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10 posts from March 2011

03/24/2011

How Time Flies

Eight weeks ago, my fellow RA’s and I were at the High Africa training camp getting to know each other, learning how to work as a team, and getting drilled on the various responsibilities that we would face over the coming year. It was a time of bliss – there were no academic assignments to slog through, no parents to be accountable too, nothing. It was like being four years again. If four years get to build rafts, abseil, kayak and climb 50m high obstacle courses. It was a memorable time of my life. If I could go back, I would do it all again.

Seven weeks ago, the same team of RA’s stood at the Cape Town International Airport’s arrival suite and waited for the summer crop of CIEE students. We did not know what to expect, we did not know their names, and we did not know what the heck they thought about Africa. Where they came from was a mystery to us, what they hoped to achieve here was even cloudier. They were coming. Five minutes before the first student walked through the terminal gates, I had a mental breakdown. ‘I am not ready for this” the small voice in my head said. Ten minutes later, we were exchanging handshakes, names, sharing jokes. It was a memorable time of my life. If I could go back, you bet I would do it all again.

Six weeks ago, we moved into our houses. For most of the students, living in digs (SA term for apartment or house) was a novel experience for them, some were anxious, some were nervous. Sharing rooms, sorting out cooking schedules, grocery shopping, academic registration getting to grips with Cape Town life was in full swing – some hit the ground running, some stumbled. All of them found their stride in the end. As RA’s we prepared for the worst, we slept little, always ready for that 02h00 phone call that started something like “Hi, Rémy. I’m lost…I don’t know where I am…”. It was an amusing time. If I could go back and do it all again, I would.

About five weeks ago, UCT started doing its thing – schoolwork came flying thick and fast. Everyone scrambled and hit the decks. The RA’s, all of whom are senior students knuckled down and got to the business of hitting the books and looking after a house at the same time – it was challenging, but we made it through. The students were doing their thing as well, each one found a niche, they all found something they liked doing. Cape Town is that kind of place. Watching some of them adjust was entertaining. There is nothing as funny as looking at an exchange student trying to jump a Jammie queue. (Come here and you will see what I mean). The academic phase was hard – it was challenging. If I could do it all again, I would. But better.

Four weeks ago, things took turns between heating up and cooling down. It was an assignment today a party tomorrow. Parents visited the students – I met some interesting characters. The students themselves were independent, no supervision needed. They had their own lives, they knew all of the Cape Town slang, and they made their own friends. It was like watching a kid toddle up onto their feet for the first time. Lord knows there were a few RA’s who felt the fear of being relevant once students started venturing off by themselves. It was misplaced though; you cannot keep such cool people to yourself. You have to share. I would definitely go back to four weeks ago.

Three weeks ago…two weeks ago…today. Crap! Already halfway through the term.

One week from now…

Three weeks…Four weeks…Five weeks…Six…

Seven weeks from today, my fellow RA’s and I will be standing at Cape Town International Airport’s departure lobby, making sure no one has forgotten passports, luggage or any other important luggage. Someone will forget their towel. Something is always forgotten. I don’t think I will cry – awesome people don’t cry. Their eyes just condense with excess awesomeness. The voice on the PA will announce the boarding of a flight, someone will disappear down the tunnel. A plane will take off.

I assure you that at that point, the RA’s and I will all be thinking of that first day, eight weeks ago. And would we do it all again? Damn right.

How time flies.

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Rémy Ngamije

University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

Resident Assistant

 

Mzoli's (Meating People)

Cape Town has quite a few landmarks that need to be visited when you are here: Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Robben Island and quite a few others. All of the above are world famous – they appear on postcards and memorabilia, they saturate the tourist market to the point of boredom. They are worthy, of course, but after a while they become the same old same old. For any visitor’s stay in Cape Town, particularly any CIEE student, I recommend exploring the popular attractions that don’t make it to the postcards – the urban legends that are either too local or so small to the point that they almost go unnoticed. Cape Town is full of them – one of these urban legends is Mzoli’s, the premier braai spot in the Mother City.

A braai in South Africa is the American equivalent of a barbeque or a cookout. Equivalent in this case is a hazy term to use because equivalent means “the same as” – the two events are similar but so different they cannot be compared to each other. Barbeques always look to calm and ordered on television, so family like, so…organised. Braais on the other hand are anything but. Especially when you are at Mzoli’s.

Located in the heart of Gugulethu, a South African township, Mzoli’s is a small braai house that has specialised in cooking meat to such perfection it has become a Sunday addiction. Anyone who has ever been in Cape Town has heard of the legend that is Mzoli’s, most have tried it, all have come back again. Celebrities, sports stars, musicians, students, tourists and all of the different kinds of people in between have all at some point visited Mzoli’s. You just never know who you will bump into on a Sunday afternoon.

Coupled with the atmosphere, the music and the location, Mzoli’s is one of the few ways of finding out how the other half of South Africa live – the less well-off half. Living in areas like Rondebosch (where the majority of CIEE houses are), you could become complacent and think that all of South Africa is middle class and well off. It is not. South Africa is a place of economic and social disparities carrying their own history and social diaspora – each level is unique and different, no two are the same. A trip to Mzoli’s shows all of this.

It would be presumptuous to call Mzoli’s a restaurant. Restaurants have formal rules: you sit, you order, food is brought, you pay and you leave. No such thing at Mzoli’s – you are allowed to bring anything you want barring the meat which you have to buy there, seats are at a premium from ten in the morning onwards, you have to actually go and order the meat yourself, take it to the cooks and come and pick it up yourself. It is a self-service type of thing that only Mzoli’s has managed to perfect thus far and that I presume, is one of the reasons it is so popular. It is a restaurant, meeting place, club, social scene and a few other things I have yet to find words for.

Mzoli’s is loud. Loud in ways that you cannot imagine – the music, the people, the dancing, everything. Every sense you possess is put to the test by being in the small space – it is not oppressive, just different. It is as South African as anything you will find in the country. Only having been to Mzoli’s once before, I thought that this time around would be similar to the last – it wasn’t. Far from it. Each Mzoli’s visit brings new perspectives, each trip makes you a little more intuitive – it is definitely more than just having a good Sunday braai.

CIEE Cape Town allocates community action plans (CAPs) to each house. The purpose of these CAPs are to allow each house in the program to do something together, to bond and explore Cape Town together. My house, Devonshire (the coolest one of the lot, if I say so myself….*round of applause*), visited Mzoli’s this past weekend. Though it was not completely new for me, it was still an eye-opening experience as a whole because I had to explore the place through my house’s eyes. Besides the meat, which we completely pigged out on, it was a relaxing end to the week to just sit down, be around people we liked and reconnect.

There is much more I could tell you about Mzoli’s...but I won’t. You need to come and see it for yourself. 

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 Rémy Ngamije

 University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

 Resident Assistant


03/17/2011

Home for the Weekend

The modern day nearndathal

By the time you are in your fifth year at university (Yes! That’s me…*awkward silence*) you have become accustomed to fending for yourself. You are so used to hunting down all the stores with the cheapest bargains, all of the markets that have food that will not keep toilet paper companies in business and restaurants that prepare good and affordable food, not because they fear being sued when the proverbial fly is in your soup, but because they can and want to. You will also have learned how to make your last pair of underwear last an extra three days (Trust me, this is a handy skill to learn) and what to do when the electricity bill has not been paid because the sneakers you saw in the shop window were just too good. In short, after about a year in university, you will be a modern day Neanderthal – suited for survival by the skin of your teeth and the swipe of your credit card. You don’t really need your Mommy for anything. Maybe to top up your bank balance but that is about it.

The point I am trying to make perhaps, is that after a while, you stop being a Momma’s boy or a Daddy’s girl – home is that other place you go to when there is nothing else left to do when your university closes. It sucks, but it happens. At least, to me it did.

The feeling of being away from home, being away from people who genuinely want to look after you, spoil you just for the sake of it, be around when you need conversation and provide that “home sweet home” feeling came down in ways I could not imagine when CIEE Cape Town treated its students and RA’s to a homestay weekend in Ocean View, a coloured community near Kommetjie in Cape Town.

Ocean View

The history of Ocean View, is a tumultuous one – the inhabitants were uprooted from their original homes in Simonstown during the apartheid era and relocated to Ocean View under the Group Areas Act – an infamous piece of legislation that had whole families removed from their homes to suit racial segregation policies. Coupled with poverty, close family groups and the legacy of apartheid, a strange culture has thrived in Ocean View – it is the South African “other”…but not disconcertingly so. It is different…but not really. It is home…but not quite.

Carrying a negative stereotype, Ocean View is an area of the greater Cape Town metropole that is spoken about but rarely experienced. It’s tag as a dangerous area is unwarranted – I have lived in places where even the flies can rob you, Ocean View is not such a place. True, it is not the most affluent of areas, but it is a place that is heartwarming in a way that cannot be described. The people are shaped by their environment and they in turn shape the world around them – like any other place in the world, it is a give and take relationship that is not understood by people who have never been there. Most of the stereotypes are just pure ignorance.

With just two days in Ocean View, students were given the opportunity to see how the other half lives – escaping the bright lights of Cape Town where one can be deluded into thinking clubbing and studying are the only things to do. It was shift in perspective, in expectations and personal convictions that I think affected most, if not all of the students in positive ways. From personal experience, I don’t think I will look at coloured communities in the same way again.

Home for the weekend

Home for me, is a place that is characterised by fights with my brothers about who gets the last slice of cake, who gets to hold the remote (because that controls what is watched) and perpetual avoidance of chores and other mundane activities mothers dream up to keep their boisterous sons occupied. For once though, and with all due respect to my family, I was allowed to live my fantasy of being an only child.

And boy, was it good.

For all of two days, I was the centre of attention, a living deity that was worshipped by my host family – every hour of the day, they would bring food and beverage sacrifices to me, they would take me on tours around their neighbourhood and introduce me to friends and family alike, where I walked there was a small crowd of followers that swarmed behind me, ahead of me there were people on the streets staring as I passed by. I am quite sure I heard a fanfare at some point. In short, it was sheer bliss.

My host family, a mother, her son and her niece doted on me in ways that would make my mother jealous. The way I lapped up the attention is sure to get me disowned if she reads this. Nevertheless, it was a welcome break from the continuous hubbub of university life – it was good to just sit around and talk to a family without worrying about academics or what to cook for supper. It was good to just be at home.

The Ocean View homestay effectively ticks of one thing on my bucket list: live with a host family in a strange part of the world. With CIEE Cape Town set to have more activities around the corner, I think I won’t have a bucket list to speak of – I will be allowed to die in peace.

 

03/15/2011

View of the Ocean? A Home Away from Home...

An experience like this weekend reminded me once more why I came to South Africa. The Ocean View township is a community of mostly colored people who originally lived in Simon’s Town, just about a 15-minute drive from the current township.

Ironically, Ocean View hardly has a view of the ocean..but the life and energy of the community creates an environment far more desirable than any view of any ocean.The people in the community are vibrant, beautiful, creative and welcoming. The weekend began with a talent show led by tranny/community leader Alvin and group dinner at the high-school where an identical Michael Jackson copy performed a montage of dances and lip-synching (My brother Luke happened to have a huge Michael Jackson collage in his room as well).

Saturday morning began with a delicious breakfast of avocado, scrambled eggs, fresh tomato and toast followed by a trip to the mall with mom, luke, parker and my roommate for the weekend, Mosha. After a delicious lunch, we then took a drive along the coast with the entire family to pick up Jordan at a beach birthday bash (which he described as “BOORRING”) where there was a tidal pool complete with a mysterious 5-foot long black sand shark (how did it get in there) and fishing boats returning from a successful day by the looks of their nets and traps full of “snoek”.

We even got a free fish because Mosha and I excitedly told the fisherman that we had never seen a snook before! This fish was then taken to Grandma’s house in “Ghost Town” (neighborhood of Ocean View) where Paul expertly filleted the freshly killed snook. But before this, we took a drive to one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen thus far in Cape Town, Scarborough, just a ten minute drive from the George’s home— imagine having such beauty at your fingertips! Dinner was delicious— “braaied” snoek with a lime, apricot and butter glaze and fresh salad. Sunday morning began with church bright and early at 8am— a very similar to my own experiences at Catholic church (this was an Anglican congregation, which Paul informed me is very similar to Catholic). After Sunday Lunch (finally, something relatable to Sunday at Grandma Colangelo’s) we headed to watch the cycling race pass by. About 50% of Ocean View had the very same idea— there were braais, tents and endless amounts of people watching the race (sort of) but mostly just having fun and socializing. All in all, such a unique and special way to spend a weekend.

The George’s welcomed me into their home as their own (as they have done with exchange students for the past 6 years) and even hinted at coming to visit me next weekend for my birthday. I don’t think it’s naive to say that I will be seeing them very soon…. 

Ocean View brings to mind these words..community, togetherness, litter, vandalism, crime, love, friendship, support, churches, dogs, gates, barbed wire, beer, bodegas (except they use a different term I can’t remember right now), crowds, babies, vibrant, street games, running kids, wise elders… LIFE. 

Ocean View simultaneously reminded me of neighborhoods in my city (NYC) as well as the family community I grew up with myself. At the same time, the experience the residents of Ocean View, particularly the elder ones who can still remember times of forced removal and apartheid, is one entirely foreign to me. But as my experience proceeds here in Cape Town, I am only learning more and more and the incredible history, culture and background that comprises this amazing city.

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172849_1430732564728_1125270900_31718250_3083803_o Juliana Colangelo is a student from Barnard College.

03/09/2011

Dance, sweat and fears...

Before I begin, I have to first give credit for this to my friend Alex. She, after hearing our dance instructor say this, made a mental note to write a blog entry about it, so I borrowed her mental note, because I wanted to share all of this with everyone at home too!

So, we’re in the middle of our African Dance (for semester study abroad students, making it a lot easier for us to just let loose and not worry because it’s new to all of us) class, and we were doing some across the floor combinations. The instructor, for the first couple of lines, would be doing the steps just as he taught them. Oddly enough, though, as he continued going with more lines, he would start improvising and moving in whatever way he felt like moving. Some were disconcerted & confused, as they were relying on him to follow the steps that they weren’t exactly understanding (African Dance – pretty different from anything you do in the States). So, he came over, and said this to us:

I’m in a different mode… Or what is it you say… frequency? Yes, I’m on another frequency.

One of my favorite things about this African Dance class is that we are constantly reminded just to let go. Central to the dance form we are learning is an appreciation of the music, of how the dance is just an extension of the music, and how dance is interactive and fun for an audience. Too many times we, as students, are caught up in the intricacies of footwork, of arm placement, and of distance being traveled. Too much worry breeds an inability to focus on expressing yourself; instead, you’re just trying to become perfect (a la Nina Sawyer in Black Swan). We are all guilty at times of partially driving ourselves mad trying  to nail a step. However, what that statement tells me is that there is something missing in that style of dancing: there’s no fun.

African Dance (whatever that may be – in our lecture we have debated the idea of what is African Dance, but for all intents and purposes here I’m just using African Dance as a generally name for the specific styles we’re learning) is about fun.

That’s why we need to let ourselves go – we need to be able to get out of our own heads and enjoy the dance. Our focus was all in the wrong place, and once that was pointed out, everything changed for me. No longer was I trying to be one of the few who can nail a combination, to show that I was paying attention and caring. I let go yesterday. And while I did end up making some slight mistakes on some of the combinations, I didn’t care.

That’s brand new for me. All I did was have fun, and the feelings, the expression, and the energy began to flow. I think my instructor could sense it, because he was feeding off the energy as well. African Dance is about an exchange of energies, and I finally got to the place where my energy is ready to be exchanged (as strange as that sounds).

Although this lesson mostly applies to African Dance, I think it’s a perfect metaphor for how Cape Town is changing me. I used to be slightly anal retentive, paranoid about doing something wrong, always worried that I was going to be unable to live up to expectations in school, with friends, and in other aspects of my life.

After coming to Cape Town, I’ve learned perhaps the most important lesson I needed to learn: chill. There’s no need to be rushing around everywhere, and no need to be psyching myself out about acing an exam.  While I am here to learn, I’m also here to take advantage of everything Cape Town has to offer me. So while that may mean skipping class every once in a while to go to the beach, or missing out on some hanging out with friends to go volunteer, I’m no longer worried about what I could be doing, or what I should be doing better.

Thank you Cape Town, for finally making me see that I just need to live on the frequency of the music, need to just do what naturally comes to me, need to embrace every opportunity that comes my way. But most importantly, thank you for throwing some black swan into my white swan’d self.

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168715_1866092897215_1387800043_32260737_2189714_n Thomas Delay is a student from the George Washington University.

03/08/2011

Sights and Scenes from Cape Town

Images by Holly Chu.

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The city lights of Cape Town, as seen from Signal Hill.

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Can you believe we tried to fit all of those people in a VW Beetle?

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After a tight squeeze, we only managed to get seven people. In one Beetle!

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A picture taken in Gugulethu.

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Kicking it at Mzoli's, a famous township eatery in Cape Town. The meat is just divine.

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Size does not matter.

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Winin' out.

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Finally getting to pet cheetahs. Cape Town, rules. Period.

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Holly Chu is a student from the University of Southern California.

Dusty Disciples: The Ramfest Experience

Howzit?

The semester has been in full force and as the immersion process is transforming the lives of each CIEE exchange student, Cape Town is starting to feel more and more like a home away from home. Not only have I been cooking 2-3 meals a day for myself but I am beginning to diet and eat like a true South African. I can proudly say that I am more of a carnivore and the braai culture has fully affected my eating habits. I believe that I have eaten over 20 full animals since I have been here.

This weekend, a small group of us decided to venture away from our secure homes in Rondebosch and Mowbray and travel North on the N1 to Nekkies Resort in Worcester for the annual Ramfest festival. Ramfest stands for Real Alternative Music. The international headliners were “Alkaline Trio” (US) and “Funeral for a Friend” (UK). However, the international bands were not the reason that Hans, Trevor, Vir and I ventured 120 km  away from Cape Town (Yes! I now use the metric system). After renting a car and a big 4 person tent as well as enough peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs, baked beans and water to last us the weekend, we headed out in pursuit of a fun-filled weekend.

This is the second time that we rented a car from some random car rental agent. The first time was for the Garden Route in which the agent told us he gave us the car with little to no “petrol” and we could return it that way. We made note in our heads to leave the car running overnight if we wound up having any leftover gas upon our return because it was not very considerate to leave us with nothing. This second time we rented the car from this agency the man said he thinks the car has a half tank of gas...

After driving for about 45 minutes heading north on the N1 everything is going quite well. Traffic starts to slow us down a bit as there is a huge tunnel a couple of kilometres up ahead. As the tunnel approaches, Hans our trusty driver notices that the accelerator is not doing anything and after a couple of pops we come to a dead stop. Low and behold after pushing the vehicle onto the shoulder of the highway we expect that we have run out of gas. The gas meter has not changed and apparently does not even work. After five minutes of hanging out talking to other concert goers and deciding on what to do, a large Volkswagen mini-bus full of a family bursts into a white flame of smoke about 50 yards behind us and we are joined with some similar broken down acquaintances.

After making new some new South African friends, an emergency highway vehicle arrives. He pulls up in front of us and wants to tow us to a safer part of the highway. After latching us onto the tow he immediately begins driving before we can even start the car and get it into neutral - we literally thought he was going to annihilate our transmission and axel or whatever else he was about to pull away from our car. We wave him to stop and finally he helps us start the car because the wheel lock was stuck. We pay the man 100 rand to fetch us some fuel and he follows us safely through the tunnel. Thank god we did not break down in the tunnel!

Finally we make it to Nekkies, Worcester after many turn-arounds and instances where we went to stop and ask for directions and no one spoke a word of English. Low and behold we are in Afrikaans country! Nekkies is a beautiful resort, located right in the mountains alongside of a huge river. Because we arrived late we had to set up our tent in the dark and were in the biggest dust bowl I have ever camped in. Our lungs and entire bodies were coated in dirt and dust within minutes. After setting up and settling we walked over to the concert scene where three stages were setup with the most scenic mountain backdrops behind.

A collective mixture of alternative, rock and electronic music were being played on each stage. We were very interested in hearing the South African music scene. The first night was set off by Gazelle (who have two zulu back vocal women singers and a very African vibe) and Die Antwoord (craziest set I have ever seen). They have an Afrikaans/English hardcore rap style accompanied by an insane high-pitched woman rapping). We then went over to the electronic tent that apparently played until 5 in the morning.

The next day the river was the main scene. Everyone brought inner tubes and floatables, relaxed and listened to music while soaking up the sun in the river. The scene was so cool. Later that night the two international headline bands played but we were not very interested in them. The coolest performance of the second night was on the electronic stage of a couple of guys called “P.H. Fat”.

These guys would kill it in the States and would do very well on college concerts. One of the artists brought out his laptop to “show the crowd something” but as he was fiddling with it while holding the mic he dropped his laptop and the battery broke off of it. He was not a happy camper.  He wound up giving his laptop to a member of the crowd. They got the whole crowd jumping and an entire dust cloud overtook all the available oxygen.

Sunday morning we woke up and got the hell out of there. We were covered from head to foot in dust and dirt. We prayed that the car would make it home and it did! What a great journey!

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20055_1270432961230_1242030024_30917106_2249651_n Bradley Elfman is a student from Syracuse University.

From Philly to Cape Town

7,835 miles, or to be politically correct, 12,609 kilometers. That is the distance from Philadelphia to Cape Town. Sometimes these numbers feel exaggerated. Sometimes, no measurable distance seems large enough. 

Take a virtual plane flight with me. Don’t worry, there is no need to remove your shoes or undergo a full body scan. We board British Airways somewhere on the east coast. Let’s just choose Philly for convenience. It is 35 Fahrenheit outside, and the season’s 13th snowstorm bolsters Al Gore’s inconvenient truth.  Skip ahead 20 some hours, a stopover in London, and the continuous stream of neck straining movie watching aboard your 737; welkom in Kaapstad (Afrikaans courtesy of Google translate).

When I got off the plane in Cape Town, the first thing I did was visit the WC. You can always tell if an airport is nice by the quality of its bathrooms. Let me tell you, Cape Town already felt like a nice city. I couldn’t imagine that my friend studying in Tanzania would say the same upon arrival. That glistening portrayal of the city continued straight through immigrations, and into the back seat of my airport pick up.

I came to Cape Town about a week prior to the  start of the CIEE program, and spent my first night at the Portswood Hotel, adjacent to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. I could just have easily been staying at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Perhaps it is the American style dinner, boasting 50’s styles milkshakes that hint of globalization. Don’t get me wrong. It is an amazing waterfront. But it didn’t feel like Cape Town, or offer any expected welcome to the African continent.

Maybe the flocking tourists and their Nikkon DSLR cameras had something to do with that feeling. So at this point, I’m thinking that my read of the airport bathroom was pretty spot on, and that Cape Town is a rocking city enjoying a first world life at the tip of a mostly second and third world continent.

I did not travel to Cape Town to relax with fellow tourists. I wanted to go exploring, to see what the city had to offer, hidden behind the veil of posh stores lining the cruise-docked bay. Just a few miles away from the Portswood, I no longer felt at home. My Nikon speaking louder than my American accent, I immediately became the target of Cape Town’s poor. Beggars lined on city streets asking for a loaf of bread, offering pictures of their children, hoping empathy might spark donation. I am not the type to give money to a stranger on the street, but I often try to provide food. At home, when I offer food, many of those who scream of hunger refuse to eat, as desires fade with the dimming prospects of booze money or a pack of Malboro. Not here. There is something sincere about the desire for a muffin, or a bottle of water. You can tell in an individuals face when they are desperate, and sometimes, it is hard to resist.

I bought a muffin for one woman from a market vendor. I have no doubt that she was grateful. I was, however, unprepared for the onslaught of requests that would come from those who witnessed by donation. Maybe 10 or 15 people rose from the evening shadows, hoping to turn a tourist into a soup kitchen for the night. If I were to give to all, I would be broke. If I were to give to all, who is to say more would not follow in line. At some point, you realize that you are a long ways away from the 15 dollar appetizers of the waterfront.  Uncomfortable, and with a lot on my mind, I thought I should return to my hotel. Little did I know my walk would feature an unwelcomed escort, who for 15 minutes, continued to beg me for food, letting me casually know that he did not want to resort to crime.

Cape Town is a city of dissonance. While there is a contrast between the haves and have-nots in the States, rarely do they merge onto the same block. I cannot walk to the supermarket without being asked for food. And when you come back from an upscale dinner, it often pains to feel full while seeing others hungry. You can’t stop your life because others suffer. What I have realized is that sometimes, the way in which I live my life is purely wasteful. Why do I need that extra slice of pizza? Why is my trashcan filled with partially uneaten portions? To what extent do I live beyond my satisfaction level, wasting what others yearn for?

 My dissonance is living that first world Cape Town life with second world neighbors, and knowing I don’t or even can’t always do enough to help.

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DSC_0064_2 Michael Pasek is a student from Bates University.

03/02/2011

Life Through a Lens: Kirstenbosch Summer Concert by Jasmine Knowles

Pictures tell a thousand words as the popular saying goes. Without waxing lyrical, we shall just let the photos tell the story themslves. 

Kirstenbosch Summer Concert II

Kirstenbosch Summer Concert III

Kirstenbosch Gardens Summer Concert

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Jasmine Knowles Jasmine Knowles is a student Washington University in St. Louis

03/01/2011

Robben Island: Check!

Cape Town, at least to the international visitor, is definedby five famous landmarks: Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Point, the Castle of Good Hope and most famously, Robben Island. A small percentage of Cape Town residents will only have seen one of those things - most will have seen none of them. To people who live here, it is a constant process of postponement. Come on, Table Mountain is not going anywhere is it?

It comes as no wonder then, that few of us (those of us that live here) have ever taken the time to explore the Mother City. Financial restraints aside, there are quite a few things for the eye to see, the nose to smell, tongue to savour and mind to experience. Nevertheless every person that is bound to stay in Cape Town for more than a year always delays the experiences, always thinking that there will be a tomorrow. Like I said, Table Mountain is not going anywhere. At least we hope so.

I am one of those people. I am sad to admit that my Cape Town to-do list  stretches to eternity and back again. I can proudly state that my track record is way better than most people's; I have hiked Table Mountain numerous times, I have been to the Gardens whenever I have a Sunday to spare, I have visited the Castle once and plans to see Cape Point are in the pipeline. Concrete plans - not the airy fairy plans that I used to dabble in when I first arrived in Cape Town in 2007.

The most embarrassing confession with regard to my bucket list though, is the sad fact that I had never been to Robben Island before joining CIEE. 

Shock! Horror! Yes, I know. A Cape Townian who has never made the small trip to Robben Island. Sad but very true. 

It was a small miracle that an outing was arranged for CIEE students currently studying abroad in Cape Town to visit South Africa's most infamous prison. I finally had no excuse not to go - I would once and for all tick Robben Island off my bucket list and die in peace. 

The history of Robben Island is famous the world over. It's not new to anyone per se. The world knows that Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life imprisoned there during the Apartheid era - that is about all everyone knows about it. Few know that Robert Sobukwe (founder of the Pan African Congress) was held in solitary confinement there as well. Even fewer will know that Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other famous South African politicians were held captive on the famous prison island.

I admit that I did not know all of the above. Sure, I knew more than most people, but I would not be winning any quizzes if they asked me about the immediate history and importance of the place. Needless to say when the trip was in progress, I was learning as much as all of the other foreign students from the US and the other tourists that had come to visit it. 

2011-02-20 - Robben Island

"It is safe to say that without Robben Island, there is no South Africa as we know it." - Thandie, Robben Island tour guide

Above: Table Mountain, seen from Robben Island. Picture by: Rémy Ngamije. 

It is strange how much history there is around in Cape Town. It practically oozes from every pore - you do not have to go far to find a window to South Africa's past. It is everywhere. There is a reason why this place is called the Mother City. Everything that one needs to know about South Africa is right here. Robben Island, along with the District 6 Museum and a host of other cultural and heritage sites around the city are a small fraction of the places where the history of South Africa is somewhat permanently ingrained. 

But therein lies the crux of the problem - history is not permanent. I think it's more vague and unpredictable than the future. It sounds strange, but it's true. The past is subject to revision, rewriting re-everything that can be done to a historical text. Dates change, things are renamed, people are erased out of history. History is shaped by the people who have played a role in it and who record it - whoever follows is merely a slave of their interpretation.

Going to Robben Island highlighted the issue: time changes things. Robben Island is not the same place it was 20 years ago, it was not the same it was five years ago either and in a year's time...who knows? It has fresh paint on the wall, the roads are tarred,  all of the prison cells are clean. There is no...well, there is no Robben Island in the same way that people think about it.

And that is the danger in putting off experiences, I guess. Doing them later might not hold the same sense of adventure or history - a delayed pleasure is not always sweeter. I am not sure whether I would have gone to Robben Island, had I not been in CIEE this year. All I can say is that I am glad I did. Who knows what it would be like in 10 years time when I finally decided to go. In most ways, I admire all of the CIEE students who have chosen to study abroad here in Africa. It's an experience that I am sure was thrown around for a while, scratched onto a list of things to do before the old ticker ticked its last second. But they are actually here. Now. Not tomorrow.

If anything, the gist of this post is that the future will not leave you behind, history will. Live for the memory of right now.

Remy's Bucket List

  1. Mount Everest: Pending.
  2. Explore Amazone Rainforest: Pending.
  3. Robben Island: CHECK!
  4. Great Wall of China: Pending.

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Rémy Ngamije

University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

Resident Assistant