Semester at Sea

This semester I will be on a ship taking classes and traveling to different countries. I will visit Cadiz, SPAIN ~ Casablanca, MOROCCO ~ Takoradi, GHANA ~ Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA ~ Port Louis, MAURITIUS ~ Chennai, INDIA ~ SINGAPORE ~ Ho Chi Minh City, VIET NAM ~ Hong Kong/Shanghai, CHINA ~ Kobe/Yokohama, JAPAN ~ Honolulu/Hilo, HAWAII ~ San Diego, USA.

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Friday, October 22, 2010

10212010. Sea Olypics!

Yesterday were the Sea Olympics! Basically the different decks are broken into ‘seas’ and then we competed in against each other in different things. We woke up, got our game faces on, and went to the back deck to take a Sea picture. Then Ariel and I booked our flight for China and did a bunch of other stuff for that. By the time we did that, ate lunch, and fixed our war paint it was time for the Opening Ceremonies. All of the Seas gathered in the union and did their chants (basically a roll call for all you BGRers out there ;)). There were some really good ones! Sadly we, the Adriatic Sea, are the smallest so we didn’t have the same effect as some of the really big seas. Anyway, after the chants, the games began.

First, we watched synchronized swimming. When I first heard synchronized swimming would be an event, I was really confused how they would make it good, but I was impressed. The rocking of the ship makes it hard to balance when walking around, let alone in the pool! There were some very creative routines!

Then we went to tug-o-war because Ariel was competing. We are the smallest Sea, and we had the least intimidating team, but we ended up winning! It was so exciting. It turns out that it will forever be a source of pride because it was the only event in the whole thing that we won. Haha. This morning we had signs on our doors that said, “Go Adriatic! 1st place tug-o-war…the only event that matters!” haha.

After that we went to the union to watch lip synching. Again, I didn’t know how people would make it good, but I was impressed. The Sea that got first place did a huge montage of famous songs/dances – Single Lades, Oops I did it again, Bad Romance, Genie in a Bottle, Soldja Boy, I Like Big Butts, Justin Bieber, and Thriller – and it was so good!

I had to leave early because I was competing in Sudoku. Haha. The puzzles were really hard, and so no one finished in time. They ended up throwing out the points for the whole event since they weren’t able to judge it.

We ran to dinner, ate really quickly (they had a big cake for ‘Founder’s Day’!), and then went to the closing ceremonies. They tallied up the points (the other games that I didn’t see were dodge ball, crab soccer, table tennis, Dean David says, Jeopardy and some others) and announced the winner. We obviously didn’t win, but it was still a lot of fun!

Later that night we had pre-port for India. It was pretty much the same as usual, except in the middle there was a flash mob that did the Jai Ho dance. It was so amazing!! The lip sync winners also redid their dances.

It was such an awesome day! I was up really late doing a take home test, but it was totally worth it!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Elephants and Giraffes and Rhinos, oh my!!

I had big plans for South Africa, but it took an awesome, crazy turn that I never expected!!

After my FDP on the first day, I met Heidi and walked around Cape Town for a little while before our homestay. It was such a beautiful city, but there was something fake about it. The best comparison would be that we felt like we were in Disney World or something. I think it was because we’ve learned so much about South Africa and apartheid and we knew the beauty was a façade that covered a much darker culture and past. Anyway, we knew our homestay would be an experience so we grabbed some lunch and then went back to the ship.

We left in the late afternoon to go to the township. We were told everyone lived in brick and mortar houses, but I was a little surprised when we got there. We’ve talked so much about ‘townships’ in South Africa and the general poverty that comes with them but this township didn’t seem poor at all. They definitely weren’t rich but they had plenty of food and many luxuries that I did not expect (like TVs that they never turned off). Anyway, we got there and stopped at Mama Nok’s house. She is the one who started the business of homestays in the township, so we met there to find out whose house each of us would go to. Immediately a bunch of kids appeared in the yard, so we played with them for a little bit. They showed us some of their games and we showed them some of ours. As usual, they were all super cute!

We were paired off and then went with our ‘Mamas’ as they call them. I can’t remember my Mama’s real name and it had a click noise in the middle so even if I remembered it I would have no clue how to write it. But anyway she told us to call her Irene. She was so sweet…she kept telling us not to be shy and then when we got there she said, “this is my home…this is your home.” We went inside and were met with a big crowd – I found out later that she has eight daughters total! …and no sons. Four of her daughters were there, as well as three of their little girls and two babies  One is three months old and the other is one month. I held each a few times throughout the night and they were sooo cute!

We sat down and Mama made us tea. She and one of her daughters started dinner, so we sat and talked with her other daughter. I asked her what she did during the week, and she said that she is a dance teacher but she had been on maternity leave for the past three months. The next day would be her first day back to work. The place she works is a community outreach program that is using dance to try to keep local kids in school, off drugs, and out of jail. She showed us a video about the place and then a video of one of her shows.

After the video, she asked if we wanted to go for a walk. We walked through the neighboring township where she used to live and met some more family members. Then she told us she would show us where everybody hangs out. I don’t even know what it would be called but basically it is a street where music is playing and people stand around eating meat (it seemed to be the only thing South Africans eat) and drinking. It was really crowded so she took our hands and led us through the street into one of the store/restaurants. We kept walking to the back and ended up in a crowded room that had one long wall of grills and plates full of meat everywhere. We walked through the room and ended up in another room where they were cutting the meat. After that room we walked out and were on another part of the street. Everyone was starring at us because the other girl and I were the only white people there, but I couldn’t stop smiling. It probably isn’t somewhere I would normally hang out but it was awesome to take a peek into their lives. It was dark by the time we started to walk back to the house. We were on a hill, so we got to see all of the townships lit up with Table Mountain in the background. It was so surreal!

When we got back to the house, Mama had us help with dinner a little (she made something with corn meal and boiling water so we helped her stir it), and then we ate.  She made chicken, potatoes, the corn meal thing which looked and tasted like mashed potatoes, cabbage, and squash. It was pretty good…I’m picky so I was just thankful that I was able to eat it and not be rude. After dinner we talked some more and then played games with the little girls. The girls danced and sang for us. Then they all sang the South African national anthem, so we had to sing the Star Spangled Banner. I was nervous since I don’t have a great voice, but they didn’t seem to care.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast – porridge and tea – and then walked over to Mama Nok’s house. Mama Nok has a jewelry business, so I got a necklace. I sat down and listened as one Mama told about her experience of living through apartheid. It was crazy to hear, but there seemed to be so much hope from their entrepreneurship and determination. I had noticed that in my family, which had one mother and eight daughters, many of whom had children of their own, I did not see one father the whole night. Many people had the same experience, so I asked our guide about it on the way back to the ship. He said it’s a sad fact, but one that is very normal in South Africa – the fathers are not around. They spend a lot of their time drinking, and since the man is still the head of the family, they can come home whenever they want and demand sex from their wife. He said it is a big problem in the HIV/AIDS epidemic because they are often with prostitutes and then don’t use condoms with their wives. It was sad to hear…especially since it is one side of the problem that I had never thought about.

We got back to the ship and got ready quickly to hike Table Mountain. It was a pretty challenging hike but definitely worth it! It was an awesome view and made me feel so accomplished. We took lots of pics then took the cable car down the mountain.
At my FDP the day before, one of the writers had told us about a poetry reading in one of the suburbs of Cape Town. So when we got back to the ship we showered and got ready to go. The town was really cute and artsy. The cab driver didn’t know exactly where the restaurant, A Touch of Madness, was, so we got out and walked around in an attempt to find it. We found it and were early so walked around the city. We found a cute place called OBZ café and sat down for dinner. We talked to the owners and had some South African wine. By the time we got to A Touch of Madness, the main artists had already gone and it was open mic time. There were some really awesome poems that were read. After it was over we hung out and talked to some people. We met one guy named Evan who had read some of his poems. One thing led to another and he found out we were from Semester at Sea. It was crazy…he asked if we knew Stephanie (one of the nurses) because he had been emailing her for several months. He has a farm in the middle of a wild game reserve. They met through a website called HelpX and basically she was going to work on his farm for a few days in exchange for room and board. He said she couldn’t go anymore because she had to be on call, so we asked if we could go instead. I really didn’t expect anything to come of it, but when we got back to the ship that night, he had already emailed us.
We emailed him back, but I still didn’t think it would actually happen.

The next morning we met up with another girl and went to paint a school. It was pretty hot but very rewarding when we were done. It definitely brightened it up. Once we were done painting, we went inside to see the kids. The first room was the baby room. The kids were precious, but it was almost nap time so we left. We went to a room with older kids. It was almost lunch time so they sat down in a circle, sang songs, and then prayed – so cute! We took a mini bus back to Cape Town, and it was quite an experience. They packed us in like sardines and played super loud club music the whole way back. It was fun…and a lot cheaper than a cab!

We went to a café and got on the internet for a little bit. Evan had emailed us back and we were all set to go to his farm the next day! Then we went to dinner at this really good restaurant on the waterfront.

The next morning we got ready, met Evan, and left for the three hour drive to his farm. We stopped at this cute little mountain town called Barrydale, the last town before his house, to get groceries.

His house was pretty isolated but so beautiful. One the way to his house, he stopped on one of the side roads to show us where a giraffe had been killed! It was so crazy…like national geographic or something. Most of the meat was gone, which was good because it didn’t smell too bad, but the skin and bones were still there.

When we got to his house, there were zebras and antelopes just outside of his fence! Our first mission was to clean his house, so we swept and then mopped. Then he asked if we wanted to go on a game drive. I went in without expectations because I didn’t want to be disappointed, but I definitely wasn’t! We drove around and saw lots of different antelopes. Then as he was talking about how difficult it is to find elephants, we saw some! We drove closer and there were two babies and two mothers. I couldn’t believe they were so close! We sat there for a while before we continued. We drove a little further and then we saw a bunch of giraffes! It seemed like there was one dad, two moms, and three babies. It was awesome!! We continued to drive and saw two rhinos. They were really far away, but we saw them nonetheless! We didn’t see leopards or lions, but we saw three of the big five, so I was more than happy! We started calling our time at Evan’s a ‘safarmi’…or a ‘farm-fari’ haha. That night we had a typical South African braai (or BBQ) with lamb and sausage. We were cracking up when we got the meat in Barrydale because Evan had something about raising sheep and eating them. We were like “Oh we’ve never had sheep…people don’t really eat that in the states.” But then when he said we had to buy the lamb we felt like such idiots because we had forgotten that sheep and lamb are the same. Haha. Anyway, we had a really good dinner, and then we went outside to look at the stars. Apparently the constellations are different in the southern hemisphere because Evan was naming some I had never heard of.  I could hardly keep my eyes open I was so exhausted, so we went in and went to bed.

The next morning we woke up late – around 830. He had told us he was going to sleep in but apparently ‘sleeping in’ to him meant 700. Haha. We cooked breakfast – bacon and eggs from his free-range chickens. Then we went out to clean the poo from the pig pen. It was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done, but the girls made it fun. There were two mama pigs – one had nine, six week old piglets and the other had three, one week old piglet. The one week olds were sooo tiny and cute! I wanted to hold one but Evan said the mom might freak out. Once the pens were spick and span, we had tea and lunch. Then we went back outside to work some more. I helped Evan plant a new row of pomegranate trees! I felt like Little House on the Prairie or something. Haha. After some more tea we changed and got ready to go into town. We stopped a few times before we ended up at a restaurant that had what Evan claimed to be the best steaks in the world.  I’m not a big meat eater but they actual were delicious! We stayed there for a while and met some really cool locals. Three of them were brothers who had grown up in Cape Town. They had gone to Barrydale five years before and then just never gone back. I loved talking to all of them!

The next morning we got up early, fed the pigs, cleaned their pens, and cooked breakfast. We went for a short walk outside of the gate to look for lions but sadly didn’t find any. We packed up our stuff and headed back to Cape Town. I was actually awake for this drive, and it was incredible. South Africa is absolutely beautiful. Back at the ship, we said goodbye and then went to the store to stock up on snacks and toiletries before Asia.

My time in South Africa went by so quickly…I wish we could have stayed longer. There are so many things I didn’t get to do but I wouldn’t trade the experiences I had for anything!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Oh Africa!

I’m really behind on this so I’ll try to catch up while I wait to leave for my township homestay…

The morning after we left Ghana we became Emerald Shellbacks! That means we sailed through 0, 0…where the prime meridian and equator intersect. So basically we went from the northwestern hemisphere to the southeastern hemisphere. The captain sailed along the prime meridian for a few minutes so we stood in the middle of the ship and straddled to eastern and western hemispheres. Haha

Two days later it was Neptune Day. It is a celebration that comes from a naval tradition of hazing people when they cross the equator for the first time. It was a lot of fun – the crew woke us up around 730 by marching down the halls, playing drums and blowing whistles. We ate breakfast and then went out to the pool deck. There ‘King Neptune’ (Dean David) and his crew came in all dressed up. Then we had ‘fish guts’ poured on us (it was really just colored water that smelled like fish) and jumped in the pool. It was so hot in Ghana, but as soon as we crossed the equator it got cold…so we were freezing when we got out of the pool.
We took showers and then watched people getting their heads shaved (a lot of girls did it…I definitely was not one of them. haha). That was pretty much the extent of the morning festivities, so we all went in to study for our Global Studies test that night. Everyone was freaking out a little because we heard the class is difficult, but the test wasn’t bad at all. Then to end the day we had a BBQ…the food on the ship is pretty bad, so it was nice to have such a yummy meal!

Not much else has happened during the week we’ve been on the ship…except for Desmond Tutu’s lecture yesterday during Global Studies. It was interesting, and he is so inspiring. He said the saddest thing about racism is that it makes a child of God doubt that he is a child of God. He also keeps telling us not to be brought down by “oldies” like him and to keep dreaming and believing that we can change the world.

We arrived in South Africa this morning!! We were going to sleep outside last night, but I guess it’s good we didn’t because it was SO cold this morning. We got up around 445am because we were scheduled to pull into port at 5am. We went to the top deck and immediately knew Cape Town would be beautiful. It was pitch black but the whole city was lit up…they even have a ferris wheel! haha We watched as we pulled in (some people said we would basically be ‘crashing’ into town and its true because we are in the middle of the city) and the sky started to lighten. I can’t even put into words how beautiful it was…the city looks very Dutch and Table Mountain slowly came into view as the sun rose. I can’t wait to explore the city!

I didn’t get off the ship this morning because I had an FDP (something we have to do for our classes). It was called Poets and Authors of Cape Town and it was for my World Short Story class. I signed up because we have to do two FDPs and I figured I would just get it out of the way. I thought it would be pretty boring, but it actually turned out to be quite interesting. There were three writers, and they each read some of their work. I wasn’t a big fan of the first guy, but the second lady was really funny. Her poems were full of both humor and sadness. The final author was an older black woman whose writing was mostly about growing up during apartheid. It was really powerful and fascinating to hear some firsthand stories…I really hope I get to meet and talk to more people like her!

Friday, October 1, 2010

So the rest of my time in Ghana…

Day 2
We got up, ate breakfast and got ready to go to Egyam Orphanage. It was POURING rain...but I liked it because it made it a lot cooler than the first day and it made me feel like I was in the rainforest or something. Haha. Anyway, long story short, our first driver ended up getting lost (the orphanage didn’t have an actual street address), so after half an hour of driving we got out of the bus and took taxis the rest of the way. It was ok though because it was like we got a driving tour of Ghana. Once we got off the main road, we had to take a dirt road for a few miles. It was crazy because the potholes were huge, and at one point, the water was up to the door handles! I was very impressed with the cars and the drivers!

We were a little late, but we finally got to the orphanage. We had originally planned to do some sort of service work for them (paint walls, cook, etc.), but since it was raining, they told us we could just play with the kids. First, we got a tour of the home. It was modest but the children seemed to have what they needed. It was really cute because a few of the kids followed us and kept peeking around doors and grinning sheepishly. When we finished the tour, we sat down in the main room and the kids came straight to us…some even just came up and sat in our laps. They didn’t speak English very well, but we got along. They all loooved our cameras. They ran around taking pictures and then laughed so hard when they looked at the pictures of themselves. My favorite little boy was an 11 year old named Thomas. I asked him what he wanted to be when he was big, and he said a pilot. He said he wants to fly to the Netherlands, Canada and Spain and see all of their football teams. He told me he has a twin (who wants to be a footballer) and an older brother (who wants to be a banker) at the orphanage too. I was so impressed with their big dreams. There was also a little girl named Theresah who came right up, sat on my lap, and didn’t get off until we left. We stayed for a few hours and then went back to the ship when they were getting ready to eat dinner.

Day 3
The first day was fun, but the second day was even better because it was more organized. When we got to the home, we walked over to the village school. First the directors told us a little bit about it (it’s a public school but there are 760 students and only 13 teachers), and then we split up and went to different classes. The teacher introduced us and then the students introduced themselves. It was a little sad though because there were a bunch of empty desks. The teacher said it was because the students had gotten their uniforms dirty in the rain (they could only afford one uniform) and so they weren’t able to come to school. Once we were done with introductions, the teacher said we could finish the day with our lesson…I guess he thought we were there to teach. Haha. We obviously weren’t prepared for that so we asked if we could just hang out and talk with the kids. They were all very shy, but we mingled throughout the classroom. I asked them all the same questions…how old they were, what their favorite subject was, what they liked to do outside of school, what they wanted to be when they are older, etc. They were either really shy or didn’t understand me because I got a lot of blank stares…they were all really sweet though!

When school was over, we walked into the courtyard where all of the students were streaming out of the classrooms. The kids from the orphanages ran right up to us; Theresah grabbed one of my hands and a little boy grabbed my other hand. We walked back to the orphanage with them, and then got out paper, crayons and markers to draw. They really seemed to enjoy it. Of course, their attention span didn’t last long though so then we played some games. I played soccer with a few of the boys, but it was difficult because the ball was torn and flat; they didn’t seem to mind though. Eventually we had to leave, and it was really hard to say goodbye. All the kids gathered around the car and waved as we drove away.

Day 4
On our last day in Ghana, I was up bright and early to go on a SAS trip to the Father’s Home Care Ministries. As we pulled up, the kids ran out of the house and waited to greet us. First the director told us about the children’s home (it’s an orphanage but they call it a children’s home because they said being called an ‘orphan’ comes with a certain stigma that they don’t want the children to have). Then he called the children in and we did introductions. There are about 30 kids at the home and about 12 ‘moms’ and ‘dads’. The oldest is 21 years and the youngest is 16 months (he and two other boys at the home have special needs).
I was sitting next to a girl named Mercy and after I told her that I liked her headband, she didn’t leave my side for the rest of the day. She was so sweet. At one point, she took my hand and said she wanted to show me her room. It was cute because I could tell how proud she was of her space.

We spent the morning coloring and drawing pictures. Then one of the older boys started playing the drums. It was so cool! He gave a few people lessons, and then some of the other kids started dancing.

We left at midday to go to lunch. It was at a really nice hotel, so I felt a little weird eating there knowing what the kids at the children’s home were eating.

We went back in the afternoon, and it was what the director called ‘play time’. One of the older girls tried to teach me a game called Rummikub, but I didn’t really understand it. There was more drumming and dancing, and then a game of soccer started. Mercy made me play, but I had flip flops on so I didn’t play long. I held the baby for a little bit (he was soo sweet), and then it was time to leave. We took a group picture, and the director gave us a sincere thank you and farewell.

Mercy kept giving me hugs and wouldn’t let go, so again it was really hard to leave. I got the address of the children’s home, so I’m going to send her postcards. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back someday!

By the time we got back to the ship, it was too late to get off again. There are so many other things I wish I had had time to do in Ghana, but I’m thankful I saw all that I did. I really just loved all of the people. Yes there is poverty and many other problems, but it is a country of such hope and joy.