Friday, March 9, 2012

TIA. (This is Africa)

WHAT A DAY.  It began, as all Fridays (and Mondays) do, at Lynedoch Primary School, for my LSCE (Learning for Sustainable Community Engagement) course.  Fridays are our theory days, so we sit together with our instructor, Grant, and grow together in our understanding of community development work.  I truly feel like I’m learning lessons that I can apply to the rest of my life, which is a great feeling to have.  Today Grant had us do something a little different for awhile – wash windows!  We did it the “South African way” according to Grant, and used newspapers dipped in water, which it worked surprisingly well!  We had a blast, blaring music and dancing while we cleaned.  Our group shares so much with each other, so many deep insights into South Africa and our respective home countries, and into other topics, that it’s really great to just get to goof off together.  I’m glad we have such an interesting and FUN group! It also felt good to give back to the school in a way that is more tangible than teaching.

We left Lynedoch at about 4:20 to catch our train home.  We boarded the train and sat on it for about a half hour, just waiting at the station, and no one was sure what was going on.  Finally, after what felt like forever, the train started moving, and we soon pulled into Vlottenberg, the station between Lynedoch and Stellenbosch.  We again sat in the station, not moving, for a very long time.  Corie and I decided to break into the leftovers from our lunch – chicken pot pie and rice.  We were using our fingers, and I offered some to the man sitting next to me.  In America he would have been repulsed, but TIA ('This is Africa' if you didn't notice the title), so he shared our impromptu meal with us!  He definitely showed us up with the finger eating.  I didn’t quite catch his name, but he was from Zimbabwe, and very nice.  I love making train friends!

Suddenly everyone was in a tizzy, and we asked someone what was going on.  “This train’s heading to Cape Town now, get off!” they yelled.  Since Cape Town is in the complete opposite direction of Stellenbosch, we hustled off the train.  We found out that it was another hour until the next train came, so about 20 LSCE kids, as well as far more South Africans, decided to walk.  As we were walking, we realized that it was a six mile walk back to Stellies, so we called some local friends to see if they could come pick us up.  No one answered, of course.  But honestly, it was incredible.  We were walking along the road, mountains rising on each side, passing ostriches, wildebeests, and other exotic animals.  It really felt like we were in Africa, the Africa of movies!  TIA!! A minibus taxi pulled up and we tried to pile in it, but it was already too full (which means there were probably already about 10 too many people in the minibus.)  Luckily, two friends called back and said they would come get us.  Liz and Jaco to the rescue!! We kept walking until they pulled up, during which time many bakkies (pickup trucks) and other vehicles offered us rides.  Finally, seven of us piled into the back of Liz’s bakkie (luckily she had a cover on the bed!) and drove the few miles we had left.  We got home almost 2 hours later than we normally do on Fridays, but I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Birthday Blog

I celebrated my 21st birthday a couple weeks ago, and it was the best birthday I’ve had yet!  To start off, I had my service learning class, which I always look forward to.  Friday was the first day we took the train to the township of Lynedoch where we teach and are taught, which we’ll be doing the rest of the semester.  It felt good to arrive at the township by train instead of university vans.  It definitely made me feel like a part of the community instead of just an American swooping in to rescue the township, which is not our intention.  We were doing our usual “check-in” activity with our professor, Grant, when the whole seventh grade class filed into our classroom.  Grant spoke quickly to them in Afrikaans, and then they sang me Happy Birthday!  They finished with the lyrics “God bless you today, God bless you today, God bless you to-dayy, happy birthday to you!”  So sweet, and of course I almost cried.  Turns out my friend Corie, who is placed in seventh grade, had arranged it for me – such a sweetheart!  The rest of the day was also great, filled with stories of the township told by Grant.  They were definitely stories of hardship and sometimes were difficult to listen to, but I tried to take away a message of hope instead of sadness. 

After seven hours at Lynedoch, our driver, Georgio, came to pick up the AIFS students.  He seemed a little apprehensive about us at first, but after four hours in the van and listening to Family Business by Kanye about 150 times, we were all the best of friends!  Everyone was already at the Cederbergs when we got there, having left long before us.  We were greeted with hugs, ‘drinkies,’ and an amazing braai!  We were told we’d be camping, but it turned out to be more like GLAMPING (No, Aunt Kathy, there weren’t makeovers like at Mona’s birthday party).  Later, when I was looking up at the stars with some friends, I realized that the whole group was surrounding me, and there was Mama H, our AIFS director, with cakes and candles for me!  So cute, love her, and everyone in my program!  That night I saw four shooting stars!  It was the best night sky I’ve ever seen, absolutely incredible.

view from the van- awesome!

baboon crossing!

The next morning we woke up bright and early and went for a hike (Wolfberg Cracks, google it – beautiful!!)  It was so cool, we had to climb through the mountain itself.  There were beautiful views too of course.  When we got back to the campsite we went for a swim in a beautiful African river.  It was absolutely incredible.  We went back and got changed, then had a wine tasting!  The wine was amazing, like all of the wine in this beautiful country. 

Mama H and I share a moment on the mountain

I already miss it!

With fellow SMCer Meg in the river!

Corie and wine tasting!

The next day, Sunday, we went to check out some San Bushmen cave paintings – so sick!  They were about 6000 years old.  It’s wild that they’re so well preserved after all this time.  There was also a cave with names written all over it, and it’s rumored that it was a secret meeting place.  The names included at least two former prime ministers of South Africa, D.F. Malan and P.W. Botha, as well as poet C. Louis Leipoldt.  Some don’t believe that the names were written by the men they belong to, but I think I’d like to believe it!

photo cred goes to Corie since I forgot to charge my camera..

Overall, I had the best birthday EVER.  The Cederbergs were so beautiful, probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.  There is such a serenity surrounding the area, it’s so easy to feel at peace there, just gazing at the mountains or stars or vineyards.  For most Americans, the 21st birthday is a bit hazy, but mine was one that I will definitely never forget!