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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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!

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