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.

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Some of the colorful Bo-Kaap houses

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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.

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The spices used in the curry
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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.

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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.

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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!

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My folded potato samoosa
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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 🙂

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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.

SHAWCO Health

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
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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.

Peninsula Tour

Another weekend, another IES trip! This time we traveled down the Cape Peninsula towards Cape Point, the most southwestern tip of Africa. We started our day by heading to Hout Bay, a neighborhood south of Table Mountain and along the Atlantic Ocean that is home to the Hout Bay Market. Along the dock at the bay, there were some street stands and a couple cafés that we peaked into before boarding a boat taking us to Seal Island. About 20 minutes out to sea are some large rocks that jet out of the water just enough for seals to have a nice place to rest and lay out in the sun. I don’t think I’d ever seen so many seals at once! There were tons of seals laying out on the rocks, as well as some flopping around in the water putting on a show for us.

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The seals at Seal Island

After being entertained by the seals for a while, we made our way back to shore and on the bus to our next stop. As we drove away from Hout Bay, up on the mountainside, we passed several viewpoint stops along the highway, until we got to the best one. We hopped of the bus to snap a few photos of the beautiful view. It seems like no matter where you go in Cape Town, there’s always a breathtaking view of a mountain!

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The view of Hout Bay from the highway
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My friend, Noelle, and I at the highway viewpoint

The next stop was Boulder Beach, which is famous for its wild penguins! The African Penguin can only be found on the southwestern coast of South Africa and mainly Boulder Beach. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go onto the beach with the penguins, but we were able to walk along a boardwalk and get pretty close to them! Winter is when a lot of the babies hatch, so we saw quite a few feathery penguins. Their feathers don’t become water proof until they’re about 3 months old, so it was easy to spot which ones were the babies. Definitely a highlight of the day!

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The penguins at Boulder Beach

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Even though I could probably sit and watch the penguins waddle around and dive into the water for hours, we left Boulder Beach to grab lunch and head to our final destination: Cape Point. The most southwestern tip of Africa is at the tip of the Cape of Good Hope within the Table Mountain National Park. We spent a few minutes at Cape Point on the beach taking in the views and capturing some quick photos of the edge. But, the better views came once we started an hour hike up to the Old Cape Point Lighthouse which is at the highest peak. Along the hike and at the top by the lighthouse, we looked out over the ocean and at beautiful mountain landscapes. Every direction you turned was a spectacular view and once we got to the top, it almost felt like we were in a cloud.

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Cape Point
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Views along the hike towards Old Cape Point Lighthouse
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Views from the Old Cape Point Lighthouse

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This trip was full of incredible sights and fun excursions and made me ready to explore more of South Africa!

National Women’s Day in South Africa

On Thursday, August 9th, was National Women’s Day here in South Africa, so here’s a little history lesson for you all to start off this post! National Women’s Day is a public holiday that started in 1995 in remembrance of one of the largest protests in South African History.

On August 9, 1956, about 20,000 women of all races marched to the Union Buildings to protest the pass laws requiring women to carry a document similar to a passport in order to travel to different areas within the country other than their home region. These laws were first passed for men long before the 1950s in order to segregate the population, have more control over urbanization, and distribute migrant workers.

The laws restricted Coloureds (mixed race) and Blacks from moving to certain regions of the country and made travel and life in general much more difficult. These laws were then passed for women in the early 1950s but were not enforced until 1956. At this time, women from all over the country organized the march where they asked the prime minister to meet them and hear their petition. Although the prime minister refused, the march still went on and the women handed their petition to the secretary of the prime minister. They then began to sing a freedom song that declares “You strike a woman, you strike a rock”, which is now a saying that represents the strength of women.

Although the petition and march did not end the pass laws, it showed South Africa the strength and power that women had and brought all women together as a unified force. The pass laws were eventually repealed in 1986.

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Photos from the 1956 Women’s March

Because National Women’s Day is a public holiday, that means no school! And what a better way to celebrate the strength and courage of women than going on a rock climbing trip with the women of UCT Mountain and Ski Club! As a semester study abroad student I am allowed to join a few clubs while at UCT. One of the ones I joined is the Mountain and Ski Club, which plans hiking, climbing and skiing events throughout the semester. The first event I was able to attend was the Women’s Climb event to celebrate National Women’s Day. I went with a group of about 30 other girls at UCT to Higgovale Quarry right under Table Mountain. There are already bolts in the rocks and set courses so all we needed to do was set up the ropes and start climbing. I have only ever rock climbed indoors, so this was my first time trying on natural rocks. I was able to climb two routes, and it was really fun! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be either, and when I got to the top of the quarry I got to look out over the city and ocean! Unfortunately I couldn’t climb with my camera so I can’t share the view, but it made the climbing even more worth it 🙂

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Climbing at the quarry

This event got me excited for the other hiking and climbing events the club will host and made for an adventurous National Women’s Day. If you’r interested in reading more about the Women’s March or National Women’s Day in South Africa feel free to click on the link below!

http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/1956-womens-march-pretoria-9-august

UCT Academics

One of the biggest culture shocks I’ve had so far would have to be school at UCT. Even starting out at orientation and registration it was much different. In the US most schools have an online registration process near the end of the previous semester in order to sign up for classes and figure out your schedule. At UCT, however, the registration process involves various steps and needs to be completed in person after waiting in multiple lines. So, coming into the semester I didn’t know what classes I would end up taking. After standing in line to talk to an academic advisor and present what classes I was interested in taking, I was able to register for two courses and had to wait to seek approval from a faculty member for my third course. Then on the first day of class, I had to find the course convener for the psychology course I wanted to add, have her sign the course addition document, go stand in a line for 45 minutes to have an academic advisor approve the course, and finally go stand in another line to have someone manually input the course into my schedule. Although registration at Hope can be stressful, this experience made me very appreciative of registration at Hope and how quick and easy it is.

Now, after the first week of classes, I have a set schedule including three courses at UCT and one through the IES program. At first when deciding to go abroad, I figured I would be able to have a schedule that would allow me to have class fewer days each week and longer weekends, but little did I know that classes at UCT can meet up to 4 days a week and include an additional tutorial session. My Cognitive Neuroscience and Abnormal Psychology course has four 45-minute lectures and one 45-minute tutorial every week. The lectures are taught by the professor and have about 500 students, whereas the tutorials are taught by an assistant professor or post-graduate student and only include about 20 students. Being in a lecture this large will definitely take some getting used to since the largest class I’ve been a part of before at Hope was only 60 students. Having the tutorials is really helpful though because we are able to go over lecture material in a smaller group, making it easier to ask questions and get to know class mates.

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My 500 student psychology lecture

The way professors and assistant professors grade in South Africa is something I will have to get used to as well. In the US, we are used to having points taken off for getting an answer wrong or not writing enough detail about something in a paper, for example. Here, however, points are awarded for doing something right or doing what the professor expects. Because of that, it is much harder to get a 100% on something here. Anything between a 75% and 100% here is equivalent to an A, and A’s are hard to come by at UCT. So, I will have to adjust my brain to not freak out if I get a 68% on a quiz or test because that would be a B+, not a D.

The size of UCT has also been an adjustment for me, as it has about 30,000 undergraduate students and much larger campus than I am used to. UCT campus is on the side of Table Mountain, which means it is uphill and has three different levels: lower, middle, and upper campus. To walk from my house on lower campus to upper campus can take about 20 minutes, and it’s not always a leisurely walk. They also have a Jammie shuttle that takes students from lower campus up, but you have to get to the stop pretty early in order to ensure you’ll get a spot on the bus. So, I usually just opt for making the walk up to class.

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The view on my walk to school
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The view on my walk back home
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Part of Middle Campus on my walk back home

Even though there have been a lot of challenges in adjusting to this new learning environment, I am very excited for this semester and the courses I am taking. Three out of the four courses I am taking are focused on African culture or society. Probably the course I am most looking forward to is African Instrument, where I will be learning different African drumming styles and techniques along with other traditional African instruments! I am also taking an African Religious Traditions course which focuses on Indigenous religions, African Islam, and African Christianity. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between religion in Africa and in the US throughout this course. The third African focused class I am taking is through the IES program and is called Community Health in Context. This course focuses on the health care system in South Africa and how it has progressed and affected the community. This course also involves a service learning component, where I will complete 40 hours of service at a volunteer site and complete 20 hours of research throughout the semester related to my volunteer site and the health care system in South Africa. I will be volunteering with a UCT organization called SHAWCO Health where I will assist UCT Medical Students at mobile clinics that travel to townships around Cape Town. I am very excited and eager to be a part of this organization and not only experience medical care in South Africa but to meet individuals from various townships as well and be able to learn from them.

Academically, I think this semester will be challenging and something I have to adjust to, but I am looking forward to learning about South Africa in the class room!

Paris Reflections!

   

Since I arrived back in Michigan, I have been thinking and reflecting on my summer semester in Paris. I kept a journal from the first day I arrived in Paris, and detailed every moment and funny memory. Looking back, I am so glad I did this because I was able to better understand what I learned and see how I adapted to a foreign culture. Studying abroad in Paris was undoubtedly the best adventure in my life so far. I met the most incredible group of people through IES, who became my close friends I am blessed to have lived in France over the summer. If I typed out everything I learned about living in a foreign country, we would be here for hours. So to save the trouble, here is a short list of the best lessons I learned while living and studying in Paris:

  1. “So much of who we are is where we have been.” -William Langewiesche. I found this quote written in graffiti on a wall in Paris near the Seine River, and it resonated with me as I progressed through studying abroad. I felt myself becoming more adventurous, where I traveled by myself to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Stonehenge. I felt myself becoming more comfortable speaking a language I had never studied before, where I was not afraid speaking French with locals. I felt myself falling in love with Paris. So much of who I am will remain in Paris.
  2. Bread will never be the same. When it comes to bakeries, the French have this perfected to an art. I probably ate my weight in croissants and baguettes, but French bread is incredibly delicious. My favorite dessert, and what I will miss the most about French food, is Pan du Chocolat (chocolate-filled croissant). Hopefully I can find an authentic French bakery in Michigan!
  3. Travel. Travel. Travel. Traveling within Europe is incredibly cheap and easy. When are you ever going to live in a foreign country again in your life? Take advantage of every opportunity and leave no stone unturned. My group and I went to London, England together, and I went to Brussels, Belgium and Luxembourg City, Luxembourg by myself. My group was more interested in exploring Paris than traveling far, but I didn’t let that falter my plans. Even if you have to go alone, don’t regret not going somewhere. I had a blast both on my own and with my group. Also, I learned how to book travel accommodations and research places to go all on my own. When my flights were delayed and trains became cancelled due to strikes, I figured out alternate routes on my own last minute. How cool is that? Travel, and travel far.
  4. The Eiffel Tower never gets old. From the first time I saw the Iron Lady to the last night under the sparkling lights, I never grew tired of looking at how beautiful the tower is. Every Wednesday, my friends and I had a picnic under the tower to watch the sunset and sparkling lights. I always looked forward to every Wednesday, and could not get enough of the Eiffel Tower. The view from the top of the tower isn’t bad either, but I’d much rather watch the lights sparkle with a baguette and wine from our secret terrace we found.
  5. Take the leap and study abroad. I have to admit, I was a little nervous just before I left. I had never traveled on my own before and had never been to Europe. I would have to learn a new language and learn to navigate a foreign country. Luckily, the nerves went away the second I got to my apartment. I fell in love with Paris and made incredible friends in my study abroad group. I learned a ton in my classes that I know will take me far in the rest of my studies. I created internship connections through my professors. I tried food I never thought I would dare eat. I traveled alone to other countries. I saw Stonehenge. Nothing will ever compare to what I experienced, and most importantly, I learned that a classroom is much more than four white walls.

Take the leap and study abroad; you just might learn something about the world around you.

À bientôt, et je t’aime Paris!

-Alissa Smith