Friday, November 25, 2011

Love Is In The House-TobyMac

I keep saying that I will talk about race, apartheid, and all that difficult stuff, but I put it off time and time again. I think part of it is that everything is so very complex, and it is hard to explain. Also, I still feel like I don’t have a complete understanding of everything, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. But, it is a huge part of SA history and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you anything. So, I am not even going to try to give you an overview of things, but will instead just tell you some of the things that I have learned, noticed or experienced since coming here. If you don’t know what Apartheid is, go read a book (I would recommend A Rainbow in the Night, I found it helpful for me before I came). Also, if I have gotten any of this wrong, please forgive me and don’t be offended. Just remember that I really love SA, and that it is a very complicated place.

Deracialization seem to be the catchphrase and the goal of everything. We are ‘de-racializing the schools’, ‘deracializing the workplace’, ‘deracializing the country’ (actually, if you want to be accurate, you should probably replace the “z” with an “s”). However, Grahamstown, like most places, is not really deracialized. There are no laws prohibiting black people from moving into a white area, and the rise of black middle class has led to some semblance of mixing. However, in reality, the town is still surrounded by townships (the name used to describe shantytowns and impromptu communities that grew up around “white only” towns during apartheid), which are often still referred to by their old names and do not appear on most of the maps of Grahamstown I can find. The main divide is caused by economic disparities… the conditions in the townships are very different compared to Grahamstown proper, and people in the townships largely couldn’t afford to move to white areas if they wanted to (When I went to some of the townships during my orientation, my guide, who lives there himself, said that many people who could afford to move to white neighborhoods didn’t want to anyway, because their friends and family lived here, and the atmosphere in white neighborhoods felt restrictive compared to the communal nature of the townships). However, the thing that I wanted to point out was that everything is still described as ‘the white neighborhoods,’ ‘the black township,’ ‘the coloured area,’ ‘the Indian area,’ etc. The fact that these places exist is a remnant of apartheid law, but the fact that they are still described this way is a remnant of apartheid ideology.

Not that people are outwardly racist (for the most part). Its just that the country was harshly segregated less than 20 years ago, and it takes awhile for people’s minds to let go of the things they were taught. This doesn’t show explicitly, but rather in subtle ways that I think are less-than-conscious practices. Race is just there, and it has been used to differentiate between people for a long time. I hate to get all psychology on you, but the best way I contextualize is using research that was done on race divisions in the workplace (in the US). Basically, researchers described two different methodologies that people use when interacting among different races. The first is the “colorblind” approach, which is basically viewing everyone as the same and seeing no difference between people of different races. The second methodology was termed “celebrating diversity,” which acknowledges that there are differences between people, but assumes that people from other races have something valuable to add to the community. It is my opinion that when people say that they are colorblind, it is because they have been told that everyone is equal and that it is wrong to divide people based on race. However, this results in trying to suppress or ignore any differences, because they feel that to acknowledge them would somehow be impolite or even racist. This in turn creates some level of tension and awkwardness, which I think exists to some degree in the US and even more here. People are extremely aware that they are white and the person next to them is black, but they aren’t supposed to be noticing this, so they can’t address whatever separates them from the other person (because those things aren’t supposed to exist, either!). Does that make sense at all? For example, I am fairly ignorant about the concept of a weave (although I know a lot more now than I did before I came… which just goes to show how much I didn’t know before), but I would feel totally rude if I said to one of my friends, “please tell me all about your weave because I am white and I have never had one and I just really don’t understand all of the details.” Okay, perhaps that was not the best example, but I hope that you can possibly relate to that awkward feeling I am describing.

I am not saying that this applies to everyone, but I do sense that awkwardness often here. People tend to form friend groups according to color, and I don’t think it is on purpose, but it is still pretty stark. All of the churches I went to were either white or black with a handful of people mixing it up (this wasn’t quite so pronounced at Fronteirs, but was still true). Even the classes were surprisingly separated… in a university where the majority of students were black, there was only one girl in the entire third year zoology class, which was definitely not the case in my history class. In our dinning hall, it was clear that friend groups were divided along racial line for the most part. And I am totally not immune to this. I realized about midway through the semester that most of my friend here are white, and if you asked me how that happened, I really have no idea. I am not really proud of it, but at the same time I love the friends that I met here, so I don’t regret the friendships I made. It’s just something that happened along the way, and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. But it is a part of my time here, so I think it bears mentioning to you.

What does it mean to be racist? Is it thinking less of people whose skin is a different color than yours? Is it thinking that people whose skin color is different than yours are different than you? Is it noticing that someone’s skin color is different from yours at all? The lines blur, and it is hard to tell the difference when it is a matter of the heart. But matters of the heart have a sneaky way of creeping into your actions without you noticing, so it is important to think about these issues. Race relations are strained here sometimes, and they are strained at home as well. If we want to stop being politically correct and actually loving our brothers and sisters, it is something that we all have to address. A matter of the heart. 


Disclaimer: Okay, I am actually home now, but I wrote a few blogs right before I left and while I was traveling that I couldn’t post because I had no internet. So I am going to put them up now, and you will just have to wait for the wrap up ending stuff for a little bit. I will get around to that one eventually, I promise. In the meantime…

So, I told you that I had a few adventures left to keep things interesting here during the last part of my exams. Well, Wednesday, I went with Gillian and Jill to the Born Free Centre, which is a world-wide organization that was started in the UK to rescue and take care of wild animals that for some reason can’t be released into the wild. Usually, this is because they have been raised in captivity and don’t know how to hunt or survive in the wild if they were released.  The centre that we went to was in one corner of Shamwari, which is the oldest and largest private game reserve in the Eastern Cape.  Basically, the company came in and bought a ton of farmland (aka 20,000 hectares) during a period when farming was not profitable (Its hard to farm much in the soil here in the Eastern Cape) and before any other companies got in on the game. Shamwari is now surrounded by other, smaller game reserves (no farms to be seen), but it is easily the biggest, with enough land to support two separate lion prides at opposite ends of the reserve. The cool thing is that the bigger the reserve, the more “natural” the conditions, hence the autonomous lion prides that are free to range and hunt like they normally would.

However, the lions that I got to see were not free to range and hunt… then again, they probably wouldn’t be able to survive if they were. That didn’t stop them from being big, intimidating hunters at heart, though. The first lion we saw, Shada, was super excited by the herd of impala that were in the hills to the west of her enclosure, despite the fact that she has never hunted live game in her life. She was rescued, along with her sister and a male lion, from a circus in France, where all three were kept in a single circus wagon, the stereotypical type that’s like a big cage on wheels. It was divided into three small sections, where they were kept for breeding purposes and were declawed so that they would be ‘easier to handle’. Luckily, they were eventually rescued and sent to Born Free, where Shada got over being skittish and afraid of humans, and now appears to be quite content (other than the impala taunting her with their scent on the other side of her fenced enclosure).  The other two lions didn’t live at Born Free very long; the other lioness had a kidney disease when she came and the male lion actually dies of a snakebite, because apparently living in captivity doesn’t teach you to avoid snakes. The Born Free centre now does snake training with their lions… crazy, I know. They basically connect a rubber snake to the current in the electrical fence, then put it in the middle of the lion’s enclosure and make it wiggle convincingly. The shock is strong enough to teach the lions to leave snakes alone if a real one with venom gets in their enclosures (Behavioral Therapy!).

The next pair of lions included an older male and younger female who had come to Born Free around the same time (they were not actually a mating pair; they don’t breed the lions at the centre because they wouldn’t be able to teach their young to survive in the wild, and apparently there are enough lions in the world that they don’t need to breed them in captivity). Anyway, the male, Brutus, was much older, and was also rescued from a French circus, where he was kept in sad a little cage. Apparently, it freaked him out when he got to Born Free and they put him out in an enclosure, because he could feel grass and see the sky (but he seemed perfectly happy when we saw him). He is much slower than the lioness, which I think had to do with being in a cage for so long, so when they feed the lions, they had to separate them, because she would eat super fast, and then eat his food, too. The lioness was younger, and was apparently found in a box… literally, imagine someone finding a box (I don’t remember where this was) and assuming that it was a cat, but then opening it and finding a lion cub. She was really active, and when Gillian crouched down to get a better look, she got up and came over to the edge of the fence so fast it was incredible. It would have been a bit terrifying, except that I totally trusted the fence… and I also wasn’t the one she was rushing at. Once we got her attention, she pretty much tracked our every move the whole time, and when we started walking, she trotted right next to us, looking altogether just a bit too interested…

After that, we got to see my first leopard! After my lifelong love of leopard print, it was like a dream come true. Also, it completed my big five! (Technically I don’t know if I saw black or white rhinos at the Sibuya reserve, but if I fudge that just assume a bit, I have completed my big five) Anyway, the leopards were beautiful. An Italian who was in the Ivory Coast met a man who was selling two cubs and a leopard skin (probably the mother) and he bought both of the cubs and house trained them. Eventually, they got older and more unpredictable (you know, like big, wild cats), and he wanted to give them to Born Free, but the Ivory Coast wouldn’t give him export papers, and required the leopards be taken to the Ivory Coast zoo, which apparently has really terrible conditions. After the female leopard escaped the zoo and was shot, the Italian government put pressure on the Ivory Coast, and eventually they agreed to give the export papers for the male leopard to come to Born Free. We also saw a mother and daughter leopard, although they were both a bit harder to see, because they weren’t chilling right by the edge of the fence (we got really lucky with the male leopard). The daughter was actually hanging out on top of one of the shelters that were built in each of the enclosures for when it rains, and the mother was hiding in the bush… I couldn’t find her until she came out of wherever she was hiding in the bush to be fed.

The last lion pair were a mother and son, although the son was old enough to have a full mane, more or less. Both of those lions were underfed when they got here, which had prevented the mane from growing in fully around his shoulder areas. They were both really active and ready to eat by the time we went over to look at them, since the truck had gotten there to feed all of the cats (they feed them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). These two were the only cats that could be fed together, because the male lion respected the lioness and let his mother eat her fill first. Good manners :) All of the cats basically got chunks of beef thrown over the fence (4kg for a lion, 2kg for a leopard), which they picked up like they weighed nothing and wandered off to eat with that snug look cats get.

Anyway, the whole thing was really cool, and I loved being able to get so close the cats, even if there were fences that may have made some of the pictures less cool (while keeping me from getting eaten). We watched while they fed the mother and son pair and the mother and daughter leopards, and then we had a lovely picnic lunch of our own while the fed the rest of the cats. It worked out really well, because the weather started to get kind of ominous, and when it rains the cats all hide in the bush or under the shelters, but they were all out and active when we were there because it was almost feeding time. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to go see them (even if I didn’t ever get to hold cubs like Jon Kentner did this summer… just another thing to add to the list of “next time I am in Africa) and it was a lovely way to take a break from exams.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Passing Afternoon-Iron & Wine

I feel as if it is time for me to give you an update on the past few days here, although I know you don’t want to hear about my extremely exciting final exams and whatnot. The past few days have been a bit rough, actually, but I am doing better now. The news of Ryan’s death was just so unexpected, and it was hard to be here by myself when I really just wanted to get in a car like everyone else and drive home to Frederick for the funeral. Unfortunately, small details like finals and the Atlantic Ocean made this impossible, so I was stuck here regardless of how I felt. The feeling of being stuck when I wanted to be home was intensified by the fact that I don’t actually have responsibilities here other than finals now... no classes to wake up for, and volunteering and stuff is finished. Most of my days are spent in my room, either studying or not studying (which is probably more often the case) and as my friends all have finals at different times and are busy studying too, we don’t see each other much.

However, I think that I am getting past the roughest part. Although I am still sad and confused about what happened, I am remembering God’s goodness and sovereignty, and I can’t help but trust in him. There is a psalm that really helps me with this: Psalm 77. In the beginning, the psalmist is in distress and crying out to God… he asks if the Lord will reject him forever. Then, he moves into the second part, which is when he appeals to and remembers what God has done in the past. This leads to the end, when he is praising God for who He is. Its basically as if remembering who God is automatically leads to worshiping him. Its not that the trials or pain have gone away, but that the psalmist has regained some perspective, and I need to do that sometimes. Not hide the hurt or try to keep from remembering it, just remember who God is at the same time. 

So, this past week… like I said, mostly exams. I have taken three of them now, and now I just have one more next Saturday. This means that I literally have a week to do nothing. Some of my friends are going to Mozambique, and others are going to Cape Town or Zambia and Kruger Park, but I will just be chilling in Grahamstown. However, after a chat with my lovely friend Katy, I have decided that I am just going to bask in the fact that I would likely be busy and stressed out of my mind if I was home at this time of year. So, I am letting myself have a week of vacation like the ones where I go to VA beach and do nothing but sleep till lunchtime, read a book in the sunshine and watch tv. In fact, there is technically a pool here, so the only thing missing is of sand, Melissa Dorrance and strawberry desserts (all in copious amounts, of course). After all, I am in Africa, shouldn’t I be having some soft of vacation? Okay, technically I have a philosophy exam at the end of my “vacation,” but that just means that instead of reading a novel in the sun, it will be Strawson and Kant.

Also, I am not actually just lazing around all the time… after I finished my ethno exam Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take up my instructor’s offer to go to the drum class that he teaches in town. It was a fun, spontaneous little adventure… I took my friend M.E. with me, and we found the house in town, which turned out to belong to a secondary school music teacher and was full of instruments. And I don’t just mean the typical piano (well, there was a piano, actually), or a violin hanging on the wall… over the course of the evening, we pulled out an mbira (happiest girl!) and a karimba, which is like a slightly modernized mbira that can be mass-produced. In fact, there is a factory here in Grahamstown… they also make super nice marimbas there, as well as a bunch of other idiophones and a few drums. Speaking of drums, returning from my tangent... there were obviously plenty of djembes at the house, since that’s what we were playing but she also had a steel drum that her son played (and a drum set, but I was  way more excited about the steel drum) and after some cajoling, we convinced him to play it for us before we left. So much musical fun for one day! And by fun, I really only mean the djembe jam session, since the exam could hardly be described as fun. However, as someone living in the African Diaspora, I totally had the advantage when we got to the Americas, and I actually paid attention for the part of the course talking about Africa, so I was all set!

Anyway, I can’t believe how soon my time here will be done. Like I said, I finished my third exam today (I took it in the Great Hall… I was seriously not kidding when I said that exams here remind me of Harry Potter) and I have started cleaning out papers that I won’t take home with me, returning stuff that I have borrowed from people while I was here, and I even caught myself thinking about how I am going to pack everything up to go. Something about knowing that I can count the days I have left here on both hands makes me think of leaving the idyllic Africa in my imagination instead of the South Africa that has temporarily become normal life. Part of me wants to just stow away on a safari and be taken out into the bush somewhere, where I can chill with giraffes and leopards (the only two animals I have failed to find, besides hippos, which I decided were not cute or friendly anyway) for a nice long time. On the other hand, I have started getting excited every time I see screen shots of Washington D.C. during Bones episodes because I am going to be there so soon! I will be so excited to be home, and I am really looking forward to Thanksgiving and all the times after that, even if I don’t know what I am going to do with my life just yet. God will provide a job or will otherwise meet my needs just like he always has. In the meantime, I can quit worrying about where I am going to work over break and just look forward to some pumpkin products and gravy. Except not touching each other on the plate, obviously, since that would be unacceptable. 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)-James Taylor

It is 9:30 pm (your time, I don’t even want to think about what time it is here) and I can’t seem to sleep. While you all gain an hour from daylight savings tomorrow (which, by the way, is a week after Europe switches, which is confusing and led me to believe that I was just crazy for awhile) I do not, and I am unlikely to be a happy camper in the morning. In fact, I should probably shut off my computer now, because everyone knows that when you starts talking late at night/early in the morning, awkwardness is likely to ensue. However, I don’t think I am in the confession danger zone, and besides, I can’t think of any confessions that I might accidentally share with you, so I probably will be okay.

The past day and a half, I have really wanted to go home. No, that is incorrect; I haven’t wanted to go home, I have just wanted to be home. The fact that I really don’t feel like studying and taking my exams doesn’t help, but really it stems from yesterday evening, when I found out that a high school friend of mine had been killed in a car accident. We weren’t super close, but he grew up with some of my best friends in school, and I have known him for years. I know that many other people are feeling his loss more deeply, but I cared about him, and my heart is hurting. Ryan McCann was one of the smartest guys I knew, and I always joked that he could do better than I did in school without actually trying. In fact, as I tried to study for my zoo exam last night, I couldn’t help thinking that he could probably BS his way through the exam I was studying for and still score 4% higher than me… that was our norm in biology.

It’s just really hard, because he was a guy with so much potential… that is the word that keeps coming to mind over and over… potential, but not the time for it to come to fruition. I don’t understand God’s timing, and although I know He is good, and that God’s ways are beyond our ways, I can’t help but cry out “WHY???” with frustration at my lack of understanding, as well as a bit of anger and some guilt for time that I wasted. I both want to be God and thus call all the shots, while at the same time I feel like I have mishandled the things God has given to my control. I am really identifying with the part of Ezekiel 18:25 which says, “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways which are unjust?” I find myself in descriptions of Israel from time to time, usually in ways that aren’t very pretty… hypocritical and petulant come to mind right now.

There are just times in my life when I cry out to God “Comfort me!” but either I don’t trust that he will, or I won’t allow him to… I can’t figure out which at the moment, but it makes me wish for other forms of comfort (and by that I don’t mean the chocolate cake I ate this afternoon, but the comforts of homes and hugs and loved ones). It makes me ignore the beautiful, sunny day here and the time I have left, just looking forward to the time when I am back with the people I love and I can hold them close and keep them safe (I know it’s a delusion that I can actually keep them safe, but being able to touch them makes me feel better anyway).  

I don’t know why you read this… if it is to keep up with my various experiences here, because you miss me, or just random curiosity, but while I have you temporarily, you have to listen to what I have to say: I love you. I do. God loves you so much more. Please don’t take my word for it—find out for yourself. I might not tell you this to your face often, because I want to respect your beliefs. But you cannot understand what you stand to lose unless you understand what you stand to gain. You have a lifetime to figure this out… but I don’t know how long that will be. And I love you. I care.

Rest in Peace, Ryan. 

Jumper-Third Eye Blind

So, I had been saving tales of this little adventure for after its successful completion, so I wouldn’t worry you (unless you are my Mother, in while case I had to balance the “please tell me when you are going to travel” rule with the “don’t tell your mother you are going to jump off of a bridge because she will worry” rule and decided in favor of the former). My classes finished on the 28th of October, and the past week was “SWOT week”, which is an acronym that has something to do with reviewing and studying for finals, but for most of the international students meant a week off school to go travel and have adventures. Since I am one of the few people who are not on a pass/fail system with my courses,  the classes that I am taking here will affect my GPA at home, and I need to do well in them. This meant that I actually needed to study during SWOT week (since my first exam was November 5th, and it was my zoo theory, which I expect to be the most difficult of my exams), so it was not a good use of my time to go gallivanting off to Cape Town. Believe me, if I had the chance or was able to delude myself into ignoring the rational reasons why I couldn’t go to Cape Town, I totally would have been there. Unfortunately (although I don’t totally know why it’s a bad thing), I am both fiscally and academically responsible, and therefore Cape Town didn’t happen. I am really disappointed that I won't make it while I am here, but I just keep telling myself that I won't get there on this Africa trip to make myself feel better.

Amongst this and other platitudes, I consoled myself about the lack of Cape Town by taking an overnight trip on Monday to go bungee jumping. I went with Jens, one of the Germans I have traveled with before, Cameron, who is on exchange from the UK, and Kristen, who went with me to Durban (so much diversity! All of the accents make things fun… including Kristen’s southern accent, which doesn’t seem as exotic as the others but is a fun addition to the mix). We met at 4:10am—such a sacrifice—to catch a bus to Plettenburg Bay, which ended up being an hour late (in true South African style) and stayed in a hostel there overnight. The hostel was fantastic, and took care of reserving jump spots and transportation for us to the Bloukrans Bridge, which is in the Tsitsikamma National Park and is the highest commercial bungee jump in the world.

Us in front of the Bloukrans River Bridge (above) and a view from the bridge (below)

The ride to the bridge was a little less than an hour, through some gorgeous mountains and next to the sea. It seems like everywhere I go is just so beautiful here! I loved Plettenburg Bay, too. Although the others were a bit bored (since we were there on a weeknight during the off season) I think that of the places I have traveled to here, Plett is the one I would most like to live in. A seaside town, it isn’t that much bigger than Grahamstown, but it has more going on as far as far as downtown. Plus, everything was just so beautiful, and there was so much to do there.

 (Plettenburg Bay... sorry all of these pictures are kind of in shadow, I took all of them in the late afternoon)

The actual jump was fantastic. It was a little bit terrifying, but isn’t that what makes it fun? I have always wanted to jump of the edge of a cliff into the middle of nothing just to feel what it is like, and this was my chance. Granted, the fact that the bungee chord was attached to my feet freaked me out a bit—what if I just slipped out?—but I got back up to the bridge after in one piece. Technically, my throat was a little raw from the (completely involuntary) screaming that tore out of me about half a second after I jumped and my body send messages to my brain that I was going to die, but it was perfectly safe, and I didn’t even get whipped around by the chord at the bottom of the jump. It great fun, I would totally do it again (although I would prefer to go skydiving first) and I definitely recommend it. Although you can’t hear me—according to the guy who brought me back up, the rest of the gorge could hear me just fine—I attached the video so you can watch:

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Birds- Regina Spektor

I think there are some things that I am just never going to get used to here. For example…

There is a window in the shower that I use in res. I actually really like having a window there… its frosted, so it’s not like anyone can see in it, and there are advantages of having a ledge and sunlight and such. Anyway, the architecture is not the point… the point is that birds fly into the window ALL THE TIME. The first time it happened, I was confused, then finally just decided that a very stupid bird must have flown into it. I mean, I understand birds flying into sliding glass doors and such (the reason I don't wash the one at home is obviously because I want to protect innocent animals) but this is a frosted window, and there is no way that a bird could miss that it is there. Plus, they can’t see their reflections in it either, so why would they fly into it? Well, after having it happen over and over, I have decided that the birds are not stupid (well, actually, they are), but that they are flying into the window on purpose. This is terrifying. A bird (or multiple birds, it was always black but I can’t see much through the frosted window) flew into the window inside the shower NINE times today. Sometimes they fly into the other window in the bathroom too, but not today. Also, they do it more when there is movement or colors near the window (such as when I sit my shampoo on the ledge), which makes me feel like they are purposely attacking me… perhaps they are territorial, and have nests outside the window or something? Either way, it was freaking me out today… the windows are cracked, and I had a sudden thought, “What if the cracks in the window are from the birds? What if they break through the window while I am in here washing my hair?” Its like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho meets The Birds.  Ahhh the birds are so frightening here…

I got an Ethnomusicology paper back today, and was amused to find that my professor had made notes about my grammar all through my paper. Now, I am obviously not an English major, and I make mistakes from time to time, but I read through the whole thing and only one thing that he pointed out was actually wrong. Perhaps it is the fact that I speak “American” English? I don’t know, but I find it quite amusing, especially because English is not my professor’s first language, and I often have to work to understand what he means. Also on the funny side, the note at the end of the paper says, “Excellent! 78%” At home, I think I would choke if I got a 78 on a paper, but here, it’s the equivalent of an A. I don’t think I will ever get used to the academic system here. In some ways, it is much easier than at home, but I struggle in other ways… sometimes, I really wish professors would just tell me what I need to do in order to do well in their class. Zoology especially. However, I am just going to do the best I can and not stress out about it... its not the end of the world if I don’t do as well as I want, and I basically have no idea what my grades are right now anyway, so there is no use in worrying.

Another thing I don’t think I will ever get over is how blue the sky is. It's just intense, and I absolutely love it.

Last thought… I will never get used to the way time moves here. Its so slow and so fast at the same time. I had my last mentoring session at the Rafael Center yesterday, and I can’t believe it is done. Also, I had my very last lecture this morning; now I just have SWOT week and then exams. However, when you are in the moment, everything seems to move so slowly here, so I don’t understand how it could be coming to an end. People tend to not hurry, so everything seems very chill and relaxed and "we’ll take care of the 'just now'” until suddenly, the day is gone and the week is gone and the semester is almost over. I am just about ready to buckle down and study for exams, and I have started trying to finalize travel plans and figure out how in the world I am getting to the airport (most of my afternoon magically slipped away while I was trying to work on that), but often I feel confused about how I got here. I will be excited to be home, but I also have so much more left I would like to do. South Africa is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, and I am not quite ready for them to end. Luckily, I have a few up my sleeve to keep the next month interesting…

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sooner Or Later-House of Heroes

We are beginning to do those sorts of events that happen at endings, and it is still all a little surreal. After all, I still have a month left in South Africa, but I have been to a Leaver’s Dinner and a Farewell Dinner in just the past five days, with more to come. It seems odd to me that we are doing these things so early, but it does make sense that once finals start, people will be busy studying, and everyone will be leaving campus sporadically as they finish their exams.

On Wednesday, I went to my first Leaver’s Dinner, which is something that seems to happen everywhere here. I was confused the first time I heard the term, but I hear it all the time now, and it is pretty self explanatory, after all: it is a dinner to celebrate the people that are leaving, whether they are third year students graduating at the end of the year—as was the case at my Hall’s dinner—or a more mixed collection of people... graduating with their bachelor's, completing their honor year, or leaving for another reason (such as going home to the United States) which is what the makeup of my cell group’s leavers dinner will be. Either way, it seems that everyone has a leaver's dinner: res halls, societies, church groups… just another norm here that isn’t done in quite the same way at home.

Actually, as I went into my hall’s Leaver Dinner on Wednesday, I tried to imagine doing something like it in Servo at the end of the year, and I just couldn’t do it. Everyone had gotten dressed up, some people in very fancy dresses (I didn’t bring such nice clothes, but I made a nice sundress work without standing out) and each table of people had decorated their table to make it fancy and pretty. The food was better than most meals that I have had in the dining hall all year, and the company was good, of course. We signed up and sat at designated tables (that we were then responsible for decorating), and I thought it was sweet when my friend Elri came to my room the day the lists went up (before I even knew we were having a leaver’s dinner) to inform me that she had signed me up to be at their table. I actually made some new friends that night, who I regaled with tales of Thanksgiving and my opinion of mullets. We had some awards and such after dinner, and the whole thing made me realize that Rhodes reminds me a bit of Hogwarts… mostly this is because of the way that exams are structured, with everyone freaking out and studying and taking exams in these huge halls with a ton of stress-inducing rules. 

I feel like I should give you some highlights of the questions I have been asked by people here, since some of them has amused me greatly and others might amuse you:

-Is spring break in America like it is in the movies?
-Are fraternities in America like they are in the movies?
-What is Thanksgiving all about?
-Which are hotter: American or South African guys?
-Do people in the states do drugs? ...No, not pot, everyone does pot, I mean real drugs?
-Do people actually support the Tea Party movement?
-You live in Maryland… that’s Elvis’ home, right? (Seriously, multiple people have said this to me)
-Does this taste like the Mexican food you have in the states? (NO)

There have been so many more, but I can’t force my brain to think of them just now… Anyway, Saturday night was the Farewell Dinner for my travel abroad program, so the Rhodes Coordinator and I rode to Port Elizabeth and met the NMMU students for a fancy diner, which I appreciated very much. Besides eating snails, which never ceases to amuse me, I had deep fried Lindt balls for desert, which just sounds like an idea that couldn’t go wrong. I had flashbacks to making deep fried oreos in my kitchen at home with Mom and Melissa, and although these were not really the same (I think they put Lindt balls in phyllo squares and dropped them into a fryer… it reminded me of a shooting star) it had Lindt chocolate in it so obviously it was a good thing. It was funny to be having a farewell dinner with people that I barely know (I have only seen the NMMU students a few times since I got here), but I balanced it later that night by getting to Skype with my cousin Margie (and momentarily with her husband Jerry, who had gotten home from Iraq the day before and surprised Margie at work a week earlier than she thought he might come home. So sweet!). The internet is really a wonderful thing, even if it does encourage facebook stalking over homework. I should really be getting back to that right now, by the way… the homework, not the facebook stalking.