Wandering in South Africa

On the road: Umzumbe

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This is the tree house I lived in during my time in Umzumbe. It was wonderful because the area was a tropical forest right next to the ocean. I stayed here a little longer than I planned because of a friend I made in Coffee Bay who was traveling the world for her gap year. We were both stopping in Umzumbe and decided to stay longer to have more time before we had to part. Umzumbe was the perfect place to relax with her.

 The only bad part was the bugs (I got about 15 bug bites).

And also, registering for classes at 1:30 am because of the time difference. That was really not fun at all.

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On the road: Coffee Bay

Finals are a month long here and I finished mine within the first week. Since I had so much time to spare before my flight home, I decided to go backpacking across most of the coast of South Africa. The full length that I traveled is about the same distance as Seattle to San Diego (which I have done many times).

My first stop was in Coffee Bay.

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Coffee Bay is my favorite place in the world. It has two or three hostels and one pizza place, but besides that it is just the local villages. Cows and donkeys wander onto the beach as kids play soccer.

When we got to the gas station where the shuttle was supposed to pick us up, there was a little hiccup in the plan. The shuttle was broken down. All they had was a pickup truck.

We squeezed all seven of us and our bags in the back of the truck for the two hour drive. It was quite the bonding experience laughing at baby cows learn to walk and laughing with the locals about the fact there are seven white kids in the back of a truck in a rural African village.

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A few days later, we went on a 6 mile hike to “Hole in the Wall”. We traveled up and down hills along side the sea. Passing wandering goats and girls getting firewood, we huffed and puffed. The South African beat down at 30 C but the sea breeze cooled us off.

We were almost to our destination when we met a fisherman. He had some incredibly fresh crayfish which we bought.

And then we cooked them on the fire at Hole in the Wall.

 

Ode to South African Public Transportation

African time means that the train is between 10 to 30 minutes late. But just as you are getting used to African time, the train decides to be on time and you are sprinting hoping that the door won’t shut on you.

Despite this and the fact that there is one bus station in Stellenbosch but there are no busses, I love riding in the public transportation here.

As people get off the train in droves, they sing South African hymens. I watch paper machete fruits decorate the fronts of farms, long lines of grape vines, and zebras pass by as I look out the window. Sometimes I see people who I have met at events in Kayamandi (the closest township) and chat with them. It is a great way to immerse yourself into the culture even more.

I also liked talking to South Africans on the 12 hour greyhound bus ride I took. I got a refreshingly new perspective compared to the students at my university. It was also nice being the only foreigner in the giant bus.

I have yet to take the “taxis” here. They are not like American taxis at all. There are a van that yells out where they are going and if you want to get on, you start running and waving. They open up the door and you jump in. You can get off anywhere along the way. They are also famous for getting into car accidents.

South Africa might not have the best public transport, but it still has a soft spot in my heart.

"Teacher! Teacher!" Lasts days at Lynedoch

I just finished my last week teaching and learning at Lynedoch Primary School and I don’t think it has hit me yet.

I will no longer be heading to the train station twice a week. Listen to people sing as they get off the train in droves. I won’t get to listen to my 6th graders about their new crushes while I get coffee in the morning. No more dog piles from the 1st graders at lunch and home cooked lunches from my professor’s mom. No more “teacher! teacher!”.

To be honest, there were many hard times. Teaching a class of 39 6th graders, even with two other knowledge partners, is VERY difficult. But as time goes by, you get to know your learners better. You learn that it’s okay to have a ten minute dance party spontaneously in class.

Lynedoch has been such a big part of my life for the past few months that it just feels odd to say goodbye. It is odd to say goodbye to something that is going to keep on effecting you for years to come.

 

Luckily, my LSCE class is going to come back to visit during finals so I don’t have to say goodbye just yet.

 

Spring Break Part 2 (jumping off bridges and hanging out with lions)

The last two days of my spring break were the most exhilarating two days of my life.

The first day was the day I was looking forward to and incredibly scared of all week. I was going to jump off a bridge. In fact, the highest bridge you can jump off of in the world with a string attached to you. I say string and not rope because it looked way to thin to hold my body weight, but I’ll get to this later.  

We went kayaking in the morning. Which was calming for me because I like doing anything that involves a body of water.

But then it was time.

I absolutely love heights. But when I walked on the grated floor that was see-through and looked down, the fear kicked in. As we walked to the middle of the bridge, we could hear music. They had a DJ that was pumping up the music. We were all so scared that we started to dance.

Then the first person jumped off the bridge. I was paying attention until the second he jumped off. Seeing someone jump off a bridge into the unknown for the first time, sends a second of fear and worry down your spine. Then you realize “Oh right. That’s what we are here for”.

 Then it was my turn. I was so excited and they were playing Titanium. They had my ankles tied up so I had to tiny hops up to the edge. My toes were over the edge of the bridge and I looked all of the way down. Before I knew it, I had to jump. I looked to the horizon and just did it.

The thoughts through my head for the few seconds I was falling:

"Woooo! This is so cool!!! No, wait. I am actually falling right now. This is very scary! No, this is an awesome feeling! I can’t physically scream because the air is going in my lungs too fast. WOAH! I WANT TO FALL FOREVER! oh.. its over now and I’m upside down."

We came out alive!

The next day we walked with lions.

Lions are one of my favorite animals so this was quite an amazing experience. 

I will not lie. I was singing the Lion King soundtrack in my head.

I still can’t believe I got to pet a lion. She was softer than I thought she was going to be too!

After hanging out with lions, we had to go back home. Back to school to write papers I forgot about and study for tests I did not want to take.

Spring Break

This last week Stellenbosch University had their spring break (yes it is spring here). A couple of my friends and I decided to do a road trip through a program on the famous Garden Route. The Garden Route in the south coast of South Africa. It has some of the most beautiful spots in all of Africa and goes from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.

Just looking out the window was enjoyable. We went from the Mountains of Cape Town to the Savanna of the Eastern Cape. We were also slowed down because of baboons crossing the road and construction on “African Time”. 

The first thing that we did was go to an Ostrich farm. This is where my braver friends rode an ostrich.

Then we went to the Cango Caves.

They started out large but then got to caves with the names of “Devil’s Chimney” and “Mail Slot”. I had to crawl straight up for a few meters, then army crawl and then slide feet-first threw a foot and a half tall hole.

The next day, I got to do want I have always wanted to do since I watched movies about the jungle when I was little. I got to ride an elephant!

The elephants were just gentle giants. They were also surprisingly quiet. I was expecting loud thumping noises as they walk but I could barely hear their footsteps.

I think I want to take one home.

The stories you don’t see

I’m in class called Learning Sustainable Community Development or LSCE. For this class, we are split in groups of three and each group co-teaches a class (grades 1 to 7) during the first half of the day on Mondays. For the second half of the Mondays we do work around the school like painting gardening and on Fridays we have lectures.

This week was midterms week so our professor thought this last Friday would be a good time to show us how most of the children’s home-lives were like. Lynedoch elementary is where I teach and learn. It is surrounded by many farms that grow wine grapes, strawberries, olives and so on. Most of the students come from these farms or the townships close by.

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From Lynedoch, we walked to one of the farms that some of the children from our school live. We then meet the kindest old lady named Kathleen. Kathleen has a beautiful smile (especially when she talks about her family) and an even more beautiful soul. My professor and Kathleen had a very strong friendship because he helped her grandchildren through school.

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Kathleen was kind enough to let us ask her about her life and life in general on the farm.

Her daughter is the one that works on the farm and has to work 12 hours a day, 5 days a week. She earns about $75 dollars a month. This money is combined with Kathleen’s very small pension and provides for the entire family.

There are no men in the family. Kathleen told us that most of the men have either died of serosis of the liver or are in jail.  Alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome is a huge problem in this community. Farmers used to pay their workers with alcohol instead of cash. This practice is now illegal but the negative affects have not disappeared. Farmers may not pay their workers with alcohol but they sometimes buy them alcohol on their paydays. Alcoholism can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (F.A.S.). Many children at Lynedoch have F.A.S. which can cause behavioral and attention problems.

It is not all bad news though! Earlier, a documentary crew interviewed Kathleen and her daughter. So at this very moment her daughter is on an all expense paid trip to London to see the documentary. Kathleen is getting a new room extended to her house, a bathroom that is connected to the house, and a new kitchen donated to her. Her grandson did so well in school that he was awarded a full ride for university and is currently getting his PhD. He is a huge role model for the kids at Lynedoch because he came from the same situation that they are in. He used the best way to fight mental and material poverty: education.

Mountains on Mountains

Mountains surround me everywhere, here in the Western Cape of South Africa. There are mountains INSIDE Cape Town and there are mountains within walking distance of my apartment in Stellenbosch. The views are amazing; you can see the ocean, the bustling city of Cape Town and the wine farms in Stellenbosch. So, I have been hiking quite a bit.

Sometimes I just hike up part of Stellenbosch Mountain to have a nice picnic.

 

Living in a Township for the Weekend

For those of you that might not know, a township is an area that the non-white population of South Africa were forced to stay during the apartheid. There were three racial categories during the apartheid: white, black and colored. Black and colored people were put in separate townships, these were separated by roads to strengthen the racial divide.

Townships still exist here in South Africa today. The homes range from tin shacks with no bathrooms to medium sized houses. You might be wondering why people still live in townships since the apartheid ended about 20 years ago. Well, it is usually because of economic reasons and/or they do not want to leave their tight-knit community.

I stayed in Mama Titi’s house for my homestay. Even though they only had one small heater, I felt the warmth of that house as soon as I stepped in from the rain outside. There was a warmth from the closeness of the family that echoed through out the house. Most families in townships are not the typical nuclear American families that we are used to. Everyone that stayed in Mama Titi’s house were all girls and women. There were distant relatives, a daughter-in-law and granddaughters all staying under one roof.

Honestly, I thought the house I was going to be staying in was going to be one or two rooms and resemble more of a shack. But this was just from the narrow view and little knowledge of townships. Mama Titi’s house was very impressive. She had nice furniture, a television, and two to three bedrooms. She has done extensions to the house and is always doing something to improve it. I found this inspiring because she is also looking after about three girls as well.

As dinner was being prepared, Eliya (the other America doing the homestay) and I had very interesting and reflective conversations with two of the teenage girls as the youngest girl tried to dread our hair. We talked about their work, school, life in the States and township and of course Kim and Kanye’s baby. They were surprised that most middle class to rich Americans don’t have full time workers at their houses. I was told this is common for rich South Africans.

With our stomachs growling from the smells lingering out of the kitchen, Mama Titi called us for dinner. There was roasted chicken, pumpkin, cooked spinach and a starchy mashed potato called pot with sauce on top. All of which we ate with our hands. I really enjoyed eating with my hands; it made the meal feel more personal. It also made my 6-year-old dreams come true. All of the food was delicious, of course.

It is winter here in South Africa, so the house was a bit chilly after dinner. We all snuggled up on the couch with layers of blankets and tea. Mama Titi put in a DVD of her church worship service. I can tell you one thing, there is nothing like South African gospel music. There was dancing, drumming and the most beautiful and smooth voices.

Mama Titi then told me a little about her life story. Her marriage did not go so well and she does not want to get married again. She told me that she doesn’t need a husband because she has God. It has left her in a much happier place and she is very involved in the community. Mama Titi had a passion in her that would not be held down. Just being around her, you felt better about yourself and the world that you live in.

In the morning, we were going to church with another family. So breakfast was bittersweet. We had our last conversations over oatmeal and said our goodbyes. I felt so comfortable with these girls, like I’ve known them forever. I truly hope that I will see them again.

As we walked through the township to go to church, many strangers would wave and say good morning and the kids were playing in the streets. Not a sight most would have when they think “township”.

Coming in the church, I felt the same welcoming warmth as I did in Mama Titi’s house. The worship was fun because everyone was dancing without a care in the world. The music was a mix of more tradition songs and South African gospel. The pastor, I believe, is a missionary from somewhere in Europe. So the sermon was in both English and Xhosa. All of this made a refreshingly diverse service.

Xhosa is the main language in many townships. It is very fun to listen to but hard to speak because there three different types of clicks. So I enjoyed listening to both preachers even though I could only understand one of them.

One thing I definitely learned from this experience is that we need to put our pre-perceptions of a place and/or people and just listen. Before, I thought that people that lived in townships were just dying to get out. They aren’t. Many do go work in the city but come back during the weekend to be with their family. It is not the township that they want to get out of but the economic situation. A township is a community, not place of just poverty and despair.

My Pitstop in London

My adventure started even before I got to Stellenbosch. I had a seven hour layover in the Heathrow airport which is about an hour away from London. I planned to go to a day hotel to shower and sleep for hours upon hours until my next flight.

But then I saw a sign for the underground “To Downtown London for 6 pounds”

I just could not resist (sorry mom). I went to the hotel, took a shower, and a quick nap but then I was out of there. The ride was gorgeous. Tiny old brick houses and bright green trees lined the winding streets. Everyone was dressed up in cute outfits because England was going through a heat wave. This however was unlucky for my outfit, which was aimed for a South African Winter.  

I got off the train at Hyde Park. This park just screamed British royalty. About every few yards were naked statue fountains surrounded by perfectly trimmed rosebushes. I was almost expecting Lady Mary for come strolling around the corner.

When I walked even further there a line of men yelling “Buy/sell Stones tickets!”. I did not think they were talking about THE Rolling Stones, but then I say crowds of people walking the same direction. The crowds were endless ad they went into a larger area with a gate around it and lots of security.

I would like to say that I impulsively bought a ticket from one of the men and went to a Rolling Stones concert while I was in London. But alas, I did not. I only had an hour to stay in London and it was time for me to go. 

I grabbed a pie and some tea and continued on my journey.