Thursday, 6 December 2012

My Final Adventure in South Africa Part I: Bulungula

I know this is about 5 months late but I was telling this story to my boss Laurie and I had to tell it to all you faithful readers, before I forget it....
So, my 4 friends (Shana, Brooke, Hallie, and Sammy) and I decided that we wanted to go explore the Eastern part of South Africa before we left the beautiful country, so we planned a three part trip to Bulungula, Lesotho, and Durban for approximately 10 days.
Part I: Bulungula

We booked a bus leaving from the Cape Town bus station that would go through Port Elizabeth, and eventually drop us off in Mthatha, which was two hours outside of Bulungula. We got on our bus, after almost getting on the wrong bus from Cape Town. The bus was completely cramped and had absolutely no air conditioning whatsoever, so the bus ended up being 90 degrees. I tried to fall asleep (cause I can sleep in any moving vehicle) and within one hour of my sleep, the bus driver decided to play an African gospel concert on the TV's on repeat. I'm pretty sure it repeated a good four times before we got off the bus, so I was not able to sleep for 90% of the bus ride. We arrived in Mthatha, and was dropped off in the middle of this taxi rink where taxi drivers were pulling us every which way to try and get us to use their transport. Luckily Brooke friended this nice lady who helped us negotiate with a taxi driver who would take us as far as Elliotdale which was about an hour closer to Bulungula.

The back of the flatbed truck
When we arrived at this taxi rink, a guy named Marvelous approached Shana, and asked her to marry him so he could go to America and visit her, and asked for her number a few dozen times. When were then piled in the back of a flatbed truck with a mother, her husband, and her infant with all of their monthly groceries and shipped off to the coast. The trip is calculated to be about an hour, but since the infrastructure is pretty rough in this part of the country the drive probably took another hour. When we arrived to the bay, all of our stuff was dumped out and the driver said he had to "go grab the boat." We sat around for about twenty minutes when our driver arrived with our "boat". And no the boat was not a motor boat, but a full-out canoe. I can clearly remember the faces of shock on all of us, when he was loading the luggage into the canoe for the luggage's trip across the bay. When we got to the other side of the bay, we had to drag all of our lugguge (poor Shana had a rolling bag) down two miles of shoreline. Finally we arrived at Bulungula, an eco-friendly lodge overlooking the stunning Indian Ocean.
Our lovely Canoe ride

The lodge was overrun with stray cats, dogs, cows, donkeys, and horses, and their was a stray dog that would follow us around everyday, and sleep outside of our hut at night, waiting for us to wake up. The lodge was brightly colored, and had a couch area, a kitchen for guests who cook their own food, and another kitchen for the isi Xhosa workers who would come in and cook nightly meals, that you could buy for a small fee. Also, the tribespeople made small crafts and trinkets that were also being sold in the lodge, as well as a sign up sheet was on a bulletin board, listing the various activities that was offered by the lodge.

The bathrooms were vibrantly painted, and completely eco-friendly. One half of the toilet was for #1 and the other was for #2. The shower was a pipe with a hole at the bottom, where you stuffed toilet paper and dump kerosene on the toilet paper then light it, to give you 7 minutes of hot shower water. The huts contained 6-8 beds and were lit by a single eco-friendly bulb.
The lodge was a 1 minute walk away from a beautiful, completely desolate beach, away from all of the chaotic world.
The Bathrooms

The "yummy local beer"

The first day at Bulungula, we relaxed and walked along the beach all day, after a long day of being crammed in buses, trucks, and canoes. That evening we signed up for a "village tour" of the local isi Xhosa village, on the tour we met the town's medicine woman. She is in charge of providing healthcare to those tribespeople who do not believe in any form of religion such as Christianity. Then, we bumped into the headswoman (the chief's wife) who was very intoxicated and coming back from the Shebeen (the local bar). She would not take a photo without one of our water bottles in her hand or doing the Nazi salute, she was quite hilarious,  and such a character to meet. Then we went to the local store, where this Afrikaans woman in our group asked the shopkeeper if "the peanuts were fresh or not?" she was very degrading to the tribespeople, and we unfortunately had to live in the same hut with her. Then, we finally got to go and check out the Shebeen, where they sold cartons of "local beer" for 5 Rand a carton. The process was to shake the carton and dump the beer into a plastic pitcher and then pass it amongst one another. The beer was in all honesty the WORST thing I've ever tasted, it was a mixture between body sweat and vinegar, so we gave it off to this guy who was missing a mouthful of teeth, but continued to try and talk to us. After ten minutes of sitting in the Shebeen, our guide noticed a small feud going on across the hut and told us that we should probably leave. The milk crate that Sam was sitting on was knocked over and piled on by drunk, fighting men and women just pounding one another, literally 10 seconds after Sammy got off of the crate. We quickly left the Shebeen to head back to the lodge.

Sporting the local sunscreen, head-wrap,
 and cutting up our squash for lunch
The full moon sunset
The next day we signed up for the "woman power tour". This tour was specifically designed to allow visitors to experience the everyday life of a isi Xhosa woman, and the day to day chores they perform. We first arrived at the woman's house who was giving the tour, the house was about a mile and a half from the lodge up this beautiful hill overlooking the valley. We passed many sheep and chickens on our way to her house. When we arrived she mixed a soil/water concoction that is used by the women as a form of sunscreen and applied it to all of our faces. Then, she wrapped our hair in head-wrap cloth material. Then she lead us to the well where they draw water and we were each given the task of carrying a bucket of

Brookie and I watching the sunset.
water upon our heads, uphill and back to the house. Then, she sent us into the woods to collect firewood (again balanced on our heads) back to her house. Finally, we were brought to another house where we used a larger version of a mortar and pestle to grind up the corn to create cornmeal. She then instructed us to chop up the squash while she cooked the chicken and Mili-Pop (a corn version of mashed potatoes). Finally we divulged on a delicious meal of chicken, squash, and Milli-Pop. We then headed back toward the village with the local children who were leaving their lunch break to head back to school, some of the children were wearing

Toms which proved that the organization actually does donate pairs to African children. That night was a full moon so we ventured down to the beach to watch the sunset, and it was absolutely breathtaking to see a sunset over the Indian Ocean! We then sat around the fire circle and played the bongo drums with some of the local guys who hang out at the lodge at night. The next morning we woke up bright and early to head off on our next (crazy) part of the journey, and oh boy does it get weirder.

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Great Golfing Adventure

March 10th 2012,

So, today I am going to talk about my golfing experience here in Stellenbosch. So me and my crazy friend Chris Moskal decided that we wanted to go out golfing while we’re here in South Africa. So I called the Stellenbosch Golf Club and signed us up for a tee time on Saturday March 10th at precisely 12:16pm. We had to rent clubs obviously, so I called to make sure they had ladies lefty clubs (because they are not common) and they did, so we were all excited and really for Saturday to arrive. So we met at 11 and called a cab to take us to the Golf Club, and our cab driver was fantastic and he wanted to talk all about America and what was worth seeing there, he was also impressed that young, American students wanted to go golfing while we were in South Africa.
We arrived at the golf course and went to the Pro Shop to check in, but right before that Chris had been eating a Sweet Chili Chicken Wrap and proceeded to spill it down his pants, therefore justifying the “American Slob” stereotype. As the manager was checking in our tee time he told us that he had entered us into the Saturday competition and asked if that was fine. I looked at Chris and he looked at me with both of our mouths hanging open in disbelief and pure fear, and of course Chris being a good sport as he always is said “Yeah, that’s fine” as I was shaking my head “no” furiously at him. Then the manager proceeded to tell us that we were to be paired with the Club’s financial managers, and after that I felt the need to cry/faint/run whatever people do when they are told nerve racking news. Of course, Chris being the jovial sort was quite excited to play with them as I was not. Then, the manager informed us that we could not partake in the competition because we did not know our handicaps, but that we were still to be paired with the financial managers of this pristine golf course. Then we were asked as to whether we wanted a buggy or a trolley, with common sense, and being used to walking I asked for two trolleys, and Chris agreed. When they brought the pull carts to us, Chris gave the guy a weird look, and then leaned over to me and said disappointedly “I thought trolleys were golf carts.” We exchanged for a buggy and Chris was content.
Finally 12:16pm rolled around and it was time to tee off, we met the financial managers, Andre and Evert who loved to speak Afrikaans to one another, so Chris and I could only assume they were saying bad things about us. They also asked us to keep track of their scores *(and this will come into play later in the story).* They asked Chris to tee off first, and of course being the first hole and under stressful circumstances Chris whiffed the ball. After the men teed off, Andre and Evert looked at each other and decided that they needed a drink before straying too far from the clubhouse. Chris and I assumed it was because it was going to be a long game judging from his first shot. As we started getting into the match, Chris and I quickly realized that they were very good and we were very, very bad.
On the 2nd hole I was using my 5 wood to get up to the green and I accidentally hit a goose and went into the water. On many chip shots Chris and I often almost hit Andre or Evert. On the 6th green as we were waiting for the group behind us to pass, Chris and I were making small talk with Andre and Evert and Chris proceeds to ask them what they do for a living, as I slap my hand to my head, they give each other confused looks and tell Chris that they are the financial managers of the course, which we had already been told by the Pro Shop manager. On the 9th hole a bar maid was waiting at the tee to send in drink orders to the clubhouse, Chris ordered a water and the waitress asked “still or sparkling” and seeing that her Afrikaans accent was quite strong, Chris didn’t understand and replied with a firm “YES” and after getting confused looks from all of us, I leaned over to him to repeat the question. By that point, we assumed that Evert and Andre thought we were mentally ill. On the 11th hole, Chris and I looked down at the scorecard to realize that we hadn’t kept track of their score for seven or eight holes, I casually asked Evert if I could borrow their score card because I missed the eighth hole scores, they proceeded to tell us that they weren’t keeping their own scores and that we were supposed to have them. Chris and I were so horrified, over the course of the next two holes we plotted dozens of different ways to get rid of the score card, and here are a few of the plans…..
1.      Chris: Let’s pour water all over the golf card and say that the scores are illegible.
2.      Emily: Throw the card out of the golf cart and say the wind blew it away.
3.      Chris: Hide it in my backpack and say we lost it.
4.      Emily: Hide the pencil in the golf cart and say that we had no way of keeping track of the scores without the pencil.
5.      Emily: Rip it up and throw all of the pieces out of the golf cart.

What I ended up doing was that I wrote down fake scores and we made sure to keep track of the rest of the game in hopes that they didn’t remember their 5th hole’s score and so on.
On the 13th hole, I grabbed an iron in hopes to lob my ball over the large stumpy tree that sat in front of me; Chris was sitting in the cart behind taking photos of the course, the mountains, and the beautiful landscape that lay around us. I smacked my ball and it proceeded to bounce off the tree, back into the cart where it hit the roof and then hit Chris smack in the shoulder, Andre and Evert definitely got a good laugh out of that. When we finished the game, we went to the clubhouse so we could buy Evert and Andre a drink for having to play with such poor players such as ourselves. After buying them a drink, Chris and I got up to leave and Chris casually asked Evert if he needed anything from us, and he said no, so Chris and I called the cab and ran as fast as we could out of the clubhouse without ever giving the men their scorecard back.
Never will I ever be allowed to be put in a competition with financial managers in a foreign country, because not only did we make Americans look bad, we embarrassed ourselves and crushed our thoughts of thinking we were “good golfers”. But, otherwise it made for a great story!


Monday, 5 March 2012

February 17th-19th 2012

February 17th-19th 2012,

            This weekend was the first trip the AIFS crew took together other than the first beach outing. This was the fantastic trip to the Cedarburg Mountains where hiking and wine tasting was to be done. We loaded up in the van after classes, and in my van was Julie, Ginny, Melissa, me, James, Dave, and Zack with our speed demon driver Peter. As we found out in South Africa the way they deal with construction traffic is that they have road blocks for 20 minutes alternating the sides of the road that are blocked, so we had two or three of these roadblock stops and it was definitely interesting. On the way there we saw hippos and springbok which are small goat/deer animals. The last hour of the ride was very bumpy and curvy, and Janien’s van stalled on the middle of a hill, and it was quite scary to watch.
            We arrived to the cabin areas, and they were very nice and peaceful, I shared a queen bed with Hallie and a room with Rory (Emily S.) and Shana and we had a lot of fun. That night Mama H. (our advisor/group leader) cooked us sausage and the “salad girls” made fantastic salad. We then star gazed, and I thought on 3960 Ryan Road you could see a lot of stars, but no I have never seen as many stars as I saw in S.A., we could ever see the Milky Way and it was breathtaking. Chris Moskal and I also inducted Mama H into the “Nooduitgang” (a gang Chris and I made up the 2nd day at Stellenbosch when we saw the Nooduitgang sign, which means emergency exit, and were very confused, so Chris asked if I wanted to start the Nooduitgang with him) and we taught her and Peter the secret Nooduitgang handshake. We woke up at 7am and packed lunches for that day’s hike. The hike we did was around 6-7 hours altogether, and it was tough! I had my speakers in my backpack playing some “pump up” music and Mama H said in her fifteen years of doing this hike (2x a year) she never had someone playing music for the group up the mountain. The first half of the way up Chris Moskal and I got quite lost for a good half hour and ended up basically rock climbing to get back on the path. The second half of the hike up, we went through the “cracks” which was a path inside of the mountain, and there was one part where the boys (James, Giorgio, Zack, and Peter) offered their gentlemen services to help us get boosted and shimmied up this boulder. When we got to the top the view was extraordinary and I’ve never seen a view as beautiful as that in a long time (since the Grand Canyon). The hike down was more of a struggle for me, because it was steep, rocky, and hard on the knees.
 Once we got back to the campsite, we went swimming in this creek, and Mama H said that swimming after a hike is said to help relax sore muscles, and I was hardly sore from the hike the next day. I got back from swimming and took a short nap and was surprisingly woken to Meg and Jelly Roll (Kelly Cole) mooning me, because it was Kelly’s goal to moon everyone on the trip and she was struggling to moon me. Then, we went to the Cedarburg winery, where it’s said they have some of the most acclaimed wine in South Africa, because of the elevation. I again wasn’t surprised to find that I still hate wine, and I don’t think I’ll ever get accustomed to the taste unfortunately.            
That night Mama H made this delicious beef stew concoction over rice and then smores for dessert. While Mama H was cooking, some baboons went into her cabin and threw granola all over her kitchen and bathroom. That night Kelly and I tried to prank everyone by running out of the bathroom shouting “BABOON” so we did and no one believed us, until Mama H got into the prank by throwing rocks at the bathroom. Then to get back at us for scaring the group, Mama H had Cori pretend she hurt her leg running away from the “baboon” and we both felt really guilty, until we realized that Cori was laughing instead of crying.
The next morning we packed up the vans to head out, and on our way out we stopped by some caves which the San Bushman had painted in, and these cave paintings were estimated to be about 6,000 years old and were painted with ox blood and bone. We went to another cave which a conspiracy formulated around, because signatures from all these political leaders of the apartheid movement, and it was said that they used this cave as a meeting ground for secret meetings, but no one knows if its true or not. It has also been tampered with because South Africans get upset with the fact that these leaders are said to have come up with the system of apartheid, which has caused many wounds to the country. On our way out, I bet Peter that I would fall asleep within 5 minutes and he wouldn’t be able to wake me up from the bumpy drive, and I guess James and Zack told me we hit this huge river bump, and my head hit the ceiling, but I slept straight through it, so I ended up winning the bet. Also, Janien’s van got a flat tire and we had to go back and help the with it. Overall it was a fantastic trip and has gotten me very excited for the other trips to come!

February 12th 2012,

February 12th 2012,

Bright and early at 5:30am I get up for a new and exciting day of Shark Cage Diving, we all hop in vans for a 2 hour drive to the harbor. When we get there they feed us breakfast and give us a small talk of how Great White sharks only kill 5-15 people a year and humans kill over millions of sharks a year, a very eye opening fact to all of us. Then they hand out these stylish orange fishermen jackets and blue lifejackets for the boat ride out. We all gather on the boat and ride out to the bay where the sharks tend to gather, in the winter season there are more sharks than now because they tend to hunt seals in the area.
So we all suited up in our wetsuits and goggles while they brought the cage to the side of the boat. I was the brave soul who was the very first to get in the cage in our whole group. A shark was coming up to the cage when I first got in and the workers shouted at me to “GET DOWN” which means to lower yourself to the rungs underwater in the cage to see the shark under water, but I panicked because I thought they were shouting at me to “GET OUT” so I freaked out and tried to crawl out of the cage, everyone was laughing at me afterwards because they said I had the most terrified look on my face. It was truly one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life though, because we were able to observe these beautifully terrifying and close-to-extinct creatures, and I was lucky enough to have one of the Great White fins brush up against my arm. We watched all five of the groups go through, since the cage only holds 8 we went in waves. Its funny though, because watching on the boat, you ended up getting a better view from there. On the third wave, while my friends Annie and Sully (Chris Y.) were getting out of the cage, the string of fish heads they use to lure the shark got extremely close to the cage and the shark basically jumped on top of the cage, it was so scary to watch. From this trip Meg gave me the nickname “Iron Stomach Bernie” because about 1/3 of the group got very seasick, and while everyone was throwing up, I was on the top deck (the rockiest part) happily munching on my sandwich and chips. I felt so bad for Ginny, because she got so sick from the very beginning that she wasn’t able to dive, but she did receive the nickname “Seven Bag Ginny” for filling seven puke bags. Then on the way back we passed the island where all the short-haired seals gather and we watched them for a little bit. Luckily I chose the right side of the boat, because Meg, Chris M, and Sam were stuck on the side that A.)got soaked with a ton of water and B.) was the side with all the puking casualties, therefore Meg said it was like a war-zone because they got sprayed from all sides with puke and water. Other that the massive amounts of seasickness and water spray, I would say it was quite a successful day and I would do it again in a heartbeat!

Friday, 10 February 2012

February 10th, 2012

February 10th, 2012
So today is Friday and was the last day of my first week of school, (cue sigh of relief) all the classes seemed fairly challenging but excellent. On Mondays and Wednesdays I am taking Afrikaans from 10:30 to 12:30, and Afrikaans is the native language of white South Africans, while Xhosa (pronounced Co-Sa) is the native black South African language. Tuesdays I have off, which is a nice little break, on Wednesdays I have South African History from 14:00-16:30pm and our professor is very old, but very wise and he played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” from Lion King, because its to the tune of an old Zulu tune, and Disney didn’t get the rights for it, so there is still a lawsuit between the song composer’s family and Disney corporation. Then on Thursday, I had Public Theology of Post-Apartheid South Africa from 14:00-17:00, and each of us has to present one week throughout the semester, and unfortunately I was the brave one to take on the 1st week, so I have to prepare a half hour to an hour presentation. Then from 17:30-20:30, I have Jewelry Design, which was an excellent hands-on course and a good outlet for my creative side, and yesterday we started sawing out copper for bowl-earrings and filing down the earrings. Finally, today I had Negotiating Transition which is a four-hundred level Peace and Conflict Studies course, and we discussed what negotiation and transition meant, it is taught by two professors, Meskine who is originally from the Australian Outback and is a fantastic lady, and Theo who was a victim of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) rebellions, and will definitely have a lot to tell about war and peace.     On the social aspect here, I have joined the Pulp Film Society which costs about 150R (about $19) to view free independent and pulp films in the theater free of charge, it was a great bargain, and since I don’t have a TV, it gives me a chance to view movies, since I’m such a movie buff, and last night I watched the Devil’s Double, which was about Saddam Hussein’s son who finds a man to act as a clone for him, and the man who is the clone ends up shooting the son, because of the son’s madness and tyranny, and I was surprised to find that it was based on a true story. Sooner of later they have listed that they’re showing District 9, so maybe I’ll get to watch it after all, instead of an AIDS documentary.
             I also looked into joining the Crew team here, I want to find a good exercise outlet, and I was also looking into the Golf team, until I realized that I don’t have my clubs, and also the theater troupe, if they don’t only speak Afrikaans. So we’ll see what I end up joining. I’m signing off for now, but wish me luck on Sunday for my deep water shark cage diving, and I promise I’ll post photos of everything sooner or later, when I get the ambition.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 29th

Okay so today is January 29th, and I have a lot of catching up to do… So first I want to say I have never experienced such beautiful weather in my life, because it has been 85 degrees and sunny for like 6 days straight. There is also another weird thing about the weather, from 4-8pm these Southwestern winds pick up really strong and it’s only during these times which are quite unusual. So since the last time I’ve met many new friends from America but not in our program… Chris Yarnell is a freemover from PA and he’s here completely on his own, I could never do that because I need help planning and I like having a group of people with me, and then I’ve met Garrett and Victoria who are in the CIEE group and hang out with us on occasion.  So, a few days ago we had a campus tour, and the campus is enormous, it is so much bigger than Assumption and we walk EVERYWHERE! Today I’m going for a run with my friend Halie and I’m pumped to get a workout going! Ohh, so during orientation they originally scheduled a screening of the movie District 9, (which if you don’t know me, its my all time FAVORITE movie) but it got switched to some AIDS documentary. So, yesterday we took a trip to Cape Town on a bus tour, and we drove through some black townships and they live in absolute poverty, and if you’ve seen District 9, the shacks in that are identical to the shacks in these townships, so I definitely consider myself fortunate for what opportunities I’m provided. Cape Town is a gorgeous city, sitting on the water, we had lunch on Victoria Wharf and went to the beach for a couple of hours, and on Wednesday we get to go to the beach for the whole day! A couple days ago, we went to a restaurant called Moyo, and its located in one of the wineries outside of Stellenbosch, and it was absolutely amazing. They had all kinds of wine and food, and tribeswomen came around and painted white flowers on our faces, and the music was spectacular, the venue really reminded me of Animal Kingdom in Disney World, because it was absolutely tropical and beautiful. So I have officially planned out my schedule for this semester and I am taking classes only on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, which means a 4 day weekend for me which is extraordinary. I am taking Negotiating Transition, Peacemaking, History of South Africa, Jewelry Design, and  Theology of Post-Apartheid South Africa, and they all sound like great, unique classes, and even one of them is taught by a UN negotiator. Ohh and my view from my window is absolutely amazing, I can see the mountains that wrap around Stellenbosch, and they look like a backdrop because they are too stunning. Finally, last night we went to a restaurant in Stellenbosch called the Trumpet Tree, and its located outside under a tree, and mist is constantly released from the tree, its amazing! Ohh and I will be Deep Water Shark Cage Diving February 12th, so I will post pictures of that and everything else soon enough, but its difficult because you have to pay for the internet here, which is definitely an interesting feature.
Totsiens, (Until we meet again: Afrikaans)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

24th January 2012

            So, today was our first official day in South Africa and our first day of orientation. We met with Hestea and Janien, (our helpers for our international journey and our guardians) in the Sasol Art Museum on campus, which is filled with art from all sorts of local artists, and the pieces are very interesting but strange. We went over safety, culture shock, paperwork, and many miscellaneous topics, then we went to Neelsen’s Student Centre which is where we can use our campus cash to get lunch and dinner. We are given $150 or about 860 Rand. Then, we had time to go to the Eikestad Mall, where we were allowed to exchange money, which was actually a very long process. Then we walked to the Pick and Pay which is a local grocery store and purchased items for the apartment. That was quite a bit overwhelming, because many of their products are different, especially their dairy products which are not refrigerated like eggs, milk, and cream. One of the big things about Stellenbosch is that the campus is huge! I would say it’s about 10X the size of Assumption, and you walk absolutely everywhere, my mom would be very proud of me because of all the walking. Another shock is that driving is opposite the United States, so I almost myself killed, because I am so accustomed to looking left and then right before crossing the street, but it’s the exact opposite. Also, walking through the grocery store you walk on the left side instead of the right. Another big thing in South Africa is that a lot of people walk barefoot everywhere, in stores, shops, restaurants, classes, and even bars! It’s definitely something that I could get used to. Another thing is that everything is really REALLY cheap here, you can get a good meal and drink for 30-40R which is between $4-5. So, we all took a nap after going grocery shopping and went to a bar that night called Bohemia, it was a lot of fun and such a good time to bond, we all headed back early, because we had to get up a 7am the next morning for full time orientation with ALL of the International students, I have met a couple of Germans and French people already and the campus is extremely diverse.