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.

Mountains or Water?

Important question: Mountains or Water? Which one most fits you? Which region would you choose to live?

This is one of the random icebreakers questions I liked to ask. My response in the past has usually been water. There is something about the sweet blue crashing waves that just makes my heart swell with peace and contentment. That’s while living in Holland, Michigan – the beach just being a run away – has been great. With that said – I have always been on the line with the question because mountains embody such majestic beauty and adventures.

So what’s my answer now?

My answer is Cape Town. Not only does Cape Town have beautiful mountains that have created me with amble opportunities to hike, but is also has the beautiful blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. So I choose both – I choose Cape Town.

Both these waters and these mountains have created many good adventures for me to hike, swim, and explore. Check out the photos below and Table Mountain Hike video here.

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South Africa is Developed and Developing…

“South Africa is a country that is developed and developing.”

This is something that my IES adviser, said during my first few days in Cape Town during my orientation – a time in which myself and other students learned more about Cape Town and South Africa.

On the first day of orientation we explored Sea Point in Cape Town. This is the area of the city that is butting up to Atlantic Ocean  and surrounded with breathtaking mountains, thus painting a picture of beauty and awe.

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It is also the “tourist” place of Cape Town. This is the location where billion dollar houses a built on the mountain overlooking the beautiful city. This is the place where Bill Clinton has his summer home. This is the place that all vacationer’s dream of getting to go – lined with palm trees, the ocean and mountains right beside them, and a vibrant and exciting city life.

I got to end this day with the best sunset I had ever seen on top of a mountain with other mountains surrounding me, the city below me, and the sun sinking into the ocean. This got to be my first real impression of Cape Town and my study abroad experience, and I already felt like I was falling in love with this new place I call home.

The next day of orientation had a very different feel to it. We went on a township tour of a place called Langa. Langa, and many other townships, are areas that reflect the poverty of South Africa. It was in Langa that I saw families living in shacks on less than a dollar a day. It was in Langa that I saw a room that was smaller than my room back home, yet housed 3 families. It was in Langa that I saw poverty like I never had before.

Yet it was in Langa that I saw such beauty and joy. It was in Langa that I saw an piece of Afrcian culture mixed with the Christian faith – the practice of circumcision of boys at 16 in order to  become men while at the same time seeing the praise and worship of Jesus Christ. It was in Langa that I saw art in the spaces they had. It was in Langa that I saw new beauties of culture that I hadn’t seen before.

My favorite part of Langa was a place where we had dinner called Mzansi Restaurant – a space that doubled as a restaurant and the home of a Langan family. It was here that we got to dance, sing, play music with, and hug some locals. It was a great cultural experience.

We also got to hear the story of Mama, the owner of the restaurant. She told of us how the space use to be half the size and how it was a special restaurant because they are only open for pre-scheduled guests. Due to that, the restaurant really had a very tough beginning to the point where the family could no longer support themselves. Yet, some students that once went to the restaurant offered to help and put Mzansi on “Trip Advisor” and it climbed to the number 1 for restaurants to go to while in Cape Town. Fast forwarding to the present, Mama and her family still struggle financially, but can sustain themselves. Not only that, they help those in the community by providing jobs for the musicians and tour leaders. During her story, Mama said something that brought tears to my eyes, “I am a millionaire, not because I have money to make me rich, but because I am rich in heart. I love what I am doing and have a family that I get to do it with.”

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“South Africa is developed and developing.” This is something that has been eye opening to me and makes me want to make a difference. I know I do not have the answers of what needs to be done in order for that difference to be made, but I know I can help through empowering those in these communities just as mama and the Mzansi  restaurant experienced. That is what I hope to have the chance to do through different opportunities that I am aligning myself with over the course of the semester.

The first day in Cape Town was making me fall in love with this place and the second day only increased those feelings, yet for a much different reason. South Africa is developed and developing and South Africa is continuously capturing my heart.

Is That A Whale?! Nope Just A Rock

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There were facts like this one posted all over the festival

Howzit?! Last weekend I spent time away at the Hermanus Whale Festival about two and half hours away from campus. My program sponsored the event and about thirty Americans signed up. We left Friday night and stayed through until late Sunday afternoon. It was so nice to get away from campus for a few days and see a new place. We stayed at a quaint and comfortable hostel walking distance from the festival and all of our meals were prepared for us by the owner and staff. We were all ready and geared up to see whales on whales in the bay, take pictures of the whales and buy whale t-shirts. After sitting looking out at the water for about an hour, it seemed the festival was lacking one minor detail. I might have seen the back of one whale, but… it very could have been a rock. Regardless of the whale aspect, the trip offered the chance to really get closer with some of the other Americans. It was such a beautiful day and valuable time was spent bonding with the other students while lying in the sun on the shore.

I still remember my first week here, worrying that I would not make any authentic, genuine relationships. This was one of my main goals in coming to South Africa- to find new people to connect with and learn from beyond the surface level. Prior to coming here, I honestly had the perception that I wouldn’t really even talk to Americans and would be laughing and scampering about South Africa with the locals. Surprisingly, those that I have become closest to are not local South Africans, but other American students in my program. As time passed, I found myself wanted to discuss and reflect on the experiences I was having with people who would understand the context. Through both the good times and the more challenging times, I wanted to find peers that could really relate to what I was feeling. I have definitely made local friends and have had many conversations with South Africans; I just have not developed the relationships I anticipated. With all of this said I am so grateful and blessed for the strong relationships I have made! I am learning so much through these friendships and my experience here would not be the same without them. Several of us are already making plans to get together back in the States after the program ends! 🙂

 

This is Rebekah, one of the other American students. I guess you could say we have become pretty close :)
This is Rebekah, one of the other American students. I guess you could say we have become pretty close 🙂