Friday, June 22, 2012

"Sometimes you need to step down in order to take a step forward."

Twice a term, the school has a day of Social Development, in the township – so, the students organize different community service projects in Langa, like playing with kids at a daycare, visiting an elderly home, etc. I think it’s a wonderful way to instill the importance of giving back to their own community. I went to a daycare with some students and the computing teacher. The kids were SO cute.

It was really hard going to Langa, for me. The daycare, for example, had maybe 70 kids packed into this one little shack. And I kept looking around and thinking about the Children’s School at CMU and how the kids have iMacs there and specially-designed furniture and it got me so upset. But in both places, the kids are so happy/content - because that's what they've accepted as reality.

And even in South Africa, there are two extremes  - we drove through Simon’s Town last weekend, and this is an area of Langa.  I don’t know, I was just so upset yesterday and everything I ever complain about seems so stupid. And my respect for the students at LEAP increased exponentially. I really want to come back for a longer period of time. 

I think we need this world more than it needs us. If we spend too much time assuming responsibility for everything, assuming that the world needs us to fix it, we'll lose sight of the importance and value of humanity. Maybe, in some cases, all we could do is learn.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Second Week

So last Tuesday we went to a rugby game! South Africa vs. England. In the Cape Town Stadium! I think I get why nobody (except the U.S.) is really into American football. Rugby is kind of the way more intense version of it.

June 16th was Youth Day in SA. It’s a national holiday that commemorates the black students that fought, and were killed, for their education. In 1976, students were peacefully protesting against being taught only in Afrikaans, the prominent language of white people (South Africa currently has 11 official languages).

There was a big assembly at school on Friday, where Youth Day was celebrated.  Students spoke, danced, sang, acted, and performed. It was so much fun to watch! They are all so talented and creative, it made me so happy.


On Saturday, we went to Boulders Beach (where the penguins are!), Cape Point, and Cape of Good Hope. It was SO beautiful, words may not do it justice. 

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature, he writes, “Standing on the bare ground -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all…” 

Nature is so important. I started to actually appreciate it when we went the Grand Canyon last year. You just realize how small and insignificant you are compared to the whole world, but you also feel some sort of connectivity with everything. And you feel important, and free. And you could let the absurdity and nonsense and wonderfulness of the universe ripple through you and you just feel content, with everything:


On Sunday, we went to Robben Island. It was a frigid, cloudy day, but I think the weather suited the outing perfectly. It was so chilling. 

An ex-prisoner was our tour guide, and I was absolutely in awe of the way he spoke and carried himself. He bore no grudges, he just wanted to educate us.

We saw Nelson Mandela’s cell, and I can’t even tell you - how can someone spend 18 years in that small room, and come out so steadfast on a plight to overcome Apartheid? It would be so easy to just hate the world, not try to change it. 

One person asked the tour guide what he did wrong to end up imprisoned. The tour guide said, “No, no, no, it was what I did right.” 


I am in love love love with this place, with the diversity, with the people. I can’t believe how fast time is going. I was on the train this morning and I kept thinking about how much I’m going to miss it, how much I’ve learned already. I mean, I know it's only been two weeks, but I get attached to everything - sometimes, I feel bad throwing away my contacts because they've seen so much. Maybe adulthood means learning that things are transitory, and embracing the present moment. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

School, Long St., Shark Diving

AHHH there’s so much to talk about! I made subheadings so you don't have to read it all if you don't want to :)


Every Tuesday at school, there’s a ‘community meeting,’ where the student body, faculty, and staff just meet and talk about whatever issues are pertinent to that current week. It started off by everyone standing up and singing this really, amazingly beautiful Xhosa (I think) song. They have such wonderful voices.

Then we sat, and students would stand up and present ideas/reflections/arguments. It was so nice to see how maturely and articulately they spoke, and how confident each student was. They have such wonderful voices.

Even in class, the students are SO enthusiastic and eager to participate. It is so much fun to see. In a grade 10 English, we analyzed a John Donne poem, “Death Be Not Proud.” The teacher, Kira, asked what they think happens to us after we die, which ignited a really interesting discussion about religion - everyone was so open/accepting/understanding. Kira is an atheist, and most of the students were pretty religious. They asked me what I believed in, which is probably the most complicated question to ask me, I think. I said I was agnostic. 

After talking to the faculty, I learned that LEAP students are from the Langa Township, some from extremely impoverished areas. I know that sometimes I sound way too ridiculously overly-optimistic about everything, but I think learning the stories of these students has made me even more optimistic/hopeful about humanity. I've realized how real suffering could be, but also how much can be saved; how much happiness could be achieved; how education can play a role in that. The education system in SA has SO many problems, but seeing these enthusiastic students in class everyday is giving me some hope. I've also realized how hard it is for the faculty sometimes, but I wish I were here for longer than 2 months. I'm just so frustrated with suffering and want to learn things and change things and fix things and teach things (I really want to go on about this but it would be too long).

On Thursday, we had staff meeting. I was expecting yknow like an agenda and administrative stuff – but it wasn’t like that at all. We all sat in a circle, and just talked. One thing that I noticed in SA is that everyone here is so open – to talking about everything. Community meeting and staff meeting were perfect examples of that – people here are encouraged to reflect, to figure out their stance on any issue, and then to assert themselves.


Long St./Eating Crocodiles/Shark Diving

On Thursday, we had Drinks Night with everyone from my program, Connect 1-2-3. It was really fun! It was just SO weird drinking with faculty, like my program coordinator. Idk. But it was really nice meeting new people – almost everyone is doing different internships in Cape Town, so it’s cool being able to talk about different work experiences.

Anyway! Friday night we went to watch a documentary at the waterfront, and then we went to Long Street, which was just this … long street, lol, with bars and clubs and stuff. There were so many people, everywhere – and we kept running into Connect people, too. It was a really nice environment; there's so much more appreciation for music/just being able to dance.

And then! On Saturday, we planned to go to Robben Island, but it was sold out – so we just went shopping at the Waterfront. That night, to celebrate Daniela’s birthday, we went to this restaurant called Mama Africa – I had crocodile, ostrich, springbok, and kudu (antelope). Idk, I figured I may never be able to eat this kind of stuff anywhere else, and plus we were going shark diving the next day, so …

Great White Shark Diving! Okay. This was actually kind of a disaster. But a fun disaster. The boat that took us was really small and there were REALLY high, strong waves, and … I got seasick. Which is weird! Because I never get seasick. But it was cool because Jessica got sick too and we spent most of the trip throwing up from the railing, sometimes on the sharks. I kind of felt bad.

We finally felt okay for a short enough time to put on wetsuits and actually go diving though! So we got put in a cage, which was under water, where we were amongst the sharks and the fish. It was beautiful! It was so nice to be underwater, everything was so quiet. And the sharks were so cool! I’m so happy someone told me about how evolutionarily advanced they are, because I appreciated their features a lot more. We were so close to them! It was kind of scary in the beginning. I didn't take photos, but so many others did!

I can’t believe we’ve been here for 10 days! Time is so strange. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

First few days!

Oh my goodness. Where do I start.

So our plan to explore London failed; my flight from Newark got delayed and I ended up getting to Heathrow really late and then I went to the wrong terminal and couldn’t find Emma… so yeah. I spent most of my time reading though, which was nice. I finally found “The Swerve,” by Stephen Greenblatt, in a bookstore in Newark. It’s such a great book!

Awkward moment #1 happened on the first plane ride! I was asleep and I guess sometimes when I sleep I flail my arms around, which I didn’t know. So I fell asleep on the plane, only to be woken up by a startled woman next to me … and then I saw that I was inches away from slapping her in the face.  

I love airports. I did a lot of people-watching in Heathrow. I saw these two monks in their robes and got really excited, but then saw that they were looking at kindles at an electronic store. 

I dislike very few things in the world, but the idea of a kindle may be one of those things.  I completely understand how convenient it is, but I think there’s value – significance – in being able to fold and underline and have a physical text in front of you that portrays important ideas. Books are important.

Ever since self check-out aisles at supermarkets became a thing, I’ve been a little weary of too much technology.


The flight to Cape Town was SO nice! There was such a difference in atmosphere compared to my flight to the U.K. Everyone was talking on South African Airways – “Where are you going? Where are you from?” – it was so noisy, in a good way. People were so friendly. My first flight, however, was just … quiet. I don’t know. I guess more people mind their own business in our side of the world.

I met Emma at our gate (finally!). Our luggage arrived safely, thank goodness (I have another fear of losing luggage). We were greeted by a Connect 1-2-3 person and were driven to our apartment building.

OUR APARTMENTS ARE SO NICE. Here’s our view from the living room:

I met my roommates, Milou and Sarah, on my way up. Milou is from the Netherlands, and Sarah is from Sweden. They’re really cool people :)

I got a chance to unpack and shower, and then I went to orientation. Orientation was really overwhelming, just because there’s so much to do here, in such a small amount of time. The people and places and overall culture seems so fun, and warm, and exciting.

After orientation, a bunch of us went out to dinner. There were 16 of us, and we all managed to squeeze into two cabs. The place, called Rick’s, seated us on the top floor, which was kind of an open veranda type thing - it was more of a lounge with couches and a bar. It was a nice place to eat and still be social with a large group of people. There was this big heater in the middle to keep us warm – although the weather was surprisingly nice. I left with the first group to go home, because the 30+ hours of travel was starting to hit me.

The next day, we went to the Waterfront and met a lot of people from our program on our way. It was nice exploring Cape Town during the day. There were lots of street performers and musicians. 

I had Ostrich for dinner, and it was SO GOOD. We ate outside again, and we had such a lovely view of the pier. They also gave us blankets! 

And then! The next day was the first day of work. Me and another intern, Noni, met a guy who’s been here for a year at 7AM to walk to the train station.

The trains in South Africa are kind of crazy. There are no signs or announcements or anything about what stop you’re in/what stop is next. We just look for landmarks to figure out where we are. Also you have to open the door yourself at the stop. Oh man. Who would’ve thought that the Path and the subway system in NYC has spoiled me, haha.

Anyway! The school! Everyone is super friendly there. I was kind of awkward because the students have mid-term exams this week, so there was not much for me to do. I did get a chance to meet some students and faculty, though, and was greeted warmly. I’m really excited to actually start working.

I had lunch with the principal, Bonisile. There’s this diverse, family-like feel amongst the faculty.

OH another awkward moment: Bonisile and I were working towards his car, and, I, the American, am still used to the driver’s seat being on the left side. So he entered the right side, and I kind of followed behind him on the right/stood there/didn’t understand what was happening. Oh goodness.

I have SO much to say about what I learned about South Africa Education. I ended up helping this administrator organize articles in one of the offices, so I got to read a lot.

(you don’t have to read the rest if you don’t want to hahaha)

The school that I’m working in serves underprivileged black students – it’s a private school, but it’s free for the students. There are these big exams, the Matrics, that determine a student’s eligibility for college. Just recently, there has been a huge increase in the amount of students that have passed, but it’s because the standards became a lot lower. So there’s a lot of debate about how a lot of students who aren’t prepared for college pass still – but how maybe that’s needed for people who don’t have the opportunity to practice for these big exams.

Also, there’s the whole affirmative action debate here, too. It’s so interesting because apartheid was just recent; it’s so much more fresh of a wound here.

The weather has been beautiful, though, and the people have been more than wonderful. Ahhhhhh okay. Until next time.