Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kimmi's excursion experiences

For my spring break this year we went to visit Johannesburg, South Africa and also Kruger National Park.  I had so much fun at both places. We were in Jo'burg for a couple of days. There we visited many museums. 

The museum that hit me the most and made me very emotional was the Hector Pietersen Museum. We went to this museum one of the first days we were in Jo'burg. If you do not know already Hector Pietersen was 13-year-old boy who was shot by the South African police. He was marching for his right to an equal education. Many of the kids from Soweto, one of the biggest townships in South Africa, marched in protest that day. It was supposed to be a simple protest and turned violent. Students were fighting for the right to an equal education that they deserve. The police came to break it up and started to fire shots into the crowd. That day about 200 kids died and hundreds injured. One of the famous pictures is of Hector Pietersen being carried by an older boy after he was shot. This picture really captured the meaning of Ubuntu because this boy who was carrying Hector did not even know him. But here in South Africa it doesn’t matter if you are a stranger if you see that someone is hurt you are going to help him anyway.

Throughout the museum I learned more and more about what happened that day and how many innocent kids lives were taken. It just made me so sad because to think how young those kids were. I just don’t understand how the police can violently shot at and attack these kids. It was supposed to be a simple protest they were no threat to the police. I just don’t understand why the police felt the need to start killing so many innocent kids. I started to think also some of these kids were as little as my Grade R kids. What if I was a teacher back then and one of my students got shot and killed. I just could not even imagine. These were so many kids killed that day. Kids have so much potential, they have their whole lives ahead of them and they are our future. Kids have so much more to live for and to see that the police killed so many of them I just cannot wrap my mind around. One of the stories I read in the museum touched me as well. This 8-year-old girl was walking down the road when this happened with her mother. She was not even in the protest she was completely innocent and one of the policemen shot and killed her. She was innocent she was not even involved but just because she was a kid the policeman assumed and shot her for nothing. That museum was so sad to learn about and I could not even believe something like this happened.

Kimmi plays hoola hoops with kids at Boys and Girls Club of Soweto
While in Jo'burg we were able to go to many restaurants that had traditional South African food. We went to a casino and I played Black Jack for the first time. I can definitely see how addicting gambling can be. I almost got sucked in and I had to stop myself from putting another R100 in to play. I enjoyed walking around downtown Jo'burg and learning more about the history of South Africa. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend one of the afternoons volunteering with The Boys and Girls Club. There I was reading with one of the boys and we were learning about how muscles worked and how you use them to run and bend your arms. By the end of my time there he understood and really did learn about muscles, which was exciting. I was also able to play with some of the kids outside where one boy and I made up a game with hula-hoops. It reminded me of my childhood and how my sibling and I would always be given something little like a hula hoop and make up a game that would keep us occupied for hours. When we went to Constitution Hill one of the things in the building that I liked the most was there was an area where you can write down whatever you want about South Africa, human rights, etc. I thought that was a good idea and very interesting to look at and read.

When we first came to Johannesburg I was very scared because people told me that it was a lot more dangerous than Cape Town and more crimes occurred there. But in the end I was not so scared. I did find that the people there were not as friendly as the people are in Cape Town. I also felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. That may have to do with the fact that we were always in a big group of 24 people on a huge coach bus. But I felt that being white made people look at me differently because of my skin color. I think because of Apartheid many may still have some sort of resentment against whites because of the way that they were treated. At times I just felt so bad riding around in this big fancy coach bus to places where many did not have enough money to buy groceries for the week. I guess there was no other way to get around but still. Being stared at by many on the streets made me want to duck my head and hide. I did feel safe in Joburg because we were provided with the private transportation and stayed in a safe area. But Joburg did not feel like home. I found myself missing the familiarity and nice people from Cape Town. Plus I also found myself missing Table Mountain, which in Cape Town I can see, everyday. In Joburg there are no mountains.

Next stop was Kruger National Park. It took us about 7 hours to get there. This long bus ride reminded me of all the trips my family and I went on to Wisconsin. When we arrived in Kruger it was extremely hot and humid. I roomed with two other girls in a chalet. It basically looked like a hut from the outside but once you got inside it looked like a small hotel room that fit three beds and a closet. It was far away from any big city and was kind of in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t help but think that it felt a little bit like home. I was finally comfortable enough that if I wanted I was not afraid to walk around alone. The only thing I feared there was getting lost or eaten by some animal.

Brittany, Kimmi, Kristin on game drive in Kruger
We went on a game drive/safari that first night where we saw a giraffe, rhino, kudu (antelope), impalas and wart hogs. On the safari we watched the sunset and the beautiful starry night cover the sky. We woke up at 4 in the morning for our morning safari ride. It was so worth it though. We watched the sunrise and we saw elephants, giraffes, a female lion and cool birds. First we saw an elephant from afar then we saw this huge elephant that actually started to cross the road and stopped right in front of our truck. It stood there and started to flap its ears so we remained quiet then it walked across. It was amazing I had never seen an elephant that close before. I took a nap and then we walked around during the day. At lunch we were all sitting outside eating and in the river we saw hippos! In the afternoon I went on a bush walk. I felt like someone from National Geographic. I had my camera with me and although we had to be completely silent I took some videos. There were two armed men with us leading the way. We saw a giraffe from afar and also some impalas crossing the road. We were on an elephant hunt and on the way found some poop and where the elephant laid. We also stomped through tall grass and spider webs ---- it was so much fun. I really enjoyed my time at Kruger and wish that we could have stayed there longer. On the way out of Kruger we saw elephants, water buffalo, giraffe and hippos.

While on excursion I missed the comfort of the pool house and being able to see everyone and make my own dinner. I also missed the comfort and familiarity of Cape Town. During the whole week the only form of technology I had was my phone. I did not use it because it costs so much for people back home so I had no contact with my family or friends for a whole week. It was kind of relaxing to have no technology and no distractions. I read a lot and wrote a lot. But it was very hard not being able to talk to anyone from home for the whole week. I can’t believe how much I rely on the Internet and how much I was craving it while I was gone for such a short period of time. Overall I had an amazing spring break and am so lucky that I was able to visit such amazing places. By the end of the week though I was ready and excited to go back home to Cape Town.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Amariliz trying to make sense of her experience

The excursion. I do not know how honest I should be or how honest I am allowed to be.  I also don’t even know if have any credentials to make my judgments or pass my criticism. I do not want this to seem like I am unhappy with the excursion because this is not the case. I just simply want to allow myself the freedom to speak what was on my mind while walking through Sharpeville memorial and through the other museums on our excursion.

I think it is best to start with the overall impression. First of all I will leave Kruger out of this. Let’s face it there is no way to make a game reserve bad. The only improvement would be to stay at the Park forever and roam free with the wild animals. This is clearly impossible.

I think that the trip to Johannesburg served its function. It was a good experience. I thought it was helpful to become immersed in the history that we are taught in Vincent’s class. The events were no longer names and points on a time line. Due to the trip I felt that they became real. On a personal level I learn better when I can picture the topic and when I can hear personal accounts. This trip was an experience. We were able to walk through Soweto and take presence in Sharpeville. I also thought it was important to see that the concept of Human Rights Day has controversy.

Also on a personal level I am not too much of a museum person. I think it’s an attention span thing and also I rather hear personal accounts from different people lives than historical noted events. For me and I only speak on behalf of myself this was too many museums in a short period of time.

Basically while we were taking our walk through the Sharpeville museum, inside I thought it was awesome. I thought it was very important to commemorate and remember those that died in the struggle of apartheid. But as we left the museum and proceeded to walk around the area I could not help but being annoyed. Why is so much money being put into the past? When here in the present there is so much that still needs to be developed and worked on? Looking at the local school, I thought to myself, all the money that was spent in the memorial could have been spent on books, desks, teachers and even a better learning environment. I know that people died for their freedom and the museum represents that and provides their deaths with meaning.  But what about the meaning of the lives for the people who are still a part of the community?  I also found issue with the fountain. Really? I mean yes the structure is beautiful and so is the message. But what about the message that there are still people who do not have access to water in their own community?  I don’t know . This is just what was going through my mind.

I think what is really important to admit to myself and to all reading the blog---Had I been given the choice of this excursion or doing my own thing.  I would have to say that I would not have elected to spend my week this way with the exception of Kruger. For this reason I do believe that the excursion served its purpose. I was forced/given the opportunity to indulge in a break but also to indulge in a learning environment.

Maria on the Sharpeville Memorial

Another emotional place we visited while on our excursion to Johannesburg was the Sharpeville Massacre Museum and Memorial.  On March 21st of 1960, 5000 to 7000 people gathered at the local police station in the Sharpeville township to protest peacefully.  They purposefully did not carry their passbooks to demonstrate defiance of the Pass Laws and offered themselves up for arrest.  Once the crowd grew dramatically, the tone of the situation took a turn for the worse and became increasingly hostile.

The official numbers reported were that 69 people were killed, 10 of whom were children, and another 180 were injured, 19 of whom were children.  Like the Soweto Uprisings recounted at the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial, many victims were shot in the back as they were turned around to run away from the police.
Garden of Remembrance at the Sharpeville Memorial
It was interesting how many parallels could be drawn between the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa to the civil rights movement in United States history.  Learning more about South African history and politics has made me realize how little I know about my own country's past and made me want to learn more.

During our visit at the Sharpeville Massacre Memorial, we took a walk around the site of the massacre.  Nicole and I wandered off to talk to a man who was there the day of the shootings and had relatives who were murdered that day and were honored in the Garden of Remembrance.  He showed us the passbook he used to be required to carry and told us what it was like to get questioned about his passbook under apartheid.

Passbook from the 1960s
He shared his story with us and was eager to let me get it on video so that I could share it with others.  Here is his story.

Brandi's PHENOMENAL week

Where to start? Well I didn’t do much this past week…ya know just sat around, twiddled my thumbs…

JOKE! Besides the first two weeks of being here which was orientation, this past week was definitely the busiest. We spent the last week (3/17-3/24) in  Johannesburg then in Kruger National Park. That Saturday morning (St. Pattys Day) was exciting- I woke up early to pack the rest of my things in a giant suitcase that Nicole and I were sharing and we were off to the airport. The flight to Jo-burg was fine, it was nice and short and I think I attempted to sleep but I might have been too excited to actually drift into a calm state. Anyway we arrived in Jo-burg around midday and checked into the hotel. I was sharing a room with Nicole so it was very convenient that we packed together. We had a few hours to rest in our rooms (which consisted of Nicole and I sleeping for three hours straight) then we headed to dinner at Trumps Grill House in Nelson Mandela Square. The drive was literally two minutes to get to the restaurant so we got to relax for a long time while eating. I had escargot and steak and it was soo good. Mandela Square was really nice, it had a big fountain in the middle of it surrounded by a mall and some restaurants. While we were waiting to leave the square after dinner, my friend dared our RA to run through the fountain. It wasn’t spurting out a lot of water so she thought she could just run quickly through it without getting too wet. We all stood and watched her as she lightly jogged up to the fountain with her pant legs rolled up and without shoes. She started to run but quickly realized that it was super slippery and down she fell! She wiped out in front of all of us including a larger audience that had gathered and completely soaked her whole side. We were laughing so hard and thank goodness she didn’t get hurt. She was a great sport and even laughed about it. After that we headed back to our hotel and Nicole and I watched a little TV before we fell sound asleep for the night- day 1 complete.

The next day (Sunday) was a day of museums and yummy food. We started off in the morning taking a drive to Soweto to the Hector Pietersen Museum. Hector Pieterson was a thirteen-year-old boy killed during riots by schoolchildren to protest the use of the Afrikaans language in schools. He was an innocent young boy shot by a police officer. The museum commemorated his death and showed what happened that horrible day in 1976. There were pictures, videos, quotes and much more that showed how horrible things were during that time. It shocked me how incredibly brutal people can be to other people. It also shocked me how horrific police and the government was to people just trying to make an honest living and protest ridiculous rules that limited their education. Looking back on the incidents it makes me so sad at how many people needed to loose their lives over an issue that I unintentionally take for granted in the states. Such an idea of having classes taught in my native language makes common sense to me, but apparently not to the government in South Africa during the time of the riots. I just wish violence was not always the ‘go-to’ for so many different groups of people. After that heavy museum we traveled right into the heart of Soweto to the Mandela Family Home.   It was a small brick house right smack dab in the middle of the township. When you first drove around that area you didn’t notice the home and the wall that said whose home it was. But once being inside and around the area, you noticed just how friendly and homey it could seem. Nelson Mandela’s home was extremely small but there was much history to be learned from it. On the same street where he lived for part of his life, is the home of yet another Nobel Peace Prize winner- Desmond Tutu! It is the only street in history that two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived on. Its really cool to see that. While driving to lunch we drove past these really cool huge statues of hands. I was confused at first to as why the government would put in giant statues of hand symbols right in the middle of Soweto, but then Vernon explained to us what they meant. Since public transportation is different here in Jo-burg then Cape Town, these symbols represent how people get around. Instead of having a yeller scream out the window of a mini-bus, the hand symbols tell people where they are going. I wish I could explain what the different ones meant but unfortunately I forgot! It was still awesome to see how even small things like public transportation are different in Jo-burg then in Cape Town.

After going to Mandella’s home we traveled to a place called ‘Wandies” for lunch. It is a small family owned restaurant run out of what looked like to be a regular little house. Once we drove down the tiny road which led to the house and the bus found a place to park, we piled out and walking into this restaurant. It was one big room with two giant tables (and a few little ones) occupying every last inch of space there was. I ate all kinds of typical African dishes ranging from ox stomach, samp and beans and curry and meat just to name a few. Now, I know all of that sounds deliciously appetizing (cough cough) but let you tell you- the ox stomach was not all that it was cracked up to be. It was this blackish bumpy looking food with a smell that just made you uncomfortable. I never have a problem with trying new foods, especially when I’m in new places but this piece of stomach really looked unappetizing. But it didn’t matter. I was dead set on trying everything. So I picked that piece of stomach off my plate and took the smallest bite I could manage. And that was one more bite then I should have taken. It tasted GROSS! It was salty and chewy and the texture was just weird. I ate it anyway though so now I can officially say I have eaten ox stomach. I forgot to mention the coolest thing about the restaurant. Every inch of the inside of the room was covered in little notes or writing on the walls from the thousands upon thousands of people that had been there. There literally was writing on the ceiling, all over the walls, papers and business cards and money stuck all over the walls with names and things written in languages I had no idea about! It was the coolest thing ever. I went around the room and explored a bit and saw so many different things. Our group found an American dollar among us and we all signed it. We placed it on the wall to add to the collection so all of our names are officially up there! We hung it to the wall using Ryan’s chewed gum so his gum will forever have a place there too.
After stuffing myself to the brim, we headed to Freedom Square for a short walk around, then to the Rosebank flea market. I must say, flea markets are one of my favorite things ever. It must be how I was raised to be a bargain shopper (thanks mom!) so I love getting good deals from all different vendors. And this wasn’t just a small flea market with a few people selling things. This was a giant building with row after row and person after person selling all kinds of crafts! Not only that-but there were TWO FLOORS! Crazy right? Lets just say that I had a great time shopping. After our shopping time, we headed back to the hotel to rest up for another long day ahead of us.
Monday morning we woke up bright and early again to start our day of exploring. That day we headed to Sharpeville Memorial to visit the museum and surrounding historical area where the famous Sharpeville Massacre took place. It was a solemn environment, where we learned all about the atrocities that were committed that day so many years ago right on that very spot. We saw pictures through the museum and got to walk through the commemoration garden where they had exactly 69 remembrance blocks for the known 69 people we passed away on that day. We walked through the area of the township surrounding the site, and even got to meet a man walking on the street who told us his story about the massacre. We learned that he had to bury his aunt and brother from what happened that day. He was actually carrying his passbook with him so we got to see a real passbook from that time. It was really cool to talk to someone who lived through that and remembered exactly where he was while it took place. We toured the old prison and saw much of the surrounding area. We then got onto the bus and were taken to the cemetery where the 69 people are buried.  It was a huge cemetery with many gravestones. The interesting thing about it was that there were no flowers around. Here in South Africa, instead of putting flowers on the gravestones for the dead they leave cups and bowls filled with water. I can’t remember exactly why they do this, but I know its some neat reason. I wasn’t a huge fan of hanging out in cemeteries so I was happy when we got to get back on the bus and head out. It as really moving to see the graves of those who passed away during the massacre and I am glad I was able to pay my respects.
We drove to a little ways to our lunch destination and landed at a place called Nom’s Kitchen. It was a lovely little restaurant with delicious food as well. We ate there and enjoyed each other’s company then everyone got ready to board the bus for our hotel. HOWEVER there was a flaw in this plan. Right before we were leaving Nicole, Kimmi, and I decided to run to the bathroom. We knew people were getting ready to leave, so we thought we could go quick and get right on the bus. But, as we were coming out of the bathroom we see our bus slowly start to drive away. We start running and yelling all the while people on the bus see us and are just waving!! I must admit it was very comical and I am sure we provided quite the entertainment for those around us on the street and in the restaurant.
We jumped on the bus and drove the hour back to the city of Jo-burg. When we got back we had a few hours to rest and then were to meet up for dinner. A group of us decided to walk to Mandela Square to see the area. We got there and explored the mall and ended up taking an hour just to find the grocery store! But we found it eventually and were able to head home with enough time to get ready for our dinner. Our dinner that night was in a place called Monte Casino and boy was it fun. We ate a delicious buffet dinner then got to walk around for a bit.
Our fourth day in Jo'burg was nice, but hot. We went on a tour of the city by the Jo’burg Development Agency and got to learn about everything they are doing to help build up the city. I think the agency was extremely important for the development of the city and its image as well. After that we headed back to Soweto to have lunch in the mall and then head to one of the best parts of the trip. 

Around 2 that day, we met up and went to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of South Africa. We spent the afternoon playing, reading, running, jumping, hop-scotching, hula-hooping and just having the best time ever with a huge group of children. I loved every second of it. There were so many kids and you could just tell they loved having all 25 of us there. In the end, it was really hard to say goodbye because you know just how much it meant to them (and us) to get to play.

After our fun afternoon we went back to the hotel and got ready in five minutes for a play a few of us signed up for. We got a delicious dinner all together then some of us went to the play. It was called Scenes from Soweto and had excellent music and singing in it. That night I slept like a rock and was so excited to see what they next day brought.

The next day was good as well. The morning was a bit heavy emotionally, but I learned so much. We spent the morning at the Apartheid Museum learning about the racism and segregation that separated the nation for so many years. It gave me a heavy heart after going through there and felt so sad for everything that had happened to South Africa and its people. I wish there were words for me to describe everything I saw and learned in the museum, but words don’t do it justice. Following the museum, we got lunch (which for me consisted of 28 pieces of sushi (which I only at 26 of thank you very much!) I was hungry!) and we drove to Constitution Hill and the Old Johannesburg Prison. The Old Johannesburg Prison was astounding and eerie all at the same time. We learned about who went there and the living situation these people faced daily. It was also interesting to find out that Gandhi stayed in that exact prison for few months too. It truly was upsetting.

The next morning was very exciting because WE WERE HEADING TO KRUGER! We woke up super early and hopped on the bus for the one and only Kruger National Park! The eight-hour bus ride was decently long, but once we got there it was completely worth it. Once we finally got to Kruger (after sleeping on the floor of the bus next to the steps that lead out the ‘out’ back door) we had finally made it. I was so excited that I couldn’t think about anything but the safari we were going on in the hour. We brought all of our stuff to our room and then went quickly back to the meeting point for the safari. We all waited there patiently and then it was finally time to load the safari vehicle and get on our way.

One of the coolest things in the world was the safari rides. They were like a completely open big truck with seats and everything. I loved it! it made it more bearable to wake up at 4 am to go on another amazing morning safari! We saw so many animals, including a giant elephant that looked like it wanted to charge at our car and a lovely zebra crossing the road right as the sun rose! It was breathtaking. After our morning safari, we went back and rest a lot for the second half of our day. we would be participating in a walking safari and needed to gather our strength. I was so excited for this walk and had been looking forward to it all day! Finally, 3:45 pm rolled around and we looked to see what the officers were staying for the walk and its rules. 

The walking safari was probably one of the coolest things in the whole world. We were literally one with nature and watched as our two guards carried huge guns with them to scare the animals (they would never shoot , just let them go off so the animals can hear them and get scared away).  We walked through the bush and got to see so much more to nature then I expected. We learned different plants names, different ways the animals interact with the environment and we even tracked a rhino (but he was too scared of us so he ran away).

 I had the best time ever on the safaris and was so happy to see all of the animals. I am going to write a big list of everything we saw!
White rhino
Mere cat
Puff otter
Monkey and baby monkey
Guinea fowls
Water buffalos

We saw all of those animals during our safaris and our stay in Kruger. It was amazing to see them completely in their native environments just walking around safely. I am so excited to put the pictures online for everyone to see.

Finally our day to depart Jo-burg came. We left Kruger early early on Saturday morning and headed back on the 8 hours drive to Jo-burg to the airport. On our way home we stopped at many rest stops, but one in particular has a story to go with it. At one stop we met a women who had a little baby monkey on her shoulder! The monkey was literally two inches tall, with fluffy fur and the CUTEST little monkey face you have ever seen. Apparently you can buy pet marmoset monkeys here and just have them as pets! I got to pet this little baby monkey named Martin- and that made my whole day.

So, I definitely could say my trip to Jo'burg and Kruger was PHENOMENAL. I learned so much and had the most incredible time in Kruger with the animals. I am so grateful for such an awesome spring break and I don’t think any other spring break can compare to that. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Maria reflecting on her visit to the Hector Pieterson Memorial

We recently spent some time in Johannesburg seeing the sights and soaking up more South African history and culture.  It was difficult to learn the stories of police brutality and the use of violent force at places like the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum.  Hector Pieterson was a 13-year old boy who was the first child to die as a result of the Soweto uprising in 1976.  The museum is named after Hector Pieterson, but his identity became somewhat of an icon and symbol for mourning the loss of all the adult and child lives that were lost that day, as was his funeral.

On June 16th of 1976, students had organized a peaceful protest of the forced implementation of Afrikaans and English as languages of instruction in high schools.  The conflict turned violent and children were shot, killed, and injured, and most of their injuries were in their backs because they were running away.  It is predicted that more than 5000 people died in the uprising.

Hector Pieterson was picked up by an 18-year-old male student named Mbuyisa Makhubo, who, with Hector's 17-year-old sister Antoinette, brought him to a car that brought him to a clinic, which is where he was pronounced dead.

To this day, high schools' language of instruction in South Africa is commonly either English or Afrikaans.  The all-important, future-dicating matric exam is only offered in English and Afrikaans, which is a huge obstacle that still exists today for learners whose native tongues are other languages like Xhosa or Zulu.  The sources of the inequalities that exist in South Africa today are not all exclusively from the past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sam faces new adventures, new challenges

I love being back in Cape Town! I had really missed it for the week we were away in Johannesburg. This week has been a pretty relaxing week so far because Christel House along with most of the schools have a two week break for Easter. I miss getting up to see my class. I wish I could see them so much, but it will be even more exciting to see them in two weeks! 

On Monday Brandi and I got to have a new adventure. We had been talking to Zoe and Nomsa who both work for Africa Unite which sponsors an after school program in Nyanga. We took a bus to Nyanga on Monday afternoon, not knowing what to expect at all, and soon arrived in Nyanga and then got a ride over to the church that they use to operate the program. Since the kids are out of school, they arrived a little late and Brandi and I made sandwiches for them while we were waiting. We were talking to Thandi and Sweetness, two women who run the program, and learned that due to lack of funding of Africa Unite the program is nothing like what it used to be. 

When they had more funding they provided hot meals instead of just sandwiches, did more homework, and provided life skills and more educational services. Now the program is just a place where students can come and play after school. Both Thandi and Sweetness are not planning on continuing with the program after Monday because they can’t support themselves by doing volunteer work. Both women have families to support and need to find other work in order to provide food for their children. 

It made me sad that this awesome program isn’t going to continue just because they don’t have the funds to do so. I don’t even know who will be running the program next week since the only two adults there said they were leaving. I’m hoping that we can do something because those kids are amazing! We got to play games with them and although not many spoke English we were still able to have fun and learn a little about each other. 

There were students of all ages from 7-18. A few of the students were playing drums and dancing for us. There were also 3 young girls who sang and they had some of the most amazing voices I had ever heard. Later we played games outside and there was a girl with special needs who was incredible and so loving. Even the other kids there loved her and those three hours spent at the church were three of my favorite hours spent in Cape Town. Thandi also invited us to see her house one day soon so I’m really hoping that works out since she lives in an informal settlement and I would love to see where she lives and what her life is like. I’m excited to see what happens next Monday!

Mackenzie: a different experience of the excursion

Recently, we had a week off of our internships to be sent off on an excursion to the city of Johannesburg  and then a safari in Kruger National Park. The thought of being able to see big game in their natural habitat was an exciting one for me. However, I felt a background presence of anxiety within me. I was unsure what to do about this, and simply went about preparing for the trip. I woke up the next day for the trip, and still had a lingering anxiety. I felt less like myself than I had the entire trip. Unfortunately, I had to keep pushing through – as I had no choice in the matter. I found myself at museums through-out Jo’burg being unable to fully appreciate the information they contained. I even began to have trouble sleeping. It seemed that metaphorically I was on a bus that I couldn’t get off of and I did not have any control over. I didn’t realize why I felt so anxious – but at some point I realized that my lack of choice during the week of our excursion is what truly got to me. While I am seriously grateful that we had such an informative trip planned for us (meals included for the most part), I felt like I was in an odd position. I am a young adult, but the situation felt as though we were in high school. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just elicited truly odd feelings. I wasn’t sure how to react, but once I was able to understand myself – things became a bit easier to handle.

Our excursion was full of so much rich information about South Africa’s history, but I found myself learning so much about myself. It was so incredibly unexpected. I had the opportunity to be introspective. I was able to learn that I am particularly vulnerable in situations that I feel I have no choice. I began to notice this in other areas of my life, whether on the big or large scale. I learned its important for me to be honest with myself and to learn to distinguish between whether something is a choice of mine or an obligation. This trip was important for me in learning how important honesty and acceptance are. What gave me the most anxiety was that I felt like I should be completely appreciating all of this amazing history. I was at odds with what I was truly feeling and I wasn’t be honest with myself.

So at first although I was apprehensive about our excursion, I now see how valuable it was in helping me learn things about myself. 

Ryan on his excursion

Besides the natural beauty of the landscape and the people of South Africa, the wildlife here is unlike anywhere else on earth I’ve been to. On our excursion we got to spend two amazing days in Kruger National Park where we were to witness untamed animals in their natural habitats. We did two game drives, one in the evening and the other early in the following morning. Many of us were hoping to see a specific animal, many of us elephants, some lions, and others zebras. The only animal that I wanted to witness was a giraffe. Luckily we came across one, a full grown male early on in the evening safari. It was incredible to be able to get so close to this majestic creature which was feeding on a tree about 50 feet away. Soon afterwards we saw a white rhino grazing in an area of short grass. I learned that the name came from a mistake in which they were originally called “wide rhinos”. It made me wonder how anyone could possibly poach these rare animals for nothing more than their horns. 

The morning drive that began at 4:30am was even more exciting as more animals came out while we tried to stay awake. The sunrise was probably the best I’ve ever seen so far because it reminded me of the sunrise from the movie The Lion King. Further along the drive we came across many elephants hiding behind the trees. I recall one specific elephant that came out and crossed the road in front of our vehicle. This fully grown male with gigantic tusks stopped in the middle of the road and turned its entire body to face us. When it put its foot forward and flared out its giant ears, I grew extremely anxious. Slowly I put my camera back into my case and began taking small steps backwards towards the rear the vehicle. When it passed I had a sigh of relief and marked that moment as the most frightening of our trip at Kruger. Later that day after catching up on sleep, 16 of us went on a guided walk for a couple of hours where we got to see and learn about wildlife that would be difficult to explain from a truck. We learned about plant life, gigantic spiders, and a little about the land that animals inhabited while we tracked elephants and springboks by their foot prints. While leaving Kruger we reflected on who got to see certain animals and who did not. I got to see giraffes, elephants, hippos, springboks, a water buffalo, a rhino, warthogs, spiders, and a lot of different birds. My list was a few short of Africa’s “Big 5” which includes the elephant, the lion, the leopard, the buffalo, and the rhino (named for their difficultly in hunting) but at least I can say that I saw most of them and a ton of giraffes.  

Theresa contemplates the intersection of race and class

First thing we did when we arrived in Johannesburg was go to a Steak House in Nelson Mandela Square.
Theresa at Trump's Grill House, Mandela Square, Sandton
 In class and with my co-educators we have been constantly talking about race, class, their intersection and the very apparent disparities that exist between the white, upper class and the black working class in Cape Town.  Cape Town, a city fondly referred to as the Mother City by South Africans, is famous for the inequalities that persist and remain and endure almost two full decades after the end of Apartheid (This is a hotly contended, highly controversial statement; with the government and ANC insisting that dramatic and important improvements have been made, while much academic literature shows that income inequality may have actually gotten worse in the past twenty years  Don’t worry though I see that mirror, and as a reality check just want to remind of the huge academic achievement gap between whites and blacks, and whites and Hispanics in my home state of Connecticut, it’s easy to point out others short comings and didn’t want us to start thinking to highly of ourselves, we have a ton of work to do as well.
Theresa in search of reasons to be optimistic

Partially coming here, has disheartened, exhausted, disparaged me; the tasks seem insurmountable, the goals seem unattainable, and for the first time in my life my optimism seems na├»ve and childish.  I have had to do a lot of growing, and reflecting and deep breathing exercises to deal with the harsh realities we face as a human race about the future, about what my future holds.  Then in a Steakhouse in the suburbs of Jo’burg part of my optimism was restored.

Downtown Jo'burg
In class we have talked about how the media’s presentation of this Pan-African, homogenous “country” really does Blacks, Coloureds, Indian, etc a disservice by just showing them in squalid poverty, carrying rifles and Machetes, with malnourished children hanging off their mother’s exposed breasts.  I’ve found that social media and the internet does a lot to sustain this thinking (See KONY 2012) but also works to dispel a lot of the fallacies we hold.  On the internet one day, I found a project called “Middle Classes in Africa” ( which combines photojournalism and academic research looking at the growing middle class in Africa. They traveled to five different countries to get a glimpse at what it means, what it looks like, to be a middle class in Africa.

Maybe it is the spaces I spend my time in or the inevitable limitations that exist as being a short term visitor, but in Cape Town I haven’t been able to see or find an apparent middle class or the spaces that they occupy.  Recently a Capetonian shared with me the frustrations that she holds with the government and private sector for building spaces for short-term tourists that are expensive and not accessible to the common public.  She lamented, an entire city built for the rich and tourists, the most desirable city in the world  (as long as you don’t live here). 

When I mentioned this to Marita and some of the other adults I have met on this trip, some replied that my observations held some validity (some also challenged me and said that I was just not seeking out the right places, and that there is a vibrant, middle class- I was thankful to be challenged) and many responded with wait until you get to Jo’burg there you will see a lively, eclectic middle class.   And in Jo’burg, on our first night, in that Steakhouse, I saw it. I saw the middle class space that I haven’t been able to find in Cape Town, I saw black couples and families in those spaces, and I let go of the breathe I had unbeknownstly held the entire time I’ve been here, maybe been holding since I really became aware of the intersection between race and class.  In my town in middle class America, there is almost no presence of black people, so growing up I’d never really gotten to see black middle class.  I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be in Cape Town, along with the opportunity to be surrounded by people who are willing to talk to me about, race, class and gender; because the first step for me, and all of us is recognizing and acknowledging that wealth distribution in both the United States and South Africa, has a pretty clear color divide.  The second is celebrating when spaces, areas are non-homogenous, bringing together many different people.  We need to have a vision for the future; everyone being fabulously wealthy is implausible, and everyone being meagerly poor is inexcusable, so there must be some middle ground, some way for us to co-exist in strength and cooperation, and that might just be in the middle class.