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7 posts from July 2011

07/26/2011

Robben Island Revisited: Nursery House

CIEE Cape Town endeavours to expose the students in its exchange program to as much of South Africa as possible. One of the ways that it does this is through the organisation of community action plans, more affectionately referred to as CAPs. These CAPs are initiated by the various houses in the program and can be educational, social or cultural. More often than not, they are a combination of all three. One of the most popular CAPs is the trip to Robben Island, the Apartheid museum where the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Robert Sobukwe were imprisoned during the liberation struggle.

Last semester when the students in my house went to the island, it was a virgin experience for all of us, myself included. We all journeyed there not knowing what we were going to experience or see. For the most part, we were not left disappointed; it was a humbling experience that left many of us thinking about the horrors that were practiced in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Returning there for the second time with a new group of students, I was not sure what it is that I would feel. For the students, it would all be new. Would it be the same for me?

After a choppy ride on the ferry to the island, the same feeling of time travelling to the past washed over me. Setting foot on the island gives you an eerie feeling - you walk as a free man or woman in the same places that people were sent to serve life sentences. You trace the same footsteps of South Africa's famous heroes. From the kitchen to the prison cells, the walls of Robben Island remind you that this was a hard place - a place where only the strong survived. "It feels as though all the heaters in the world could not warm this place up," a student in my house said.

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The entrance to Robben Island

It is nigh impossible to visit the island and not leave being humbled. The ex-prisoners that give the guided tours of the prison tell such moving stories of their time on the island: the way that they lived, how they lived as a family to ensure that their spirits were not broken. From an RA perspective, the lessons that Robben Island teaches are sometimes useful in a house: teamwork, understanding, service. The lessons are innumerable. 

Of the numerous sights to see in Cape Town, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch, Cape Point and the Cape wine lands, Robben Island remains at the top of the list, not only because of the history that was made there, but because of the future that is promised as well. For the exchange students in the CIEE Cape Town program, Robben Island presents just one facet of South Africa's past and a testimony to a future free of the past's mistakes.

"It's really interesting the way the past is kept alive here. Robben Island is so heart wrenching yet painfully educational", another student stated. Robben Island is one of those journeys that remain hauntingly close once you've been there, one of those not easily forgotten. The second time around was just as educational as the second. 

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Remy Ngamije is a student at the University of Cape Town.

Wolmunster House's Robben Island Experience

On the morning of 23rd I, along with all 19 members of Wolmunster house, headed down to the waterfront to take the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous Alcatraz-like prison where Nelson Mandela was held for an unfathomable 18 years during Apartheid. 


We survived the nauseating ferry ride and made it to the island where we were greeted by a former inmate of the prison – our tour guide. He told us his story of being sent to Robben Island for involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. He led us to the kitchen, the very kitchen where he spent five of his seven years cooking for fellow inmates. He showed us a chart depicting the rations that were allotted to prisoners of different races, the white inmates receiving more food than the Coloured people, who received more food than the Black prisoners. 


I was surely not the only student to wonder why a man who suffered such trauma and hardship on this island would voluntarily spend his days giving tours of the prison. Unfortunately no one asked him this question - my biggest regret of the day, despite the personal nature of the question. 


The lesson: always ask the difficult, uncomfortable question. You’ll regret not asking it more than you’ll regret asking it. 


After seeing the prison, we were taken on a scenic bus tour of the rest of the island where we caught a beautiful glimpse of the city across the water, saw a peacock, and spotted some more of our favourite African penguins waddling along the shore.

The ferry back was just as brutal as the ferry there, a result of the immensely powerful winds that literally almost knocked us over. Overall, the tour provided us with some first-hand insight into South African history, enriching our experience as we immerse ourselves in this culture that is so deeply shaped by its recent history. 

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Josh Kriegel is a student from the University of Pennsylvania.

Wolmunster House's Robben Island Experience

On the morning of 23rd I, along with all 19 members of Wolmunster house, headed down to the waterfront to take the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous Alcatraz-like prison where Nelson Mandela was held for an unfathomable 18 years during Apartheid. 


We survived the nauseating ferry ride and made it to the island where we were greeted by a former inmate of the prison – our tour guide. He told us his story of being sent to Robben Island for involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. He led us to the kitchen, the very kitchen where he spent five of his seven years cooking for fellow inmates. He showed us a chart depicting the rations that were allotted to prisoners of different races, the white inmates receiving more food than the Coloured people, who received more food than the Black prisoners. 


I was surely not the only student to wonder why a man who suffered such trauma and hardship on this island would voluntarily spend his days giving tours of the prison. Unfortunately no one asked him this question - my biggest regret of the day, despite the personal nature of the question. 


The lesson: always ask the difficult, uncomfortable question. You’ll regret not asking it more than you’ll regret asking it. 


After seeing the prison, we were taken on a scenic bus tour of the rest of the island where we caught a beautiful glimpse of the city across the water, saw a peacock, and spotted some more of our favourite African penguins waddling along the shore.

The ferry back was just as brutal as the ferry there, a result of the immensely powerful winds that literally almost knocked us over. Overall, the tour provided us with some first-hand insight into South African history, enriching our experience as we immerse ourselves in this culture that is so deeply shaped by its recent history. 

Dinner at Moyo

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Waka waka: CIEE students are taught how to shake and move by dancers at Moyo

The end of orientation for the CIEE Cape Town Fall Program was celebrated with a dinner at Moyo, one of Cape Town’s famous restaurants on the Spier Wine Estate. Moyo has been a perennial favourite with the CIEE crowd and before the students moved to their various homestays, houses or dormitories they were treated to a buffet of epic proportions: African style.

With orientation complete, the night was filled with frivolity and dancing, as students and staff were allowed to unwind and look forward to another fun-filled semester. For many of the students, Moyo presented a treat the likes of which they had never had before. From the food to the music, each minute presented something different for the tongue to taste and something new for the ears to hear.

The CIEE dinner at Moyo marked the official start of five months in Africa and as many students will confess, it was truly “lekker.”

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Picture perfect: Students and RA's enjoying the night away. 

07/25/2011

Roxy House's Robben Island Experience

Roxy’s trip to Robben Island started off a little bumpy. We all managed to be awake and ready for the car at 11h30, but about a minute into the car ride, we realized that Sajjad (our RA) had forgotten the tickets. We had to turn back to the house to get them. 


After that minor hiccup, we made it to the Waterfront with plenty of time to spare and were able to walk around a little bit and get coffee. Unfortunately, many of the girls in the house had to fight aggressively with the harsh winds in order to walk.


While waiting on line for the ferry, we saw the Mr. Apartheid puppet and the famous quote by Ahmed Kathrada hanging on the walls as a little preview to the Robben Island Museum. The quote set the tone for the apartheid museum that we were about to see. 


Our first stop at Robben Island was one of the communal bunk rooms. Our tour guide, who was a former prisoner of Robben Island, explained to us the conditions and experience of an average prisoner. He showed us the identification and meal cards that each prisoner received and explained the blatant discrimination that was practiced against blacks, even in prison. 


The Black prisoners were given less food and worse consideration than the Whites, Coloureds, and Indians. 


We then went to the kitchen, which was a small room that housed about sixteen or so vats, used for cooking. Our guide explained that you could apply to get a job in the kitchen as a prisoner, but you had to be very disciplined because if you took an extra piece of meat, someone else would not eat that day. 


The next stop on the walking tour was to the famous 466/64 cell where Nelson Mandela was kept during his time on the island. One of our housemates, Donald (who is very tall) could hardly fit through the doorway. It is incredible to imagine that Nelson Mandela stayed there for eighteen years. 

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Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.


Next, we boarded a bus and a different guide took us to the Leper Graveyard, the exhibit on Robert Sobukwe who was the founder of the Pan-African Conference. He was kept in solitary confinement for six years on the island.

Next, we visited the limestone quarry where captives had to spend 8 hours a day digging and crushing the rocks that were used to build the roads on the islands.  


The ferry ride back to the waterfront was quite a surprise. No one warned us that it would be like a scary roller coaster, but fortunately, no Roxy resident got seasick—the sign of a successful day! 

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Julie Zuckerbrod is a student from Duke University. 

 

07/13/2011

What's Your Story?

New term, new faces and new stories, that is the feeling that hovers over the CIEE Cape Town office on UCT's Middle Campus. With a new crop of students having arrived on Tuesday (12th July 2011) the energy of fresh starts is infectious and has rubbed onto the students. "What's your story?" has been officially adopted as the working slogan for the Fall Program, an encouragment to all the students in the program to seize all of the opportunities that UCT and Cape Town present. 

The following pictures were snapped on top of Lion's Head, a few hours after the students arrived in Cape Town. What a way to start the term. 

The energy and enthusiasm that the students have is impressive and more of the same is sure to follow as the term rolls out. All that remains is to capture all of the stories that CIEE Cape Town has to offer. 

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Pictures by Remy Ngamije. 

It's Gonna be !Xim

CIEE Welcome Poster
The Fall Program of CIEE Cape Town kicked of on Tuesday, 12 July 2011, with the arrival of another group of students from the United States touching down in the Mother City. Exhausted from hours on long flights and stopovers, the relief of finally having reached their home for the next five months was palpable.

Hailing from a host of US universities, the Fall Program is hosting students from large universitiess and small private colleges alike: Penn State, Rutgers, Occidental College, Santa Clara, Vanderbilt and Bodwoin College to name but a few. After months of application procedures and administration, the students were eager to start their semester abroad. As usual, CIEE was on hand to make sure that their stay in Cape Town got off to a truly exciting and adventurous start with a hike up Lion's Head, one of the city's more relaxing hikes. 

After hours spent on planes, the hike was an excellent way to expel jetlag and to take in the beauty of Cape Town. A rare sunny day in the middle of Winter seemed to bless the occassion and clear skies all around added to the panoramas that could be seen from the top of the Lion. A favourite haunt for hikers, the walk was crowded with old and young alike, all headed to the summit for the full moon viewing - another of Cape Town's must do's.

Slow and easy, the pace of the hike allowed the students to snap pictures of False Bay, Table Bay and Camps Bay at sunsets. Smiling faces and cameras combined in a tango of clicks and snaps that will have Facebook profile pages bristling with some very interesting pictures for friends and family to see. Introductions and conversations were had all around as students made new friends and acquainted themselves with the other students about to embark on their African journey in Cape Town.

The Resident Director, Quinton Redcliffe expressed his joy at seeing all of the students arrive safely and soundly, while the RA's helped to settle the students in their orientation venues quickly and efficiently. The rest of the week will be dedicated to informing the students about UCT and Cape Town life in general before they move to their respective houses, dormitories and homestays for the duration of the term.

With all of the students in Cape Town, the exchange trip can safely be said to be underway. From here on out, "it's gonna be !xim."