Reflecting on my Time Abroad

It’s been a while since I left Cape Town and returned to the U.S. and I’m still adjusting to life back in the Midwest. There’s no more weekend hiking up mountains or eating way too much food at the different markets. What there has been, however, is lots of time for reflection. After four months abroad, it has been difficult to express exactly what my experience was like to my friends and family when they ask the inevitable, “How was South Africa?” It doesn’t seem like there is anywhere to begin. So much happened while I was abroad that my mind just jumps from one thing to another, not knowing what to say. How does someone sum up four months of experiences and memories into words?

I am still searching for the best way to talk about my time abroad and still sifting through the most important and influential experiences I had. Being in a new country, surrounded by completely new people, forced me to step outside of my comfort zone in more ways than I anticipated. At the start it was an isolating experience and I had to find ways to break down barriers and build relationships. But after a couple of weeks I was able to find my place in Cape Town and focus on making my time there count. I was able to learn so much while abroad, not just in the classroom, but through immersing myself in the culture, meeting new people, and participating in service learning.

Seeing how things are halfway across the world gave me a new perspective, one that I hope I will continue to view things through. The exposure to the corruption South Africa faces, the poverty that is overwhelmingly present, and the aftermath of Apartheid showed me the brokenness that there is in South Africa. But, the people I met, the culture I lived in, and learning about how they have and are overcoming their history showed me the hope and restoration there is. I learned that in times and places where brokenness is so prevalent, it is important to focus on the progress that has been made and the hope that will allow for more progress to follow.

Along with learning a lot, I also grew as a person, becoming more independent and open minded throughout my time abroad. I was able to broaden my perspectives and open myself to new ideas through being put in unfamiliar situations and being surrounded by new people everywhere I went. I am grateful that I was given this opportunity to grow and learn in a unique way and in such a special place.

I miss the view of the mountain on my walk up to campus. I miss the way the people of Cape Town made me feel at home. I miss the hustle and bustle of the Saturday food markets. I miss learning about such a rich culture inside and outside of the classroom. I miss the new friends I made through IES and UCT. I miss having a new adventure every weekend. There’s a lot to miss, but it is also good to be home. I’m excited to be home so that I can implement what I learned during my time abroad to my life and my studies here, so that I can share my experiences with those around me. And I guess missing Cape Town so much just means I’ll have to go back 🙂


Familiar Faces

The last couple of weeks of my semester I was blessed to have my parents come and visit. Although FaceTime is a wonder and I’ve been able to talk to my parents face to face throughout this semester, it was so good to have them here in person. I loved being able to show them around and let them experience some of what I have experienced this semester. Not only was it good to have them here with me, but now going home and me trying to explain my 4 month long adventure to friends and family, my parents will at least know some of what I am talking about 🙂

Also, having them here made me realize how much I have done and accomplished this semester. Trying to fit Cape town into 10 days for my Mom and Dad was a challenge, and there was so much more that I would have liked them to experience. But, nonetheless, we did a lot in their time here and they were able to see many different aspects of Cape Town. Here’s a list of the things I made sure they were able to do!

  • Hiking Lion’s Head – Seeing as Lion’s head has my favorite view of the city, I had to share it with my parents. Although it wasn’t what we were originally planning on doing that day, we quickly switched our plans and spontaneously hiked up the mountain to enjoy the scenery.
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden – This botanical garden is incredibly beautiful with such a wide variety of plants and flowers situated right underneath Devil’s Peak. My Dad’s favorite hobby is taking photographs of flowers, so he had the time of his life here, especially photographing the different species of South Africa’s national flower, the protea.
  • Cape Peninsula Tour – This tour, as mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, takes you from the Cape Town City Center all the way to the most southwestern tip of Africa. We stopped at places like Chapman’s drive, Hout Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, and Boulder Beach (where the penguins live). It is a great way to see parts of Cape Town outside of the city center bubble.
  • Bo-Kaap Cooking Class – Another thing you’ve read about in a previous blog, my parents were able to partake in the Bo-Kapp Cooking Class. They really enjoyed learning how to make the Cape Malay foods and meeting a family so close to the neighborhood’s history and challenges.
  • Taking the Cable Car up Table Mountain – Hiking up Table Mountain is quite the trek, so taking the 5 minute Cable Car ride up to the top is a great alternative that my parents and I took advantage of in order to see the unique top of Table Mountain. We found an early bird special and were even able to be the first cable car up with the staff that works at the shops atop the mountain. Being the first car up was super nice because there were no crowds and we were able to explore the mountain top at our own pace without having to navigate through people. We even saw some dassies running around. These are small animals that are actually related to the elephant, which live on top of the mountains in Cape Town.
  • Surfing at Muizenberg Beach – the most popular surfing spot in Cape Town, due to it being on the western coast and having the best waves, is Muizenberg beach. My dad wanted to try surfing, so we went one day and got a lesson. I had tried surfing earlier in the semester without a lesson and it did not go well. The lesson, as you would think, definitely helped me get the hang of getting up on the board, and my dad did well, too! We stood up on our boards quite a few times and were able to ride a few of the waves to shore.
  • Dinner at Mzansi – At the beginning of the semester my program took us to dinner at Mzansi, a restaurant in the Langa Township. They serve traditional South African and Xhosa foods. I wanted my parents to experience traditional South African food, especially the malva pudding, so I had to bring them to Mzansi for dinner. We enjoyed the food, the live African band, and the story of how the restaurant opened and became successful in the township, told by the woman who did it all. This restaurant makes you feel at home and provides a warm and fun experience overall.
With Mama, the owner of Mzansi, after enjoying our dinner

These were just a few of the things I was able to share with my parents, and spending time with them in this city that I’ve grown to love was so special!

It’s the Climb… or Three

Being surrounded by mountains is something new for me, but here in Cape Town, I have caught the hiking bug. I have really enjoyed spending a morning or a day climbing up one of the mountains here and being rewarded with beautiful views of the city. There are three mountains that are the most well known here and that sit right in the middle of the city. They are Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Table Mountain is the most well known of the three due to its unique flat top. The three mountains together, famous for making up Cape Town’s cityscape.

The three peaks (from left to right: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head)

Throughout the semester, I have climbed both Table Mountain and Lion’s Head a few times each. Last weekend, however, my friend, Noelle, and I wanted to take the next step. We decided to take on the three peaks challenge. This involves hiking all three mountains in one day. The official challenge requires participants to start in the city center and go back to the starting point to check in between each mountain. Noelle and I took the easy route and did the unofficial version, though, just hiking each mountain back to back.

Our day started early at 6:30am when we got to the Devil’s Peak trail. We had never hiked Devil’s Peak before, so we weren’t sure what was in store, but it was a beautiful hike. There were lots of flowers and bushes along the trail, and once we got closer to the peak they got thicker and the path got narrower, so we had to carefully navigate. It was not as long of a hike as we expected, which meant we got to see the beautiful view quicker than expected. From the top we could see the view of the front of Table Mountain, and if we turned around we looked down to see UCT campus with all of its orange-roofed buildings and rugby fields.

After enjoying the views and taking a quick snack break, we began our descent. About two thirds of the way down Devil’s Peak there is a path, which connects Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain. We turned onto this path and made our way towards Table Mountain’s Platteklip Gorge. We had hiked along this path before, so we knew the route to reach Table Mountain, and once we got here, up we went.

Hiking from Devil’s Peak to Table Mountain

The climb up Platteklip Gorge is not nearly as enjoyable, as the views from the top. It’s a zig-zag path all the way up with big stair-like rocks. It is also a popular trail, making it crowded and congested at times. Nevertheless, we powered through with a positive attitude and reached the flat top of Table Mountain. The top of Table Mountain is beautiful, with lots of rock formations and various plants. Table Mountain has its own ecosystem of plants living atop it, with flowers, bushes, and other species that are unique just to Table Mountain. Isn’t that neat?

We roamed around the top of the mountain for a bit, admiring what is considered one of the new seven wonders of nature, before sitting down and eating our packed lunches to sustain us for the remainder of our hike. We had more one walk around before starting the trek down the gorge. You would think that climbing down would be a bit faster because you have gravity and momentum on your side, but the steep rocks and their smoothed surfaces from so many hikers make going down a slippery adventure. It took us just as long to hike down as it did to get up there, surprisingly only slipping once.

We then headed over to Lion’s Head to hike the final peak of the challenge. Lion’s Head is the easiest and shortest mountain to climb of the three peaks. Well, that’s if you don’t hike the two other peaks beforehand 🙂 We took the climb slow and steady, taking a long break to have another snack and watch other hikers go bye, cheering them on as they passed. After we had caught our breaths and given our legs a needed break, we continued our climb. A fun part about Lion’s Head is about two thirds of the way up is a fork in the road. You can either take a longer footpath route, or a shorter climbing route that involves chains and staples that have been installed in the rocks. We were feeling adventurous, so we opted for the shorter route, and lifted ourselves up the rocks with the help of the staples. A short while after climbing up and hiking along a bit more of the path, we reached the final peak!

Lion’s Head has one of my favorite views. Because of its location, a little bit separated from Table Mountain and closer to the coast, you get an amazing 360 degree view of Cape Town. On one side you see Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. On another you get a clear view of the strip of beaches and the water. And in yet another area you get a great view of the city centre. We walked around the perimeter of the top, soaking in the beauty of each view while giving our legs some rest before making the final descent.

We then headed down, steadily and carefully, until we reached the bottom of Lion’s Head to complete the three peaks challenge! After a total of 9 hours out on the mountains, we finally made it. Our legs had turned to jello by the end, but it was definitely worth the great experience and accomplishment. It’ll be a big switch going from this mountainous city back to the flat lands of the Midwest, so it was good to get a full day of hiking in before heading back home!

Experiencing the History

Throughout my time in South Africa, we have learned a lot about the history of this country, including the struggles it has faced, the most prominent struggle being Apartheid, the system of racial discrimination and segregation. We had the chance to visit the Apartheid Museum, Mandela house, Robben Island, and District Six.

At the Apartheid Museum, we began by receiving a ticket indicating whether we would be white or non-white. This served the purpose of replicating what separation and segregation was like during Apartheid. After the entrance, we regrouped with the people who we were separated from and walked down a pathway with sections of “we are” statements. These included “We are thinkers”, “We are fighters”, “We are storytellers” as a way to display that we are all human despite our race. This was a powerful entrance to the museum that prepared us to learn more about Apartheid and the consequences of it.

The museum was quite large and a bit overwhelming with the amount of information it held. But, it was still a good overview of Apartheid and I learned a lot from it. Racial discrimination and segregation have been present in South Africa since colonists arrived, but Apartheid began in 1948 after the Great Depression and WWII. The ANP political party (made up of whites) won the election and implemented stricter segregation laws throughout the country. They did not only separate whites from non-whites, but divided blacks by their native tribes and coloureds. By the 1950s laws were put in place that separated families of mixed race and interracial marriages were outlawed.

In addition, land was taken from non-whites to give to whites, forcing them out of their homes and into worse neighborhoods and housing. This is what happened to those who lived in the District Six neighborhood in Cape Town. We were able to visit this neighborhood and their museum to learn about the injustices their community had faced.  There were stories shared throughout the museum highlighting the families that had lived in District Six for generations and were forced away from their family’s history. They were given very short notice and often couldn’t carry more than a suitcase, as you can see below.

These forced removals occurred across the country in cities and in rural areas, as well. Because of the constant build up of injustices, like these, there were countless oppositions to the white supremacists and the government, including strikes, protests, and demonstrations against the actions of the government. Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential anti-Apartheid leaders during this time. A member of the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela lead this organization’s campaign by organizing protests and speaking out against the Apartheid laws.

After 69 people were killed by police in a peaceful protest, Mandela formed a new wing of the ANC known as MK. With this new party, he planned a campaign against the government which involved him illegally leaving the country to attend a conference. Upon his return he was sentenced to prison for 5 years. During the first year of his sentence, evidence was found in the ANC hideout that further implicated Mandela, causing him to be sentenced to life imprisonment.

A memorial at the Nelson Mandela capture site, near Durban, where he was captured after returning from the conference.

The first 18 years of his sentence were spent on Robben Island, which we got the chance to visit. This is an island off of the coast of Cape Town, similar to Alcatraz in California. Most of the political prisoners of this time were imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. We were able to see the living conditions the prisoners lived under and were even lead on a tour by a former political prisoner who was there at the same time as Mandela. The cells were tiny and there were no bathrooms, just buckets for the prisoners. Their only access to the outdoors was their cell block’s courtyard. Our tour guide told us that cell blocks would communicate with each other by hiding notes inside of tennis balls and “accidentally” hitting the tennis ball into the next courtyard. This continued until all of the cell blocks had received the message. We also got to see Mandela’s cell specifically, which is where he began writing his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom”.

In 1980, the “Free Nelson Mandela” campaign began, calling for the government to release Mandela. The government agreed to free him if he was willing to make political compromises, which he declined. After conditions, protests, and demonstrations worsened during the 1980s, South Africa received lots of international attention that negatively affected their economy. This led the party in power to step aside during the election in 1989, and de Klerk was voted into office, where he freed all political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and worked to end Apartheid.

Once Mandela was freed, he returned to his home in Soweto, which is now open to visit and known as the Mandela House. This small house only contains two small bedrooms, a living area with a gas stove, and a bathroom. Outside the house we were able to see bullet holes from shots taken at his house during Apartheid, and the house was filled with history, from awards Mandela had won, to hand written pages of his autobiography he wrote in prison. Seeing all of his life portrayed throughout his house and walking in the place that he lived was a unique experience and one I am thankful I was able to have.

Nelson Mandela did so much for his country and everybody respected him for being a man with such kind character and passion for justice. Due to his anti-Apartheid leadership and this respect, Nelson Mandela became the first post-Apartheid president of South Africa in 1994 and served one term until 1999, greatly helping his country transition into the post-Apartheid era.

Studying abroad in a country with such a recent history, only being out of Apartheid for just about 25 years, has been a very eye-opening experience. The legacy that Apartheid has left on this country is still very present. Inequality is still prevalent in many aspects of life (education, living conditions, healthcare, just to name a few) and the repercussions of it are very evident in the gap between the poor and the rich. I have learned a lot from how South Africa has been trying to mend the gap and bring equality to its people, despite the poor governmental leadership since Mandela. I hope I can continue to follow South Africa as they continue moving forward past Apartheid.

A World Wonder

Nowadays there are quite a few lists of different world wonders. One of these lists is of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. I had the incredible opportunity to go and experience one of them a couple of weekends ago. My friend, Noelle, and I took a quick trip to Livingstone, Zambia, to see Victoria Falls, the largest (widest) waterfall in the world!!

We flew out to Zambia Friday night, checked into our Backpackers, our accommodation for the weekend, then headed to a local café for some Zambian dinner. It had a nice atmosphere with outdoor seating and there was a live band playing outside (featuring lots of Ed Sheeran covers). We tried some crocodile bites and a barbecue pizza with bananas on it! It was a fun way to start off our time in a new country.

The next morning we got up and left to head to the falls! Victoria falls is part of the Zambezi River, which marks the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. We were staying on the Zambian side but decided to start off by visiting the Zimbabwe side of the falls since this is supposedly where the best views are. In order to do so, we had to go through customs, walk across the bridge between the countries, and enter Zimbabwe. It was crazy to just be able to walk from one country to the other so easily.

Crossing into Zimbabwe
The bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe

Once in Zimbabwe, we walked to the park entrance. We could already hear the roaring of the falls, so we followed the sound. The falls are so large that there are several different viewpoints to see them from; so we hopped from one to the next, trying to soak in as much as we could! At each viewpoint, you couldn’t help but get a little wet from all the mist spraying up from the force of the falls, but it was refreshing since it was almost 100 degrees that day! The falls were absolutely amazing and even bigger than I expected.

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After watching the falls for a little while, we trekked back over to Zambia to see what the falls looked like from the other side. Although not as big as they were on the Zimbabwe side, the falls were still incredible. There is a section called the Rainbow Falls because rainbows are commonly found near the bottom of the falls there. We were able to see a couple of rainbows while on that side of the park.

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After wandering around this side of the park, we headed to our next adventure: Devil’s Pool. Devil’s pool is a part at the top of the Falls where with a natural rock pool and natural rock barrier that weakens the current and prevents you from going over the edge. We met up with a tour group who led us to Livingstone Island, a small patch of land at the top of the falls, where we then began our walk/swim to Devil’s Pool. When we got there, the guides told us how to safely enter the pool and where to go. Getting in and swimming at the top of the largest waterfall in the world was probably one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life! Not only being at the top of the Falls, but also viewing them from this perspective was so humbling and a unique reminder of how awesome God’s creation is and how thankful I am to be able to experience it in such unique ways while abroad. It was definitely a highlight of the trip!

(Click on first photo to view as slide show!)

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take a weekend to visit Zambia and Zimbabwe and experience this amazing wonder! Victoria Falls did not disappoint and was an incredible sight to see in person! Now I just have to make it to the other six natural wonders 🙂

P.S. Our pilot on the flight back to Cape Town was super great and made sure to fly over the falls for us so we could spot it from an aerial view! Here’s what it looks like from a bird’s eye!

Victoria Falls from above!

Market Days

No matter where you go in Cape Town, you can always count on being able to find a good market. There are lots scattered throughout the city, whether they are food markets, craft markets, or markets with both! Each weekend in Cape Town, I try to make it to one in order to scope out some new souvenirs or try some new tasty food. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made it to so far:

Old Biscuit Mill

This market is one of the most popular in Cape Town and has the largest variety of foods compared to any other market I’ve been to. They are only open on Saturdays, so it is usually pretty crowded, but it is definitely worth squeezing through the crowds to get some delicious food. There are so many food stands, it’s almost overwhelming. Each stand has something completely different than the last. Each time I go, I try a few different things because there is so much to choose from. Some things I have tried at Old Biscuit Mill include mac and cheese balls, crepes, a bacon & egg hash, and apple & honey tea.

On the opposite end of the market there are various stands, storefronts, and shops to browse through. Most of the stands are higher end, designer products or art workshops that you can peak into. It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, browsing through the stands while eating something new each time!

Hout Bay Market

Hout Bay is a fishing area in Cape Town right on the ocean. The market is on the harbor and is similar to Old Biscuit Mill in the sense that there is plenty of food and lots of stands and stores. At this market there is more of a mix of traditional African arts and crafts along with some trendy clothing and jewelry stands. It’s fun to walk around and see such a wide variety of products and art. Once you reach the far side of the market, there is a good selection of food stands to chose from, as well. They have everything from dim sum to waffles to veggie paninis. Everything smells so good its hard to choose what stand to visit! Also, on Friday nights they have live music which makes for a very lively vibe and a fun night at the market!


Greenmarket Square

Greenmarket Square is the largest craft market in Cape Town located right in the city center. There are over a hundred stands here with art, crafts, jewelry, and more. It is mainly a market for tourists to buy souvenirs, but there are some locals that come as well. Because it is mainly for tourists, the vendors overprice their products to be much more than it should be, but you are able to bargain with them until you come up with a more reasonable price for whatever you would like to buy. During orientation, our RAs gave us some bargaining pointers to prepare us for the vendors at places like Greenmarket Square, which have come in handy so far! One tip they gave us to help lower a price is to show interest in what you want and then start to walk away and say you’re going to look around some more and then decide. They will then insist you come back and pay a reasonable price because they don’t want your business to go to someone else’s stand. Bargaining can be a bit overwhelming, but it is still fun to walk around this market and see all the beautiful things everyone is selling.


Market on the Wharf & The Watershed 

Along the V&A Waterfront (an area in the city similar to Navy Pier in Chicago) there is the old Watershed building that has been converted into a market with little shops and vendors selling clothes, jewelry, and artwork. Similar to Old Biscuit Mill the items are mostly higher end, but there are still some unique African crafts throughout. Right next to the Watershed, there is the Market on the Wharf, which is a nice food market with lots of selections to choose from! There is an amazing bakery there where we tried some donuts and pastries. We probably exceeded our sugar intake for the week, but it was definitely worth it. These markets are right at the Waterfront, so it is nice to be able to walk around and see the rest of what the V&A has to offer, especially the great view of Table Mountain.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekends here in Cape Town so I can discover more good eats and fun art at these markets!

Exploring Durban

After our Kruger excursion during spring break, we still had the rest of the week to travel, so my friend Noelle and I decided to go to Durban. This is a city on the eastern coast of South Africa known for its beaches, warm climate, and Miami-esque architecture.

We were able to spend a good amount of time on the beachfront. There’s a 5 kilometer promenade that connects several of the beaches to make it easy to walk or bike between them. Our first day we ate brunch at a restaurant right on the beach and walked along the promenade for a while, seeing the different beaches until we ended up at Ushaka Marine World. This beachfront area has an aquarium, water park, and lots of restaurants and shops. We decided to go to a restaurant at the end of the pier for a snack, admiring the view of the city.

View from the restaurant on the pier

The next morning we came back to the beach nice and early to go stand up paddle boarding with one of our friends from UCT, Tristan, who is from Durban. We had to get there before the wind picked up and made it too difficult to balance on the water. It was fun paddle boarding with the waves and trying to keep our balance when waves swept under us. After an hour or so of paddle boarding (and falling off the paddle board) Tristan gave us a little tour of Durban. Our first stop was the Kings Park Soccer Stadium, which was built for the 2010 World Cup. It’s not used much anymore for sports because the field isn’t big enough for rugby, and that’s the main sport played here. However, it is used a lot for concerts and tourism. There’s even a giant free fall swing at one end of the stadium so people can swing through the stadium to get their fill of adrenaline.

The World Cup Stadium (if you look closely you can see people near the top getting ready for the stadium swing)

After admiring the stadium, Tristan took us to a part of Durban called Umlhanga. This is a little beach town on the northern end of the city that’s much quieter than the central part of Durban. We walked along the beach here, which was pretty rocky and had a lot of crabs and coral growing along the rocks. It was a very pretty beach in a quieter, charming part of Durban.

The rocky Umlhanga beachfront

We then went to get some bunny chow, which is curry served inside a half loaf of bread. Its a popular South African dish that’s supposedly the best in Durban, so of course we had to try some while we were there. You eat it by scooping the curry with the piece of bread that was cut from the middle of the loaf. Once that piece of bread is gone, you pick up the loaf with two hands and dig in. It was a pretty messy experience, but still good!

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The next day, Tristan invited us to go to the Hilton Art Festival, the second largest art festival in South Africa. It was held by his old boarding school, so he was super familiar with what it had to offer. There were plenty of food vendors, art stands, and art displays scattered around the campus. We walked around admiring all of the different crafts and artwork, and also saw a show. Shows are a unique part of this art festival, and there are dozens of live performances throughout the weekend. We saw one called James Cairns vs. Humanity, which was an improv show based on the popular card game Cards Against Humanity. It was very well done and really enjoyable!

We got to the festival pretty early, so we had a lot of time left to explore the surrounding area and drove to a few places nearby. The best place we stopped at was the Mandela capture sight, where Mandela was captured and arrested  in 1962 for encouraging workers’ strikes and leaving the country illegally without a passport. There was a long walk to freedom pathway which had markers spread along the way with significant events in Mandela’s political and personal life. At the end of the walkway there was a statue comprised of many irregularly shaped poles. When you stand in the right place, the poles lined up to form Nelson Mandela’s profile. It’s a magnificent piece of art with a lot of meaning as well. I{m glad we ended up at this very thoughtful and educational spot.

Nelson Mandela capture site statue

We made the most of our short time in Durban and were able to see and experience a lot! And thanks to Tristan, we were able to see some places we wouldn’t have known about without a local Durbanite. What an amazing week it was, and now we are headed back to Cape Town and classes!

On Safari

We are halfway done with our semester here in Cape Town, and that means Spring Break! Here they refer to it as vac, short for vacation, and we get a week off of classes. So that means time to travel!

On Saturday we took an early flight to Kruger National Park and were met by three safari cars at the airport. The cars were trucks with raised rows of seats in the back with open sides so we could have the best views of the animals on the safari. We then went straight into the national park, the largest reserve in South Africa, and went on an afternoon game drive, hoping to spot the Big 5. The Big 5 include Elephants, Buffalo, Lions, Leopards, and Rhinos. Only a few minutes into the drive, one of the guides spotted two leopards up on a rock behind some bushes. It wasn’t easy to spot them, but after looking for a couple minutes I was able to see them moving around on the rocks. Our guide, David, told us that leopards are the most uncommon of the big 5 to spot, so it was pretty cool that we saw two right off of the bat!

Leopards on the rocks

After admiring the leopards we kept driving through the park and were able to see a herd of buffalo crossing in front of us, lots and lots of impalas (a type of antelope), a beautifully colored bird called known as the lilac breasted roller, some zebras, a hornbill (the type of bird Zazu in the Lion King is), a group of baboons, and some hyenas with their pups. It was crazy to see so many animals just in our first of four game drives and seeing each in their natural habitat and how they behaved was amazing. When observing the zebras, they were standing in pairs, side by side but facing opposite directions. David explained that it looks like they are trying to hug each other but they are actually protecting each other and watching out for predators. It was neat seeing them stand like this!

The next morning we got up before dawn and headed on our first game drive just after sunrise. Because it gets so hot during the day, the animals are more active early in the morning and later in the evening. So, people usually are luckier with animal spottings during these times. Despite starting our drive very early, the park was pretty quiet and it took a while to sight some animals. However, throughout the morning and early afternoon we got to see quite a lot. Some of the highlights were seeing a family of giraffes snacking on some trees just feet from our car. We stopped to watch them and they crossed the road right in front of us to start munching on a new set of trees. It was so cool being so up close to them and watching them interact with each other! Not much longer we encountered a rhino nearby the road, and stopped to look at him. David explained to us how serious of a problem rhino poaching is, even in Kruger. Poachers will come and remove the horns of the rhinos and leave them to die, which is bringing them closer and closer to extinction. This was only one of several rhinos we saw throughout the day though, so it was reassuring seeing so many in one day.

A little later on we spotted a couple of monkeys across the road from us. They then ran across the road and into a tree directly next to us. We were watching the handful of monkeys climb the tree when someone in our car noticed more across the road, and a few dozen monkeys started running from deep in the bush out across the street into the tree to meet up with the others. It was crazy to see so many monkeys running together at once; some of them were carrying babies on their backs and stomachs as well, which was a cute bonus. Another highlight was seeing a honey badger, which might not sound like it would be exciting, but they are one of the most rare species in Kruger! They are nocturnal, so seeing one during the day (seeing one at all!) was pretty neat.

A monkey and her baby in the tree

After a quick break back at the lodge for lunch, we got picked up for an evening game drive on our way to eat dinner in the bush. We headed out right before sunset, so it got dark pretty quickly. Since it was dark, the car came equipped with two heavy duty flash lights that we used to try and spot some animals. A little into the drive a couple of girls said they saw something in a tree, so the guide backed the car up to where we could see the tree and we shined the lights towards it. It turns out that there was a leopard sitting in the tree eating whatever prey it had just caught. Even the guide was amazed that we were able to see such a cool sighting at night. Seeing another leopard was crazy in itself, but seeing one in a tree at night was even crazier! We also saw a family of elephants a little later on, including two babies. One of the older elephants saw us and started to approach the vehicle and raise his trunk at us as a way of protecting the others, so we headed out to let the elephants be.

The elephant approaching our vehicle

We made our way to the middle of the bush where a traditional South African meal was being prepared for us. We got out and there were a couple of guards holding guns that were there to watch out for animals during our meal (we even had to have a guide walk us to the bathroom with a gun if we had to go). The food was delicious and the view of the stars from the middle of the bush was incredible. We could see them so clearly and were able to point out a few constellations. It was such a unique experience being able to be out in the bush and made for a great end to our safari experience! Even though we didn’t get to see all of the Big 5, since we didn’t spot a lion, being able to experience African wildlife so up close and in their natural habitat was one of the coolest experiences of this semester so far!

Bo-Kaap Cuisine

Yesterday we got the chance to visit Bo-Kaap, a neighborhood in Cape Town, for a tour and cooking lesson. Bo-Kaap originated back in the late 1700s as a neighborhood of rental houses for slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other African countries to lease. When under the leasing rules, all houses had to be painted white. When this rule was eventually changed, the residents were able to purchase the houses and claim ownership. They celebrated by painting the houses various bright colors as a way for them to express their freedom.

Some of the colorful Bo-Kaap houses


We met our tour guide, Zayed, at his house and he walked us around the neighborhood to give us a chance to see all of the vibrant, colorful houses and explain some of the history of Bo-Kaap. It’s a very beautiful and unique neighborhood. Zayed explained that the neighborhood is still mainly inhabited by people of Malaysian, Indonesian, or African descent, but that it is becoming a place that White South Africans and Europeans are starting to move into. Because of the brightly colored houses, location, and exciting culture of the area, the housing taxes and prices are increasing drastically, making it harder for the families that have lived there for generations to afford their houses. This is causing these families to have to sell their houses and move out of the neighborhood, which is a heartbreaking reality. In addition, there has been an increase in new development in the area, which takes away from the traditional Bo-Kaap styled homes. The residents are trying to have the neighborhood designated as a historical and cultural neighborhood in order to prevent new developments, but so far the government has not done anything about it. Soon plans will start to build a 19 story hotel in the Bo-Kaap area, which they are trying to put an end to by reasoning with the government. Hopefully they will be able to declare Bo-Kaap as a historical neighborhood before breaking ground on the hotel project.

After walking around and looking inside one of the corner stores,  Zayed brought us back to his house where we began a cooking class! The class was led by his wife who taught us how to make different Cape Malay style dishes. We started off with chicken curry using various spices. What makes this chicken curry specific to Cape Malay is the group of spices called the Mother-in-Law or Father-in-Law masala. The Mother-in-Law is apparently very hot, so we used the Father-in-Law in our curry. The curry included the spices, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lemon juice, and chicken. We mixed it and let it sit while we made the rest of the food.

The spices used in the curry
Mixing the curry

We then made dough for rootie, a traditional flatbread. This process involved a few steps. We first had to mix the dough and roll it out. Once it was evenly rolled out, we twisted the dough into a ball and let it sit for a while. After about an hour or so we rolled out the dough again into circles. They were then ready to be cooked on a frying pan with oil, flipping over every 30 seconds until it was done. After getting the rootie off the pan, we had to smash the rootie together to make it flakey. We put our hands facing each other on the edges of the rootie and clapped them together, smashing the rootie as a result.

Rolling out the rootie

While the dough for the rootie was sitting, we were shown how to make daltjies, or chilli bites, and learned how to make samoosas. Daltjies are balls of fried dough with onion, spinach, and chillies. They seemed very easy to make and were absolutely delicious. They are usually eaten cold, but we ate them right out of the frier and with some different sauces. I had to stop myself from eating too many and filling myself up, otherwise I could have easily been happy eating those for the rest of the cooking class.

The daltjies and sauces with the rootie dough sitting after being twisted.

The samoosas were also delicious. These were triangular pockets filled with either a ground beef mixture or a potato mixture that were made. We were taught how to fold the samoosa pastries in order to create the perfect pocket and keep everything from falling out of the samoosas. It seemed tricky, but after a couple of tries I got the hang of it. Once all of the samoosas were folded, they were fried and ready to eat!

My folded potato samoosa
The finished samoosas and the final step of making the rooties: cooking in the frying pan

After snacking on the daltjies and samoosas, we moved into the dining room to try our rooties and chicken curry. These were served with white rice and a dish similar to a salsa that is used to make dishes more mild. All of the food was amazing and it was fun knowing that we helped make such a good meal. We were sent home with a recipe book and a packet of spices for the chicken curry, so hopefully I will be able to recreate some of the flavors and foods I learned how to make yesterday! At the very least, as long as I can master the daltjies, I’ll be happy ?

Our final meal including the chicken curry and rooties that we made

It was a really fun and educational visit to Bo-Kaap. Learning about the history and the current struggles of the area made the visit more special, rather than just going to see the colorful houses. Hopefully the government will understand their worries and help make Bo-Kaap a historical area in order to preserve the neighborhood and its culture, including its delicious foods.


As part of my Community Health in Context course, I am required to participate at a service learning site to complete 40 service hours. Since this is a health related course, our service learning site is supposed to help us experience aspects of health care system in Cape Town. I am volunteering with a program at UCT called SHAWCO Health. SHAWCO stands for “Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation” (and yes, they use British English spellings here, which has taken some getting used to when writing essays).

SHAWCO Health is a program mostly for med school students and pre-med school students to have an opportunity to use their clinical skills and learn from a licensed doctor. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday night, a group of UCT students will take a mobile clinic to a township and provide primary health care for people in that township who cannot afford a private health care doctor or who do not have the time to go to a public health care doctor. In South Africa, there is free public health care for all South African citizens. However, the system is not well structured, so in order to see a doctor it is first come first serve. Doctors see patients daily from 7:30-4:30, but patients will start lining up outside of the clinics hours before opening in order to ensure they are able to be seen. This can be problematic for South Africans who can’t afford private clinics and don’t have the time to spare waiting in line all day at a public clinic. If they work, they may not be able to spare a day at work to come stand in line.

That’s where SHAWCO comes in! SHAWCO clinics visit the townships at night around 6:30pm so that patients who may not be able to take off work to go to the public health clinics or who may not be able to transport themselves to a public clinic then have easier access to health care. A licensed doctor also accompanies all of the med school students to the site to sign off on the final diagnoses, referrals, and prescriptions for the patients.

Photos by Jim Witmer
A typical township street in Cape Town
What a mobile clinic looks like

The past two weeks I have gone with SHAWCO to the township Browns Farm. Here, I am partnered with a UCT medical student and help them take notes and ask the patient questions about their condition. After the med student completes their evaluation and performs any tests necessary (HIV, urine glucose, pregnancy, etc.), they call in the doctor and explain the condition and any findings in order for the doctor to make the final diagnosis of the patient. Once the final diagnosis is made, the doctor prescribes any medication or referrals needed and the next patient is called in.

This has been a really eye-opening experience so far. Being able to learn about the brokenness in the government and public health care system is hard to see. Knowing that the majority of South Africans live under the poverty line, can’t afford to get the health care they deserve, and don’t have easy access to the health care that they can afford is hard to wrap my mind around, but SHAWCO is helping make health care a little more accessible for those who need it. Its also a great exposure to what goes into diagnosing a patient and how the med students communicate with the patients. Although I am not going into general medicine, I will still need to learn these skills for physical therapy. SHAWCO also helps me learn about and experience all aspects of Cape Town during my semester here, instead of only doing “touristy” activities. I am able to learn about the parts of Cape Town that aren’t as picturesque, experience the culture of townships, and meet the people. I am getting a feel for the less well off parts of the city and seeing for myself the stark contrast between the rich and poor. Cape Town is a beautiful city, but some of its history is not so much, and the ramifications are still very present today, affecting the poor and their access to health care. I’ve still got 32 hours of service left to go, and am ready to keep learning about these issues that South Africa, and Cape Town especially, are facing.