Monday, January 5, 2015

Update on my South African adventures

That plan of keeping up my blogging during my semester abroad did not really work out.. I have now been back home in Sweden for a little more than two weeks, I got back right in time for Christmas. Looking back, my semester in South Africa was the best semester of my college experience so far! I would even say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Now that I’ve been home for a while, and I’m going back to Hawaii in about 11 days, I really miss South Africa. I miss being there because it is an amazing country, but I also miss all the friends that I made, both my friends in my class that I shared this experience with, but also the people I met there, such as the people working with the program and all my host families, I really hope that I can go back one day and meet some of the people again! But even though I’m not in South Africa anymore, I thought that I should take you through the rest of the semester and share with you what I did and experienced.

A lot has happened since the last time! And once again I don’t know how to tell you about everything without writing a super-long post, but I’ll try to cover everything of importance at least. Last time I wrote I was in the middle of my home-stay in Langa, which is a township in Cape Town. The second half passed by pretty much like the first half. During one weekend we also went to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela spent the most part of his time in prison. We were required to read Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” before coming to South Africa. I have to admit though that I didn’t finish it before I got here, but it was really interesting to see the place that we have heard, read, and discussed so much. The prison on Robben Island is today a museum where you can walk around and see the cells and such. We were even taken to see and go inside Mandela’s cell, but I have to say that it was really hard to imagine and realize that this tiny place was where Mandela actually spent so many years of his life. Our guide in the prison was an actual old political prisoner that stayed around to work and tell people his stories and experiences from the prison. To have that first-hand information made everything so much more real.

When we were moving out of our home-stays in Langa we had a big goodbye-reception where all the students and their families gathered for dinner and entertainment. Unfortunately our class had to perform a song that we had practiced in isiXhosa, and a traditional Zulu dance that we had learned two days before and that we had only practiced once. I can assure you that it was not pretty, but at least our families had something to laugh about.. It was pretty sad to say goodbye to our families that we had gotten to know over the past three weeks, three weeks might not sound like much, but when you live in someone’s home, it is quite a long time.

After we left Langa we went to Simon’s Town where we stayed for two nights. Between each home-stay we always have 3-4 days as a little break. We still have schoolwork to do and stuff, but it is meant to be a sort of mental break between living with different families, and we really appreciated it. Even though we are supposed to be like a family member, you will always be a guest in their home, and you don’t relax in the same way that you do in your own home, and these days in between are really nice. In Simon’s Town we did not have any plans that were decided by the program, so we could pretty much do what we wanted to do. I and two other girls went to a beach park close to where we stayed that was a nature reserve kind of place where you could watch penguins. I can’t remember what kind of penguins it was, but it was awesome and they were so cute! In the afternoon I and Kelsey went to Kalk Bay, a little town a few train stops away, and went for some shopping, lunch and a few drinks. The place was awesome and we are definitely coming back, it’s just a few train stops away from central Cape Town. (I started writing this post quite a while ago, and unfortunately we never went back, there were simply too many other things that we wanted to do).

Before we left Simon’s Town we went down to Cape of Good Hope. It was a beautiful place, and the little hike and the beautiful coast made me miss Hawaii a little. The Cape of Good Hope is also the most south western point of the African continent, which was pretty cool. After this we went to our classroom to chill and pack. In the evening we left for the Eastern Cape, and most of us left about half of our stuff in our classroom in Rondebosch so that we would not have to carry so much. We would only be gone for about 12 days and the main stay was in a small rural village. To get to the Eastern Cape we took a bus, it was a 16 hour bus ride, but we went over night so we slept most of the ride. When we got off the bus at King Williams Town we were picked up by our minibuses that, after a shower and some breakfast, took us to the village of Tshabo, where we were to stay for 8 nights. In all home-stays except the first one we stay two students in each family. But since our group is an odd number someone had to live on their own, and I had known since they day before that it would be me. When we arrived in the village our mamas and a bunch of kids greeted us at the high school with singing, dancing, and hugs. I think it was the happiest and warmest welcoming I’ve ever received. We were each introduced to our mamas and then we had lunch before we went to our new homes. The reason that I, the lonely student, ended up with this particular family was that it was their first time hosting, and it would be nice for them to start with one student instead of being overwhelmed by having two.

There is so much I can say about the week we spent in Tshabo because it was one of the absolute best experiences in my life so far! My family consisted of Mama Nomthanzi, Tata Williams, my two older sisis Nomtu and Nonkululeko, and Nomtu’s eight year old daughter Owami. But in this village family is not restricted to just the closest members, so for the entire week my six year old cousin, or something, Chumande stayed with us, for the first few days her little sister was there too, and for the last second half of the week my six year old nephew Libongwe stayed there too. For the weekend my bhuti Djego came home from Port Elizabeth where he is studying, and for one day his 10 month old son was there too.

I won’t go into detail about what we did during this week, but there was a lot of soccer, walking around the fields, playing with all the kids, hanging out at other peoples’ houses, watching the sunset, and spending time with the family. We also had time for two cultural days with singing and dancing, a visit to the Steve Biko center in East London, and I also spent a day in bed because I got sick, which was not that fun, but I got through it. As it turned out I was really lucky with where I lived. My house was a lot bigger than everyone else’s, and I had my own bedroom with a double bed, a separate wash-room, and a plastic toilet-seat over the hole in the ground. My family even had a nice car, and on Saturday they took me to a traditional ceremony in my mama’s home village. This ceremony was a pretty cool experience. When we got there I was surrounded by so many people, and I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention. The attention was grounded in two things, first of all I was the only white and non-isiXhosa speaking in the entire village at that moment, and I was also carrying the baby that everyone wanted to see. During the night we had some beef from the freshly slaughtered cow in the kraal, there was singing, and there was a whole lot of people that kept talking to me, the only problem was that they kept talking isiXhosa so I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But all in all, it was an experience that I won’t forget.

Another thing that is tradition to do when the class is in Tshabo is to have an afternoon when we do beading with our mamas. We learned how to do some necklaces and bracelets, and my mama made both a necklace and a bracelet, and I will always remember her and the family when I look at them and wear them. When we left Tshabo it was a really sad goodbye. There were some tears being shed and a lot of hugging. I think that the reason that this goodbye was so hard is that it is very unlikely that we will ever see these people again. Even if I go back to visit South Africa again, I will most likely not see them because the village is rural and not really touristy or even close to any other places you might go.

After we left Tshabo we had our little break before the next homestay. We went to Buccaneer Backpackers on Chintsa beach, also in the Eastern Cape. It was an extremely beautiful place, we stayed in a secluded hostel right on the beach. Once again we did not have too much planed with the program, except the highlight that was the safari. We went on a game drive on a game reserve and it was amazing! We saw hippos, wildebeests, zebras, lions, and I sat on an ostrich! The day after some of us chose to go back to the game reserve for a cheetah interaction. It was a little bit disappointing because all we did was to pet a cheetah on the head for a minute, but it was still pretty cool. Other than that we spent our days at Buccaneers at the beach, paying volleyball, relaxing, and spending time with each other. And of course there was a lot of partying in the bar in the evenings.

I'll take a break here and divide it into several posts, or it will just be too much in one post. But I'll be back with more adventures!

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