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Cape Town

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If someone were to ask me to sum up how i feel about South Africa in a sentence, I would have to say “It is unlike anywhere else I have ever been before.” Both socially and geographically. This is something I have said time and time again. In a previous blog, I mentioned that I had been to several places in Europe and how I expected it to be like Europe. It’s not like Europe, it’s not like America. Any Cape Tonian will tell you that South Africa is not Africa. It is more of an island or a tax-paying province. Cape Town is the LA of Africa. It’s the place people come to flee the violence, corruption, and oppression of their home countries.

 

I’ve never seen or experienced anything remotely like the racial separation here. White people on this side of the mountain and black people out in the cape flats. Years after apartheid was ruled illegal, little has changed. Apartheid may be illegal, but is very much  still present. I have witnessed racial tension and hostility towards other groups from people I have talked to.

 

Geographically, this place is phenomenal. What a crazy place to build a city-right beneath a mountain off of a cape at the bottom of Africa. One thing that never gets old is seeing that mountain outside my window every morning. The mountains here are so old and it hard to explain to someone who has never seen other mountains. As we were walking to the top of the mountain on one of our camps, I was waiting for a pterodactyl to fly over the top of us at any moment. The place is like Jurassic Park with the jagged rock faces covered in vegetation and a fern-covered river running below. I was trying to explain how the mountains here are different than the ones back in the states. I was trying to tell him how the mountains here are so much older than ours. They almost look  more like boulders stacked on top of one another than a solid piece of earth. It is hard to explain something like that to someone whose world is a small one and has little prior experience to relate to.

 

I have throughly enjoyed the last two months here. It has definitely changed my perspective of the place and how you really can’t knock something until you try it. I feel more inspired than ever to keep traveling and make myself familiar with different cultures. The next place I travel to may be unlike anywhere I have ever been before.

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Written by almauldin0313

July 10, 2011 at 10:39 pm

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Southern Hospitality

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One thing I did not expect to encounter during my trip is the welcomeness and hospitality of the locals. I guess I was basing my expectations of the culture on what I encountered in Europe. I don’t know if I had a bullseye on my back that screamed ‘AMERICAN!’, but I never felt a sense of acceptance. I have been to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Holland. The stereotypes I had of those places all turned out to be accurate. Because of that, I brought those feelings to South Africa and didn’t think there would be much difference. Fortunately I was wrong. My roommates and I have all been welcomed with open arms since we have been here. I know it is a cliché, but I have felt like I have known some of these people forever. The people at our favorite Observatory watering hole, The Armchair, have become our weekly acquaintances. I don’t know if it is good or bad, but the owner and bartenders know us by name and vice versa. The same can be said about the regulars. One of the patrons, in particular, has become more of a friend to us. He drove us out Chapman’s Peak Drive to an area that looks out over Hout Bay to watch the sunset one evening. We walked down to a little ‘cave’ in the side of the rock and chatted as the sky changed from blue to orange to black. It has become a little hidden gem for he and his friends and it was cool that he shared that experience with us. Afterwards, we all went back to his house to meet some of his closest mates. As one of the roommates made a fest for 12 people, the rest of us enjoyed some beers and the company of everyone. Andre Odendaal is one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met. He has invited us into his home to meet his family and have dinner on numerous occasions, he has taken us to dinner, threw us a Fourth of July dinner party, and most recently, hosted us all for a weekend at his family’s vacation home in Hermanus. To be that hospitable to friends is one thing, but to be that sincere to a group of American college students is an entirely different thing. Lindela has been the same way to Kim and myself. Every morning, he greets us with a smile and a hug. We start the morning off in the livingroom and talk about the day over a cup of coffee. Lunch is always up to us and on him. He has also shared an amazing thing with us-BEEP. I never would have guessed there was so much generosity in a place that still struggles with hostility.

Written by almauldin0313

July 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm

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Table Mountain Camps

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After my first and second Table Mountain camps, I now know why Lindela does what he does. Nature is a powerful place. Lindela said it was in high school that he made his first journey up the mountain and it was there that he came up with the idea of bringing kids out of the townships and into nature as a way to cope with the challenges and troubles they face everyday in their young lives. He uses the mountain as a metaphor to life’s tribulations. Both the mountain and tough issues faced in life are challenges which are difficult to overcome, but through hard work and courage, it becomes easy to see that they are not impossible to defeat. The hike from Constantia Nek to the People’s Trail Hut is not an easy one. It takes several hours to make it to the mountain-top huts by the dams and can be strenuous and exhausting for the kids. Once they make it to the top and see just how far they have come, it is a very empowering experience for them. These kids have lived their whole lives with Table Mountain in the background and most of them were not aware anyone could hike it-especially themselves.

 

For some kids, it is their first time on the mountain, but others are lucky enough to have previously attended the day hikes or camps. I have spoken to several of the ‘veteran hikers’ about how the excursions have impacted their lives. They all seem to have similar responses. The weekly workshops and the weekend trips have inspired them to become more proactive in their communities. BEEP gives them a chance to be a part of something positive and opens new avenues of opportunity. Many kids don’t limit themselves to just involvement with BEEP. There is a great number of them who are active participants in other environmental and community improvement programs. The Rainbow Dream Trust, a project started by one of BEEP’s members, uses soccer as a way to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol and is another program in which many BEEP kids are a part of. The concept of BEEP is a very simple one. Nature is a serene, relaxing, but powerful place. Lindela and BEEP use it as a healing place. To see the sense of accomplishment in the eyes of these kids is the most gratifying feeling one can have.

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July 10, 2011 at 10:37 pm

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Crime

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Our assignment for this past Monday was to bring in a comment from an article from the Daily Maverick on crime. The comment I brought in is fairly irrelevant to the purpose of this blog, but the article itself is not. The article I drew my comment from was an article written is entitled “Defense of SA’s image starts in the townships.” It talks about how the negative image on South Africa as a crime ridden country as a whole is based on the magnitude of crime in the townships.

The article starts off by telling the account of the British honeymooners vacationing in Cape Town. The story tragically ends when the woman was taken out of the car near Mzoli’s in Gugulethu and eventually murdered. Her body was later found in Khayelitsha. I won’t get into details, but the point is how the media loves to take a ride on tragic stories such as these because people love bad news. The headlines read “Bride butchered on her honeymoon.”

In my time here, I have not once felt threatened or afraid for my life. Yes, at first I felt a bit nervous walking around the streets, but I think that was just because of the worldwide misconception of South Africa that I was used to. I work everyday in Philippi, Gugulethu, Nyanga, and various other places in the townships. I have been to Mzoli’s in Gugulethu, where the British bride was abducted, and never felt as if I had to watch my back. Even though people will stop what they are doing and stare me the whole way down the road, I feel it is more a stare of curiosity rather than intimidation. Lindeal and Khanyiswa, the two leaders of the organization I intern for, are both residents in Philippi. It may be the confidence or security I feel when I am with them, but even they ask why I, a white person, feel so comfortable walking down the streets of all black townships.

Much like the article explained, I feel that bad luck can happen anywhere. A township may not be the best place for white tourists to visit, but in my experiences, these are welcoming people who are not out for blood. Poverty and crime are two things that go hand-in-hand. Every country has these problems, not just South Africa. It is unfair to the people of this country to have their image tainted by shallow-minded news media.

Written by almauldin0313

June 23, 2011 at 2:18 pm

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Tours pt. 2

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Compared to our last township tour, the one of Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, and others was way more enjoyable for me. Seeing how far the townships have come and how they are continuing to grow is astounding. Capping the tour with a sample of some local sheep head was also a nice touch. I think the caliber of the tour had a lot to do with our guide, Mike.

As a wrote in a previous blog, our tours that were given by people with first hand relation and experiences of the places makes the tour much more personal. Our tour of District 6 and Langa was very interesting, but our guide we had for the day was more of a scholar, rather than a former or present resident of the areas we visited. Even though the D6/Langa tour incorporated local guides, on the whole I felt like something was missing. Mike, who was with us all day, was born and raised in the townships. To add a little more local taste, he had another guy lead us around Khayelitsha to show us popular and important places in the community. It was much more personal than the previous tour.

Visiting places such as the community centers, the BMX track, the church, and the Learn to Earn center was a very cool touch on the tour. Instead of driving by them and having Mike explain what they are and the importance of those places, we got to actually meet the people who established and/or run the organizations. The community centers, IT center, and Learn to Earn were amazing. They sit in the middle of the impoverished townships, but are very nice and well kept places. It was astonishing to see all of the computers and students learning graphic design in a place where many are lucky to have electricity in their homes.

The story behind the BMX track and cycling club is probably one of the most amazing stories I have heard since being here. An ex-postman turned cycling coach isn’t a story you hear everyday. Not only the rarity of the story, but the success that has come from it. It led to the formation of the first all-black road cycling team, which seems to have done extremely well for themselves. They have caught international attention and it was great to see the amount of top-dollar gear that had been donated to them. On top of that, they are sending a teenaged black girl to compete for a world championship title in Canada. Very few people would believe that such a story could come from a place like Khayelitsha.

To add to the cultural aspect of the day, visiting the church and eating a 16 Rand sheep head were two things I never saw myself doing. Even though I felt extremely out of place in the crowded, hot, musty church, I felt a chill go through my body that I had never felt before. I have been to several churches in the states, but none of them compared to when the congregation began to sing and and clap, it was a very powerful feeling. Nothing can bring you closer to a place or more in touch with a particular culture than trying local food. The boerwors, fat cakes, and roadside braii chicken don’t hold a candle to sheep head. I couldn’t leave here with knowing I passed up the opportunity to try something as bizarre as that. I guess it could be worse; I could be eating lutefisk in Norway.

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June 14, 2011 at 8:04 pm

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Tours

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Stories of personal experience are so much more interesting than second-hand regurgitation of information. We have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet people who have lived and experienced the tragedies of apartheid, political imprisonment, forced removal and relocation. The tour of Robben Island probably would have been a great experience from simply visiting and taking a ‘generic’, touristy route of seeing the prison. Instead, we were fortunate enough to have our own, special private tour from one of the men who spent many years of his life at the prison. To have him share his personal memories of the place and the people he developed a lifelong relationship with was an experience in itself.

Similarly with the tour of District 6, we were very lucky to feel the pain and the story of someone who was there. Joe was a fantastic person. Yes, someone else could have taken us on that same route and pointed out landmarks and told us what this and that were. However, to hear it from someone who he, himself, grew in that place in which people were forced to leave their homes because of how they looked was something special. He remembers exactly how it was, the stories, the feelings, the experience.

That same day, we went to Langa township, the first township created by the government during the South African race struggle. I must admit it was a chilling place to visit. Once again, we had the honor of hearing from someone who was born and raised in Langa. There are many people that can give others a brief history of such a place, but only those who have lived their lives there and have witnessed, first-hand, the atrocities suffered by the community, really know what it was like. That is something very personal and very special.

Even though apartheid is still very fresh on the minds of many South Africans, there are only a hand full of people still living who can vividly tell the tale. The three of our guides are getting up in age and there aren’t very many more people out there who will have these stories to tell a few years down the road. We are extremely fortunate to have come to Cape Town at this time. So to reiterate what I said earlier, anyone can tell a story, but few can tell it from experience.

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June 5, 2011 at 8:44 pm

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Robben Island

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The group tour of Robben Island is one of my best experiences I have ever had. I felt extremely lucky and humbled to get first-hand stories from one of the political prisoners who spent several years of his life in the prison, Eddie Daniels. Eddie is one of the greatest and most fascinating people I have ever come across. The passion he spoke with and the emotion in his stories was very empowering and will not be soon forgotten in my memory.

First of all, the ferry ride out to the island was amazing. Getting farther and farther away from the cape and being able to see all of Cape Town and the majesty of Table Mountain was wonderful. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the feelings of the prisoners as they traveled a similar route (under different circumstances, of course) to what they thought would be the end of their lives and the last time they would see the outside world. Eddie told us how frightened he was, thinking his life was over, but in reality, he described his time on the island as a kind of rebirth; a new life had emerged on the other side of his prison sentence.

One of the things that amazed me was the camaraderie of the inmates. I found myself becoming teary-eyed when he was talking about his relationship with Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and others. He used words such as “pride, dignity, and honor” several times. These men were in a living hell together and the only way to persevere was to count on one another and to look to each other for comfort. Despite how they were treated and how the vast majority of people viewed them, they never faltered. They held their heads high. I felt very privileged that we were able to step inside of Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell. I can only imagine what it was like to go to sleep in a concrete hole every night with the cold damp cape wind whipping through the cell, wondering if you would ever see your loved ones again. It was also very moving to hear Eddie recite ‘Invictus’ for us.

On the ride back, I asked Eddie what it was like for him to return to this place. He admitted that it was very emotional the first couple of times, which I could totally understand. The memories are still strong, but he said it got easier. He said that being there and knowing what their struggle led to was very gratifying and enlightening. Eddie is one of those people that kind make the most negative incident a positive one. I feel so lucky to have met someone like that.

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May 29, 2011 at 7:10 pm

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