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14 posts categorized "Student"

03/08/2011

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

DSC_0116
 

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

02/26/2011

Lingua franca

By Meg Ely

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

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

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

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

I could go on.

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

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

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

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Meg Ely is a student from Indiana University.

02/24/2011

The Ellies and Me

 An excerpt from the travel journal of Thomas Delay.

Thomas Delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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