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3 posts from February 2011


Lingua franca

By Meg Ely

South Africans, along with students and professors from other parts of the continent, have beautiful accents. But how people sound has not been the only fascinating part of my conversations with the locals, it is what people say that I find most interesting. Young people here have phrases and nicknames I am still adjusting too, and have begun to utter myself.

"Hectic" seems to be a common term for things that are cool, rowdy and crazy. If your Thursday night was hectic, it was probably a good time. And if on that Thursday you were at a place that was hectic, it probably had a good vibe (a word used in the States, but not commonly).

"Tuts", or tutorials, are the American version of discussion sections. I enjoy telling people I have a tut to go to so I can say the word, but I don’t actually enjoy going to it.

Another word I hear often is "queue", the term for a line. I always seem to have to queue just to go to the bathroom in Leslie Social. And to get a cardio machine at the fitness centre. And to buy food. And to get on a computer...

I could go on.

On Thursday, I found myself saying "cheers" to some of my fellow SHAWCO volunteers at the end of our day. It was strange to hear myself say the very British departing phrase.

My house? It’s my "digs". This is a phrase used rarely in the States, but I have also heard this before.

The best word I’ve heard yet? "Freshers", which is the nickname for a freshman. While I may be a third year at my school, I feel like a fresher here at UCT. I hope that will change soon, but for now I will continue to look around like I don’t know where I’m going, and continue to ask people for directions with pride.


Meg Ely is a student from Indiana University.


Travelling Without Moving

It is a well known fact that travelling involves moving from point A to point B. There is some kind of distance that is traversed - something or someone moves around. In the end, there is some kind of change in geography that occurs - where you started is not where you end up. That is travelling in the text book sense of the word.


Packed: It's never about what you take with you, only what you bring back.

If we go according to that definition, then today I will have travelled to at least 800 different places; I went from the bedroom to the bathroom, bathroom to bedroom, bedroom to kitchen, kitchen to bedroom, bedroom to gate, gate to street, street to campus...You get the picture. If we use the normal definition of travelling, I will have visited more places today than some of the greatest explorers of all time. Jacques Cousteau  and Sir Edmund Hillary better watch out.

But that is not the case. Travelling is not simple geographic displacement - it is not moving from the the couch to the kitchen to get a cold one or a peanut butter sandwich. Travelling, as I have come to realise, does not even involve moving - travelling is simply the act of immersing oneself in different cultures, social issues, language and discouse. If you have done any of that today, then you have travelled.

The reason I bring up travelling is because I wake up everyday tired without a plausible explanation - it's not like I scale mountains everyday (although some of the hills in Rondebosch do put your glutes through their paces) and the last time I checked, I was not racing in the Tour de France. So why the fatigue?

I think it is primarily because since I became an RA (residence assistance) I have been travelling to Chicago, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St Louis and many other places in the United States day in and day out. In some instances, I can go from New York to LA in the space of five minutes. The Concorde and Superman together could not beat me for speed if their mothers' lives depended on it.

So what shady ways do I have of traversing such great distances in the blink of an eye you might wonder? It's called conversation.

It is not expensive and stressful; no booking queues, no worrying about accommodation, no worrying about what creep I will be sitting next to - none of that. Just good old fashioned word exchange. It's amazing - in just two weeks, I have seen a baseball game live, I have been to the Superbowl, I have been to Times Square, I have bumped into Kanye West in a high end fashion boutique, I have had to brave ten feet of snow in Chicago, I have been tackled in a game of football and best of all, I got to go to a high school prom.(I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have always wanted to go to one. I narrowly lost out on kissing the prom queen though...Oh well...)

I did all of this without even moving out of my house.

Direction: The places I have been to when I speak to people cannot be found using all the compasses and maps of the world.

The reason why I have been in and out of the United States without Homeland Security screening my passport is because the US came to me. Literally.

A few weeks ago, the Spring Program of CIEE Cape Town brought students from the US over for a five month exchange program that would see them living, studying, playing and experiencing life on this side of the world. When I was interviewed as a potential RA, I was asked all of the usual run-of-the-mill questions: What are your interest? Are you outgoing? How are you with people? Do you have sober habits? You know, that kind of thing. No one ever told me that I would be travelling each and every day. If they had led off with that, I would have given them one heck of an interview! Suffice to say that I was chosen as an RA and a month ago, my CIEE life began.

I call it my CIEE life because it is so different from anything I have ever done that it deserves its own reference. I think I died and came back as an RA. Boy, am I loving it.

The past three weeks have been what I would call the true meaning of travelling. I have met and bonded with people from a foreign culture with different mindframes and planes of social and cultural reference, I have heard some interesting stories of the US, where they live, what they do for fun, what their dreams for the future are, how the see Africa, what their parents are like, what their friends dress like - all of it. I have been to the US without even leaving Cape Town.

Travelling, or at least the practice and reason for travelling is often misunderstood. Anyone can buy a plane ticket to the other side of the world - most people often do. But it takes an observant person to come back with a changed world view a more intimate knowledge of how other people live and make sense of their lives. Travelling involves moving outside of onseself - not just outside of a country.

Travel commercials often sell countries short - they show the geography, they never show the experiences, the lessons, the change and the thrill that comes with being in a different place. The idea of travelling has in some ways become so convoluted that travelling to a different town or suburb cannot be counted as such. It seems in today's high flying, fast paced world, anything less than 10 ooo kilometres will not count as a journey.

And therein lies the trouble. Because travelling is not about moving; it is about trying out peanut butter on apples even though you think it is a despicable idea, it is about learning the difference between coloured and black, it is about packing a small VW Beatle with a million people, it is about not having internet for three days and still finding other ways to entertain yourself.

That's travelling. I have not been to the US, but I can honestly say that in the past three weeks, I have learned more about the country and the people than I have in all of the articles, newspapers, websites and television programs combined. It has been an adventure thus far...and I am just getting started.

"So forget your passport, honey. Leave the sleeping bag and suitcases behind. Just pack up your mind and let's go. "


DSCN4736---1 Rémy Ngamije

University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

Resident Assistant

The Ellies and Me

 An excerpt from the travel journal of Thomas Delay.

Thomas Delay

I have never been one to really push my physical and adrenal boundaries, preferring my vacations to be more relaxing than filled with draining activities. This vacation forced me to come face to face with my humanity, and really made me test my limits. What I’ve found is that I can do anything that I want to do, and can push myself to abandon fear and embrace the incredible experiences that I am awarded every day.

 For whatever reason, the UCT schedule actually has built in it a week where students have nothing to do before school starts, so almost all of my program picked up and went on a trek around the Garden Route, the area between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, known for its spectacular views, beaches, and adventure tourism. I went with 4 friends, Lacey, Daniel, Marina, and Lindsay. I was thrown in a kind of loop when I realized that we would be departing for the trip sooner than I thought we were, but after picking up our car, we were off.

The first day (a Saturday) was a pretty normal day. We just made the four or so hour drive from Cape Town to Mossel Bay, a beach town that is a normal stopover for travelers on the way to beginning their real trek through the towns of the Garden Route. The car ride was hilarious; I ended up going with a group of people that just wanted to have a great time and didn’t have any real expectations whatsoever. That made everything a lot easier on all of us.

We actually realized that we didn’t have a map, but no one seemed to care, which made our traveling experience all the more entertaining. Luckily, the drive from Cape Town to Mossel Bay literally consists, like most of the Garden Route, of one road - the N2. It was a beautiful drive, but unfortunately that’s where the beauty ended. We had decided to stay at the Santos Express Lodge, which according to our Coast to Coast travel guide had seemed like a good place to go. It was a train on the beach! Turns out, that’s what it actually was: an old train on the beach.

Rather than stewing in the hostel all night, we decided to go out to a local bar, but that didn’t turn out much better because Mossel Bay during the off-season is essentially a ghost town. We then went back to the train hostel where my night’s sleep could only be described as rough - half the time it felt as though the train was going to tip over because the wind was constantly whipping around.

We woke up early the next morning because Lacey, Marina, and I had decided to go sand boarding. It is exactly as it sounds like: snowboarding…but on sand!

Our instructor, Leon, picked us up at the hostel and drove us out to the dunes. At one point he even let us ride on the back of the truck along the bumpy route to the dunes. Because I had never been snowboarding before, I was a little apprehensive about the idea of sand boarding, but after my first run I started enjoying myself. We did a couple of runs on sand boards down some small dunes, and we eventually progressed to a dune that had a run of 220m (more than 600 feet).

The dune is actually the biggest sand boarding dune in South Africa, because during the winter (remember, it’s summer here!) it can reach a length of 320m! For this run, we were on smaller boards and lay on our stomachs for the whole way down. Leon pushed us each down twice, and it was incredible!

After the sand boarding, we then headed to Oudtshoorn, which is a town up further north and off N2. We were going there to see the Kango Caves – they were a little disappointing, if I must be honest. The best part of the trip though, was the drive there. The last tour left at 16h00, so we had to make sure that we were there before that to buy tickets. At one point, when in the town of Oudtshoorn, we realized it was around 15h30, and we still had over 30km to go to get to the Caves. What resulted was the fastest high speed chase I’ve ever been in, as we fiendishly drove around the mountains north of Oudtshoorn to make it in time.

I still have my ticket to the caves to remember that moment – we managed to get our tickets at 15h38.

After seeing the caves, we drove another hour and a half to Knysna (pronounced “naaizna”), a really sweet beach town. We stayed in a much nicer hostel, and went out to dinner on the waterfront, at a great restaurant. We luckily scored the best seats in the house according to the host, which was cool! Unfortunately, this was right by the Knysna Yacht Club, and our backpacking attire was not necessarily fitting in with the rest of the scene – we stood out but we were okay with it.

Monday morning we woke up and hung out in Knysna for a bit at a cool coffee shop. Here, I had another taste of culture shock. “Iced coffee” in South Africa really means coffee with an ice cube or two put in it. This means I shall have to say goodbye to getting my iced venti vanilla lattes for the duration of my stay in South Africa. (they actually don’t even have Starbucks here).

After staying there, we drove out to the Knysna Elephant Park, for one of the greatest moments of my life. I absolutely love elephants (almost as much as I love lions), and we were able to feed them AND pet them AND take pictures with them AND walk around with them. I definitely had an incredible time with the elephants, and about 75% of my Cape Town photo album thus far is just elephants. They had “ellies”, as they call them in the park ranging in ages from three years old up to twenty-two – all of them were orphans that were rescued from the wild and brought to the sanctuary for safety.


Thomas Delay is a student from the George Washington University in Washington DC.