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18 posts categorized "Remy Ngamije"

05/05/2011

Navigating the stereotypes

Stereotypes are a very easy way to classify the world – they allow a person to summarise a person, place or thing in as little time as possible. They allow us to group Brits into the soccer hooligan categories; French people are all good chefs and Italians all pizzas and spaghetti. New Yorkers are all busy, people from LA like the beach and nothing else and those from the South of the US love deep fried everything. There are stereotypes everywhere, you do not have to look far to find one.

When it comes to Africa, the stereotypes are innumerable: poor, starving, undeveloped, hopeless, lazy…there are quite a few. If we try to explore all of them we shall still be here in ten years’ time. These kinds of stereotypes have been displayed in popular media such as films and documentaries, each one adding to the general misconception that Africa is the Dark Continent that it is.

In many respects, it is. I have lived all of my life on the continent and there are some truths about it that cannot be dismissed. It is a poor continent, poverty is rife and there corruption, war and famine that plague certain parts of it is no laughing matter. But with all due respect, not all of them are true – there are some that are completely unfounded.

For one thing, not all of Africa is a bush. There are some parts of it that are so cosmopolitan they will surprise even the busiest New Yorker – there are other parts lined with so many Ferraris it is hard to pick out the pavement. Africa then, is one of those strange places that are hard to navigate using stereotypes – all of them apply. And the same time, all of them do not.

Speaking to one of my housemates from the US, it was interesting to hear his take on Africa. In eloquent words, he described it as a place that needs all the writers and directors it can get because it is being sold short. In his opinion, it is a place that one will not understand until one explores the continent for oneself. It was a heavy statement, one that impressed me. It also made me stop and re-evaluate my stance on Africa as well.

As an African, what did I think of Africa? I have been living here for as long as I can remember and I still far from forming a cohesive opinion of the continent. I am engrossed in a constant love-hate relationship with Africa that words cannot describe. I explained this to my housemate and his response was, “Dude, you don’t have to understand it all – I am an American and I don’t know whether I want to stay there or leave.”

Perhaps it is not just Africa that suffers from stereotypes that do not adequately encompass all of its personalities. From conversations held with my housemates, it seems the US is such a place too. Television sells one side of it, newspapers sell another. Twitter and Facebook also give it a different twist too: all American, and at the same time, not.

Since becoming an RA, this is the first time I have been around US students for any amount of time – it is interesting to hear some of the way they are stereotyped and how they perceived Africa before getting here. More interesting is what they think of the place now. The opinions are wide and varied, too many to capture in one post. I am happy to note though that the purpose of cultural exchange, to exchange ideas, not necessarily with the purpose of completely understanding the other but just being given the chance to experience, is happening here at CIEE Cape Town.

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

04/28/2011

Uni(di)versity: Surviving The Crowd

The University of Cape Town is remarked the world over as being the best tertiary institution in Africa. Its reputation is not unduly boasted: it ranks 170 in Times Higher Education ladder, the academic staff was (and are) trained by some of the best universities in the world, its resources (libraries and research facilities and the like) are competitive and accessible – in short, it is a university that fits its mantle well. On paper, it is the best in Africa.

But being good on paper is not enough. As any person working in the professional field will tell you, a paper qualification will only take you so far. Sooner or later, all of life’s little lessons need to be stacked up and made to fulfil a gap that no amount of teaching, tutorials and assignments can cover. In short, there are some things that cannot be learned in a university lecture hall.  

One of these lessons is how to get along in a crowd of people.

“Crowd” implies being trapped in some room or environment with people different from you in some way. Not so. The word “crowd” in this case is taken to mean people in general – they could be similar to you or they could be different. The point is that if they are not you, then they form a crowd. One of the best things that university teaches, as I have come to find, is how to cope with being in a larger social construct. The University of Cape Town in this regard is truly exceptional.

From the time I could crawl, I have always been surrounded by people. Whether it was my large family, my friendship circle in primary school or my social circle in high school, I have always had people around me. The one common thread that ran through all of the groups that encapsulated me was that they came from the same social background; we all had the same world views, we all thought in similar patterns – I hate to say it but our uniqueness was disconcertingly uniform.

The first time I truly experienced the word diversity was in university – more specifically, at UCT. Because I had the luxury of having been around many people and having been to more places than the average person, I assumed that I could call myself a “diverse person”. Upon arriving at UCT five years ago, my experiences seemed minute – they were one small dot in a sea of 25 000 students who all came from different backgrounds. True, there were some that were similar to mine, but they were different in the same way that cerulean blue and ordinary blue are (trust me, if you look closely, they are).

All of a sudden, I had no idea how to get along in this new alien world where the social rules were different, where my views were not always shared, where I was not always the best at something. Suddenly, I was just…me.

I was just a very small “me” in a very big crowd. And therein was the start of my journey to surviving the crowd.

It would be exhaustive to describe all of the little life lessons that can be picked up at UCT. Not all of them are specific to UCT, but there are some that are exquisitely unique to this place. Things like, print assignments on a Sunday evening rather than Monday morning, facing down hungry pigeons or how on Earth one is to find one’s way around campus on the first day of lectures. Most importantly, being at UCT teaches how to survive in a place where cultures and world views are in constant competition – there is not one view that is dominant, each one has its merits and disadvantages, some win certain battles, some lose others. No one can claim to know the UCT pulse through and through. Needless to say that after five years at UCT, I have learned that one of the best ways to survive the crowd…is to join the crowd.

When the latest crop of CIEE students came to Cape Town, it was refreshing (and amusing) to see them totter around UCT, trying to find their bearings on a campus that was so different from anything that most of them had experienced before – the language was somewhat different, the people were from cultural and social backgrounds most of them had only ever read about and the UCT system was different to their home universities as pink and blue are from each other. It was heartening though to see how they adjusted - UCT demands immediate adjustment.

The crowd swallowed them most of them up, it changed quite a few of them. Some of them are not the same people that left home – most will never be. Nonetheless, I am sure that they will leave this place knowing what it was like to have studied at Africa’s finest: they will have left knowing what uni(di)versity is. 

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

Resident Assistant

04/19/2011

A very bad case of F.O.M.A

One of my housemates remarked to me that there was a bad case of F.O.M.A going around. I had no idea what it is that she was talking about and since it was said in passing I just assumed that it was something akin to a common cold or something. At the time, I was too busy to pursue the matter further and let it slip.

A couple of days later, I heard it again in a conversation – it was a heated conversation about peanut butter on apples (which in Africa is just alien!) and how much humus American exchange students consume (which is a lot – again, in Africa this is very alien). I was too busy trying to explain why peanut butter and apples just does not fly around here, why it could never catch on when the word was thrown into the mix so quickly I did not notice it come and go. Again, I was not sure what on Earth was – I assumed that it was some word that was mispronounced or spoken with an accent. I was too embarrassed to actually ask what it was so I let it slip.

Three days later. I heard it again. F.O.M.A. I was in the kitchen trying to chef it out when one of my housemates came in and said that because UCT was starting to kick into high gear, F.O.M.A was at an all-time high. This time I had had enough. I had to find out what F.O.M.A was.

So I did the brave thing and asked.

It turned out that F.O.M.A was actually quite a very bad disease going around the CIEE students – all of them had it. From the healthiest athlete right down to the laziest couch potato it had them. Black, white, Indian, boy, girl, Penn Staters, Trojans, the lot – it had them all. No one was immune from it. The symptoms were actually quite distressing – a chronic addiction to Google, characterised by search words like “South Africa”, “tour guides in Cape Town” and “things to do in Cape Town.” Some gave of signs of irritation while other students tried to cure it by being out of the house and around Cape Town as much as possible. Still, it plagued them relentlessly.

Like the good concerned RA that I am (*round of applause*) I decided to try and remedy the situation. You see I have this dream that I will make medical history one way or the other. The opportunity presented itself and I obliged – I was going to find a cure for F.O.M.A.

For once, Google was useless, there was nothing about it anywhere. I consulted doctors, therapists, and anyone with an –ist in their job description. All of them were stumped.

And then the idea struck me. After some quick website searches (this time, Google was more amenable to my cause) I managed to find a couple of websites that provided some solutions to the problem. None of the solutions were permanent; at best they would slow down the symptoms for a while. I was desperate though and forwarded the links to my housemates. Anything was better than nothing.

In the space of a day or two, the students seemed to improve. Granted that there are still one two that are under the weather, I still think that I deserve some kind of mention when they consider the next round of Nobel laureates. Because to date, I think I am the only one that has found a cure for the Fear of Missing Anything.

And to find that cure, you’ll have to come to Cape Town to see it. :)

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Rémy Ngamije

University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

Resident Assistant

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.

 

03/01/2011

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

 

02/24/2011

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.

Travel

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.

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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. "

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DSCN4736---1 Rémy Ngamije

University of Cape Town: Postgrad LLB (Law)

Resident Assistant