Tuesday, July 5, 2005

I'm so lucky!!

Life is still good here in Durban! Adrienne and I just took a week off from work to take a trip to Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, two other cities in South Africa. Adrienne’s younger brother played baseball with the son of the family we stayed with in PE, so we fortunately were pampered for the three days we were there? homemade French toast every morning and we even had a TACO night!!! We had a great time in Cape Town, too, and met cool people at the youth hostel and on the Robben Island tour (we met two tour guides who ended up taking us to play pool after they got out of work on Saturday! And they cooked for us!). We have less than a month left in South Africa, and we’re trying to cram in as much as possible before we leave. We’ll be volunteering at the university a few more times before we leave, and we’ll be visiting the Drakensberg Mountains (including visiting Lesotho, the tiny country completely enclosed by South Africa). In a couple weeks, we’ll be visiting a game reserve also. Gonzalo is here now, and he’ll be going to the mountains and game reserve with us as well!

Last week was a short week at work because we returned on Monday from our week off, and we are still ahead in our research. All that’s left for us to do is to analyze our data and make presentations to each school we surveyed and a larger presentation to the entire municipal area at a meeting of teachers, principals and people from the department of education. I’m interested to see how the schools differ in regard to students’ involvement in school activities and how this affects if they are more or less violent, based on their exposure to violence. Our goals are to analyze the data this week and finish our presentations next week, so we can be ready to present on the 18th, 21st, and 25th. We leave the 28th, which neither of us is looking forward to :-( Adrienne’s 21st birthday is the 19th, and we’re hoping to do something special with our friends we’ve met here thus far. Maybe it’ll be a birthday/going away party? we’ll see!

So, lately Adrienne and I have had this incredibly weird luck. It started on our trip last week, and has just continued and who knows how long it will keep going! It all started on Friday the 24th after arriving in Cape Town. After we had had a great time in Port Elizabeth being pampered and fed, we arrived in Cape Town Friday evening and were picked up from the airport by someone who worked at our backpackers (youth hostel). It was free, so that was nice! While we settled into our hostel, Adrienne called one of her friends who is staying in Cape Town for a couple months and she ended up going out with her that night. I stayed in the hostel and watched a little soccer on TV and met people, then headed down to the hostel’s bar and met more people! I noticed some books in our room (we had a 6-person dorm room, co-ed - don’t worry about the co-ed part, sheesh!) that were in German, and I eventually figured out who they belonged to so I could practice my German. Michael is staying in Cape Town for a while to take English classes? which I thought was interesting, especially since he’s from Berlin, but as he explained it, he has forgotten all of his English and never actually learned much (which he blamed on the former East German government). So that was interesting getting to practice my German with someone who actually knew less English than I knew German! I think that was one of the few times that’s happened? One guy there was cooking some ostrich stir fry type of thing, and offered me some, which I gladly accepted. It was sooo good! I need to get some here in Durban and make it for myself! It’s really healthy (compared to other red meats), like buffalo. At the bar later, I was the only girl for most of the night and the only person from the US, so it was interesting to hear what people had to say, especially when they heard that I’m learning/teaching myself Zulu.

On Saturday, Adrienne went to hang out with her friend all day, and I went to the South African Natural History Museum, Iziko (meaning “hearth”, in isiXhosa and isiZulu, because information and history are passed from grandmothers and elders near the fire at night). It was free entry on Saturdays (more luck!) and I wanted to see the planetarium show also (not free, haha!). The show was about the Hubble Telescope, which was nice, but I really wanted to see the night sky show about the stars in the southern hemisphere. I asked the woman taking tickets before the show which show we were to see, and after she found out what I wanted to learn, she asked the person running the show to do a short 10 minute ‘night sky’ show and hand out free star maps afterwards! Luck again! I was very happy about that :-) Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a chance to just sit outside and look at the stars since I learned about them, because I am in big cities and it’s been cloudy any time I’ve thought about it. After the planetarium, I went to a market near the museum and walked around in the botanical gardens. It was really pretty, despite the semi-cloudiness and cold (haha, just colder than Durban, not actually COLD, like a Michigan winter!). That night, I watched some of the Confederations Cup, Germany vs. Brazil, which was a really great game, but darn Brazil won (again, like the last darn World Cup). I was watching it alone in a restaurant, and all the male waiters kept coming up to me, not believing that I liked soccer enough to be watching it by myself because I’m 1. a girl 2. from the U.S. and 3. because the U.S. wasn’t playing. It was funny to see their expressions! It just wasn’t funny to see Brazil win :-(

The next morning, Adrienne and I decided to go on the Robben Island tour, because the weather still wasn’t super, so we didn’t think it was smart to go up Table Mountain (if the cable car was even running!). This is where some more luck happened, in a weird way. Adrienne gets sea sick, so on the ferry, she started to feel nauseous, and eventually went outside for some fresh air, along with her sea-sick paper bag in case of any vomiting action. The ferry ride is about a half an hour, and on rough seas, she definitely wasn’t the only one feeling sick. Upon arriving at the island, we get on a bus to take a bus tour around the island, to be followed by another guided tour of the prison itself (by a former prisoner). About five minutes into the ride, Adrienne had to get off the bus, because she was still getting a little motion sickness, and she sadly ended up missing the entire island and prison tour :-( The luck comes in, though, when I went to go get her to take the ferry back, and she was sitting in a van with some guys, including our bus tour guide, and they were talking about what was going on in town that night. She was fortunately feeling a TON better, and got some numbers of some of the guides, Tulani and Kent, who offered to meet up with us after they got out of work that day. Well, we all did meet up later and they took us around town that night and played pool with us (Kent and I creamed Adrienne and Tulane twice in a row!). They even cooked some pap and a nice gravy for us, too! We met up with them on Monday as well, after visiting the District 6 Museum and participating in a nationally-organized labor rights march in Cape Town.

Monday started nicely, with sunny skies, but we didn’t think we had enough time to go up the Mountain and we had already decided that we’ll be going back to Cape Town sometime in our lives and we could do it then (plus, I want to do lots more hiking than my knee injury would allow, so it’s better this way!). We went downtown instead, to go to the District 6 Museum, which is a museum describing the history of an area of Cape Town known as District 6. This area was a dynamic, multicultural area of town that suffered from the forced removals under the Group Areas Act of 1950. On the way to the museum, we saw people gathering for a march, organized by COSATU (Council of South African Trade Unions), to get the government to see that if everyone strikes, the economy won’t work for the day. They were striking for more rights and job security, but especially more jobs. Looking back a week later, I’ve read a lot in the news and heard friends talking about the strike and most people say it wasn’t as effective as hoped. I didn’t notice at the time, though, because there were a TON of people there, and we joined in the march for a little bit. It was pretty fun actually, and unlike any march I’ve ever seen in person (except for something that was going on in DC once when I was there, but it wasn’t as big as what was going on in CT). The museum was especially interesting after seeing the march, because I had labor and racial issues on the mind while there. After we left the museum, we got a call from two people, one was from Thulani, one of the tour guides, who wanted to see if we could meet up and hang out, and the other was from one of Adrienne’s friend’s friends, Sam, offering to take us up Signal Hill (a high peak near Table Mountain) and to the airport for free! What luck AGAIN! We had a good time and saw some spectacular views of both sides of the Cape from Signal Hill and were very grateful to Sam for taking us to the airport.

After getting back from CT, we even had some more luck, and got to share a taxi back from the airport, so we only paid half as much as we were anticipating. Last week was like a blur, because so much happened so quickly. It was really good to return to Durban, because we really felt like we were returning home. We were back in a place where we knew the city, we know the taxi hand gestures, and we know people. On Thursday, for example, we were on our way to the beach and at one of the bus stops and we saw Thokozani, the teacher that invited us to her birthday party, and we saw Keith, one of our friends we’ve been hanging out with a lot lately. When we got to the beach, we saw Colin and a bunch of his rugby buddies walking around! There’s a couple million people in Durban, so it was a little weird for us to see three of the very few people we know all within two hours of each other!

Tuesday, we went to the YMCA to volunteer again. Bongi was the leader of our session this week, and we worked with the youth to do a little drama and an impromptu skit. Today, I get to lead the group and we’re going to talk about thinking in a win-win mindset. I’ve organized a snack and the activities we’ll be doing, but it’s roughly based on the idea that everyone has something to teach everyone else and that if we all work together, we all win. There’s a Zulu proverb that says “ngumuntu ngubuntu ngbantu” meaning “a person is a person through other people”, which I will be incorporating as well. This idea is also sometimes called ubuntu (which is sometimes translated into English as ‘sense of humanity’). Needless to say, I’m excited for this afternoon! Adrienne and I also are going to be sharing some stuff about what it’s like in the US and what we think of when we think of home, and we’ll be having a dialogue with the youth about what they think when they think of home. I hope it’s fun!

Wednesday was another interesting day as well. It started fairly normal by us going to work. Since it was a nice day, we decided to leave early and go walk around the Botanic Gardens, something we’d been wanting to do for a while now. After that, we went to the poetry circle that we’re used to going to on Wednesdays now. When we arrived there, we were surprised to see people from GDTV (Greater Durban Television) there to tape some of the session and broadcast it. Adrienne was especially surprised, because she was planning on sharing and was nervous enough about sharing with our friends, let alone the whole greater Durban area! When the people from GDTV were getting ready to leave, they thought it would be cool to bring us to their studio to see how a studio works and to see if we could be on one of their shows! What is it with this random, weird luck?? We ended up being on two shows, one of which had people calling in to ask us questions. The first show was just supposed to be a random, non-scripted show where someone interviews random people. They thought it would be cool to have two girls from the US on, and I guess it worked, because they wanted us to stay for the second show (which I think is closely related to the first) and have people phone in. It was quite the experience! I have lots of pictures, so you should check them out when you get a chance!

This last weekend was fun, too, because the Vodacom Durban Beach Africa festival is going on for a week and a half. There’s a big horse race and fashion show, as well as a surfing competition. We watched some of the surfing competition on Saturday and met some new people (of course). One guy working the festival, Msiya, is going to get us some free T-shirts of the festival, so that’s awesome! And lucky again! Or something? Sunday, we were invited to a fundraising lunch of traditional South African foods at a park downtown by the people we met on Wednesday at GDTV. This is, I think, where our luck ran out - it had rained the night before and there was supposed to be a soccer match between some senior citizens and the youth at GDTV, but it was cancelled due to the field conditions. Lunch was supposed be served after the game, at 12:30, but it wasn’t ready until 5:00 PM. We were a little frustrated, especially since we thought there would be a lot of people there for the fundraiser and had to sit around and wait for lunch for 4 hours. Eventually we ate and the food was really awesome! The luck returned, though, when we got a ride home afterwards and didn’t have to pay for a taxi :-)

I remember mentioning the news that is happening out here in the last email. Well, there is plenty of drama regarding the firing of Deputy President Jacob Zuma, who is having a trial here in Durban. My province, KwaZulu-Natal, has been a traditional stronghold for him, and many of our friends and people around here are very upset about what’s going on (ie Zuma was fired). Our friends speculate that the media is just trying to break up the support for the ANC, the current leading political party here. History was made again, though, when the President, Thabo Mbeki, appointed a woman as his new Deputy President - and she’s from the Durban area also! The G8 summit is all over the news here and people have been doing a lot of analysis about what will happen, which is interesting, since I have a better point of view about what’s important to the people of Africa, specifically South Africa. I’m lucky to be able to see this point of view!

I’m trying to upload some pictures right now of our trip to Cape Town/PE, and of the botanic gardens and UShaka Marine World, which we visited the Monday before we went out of town.

Right now I’m looking forward to our Drakensberg/Lesotho trip this weekend with Gonzalo, and then next weekend Adrienne’s friend from Cape Town is coming to visit. After that, Adrienne’s birthday is the 19th and we have our presentations. Another person we met at the GDTV station offered to organize a trip for us to Zululand, which is a more rural part of our province, and we’ll be able to stay with his cousin who does touristy things out there and can take us to some things for free. This is another example of that weird luck that keeps happening! We’re very happy about it, though!

I’ll be sure to keep emailing when I get to Europe. For those of you who know her, I’ll be meeting up with Ellen Lundkvist, who was an exchange student from Sweden at my high school, when I’m in Rome the first week of August! Needless to say, I’m super, super excited!!!

I love you all and am looking forward to hearing back from you!

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