Thursday, October 6, 2011

South Africa

Fun facts:
Street lights are called robots.
Apartheid just ended in 1993.
The name of the national rugby team is the Springboks. They are widely supported.
The currency is the rand.
The 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament was held in South Africa.
There are 11 official languages.

Day 1

The first day in South Africa I participated in the SAS city orientation trip. Our first stop was the Castle of Good Hope. It is the oldest building in South Africa. It is a beautiful yellow castle with a dolphin pool (just a fountain), chambers, and a bell tower. It was a nice visit. The next place we visited was The Company’s Garden. Originally used to grow crops, it is now a beautiful botanical garden. While there we stopped for tea/coffee and scones with jam. I ordered a cream soda and when they served it, it was bright green! So unexpected! Our last stop on the city orientation was the South African Museum. I was expecting a museum full of history of South Africa, but I was surprised to find out that it had many different exhibits, including dinosaurs, marine life, and large animals.

That night my friends (Kim, Rachel, and Amelia) and I, went to dinner at a local restaurant at the port called City Grill. We were longing for some real, non-ship food—something other than pasta and potatoes (lol). I enjoyed a delicious mushroom burger and a glass of African white wine. We learned during our pre-port seminar that South Africa is one of the main distributors of wine so many of the SAS trips took students to vineyards and wineries to teach them about the industry and how is has helped South Africa's economy.

Day 2

On our second day in Cape Town, Rachel and I walked around the port. There were tons of restaurants, small shops, craft barns, and even a mall to wander through. We did a little grocery shopping to stock up on snacks for our cabin and then went and checked out the views of the city.

That afternoon I did a SAS trip to a township where I stayed overnight with a local family. The home-stay program is run by Mama Knox, a local woman living in a town in Gugulethu. It is a small business that also employs other women from Mama Knox's town to host travelers overnight. My house partner was my friend Audrey. We both stayed with our own "mama," who walked us around the town, introduced us to the local kids (who were playing jump rope in the streets), and then let us help cook dinner. We had traditional food of cooked  cabbage and spinach served over mealie pap, a  cornmeal with a solid consistency. It was all extremely delicious. Her house was filled with family members: her twin sister, a niece, two nephews, her two brothers, and her mother. Although the house was in good condition, there were still things that let you know they were still developing. They had only one lamp for the entire house, a bathroom with a toilet and tub that didn’t work, and flooring that was damaged. The entire family was a pleasure to spend time with. I even learned some of their native language, Xhosa. It involves clicking consonants. It was very difficult to learn. I also attempted to walk while balancing a bucket of water on my head. I successfully took two steps!!!

The children spent their time playing outside or watching Disney Playhouse, while Audrey and I got to know a little bit more about the family and their opinions on how discrimination is being handled.

Overall, I would say that my home stay in South Africa was quite a learning experience.

Day 3:

After I woke up  at the home I was staying in, I met up with the rest of the students. My friends, Audrey and Gina, and I decided that instead of going back to the ship with the SAS group we wanted to stay independently longer in the village. Gina’s "mama," Mama Mpumi offered to bring us to church with her. I really enjoyed participating in an African church service. There was a lot of singing and dancing and the sermon was given in both English and Xhosa. A very unique experience. After church services, we went with Mama Knox’s daughter to a local restaurant called Mzoli’s Meats. It is the place to be on Sundays. People from all of the neighboring towns go there on Sundays. It has outdoor seating covered by tarp where everyone socializes and loud music is played. Mzoli's is famous for its meat. The line for different kinds of barbequed meat was an hour long and the meat was served in a huge bucket. It is shared by the entire large table and you just dig in with your hands. A very messy but absolutely delicious meal!

After getting back to the waterfront, Gina, Audrey, and I spent the rest of our day walking through the craft sheds, admiring and purchasing handcrafted items made in South Africa. Usually the items were made by local women who started their own crafts business to make a living for their family.

Day 4

I spent this day independently traveling (with three other friends) around the city. We started off at South African Jewish Museum. My favorite exhibit was on the bottom floor, which was dedicated entirely to Nelson Mandela. We then went to an art museum. It was very abstract. We didn’t spend too much time there. We then walked again through the Company's Garden, where I shared what I learned on my city tour. We ended at a different craft barn, where my friend bought a homemade African style dress. This day was very laid back but I had a great time figuring out my way around the city. 

Day 5

Operation Hunger

Operation Hunger is a service project that brings a local nongovernmental organization to townships to weigh the children in the schools. The children’s weight is tracked over multiple visits to see how they are progressing. If a child is malnourished, the child's teacher is informed. It is a very tricky subject to bring to parents, who often feel like they are being accused and will pull their child out of school, which is counter productive. To prevent this, the parents and the children are educated about the importance of nutrition. The children often receive some extra food while at school.

Our job was to help with weighing the children. Most of the older (5-year-old) kids were OK with the process. They just had to take their shoes off and stand on the scale. We would then record their weight on their hand and they had to show it to the people collecting the data. The younger babies were terrified of us and most of them were crying. Many of them had never seen white people and often related white people to doctors. This was scary for them because the only time they would have gone to see a doctor was if they or a sibling was deathly ill and seriously needed help. So the sight of us reminded them of those bad experiences.

Another job the SAS students did was to work in the SAS-donated garden, which provides food for school lunches. Another group was in charge of cooking a meal for the children.

After getting our work done, we got to watch the schoolchildren sing and dance. We also got to go outside and play with them. It was a ton of fun spending my day with the young kids. They especially loved when we blew up balloons for them, and I loved when these three little girls started singing and dancing to "Waka Waka." <3

That night was my friend Jessica’s birthday so we went out to dinner. A South African group sang to her. We also had ice cream. We tend to treat ourselves well in port because we get so sick of the food on the ship!

Day 6

I woke up at 8 a.m. and went with my friend Kim to Table Mountain. We took the gondola up to the top. The views were spectacular and the floor of the gondola rotated to you could see it all. When we got to the top, we followed the paths to the best lookout places. Luckily we made it back down the mountain before all of the power in the town went out. This sadly meant that no restaurants or stores were open, and most people headed back to the ship early.

That night Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, spoke to the SAS community. He told all of us how awesome we are and how everyone is interdependent on one another. I really enjoyed listening to him speak to us. His laughter was contagious. And I left with a feeling of importance and purpose.

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