Archive for the ‘Emily in South Africa’ Category


Emily: A few numbers

May 31, 2009

Thus far, I have:

  • taken 4 courses (2 graduate modules, 2 undergrad)
  • attended 14 weeks of classes
  • submitted 10 papers (and received 10 A’s!)
  • (which makes over 21,500 words)
  • read 4 textbook-sized course readers cover to cover
  • presented for 2 days of class
  • -completed 15 hours of participant observation for a group research project

And I have 2 finals to go.

I promise I’ll blog when I’m done.
…I’ve been busy.


Emily: An Epic Entry

April 12, 2009

I had an EXTREMELY busy couple of weeks before break with three papers and a presentation due within a week and a half of each other, but I pulled it off with a couple all-nighters (literally no sleep) and miraculously did really well on all of them. I celebrated the first two with friends and bloody marys over brunch at a restaurant above the train station in Muizenberg. It doesn’t look like the semester will be slowing down at all and I still haven’t caught up with all of my readings, let alone reviewing the material for the final that counts for a honking 50% of the final grade. I think I’ll have to start scheduling all of my waking hours in order to be ready for them when they come in June (I know it’s so far in advance, but seriously, South African students are robots… I don’t know how they do it).

During my hectic schedule somewhere, Interstudy took us on another one of their excursions. The first stop was the District 6 Museum. District 6 in Cape Town used to be a racially and religiously diverse area in the heart of Cape Town until the forced removals under Apartheid declared the area to be for whites only. Over 60,000 people were forcibly moved to the Cape Flats and their homes were bulldozed – the only buildings left standing were places of worship. The area had been left untouched until 2003 when the government began building homes for former residents to return to, however many refuse to move back. The museum opened in 1994 to display the history and culture of the neighborhood, including photographs, personal stories, murals, old road signs, the history of the area and the impact that Apartheid had on its destruction. The museum is owned and operated by former residents who give personal heart-wrenching anecdotes of their experiences there.

Next, our guides took us on a walking tour of Langa township where we were able to see firsthand the terribly impoverished lives of township residents. We visited various stores, neighborhoods, and shebeens (unlicensed bars) from the ‘nicer’ parts of the Langa where people own their homes or live in standardized government housing, to the poorer areas where people inhabited leaky corrugated shacks, sometimes containing 3 or 4 families. Interstudy provided us with candy to pass out to the kids who would run up to you with their hands out, snatch a piece, and run away to eat it. Some of them liked to have their pictures taken and would laugh hysterically when you showed them their pictures. Something about the whole situation felt wrong and exploitative, and I couldn’t get myself to pass out the candy or snap many pictures of people.

I felt ashamed coming off an air-conditioned tour bus in a big (mostly) white and privileged group, giant cameras in hand, gasping at the awful way people had to live and asking kids to pose so we could have cute pictures of poor children to put on facebook. Our guides, who were raised in the township and knew the residents, insisted that this was okay since the money that we spend there and on the tour benefits the community, however I still felt uneasy about it all.

Our last stop in the Langa was at a shebeen where we passed along a bucket (formerly a paint bucket?) of homemade beer at the amusement of the locals, who thought our disgusted faces were quite hysterical. I started to realize how the experience was more reciprocal than I thought, and that it was important and beneficial for us to interact with residents and them with us. I left feeling less guilty about the whole thing.

Sharing homemade beer at the shebeen

Our last stop was a tour of Robben Island and its maximum security prison, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the Apartheid era. All parts of the tour were guided by ex-political prisoners who at some point in their lives had occupied its prison. They shared their own experiences about the daily life there, as well as stories about Nelson Mandela and his influence there.

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Emily: An Update on School

February 25, 2009

Since my last post I have been … busy. I’ve been in and out of faculty offices, getting used to changing venues, dressing in layers for the schizophrenic weather, joining clubs, meeting new people, attending art festivals, meeting with non-profits, climbing mountains, adopting kittens, walking up and down the million flights of stairs on campus, and reading until my eyes cross.

-Let me air that out a little bit-

Friday the 13th was the first day of school, which was uneventful and disappointing. None of my classes were actually held on Friday, but I did get to pick up one of my course readers and sink my teeth into a little bit of academic material before our first class. From where I live it takes about 25 or 30 minutes to walk to upper campus (sweating and panting), or 6 minutes to the jammie, a 3 minute ride up to campus, and 5 more minutes of walking to my building. I ALWAYS walk down though (mostly because I’m afraid to take the wrong jammie and end up on a different campus). I went on a run up and down campus with Laura yesterday, and I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. But campus is beautiful with Table Mountain as a backdrop, and I’ve already found a cozy place in the library where I can hermit between classes. I’ve also found a very popular Indian lady that sells delicious vegan-friendly food and sweets on campus and I visit her every day. We’re good friends – I’m already a regular.

On Sunday afternoon Mindy and I met three guys from Congo, Tanguy, David, and Angel, and after they insisted on walking our groceries home for us (they turned out to be our neighbors), we invited them over for dinner. Tanguy is very deep and likes to ask huge and unanswerable questions like “Do you think that youth today really understand what love is?” which, it turns out, is even more difficult to discuss through the French-English language barrier. Angel is very fun-loving and outgoing and aspires to live in New York. He asked Mindy and I to show him all of our photos from the U.S. and says that he loves my family, and thinks that dad looks Lebanese (??). And then there’s David, who spoke almost no English and giggled at his end of the table all night when we would try to involve him in the conversation. We ended the evening around 8pm, just in time to relax and unwind before the next school day.

On Monday the 16th I had my first classes, and I LOVE them. I have quite a heavy load, but I’m excited about it. I am taking Medical Anthropology (a second year course and my favorite), Anthropology through Ethnography (a third year course), Ethnographic Approaches to Research (a post-graduate level month-long module through March), and a post-graduate level independent research project in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. I have been VERY busy already, and haven’t even started my March class or much of my independent research. I have been meeting with the head of department in Anthropology frequently about my project, and today we’ve made it official that she’ll be my advisor. Inspired by my classes and the unique history of South Africa, I will be studying South African youth and HIV/AIDS education through the arts.

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Emily: The Garden Route is for tourists… & I love it

February 12, 2009

Cristal Cove Lounge

After registration on Friday (which wasn’t so bad), Matt, Mindy, Pujita and I rallied together to plan a trip before the first day of school on the 13th. After a couple hours of last-minute planning, we rented a small car and headed out on Saturday to our first and furthest destination—Jeffrey’s Bay. For 8 hours we ate and drank through half of our cooler and took in the breathtaking views along the way. When we got to our hostel, the Cristal Cove Guest House. We went in for a beer and a round of pool and chatted with Bruce from Jo’Burg who had studied and travelled in the states, and a man from Germany who was on his 11th month of vacation. After nearly falling asleep at the bar we excused ourselves and went to sleep while Matt stayed up to chat.

The next morning Matt got up at 6am to surf. The weather was less than ideal, which was disappointing since Jeffrey’s Bay is home to a national “super tubes” surfing competition, and is one of the best surfing spots in the world. Mindy, Pujita, and I went to lay out on the beach and swim in the warm water, but we were a bit discouraged after walking a mile down the beach in order to find a shore free of rocks, stepping on and popping tiny blue washed up jellyfish along the way. Eventually the weather cleared up and the sun was scorching. We dodged the sun and went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, then came back and chatted/debated with Bruce into the night.

Monday morning we went to a little café called the Sunflower for breakfast before we hit the road again. We drove an hour or so west to TsiTsikamma where we went on a canopy tour of the indigenous forest in Tsitsikamma National Park. For two hours we got an awesome view of the forest while we ziplined between trees 30m above the ground, using our double-gloved hand as a cable break. I was really impressed with the platforms around the trees that were held up by tension alone, using no bolts or nails that would harm the tree (scary…). We were then served a light lunch before we made our way to the next hostel, called Tube N’ Axe. Matt and I played a couple terrible rounds of pool and we all sat around the TV at the bar to watch a bit of the Grammys. I met a friendly little kitty that the hostel adopted, and he curled up next to me the whole night (not always against his will).

About 9am the next day, we packed up and drove 20 minutes away to Bloukrans, where they proudly boast the title of “the world’s highest bungy bridge.” The girls watched an adrenalin-filled Matt leap off of the bridge, which he said was one of the best experiences of his life. Regretfully I didn’t go. I was holding out for a Victoria Falls bungy over spring break and learned that it is a sad one-third the size of the Bloukrans jump and about twice the price… Matt promised he’d return with me for a second bungy on a weekend trip this semester. In the bungy waiting area, we overheard a group of people talking about an amazing elephant tour that they went on and decided that we needed to go as well. We drove to the Knysna Elephant Park where we signed up for a “be touched by an elephant “ tour. For an entrance fee of roughly 6USD and a 2 dollar bucket of fruit, we set out with our tour guides to go meet the “ellies.”

We touched and fed massive elephants and their babies, literally centimeters from their gigantic round feet. They slurped up every last drop of the fruit juice with their snotty trunks and I got to bottle feed an elephant baby. By the end of the tour (you could stay as long as you wanted) my hands were completely covered with dirt and we had chased the elephants up and down the fields until they were downright avoiding my touch. Never in the U.S.

That night we drove to Outdshoorn a few hours away, stopping at a beach in Wilderness so Matt could take advantage of the humungous waves we saw from the car. It was possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever been to, since we arrived just in time for the sunset and it was nearly completely free of people.

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Emily: Rugby, the Beach, “Bikes ‘n Wines” Tour

January 30, 2009

On Sunday we went to the rugby stadium to watch the Stormers vs. Saracens pre-season game, and I discovered that I love rugby. It’s a lot faster than American football, and it seems a little more hardcore since they don’t use pads. The rules are a little more intuitive, and they do fun things like pick each other up, and gain ground in giant huddles – like the opposite of tug-o-war. The Stormers won, and everybody went home happy.

Monday morning we took the train to the Muizenberg beach, a popular surfing spot, and laid out on the cold, windy beach. The only cloudy day since I’ve been here, and we still got sunburned. Surfing lessons and board and suit rental are offered for cheap, and one of these days I’m gonna do it. Two friends went for a jog and saw a dead penguin and a dead (and rotting) seal on the way, so there’s definitely a lot of marine life to see, however I’ve been told that the water is too cold for the Great Whites here. On Monday night a few of us went out to eat at the Buena Vista Social Café, a Cuban restaurant with live music. The food was alright, but I’ll definitely be back for Salsa dancing on Sunday nights.

The next morning we took a taxi to Downtown Cape Town, and then walked to the Bo-Kaap neighborhood. There are colorfully painted houses on narrow roads, and it reminded me a lot of New Orleans. Bo-Kaap is known for its culture and history. It is a largely Muslim neighborhood, full of old Mosques. Many of the inhabitants are descendants of the people from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia, who were captured in the 17th and 18th century and enslaved by the Dutch-East Indian Trading Company. We walked past a house that was being auctioned off after its owners couldn’t pay the mortgage. Unfortunately, tourism and gentrification seem to be displacing a lot of the original residents, and threatening the local culture.

Yesterday morning we got up bright and early for a bike and wine-tasting tour of neighboring Stellenbosch and its wineries. We signed up for our tour with Bikes ‘n Wines and met out tour guides in Cape Town. They took us on the hour-long train ride to Stellenbosch, where we rented our bikes and helmets. From there we took off to our first wine-tasting at the Spier Estate. They gave us a punch card for 5 different wines, and some people selected to try different cheeses as well. It was delicious and beautiful, and they had their very own Cheetah (?!?!). From there we biked gravel and sand paths to Stellenbosch Hills where we had our second wine tasting. We then biked UPHILL to our third winery and lunch destination, The Skilpadvlei vineyard. Lunch was delicious and inexpensive, and the place was gorgeous. We tasted 3 more wines before we left. Our pathway out was through deep, treacherous sand, and a lot of people wiped out. It was all downhill, so it was difficult to control your bike or stop on the slippery gravel. We finally made our last destination, short on time, and downed a refreshing glass of chilled champagne before we raced back to the bike rental shop.

Today I’m busy getting ready for the semester, running errands, and taking a break. We’re starting our orientation with UCT tomorrow, and it will last to the 6th (although some days are optional). I then have another week-long break during which we’ll (hopefully) be driving through the Garden Route and/or going on a safari before the semester begins. I’m both excited and nervous for classes to start, and it will be nice to get involved with some volunteer organizations (possibly Habitat), clubs, and maybe a women’s rugby team?


Emily: In a Nutshell

January 25, 2009

Since I last wrote, our South African student mentors have introduced us to the Cape Town nightlife. We have gone out as a group of 50 every single night, which attracts a lot of attention. In general, Capetonians are very friendly, however, when you show up in a large group to their favorite local bar, they tend to give the stink eye (however, President Obama has helped a lot—they LOVE him here!).

My roommate, Katrina, finally arrived! We get along very well and I’m glad we’re living together. I am getting to know everyone in the program as well as the Interstudy coordinators, student mentors, locals, and neighbors, and I’m starting to feel very comfortable and welcome here.

Our student mentors have done an amazing job of showing us around Cape Town and answering our questions. They often go above and beyond the call of duty, knocking on doors in the morning for wake-up calls and coming by at night to let us know they’ve booked a “jammie” (shuttle bus) for our outings. There is one Interstudy coordinator here, NJ, who knew us all by name before we even got to Cape Town. He memorized our passport photos and when I arrived, he yelled “Hello Ms. Kippels” from a balcony above me. Americans tend to be very high-maintenance (no way!), and they have been very patient with us.

From Tuesday through Thursday we had Interstudy Orientation, where we were given various campus and area tours, learned about the local history and culture, opened bank accounts, and learned the ropes of student life and transportation. They campus is big and beautiful (search google), and is walking distance from home. I feel like I am fully prepared to start the school year, however, I am really enjoying the break. There is A LOT to do and see here; I have definitely come to the right spot.

We were literally walking through the clouds!

On Friday we all hiked Table Mountain, which was high on my list of things to do here. However, nobody warned us about how difficult it would actually be (and we took the EASY path!). The 3 and a half hours of pain was certainly worth it once we got to the top. When we reached the highest point of Cape Town, the 360 view was spectacular!

The descent was shorter, but terrible. A steep, winding path that made everyone’s knees ache. Although I’m glad that I did it, if anyone visits me here, we’re taking the trolley… I’ve also been to the waterfront, which was very touristy and beautiful, but not all that interesting. Just a lot of shops selling “authentic African” crafts, which I haven’t seen anywhere in Cape Town. I did, however, stumble upon the shop of a local artist, and plan on buying a rhino-shaped, hand-painted pillow before I leave (grooooaan)—but really!

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