Monday, June 24, 2013

Physics: Swazi Style

In Physics class today, we were talking about gravitational fields. For those of you who aren't into physics, the main idea is that every object has a gravitational field, and objects within that field are attracted to it, at least a little bit.

Let me paraphrase the lesson. Now, you have to hear this in the strong Ugandan accent of our wonderful physics teacher:

"Now, if there is a very massive particle, he is like the very powerful chief. A very powerful chief has much influence for the people in his chiefdom. But! If you are what? Far away! Then, you may choose to roam further away from the chief, and then you may choose to do what? Insult him! You may even dare to insult him, without fear of getting forced to go back to the chief to be punished! If you are outside your chief's gravitational field, then you may hurl insult after insult without fear of being hit! Remember though, the king will have a very big gravitational field, so if you want to hurl your insults at the king without being hit, you will have to go where? Far away!"

I mean, I guess the complicated graphics and computer simulations worked for physics classes in America, but here, we operate solely with paper, pencils, a board, and some metaphors about the local chiefs and king. I guess these are the benefits of learning physics in the last absolutely monarchy in the world...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Day In The Life

I did this a while ago, but it's been a while, so I figured I'd just write a "life-in-Swaziland-at-UWC" post. An overly detailed post, but hey, maybe you're interested.

06:45 - Multiple alarms go off. It's a little bit chaotic in my room at exactly six o'clock, and while I'm a light sleeper who doesn't need four alarms, I'm just paranoid that three of them won't go off or something. That never happens, and so I always have four alarms going off at exactly the same time.

Anyways, I wake up my friend from India, and five minutes later we're walking out of hostel in our sweatshirts and hats. Mind you, it's winter in June in the southern hemisphere, and while I refuse to call the daytime weather "cold," at six in the morning, before the sun comes up, there's frost on the ground and it is quite cold.

We're not up at six because we're crazy - six o'clock is running time. I normally run up the mountain and down, and then run a mile or two around the field, but I donated blood yesterday, and was told not to do physical activity today, so I figured running was pushing it enough, and that I didn't need to involve any mountains today.

Side note, to anyone who doubts the idea of donating blood in what is technically considered a third world country with an AIDS rate of one in three, the lady got the needle into my vein on the first try. That's a lot more than can be said about blood drives in America.

06:45 - Done with running! We head back to hostel to shower and get ready for the day.

07:00 - I get ready really fast, and so right at seven, I head down for breakfast. The Emhlabeni, my hostel, is across campus from the dining hall, so it's a little bit of a walk, but campus isn't that big, and I get there pretty fast. Breakfast this morning was corn flakes with hot milk (they serve cold milk, but hot milk is much more popular here - it's an acquired taste), papaya, or "po-po," as it's referred to, toast, and a biscuit (biscuits in the American "biscuits and gravy" sense, not in the British "cookie" sense - I think I've been at an international school too long when I start clarifying things like that). Anyways, it was pretty good, and the hot tea was welcome, as it is every day in winter.

I  still can't get over how it's winter in June.

08:00 - My first class of the day - geography. My teacher is from Tanzania, and his accent adds an extra layer of difficulty into the lessons. As he puts it, "You cannot talk in my class! I don't speak good English, and half the class doesn't speak good English! We barely understand each other, much less with you talking in the background!" We're preparing for a field trip to Durban in a few weeks, so we were preparing stuff for our fieldwork there. And yes, Durban, South Africa. International field trips, yo.

08:40 - Maths! I've started calling it "maths" instead of "math," which makes me feel like a traitor to America, but hey, it's hard to resist. Anyways, we're working on trigonometry proofs in calculus. Yes, maths is the same everywhere around the world. It's not any more exciting in Swaziland than it is in America. Well, other than the fact that everyone here uses Casio calculators instead of Texas Instruments (I cling to my TI-84+ like it's a mathematical life vest. Casio confuses me).

09:20 - siSwati class. We go through some translations, and then just talk in siSwati for a while. I have nothing more to say about siSwati class, other than that uma ngikhuluma siSwati nebangani name, ngijabulile. Lesinye sikhatsi, ngiyasokola, kodvwa manje, ngati emagama kakhulu.

10:00 - Break time! This is kind of a weird concept that hasn't entered into American schools. In America, we have five minutes passing between classes. Here, classes start exactly as the last one ends, and you are just one or two minutes late all the time, but then there's a forty minute break right at ten o'clock every day. It's nice, and we get a snack, which is always welcome. Well, most of the time. Today is was a roll and hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is strange here too - it's not sweetened in itself, you have to add sugar. That might just be the school cafeteria though.

10:30 - Time for community service. A few of us headed over to the Mbabane government hospital, picked up a disabled guy who stays in the ward, and took him to the park. He's not properly cared for in the hospital, and so we take him out so that he doesn't have to sit in the same room the whole time. He doesn't speak, and doesn't really respond, but we try to entertain him, as you can definitely tell when something makes him happy. Today, we spun around on the carousel thing with him.

Let's just say that didn't make him happy.

Then, he went to take a nap, and so we chilled on the swings for a while. Some creepy guy yelled across the parking lot whether me and my friend fro South Africa wanted a push, to which we replied a very strong, "Cha!" Cha means no, and is pronounced more like "ta" that "sha," because "c" in siSwati is a click, not a sound that exists in English.

12:40 - We returned to school for a lovely cafeteria lunch. Today, I had pap, which is corn with the yellow shells taken off the kernels, then boiled and mashed up like potatoes. It's more rubbery than mashed potatoes, and not really my favorite food, but I'm sick of rice, which is the only alternative.

13:20 - French class! We practiced introductions for speeches in French, and then headed out a bit early. Compared to America, where teachers NEVER let you out before the bell, classes let out early quite often here.

14:40 - English. We talked for a bit about an assignment, and then surprise - we got out early!

16:00 - I headed over to the IT center to set up the computers for a computer class that I teach to some kids from SOS Village, an orphanage in Sidwashini, right by the school. They're super beginners are computers, which is really cool, so today we were working with the freeware version of Excel - LibreOffice Calc. We were just doing simple functions and graphing, but it's interesting to see what questions they had - what does the shift key do? How do I type a plus sign? How do I highlight the box?

17:30 - We wrapped up the computer class and headed over to the dining hall for dinner. In line at the dining hall, I got stopped by my second year from Mozambique, who asked if I wanted to come to supper club. Supper club is this thing where four or five students go to this one English teacher's house for supper, just to get away from eating in the cafeteria, at least for one meal. I enjoy it, and always go when invited, as it means several things: soda, nice glasses, a normal table, and conversation that doesn't revolve around school. Today, he also made us soup, which was a lovely bonus. To be honest, any food other than the cafeteria good brightens my day considerably. Conversation revolved around America's position in the world compared to China, and sex as a means to find religion. Definitely better conversation than "school," and it always amuses me that it's totally normal to have dinner a teacher's house here.

19:00 - Supper club wrapped up, and I headed over to the IT center, which I supervise on Thursday nights.

And that's where I find myself right now, about to start my homework. I hate to burst any bubbles about whatever Utopian life you imagine I have, chilling in Swaziland right now, but there's something you should know. While it is summer in the States, with warm weather and without school, it's currently winter here in Swaziland, and school is in session. I have siSwati to study, a math test tomorrow, a geography test next week, an English essay to write, and Physics formulas to study. Not saying that school isn't great and all, but I assure you, the next four hours of my night hold nothing entertaining enough to write about. And so, I'll summarize.

19:30 - Work on homework in the IT center.
21:30 - IT center duty ends, lock up the IT center, head back to hostel.
22:00 - Dance to some Indian music in the corridors, complain about life, hug and laugh about how complain-y we are, make some tea, complain about homework, procrastinate, and then finally go work.
24:00 (or 00:00, depending on how you look at it) - Give up on work and go to sleep. It's another long day ahead of me tomorrow!

Actually, tomorrow is a special day, and an really abnormally long day, but that's for another post.

And so you have it - a day in the life of a Waterford student!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Climbing Bulembu

Yesterday, as what we call one of our "Swazi Outings," a group of us from Waterford went to climb Bulembu, the highest mountain in Swaziland. To be fair, it's not that high (about 1800 meters), and the entire ascent took less than two hours. The way down was even faster.
Anyways, the hike was beautiful, but the best part was getting to the top and doing the illegal border hopping between South Africa and Swaziland. The border kind of runs along the peaks of these mountains, and so the border is oftentimes at the top of the hill, which is a nice reward for all the climbing you've just done.

As you can see in the picture, the border fence was particularly strong, secure, and well maintained.
The only logical thing to do when faced with such an unsecure border is to stand with one foot in Swaziland and one food in South Africa, obviously. The left side of the picture is Swaziland, by the way.
 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

UWC Day at Waterford Kamhlaba

(Open up this video in a new tab, let it play while you read this post, and I will love you. I might even marry you if you "like," the video, comment on it, and send it to some friends! The more audience support it gets, the more likely I'll be to go to India!)

Being at a UWC is a constant culture mish-mash. I oftentimes look around the dinner table and see my friends from Malawi, India, Lesotho, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Uganda, and more, all around one table. I'm currently in a musical with people from Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Denmark, and so on. My physics teacher is from Uganda, my siSwati teacher is from South Africa (ironically), my geography teacher is from Tanzania, my French teacher is from Cameroon, and so the list goes. That's kind of just how UWC works.

But, once a year, we have what we call "UWC Day," where we have this big festival and performances and parade to share our cultures (and food). (This was before all the South Africa stuff, by the way, I'm just posting it now).

First, there's a bunch of performances outside. There wasn't an America performance, (Next year, I tell you. Next year.) but I did an Indian/Bollywood dance. After a bunch of dances and performances, each country has a stall where they sell food from their country, and we just kind of run around eating food and taking pictures in our national costumes. I just chilled in my Indian dancing outfit, as I didn't really have anything "America" that I was dying to change into.

 
This is the Ethiopia stall, selling their food.
 
Yup! It was a pretty chilled day.

South Africa Travel Diary 5 - Johannesburg: The Conclusion

(So, I have this idea that healthcare isn't screwed up because we lack qualified doctors, it's because the infrastructure is messed up, and needs to be revamped. Although to be fair, I'm just a teenager, and while I've worked in the government hospital in Mbabane, I would love the chance to see how it works around the world. Watch this video to help me go to India to work on this? Thanks!)

By this point, I was quite familiar with buses. I boarded my third overnight bus in a row, from Durban to Johannesburg. It left at what normal humans consider an acceptable hour, but was to arrive at Johannesburg's Park Station at three in the morning. I was to catch another bus at noon, and wasn't exactly looking forward to spending nine hours in a place that is known for its muggings.

She got on the bus at the third stop, and promptly asked me, “What is a white person like yourself doing on this bus?” I hadn't noticed, but I guess I was the only one. I'd stopped thinking about things like that a long time ago, but I was well aware that most of the people around me hadn't.

“Why are you not taking the fancy coach bus?” she demanded.

“Well ma'am, I'm just going to Johannesburg. Both of the buses leave from the same place and go to the same place. Why would I pay more for the in between?”

Well, that sent her into a fit of uproarious laughter, which got both of us a Sesotho scolding from a very tired, crabby man. There's nothing to make you bond with a stranger faster than somebody yelling at you both in a language neither of you understand. She sat down next to me and we started talking. I listened to her stories of being a Zulu during Apartheid, of how she had grown up in Bantu education, but was thrown into an English university after Apartheid ended. While it was too dark to see her face, I could her the pride in her voice as she described how she was the first black student to graduate from her university after Apartheid.

Now, I'm a teenage girl, and I probably should be more careful. I should probably be more wary of strangers, and decline their invitations, but I can't help but see them as just people. So, when the bus pulled into Park Station at three in the morning, instead of settling onto a bench to wait out my day, I accepted this woman's invitation to come to her house for a warm breakfast, a clean bathroom, and a safe place to spend the morning. She had two daughters about my age, and we could hang out, and then her husband would drive me back to catch my second bus. My alternative was nine hours in a bus station, so I said yes.

It was a simple house, with just three rooms. She described it as “third or fourth class down, nothing fancy, but not too bad.” A warm breakfast meant Wheet-Bix with hot water instead of the usual milk,
but it was warm, and you can serve worms to a weary traveller and it'll still taste good. Her daughters were amazingly welcoming, considering that their mother had brought a complete stranger into the house at four in the morning. They just kind of rolled over on the couch and gave me a spot, as if it was an everyday occurrence. I was shown how to flush the broken toilet by hand and told where the cups were in the kitchen. Within five minutes, I felt like I was already a part of some this family, who had so suddenly welcomed me into their home.

At nine in the morning, the house went into a flurry, as it was time to go to the Kingdom Authority Bible Church, and so I went. Not a religious person, I was a little bit wary, but you could hear the singing from a block away, and it was such a joyful noise that I couldn't help but smile.

We ducked inside during a song, but the moment the song was over, they asked all the new people to stand. I would have liked to hide, but being the only white person there, and having gotten the feeling that I was the only person who had been there in a long time, that was hard to do. With all eyes on me, I stood, and then promptly sat. Then, they asked us to come to the front and introduce ourselves, and after much nudging from my new friends, I walked up.

"I'm Diana, I'm from Chicago. Thanks for having me." My greeting was met with a round of emphatic "HALLELUJAHS" from the old ladies in the back. About a million people came up to shake my hand, and then I went to sit back down, a bit shaken myself.

Now, I'm not a religious person, and when the whole church went into prayer, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. Compared to every single church I'd ever been to in America, where you pray in your head, here, the preacher starts screaming, and people are praying out loud. Not together or anything, they're all just yelling to God, however they're feeling it. Some people are on the ground, some are kneeling, and this one woman is standing on her seat, reaching for the heavens.

Now, this had no signs of stopping, and I'm just kind of awkwardly standing there when I glance at my watch and realize it's 11:45. I have a bus that leaves from the airport to Swaziland, leaving at noon. The family had told me that their house was about half an hour away from the airport.

Oh my.

I elbow the sister of the family, and tell her I need to go. She says that I'll make the bus, but I insist on going, seeing as how the school bus is kind of a "you-need-to-catch-this" kind of bus. Eventually, she understands my urgency, and goes to get her father, who is at the front.

So, we slip out of the church amidst the prayers, and their dad goes to get the car, while the sister and I run through the neighborhood to get my bag from the house. I grab the bag, hug the mother, the woman from the bus, goodbye, trying to thank her for everything they'd given me, while not taking too much time, and then we dashed out the door for the car.

I've never seen somebody drive so fast. Correction: I've never held onto the edge of the seat so hard while someone drove me so fast. Not even in a taxi in Amman, or a kombi in Swaziland - this was much faster.

We pulled into the airport, and I jumped out of the car. Another woefully inadequate, rushed thank you, and I was running through the airport. I get to the bus rank, jump onto the school bus, and not thirty seconds later, the bus pulls away.

That's a narrow escape if I ever had one.

And, I suppose that ended my adventures in South Africa. The school bus back to Swaziland was normal, and I got back to school safe and sound. Waking up the next morning was bizarre though, thinking, "Twenty-four hours ago, I was at some random family's house in Johannesburg, going to some random church, and now I'm back at school. Darn."

THE END.

Monday, June 3, 2013

South Africa Travel Diary 4 - Jeffrey's Bay Part Two and Durban

(I know spam-like internet contests are annoying, but dying from preventable diseases is more annoying. If you would watch this video to help me go to India to work with people there to get better healthcare, that would be wonderful. Thanks so much!)

May 22nd: Leaving the farm was tough, sure. But, in a rare occurrence when travelling, I was also returning. While I don't like to visit the same place twice, a scheduling screw-up sent me back to Jeffrey's Bay for a few days, and to be honest, I couldn't complain.

I assure you, there's nothing like a few familiar faces when travelling. Not all the time, but it was nice to know, when I was leaving the farm, that I knew some people where I was headed.

Sure enough, walking into the backpacker's was like walking home. Well, if my home were filled with hippies and surfers, but hey, close enough. I didn't have R40 to spend on that night's dinner, but I had some pasta and feta, and so I just cooked for myself, and sat down at a full table. It's nice to eat with people, even if they're just random people.

My only problem now is that I've marked these few days back in Jeffrey's Bay as "work days," so I'm hitting the siSwati books, and trying to stay away from the beach (spoiler alert, I failed at that).

May 24th: Today was (oops) a beach day. I checked out of the backpacker's around eleven, and then just went to the beach. I'm not a huge beach-y person, but I've really enjoyed it this month.

My bus didn't leave until 5:30, but I was kind of itching to get on the road again, and it's a couple of miles walk to the gas station where the bus was going to get me, and I have a tendency to get lost, so I figured I'd start walking at 3:30 and leave myself some time.

Typical me, I did indeed get a bit turned around. I'm really, really bad at directions. I wasn't really lost though, as I was on the right street, but realized I was going the wrong way. So, I turned around, hoping that nobody saw my about face, as that makes it really obvious that you were lost.

About two seconds later, I get stopped by two cops. Darn, I think. Apparently I've got the "tourist-so-badly-confused-they-need-police-help" look. Ugh.

Instead, they asked me if I had noticed where some other guy had turned off the main road. I apologized and said that I hadn't really been paying attention, but I was looking for St. Francis Road, and wanted to check that I was (finally) going in the right direction. So, while they didn't stop because I was confused, the one cop gave me this really long, weird list of directions. The other cop just pauses and goes, "Get in."

Apparently the guy they were chasing wasn't very urgent.

We then had a very bizarre conversation - it went like this:
Me: Thanks for the ride.
Cop: So, where are you from?
Me: I live in Swaziland, but I'm from the States.
Cop: Oh! I've always wanted to go to England! Where are you from?
Me: Um, Chicago.
Cop: Now, does it actually rain all the time in London?
Me: Sure. Every day. Twice a day, actually.
Cop: Really? Wow.

May 25th: The last twenty-four hours since the cop's ride have been pretty crazy. When I got onto the bus, I sat next to this adorable old Chinese lady. Women are so much nicer to sit next to on long bus rides, as at least we're aware of how much space we're taking up, while guys just kind of sprawl out.

But, to my complete aggravation, at our first stop, Port Elizabeth, the nice lady got off, and was replaced by this big, loud, annoying guy, who kept on making politically incorrect comments on purpose and then laughing at his awful jokes. I normally enjoy meeting people on buses, but this guy? No. I mean, when you introduce yourself with, "You study in Swaziland? We send all our retards to Swaziland. Oh, and weed. We get our weed there. Swaziland is the Mexico of South Africa. Ha. Ha. Ha." Well, I'm not exactly inclined to like you.

And that sort of commentary went on for the next ten hours. At one point I fell asleep, and when I woke up, he was still talking. When the bus pulled into the station, I can't deny that I was happy to get off.

But, instead of relief, I was pretty frustrated rather quickly. The advantages of bus ranks is that they're usually in the city center, and it's easy to walk to things, but for some reason, I just couldn't figure Durban out. It was empty, weird, no signs, no nothing.

I originally didn't want to go the beach, as I was sick of looking at sand and rocks and waves, but when you're vaguely lost in a new city, the beach is usually a good starting point, so you can at least figure out which way is up.

It was easy enough to find, and when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were things going on, so it wasn't just sand a water. It turned out to be a really nice place to spend the day, with jetski competitions, surfing relays, skateboarding contests, sand soccer, BMX riders, and sand castle artists.

 
And I found a place that sells ice cream for one rand. I haven't eaten anything else all day. My justification is that the lady will refill my water bottle, so it's one rand water and ice cream, so yeah. Good life!
 
In Durban, there's this sidewalk thing along the beach, and it's actually the best people watching ever. There are these guys in big headdresses pulling carts for rides. There are the wanna-be thugs, which are in two groups - the kids and the thirty-year-old men. There are skateboarders and surfers and old women in saris and young women in burqas, balding men holding babies, trophy wives with husbands carrying their shopping bags, homeless guys carrying their own shopping bags, vendors ringing bells, kids chasing pigeons, and everything in between.
 
After all this time on the beach this month, I'm really going to miss it. There's the breeze, the smell, and the openness of it. It makes the rest of the world just seem claustrophobic. I'll be back in Durban in July for a school trip though, so no worries.
 
(A few hours later, at the bus rank): A man just walked up with a coconut, pulled out a massive knife, declared it too small to be useful, and started asking everyone if they had an axe. I quote, "What kind of Zulu are you if you don't have an axe?"
 
At this point, let me quote exactly what I wrote in my journal. "I was about to wrap up this whole adventure diary, but then I realized that the adventures won't end until I'm back at school. And even then."
 
I had about twenty-four hours left travelling. I think I expected it to be boring. I couldn't have been more wrong.
 
And, off on another bus to Johannesburg!

South Africa Travel Diary 3 - WWOOF (The Farm Stuff)

(While you're reading this post, click on my video and let it play on mute in the background while you read. Thanks for helping me get the chance to go to India!)

May 7th: I got picked up at Ubuntu by the guy who owns the farm I was going to work at early in the afternoon. He was surprised at how I had just one backpack for the month, but the back of his truck was so full already that I’m not sure I could have fit anything more. After a brief stop in the nearby town of Humansdorp, we headed out for the farm.

It was an absolutely gorgeous drive, through all of these different landscapes, and then finally back into the mountains. I feel so spoiled, just because everywhere I go is so beautiful.

We drove for about an hour on paved roads, and then turned onto the dirt roads. For a while, the dirt road was nice and all, as smooth as a dirt road could be. Then, we turned again, and the road became more just two ruts, winding along the side of the mountain, almost clinging to the edge of the rocks. Other than the fact that he was easing the truck along it, I might not have recognized it as a road.

Have I described this truck yet? It’s an old, whitish-beige Land Rover pick-up thing. You can hardly have a conversation in the cab because the vents are just open, and it’s so loud. The windshield is all cracked, and the doors take some strength to open. But, apparently it made the journey to and from Ethiopia from South Africa on quite the adventure ten or fifteen years ago.

As the road got worse, we had to slow down, meaning it became a bit quieter, and we could finally have a proper conversation. As we passed places, the farm owner described them to me. We passed a little farm cottage that he said used to be inhabited by an old couple, until the husband died trying to cross a flooded river in his car. Further down the road, there was a paddock full of what looked to be pretty wild horses, and he said that there were some brothers who came to see the horses a few times a year, but other than that, they were indeed wild.



Anyways, we finally got to their farm. I don’t know how to emphasize this enough: THE FARM IS IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, AND IT IS WONDERFUL. The farm itself is about three thousand acres of mountains, but there’s kind of a central portion that’s a normal farm, surrounded by all the rest of the property which is essentially open land, sometimes used for the cattle to wander and graze. It’s strangely isolated, but not lonely. There are four horses, about twenty-five cows, a slew of chickens, and some pygmy fowl who seem to have domesticated themselves. As far as people, there’s the farm owner, his wife, their three kids, and then two workers from Malawi who also live on the farm.

After about an hour of settling in, the farm owner showed me around the property, explaining a bit of how things work. Some of it just made me happy. First, there’s an electric wire around the vegetable patch to keep out the baboons. I mean, duh.

Also, make sure to close to gate, to keep out the bush pigs. For years, I’ve been climbing over fences in the States constructed to keep pigs in, and suddenly I’m closing gates to keep wild pigs out. It’s strange how these things turn around.

Next, it was on to how to “feed” the animals. I put “feed” in quotation marks, because the ritual was more of a ritual than a necessity. They got about a handful of feed, as most of their diet was scrubs and grass. In a climate like this, where they can scavenge and find food year-round, especially on such a big property, it makes so much sense to not feed them. Sustainability!

Okay, let me describe the house I would be staying in for the next two weeks a little bit. It’s a house, but a very basic one. Everything runs off of solar power, and minimal solar power at that, and very few lightbulbs. There’s a light in the bathroom, and in the kitchen-dining-room-living-room, but not one in my bedroom (we put one there a few days later). I tended to use candles a lot of the time, because at night, when there’s no sun to refill the battery, the power runs out really fast.


OH! THE DONKEY BOILER!

So, water comes down from the mountain into the dam, from where it is piped into the house, and all over the farm. It’s all gravity-powered, which is pretty cool to think about – no pumps for anything! Behind the homestead (my house and the family’s house), there is something called a donkey boiler, which is where we heat the water. It’s a small, black metal tank, and a place for a fire below it. I mean, it’s really easy – you light a fire below the tank, keep it going for an hour and a half, and voila – hot water! Definitely makes you appreciate a hot bath, as I would learn over the course of the next two weeks.

May 11th: Today was my first day off. Days off are so much better when you’ve earned them – seriously. I’ve spend the past couple of days planting oats, building fences, and various other tasks. It’s been great, but hey, nobody ever complained about a day off. I have to admit though, it’s been nice to be working. I’ve missed having a job ever since I came to Swaziland.

Anyways, in the morning, I went for a drive to another nearby valley with the farm owner and some of their family friends who were staying for the weekend. The woman is quite into nature, and can give you the Latin names for pretty much any species of plant in the Cape region. The man is more interested in the social history of the region, and has written a book about the area around where the farm is.

In fact checking for the book, we went to go visit this old farmer in this other valley. When we arrived, it was like plunging into some other world, where suddenly everything was old-time Afrikaans. This continued until the farmer realized that I spoke English, at which point everyone tries to switch into English, but it was so broken, and I wished that they would have continued in Afrikaans. But, eventually I was glad to hear English, so that I could understand the farmer’s stories. I wish I could remember them, but they were these little stories about so-and-so doing this-and-that, and I think it would be terribly boring to read about, but it was amazing to sit in this random farmhouse in South Africa, and listen to some Afrikaaner tell stories about his farm and “how it used to be.”

Getting back to the farm, I decided to go for a walk, as the farm is so big, and the only way to see most of it is just to go for a walk.

So, I’m walking along this stream, and suddenly it feels like America. There was this grove of poplar trees, and just some normal, overgrown grass on the trail, and a bunch of undergrowth that was bizarrely like buckthorn at home. Mostly though, it was the smell. Places have smells, and for about a ten foot bit of the path, it smelled exactly like the forest preserves at home.

The only other place I’ve found like that is the closet under the stairway to the lightbox in the assembly hall at school, which smells distinctly like my grandparents’ basement.

Anyways, that night for dinner, we had a braai, essentially a barbeque, which I’ve found is quite a bit social event in South Africa. I felt like I was a camp counselor again though, which was hilarious. The kids were really funny. Dinner was really fabulous – sweet potatoes and potatoes and salad. It was really simple, but it was warm, and somebody else cooked it.

May 12th: Back to work! This morning was quite fun. The owner’s wife runs a little vegetable selling business, and there were a bunch of orders to organize before she brought them into town tomorrow. We spent all morning going through the vegetable garden, getting whatever we needed, and organizing everything into nice little bundles.

The highlight of was my day was when, that afternoon, we took the truck to the other side of the farm to pick some flowers, which she apparently also sells. The view from the certain peak we went to at this certain time was astounding. I can barely describe it. There are all these mountains, kind of rolling and green, but with these dramatic ravines cutting into them. You just  just see this really long valley surrounded by mountains and ravines, but you can’t even see the bottom of the valley. You just see for forever in front of you. For forever.



The most amazing thing is that it’s so out there that I know there are no other humans out there. No other roads than the one we took. No telephone poles, no supermarkets, no little shacks, nothing. You’d be hard pressed to find a place like that. Even parks and nature reserves are contaminated with the fact that they’re built for people to come to, and so there are usually roads, campsites, whatever. Here? Not so much. It’s a farm, not a tourism place.

May 13th: Today is just about halfway through my time in South Africa, meaning I’ve been gone for two weeks, and have two weeks left before returning to Swaziland, but it feels like much longer though. I can barely imagine being back at school.

Having not used technology in a while, it’s a very strange thought that there are computers waiting for me at school. I’m not sure what I would do with them. Right now, I use one lightbulb, heat water over a fire, cook with a camp stove, and eat vegetables from the garden. Computer? What? Why?

May 16th: Yesterday was like an episode of “Dirtiest Jobs” and now my back hurts like nothing else, but that’s chilled. No worries.

I started the day with what they call “liquid compost,” which I have renamed “s*** water.” Ready for the recipe? Take an old bag of horse feed, one of those big sacks, fill it with manure. Tie it up, and stick it in a barrel of water. Let it sit for four months. Then, when a perfectly innocent WWOOFer comes, tell them to water the garden with it.

It was absolutely rancid. I must have spent twenty minutes scrubbing my arms afterwards, and you could still smell it.

After lunch, we continued having a poo-filled day, as one of the Malawian workers and myself moved the compost along the cycle, from one area to the next. The compost piles are in order of how decomposed they are, and they get moved along once in a while to mix them up and everything, and to make sure they don’t get too packed down. Essentially, the bin on one end is poo, food waste, leaves, and grass, and the bin on the other end of the row is compost, and the bins in between are in varying states of decay.

So, we dig our shovels into one of the middle bins, and find that the pile has gotten so hot that it’s literally staring to self ignite, so there are pockets of ash everywhere in the pile of leaves and poo. It was just overwhelmingly hot.

Are you jealous? Shoveling piles of steaming hot poo… best vacation ever!

May 18th: Today was technically my second day off, but it was so full of stuff that I’d hardly call it “off.” I woke up, and after my breakfast of Wheet-Bix, I decided that I wanted to go on a hike, like, a proper hike to the top of one of the mountains.

I ask the farm owner what’s a good mountain with a view, and he points me off in a decent direction, but then his two daughters, aged eight and ten, wanted to come with me. As having an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old tagging along on hikes isn’t always conducive to “proper hiking,” their mother was reluctant, but I said it was fine if they came, and so off we went.

The eight-year-old started promptly with the complaints, after maybe ten minutes of uphill. From that point on, the motto became “stop at the top,” with which she shut up and walked. We got there soon enough, and so she felt accomplished.

The mountains here are of a different sort: from the bottom, it seems as if they’re different, separated, normal mountains. But, when you hike to the top, you see that the peaks are all almost flat, as if they exist on one plane, and the separations have just been carved out of them. Well, I mean, they have. Rivers flow through each valley. Looking across them is almost the same sensation you get looking out a plane window over the clouds below you.


On the way down, we went what the girls called “bunderbashing” – namely, we abandoned the trail. That’s the nice thing about living in a valley – if you just go down, you can’t get lost. The whole way down, I got them singing “I LOVE THE MOUNTAINS, I LOVE THE ROLLING HILLS, I LOVE THE FLOWERS, I LOVE THE DAFFODILS, A BOOM-DEE-YA-DA, BOOM-DEE-YA-DA…” That was very classy. I heard them singing it later when they thought I was working, which made me smile.

Upon reaching the farmhouse, they recounted their grand bushwhacking tales to their mother, and then almost immediately, the ten-year-old decided it was time for a proper horse riding lesson. It was a bit bizarre to be told what to do by a ten-year-old, but hey, whatever. We just took the horses for a ride around the farm, which is always stunning. I almost got eaten by a bush in a too-low trail, which the young girls didn’t consider an obstacle, but it was worth it to be able to run around on a horse. Dude ranches in the States don’t let people trot and run and everything on horses, but I’ve learned that that’s the best part!

Then, we took the saddles off, and just rode around without them for a while. You just hold onto their necks and hope they don’t decide to take their revenge on you, which I thought was terribly funny.

So, I go to eat my lunch and read a book, and just chill, as this day hasn’t been very much chilling so far, but then the eight-year-old comes running into my house, and asks if I can help her make this lemonade stuff. I had picked all of the lemons the day before, a whole bag of them, and so she had to juice them all. I refused to do anything buy supervise. I mean, it was her project, not mine.

But, suddenly there was some emergency with the cattle, and so everyone else went to go deal with that, and I was left to babysit this eight-year-old, who had by this point, gotten bored with the lemons after one glass of lemonade, and started baking chocolate brownies from scratch. As for me, a kid raised on powdered lemonade and brownies from a mix? I was quite impressed. And who am I to complain? I got lemonade and brownies out of the deal, which, after a few weeks of bread and veggies, was beautiful.

It was just one of those funny moments, standing in a farmhouse kitchen in South Africa, licking the brownie batter from the bowl with this kid whose parents are dealing with something with the cattle? As in, life is strange, but I love it.

May 20th: I sometimes think that if I’m an expert in anything, it’s leaving. I leave a lot – headed somewhere new, but still leaving.

Leaving here is different, and while I’ve only been here for a few weeks, it feels like much longer. My only explanation is that I’ve contributed something here, and so it feels like it’s somehow mine, in a way. There are things here that only I know, and that’s because I put them there, as they are. It’s very different than leaving, say, a backpacker’s, where you’re just another wanderer, passing through.

Maybe it’s the fact that I know where I’m going, and I know how different it is from here. I’m going from mountain house with solar power and river water to full on “society” and “civilization.” I haven’t seen a road that consists of more than two ruts for weeks. I haven’t used anything electrical other than a light bulb and an electric fence.
In other ways, maybe I’ve just become too lazy to go back to society. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for two weeks now (don’t judge). No matter how often I try to wash up, my fingernails seem to have dirt permanently underneath them. I have a well-established farmer’s tan, and my hair is growing rather shaggy again. I’m not sure what I look like though, because I haven’t seen a mirror since getting here. No need.

When I was a kid, we used to have this story about running away to “the simple life.” I’m not sure how it ends, and while for years, I thought it was silly. I think now that I have to leave, I understand.
You go through phases with this kind of thing. First, you think it’s nice, maybe pleasant. The birds sing and there are flowers, and it seems like a nice holiday spot. Then, you get annoyed. You smell from sweaty work, there’s dirt everywhere, and it’s overly isolated. You can’t believe that anyone would ever volunteer to spend their vacation here, much less live here (there always seem to be a lot of annoying flies around your head during this phase). After that, you look closer at the people who have indeed chosen to live here, and figure that you must be missing something. There must be a reason they love it, and so you throw everything you’ve got into figuring it out.
The final phase always comes too late, just as you’re leaving. You realize what people fall in love with in a place like this, and you realize that you’ve also fallen for it, at least a little bit. And then you leave. Or not, of course, you could stay, but most people are pulled back into the world by something. I am not an exception.
I find, as I leave, that I’ve taken woefully few pictures, but cameras don’t really work here. A camera can’t capture the feeling of being small, surrounded by very big mountains. When the mountains rise around you, and there’s nobody else for miles around, and no signs of humans, for as far as the eye can see, you realize that the world really doesn’t need people. It’s beautiful without us, if we only bother to look. And that takes time to see – not a few moments, but days, weeks, months, years. You can’t take a picture of that.
And so, I filled up the cattle water one last time, got into the bumpy old truck, watched the sun set over the mountains, and went for one last drive down the bumpy old road before returning to the pavement, and everything that comes with it.

South Africa Travel Diary 2 - Jeffrey's Bay and Addo Elephant Park

(India's a really cool place - I would love to volunteer there! Every view I get on this video is one view closer to getting there! Open it in a new tab, and let it play on mute when you read this, and I will love you forever. Thanks so much!)

May 3rd: The bus left Cape Town promptly at six, which was quite a surprise. Compared to the last bus I was on, this one was absolutely luxurious. I found a seat on the second level, in between an Afrikaans techie guy and an Australian missionary, which made for some interesting conversation for the next five or six hours before we fell asleep.

Around 5:30 in the morning, the bus dropped me off at a gas station along the highway outside of Jeffrey's Bay. A woman in the gas station told me to get a taxi into town, but I'd rather have walked. So, I settled down at a picnic table outside, and waited for it to get a little bit more light before I would start to walk. I didn't expect to spend the morning outside a gas station, but the gas station attendant guys were chilled, so it worked! Oh, at gas stations here, there are guys who fill the tank and do stuff for you, instead of you getting out and doing it. That's kind of just how it is here, I guess. I don't think I've seen anybody do it themselves.

After a little while, all these big Afrikaans guys started pulling up, just as it was getting light outside. They said that they used to go to Mlilwane for vacations, a game reserve in Swaziland. I'm not exactly sure why you would leave South Africa to go to a game reserve in Swaziland, but whatever.

Anyways, they gave me directions to the beach, so essentially into town, and I found it easily enough, and just in time for the sunrise, which was spectacular. The beach was still empty enough that it was strangely peaceful, despite the massive waves that came crashing onto the rocks. Jeffrey's Bay has some really massive waves - the town is kind of built around being a surfing town, as I later found out.

 
As I'm sitting on the beach, watching the sunrise and the waves, asking myself whether this is actually real life, this old lady comes along with a bucket and a bag, picking up seashells like a five-year-old on vacation in Florida. She comes over, and so I asked what she's going to do with all these shells. She says that she makes arts and crafts with them, which is typical enough, I suppose, but then she starts describing the beauty of shells with such an animation and passion that I couldn't help but smile. She had these big glasses and big eyes that darted around, searching for more shells in the sand. She kept going on about "the details, the details! I've been here twenty years, and I never noticed the details of the shells until a few years ago!"
 
She then starts talking about some group of dolphins that is coming through the bay, and how they mate here, and how you can see them surfing with the surfers in the waves (true story, I spent many hours later watching the dolphins - they're pretty magical looking). She proceeded to give me directions to a backpacker's hostel, but then immediately told me not to think about directions and to enjoy the moment.
 
Old people are smart.

She then dug this awesome shell out of her pocket, big, but not too big, and says, "Here, have this one. Appreciate it." And then she was off.

A few hours later, I left the beach and made my way to the backpacker's hostel. Compared to my hostel in Cape Town, this one was a million times better. It's called Ubuntu Backpacker's, and is essentially a house. I've never felt so immediately at home as I did here. Everyone seems to know everyone, and they know you, and people sit down for meals together, and it's just so wonderful. And it's funny how stereotypically "surfer" the place is, but I love it. The dorms definitely have more character than the dorms in Cape Town as well, which just makes me smile when I see it.



May 4th: This morning, I woke up, stumbled out of the dorm and into the kitchen to make some tea, and this guy goes, "WANT TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS?"

Long story short, shortly thereafter, I found myself in a car with a South African, a Canadian, and this guy from RĂ©union, headed to Addo Elephant Park, which is about a two hours drive from Jeffrey's Bay, more towards Port Elizabeth. There are 450 elephants in the park, so that's the big attraction, although they have everything else as well.



Getting into the park, we all pretended to be South African, because the admission rate more than doubles for internationals. Thank goodness my last name works as a South Africa name, because I'm terrible at making up names on the fly. Anyways, we got into the park, and within two seconds, there's this massive elephant just chilling in the bushes. It was so cool - but we hadn't seen anything yet.

First, there are zebra, which are as common as squirrels in the States, apparently, but I still think they're super cool. They're pretty stocky animals, a bit tubbier than horses, but they're so cool.

 
Then, there are warthogs, which are also everywhere. They're very bizarre things, with these big tusks, and the hairs of the side of their heads that look suspiciously like bad sideburns.
 
 
So, the South African guy turns out to be the son of some famous ornithologist, so there was much more of a bird focus to the day than I expected. The park actually had some really cool birds. They're the kind of thing that you won't notice for forever, but once someone points them out to you, you can't help but notice them.
 
 
Okay - back to the elephants. So, we're just driving along this road, surrounded by this intense thicket on either side. The thicket is literally so thick that you can't even see through it, but suddenly we come over the top of the hill, and can see all these elephants in the valley.
 
 
And so? We drove down there, obviously! Elephants are absolutely stunning. They were close enough to the car that you could see all the wrinkles in their skin, especially around their eyes. I have to say, for being a massive, four-legged creature with tusks and a trunk, elephants are surprisingly humanlike. Their eyes just make them look so old and wise, like owls, except that elephants actually look old and wise, whereas owls just look confused.
 

 
The elephant herd also included several baby elephants, which were a mere fraction of the size of the adults, and still rather wobbly on their legs. The rest of the herd was amazingly consistent in keeping the babies near the middle, always either under a larger elephant, or surrounded by the bigger ones.
 
It was absolutely breathtaking. The elephants were so close, it was amazing. Especially in a park like this, which is less focused on stocking the park for tourists, like Kreuger, and more focused on conservation, it was nice to see elephants as much in the wild as they could be.
 
After five or six hours of cruising around the park, we stopped for lunch. Almost immediately after pulling into the lunch area, all these monkeys come flying out of the bushes at us, obviously expecting food. Someone whips out a banana, and while I laughed at first, suddenly we had ourselves a bit of a monkey extravaganza. To be fair, feeding them was a really, really bad idea. They kind of attacked the car.
 
Seriously, don't feed the animals. They did seem to enjoy it when the guy from Reunion started juggling though. Not sure where the juggling came from, but I was the only person surprised at it, so I just went with it.
 
After lunch we drove around on these little dirt roads for a few more hours, trying to find some of the super-rare rhinoceros in the park. Apparently the rangers had found the rhinos that morning, but refused to tell us where they were. Poaching is still a massive problem, so while it's all right if you happen to find a rhino, it's not exactly highly publicized information. There are only six or eight in the whole park, which is massive, so it was a long shot anyways. I totally understand the poaching thing though - Apparently these poachers just take helicopters overhead, shoot down the rhinos, cut off their horns, and leave the bodies to rot. Over 375 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012, and so far in the few months that have passed on 2013, the toll has already passed the entirety of the last year.
 
So, while we didn't see any rhinos, we saw plenty of other stuff (especially elephants!) and it was a really fantastic day. When I woke up in the morning, and this surfer guy asks if I wanted to see the elephants, I'm not sure what I thought he meant. Now, thinking about it, I can't think of a better thing I could have done that day. Definitely a stunning day - there are some moments I won't be forgetting.
 
May 6th: The last few days have been absolutely glorious, as far as vacations go. Jeffrey's Bay is a great, laid back "beach town," and my backpacker's is wonderful. I've been splitting my time between watching dolphins and surfers on the beach, exploring the tide pools, and chilling with a book in the hammocks at the house.
 
 
The only big issue I have with it is really an issue I have with all of South Africa. I keep getting addressed as "baas," referring to the fact that I'm white. I understand that South Africa has its issues with race, but today, I hate that my race is the first thing people think when they see me. I don't think "black person," when I see a black person, and it's frustrating to see how much race is still at the front of people's minds. I have really nothing to say about this, except that I wish people would see past each other's skin color, whether black, white, colored, or whatever else.
 
I leave for a farm away from the coast tomorrow - I'll be working there for the next two weeks as a "WWOOFer." I can't wait! I have really no idea what I'm getting into, but I'm so excited!


South Africa Travel Diary 1 - Johannesburg to Cape Town

(Want to support my next adventure? Open this video, mute it, and let it play in the background as you read this post. You are wonderful!)

I left Swaziland just over a month ago now, for a month of travelling, working, and adventuring around South Africa. I had essentially no internet for the month, but I kept a journal, and took lots of pictures, and so I’m writing these blog posts based on that. With that in mind, the next few blog posts are going to be kind of a whirlwind epic narrative of what I’ve been doing for the past month. Namely, these are going to be long posts, so enjoy. At least, I did.

April 28th: Left on the school bus. It was supposed to leave at 6:15 am, but left around 7:30. I was not surprised. Stayed with a friend in Johannesburg for the night, and watched American Idol. It was my first TV pretty much since coming to Africa, and I have to say – if that show is the only impression someone were to have of America, I’m extremely worried for my country’s reputation.

April 29th: Woke up to a wonderful breakfast. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to the fact that mangoes are a normal food here – they make me so happy. It’s a bit ridiculous.

We headed over to Johannesburg’s Park Station to catch the bus to Cape Town. I say we, because I was with a German guy from Waterford until I left Cape Town, so for a few days. Anyways, Park Station is really massive, and was quite chaotic. The building itself looks like any station in America, but there are all these women carrying these massive bags on their heads, and all these people speaking different languages.

Unfortunately, I had a ticket on City-to-City, and as they were on strike, I was met with a bunch of iron bars instead of a bus. I quickly bought another ticket on SA Roadlink, which I later discovered was the worst bus line in South Africa, but it was fine. Half an hour later, I was on a bus, sitting between two Zulu guys who kept offering me potato chips. I was on a different bus than the guy from Waterford I was travelling with, but we figured we’d just meet up the next day in Cape Town. I had no phone, but unlike him, I was pretty confident that we’d find each other again somehow.

Five minutes after taking off, we pulled into a gas station, and the driver announced a bathroom break. To my surprise, a bunch of passengers got off, and just as quickly, a bunch of hawkers came on. I swear, you could have bought a meal and a half from everything they were selling. There was verything from bananas to razors – bizarre, but convenient, if you wanted a banana and a razor. Soon enough though, they were shooed off, the passengers brought back on, and we continued on our way.

This gas station ritual was repeated just about every half an hour for the next twenty hours.

April 30th: Still on the bus, but we’ve left kwaZulu-Natal for the Cape, and the landscape has really changed. We’re driving through valleys full of vineyards. The yellowing leaves are arranged in these exact rows, speckled with the little white houses of the workers. All around are these jagged, rocky, tan mountains, with cliffs so vertical I’m not sure anyone has ever been up there. There’s this strange layer of fog, so that you can see the valley, and the peaks, but not the base of the mountain, as if they’re attached only to the clouds, but not to the ground itself.

It’s kind of surreal. Not just the mountains. Everything. 86 miles to Cape Town. These mountains are just so, so big.

Oh, and there are baboons everywhere. I sometimes feel the need to pinch myself, so I do, and the baboons are still there, which makes me extremely happy.

I found the guy from Waterford pretty easily in Cape Town, after minor problems. But we found each other, which I consider proof to be that you don’t need a cell phone. And if that’s not proof, I don’t know what is.

We wandered through the touristy bit of Cape Town for a while, with our tramp backpacks and gear absolutely not fitting in with the polos, khakis, and handbags of most of the tourists. We made our way to the bay, and while it was anything but a beach, we scrambled down the tetrapods and stuck our feet into the water.



Cape Town feels like a cross between Chicago and somewhere like Tampa, or maybe Key West. It’s a very bizarre town. We were staying on Long Street, which as I soon found out is essentially the drugs and party street (I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Go there, sure, but it’s not a great place to go to sleep). To quote a conversation we had with a man on the street that afternoon though: “When did you get here?” “Today.” “Ah, well then you definitely want to buy some weed from me!”

May 1st: My main goal today was to find the penguins. I knew that there was a natural penguin colony near Simon’s Town, and that there was a train to Simon’s Town, but that’s all I knew.

Despite all the warnings I’ve gotten about commuter trains in South Africa, we took the commuter train, and it was fine. The train itself was rather grungy and plastered with graffiti and advertisements for penis enlargements (although to be honest, all of Cape Town was plastered with ads for penis enlargements), but the view was so spectacular. The first half of the ride was boring, but suddenly the train just burst onto the coast, with the tracks running directly adjacent to the water. Where there were beaches, I just looked out the window and saw sand and surfers and waves. Where there were no beaches, I just looked out the window and saw nothing but the water. It felt like flying – the train was close enough to the water that you didn’t even see the bit of rocks below you, just the waves. I can barely describe it, but it was really, really awesome. This picture doesn't show the awesomeness, but at least it's something:


Getting off the train in Simon’s Town, it’s really touristy. It’s one of those “one-road-and-a-beach” towns, but they had penguins, and so there we were. I mean, how many chances do you get to see WILD penguins? I had to find them. Had to.

So, we set off in search of penguins. After ten minutes of walking with zero sign of them, I asked this adorable old lady in a toy shop to give us directions. She gave us this very detailed, but also very convoluted, set of directions to Boulder’s Beach, where the penguins are. We followed her directions through an industrial park, around what was called the “Institute for Marine Technology” (but what I secretly think is just a secret military base), and found our way to a beach. A few more minutes of winding through beaches, and we found ourselves at the entrance to Table Mountain National Park, where you could… pay R40 to see the penguins.

Now, I’m all for supporting conservation efforts and everything, but I was on a budget, and I wasn’t about to chip out R40 for these penguins. The guy from Waterford I was travelling with is too much of a hipster to pay admission anyways. As he quoted to me the night before, “Curse those who place a fence around a piece of land and claim it’s theirs. Curse the man who listens.”

So, we just walked along this random path without paying admission, hoping that maybe some penguins had stumbled away, and would stumble into us. Sure enough, after a few minutes, there was a penguin right next to the path, and then another, and another. They’re such bizarre little animals, but I was just so happy to see them!



After that, we wandered across some other beaches. We looked at anemones in a tide pool, watched a French kid beat up a jellyfish, tried to stop him, gave up, and attempted to make a seaweed lasso to capture tourists. Spoiler alert – it didn’t work.



May 2nd: After wandering around in the morning, making plans to climb Table Mountain, abandoning those plans in the face of fog, and realizing that at this point we wanted to do very different things with our remaining time in Cape Town, the guy from Waterford and I split ways. At first, it was bizarre to realize that I was wandering around Cape Town by myself, but it was really cool.

Being my nerdy self, first place I wandered into was a court room. Since Cape Town is the judicial capital of South Africa, I figured it might be interesting. Surprisingly enough, they didn’t even x-ray my backpack, and so I wandered in, and opened doors until I found some people standing at the front of one, talking. There was a woman sitting at the front, presumably the judge. Spectators like myself were seated at the very far back of what was already quite a large room. Voices from the front kind of filtered to our seats, but I couldn’t make out faces, as they were seated a bit lower down, and there was a wooden thing in between.

They were bringing people in, reading their charges, and asking if they wanted a lawyer. A bit disappointed that they weren’t running actual trials, it was interesting to see anyways. They all seemed to be murderers, which was one thing, but the other interesting bit was the language barrier.
The judge would ask what language they spoke, which was usually Xhosa, and then some woman from in front below the barrier would translate everything. I simply can’t imagine going to a court where I don’t speak the language. It doesn’t seem like a very fair shot.

Thirty seconds after each defendant was dragged in, these two big police guys dragged them out. The entire time, the judge just looked bored. I can’t imagine these trials are very fair.

Later that day, I was just tired, so I pitched up to the bus rank a bit early. The bus strike was there, much bigger than it was in Johannesburg. There were about a hundred people marching and singing in the station, and another couple hundred watching. The sign said that they were from SATAWU (The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union).

Compared to most strikes, I have to say that this one is less angry, and somehow more celebratory. People are singing, smiling, and dancing as they march. Empowered, I suppose would be the right word. The bizarre thing is the way that the police are involved. In America, the police are always looking like they have to be there, and that they’re against all the hooligans protesting in the streets. In Cape Town? The police were dancing right alongside the protesters, raising their fists into the air with the rest of the crowd.

I wish I could have given the money for my useless bus ticket to the protesters, instead of having it just sucked into the beyond.

Now, when leaving a town you’re visiting, especially one you haven’t had the chance to spend very much time in, you can’t help but wonder, “Have I seen this town? Really seen it?” I’ve spent two nights in Cape Town, which is essentially nothing. I’ve gone to the beach. I’ve been to the piers. I’ve walked through District Six. I’ve seen Long Street at three in the morning. Yet, the clouds made hiking Table Mountain pointless. I didn’t feel like paying the admission fee to the Apartheid Museum. I haven’t eaten in a restaurant at all.

Do I know Cape Town? Probably not. At least, not the Cape Town of the tourism books. They don’t write about how to avoid the police as you’re climbing on the rocks by the water. There isn’t any written page about where to find bus strikes and demonstrations. Tourists aren’t supposed to carry their backpacks into the courthouse. Nobody writes online reviews of bakeries overlooking gas stations.

So maybe, my time was wasted. Maybe I’m a fool for spending my time in Cape Town as I did. Maybe I missed “Cape Town,” but I think I found myself my own version of Cape Town, and that’s the point. So, maybe I missed what I was “supposed” to see, but that’s not to say that I didn’t see anything, and so I leave Cape Town happily.