle—making the fights for the land a necessary stipulation. However, in reality, the Bantu-speaking Iron Age settlers were here nearly 2,000 years ago, spawning the tribes that inhabited the land prior to colonization. I don’t know if he thought that perhaps I had been given false information, being a white girl, or if he was just curious but I told Johnny that this is what I had read. He said that I was absolutely right and that I was reading a good book. After our conversation we were getting ready to leave, having called a cab, and Johnny said goodbye and told us to come back to visit. We might go back tomorrow.

As for tonight, nothing is planned but I’m sure it will be yet another great night in this beautiful country.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

19 January 2010

So I took a break for the day because yesterday was entirely too long for my brain to function properly after it was over. We began at 8 AM at the District Six Museum. District Six was—prior to apartheid—a culturally diverse and bustling area in Cape Town. The Nationalist government’s apartheid policies enforced at the time displaced tons of black people in the 1970s, claiming the area to be for whites only. Apartheid oppressed black South Africans from 1948 until 1994. It was crazy to go to a museum dedicated to an act against humanity that ended only sixteen years ago. The museum was kind of a bummer—everything so far has been strictly fun, so seeing how terrible it was for the majority of the population here so recently was disheartening. Still, I’m glad I was able to learn more about it.

After we left the museum, we went over to Langa Township, the first and oldest township where over 60,000 black people were forced to relocate after District Six was taken over by the government. Today this place is basically the projects of Cape Town, except even worse than the ones I’ve ever seen. We started at a community center where people made their own crafts to sell to tourists or anyone who was willing to buy something. Their work was really impressive—ranging from intricate paintings on pottery to various beads and wire creations. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no cash on me so I wasn’t able to buy anything, but I plan to go back at some point. Apparently every contribution, no matter how little, goes toward helping the community.

After we left the community center, we went to see some of the houses that were built for those who were displaced during apartheid. Each house had about 5-6 rooms where at least three people lived inside each one and were made of unpainted concrete. I was impressed at how well kept their bedrooms were. The bedrooms were small, but they managed to line three beds against the wall lacking the door, having built shelves above them where they kept their belongings. Not a stitch of clothing, even shoes, could be found on the floor. Though the houses were run down and poorly insulated, it was obvious that the inhabitants made the best of their situations. There was one main room in the center of the small houses where there was a wooden bench—likely the place where they all met for meals. Their showers looked worse than those in a prison and they only had one large sink in the center area for dishes.

When we left the projects, we walked to the local elementary school where we listened to a bunch of little kids sing in what I think was Xhosa. They were so cute and wouldn’t leave us alone when they were finished with their performance. They kept jumping on us and giving us hugs and high-fives—it made my heart melt. All they wanted was to be picked up or swung around. After struggling to detach the little ones, we left the school and went to the even poorer area in Langa where people live in one-room shacks with their entire families. They don’t have showers and they share a row of outdoor bathrooms that are only cleaned once each week. There were more little kids running around this area, following us from one place to the next—equally as adorable as the last ones.
After touring Langa Township, we went back to our flats to change into warmer clothes for our ferry trip to Robben Island, the infamous prison where freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela were incarcerated under the apartheid regime. The ferry ride was rocky and when I got off I was pretty close to vomiting, but I managed. We walked over to the buses where we took a vehicular tour of the island. The second half of the tour was spent with an ex-prisoner who showed us the inside of the prisoners’ quarters. Nelson Mandela’s cell still had his blanket, defecation bucket and small table. The conditions these prisoners, who were only peacefully fighting for freedom, were atrocious. On more than one occasion, the torture, either mentally or physically resulted in the death of a prisoner.
By the time the tour was over it was around 5 PM. We were all exhausted from the long day. As we were waiting for our ferry ride back, we noticed a “luxury catamaran” at the dock. Tori, Sabrina and I didn’t even have to discuss whether or not we were going to try to board it—we made a beeline. Some people told us that we shouldn’t but we went anyway. Long story short—the captain told us that we could all fit and all but a mere few of us got on the luxurious boat back to Cape Town. The trip back was a lot faster and much less rocky. It was really windy, but it was still so much nicer than the first ride. When we got home, my roommates and I made a pact to stay in and with some difficultly, we managed to do so despite feeling anti-social.

21 January
Today we went to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It was absolutely beautiful as well as massive! We walked through a good bit of it, but we didn’t manage to cover the entire grounds. As far as this trip goes, I think it would be unjust to be the narrator—though pictures could never describe the beauty of this place, they can do so more articulately than myself (AKA visit my facebook page).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Today was great. The weather was absolutely perfect—80 degrees and sunny. We went to Camps Bay, a beach about 20 minutes from Mowbray. It was nearly empty, almost like we had the entire beach to ourselves. Eight of us went together around 11 AM even though we all hadn’t slept much the night before. Still, we napped on the beach and doused ourselves in sun block to battle Africa’s insane rays. Despite my efforts, I got a little bit sun burnt. I guess SPF 30 just doesn’t cut it. But I think I tanned more than burnt over all. After an hour or so on the beach, Will (one of our downstairs housemates), Sabrina and I went climbing on the rocks by the shoreline. We took a bunch of pictures—Sabrina conducted a rather embarrassing photo shoot of me on some rocks…check it out on facebook hah. The beach was absolutely beautiful—clear blue waters, beautiful rocky dunes, and sand as soft as silk. It was nearly perfect except for the icy cold water. Camps Bay is on the side of Cape Town where the Atlantic Ocean is, so the water is colder than beaches on the other side of the peninsula where the Indian Ocean is. The upside is that there aren’t any sharks in Camps Bay, so we sucked it up and went in anyway.
We had lunch at an outdoors restaurant where a couple of the people with us got Ostrich burgers. They took pictures with them like they were eating frog legs or something. I shared a veggie wrap with Sabrina but the butternut squash/chutney-like spread was a little overwhelming. After lunch, we split up and while some of the group went to the beach, me, Eliza and Tori walked around the strip to check out the scene. I bought sunglasses (finally—I forgot them at home) and some post cards that I’m planning on sending very soon. Apparently they take around a month to get to America, but I’ll be here longer than that so I suppose it’s worth it to send a few out.
By far the most interesting part of today was the ride home. It’s only 5-15R (less than three dollars) to ride a minibus to the beach. Minibuses are basically minivans that can fit 16-18 people and are run by two people, the driver and the recruiter. The recruiter whistles and yells out destinations to people walking by while the driver honks several times simultaneously. It’s pretty chaotic and was at first confusing, but I got the hang of it—after all, it’s the cheapest way to get places.
The first part of our adventure back wasn’t too eventful, but the driver wouldn’t take us all the way to Mowbray so we had to get off downtown—about 15-20 minutes from our flat. In the past few days we had been able to convince the drivers to just take us all the way to Mowbray so this two-part trip was new to us. The driver dropped us off in a busy part of downtown Cape Town (near Claremont I think) and pointed in a vague, general direction to where we could go to get another minibus all the way home. As he drove off, all eight of us stood on the sidewalk looking around, confused. I started walking towards the entrance of the train station when we ran into a police officer. He told us where to go and instructed us to zip our bags and stay close together—not the most-comforting advice.
We all climbed the stairwell to the upper level and exit of the station, clutching our bags and walking so close together we were nearly stepping on the backs of each other’s feet. Once we reached the exit, we weaved through a maze-like market with food and crafts and clothing that was completely inundated with people trying to sell anything and everything they could. We walked like ducks in a line, each of us holding on to some part of the person in front. After a few seemingly long and frenzied minutes, we came to a street that led to an open garage type of building comprised of numerous lanes marked with destinations. We located Mowbray in lane 20 and told the recruiter that we had eight people all going to the same place. We piled into the back, four in each row, with two people sitting on laps and left.
The driver sped into traffic like he owned the road, creating third lanes when the other cars weren’t driving fast enough and cutting off people left and right, while the recruiter hung out the window pointing to the lanes the driver planned to swerve into in front of the other traffic. At points he would cut off buses and other minibuses and drive in the opposite lane towards oncoming traffic, moving back onto the right side of the road before crashing into another vehicle. Meanwhile, the entire time 90’s R&B was blasting from the speakers, making the situation even more hectic. The entire time we were all exchanging amazed glances. One girl even said, “I thought it was bad in the Middle East…” Finally we got to our destination and hopped out of the minibus as quickly as possible. Frazzled, we went immediately across the street to the liquor store where we hoped to conjure up a drink or two to calm our nerves. Tori, Sabrina and I have all just showered, so we haven’t indulged quite yet—but all in due time.
Tomorrow: a tour starting at the District 6 Museum and then to Langa Township, ending at Robben Island with a ferry ride.
Until then…cheers!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

First Few Days

Due to popular familial demand, I've created a blog. (Happy Tayl?) Anyway, I've been in Safrica for four days now and it is absolutely beautiful. The UCT campus is surrounded by a huge mountain called Table Mountain that can be seen from pretty much everywhere in the city. We might climb Devil's Peak tomorrow (a seriously steep climb on the mountain), but I'm thinking I might be more in the mood for the beach, which is supposed to be breathtaking--I'll definitely take some pictures. I have two roommates, Tori and Sabrina, who are great. I've also made a lot of other friends. There are only 52 or so interstudy students on the trip so it's pretty easy to be social. I've met just about everyone. We've gone clubbing the past two nights at a couple different places. On the first night I met two South African girls, one named Violet, the other named Mwabi. They took us to a club called JoBurg. Tori and I drank South African beer and danced for a while. Last night we went to a place called the Dubliner and there was a band that played a pretty eclectic series of songs, ranging from "La Bamba" to "I'm a Believer" to "Tonight's Gonna be a Good Night" haha. I told a South African guy that I loved his shirt to which he replied "I love you." After the Dubliner, we went to a ritzy club called Chrome where we danced for hours. Once we got tired we went to the bar where we got what they call a "fishbowl". It's some kind of drink with several different liquors literally placed in a fish bowl. Four of us split it and it tasted like lemonade. We didn't get home until around 4 AM and didn't fall asleep til around 5. I slept all day today instead of going to the beach, but I'm going to go tomorrow with my roommates. I'm having a really good time so far and I can't wait to see what else is going to happen in the days to come!