Saying Goodbye

So this is it. It’s 6:27am and I leave at 6:45. I’m packed. My room is still a mess, but I did the best I could with what I had. Somehow our broom has disappeared…. so I used a shoe to try and swat all the trash to one corner. I’m leaving behind my sleeping bag – I got frustrated with trying to roll it up – I could never make it fit in the bag, and I have nowhere to put it. Hopefully another student or someone else will get a lot of use out of it.

So did I meet my goals for this semester? What were my goals?

I came here so broken. After everything that happened last semester – from my bank situation at Wells Fargo to everything that happened with Jacob, to my car breaking down on the side of the road in the wee hours of the morning, to fighting an uphill battle to make studying abroad a reality, I really was broken by the time I came here. My spirit just wasn’t the same as it has been. I came here in part to run, to get away from Lincoln, from Jacob, from everything. And in those ways – my goal, my only goal really, was to figure things back out… to get some perspective and really ‘find myself’ again.

That was the goal when I came, and that goal was met. With flying colors. I did finally move beyond everything that happened last semester, and I am coming away such a happy person. I love life. I haven’t felt this… just… high on life since, well, maybe my first summer at camp. It’s been a while. I’m back to being me, and that is spectacular.

I also lost the weight that I gained last semester, which is exciting. I didn’t lose much extra weight beyond that, which I wanted to do, but I’m content with meeting that first part of the weight goal.

It wasn’t until I got here that I realized that I probably should have had so many other goals… the ones I think most people have when they come abroad: community engagement, changing lives…. you know, that good stuff. I think I focused so hard on the idea that I was finally getting out of the country – finally going somewhere near and different… not to mention that it was AFRICA – that I forgot to really think about all the good I could do over here. I didn’t volunteer much… it was actually really challenging to get involved. I emailed and called several people and organizations – I really wanted to volunteer with an HIV/AIDS organization, but I never found anything near enough to Stellenbosch or in Stellenbosch that I could work with. Kayamundi, the ISOS (International Student Organization of Stellenbosch) township volunteer project – didn’t fit into my schedule. I did do Watergarden (another township tutoring program) a little bit, but that program was done all in Afrikaans, so our presence was pretty much worthless, although it was still rewarding to interact with the kids.

In that way – getting really hands on with the poverty here and engaging with the community – I do wish I could have done more. I didn’t meet that goal. However, I do have a much bigger desire to go back to the States and volunteer, find an HIV organization to work with there. So hopefully that’s something i pursue a result of this experience.

As far as friends…. you know, to be honest, I didn’t have any goals or expectations. I actually came over here saying that this was going to be my “Me Semester.” That I wanted to focus on getting myself back to that happy place. So I’m leaving with a couple of friends that I will definitely keep in contact with, one that I already have plans to see again in the States, but I didn’t really meet anyone that absolutely changed my life or moved me in drastic ways. That’s a little disappointing – I think we all look for that kind of relationship when we’re in new situations. I also wish that I had made better friends with more South Africans. I’ve had that conversation, about how International Students tend to befriend other international students with South Africans, and it’s interesting to hear both sides. For us, even those of us that want to make South African friends, it’s challenging becuase we live so far away from campus, and where we live, we live wiht all international students. They have us kind of blocked away to put us in a “safe zone.” That’s not to say I didn’t make South African friends, I definitely did and had a good time with them all, but there’s no one that I’m devastated to not see again.

Anyway, I think I’m done rambling.

Overall – it’s been an incredible experience that has changed me. It has absolutely opened my mind in ways I never even … knew existed. I already considered myself open-minded, and now I’m just blown away by the broader, more global perspective I have on things. I’m in love with different cultures… how they operate, what’s important in them. I’ve gained so much traveling experience – my Moazambique trip changed me, just those five days alone. I love backpackers – I love their stories and their zeal for life, for adventure.

And really – I love South Africa. I love it with the good – the unbelievable meeting of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the penguin colony that exists for seemingly no reason, the sunsets that hit the mountain tops and dance off the waves, the wine… and the bad – the crime rates, the racial tensions, the horrible attempts at fast food. I really fell in love with this country, and I have so much hope for its future.

Oh, and 3 words to describe this experience/this place, because it’s a question I’ve already been asked:

Healing. Rejuvenating. Beautiful.

Goodbye, South Africa. For now. Thank you for the past four months. They were beautiful.

Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 6:52 am  Leave a Comment  

KRUGER!

AH! I can’t believe you guys let me forget to put up the Kruger pictures! haha I just skipped right over it, and it’s the best part – all the animals! Kruger was spectacular… just a wonderful experience. It was the quintessential “African safari” experience that everyone thinks about – super hot, tons of very large African wildlife, lots of hours in a huge 4×4. Incredible. Without any further ado, I present to you – the animals (I saw) of Kruger National Park, South Africa’s most beloved 16% of land.

they really were just spectacular.

Ahh. It’s just spectacular isn’t it? I had to put this one up here. Nice and big.

another fantastic one – buffalo close-up

we probably sat and waited 30 minutes to watch this giraffe bend down and drink. it was awesome.

we probably sat and waited 30 minutes or more to watch this giraffe drink. they’re most vulnerable when they’re drinking, because they have to bend so far down… easy to attack and knock them over. so they spend a long time getting ready, looking around, making sure it’s safe. it was incredible to see.

Published in: on May 19, 2008 at 7:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Panoramic Route

As we left Kruger and started the very (very) long drive back to Johannesburg on the last day of the safari, we did the Panoramic Route along the way. The Panoramic Route is a scenic route that runs through Mpumalanga. Most of it is along the highest tarred road in South Africa (http://www.places.co.za/html/panoramic_route.html)… It runs through the northern part of the Drankensberg Mountain range. It has three main stops or features. Blyde River Canyon – which is the third largest canyon in the world, after one in Tanzania and the Grand Canyon. Next are the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, which are really beautiful rock formations formed through rushing water on the rocks creating crevices and holes, which, well, don’t look like potholes, but I get where they were going with it. It has created, over time, tons of small waterfalls and just amazing rock features. It was my favorite part of the route. I wanted to spend all day there with a picnic lunch, just jumping and playing on the rocks. Finally, there’s God’s Window. If you’re at a good vantage point there, you can see for….ever. It’s unbelievable. We unfortunately went on a slightly overcast day, but we could still see how magnificent the view is. From any three of these locations, which are all very close together, you can see 33 meters down into the biggest gorges and waterfalls, down to the Blyde River. I adored the Panoramic Route and so would love to go back one day. It was magnificent.

Published in: on May 19, 2008 at 7:30 am  Leave a Comment  

moholo-whaaat?

On the second to last day of Alana’s and my holiday safari, we went to a place called the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre. It’s right outside of Kruger National Park. It’s run by… I don’t remember his name, but this really nice older guy. It’s a rehab. centre for harmed African wldlife and large birds (primarily vultures). It was one of the best experiences of the entire trip. They gave us a presentation/lecture when we first got there, showing us slides with pictures and giving us information on the rate at which wildlife land is being destroyed and turned into commercially used land. He gave us a detailed explanation of how, in the past century, African land has been divided nearly in half, in many countries significantly more than that, for wildlife versus commercial use. As that’s happening, wildlife is being forced onto smaller and smaller pieces of land. It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of these animals that are being shot, primarily by farmers and other landowners, for coming onto their land. The area around Kruger NP, especially, is a hotzone for these animals. If they get out of the enclosed park, which is 16% of South Africa, which sounds like a lot, but a century ago, tehse animals were free to roam nearly wherever in the country. Anyway, if they do get out of the park, they generally are shot. Leopards, cheetah, vultures, smaller animals – are all killed on a routine basis for looking for food. The rehab. centre has made a name for itself in the area and in the country and they’re trying to keep the word spreading so that when farmers find a leopard on their land, they’ll call the centre instead of shooting it. They also rescue animals that have been in other harmful and/or neglectful situations – one lion they have (the picture of a lion I have) j- had been used by a circus group, then neglected. It was found near dead, starving, and it no longer has teeth. Most of these animals will never be abl to be released into the wild again.

I’ll stop babbling about it, but I really fell in love with it. And if I ever happen to end up ridiculously wealthy and am looking for a cause, this will be mine.

A leopard. I was so excited to see it… it was the only one of the Big 5 we didn’t see at Kruger. He would jump (like a rockstar) and get his entire body up on the fence when being fed… I was so bummed I didn’t a picture of it.

This was the lion that was harmed by the circus. It broke my heart. They have to give him special food because he can’t chew. I kept thinking he was so adorable, as did a several of us, and the guide had to remind us that it’s not okay, not natural, that he can go in the lion’s area and pet him and hang out with him and the lion would be okay with it.

A close-up of the leopard. So gorgeous.

Wild Dogs. Not looking all too wild there 🙂

I don’t know if you can clearly see it here – but this little rock…formation…house…thing haha had all these adorable little otter/big gerbit/brownish fatter, smaller squirrel type fellows… haha I have no idea what they were,but they were cute.

and the cheetah sleeps tonight….

Honey Badger!! Okay, this is the single greatest animal story we heard all day. And these guys – were so my favorite. Honey Badgers, which, as you can see, kind of look like ferrets or something similar… and I thought they were utterly adorable. Well, they’re EVIL. Pure evil. And hilarious. They’re the most clever little animals (there were two of them, this was just the best close-up of one I have). They have become famous at Muholoholo for being able to escape out of EVERYTHING. The cage ting they’re in now has been modified probably a dozen times to correct all the ways that the Badgers have found to escape. They call one of them, and darnit, I’ll have to look up his name later to remember, but they call him the Great Escape Artist. He has become quite famous for it. Not only can they get out of anything (and they were trying the entire time we were there), but they’re also – back to the evil – EVIL. The guide told us that one of the times they escaped, they only found them again when they found… oh man, it was either a rhino or a buffalo – dead. That’s right – these little bitty cute things killed an animal that large. How do they do it? They castrate the animal they want to kill – rip off its testicles, and then the animal bleeds to death. Insane right?

…and this is me feeding a vulture. They’re REALLY heavy!

Published in: on May 19, 2008 at 7:10 am  Leave a Comment  

it’s the end of the semester as we know it

As this unbelievably life-changing semester is coming to an end… I struggle with how to put into words my thoughts on the overall impact it has had on me. I’m going to revisit this topic a little later, once I’ve finished up these final papers I have due, but for now – I’m going to share an exercise that we did in my Transitional Justice class back at the first of April and compare it to how much has changed since then. Our professor, Tyrone Savage, asked us a series of questions and asked us just to write our own private, truthful answers to them. He did it to have us really look at what our experience had been so far here in South Africa… and as a way to get us thinking about how the trip is doing to us, for us and how it’s going to affect our future.

1. Is there anyone you’ve met during your time here that you have had to consistently deal with that you despise?

-Yep. (I’ll leave the name out). Everytime this person talks, I want to claw my eardrums out. This person’s not friendly, self-involved, and really obnoxious. This person doesn’t know how to step outside her narrow life & view of the world. However, maybe it has been not seeing her for a while or seeing how she really doesn’t have many people that like her, but I’m starting to feel sorry for her.

2. How can you work to manage this relationship in a healthier way?

-It would help if I sat and considered why this person is the way he/she is. It reminds me of the kids at camp and the reasons I loved working with them – they’re raised by money and nannies, never being shown true love or how to be loving. I could make an effort to get to know her and understand her circumstances.

3. Who is someone you would like to spend time with that you haven’t?

-Maybe Chris – I’ve tried several times, but it hasn’t happened. I’d like to talk to the French – Gabon guy. But really – I won’t be devastaed if I don’t with either, but it would be nice. Oh – BRIAN! I want to see him again and get to know him better. And I would like to meet more South Africans.

4. What is one thing you would like to do that normally you wouldn’t?

-skydive   -learn to surf    – KLOOF!   -abseil table mountain

5. What is the worst music you have heard here?

-um… not a big fan of like…. polka. Oh, wait, in South Africa. None has been really bad really.

6. What is the best music you have heard here?

-Leona Lewis! House music is good for dancing – house techno

7. What is the worst meal you have had since you’ve been here?

-Ew, those small dishes of eww’ness at that Kurdish restaurant in Cape Town (Mesopotamia). I’m not a fan of the sausage here at all. I also don’t care for all the sauces they put on everything – it’s all so sweet.

8. What is food that you like here?

-the mac’n’cheese here is so delicious! I don’t like it in the states, but wow it’s good here. LOVE the wine. PIZZA!!! absolutely my favorite thing here. It’s so fresh, all the ingredients are just so mmm fresh. Braai’ing!! I love to braai.

9. What is some racist behavior you have experienced, if any?

-the way people talk about coloureds/black
-the owners of Springbok (bar/club) are notorious for being openly racist… and I can’t understand how everyone just accepts it and keeps returning there
-The tension and separation between the races is so high. Rarely ever do South African whites and blacks/coloureds interact. Cassidi and I went to a club one time that we heard was fun, and we walked in and were stared at. Someone said, in a very negative way, that the club was for “white girls who hang out with coloured guys,” like thats an insult.

10. What do I want to do if I find myself in a racist situation?

-I want to say something, to stand up for what I believe in, not just walk away. Even if it doesn’t change the person’s minds or beliefs, I don’t ever want to back away from it. I want to confront that kind of blatant racism.

11. Is there anyone you have met that you want to give something to before you leave?

-I don’t know… I’m scared I’ll leave here and realize I haven’t really been touched by anyone. I made friends, had fun, but I don’t know if I’ll have been really moved by people/a person. I have been in the townships, and I would definitely like to donate any clothes/food that I don’t need to Kayamundi or one of the other ones. I may also leave stuff for the housekeepers in Concordia.

12. What is one thing you would like to be able to put on your CV that you did during this time?

-volunteering with an HIV/AIDS prevention/education group or something similar. I’d also like to be published here – Cape Times or something else.

13. What are you missing most from home?

-Buffalo wings…. but really, nothing much. Nothing really (excluding the obvious family and friends).

14. Have you felt any new career options since you’ve been here?

-I’ve thought more seriously about TV Writing… looking at different graduate schools… I had an encounter with the Women’s Studies department at Penn that at first really upset me and then made me realize that I don’t want to do graduate school in English or at somewhere like Penn. I don’t want my writing to be in the academic world, for the academia, I want to write in the real world, contribute to popular culture.

15. What is the most beautiful thing you have seen so far?

-The Cape Town ocean line from Table Mountain… The Potholes on the Panoramic Route coming back from Kruger to Johannesburg. Lion/giraffes – this is a hard question. Even just the sky – it’s all so beautiful here.

16. What are your top 3 strategies for achieving justice in post-apartheid South Africa?

-reparations for the oppressed/victims of aparthei
-EDUCATION! Economic — tax increases on wealthy. Redistribute wealth to create more balanced playing field to help eradicate some of the extreme disparity created through aparthei
-create government programs that offer new work opportunities – open up the job market

17. Where do I fit into these?

-writing about these issues, creating/sparking dialogs about the vast poverty and unequal social conditions
-talking with people here, understanding their stories

***

The last two were more about our particular class. A little on this evening, after I push through another paper, I’ll return and answer all the same questions now and see where I ended. See if I met my goals.

Published in: on May 18, 2008 at 2:44 pm  Comments (1)  

The world would be a better place without people like this

I am disgusted and sickened and so ….. upset. I don’t know how to process the encounter I just had… so I’m going to share it, in the hopes that along the way I can start to figure out how to reconcile with myself how I managed to not punch this guy in the freaking face. And so you can get an idea of some of the attitudes and some of the depth of the racial tension that exists in South Africa.

I’ve been working on papers all week, and I needed out of my apartment. I went Nca’kos for lunch – a little store/food place we have at the entrance gate to Concordia/Academia (where most of the international students live). I got my food and sat down at a table outside to get some fresh air, enjoy one of the few days of sunshine I have left in this country. This guy sits down across from me. Tall, shaggy hair, red-rimmed eyes like he’s either been drinking all night or studying all night. He was friendly. Smiled and asked where in America I was from, knowing from just my “hello” that I’m not South African. We began to casually chat, covered the basics of our majors (he’s engineering – describes the red-rimmed eyes of long nights during finals) and general interests. We got onto film.

“What’s your favorite film?” he asked
“There are too many. That’s always a hard question.”
“How about Top 10?”

We began to go back and forth – film for film
“OH, that is a good one. I enjoyed it, too!”
“No, I haven’t seen it… I”ll have to see if I can find it on DC.” (downloading program here)

I thought about all the films I’ve watched recently for my South African film class, and realized I hadn’t asked this new South African acquaintance I had made the most obvious question: “Do you watch many South African films? Tsotsi or Hijack Stories?”

Both films are about gangster life in the townships here. Townships are poor city-like places. They tend to be black – becasue in this country, pretty much like in the US, blacks and coloureds tend to make up the lowest socio-economic group. They both focus on black masculinity in the townships – looking at how these characters ended up where they are — suffering family abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. Both films are phenomenal – Tsotsi won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar in its year – sometime in the last five years – can’t remember the exact year.

He responds with, “No, I don’t watch that shit.”

And me, the perpetual student… immediately thinks that his insider knowledge as a South African is going to enlighten me. That he must consider the films “shit” due to some kind of inauthenticity… not portraying ENOUGH of the severity of the township situation…. etc

“Why do you think they’re shit? Do you not think they’re authentic enough… portray enough of the harshness of township reality?”

“No. They’re shit because they’re black.”

And my mind went absolutely blank for a moment. For one moment in time, I was suspended in space, confused and uncertain and forcibly trying to believe that i had misunderstood his statement.

“They’re shit because they’re BLACK?”

And the converation went from there. My immediate reaction was to tell him that the conversation was over, that I didnt approve of his comment and to leave. But then I thought – no, I’m going to engage in this conversation… without blowing up or PUNCHING the bastard (what i really wanted to do). i thought – you can’t shove information in someone’s face or ….physically harm them… to change a frikkin racist mindset. and also, i knew no matter what i said that it wouldn’t change his mind. he seemed pretty damn set in his bigot ways. but i thought at least if i had the convesation, maybe i could get more out of him as to HOW THE HELL he could have that kind of mindset.

“You foreigners,” he said, seeing the look of utter disgust and disbelievement on my face, “come here and go party and see all the pretty parts of this country, and then you leave. you dont know what it’s like here.”

I may not live here year round, I said, but I do live in America, where racism is still a huge issue. Where our country is STILL ravaged by the effects of centuries of slavery and institutionalized discrimination through the Jim Crow Laws of Reconstruction, “separate but equal” policies, and disenfranchisement until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I live in a country where crime rates are exponentially higher among blacks than whites. I DO KNOW what racial tension and racial divide looks like.

“Stay here longer. Come and live here and you will see why I think how I think. You live here [on campus] where it’s safer and nice. You don’t know.”

I’ve been here for four months, and I’ve lived my entire life in another country that has similar racial issues. And I’ve been to the townships here. I also know what the crime statistics are here, and it doesn’t matter what they are. Have you ever thought about why the situation is as it is today? The white colonists began the institutionalized oppression of black native people in this country when they arrived, and through Apartheid (“social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 to 1994” – africanencyclopedia.com)- kept it going until the end of apartheid in the early 90s. The statements you are making are narrow-minded in that context, or in any context.

“Spend time in Johannesburg or Durban. Then you’ll understand.”

I’ve been to both places. You’re a white male. Have you considered how you, yourself, and your generation and all the generations before you of white men are complicit in the situation that exists today? The inequality, the racial tension, the divide, the crime rates? Have you thought about your own place in that? And it’s not just about you – as a white American female, not even part of the historical dominant power structure of white men – I, too, am complicit in the violence and racism and oppression in my own country towards minority groups. I, too, benefit from a system that has, for centuries, discriminated against blacks and other racial minority groups. It’s not something to be proud of. It’s something to want to change.

“I hate this country. I plan to graduate and then move to Germany or Australia.”

Becuase i’ts mainly white?

(stares at me) “Where I don’t have to put up with them here.”

Yeah, well, Australia struggles dealing with past injustices against the aboriginals. Guess you’re going to have to knock that country off your list.

“But I don’t have a problem with them. I didn’t have to grow up with them. I just hate this country.”

So what, I said with a mounting need to just leave and never see his disgusting, hate-filled face. Would you rather return to the system of Apartheid? I asked this with disdain and sarcasm, my patience ending.

“Yes, actually,” he said.

…. and this – this is just… if the rest of it isn’t bad enough – THIS is the kicker. “Yes, actually,” he said…. pivoting on the bench and staring, STARING at the black man who sat behind us, listening to our entire conversation.

The man behind us didn’t flinch and he didn’t look away. He stared straight into the eyes of the piece of shit that had just said that, and said nothing. And in that silence, he held a dignity and a strength that took my anger and replaced it with raw rage and with heartache for him, for this country, and for the ignorant fool sitting across from me.

The guy, the… THING… looked back at me and said, “Apartheid worked for me,” he laughed, maniacally, as he stood up and headed back inside the store. “Why not?”

As he laughed and turned, I stood and said – It’s not funny – it’s sick. It’s really sick.

He kept walking. And laughing.

I threw my garbage away, shaking. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the man who had heard our conversation, that I hadn’t known was sitting there.

He looked at me calmly and simply said, “Don’t upset yourself, dear.”

All the tears of my confusion and anger and heartache started to slide down my cheeks.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, looking into his kind eyes.

“Don’t upset yourself, dear,” he said again.

His four words are the representation of all the internalized prejudice of the disempowered majority in this country. They, too, hurt. I wanted to tell him that I SHOULD upset myself, that he should, too. That accepting these statements and these viewpoints as simply the way of life isn’t acceptable. That change can and needs and someday WILL happen.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again, “I’m just really upset. I need to go.”

And I walked away.

**********

Racial tension is something I’ve become used to here – not in an ambivalent or apathetic way- but in a practical way. I know it exists, and I feel it every time I go out with friends, everytime we enter a “black” club and get stared at, felt out… until we are deemed safe. I feel it every time I go into a white bar and am ushered in without a second glance, but the coloured person behind me is stared at and questioned. I feel it every time I find out a club is owned by openly racist people and never return there.

I know it exists, but it wasn’t until today – until this conversation – that I felt its magnitude, actually felt the weight of nearly 50 years of apartheid and its ever-continuing effects on this country.

I just…. I want to change the world. I want to make the world full of peace and harmony. And sometimes I see something that gives me hope… but then something like this happens, and I’m blinded by the darkness – all the pain in the world, all the suffering, and sometimes, I can’t even fathom how it’s 2008 and the world is still such a racially divided, unsafe place.

I really do want to change the world. But if that’s too idealistic – how about we just gather all the idiots like the one I met today and subject them to half a century of the same treatment that they’re okay with doling out to other racial groups?

I think that could be okay with me, too. Idiots.

Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

‘Spring’ Break: Swaziland! (Bung-a-low! Bungbung-a-low!)

Lekker star!

All the dutch people on our holiday trip …. they spoke dutch… non-stop. And Dutch is similar to Afrikaans… and out of everything we’ve (alana and i – and other international students) heard in afrikaans- for months now – we’re just still not so great. so out of the entire trip with all these dutch speaking people, “lekker” was about all i took away from it. it means nice. or basically anything you wnat it to mean… that can be good or nice or cool. so brian – the guy i met at Cape Pride – and I … we started saying LEKKERSTAR! like… rockstar… but not. anyway, we’re lame. haha

so after st. lucia and the safari at Umfolozi, we headed over to Swaziland. Here’s my journal entry about getting there and our first bit of time there:

Swaziland is spectacular. It’s like, well, being in a foreign country 🙂 No more Eurerica in Africa. The majority of the trip to our camp was laced with small villages – huts – actual straw and wood huts, clotheslines, self-run small goods stores. We had to slow at one point to let a donkey cross the road. We, Americans, I think, tend to have the view that anything undeveloped is underdeveloped and sort of primitive, ancient, poverty-stricken. May i romanticized the lush, green countryside, but to me it seemed simply a different way of life – a simple one – one where machines don’t run everything. People do. It would be hard, perhaps impossible, to find that sort of genuine village life in America – perhaps the Amish. It really is gorgeous here, though, so amazing. If “nature” were a distinctive odor, like gas – petrol or baking bookies – Swaziland would own it. Everything smells so natural, so fresh, from the donkey dung on the side of the streets to the summer-fresh grass. The air, too, it smells…. untouched, like humans haven’t had the time to mess it up.

We’re staying in bungalows here. Real, true hut bungalow things. They are spectacular. Besides spoiling us with beds and showers, they’re also quite picturesque. It’s kind of dome-shaped, with straw and wood… very spacious, too. Ours has a tiny door – kind of like the Dwarf door at the Dward House.

…Tomorrow we’re doing a “cultural village tour” and then have a free afternoon. I’m looking forward to the downtime. I’ve had a bit of a cold, and I had a breakdown in a supermarket we stopped at.. when I couldn’t read any of the medicine bottles and the people working there couldn’t understand what I needed. But moral of the story? When sick – you want medicine you know, so always bring it with you!

****

Then, from later – still in Swaziland:

“Umpagati” = |It is the chief’s homestead” — Swazi

I can still hear the singing of the “cultural village” people in the restaurant from my bungalow. Today has been all about seeing ‘real’ Africa – the tribal part. I’m frustrated today with safaris, with westerners, with Africa, with the tribes, er, wait, cultural village people. I’m frustrated because in all the exotic, amazing sights I’ve seen today, I only see African culture commodified, exploited for western tourists. It’s all for-profit, exploited vestiges of what probably used to be a rich, fulfilling, unique culture of the Swazi people. All day I’ve cogitated over the effects of tourism on African tribal culture. I should do some research on it. Without research, I haven’t been able to conclusively decide wehtehr tourism is keeping the tribes/villages alive or whether it’s destroying through explitation and possibly even inflation, the cultures. Even if it’s helping them survive financially – it’s making them out to be something they’re not – i’ts turning real lifestyle into performance. It’s playing on western stereotypes of what africa “should” be.

Let me back up. We went to the village early this morning – spent a few hours there. All the ladies – we each got a traditional wrap/skirt type thing that we wore while we were there. The person in charge – not the chief – was a woman. Oh she was incredible. She has such as strong presence and voice. The men showed polite deference to her. It is clearly evident htat she is the leader and no one questions her authority. She was a total rockstar – rock on with matriarchy. They taught us a few Swazi phrases (that I have already forgotten) and some tribal dance steps that we all attempted to perform. They showed us some of the “womens duties” and then some of the “mens duties.” There were children everywhere, the entire time. The village is also an orphanage, housing hundreds of children. I loved them and wanted to take two or three of them home with me – mainly just this one boy – one of the youngest. I had a great time with the kids and learning the bits and pieces of that culture. After all that stuff, they laid out all their work, curio stuff, and sold it. I bought a few things… and it was all beautiful, but it was just so…. so touristy. I dont’ know. It just frsutrated me, but I’ve already said all that.

Tonight we saw a “tribal dance” performance. Again – it was such a show and not an authentic part of their culture, at least not now. I could tel lthe entire time that some of them didnt even know the exact steps – they watched the feet of hte person next to them. They were performing their identity, for money. They had a bowl out in front, that people put money in. Some of the dancers even took around a bowl with them as they danced. They waited afterwards and took pictures with all the tourists to get more money. Once I began to see it as a theatrical performance, I really enjoyed it. They’re talented, and the show was spectacular. Afterwards, the entire ‘cast’ went and got beers at the bar, ditched the ‘traditional’ garments… just like a cast party after a show haha I just feel like tourism is starting to ruin something so true and natural and amazing, and thats heartbreaking.

Anyway – enough negative sue. (sue?) swaziland, overall, is amazing, and i’m glad that i’m grappling with these issues. I want to learn more about whats happening with tourism and these tribes in Africa. This will be incentive for me to go back and do the research.

*****

and now – pictures:

Published in: on May 9, 2008 at 12:51 am  Leave a Comment  

‘Spring Break:’ Umfolozi Park

My first actual safari experience! This is out of my journal the day we went:

We got up at 4am, yes 4am. My ass actually got up, took down my tent, and got ready. At 4am. We met our transportation at the gate of the campground we’re in, and wow – it was legit safari gear. Three huge safari trucks, 4x4s kind of things, all open on the sides and top and raised up. The morning air was so chlly, but the sunrise (sort of) made up for the early hour and the cold. We got to Umfolozi National Park and set out on a 5-hour game drive. You sit quietly… and drive around… and literally watch for animals. The guides are incredibly good — well, that’s their job haha but they are. I was horrible at spotting them, espeically in the distance. The scenery – the park – is gorgeous. Mountains, lakes, the sun peeking up over the tops of the trees. And ew’re talking full on Lion King trees – the huuuge, sweeping, twisted and tangled trees. As soon as we entered the park we immediately saw 2 zebras (sorry, zebbruhz). They pranced right out in front of our vehicle. Zebras are so graceful, even when they run. Throughout the rest of the day we saw GIRAFFES!!, an elephant, wildebeasts, impalas, a rhino…. um…. hyenas… warthogs (“when i was a young warthoooooooog!”), wild dogs (amazing creatures), and all kinds of other things. We didnt see Lions, Leopards or Cheetahs, which was terribly unfortunate, but we still have Kruger to look forward to. The giraffes were everything and more I’ve ever hoped for — elegant, graceful… in an awkward way, and frankly – just adorable. I wanted to hug one, but the guide said next time. haha I’ll be sure to take him up on that someday. The elephant was incredible. It’s so much more massive than I imagined it being. After something surpasses a certain size – it seems as though, at least I, lose the ability to adequately even imagine its enormity. That was the case here. Even seeing it didnt quite make me believe it. It’s unbelievable, astounding, how fantastic nature is. They’re beautiful, the elephants. Even at that size, they move with such ease and presence. That’s an animal that owns it and knows how to work it 🙂 not to mention – damn – the sie of the penis on that thing…. it was INSANE. Alana gawked for probably five full minutes straight… and then mentioned it the rest of the day haha but yeah. it was quite the sight. The Alana quote of the day:

“Do you think people have sex with animals???” — after having seen the elephant penis. I can only imagine the thoughts of pain going through her head hahaha

*****

The rest of the entry goes on into Swaziland, so I’ll stop there and put up pictures.

‘Spring Break:’ Indian Ocean Pilgrimage

I swear. I’m determined to get all this stuff up here!! Steady and slow haha As the semester is winding down, I’m just getting busier and busier… but anyway – no excuses. Here are some pictures from when Alana and I took our dip in the Indian Ocean in St. Lucia on our holidays trip. We didnt wear bathing suits… for some reason neither of us really knew….. so we ended up just stripping down and going for it. it was awesome. the beach, too – it was sand… for just like miles. and the st. lucia river was on the other side of the sand. truly spectacular. enjoy!

On the hike to the ocean. It was like going from rainforest… to ocean. it was gorgeous, but it took us a solid 45 minutes to get there.

The endless, beautiful sand

The St. Lucia river… the sand…. ocean is just over the horizon! …at least that’s what we kept telling ourselves.

the deliciously warm, beautiful Indian Ocean!

Alana

what a gorgeous sunset on the beach… with the mountains in the distance 🙂


original date: 23 March 2008

Published in: on May 8, 2008 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,