Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hootie!



Our final post for the blog is that we have a new member of the family – a 9-week-old Havanese pup – currently going by “Hootie!” Upon our arrival back in Jax, we had a wonderful homecoming with Murphy and Kim’s family. Murphy was wagging his tail so hard that he could hardly keep his feet on the floor. We headed down to Bushnell (between Ocala and Tampa) for a visit with our potential puppy. He was just what we wanted and was ready to come home so we loaded him up and headed for Tallahassee Tuesday night – and all collapsed for several hours. Murphy was a bit overwhelmed at Lynn and Tom’s house (the breeders) with four puppies and four adult dogs underfoot but did well on the way home and seems to be tolerating, if not yet welcoming, the new little guy. Come by for a visit and to meet Hootie – would love to see you all! (Be prepared for pictures!)

We're home!

Phew! Flying half way around the world can take it out of you, but we made it safe and sound. Once again, we had a flawless trip (how many people can say that these days??? Every flight we took was perfect). All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip - academically, culturally, and socially. I'm hooked, and want to go back. It was also remarkable that we had no significant illnesses, injuries, psychosocial crises, or other dramas (save for that one day of weirdness at the hotel). I'm lucky for my first time doing this kind of a program.

So...back to the real world now. More news to come, though...

O-M-G! Final safari day


Off for our morning drive at 6:30. It was Sunday so there were lots of private cars on the road, too – busy with traffic. We drove and drove and drove and saw hardly anything…not even the elephants. They had moved on to the wilderness. A few impala here, a giraffe there…nothing much. It was a very quiet ride. We then said good-bye to our European friends and had our final afternoon drive to ourselves. Shawn asked us what we wanted to see, and of course the answer was a leopard! Otherwise, just take us to a cool spot even if there are no animals, and we’ll just see what we see on the way. We drove past the elephants (only 5 or 6 – not enough for us anymore and not close enough to the road) and to a place where they are keeping some African wild dogs in captivity while they are preparing them to be released back into the wild. Apparently, the alpha female of the pack of dogs was killed by a lion, and the males started mating with their “daughters.” They needed to separate the pack and introduce new females into the pack. They’ll be reintroduced into the wild in September. Shawn then drove us up a mountain road to this incredible viewpoint. It was peaceful and quiet and you could see forever and we ended up watching the sun go down up there- beautiful. And then we heard a lion roar. You guessed it…off we went. We came down the mountain and started to go find the sound when our light caught some eyes in the road…a brown hyena she thought. It crossed the road, look at us again and she said…it’s a leopard! She pulled the vehicle forward, and I expected it to dart off into the grass but it kept on coming – slowly. It crossed the road right in front of us again and went into the brush next to the road. I though for sure it was gone then. But it turned and walked parallel to the road – about 10 yards off. We turned around and followed it for a ways and then it had to cross another road. We just sat and waited, and there it was again. Shawn said this is very unusual behavior because they are typically very shy and most people just get fleeting glimpses. It was stunning, and an incredibly beautiful animal. We were lucky enough to see all the big five on our trip plus a whole lot more (we even saw a flat backed chameleon asleep in a tree – it should have been in hibernation – who knows?) I have officially run out of superlatives for this trip.

I had previously mentioned that we had celebrated Kim’s birthday on this trip, and Shawn (who is also the manager of this place) said that for special occasions, they provide a private meal in our cottage. When we returned from our evening drive, we went back to our cottage and found a roaring fire and beautiful table set for us. The chef and waiter arrived to announce our dinner menu and take our main course orders. We had a lovely meal in our cottage that lasted almost two hours and Kim was ready to fall asleep in her dessert. The waiter came to take away our final dishes followed by someone bringing the hot water bottles to keep our toes warm. Divine!

So that was the safari trip - it exceeded my wildest hopes for the trip.

Monday, July 28, 2008

O-M-G! Safari Day 2


Off for our very early lion hunt at 5:30 am – no sun at that point (did I mention that it was cold without the sun??) Here’s the outfit: long sleeve shirt, fleece pullover, fleece vest, fleece jacket, windbreaker/raincoat, jeans, two pairs of socks, and a hat – eventually, Shawn loaned me her gloves, too, oh yes, and a wool blanket. Aside from my cheeks, I was pretty toasty. OK – perhaps it was overkill, but I wasn’t complaining about being cold which, as most of you know, is my modus operandi.

We were the first ones on the road (there are probably 4 different vendors that are driving the park – seemed like maybe 8-12 game vehicles at any given time). Cruising out to the place where the lions had been reported, we saw MORE elephants (well the same ones just in a different spot). We hung out there for awhile again and then off we went. The sun started coming up so Shawn was able to start looking for tracks on the road, too. Eventually she spotted a track. We were all gazing into the distance looking for anything that resembled a lion (and in a park filling with rocks and boulders, lots of things do), when she slams on the breaks and there is “Kitamese” not more than 10 feet in front of us and walking right past us. Kitamese is a male with a magnificent mane. He was walking away from us toward a dam where, it turns out, two of his sons were with a wildebeest kill. We watched as long as we could before losing him in the brush and then went over to the dam. We saw the two adolescent males playing with each other, and eventually saw Kitamese stroll over the ridge. Each of the boys separately ran over to him and did what can only be described as face nuzzling. Then dad walked over to the kill, grabbed this wildebeest and startes dragging him into the shade – it was his meal now. The sons were none too happy about that and tried to stop him but he shooed them away. I bet he dragged that carcass about 200 yards. He would stop and rest about every 10 yards or so. And then he was gone. Wow! Time to head back after that with our usual assortment of impala (very common), zebras, elephants, giraffes, and wildebeest…with a couple of warthogs thrown in, too. We got to the road taking us to our lodge and there were two rhinos blocking the road. They let us get right up to them. They stopped to check us out but eventually just moved on so we could get through. We never felt scared being so close to the animals. Shawn would talk us through each encounter to explain what to do and what to look for to know we were safe – various things from their demeanor to the look in their eyes, etc. So we’re back at the lodge now…must be time to eat!

We said goodbye to our Utah friends and had some time to rest, shower, read, nap. There is a watering hole outside of the lodge that was frequented by animals. When we got here on Friday, there was a giraffe munching away on a tree, and today, there were lots of zebra (which rhymes with Debra) and wildebeests just hanging out.

We had new trip companions on the afternoon drive – a couple, one from France and one from Italy. Off we go and what do we see? Elephants – same group but they were moving further away. Shawn got us access to a private road so we had them all to ourselves – another indescribable experience. Truly…you just can’t imagine what it’s like to be surrounded by a herd of elephants. On this trip, we were also introduced to kudu, springbok, and red heartabeest, which is the second fastest in the antelope family. Then, more unintelligible Afrikaans over the radio and off we go. She wouldn’t tell us what we were chasing, but whatever it was, it was on the move. We go to one spot – nothing. A second spot – nothing. More Afrikaans and off to a third spot before she finally tells us they’ve spotted the cheetah (the one and only cheetah in the park). She finds it in her binocs, but it’s far away and dusk out. We go to a spot where everyone thinks it’s heading (there were about 5 other vehicles there) and…no cheetah. No one knows where it went, but it disappeared. By now it’s dark – more Afrikaans on the radio, and off we go. This time we learn that we’re on a lion hunt, and once again, Shawn was the one to find them…a male and a female. We tracked them for awhile as they moved parallel to the road we were on and then we moved up to the spot where they were going to cross the road. We had a front-row seat to the lioness roaring several times – calling for her family and the majestic male following her. As they say here, we were all quite chuffed (happy). Back to the lodge – more eating (I never made it past the 4th course and that was with only eating about ½ of what was on my plate). The thing I tried tonight was springbok carpaccio – not my favorite although I couldn’t get past the fact that I was eating raw meat. I had a couple of bites, though…

What a day!

O-M-G! Safari Day 1

We left our rental car at another lodge at the Pilanesburg park and were picked up and transported to Tsukudu Lodge. There were 132 steps up to the lodge (which is the only thing I’m not going to miss about this place). We arrived to our cottage (1 of 6 on a hilltop overlooking a watering hole and a great valley that attracted a number of animals.) and were there long enough to put down our stuff and return for high tea at 3:00 - generally some type of salad, some type of a hot dish, cheese and crackers, and some dessert. Then we were whisked off on our first drive with a family from Utah. Our guide, Shawn, who ended up driving us on every trip, asked what we wanted to see. Having missed the elephant the first time around, we said we wanted to see those and otherwise just show off the beauty of the park and it’s animals. Our first sighting was of rhino – there were 3 including a 3-month old baby that Shawn watched being born. Then she said “gotta go” because something had come over the radio about a sighting (the guides speak in Afrikaans when they’ve spotted something) and we needed to get there. A few minutes later we arrived to find…ELEPHANTS! And more elephants, and still more elephants! We were surrounded by probably 100 of them…on the road, crossing the road, next to us, behind us, in front of us. Several times we had some come to check us out. And they had several babies (one 2-3 weeks old) with them and they still seemed totally unconcerned about our presence. They were close enough to us that…well…did you know that elephants have very long eyelashes??? We probably spent 30 minutes just sitting there before we were ready to move on and the road was clear enough for us to do so. It was spectacular. I learned that elephants live about 60 years because they have 6 sets of teeth that last about 10 years each. When they’re done with teeth that’s it…they essentially starve to death although Shawn says they usually get “taken down” before then (a euphemism for hunted by predators). They eat constantly and they are incredibly destructive creatures. They snap off tree branches with their trunk to eat the bark and layer just inside the bark and also use a combination of their trunks and feet to rip bushes off of the ground. They apparently don’t have very good digestive systems and therefore need to eat 200 kilos of food a day (about 440 lbs of leaves and grass). Shawn insisted we smell fresh elephant dung which she handled – surprisingly fresh like hay.

Next up, giraffe, wildebeest, and a stop for a “sundowner” (drinks and snacks at a place to be able to watch the sunset). The nighttime drive is to search for the cats and other nocturnal animals. Lions and leopards are the prizes (I was wrong when I said last post that we were after cheetah as one of the Big 5 – it was leopard). If we saw any, it would be lions. Leopards apparently are very shy and are hard to find because they don’t vocalize the way lions do, and there is only one cheetah in the park). Did I mention that it was cold? Biting cold??? When the sun goes down and you’re driving in an open game vehicle with the wind, it is nasty cold. Pilanesburg park is a desert climate zone so the temperatures can go below freezing and above 120. Our temps were probably between 45 and 70, although the sun really warms things up nicely. They do provide nice wool blankets so that it’s not that bad if you’re dressed properly. The second half of the trip was after dark, and the way they do that is to have spotlights on the side of the vehicle, and then the guide sweeps a light (very powerful) back and forth. The goal is to look for the eyes of the animals. We saw black-backed jackel, a spotted eagle owl, and a steenbok, which is the tiniest member of the antelope family. The owls were often found sitting in the middle of the road as it is apparently easier to catch the rodents who are running across the street that way (seems like cheating to me…). No lions, though. Shawn was convinced that we would see some in the morning, though, and suggested leaving an hour earlier in the morning. So, we turned around and headed back toward the lodge - there were the elephants again. Still in basically the same area, still eating away, still crossing in front of us back and forth. One was apparently pretty tired and laid down to nap for a bit. We had no idea how long we were going to be sitting there and watching. Turned out to be not such a long time – 5 minutes maybe before it got up and ambled away. Then we saw a hippo out of water (eating, of course) and finally made it back about 3.5 hours later. We had enough time to drop off our stuff before we returned for our 6 course dinner! Gourmet, of course. Tonight it ostrich filet (pronounced fill-it here) with risotto…this was the fanciest place I’ve been to where I could hang out in jeans and a sweatshirt and not feel severely underdressed.

Here’s the general schedule for this place: 6 am wake up, 6:15 tea and biscuits, 6:30 leave on the morning drive (scheduled for 3 hours), 10:00 am brunch, 3:00 high tea, 3:30 leave on the afternoon drive (scheduled for about 4 hours), and then dinner at 8:00. Eat, sleep, drive – that was about all we did. On day 2 however, we’re searching for lions so were up at 5 and off by 5:30. Fabulous!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Quick Note

We've reached Pilanesburg National Park and are awaiting our transport to Tshkudu Bush Lodge. We got here early because the Apartheid Museum didn't open when we thought it did, so we decided to leave and go to Sun City. When we arrived there, they wanted to charge us to drive into the city. Imagine having to pass through a gate and pay an entrance fee to Las Vegas (supposedly that's what Sun City is modeled after...an oaisis built in the desert). So we have some time to kill here.

Thank goodness for GPS. We rented one in Jo-burg and were very happy we did - I doubt we would have found where we were going last night or today. Of course, when I was setting it up I hit the "shortest route" rather than "quickest route" button which ended up taking us through all different slices of life in the neighborhoods of the city.

I believe that the security industry is probably the largest employer in SA (actually, the country code is ZA or Zed A as it's called here). There is razor wire or electrified wire running over the top of just about every fence (and just about everything is fenced). There are also guards that monitor all of the doorway entries to places, and the guards that were placed at the hotel escorted us places whenever we requested (like to an ATM machine). Still and all, we never really felt unsafe.

Off on our safari - and since spending a relaxing time in the wild is the perfect setting for a competition, we're looking for the Big 5 - and apparently in the past couple of days, they've been spotting the ones we haven't seen...elephants, cheetahs, and lions. No contact for awhile - we'll try to check back in early next week.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random thoughts

As I was thinking about what to put in this blog, it occurred to me that it might be the last one for awhile. We leave tomorrow for Jo-burg and then off to Pilanesburg National Park for our vacation! Maybe our hotel in Jo-burg will have internet and I can fill you in on the Apartheid Museum (our primary destination in Jo-burg).

Anyway, here are some random thoughts…

• There are 12,000 registered social workers for a country of 47 million people (give or take a million or so). We heard from the Deputy Minister for Social Development who said that the recently passed Children’s Policy will require a minimum of 16,000 social workers just to fully implement that one policy. That doesn’t address any of the other needs (although we know that no one specializes…these folks do it all).

• The faculty at UKZN indicated that they are under heavy pressure to admit more students in order to increase the number of trained social workers in the country. They have 6 faculty and have decided to admit 125 per year. SW is a 4-year degree while most bachelor degrees are 3.

• The social workers that we met were mostly Indian, with a few Blacks, particularly doing the HIV/AIDS work. However, I don’t know if that was a function of the fact that the woman who helped us arrange the visits is Indian and these were the agencies she knew the best. Most of the social workers are supported by paraprofessionals who seem to have come up from the ranks…starting as service recipients, moving to volunteers, and then to paid staff. UKZN did tell us that 90% of their students were Black, so the demographic makeup of the workforce is bound to be changing in the coming years.

• The agencies we visited were all NGOs. Some received a modicum of their funding from the government, Hope Worldwide and the Advise Desk for Abuse Women relied on donations of private money or grants.

• Colloquialisms: Instead of “you’re welcome,” folks say “pleasure.” Grandmothers seem to be referred to as Grannies here, and “shame” is used as if saying “that’s too bad.”

• The racism here has been shocking on two levels. First, there are the blatant comments made to us, e.g., “black people aren’t too smart and I don’t think they could come up with this. They may be sneaky, but they’re not too clever.” This from the hotel manager who didn’t think it was his housekeeping staff who ransacked a room. That’s only one example…there are others. The second shocking element was the presumption that because I’m white, that I would be a kindred spirit and surely must share their ideas. Several students described similar experiences. I keep reminding myself that they are only 14 years post-apartheid and that these attitudes are going to take generations to change. And of course, the two people I met here I truly thought were idiots were white.

• Ethnic food run-down: Indian, Pakistani (not much difference between the two as I’m sure you might guess), Ethiopian, and African. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but I’ve had my fill of Indian food. It’s been delicious, but I think between the meals provided to us and the restaurants we’ve selected on our own, we’ve had curry just about every day that we’ve been here. Kim had had a couple of seafood dishes, although apparently it’s hard to select a dish when you’re not familiar with the fish. She had good luck with a hake. Other local fish include kingklip and dorado, along with mussels, calamari, prawns, etc.

• We’ve had 5 birthdays on the trip (including Kim’s) and everyone has done a great job of making the birthday girl feel important despite being a long way from home. The students all signed a card for Kim, and have generally treated her like one of the gang.

• Did I mention the shark dive? Several students went on a shark dive and one student managed to have the shark bite the cage directly in front of her. It apparently was right out of Jaws.

• Kim had a lovely trip to Pietermariztburg on Monday. She rented a car and jumped in to drive away and then realized she was on the passenger side. Aside from that, most of the driving was uneventful. She was visiting a former co-worker who was at FSU getting her PhD and then returned to SA. She lives about an hour north of Durban in an area that they call the Midlands. She says it looks like an English countryside…like the Cotswolds (sp?) for those of you who have traveled through England.

• Did I also mention that I’ve had it with hanging out with students for awhile? While these folks have really been fun and thoughtful people, they are still students!

Well...I guess that's it for now. Off to a very interesting-sounding plenary session on globalization, women, and children.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Low-key Updates



Hi all,
We've been having a low-key time of it these past few days. The conference opened on Sunday evening and the 10-yr old who gave the keynote was beyond remarkable. He tossed around terms like neo-liberal economic policies, oppression, hegemonic, and corporate greed like a pro. He gave a 30-minute speech, and of course, his head could barely be seen over the top of the podium. He is in his second year as an engineering student at Purdue University. He was discovered by conference organizers when his father, who is a professor at Northeastern University in Illinois, was invited to SA to talk about his research on influencing cognitive development in the womb (or something like that). He brought both of his sons to serve as case studies (9 and 11 at the time). He clearly did an amazing amount of research for this presentation as there was nothing that qualified him to give this speech except for the novelty of being a 10-year old genius.

I've wrapped up the formal stuff with the students so the rest of the trip seems like smooth sailing. The ones I've run into so far at the conference seem to be enjoying themselves, and it even seems like most of them have shown up! Imagine that.

We spent the weekend browsing and relaxing. We went to a mall on the north side of Durban that is supposed to be the largest mall in Africa. I felt like I was in a different place going there. If you're wondering, huge malls are huge malls no matter where you are. And the biltong??? A disappointment. It's supposed to be like jerky and a favorite in SA, but I found it a bit greasy and more like week-old meat than jerky. However, we did see someone climbing the highest rock climbing wall in the world, but didn't see anyone surfing on the artificial surfing wave. Several students did try surfing over the weekend with varying success and a wide array of bumps and bruises.

On Saturday evening, Pat, Kim, and I went to the house of one of the members of the social work faculty at UKZN who worked with us on setting up the visits. She is Indian and made us a traditional dinner. What was strange is that the traditional dinner didn't seem to involve our hosts eating with us! We asked Tanusha (our colleague) to join us eating and she got a bowl for herself, but no one else ate. They all had a variety of reasons for not eating but it definitely seemed like a dinner FOR guests rather that WITH guests. However, the evening was delightful. There were 3 generations around and it was a rousing night of conversation. The children (ranging in age from 2 to 10) put on a little performance for us dancing to a song from a Bollywood movie. It was fun.

Everyone (me, included) seems to have relaxed quite a bit about the safety issues. The students have been able to find some places to hang out in the evening and have found some spots with diverse customers. I wish that they hadn't been so over the top about safety when we first arrived. No one has had any problems and I'll know better if I come back here again. There is no need to tempt fate of course, but it seems like basic safety strategies and common sense are enough.

The pic is of the market that is along the street across from our hotel. These folks are called informal merchants.

By the way...did Charlie Christ really propose to someone?!?!?

That's all for now...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!


Did you know that Kim shares a birthday with Nelson Mandela? There is a documentary on TV tonight about his life. They’ve been describing his time on Robben Island, which is giving life to our tour there. He continues to be revered here and there are celebrations throughout the country for his 90th birthday. Whites and blacks describe him as a national hero and at least in my experience, the whites haven’t had much good to say about blacks here so that such glowing descriptions from whites have been notable.

We’ve finished a week of site visits to a variety of agencies. We’ve been to a couple of child welfare agencies the past two days and they provide a much broader range of services than child welfare. In addition to protective investigations, foster care, and adoptions, they also do general family counseling, youth empowerment, domestic violence, and of course, everyone is drawn into the HIV/AIDS crisis in SA. The second agency also did community development (e.g., micro enterprise), and adult literacy. Everyone we spoke with had such a capacity to celebrate success rather than dwell on the enormous challenges. And believe me – the challenges are enormous, and the social workers we met just roll up their sleeves and say, “let’s get to work.” It was mentally exhausting and inspiring at the same time.

We’re off this weekend before the conference starts on Sunday evening. We’re in search of biltong today, Shari – will let you know. The conference opens with a 10-year old keynote speaker – his is an engineering student at Purdue (along with his 12-year old brother). I’m sure I’ll have something interesting to say about that! And by the way, it’s now been 3 days without incident at the hotel so I think that crisis has passed – phew!

Hope all is well!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I'm Earning My Salary

Another eventful couple of days to report on. On Tuesday we went to the University of Kwa Zulu Natal (UKZN) to meet with the social work faculty and several social work students. They gave us a presentation on social work education and what social work looks like in SA. To my colleagues: the young man (Mthobisi: Mmm-toe-beesee) who is coming to do his fieldwork at FSU this fall is quite impressive. He gave a presentation on some of the work that he has done in a local settlement.

On Wednesday, we visited two agencies, one for domestic violence, and the HIV/AIDS program at a hospital that is in the forefront of the fight against the pandemic in South Africa. The DV program was interesting in that they used much of the same language as we do about DV (e.g., power/empowerment, victim advocacy, control, etc) but the focus is very different (at least at this program – I don’t want to overgeneralize). There was quite a focus on counseling and marital therapy. The shelter – which was currently empty because they have no funding to admit victims – doesn’t allow children over the age of 5, and they reassess a case after a week to determine if they’re ready to leave, although victims can stay longer if they need. Protective orders can last for up to 30 years.

McCord Hospital is doing some amazing work. We heard from the social workers who support the palliative care program and the pediatric AIDS program. It’s all so overwhelming to me, and they all talked about the importance of balance and keeping a sense of humor because the problems in SA are so acute that any type of a caring professional would get very depressed if they didn’t. The students seem to really be enjoying these visits and they are all working out very well.

However, what has preoccupied most of my day (and evening) was that the same students whose room was ransacked had a hotel employee enter their room at 6:45 am without knocking, and then, without apologizing, said he thought there was a maintenance problem reported but that it must have been a mistake. Needless to say, everyone is on edge and we spent much of the day trying to find a different hotel. Of course, none could accommodate the size of our group for the number of days that we need, so the best we could do was get everyone on two floors rather than spread out around the hotel, and we have asked for increased security on our floors. And then, one of the most horrible parts was that the student identified the employee she believed entered her room. He denied doing it. The manager attended a meeting with all of us and said not to worry that they have a particularly effective interrogation method; they take a latex glove and anchor it under his nostrils and pull it over his head and then put a hand over his mouth. He assured us that it was a sure fire way to get a confession. He indicated that it was the primary method of interrogation used by the SA police force. I swear…

Went out for a local beer (Castle) and some yummy Indian food – very self-regulating – and were able to relax and get ready for tomorrow – and whatever it may hold.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2 Down, 3 To Go


What a couple of days we’ve had! We headed out on Sunday morning for a 3½ hour drive to Hluhluwe (pronounced shlu-shlu-wee) game reserve which is the second oldest national park in the world – second only to Yellowstone. The morning started eventfully as we left 30 minutes late when a student couldn’t get out of her room. Something happened to the locking mechanism and she couldn’t open the door from the inside. They got her out just before they were going to break the door in!

We got on the road about 7:00 and headed toward the reserve. There is quite a sugar industry in these parts. For about 70 miles, on either side of the road for as far as we could see was sugar cane. They do all of the harvesting by hand here. There is quite a controversy right now because apparently the sugar cane is burned prior to cutting, which makes the harvesting easier and cheaper as more cane fits on the trucks. Environmentalists are trying to get a law passed prohibiting the burning because it isn’t necessary for harvesting, and is contributing to global warming. That law is being resisted by the sugar industry.

Then we got to the park and hopped into 3 open jeeps sitting about 10 each. This park is home to “the big 5” game animals of Africa – lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant. They are so named because they are the most dangerous to hunt. Turns out that far more people are killed by encounters with hippos, but they are easy to hunt.

As soon as we got into the park we saw zebras and giraffes. They apparently hang out together because zebras have good eyesight for distance and are able to detect prey better than giraffes. If the zebras take off, so do the giraffes. We also learned that giraffes sleep sitting down, but can’t put their heads on the ground because it affects (I think) their blood pressure and it would kill them if they did.

Let’s see…further on down the road we saw impalas, which apparently are quite common (haven’t eaten one of those yet…). Males and females are segregated with the dominant male in the herd staying and mating with the females and the rest of the males trying to take his place. Following that were the white rhinos (momma and baby) followed by nyala – another member of the antelope family. We also saw evidence of elephants…they apparently knock down trees (big ones) to eat the roots and have very big feet! This park needs to control the number of elephants they keep in the park or they wouldn’t have any trees left (and that’s quite a statement as there is no shortage of trees).

We had a delightful buffet lunch high on a hilltop with a gorgeous vista off the patio. We also learned that we were the only group that didn’t see an elephant…we were on a mission for our afternoon drive…we weren’t leaving without seeing an elephant! We saw tons of birds, and for our birding friends, I have to admit that I don’t know the name of one (although there were a couple of types of eagles). It’s difficult to stop the car to get information on a bird that is long gone by the time the driver stops. We did gaze admiringly at them on your behalf, though.

We saw a bunch of rhinos, zebras, and giraffes in the afternoon, all kinds of antelope-type animals, vervet monkeys, a mongoose, cape buffalo, wildebeest, AND…..no elephant. Oh well, the students with us were slightly disappointed, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for our next safari in a couple of weeks in Pilanesburg.

Our fabulous day wasn’t over yet, as we headed to our lodge for the night. We stayed in the Ubizane Tree House Lodge, which had 24 individual cottages on stilts in a reserve, and there were all kinds of animals about…warthog, impala, nyala, and monkeys everywhere. We stepped out onto the balcony and there were monkeys in the trees, on the steps to the lodge, and in the bedroom of the cottage next to us. Pesky critters those monkeys! It got cold at night, and the rooms had no heat, and in fact, had shutters with screens open to the outdoors. Although sleeping was fine, getting out of bed in the morning and into the shower took every ounce of psychic strength I had.

Our next venture was to a place called Shakaland. It was the site of a mini-series made about King Shaka of the Zulu nation and following completion of the movie, the Zulus decided to keep it setup as a living museum. We had a guide walk us around and explain some of the traditions of the Zulus (including polygamy, which they still practice today, although it costs 11 cows to take a bride…). They had sites to show us weaving and beer brewing, and a replica family krall (like a corral). Then they introduced us to a medicine man (almost always a man) and a type of a spiritual leader whose title I can’t remember anymore. They finished with some traditional dances. The whole experience left many of us feeling quite ambivalent. Learning some of the history of the Zulus and hearing about their cultural traditions was very interesting. However, there were also a few of the “performers” who didn’t at all seem into what they were doing, and although it could have been for many reasons, it came across to many of us like exploitation. I don’t know if I’d take a group back there although it did seem to prompt interesting conversations. The only excitement on the way home was a student who absolutely could NOT wait until the rest stop to go to the bathroom so we stopped the bus on the highway so she could pee on the side of the road. It gave us all a good chuckle.

So that’s about all…we’ve had a couple of hotel issues (one room got ransacked when we were away, so now all of the students are declining housekeeping services), but I think we’ll survive. We have a busy week of site visits coming up before the conference starts next week. Hope all is well in your world and we’ll be back in touch again, soon!

Saturday, July 12, 2008




We had quite a full day on Friday. We took an all-day Cape peninsula tour that started at 8:30 and got back around 6:00. Since I’ve focused on the weather so much I’ll keep on…it was a gorgeous day for the most part – sunny and warm enough that at least one student was in a tank top (albeit for a short time and after a fairly arduous hike)…the rest of us – sweatshirts.

It was a wonderful tour and here is a summary of sights and miscellaneous knowledge imparted to us by our guide Theo (pronounced Tayo). Our first stop was in Hout Bay. The place was definitely set up for the massive tour busses that must rumble through regularly because it was filled with vendors of African arts and crafts including a man with a seal on the dock who was feeding fish to the seal out of his mouth (and for 10 rand we could take a picture with the seal). Hout Bay was originally a whites-only community although there has been additional development so the community has become more integrated. Well…not integrated but mixed-race. It is still quite segregated. We saw many day laborers standing around; Theo indicated that typical wages were about R100 per day, or the equivalent of about $12.50.

Along the way to our next stop we saw some Southern Right Whale. This was very early in the season, and Theo assured us this was the first sighting of the season. The Right Whale is so named because it was so easy to hunt; it is a slow swimmer and the body floats after it has been killed making it easy to drag to short (hence they were hunting the “right whale”). The height of the whale season here is Sept-Oct (the full season is between Aug-Nov).

During the Apartheid era, there used to be four official departments of education: one each for whites, coloureds, Indians, and blacks. Each had a different curriculum, different books, etc. As an example, the government decided that blacks had no need to learn math. You can imagine that this serious under-education has had a significant impact on the availability of human capital to progress as a country.

Went to Cape Point and the nearby Cape of Good Hope. These are both located in a national park and we had some interesting animals sightings. The Cape of Good Hope is the southwestern most point in Africa, although we were still quite a distance from Antarctica. The Cape of Good Hope is about parallel with Buenos Aires, Argentina. We saw several very bold baboons in the park and there were signs all over the place warning that they are aggressive around food. Sure enough, at least two students had food snatched by baboons, and the park employs people whose job it is to chase them away from the eating areas - using sticks, throwing rocks, and using slingshots. Theo told a story of needing to shoo out 30-40 baboons from his brother’s house because he had left the window open. He said that the place looked liked it had been ransacked – drawers dumped, jars opened, refrigerator cleaned out, etc. Along the way, we also saw eland, ostrich, and at the end of the trip, zebra.

By now we’re into the afternoon and heading over to Boulders Bay where we got to see real Cape penguins. Well…not that the other ones weren’t real, but these were not in captivity. They were absolutely adorable (stinky, too).

Our day ended at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately, most of us were wiped out, and we had lingered too long over the whales, so we were down to about 30 minutes. It was a quick in and out.

Off to Durban today – it’s been going remarkably smooth transporting 27 of us around places. We’re going on our safari tomorrow and we’ll be gone for the next couple of days. Keep your fingers crossed that we’ll have lots of exotic animals stories to tell upon our return. The pics this time were from the Cape of Good Hope.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Foodie Update

We went to an Ethiopian restaurant tonight – Addis on Cape. Deeee-licious. All of the dishes were served in a big bowl so that we could share everything. You eat with your fingers using an Injera to grab a biteful of food. Injera is a sourdough pancake and you tear off small pieces to use with the food. We had two vegetarian dishes – one with mushrooms and one with lentils, and two meat dishes – one chicken and one beef. The spicy dishes were made with a berbere sauce, which is (according to the menu) milled dried chilis, garlic, onions, ginger, cloves, and cardamom. The mild sauce is a kibe, which is clarified butter with fresh herbs, turmeric, and cardamom. Both of the vegetarian dishes were our favorites. I wonder if the Food Network has any Ethiopian recipes (better yet…we can just check the website of Cindy McCain for some old family recipes…).

Gotta wear shades...

Well it was inevitable...it couldn't possibly rain the entire time. Today (Thursday) it has been bright and sunny all day. Yesterday, we were scheduled to go to Robben Island, and that got canceled because of the rain. I don't think I realized how much stuff there is to try and manage on these kinds of trips. Call the bus driver, call the travel agent, call the airlines for missing luggage, fix the broken cell phone, reschedule activities, etc. I thought I was going to be teaching...

Our Robben Island trip was rained out yesterday so we all went in our separate directions and hoped that at some point, the rain would stop. I saw headlines in the paper about flooding and that towns were cut off because of flooding on the roads. My first thought, of course, was not "oh how terrible" but "please don't let that be the route we are taking for our all-day tour on Friday" (it's not). However, I did have a very interesting meeting with a woman from Hope Worldwide who arranges the service activities they host...she gave me some good ideas to think about for bringing students back to engage in some volunteer service activities.

And then...we went to an African game restaurant for dinner. Those of you who know me will know just how astonishing it is that I ate a kebab of ostrich, kudu, and eland (I'm pretty sure the last two are part of the antelope family of animals). I also tried warthog and oxtail. Honestly, there was not a significant difference in taste since they were all marinated in the same spices, but the texture was slightly different. And all delicious. Kim had an ostrich steak. We went with 10 students, and only two ordered chicken!

I'm quickly learning that South Africa is quite a mixture of fun and interesting (e.g., the game dinner) and gut-wrenching. Today we rescheduled our trip to Robben Island - the "home" of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners during apartheid (the cell below is where Mandela spent 18 years of his imprisonment). We had a 45 minute boat ride across the bay that gave motion sickness to the strongest stomachs among us. We then took a driving tour around the island and they pointed out the limestone quarry where the prisoners did hard labor. They had no use for the limestone that was being dug, so for 8-hours a day, 5-days a week they would put the limestone in piles and then move the piles from one end to the quarry to the other, or build useless roads on the island, as Mandela said "roads to nowhere". We had a former political prisoner give us the prison tour (the second photo), and he gave a very powerful presentation of the daily life and torture he experienced - beginning at the age of 16. He also gave a poignant and inspiring speech about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation in building a future for SA. The tensions, however, are all still very alive to listen to the stories of the students who have had the chance to go out and meet some local folks.

Kim and I are preparing to go around the mountain to Camps Bay to watch the sunset and have dinner tonight. Totsiens! (Bye in Afrikaans).


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

HELP!!!! Ark Needed!

Today I looked out the bus window and saw the top of Table Mountain...oh...now it's gone. It has been one long dreary stretch of rain, wind, and cold. Note to self...July isn't the best time to visit Cape Town. However, everyone is really being troopers - it's stopping no one. We even have a few who are going diving with sharks...yikes.

Onto the good stuff. Yesterday we took a half day tour of CT. Our guide was wonderful; she knew a lot and had a good sense of humor. We went to the Iziko Slave Lodge which was the original site where the Dutch brought slaves - mostly from Malaysia. This is the origin of the official coloured designation, although coloured is now much more of name for bi- or multi-racial people. A category of "nots": not white, not African black. We learned that the national flower is the King Protea, and that Cecil Rhodes (e.g., the Rhodes scholarship scholar and founder of DeBeers diamonds) bought up all of the diamond mines and there apparently still exists a true monopoly on diamonds. I guess diamonds are quite abundant, but the mines limit the amount that reach market at any given time.

We also traveled through a part of CT called District 6 with a history that is reflective of Apartheid era policies. It was a mixed race area that was decreed a white neighborhood. All of the non-whites were forcibly moved to the townships outside of the city. Apparently, it was controversial enough of a plan that even the white citizens refused to move to the area and much of it still remains undeveloped. However, there is a plan in place now to provide reparations for those removed that has either involved cash payments or having a new house built back in the neighborhood. Needless to say - it's going slowly.

We also went through the Bo Kaap area of town, also known as Cape Malay. These folks are the descendants of the original slaves. This neighborhood offered a cooking safari to make some traditional cape food that we were hoping to go on, but apparently since this is a low season, there are no tours available.

Today we made our first agency visit. It was in a township called Kyaletshia (that's not spelled right but it's close). The agency is called Hope Worldwide. The folks that we talked with are doing work with men to reduce violence against women and HIV. We visited a site where they were doing some exercises with children aged 9-18. We observed them doing an exercise on gender stereotypes with young boys and girls. It was very interesting. Our hosts were great. They were initially funded by USAid to do some AIDS work - USAid, of course, is abstinence focused although they do allow using the ABC strategy (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condoms). Wessel (our host) talked briefly about the difficulties of implementing these types of things on the ground and said "it is fundamentally a violation of human rights not to provide people with all the information they need to protect themselves from this disease." Go Wessel!

However, let me also add that the townships are terribly poor. There are significant numbers of people who live in very small shacks right next to each other made out of corrugated metal. And those are not made well. Our day today started with a call from our transportation company saying that they were going to cancel our trip because their had been riots on the highway near the township the previous night. I called Wessel who assured us that all was fine and that we would be completely safe (we were). Wessel told us that with all of the rain that there had been floods and the terrible conditions that the people lived in meant that they had no dry place to live and sleep. They were protesting their living conditions.

But the highlight of the day was the man who got involved in this work through music. He is in a group of a capella singers and noticed that when they practiced, they had a group of children gathering around. He realized this as an opportunity to engage his community in a positive way and has been working with the kids ever since. He's still singing too. The brief video I've attached is them singing, and he is the one on the far right.

And for the foodies among you - we had some fabulous Indian food for dinner last night. The restaurant specialized in food from southern India. We had some Thali which was two types of bread (pappadum and puri) along with 5 different curries. We also had Dosa, which is a rice and lentil pancake that I swear was about 14" in diameter. It got rolled up into a large tube and was served with several curries and chutneys, too. And we ordered a coriander chutney - ohmygoodness was that tasty. Shari/Jim - get to work...cilantro, lentils, ginger, and a bit of oil. It was quite green and had a texture similar to toothpaste (or some such thing). Yum!!!

Tomorrow we're off to Robben Island. The weather is supposed to clear sometime on Thursday so keep your fingers crossed for us.

Thanks to all for the updates from home - we're thinking about you all! video

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Soggy Sunday


Send sunshine! We're having wet weather and have yet to see Table Mountain. Spent the day at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront - a huge shopping, restaurant, entertainment area which was mostly covered so we managed fine. Went to the Two Oceans Aquarium and saw cape penguins, moray eels, and lots of sharks and fish. Looking for a local African restaurant for dinner (they eat lots of patats here - sweet potatoes - in every form imaginable). We tried ostrich at dinner last night - it was quite good.

The last 3 students arrive tonight and we begin with orientation and a guided tour of Cape Town tomorrow. Seems to be a great group - 3 students have lost luggage and are borrowing from the group. All is well!

Friday, July 4, 2008

We made it


We're here, safe and sound with nary a scary story to tell about flying. Everything went flawlessly and the 21 hour trip wasn't as bad as expected (maybe it was the Haagen Dazs ice cream). We arrived in Jo'burg to some African children singing and dancing and were whisked off to a lovely little lodge about 10 km from the airport. However, it's COLD (if you ask me, that is). It's in the 60s and it should get down to about 35ish tonight. And me without my mittens! We're in Cape Town now and enjoyed a delicious dinner on the waterfront with some local wine...a Constantia Uitsig Sauvignon Blanc - yum. No students yet - they should start arriving tomorrow. We know that there is a huge mountain just outside our hotel window that we might be able to see if the cloud cover lifts...I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Watch for a photo of Table Mountain - clouds or no clouds.

That's all to report for now. The photo is the Galant family Bon voyage/July birthday gathering (Thanks to Tommy for taking the pic and to Shari for hosting the bash). The video is a very short clip of the airport performance. video