Archive | March, 2012

teenager

30 Mar

It’s almost here! In less than two hours I will be sitting on a bus en route to Cape Town. After a 14-hour ride on a bus that may or may not break down (it happened to my friend Steve yesterday), I will finally arrive at my destination tomorrow morning. And so the most awesome two weeks ever shall begin.

On my itinerary: a professional rugby game, an Indian comedian, shark diving, ostrich riding, bungee jumping, cave exploring, swimming with penguins, standing at the most southwestern point of the African continent, visiting Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was in jail), seeing the Two Oceans Aquarium, riding a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, sand dune boarding, surfing, lying on multiple beaches, and turning twenty years old. It’s gonna be grand.

I’m leaving my computer behind because I’m not comfortable carrying it around with me to hostels (I’ll be staying in about ten different ones), and therefore I will not be able to tell my stories or post any pictures until I get back to Rhodes on April 15th. I’ll be in my twenties by then… I am eagerly awaiting the day that I am not a teenager anymore. When I tell my mom about things I want to do (such as backpack around India), the common response has been, “you’re nineteen.” With extra emphasis on the “teen”.

Well, I’m about to start a new decade in my life, with no “teen” to be found anywhere in it. In my twenties, odds are that I will travel more, graduate from college, get a job, meet the person I spend the rest of my life with, start a family, and become a real adult (as a college student, even though I’m somewhat independent, I feel like I live in a state of glorified childhood). As I begin this new chapter in my life, I am a little nervous… I want to make sure that I live my life to the fullest, not to waste it on stupid or unimportant things. And this is the time for me to live.

I have to go now– to finish packing and to start living. See you in two weeks!

This is from a late Christmas party we had one day in India. It has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I love this picture and I'm feeling festive right about now.

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sexual violence = silence

23 Mar

Today was heavy.

About a month ago, I signed up for the silent protest against sexual violence. I knew going in that I would be gagged all day and not be able to eat, drink, or talk. This morning, I woke up at 5 AM and went with my friends to the gym, where we received t-shirts and got our mouths taped shut. For me, the hardest part wasn’t not talking, it was not smiling. 1,500 of the 8,000 students at Rhodes participated in the protest. We all went to classes as normal, but those of us who were gagged couldn’t say anything, which was a little difficult for me because my Friday classes are discussion-based.

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There were several different levels of protesters. I was in the majority– girls wearing a Sexual Violence = Silence shirt who were gagged throughout the day. There were also boys wearing shirts that said ‘Solidarity With Those Who Speak Out’. The guys weren’t gagged. There was also a group of ungagged girls who supported the protest but couldn’t remain silent throughout the day for various reasons. The last group, which I feel encompassed the bravest girls of all, wore t-shirts that labelled them as Rape Survivors. I can’t even imagine how much strength it must have taken to wear those shirts.

There were several events throughout the day, but the last thing was the most intense. We all gathered together in front of the main administration building and all 1,500 of us walked down the main street of Grahamstown to the cathedral, where we broke the silence and people were allowed to share stories and reflect on the day. I was nowhere near mentally prepared for what I heard.

Girl after girl came up to the microphone to tell her story. I was overwhelmed by all the pain and suffering that so many girls my age have faced being rape victims. For three hours I listened to the horror stories as they relayed their experiences. One girl had gotten raped at a house party during her first semester at Rhodes. Another saw her own cousin raping her best friend, but didn’t tell anyone, and she felt responsible for her friend’s suicide a few months later.

I have been blessed to be raised in an environment where sexual violence is basically irrelevant to my life, and “rape” is a word I only hear on the news. But in South Africa, one woman is raped every six seconds. A woman in this country is statistically more likely to be raped than to learn how to read. This problem is real. I’m so honored to have been able to participate in this silent protest alongside all my fellow students who want to break the cycle of sexual violence in South Africa.

Sorry that this is such a serious post… I always like to try and add a little humor, but if you had heard the stories of all these girls tonight, you wouldn’t feel much like joking around either.

jbay adventure

22 Mar

So yesterday (Wednesday) classes were cancelled because it was Human Rights Day. One of my friends proposed that we rent cars and drive out to Jeffreys Bay, a small coastal town famous for its epic waves and the home of many international surfing competitions. My friends and I took two cars and made the three-hour drive out to JBay. After a few hours of walking around the surf shops and being sandblasted on the beach (it was crazy windy), we went to lunch at some place called Nina’s Real Food, where I ate my first Asian food (other than Indian food) in the past three months. Oh how I’ve missed pad thai… Then our real adventure began.

My friend Sara had heard about a place where we could zip-line off of a waterfall. With some hand-drawn directions from a nice man in a surfboard shop, we set out to find the Waterval. We drove out of the town, down a sketchy dirt road, and eventually ended up at a farm, complete with cows, chickens, and about twelve dogs running around all over the place. The nice people who owned the farm waived the 10 rand ($1.50) entrance fee for us because we were Americans and first-timers, telling us to have a good time and that they hoped we would come back again. Then we drove farther down a dirt road, looking for a waterfall. Just when we thought we had gotten lost, we found a little field where we parked the cars and a small path leading to the waterfall. It was like a hidden paradise… A waterfall running off a cliff about 15 meters high into a small lake, surrounded by trees and more cliffs. There was a zip-line running from the top of the cliff down into the lake. Some Germans were leaving as we were arriving, and they gave us some tips about what to do. I, being an adrenaline junkie, was so pumped to try it, and no one had a problem with me going first. I grabbed the handle and walked out to the edge of the rock. 15 meters is pretty high once you’re looking straight down. But I took a deep breath, held on tight, and stepped off the cliff.

I immediately fell off the zip-line and belly-flopped into the water from about 12 meters up. Through a little trial and error, we figured out that you need to keep your arms straight while you hold onto the zip-line. Otherwise it’s too jerky and you’ll fall right off like I did, and the next day your stomach and thighs will also feel like a giant bruise. Zip-lining was so fun though, and I got the hang of it out the second time around. No pain, no gain, right?

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Steve from Boston going off the zip-line

We ended up staying there for a few hours, until the sun set, forcing us to end our JBay day and make the drive back to Grahamstown. It was the best Human Rights Day ever.

Also, I forgot to write about last weekend, when I went with some friends to Addo Elephant Park. I got to see wild animals, such as elephants, warthogs, zebras, and more, up close and personal (well, from inside a Volkswagen). Then we spent Saturday night at a hostel. It was my first time to ever stay at a hostel, and I feel like I finally completed a rite of passage to become a real traveler.

On Sunday, we woke up at 5 AM to go on a sunrise game drive. I hadn’t planned on waking up before the sun, or how freezing it would be so early in the morning. I spent the two hour duration of the drive shivering in the cold. Ultimately I’m glad we went on a guided tour, because I learned a lot and we saw a few hyenas. Even though they were very far away from us, I could tell that they were huge and something about the hunched-over way they run reminds me of monsters. I would hate to run into one of those in the wild.

After the game drive, we climbed into the car, turned the heat as high as it would go, and drove to Port Elizabeth, where we visited the Seaview Lion Park. For 70 rand (a little less than $10), you could go into the cage with baby lions and “cuddle with” them. In my excitement to touch a baby lion, I didn’t question what exactly they meant by “cuddle”. I gave them my money and my friend Caitlin and I went into the baby lion cage. Apparently, “cuddle with” doesn’t mean hold or hug like I hoped it would. “Cuddle with” means rub the tummy of unconscious lion cubs that are the size of Labradors and would be too heavy to hold even if they were awake. It was still a really cool feeling to pet a lion though.

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Sleeping baby lion

I like South Africa more and more every day.

one hundred days

15 Mar

My Greyhound ticket has been bought! It’s official, I’m going to Cape Town on March 30th for the two-week break we get between terms at Rhodes. The first week will be spent in Cape Town, doing all the cool things around there. Then some friends and I will rent a car and drive back on the Garden Route, a scenic drive along the southern coast that ends in Port Elizabeth, which is only two hours from Rhodes. The Garden Route has many tourist attractions, like this:

Swan dive!

The Bloukrans Bridge, located on the Garden Route, is home to the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. I’m going to jump off this bridge.

We’re also currently in the process of reserving the cage diving trip for going in the water with the great white sharks. We have the choice of going to Seal Island (Shark Week, anyone?) or some other place near Cape Town that has earned the nickname of Shark Alley. They both sound awesome.

And on Saturday, I’m going to Addo Elephant Park to go on a legit safari. I’ll spend the weekend there. Everyone I know who has already been there got to see elephants, zebras, lions, and tons of other animals. I’m so excited to be able to see all these animals in the wild, without a fence separating us.

I’ve got exactly 100 days left in South Africa (I know it’s never good to count down the days, but I always do it anyway). My time is definitely limited. It comforts me to know that, finally, the ball is rolling… This next month is going to be crazy. But that’s what I’ve wanted all along!

elephant tongues

10 Mar

I haven’t written anything in a while because I’ve just been waiting for something big to happen. I’ve kind of had a hard time in Grahamstown so far because small towns are not my thing– I want to be able to travel and have cultural experiences and see everything South Africa has to offer, but the size and location of this town are not especially conducive to that. For all of you reading this from back home in Louisiana, Grahamstown reminds me of Ruston. Rhodes is like LA Tech, basically the life of the town, and there are no real cities nearby. Now imagine being in Ruston without a car and you have an idea of how frustrated I’ve been.

But things are starting to change. Like today, when I stuck my hand inside an elephant’s mouth.

I’ve joined a few clubs at Rhodes, one of which is the Zoological Society (ZooSoc). I heard that they had really cool trips, and the word “trip” was enough to convince me to sign up. On Thursday, we had a beginning-of-the-year braai (the South African version of a barbecue) and I got to eat roasted warthog, which was pretty cool. Then today, twenty of us went to Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary and the Kwantu Predator and Rehabilitation Center, about an hour’s drive from Grahamstown. First, at the elephant sanctuary, we listened to a presentation about elephants. I learned that an elephant has six sets of teeth, with each set lasting about ten years. When the last set gives out, the elephant will slowly starve to death, which can take up to five years. After this presentation, we watched the sanctuary’s four trained elephants do a short show (they walked around in circles and kneeled down and stuff). It was actually really impressive because I didn’t think African elephants were trainable– they’re known for being more aggressive than Indian elephants, which are the ones you usually see in circuses.

One of the elephants kneeling down

Then came the part I had been waiting for… The elephants came up to the fence where we were standing, and we got the chance to hand-feed them. There was a bucket of pellets, and we grabbed a handful and we had the choice of either pouring them into the elephant’s trunk or actually putting our hand inside the elephant’s mouth. The choice was easy for me. It was slimy and gross but an amazing feeling and totally worth it.

Feed us!

After we fed the elephants, we got back in our cars and went to the predator center. While we stood outside the gate, the guide told us never to run, and also not to crouch down inside the center, because that would make us look like prey to the animals. Then he told us not to stick our hands inside the fence, because first they would get electrocuted, then bitten off. After that nice mental image, we went through the gate to see the big cats. First, we saw the tigers. Tigers are not native to Africa (they come from India and other parts of southeast Asia), but the predator center has a tiger breeding program. I was so surprised at how close we were able to get to these animals. Even though there was an electric fence between us, at one point my face was less than a meter away from a tiger’s face.

It was RIGHT. THERE.

We also got to see about ten lions (including two white lions, which are rare because they don’t usually survive for very long in the wild) and three cheetahs. In the past, visitors were able to play with baby lions, but there weren’t any that were small enough. It was pretty disappointing (I mean who wouldn’t want to hold a baby lion?) but I had an awesome day at Kwantu.

I’ve also joined the surfing club at Rhodes, so once a week I get free transportation to the beach in Port Alfred, where I am being taught how to surf. Last week was my first time to actually touch a surfboard and I wiped out every time, but the waves were too “hectic” (as South Africans say) for beginners anyway. Hopefully this week I’ll be able to stand up for a second or two. This week I’m also going to be volunteering for the first time in a program called Inkwenkwezi, where I go to a local school in Grahamstown for one hour a week and help little kids learn to read in English. I’m kind of nervous because I have no idea what to expect, but I’m also really excited.

Well, that’s about it so far… I can’t believe that March is almost halfway over! There’s still so much I have to do before I come back to the states in June. I’m glad that I get to go home for a while in the summer though… Because in September I’ll be leaving again. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to study abroad somewhere else next semester. After I realized that there was a problem with my credits in South Africa, I started looking into other study abroad programs, and I found one in Istanbul, Turkey. Baylor has already approved me, and I’m almost finished with my application to the Turkish university. I’m already super excited and can’t wait for next semester, but at the same time I know I need to take advantage of the three remaining months I have in South Africa.

Good things are coming.

P.S.- I’m becoming awesome at making the clicking sounds in Xhosa. Prepare to be amazed when I get back.