Saying Goodbye to Cape Town

I am still in disbelief that I am no longer in South Africa. How did five months fly by so quickly? How is my journey already over?  I’m still working through everything that happened — sometimes I wonder if it even happened at all — and the fact that I will be forever changed .

I spent my last night in Cape Town on top of Table Mountain to watch the sunset. I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye to a city that I have come to love so dearly.

 

I can’t wait until the day I get to return to South Africa. I know in my heart that some day I will. I will hold all that I have learned and experienced close to me, and never forget the woman that I have now become because of it.

 

 

My dear Cape Town, I will be thinking of you every day.

Until next time I will remember what you taught me:

Live fully,
face fear,
take advantage of everything,
and always, always have fun. 

Things We Could Never Say: Secrets of Living in the “Rainbow Nation”

For our final project in “Culture, Identity, and Globalisation in Africa” we were asked to come up with a presentation outlining how we have come to think differently about Africa. That’s it. No guidelines as to which direction to aim towards, which themes to focus on, or how to express ourselves. Full creative freedom.

Here is what we came up with. Enjoy!

 

The idea for this project was born out of the concept of secrets. What do people choose to share or not? How much do people keep inside about their experiences? And is there a way we can share these secrets, which may be too hurtful or shameful or dishonorable to speak openly about? PostSecret became the obvious solution to this dilemma.

My group members and I decided we wanted to pose a similar structure to our fellow study abroad students about their time here in South Africa. It is clear that we are all having the times of our lives and we love South Africa, but we wanted to dig deeper. So we set up an anonymous electronic survey online and asked:

“Coming to a new country, especially one as diverse and complex as South Africa, leaves all of us international students with some thoughts or feelings that we don’t think we can share. Whether you keep it inside because you’re afraid of offending someone, seeming ignorant or being judged – we all have our secrets. What is a secret that you’ve been keeping about your time in South Africa?”

By now you have seen our video and viewed the responses. The secrets covered a variety of emotions and experiences. By creating such a video, we hoped to create a memorialization or archive of our experiences. Students abroad typically document their travels through photographs and trinkets from markets. But how does the story change with this type of archive? We have focused instead on the people and the emotions experienced, not the places and locations. Additionally, how does viewing these secrets affect those who view them? We believe that this project was not only a process of self-reflection for those who participated in sharing secrets, but also creating self-reflection in those who view the video. We hope that by participating in our project students will learn not only about other experiences of their peers, but also about themselves.

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I would love to hear what you think about our project!

To my fellow study abroad students around the world – how are secrets affecting your time abroad? Do you have any similar feelings to those my peers and I from South Africa expressed?

One of the secrets not included in the video was: “There is no way my friends from home could handle living here. They are too close-minded and naive.” How does that secret make you feel? Do you think it’s true?

Does any secret particularly resonate with you?

As always, thank you for reading and supporting me!
Much love to all.

24 days left.

I have a little over 3 weeks left in South Africa… and I am absolutely freaking out. I have some amazing adventures to look forward to after Cape Town, but I can’t help but tear up when I think about leaving this place.

I don’t know how it’s possible to love something so deeply after such a short amount of time. I have lived in South Africa for 102 days and it has touched me more than I could have ever imagined.

My boyfriend Daniel was visiting me here for the past 2 weeks, and being able to share the love and passion I have for my life here with my best friend gave me such joy. It also made me realize how much I have integrated into Cape Town life. I rarely get asked about being American anymore, but Daniel made us stick out like a sore thumb sometimes. I have figured out how to speak with a South African accent and integrate their slang terms into my daily life. I can make all 3 of the clicks used in the Xhosa language. I primarily listen to South African music and I stay up to date with the news. Living here feels like a whole different world sometimes, it’s so easy to feel disconnected from everything that is going on back in the States.

But at the same time there is so much that I have yet to experience here. These next three weeks are going to be a scramble to check everything off my “Cape Town bucket list” all while studying and taking my exams. But I know in my heart that I will come back. I will not be saying “goodbye” to South Africa on November 15… only “see you later.”

I promise to post more frequently in the upcoming days about everything that has happened lately… because I have lots of updates to report! But for now I will leave you with my favorite South African song of the moment. It’s in the language Xhosa and is sung by Zahara. I’m on the hunt for her CD because I can’t get her songs out of my head (even if I don’t know all of the words)!

The “Study” Part of “Study Abroad”

So there are these things called classes that are really getting in the way of my exploration of Cape Town. Here is a post dedicated to academia.

The University of Cape Town is absolutely gorgeous. It is located on Devil’s Peak, one of the three mountains in Cape Town, and the university is built into the mountain which creates three levels of camps: Upper, Middle, and Lower. All of my classes are located on Upper Campus, whereas Middle consists mostly of offices and Lower has the gym and some other dorms.

Here is a video I took while studying on campus yesterday:

UCT has more than 25,000 students, of which nearly 5,000 are international students from all over the world. This is what Upper Campus looks like on a normal school day:

As much as I’d rather be out discovering the city, my classes here are really great. I am taking three courses (which equal to 5 US credits each) that meet at least 4 times a week for 45 minutes each. All classes are taught in a lecture fashion with no less than 75 students enrolled. It is definitely a big adjustment from my school American University back in the USA… which has very small class sizes and a total enrollment of 6,300.

UCT is the #1 ranked university in Africa as well as ranked in the top 150 schools in the world. I definitely feel those vibes of prestige walking around campus. Everyone here works really hard. From what I understand there aren’t enough universities in South Africa for the amount of young people, but the cost discourages many from attending. I feel so blessed for the opportunity to earn such an incredible education in both South Africa and the United States.

It is also great that my classes here are supplementing by goal to immerse myself in this country. I am taking “South African History in the 20th Century” which has been instrumental in understanding all of the changes that have happened here. South Africa only broke free of the apartheid state 17 years ago. It is such a different dynamic than the US, whose constitution was signed way back in 1787. I am taking a course called “Culture, Identity and Globalisation in Africa” which has completely altered my world view on issues. My professor is a fabulous art curator who questions everything. I find myself wondering – “What would Siona think about this?” regularly. We talk about forgiveness, art, archives, the violence of photography, liberation movements throughout Africa, etc. etc. She encourages us to think creatively and out of the box. I love it. My final class is on International Political Economies but, while interesting, I don’t spend too much of my free time discussing it.

It’s hard to believe – and it pains me to write this – but I only have 6 weeks left in South Africa. While everyone else’s school year is finally falling into place, mine is nearly over. Classes at UCT finish on 21 October and I take my last final on 3 November.

I am so in love with this place and right now I don’t want to think about leaving – so I’m not writing about it anymore! Instead all of my efforts are focused on finishing the rest of my schoolwork because my wonderful boyfriend Daniel is flying to Cape Town in 11 days! I can’t wait to show him around my new home.

So on that note, I’d better get back to work! Thanks to everyone for reading :)

View from 3,558 feet

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a national holiday in South Africa, which means school was cancelled! (Take note America!) My friends and I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day and so began our journey to the top of Table Mountain.

We took a cab from Liesbeeck Gardens to the base of one of the trails, called Pletteklip Gorge. We then started our ascent up the mountain around noon. Even from the start of the trail we had an amazing view of the city, but as we got higher up the trail and the noises of the city subsided the view became even more incredible. The hike up was not incredibly difficult, but it was very steep. It was the most difficult hike I’ve ever been on, even though my guy friends with crazy long legs made it look easy! Everyone we met along the trail was super nice, and would encourage us on the way to the top – “You’re almost there! You can do it!”

The last bit of the trail was in the shade, so we literally could “see the light” at the top of the mountain. When we at last reached the top we decided to take Smuts Track to the highest point on Table Mountain, rather than go towards the Cable Car and tourist-y areas. Smuts Track was marked by periodical yellow footprints painted on rocks. It was an easy path to follow, especially because it was mostly flat.

The highest point on Table Mountain is called Maclear’s Beacon and is marked by a pile of rocks with a pole on it. We wondered if it was the highest point in general, or if the pole was the highest point… we’re still not sure. Either way, Wikipedia says it is 3,558 feet… I am so proud to have finally conquered the mountain! My friends and I then shared a picnic lunch sitting on the rocks looking over the entire city of Cape Town. We could even see Cape Point, Robben Island and Seal Island (where they shot all of the film for Shark Week with the Great Whites).

Each of my friends and I decided on a different type of shoe to wear on the hike! Dan wore hiking boots, Sally wore Vibrams (barefoot running shoes), I wore running sneakers, Josh wore Chaco’s, and Zach went barefoot (not the whole time, but a good chunk of it). We thought it was pretty funny. We weren’t the only hikers with a variety of shoes either. There were kids in jeans and stylish shoes definitely not made for hiking, intense men who went barefoot and shirtless… some families even brought their dogs with them!

Although we could have stayed at the top of the mountain forever, the sun started to fall in the sky and we knew we had to start making out way down. In Cape Town, the sun sets around 6:30pm and it becomes completely dark. None of us brought flashlights with us on the hike, so it was imperative to set a good pace down the mountain. We decided to go a different route and chose Skeleton Gorge.

Skeleton Gorge was very different from Platteklip Gorge. The majority of our trail was covered by trees, rivers and waterfalls. We barely had a view of the mountain. There were no markings on the trail either, we just had to go with our gut and look for the well-used path, rocks that looked like stairs, and wood reinforcing stairs made out of dirt. At one point we had absolutely no idea where the path led next. Dan thought he found it, but we had to hug a tree and carefully tip toe on tree roots on a very steep ledge to get there. But of course that was the wrong way! While clutching the tree, I looked down at the stream below us and saw that someone had scratched an arrow into one of the rocks. Although it was not a very convincing marker, we crossed back over the tree, down the steep ledge, and into the river. Thankfully it led us back to the correct path!

The descent down Skeleton Gorge took several hours, but it was beautiful and absolutely peaceful. We didn’t see any other people but ourselves for hours. My favorite part was finding the waterfalls, so untouched and naturally beautiful. The path eventually led us into the back of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The gardens were already closed for the day due to the public holiday, so we had the place all to ourselves. I can’t wait to go back in a few weeks when they start their concert series.

I finally made it back to my room around 7:15pm and completely crashed. I woke up very sore this morning and had a little bit of difficulty going down stairs, but it was all completely worth it! I’m sure I will be making more hikes up the mountain during my time here and can’t wait to discover all of the trails. !

“There is only one race, and that is the human race”

Yesterday my friends and I went downtown and visited the historic District 6 Museum. District 6 is located in the heart of Cape Town, very close to the Castle of Good Hope and South Africa’s Parliament.

District 6 was established as a vibrant mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants of all races and religions. However, this unique district threatened the apartheid regime, (because it proved that people of different races could live together peacefully) and it was ultimately deemed as a Whites Only Area in 1966. Before that time, blacks had already been forcibly removed (under the pretext of the Bubonic plague). Even legally married couples from two different races were forced to move to separate camps. Whites in control of the area claimed that Cape Town needed to create more of a city centre and grid-like European system and District 6 was in the way. All of the non-whites in District 6 had no choice but to leave, and their homes were bulldozed to the ground.

The District Six Museum was opened 1994 and serves as a memorial to all of those who were forced to leave. The museum incorporates lots of personal stories, art, and artifacts from those who used to live there.

Above: Standing on a map of what District 6 used to look like.

Side Note: The majority of coloured people who were forced out of District 6 moved to Ocean View, which is where I will be spending the weekend in a local family’s home next week.

The AMA-zing Race

Thursday 14 July

Today our day started off with more information about our stay here. We very briefly went over the history of South Africa and its recent rulers. We found out that although there is no overwhelming anti-American sentiment in Cape Town, it is not uncommon to find South Africans who will brush us off because of our nationality. However, they did tell us that it has gotten a lot better since President Obama has been elected (President Bush was not well received here at all). The current South African president is Jacob Zuma, and many people refer to him jokingly as J.Z. He has somewhere between 5-7 wives and is engaged to another. Polygamy is pretty acceptable here, but only for men.

Special notes about the school system I will be encountering! Most classes are strictly lecture and the professors (and students) do not welcome questions. If you want to ask a question, you must go through this long bureaucratic process and make an official appointment with your professor. But most often you won’t have the same lecturer throughout the duration of the course, they usually run on 2-week shifts. The grading scale is also very daunting. 100-75% is considered an A. But they told us we will receive somewhere between 50 and 75%, basically meaning if you get over a 75 you are a genius and prodigy. From there: 70-74 B+, 63-69 B, 60-62 B-, 51-59 C, 50 D, and anything below that is an F. If you do not hand in all of your assignments and go to at least 80% of your lectures, you are not permitted to take the final exam… which constitutes 50% of your grade. This results in a fail. So anyway… pretty nervous about all of that! But classes don’t start for over a week so I’m trying not to be too worried already.

Our big activity today was a scavenger hunt around the campus of University of Cape Town called the AMA-zing Race (which is basically the African version of the American show). We had 14 different locations around campus that we had to decipher clues for. My group ended up coming in 2nd place and won 100Rand to the UCT store. Not sure what I’ll be able to actually buy with that (it’s like $15), but it may help defray costs at least! Anyway, I still can’t believe I go to this school now. We kept looking around in disbelief. It is the most gorgeous campus I have ever seen… and it will only continue to grow more beautiful during my stay as we move into Spring!

Tonight we are planning to go into downtown Cape Town for the first time! I’m really excited to experience the “real” Mother City.