It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later

It has been four days since I returned home from the Mother City.  It has been a pleasure to reflect on my time abroad while embracing the reverse culture shock of home.

Thank You Cape Town:

for your beauty

for your diverse cultures

for your exotic flavors

for your mountains overlooking the ocean

for your music

for your enthusiasm of sports

for your kind spirit

 

It’s been a great five months 🙂

To all those in Cape Town I say, ‘See you later’ and thank you for the wonderful journey. Cheers!

To all at home thank you for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity and which has allowed my confidence to grow.

Destination: Desert

Unlike finals week at Hope, finals at the University of Cape Town span over a three-week time frame.  I somehow ended up with a 10 day gap in between exams and decided to make the most of it 🙂

We traveled North to the recently declared country of Namibia; a past colony of Germany and area of apartheid South Africa after World War I.  We flew to the Walvis Bay and Swakopmund area to visit attractions in the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world home to the highest sand dunes on the globe.

 

          

We took a tour of Sandwich Harbor, where the dunes met the ocean.  The towering dunes put the northern Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes to shame.  Our guide explained how the beautiful shell we had found in the ocean was a 1.5 million year old fossil and was only found in the 10 mile stretch of beach we would be traveling.  On our way to our final destination we saw jackals, springbok, and flamingos!

 

    

We climbed up these towering dunes and ran down.  After lunch we went in the jeep over the dunes back to our accommodation!  It felt like being on a roller coaster.  The sand rumbled when we slid down; it was exhilarating 🙂

   

We took the challenge of climbing up the tallest dune, Dune 7, in the world.  It was super steep and at times I had to crawl upward.  It was worth the trip up since the sunset was stunning over the dunes and the water.

 

         

We took a day trip to the largest German town outside of Germany, to Swakopmund.  We found a dune boarding tour, which was super fun.  Our weather was a winter anomaly since East Desert winds from the Kalahari created sandstorm conditions.  The wind was so powerful on the dunes that you couldn’t open your eyes and any exposed skin was stung with the whipping of sand.  It was crazy at the top but the ride down was fantastic!

 

   

After our adventures on the coast we joined a camping tour to the Sossusvlei region, known for the towering red dunes and flat salt pans.

We walked down into the beautiful Sesriem Canyon, a rock formation shaped from a dried up river.  We saw water at the start of the canyon and were informed that the fish that lived in the river during the wet season journeyed under ground and could survive for years without ever coming above ground.

 

   

Just near our campsite we hiked up Dune 1 to view the sunset and a stunning moon rise.  The red sand contrasted beautifully against the shades of blue and pink in the sky.

It was fun to watch the stars and enjoy the camp fire.  In the morning we woke up around 5:30 to hike up Dune 45 to view the sunrise.  The neon shades were unbelievable.

            

After breakfast we journeyed to the Dead Vlei region and hiked up Big Daddy Dune to get an aerial view.  It was quite taxing, but we took it steady and slow, being sure to take multiple ‘scenic breaks’.

   

The top of the dune proved to be a beautiful view of the salt pans and stretching dessert landscape.

We made our way down the dune and across the salt pan.  My desert adventure amazed me; it showed me how diverse the countryside of southern Africa really is.  This trip was one of my favorite due to its unique qualities.  I enjoyed visiting a lesser known destination; I wish to seek these off-the-grid locations for the future 🙂

A Night in Gugulethu

My first sight in Cape Town after landing was the sprawling townships stretching for miles on the outskirts of the city-center.  These areas were recognizable for distinct living conditions founded in poverty and injustice.  Just over twenty years ago living areas were divided by race and individuals were forcefully removed from their pre-existing homes due to skin color.  The resulting outcome was the birth of informal settlements and segregated townships.

Often it is hard to see past the alarming living conditions in the townships but it is important to view the stories behind the people of the community rather than the worn out shacks and littered streets.  I felt torn when told about Township tours finding them to seem almost exploiting the people of the community. However through a tour led by IES program I realized that it was important to interact with individuals living in townships to obtain a better understanding of life and to further support the community.

It was for a weekend night that we had the opportunity to open our eyes to life in the townships.  We spent our time with Mama Knox in her home in the Xhosa township of Gugulethu.  We were told how families who obtain means to move out of the townships had decided to remain in the area due to the incredible family dynamics among the community and the essence of ubuntu (meaning- I am me, because you are you).  Additionally, some of the families in the region depended on tourist funds as income.  Our presence was supporting citizens who were burdened with a saturated job market.

We were kindly welcomed into her home and enjoyed playing with Mama’s granddaughter inside the house since it was raining.  We got together to watch the Champions league football match with Real Madrid playing against Juventus.

 Mama asked for our help in cooking the cuisine, a traditional dinner of pap (maize meal), lamb, and vegetables.  In the local way we ate with our hands and drank tea 🙂

The football match kept us up late but we woke up early to attend church the following morning with the family.  It was interesting to pass three tented churches that were deep in song and five hour long worship services.

We walked over to the well-known market of Mazoli’s where the fusion of locals and tourist created a lively fun vibe.  The market was known for its delicious braai cuisine (also known as barbecue).

Viewing the contrasting housing to the beautiful landscape reminded me of the beauty of the people in the townships.  Spending a day in another’s shoes was a meaningful experience that made me view Cape Town with a completely new regard.

“Beauty is hidden in everything…Just learn how to observe”

-Ritu Ghatourey

Leaving the Island

Cape Town is often considered the ‘gateway to Africa’.  Even with diverse backgrounds and beliefs, a common ideology when viewing the rest of the nation and the surrounding countries is present.   While Cape Townians pride themselves on uncovering truths and opening up deep conversations, the lack of the ‘rural-minded’ individual has instituted a specific story about various issues in Africa.

A local, outside of the Western Cape region, explained how Cape Town was an island and much of South African thoughts and desires failed to find their way to the city.  He proceeded to explain how most areas of the nation held their own distinct views of the nation and how the country fits into the world.

I had the chance to expand my horizons through a weekend girls’ trip to the East side of the country.  We were immersed in a vastly differing environment that confirmed and challenged much of the conceptions of the area that I had developed in Cape Town.

Durban:

We made our home base for traveling at the backpackers of Durban.  It was quite a different feel than Cape Town where if you acted confident and threw in lekker local jargon you could swing by for being a South African.  However, in Durban no matter how hard you tried you would always be a tourist since a greater demographic change was observed due to the large Zulu and Indian populations.

We explored the Golden mile: strips of beautiful coast that gave the city a Miami-like feel.  We saw large groups of locals dancing in the water-side with buckets.  It was later revealed that salt water is a known cure to get rid of negative spirits among the Zulu people.  While traditional medicine and coinciding practice is integral to life in Cape Town, often the traditions are not recognizable.  It was fascinating to finally view the traditions in a more open and clear manner.

We continued to explore the Durban city and saw the locals celebrate in anticipation of the football match being held at the past World Cup Stadium.  I love football culture; fans were driving around holding their team flags out of the window and cheering with vuvuzelas.  We continued onto the bustling Victoria Street Market.  It was quite exciting to experience the loud and fast-paced culture of bargaining and trade.

In the evening we journeyed to the House of Curry to indulge in the famous Indian Cuisine of Eastern South Africa.  I enjoyed trying the distinctly South African dish of bunnychow; curry placed inside a loaf of bread.

The following morning we traveled to the oldest Botanical Garden in South Africa and ate breakfast with prowling monkeys.  Luckily this time we managed to eat all our lunch without them taking a bite.

 

 

 

Pietermaritzburg:

About forty five minutes from Durban, in the city of Pietermaritzburg we were immersed in the history of the revered figure of Ghandi.  It was at a train station that Ghandi first was woke to the ideas of racial prejudice and injustice.  He was thrown off of the train for residing in a ‘Europeans Only’ car while dressed in professional suit attire.

Prior to entering the nation, Ghandi held truths regarding Black Africans similar to the colonizer.  Entering, he realized that this conception of African people was not correct.  He fought on behalf of Indians and all who were being oppressed by the power holders in South Africa’s society.

   

Phoenix Settlement:

We managed to travel into the Phoenix Settlement township in the outskirts of the city to view the preserved grounds of Ghandi’s house and newspaper center when he was in the KwaZulu-Natal region.  It was amazing to see the beginning of his efforts to fight injustice in a peaceful manner.

 

Lesotho:

Waking up early in the morning, we drove to the kingdom of Lesotho; a country completely landlocked in the nation of South Africa and untouched by the likes of apartheid.  On the country roads it was fun to see the ‘Rural Stop-Lights’; sheep and cow herders.  It was also incredible to view the mountainous peaks covered in snow in the distance.  I had traveled three hours and went from swimming in the tropical waters to viewing snow.

We hired a driver to take us up the Sani pass; winding roads that could only be trekked with a 4 by 4. Slowly the flowing waterfalls transformed into frozen pools.

We entered the kingdom of Lesotho and viewed the village surrounding the highest pub in Africa located at the top of the Sani Pass.  It was sad to hear that the area was dying out since the youth were traveling to the city and not returning.

After lunch we made our journey back down the road, awed by the gorgeous views and treacherous winding gravel terrain.  I was glad to explore ‘two islands’ during the weekend to broaden my perception of southern Africa.

Looking to the Future (the Outsider Perspective)

On one of the many historical tours I have joined in South Africa, I had a gentleman say that “because we [the touring group] were from the United States” he could “reveal insight that he doesn’t bring up with white South Africans” since we were “outsiders and wouldn’t be offended to the truth”.  This comment truly made me understand the still existent racial boundaries in the present nation as he delved into the ‘black Zulu’ perspective of living through apartheid and the aftermath specific to the Kwazulu Natal region of the nation.

Although tension is often high between racial groups even to this day, efforts are being conducted to curve this backwards thinking from ALL parties in the years after legalized segregation.  One such strategy was the production of the Apartheid museum (that I was lucky to visit in Johannesburg), where all racial stories were expressed in relation to people’s identities.  Additionally, I found my IES sponsored tour to the infamous Robben Island to be a beacon for hope in the years to come with regards to race relations.

Robben Island is well-known for its brutal working conditions imposed upon the prisoners along with its position as being the ultimate prison similar to the likes of Alcatraz.  Sitting almost 14 kilometers from the coast of Cape Town, the icy water and sharks prevent escape.   Only one record of successful escape was documented occurring in the seventeenth century.  In the past fifty years, this island was the center of much global discussion (near the end of apartheid) when Nelson Mandela and lesser world-known freedom fighters were finally released.  Today the prison has been preserved as a place to remember the hardships of the past and steer visitors to imagine a positive future for South Africa.

We were lucky to be able to hear the preserved stories of a past political prisoner. Our group started the journey to the island by taking the ferry from the Waterfront.  We took a guided bus tour to view the developments on the island. At the center was a quarry that past prisoners had been forced to work upon.  It was in the shelter of the cave, during resting time,that prisoners were transformed.  It was during break times that conversations took place that altered the history of the nation.

Our guide explained how many consider the island a ‘college’, whereby individuals of various backgrounds with strong differing opinions were forced to converse and develop a common understanding.  The political prisoners were mixed with the criminals; as criminals were released back into society, they themselves had become political activists against apartheid.

Our tour led us to walking inside the halls of the prison.  We saw the cell of Nelson Mandela and many freedom fighters who helped end the struggle in 1991. We were exposed to the altering mindset of the first democratic president of South Africa as it was explained that the young Mandela refused to ‘renounce violence as a means to end apartheid’.  It was in time reflecting in prison and conversing with others that Mandela altered his strategy to conduct a future without violence or revenge against the oppressor but rather with peace and reconciliation.   This transformation in thought of a revered leader demonstrates the human capacity for change in the path towards racial reconciliation.

While a little over twenty years have gone by and much progress has been achieved there is still much work to be done.  The fight for equality has been picked up by the youth; activism has begun at the collegiate level.  During my time at the University of Cape Town I have observed the general call for decolonizing the nation.

The end of apartheid successfully ended legal segregation; however, neighborhoods in present society are still mostly grouped by race with co-existing socio-economic statuses as during the likes of apartheid.  Additionally, the university is a learning environment geared towards the rest of the world.  Much of the student body feel like the establishment is ashamed to be located on the African continent.

Much frustration arises from the fact that classes revolve solely on Western ideology and the promise for free education is out of reach as tuition is continuously increasing.

Sitting at the center of campus up until 2015 was a Cecil Rhodes statue commemorating his donation of lands to supply the university with property.  However, Rhodes was a dominating colonizer who spared little concern for the local African people.  Students found his ‘presence’ on the campus disheartening and sought to remove the statue.  Protesting reached new levels under the banner #RhodesMustFall.  A national phenomenon occurred when the campus responded to the movement by in fact removing the statue.

This sparked further motivation in the students as the call to lower fees was necessary along with the addition of more housing for students.  The campus currently only has around 7,000 spots for residents and hosts around 30,000 students.   Last semester the #FeesMustFall protesting shut down the school for a month and in response the government placed a hold on pricing.  Although small acts of student activism were observed this semester, the call to decolonize was predominantly discussion based.  With the government due to release the following years tuition we will see what the future brings with regards to next semester.

While I was in Cape Town I was in a situation where, in addition to student frustration with politics, the entire nation was upset with the actions of the President.  Piggybacking off of the student-led movements, a national march broke out across the nation under #ZumaMustFall.  This march extended into smaller regions of the country, even in the wine lands of Stellenbosch.  With the reshuffling of office members by President Zuma coinciding with the rand (national currency) being deemed junk status as the national treasurer was removed, the likes of all races came together to show their disapproval.

The ability for all races to come together to stand up to a common cause gives me hope for the future of the nation.  I believe my discussions around students reflections and transformation in the aftermath of large scale student movement was life-changing.  I don’t want to have to return home as an ‘outsider’ to hear the truth of people’s stories.  I want to be open to continue paving the pathway towards understanding in my own backyard.

The Smoke That Thunders

After the IES trip was sadly over, I had the amazing opportunity to continue my adventures into Northern Zimbabwe to the global phenomenon of Mosi-oa-Tunya (meaning ‘the smoke that thunders’ in the Shona language or more commonly Victoria Falls!)

Victoria Falls is known for being one of the natural wonders of the world and the largest (widest) waterfall on the planet. The power of the falls during rainy season was observed from my plane ride in, as the mist reached towering heights.  Locals explained how the mist could become so strong that they would receive rain showers in the closest town located more than a mile away from the falls.

I was so excited to walk the scenic trail that contained 16 vantage points on the Zimbabwean side of the falls.  It was crazy to walk more than a mile to view the entire length of the falls.  Since it was the rainy season, the powerful falls created mist that resembled a torrential downpour.  I became soaked walking along the path as rain came from all directions.

 

While the walk along the ridge of the falls was amazing, by far the best view was from the air.  I was lucky to experience this when I ventured into Zambia to catch a Micro-Light Flight over the falls 🙂

 

 

  

It was breathtaking to see the entirety of the falls, the snaking Zambezi River, and miles of green bush.  Additionally, it was fun to spot the elephants and hippo pods from above.  As we made our way back for landing, my pilot allowed me to steer the motorized plane 🙂

Our group transferred from Zimbabwe to Botswana for a camping adventure in the bush of Chobe National Park.  We arrived and began our day with a boat cruise on the Chobe, where it divided the countries of Botswana and Namibia.  The scenery was magnificent and the waters were alive with animal activity.

 

 

 

  

We neared a resting hippo pod and our driver explained how we needed to maintain a large distance since hippos have been known to flip boats.  We were lucky to view an elephant swim from the shore to snack on food in the marsh.

  

After our cruise, we transferred over to a safari vehicle to drive out to our campsite deeper in the park.  It was fun to view the animals in their natural habitat as we made our way to the camp for sunset.  Nearing our final tenting point, we saw a hyena and Kudu.  To make our experience more nerve wrecking we heard lions roaring in the distance as we had dinner around the fire.  Although frightening at times, it was surreal to fall asleep to the sounds of nature.  Our guide assured us that a lion’s roar can be heard from over 10 kilometers away so he thought we should be safe.

We woke early in the morning to search for the lions and unbelievable found them at a watering hole 🙂  They were maybe two miles from where we had slept, so crazy!  Sadly, the lions were attracted to the point by a deceased elephant.  Our guide explained how lone elephants were more prone to being hunted by prides.  Last nights roars may have been them taking the elephant down.  However, he also mentioned that poachers have been known to poison watering holes for easy kills; this also might have been the cause of his demise.

It was incredible to view the cubs interact with their moms.  As everyone was taking pictures, someones phone slipped out onto the ground.  The driver sneakily crept on the backside of the car to retrieve it.  He safely returned to his seat without the pride realizing he had gotten out of the vehicle.  It was only when we went to leave the scene that we spotted the two dad lions sleeping in the bush maybe ten feet from where the guide had stepped out!

The extended trip was a great conclusion to spring break 🙂

Adventure and Reflection

The next segment of the IES Spring break tour led our group to a ‘lazy’ rafting trip in the outskirts of Nelspruit; a mountainous and lush landscape about an hour from Kruger National Park.  We wet-suited up, due to the cold, but were confused when we additionally had to wear helmets.  Turns out, the river was no longer lazy with the excess rains.  In fact,  this rapids journey ended up being one of the scariest but thrilling adventures that I have ever experienced.

A couple of years back I went white-water rafting and loved coasting over the rapids.  Looking back I think it was the addition of a guide on the raft that aided in my ability to focus on the fun and ignore my inner fear of falling out of the raft.  On this river, we were given a single tube so I no longer had this luxury.  Luckily, I got over this worry real fast as my first rapids found me spiraling down the river without a paddle or my tube.  Although slightly terrified, it ended up being one of the best adrenaline rushes yet.   It was an extreme roller coaster that was super fun!

Along with floating down the rapids, the journey was heightened when we hiked in the rain forest to bypass dangerous rock formations in the river and jumped 20 feet into a pool to go around a waterfall; it was so beautiful!

Although there were mixed feelings about the activity, I think it was cool that we were able to get through safely as a team 🙂  The students in my program have truly become a family away from family.

After our morning adventure we made our way to Johannesburg to tour the Apartheid Museum.  It was quite a change of pace but necessary in order to capture the diversity of South Africa.

The commonly interpreted apartheid struggle of ‘black versus white’ was deeply explored in the museum whereby the intersection of human lives, skin color, and a turbulent political environment was explored leaving you with feelings of sorrow but a lasting call for hope.

To enter the museum a ‘skin tone status’ was written on your card as either ‘European’ or ‘Non-European’.  You could only go in the door that corresponded with your card.  You could not control if you would be split up with your friend or traveling party.  This start of the museum simulated the separation of individuals (even among family members) during apartheid based on peoples uncontrollable factor of skin color.  Through this entrance, exhibits explained how the Nationalist ruling party had researched a variety of oppressive society’s to form the ‘perfect’ segregated nation.

While the many terrible actions during the regime on both sides of the spectrum were depicted, the museum also commemorated the working efforts of the many individuals who fought against injustice.  The work of Nelson Mandela was pivotal to the rise of democracy; however, his coming in to power would never have been possible without the efforts of the everyday South African.  It is to these courageous people that the museum  pays ode to.

It was quite refreshing to view newspaper clippings of current politics and  actions in protest to the highly controversial ‘past freedom  fighter’ President Zuma.  The museum expressed all of the nation’s history no matter how ugly and with total truth in these clippings.  The current post showed the awareness of political matters in the South African people.

This political awareness seen at the museum and also in my time at the University of Cape Town leaves me with hope for the future of  South Africa as I have viewed on multiple occasions  people talk about politics and uncomfortable topics freely.  There is something amazing about individuals from ranging back grounds and political opinions coming together in a civilized manner to discuss ways to reach a common ground that could make a world comfortable for all members.