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Views from the Saddle by Ellis Simani


I hadn’t expected to do much riding when I arrived in Cape Town. Having planned a month of traveling prior to arriving in South Africa, it would’ve been a little hectic to haul a bicycle on my back across two continents, and with such little time in the semester it didn’t seem like purchasing a bike would make much sense either. Then, by a stroke of luck, I happened to find myself with a spot in the Cape Argus.

The Cape Argus, or The Cape Town Cycle Tour, is the largest timed cycle race in the world, and also a staple event in the cycling community in Cape Town.  Over 35k riders take part in the event every year, bringing women and men from all corners of the world together to ride 109km (about 68mi) around the Cape Peninsula. The event is incredibly popular, and tickets are said to sell out online within minutes of opening. The proceeds for the ride all go to charitable organizations in South Africa, and many of the recipients are offered complimentary entries in to the event as well. Luckily, I was connected with one of these such organizations, and was able to purchase a ticket through them.

Getting myself ready for the tour became my mission for the next two weeks after getting my ticket. The first half of this time I spent in search of a bicycle to either borrow, rent, or purchase at an affordable price. I spent afternoons taking the train across the city to various bike shops—each referring me to another or suggesting I look online on South Africa’s version of Craigslist, a website by the name of GumTree. Well, I took them up on the latter, and by the end of the week I found a used road bike for a price well within my tight budget, and could focus my attention on my training.

For the next week I rode my bike pretty much everywhere I could. What I originally intended to be a series of training rides, turned in to an informal tour of the city that I’ve come to call home. From my saddle I could venture to corners of the Cape Town inaccessible from the railway lines or mini bus taxis. I made friends other people I’d come across in bike shops, or cyclists I’d meet on the road as they also prepared for the Argus. Mostly though, the folks my bike introduced me to had nothing to do with the race at all. They’d be the local Cape Town residents who were intrigued to see a Black American riding a deceptively flashy-looking road bike around, or the students who’d strike up conversation with me on campus after seeing me bike up the notorious hill to campus every morning.

In the end, all of the training certainly paid off, and the ride was absolutely incredible. Ironically though, when I think back on the experience of participating in the tour years from now I don’t actually think I’ll think much about the ride itself. Don’t get me wrong, the Argus was one of the most amazing rides I’ve ever done, but aside from the spectacular views of the Cape and the faces of children running along alongside us as we rode, the experience of riding in the race itself wasn’t much different than those back home. Instead, I imagine that I’ll think most about the people that came in to my life when preparing for the ride, the places around Cape Town my bike took me when training, the confidence I developed in navigating a new urban environment and the appreciation I came to have for those who occupy it. I’ll also be reminded of less positive feelings as well, such as the privilege I felt in having the funds to purchase a relatively nice used bike at a price that would still be unheard of to the average South African (as is the price of an Argus entry ticket), or the fear that by engaging in my favorite hobby I’d be ushering myself into cycling communities similar to those back home: predominately made of affluent white males and without much other social or economic diversity.

I still believe that there are even more memories to be made in this city though, and that I still have several other places and people to meet in Cape Town; both on the saddle and off of it. The Argus gave me an opportunity to see one example of cycling’s influence on a minority of individuals who ride here, but I’m hoping to take my interest and share it with others who might not engage with the bicycle in that same way. In the coming weeks I’m hoping to leave the comfortable Southern Suburbs that house the University of Cape Town, and travel with a local organization to schools in neighboring Townships to provide donated bicycles, as well as lessons in bicycle safety, maintenance, and repair to South African students. Perhaps one day I’ll find myself back in Cape Town and riding the Argus with them, or maybe we’ll just explore new streets around the city with even more new faces- I’d like that too. 


Ellis 1

Ellis 2

Ellis 3

Ellis 4


Homestay Weekend in Langa by JoJo Little

Ever since I got home people have been asking me how my homestay was and the only word I can think to answer with is “insane.” Insane because I experienced something I never thought I would be able to in this lifetime. The family I stayed with consisted of a mother named Lindi (41), a daughter named Ria (15), a daughter named Wanga (5), and a son named Riolio (2). The family was extremely welcoming and accommodating to my stay in their home. Amongst what I guess to be one of the most underprivileged families in the homestay program, they did an amazing job making their house a home. I never once felt uncomfortable or as if I was infringing on their space. Furthermore, they made sure that I was consistently fed and entertained which were aspects that were really important to my experience. I learned what it was like to find entertainment in the face of limited resources. With no money or desire to leave the community, the people of Langa have days filled with laughter and activity. I also experienced what it was like to eat meals under a constrained budget. The cuisine my family prepared for me was both unique to Africa and unique to what they could afford and liked to eat. As a healthy eater, the task of eating everything that was handed to me was a difficult feat but one I found easy to achieve once I decided that I wanted my experience to be wholesome and reflective of the lives of my homestay family.

It required a lot of energy to release myself from what I normally do every day, what I normally eat, and who I normally interact with but once I did a wave of surrealism followed and I was able to just be a person living in Langa. By actively forgetting that I was a visitor to the community, I was able to succumb to their lifestyle. It ended up being the most rewarding thing I could ever do for myself. At first it was difficult to be on someone else’s time but once I discovered that I had no choice but to go with the flow, I really enjoyed myself. My Saturday consisted of watching the youth rugby team for a bit, walking around Langa, trying sheep’s face and authentic African beer, and attending a braai.  My Sunday consisted of a two hour long Roman Catholic mass, grocery shopping, and watching a hockey game. These activities helped me to understand the art of Langa and the authentic life of my homestay family.

Although there were times when I felt uncomfortable and times where I wish things had gone a little differently, at the end of the day I would not change a single thing about what I experienced. I am so grateful it happened the way it did and that I can carry the memories with me for the rest of my life. To make matters even better, my homestay mom and I exchanged our emails and cell phone numbers and I am looking forward to the time our worlds collide again. Langa Homestay_JoJo Little


A Day of Museums; A Lifetime of Learning

When asking a student what their preferred activity for an early Saturday morning would be the furthest thought in their mind would be to go on a museum tour in Cape Town's CBD. Nevertheless the students of Queens Street geared up with sunhats, cameras and open minds headed off to town to visit some of the most historic places in the city. 
Our museum tour began at the oldest colonial building in South Africa, The Castle of Good Hope. This building is less your conventional building and more of a type of fortress to say the least though this is implied in the name. Built in the 17th century by the first colonisers Simon van der Stel and Jan van Riebeek the castle stands as a rembrandt of South Africa's violent and raw history. Its original purpose was to serve as a replenishment station for sailors of the Dutch East India Company sailing to the east. Today, it serves as a poignant reminder of our complex history and is pivotal in understanding the turbulent socio political climate in South Africa. Our tour commenced with the firing of a rather small and surprisingly loud cannon- dynamite truly does come in small packages! With the help of our tour guide we then moved through the different areas of The Castle from the Governor's private quarters to the torture and solitary confinement rooms to finally ending at the gunpowder storage chambers. Though highly informative this tour was challenging in every sense of the word. We were required to grapple with the dense issue of colonialism and to recall the past in order to never repeat it.

After some reflective conversation we then walked up the street to our next stop: The District Six Museum. This museum captures a different period in South Africa's history and is an amalgamation of history and what happened during the forced removals under Apartheid as well as an embodiment of the vibrant and metropolitan culture that was District Six and the great music that this area gave us. The layout of this museum allows anyone to enter and begin navigating the different sections without a guide. The various sections show District Six at different periods in history and perhaps the most poignant ones are those that capture the sentiments of those displaced by the forced removals. Reading these lived experiences made the museum a more real and human experience which mere archives cannot do justice.

From District Six our group made a slight detour to grab a quick coffee at arguably the best coffee shop in the city, Truth Coffee. Once replenished we headed over to our final stop at The Slave Lodge. This museum is a self guided museum which consists of installations, video presentations, poetry and pieces remembering and acknowledging the former slaves, their names, families and origins. Though the overarching theme of this museum is slavery and the portrayal of this history there are sections that focus on similar narratives in South Africa such as the liberation movement and the highly tumultuous post Apartheid South African mining sector. Of all the museums visited this was by far the most critically engaging for the students. It portrayed the history in a way that did not guilt the visitor nor was it cold and factual but it was a combination of these two and interwove these elements to leave one in pensive mood yet at the same time appreciative of how far we have come and determined to live in a manner that contributes to some greater good in our lifetime.

Though we spent but a few hours of our day wandering the corridors and rooms of history we left with far more than facts and did more than tick off another item on our Cape Town to-do list. 

We engaged, we learnt and we reflected. These are the things we will hold in our hearts. 


Why District Six Should Never Be Forgotten

The story of Apartheid in South Africa is nothing new to me, however the story of District Six was a whole new ballgame. The fact that I knew very little made the District Six Museum even more meaningful. Here’s what I learned: In February 1966, it was declared that District Six (the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town) would be a whites-only area. In total, more than 66,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes and communities. And, at the same time, their houses and other community buildings were flattened by bulldozers as the government attempted to rebuild a “clean” community that did not involve people of color. What struck me most about District Six, was that in that other well-known situations of racial discrimination, the “unwanted” people were forced into a relocation center—the Jews were forced into ghettos and concentration camps, the Native Americans and African Slaves (in the case of the States) were forced into reservations and work plantations. In my years of history classes and research, this is the first instance I can think of where the discriminated group was forced out of a district, rather than into one.

Before the declaration of District Six as a “White Group Area” it was a multi-cultural, vibrant community—there were people of all ages, backgrounds, classes, races, and nationalities living together in a big melting pot. Yes, there were still hardships—small living quarters, poverty, etc.—but they were all existing and living together. Then, during the period of Apartheid, someone decided that the mixing of cultures and races was unclean and dangerous. They decided that the only way to fix this “problem” was to force out all the colored people so that only whites remain. Then they began to bulldoze the land—this remodel included starting from the ground up, as well as building new streets so that it was a completely different, unrecognizable area.

When I walked into the museum, the first thing that caught my eye was the big map of District Six on the floor. This map was a layout of the district, including all the street names, and had been signed by former residents in the places where they had lived before being removed. On the edges of this map, there were poems—poems of hope, poems of sorrow, poems dedicated to the mothers who had lost their sons in the violence, poems declaring that the pain and tragedy would not last. There were two poems in particular that resonated within me, both written by Peter E. Clarke:


Questioning Eyes

It’s sad

The situation is so bad

That when we meet

In the dark street

We size

Each other up

With cautious, questioning eyes.”



We live in a time of storm

And stress

But this weather

will not last


This tide will turn”


I can’t quite put my finger on what drew me to these two poems in particular, but I think that they both make powerful statements about District Six. Questioning Eyes tells the story of a time where there was harmony and peace between cultures, but it has gotten to the point where anyone could be the enemy. A community that once was thriving on its intercultural relationships had now become a place where anyone could be the victim, and anyone could be the attacker—people are turning on one another because a ‘higher authority’ created an air of superiority. On the other hand, Poem offers up words of hope. It gives hope that the storm would not last, the idea that they would be able to make it through. It gives the reader the strength to see the light at the end of the tunnel and to trust that equality will one day be restored. Two poems, beautifully written, from the same place of discrimination and sorrow.

Walking through this museum—this space dedicated to the memory of District Six and to the destruction that happened there—I had so many thoughts running through my head. I will never ever be able to understand what it’s like to be forced out of your home. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of racial discrimination happening today, both back home in the States and all around the world, but I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, at predominantly white schools. I’m Hispanic, but I’m also German—and I’m lucky enough that the color of my skin doesn’t make me the target of any discrimination. However in District Six, this could have been an entirely different story. During our guided tour, the tour guide showed us examples of pass books. He pointed out how there were two people whose skin color looked basically identical however one was classified as white, and one was classified as colored. This struck me: there was no process, no systematic approach to one’s ethnicity, it was just based off the color of your skin and the person who was making that judgment. In grade school we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover—but that’s exactly what was happening in District Six. If you looked colored, then you were labeled “colored”, if you looked white then you were labeled “white”. But sometimes even if you looked white, you were labeled “colored”. That’s it. Someone made a decision about who you were and there was no way to escape that label, regardless of your actual ethnicity.

When you make these decisions—when you choose to completely tear down a community, to reform and rebuild it—you make the decision to completely destroy a part history. There are so many homes and business that were lost. So much cultural engagement that is now absent to those of us in Cape Town today. Yes, we have museums and pictures and stories that have been passed down, but it’s not the same as being able to walk through those neighborhoods and to see with our own eyes.

I think that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to decide that we are too good to live in a multicultural community, to decide that we are too good to mix with other cultures. I like to think of myself as having a very welcoming, accepting view of cultures that are different than my own. I’m an Intercultural Studies major because I think that our differences are what make us beautiful and I want to learn as much as I can about the cultures that make us unique. And I sometimes find myself assuming that everyone thinks this way. I find myself thinking that it ought to be common sense to love someone regardless of the color of their skin. But in those moments, I realize that this is, very unfortunately, not the way everyone thinks.

Back in the States, we have a presidential candidate who does not realize the pain and destruction that comes from distancing yourself from other cultures. He thinks that America is weakened and is “losing” because we let in immigrants and people of other ethnicities. He thinks that he can “make America great again” by kicking certain races out. But what he doesn’t realize is that when we embrace one another, and we embrace the rainbow of diversity that we each represent, we allow for a merging of cultures that benefits all sides. I’m not saying these things to throw shade, or to turn this into a big political argument, because that’s not the point. I’m saying it because I’m an optimist: I want to think that one day everyone will realize the joy and beauty that comes from multicultural communities. We should not be afraid of who we are, or where are ancestors come from. We should not fear each other, we should embrace each other. And I pray that this museum continues to serve as a reminder of the hurt and destruction that comes from trying to “clean” ourselves of intercultural relationships. Distirct 6 CAP



“There is no pain as great as the memory of joy in present grief”

It’s hard to process death and the last couple of weeks have been very difficult for the CIEE Cape Town family having to deal with the passing of Nicholas Upton.  There is nothing anyone can say to the friends and family of Nick and throughout this time we can only hope that they find some semblance of peace and sound mind. Nick made an indelible impression on his friends and this was evident by the outpouring of grief at his memorial service. I won’t pretend to have known him, but sincerely hope that his friends and family can continue to embody the spirit and courage that was spoken of at length by those close to him. His parents wrote a letter that was read out during the memorial and they left us with the words of Afterglow that I believe he would want us to remember him by:

I’d like the memory of me

To be a happy one.

I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles

When the day is done.

I’d like to leave an echo

Whispering softly down the ways.

Of happy times and laughing times

And bright sunny days.

I’d like the tears of those who grieve

To dry before the sun.

Of happy memories that

I leave when life is done.




“A joyous hymn to human nature” - New York Times

“The word theatre comes from the Greeks. It means the seeing place. It is the place people come to see the truth about life and the social situation.”  - Stella Adler

The theatre captivates what is real about life as we know it, see it and live it; and last week students from the ICL class had a chance to attend a play at the Baxter Theatre called, Sizwe Banzi is Dead. Looking at that title and having Stella Adler’s words echo in the background, you can only imagine the reality of the performance. The award-winning theatre classic is about the universal struggle for human dignity. The story centres on a black man in apartheid-era South Africa who tries to overcome oppressive work regulations to support his family. How many of you can relate with that, either personally or vicariously, not specifically within the South African context but the broader universal picture? Sizwe Banzi is Dead became a statement that articulated the anger of black people against these laws,” says Kani. “It’s about the universal struggle of identity, of the dignity of the human being, and respect for humanity.”

Kani and Ntshona performed the play in South Africa, England and on Broadway, where they jointly won the coveted Tony Awards for Best Actor. In 1976 they were arrested by the Apartheid Secret Police and were detained in solitary confinement for 23 days. They were only released because of massive demonstrations by the arts fraternity all over the world. After the magnificent performance by the two South African actors, Atandwa Kani and Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu, the students were able to chat and engage with them in a Q&A session held in the theatre after the performace. The play was first produced in the early ‘70s by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. Forty years since John Kani and Winston Ntshona won the Best Actor Tony Award for their performances in the play and while John Kani returns as director, his son assumes the role which made him famous. The value of the experience can't be underestimated because it challenged students to engage outside their immediate social situation and as Stella Adler so aptly puts it:

"You have to get beyond your own precious inner experiences" - Stella Adler.





“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Looking back on the first half of the second semester, it’s incredibly surreal how much has already taken place. It goes without saying that when you’re having fun time seems to move a little faster! A lot has happened and while it was hoped that we would post more organically as things took place, we’ll try and do our best to reflect on everything so far.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a memory is worth more.

Although we certainly encourage students to take as many pictures during their stay in Cape Town, there are times when foregoing photographic evidence for the sake of living in the moment is just the right thing to do. Many students have spoken at length about the bonds they’ve created with their homestay families, working with the children at The Ark, stimulating conversations they’ve had and enjoying the night life in Cape Town. That’s barely touching on everyone’s experience but these are the moments that you can never quite capture unless you’re fully present. We’re certain many have learned that it’s fine to leave your phone at home and simply surrender to the experiences abroad.

Be adventurous & surround yourself with positive people.

When you’re in the environment that CIEE students find themselves, elements of adventure are inevitable. In the two months that have passed, some have toured Robben Island, been bungee jumping, hiking, shark cage diving, skydiving and sand boarding, all the while managing to submit the weekly tutorials and essays that put the study in study abroad. All these activities are not fully worth it unless you’re doing them with people you care about. It’s always interesting watching homestay students mingling with residence kids or attending a braai at Verona and bumping into Rondebosch Court people. While most find themselves placed with many other exchange students, that doesn’t necessarily translate to being trapped in an American bubble; instead finding the right personalities to mesh with and meeting locals is all part of the experience and it challenges students to find a way of breaking away from the crowd. Feedback from RA’s, students and staff alike indicate that as soon as people take on that challenge their days and nights become unforgettable. 


CIEE does a great job of planning events that bring the entire programme together and a few of those are mentioned below:


In a world cup year you can’t quite explain the excitement that has gripped rugby fans throughout South Africa and there are few better ways of experiencing that than attending a Springboks game on home turf. We went to Newlands Rugby Stadium to watch the Springboks take on the World XV. Yeah, the World XV was in our back yard! What made the experience that little more special was the atmosphere when the Springboks won the match, students joked and celebrated with diehard fans embracing the culture of a sport many had never watched before!

Fabian and erica


The amazing thing about sport in South Africa is that everyone watches everything. It’s as simple as that, on a Saturday morning we watch Rugby and in the afternoons were all glued to our TV screens watching football. It was a no brainer to go and watch the Cape Town Cup contested by two local football giants and two visiting Premier League teams from the UK. The World Cup stadium was packed and we were right there in the mix! Perhaps the most vivid memory from that day wasn’t the winning team lift the Cup but when Casey, Matt and Patrick started a Mexican wave that went around three times! Three times! Three times around the stadium and it was started by our very own. It goes to show the energy, enthusiasm and excitement that students really use to immerse themselves in their new community.

Cape town stadium

Mandela Day

If there’s one thing to know about Cape Town is that the weather is often unpredictable. We planned to visit a farm in the Phillipi area and help erect housing structures, paint as well as run a soup kitchen for the workers on the farm. However, the incessant rain made conditions terrible and we were unable to get any of the manual labour completed. That didn’t stop people from engaging with the spirit behind Nelson Mandela’s legacy of selflessness. Instead we covered books that would be donated to Phillipi high school in order to help them start their very own library. This was one of those moments that picture would do injustice.


Play at Baxter:

As a fairly new democracy, being in South Africa forces you to engage with social and political issues and we watched a play at the Baxter Theatre that precisely dealt with people experiences under apartheid. It was a gripping performance by the cast and many left asking all the right questions about the current state of South Africa’s democracy.

 Cultural Tuesdays

Unlike previous semesters, we have elected to have every Tuesday of the semester dedicated to providing something of cultural value to the students. The last couple of weeks have all dealt with socio-political and economic debates surrounding South Africa but in the pipeline are more light hearted events such as hair wrapping and beading!

The constant challenge is not just ticking things off your to-do list but creating those memories that you’ll laugh about in 10 years when you’re back in Cape Town.



Mandela day: More than 67 meaningful minutes

Mandela day has been held annually for the past 5 years in celebration of a living legend. He gave 67 years of his life in service to humanity and it was seen as a great tribute to this man for people across the world to spend 67 minutes of their day in the same spirit.

We decided to combine the forces of the different programmes at the Cape Town study centre and celebrate that spirit of service to humanity. We gathered students from our Summer, Service Learning and Arts & Sciences programmes and committed to spending more than 67 meaningful minutes.


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Manenberg Primary is located in the Manenberg area of Cape Town. The school caters to 600 students across grades 1 - 7. The school has been looking to paint their walls and prepare them for mathematical games to be painted on so that there are games to be played outside the classroom that improve their math skills and supplement their learnings in class.

We decided to lend a helping hand and a paint roller to this noble plan. A number of students came out over the course of the cold day and helped to complete the painting. Despite the having to end a bit earlier than planned, we were able to cover a considerable amount of wall.

It was fantastic to be able to spend time with the children and teachers, have them join in the painting and make a visible impact at the school.




The Haven Shelter is a soup kitchen in the Greenpoint area of Cape Town. Greenpoint is an area that our students are usually exposed to through it's night life and restaurants but it is also in this town that The Haven operates. The shelter feeds and houses approximately 130 people daily.

We decided to treat our the people at the shelter to a traditional curry and rice. Evidence from the empty pots at the end of the night suggests that the meals were thoroughly enjoyed. It was also a great time for students to connect with he community and get a better understanding of their surroundings. An opportunity to enage with a different txperience that they can embrace and later use to educate others.


Check out for all the pictures

Update: In my quest to post this, I also dicovered this blog post by a student!


Mandela Day

Mandela Day A3 poster


Fall 2013 Orientation: Wamkelekile!

After much preparation and planning things finally kicked off with airport pickups on 2 July 2013.  The RAs sang traditional South African songs of welcome at the airport, melodically ushering our newest group of students onto African soil.
Orientation covered an array of topics: housing, safety and security, community engagement, cultural immersion and more - staff members came up and gave talks on all the topics - this was again facilitated by the ever capable RAs.
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A definite highlight was the AMA - zing race (sometimes mistaken for it's cousing the Amazing Race). Prizes varied from dinner at Africa Cafe to trips along the Garden Route, all of which was welcome! "If it's free, it's for me!"
In between all this there was still ample time to go exploring in the city and catch a sunset from Signal Hill!
The week ended off with dinner at the renowned Moyo's Restaurant at the Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch. It was a chance for face painting, great food, great music and a family celebration of the end of Orientation and the beginning of five unforgettable months.
Whilst on the dancefloor someone was quoted as saying "It's time like these I really wish I knew how to crump"...she has five months to learn that and more from this city!
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For more pictures check out CIEE Cape Town Study Centre in Pictures