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. 

One Month ’til USA

Where is home?

College students grapple with new things throughout their years of study – but right now a feeling of displacement is washing over me. It’s hard to create a feeling of home when you rarely stay in the same place for more than four months. I’m now half-way done with my Junior year of college, and yet I have no idea where home is.

I’ve moved so much in my life that I get confused when people ask me where I’m from. “I was born in Massachusetts, but my family lives in Texas now… and I go to school in Washington, DC.” Oh, and I’ve lived in Connecticut and Illinois too. Now I live in Cape Town, but soon I’ll be back in Texas, then to DC again. How will I identify myself when I go there? I’m not actually from either of those places.

But maybe that’s what I love so much about myself. I am a product of so many different cities, towns, states, cultures… and now countries. I don’t know where I’m going or where I want to live, but that’s part of the wonder of going into the field of international development. I am becoming a citizen of the world. I’ve never stayed in the same place for long, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The shock and awe of a new place will never get old for me. I’m living in Cape Town, South Africa, right now, but I’m already looking forward to my next adventure. Where am I going to move to next? I really want to join the Peace Corps after I graduate. Will I come back to Africa? Will I be able to go to South America and finally become fluent in Spanish? Who knows. All I know is that I’m excited to find out.

So maybe I don’t have a home in this world right now. When I try and envision home in my mind all I see are the faces of my family and friends that I hold most dear. I haven’t been “homesick” during my time abroad, but I really miss laughing so hard we start to cry with my mom or being incredibly sarcastic with my dad. I miss endless Sonic happy hour runs and watching stupid TV with my siblings. I miss seeing my dogs’ excited faces when I walk in the door. I miss walking up Mass Ave to school with my girlfriends and I miss holding my boyfriend’s hand through all of the weird adventures we get ourselves into.

So if that’s my home, yeah… I guess I’m homesick. (Are you relieved mom?)

 

 

See y’all in a month.

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.

The Violence of an Image

My favorite class at UCT has been “Culture, Identity and Globalisation in Africa.” Our goal for the semester was simple: think Africa differently.

My professor Siona challenged us to ask questions about our new environment and the dominant discourse surrounding it. We spoke a lot about photography and the impact this particular art form has altered the world’s view on Africa.

When I say I live in Africa right now, most people will think of images like this:

I took each of these pictures myself, but is this the real Africa? What do you think when you see these pictures? And is what you think as a result the way I want to portray my time here? Probably not.

Much of Africa’s history, and the museums regarding that history, has been shaped by those from outside of Africa. Colonial powers came in, took over the land, and subjected the native people to their preferred forms of governance and ways of life. Colonists were fascinated with the “tribal” peoples and continued to poke, prod, and take pictures of the people for the benefit of their home country. Photographers documented what marked Africa as different from what they knew in Europe. Discourse has continued in this manner until today – where we generally view Africa as a poverty-stricken, far off land full of civil wars, exotic animals, and bare chested women.

In an article titled How to Write about Africa Binyavariga Wainaina writes:

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar,’ ‘Masai,’ ‘Zulu,’ ‘Zambezi,’ ‘Congo,’ ‘Nile,’ ‘Big,’ ‘Sky,’ ‘Shadow,’ ‘Drum,’ ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone.’ Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas,’ ‘Timeless,’ ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal.’ Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book.

This article and our discussions in class makes me think critically about the events that happen in my daily life and how I choose to document them. How will taking a photograph of these events change the way I view Africa? Or change the way my parents or friends view my experience?

Have you ever wondered why the discourse surrounding photography is so violent? Loading the camera with film. Aiming the camera. Shooting a picture. Capturing a moment.

Beyond that, the relationship between photographer and subject is also of a violent nature. In a separate reading for my class Susan Sontag remarks:

To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.

We must always remember the consequences of our actions. Every time I switch on my camera I ask myself:

  • What am I trying to capture with this photograph?
  • What am I trying to say with this photograph?
  • What will viewers think of this photograph? Is that what I want them to think?
  • Is this the way I want someone to take a photo of me or my home?
There are many times that I subsequently turn off my camera after thinking about these questions. I believe some photographs are not meant to be taken. I refuse to present my study abroad experience as that of a “typical” “African” journey. Because there isn’t one.
My hope is that by reading my blog posts, you too have learned how to think about Africa differently. A vast continent that cannot be contained by one description or one stereotype. A place full of bustling cities, up and coming economies and world class thinkers mixed in with the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife I have ever seen. A place that has allowed me to learn and grow into the woman I want to be.

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 :)

Searching for the “Big Five” in Kruger National Park

The final stop of my spring break adventure was Kruger National Park, one of the most famous game reserves in the world. (Don’t worry – I’ll go back and post more about Mozambique later!) Kruger is also one of the largest game reserves in the world, roughly the size of New Jersey or Israel. We entered the park via Malelane Gate and immediately saw elephants, crocodiles, giraffes, water buffalo and white rhinos on the way to Berg-en-dal, our campsite. It was crazy to just casually drive by all of the animals. I could have sat and watched them for hours, but alas we were all hungry for lunch and continued driving.

Our tour guide Bruce was really great about announcing when we found animals and telling us fascinating information about them. When we arrived at Berg-en-dal he said: “And on the right you can find a family of Afrikaners.” That pretty much summed up the camp: lots of white people in matching safari outfits. But staying in the camp was really strange for a completely different reason. We were not allowed to leave the camp after 6pm or before 6am. During those hours there was no way for us to leave our fenced in compound. It felt like the opposite of being in a zoo, where the animals were fenced in and you are free to roam about. In Kruger the people are the ones fenced in. Besides feeling slightly claustrophobic, I admired the way South African National Parks Association worked to guarantee the preservation of land and animals – their well-being came first. Also monkeys and honey badgers roamed the camp and that was pretty awesome.

My main goal in Kruger was to spot all of the “Big Five.” These animals are considered the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot and include: lions, leopards, elephants, black rhinos and cape buffalos. Unfortunately I never found them all. Technically I saw three – lions, elephants and cape buffalos – but I saw zillions of white rhinos so I could possibly fudge a little bit and say I saw 4/5.

On the morning of September 11 I rose at 4:30am to the sounds of lions and crawled out of my tent to get ready for a morning walking tour through the park. It was still dark when our vehicle left the gate (you can leave the camp if you are with a guided tour) and watching the beautiful African sunrise was incredible. Our guides Stanley and Peter drove a group of six of us to a special trail where we were then allowed to get out and walk through the bush. We had to walk in a single file line so as to minimize our impact on the environment around us. Because we were walking we cover very little ground in the park compared to a driving tour and saw a lesser amount of animals. We were able to spot a spotted hyena, several white rhino, and a few varieties of antelope. Although I was definitely underwhelmed by rhino at this point, feeling a rhino running was a remarkable experience. We were so close to the second rhino we found that Peter threw a rock at it to make it run away… and I could feel the ground rumble. Rhinos are also the most awkward animal I’ve ever seen. Watching it run didn’t even seem real.

My favorite part about the walking tour was finding all of the treasures we could never see from a safari vehicle. Stanley taught me more about animal poop than I ever thought I could know (yay new party conversation starters). We walked through rhino poop dumps, analyzed hyena and rhino footprints, discovered an elephant skull and rhino skeleton, and even viewed bushman paintings from over 150 years ago!

Later that day Bruce took us out on an afternoon game drive, on which we decided to play an animal sighting drinking game. You had to drink according to how rare the animal you found was – so a springbok would equal 1 drink, a leopard 5 drinks, and all the animals somewhere in between. It was hilarious and so much fun. Again – I never thought I’d see a day where giraffe and elephant sightings were just casual.

After that my friends and I took a nighttime game drive with Stanley. Our whole objective was to finally find some type of cat (leopards, cheetahs or lions) and thankfully our wish was granted at the end of the drive! Nighttime drives are actually really complicated. There are 2 lamps on the safari truck that people use to shine into the bush, but otherwise everything is completely dark and you can’t see anything. So we all had to stare into the trajectory of the light and search for the reflection of an animal’s eyes. We had lots of false alarms, but when we did find animals they were so close! As our time was almost up at the end of the tour Stanley got a call on his radio that another vehicle had spotted lions! Needless to say I was freaking out and wanted to go right away, but Stanley insisted on letting us have a pee break at a campsite instead. I was really concerned that we were going to miss our chance and exclaimed “Lions don’t wait for anyone!!” – but thankfully they did wait.

We came across a pride of 5 female lions, who were right on the side of the road. Our vehicle was completely silent as we cut the engine and watched intently. At one point a lioness walked really close to the vehicle and nearly lunged at us! We all freaked out and screamed… but then begged for her to do it again. Much to our delight two of them also started playing and jumping on each other. Earlier in the day I was really disappointed when we didn’t come across cats in the walking tour, but after getting so close to these lionesses with no fence in between I’m really glad I didn’t find them on foot. They are huge! And the lionesses, like the badasses they are, do all of the hunting. So I definitely don’t want to get in her way!

Kruger was an incredible experience and I could have happily spent my entire 10-day trip there. I have so many more stories and facts about animals but there is no way I can write about it all! Hopefully in the upcoming days I can fill you all in on the rest of my travels in the past weeks. And in the meantime if you want to know more about animal poop just let me know!

Love to all.

PS: If you have a few minutes I recommend watching this video. It was taken by some people on a game drive on Kruger! I wish I could have seen something as crazy as this while I was there!