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. 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 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 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 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 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. :)