Simon’s Town

We arrived in Simon’s Town on Monday afternoon via train. The tracks roll right by the coast, giving us breathtaking views of Table Mountain, the water and little sea-side towns. Simon’s Town is a navy base about an hour away from the city. We’re staying at a petite bed and breakfast walking distance to the town… and the penguins.

Simon’s Town has the largest warm-weather penguin colony in the world. They’re amazing little fellows, waddling and swimming around to cool off. The penguins just showed up one day in 1983 and today there are thousands of them. You can, and we did, walk right up to them. They’re not shy and love to play with anyone willing to come near, and risk being pecked at.

We also took a trip down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. This area is the most southern tip of the continent of Africa. It’s around the area where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean’s meet. The views were breathtaking. The natural landscape is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Mountains with jagged cliffs meet the seas in a violent yet picturesque and beautiful commotion. The air is fresh and there is no one around to take away from this moment of bliss.

At night we’ve been exploring some local pubs and ending each night at the beach. It’s pretty hard to keep me away from the water. Each area of Cape Town I’ve been to so far has been very unique- each has something completely different to offer. From the sky-scrapers and clubs, to the braais in the townships, to the fisherman’s towns with penguins… this is a country of great contrast. Everything is beautiful- the sounds, sights, foods, colors, smells and people of this country.

View from the train

Simon's Town Port

Boulder's Beach

Inquisitive friend

Warning the sailors on their way


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Ndiyavuya ukukwazi kwaLanga

Classes at Langa High School, pasta and pesto, Hoops for Hope, Xhosa lessons, mini-bus rides, kitchen dancing, sillybanz, voice recording, SIT bird-baths, a funeral, s’mores, University of Cape Town, storytelling of memory, coloring, church singing, ancestors & dreams, semester at sea docking- trips to the waterfront, District 6 and Guguletu 7, Joe Slovo, new twists, sun-dried laundry, University of the Western Cape, music sharing, and a goodbye celebration.

The last week I have spent in Langa has been a whirlwind of experiences and emotions.

These photos will serve as a glimpse into my life in Langa. Today I leave for Simon’s Town- a small fisherman’s town outside of Cape Town. Later this week we’re departing for the Eastern Cape. We’ll be spending a week in the rural village of Tshabo.

Sala Kakuhle kwaLanga, ndiyathanda.


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Robben Island

Saturday morning we took a trip to Robben Island, an island off the coastline of Cape Town. As the boat took us farther and farther away from the city I was amazed at the natural beauty that surrounded me. The contrast created by the city and the mountains was remarkable. Two years ago when my family took a trip to SA to visit my brother Alex our trip to Robben Island was canceled due to bad weather. I had been reading and learning about this island for years, I was extremely excited to see the history unfold infront of me.

Robben Island is home to one of the world most famous prisons, getting its fame from the imprisonment of political prisoners during the apartheid era. Our tour guide, Thulani Mabaso, served ten years at Robben Island due to his political activism fighting the apartheid system of systematic racism. Over the course of a few hours he detailed prison life as he knew it. The stories were shocking; the physical and emotional manipulation of prisoners was inhumane.

He explained to us that prisoners were allowed one visit from family members every six months to one year. Letters were censored by blotting out important information with black ink or cutting whole sections out of letters from loved ones. Each cell was a barren concrete cell, only 2 x 2m. Prisoners were forced to do manual labor in the courtyard and lime quarry everyday. In Mandela’s autobiography he described the physical and emotional pain this labor inflicted on prisoners. The prisoners were told they would be working at the quarry for six months, in reality they worked there for over 13 ½ years. The stone they extracted was used to build the high-security prison. Years later many prisoners were confined to the high security prison for weeks at a time.

In 1991 all political prisoners were released and the African National Congress began negotiations with the National Party shortly after. In 1994 South Africa held its first democratic elections where Nelson Mandela was elected. In 1995 many of the prisoners were invited back to Robben Island to celebrate the one year anniversary of the democratic elections. Each political prisoner placed one stone on this pile in front of the lime quarry. Each stone represented the uniqueness of each individual, their collective struggle and the formation of the Rainbow Nation.

Although this was a brief entry about the long and complicated life on Robben Island, I wanted to post something about this eye-opening experience. More history to come, there is so much to be learned here!

Thulani Mabaso outside the gates of the prison

Barbed wire isolating the inmates on the island

The courtyard where prisoners were forced perform inhumane manual labor

Nelson Mandela's cell where he lived for 27 years

Graves for Cape Town citizens with leprosy

The lime quarry with stones placed in a pile by prisoners to represent the Rainbow Nation

Cape Town

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Fat Cakes

Mama Gretta makes 60 fat cakes and doughnuts every morning to sell to the school children. Although these treats are anything but healthy- both she and the children greatly enjoy them. Each evening she makes the dough, spending over an hour preparing and mixing.

On Sunday I decided to join her, we laid out the ingredients: flour, a pitcher of water, sugar, salt and water. Nothing is measured, everything is done by eye after years of experience. We mixed the ingredients together in Mama’s large mixing bowl. After 40 minutes of mixing, my arms were exhausted. The proportion of dry ingredients to water creates a thick and heavy batter. She then asked me to take off my bracelets and use my hands. We then punched and pulled the dough until it was completely smooth. It was a great release of energy- Mama and I couldn’t keep from laughing!

We put the dough in a barrel and let it rise overnight. We set our alarms for 4 am and resumed the work. We rolled and cut the dough into little balls and logs. We spread them all over the countertops and once again let them rise. We then heated up the oil and began to fry. We fried 4 or 5 fat cakes at a time, a few minutes per side. While the cakes were frying Mama began preparing the foods to go inside: frittes, some sort of red meat liver, and sausage. After each of these were cooked (either deep fried or pan fried), she cut open the round fat cake, filled it with a goodie. We bagged them up and put them in her cart for her to take them to school.

After trying one of Mama’s fat cakes I quickly realized that one is enough..

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Home Life

Children of Langa

After my sisi and I get home from school we like to go on walks around Langa. Lohli and Nwabisa sometimes tag along to keep us company and plays with the other kids we come across on the way. Lohli never wears shoes, instead he prefers to walk barefoot and doesn’t flinch while walking over broken glass. He doesn’t know much English, but what he does know he’s learned from American pop music. He often walks around singing “beat it, just beat it.”

A few days ago Liza surprised us while we were sitting on the porch playing crazy 8s. She was walking home with her bhuti, Sean, from buying electricity at the store nearby. We then walked with them to the other-side of town and played with some of the kids in the neighborhood. As we walked, groups of teenagers laughed while yelling to us “Umlungu! Umlungu! Molo!” Umlungu means white person. This has become a common phrase I’ve heard while walking around- everyone is surprised to hear that a white person is living in Langa, not just visiting on a commercialized tour bus.

My bhuti Lohli and sisi Zina

Lohli and Tandelie with Julia and I

Zina and I in the park in Rondebosch

Langa is a township of Cape Town and there are no white residents. Historically this was an area blacks were forced to live in, since the end of apartheid 16 years ago, the townships have remained homelands for many black families. So when teenagers see a white person in Langa, it’s a rare occasion.

On the home way Zina asked if I would buy her airtime for her phone, which cost 5 rand, or about 70 cents. I said okay under one condition: she’d have to give me 5 little braids, one per rand of airtime. Since then she’s given me a few more braids while helping me practice my Xhosa. Students in Langa learn Xhosa from birth, it is the mother-tongue of this province of Cape Town. In school they also learn English and from a very young age all of their instruction is in English.  Everything from math to science and history is taught in English, while Xhosa can be heard on the streets and in the homes of Langa.

Zina and Lolo making GUAC!

One aspect of South African culture I was excited to discover was their love of avocados and tomatoes. I quickly realized that making guacamole, one of my favorite foods, would be in order. I went to the store and bought the goods: avos, tomato, onion, lemon, garlic and hot sauce. Zina, Lolo and I made the guac and it turned out great- they all loved it. We sat around this evening to watch Zuma, the South African President’s State of the Nation while eating our guac and chips. Afterwards, Mama asked what was in it so she could make it again. Definitely a success!

It was very interesting to listen to Zuma speak on topics such as renewable energy, education, health care, the job economy, and SA political allies in Africa. Zuma highlighted the three areas of concern for education reform: the need for teachers, textbooks and time. The education system post-apartheid is extremely crippled as they are still working to level the playing field for all South African children to have the opportunity to succeed. It was also interesting to see the members of government dressed in their traditional clothing- something quite different from the US State of the Union. Also, the representation of both men and women, young and old, was striking.

This weekend I went to Camp’s Bay, a white sandy beach sprawling along the coast with both locals and tourists. We relaxed in the sun, swam in the sea and had a few drinks to celebrate the weekend.

Camps Bay

The views were incredible and it was really nice to relax and unwind with my friends. The following night we had a 21st birthday celebration for my friend Julia. Her family had a braai for us, the traditional South African version of barbeque. We hung out, feasted on chicken and sausage, and danced and sang. Miniemnandi Julia!

Olivia, Tina, Kate, Jolie and me

Zina, Nwabisa, Lohli and Lolo

I’ve come to notice that dinners in Langa are centered around the TV. We eat with our plates on our laps watching the soapies- Generations is our favorite. TV is relatively new technology in Langa and everyone is completely hooked to it. Lohli loves watching WWE and emulating the wrestling moves with his friends in the streets. Joe and Andrew like the documentaries about history and politics, and all my sisis love the soapies. Some nights Joe, my sisi and I sit around the living room listening to music. The door is always open at the Mazwai home, letting in the warm summer breeze and any children nearby.  Joe produces music under the name Mazwai Records. The CD is deep house music, a very popular type of music in SA right now. He’s looking to expand the house music scene from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

As I’m writing this post, Zina just threw a new CD into the stereo, the first track was Ridin’ Solo, one of my favorite songs from this fall. It’s amazing to see the influence of American pop music has on the kids of SA. My sisis favorite artist are Beyonce, Rihiana and Kesha. While walking around with Zina and her friends they asked me, “Do you know Justin Bieber? Willow Smith? Miley Cirus?” They can’t get enough American music! Zina is jamming out in front of the mirror, dancing and singing along.  Music is a great form of expression in Langa…. Everyone from my 4-year-old bhuti to my 70-year-old mama walks around humming a tune.

Lohli and Tandelie

Relaxing outside with mama, Lohli and Nwabisa

It’s Sunday afternoon and we just got home from church. Mama laid out a mat, pillows and blankets for us all to relax. We’ve been sitting here for hours just quietly chatting and closing our eyes to rest. I asked my sisis if they’d like to write something for my blog. I explained what a blog is and how it allows me to keep in touch with those at home. Zina wrote the following passage and I translated it for you all… Nwabisa’s is to follow. Sobonana Nonke!

Igamala ngu Zina. Ndihlala Esigcawu kwa  58 , ndihlala nomakholuwam notata no bhuti, no Samantha, no nwabisa no unathi no lolo. Ndifunda eMoshesh grede6a  kwa Langa.

My name is Zina. I live on Sigcawu at number 58. I live with my grandmother, father, brother, Samantha, Nwabisa, Unthi and Lolo. I study at Moshesh in Grade 6A in Langa

Halla! My name is Nwabisa and I’m a very crazy kid that loves music, sport, scouts and tv. My friends and I ourselves B.L.U.T.O BABES. We love walking around the township, visiting other friends, watching movies and going to Grandwest for ice-skating. My family usually sits at home ad watch television all day.

What I like about my township is that most of my relatives live near by. I love playing a violin with friends at church.

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Molweni Langa

I believe the title of my blog is a bit misleading, I am no longer in Cape Town, the city you can read about and see pictures of in books. My home for the next three weeks is in the oldest township in Cape Town: Langa. Townships were established to isolate the non-white population into groups: Blacks, Coloureds and Indians. Langa was established in 1923 and is home to amaXhosa.

I arrived in Langa on Saturday afternoon with my face pressed to the window of the van. The first thing I saw was the roasting of some sort of animal heads. Little did I know that later that day my Sisi Toko would tell me she’s buying me a sheep’s head on Wednesday for dinner! There were what seemed like hundreds of children in the streets, playing, fighting, dancing and laughing. The homes were all touching, making it hard to distinguish where one ended and where the next began. The streets were dirty but every face had a smile on it. A van full of white people- we were a sight to be seen.

I am staying at the Mazwai home, with 8 members of their family. My Mama Gretta is a spry 70 years old. She has 6 children, many grandchildren and now 2 great-grandchildren. I am living with Mama, Toko, Joe, Nwabisa, Andrew, Lohli, Zina and Lolo. When I arrived Toko, Zena and Lohli greeted me and welcomed me in the home. There are 4 rooms: a living room, kitchen and two bedrooms, one for me and one for the family. Mama and Joe came home from the store with a car-full of groceries, they had bought the weekly materials to make sweets. They welcomed me to their home and gave me a little glimpse into their daily lives. Lohli is 4 and full of energy. He doesn’t know much English, and I am learning Xhosa, so we became fast friends. I gave him a ball of silly putty and he has yet to put it down. I believe he took a bath with it and slept with it under his pillow.

Yesterday we went to church as a family and afterwards Toko and I went to the tailor to get some of her dresses fixed. She is pregnant and due on April 5th. This was my first experience with this so-called “Africa time,” we sat in Pediolies small and crowded one-room apartment for 5 hours waiting to get her dresses hemmed. During the evening I brought out my box full of string and made bracelets for my Sisis! They loved them. I in turn love the fact that I am leaving a piece of camp in Langa.

This morning I woke up this morning at 6am to go to Rondabosch, where the SIT offices are located. I opened my bedroom door and was amazed by the sight in front of me. Every inch of countertop was covered in balls of dough. Mama had been up since 4am making fat-cakes and doughnuts for the school children. Fat cakes are balls of dough filled with sausage, chicken liver or frittes. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. She told me she makes them each morning, “it keeps me young!” It is amazingly true- she is defying the odds of her generation where the life expectancy is a mere 50.

The following pictures are from last week. We hiked Lion’s head, a mountain adjacent to Table Mountain that gives you a 360-degree view of the city and bay! It was unbelievable! I have yet to take any pictures in Langa, but I will soon. There are so many people and sights I would like to share.

Salani Kakuhle, sobonana!

View of Table Mountain

View of the bay

Kate, Liza me and Olivia

The fearless hikers

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Arrival at the Cape

Our whirlwind tour of Johannesburg continued throughout the weekend. We learned a lot about the history of South African politics and saw the highlights of the city. We visited the apartheid museum, saw a production at the Market Theater, explored downtown and visited Wits University- one of the most prestigious universities in South Africa. Johannesburg provided me with a deeper understanding of the history of apartheid and race relations in this country.

Our group at Wits! 23 girls and 1 boy...

The view from the airplane as we landed in Cape Town

On Tuesday we flew to CAPE TOWN! Flying in over the city was so exhilarating. We saw Table Mountain, Robben Island and the beautiful coastline.  We are staying at the Train Lodge, an abandoned train station with a stopped train on either side. The chairs were ripped out and replaced with bunk beds. The room I am sharing with Liza and Jolie is about 6ft x 6ft, and yes, there are three of us AND our bags filled with our stuff for the next 4 months. Needless to say, it’s a comical sight.

Our room at the Train Lodge

Also, there are many cats roaming the trains, marking their territory by killing pigeons and hissing as we walk by. If you’re reading this blog you must know, I hate cats, even South African cats. I wish Ajax was here to scare them away.

We headed out last night to explore the city a little more. We went to a club downtown to celebrate Stephanie’s 21st birthday. The club was unlike anything I had ever seen.. and I ran into three friends from Vanderbilt who go to University of Cape Town- how CRAZY! While it was great to go out and see the town- it was not so great to wake up at 6am to start our day the following morning.

We headed out to the SIT offices and classroom, in Rondebosch. There is a beautiful view of table mountain from the office- I couldn’t ask for better. Rondebosch is a quaint little town with lots of fun little restaurants and shops nearby. It’ll be fun to explore during the days to come. Stuart led our first class as well as a lecture about the rules of the road. Looks like I won’t be cage diving, renting a car or sky diving anytime between now and May 12th. All I can say is May 13th through the end of my trip will be full of release forms and adrenaline. Can’t wait.

The view of Table Mountain from our ride to school

We then experienced ‘the drop off.’ Stuart compared this experience to the scene in Finding Nemo during which the lil fish swims past his point of comfort to an unfamiliar and scary new place. We were split up into groups and given a task to complete over the course of the afternoon. Our task was to take a mini-bus taxi to the Waterfront and check out the transportation to Robben Island as well as the food and fashion of the area. Sounds simple, right?

Our mini-bus experience was interesting to say the least. Mini-busses are part of South Africa’s public transportation; they are vans that speed down the roads, crowded with 15+ people rushing from one place to another…. Oh yeah- the door open and music is blasting. A man flags down potential customers on the side of the road by yelling “girl!” or “man!” to pedestrians on the side of the road. Our mini-bus was pulled over by the police on the way there, slightly scary, and we also had to switch taxis part way through our trip. Not quite like the cabs in the states, but they only cost 3-6 rand, which is less than a dollar. And also the mini-buses are a great place to chat with the locals and people watch- two of my favorite things to do.

The Waterfront

The trip there took an hour in total, but it was well worth the struggle! The waterfront is BEAUTIFUL. The water is such a rich color of blue and the sky is perfectly clear.  The area is full of restaurants and shops… so we spent the afternoon and evening exploring the area by eating, listening to music and hopping around the little shops.

New favorite band

The waterfront and Table Mountain

Man made out of Coke flats in the bay

Tomorrow we have our first language class. We are taking Xhosa (pronounced ko-sah, but the k is a click…. First challenge of the language: pronouncing it.) We are staying at the train lodge until we leave for our first home-stay on Saturday!

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Orientation to the Country

Plane taking me from winter in the US to summer in Africa

After traveling for 22 hours… I arrived at the Oliver Tambo International Airport at 7pm on Friday! There were 4 other girls on my flight from SIT, so we stuck together on the plane, and during passport/immigration in Johannesburg. It was very comforting not to be all alone on such a long trip.

We met our academic director, Steve, aka Simba, and headed to the lodge for the night. We are spending the weekend in Johannesburg for orientation before flying to Cape Town. We arrived at the lodge, which is a woman’s house converted into a hostel, and met the other members in our group! We all settled in, 8 of us to a room with 4 bunk-beds, and had a pasta dinner. Simba introduced the other members of the staff and gave us some information about the plans for the rest of the weekend. I got in bed around midnight and “slept” till 5:30am. We’re right near the airport and there are many noisy birds that start chirping veryyyy early, so sleeping was not all that easy even though I was exhausted.

Artistic cooling towers in Soweto with bungee jump in the middle

Saturday morning we were served watermelon, bananas, peanut butter, jelly and toast for breakfast… which was delicious. We had an hour-long orientation session and then headed out for our first excursion to Soweto.

Soweto stands for South Western Township. It is one of South Africa’s largest and oldest townships, made famous from the student uprisings on June 16, 1976. During the era of apartheid blacks were forced to live in townships such as Soweto, severely increasing racial tensions in the country. Since apartheid ended in 1994, there are no longer racial laws that dictate where individuals can live, but much of Soweto has remained black. The area is bustling with life- there are homes, markets, restaurants and industry everywhere you look.

We had lunch on a very famous street- it is the only street in the world to be home to TWO Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. We then walked down the same streets the students protest on during the 1970’s. Students protested the laws put in place that required schools to teach Afrikaans, the language of the British. Hector Peterson, a 13-year-old boy, was killed in the peaceful student protest on June 16, 1976.

Nelson Mandela's home after serving 27 years in jail

Monuments and a museum have been created in his honor and of those who were killed in the uprising. The Hector Peterson museum was very powerful; the photographs and testaments were very striking. It was amazing to see boys and girls as young as 6 and 7, being killed in a peaceful protest for their education.

Memorial for Hector Peterson and those students who died in the Soweto Uprising. In the background, a picture of Hector’s body being carried with his sister by his side.

We then went to Freedom Square and saw the 10 pillars of the South African Constitution. They are constructed in a beautiful monument that highlights the importance of such a radical social transformation that occurred in this country less than 20 years ago.

The pillars of the South African Constitution

We then stopped at a gas station, and thanks to Eliza’s great recommendation I ate my first TEMPO bar! Eliza said to me before I left, “I hope you come to camp very, very fat because your tummy is full of tempo bars.” I am one chocolate bar closer to accomplishing that goal. Many more to come.

Two more days of orientation in Joburg and then we’ll fly to Cape Town Tuesday morning!

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All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go

After packing, re-packing, and re-packing again, I have finally zipped my bags once and for all. I’ve got a duffel and a backpack all ready to go for the next four months. I’m only allowed one bag that weighs less than 44 lbs. The bag itself weighs nearly 10 lbs… so needless to say, packing was a bit of a challenge.

I’ve spent the past few days with my parents and Ajax, enjoying in my time at home before I depart on this great adventure. I leave tomorrow at 2pm for Dulles and depart for Johannesburg (via Senegal) around 5pm. Weather permitting, I should be there 20 hours from the time I leave Cleveland! There are a few people on my program on the same flight which is nice.. I’m sure we’ll get to know one another very well after 18 straight hours on the plane together. Once we arrive in Johannesburg on Friday we’ll meet our program director and begin our orientation.

I am both anxious and excited for my trip. This semester will be challenging in many ways but has the potential to be very eye-opening and rewarding. I will be stepping out of my comfort-zone and entering a country that is culturally, traditionally, politically, religiously, and linguistically very different from the life I am accustom to. Should be quite an experience!

So my adventure begins….

All my stuff for the next four months!

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