Sunday, April 28, 2013

a list of updates


My last post was written in response to the Boston Marathon explosions, and before that, I said that I would post about my spring break experience in the Kalahari. To save you guys some time, this is what’s going to happen—I’ll now post about a general, “what’s-been-going-on-in-my-life-in-Africa” entry, and I’ll write up a separate Kalahari entry at another time this week. Again, I apologize for my lack of motivation. I’d make up an excuse as to why I haven’t been blogging/posting pictures, but as you may already know, I’m even too lazy to do that!

I’ll sum up the past couple of weeks for ya’ll in list form! Yay, lists!
Let’s start off with what we’ve been doing for VCE:
  • “My Home.” For this theme, we explained the different rooms in a house to the children, but also told them that people live in many different types of housing (tents, mansions, etc.). Then we had them tell us what you do in the rooms. One of the girls in my group brought in toothbrushes and little toothpastes (her dad is a dentist) for the kids and we also taught them how to brush their teeth. As an art project, we had them create houses using little balls of tissue paper and glue.
  • “Safety.” This week, we taught the kids about safety while inside, playing outside, riding a bike, and crossing the street. We first went outside on a pretend street (drawn on the ground with chalk) and taught them how to obey streetlights and look both ways before crossing. Then, we actually took them out to the street in front of the school and they crossed it by themselves…with our supervision of course. It was really exciting for both us and the kids, because there were actually cars driving by that we had to look out for, so it was a nice, real-life lesson for them!
  • “My Family.” This past Friday, we talked to the kids about our families and how every family is different (our classroom could even be considered a family). We showed them our home countries—USA, Germany, and Norway—and our friends and family at home, as well as what we do at home (for birthdays, holidays, etc…).

While we’re on the subject of VCE, we only have two Fridays left with the kids. Termination is hard, and I feel like this will be especially difficult. We’ve gotten so comfortable with the kids and we’ll have to leave them for good soon. It’s gonna be sad. But it’s all part of the process.

Other fun excursion-y things:                 
  • This past Thursday, we went with ISOS to hike Lion’s Head Mountain. It’s the mountain on the right of Table Mountain. It was a full moon that night, so we started hiking up as the sun was setting. The hike took about an hour each way; it was so worth it when we got to the top. The city of Cape Town lit up is absolutely beautiful. Have a look!
  • Yesterday (Saturday), we went to the South African Wine & Cheese Festival. Basically you pay a flat fee and also pay for a wine glass and you can sample wines and cheeses from hundreds (at least I think it was hundreds) of vendors and even buy the full-size if you liked it. It was a hot, beautiful day and everyone was sitting outside sharing bottles of wine with friends. It was overall a really fun day!
  • Today (Sunday), I woke up early with my AIFS group to go to Robben Island. We took a ferry out of Cape Town to the island, and then took a bus tour around it. The staff members who work for the museum live on the island; we also learned that there is a 0% crime rate! Nice, right? Robben Island is well-known for its prison, where Nelson Mandela stayed for 13 of his 27 years. It was also where many other black and coloured politicians served their sentences. As we toured the prison, a former prisoner—who also gave us his first-hand experience—guided us. It was crazy how just 20something years ago, people inhabited the area as criminals.
Nelson Mandela's prison cell

I’ve also somewhat neglected the fact that studying abroad requires studying…oh, yeah! So as much as I’ll be trying to keep this blog going, you should know that I’ll be diligently (or not) working on my final exams. But seriously, I have to do work here…?


‘Til next time,
Christina

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

boston.


This blog post wasn’t planned, but it’s one of those times when I need to vent and share my thoughts with everyone who reads this.

I go to school right outside of Boston, and I was so jealous when everyone was posting about the Boston Marathon because I’ve never been, and how cool is it to greet people who just put their heart and soul into the race? I saw pictures on Twitter and Facebook of people at my school cheering people on and of the runners who were about to finish.

Then I started seeing different things on my newsfeeds: “don’t go on the Green Line,” “explosions at the finish line.” Of course, I was confused, because I’m in South Africa and most of my daily information of what’s going on at school/home comes from checking my email and going on social networks. Then I started seeing news articles being posted and so many Facebook statuses saying “don’t worry” and “I’m okay” and “Pray for Boston.” It didn’t take long for me to figure out the rest of the story.

A few weeks back I posted an entry about tragedy. About how there was a fire in the township that I volunteer in. How I don’t understand why things like this have to happen to innocent people. And that was an accident—a fire that got out of control. But this was planned. Someone put those bombs in trashcans at the marathon with the intention of hurting people. Killing people.

Why? That’s all I have to say, and that’s all that’s been on my mind.

Last night I was at a pub and the televisions were broadcasting the news in Boston. My second home was on a television in South Africa. All I could think about is how devastating it was, and how I was probably one of the only people in that room who felt that way. Sure, the locals have heard of Boston, but I know people there. My friends were there, my teammates were there, my classmates were there.

As far as I know, everyone I know is okay, but I can’t imagine what’s going on with everyone else. Innocent people with limbs missing. Runners who just finished a marathon, now wondering if they will ever walk again. People who just wanted to support the runners and see them finish the race. People dead.

I was never one of those people who said that they’ve lost faith in humanity, but it makes me wonder. How many bombings? How many shootings? How many people are going to have to die and suffer for me to actually lose faith? We as a country can only take so many blows. It’s just sad. And there is good in the world, we know that, but there’s been a lot of bad lately.

I also mentioned this on Twitter, but I am not happy with people retweeting and reblogging (on Tumblr) pictures of the incident. There is nothing wrong with reposting something that says “Pray for Boston” on it, but I do not like seeing pictures of people with no legs bleeding on the side of the street. That is inappropriate. News articles have described the scene of the incident, and personally, that is enough for me. I think that it’s extremely rude to reblog a picture of someone crying over a bloody corpse and gifs of the explosions around people. Would you reblog a gif of someone in a mass shooting being killed? Or a picture of someone who was shot lying on the ground? Probably not.

I wish I could be home right now. I want to hug my friends and family, and be there for them. I want them to know that everything is going to be okay. Lesley is a strong community. Boston is a strong community. We will get through this, but it can’t be done unless it’s done together. We need to set the example of goodness.

Thank you for reading and putting up with my rants.


‘Til next time,
Christina 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

a south african spring break


So apparently the concept of “studying abroad” actually includes studying. And homework. Who knew? This past week I was busy with a history project and had little to no time for posting pictures and blog entries. But good news – I have a lot to show and tell! Spring break was really fun and I was able to bond with a lot of people in my program who I rarely see. I’ll talk about the Garden Route in this post, and the Kalahari stories will be in another this week.

After waking up to leave at 5am, we headed to the ostrich farm on Friday, March 29th. Normally they allow you to ride them, but it was rainy and if they slip they can break an ankle! So yeah, no riding. But we did learn about ostriches and their feathers and eggs. We also learned that they can be dangerous and can kill people really violently if need be. Next we met one of the ostriches and were able to feed her and also feed a bunch of other ostriches for a nice little neck massage!



We went to the Cango Caves quickly after the ostriches. The caves are a little eerie but the rock formations are so beautiful and it was awesome to see the enormity of the caves themselves. We had the options of going on either the Standard Tour or Adventure Tour of the caves and I went with the adventure, being the adventurous girl that I am; it involved a lot of crawling through narrow cracks. One of the openings to crawl through was about 30 centimeters! Can you even picture that? I don’t know how people of all shapes and sizes can wiggle through there, but they do it. Anyway, I actually thought it was really fun and we didn’t have a ton of difficulty getting through them.


Saturday was a very relaxed day for me, and a few of us went to the local mall and market. The markets in SA are so nice and have a bunch of great food and handmade items. We came across a woman named Peggy Diephu who hand-painted canvas pieces of everything—elephants, dancers, the African continent, children, shacks, etc. They were all so beautiful and it was amazing to see all of the art that she painted herself. I bought a few pieces as souvenirs for people back home. Peggy gave us her card and insisted on us taking pictures of her with her artwork. She was so happy that we came and bought her pieces and that it made her day that we were there. She was honestly the sweetest and most talented woman. Here’s her picture with one of my purchases.

The next day was the most exciting for me—bungee jumping! Our whole group went to Bloukrans Bridge together; the ones jumping went and the others stayed in a restaurant/bar area where they could watch the jumpers on a huge TV screen. We walked along a catwalk to get to the bridge and I was so pumped the entire time before I jumped. The workers there were so friendly and fun, and there was a DJ at the top playing music to get everyone excited. Before any of us went, we saw an older man (at least 70 years old, I’d say) jump. It was insane. I told myself that if he could do it, I could too.

If any of you have seen my bungee jump video on Facebook, you know that I was dancing the whole time that the staff members were hooking me up to the cord, and that was because I was SO scared and was trying to concentrate on dancing. The jump itself was so exhilarating. The wind was blowing in my face and it was lightly raining; it was really peaceful to see the river and trees below me. Afterwards, I was going crazy. The adrenaline rush hit me like a bullet and my roommate Daniela (who was the first to jump!) and I couldn’t stop dancing to the music while everyone else jumped.

On Monday, we went to Knysna Elephant Park and touched, fed, and walked with the elephants. We each got a bucket of veggies and lettuce to give to them, and they would just grab the food with their trunks. It was so cute! Then we walked in a small group with a couple of ellies and were able to touch them and walk around with them while taking pictures. They were so calm and beautiful; they are seriously Africa’s gentle giants.

Our last day of activities was Tuesday, and we went to Monkeyland and the Tenikwa Feline Sanctuary. Monkeyland is pretty self-explanatory—we walked around the forest with our guide, Hamidi (such a sweet man, by the way…he was always smiling!) while looking at different species of monkeys. We saw a ton of ring-tailed lemurs at this one feeding station; there must have been at least 20 in the area!


At the feline sanctuary, it started raining so that wasn’t too fun. But we saw wild African cats (pretty much a fiercer housecat), servals, a cat that is pretty much a lynx (go Lynx!), a leopard, and cheetahs! The cheetah part was actually so cool because they were just chilling in front of us without a cage or leash, and they were just hanging out and being so calm. These ones are apparently brother and sister!


 
On Wednesday, we left our accommodation and headed back to Stellenbosch. We arrived at about 3pm and most of us left for the Kalahari 5 hours later! So we booked it to the grocery store and laundry room to get ready again. I hope you guys enjoyed reading about my Garden Route adventure…I’m really sorry about the length; the Kalahari entry will be coming soon to a blog near you! A.K.A. this blog.


‘Til next time,
Christina 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

an adventure awaits!


Hello, hello! Here I am, posting another late entry. I kind of figured that I should since I won’t be home in Stellenbosch for a while. I’ll explain why in a second. But, I would really like to thank everyone who took the time to read my last post and comment on it here or to me personally. The world can be strange and confusing and sad sometimes, and I used my site as an outlet, and I really appreciate you guys bearing with me.

Over the weekend, my roommates and I rented a car and went into Cape Town. It was so nice to just be able to drive everywhere and not worry about public transportation times and whatnot. We went to a huge food market, the V & A Waterfront and mall, Tyger Valley mall, Camps Bay beach, and Tattoo Mania (where I got a cartilage piercing…no tattoo just yet!).

This past Monday was the semi-final game for the rugby Varsity Cup. Our team, the Maties, were playing at home against NMMU – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University – who we played and beat earlier in the season. So, of course, we were expected to win again, but NMMU put up a fight. The game was scoreless for a while and then we scored first, with the opponents scoring right back. It went back and forth like that for pretty much the entire game, until Stellenbosch barely won 16-15! I’m usually not into the rugby games here, but it was so exciting to watch!

The Varsity Cup final match is on April 8th and luckily we got tickets for it!!

Although most of my friends are finished with their spring breaks, we are just starting ours this weekend. Here’s what I have planned:

Our AIFS program has an excursion to the Garden Route included in the fees, which is amazing.

During the 6-day Garden Route tour, we’ll be seeing elephants, ostriches, felines, and monkeys, as well as participating in optional activities – such as paragliding, ziplining, and bungee jumping….oh, did I mention that I’ll be bungee jumping? Oh, did I also mention that it’s from the highest bungee bridge in the world? Hopefully I’m alive and well to tell you guys about it!

On the same day that we get back from the Garden Route, we leave for the Kalahari. It’ll be hectic but so fun. We’ll be going on game safari, camping, and white water rafting! The Kalahari will definitely be a more relaxing excursion compared to the Garden Route.

On the same day that we get back from the Kalahari, we go right back to classes. A rude awakening, but it’ll alllll be worth it in the end.

That being said, I would not expect a blog post until the week of April 7th. I’ll be having some withdrawals, I know, but we can look at it this way – when I come back I’ll have a TON of stories to tell!


‘Til next time,
Christina 

Monday, March 18, 2013

life and tragedy


Okay, okay. “Expect another post on Sunday” was a little ambitious for me to say last week, especially since St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday and I didn’t get home until late. Anyway, no more excuses.

I suppose this post will be a little different, and a little more personal. On Friday, we had VCE and the theme was “shapes and colors.” We showed the kids different shapes and colors and also had them color in the South African flag, which has a lot of basic colors and shapes within it. Afterwards, we helped some of the kids play Twister while others were in line to get their faces painted by us—they had squares, triangles, stars, and hearts all over their faces! So cute.

After each session on Fridays, we “check out” and gather in a huge group. Our VCE leader, Donavan, explained that there had been a fire in the township of Kayamandi the night before. There were 600 families who lost their homes, with about 4 in a household…so that’s about 2,500 people. There were also two people who died in the fire. I didn’t even know that Kayamandi had that many people living in it.

That’s when I realized that the town of Stellenbosch is a bit of a bubble and that many people have never been to Kayamandi, let alone heard of it. Keep in mind that Kayamandi is a small-ish community on a hill in the middle of Stellenbosch. It's hard to miss. Many of these people live in tiny apartment-style homes or in shacks. All of these homes are tightly-packed and close to each other. Also, the wind in the Western Cape can get pretty harsh, so the fire spread to 600 houses quickly and fairly easily.

Let’s also keep in mind that these people do not have a lot to begin with. Not much food, clothing, toiletries, etc. And all of that was stripped away from them in one night.

Just imagine.

It’s still difficult for me to fathom this concept. I don’t understand why tragedies like this have to happen to the people who deserve it the least.

Luckily, since Stellenbosch University is Kayamandi’s neighbor, so we all came together to donate clothes, blankets, food, and toiletries to the township and its people. But it’s not even its people: it’s our people. We act as if there’s us and then there’s them. As if we aren’t all one in the same. Just because that they have less items or money. Because they’re living in poverty. Our group has been told that, in reality, all of us are living with poverty. Poverties. We’re all poor. They may be poorer in terms of money, but some of us are poor in terms of knowledge. Creativity. Handiness.
We are all poor.

And then I think of my children—babies, actually—who I teach every Friday. They go to school, but what happens after? Did they all have homes to go back to? Did they have a meal to eat, a bed to sleep in? It’s so sad. So so sad. Because I love these kids and they help me more than I help them. They teach me to not worry for an hour and to be present and in the moment and they teach me how to have fun.

I just wish that I could always be with them and sing and play and color, because I don’t want them to see the sad things that can happen outside of school. Fires. Death. Crime. But they will see things like that, because that’s life. They’re just so young and innocent. So innocent. One of my kids’ fathers passed away recently and I can’t even imagine how he feels. He probably doesn’t understand; just feels this empty sadness. I just wish that life didn’t have to be this confusing and sad and tragic sometimes.

I don’t know where I was going with this post, but I wanted to talk about the subject somewhere. Although this was a blog post for everyone to read, I also just really needed it for myself and my own sanity. So if you read this, thank you.


‘Til next time,
Christina