Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brandi's incredible weekend

So Friday started our weekend of no sleep, new people, and a lot of learning. I woke up early in the morning (because I can’t sleep late anymore-ugh!) and a big group of us went into the city. We took a mini bus straight into the city and got off by the city hall. We walked around for a bit and finally found the lunch place we were looking for. It was called the Eastern Food Bazaar and had incredible food. I had hummus and falafel on pita bread with three chicken samosas. I loved every second of eating it. After we walked around the city and stopped at a great store. We then took a cab home to get ready for our weekend at the Goedgedacht Olive Farm.

We all packed our stuff up for the weekend and boarded a HUGE coach bus parked outside of our house. Thinking the ride would only be an hour; we were on the bus for over two hours (making a quick stop in the city to pick up the eighteen other people coming on the trip with us). We got to the Olive Farm right as I was waking up from my nap. It was beautiful outside; the farm was on the side of a mountain over looking rolling hills and beautiful countryside. The farm was so cute, with old buildings and different kinds of lovely flowers. We brought our stuff to our rooms where most of us were paired with random people we have never met before. I was paired with a very nice lady named Lucinda, who I am pretty sure was a native Capetonian. Our rooms were so nice; they were even better then any room out of a hotel. They had super comfortable beds, with down comforters and soft sheets. The reason the rooms are so nice is because people will come and vacation on this olive farm. The farm hosts conferences and workshops just like the one we were at.

After we settled in, we got dinner (which was SO delicious) and I sat on the porch watching the sunset over the mountains in the distance. It was incredibly peaceful and it felt so nice to be disconnected from society. We then met up in a big open room to start our Human Rights training workshops. We did introductions and met everyone and just got comfortable in the area. That night many people just hung out and explored the farm. I had a nice peaceful night as well. The best part of the night and the whole weekend was how visible the stars were from the side of the mountain. There were no lights anywhere around and the sky was literally incredible. I felt like I could see every single star in the sky, including the entire Milky Way. It was such an awesome experience.

The next morning was hard waking up so early. We started the say off with a great breakfast and jumped right into training. We learned about the basics of human rights and were split into four groups, each with a different name of a country in Africa. I was in the Republic of Congo, and my group members were so much fun. Everyone else (besides our group of Americans) were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, because youth ends at thirty-five here in South Africa. So I had so many different people in my group, each bringing something new and unique to the table. It was a lot of fun. The things we worked in during the workshop times were not really my thing. It was a lot of history and political stuff, but I didn’t hate it. We took breaks often so that was fun. On Saturday night each group was to perform a ‘skit’ as to model a United Nations meeting pretending to be our country. We were supposed to act as if we were wanted a 500 million dollar check from the UN for our country. It was really interesting because I learned a lot about other countries in Africa. But not only was it interesting, it was ridiculously fun. We had to have a cultural aspect to it too, so our group sang the Congolese anthem (in Portuguese) and also danced a Congolese dance. I was also dressed up in ‘typical’ clothing too (which was a sheet-as best as we could do). It was so fun! Unfortunately, Kenya received the check but we were second place!

That night after our performance was one of the most amazing nights of my life. Most of the people walked up to the dam to look at the stars. A lot of people were swimming too, so of course I jumped right in! Just laying on my back looking up at the sky in a dam while in the mountains was just incredible. We then changed quickly back at our rooms then went to the other side of the dam to a little house. It was right on the water and was fully furnished-along with blankets and a big dock to lie on. So a bunch of us (after doing the electric slide on the dock) laid down, shut off all the lights in the house and just watched the sky.  I saw more shooting stars then I have ever seen before. I felt so peaceful and calm. As people started leaving one by one, I ended up falling asleep. By the end of our star watch there were four people left on the dock including me. At about 1:30 am my friend Maria and I walked back to our rooms. We were expecting it to be quiet and serene once we got back (because I was so exhausted) but we heard loud talking, as we got closer to the rooms. We walked into the courtyard and see Nicole and Nellie’s door wide open with people spilling out of it. Of course something would happen to Nicole. So we walked over and come to find out that there was a scorpion in their room!!! A real live SUPER poisonous scorpion lost in their room. There were people trying to find it, and people watching as if it were a show. I was laughing so hard and just watched as Nicole and everyone was freaking out. I thoroughly enjoyed it. In the end, someone found the scorpion and killed it. Everyone was really on edge though because it was small and fast and can be found anywhere. I was nervous because it would be so bad to step on! Everything was settled though and they were finally safe to sleep in their room.

The next morning it was really hard to wake up. I finally dragged my butt out of bed, showered and headed to breakfast. Probably one of my favorite things of the weekend was for almost every meal; sit outside overlooking the entire mountains and farmland. In the distance was Table Mountain, a faint outline on the horizon. That morning it was just as amazing to do that. We had two closing workshops then packed our things and headed home. It really was a great experience.

Once we got home yesterday I was wiped out, as was everyone else I think. Today was great though besides being so incredibly tired the whole day. It was another normal day a Christel House (well…normal is a relative term). The kids were wild as usual, and im pretty sure I got half the hair ripped out of my head from our daily ‘lets play with Brandi’s hair’ sessions. It was still a lot of fun! The best part of the day was when one of my quieter students (who usually has a very serious face but when he smiles is so awesome) looks up at me and says, “miss talks like a child”. I stopped, thought about it, and just nodded and said, “yes, yes I do!” I couldn’t stop laughing. Its great how honest nine year olds can be.

All in all it was an incredible weekend. It was really good to get away from the hustle and bustle and just step back into nature. And it was also great to learn so much about a subject I have never seen interest in before. The people I met were great, and the stars at night were magical.

This is a quote from this weekend and describes my experience perfectly:
We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits.” - Wendell Berry  

Kelsey on the weekend she'll remember forever

This past weekend was one of my favorite experiences in Cape Town thus far. At first I really didn’t want to go because leaving my familiar routine that I’ve become so accustomed to didn’t sound very appealing, especially not knowing what exactly it is I was getting myself into. For all I knew we were going to do manual labor the entire weekend, which explains why all I pretty much packed was a set of gym clothes and jeans. Turns out my packing choices weren’t the greatest because I ended up doing absolutely no labor. Clothes aside, the twenty of us went with eighteen people about the same age from the city to a weekend long human rights convention. I was assigned to live with a woman I had just met named, Jackie. I didn’t really know how I felt about living with a stranger; however, within the first few minutes of talking to each other everything changed. It felt so comfortable and natural talking and hanging with her. Here was someone I had literally just met and yet I felt an instance connection. That night we stayed up for an extra hour or two filling each other in our lives – our friendship only grew from there.

Fast forwarding to Saturday, we were all divided up into four groups and told to pick a country in Africa along with a president to represent ourselves for the future mock UN presentations we’ll be giving in hopes of winning the $500 UN check for our country. The group I was a part of picked Egypt – why I don’t think any of us really knew but we did. Ironically, however, we soon come to find out that Egypt currently is without a president until July of this year due to last year’s revolution. As a result, for our UN speech we decided to do a skit reenacting various protests and important dates. We all had so much fun acting and portraying the events that we didn’t even mind not winning the grant. I was proud of our group. All of this ended around ten thirty that night, which was way too early to end the night. So, a big group of us all decided to go night swimming at the nearby lake. The best part about it was the sky. I have never seen a night sky so unbelievably gorgeous. All the stars and constellations were so bright as they surrounded the most amazing Milky Way (especially since I had never seen the Milky Way before this). Even more so, the water reflected the sky making the illusion of us swimming amongst the stars. With being in such good company providing the cherry on top, this is one night that I will never forget.

The people I met this weekend are some that I will truly cherish. I can probably count on one hand the experiences that I can honestly say that about. A was able to spend a lot of time with one guy, in particular, who I can now call a good friend. We began comparing lives – his being that of Mozambique and Cape Town while mine is a small town in Northeastern United States. A couple weeks ago, his dog was poisoned to death by his neighbor because the neighbor simply didn’t like the dog – my dog is alive without any potential threat on her life. Two weeks ago, he woke up after a night out in the middle of the street with no shoes, pants, wallet, watch, and with a big bump on the back of his head. He had been jumped and robbed a block from where he lives - while I’ve never been scared of getting jumped as trees are the only thing within a couple acres of my house. As he put it, he also “learned to read through beatings.” “The teacher would write a sentence or two on the board and tell you to read. If you hesitated, messed up, or went too slow you were beat with a stick or ruler.” I grew in a school system where even the slightest touch (or even hug) too strong could be turned into a law suit. The worst punishment I ever remember receiving in school was getting a “talking to” or a scolding look. My friend and I have lived polar opposite lives and yet we both ended up forming a friendship on a random olive farm two hours outside of the city. Crazy to think about but it just goes to show that external circumstances are only limiting if you let them be.

Sunday rolls around, we receive certificates, exchange  contact information, and return to our own lives, except with a whole new perspective of life centering on the dignity and respect of all humans. In other words, about forty new human rights activists were created out to defend those very rights for everyone we can. The nine or ten of us that formed Egypt are planning a workshop on the 25th of March. I’m so excited to get the chance to share the information I was able to learn to more people than just my friends and family.

This weekend will be one that I will remember forever. (Not to mention, I learned more about Egypt in two days than I have in my entire life.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nicole: Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful, Life is Beautiful, Life is Beautiful

I don’t even know where to begin, I had another beautiful thought provoking weekend. We went to a human rights training weekend where we stayed at an Olive Farm with eighteen other people from countries around Africa including Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Congo, Kenya and Zimbabwe and of course South Africa. You may wonder why we learned about human rights at an Olive Garden, but it was awesome. The place was called Goedgedacht and served as revenue for different programs as well as centers for youth to get out of poverty. We stayed on the mountain in a room fit for someone with a much higher salary than a college student but I am definitely not complaining. I could describe how comfy the bed and pillows were, but that was nothing compared to the balcony attached to our bedrooms. Once again there were mountain, but Table Mountain was much further off in the distance. We met everyone the first night and had a delicious dinner. There was lasagna and salad and I chose their homemade pineapple dressing and was in heaven. I dealt with a permanent food baby all weekend but again I am not complaining. We went from cooking for ourselves every day to homemade food on a farm. It is just like me to get side tracked by food, so I guess I will get to the human rights part. 

On Friday night we got to know each other and were split into four groups. Each group chose a country in Africa that they would present about the next day. After, we just got to hang out and do what ever we wanted, which of course consisted of debating about life and everything that was on our mind. My friend Sam and I had a long conversation with a guy named Mtutuzi (that is most likely wrong, no matter how long I am here the names get me every time.) We talked about how these days people go on facebook instead of spending quality times with their family. We recognize this is an issue in the United States, but I learned that this trend is spreading to Africa. We also talked about the fact that many girls in our country try to be stick thin because that is what makes us beautiful.  In Africa, many used to value women with a fuller figure because it meant they had enough to eat and were being taken care of by their men. Now, Mtutuzi said that people are starting to want to be thinner, just like in the States. I hate hate hate this. I wish my country would be more like Africa, not the other way around. It frightens me that we do so many things wrong and that other people adopts our ideas of what is beautiful and important in life. Just being away on that farm made me appreciate good conversation, something I lack when I focus on the Internet or things that take me away from spending time with the people that I love. 

After conversing with Mtutuzi, I went into the lounge with other people who were having just an intense of a conversation. We talked about the evil system; something I find to is referred a lot to lately. We discussed the need we feel to have something new when what we have already is just fine, like the iPhone for instance. Who needs the iPhone 4 when their iPhone 3 works just fine? I mean we already have a computer with Internet, why do our phones need it, too?  It is an interesting concept to think about. However, we did not spend all of our time bashing society. We talked about the greatest movies of all time and I think it is about that time where I should finally watch Forest Gump. I’ve decided that I am going to make a list of all of the movies I haven't to see and watch them when I get home. Movies sometimes offer us lessons without even realizing we are learning them. I love that, and they're often funny and a necessary escape sometimes. 

So after our long talks I wrote my in my journal and mental into our comfy bed. We got up bright and early the next day and spent the morning and afternoon learning the basics of human rights. I won't give you a lesson now, but I will tell you some things I think are important. There are the basics, like the four principles of human rights. These are that they are universal, inalienable, indivisible and interdependent. Everyone, no matter where they live or who they are has human rights and they cannot be taken away, divided, and they all are connected and one cannot exist without the other. But, besides basic facts, I learned how intense discussions could get about international affairs. We had a fake United Nations convention about dividing a new planet and many people got heated. It was all because everyone thought they were doing what was best. Now, I could not imagine how heated people get over real issues like using national resources and equality. If I could take away anything from this, I know we must fight for what we think is right but also learn to listen.
In between our discussions, we had the typical South African tea break and put together our projects. The purpose was to research a country (mine was Ethiopia), and convince the UN to give our nation 500 billion dollars to reach our millennium goals by 2015. In case you don’t know, the UN had proposed eight millennium goals to be fulfilled by 2015 which includes: eradicating poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. That was a mouthful. We did not end up winning, but the projects were really funny and made me realize how serious rights are violated in many countries in Africa. To name a few; access to education, homosexuals being denied rights or even killed, female genital mutilation, access to health care, low income, and the list goes on and on. So many groups are denied human rights that all of us deserve and so many overlap into different groups that are violated. It was funny to see everyone dress up and act like protestors or ministers, but at the same time it is hard to process how much really needs to be achieved. After this mock UN convention, we needed time to relax our minds and enjoy our beautiful surroundings.
It was pitch black outside, but we really did not care. We walked up to a damn that was located on the mountain. We all swam together and floated in the water staring up at the stars. They were unreal. There were no city lights or smoke to obscure our view. Every star was crystal clear and where I was and what I was doing overwhelmed me with happiness. I kept saying life was beautiful and my friends laughed at me but I did not care. I have never been one for space, but it was mystifying. We stayed in the water as long as we possibly could until I could not feel my hands, and then changed and went onto the dock on the other side. We laid side-by-side and just stared at the sky. It was crazy to think that all the people I love back home were staring at the blue afternoon sky, and I was staring into the darkness of the night, it made me miss my dad because I know how much he would appreciate the clear view of the sky. I wish everyone could see and feel how I felt because I know I am just not describing it right. I was at peace, and that is a hard feeling for me when it comes to trying to grasp the concept of space.
 I was beginning to fall asleep so I left with my friend Ryan and walked the dark path back to my room. I got back safely (the dark can really freak me out) and was pleased that my roommate Nellie was still awake. I went to pick up my pajama shirt and noticed a bug on the ground. This was just not any bug though, it was a SCORPION. At first, we thought it was dead so stood right over it and took a picture. When we tried to scoop it up and save it (because we're dumb) it flew under my bed. The sick realization hit me that it was alive and that there was a huge possibility it was poisonous. My roommate jumped on her bed and I ran and got someone to kill it. We ran for someone that lived in Africa who might know what to do. It took a while to find it and a lot of people were in my room and we were laughing and slightly hysterical. It was small, and we had heard these were the poisonous kind. It was then we were reminded that we were in Africa and it might not be the best idea to take pictures and poke at the creatures that could poison us. We ended up killing it with my favorite shoe and I went through everything I owned to make sure there were no more. The day went from educational to peaceful to slightly frightening. Although it involved a scorpion, I love days that cover so many ranges of emotions. Now that I was not poisoned I realize how comical the situation was.
The next day we had our final discussions and a delicious send off meal. We talked about how we could not really define what a human right is. I did learn though that they are about the respect and dignity of every human being and there is no real answer to some of our questions. But, in order to make a difference, it is important to learn all we can, create communities, and take action. I know my major is not human rights, but that I can incorporate respect and dignity for everyone I encounter. That way, I can practice what I have preached. Overall, it was an amazing weekend and I met people that we are hopefully going to see again. As my time here grows longer, I have found I  feel richer in knowledge as I learn from the people around me. I will try to remember as much as I can from our discussions, I even have the human rights trainee certificate to remind me. But, I always feel I learn the most from the people around me that I meet here every day. As always, I am so grateful.  

Alex: great experiences in a new place with new people

Zoe, Alex, Jackie

 This weekend was our Human Rights training in conjunction with Africa Unite. We were given the opportunity to meet about twenty other young people from all over Africa to discuss human rights issues, and share opinions and views. It was incredible to be able to sit together and get to know so many new people who were passionate about equality and learning others cultures and points of view. Vincent and Zoe taught the workshop, having us participate in various activities ranging from reading parts of human rights documents, to forming four “countries.” These were interesting because most were conducted in a way, which showed us or taught us something completely different than what we were expecting. 

For example, we were given an “asylum” sheet to complete, however it was written in Creole, which none of us (with the exception of one) understood. We continued to work hard to decipher the questions asked, and were repeatedly turned away by both Vincent and Zoe when we tried to turn them in. At the end of the exercise they finally brought up the fact that we all continued to try, despite the fact we couldn’t understand… why didn’t we stop? Why did we continue to do what we were told, when it was obvious we weren’t capable of completing it? Through activities like this one, we were able to experience a whole new perspective, and could see that it’s so easy to continue to do what we are told even when it’s set up to make us fail. There were so many important things we learned from the various activities at the workshop, and being able to experience it with so many people coming from a variety of countries made it even more impactful. I loved being able to hear others discuss issues they face in their countries, learn about how their government is carried out, and learn about them as young people trying to make a difference. It was inspiring, and comforting to know, that I’m not the only idealist out there after all.

The experience I got from the workshop was great, however, my absolute favorite part was the location of it. We were about an hour or so outside of the city on Goedgedacht farm; a beautiful olive farm, home to some of the most breathtaking and serene views I’ve ever seen. They work on a variety of programs from working with rural children, helping break the cycle of poverty, to working towards climate control and awareness, and it was nice to be able to get a small glimpse into some of their work. Both mornings we were there I got up early and took walks around the farm. It was so peaceful being able to walk through the garden area, and look over hills of farmland and mountains. Saturday I stumbled upon three precious pigs in a pen and immediately fell in love, and watched them for quite some time. Yeah, I know it sounds strange, but there was something about watching them root around just enjoying the morning, that made my day start off even better. Leaving the farm was not something I was excited about doing, but hopefully I’ll be able to return soon.

Meika, Alex, Ryan
There’s nothing better than having great experiences in a new place with new people. Having the opportunity to meet so many different people who culturally might be completely different from me, but in other ways so much the same is one of the greatest things I can experience. The chance to interact with others, learning their points of view and opinions, and sharing mine is how knowledge and understanding spreads. I’m grateful to have had so many of these types of opportunities since I’ve been here, and I can’t wait to have more. 

Sam: educational fun on the Human Rights Weekend

 This weekend we got a chance to get away from the house for a few days and venture to an olive farm about an hour away with a name that I can’t pronounce. We weren’t given many details about what was in store for us and honestly I was a little skeptical about having to go to the middle of nowhere with a bunch of people I didn’t know and then having to do a workshop with them all weekend. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the whole experience. I met some really awesome people and made some great new friends who I am hoping to keep in touch with in the future. The olive farm was absolutely beautiful, although not having Table Mountain right out my window was a little disorienting at times. I also learned so much not just about human rights but about communication and about different countries in Africa since we had such a diverse group from places such as Congo, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and even South Africa. It was really fun getting to know everyone there and hearing about their own life experiences and the work they are doing themselves to educate others and better the communities they are from.

Samantha (second from left)
We all split into four groups and were able to pick a country to research and present on to win a $500 billion check from the World Bank. Saturday night all the groups presented facts about their country and what they would do with the money and it was really fun getting to know about a country. My group chose Egypt and I didn’t know as much as I had hoped about the revolution and political unrest that is still going on there. Learning about it just made me want to know more about other countries and made me want to be more aware of world events. Its something I’ll have to work on. Some of the other exercises we did taught us about the difficulties of being a refugee or asylum seeker and the whole process they have to go to just to seek protection from their own government. I wasn’t as familiar with the terms such as the difference between an asylum seeker and refugee (an asylum seeker hasn’t been granted full protection yet, while a refugee’s case has already been heard and approved), I also learned about the rights of refugees. We of course also spoke about what human rights are and the different categories and I learned more than I could possibly explain in one blog post.
The best part was just getting to interact with the other people there. I made so many new friends and had some great conversations about life and how others live. Saturday night after we were done with the structured activities for the day, a bunch of us walked up to the dam that is on the farm. There is a dock there that we laid on and just looked at the stars for hours. This is one of my favorite activities so I was totally happy and serene. This also lead to discussions about life and what’s beyond the stars and what we all believe. It was in its own way one of my favorite nights so far, and seeing seven shooting stars definitely didn’t hurt. I like that being here I can see different stars than I can at home too. I have always been fascinated by stars and space so I was thoroughly entertained for hours. One of the guys there named Ryan knew a lot about astronomy so I liked talking to and learning from him the whole time.

The weekend was just amazing. It was nice to get away from Loch road for a weekend while getting to know new people and connecting more with the people I’ve been living with for over a month. Plus they had amazing food the whole weekend with their delicious homemade salad dressings. Now I’m back to cooking simple meals for myself but I will definitely be keeping in contact with many of the people I met this weekend and we will hopefully be able to organize human rights training around Cape Town to use some of the information we all learned from our short time together. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ryan on ZA heath care

My time here at Tafelsig has been an invaluable experience up until this point. A patient once asked me, “Why would you ever want to work all the way out here in Tafelsig of all places?” My response was that this clinic is the most valuable place of internship for anyone interested in the health care field and that I couldn’t see myself anywhere else in Cape Town learning as much as I am here on a daily basis. I am really starting to enter my comfort zone here as I have become very familiar with the hectic environment, working with the staff, and communicating with the patients.

Last week, I was put in contact with a doctor who used to work here but now works at the University of Cape Town with the student population. I was curious as to why he left after working at Tafelsig Clinic for such a long time so I decided to meet up with him at the student health center in Observatory on a Friday. After speaking with him for half an hour about medicinal philosophy and overall healthcare in South Africa, I left with a whole new perspective on not only this career, but life in general. I found out that he left Tafelsig Clinic to make a larger impact in society. Although the clinic is very important in the health sector by helping people in desperate need of care, it must sacrifice the educational aspect of care due to the high volume of patients seen every day. He claimed that this hinders the holistic approach to medicine and preventative care that leads to chronic illnesses. By working at the university as a general practitioner, he believes that he has sufficient time to fully educate each patient while simultaneously targeting a young population that can be influenced towards a healthier lifestyle. In this way, the future population in need of chronic care can be reduced and thus lowering healthcare expenditure and improving individual lives. This perspective really grabbed my attention because it can be applied to many other sectors and issues in need of attention by targeting the sources of problems faced in society. Immediately from this encounter I knew that I wanted to learn more from his practice and philosophy. In the coming weeks I plan on shadowing him once a week in addition to my internship in order to gain a broader outlook on primary care while continuing to compare healthcare systems domestic and abroad. 
Meika, Alex, Kelsey, Becky, Brandi, Lindiwe McClinton Rose, Nicole, Ryan, Nicole, Dan
(front row)  Maria, Rebecca, Rina, Mackenzie

Brittany on becoming a Capetonian

Although we have close to two months left in Cape Town, I feel as if there is barely anytime left. Everyday just gets sweeter here. But in addition to enjoying my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about myself. As mentioned in an earlier entry, I have been struggling to identify myself by South African classifications. However, this weekend gave me time for self reflection. Through using the Myer-Briggs Personality type, I was able to use this weekend self reflection.
This weekend I stayed by myself with just my RA. I’m the type of person that gets her energy from hanging out with people. When I took the MBTI it told me that I am a people person and that I get my energy from hanging out with people. It also indicated that my personality types doesn’t like to time to her or his self. However much I love to be around everyone, I also was glad to take some much needed time to myself.
However the rest of the weekend I was able to hang out with my friend. We went to Grand West. This place is so beautiful. It is like an indoor amusement park. They have all kinds of entertainment including Ice Skating, Bumper cars, Arcade Games, Movies, Casino and a Park. We were only able to visit the Skating Rink, which was so fun. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to visit the gardens which were also very beautiful. This place reminded me that Cape Town has so much to offer. In addition traveling to Grand West, I was able to learn more about the transit system.
Just this evening I was talking to one of my Cape Town friends and I came to the realization that I’m no longer excited about Cape Town. Just like a New Yorker doesn’t constantly talk about how great New York is, so I as a Capetonian no longer talk about how great Cape Town is. This is my life, this is my city.
Nicole, Brittany, Erica, Rebecca

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kimmi with thoughts racing through her head

Everyday at Christel House is amazing. I love the kids, teachers and the unconditional love I get from both. I just finished writing an 8-page research paper about Christel House. I am so happy that I am part of such a great organization. I just hope that I will be able to make an impact even if it is just on one kid. I did not want to be just like any internship that they have had in the past. I want to be different and I want to help them in some way. I know that it is a little far fetched since the kids are so little and only five years old. For goodness sake I do not even remember what I did when I was five. But it would be amazing to come back here one day and see my students and have them remember me. But I guess we will just have to wait and see.

It’s about 3:15 in the morning and I can’t sleep. Today there are so many different thoughts racing through my mind. Today I was finally able to sit back and reflect on everything. I started to think while the kids were taking a nap. They all looked so peaceful and happy. Every time I go to school the kids greet me with smiles and hug. A little girl who is five years old and has a cough problem since her mother smoked while she was pregnant is always smiling. These kids are genuinely happy and are essentially just kids. At Christel House I tend to forget where I am. I tend to forget that I’m at a school for impoverished children. With matching uniforms and hugs and kisses you tend to forget about their problems and everything that they are going through. Its hard to imagine at just age five they have to go through a lot of things and already have so many problems at home.

That just brings me back to being five. Do you remember when your biggest worry was not being able to get dessert if you misbehaved? Do you remember when you did not have to worry about cooking dinner or going to work? When I was five years old all of those embedded stereotypes and norms. Who created all of these social norms? Why do we have to shave? Why do we have to look this way or that? Society tends to embed all of these norms into our heads without us even knowing. But when we were five years old were we concerned about wearing the most up to date new designer line? When we were five years old did we care think about being normal and what to wear or not to wear? Being young was so amazing. You didn’t have to worry about getting from here to there. You did not have to worry about much. You would just play with your friends and be happy.

That is what so many of these kids have that sometimes I find myself not having…happiness. Sometimes I do not understand how I can lack something that I should have. I have such a great life and just am so fortunate for everything in my life. Some of these kids go home and some do not have running water, some do not have dinner. But do I see them coming in sad and complaining about their lives? No. These kids are happy. These kids have great energy and are great listeners and learners. They try very hard and once they have accomplished something they show me and are proud. This is why teaching is so rewarding. Sure it is fun to be hugged a billion times and to be attacked by a sea of Grade R students. But the most rewarding part of this job is the kids and when they improve. When you see that all of your hard work and teaching has worked. That is the best feeling in the world. When you are working with a child and see the light bulb go off in his/her head. When they finally get it and it clicks. That is when I get that warm feeling inside and can’t even describe how rewarding it is. When your children finish a task that they have been working very hard on and show it to you. When you tell them something so simple as “a job well done Chelsea.” They grin from ear to ear and they get that same feeling nice and warm inside. These children feel the love and support from teachers when they know they care. It is priceless being able to work with these children.

Yes, I am indeed becoming really attached to my Grade R class not only the kids but also the teachers. Everyone in Christel House is wonderful and all the kids want to do is give you more hugs. It doesn’t matter who you are if you know them or not the kids are giving hugs to everyone left and right. It is unconditional love. I am going to miss all of their hugs and some trying to kiss me all of the time. I am going to miss my chats with my teachers. It is really bad. You know that feeling when you know that you are falling in love with someone and you can’t help it. You don’t necessarily want it to happen but it does anyway. Well that is how I am feeling right now towards these kids, teachers and South Africa. I don’t want to fall hard but I am and there’s no stopping it. I know by the end of this trip I will be in tears.

I came to South Africa because I wanted something different. I needed to get away for a little bit and I needed to truly find myself. I am so glad that I choose to come to South Africa. It is a place that I have never seen before. To me it seems that not a lot of people are worried about what car they drive or what clothes they wear. These people know the true meaning of happiness and love. People genuinely care for you and look out for you. I keep on thinking back to the Sunday morning I went to church in a township. That was the most powerful service I have ever gone to. The music really brought everyone together. You can tell that everyone came together. They weren’t there because their parents dragged them out of bed or they had to go. These people wanted to go. These people had great energy and good vibes. It was such a beautiful service. Looking around I saw all of these beautiful people and heard this beautiful music. Did they have a piano? No. Did they have any instruments? No. Their voices and spirits were so loud that they did not need much. Just like these kids and many other people I have seen they believe. They do not have much but they still believe and they make a fantastic life out of what they have.

My teacher is an inspiration she is such an amazing teacher and person. I can tell how passionate she is about the kids. She also has to give them a little bit of tough love every once in a while. But she is great with the kids and so funny. I love the way she teaches and really admire her. I have been learning a lot and am glad we made such a great connection from day 1. The assistant is also wonderful. She is also so caring and great with the kids. She teases them and is fun with them as well. I know that once she finishes school she is going to be a truly amazing teacher, she is already. The kids inspire me the most. They make me want to live everyday to the fullest and to put all of my worries to the side. They make me put everything into perspective and make me realize that some things in life are just not worth getting upset about.

I have learned by living with 17 people in this house that there are a lot of strong personalities. But I have also learned to forgive and to not judge people so quickly. Of course some personalities clash right away. But now that I have started to get to know everyone on a little bit deeper level I have seen the true person he/she is. Everyone on this trip really does mean well and I care about each and every one of them. I have had a lot of fun getting to know everyone. There have been some bumps along the way but now it is a smooth ride. I can now say that I can get along with everyone and enjoy going out and spending time with the group. At first as you know I was having a hard time. That was probably one of the biggest challenges for me flying across the country with no friends or family with no one to lean on. Here I was alone with 20 strangers and had to make friends. I know that it sounds very easy making friends but for me it wasn’t. I was so used to my best friends from home and my family being a car ride away. Here I was forced to be on my own. It was hard and took a while to get adjusted but now I have found a lot of good friends that I am sure I will stay in touch with for years to come.

Another challenge was letting go and venturing outside of my comfort zone. I had a hard time letting go of that fear of no one liking me and even of the people here. But I have learned that being safe and opening up to people to overcome those fears. I am planning on going on a homestay in Oceanview one of the townships next weekend. I will be staying with a host family for a few nights. I am very excited to learn more about this culture and be able to really experience it hands on. This is why I came here to learn more about the South African culture. These people all have different stories of how they got to where they are today and different opinions about the Apartheid and race. I am very embarrassed to say that I had did not know anything about South African History before arriving. I did not know who Nelson Mandela was or what the Apartheid was. I am so glad that I am learning so much but wish I would have learned at least a little bit in school.

I feel happy and giddy and I can’t even describe it. I have learned to not take so many things for granted. I am so mad that in America materialistic things have become so important to us. How money has become so important to us as well. How we are afraid to get to know strangers and usually when in a rush just blow off clerks when they ask how we are. In the US we always seem to be in a rush and going from here to there. We are just go, go, go all of the time and tend not to relax and rest. We need to find more time for ourselves we need to reflect every once in a while and just stop and breathe. We need to learn how to enjoy life and enjoy our food. My dad would always tell me to enjoy my food not to rush. That is true for food and also for life. If you rush rush rush you will not get as much out of life or the wonderful taste of food as if you just took your time and really tasted every ingredient and spice. Life comes so fast and before you know it a month or two has passed by. I have learned here and after talking to my boyfriend not to be sad and worry about how I have to leave in two months. I mustn’t worry about the expiration date on my trip. I must slow down and enjoy every last second I am here. I must use this opportunity to explore not only Cape Town but also myself and how I feel. I must learn what truly makes me happy. Things like yoga, kids, and running, eating and talking with friends. These things may take time out of my day and may help me procrastinate from the work I have to do. But by getting the most out of the time here is just as important maybe even more than reading my book. I always have the day or night before to write that paper right? I know that you all are always busy and go go go just like I was and usually am. But you can’t forget to take some time for you and to treat yourself every once in a while. It can be something as simple as treating yourself to Starbucks (that’s what I did at home…still can’t find anything close to as good as Starbucks here…I’ve been drinking Instant Coffee which is interesting to say the least). Okay I am done rambling on and now it is nearly 4 in the morning so I should try to sleep. But if anyone gets the chance to visit some place as amazing as South Africa do not even hesitate just do it! You will not regret it! I definitely did not.

Rina on opening her mind

Cape Town has been treating me well, but it also has me thinking a lot about what the future holds for me.  The fact that I haven't decided what I want to do when I graduate, has been something I have been grappling with, but I've accepted it.  I know that I need to continue to build up experience so that when I do decide, I can have some background in the field, or at least a starting point.  If all of my plans fail, I plan to go to culinary school, move back to Cape Town, and take over Charly's Bakery.  I can bake and bake and feed the homeless or at least the hungry.  It might not be the most lucrative, but I know I'd be happy doing something I'm passionate about.  

I have always been one to seek out the best option, and tried to be the best, but why does everything have to be a competition?  Many of the South Africans and non-American people I've had the pleasure to converse with, have mentioned that everything in America is always about competition, everyone is very competitive.  And not just in school or sports, even the littlest things, like a courting between two people.  We're always playing games, and toying with emotions and feelings.  One thing I wish I could change about most people is to shift the emphasis from competition, to cooperation.  Competition is all about trying to be better than one another, when in reality, no one is really "better" than anyone else.  We may be better off, because of our privileges that we've been born with, or the experiences we've been privileged to encounter.. but we are all human and not one being is truly better than another.  

This is something I feel the need to keep in the front of my mind, as I come across people with viewpoints, ideals, values and morals that differ from my own.  This is important because it is easy to believe that our own views, ideas, values and morals are right, and the right way of doing things.  Rather than trying to persuade people to agree with us, it is better to present our own side and allow others to decide for themselves if they accept it or not.  I have always thought myself too keep an open mind, but Cape Town is opening my mind more and more each day... 

Meika's CPT food adventures

The food I have eaten in Cape Town has been an experience in its own right, and as I cannot think of anything else to write about, this blog entry will be dedicated to food.  But the more I think about it, eating is an intrinsic part of my daily life here and the whole experience in South Africa.

This is the first time I have been cooking and grocery shopping entirely on my own.  I love cooking, so it has been a real treat to have a kitchen and make my meals every day.  One of the best parts of this has been forming a special cooking bond with my fellow Veggies of the house!  We often share our recipes and cook meals together.

I’ve learned about the markets here and how to navigate them.  For example, I’ve become aware of the varying price of mangos depending on where I shop (Checkers usually has mangos for R4.99, Woolworth’s for R7.99 and The Food Lover’s Market for a shocking R9.99).  I have also discovered new and delicious foods that I never knew about in America, such as Digestive cookies!  I’ve learned that food, especially produce, spoils more quickly, and I have adjusted my eating habits accordingly.  This is probably due to a combination of fewer preservatives in the food and our tepid fridge.

Then there is the experience of eating out.  It has been so much fun to discover delicious and interesting places to eat around Cape Town.  My favorites thus far have probably been the Eastern Food Bazaar, Addis in Cape Town, and the Neighbourgoods Market.  The Eastern Food Bazaar is an eatery downtown that is situated in a wide alley.  There are various counters that serve a variety of Asian foods, such as Chinese, Indian, and Turkish.    The prices are seriously cheap and the portions are huge.  It is almost always busy, and one of my favorite places to eat for lunch.  I think the falafel is my current favorite.

Addis in Cape in an Ethiopian restaurant on Long Street, and we visited there in the first week or two of our arrival.  I had never eaten Ethiopian food before and I was so impressed by how flavorful it was while also being entirely vegan and gluten-free.  We were served a platter with a variety of dishes that we scooped up with injera, an Ethiopian flatbread.  My favorite was probably misir wot, which was a spicy red lentil dish.


The Neighbourgoods Market is a food market at a place called the Old Biscuit Mill.  It is only open on Saturday mornings.  It is a huge tent filled with stands featuring all kinds of food.  There is frozen yogurt, paella, freshly baked breads, omelets, pastries, cheeses, fresh produce, dumplings, pizzas, and on and on.  It’s jam-packed and people eat at communal tables and on benches and awkward bales of hay.  My friends and I went this weekend and I got a Belgium waffle with powdered sugar, dark chocolate drizzle, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It was GREAT.

​So, that is a snippet of my food adventures in Cape Town.  Maybe I will stick to writing my blog entries about food because the words flowed quite naturally.  Bye for now!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kimmi on making a difference

I have been here for more than a month now and that is enough time to realize how much I love it here. I'm really going to miss it when I have to say goodbye. Recently I got involved in Big Sister, Little Sister program where I was paired up with a little sister and am able to tutor her and get to know her. I will be teaching her some life skills, instilling confidence and being the best possible role model I can. I think its very important for these young adults. I am excited not only to get to know and get close with my little sister but also so that I can restore faith in her. I want to give her confidence and support and show her that even if no one else cares, including herself, I care. 

I plan to not only get to know my little sister, Tania, that I was paired with but I would also like to learn about her culture and where she comes from. She will give me insight and maybe change my perception about the world and how I see people. The issue that I am addressing is where young people living in these townships are facing many problems like poverty, drugs and gangs. One of the goals is that through tutoring, interacting with them and teaching them life skills it will prevent them to get into trouble and help them see that there are better things out there they can get involved with.  I hope to show these young adults that they will have to work hard to get where they want to be but in the end it will all be worth it. I am so happy and excited that I am involved in this! She got so excited when I suggested that we could hike Table Mountain. She just wants to get out and do things. It seems like at home she just does not really have the opportunity to go out and explore Cape Town. 

There is so much to do here as you know I have been doing so much already. She lives here and I don't think she has done half the things that I have done. This makes me sad and really puts it into perceptive again how lucky I am. It relates to class when we were talking about privileges and its true. Money really does play a big role in some of the privileges that you may be offered and others will not. I know just by meeting Tania once what an amazing and hard working person she is. How can someone who is like me and able to give so much not receive that much in the end. I like to know that I will be able to spend time and take her out and have her experience many things. She will be able to learn a lot from me and I will most definitely learn a lot from her. It just makes me sad that I will only be here for two months so will have to leave her. I just hope that she will be determined to do well and work hard. All I want to do is make a difference while I am here. Whether it is on one of my five year old Grade R students or just one person like Tania. 

I am in South Africa not only because it is beautiful and so different and eye opening but to become more aware of my surrounding. I also came to make a difference even if it is as little as giving Tania the confidence to want to succeed and want to push herself. With only about two months left I hope I will make a difference to at least one person and go home being aware and make a difference at home as well. 

Kristin: so much to do, so little time

I can't believe we've been here five weeks already! It's gone by so fast it scares me! We still have a lot ahead of us, both academic and recreational adventures. This past weekend we went paragliding which was awesome. I was pretty nervous but once we were up in the air it was quite serene.  There wasn't too much of an adrenaline rush, but after going through with that, I now want to go skydiving and possibly bungee jumping! This upcoming weekend we are going to a human rights convention and the one following that, some of us will be participating in a home stay in one of the nearby townships. We have lots planned and a lot to still plan.

One of the more recent things that some of us have begun is our activist project.  A large handful of us from the program have decided to work with a young and ambitious woman who has been responsible for running a book club the past few years. Her name is Amanda and she is also from one of the townships named Khayelitsha.

Abongile (Bongi) and Casey
 Her and a couple others (Bongi and Casey) are in the process of starting an NGO which will  serve to provide financial support and resources for the different sections of the hopeful organization. Along with Amanda's book club is a soccer program and a life skills course for both.  The life skills course in particular is what the handful of us would be helping out with. Along with that, we also buddied up with the young members of Amanda's book club; either one or two of us for each member of the club. Since most members are young women between the ages of about 13 and 18, we figured it would be beneficial for them and even us, to really get to know them and show that we are interested in their lives and they are important. Amanda was telling us that many of them lack confidence and, as adolescents, are trying to find themselves.  So, we will be doing activities and other workshops to help boost their confidence and ease them into developing skills that are essential for going out into the work force and even just going to interviews, for example. This past Friday we met in Khayelitsha and figured out who we would be paired or grouped with. Brandi (who is incredibly outgoing, friendly, and kind) and I were matched up with a young woman named Eza who turns out to be the shyest one of the group. Brandi and I think we will be a good group for her and we will be meeting this Thursday to hang out for the first time since we've met.

The life skills course of this program sounds brilliant to me so we will see how it turns out. I think schools back in the US should really have something similar, along with some other classes that teach more about social issues and global, current events, but I'm digressing. So, when I think back to being in high school, I remember how only the same couple of people would raise their hands or talk in class willingly. These people might have been ahead of the game, comfortable with themselves and confident enough to either ask a question others might say is stupid or propose an answer that could be wrong. Unfortunately, not everyone is that confident especially as a young adult or adolescent. I think because of the lack of confidence at this age, students are much more likely to fall into bad habits and give into peer pressure. Everyone wants to fit in somewhere and be liked by the people around them. During some of the most crucial times of growing as a person, physically, sexually, psychologically, maybe even spiritually, there is almost no focus on how to get an adolescent to develop a healthy confidence so they can be themselves and be a positive member in society. It is crazy to me to think back to how separated school was from personal, emotional life. We are all people, developing and changing constantly, so I don't understand why we separate ourselves from one another so much. 

One thing that this program stresses is that we are co-educators; we teach each other and help each other to understand different concepts and our teacher is no exception. I think it would be incredibly beneficial to society if schools required their students to take a life skills course that is based around improving self confidence and awareness of oneself. And after living with 17 people in one house, you also learn how important it is to develop good communication skills - being open and honest, speaking up when you have an issue with someone but always assuming good intent from them, and really listening to other people when they have an issue with you. I think that should also be taught in schools.

I could go on and on about the things I think public schools should be required to teach, but the above was closely related to what we will be doing with the young adults participating in the NGO. But I have to get going and finish some of my other homework!   

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Kelsey on her mom's visit

This past week has gone by unbelievably fast. As sad as I am to see it pass, I’m so happy that I was able to have such an amazing week with my mom and her friend Linda. I felt like it was orientation week all over again except with me being the coordinator and host. I felt honored to share my favorite Cape Town experiences so far and to be able to teach them all about South Africa’s history. What I forgot about orientation week though was just how go-go-go everything is. Every day we had a schedule to follow - places to be and people to meet. Here are just some of the things we did: explored the city, township tour with Vernon, trip around the peninsula and Boulder Beach with Vernon, Table Mountain, Waterfront, safari reservation excursion, dinner with Marita, Vernon, Esme, Lindiwe, my mom, Linda, and friends,  Cheetah encounter, wine tasting, etc. That isn’t even to mention all of the time we ate out. This week alone I think I’ve gained a couple pounds with the amount of food I’ve eaten. 

Among all of the great things we did together, I made sure they weren’t going to leave before they saw all sides of Cape Town. Most tourists that come to SA only ever see the classic tourist attractions – which basically means they only see the wealthy, predominantly white parts of the city. However, as I’ve learned from personal experience, there is so much beyond that that needs to be seen and experienced to get a true feel of Cape Town along with the spirit of the people. I wouldn’t let them leave without seeing the good and the bad; after all, Cape Town has one of the biggest economic gaps of all cities. The township tour literally changed their entire perspective on not only the economy but the people, social issues, and politics of Cape Town. What I found ironic was that prior to my mom getting here I had shown her all my pictures and tried to describe the best I could what effect both sides have had on me. She said she understood but I was still extremely doubtful because Cape Town is something you have to experience and see firsthand otherwise it just isn’t understood. This past week has given my mom the opportunity to truly realize that. I’m happy that I shared so many experiences with my mom because when I inevitably go back home I’ll have someone that can relate to everything I’m saying and really understand. I know I’m rambling but it’s just so hard to put into words how happy I am and what this past week has meant to me.

There are two things in particular that my mom and Linda found really intriguing – elluminati and xenophobia. I had informed them about both things prior to coming to SA but they were hesitant to believe me. At Spier a couple of days ago, we were talking to the man who had made some beaded trees that my mom had bought while they were being wrapped. He asked us the standard “where are you from” questions and then asked if we knew about everyone in elluminati. He went on to tell us that he refuses to listen to Jay-Z, Beyonce, Bieber, etc. because he won’t listen to anyone who worships satan. We tried explaining to him our doubts that this cult actually exists on such a large scale like that but, as he said, he “saw it on t.v. and the t.v. wouldn’t lie.” I’ve experienced opinions like his before at Thandokhulu so I wasn’t too surprised but I can’t say the same for my mom and Linda. 

That very same day, our taxi driver gave them another whirlwind. After talking to him for a bit, we learned that he was from an outside country (I can’t remember which one), he liked Mr. Obama, and he identifies himself as a black person. Then he went on a rant about how the “coloured people were reckless and unaccountable because they always jump into things without thinking” and how all foreigners are ruining the population because they are taking SA away from its “true self.” Upon passing by a stand that sold hand crafted beaded flowers by the commons, I expressed interest in buying some of them soon. The driver’s response to that was, “No, don’t buy from them. They are all Zimbabweans and don’t deserve to be here. They are lazy…” I could see my mom’s face getting heated and I knew then that she really understood just how prevalent xenophobia is. When talking to her about it afterwards, she was really mad that people could be like that, especially to refugees. I understood where she was coming from because it angers and baffles me too but I also told her that it isn’t just prevalent in SA but America too – with Mexican and Islamic people currently and many other races in the past. She never realized that before and is now so interested in the issue. Between elluminati and xenophobia, I’d say my mom and Linda had quite the day.
Well I’m off to make some food and start some homework. As hard as it was today to see them leave for home, I’m looking forward to working off those couple pounds I’ve gained. 

Brittany seeking her identity

It’s the end of week five in Cape Town. Can hardly believe I’ve been here this long. Time truly does fly when you are having fun. I am definitely past the tourist stage, now I am really trying to learn about the people and organizations here. In the past weeks, it has become clearer to me that I am foreigner to South Africa society.
Every day I wake up early to take the 7am train. I ask the conductor for a return to Cape Town and then head toward the train platform. The trains are usually packed with people going to work and school. There are days when everyone is crammed into the train and we are literally packed like sardines.  I don’t jolt when the train moves because someone is there on all four sides to cushion my fall.   I arrive in Cape Town ready to start my day. I am truly settling into life in Cape Town and I am enjoying every minute of it!
As much as I feel a part of Cape Town, I still realize that I am a foreigner. One of the highlights of my day is taking the train home with my friends from work. We laugh and joke about our day. But they get the biggest kick out of my American accent. All though it doesn’t bother me, for the first time I am the odd one out. I have never considered myself to have an accent but sometimes people can’t even understand what I’m saying. They teach me different words and laugh at my pronunciations. They tell me to say “wah-ter” rather that “wader” and “moun-tain” rather that “moun-an” all the way back home. I laugh at how different we pronounce words and at how foreign I am for a change.
Another way I am an outsider is through the color of my skin. As mentioned in previous blogs, I am very conscience of race here. I have been struggling with where I fit in this society. Of the three classifications; black, coloured and white, I don’t think fit into any. Most people would not consider me to be Xhosa black. But on the other hand some would not consider me to be coloured. It’s like I’m in between. Also, depending on how I wear my hair, I can jump between the statuses as colored and black. When I talked to an attorney at my job about this, she told me that I would just be considered a foreigner. So I guess there are four classifications: black, coloured, white and foreigner. I find the classifications to be limiting. They don’t account for the diversities of ethnicities in Cape Town.
As I continue to find my identity in Cape Town, I hope the people of Cape Town will discover an identity beyond coloured, black and white.

Brittany & friends at beach