Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day One: First Game Drive!

Luckily, I actually slept last night. That annoying headache that you get from lack of sleep is finally gone. I woke up around 6:30 an hour before we were scheduled to be picked up, got dressed and hurried outside to enjoy the morning. It was quite cool but still pleasant. I ate my granola and was soon joined by the Marquette girls and Adam. After waiting a while, we were finally greeted by Brenda or our tour truck (not a bus but a truck). It can seat 24 people but we only have 16 which means plenty of room to stretch. I immediately went to the front because although I’ve travelled a lot by car (done it for years). I’m prone to get car sick/

Our group is an interesting one. I was surprised that there are so many older people. From front to back, there’s Kate and her mother who have been travelling around Africa for a while now, then two German girls who are in South African to volunteer, then several older couples one American, one French, and a Swiss couple. And there’s of course Adam, the Marquette girls and me.

We soon left Joburg and I enjoyed looking at the interesting landscape. It was weird because at first everything was just flat and reminded me of Illinois and their corn fields only I can’t really describe to you how it’s different. It just is. I took pictures anyway because it wasn’t what I was expecting. Then we stopped for petrol aka gas. We got out and went to the bathroom then it was back on the truck. I decided to take nap which went well. I also took notes on the trip. Then we arrived at Nalspruit for lunch. First we went to the grocery store, which was very nice. They had stuff they didn’t have in Cape Town like Frosted Mini Wheates. Then we had lunch which was lighter than I expected. It was just a sandwich and I was able to make a small salad with the lettuce, tomato, and cucumber provided. Then we were on the road again. This time the landscape got interesting and I got some great shots of the mountains and since we were close to the park we put the windows down which was great. We passed some orange trees and the smell was wonderful. I love looking at all the South African flora here because there is such a variety: pinks and purples. Beautiful flowers.

The ride just made me think about how beautiful the world is and also how small it is. I love it! I just love travelling. I now want to decide where to go next. Perhaps I’ll come back here for the world cup. That would be sweet. Or maybe I’ll visit Jane in New Zealand or perhaps Europe finally. All I know is that I’m addicted to travelling. I was just thinking about how weird its gonna be going back to Nashville and not seeing the beautiful mountains. St. Louis is even worse

Back to the trip, we finally got to Kruger and immediately spotted impala, which is sorta like a deer. It was very exciting. Then we stopped at the front gate and got out to use the toilet and I took more pictures. Then we continued on our game drive. We saw tons of impala, a giraffe and a bunch of elephants, even a little baby one. It was so cute. Then we got to the camp site where we set up camp. We were supposed to go on another game drive but we ran out of time, so instead we set up our tents, which wasn’t too difficult. Then dinner which was so good. It consisted of beef and rice and there was so much left over we were allowed to have seconds. After dinner it was bedtime.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Day in Jo'burg

I woke up super early this morning and I feel miles away from Cape Town, which now feels like home. I lucked out and was able to talk to Loren for a little bit before I left. I was nervous about not talking to him for five days, but now that I’m sitting her, I feel much more at ease.

Ivan picked us up around five and I was quickly reminded of the first night I arrived in Cape Town, though this time the scenery was much more familiar. Check in went on without a hitch though I did forget about my keys in my pocket and one of the security guys started engaging me in a conversation which I was trying to get through the check point. I’m still not used to that. I will be in my own little world, worrying about the next thing which in this case was just getting on the place so I could sleep when I suddenly I’m being talked to early in the morning and expected to engage. I must admit I got a little annoyed because I just wanted to sit down so I could semi-sleep but I suppose that’s a part of the American mentality: all business

The gates are all in one place, squeezed together and there are very few chairs for people to sit. But it worked fine. We first board a bus which then takes us to the plane: a very strange set up from what I’m used to. The flight was fine. I mostly slept. One thing I had noticed is that they play actual music on the plane as you board and get off the place which I love.

We land and I decide to finally open my eyes. Joburg is very ugly in comparison to CPT: no Table Mountain or any mountains at all as a matter of fact. But the airport is much nicer then what I’ve seen of CPT’s. We find our way through the airport and spot a Subway which I was so excited to see because I hadn’t seen one in CPT yet. Then we make it to where the public transport is and call for our free transport. The backpackers that we’re staying at is very close to the airport literally a stone’s throw way, but we would have never been able to find it on our own.

The guesthouse is so nice for R150/night which is under $20/night. There are three swimming pools, one small and two bigger ones, one of which has a slide and the other had a fun little island.

We check in and settle in a bit. The rooms are nice, tons of bed in one place with a kitchen, bathroom, living room: a really sweet set up for the price. I found it amusing that the kitchen was in the girl’s room but not the guys, yet the guy’s sheets were pink, purple and yellow...very masculine

Then we got sucker into going to the Apartheid Museum with this private tour guide. We had already planned to go just on our own but it worked out well. We paid only a little bit more which allowed us greater freedom.

Our guide was a proud Chinese man named Danny. Not a fan of Britain or America but a huge fan of China and the Dutch. He gave a really detailed account of the beginning of CPT which was great except for the fact that I was running on very little sleep and could barely concentrate. Needless to say, I missed some info but most of the stuff I had learned before. At one point, Danny slows down on the highway and scared the mess out of me. But he just wanted to show us the hostels that the miners used to live in, which was cool. We also got to see downtown Joburg which was surrounded by hills or perhaps they should be called mountains. Danny told us that the tallest building in Africa is located in Joburg. Then we finally got to the apartheid museum. Authestically it was hideous, all gray concentrate although there was a nice reflective pool with a Nelson Mandela quote. Again most of the info was things I already knew but seeing actual artifacts and getting a multimedia approach was nice.

One thing they did have that I want to talk about is the Nelson Mandela exhibit. I’m not a fan of idolization and I feel that that’s happened with Mandela. Now don’t get me wrong, Mandela is a hero. I’m not denying that. It’s just that people idolize everything about him and that can be cribbling. It can cause South Africans to judge everyman in comparison to Mandela and it also can prevent them from looking at his faults. But the biggest thing I don’t like about the Mandel idol is that it prevents other people’s amazing storied from being told. There are so many unsung heroes whose stories should be told, but people are so focused on Mandela that little interest is paid to others who made freedom possible in South Africa, and this is not a phenomena only occurring in South Africa. The same thing is done with MLK. I remember the absolute shock I felt when I found out the Dr. King cheated on his wife. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I remember how it completely changed my view of MLK. It brought him down to earth. I blame education for that. When you learn about MLK in elementary school, you get a very black and white impression of him. But I supposed they do that with all history topics when you’re little. I hate that. The reason I love history so much is because of its complexity and I am a firm believer that a good understanding of history can help you not repeat the same mistakes.

But enough about that, I pretty much speeded through the museum because 1. I was hungry and 2. I was exhausted so reading every single word and caption was impossible. But since Adam was way behind me, I did some wandering and discovered that we had barely scratched the surface of the museum. I’m not exactly sure how that happened. I guess the set up was poorly designed or we just missed a sign. So we didn’t see the entire museum, but it was fine. We both weren’t in the best of spirits since we hadn’t eaten since early in the morning. Danny picked us up and took us back and I finally got to attack the bag of granola I brought. We were greeted this time by two Marquette girls, Rose and Nora who we didn’t know were also going on the same Kruger trip. We mostly chilled by reception, though I did wander around at one point and discovered the pool with the slide and the one with an island where the Marquette girls were chilling. I also discovered a bunny cage with two inside and one that had somehow escaped.

Then Adam and I decided to see if there way any place close by to eat. Basically it was something to do. We were in a very dull part of Joburg. It was just a surburb with tons of car dealership. So we went back and got a menu for the restaurant there. It wasn’t as cheap as I thought it was going to be, not really expensive but at the price we paid for the room I expected much less. But it doesn’t matter anyway because we ended up being invited to go with the Marquette girls for dinner with their program director’s girlfriend. She was really fun though she did scare me a couple times by running a red light. But we got to our destination, the Nelson Mandela square in one piece. It’s apparently is a very touristy area. We decided on this place that was famous for its meat. It reminded me of a classier verison of Mzoli’s. There was free bread, which was delicious and little sausages, also quite tasty. I ordered a starter portion of lamb but they apparently ignored that. The guy was a bit annoyed with us because we all pretty much ordered started. The place was pricey though and I hadn’t expected to have to pay that much. So I got way more meat than I wanted. I literally couldn’t finish it. I did finish the mashed potatoe no problem though. I was supposed to get the lamb to take home but they forgot, which I was actually ok with. I’m so over eating tons of meat. I literally can’t do it anymore especially when I don’t eat a lot of meat anymore but the last two times I ate at a restaurant, they give you way too much meat. So I think I’m going to stick with my one meal a day with meat.

On the way back, Nora started talking about “the Elders” a group of men who someone decided were. The list includes Koffi Anna, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Madiba’s wife. I thought it was first surprising that Jimmy Carter made the list. I apparently don’t know anything about Jimmy Carter like apparently he created Habitat for Humanity. Also I think it’s interesting that the list is made up of majority blacks and most of the people are from South Africa. Once we got back I wrote in my journal, then went to bed super early I think it was around 10.

The day before the Safari

One day before my safari! I am packed and ready to go. I’m not looking forward to early flight (it leaves at 6:45) but I am looking forward to a major change in scenery. Tomorrow we get picked up at 5am and then taken to airport. From there, we fly to Joburg arriving around 9. Then I’ll probably crash. I don’t know. I haven’t been sleeping well lately so sleep is the one thing on my mind. But Adam and I are at least going to the Apartheid Museum so that should be cool. Then Monday is the big day. We get picked up around 8 and then taken to Kruger. I have deleted most of my pictures off my camera and bought tons of batteries so I should be set in terms of that.

Yesterday was a good day despite me not being able to sleep. I woke up several times during the night and finally at 8:30 I gave up and decided to make myself useful and go to the primary school. I helped the grade twos again because grade four and up were at a camp. So I helped Ramses again who has improved a lot over the weeks. He’s reading a lot faster, but I’m not sure exactly how to judge it because they all read the same book over and over so it could just be he’s memorized well. It’s hard to tell. Nonetheless it was very encouraging to see improvement.

After Ramses, I helped Tadala who struggled a lot but I love her because she’s very enthusiastic. She did pretty well too. Then I had a major change in pace with this kid Sesethu who was reading a more difficult book, which basically meant I got to hear a different story. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about Kim and Paul and their birthday. So it was great for me to hear something different. I recall that he had trouble with the word “what” which actually Kgozi had trouble with too. I’m not a fan of that word because I have no idea how you sound it out. You can’t just say “at” and then add the “wh” sound at the beginning. It doesn’t work. The same thing goes for “could.” There is no “l” sound so it’s hard to explain. The English language is so weird. Then there’s “I’ll” also a weird word to explain.

But anyways, I watched some of the kids play during break and it was cute how excited Kgozi was to see me. I had Ramses’ books with me and he was so excited to read to me, which made me feel so honored that he would want to read with me during break while all the other kids are running around screaming. But of course, it wasn’t just him a few other boys wanted to read to me too. It was a bit overwhelming because I can only listen to one kid at a time, but it was still fun.

After going to the school, I came home and chilled, did some homework, nothing too exciting. I was planning to go to a play that Arcadia was supposed to be providing transportation too but our new student coordinator has been failing lately. Well, ok I shouldn’t say that but the same thing happened today so yeah, I’m not one to ignore the obvious. But I hope I’m wrong. I hope she’ll follow through with other activities. It is after all her first week. I should explain a little. This week Jane hired a student coordinator whose a grad student at UCT. Her name is Melangini. She seems pretty nice. I hope she knows what she’s doing.

Anyway, so instead of going to the play, I went with Amanda to this dance/play performance by kids from Khaylitsha a township outside of Cape Town. It was amazing. The singing literally gave me chills and the dancing and acting were equally incredible. I enjoyed every second of it.