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,

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,

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

swimming with jaws

Hey, everyone! So you may or may not be wondering why I didn’t post again on Sunday. The truth is that for some reason (which I’ll explain later) I have been overwhelmingly tired for the past couple of days. Here’s some of the stuff that went on this week:

On Wednesday, I completed another project for my jewelry design class. During the past couple of classes, we’ve been working on silver pendants to create necklaces with. So, we each took a piece of cuttlefish (a dried-out, white, scaly type of fish) and carved a design into the soft side of it. We used this as a mold for the silver. Then, we melted some silver with a really hot flame…like 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit hot. Luckily, my pendant came out the way that I wanted it to! After that, it just took some filing and polishing to finish it.

I would post a picture of the completed pendant, but I’m giving it to someone as a gift and don’t want to give any surprises away!

Also, I don’t think I’ve posted my earrings here yet, so here’s a picture—finally!

On Thursday night, the ISOS held an international food event. Since there are so many students from different countries studying here, they had the opportunity to represent their nation and cook dishes that the public could sample using tickets. (For anyone who went to Ketcham with me, it was kind of like our Taste of Ketcham event.) There were so many different things to try, from Ethiopia to Canada to Austria. I personally tried food from the U.S. (I had to support…we had Rice Krispie treats, s’mores, pancakes, and blueberry biscuits), China, Haiti, and Canada. I didn’t expect the event to be so popular, but it was, and I really enjoyed it. The evening was also a contest, and France ended up winning!

On Friday, our VCE theme was "Summer." Unfortunately (and ironically), it poured all day long. Many of us had games involving water planned for the kids, but we had to quickly change our plans. My group posted two bodies on the board and had cut-outs of different winter and summer attire (scarves, flip-flops, shorts, sunglasses, a long-sleeve shirt, etc.) and had the children decide whether it was meant for the summer or for the winter. Here's an example of the "summer" body:

Another part of the lesson included making paper fans--you know, the accordian-style ones? They first drew whatever they wanted on a sheet of paper (our kids love love love to color) and then we helped them fold the paper into a fan. We also brought in sunscreen for them to test and put on their faces, which they also really enjoyed. The weather was a downer, but we were able to have fun with the kids and teach them something, which is the only goal in the end!

Saturday was a relaxed day and a few of us biked to a local market. There were so many cool stands with handmade jewelry and cute clothing, and there were also food stands where I sampled everything. So we sampled, shopped, and ate. It was a great way to start off the day. The market only runs until 2pm, so we biked back home and rested before another day of excitement!

On Sunday…. *drumroll* we finally went shark cage diving! We went through a company called Shark Lady, and I definitely recommend it if anyone is interested in hanging out in South Africa. We were transported to Gansbaai, the shark cage diving capital of the world, and after a bit of eating and waiting, we were on our boat into the sea. There were about 20 of us in all, and I was in the third group of five.

If we’re going to be honest, I’m going to have to say that I felt very, very sick on the boat. The waters didn’t give us a break, so we were being rocked back and forth for the entirety of the diving. I’ve never felt that nauseous before, so it put a bit of a damper on the day. But, I did see a few great white sharks, and it was insane! We suited up in our wetsuits and booties and masks, and then were lowered into the cage, which was attached to the boat. They closed the lid of the cage and we held onto the bars on the lid, lowering ourselves down whenever there was a shark sighting. There was a man constantly throwing bait into the water and when he saw a shark coming, he would say something like “DOWN RIGHT, DOWN RIGHT!” or “GO DOWN, GO DOWN!” and we would hold our breath and lower ourselves into the water and look.

During my group’s diving session, we saw three or so sharks in a matter of 10 minutes! One of them swam right in front of us, across the entire cage. And for whatever reason, I wasn’t scared at all. The last shark that I saw in the cage shot up and out of the water, grabbing the bait, and it was the most amazing sight! Apparently the biggest shark that we saw on Sunday was 9 feet long! I can’t even begin to comprehend that...

Overall, shark cage diving was fun, despite my motion sickness. We were gone from 10am to 8pm, and I still feel like I’m recovering, but that’s probably just the old lady in me surfacing.

A random picture of Cape Town from the bus ride home. So beautiful!

Expect another post on Sunday with more South Africa stories!

‘Til next time,

Sunday, March 3, 2013

powder, penguins, and our deepest fear

Hello again from SA! I’m feeling a lot better this week and I’m just left with a raspy voice, which is completely fine with me. It was actually perfect timing because I had a very busy weekend.

For VCE this week, the theme was “healthy living.” My group taught our children about the importance of brushing our teeth twice a day, and washing our hands before we eat. Then we showed them different pictures of healthy and unhealthy things—someone recycling, someone littering, an apple, candy, etc.—and had them tell us whether the pictures displayed something good or bad. (The “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” signs are pretty universal, so we had them show us that way!) Then we brought in apples, bananas, carrots, and grapes and had them sample them as examples of healthy foods. After that, we went outside and stretched with them before doing a relay race! The kids loved it and we gave them different stipulations like running backwards and hopping on one foot. Before we knew it, our hour was over!

Every week, we receive a journal prompt and submit entries based on either what happened during our session or a provided article, video, quote, etc. This week, we had to reflect on a quote by Marianne Williamson called “Our Deepest Fear.” You can read it here. I really, really like this quote and its meaning, and I’ve ironically already reflected on and wrote a speech about it this past semester. Anyway, we had to talk about how the quote relates to our community engagement in Kayamandi, and I thought I’d share it with you guys!

I essentially think that the quote is saying that we are afraid to dream big and think optimistically because we believe that we aren’t good enough and that we don’t deserve to be beautiful, talented, etc. Instead, there is no reason why we shouldn’t believe that we are these things because we are all meant to have our lights shine. For example, when we’re children, we want to become astronauts and create world peace. But, when we grow up and realize that there’s this thing called rejection, we’re a little more careful about what we pursue and sometimes think we’re too unworthy of a person or an opportunity. In my entry, I explained that the children we work with have the big dreams that we used to have; in their minds, almost anything is achievable. Thus, I’d like to re-learn from the Kayamandi kids and learn to be more fearless and aware of my talents and possibilities!

Yesterday (Saturday), a huge group of international students went to Cape Town for the Holi One-Colour Festival. The festival is traditionally Hindu and uses colors to celebrate life and happiness; however, this is a more modern, Day-Glow/paint party version. The one that we went to yesterday was actually the first in Cape Town, so it was awesome to be there for it! Everyone wore white clothes and danced everywhere to the music that the DJ played. The colors are actually just cornstarch with dye in it, which made it non-toxic and fine for the skin and hair. And, every hour on the hour, everyone would throw their colored powders in the air and it made a rainbow beautiful cloud. The people who attended were all so fun-loving and friendly, which makes me love Cape Town even more. I’ve never been in one place where people were so happy for so long!

We were at the festival for ten hours and our bus didn’t drop us off at the international office until midnight. So, we all ran to our showers, scrubbed our bodies, and hopped into bed to wake up bright and early for another adventure. Today, the AIFS students went to Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, as well as Boulder’s Beach.

We were at Cape of Good Hope for a very short time, but it was beautiful. The fact that we were by the water made the weather extremely windy, and that is why my shirt is inflated in every one of my pictures. We stayed at Cape Point for a longer amount of time, mostly because there was a lot to do. We took a path up to a lighthouse that looked over the mountains and water, and it reminded me a lot of Shutter Island. There were also some gift shops where I got a few souvenirs…it was actually very difficult to control my urge to buy e v e r y t h i n g. Lastly, we went to Boulder’s Beach, which was pretty much a nature reserve where we could check out some African penguins! There were so many of them and we got pretty close! Have a look:

They look like they're kissing!

More classes this week, but there’s a twist—we’re finally going shark cage diving on Sunday!

‘Til next time,