Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Change in Plans

As many of you may know I will no longer be going to Vietnam in the fall. While I was in South Africa and since coming home my sensitivity to gluten has gotten much much worse. I wrote a little about it while I was in South Africa. This was a huge decision for me and a very difficult one. I went to see a doctor the day after returning from New Orleans and her diagnosis was basically: you can't eat gluten for one reason or another and you just have to avoid it completely. She ordered lab tests and tested me for celiac again. Although it came back negative she said it was still likely I had it. Celiac is a disease where when gluten is ingested it does damage to the intestines. If it is caught early the damage can be reversed,but if it is diagnosed later in life it is likely it will cause permanent damage. There about hundreds of symptoms of celiac and it is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases in the world. It is guessed that 1 in ever 133 people in the US has it,but only 5% of those are diagnosed. Anyway,I won't go in to details about my reactions but I'll just say not only do I have stomach and abdominal pain but I also experience full body exhaustion and pain. Plainly,it's incredibly uncomfortable when I eat gluten. It's in practically everything and I'm having an insanely hard time avoiding it,even in Portland. So I decided that it would be too difficult for me to completely avoid it in Vietnam and I could not, with a clean conscious, ask my host families to cook gluten free for me.

While it's upsetting that I won't be able to continue my language studies and research in Vietnam, I'm sure Max and I will get a chance to travel in the area in the future. For the time being I've registered for classes at UW again(after much arguing with the school around my credits & financial aid) and I'm attempting to get my body healthy. For a while I did not want to be officially diagnosed with Celiac because that would mean I would have a 'pre-existing condition' and have a harder time buying independent insurance. Nobody should have to worry about that,yet another reason we need Single Payer health care. But I have only gotten more sensitive to food and so I am going to see a gastroenterologist in a few weeks in the hopes they'll be able to help me.

Work at Jobs with Justice has been going great,it feels like I never left. It's only become more evident how much I love this work,and how lucky I am to be doing it at such a young age. Although food has become such and issue because I can't eat anything I don't make,or any processed foods for the most part, life is still good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last day in South Africa and New Orleans (part 1)

It's been a while since I returned from South Africa but I never wrote about my last day, even though it will remain in my mind forever. It was a perfect way to spend my last day,and made me feel okay about leaving.

First off: my last day. I woke up pretty early in the morning, headed to the internet cafe and then hopped on a minibus to Salt River. When I walked in to the COSATU/SADSAWU(South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union) office there was a young woman in there with Myrtle. I said hello and this woman excitedly asked if I was Lila. When I said yes she told me she was working on creating a website for SADSAWU and when she had asked Myrtle for some stories from the workers Myrtle handed her my paper! I had come in to the office to say goodbye to Myrtle and Hester and to meet Jennifer Fish,an American who had previously done research on the domestic workers and had kept in touch with them. It turns out that this young woman was one of Jennifer's students and Myrtle & Hester would be speaking to them later in the afternoon. I went downstairs and for over an hour spoke with a few of the students while we waited for Jennifer. They asked me questions about my time in South Africa and it made me realize how much I had truly learned during the four months. After Hester and Myrtle spoke to the students Jennifer asked me to come up and speak about my experiences, which I did. After I did so Hester asked me when I would be coming back. I told her "as soon as possible" to which she gave me a painfully huge hug and told me they couldn't wait for me to come back. Once she said that I knew there was no question of "if" I come back to South Africa, but rather a question of when.

I spoke to Jennifer for a long time and she informed me that her students would also be interviewing some of the workers and they wanted my interview questions so they could keep some continuity to the interviews.When I told her that my only interview question was "please tell me what you think it is important for me to know" she just looked at me before saying "that's the best question I've ever heard". Now,I don't know about that,but it was nice to hear a tenured professor and researcher say that. She gave me her contact information and told me she would be reading my paper in the coming weeks and was hoping to stay in touch. She told me she wanted to help me find funding resources to come back here and continue my work and that she would love to collaborate with me on a publication sometime in the future (!!!). Although research isn't my primary focus, it is certainly a wonderful feeling to be considered a legitimate researcher just because of my apparently obvious interest and passion in the topic.

The interaction with Myrtle, Hester, Jennifer and her students was all I could think about during my 36 hours of traveling. Being home has been simultaneously wonderful and very odd. There's not a huge culture shock but I'm still getting used to going out at night,walking alone everywhere,and talking on the phone while walking down the street. It's great being able to eat things that don't make me sick and to go out whenever I want without worrying about the time of day or safety. I'm sure I've changed a lot although I can't identify any specific ways other than I think I've become more like a typical New Yorker: much more blunt,potentially offensive and outgoing. I guess it's up to those around me to tell me if I've changed or stayed exactly the same.

And now here I am,back in another airport. This time my flights are only 8 hours long and there's no customs to get through. I spent June 9th-June 16th in New Orleans, my first time in the South. I came here for an Interfaith Worker Justice intern training and conference. It's been quite an interesting experience seeing as a majority of the people here are religious in some form or another and my religion, as my mom put it, is the union. But all the other interns are so nice and it's great to hear about all the different backgrounds and ideas, much like South Africa. There's so much to say,I'm not sure where to begin! I only got off of the Tulane campus twice during my week here,but they were both great. The first time a group of us went out to Burbon street to experience the New Orleans party scene. We wandered down the street of bright lights, loud music and exciting costumes.It was a lot of fun. I'm not sure I could do it more than once or twice, but it's certainly different from other cities I've been in. The place it resembles most closely is South Africa which was a bit comforting for me. Even though I try to suppress it,I'm really missing Cape Town. Here it seems like everyone is in vacation/party mode, with people of all ages getting trashed and stumbling down the street. There's so much I could say about that,but it's so much easier to do in person.

Yesterday, Monday June 15th we went on a 'witness' of New Orleans,seeing the areas most affected by Katrina and Rita. I'm going to have to process that a bit more before I can write about it,but don't worry,I will.

The past week left me looking closer at how I relate to religion and people of faith, how I travel and what development and reconstruction means. So heavy topics. In a few days I'll post again with pictures, stories and some thoughts. But until then I think I'll get some sleep and start work at Jobs with Justice.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

2 more days

I'm back in Cape Town after visiting Kwa Zulu-Natal for 2 weeks with my parents. We leave South Africa on Thursday, which is pretty hard to believe. I started crying on the plane last night as we returned from Durban,just thinking about leaving the city. I've never left a place I lived in without knowing when I'd be coming back (I was too young when we left NY to really comprehend it). It's really difficult. Cape Town isn't a particularly beautiful city, it's not particularly easy to get around, and the food's not that good,but still,I don't want to leave. I've made a connection with this city that goes past the wonderful domestic workers or my family in Langa. It's past the crazy minibus taxi system and the inability to travel the city after dark. I like that it's not a perfect city,that there's a lot of problems with it. South Africa is such an interesting place. I can't wait to come back here. When i get home I want to start looking at UCT or research opportunities that can bring me back here with a purpose. I hope that I make this much of a connection with Vietnam next fall,but I'm not sure I will.

I'm ready to go home,despite my sadness about leaving South Africa. Having such a hard time finding gluten free food makes it much harder to live here,but if I came back,I'd find a way to make it work. The next few weeks will be crazy busy,just how I like them,and they'll help keep my mind off missing Cape Town. I'm headed down to Corvallis for a week with Max to get over jetlag and relax in the sun,and then on June 9th I fly to New Orleans for a week for the Interfaith Worker Justice student intern training and conference. It's my first time to New Orleans and I couldn't be more excited!

Tons of pictures will be posted when I get home,don't worry.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

42 pages...

2 hours ago I turned in the final copy of my Independent Research Project. It is 42 pages long and I think my best research. I'm really proud of the result and hope something can happen with it outside of my grade for this semester. When I brought it in to the domestic workers union/COSATU office they were so grateful that I did that. They said I was only the second researcher, out of all of the ones that had interviewed them over the years, to bring the final product back to them. I told them that I really wanted to not just take their stories and leave,but maintain and strong connection with them and the organization. I think a few of the workers and the COSATU administrator/gender coordinator that I spoke with are going to come to my presentation on Saturday. We all have to present our findings to the class/the board that grades our papers. I'm so excited they will be coming to hear me,although it puts a lot of pressure on me. Another exciting part of giving them my paper: Myrtle & Hester are on the International Labor Organization's board and are working on the next ILO convention and said they want to use my paper at the convention!!!!

It feels great to be done after 3.5 long months. Now all that's left is presentations the next two days and then 3 days of evaluation. My parents arrive on Sunday night-I'm going to Langa to celebrate mother's day with my mama there,then heading to the airport to pick my Mom & Dad up. The next 3 weeks will be spend showing my parents around Cape Town, introducing them to the folks I worked with on my project, and heading up to Durban and Umfolozi park again. I'm looking forward to it.

I'm happy to share my paper if anyone has a particular desire to read it. If so,just email me and I'll send it to you.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Updated pictures and bumps in the road

The last few days have been both wonderful and very stressful. The interviews I talked about in my last post were certainly the high point of the week. Yesterday I interviewed Myrtle Witbooi, the General Secretary of the union and we talked for almost 2 hours! It was a wonderful interview and she is certainly an inspiring woman. She has fought tirelessly for her fellow domestic workers and tears came to her eyes when she spoke about retiring. I will write more in the next couple days or perhaps after I have finished writing my huge paper(which is due on the 7th,if you were wonderfing). Those were the good parts.

Now,the bad parts: first of all,last weekend I apparently left my USB drive which has all my research for this paper on it, at an internet cafe. It's gone for good so I had to rewrite my work and get new copies of articles. Not a huge problem,but stressful the week before the paper is due. Bigger issue: I may have talked about my food problems before but if not: I have some sort of intolerance to all gluten products and various other foods and because EVERYTHING here has gluten in it,I have a really hard time finding much to eat,or even to make at home. I visited a doctor who agreed to test me for celiac disease-a gluten intolerance which wears away at your stomach lining when you have gluten and the only cure is to not eat it. Today I heard back from him-I'm negative for that. So we're back to the drawing board on what's wrong with my silly tummy. It's more stressful than it sounds it honestly makes me miss Portland with all it's restaurants and stores catering to people with finiky tummies,like me.

But aside from those few bad things,life is good here in Cape Town! In talking to my parents about their upcoming trip here I've realized that I have really grown accustomed to living here. I even consider it MY city, going so far as to offer my parents, who are seasoned travlers, advice and recommendations about clothing and safety. Things that seemed like a big deal when I got here, like the fact that you really don't go out at night if you don't own a car, now seem like normal life. I even find myself considering all the wonderful artwork that's sold on streets here to be kitshy and touristy,when really I'm just used to it,and I have to be reminded that it's beautiful and unique. I know when I get home I'm going to have a bit of a hard time adjusting to being in the United States,but I'm looking forward to it because I know it will only reenforce the amazing experiences I've had here.

Well,that's enough deep reflection for one time.I've added a few pictures,so check them out!

Lila's travels


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

This is why I came to South Africa...

Yesterday was the reason I came to South Africa.Yesterday I spent 3 hours talking with domestic workers. I got to interview 7 wonderful women and hear their stories. It was inspiring, horrifying and just all around fascinating. It's so hard for me to even begin to talk about it,it doesn't quite seem real. I had three sessions of interview, with 2 women the first time, 2 the second and then 3 the third. After those 7 women a group of French exchange students showed up and so we all went down to talk to them. The steering committee for the Western Cape branch of the domestic workers union talked to the students and then we all sat around and had some snacks. When the French students wanted to take a picture of the whole group of domestic workers (or Home Executives as one of the women called herself) the National President of the union called me over and said "Lila,come be in the picture with us,you're one of us". My heart practically melted out of my chest. All of the women had started out a bit shy and not sure what to expect but by the time I left at 6pm they were all laughing and joking with me and asking when they would see me again, which was exactly what I had hoped for.

The interviews I did are really going to help me with my ISP,and they're the bulk of my research. Today (Tuesday) I'm interviewing Myrtle Witbooi, the Secretary general of the Western Cape branch of the domestic workers union and on Thursday I'm talking to the National President. I still haven't quite processed how lucky I am to have the opportunity to talk to such strong, amazing women. The last week hasn't been the best, what with me being sick, not being able to eat very many foods and losing my USB with ALL of my work for this 40 page paper on it, but yesterday made all that disappear.

I've got 9 days to write my 40 page paper and get it printed. I have absolutely no work on it any more,and have to start all the secondary research over. But nothing can dampen how great my experience with these women has been. On Friday I'm going downtown to help them with their booth for May Day - I'm really interested to see what it's like here. I think the new President, Jacob Zuma, may even be coming to talk.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elections in South Africa

Yesterday, April 22nd marked South Africa's 4th free, democratic election. Ever since we got to the country we've been hearing and talking about it,it's a bit hard to believe it actually happened. You may have heard a few years ago about the scandal surrounding Jacob Zuma, a top official in the ANC(The African National Congress, Nelson Mandela's party). He was accused of raping a family friend who happened to be HIV positive. When asked what he did to prevent himself from getting HIV he respond "I took a shower", prompting this caricature:

Although he was cleared of those charges many still believe he did rape her and that he got off easy.

And yet,he was the ANC's presidential candidate. Before I talk any more about my experiences with the election I think it'd be a good idea to explain the political system here,I don't think I've done it before. If I have,I apologize. Ok so there is a parliament of 400 members plus the president. Parties run for national office with a list of 400 people that they would put in parliament if they won all the seats. The party that gets the greatest majority of votes (has been the ANC since 1994) puts the person who is at the top of their list in as president,and the people following them get ministry positions,etc. The seats in Parliament are divided up based on the percentages each party gets. If the ANC gets 60% of the vote, for example, they get 60% of the seats in Parliament in addition to the seat of the president. I think it's a pretty cool system-no one party wins or loses, they mostly all get a spot in government. So when you go to cast your ballot you don't vote for a candidate,you vote for a party. Jacob Zuma is the ANC's #1 on their list of 400.

Ok,so most of what we've heard since being here is that Zuma is a scumbag but that a majority of the population is still voting for the ANC. The people on my program have gotten really upset about this, saying they don't understand how people can still be voting for someone who's been accused of rape and corruption(was recently acquitted of those charges -i think that's the right word). The Americans seem to have an extremely hard time separating the man - Zuma - from the party- the ANC. While I think Zuma is a total scumbag who doesn't deserve to be in government, I think the policies of the ANC are great,and I can understand how many people still want to vote for him, despite these things. There are quite a few opposition parties: the DA (mostly an Afrikaaner/Colored party that some say is the remnants of the National Party-the party that created and enforced Apartheid), COPE (Congress of the People, new in this election, old ANC supporters who don't believe the ANC is accomplishing what they are promising, many young people are supporting this party), the ID, the UDM,the IDF, etc. There's a ton of acronyms that I honestly can't remember at the moment. The DA, ANC & COPE are the biggest players in electoral politics in this election.

Ever since we got here there have been posters from all of the political parties lining the streets and it's all anyone can talk about. Most of our families in Langa & Tshabo supported the ANC although quite a few of the people my age support COPE. In Stellenbosch and Bo Kaap most people are supporting the DA. In Durban we met a lot of students who said they weren't voting at all because they knew the ANC was going to win,so what use is it voting for other parties.

Last night we had a party to celebrate the election and a few people in my apartment (I woke say who...this was illegal), went out and cut down signs from each of the parties. These are huge cardboard signs that are on every lamppost. We decorated our apartment with them and had people over to watch the election coverage,which, I'm happy to report, is nowhere near as crazy as in the US. By the end of the night I was feeling quite pessimistic,an odd feeling for me. I realized that presidential elections depress me. There is so much energy and community activism leading up to them but then once the people are in office, that tends to peter off, and people will complain but not necessarily work to change things until the next election. This isn't everybody, or every election,but it's depressing none-the-less. I think South Africa is like that,but not to as great an extent as the US. In fact the homeless people's organizations in the townships around Cape Town and Johannesburg staged "one house,one vote" campaigns where they refused to vote until the government agreed to move them in to the empty housing or creating housing opportunities for them. An interesting situation.

Whew, I wrote a lot about the election. Hopefully that gives you all a better idea of what the political climate is like here. Pictures to come later. As far as my research goes, it's been moving pretty slowly. I've been not feeling so great lately-my food issues are acting up, so I've been trying to lie low. In addition, the fact that election day was a national holiday made it a bit hard to set up interviews for this week. But this afternoon I'm meeting with a woman from University of Western Cape who is working on a program doing research on domestic workers and I hopefully have an interview set up with COSATU - one of the national labor federations. They won't be able to meet with me until may 4th, which is 1 day before I wanted to take my paper to be printed,but it's an interview none the less and I'm looking forward to it.

Oh,before I forget,we don't know the election results yet,but I'll let you all know when we do. The Western Cape (where I am) is likely to be the only Provence that doesn't go ANC...should be interesting!
That's more than enough for now,enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

This week has been really great. I had a wonderful 21st birthday celebration with my friends here and my gluten free cake turned out pretty well.

Yesterday I got a wonderful phone call from the secretary general of the domestic workers union here who I've been trying to get in touch with for like 3 weeks. She told me that she talked to a bunch of workers and that 6 of them want to talk to me,so next weekend I'm going to go in and talk to these women. I'm SO excited! This is exactly what I need for my project! I think I'm going to bake them muffins too,it is a Sunday morning after all.

Not much else going on,just trying to figure out my flights home after they got changed and our academic director didn't send that info out for 3 weeks. It's cooled down a little bit in Cape Town and it's all foggy and drizzly-it reminds me of Portland.I think this weekend will be spent eating avocados, reading books for my project and just generally lounging about.


Monday, April 13, 2009

I love this flat...

The flat is wonderful! We've had people over, gone shopping daily at the little Halaal stores around the corner and made a huge mess of the kitchen,I think we're moved in!

I put up a few pictures of the flat, it's beautiful and I really want to live here permanently:
Lila's travels

Speaking of living here permanently,I've been thinking about that a lot lately...what are the ethics of a young white,American couple moving in to South Africa and getting jobs? My homestay Mama in Langa told me she wants me & Max to be the first white couple to ever live in Langa(totally black township,if I didn't mention that before)...but is it ethical for us,a couple who could possibly afford something more expensive, to take a house from a low income family, just to cross the color divide? And is it ok for us to come here and take jobs that would otherwise go to South Africans, when they already have a huge unemployment rate? I've been thinking about this a lot because I'm really not sure of the issues. I do want to come live here & work here,just like I want to do in many other places around the globe,but I feel like there's a lot of issues to get through about where we'd live & work...

Ok,that's it as far as deep thoughts go for the moment.

Life otherwise has consisted of a lot of experimenting with gluten free recipes. I've perfected corn flatcakes and I'm making myself a flourless chocolate cake on Thursday for my birthday as well as ricotta & butternut gluten free ravioli. It should be exciting!


Thursday, April 9, 2009

It's been a while...

Well,I just wrote up a whole entry and it got deleted so I'll try to rewrite it...

First off,today is the first day of the ISP period and it's off to a great start. For the next month I'll be living in the best neighborhood in Cape Town(do a google image search for Chiappini street,Cape Town,that's where I'm living!) in a flat with 4 other students and doing research on domestic workers in South Africa & the idea of an 'unoranizable' worker. I'm really looking forward to finally starting my research,I think I'm going to learn a lot.

Let's see...lots has happened since I last wrote from Stellenbosch. After returning to Cape Town we had our Bo Kaap homestay. Bo Kaap houses 80% of the Western Cape's Muslims and 70% of Bo Kaap residents are Muslim. It is home to the oldest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere and world famous fashion photo shoots regularly happen on its streets.My family was made up of Ganiefah(24), her older sister Sohwal & Sohwal's daughter Bilqees(10), and a young Zimbabwean family with an adorable 3 year old named Eve who lived in one of the rooms of the apartment. The family is Muslim although they do not pray or attend mosque regularly. They have beautiful arabic artwork all over the apartment and all music or TV is turned down during the evening call to prayer. I even knew more arabic then them!

The first night in Bo Kaap Ganiefah and I bonded through cooking & laughing at my inability to eat anything. But after that first night we mostly just watched TV silently after dinner,rarely talking. Sohwal worked until 9:30pm everynight I was there,except for the last 2,so I rarely saw her. When I did see her though,we had some really interesting conversations about South Africa and the United States. During this homestay the corruption charges against presidential candidate Jacob Zuma were dropped, which is a big deal for South Africa. He is the likely winner of the election although almost everyone we've talked to thinks he's a dirty scumbag. Side note: the way elections work here is that you vote for a political party and they create a list of 400 people (that's how many seats are in Parliament) and the party with the majority puts their top person in the presidency and then the seats of Parliament are divided up among the parties depending on what percentage of the vote they got, so people can support a party but hate the presidential candidate of that party. It's an interesting system...

Anyway, back to my conversations with Sohwal. I'm not quite sure how we got on the topic but she was dumbfounded to hear that there's poverty in the United States and that people cannot afford housing,food or healthcare.I told her about how our unemployment and health care systems don't provide for people and she couldn't understand that. In South Africa you get a grant from the government if you are unemployed, you don't have to go through a lot of work to get it.I told her about the ridiculous insurance company system in the US and explained Single Payer to her (if YOU don't know about it-go to www.pnhp.org and check it out-it's what our country needs!), which she thought was just the sensible thing. It's a bit strange being in a country where total funding of social services is just common sense to most people,including the government. Although healthcare is not covered and health insurance here is so expensive most people don't have it. It is much cheaper comparatively than the US though...

I'm sure there are many things I'm forgetting about,but I'll just write again soon. I think the ISP period will give me a lot of time to think about the trip thus far and reflect on it better,so be prepared for lots of reflective entries. We had a processing session yesterday where everyone talked about their ideas about going home after this trip,it was really interesting. Most of the people on this trip are unsure about how they'll deal with going home, they've changed so much on this trip. It's an interesting thing and I think good for me to be around people that are so changed by this trip. I think it's been a wonderful experience for me,and I've certainly learned a lot,and changed my opinions about certain things,but I don't see myself as a changed person. It's inspiring to see that this experience really is like that to some, and I hope that they don't have as hard of a time going home as they think they will. I'm starting to get impatient to get home and put some of this knowledge in to practice,and to share what I've learned even more. Working at Jobs with Justice this summer will be a perfect opportunity to do that,and I really hope I can make connections with the African Women's Coalition again and that Mo can practice my Xhosa with me.

Oh,lots more pictures have been added:
Lila's travels

Lots of love to everyone, happy passover & happy easter


Friday, March 27, 2009


So I'm in Stellenbosch,a town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town, in the heart of wine country. It's also what's known as the heartland of the Afrikaner.(Oh,and I learned that there's only 1 A when refering to the people,and 2 A's when it's the language, ie.Afrikaans).We're staying with a very nice family with 3 boys ages 14,11 & 8. They've had lots of students before so they are very laid back and have been WONDERFUL in dealing with my wheat issues (which seem to only have gotten worse since being here). It's a big change being here in an almost entirely white city after exploring the rest of South Africa.There are 'colored' neighborhoods and a 'black township' here as well,but in town itself,just about everyone is white.It feels a lot like an old European town or colonial America. Lectures so far have been sort of interesting,but the best part was yesterday when we had to do a photo project with Stellenbosch University students. We were told to walk around and take pictures of what is different & what is the same between our two countries. Instead of rewriting everything I'm just going to type up what I wrote in my journal so you can not only read about what I've been doing & thinking,but you can see how I've been writing to myself.

After lunch Susan and I went over to the Stellenbosch market. It was an African craft market with sterotypical "African" art and crafts. It was very odd for us to go around and talk to people in English when we could heart them speaking Xhosa,it made us feel like tourists when we've mostly not felt like that,although we are,to some extent. Susan was trying to find a painting of Langa(the township we'd been living in) and many of the salesman where very confused as to why she wanted one of that specific township. In the afternoon we were grouped together with 3 Stellenbosch University students and told to walk around and take pictures of the differences & similarities between our countries. Our 3 girls started off really quiet but as we walked we started to talk more and more. One of the first things we decided to take a picture of was a STOP sign because they're the same in both countries. I mentioned that I had seen one where someone had spray painted "war" underneath it, and how we had those in Portland as well. One of the girls in our group admitted that it was her who had done that, so that was pretty cool. Next we took a picture of the restaurant Spur, which is a Native American themed restaurant that's really popular. Susan & I talked about how a restaurant like that would be considered hugely offensive in the US(their symbol is a 'typical Indian' in a feather headdress and inside everything has little red cartoon people in feathers and leather clothes), this didn't seem to make much sense to the girls,but they were interested to hear about that big difference. Next they wanted to go take pictures of the market, but we deterred them from that because it just didn't seem appropriate. Instead we told them how there's this commodification of culture in the US and we had noticed it here, where other culture's art and music was being taken in to American's homes as a symbol that they're worldly,without those people knowing anything about the other culture.I'm not explaining this very well,and I guess we didn't explain it well yesterday either,because they thought we were talking about a good thing.
As we walked down a block that was mostly colored and black people the girls told us to 'hold on to your bags tightly here,and be careful.' We had literally walked 10 feet from where we'd been before,but they instantly got nervous. As we walked down the street it became increasingly evident that these girls were uncomfortable with non-white people. We did have a lot of fun,although we all agreed we would have learned more by going out to a bar or club together.
When we returned to the classroom all the groups showed their pictures and explained what they'd talked about. When we talked about the Spur picture some of the South Africans said that they were surprised that this was not appropriate in the US because in South Africa using a black, 'native' African as a symbol in a restaurant or something is perfectly appropriate and even considered a form of respect. I'm not sure if that's totally correct or just the opinion of one white Afrikaner. My feeling on the matter is that what is inappropriate is when using a cultural symbol depends on who has ownership over the use of that symbol. But then again,I'm not sure how I feel about Indian casinos in the US; I don't think they're the same as the Zulu parks here because of the ownership issue, but I'm not sure that makes them right.
What started out as sort of boring exercise ended up really making me grapple with big issues, something that I feel like I haven't had enough of since coming to UW, or even since coming to South Africa.
Friday, March 27th,2009
This morning we had a lecture on Afrikaner collective guilt & responsibility,which I had been looking forward to. It was absolutely fascinating and certainly the most thought provoaking lecture we've had. We began by talking about what responsibility means. I said that,to me, responsibility means that if you see a horrible thing happening it is your responsibility to act to end it and if you do not, you are responsible and guilty for what happens. Obviously the class was centered on Afrikaner collective guilt and what Afrikaners could or should be responsible for, although we also talked a bit about the American war in Iraq. When asked how you would react to responsibility, how others would know where you stand, I spoke about the various ways one can either support or fight against injustice, that one must actively work to stop it otherwise they are implicit in the activity.
We also spoke about the difference between guilt & responsibility-guilt is a response to a personal action or inaction, whereas responsibility can come from something being done in your name even if you aren't personally committing the crime. Towards the end of the lecture the lecturer asked us if we could think of any group that was not politically responsible in any way,and her answer was 'refugees' because they lack a state. I responded to this by saying that I believe although responsibility as part of a state is different, we are all human beings and are therefore responsible to each other. She said she agreed in some senses but that it's a different sort of responsibility.
During the Q & A period Elizabeth asked a question about how cultural relativism plays out in the concept of collective guilt and responsibility. The lecturer said that she doesn't really believe in the idea of cultural relativism because we are all people and we recognize others as human,and cultural relativism can sometimes excuse things that are not ok to anyone. That's one huge issue I always grapple with-how far should cultural relativism go? I'm still not really sure how I feel about it,but whenever people talk about cultural relativism I feel like it goes too far. It's certainly something I'm still struggling with and I hope I can come more to grips with it,although maybe that's something I will always go back & forth with?

As you can see lately we've been dealing with a lot of big issues,like I'd hoped we would,and it's making me think a lot,and in different ways then I've done in the past of this trip. Being here so far has been quite the experience,although different from the rest of the time. I hope that some of my 'readers' can offer some insight into these issues although I know that I have to discover the answers for myself when it comes right down to it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Long time no post (WARNING: this is going to be annoyingly long)

Whew,I've only been out of Cape Town for 17 days,but it feels like forever! On March 6th we flew to East London,then drove about 2 hours to Tshabo, where we did our rural homestay for 5 nights. We stayed in Tshabo 2, which is one of 11 villages in the area. It was situated on top of a hill & had a lovely view. Our family was made up of a mama, a tata(dad) who we only saw twice, twin sisters who were about 28 (one of whom lived in East London & only came up for the weekend) and two 17 y/o who went to the local high school. The Mama only had one eye & was very shy, she didn't really talk to us at all. We tried really hard to speak to her in Xhosa-she didn't speak English-but she hardly ever responded. The older sisters were the ones who cooked for us,which in and of itself was an interesting situation: we were never told if & when we would be eating,but all of a sudden at 8:30ish at night we'd get this giant plate of food-way too much to eat. In the morning I ate my rice cakes & peanut butter, and then we weren't given food until 8:30pm. Good thing we brought a lot of snacks! Each morning we let the goats out of their pen, seeing chickens scuttle in & out of the house was a regular occurrence and cows regularly sniffed at our bedroom window. Our family had electricity & a television, but the tap for the 3 houses around us was about 100ft from the house & we used a outhouse. We visited a local school (it had 4 classrooms & one of the teachers hit her students with a cane when they didn't know the answers), hoed in the garden for 4 hours, and learned to bead with the Mamas (that's their main form of income).

When we left Tshabo everyone was crying,the people in our group got really attached to their families. Susan & I, however, were ready to move on, and I admit, I was looking forward to a shower after not bathing for a week. We drove to Buccaneers Backpackers on the Wild Coast, but along the way we stopped at a paper cooperative where we learned about how they make paper & I got hugely frustrated with the man who'd come down from Johannesburg to 'help these people' because 'they don't have anything to do in their little houses' (his words).As we drove out of Tshabo & in to East London all the people in my van talked about going back to "civilization", as if where we'd been was uncivilized.Grrr.

Buccaneers was a beautiful backpackers, just a five minute walk from the Indian Ocean,where we spent most of our time. During the 3 days we spent there we had our final Xhosa proficiency test, which I think I did pretty well on. While it was a lovely place to stay,I was a bit upset that we were spending 3 days relaxing & being tourists-that's not really why most of us came on this program.

After Buccaneers we drove for two days to Durban, in KwaZulu-Natal. We stopped on Saturday night in Kokstad,halfway to Durban, at a little Inn. It was a creepy place, with tons of animal heads on the walls, and the white family that owned the place treated their black helper horribly. She was calling us "madam" and when I told her she didn't have to,the women who owned the Inn told me that "yes,she did have to call me Madam, it would keep her in her place". Yuck. The only other distinctive part about that night was that my suitcase broke,so I had to throw everything in to my duffel bag.

Durban was a blur of a week. We had lectures at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), which had a beautiful campus that reminded me a bit of UW.On Tuesday we went to this huge Hindu temple in Durban. It was absolutely beautiful & reminded me so vividly of Nepal that I was surprised when people began speaking Xhosa, not Nepalese. There were peacocks wandering the ground of the temple, a small tiled temple dedicated just to Hanuman, and a large hall dedicated to Ganesh.An elderly woman showed us around, telling us stories and at each statue we stopped at she prayed to that god or goddess for our safety & health. I've never felt particularly drawn to any religion, but I think that if I was looking for one,I would choose Hinduism. I've always been so drawn to its mythology & I've always felt a strong connection the Ganesh(the elephant god who brings luck & is the patron god of travelers) and Saraswati (goddess of learning, wisdom & music. Her animal is the peacock).

After the Hindu temple we went to lunch, which was Bunny Chow, a local Durban dish. It's spicy veggies + meat served in a hollowed out loaf of bread. I got just spicy veggies + rice and it was amazing! After lunch we went to the Juma Mosque- the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere. It was absolutely beautiful & re-inspired me to keep up with my Arabic as much as possible. We spent the rest of that afternoon in the Victoria St. Market, an Indian & African market which was a lot of fun. Susan & I went back to that market later in the week where I bought some music & was told that I don't dance too badly for a white girl.

There were two more significant events that happened in Durban, so bear with me a little bit longer. On Wednesday after we finished eating on the UKZN campus we heard a huge crowd of students chanting. A few of us went up and joined the crowd that had gathered on the steps of an administrative building. Black students on the campus were striking in the hopes of improving financial aid as well as options for housing for themselves. The most popular chant was "Amandla! Ngawethu," meaning 'all power to the people' which was so wonderful to hear at a student demonstration! As the crowd moved on to the Student Union building & we had to return to class we asked students why we were the only non-black students there. We were told that no other students have faced the issues with housing because they can afford to live on their own or at home & drive to school, and that solidarity between the races,and most importantly, between the social classes is practically unheard of. Despite this,hearing students ask each other if they're striking today was such an inspiring thing to hear,and I felt so excited to come home & be part of a movement like that in the States.

On Thursday we spent all day in Chatsworth, a township outside of Durban, with the Bayview Flats Residents Association. It was an amazing day! This is an organization that has organized over the last 10 years to prevent evictions of families who couldn't pay their utilities and that is a model of diversity & solidarity. Although Chatsworth has been a predominantly Indian township the area of Bayview within it, is made up of people of all different races living peacefully together. According to all the residents we spoke to,they have NEVER had a racial incident! People there are extremely poor but they really work together to make sure everyone stays afloat. There is a section of town called Snake Town where all of the houses are constantly crawling with snakes (including the black & green mambas & the boot adder) and the ambulances can't go there so if someone needs to go to the hospital they must be carried up the hill to where the ambulances can go.There was a woman there named Yvonne who basically adopted me for the day.She kept me close by her side and answered all my questions. She wants me to basically be a pen-pal with her family so that we can all have that personal,human connection. There is so much more to say about it,but I don't want to bore you all. I'll just end that description with saying I seriously considered changing my ISP topic & moving in to the neighborhood because I was so inspired by the friendliness of everyone and the overwhelming solidarity.

Now it's Monday again & we're back in Cape Town. We have one more night with our Langa family, and then we move to Stellenbosch to live with an Afrikaaner family in the wine country. Then next week with live with a 'colored' family in Bo Kaap, then the ISP starts & we have our own accomodations! We're half way through already,it's hard to believe!

Oh,I almost forgot, we went on a safari on Saturday! We rode in one of those Safari vans you alwayas see in pictures, saw wild elephants,rhinos,giraffes,monkeys,zebras,hippos,crocodiles & kudus. It was a lot of fun,but very very touristy and once was more than enough for me.I'll post a lot of pictures in a few hours of eveything,don't worry!

Lots of love to everyone,

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Lila's travels

Just a few new pictures.

Last night my homestay family was so sweet. I got home and immediately Tina & her friend run up to me and give me huge hugs. As soon as I put my bags down they started braiding my hair,which they did until I ate dinner. In the evening Mama was telling me how I'm really family to them,I'm like her other daughter. I'm a lot more attached to my family than I thought I was going to be, not that I thought I wouldn't be,but I didn't think I was going to be so sad to leave them. I'm excited that we get to stay with them for another 2 nights at the end of March and that when my parents come to visit (!!) they'll get to meet my Langa family. This morning Mama told me how unhappy she was that this was my last night.

Today class was a bit interesting...Shane led a "processing" session for us to talk about what we've done this past month. It drove me crazy,there were so many things wrong with it. I'll have to write about that later though,I need to think over it a bit. But one thing that I can talk about is that I confronted him about the briefing session we had on Tuesday where he like completely ignored Nomawethu when talking about our rural homestay. I told him I had some constructive criticism and that I thought we would be better served if she had done it because she has local knowledge of the area, she knows the people, not to mention she's coming with us to the Eastern Cape and he isn't. Once I said that he just looked at me and said "okay", that was it. Grrrr. He doesn't take constructive criticism well at all but I'd like to try to make some change,because it is making this program much more difficult than it should be.

Anyway,we leave tomorrow for the Eastern Cape. Should be interesting...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wednesday March 4th,2009 (or, The Sun Takes Away All My Creativity)

Well,here I am,yet another Wednesday. Another beautiful 85 degree day filled with fruit and Xhosa. Life is good here. This has been, overall, a quite relaxing week. It's been a normal schedule for the most part. I'm not sure if I've already posted this,but this is what a normal day looks like here:
6:00am Wake Up
7:00am Minibus picks us up at our homestays
7:45am Arrive at classroom
8:30am Xhosa lesson
10:00am break
10:30am lecture
12:30 Lunch/break
3:30pm Xhosa tutors
5:15pm Depart for homestays

Rinse and repeat. The lecture is usually done by an outside professor or academic type. Yesterday we had a speaker named Zenzile Khoisan come in to talk to us. He was great! He participated in the student riots of 1976 and was then exiled and went to live in the US. He told us a lot of stories about his time as a "subversive marijuana smoker anarchist" (his words) including how awesome the IWW (International Workers of the World,or Wobblies) in Everett, WA is, experiences with student activists at UW, harvest season in Oregon and his time as a radio host and underground writer in NY. When he returned to South Africa he was asked to help with the investigations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For those of you who don't know how the TRC worked, victims came forward to tell their stories which were then investigated by various groups, including Zenzile's and people who committed crimes had to give a full disclosure with all details in order for them to be given amnesty. Zenzile was one of the people who investigated the Guguletu Seven Massacre and discovered the real story,which hadn't previously been known. Anyway, his talk was interesting and then he was selling his books about his time with the TRC and I bought one. He signed it: TO Lila, Venceremos! (we will win!) I had been talking to him about my work with unions and such. Anyway,it was a good day. Oh! A few memorable quotes from Zenzile: "melanin becomes such a small player when you see a grandmother picking food out of a trash pile" and "sure I'll clean your toilet...with my AK-47" (some context for that second quote: he was talking about how many of the white South Africans act and how they used to ask him to come over & clean their houses,and that was his response)

Last night we went to see a South Africa version of Romeo & Juliet which wasn't too impressive,but it was fun to go to a play.

Friday we head to the Eastern Cape,which I'm sure you all know by now. Yesterday we had a briefing with Shane & Nomawethu (Shane is the Academic Director of our program & Nomawethu(who we all call Mama) is the local contact) about our rural homestays. It was the most aggrivating and disturbing session we've had with them yet. I have gotten progressively more annoyed at Shane for being rude, insensitive and oblivious to our situation. He decided that it was a good idea for him to tell us about the rural homestay even though 1)he's not going with us, 2)he's never been there and 3) as a white Irishman he seems to have absolutely NO idea of what life is like there. Everytime he would say something about what our life would be like there, Mama would frown and shake her head. I got so frustrated I couldn't stop fuming and Mama noticed. Afterwards she came up and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was extremely upset that Shane was telling us about what the rural experience would be like,rather than her,who had made the contacts there and actually knows first hand what Xhosa life is like in the Eastern Cape. She told me she agrees but that once he starts talking she can't stop him.

Once I've finished this program (possibly even once I've finished my Vietnam program as well) I'm planning to write a letter to SIT telling them about all of the problems we've had with Shane. What I've talked about above is just one of the many issues with him. Grrrrrr.

I think I talked about my friend Raissa in my last post,but if not, she got admitted to the hospital on Sunday night after her pacemaker when off during surfing. She's now out of the hospital and doing well. In fact,you can't even tell she was in the hospital. She did however have a really interesting glimpse in to the health care system here. The first ambulance (those run by the state) took 30 minutes to get to her and then once it did they didn't know what to do with her and had to ask her other friends to put her on the stretcher. Once she got to the hospital the doctors had no idea what to do with a pacemaker and kept telling her false information. She finally got sent to a good hospital with heart specialists who hooked her up to a heart monitor and called her doctor in the US. In the last few days a lot of us have been debating about how the SA system compares to the US one. Many people say that it's far worse that in the US,but a few of us have been saying that although people who have money have the very best access, people that don't have money often get screwed and experience horrible things because they can't afford to call an ambulance or whatever. Oh,I hope that we have Single Payer health care in the next couple of years. The idea that people have to pay for health care is such bullshit! Nobody should die because they can't afford to go see a doctor, get an X-Ray or call an ambulance.

Whew, had to get all of that out. Sorry for such a long post. I'm not sure when I'll be able to update again. Starting Friday I won't have regular access to internet,so don't be worried if I don't respond for a while. That being said,I'd still love emails or comments


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Another week...

On Friday we went on a Journey of Remembrance with the Direct Action Center for Peace & Democracy. We started the day off by going around and saying who we are, why we decided to come to SA and what we're looking forward to about the Journey. We found out that the 3 Xhosa men who were going to be leading the Journey were combatants in the armed struggle against apartheid, which was really fascinating. After that a candle was lit and we had to say who we wanted to bring on this journey with us. It turned in to a very emotional exercise and I started crying. I said I was bringing Grandma and Poppy (my mom's parents) with me.

We then drove to the District Six memorial park where we were told to look around at the city,and take it in. Then we were told to close our eyes and visualize our friends and homes back in the States and then imagine what would happen if all that was taken away, if one day we were told to pack everything and were assigned to a new home. Then we opened our eyes and looked around, picturing the families in that place that'd had to do that same thing. We could see the remains of houses that had been torn apart or burned.

After the park we went to Langa, where we've been living. We were told that they participated in the anti-pass protests in 1960 along with most of the rest of the country. During apartheid non-whites were forced to carry passes with them at all times and get them checked and approved if they wanted to move out of their home. There were huge protests around the country in reaction to these laws,and in Langa, as in many other places, they ended with bloodshed as police shot and killed many protesters. In addition, students in Langa participated in the protests against making Afrikaans the manditory language in all South Africa schools.

In the afternoon we went to a few of the other townships in the area and learned about the resistance that took place there,and about various monuments, including the monument to the Trojan Horse Massacre and the Guguletu Seven. The Trojan Horse Massacre was a massacre by the police where they drove in to two townships, hidden under boxes and when a few students threw stones at the car, the police jumped out and started shooting. They said they'd gone in to arrest stone throwers,but instead then ended up killing many people. I think I talked about the Guguletu Seven in a past post...

In the afternoon we got lunch in Philipe (another township) and asked questions about what we'd seen, and about the leader's experiences.Then a woman from the Homeless People's Association spoke about the work they do to build houses for people and to empower women to build their houses and take ownership of them. It was a really cool and I got a lot of information that I'm to use for my term paper on housing.After dinner in the evening we learned 2 songs that are sung at protests and especially at funerals. They were eerily beautiful. We also learned a chant of "Amandla! Ngawethu" which means "All power to the people". We were taught to toyi-toyi - the protest march that's like a military march but more energetic.

Oh,something big about the day that I forgot: I talked to one of the young men who was leading our tour(well he was actually about 40,but didn't act or look like it) about his experiences in the armed struggle. He told me that he mostly joined up because it was what everyone was doing. He said that he became a Buddhist while he was in jail (he was arrested for treason) and that he has stopped eating meat because he doesn't believe in killing animals to eat them. I asked him if he regretted joining the armed struggle and he said that he did, he said that he doesn't think that politicians can create a true victory for the people,only people can do it for themselves, so he thinks that the fact that they fought and killed was not worth it. It was so interesting to talk to him, and I got his phone number and I'm hoping I can meet up to talk to him later in the trip!

Blah,what a confusing post, sorry! For some reason I'm extremely out of it and feel very agitated but I can't figure out why. I feel like I've got a lot of things to do but I don't have to do tons of things this week...except I have to call SIT in the States this evening to figure out all my things for my trip to Vietnam. AHHH so confusing!

I think I'm getting homesick...I'm not so much ready to be home,but I do miss it a lot,and I'm excited to put the things I'm learning here to use.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ostrichs, penguins,baboons,unions and sunburns oh my!

This has been a crazy week,if you couldn't tell from my title. Last weekend we went to Simon's Town which was mostly fun. On Saturday we went to the Cape of Good Hope(The most south-western point on the continent) and Cape Point and did a lot of hiking, had our vans stopped by a pack of baboons who alternated between ignoring us and clambering all over the vans, saw a few dozen ostrichs on the side of the road, and went on one of the most beautiful hikes of my life. Pictures to come as soon as I've got reliable internet.

Sunday also great...a small group of us woke up early to go on a 2 hour kayaking trip in the bay. We kayaked 20 feet from hundreds of penguins and at one point I was just 2 or 3 feet from one,and could've touched it. The water here is beautiful-really clear-but freezing. There's kelp everywhere so it reminds me a bit of the Oregon coast. In the afternoon, after kayaking, we all lounged on the beach, where the penguins were swimming in the water with us. If you couldn't tell I still haven't gotten tired of seeing them. I ended up getting a really horrible sunburn on my back,and the back of my legs and I was sore for the rest of the night.

Monday and Tuesday I was sick-a combination of heat stroke and eating too much wheat(I think. I'm pretty sure this allergy or whatever it is, is getting worse).So that was unpleasant,but my homestay family took really good care of me,so that was nice.On Tuesday morning we went to the District 6 museum which was really interesting. District Six is the area where a lot of "colored" and black families were physically removed to make room for white development during apartheid. Since 1994 those that previously lived there have been trying to reclaim their houses and there's been a bunch of legal battles, although 24 families have been moved back in to newly developed homes. The woman who runs the center was fascinating and used to be very active in her union. She's going to be a great contact for my research at the end of the semester-she said she'd introduce me to a lot of strong women union activists!

Wednesday was NGO day where we each got assigned to a different NGO and spent a few hours there learning about what they do and making connections. My group got assigned to the Human Rights Media Centre, which is an organization that takes oral histories and puts them in to a variety of medias. They do all kinds of things, from oral histories of families who were killed during apartheid, to stories of women & their daughters, the International Apartheid Lawsuit,etc. It's very interesting. One project that I was obviously interested in was the "Labour Pains of the Nation",which is stories of 8 women workers. They ended up giving me a copy that's not for public distribution and telling me how I could order more(they're the equivalent of US $5 each) and I thought we could possibly use them as a fundraiser or something for JwJ?! Anyway,I also talked to them about bringing some of their traveling exhibits to Portland at some point. The woman who runs the program is going to get me some more contacts within the labor movement.

I've been having such a hard time keeping track of everything that's been going on/doing everything that needs to be done. And if you couldn't tell,I'm just trying to get as much out of my head to clear room for all the new stuff. I haven't had internet access in the classroom for some reason and now my normal email isn't working up...grrr. Anyway...in the future: Saturday is our homestay party where we perform little skits for our families, next Friday we fly to the Eastern Cape and begin our rural homestay.

Yesterday I got an email with all of the information about my next semester abroad in Vietnam and honestly, it's a bit overwhelming at the moment. I've got to fill out & send in all these forms from South Africa, I'm hoping they can waive some of them. I've also been reading the information about the country-we aren't required to bring our computers and in fact they recommend we don't, we do 3 homestays, two of which are with another SIT student, and overall it just sounds very different from this program. I think it will be a great experience and I'm really looking forward to it. That being said, I'm not ready for this to be over,although I am ready to have a bit more freedom from our Academic Director Shane who's recently been driving me crazy...more on that later.

Sorry for the hurried and confusing description of what's been going on. I want to keep everyone in the loop.

ndiyakukhubula (I miss you)

Friday, February 20, 2009

3 weeks

So today we've been in the country for exactly three weeks! It feels like it's been at least two months though. I'm at home here and although I miss my friends, family & Max a lot, I'm content. I'm learning so much about myself & my view of the world, as I'm sure you could all tell from my last post.

Lets see...what's been happening lately? Yesterday was Schools day when we all got to go to a Cape Town high school for the morning. I went with three other girls to Garlandale High School, a public school in the mostly middle class neighborhood Athlone, right outside Rondebosch, where our classes are. We started off the day by going to an assembly where someone from Life Choices, a USAids funded organization, told the school that they were offering free HIV/AIDS testing & counseling to anyone that wanted it. That in itself was just awesome even though the principal told us she didn't think very many people were going to go in. We were assigned to follow a girl who had recently immigrated from Iraq, which was a fascinating random occurance! I attempted to talk to her a bit in Arabic, but I sadly couldn't remember much.(Random side note: I really want to practice my arabic & spanish this summer as well as keep up my Xhosa in Portland,I hope I can!) The first class she took us to was basically a sex ed class. The first part of it was really great: the instructor (A young man from Life Choices) asked them questions about transmission & symptoms of HIV & STIs and the students knew all the right answers. These were most of the same things you'd see in a US classroom. But then he started talking about how important abstinence & virginity are...he used some metaphors like a woman should not be a stadium, letting men practice on her; how virginity is the most important gift you can give your future husband or wife, etc. This was really interesting,and I disagreed with it,but at the same time I was thinking about how important safe sex & abstinence can be in a country where 25% of the population has HIV/AIDs. That being said, I'm not sure abstinence before marriage is the right answer...it seems like safe sex and introducing all the options is a better idea, not shaming those who do have sex. But sadly we didn't get to talk to any of the students about this because we had to go right to our next class.

We went to a biology class and a math class before we had to leave. Neither classes were that noteworthy,but after class we talked to the math teacher for a while and he had some really interesting things to say, such as the fact that he thought the end of apartheid was good,but that it also took away some good programs,especially within education.

In about 3 hours we're headed to Simon's Town, a tourist, navel town on the coast. It should be fun, it's basically just a vacation from school & our homestay families, so I'm planning to spend a lot of time on the beach, just relaxing.

Next weekend we have our homestay party where we put on little skits to thank our homestay families. We haven't really started ours yet...We only have two more weeks in the Langa homestay, then we head to the rural homestay for a week, the Stellenbosch homestay for a week, the Bo Kaap homestay for another week, then our ISP period starts! I'm so excited for that.

I posted more pictures and now all of them have captions:
Lila's travels

Love to everyone,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Just a few pictures:

Lila's travels

hope that works...


Yesterday we had a speaker come in to talk about the education under the new South Africa. It was really interesting, it seems like the South Africa education system has a lot of the same problems as the US, especially in Portland. Since the end of apartheid they've been using an outcomes based education system, about 90% of the country's education budget goes towards salaries (which creates some anger towards the trade unions within the schools), there's huge class sizes, teachers need more training, etc. Now keep in mind that it seems like everyone who presents facts infuses them with incredible opinion,so it's hard to tell how much of what the guy told us is true,and how much of it is his opinion. He's part of a group of educators around the country who are working to pressure the new government in to reforming the education system. We asked him if there were students involved with this, and he said "oh,they're too apathetic,they don't care", which I thought was a really interesting comment. We're going to a local high school tomorrow so I'm hoping to ask the students there what they think and to see what the level of student activism is within students.

Things have gotten better with the other students on my program, I'm started to just let comments slide (although I record them to think about later). Now the whole structure of the program is starting to get to me...we are given limited freedom,which I understand, but when we are given freedom (for example,we're going in to the high schools tomorrow in small groups) our program director treats us like 2nd graders. He basically tells us exactly what we should do and makes us come up with answers to fake scenarios as opposed to just letting us figure it out when it arises. I can't understand people who travel who don't expect the unexpected to happen.I know I should be more understanding,but it's hard.

Anyway,today we saw a movie on the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, it was incredibly moving. It was made in the US,for US audiences,which made it a bit sensationalized,but it was still interesting. One thing I found out that I didn't know before was that 80% of those that applied for amnesty were black...interesting.

On Friday we're going to Simons Town on the coast for a little vacation,so I'm excited. It'll be kind of nice to get away from the monotony of classes...

I'm not doing a very good job of giving everyone an idea of what life's like here,but I've finally got some pictures up...if they finish loading...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Penguins & thoughts on racism

It's Monday again and we've settled in to a routine of class and homestays.I'm back at the internet cafe so I can upload pictures (I'll post a link to them at the end of this blog - for some reason it's too slow to put them directly in here. Sorry!)

On Saturday we went to Robben Island-where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for over 20 years. It was a short ferry ride,and then we took a private tour of the island (all of this arranged by SIT). This was mostly interesting because it gave us a sense of Mandela's life in prison. But honestly,the best part was seeing wild african penguins on the beach! There were tons of them,and they're so cute.

I've been thinking a lot while I've been here,especially in the evenings when I'm at home by myself. As I talked about earlier, I've been getting a bit aggravated with some of the people in my group,but now I'm thinking about it more as just part of the experience,and they're really at making me look at how I react to my experiences here. There seems to be a lot of unaddressed racism within the group.For instance,on Saturday while we were at the beach one of the girls was talking about how attractive she found South African men,with their accents and everything. Then she said "but I really don't like blonde hair and they're all blonde". I just stared at her for a moment,waiting for her to figure out what she'd said. When she didn't I said "Uh...except for the black guys...like 3/4 of the country..." she smiled at me and offhandedly said "oh,yeah...but I guess so and so already has that covered"(one of the girls kissed a South African apparently).Comments like that and "oh,the black babies are so cute,I want to take them away from all this", are an everyday occurance,and it's driving me crazy. And many of these comments are obviously racist,but they're so hard to respond to.

I've been dealing a lot with some of my own relations to racism lately. Coming here just reinforced the fact that Portland is an incredibly white town and I think I am going to have a hard time living there permanently because of it. I love living in a place, however temporarily, where race is discussed at least somewhat openly and those issues can be addressed.(mind you,this is a somewhat idealistic view of the situation,but I want to give you an idea of how different it is). Like most white liberals,I don't want to consider myself racist and just automatically assume I'm not because of that desire not to be. But in reality, I am not used to having everyone not be white, and I'm trying really hard to be conscious of my subconscious attitude towards race. Being in South Africa is really making me examine how I subconsciously feel and although it's incredibly hard to explain it,I feel like I'm finally able to think about race issues.

Anyway,that paragraph probably didn't make any sense...life in Langa is so interesting...I wish everyone could come visit me,I really can't explain it. Family is still awesome,although I've been spending more time alone in my room lately. None of us can go outside of our houses on our own or walk around without at least one local. It's not really because we're not South Africans,nobody walks around by themselves. It does however make getting to know the neighborhood pretty hard...my little Sisi is only 7 so she can't walk me around, my Mama is too old to walk a lot and the older Sisi is so tired when she gets home from work.And when it comes to exploring the rest of the city: we have a 3 hour break each day when we can do whatever we want,but other than that,it's not really safe for us to travel at night(you have to call a certain taxi company to get you & pick you up afterwards,there's no other safe way to get home) . All that being said,I really wish I could just explore. Classes have been pretty boring so sometimes I really wish I could just leave for the day and explore this wonderful country.

I'll have to post another entry with the link to my pictures, the internet is being a bit slow at the moment. Sorry if this makes absolutely no sense,I'm just trying to get it all out


Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Yesterday was quite a discombobulating day. We had 2 hours of Xhosa in the morning then had a boring lecture for another two. We were finally given our readings for the next couple of weeks,so it's nice to actually have things to do in the evening. I met with Shane,our Academic Advisor, for about 5 minutes. We have to do a term paper in the next couple of weeks so we talked about my topic, which will most likely be the construction of South African women's self identity & image of beauty as connected to and developed by the media. (whoa,that was a horrible sentence,sorry.)I'm excited about doing the research for it,which will include observations on the street and talking to South Africans.

In the afternoon we had our Xhosa tutorial which so far,has been the most useless 2 hours of our time here. Our tutor,Mandla (meaning power. Like Amandla, the movie...and the ANC chant) rambles on about Lincoln & Kennedy & other random things,so we never know what he's talking about...anyway,after that we had a session to talk about the "norms" of our group here. It was pretty crazy and I ended up facilitating the session. I thought the whole time was sort of useless/annoying,but other people seemed to enjoy it and I had fun facilitating. It really made me miss organizing. The biggest argument among people here about our rules are if someone wants to go home with someone not in our group after going out,is it their friend's responsibility to stop them,or the person's own decision. Lots of fuss over that small thing.

Anyway...I went to bed really early last night because I was exhausted and I guess I'd eaten too much wheat during the day - my tummy wasn't feeling great. I got 9 hours of sleep! I woke up to find out that my little Sisi (sister) was sick all night and nobody got any sleep. And the taxis are all on strike here so my older Sisi couldn't go to work. If you're wondering,the taxis are on strike for 3 days because SA is going to build a public bus system next year for the FIFA World Cup and the taxis are worried they will all lose their jobs. Taxis(also called minibuses) are the main source of transportation for black South Africans.

Today we had our Xhosa lesson at a school in Langa(the township we're staying in) and we finally learned the clicks, two of which are easy. The third I'm still having some troubles with,but I'll have Mama help me tonight. We spent a better part of the day walking around Langa on a tour,which was really interesting. There are 4 main areas of the township: the very old area from 1915, the "Beverly Hills of Langa", the area I live in and Joe Slovo,which is the squatter area. The houses in the Beverly Hills look like old houses from Connecticut in the 1950s. The "houses" in Joe Slovo are literally shacks made of corrogated tin,about 10ft by 10ft for families of 5-10. There are 4 or 5 communal toilets(you do your business in a bucket that is removed twice a week) and taps,and the electricity is spliced from other neighborhoods. There is a great deal of malcontent among many SA here because of these squatter camps. They do not pay for any city utilities,yet they are on city owned land,so many people want them to leave,or to move to the new houses that the city has built. It's an interesting dynamic that I really want to learn more about.

Ok,that's about all I've got at the moment. I feel like I'm writing way too much...


ps.Oh,if you were wondering,I managed to find a pair of running shoes yesterday so the shoe dilema has been solved! :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

First weekend in the homestay

So we moved in with our family on Saturday around 2:30. It was a bit nervewracking at first: our slightly crazy driver just drove around the township & dropped us off outside our homes-some families looked confused so we were worried that we weren't at the right house. But it worked out fine,and we all got taken to the right places.My family is wonderful,I'm very happy with them. The head of the house is Mama(who's real name is Cikiwze),she is 76 y/o and quite a talker. She's very friendly and reminds me of Mignon...very welcoming and acts like a true mother to exchange students: feeding them,clothing them & telling them exactly what she'd like them to do or
not do. :) We live with her daughter Pinkie who is 31 and her daughter Tina who is 7 and quite beautiful already.All three of them are so nice and very willing to help me learn Xhosa & learn South African customs. The older son,Thulani is about 23 and lives next door to us. I hardly ever see him other than in passing. He plays the trombone in a well known band that has traveled to China to play. I'll try to get some of their music to bring home. The neighborhood where we live is extremely poor. My host Mama told me how poor she is,that although she can
buy food for every meal,it can be hard to pay for other things. There is no shower-just a bath with a shower cord,no sink in the bathroom and buying certain things like red meat or bread can be a large expense. It's hard to really explain it,I will try to take some photos and post them to give you all a visual idea of my life here.People keep wondering about the food,which is a bit hard to describe. You can get most types of food here,so there's plenty of meat/wheat free options. Just an example of what we eat at home: fried chicken, boiled cabbage and onions, baked squash and white rice.(That's what we had for dinner last night) I have cereal & fruit for breakfast,and I'm currently eating a chicken,avocado & pesto salad for lunch. We have lunch while at school,so we're free to buy anything we want with the stipend the program gives us.

I tried Ostrich last weekend-it was very chewy like chicken but had the consistency of steak. They eat a lot of avocado here(they cost about 40 cents in the stores),so I'm happy! This week is just a normal schedule: get picked up at 7am, Xhosa goes from 8:30-10:30, lecture from 10:30-12:30, lunch from 12:30-3:30, Xhosa from 3:30 to 7:15, then buses home. On Saturday we are going to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned,then we're spending a few hours on the beach(I can't wait!)

It's about 2pm right now and I'm going to go try to find some shoes so I can go to the gym(my shoes got stolen in Jo'burg),and find a Xhosa dictionary.

lots of love!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cape Town

We flew in to Cape Town from Jo'burg on Wednesday. It's hard to believe we've been in the country less than 1 full week,it feels like it's been weeks. Cape Town is a wonderful city,I'd love to come back here for a vacation some time with Max & family. So far we've done lots of touristy things, especially in Jo'burg (ie. Apartheid Museum, bus tours around the city,etc), which have been fun,but I haven't gotten a chance to get a feel for either Jo'burg or Cape Town.

On Saturday night we move in with our host families in Langa, one of the townships outside of Cape Town. We will live with that family for four weeks while we take classes in Rondebosch(where the University of Cape Town is).I'm not sure if I already said this,but my family is a retired mother, a 25 year old daughter who works, a 19 year old boy who sings & a 4 year old granddaughter. It should be a lot of fun,I'm looking forward to it. We also start our official classes on Monday,although we've had Xhosa lessons every day (I'll put a few sayings,with pronounciation at the bottom of this). I can't wait to start learning about social change here(our lecture schedules look great!) and I'm getting excited about my ISP- the last month here where we spend the whole time living independently and doing research on a topic of our choice.

So far I've just been adjusting to the dynamics of traveling with a group,which I really haven't done before. Most of the people on my trip haven't traveled much outside of Europe,if they've gone there at all. So this is really exciting for them,it's pretty cute. However, many of them see places & experiences here & think they're uniquely South African,whereas they're pretty common things in any big city outside of the US (at least in my experiences). There seems to be quite a bit of underlying nervousness/patronizing attitudes towards the predominantly black population among a lot of the people on the trip,so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. I've heard a lot of "oh,black babies are the best,I want to take them away from this..." and "oh,Africa...". There isn't really any distinction between South Africa & the rest of the continent. People keep saying how exicted they are to see lions...

Anyway,enough of my ranting/cultural observations of my group. It's been occupying my mind lately though,and I wanted to share.

Ok,now Xhosa. It's a really fun language,and surprisingly easy. It's quite simple linguistically,with congugations being suffixes,prefixes and occassionally infixes rather than a complete change of the word. It's not hard to say either,and the fact that it's a Roman alphabet really makes it easier.
Here's a few things we've learned so far:

Hello: molo (mo-low)
How are you?: Unjani? (oon-ja-nee)
I'm good,thank you. And you?: ndipilile enkosi,wena? (nDeePeeLeeLay engosi, way-nah)
Where are you originally from?: usuka phi? (oo-soo-kah pee)
I am from the US: ndisuka eUS (nDee-soo-kah eh-US
Where do you study?: ufunda phi? (oo-foon-dah pee)
I study at the University of Washington & I study sociology: ndifunda eUniversity of Washington, ndifunda isociology. (nDee-foon-dah ehUniversity of Washington,nDee-foon-dah eee-sociology).

Okay,that's your lesson for the day! Everyone here says OK all the time,as a response to anything & everything.


ps.I'd love to get emails or comments,it makes me feel connected. :)

Friday, January 30, 2009


I'm here in Johannesburg after 3 days of traveling. We had a 17 hour flight from NY with a stop for fuel in Dakar,Senegal. It was a long flight,but we got to see all the stars,it felt like we were flying through the milky way,they were so close!

We're staying at a backpackers lodge until Wednesday then we leave for Cape Town. We're just doing orientation stuff for the next week. It's going to be a jam packed next couple of months!

A couple of interesting things: I'm staying with a family that is either vegitarian or able to accomodate not only that,but my wheat allergy. That's going to make that homestay so much easier! Everyone on the program is really nice & friendly. I'm sure there were other interesting things,but my brain is pretty jetlagged.


Friday, January 23, 2009

First post

Well,this is it. I'm down to 5 days before I leave for my first adventure. I'm pretty busy gathering everything I need and trying to figure out the confusing parts of international travel: money & food. But it's hard not to be really excited. I've created this blog so that I can write about my experiences for my friends,family & their friends to read about. I can't promise it'll always be interesting,but it'll be here. It's not going to be the ins & outs of my personal life while I'm there,this will be my record of the cool people I meet,neat places I go and amazing things I learn.

Here's the general overview of my trip if you haven't already heard it one million times:
On January 28th I fly to New York City
January 29th I take a 17 hour flight to Johannesburg. From there we have an orientation & then start our studies & homestays in Cape Town one week later. I'll be living with 3 different families while I'm gone: 1 Xhosa speaking black or "colored" family, 1 rural Xhosa speaking family, 1 white Afrakaans speaking family and then one probably Muslim,Xhosa speaking family. After this I'll spend 1 month doing a research project. I am hoping to study some aspect of women within the labor movement,but it's very possible my interests will change when I get there.

I'll be posting here as often as I can,but I'm not sure how often that will be. Pictures may or may not be included,who knows what the internet situation will be!

I'd love to hear your comments,ideas,etc. I think there's a button somewhere on my page where you can "subscribe" to this blog.