Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Planet of the Grapes

      South Africa's beauty was really apparent to me today. I woke up early to go on an all-day wine tour, where we visited 5 vineyards and probably tasted 35 different wines. We were also fed chocolate, cheese, and a giant lunch. On the way there, I saw a wild giraffe. Africa. Yeah. 

I call this "Grapes" 

     I started my Tuesday right with "bubbly" at 9 am and a big South African wine tour guide named Granwell. The cellars were cool, and Granwell told us how wine is made. My favorite place we visited was the second stop, where we had the most delicious wine cheese pairings. I am just a sucker for cheese. Plus, after the first place we went to, where the wine just was flowing, we were all feeling pretty good. Sipping the Sauvignon Blanc and then biting into the Chevin goat's cheese felt like the height of luxury. 

Morning Bubbly 

Wine & cheese, please! 

Goat - I ate your cheese 

      We were served braai (South African barbecue) at the third place, where there were two Great Danes who were very sleepy and awesome. I said hello to the tortoise there and listened to the rooster shouting at all the other ugly chickens. Some girls were just sleeping in the sun. I was sleepy after that lunch, but the last two places we had some cured meat, chocolate, and, my personal favorite, apricots with our wine. I'm a huge apricot fan now. We finished off strong with some brandy. We hung around outside, appreciating the nice day. Camille walked off for a while, then came back with a giant walking stick. She got the nature award for today. 

Let me lay on you 

      Speaking of, the nature in Stellenbosch is just...I am struggling. It is so beautiful. There is no way to do it justice. Definitely one of the most amazing places I have been. This day was unreal, and we went for Mexican food at the Fat Cactus after. Guacamole was the perfect ending to today. I'm stuffed, but whatever Kristin, my roommate, is making smells like heaven. 

Who can't be happy in such a beautiful place? 

      For those wondering, school starts in a week. This week is basically me getting settled into Forest Hill and Cape Town in general, as well as trying to take advantage of this new world at my fingertips. For example, we went on a Peninsula Tour on Sunday, where we had numerous stops, my favorite of which was the Cape of Good Hope. I just hung out on this rock, where I probably could have spent hours just watching the sea and waving to Antarctica. Yesterday we went to the beach, so beautiful. I took back a mussel shell. Grace and I tried to make pasta, but it was weird. Weird pasta. I want to hike Lion's Head (a mountain here) and meet some penguins and explore Cape Town and the Waterfront later in the week. Also, tomorrow there is a township braai called Mzoli's and an activities fair on campus. 
      The Guest Cat is getting more and more captivating each day. Here's a cool quote from it that doesn't really have much to do with anything, but I thought it was important enough to write it down: 
"What's interesting about animals, my wife explained, is that even though a cat may be a cat, in the end, each individual has its own character." 
So true, thinking of Stella, my kitties at home, and their goofy personalities. 

No words 


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Old Biscuit Mill

        This morning, I woke up to yet another beautiful day here in Cape Town. I was happy to join Grace, Amy, and Abbey at Old Biscuit Mill, a food and vendor market that is very popular on Saturdays from 9am-2pm. We met at ShopRite (which they have here) and took the minibus down to Woodstock. Minibuses are cheap means of travel, but you have to be careful about not entering them at night. For less than 60 cents, we were there, and got to listen to some Jay-Z along the way. Walking through, there are some very unique shops with very unique things. They were priced normally, not too cheap this time around. I did purchase a necklace at this place where they handcraft all the jewelry, and it was reasonably priced. It has a little pony on it. 

Pony - also known as a "Poulin" (shoutout to Ariane & Blanche Poulin) 

        Abbey told us about this coffee shop she heard about called Espresso Lab Microroasters. We all happened to order the same drink, called White Ice, which was the most delicious thing I have ever drank. I want ten more. I loved the black and white color scheme of the place, and the theme was chemistry, so everything was labeled with elements from the periodic table, which I can appreciate. I loved the bamboo in the beakers as well. Also, my drink was about 2 dollars. Lookin' at you, Starbucks.

         My favorite thing about Old Biscuit Mill, however, was not the shops. It was the FOOD! If you are a foodie, this place is a must. I was overwhelmed. Absolutely everything looked so delicious. There were kabobs, seafood, Indian, crafty looking cupcakes, artisan pizzas, fruity smoothies, and so much more. They also were selling specialty cheeses, chocolates, delicious looking drinks with pretty plants in them, ginormous coconuts you could drink out of, honey, spreads, and soaps. We wondered around like dopes for like 20 minutes just looking at everything. I laughed at the absurdity of all of the options I had. I sampled some artisan pizza, made with goat cheese. I got half veggie and half ham and onion, and it was so delicious. We sat down on the ground in the shade and ate. I definitely want to make this excursion a regular Saturday thing. I also want to purchase a nice big sun hat. 


Get in my belly 

I was there 

        I have some funny quotes from my one RA Solethu, who is hard to explain. He can be really strict sometimes, but I never know when he is serious or not. He is very funny, and sometimes just dances around. This girl from London calls him "cheeky" which means that he is mischievous, not that he has big cheeks, like I originally thought and was confused about. I mean, his cheeks are normal. He greets people by saying "yo, yo" and claims his favorite chicken is the greenback rooster (unsure if this is a real type of bird). He also told his friend that she is a "good wife candidate" today, which I think should be more of a thing. 
       By the way, there are about 4,000 international students at UCT, which alone is bigger than La Salle's 3,500 undergrad. UCT has a student population of about 28,000. It is huge. I have never attended a school this big, and I am loving it so far. Also, people are unafraid to just walk up and start conversations. Refreshing. 
        There is also something that all of us international students here have experienced called "Africa time" (dubbed so by me). It consists of things starting way later than scheduled and no one really doing much about it. I am pretty laid back about schedules, but sometimes it can be frustrating, especially when you are waiting for over an hour for a bus to catch a cricket game (Solethu's fault - funnily enough his name is pronounced so-late-tu). Also the power goes off regularly, and there is also a schedule for that, which I still have yet to figure out. It's fun sometimes, but when you want to make toast, not so fun. 
      I met a girl from Holland yesterday, and she came here all alone, not through a program or anything. Her name was Aimee (pronounced a-may) and she told me stories about how her grandparents went through the Holocaust and were so poor, they ate a cat and would regularly eat tulips. She was very nice and I think I may have two classes with her!
       Also been really tired lately, I think my body is getting used to so many new things on top of being busy. I FaceTimed my lovely mother, and she said I looked "not myself" and that she was going to a book a flight to see me! You may join me, mother, but I am just tired! I swear I am okay! Love you. 
       Been exploring myself as well as this new place. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cool Bananas

        What up homies. ! 
        So a few days ago my orientation group had to present a skit on the wellness center, and in the skit I had diabetes AND asthma (shoutout to Erin and Nikhita)! We got a lot of laughs, and did pretty well, but we did not win a trip to see the penguins in Simon Town. I will see them anyway. I tried to bow at the end, but my group didn't go for it (lookin' like a fool 24/7). 
       After, there was a wine and cheese tasting up on middle campus, deliciouso! We went to this place really similar to Trader Joe's in Rondebosch called Woolworths and I got some dried Mango (shoutout to BenJ). Back at Forest Hill, I made salad for dinner and tried some of my mango - pretty delicious! We went out to this place called Fat Cactus with our friends from a surrounding dorm called Liesbeeck. Nachos. Khumo, one of our RAs, is very funny and did not know what Starbucks was. He thought it was a movie theater. 
       Yesterday, I attended MORE orientation at Baxter Theater. They presented on all sorts of activities and clubs on campus, including a green club that does naked (pronounced "naa-ked") bike rides and has a mascot named "shivvy" who is "always watching". In fact, they showed a video of shivvy creeping on people who litter and who do not recycle properly. It seemed like a cool club! We also went to two towns in the Cape flats to see Shawco's placements. Shawco is kind of similar to PAL (Police Athletic League) in my mind, because we go there to help kids in impoverished areas with little opportunity. These kids definitely have it worse off here than in Philadelphia, though, as was recognized when a lady talked to us about the child abuse, rape, and especially gang violence that these children are exposed to. The rival gang symbols, weirdly, were the UK flag and the American flag. I wonder why? 
        At the second placement we went to, the children bombarded us while we were still on the bus. The guy next to me was sleeping - it was hilarious to see his reaction as he woke up! Little Ariana climbed right into my arms and put on my sunglasses. She had a scar on her cheek and weighed so little. I carried her and chatted all across the field to the computer labs, donated by Dell. We were supposed to leave the kids there, but I tried to sneak Ariana in, failing. I said my goodbyes, and she handed back my sunglasses. We hugged. I love her. The kids immediately became attached to us, and I felt as if they had so much love to give and just wanted to have fun. However, I am unsure if I want to work there yet or not, because I want to see the programs that CIEE has in place. I do also have a problem with Shawco that Grace pointed out: you form a relationship with these children, and they become so attached, and then you leave. Even the lady who talked to us said the children cry when the exchange people leave at the end of the semester. That's got to be hard on the children. I hope I can do more than one program and that I come back, so I can see Ariana again. 
        After, a group of us went to a restaurant popular in Cape Town called Cocoa Wah Wah, where I learned I had been before! They have these really good smoothie/milkshake things there, and I got the Coffee crush one and a pesto tomato sandwich. 

HUGE tree we pass everyday on the walk to and from Rondebosch and our home in Fo' Hills. Appreciating their magnificence. So majestic. Trees are great. 

           I really enjoy my UCT roommates. Kristen is from South Africa, and she is so friendly and funny. Her accent is great. Anini may be spelled wrong, and I have not seen her as much, but she seems nice and I look forward to getting to know her. I have to get used to this whole "making dinner" concept, because lately all I have been doing is peanut butter on bread. I will have to look up recipes and start preparing for this new lifestyle! Also, I just want to express how much I love having a balcony. I have the side of the room with the window opening to the balcony instead of the door, but I enjoy that much more because it makes me feel cool to climb in and out via the window. 

View from my dorm steps - neat-O 

           Today I walked to UCT, about a half an hour walk to middle campus (winded me, like hiking up a mountain), and it is such a scenic walk to do to such beautiful weather. I stood in line for four hours doing Pre-Registration, which basically is making sure I am allowed to take classes as a foreign student at UCT. After, my friend Simone and I went to Hassar Grill and got the student special of a burger and a beer. It was delicious, and only 5 bucks. I walked back to upper campus (going to feel that in the morning) and tried to pre-approve some classes. I took a Jammie back to Forest Hill, and lounged around. There is a braai (barbecue) on the Rugby Field, but I was so stuffed from the student deal and so tired from walking up and down the side of a mountain and standing in queue, I just went home and sat on the balcony. 
          I went to First Thursday, where all these galleries in Cape Town serve wine and have people walk through to appreciate the art and antiques, with a crew from Forest Hill. We accidentally called the Guardian Angel, which is sort of like a taxi that students can use for transport from dorm to dorm or UCT when feeling unsafe. However, the driver was hilarious and very nice, so he agreed to take us to Bree Street in Cape Town, where First Thursday takes place. He was so friendly and reminded me of Rafiki from the Lion King. He used the phrase "cool bananas". Diggin' it. We went to this place where three guys were on photoshop being amazing. One made a cow. Free wine! 
         We traversed Cape Town, and I have never been on a more versatile street scene. For example, in the middle of the day, it is so classy and a great place for some cheap but amazing food or tapas. Around twilight, like I was at just now, it becomes very metro, with international beautiful people crawling the sidewalk and cool music playing. At night, its comparable to New Orleans. I definitely can't wait to explore. Our RA Sam from Zimbabwe freaked out about this place called Jason which is apparently the best for doughnutssants? Whatever they are. I trust her, so I am definitely going there on Saturday. She said they are so good, the place just opens up whenever they feel like.  First Thursday was a lot of fun, and what better way to end a great time than with hot chocolate? Sam, Camille and I split from the rest of the group and we bonded over books. I am going to raid both of their bookshelves this semester. 

First First Thursday with this bunch! 

Look at dat mountain mist 
       In one of the places on Bree Street, there was this book with African poems in it. I found this one that I really liked, and I want to share it: 

Beyond our means 
Jacques Coetzee 

You Say that time is short: 

but what time could be long enough 
for us who love so far beyond our means? 

Come, look away from the faces of clocks
that curdle desire and make us add up the years:
everyone knows that the stars are bright 
because they go dark by day; 
and that a thousand years from now 
we will laugh just like this and burn 
the same brief, spend-thrift candle at both ends. 

Still trying to figure out what it means to me. I'll let you know when I figure out. Also, saw a dog statue that was huge, and I wanted it so badly. All I could do was pet it. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Another day, another dollar

       Today was the beginning of UCT's orientation. Beforehand, I relaxed on a nice Jammie shuttle ride, walked around Rondebosch, bought some much needed lotion and floss, and had a nice lunch at a cafe with some friends. I had a latte and some quiche, which was delicious.
        I walked to orientation at Baxter Theater, and admired the architecture of the huge building. I thought UCT's orientation was going to be repetitive and boring, but I was wrong. The safety information was very important to listen to, and a professor, Nick Shepard, presented on some of the culture and history of South Africa. His presentation was very easy to follow, and contained a lot of information. For example, he talked about Sara Baartman, who in the 19th century was taken by the English and paraded around Europe as a freak. When she died at 26, her brain and her genitalia were cut out and put on public display. Only just in 2002 were her remains reburied in South Africa. He also talked about tropes, which he said is an organizing idea. An example he used was with this picture of a black maid caring after a white baby. After seeing this image, he said, our minds bring to the forefront a lot of ideas and images from all around the world and throughout all of history, with colonial slavery particularly coming to mind as Americans.
          Another idea he brought up was how Cape Town is an "inside out" city, where the poor people live on the edges and the richer live inside the city, the opposite of what you would expect. With Philadelphia in mind especially, I can relate to how opposite this is. A girl then asked the question of whether the people within the city knew of the extent of the poverty going on just on the edges of the city. Dr. Shepherd said that people "work hard for ignorance," going out of their way to not see things that make them uncomfortable. This picture of a white South African girl dancing in her new tutu relates to such obliviousness. The picture makes us want to blame her for her ignorance, but also makes us happy as such an innocent enjoyment of a new tutu. Taken in 1980, the picture was taken at a time of great political instability and in the midst of horrors such as Apartheid. It makes me think of how we all work hard to not see certain things around us that make us feel uncomfortable, such as looking away from the homeless on the streets. I am not saying that we should look them in the eye (please don't), but it is just something worth thinking about. The statistics he brought up were very interesting as well. In the 1970s, the South African white class overtook the California white class as the richest class in the world. There was no redistribution of wealth or land given back to those Blacks who were forced to move from their homes after 1994 (the end of Apartheid). It was such a great presentation, so informative. I would love to take his class!

"Girl in her new tutu" David Goldblatt

       After, we got into groups to present on a topic. My group was led by Vermund, a Norwegian orientation leader who was very nice. I called him Vermont, and enjoyed his accent and his easygoingness. We traversed to the wellness center, our topic, and learned all there was to know and formulated a skit we would present to our peers the next day. We walked to Jameson Hall, the scenic overlook on campus where basically the whole city is on display. It is so beautiful, I told my friends I wanted to spend all my time there. A girl named Alyssa Panini (not Italian, she joked) talked told us about her grandmother, who was only allowed to be educated up to the third grade and then taught how to be a house servant. Her mother fought for her education and went on to become a doctor. She was very inspiring and an excellent speaker.

Jameson Hall; Cool neoclassical columns! Those steps ain't easy, but remind my of Philadelphia and Rocky. Nice piece of home in my new home 

        We had a demonstration on African drumming done by five excellent drummers, and my hands hurt after, but I couldn't help but laugh the whole time! Everyone was giggly and the drummers were really a great time, plus it was great to be a part of African culture! We also had tuned plastic tubes which we banged against our hands, which I had never heard of before, but my Wisconsin-ese friend Abbey was amazed we never saw them before. Also interesting was the dance the drummers had us do, which involved both shimmying (I did ok) and massaging the people next to us. One girl I had just met was from none other than Mechanicsburg, just like my Merey! The only person I met from PA so far, and I get one from the same town as one of my roommates! "It's a small world, after all." I was starving, and when it was time to pack up, I was very excited to eat the finger food they put out for dinner. I just love egg rolls.

Enjoying my sick beats 

         I took the Jammie with some friends back to Forest Hill, and once again admired the most beautiful campus I had ever laid eyes on. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before! One thing I was not expecting about Cape Town is for it to get so chilly at night. I definitely could have packed more long pants and sweatshirts, but I guess now I have an excuse to shop. Also, I saw a guy who looked exactly like Harry Potter today, and I think I am in love. He even has glasses. I looked for a scar, but he kept turning away, so I just couldn't get a good glimpse.
        When I got home, I put up pictures on my cork board, and my friend who got locked out of her room joined me while I listened to music. She slept on my bed, and it was really nice to have company while looking at all the pictures of home. Today I had a lot of fun, and something that our director of foreign students, Quinton (also known as "Papa Africa" or "Papa Q") presented on made me think. He said that the first apple we bite into will make us so excited to be here, that we will love the "cute" accents, want to marry one of our orientation leaders, and live in Cape Town forever. The second apple will be bitter, make us miss home, and want to go back to the culture and the place we are used to ("What does 'get in que' even mean? We aren't playing pool!"). The third apple will tell us everything is okay, that we are at home in this new place. I feel like I bite into each apple, representing the stages of culture shock, each day. I am excited, homesick, and used to it, all at once. It's bizarre, but not entirely unpleasant. I am getting to be goofier each day, which is a relief, and I laughed extra loud at Quinton's parting words: "SAY NO TO THE MUSHROOMS THEY OFFER YOU ON LONG STREET!" (a popular street in Cape Town).
        Also my apartment is on the third floor, and the lady's parting words while handing us the key was "hope you aren't afraid of heights!" Kind of flip out every time I enter and leave my apartment, but I will get used to it, like everything here! Lovely day, lovely weather. I want to meet a penguin.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

From London to Cape Town

Greetings from Cape Town, South Africa! I am alive and well! Although the plane rides here were a mess and my sleeping schedule is askew, I am happy, healthy, and prepared for the new experiences I am going to be presented with!

Last American meal - figured it was appropriate to eat at Chickie & Pete's

Because of the snow, my flight to Washington from Philadelphia got delayed, causing me to miss my flight from Washington to Johannesburg. However, an exceptionally nice United worker (John G – never forget) hooked me up with a flight that night to LONDON with a 7 hour layover! In London, I immediately headed for the Underground and managed my way to Westminster. I was greeted by Big Ben chiming 12 o’clock! I walked around and found a nice pub, where I enjoyed Fish & Chips, and strayed from my usual green tea to get some English Breakfast tea to be extra cheesy. My favorite part of London, aside from Big Ben, was St. James Park. I was greeted by a swan, and we had some laughs. I said farewell to London, and made it without any hiccups back to the airport in time for my flight – a miracle in such a big city. I am glad I took the chance to experience London, and it made a great start to my Cape Town journey. As momentos of London, I bought a postcard of Big Ben, a book titled The Guest Cat, and a Where’s Waldo card holder. 

Big Ol' Ben



My flight to Cape Town was long (12 hours) and sleepless, thanks to Sneezy McGee next to me, but I made it! I was greeted by the sight of Table Mountain and the African sun. On the way to my new home, Henry, my Minibus driver, pointed out the poorest neighborhood in Cape Town, Langa. Just passing by, it was astounding to see, and even more shocking were the lush apartments built for the 2010 World Cup about ten feet away. Although it is beautiful in Cape Town, it served as a reminder that not every aspect of Cape Town is beautiful. 
         Because I got in so early (7 am), I was taken to my temporary dorm and jumped right into orientation, exhausted. It was very hot, I had trouble staying awake, and there were so many CIEE people (the program I am here through), it was hard to keep track of names, be myself, and have conversations. However, that evening we took a cable car up to Table Mountain, where I was very scared at first, but the tears in my eyes were because I did not realize the world could be that beautiful. My pictures do not do it justice.

The next day (Thursday), I participated in something called the AMA-zing race (said with a South African accent), which was a 17-clue scavenger hunt that took 2 hours and about 5 plus miles. It was exhausting, but our group was optimistic about how we weren’t in freezing temperatures, like at home, and how we weren’t sitting in our orientation venue. My favorite part was running through the sprinklers. A lot of exchange students won cool prizes for winning, such as a chance to meet a Cheetah, a free 4-day trip through the Garden Route, and free shark cage diving excursions. I got a lot of blisters, but I was still happy.
On Friday, all the sleep I was missing was getting to me, but I had a great day with my orientation group, led by RA Natalie, who is very nice and showed us a really great time in Cape Town! We learned how to take the train there, got tapas and wine at a place called Fork, laughed, took goofy pictures, and all got traditional South African shirts. Everything is cheap in South Africa, because 1 USD equals 11.50 rand. The tradeoff is good, even with inflation in the mix. That night we had a banquet at Kirstenbosch Gardens, where we ate a ton of AMA-ZING food and drank wine and danced and had a wonderful night! I finally managed to remember people’s names, and even though I was basically a walking zombie, I had a lot of fun!

RA Natalie and our orientation group - we called ourselves "Natalie's"

        Yesterday about 40 of the 200 CIEE students moved into Forest Hill, the UCT dorm that we will be living in for the next 6 months. It is beautiful! Although all I wanted to do when I got there was nap, I immediately unpacked with Grace, my new roommate who is awesome! We listened to some great music and went grocery shopping (twice) and out to eat to lunch with friends in Obs, a really cute place that is about a 7 minute walk from our dorm! We walked a lot, met some really nice UCT students, and unpacked some more and had a nice dinner full of peanut butter and bananas (and for desert, chocolate). My dorm is really nice and spacious, and I especially enjoy the balcony.
Today I had a beautiful day at the Campus Bay beach, and was going to keep reading The Guest Cat. However, it was such a breathtaking view and the ocean was a turquoise color, I could not look away. The last few days have been really life-changing, and I have learned so much about the town and the culture, but I have also learned that South Africa isn't so different from home, and isn't as scary and foreign as many people think it is. I also want to shout out to Julie and Sarah who gave me some awesome advice on my goodbye video - to take lots of mental pictures, and not rely so much on capturing the moment but to focus on actually experiencing it. I have a lot of great pictures saved in my mind (Buckingham Palace, sunset at Table Mountain, and the view of the beach today especially come to mind), and am learning that my eyes are the best camera. 

Happy as a clam 


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Just a girl who loves dogs, traveling, laughter, and being a goof.