Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Hi from SA: the end :-(


This will be my last email from South Africa, as I will be leaving Thursday for Europe. It’s sad to leave, but I’m sure I’ll be back some day, perhaps to live for an extended period of time. The working experience has been great, and we’ve been fortunate to have really learned a lot about the culture and consciousness of people here. We have also seen other parts of the country, and met people from many walks of South African life. I know we’ve made an impression on many of the people we’ve met, and I can’t begin to fathom the impression they’ve mad upon me!

It’s been a while since I wrote ? I think I sent the last email the day before Gonzalo arrived, right before we left to the airport to go get him. A lot has happened since then! We went to a poetry fundraiser, ate at lots of restaurants, watched some movies, visited the Drakensberg Mountains and Lesotho, went to some markets in town, and had a great time. Adrienne’s birthday was also last week, and we’ve had all of the presentations of our data.

Luckily for Adrienne and me, it didn’t take us long to analyze our data and make the presentations we need to give while here. Adrienne’s research topic is how the family experience affects one’s violent behavior, and mine is how one’s school ties affect violent behavior. My hypothesis ended up being proven, which makes me happy! We made a presentation on the 18th to the Chief Education Specialist, and she gave us feedback regarding what to say when we give our presentations to each of the schools’ principals. Those presentations went well, also. We gave some recommendations to each school, and at first, I thought they wouldn’t take my recommendations seriously. The reasons behind this are that we’ve made it clear that our program didn’t send us here to do major, groundbreaking research, and that I’m not from the communities in which I was doing the research. As it turns out, my recommendations of using the schools as community centers and having some training sessions for the teachers to be better counselors (the schools don’t have a staff member whose job is to counsel the learners) were well-received and the principals and their staff asked me for suggestions on how to do these things. I really thought they would already have heard these suggestions, but they were so interested in what I was saying and asking questions that I think they might not have publicly considered it. The second principal even asked for resources in the area that he could approach to help start some after-hours programs and other things he could use the school for. I made a joke to our mentor, who was with us during the presentations, about how she should employ me to help the schools initiate these programs. If I can get funding, I might be able to come back and work for CRISP (where we currently work)!! I’d like to work in the fields of HIV/AIDS education and outreach, though, which they also do through CRISP.

Gonzalo, my boyfriend, was here for two weeks, from 5 July - 18 July. He brought us so much food!! We were soooo happy that he brought us some tortilla chips, salsa, taco shells, good black olives, and flan. We had a taco dinner the first night he was here, which really made me happy :-) We still have some of the food he brought, so we’ve been having yummy meals for a while now! Gonzalo went to work with us a few times (boring for him), and just basically did the things we do every day here. We did go to the Drakensberg Mountains for the first weekend, and we went to a few activities, and I think he had a good time. Wednesday the 6th, we all went to GDTV again, because some guys had asked Adrienne if she wanted to be interviewed for a show called African Renaissance, which is about the current state of things in Africa and with the people of the Diaspora. It was interesting to watch, but as it was a GDTV show, it needed a little work in the organization area? the show was scheduled for 7:30 or something, but there was already a show going on when we were supposed to start (which was about abstinence and HIV/AIDS), and the station didn’t even have the African Renaissance show on the schedule! We waited around for a while, the show started, and it was ok. This show also has the opportunity for people to send SMS’s or call in, but I think maybe nobody was watching, because nobody did either of those. I felt so bad that I sent in two SMS’s from the audience so they had something to talk about! It was an interesting night, to say the least :-)

Thursday the 7th found us three going to the Gateway Centre, a huge monstrosity of a mall in Umhlanga, a very ritzy city bordering Durban. Our friend Menzi was performing in a poetry-fundraiser thingy for HOPE Clinic, a clinic in downtown Durban that does HIV testing, counseling, and education. We took a koombi to get there, which was an adventure, because it left from a different part of town than we’re used to going to, and Gonzalo isn’t used to koombis, so it was funny to see his expression sometimes. Eventually we got to the mall and found the place where this poetry performance was to take place. It was a nice show, but there was little attendance. At first, I was sad, since I knew some of the other poets (they were all from the BAT Centre’s Wednesday night poetry circle, the Nowadays Poets), but then I realized that having this fundraiser so far away from town really hindered the fundraising capabilities. I mean, the Clinic is in the city center, just like the BAT Centre, so it really would make more sense to just have it at the BAT Centre, so more people would come. Later, I was told that they thought that if they held the fundraiser in such a ritzy place, they would get more donations. I hope it worked out for them the rest of the weekend, because the fundraiser happened a couple nights in a row. After the performance, Menzi invited the three of us to eat with them and share a taxi home, so we hung out with the poets for a while and went home. It was fun, and Gonzalo had a good time, too :-)

Friday night we went to a restaurant called Past Brown’s to eat, and it was so delicious!! Adrienne and I had been telling Gonzalo about some of the issues we’d been having going out to dinner and such, and we were hoping that Pasta Brown’s would be nice and what we expect. It turns out that we had an excellent dinner, excellent service, and went back the following Tuesday for half-off pasta night!

The weekend of the 9th-11th was our Drakensberg weekend. The word Drakensberg is an Afrikaans word meaning “Dragon Mountains”, and the Zulu word is Qathlamba, meaning “Battlement of Spears”. It was so nice to get away for a little while and to see other parts of South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the province we live in. We went with Tekwini Ecotours, the same company that we went on our city tour with in the beginning of May. Pieter was our tour guide again, so it was nice to see a familiar face. There ended up being 9 of us total, including Pieter. Adrienne, Gonzalo, me, and a girl named Erin were all from the US, Barbara was from Canada, and Evalyn, Susanne, and Marjolein were from Holland. Evalyn, Susanne, Marjolein, and Barbara were all volunteering in an orphanage near Durban, and Erin was working in Cape Town for a law internship for a couple months, and was just on vacation to Durban. It was fun for all of us to compare traveling stories and our impressions of South Africa. Susanne had also been to Perú before, so Gonzalo and I talked to her about what we had all done in Perú. On the drive out there, we stopped at a waterfall, which is in a river that eventually runs into the Umgeni River, the river that goes through northern Durban. It was a little dry, but the views were nice, and there was a rainbow in the mist by the pool at the bottom.

Pieter picked everyone up on Saturday morning, and we drove to Underberg, a small town near the Drakensberg mountains in KZN. We stayed at a camping place/backpackers (Khotso Horse Trails) that offered horse riding. We went horse riding our first night, and Pieter cooked dinner for us. It was so nice to be on a horse again! I hadn’t been riding in a very long time - and thank you to Aunt Yvonne and the lessons I had earlier that I still knew how to ride! I was glad, because my knee injury hindered me a little, even with the brace (since my leg was so weak), and already knowing how to ride was beneficial. The views from the ride were fantastic, even though it’s winter here and all the grass was yellowing. We could see the full Drakensberg from a distance, and some of the surround land and farming areas. It was beautiful, and the sun started setting on our way back, which increased the beauty. That night Pieter cooked a delicious pasta baked thingy, and we all sat around in our rondavel (a round house that we were staying in) talking about traveling, soccer, rugby, and what we all do (students, work at a communication company, etc). I couldn’t help but to go outside and look at the stars for as long as I could stand (it was very cold!! I could see my breath!). No words I can write will do justice to how incredible the stars looked. We were far away from any towns, thus affording us a great view. The Milky Way was very clear, and seemed so close I could touch it. I looked for the constellations that I saw at the planetarium show, and I could see the Southern Cross, Scorpio, Libra (my sign!!) and even Orion, on the horizon (which I wasn’t expecting, since I figured I wouldn’t recognize any constellations I’m used to seeing from the northern hemisphere). Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury were also visible, and it was really cool (literally, ha!) to see them so clearly.

Sunday morning, the 10th, was an early one, because we were going hiking all day in the Pholela Valley. Hiking was a particularly difficult thing for me, which made me frustrated, because I’m used to being in shape and able to do lots of physical activity. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and my leg was very, very weak. I was shaking at the end of the hike. Overall, though, the hike was amazing because of the views and the bushmen paintings. When we were in Cape Town, I made sure to thoroughly read the exhibits on the rock paintings in the Iziko South African Museum, so I could have a little background when we saw the paintings in real life. The scientist inside came out a little during this time, because I kept thinking of the materials they used for the paintings (animal fat and blood, charcoal, red and yellow ochre) and how the proteins and such in these materials had to be really strong to have lasted thousands of years. There were many paintings of the bushmen, also known as the San, Khoikhoi, and Khoisan (later known as the Khoisan, after the two groups of people merged). The Khoisan painted themselves in brown, and the Zulus in black. Interestingly, they also painted the white people that roamed around the mountains and that farmed in black, though on horses and with big cowboy hats. The paintings were mainly of things that were important in the lives of the Khoisan, so they were of animals they ate, battles they fought, and ceremonies they performed. One painting was of men doing a rain dance, and going into a trance to communicate with the other world, to ask for rain. These paintings were really amazing, and my imagination was running free when I was looking at them. Due to these paintings, the park/reserve in which we were, the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since November 2000). KZN actually has two World Heritage Sites, the other being the St. Lucia Wetlands Park (which we unfortunately haven’t visited). Our hike lasted for more than 5 hours, and we ate lunch at the top of some of the smaller mountains there, where the paintings were. Pieter, our tour guide, had recently broken some ribs in a motorcycle accident, so Gonzalo stayed back waiting for us two walking woundeds. It was worth it, though, to see the paintings. The way back was shorter, but difficult because my leg was so weak and we were going downhill. We stopped by a small river on the way up and again on the way back down, and it was perfectly refreshing both times. The water was so clear you could see individual grains of sand, and the water was clean enough we just filled our water bottles from the river? and nobody had a filter, and nobody got sick! We also saw some baboons on the hill at the beginning of our hike, and Pieter told us that one baboon is as strong as eight men! We decided to stay away from them, and just watch from a distance. The landscape was pretty, too, even though it was winter. I’ve made a pact with myself to go to the park and go hiking again when it’s a different season? maybe once in each season! You can go camping in the park, too, and sleep in caves if you want. I’m definitely going back some day!

Monday was our last day of the weekend trip, and it was the day we drove up the Sani Pass and into Lesotho (pronounced Les-oo-too). We went with Sani Pass Tours, which organizes people into 4X4’s to drive up the pass. It’s actually illegal to drive a non-4-wheel drive car up the pass without government permission. Gonzalo and I were in one 4X4 with a couple from Ireland, and the rest of our tour was all in another 4X4. The drive up reminded me a lot of driving up to Machu Picchu, though with slightly different vegetation. There were countless switchbacks and every turn afforded a different view of the valley. We stopped a few times to learn about various things about the pass, for example, how it used to be used before motor vehicles used it. This is the only path you can take from KZN into Lesotho, so it was a major trading route. We also learned about some of the vegetation, including that there are a number of different types of proteas, which are the national flower of South Africa. We also learned about the age and making of the mountains themselves. Interestingly, much of the mountains are igneous rock (volcanic), and you can still see in some places the layers where the magma bubbled out of the earth and built up. There was also a lot of sandstone as well. These mountains are some of the oldest in the world. We had to bring our passports to enter Lesotho, so we had to make sure we stopped at each border point twice. There is a SA-based border point and a Lesotho-based point, and they are separated by 8 km of what they call ‘no-man’s land’. This ‘no-man’s land’ was the steepest part of the drive, with the most amazing views. We were at such a high altitude that some of the springs on the way up were frozen! When we arrived at the top, there was a small Basotho village (the people of Lesotho are called Basotho, and speak Sesotho), and we went into one house and learned a little about how life is in the village. Our tour guide told us that the people in this town make about 1000 Rand a year, which translates into about $150/year. We also got to try some traditional sorghum beer, which I liked - it tasted really yeasty. We left the house and went to the highest pub in Africa (yes, really) for lunch. I had a curry, and Gonzalo had some soup. I also tried Maluti, the only commercial beer of Lesotho. The lunch was awesome!! I tried to buy some Maluti to take back with me, but it didn’t work out unfortunately. After lunch, we drove back down to South Africa and then drove back to Durban. When we were nearing the city, I got that sense of coming home again, like I did after I came back from Cape Town. It was a nice feeling!

The following day, Tuesday the 12th, started regularly, with Adrienne, Gonzalo and I going to work then volunteering. Gonzalo really had a great time going with us! I finally did my presentation about thinking in a win-win mindset when trying to solve conflicts or work in groups. It was difficult, because I think that I was using phrases that are common to things I’ve done recently at the University, or that seem really business-oriented. Adrienne kept interrupting me, also, when I was trying to explain things, which confused the youth even more. It was already difficult to understand my differently-accented English, let alone having two people talking to you. I think that the youth understood the concept in the end, after we had given examples that they could relate to. We also played a game, and I think that really demonstrated the concept of thinking win-win. During this presentation, Gonzalo was in the back of the room, playing with younger kids, kids that were too young to be part of the group we normally work with. He was taking pictures with his digital camera and showing them, which they loved! It was so cute to see them huddle around to see the pictures after we had taken them. They were also trying to teach him dance moves, which he did ok, but it was funny to watch. When we left to go back to the YMCA, our friend Menzi called Adrienne and I and invited us to go to what sounded like a reception for something he did. He called around 5:45, and this thing started at 6:00, so it was very last-minute. He told us to go to this house near the University of KZN, where the YMCA was, and he’d meet us there. Well, we arrived, and we didn’t have any idea what was going on or what to expect. All we had heard on the phone was something about this group called Pioneers of Change and that Menzi said he was mayor for a day. We had no idea what was going on, but we chit-chatted with the host (Muna) and hostess (Vanessa) and some other guests until Menzi arrived with three other people (two of whom we already knew from BAT Centre poetry). It turns out that this was a “meeting” (which Menzi called a ‘gathering’) of the group Pioneers of Change, which is an organization targeted to people who used to have idealistic notions but have gotten stuck in the rut of working and have abandoned their previous ideas. It was very interesting, to say the least, but one of those things that randomly happens to Adrienne and me here. If you want to learn more, go to www.pioneersforchange.net. After the ‘gathering’, we went back to Pasta Brown’s for some half-price pasta, which was AWESOME!!

Gonzalo was very sick on Thursday the 14th, so we had to leave work early and we went back to the apartment, where he slept all afternoon and I made him some soup. It was my first time making homemade soup from scratch, and it turned out really good and made Gonzalo feel a lot better. On Friday, we went back to Gateway Centre to watch a movie (Guess Who, with Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher) and eat. We ate at Cape Town Fish Market, which was really delicious, and then watched the movie. It was a fun day! That weekend, we went shopping a lot, to the Victoria Street Market and the flea market in town, then Gonzalo left on Monday morning. It was sad to see him go, but it was great that he got to come here! We had a presentation on Monday, where we got a lot of good feedback, which helped us prepare for our presentations on Thursday to each principal.

Last week was very busy, because we had three presentations, visited a game reserve, had Adrienne’s birthday party, volunteered, drove to a rural area of KZN (Empangeni), one of Adrienne’s friends from UM came to Durban from Cape Town for the weekend, and our friend Bongi stayed with us for the weekend, too. Tuesday was the busiest day by far, though. We had to be up early to go with Bashi and Janine (our mentors from CRISP) to a game reserve (Tala) about a 45-minute drive from Durban. Then, we rushed back to go to volunteering, then rushed off home to prepare for Adrienne’s 21st birthday party. It was a really fun day, just really, really long and tiring. The game reserve was really cool, because we got to see some animals we hadn’t seen yet, and in person. My favorites were the giraffes and zebras, but some of the boks we saw were really pretty. There weren’t elephants or any big cats, but I’ll go see those next time I come here (to SA). We had lunch at a lodge there, which was quite a funny experience. Bashi and I ordered some lamb chops, which turned out to just be bones with fat on them. Janine didn’t like her venison stew, but Adrienne really liked her prawns, so that was good, considering it was her birthday!! We went directly to the YMCA after that, and it was probably the last time we’ll see the youth, which was sad. Dina, the woman who lives in the YMCA student center and organizes the youth to come to the center, had gotten a cake in honor of Adrienne’s birthday and our going-away present. It was very nice of her! We enjoyed it a lot. After volunteering, Ntsiki (one guy we volunteer with), his friend Bongani, and us all got a ride with Dina to go home and start making dinner for Adrienne’s birthday party. Since it was Adrienne’s birthday, I tried getting her to not do too much work, though she definitely helped a lot with the cooking and such! We made beef nachos, rice, beans, and salsita, and guacamole, all from scratch. We got so many compliments on the cooking!! We really wanted to share some of the cultural things we do at home, so that’s why we made those foods, even though they’re more generally American, not necessarily from just the US or anything. We also shared the cultural practice of celebrating someone’s legal drinking age at age 21, though we definitely did not go overboard (or even half-board? get it!? Haha, I’m not funny). It was fun to see all our friends one last time before we had to start focusing on all our presentations and packing.

Wednesday was a fun day, too. Adrienne and I went with Bashi and Thembi (a new person at CRISP) to Empangeni, a small, rural, farming town about 1.5 hours north of Durban. The landscape was different, which was nice, and the fields seemed so green compared to what we had been seeing. Thembi is moving to Empangeni this week to do work for CRISP as a facilitator in a cluster of five schools in the area. She’ll be facilitating around crime reduction in schools, and we were going there to meet the principals and teachers of the schools she’ll be working in. Bashi had invited Adrienne and I only the day before, because she knew we like meeting new people and seeing new things. It was really interesting to see the differences in the schools in the rural area from the schools we’re used to in the Durban area (KwaMashu). Most of the schools looked nicer than the ones in town, and the learners had a lot farther to walk most of the time. We also visited a sixth school on the way back, because CRISP is always trying to get new schools involved in what they do, and the principal of this other school has ties to East Lansing High School and Michigan State University in Michigan! We got his information and will stay in touch with him. It was really great to see more of KZN and South Africa.

I already mentioned the presentations we did at each school we did research in that we did last Thursday. The presentations went really well! We went to work on Friday for a little while, and Allayna, Adrienne’s friend from UM arrived that afternoon. They met our friend Keith to go to dinner, while I went to a rugby game of Colin and Aubrey’s. They had invited a friend, Precious, with them, and I hung out with her the whole night. It was fun! After the game, all of us went to a club called Tiger Tiger, which was quite funny. They played all songs I couldn’t dance to, and that came out when I was in middle schools. It was almost like a karaoke bar for me, since the songs were so old and I knew all the words? it was funny!

Last weekend we had two guests, Allayna and Bongi. Bongi volunteers with us on Tuesdays at the YMCA, and couldn’t come to Adrienne’s birthday party on Tuesday because she had to study for an exam she had on Friday. She came to spend the weekend with us so we can see her before we leave. The four of us went to lunch on Saturday, then to Gateway Centre to go go karting and shopping. We ended up getting home really late and cooking dinner really late, but it was good to relax after dinner. Sunday was a fun day, too, with our two guests making the day fun. We went to the BAT Centre to watch the championship game of the premier soccer league here in South Africa. They had a large-screen TV there for us to watch it on, and provided free food from Nando’s, a chicken place in town. It was awesome!! The game was actually in Durban, so town was really busy all weekend, and we could hear people in the stadium from our apartment. After the game, we just sat around and chilled around the apartment for the rest of the night. Yesterday, we had our last big presentation. It ended up being really nice, and we did very well. CRISP, the organization we work for, set up a meeting with all the principals and some people from the Department of Education about crime in schools. CRISP does a lot of projects in the area, so they updated the principals and the DOE about their projects and we made our presentation. It was really interesting to hear what the principals had to say, and to see what other projects CRISP has been doing lately. I really think I want to come back to South Africa and perhaps work for CRISP doing some HIV/AIDS education in the schools they work in. All I have to do is find some funding to hire myself! We’ll see how that goes?

As you’ve seen, I’ve mentioned that we’ve gone to Gateway Centre a few times. It’s a really nice mall, but I think it’s ridiculous! It’s a monstrosity, if you ask me? there is so much unnecessary junk in there that it actually makes me angry. And for us, we take a koombi taxi there, from a part of the city center that is very busy and has koombis all over. It seems like a poorer part of town, and half an hour later, we’re in the most overdone place I’ve seen in my entire trip! There’s just so much wasted space and unnecessary stuff there, like palm trees, overdone flooring, huge pillars with unnecessary patterns, not to mention the go karting track, a rock climbing wall, wave pool, trampoline area, movie theater, multiple food courts, and science center for kids. It’s like its own little city! When I look around, I see so many things that frustrate me. An example is some of the flooring is overdone, with intricate patterns and such, and I keep thinking that the money wasted on that could have been given to a few families of the youth we volunteer with in Cato Manor/at the YMCA to build brick houses. Many of the youth we work with have houses made of plywood, or any other wood they can find, corrugated steel roofs, no windows, no running water, no electricity? and it makes me mad that I can go from there to the Gateway monstrosity in a few minutes.

Recently, Adrienne and I went to the University of KZN to ask about how we could teach ourselves Zulu better. They suggested that we buy some of the books in the series that they university students use. We were lucky to talk to such a helpful person (whose name is Keri, and she’s left-handed!! Can you believe it?? She’s writing her master’s on Zulu language), and she gave us her contact info and said she’d even send us homework assignments! How cool is that?? And she offered to email sound bytes, also, so we can get used to hearing it and stuff. All for FREE! We went to the book store and bought some of the books and cassette tapes, so now I have something to do when I’m on crutches for a month after surgery the first week of September. Yea! I also saw a section in the bookstore about AIDS in South Africa, and I bought three books from there, too. One is about how to cross-culturally communicate regarding various medical encounters, which I think will be useful to me in the future, especially since it was focused on interactions between Westernized people of European descent and people of African descent, particularly Zulus. The second book is like a manual on how to do “better living” work (outreach, education, counseling) to persons with HIV/AIDS, and the research used and practices mentioned were based on work done in Cato Manor, Durban - the exact place where I volunteer every week! The last book is a text book-style book called “HIV/AIDS in South Africa”. There’s information on everything regarding HIV/AIDS here, the political history, updated figures, the scientific and cultural aspects, and more. This book will really help me learn what I need to know to come back here and do what I want to do. After this trip, I really feel like I want to come back to South Africa for a longer period of time (over a year) and do outreach and education around HIV/AIDS. My goals would be to also focus on root problems, too, such as poverty and education. I have to think more about this, but I feel really at home in the Durban area, and would like to move back here after learning more Zulu, saving some money, and gaining more experience in the HIV/AIDS field.

Well, I must end this monster of an email at some point, so this is it. I apologize for the length, but I had a lot to say (probably more, once I think about it!) and won’t get to email much while I’m in Europe. I’ll be sending out details of my trip soon, so keep an eye out. I miss you! I’ll be seeing some of you soon, others not so soon, but I still think about you nonetheless!

Until next time,

PS: Es tut mir leid, dass ich diese ganze emails auf englisch geschrieben habe, aber ich weiss dass ihr konnt englisch verstehen :-) Wenn ihr Fragen haettet, sagt mir einfach, und ich schreibe Euch. Ich weiss noch nicht genau, was ich in Deutschland mache, aber ich habe wenige Tage dort. Ich werde bei Bettina bleiben, und vielleicht nach Berlin gehen. Ruf mich an, wenn ich Euch meine neue Nummer gebe! Bis bald!

PPS: Lo siento que escribí todas las emails en inglés, pero sé que todos entienden el inglés. Si tienen usteds preguntas, diganme y trataré de escribirte. ¡Se puede ver que no escribo buen español entonces ? pero trataré! ¡Hasta pronto!

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