Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I fell in love this weekend...

This last weekend I went camping with 70 kids ranging from the ages of 5 to 18.  Crazy right?  When I went into the weekend I had no idea what to expect because Brigid, Annie (the other Ubuntu intern), and I thought that we were just going camping with the kids from Ubuntu for the weekend.  So of course we were shocked when we showed up to the backpackers an hour outside of Cape Town and were greeted by 70 children running around!  It turns out that this camp was run by an organization called Reach for a Dream, the South African version of Make a Wish Foundation, and they run this camp for disadvantaged children from all over Cape Town.  There were orphans, cancer survivors, disabled children, and HIV positive kids at the camp; so needless to say, it was an extremely fun and thought provoking weekend. 

The camp was run really well with lots of activities planned for the kids, tons of prizes that they gave away, and great meals provided for all.  Brigid, Annie, and I spent most of our time watching all of the kids when the other counselors would peace out, and so by the end of the weekend we were quite exhausted.  But really, it was such a fulfilling weekend because not only did we get to connect a lot more with our kids from Ubuntu, but also we really connected with a lot of kids from the camp and spent most of the weekend with a small child holding our hand or sitting in our lap. 

What really astounded me about the weekend was how positive all of these children are all of the time.  The first morning we were woken up at 6 am and I unknowingly rolled over and complained about the early wake up.  I came to find out later that this is when the children take their ARV’s (anti-retroviral), and I heard no ounce of complaint about this inconvenience.  They have all gone through so much in their lives and probably understand more about suffering than I do as someone twice their age.  But still, they constantly have a smile on their face and are laughing about something like any “normal” kid.  It really made me appreciate the lessons that they are teaching me and I am so grateful to be learning so much from such youngsters.  I also became significantly more attached to the kids at Ubuntu.  I know that after this weekend it is going to be so much harder to say goodbye, but I also know that I have made a connection with the kids that I could never replace. 

And now onto another fun filled week… Sam’s mom is coming into town on Wednesday and my dad and Peggy are coming on Sunday! More updates to come soon! Love you all!

Friday, October 9, 2009

still loving it...

As always, it seems that millions of things have happened since last time I blogged, so I will to try to sum up the best of the best…

The Friday after our homestay we had a braai at our house because Sam’s brother and his friends were visiting and we wanted to see our friends from the homestay again.  The guest list was over 50 people, so needless to say, preparation was crazy.  Myself, two other vegetarians, and one meat eater went a local meat shop where they sell tons of meat in bulk for very cheap.  I was once again reminded why I made the right decision personally to be vegetarian.  But the braai was a great success, everyone came and danced and ate and socialized and it was a great night of being surrounded by old and new friends from so many different parts of the world. 

That next week we attended a walk for school libraries that was organized by Equal Education, an advocating NGO that my housemate Pat works for.  They did a study that showed that hardly any schools in the townships have a library, so they are advocating for, “one school, one library, one librarian,” for the underpriveledged schools.  We walked with about 2000 students and citizens for about 3 miles to City Hall where they had a rally.  It was so inspiring to see so many students standing up for their rights and knowing that they must voice their concerns to make a difference.  It really gave me hope for South Africa’s future.  And it was really exciting because the walk made The New York Times! You can check out the article at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/25/world/africa/25safrica.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=south%20africa%20libraries&st=cse.  It really was great to see how what we are doing here can be seen on such a global scale. 

This last weekend we attended a research conference in Stellenbosch.  We presented the preliminary stages of our research which was great for the public speaking practice, but we did seem a little out of place surrounded a bunch of very experienced researches.  I am doing my research on the differing affects of a service-learning abroad program vs. an arts and science program on the students’ understanding of South African culture.  I have not completed my report yet, but my initial results are pretty interesting so it was nice to get feedback while presenting them.  We stayed at a great backpackers and we were able to explore the city and University of Stellenbosch’s campus.  That night we went to a Afrikaaner rapper concert which was so interesting because it was the first time we had been surrounded by that many white South Africans. It really is so interesting how we are constantly reminded of the cultural differences that exist here, and it is so strange to find our place within them.

Finally, I got a treat this week of being able to see my roommate from school Taylor and my friends Nick and George from Santa Clara! They are on Semester at Sea and stopped in Cape Town for 6 days.  It was fun for both of us to get a little taste of each other’s worlds for these few months.  I really enjoyed taking Taylor to Mzoli’s and my service in Khayelitsha, and I think she really enjoyed not feeling like a tourist for a bit. On their last day here we hiked Table Mountain (after a long night at Rand a Brand I might add) and it was so great to get to the top and see the incredible view. I also got to see the inside of their ship, which seems like a Marriott on the sea! But it was very cool to be able to share our experiences and see each other in Cape Town, South Africa of all places!

I am going camping this weekend with Ubuntu so I am sure I will have lots to tell when I get back! Hope all is well at home-I love and miss you all!

Talk to you just now!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This last weekend we had our homestays in the township of Langa, which is about 20 minutes from our house.  My friend Eva and I staying with a Mama who was about 60 years old and her 6 year old grandson.  I really didn’t know what to expect before going into the weekend because we have seen so many different examples of townships.  We have seen nice houses that look like they could be in a more suburban part of the US and we have seen people living in one room shacks made out of scraps of metal and wood.  The houses that we all stayed in were definitely on the nicer side as far as township housing goes.  Ours had two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.  To be honest, the houses and their furnishings were almost nicer than I expected, but they still lacked certain things that we take for granted such as hot water and a shower. 

The houses are all extremely close together and you usually end up walking through someone’s yard, or house even, to get to another house.  But this doesn’t cause any problems, it just makes everyone closer.  The sense of community that they have in Langa is something I have never experienced first hand.  They are all black South Africans, Xhosa speakers, and have lived in Langa for a long time because it is the oldest township.  This makes them all extremely close, reliant on each other, and trusting of the whole community. Just to give you an example, the 6-year-old boy would be gone for 5 hours and no one would be very worried. They just know that people will watch out for him and no one is going to purposefully harm their “sisi of bhuti” or sister and brother.  Although there is still a safely issue of foreigners, we never once felt threatened or uncomfortable. 

We were able to eat their tradition food, which includes a variety of variations of meal (corn-like grain), sour milk, spinach, chicken, tripe (cow’s stomach), pasta salad, steamed bread, and more.  Since I am a recent vegetarian, it was very interesting to eat meat again in this setting.  I must say that I am so happy that we got to eat their traditional food and I enjoyed some of it, but I did eat a lot of Tums over the course of the weekend. 

During the weekend we were able to walk around Langa and see many different areas.  We saw the new houses that the government is building for the people.   We saw a room no bigger than my dorm room where 3 families lived with a total of 16 people.  We saw the meat market where they sell every part of an animal imaginable on wooden tables in the open air.  We went to a saloon at night where we were practically treated like celebrities, which was a little awkward at first but we ended up meeting some very interesting people.  We went to a Baptist church on Sunday with our Mama and were there for 3 hours until we left early. 

This whole experience made me realize so many things about myself and my life, along with so much about their culture.  I realized how much excess I live in, and I would really like to be conscious about realizing the difference between a need and a want.  I also realized how important a sense of community is and how we really lack that in some many parts of the States.  And I realized how self centered and focused we are on constantly being better in our culture.  We are not meant to be satisfied until we have done everything we possibly can to be successful, but this past weekend I met many very content and happy people because they had loving family and friends and a safe place to live.  Many of them did not have jobs and their husbands had died of left them, but they were happy with their life and didn’t spend their time worrying about how to get more.  I feel so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to create relationships with people of a totally opposite culture, and to learn from them about how I want to live my life.  Until next time, salani kakuhle! (stay well)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spring Break '09!

Spring Break in September has been of the craziest and best experiences of my life.  All 9 of my housemates plus Chris and Grady (our two fantastic guests) went on a 6-day adventure of a lifetime.  I will try to describe this to you but I am not sure I can do it justice…

The first day we left Cape Town early in the morning to drive to the Cango Caves where we got to climb around 250,000 year old caves underground.  Then we went to the Ostrich Farm where I discovered my phobia of large birds so I opted out when I had the option to ride them.  But watching the others get thrown around on these huge ugly creatures was quite entertaining.  Then we went to The Wild Spirit Lodge, our amazing backpacker for 4 nights.  This place was beautiful and perfect for our group.  We all shared one big room and they made us breakfast and dinner everyday, and they even took us on a sunset drive to a huge gorge where we got to have sundowners and see the amazing view. 

Sunday we went zip lining through the forest in the morning and then an elephant sanctuary in the afternoon.  I fell in love with elephants and was so happy to get to hug and feed them! They are such amazing creatures.  That night we got to sit around a campfire for a drum circle that kind of seems like a dream now that I think about it, but it definitely happened and I got really into the drumming!

Monday morning I jumped off the highest bungee jumping bridge in the world and I loved it!!! Imagine standing on the edge of a 650-foot bridge with only a rope attached to your ankles and people behind you yelling 3-2-1-bungee!! And then you swan dive into the air for a 4 second free fall that is the biggest rush of adrenaline I have ever imagined.  The best part for me was that no one besides Grady and myself was planning on jumping, but once everyone got to the bridge we all ended up jumping! We were so high on life that I am sure the people working at the jump thought we were crazy, but it was so incredible and I would do it every day if I could.

The next day we took a break from the crazy adventures to go the beach and I touched the Indian Ocean for the first time.  We hiked to a lookout point that overlooked the entire coast and the crashing ocean waves and it was so spectacular.  The next day we got an equally beautiful view of the ocean, but this time is was two oceans at once! We went to Cape L’Agalus where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.  We sat there to watch the sunset and I was truly reminding of how lucky I am to be living the life that I am.

We ended the last day with a bang when we went shark cage diving.  Just try and picture yourself in a cage hanging off the side of a boat with yourself and 5 other people.  You’re above the water when the men on the boat yell, “Down Down!” and you dive into the water to encounter a 10 foot long Great White Shark 2 feet from your face.  At one point I was in the water and a shark swam up and bite the cage bars right in front of my face! Yes, I was about a foot away from a shark’s mouth and it was great.  Strangely, I am more afraid of ostriches than I am of sharks and I don’t really know what that says about me but I am ok with it. 

To sum it all up (if that is possible), our Spring Break was 6 amazing days that I couldn’t have been better.  I am so grateful that we all got to experience it together and that Chris was able to come along for the ride.  It is almost time to get back to the real world, but I still have a few more days of break so we are going to live it up as much as possible! 

Thursday, August 27, 2009

If I had a super power...

Another great week has almost gone by, which is making me realize that time here is going too quickly and I would love time to stop because I am still enjoying every minute of it!

Monday I was able to go spend time with the kids at Ubuntu for 2 hours, which was great. They remind me why I put in the busy work.  They are all so beautiful and full of life, and most of the time that I am there I do not even think about the fact that they have HIV.  But then one boy walks in with the eyes of an 80-year-old man who has had a long suffering life, and then I remember that I can hardly imagine what these young children have gone through in their short years.  It is truly humbling to say the least.

Wednesday was a busy and exciting day. First, Brigid and I got to meet with the 15 mothers whom we are trying to set up the income-generating project for.  They were really interesting in crafting, possibly making scarves or bags that we could sell in the States to make more of a profit for them. We are still trying to get them trained, but if you have any suggestions please give me a shout!  After this meeting, our whole group got to go to parliament to see Jacob Zuma, the recently elected president of South Africa, speak.  It was a type of question/answer forum with the members of parliament and we got to sit and observe! It was many things: interesting, frustrating, informative, confusing, hopeful, and much different than I imagined.  But it was such an opportunity to see him speak and I am so happy that we had it.  Right after that we got to go to the book signing of Manuel Castells, the philosopher who we saw speak a few weeks ago.  This man is the 5th most cited philosopher ever and has done some really incredible things in his life.  He is pretty much a really big deal (described as the “Karl Marx” of our time) and we got to hear him talk about his book! It was really interesting because he worked with the Obama campaign, so he actually talked a lot about that which we all loved of course.

Today Brigid and I had a meeting with another NGO, Home from Home, which was so amazing. They are such an established and inspiring non-profit that we are going to learn so much from to help with the expansion of Ubuntu.  We also met with a woman who is starting an NGO that places long-term volunteers with non-profits in Cape Town, so if anyone would like to volunteer for 6 months to a year and has a specific skill, look her up!!

Tonight we are going out to a club called Hemisphere to celebrate the busy week. It is at the top of a hotel building and is very classy, so we will be thriving for sure!

Love to everyone!!!!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

T.I.A. (This is Africa)

Hello again! Sorry about the delay, but here you go…a

About two weeks ago Briged and I (Briged is the other girl in my program who is working at Ubuntu with me) went to the office of Khayelitsha Cookies, an NGO that employs women from the townships. They were so kind and receptive to us and made us really believe that we could start our own food business for our 15-20 mothers making muffins or something.  After talking to Whitney and Angie, it seems that we really are going to start some type of business while we are here.  This is all very exciting and has a lot more detail but I will fill you in when we straighten it out for ourselves!  Then last week, I went with Whitney and Angie to a meeting with Nazareth House, a Catholic center run by nuns.  They take in abandoned and needy children, often orphans, and either try to find their extended family or just keep them at the center.  They really do amazing things and I recommend you look at their website.  The best part was their program for kids with disabilities.  In South Africa, people with disabilities are not accepted and are practically ostracized in society.  This is obviously a topic that is close to my heart because of Best Buddies, so I was very happy to see a place that where they were welcome and loved.  It made me want to come back here and start a home for kids with disabilities…but that’s thinking in the way future…

Other great things that happened since the last time I wrote:

  • Bo-Kaap, the Muslim neighborhood with all the multi-colored houses.  They have so much tradition and culture, and we got to eat a traditional meal that was wonderful.  It’s a must for any visitor!

  • The South African Museum: where we got to see a planetarium star show for about $1 and it was awesome! And then the man who worked in the star show gave us a private showing of the Cape Town night sky…highlight of the weekend!

  • This last Friday we had a tour of parliament and then a lecture by a man who was one of the head people of the TRC (truth and reconciliation commission).  For those who do not know what this is, you should look it up, but basically it was South Africa’s way of dealing with the conflicts of Apartheid and included conditional amnesty and documentation of the crimes committed, etc…  This man was amazing!!! He had done so much in his life and really made us think about conflict resolution.  I feel so lucky that each lecturer seems to be better than the last and I continue to be in awe of this country’s recent history.

  • Today we hiked Lion’s Head, a part of Table Mountain, and the views from the top were incredible! I don’t think I have ever seen the ocean from a nearly 200-degree view with the mountain right in the background.  Spectacular! (see my facebook for pics)

Basically, it is hard to recount what I have been doing because the emotions and the thoughts just overtake my mind.  I continue to see all of the inequality and then see great things people are doing.  I have been questioning my purpose and questioning why I am drawn to these people and this country.  And I can’t help but feel somewhat helpless at times.  But earlier this week at the Catholic center Nazareth House, I realized that these nuns were serving the people solely because it is God’s work.  I don’t mean to sound preachy or religious, but it was a great thing to see that there doesn’t have to be a reason or an explanation for everything, it just needs to be done through the heart.  I am still learning and taking it all in, and I am sorry I am not being more in-depth in my explanation now, but I really am thinking of you all the time.  I will try to write more often so it is not a novel every time!  much love

Monday, August 10, 2009

the "service-learning" begins...yay!

Hey sorry for the lack of blogging that has been going on in my life lately.  Basically for a short excuse, there is just so much to take in here that the last thing I really want to do at the end of the day is write about it.  But here I am to update you all!

So I started my service this last week at Ubuntu Africa, a nonprofit in the township of Khayelitsha (pronounced Kai-leetch-a).  Ubuntu is an after-school type program with kids 4-18 years old who are HIV positive.  At the center the kids play games, have one-on-one counseling, have one meal (usually their only meal for the day), and learn about nutrition and health and whatnot.  Basically, it is a safe place for these kids to go after school and have a community with kids like them.  All but one of them is from single parent homes or foster homes because they have lost their parents to AIDS. 

Khayelitsha is the biggest township in Cape Town and has about 2 million people living there.  The majority of people live in one-room shacks made out of sheet metal.  The HIV rate for children is about 40%.  There are hundreds of non-profits working in the area and it seems from first impressions that they are barely scratching the surface of a giant wound.  That may seem really negative, and I really don’t mean it like that. It is just that it gets to be a little frustrating to want to help so much and to not really be able to.  But I also know that I am lucky to be able to affect just a few people’s lives and so I am thankful for that.

At Ubuntu I am working with my housemate and friend Briged.  We have three projects that were given to us for our time here. The first is to put together a database of the nonprofits in the area.  We are going to be meeting with them and learning what they are all about so we can see how they can help us and we could help them.  It will be great to talk to other institutions to see how they work.  The second project is to find some type of income generating venture for the 15-20 highly involved mothers of the center.  They currently have no source of income so we are looking to find them jobs, either by starting their own business with a micro credit loan or to join another project that is already in place.  The last project is to create some type of book for the center that includes writing and artwork from the kids, parents, workers, and more.  This will hopefully be a good way to fundraise and spread awareness about Ubuntu. 

All in all, the service is going to be a lot of work and keep me very busy here in Africa.  But I really couldn’t ask for anything more.  I am so so so excited to get started on all of these projects and really be a big part of this organization.  It only started two years ago, so our place will be very large and a big help I think.  I will let you know more how it goes once we get more into it, but initially that I all I am doing there.

On a different note, this weekend was pretty crazy and fun because it is Women’s Day today so we didn’t have classes or anything.  On Friday we had a braai (or bbq) with our local friends and our neighbors who are a part of the arts and science program with CIEE.  Then on Saturday we went to bar to watch the South Africa vs. Australia rugby game.  It was a very important game and South Africa won so that was great! Then yesterday we went to Misoli’s, the restaurant where we ate with our hands in the township of Langa.  On Sundays all the locals and a bunch of tourists come in and they have a DJ and things get pretty crazy.  We were there all day hanging out with our local friends and some new people and celebrating Women’s Day! Yay women!

Ok, well that is about it for me! I would love to get emails with updates about how everything is going at home, wherever that may be! Miss you all and I promise I will try to be better about blogging so they are not essays every time!