Thursday, January 31, 2008


a horrible thing this morning...on the way in, driving with a few of the other teachers we see some police cars and a crowd up ahead on the side of the road. there has been an accident. without thinking, as we pass we turn to look and see a body on the ground...he was dressed in a school uniform and couldnt have been more than 14. there was blood everywhere...all over his face and body..on the road...his eyes were closed. he did not look like he was breathing. it was awful. so so sad. apparently that stretch of road is notorious for accidents and there is supposed to be a bridge for students to cross. the school to which his uniform corresponded was not far, and as we continued on we saw what looked to be half the student body pressed up against the fence watching, trying to see what was going on. when we got to school one of the other teachers mentioned that she had passed through there about 45 minutes prior and seen the same thing. which meant that the boy had been lying there for that long and no one had even had bothered to put a sheet over him. and not one paramedic or ambulance on the scene. so so sad. ive never seen anything like that. a young life cut short in the blink of an eye. so tragic.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

oh. my. gosh.

Returned home from school today 2 hours later than normal. Because I am reliant on other teachers for rides home, my schedule pretty much relies on theirs. After about an hour of waiting around and texting my housemates that I need to buy a car STAT, P., (head of the English department and choir master), asked me if I would like to come hear the choir sing. Bingo!

When I say.


No. there are very few words.

Never before in my life have I wanted to cry when I have heard someone or someones sing. But for serious. For. Serious. Tears in my eyes. Arm hair on end. Mouth agape. It was like nothing ive ever heard before. This group of teenagers. With their little young faces and wide eyes. And then…these voices! These big, huge, incredible, stirring, voices. I can’t even begin to describe it. Overwhelming.

They will be recording a cd soon and you gosh-darned better believe I will figure out a way for you to hear them sing. Am still in shock. And when they had finished the first song, P. looked over at me with this look on his face like he just knew. He saw my face and broke into a huge smile. Such pride he must feel. Incredible.

Apparently they have entered numerous choir competitions all over the Western Cape, where they are the youngest choir there, and yet they have won every single one. ‘Magine? One of the other teachers was telling me that at one of the competitions one of the choir leaders from one of the other schools came up to P. after they had finished singing and told him that they had never wanted to cry when they heard a choir sing until today. Uh, yea. I feel you brother.

Conversations with J.

J. is another teacher here at Fezeka. She sits next to me in the staffroom and we chat often. The other day I asked her what it was like on April 27th, 1994, the day of the first democratic election in South Africa. The first time in the history of this country that Blacks were allowed to vote. Her eyes fill with tears. ‘It was a huge day,’ she tells me. ‘A huge, huge day.’ She goes on to tell me that polling stations had to stay open an extra day just to accommodate the crowds. When Mandela was announced the winner, the city and the country just exploded. She tells me that it was electric. I have not asked her how old she was when it happened, but I would imagine somewhere around my age. It’s impossible to imagine what it must have been like growing up under the apartheid system, or how she must have felt that day, but listening to her talk about it gives me shivers.

J. also has two daughters, both of whom attend White schools. I asked her what she guessed the percentage of teachers at the school who send there kids to White schools to be, and she placed it somewhere around 80%. Apparently the process for getting into these schools is very long and competitive, and in the case of Js daughters’ school, only one child from the townships is admitted every year. Because her older daughter was admitted, her younger one was allowed in as well. If she were to have a third daughter however, she tells me that this would not be the case. Always conscious of how I word my questions, I ask about the relationship her daughter has with her schoolmates. She tells me that they get along well, although she is one of only a handful of other Black girls at the school. I ask if her daughters’ school friends ever come over to her house. She tells me that if they have a project to work on, sometimes her daughter will go spend the weekend at one of her classmates’ homes, but that no, the reverse has never happened. She tells me of how she was planning a birthday party for her daughter and wanted to know if her daughter wanted to invite some school friends. Her daughter replied by telling her not to bother. That they wouldn’t come because they are afraid of the townships.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Every man is an enemy, every animal is a friend.

New timetables came out today, although my Life Orientation class won’t start until Monday. I have a few large gaps on a couple days which will be great for doing prep, marking, and helping out with the IT classes. And writing. As I am doing right now.

Continued on with Animal Farm today in class, and after a brief recap on what was discussed in yesterdays class, it seems as though they were able to retain at least some of it, which is good. When we reached the point where Old Major introduces the song ‘Beats of England’ to the animals, I told them we would read it as a class. They agreed. After the first two lines, I stopped and they continued.

Hearing them read together as a class, which perhaps under different circumstances might not seem a big deal, caused me to smile ever so widely. For those moments, as I looked around the class and saw that every one – every single one of them, even those who are too shy to read outloud – was reading along, I felt indescribably happy, and filled with hope for what can hopefully be accomplished with them over my time here.

This novel also introduced them to the word ‘comrade’, which we discussed at length. Have decided that I will now greet them in the morning as such. We shall see how this plays out.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Week two.

Clear blue sky. Almost stifling heat were it not for the warm breeze. The din of learners’ voices fills the courtyard outside the staffroom window.

To my left and directly in front, teachers have their heads down, catching a quick kip before the start of next period.

A teacher offers me a piece of the meat that he is holding in his hand, telling me that its ‘skap hop’. In English: Sheep’s head. I politely decline.

After one week of school, I am slowly but surely beginning to understand more about this school and teacher culture. Am unsure if it is to be attributed solely to Fezeka or if it is part of a wider scope, but the most glaring difference I have noticed between here and western schools is the attention and emphasis put on punctuality and attendance – including that of the teachers.

On numerous occasions, classrooms sit full of students but devoid of any teacher. While it is possible that this is a timetabling issue that is still being worked out, it is frequently the result of teacher absenteeism, either from school entirely, or just that lesson. Where they may be at that time is anyones’ guess. Sometimes when there are management meetings that run overtime (this happens frequently), the classes of those teachers sit empty while the meeting continues – the agenda taking precedence over the learners’ education.

Adjusting to the attitude of the school towards punctuality of the students (or rather, lack thereof), is perhaps the most noticeable difference.

When the siren rings at the beginning of the day, there may be 8 students in class. The rest slowly roll in through the course of the lesson. Because this happens in such high numbers, there is no real predetermined method for dealing with tardiness. I have been instructed to just continue with the lessons and teach those who are there. I suppose it is a question of choosing ones battles.

My students are warming up to me, and I am even beginning to learn a few of there names, emphasis on ‘few’. Aside from one or two, I have never heard any of these names before, let alone tried to pronounce them. Am constantly reminding them that it is not nice to laugh at someone when they are learning, since my frequent fumbles and difficulty with the names (particularly those that contain clicks), inevitably and understandably elicit giggles from them. Am learning though. Slowly but surely.

The level of English competency varies from student for student. For every one of them, Xhosa is their first language, making English their second. Fully aware of how difficult of a language it is to learn, am impressed at the level of comprehension they have. That said, they are shy. Very, very shy. It could be that it is because I am new and a novelty, and they feel intimidated speaking in front of me, or the fact that the do not feel confident in their English speaking abilities. Likely it is a combination of both.

At times, I must be standing directly in front of them while straining to listen, in order to hear them speak. Some have very strong accents which makes it even more difficult to understand. Like I tell them though, I am learning just like they are. There are no stupid questions, bonus points for trying.

Currently am teaching two classes, both English, one grade 10 and one grade 11. large groups both of them. Am getting a third class at some point this week. Grade 10 life orientation, which is like a combination of the citizenship and social science courses I taught in the UK. I have also been asked to join the IT team (teaching, not technical, obv.) and help with some of the IT classes. When I arrived I made it clear that my basic IT skills are indeed just that, but would be interested in starting an after school basic digital literacy group for students that may be interested. The response from the head of IT was a resounding yes!

With the grade 11 English class, today we started reading Animal Farm. Trying to explain the context for this story, what with the Russian revolution, WWII, communism among them is no easy feat, especially with so many of the terms and concepts unfamiliar to them. Reading as a class, we got about a third of the way through the first chapter by the end of today’s class.

With my grade 10s we are going to be starting the abridged version of Long Walk to Freedom. To segueway into it, last class I asked them to write a one-page essay on who their hero was. Nelson Mandela came out on top as the most popular choice, followed closely by mom. Awwww :)

Was interesting to see examples of their writing. While for the most part, their spoken English and reading is quite strong, however their grammar is definitely the weakest of the bunch. Spent today going over some of their most frequent errors, while reminding them that they mustn’t get discouraged, as English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and that the mistakes they make are common to any new learner of the language.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Time to say goodbye...

For Auntie Anne’s last two days, we busied ourselves doing a random assortment of things, and enjoying our remaining time together. Has truly been a blessing having her here for these two and a half weeks. Cannot imagine having made this transition without her, and the adventures we shared in the time leading up to the start of school and even now have been wonderful. On Saturday night we went for dinner with one of my housemates Catherine at a local spot called Café Ganesh. Definitely one of my new favorite places, with an eclectic décor, open concept kitchen, and live music at the front. The wall behind our table was covered in matchbox paper, and water was served in a washed out Jack Daniels bottle. Loves it. Dinner was delicious and homey, and 3 mains, a dessert and two bottles of wine came to just over $40 cdn. For serious.

Sunday was a sad day, and after having to be rescued by one of Merrits friends due to her car breaking down en route to the airport, I gave auntie Anne one million hugs and she was on her way.

Back at home, truly on my own since I first touched down in Africa, my housemates and I sat together for the better part of 2 hours and bonded over bottles of wine, baked goods and of course, boys. How fortunate we all are that our living arrangement has worked out as well as it has is not lost on any of us, and am looking forward to getting to know the both of them even more over the next while.

Friday, January 25, 2008

just your average friday afternoon...

Today after work, auntie Anne and I drove along the coast en route to cape point. Prior to the advent of GPS, this had been considered the southern-most point in Africa. Despite being dethroned, it still remains a beautiful spot worthy of visiting, with a large national park, interesting landmarks and sign bearing the new title of ‘southwestern-most tip of Africa’ :)

As we are driving along, we see what I initially thought were dogs along the side of the road. The dogs turned out to be little baboons, and since we had been dying to see some, we stop the car for a closer examination. There were two other cars parked along the crest where we had stopped, both with their windows and doors shut tight which we thought strange but didn’t pay much attention to.

As I am snap snap snapping away shots of the cute little baboons on the mountain, to my left I hear auntie anne exclaim: “Oh look at that big one!” I turn to see a huge baboon, at least three times the size of the ones I was photographing, bounding down the mountainside at a great speed. Thrilled, we stayed in place and watched it come down. Once it reached the road, it went strait for our car. After peering in the driver side window, it then starts to round the car to where Auntie Anne is standing. At that moment, we hear a yell from one of the cars behind us, “GET IN YOUR CAR! GET IN YOUR CAR RIGHT NOW!!”

Hearing the urgency in her voice, Auntie Anne unlocks the car by remote, which the baboon responds to by opening the door JUST LIKE A HUMAN and getting in the car. While initially this was humorous, when he refused to get out of the car at our urging, and open car door coaxing, panic started to set in.

Once in the car, the baboon immediately started rummaging through my bag, eating a pear that I had in there in one bite. He then finds my Tupperware container from lunch, OPENS IT (again, just like a human), and starts stuffing his face with my leftovers. Once he was done that, he chucked it out the door at one of his little uns, who I then noticed were surrounding the car. Shit.

Auntie Anne succeeds in making a dash for my bag while the baboon is in the backseat, but not before catching one hot clap on the head from this hungry mother. shit shit.

As he rampages the car, looking in bags and under seats, I catch a glimpse of his mouth which is bloody and very very scary. Ick ick holy shit.

The woman from the car behind asks me if I have any food on me, I tell her no. She then tells me that she has an apple and that I must open the drivers side door. I oblige, and she chucks the apple. The baboon immediately dashes out the car and after the apple. We get in the car faster than you can say “tell me again why we got out of the car?” shocked at what we have just witnessed, and me shaking like a leaf.

The entire contents of my bag are scattered across the car (and for those who know me, you know I do not travel light), and everything is covered in red sauce (lunch was leftover seafood marinara) and blood. Whose blood, we did not know or care to think about, but regardless, it was disgusting.

A short while down the road the lady in the car who had saved us pulls over and checks to make sure we are okay. Shaken but unharmed, we thank her profusely, while she tells us that we must never stop close to a baboon if we have food in the car. They have been known to break windows to get to it, and kill people by smacking them in the face and breaking their jaws. Upon hearing that I felt ill, and thanked our lucky stars that all auntie Anne got was a little tap.

Needless to say, this was a one-time mistake. Lesson learned. Of course, as soon as we got into Cape Point Park, you couldn’t drive more than 40 meters without seeing a sign that read:

Baboons are dangerous and attracted by food.

Just perfect. Things that would have been useful to know 17 minutes ago.

Once we had calmed down we began to see the humor in the situation, although it will be a long time until I have wont to see another baboon. Those bloody-mouthed savages? No thanks.

After enjoying the beauty of the lush (yet extremely windy) Cape Point park, we began to wonder what would have happened if the baboon had released the emergency brake. Is ‘stolen by baboons’ covered under rental car insurance? I wonder.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The medium is the message.

When driving into the township, it is interesting to observe the vast array of homes that are here. One passes corrugated metal shacks along the edges of the highway, and then once in Gugs, we see anything from small wooden structures to large brick double level homes, with alarm systems and satellite dishes.

First thing this morning, I had a double-period Grade 11 English class. According to the curriculum, they start the year with a unit on the Media. Am ecstatic. Had a solid hour and a half with the students, brainstorming and discussing the media, what it means, and how they feel it affects their lives. They were very involved in the discussion, and as we discussed the various media outlets they feel they are most affected by, the conversation turned to music and hip hop videos, which was most interesting. They are aware that they are influenced by what they see, but at the same time they agree that seeing the fancy cars, clothing, jewelry, clothes and women make them feel like it is something they would like to emulate.

Interesting how profound the impact of this form of media can be, regardless of international borders. Had the same discussion with several of my classes in London. Do hope that I will stay with this class for the year as they seem an interesting group that is eager to learn. As two of the students were helping me carry the textbooks back to the staff room (and when I say ‘help me’, I mean they were carrying. I was told never to carry books myself because students would look at me funny). They both said that they wanted me to stay their teacher so they could improve their English and learn about the world. Very cute.

Was given a lesson to do with my Grade 10 English class by one of the other teachers, which she said would take one period. It involved reading an article on the importance of career choices, and answering questions. She said I could read it to them, or get them to read it themselves. Always preferring for the students to do it themselves, I opted for the latter. While the level of reading ability is quite high (at least in those students who volunteered to read), the actual comprehension of some of the words used in the text is lagging. After a paragraph was read, I would ask the class about some of the harder words, and whether or not they knew what they meant. More often than not, they didn’t. this then moved the lesson into learning what these words meant, which in turn meant the siren signifying the start of the next period sounded before we had even finished reading through the article, let alone get started on the questions. But does it make sense to assign questions if the students don’t fully understand the material they are expected to base their answers on? What is the protocol for this sort of thing? Hm.

The teacher who taught the grade 11s after me just told me that when she went into the classroom they were talking about me and the lesson and saying about how I was from Canada. She asked them what part of Canada I am from to which they replied: ‘New York.’ ummm…

So now I am back in the staffroom. On my timetable it said I had double period with a Grade 10 English class. When I got to the classroom however, the class that was there was the one that I taught this morning. After a bit of running around and asking other teachers, I find out that the class – 10H – that I was to teach, has been dissolved into two different classes. So there is now no class to teach.

Tomorrow there is a meeting about timetabling, at which time hopefully things will become a bit clearer. We shall see…

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

day two.

This morning Auntie Anne drove me to school, and although Vancouver had said to take a cabs until further notice (for which I would be reimbursed), as she leaves on Sunday we want to spend as much time together as possible, even if only a few minutes at the start of the day.

Had period one spare, and as I am sitting reading over the lesson for the day, my mobile rings. Its auntie Anne. Calling from the police station. After dropping me off she was rear-ended by one of the jitney mini-buses, at the gate of the police station. Thankfully she was okay and it was only a minor dent, but she was clearly (and understandably) shaken. I may have mentioned before that the mini-vans cruise the road by their own rules, and this was no exception. Auntie Anne was stopped, in coordinance with what one I supposed to do, though such behavior is admittedly not the norm here. thankfully a couple of the teachers were able to drive me to meet her at the police station, and act as interpreters since everything was being discussed in xhosa. The matter was quickly resolved and Auntie Anne was able to leave, while we returned to school for class. What a start to the day!

Had two classes today, both Grade 10 English, and luckily both the right classes this time. Things went relatively well and the students were well-behaved for the most part. I am still a novelty to them however, so we will see how long this will last. When I arrived at my last period class I came to find another teacher teaching them. Apparently such timetabling kinks are common at the beginning of the year, and according to one teacher, “they should be sorted out within a months time.” A month?

Auntie Anne picked me up from school and off we went in search of penguins and baboons. We had heard that there was a beach not to far from the city where penguins liked to hang out, and baboons ran wild.

About 45 minutes from Cape Town, Muizenberg is an adorable little fishing town, with brightly-colored cabanas lining the beach, and fishing boats constantly coming to and from shore. The colonial-style water-facing architecture was reminiscent of Barbados, and the sky was a perfect rich shade of blue. We found the beach and the penguins and took the requisite snapshots. Afterwards we had dinner at a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the bay. Auntie Anne had lobster bisque and I some freshly-caught snapper. Yum.

On the drive back we took the mountain route towards Chapman’s peak. One feels as though you could be driving through Italy or even the alps, as the highway winds round and round, with a sheer drop cliff overlooking the ocean on the one side, and steep lush mountains on the other.

As we approached chapmans, the sun was setting in the rich blue sky. Breathtaking. Even more unbelievable is that such beauty is almost a daily occurrence here in the Western Cape. *swoon*

Monday, January 21, 2008

welcome to Fezeka.

A siren wails indicating the beginning of the day.

It’s hot. The forecast today called for 31 degrees, and as the clock strikes 8, the thermometer that somehow made its way into my bag is already approaching 27.

Undeterred, students are dressed in full wool kit – longs, shirts, ties and sweaters, and even occasionally, blazers. When I ask another teacher why no one wears shorts, she explains that for many Black South Africans, there is a strong aversion to shorts because of their connection to white Afrikaners, and therefore they are seen as a symbol of White oppression.

Chatting noisily, students gather in the school yard for assembly, held on every Monday and Friday morning.

Leading off, the vice-principal speaks eloquently to the crowd. Touching on the importance of staying focused during the term, he offers students words of encouragement and inspiration.

Latecomers trickle in, and so steady is the stream that by the end of the assembly the size of the group of students has tripled.

The headmaster speaks next, reiterating a similar message as the VP, then introduces the days’ special guest.

The delegate from the office of the regional Member of the Executive Council for Education speaks very highly of Fezeka, telling students that they are a shining example, and so important is the school in its surrounding community, that “when Fezeka sneezes, the entire Western Cape catches a cold.”

Back in the staffroom, I am surrounded by a hubbub of activity and raucous laughter. Teachers chat amongst themselves and prepare for the start of the day.

While sitting in a busy room where I understand not one word of the click-filled language being spoken by every other person is indeed disorienting – as I scan the area, warm faces and wide smiles meet my eyes and I instantly feel welcome and a part of the teacher culture, despite the significant language barrier.

Just then, the siren sounds once more and it is time to go. My 52-student strong grade 10 English class awaits, and I need to find some chalk.

As the layout of the classrooms is still unfamiliar to me, one of the other English teachers offers to show me to my grade ten English class. My first class! She introduces me to the students and leaves me be.

Eyeing me up and down curiously, the students are almost silent as I introduce myself, explain where im from, and why I am here. I lay the ground rules – namely, when I speak, they listen, when they would like to speak, they must raise their hand and I will listen, everyone listens to each other, and as this is English class, we speak English. And were off.

Going on the pacesetter that I had been given by the head of the department, I begin a lesson on the format of an essay, tying it into what they did over the summer break and what they would like to accomplish by this time next year. It is only when I make mention of the fact that since they are in grade ten and new to this campus, that I am made aware of an interesting fact – I am in the wrong class. This is a grade 11 english class, not grade ten. Not wanting to stop mid steam, I regroup. Now we improvise.

Made it through the lesson unscathed, and returned to the staffroom. A couple teachers ask me ‘how was it?.’ ‘well,' I reply, 'it was great until about ten minutes into the lesson they let me know that they were grade 11 and not grade 10, meaning that I was teaching the wrong class.’ Explosion of laughter.

When the teacher who misdirected me returns to the staffroom, she is immediately roasted. ‘you took her to the wrong class!’ she is mortified and beyond apologetic. And very sweet.

By 2:50, the end-of-day staff meeting that was to take place at 2pm has yet to start. At 3pm they let us know that it has been cancelled because of a power failure. No one is surprised and we head home.

Back in obs, auntie anne and I do some groceries and get a takeaway dinner from spar. Am completely shattered and sleep early.

Day one is over. And despite going to the wrong class, at least I got my feet wet. Tomorrow is a new day.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

a million little thoughts...

It is now 11:30pm on Sunday the 20th. Tomorrow is my first day working at the school and I have to be up at 6:30 for a 7:15 pickup. Good times.

Wanted to take a minute to write though and get a bit caught up on the events of the past few days before things get super hectic tomorrow and they may have gotten lost forever in the excitement of what is to come.

Early early Friday morning we departed Addo en route back to cape town. The first 5 hours or so passed relatively quickly, due in large part to the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounded us, and of course the charming company.

Losing all radio stations aside from one that was broadcasting some billy graham evangelical bidness (vomit), we contented ourselves with name games and country trivia. Stopping only to leave our cards, we reached Cape d’Agulhas around mid afternoon, and were certainly glad that we did. The official Southern-most point in Africa, it is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Under a bright blue sky and a rocky beach, the two meld together seamlessly. When we reached the stone marking the spot, we were the only ones there. For that moment in time, we truly felt as though we were not only at the end of the world, but that we were there by ourselves. Sublime.

Got back into CT rather late and crashed out hard. All in all, we spent 13 hours in the car on Friday. Aggressive! But most enjoyable. Love auntie anne. Love love.

Saturday was our day to hit up some wineries, so off we went towards Franschhoek, which is the most renowned (and closest), wine region in the area. First stop was the L’Ormarin vineyard. As we were being driven into the wine tasting area, one would swear that you were stepping into 17th century France. It was absolutely breathtaking. White stone buildings, and lush green vines everywhere you looked. Massive mountains in the background, and of course the sun shining brightly in a clear blue sky. The wine tasting was delicious, and the other three people on our tour were a Swedish couple and his grandfather. They were quite friendly and at the end we exchanged numbers and made plans to meet up. Fun for new friends!

As the sommelier was explaining the different wines to us, she also gave us some background on the vineyard and owner. Apparently, this winery is one of many side ventures for the owner, and because of his hectic schedule he is only able to be there a couple weeks out of the year. To imagine that sort of wealth is beyond me. Oh and just as an fyi, his wife’s favorite hobby is raising thoroughbreds. Favorite hobby.

While we had planned to visit a bunch, our first tour took over an hour, leaving us only time for one other. Graham Beck was the second stop, and was keen to visit as we have this wine at home. This experience was nowhere near as neat as the first one. We sat in a large restaurant-like setting, and you order the wine off a menu, along with numerous other patrons. Had neither the personal nor old world feel of the other. But I still drank my five samples and three of auntie anne’s, obv.

Saturday night took Auntie Anne out for a birthday dinner at an Indian restaurant called Bukhara in the city. MOST delicious.

Today we headed to a craft market in town, and upon our arrival came to find that we had already visited this market last week. As it wasn’t too windy at that point, we decided to take the requisite trip up Table Mountain instead.

The summit to which tourists are allowed to travel located some 1000+ feet above sea level, one is cable car-ed to the top. The views are indeed quite spectacular, but as Auntie Anne and I both hold a special place in our hearts for Rio and the view from Corcovado, we think that we are jaded. After about ½ hour, the winds changed and the fog started rolling in. quite a sight to witness from up close, these massive rolling clouds of fog – billowing across the mountain top and spilling over the side like the rolling steam of a witches brew. Coupled with the fog (which is FREEZING, btw), were the fierce winds of late afternoon and it was time to head back down.

A quick grocery stop by the waterfront marketplace which we later came to find out has been recently purchased by Dubai businessmen, explaining the look, feel and format of the area mentioned in an earlier entry.

So that takes us to now.

Almost midnight the day before I am to start the next chapter – and most real – chapter in this journey.

And how am I feeling?

About tomorrow – nervous, excited, anxious, eager…

Its strange not knowing anything of what to expect. Of what it will be like to stand out so much. Of being one among over 1100 students and teachers. What will it feel like? How will I be received? Will the students take to me? Will they see me as an outsider? How will the staff treat me? As a coworker? As an ally? As a threat? So many questions..

Even little things…like making my lunch. First having to figure out what to take since I cannot assume there will be things like a microwave or fridge. And then thinking about where I will leave my lunch when im there. According to Catherine, if I leave it somewhere, I mustn’t assume that it will be there when I get back. She has said that at her work she gets food taken out of the fridge all the time. Such is the nature of working with people and in a place where there is poverty and hunger. I laughed ironically and said that even when I worked for the government of Ontario things would get taken, but yes, a consideration like that is important. Not leaving things around. Always knowing where your wallet and cell phone are. Keeping things locked. And close. Day to day behaviors that are second nature to people who are more familiar with the city and customary behavior, but yet so foreign to someone like myself. But I will learn…I am still learning…

Okay. Time for bed. Tomorrow is a big day. Big big. Perhaps the biggest of my life?

Oh my.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

elephant x-ing.

Its 9:40pm. The sun has set and the dinner dishes have been washed. Auntie anne is in dreamland to my right, and through the open window on my left the air is filled with a symphony of sounds from the animal and insect kingdoms.

Today was another day filled with exotic animals, beautiful scenery and scorching sun. not bad at all. Early this morning (okay, early-ish), and again on our friendly neighbors’ advice, we shunned the group tours offered by the park, and decided to drive the paved trails ourselves. Inching along at around 30 kms per hour, we weaved through the park. On this journey we saw countless elephants, in the most up close and personal ways. At one point, a family crossed the road we were on, so close to us that if we had reached out of the window to try and touch one, we could have (we didn’t.) such beautiful animals. And so many babies! buffalo, zebras, ostrichs, warthogs, kudus...the list goes on. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see one of the three lions that live in the park – though given that it is a … acre property, with only 20% of it accessible by car, and given the fact that lions apparently sleep 80% of the day, we didn’t feel so bad. Nor did we see any of the 4 black rhinos on the property or one of the hyenas, but given our close encounters with SO MANY elephants, we didn’t feel badly at all. Once again, took a ridiculous number of photos.

Back to the chalet for lunch, then some relaxing in the hothot sun while billie holliday sang softly in the background.

Went back into the park in the afternoon and hung out with the elephants, this time with me as the driver. Driving standard on the other side of the road is definitely something that will take some getting used to. But what better place to practice than in an elephant park, non? Cannot get over how cool they are. So large, yet so elegant, as they move across the land ever so steadily. The only time we saw them pick up some speed was when one mama made a beeline for our car and her two youngstas followed at a speed. I suppose it is worth mentioning that just prior to this, auntie anne and I may have disobeyed park rules and gotten out of the car to take some photos of them. May have. Moving on…

Tomorrow is auntie annes birthday, and our plan is to leave at 7am (!!), and be back in cape town in time for a celebratory dinner. The drive is about 9 hours, but on the way and time permitting, we are hoping to detour to Cape d’Agulhas, the southern-most tip of Africa, and where the Indian and Atlantic seas meet. Most exciting.

A few interesting facts about the park and its elephants: Currently, and unlike the game farm we visited in plettenburg bay (where they will feed the lions a cow every five days or so), this park and its animals are self-sufficient. The law of the jungle rules supreme, and although the vast majority of the animals here are herbivores, the aforementioned lions most certainly are not. As in the wild, they hunt for their food. According to archie and cathy (such a wealth of knowledge those two!), kudus are most often their prey. When the park first opened about 100 years ago with only elephant residents however, those who ran it did not know if they would be able to subsist off the land, and used to feed them oranges. This practice has long stopped, but as a result, no one is allowed to bring any citrus fruits into the park, out of their fear that some of the elephants may remember the smell, and charge any car that may be carrying the fruity goodness. I guess its true about them never forgetting, huh?

Finally, we also learned that elephants cannot lie down. Because of their weight, if they lie down, their own mass will crush their internal organs. This makes transporting them especially difficult, since they have to be tranquillized yet propped up during the process so they are not harmed. Apparently this task can take the strength of 8 men. AND it means that they spend pretty much their entire lives standing, even when they sleep.

Speaking of which…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

lions and giraffes and elephants, oh my!

after a SUPER deluxe breakfast that well complimented our super deluxe stay, we were off on our way to addo. Upon finding a pamphlet at the inn for a game park on our route (, we decided to make a pit stop. Why not, right? Briefly stopping in plettensburg bay so auntie anne could put her feet in the Indian ocean, we continued along the breathtaking route, with massive gorges and huge expanses of lush green forestry flanking our path along the N2 highway. So so beautiful.

After a brief detour, we arrived at the park with less than a minute to spare before the tour left. Jumping in the only two remaining spots on the jeep, off we went in search of aminals galore. ‘what do you want to see most?’ asked our guide. Without missing a beat I yelled ‘giraffes!’, obv.

Across the park we went, seeing and taking innumerable photos of impalas, buffalos, zebras, rhinos, and kudus. on passing the lions cage, I asked if we weren’t stopping. No, I was told. Because were going in. o-kay then. Its crazy how close one can get to the animals. Took a brazillion photos of course.

Next up was the search for the mama rhino and her one-week old baby which we found and oh my goodness was amazing. The smallest little rhino you have ever seen. And the mama was so protective. We only got a glimpse since as soon as she saw us she moved to cover her little’un from our prying eyes. THEN, it was time for the giraffes. Gosh I love giraffes. Such graceful, beautiful, calm creatures. They have three on their site, and one of the two females was in the process of giving birth. Apparently this can take a whole afternoon, but when we saw them, one of the hooves of the almost-born was sticking out. Imagine? Crazy crazy.

On the road again and en route to addo. After stopping for groceries and travelling on a VERY dubious road (thanks to my navigational short cut identifying prowess. Oops.), we rocked up to the park ( as the sun was going down. Where we are staying is just breathtaking. A chalet with a verandah that overlooks the park almost touches the fence that borders the area where the elephants come up to say hi. For serious. The sunset over the mountain that faces us was stunning. Our neighbors Cathy and Archie, an adorable elderly couple from knysna (who bought 40 years ago, before “it became overrun by wealthy foreigners and it turned too expensive for middle-class people like us”), have been coming to the park every year for the past 20 and gave us endless tips on how to properly enjoy the park, which we will surely do tomorrow. On their recommendation we went and checked out the watering hole after dark, at which we found a HUGE heard of elephants drinking, hanging out, and babies running amok.

Sometimes I still cant believe im here and everything that im experiencing is real. So so lucky am i. the hard work starts on Monday, so am soaking up as much of it as I can right now! Before we ate and after the sun had set we went over to the watering hole that is located close to the main entrance to camp. With his superstar binocs, archie had spotted a family of elephants having a drink. What we witnessed while there was best described by auntie anne when she called it a ballet. These massive animals, so graceful in their movements, a whole family of them of all sizes, drinking, playing, climbing on each other… and all of this was viewed by a solitary light, while the entire surrounding area was shrouded in darkness. Spectacular. Tomorrow we will drive into the park and see what we can find. Apparently its not just an elephant park. The big five are here, along with endless others and a whole mess of reptiles. Oh my.

Thoughts of the animals sleeping juuust to my right dance in my head while Brazilian girls sing at me that ‘je veux me reveillez avec toi’, and the moths flickering around the clock tell me that its time for bed.

A demain mes enfants.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

fine, we'll get upgraded.

Early-ish on Tuesday morning, auntie anne and I set off for knysna, our first stop en route to addo and its national elephant park, where we are booked in to spend Wednesday and Thursday night. While we knew nothing of the town itself, on a map, knysna seemed a good ¾ point mark to stop and rest, especially after the 6 hours of driving we would have done by the time we reached it.

Gorgeous coastline and then impressive mountains and winding roads took us a bit inland, past ostrich farms (ostrich farms!) and signs for fresh biltong.

Confronted with some road works, we were forced to lose about 45 minutes of time at checkpoints. At one stop in particular, a tractor trailor carrying about 8 large green barrels was stopped in front of us. The winds rocking our car at this point were impossible to ignore, and as we watched the load in front of us sway back and forth it became clear that the winds they were indeed ferocious. Next thing we knew, RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, the entire load capsizes in front of us. Like a candle in the wind, the whole damn truck topples over. Holy shit.
Dude driving gets out and tries to upright the thing to no avail. Not knowing what these containers contained, we sure did first gear it out of there and on our way. Since that moment we have had a running joke – “I wonder what ever happened to the green containers?”

We arrived in knysna (pronounced ny-sna) and checked into the lodge that ted had recommended ( We were shown to our room, but before we could put our bags down, were informed that the owner wanted to upgrade us to a deluxe room at no extra cost. fine, well do it if we have to :) Gorgeous view of the lagoon and mountains in front of us and a massive balcony that was catching just enough of later afternoon sun. stripped down to my skivvies/makeshift bikini and enjoyed a heinekin with auntie anne as we watched the sunset. Le sigh.

When we went for dinner, it became clear to us that knysna was not a place for those who were watching their pennies. A harbor at which gorgeous boats were docked, homes on the mountain front that were insanely beautiful, and a brand new development that was sprouting up boasting ‘luxury homes in a discreetly upscale beach-front community’ gave us the impression that we were no longer in Kansas. At dinner we asked our waiter what the deal with knysna was. He informed us that more often than not it was a place where wealthy South Africans, expats, and retirees held summer homes.

At dinner I overheard a conversation between two gentlemen at a table not far from ours. One in his late 30s, the other in his mid 50s, both dressed in white linen shirts and khakis, it went something along the lines of this…

‘so how are you?’
‘aich, life is good…cant complain. You?’
‘yea good hey. Loving it here. My better half keeps telling me that we have to move back to cape town but am enjoying the sloooow pace of things here.’
‘yea I hear you.’
‘am planning on doing the che guavera route through south America in the fall. You know, through argentina, etc. etc.’
‘ah yes, sounds good. But you must be careful you know. Have heard horror stories about south America.’

I couldn’t help but smile. Here were two clearly affluent south African men, living in a monied resort town, talking about the dangers they had heard for tourists in south America. But surely they can’t be worse than those that tourists hear about South Africa? :)

Monday, January 14, 2008

one week ago today...

Woke up at 6am feeling pretty worse for wear and confused as to where I was (first night sleeping in the house). Three hours later auntie Anne and I were waiting at the front door for T. to pick us up for our visit to Gugulethu (also sometimes spelt Guguletu), Fezeka, and my first experience of where I will be spending the better part of the next year.

As we drove towards the townships, tree-lined streets gave way to corrugated metal shack-lined highways. Cannot begin to imagine – especially on a day like today, where the temperature hovered around 30 degrees Celsius – what the heat must be like in those homes.

Driving into Gugulethu (known colloquially as Gugs) was an experience, mostly because of the running color commentary offered to us by T.

To begin, he gave us some historical context on the townships. When they were first set up, it was during the Apartheid regime, as a way for the white ruling class to push the poorer black class out of the city and of sight. It was forbidden for people to set up shops or any sort of industry within the townships, as though they were required to live in these designated areas, those in charge still wanted people to spend their money at white-owned shops and businesses. Additionally, the communities were very closely watched, as were all those who entered and left the townships. Any locals who demonstrated leadership qualities were reprimanded, often brutally. For a long while, whites were forbidden from entering the townships, out of the fear that they might go in an effort to inspire dissent amongst the black community, and encourage them to rise up against their white oppressors.

Before we actually entered Gugulethu, we passed what T. told us were the ‘ritual fields’. Dotted with small white tents, these large open area is where young men of the Xhosa and Sotho cultures are welcomed into manhood at the age of 16, with a traditional circumcision ritual. After the ceremony, the young men spend 4-6 weeks in these small tents, recovering from the experience.

On the main road into Gugs there is a beautiful stone monument, created in honor of the Gugulethu 7. These 7 young men had been known as activists in their local communities, who had been trying to rally their people to fight against the oppression they were being subjected to. In 1986, while they were attempting to surrender, all 7 were brutally murdered by the police.

Throughout the township, one sees a wide range of ingenuity in the constructing of homes and shops, with materials including corrugated metal, plastic bags, cardboard, and holed out shipping containers that house shops, internet cafes and barbershops.

Gugs was the first place that we actually saw rubbish in the streets. Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it, but Cape Town is incredibly clean and litter-free. Gugs wasn’t horribly littered, but given that we hadn’t seen much until then, it was noticeable. We reached Fezeka, which is located not too far off one of the main roads and is based on two campuses. One for years 7-9, and the other for 10-12.

Before arriving at the school, T. had mentioned that we would see students and parents lined up trying to register. As classes do not begin until Wednesday and today is the first day that teachers are on campus, parents of and kids themselves who are not registered were there trying to find a way to get admitted into the school. As they are already over-enrolled the chances were slim, but as with anything, it is worth a try.

Upon arrival we were informed that there was a staff meeting going on, and that this was where we were to go. Double doors open and voila – I am faced with the 40-strong staff, all eyes on me. Aside from the age difference, there is the obvious skin color difference, and while I had suspected that I may be the only white person at the school, it was at this moment confirmed.

Asked to say a few words, I briefly introduced myself and mentioned how excited I was to be there. Looking forward to the year to come and would be welcome to any help or advice anyone could offer.

After a few minutes we went to the headmaster’s office, belonging one Mr. S, a portly man in his mid 40s, who has been headmaster at Fezeka for some time. In our initial meeting (during which we were also joined my N., the vice principal, and a lovely man), we spoke about our thoughts for my role in the school during my time at Fezeka, and the importance that we all placed upon my being thoroughly integrated into the staff and school culture. At first, it seemed as though Mr. S would have been happy for me to stay somewhat on the sidelines, however T. asserted that this would not fly, and in order for the students to respect me, it was important that my presence in the school was seen as no different from that any other member of the faculty. Both headmaster and vice principal seemed to agree, so we will see how that goes on Monday.

Later, I met P., the head of the English department, and from my understanding, he with whom I will be working most closely. An eloquent and clearly well-educated man, P. is also the leader of the school choir, which I learned has earned many accolades and awards for its outstanding achievements. Clearly a teacher who cares deeply for students, he seems to be someone who will be a good ally within the school.

P. then took auntie anne and I on a tour of the school. am happy that she will have a picture of where I will be working that she can take back to Canada and share with the rest of my family. Based on my preconceived notions, the school was indeed far more developed and well-equipped than I had imagined. A 26-PC strong computer lab – although internet access is precarious – that had been donated by the Rotary Club association in various US-based cells, an impressive science lab and assembly hall, as well as numerous classrooms (many of which have been built with funds donated by education without borders), describe the Fezeka main campus in a nutshell.

That said, it is still a school in a township with limited resources, but the above description is intended to convey the obvious impact that the dedicated faculty and committed external benefactors have had on Fezeka and its community.

We left the school with good feelings, and the commitment on the part of mr. S. and the members of staff with whom I spoke, that they would offer me their full support during my time at the school. For much else at this juncture, I could not ask.

Returning to Cape Town, auntie anne and I picked up our rental car and took off en route to Hout bay on teds recommendation to have lunch a restaurant overlooking crystal clear water and soaring mountains. Le sigh.

Spent the remainder of Monday evening at home, nesting, unpacking and setting up shop at 31 Bowden drive. Sooo neccesurry.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Sunday was a rather low key day by the standards weve kept over the past 4 (only!) days. After a late start on the road, we caught a bus into town. A real bus though, not one of the jitney mini-van rides that we constantly see weaving in and out of traffic at a ferocious speed, full of people packed in like sardines. Signaling when changing lanes is apparently optional at best in Kapstaad.

Once in the city, we decided to visit the district 6 museum, ( only to find that it is closed on Sundays, or open by appointment only. So wander we did, around the almost deserted streets. Was eerily empty in and around the cbd, and all but a few stores and restaurants were closed. Craving Indian food for a good while, we walked along Long Street looking for one Masali dosa, a resto that had been recommended by more than a few. While we did find it, it was unfortunately closed. Long street seems to be one of the trendier downtown strips, with boutique shops and chic little cafes aplenty. Lunched at a small Italian bistro in a piazza, or I guess the South African equivalent of one, which had an open air craft market, whose vendors that we spoke to were anything but [South African]. One was from Kenya, another from Somalia, and another still from Ghana.

On an aside, am surprised that nothing that I had read or heard about this city mentioned how windy it can be. The last couple of days – today in particular – were insanely windy. 50 km per hour winds was what we heard. Crazy crazy. That plus it being Sunday made getting a taxi back to the lodge somewhat difficult but eventually we made it, just in time for me to shower and boot it over to the house to head off to the concert with my housemates.

The show was at this gorgeously located (ie: facing the ocean) lil spot in camps bay (the aforementioned SUPER chichi beach-front area of the city) called ignite and the group that was performing was called goldfish SUPER SUPER dope evening of dancing and beats, and despite the fact that the average age of the crowd hovered somewhere around 10, we sure did get our dance on to the eclectic mix of beats that these two guys threw down on turntables, complimented with live sax, flute and a mélange of other instruments. Most enjoyable, and definitely worth checking out.

Ps. In further to Catherine’s input on the route we had taken on Saturday on our 2 and a half hour walk to the waterfront, Durward, one of the owners of the lodge almost choked on his coffee when we told him what we had done. Apparently that barren stretch of observatory’s lower main road is a well known home base for some of the areas most notorious and dangerous drug lords. Aaaaand scene.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Today began with the sun beating down on the already-tender skin of my back so hard that after we left the lodge on foot, we were forced to make a pit-stop at the house to grab some sunscreen. Meritt, my other housemate was there when we arrived, and she too is equally lovely. Having just come in the night before at 11pm on a direct flight from JFK to Cape Town via Joburg, she was in the middle of preparing to spend the day rock climbing. Uh, yea.

Once sun-screened, we continued our walk en route to the waterfront area of the city, located in downtown Cape Town. As we walked along the lower main road of observatory, the quaint little shops and brightly-painted houses that we had become accustomed to in the area of the suburb that I live in, gave way to a clearly more run-down area, with abandoned houses and decrepit buildings. It was only after about 20 minutes on this same road that we realized we hadn’t seen a white person since we left the main drag. An observation more than anything, we continued on. Again, no white people in sight, though the streets were quite busy. People were very friendly, greeting us as we passed signs for halal meat shops, electronic stores with hand-painted signs, and massive piles of garbage on balconies above.

Going purely on my navigational instincts, we then turned onto Newmarket Street, in the direction that I believed (based on my drive into the city that first morning with T.), would take us to our goal end destination. At one point, we passed an area that resembled an old Hollywood movie lot, coupled with an endless stream of BMWs, Mercedes, Range Rovers and the like. All driven by white people. It appeared that the lot was some sort of craft fair with a fair share of tourist bargain hunters. Uninspired by what we saw, we continued on, and once again, I was the only white person in sight.

At this point, we reached a long stretch of road that was flanked on one side by barbed-wire enclosed railway tracks and industrial buildings for days on the other.

As it was just after midday at this point, the sun was beating down on us something fierce, but caught up on conversation and looking forward to our end destination, we soldiered on.

The road we were on ended at a freeway, with two options of continuing. One, around the side and through a dark tunnel, the other, hopping across two lanes of highway and hoping that the narrow patch of grass that we saw on the other side would lead us to where we wanted to go. As the dark tunnel was definitely not an option, we opted for the highway-hop. It was then that I began thinking that my aforementioned navigational skills had perhaps been a bit too hasty in their self-confidence. Regardless, away we went.

Thankfully this route took us to another sidewalk, this one passing the castle that finds itself in the middle of the city. Before long, the city hall lay before us, and to the right a large open space called the grand parade (which we later came to find out had once been used as a public space to flog slaves, but today exists as a parking lot). Past the parking lot there were stairs and a bridge, leading to an open air market. Forever a fan of markets, off we went.

It was in walking through this market – filled with a aromatic blend of sweet and savory scents, vendors selling everything from electronics to fresh fruit to made-in-china plastic goods and handmade textiles, and a din of music, laughter, yelling and a cornucopia of languages – that I remarked how despite the fact that we (or at least I), was clearly the odd one out, no one was really paying us any mind.

Out of the market, through the train station and out to Adderley Street, whose wide streets, fountains and tree-lined borders, could easily have been mistaken for a main avenue in any European city, and we were smack dab in the middle of the CBD.

Pass the Westin hotel and over yet another bridge, and finally we were at the waterfront. Although not the same part that I had been at with T., this area was a tourist Mecca. With local artisans selling their wares, buskers performing on command, and buildings that looked like they had been carbon cut from a cape cod-esque mold. After eating lunch, we walked over to get ice cream, and I could’ve sworn I was at Canada’s wonderland. Gross.

Exhausted after our long walk, lunch, and perhaps a bit too much local lager, we decided to take one of those hop on/hop off open-top double decker bus tours, which ended up being a fantastic decision. This two hour tour took us all over the downtown core, then up the mountain to the table mountain cable car station. As we rode up the mountain, we were privy to some incredible vistas of the city, with the ocean in the background and Table Bay surrounded by mountains. While perhaps not as breathtaking as the view from Corcovado in Rio, it is spectacular nonetheless.

Because of the high winds, the cable cars had been closed for the day, so we continued our tour back down the other side of the mountain, this time towards Camps Bay, which is overlooked by the 12 Apostle mountain range. Here is where the beaches are, as well as an insane number of multi-million dollar homes overlooking the ocean. It was INsane. While there have been a few times on our walks that I have felt like I was in Los Angeles, never was this more the case then at this point. The houses rivaled some of the nicest ones in the Hollywood hills and in Malibu, with better views. But oh the money. Because some of them are built on such a high angle, many of the owners have opted to build their own personal cable cars to scale the ascent, rather than climb the stairs.

As we drove by the beaches, our tour guide informed us that there were four separate beaches along camps bay, each with its own clientele. Beach 1 is designated for sports; beach two is frequented by the ‘celebrities’, beach 3 by the gays, and beach 4 by families.

Our tour came to an end at the waterfront where it had begun, and shattered, we cabbed it home. Auntie Anne went back to the lodge, and I to the house to do some unpacking and make my bed.

Excited about the adventures we had enjoyed on our jam-packed day, I animatedly told my roommate Catherine about our walk into town. Her eyes widened as I told her the route we had taken. Apparently, on that more barren stretch of lower main road in observatory, she knew of two people who had been mugged in broad daylight and in the Market by the grand parade, the one full of such energy and sights and sounds, her brother had been held up at knifepoint.


Tomorrow we will see what the day brings, and in the evening my new housemates and I are going to see some South African band play at a bar in the city. Gold-something they are called. Electro-funk-beats from the sounds of what karsten played for me. Should be fun plus new roommate bonding and live music are always a good time.

Dinner at a Thai restaurant in Mowbry and now bed. A full day activity in the sun and perhaps an averted mugging really takes it out of you.

Friday, January 11, 2008


10:18pm. Once again seated next to auntie Anne in bed at the lodge.

Today could be quantified as a productive day, since today was the day that my bed was delivered. Only three days of hunting, and endless mattress laying-upon later.

Also, today we met Catherine, one of my new housemates. She is lovely, friendly, and full of energy.

To start the day off however, we took a long walk from the lodge (which is in Mowbry), to my house in Observatory. Normally we take a taxi, but since it was such a gorgeous day, we let intuition guide us, and found our way there on foot. A beauty little promenade, except when it came to the part where we had to take the underpass to get to the next road. It was at the train station, and the underpass was a darkened tunnel running under the railroad which enabled you to get to the side. Although it was broad daylight, it might not be a route that I would take again. Dark, scary, and easily mistaken for a public urinal, it wasn’t someplace one would like to be caught alone and off guard.

Tonight we had dinner at ‘Greek’, a – you guessed it – Greek restaurant in Mowbry. (
We went on Catherine’s recommendation and it was indeed a good one. Massive portions, delicious food, byo, and super reasonable. Dinner for two, with corkage and tip came to just under $40cdn. for serious.

Taking in the scenery and surroundings during dinner, it occurred to us that we could have been in any North American, European, or for that matter, Australian, city. I’ve said more than once how much this city (at least the parts we have seen), reminds me of Perth. Beautiful homes, tree-lined streets, narrow roads, small little neighborhoods, each with their own charm.

A guy came to the door today when the front gate had been left open to ask for money. On that note, it is worth mentioning that we have a front gate that locks, as well as a bar door at the front door, in addition to the front door. All of which have very secure locks. And all the doors and windows of the house have bars on them. This is standard on all homes. Its something we have gotten used to surprisingly easily.

Despite the shift towards a more clearly integrated South African society, at least to me, there is still a very obvious distinction between classes and racial groups. We have yet to witness a white person in a subservient role. Every kitchen in every restaurant, bar and café that we have visited has been staffed, and every manual labor role in every retail store that we have been in (aside from the larger chain stores in the malls) has been played, by blacks. Of note however, is the fact that while the restaurants, etc. kitchens have been staffed by blacks, every server has been white. Inneresting.

Tomorrow we are going into the city to play, and perhaps check out Table Mountain if there is time. We are hoping to go visit the school on Monday if T. is able. And on Tuesday we plan to leave for 4 days to visit the garden route with our own special twist. It’s all very exciting. And I still can’t believe we’ve only been here for 2.5 days.

Bonne nuit les enfants. Its been a ple-shah.

Ps. I think I got a sunburn.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Back at the hotel, feet THROBBING and belly full. After a somewhat successful day of room-prep shopping, we have returned to the lodge and enjoyed some delicious nandos take out. Gosh I love that place.

This morning found us at Cavendish centre – a lavish mall in Claremont with a layout so spectacular and shops so posh, that one could easily believe one was shopping in any first world country – and an upscale one at that. Traipsed from store to store, in search of bed, bedding and other home sense. Bought a duvet pillows and towels…the bed remained elusive, despite numerous stops. Went to see one in Green Point that an el Salvadorian girl is selling second-hand, then went to a furniture store that we were referred to by T. Think we may have found a winner though slightly out of original budget. Meh. Will make final decision tomorrow am.

Was extraordinarily hot today. 33 degrees and air so still. Sizzle. Over our piri piri chicken and rice, auntie anne and I were discussing the vast variance in temperature cape town experiences in a day. From 33 at midday, to a cool and windy 20 (?) degrees around suppertime. It is a very lush city. Tropical flowers grow wild everywhere you look, am forever picking frangipani off the trees and sniffing them like glue. Delicious.

Auntie anne and I have yet to take a ride on one of those jitney mini-van public transport rides that are constantly zooming past you and honking their horn when you walk on the main roads. Packed to the brim, there is always room for one more.

There are also buses. Today we saw one that was jammup proper, and the women in the back were engaged in a full sing-along. We could hear it from the street. Beautiful. We wanted to get on, but weren’t sure how we would be received as there was not one non-black face on the entire bus.


Breakfast in the dining room at the lodge. Fresh yogurt and juice and fruit and piping hot coffee and eggs and sausage and vegetables cooked to your liking.

Slept like a log. Did not stir, and had vivid dreams. Feel rested though still somewhat groggy.

Bought some groceries yesterday. $60 cdn for some basic necessities. And four bottles of wine, obv.

Today we are headed to the city to find a bed.

And the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. It’s a beautiful day.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Were heeeeeere

A whirlwind 20 (?) hours later finds me sitting up in bed next to auntie anne at her b&b, eyelids so heavy it is a strain just to write these words.

What. A. day.

A 15 hour plane ride that seemed to never end. Slept off an on and watched the bourne identity and a mighty heart. (On an aside, is it possible to NOT be in love with Jason bourne? Same goes for Angelina. In any movie).

Talked to some of the flight attendants during one of my many circulation-encouraging walks, all of whom were Black and one of whom was actually from Gugulethu. He said he knew Fezeka well. And that he would come visit me. Lol.

Hard to believe we only arrived here this morning. AND took a 4 hour kip in the middle of the day. Feels like weve been here far longer, though I suppose this is what happens when you rock up at 5am – amped, in overdrive, and running on adrenaline.

T.(one of 3-person strong Education without Borders Cape Town contingent) met us at the airport, and drove us into town where we dropped my bags off at the house (which is darling!), after having to bang on the door for 5 minutes until someone answered. In this case, the someone was a 6’5 south African named Julian who was house-sitting and was groggy as all hell. Still helped with my massive bags though. Came into the house and found two germans sleeping in each of the other rooms, both equally startled by our arrival, but who nonetheless got out of bed to greet us. And they said chivalry was dead.

After dropping auntie anne off at her lodging ( for some much needed r&r, ted took me into town for a brief tour of the city and then for breakfast at a restaurant overlooking the ocean.

On the way into the city we passed district 6 (, the infamous lot of land where in 1966, its more than 60 000 inhabitants were forcibly removed from their homes and displaced by the government in a land reclamation scheme done under the false guise of the area being a den of impropriety. Sickness and prostitution and crime and evil they said, when everyone knew it was because district six occupied prime real estate on the mountain-side, overlooking table bay. All homes and buildings (aside from religious ones) were demolished, and the area was declared a ‘whites-only’ zone.

To this day, the area has remained undeveloped because of its political and social implications, aside from few churches and mosques, and the 20-odd homes that have been built for the original inhabitants, or in several cases their descendants, as many of them have since died.

Downtown Cape Town is somewhat of a dichotomy. Paris meets Rio meets New York with a smattering of Sydney by the waterfront. Driving into the city from the Southern suburbs, you pass through a more industrial area, with factories and warehouse storefronts, while passing hordes of people filing into the downtown core for the beginning of the work day. As T. points out, you don’t see many whites walking.

Pass the Victorian-style city hall – the balcony of which from where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech upon his release from prison – around the old jail and the former prison, (which is now a business school) and under the bridge that goes nowhere (while stories on how this came to be vary, according to ted the two most popular are that the engineers were drunk or that there was an irish pub blocking the way that they couldn’t build through).

At breakfast T. and I discussed the school and his hopes for what I can accomplish during my time at Fezeka, as well as South African society in general. According to him, issues of race are still quite significant, though things are indeed changing. In a discussion on education, I was told that for every $50 that the government spends on educating a White child in a year, $1 is spent on a Black child. Staggering. There is a shift as of late, he told me, for families in the townships – if they are able – to send their children to while schools in the city, so that they may get a better education, while the rest of the family stays in the township. The hope then, is that this child will become successful through the education and social networking he will receive and be privy to, allowing them to be able to help the rest of the family improve their standard(s) of living.

T. tells me that interracial couples are becoming more common than ever, though there is certainly a far way to go before these become widely accepted by all. When reminded, it is absolutely mindblowing that it was only 14 years ago (1994) that Nelson Mandela was elected and a massive shift began in this country, beginning with the country's first-ever democratic elections.

When Mandela was released, T. continues, people (the white community in particular), were shocked to learn what this man was all about. Until that point they had been lead to believe that he was a white-hating, communist-sympathizing, animal of a man. the person who appeared before them upon his release bore no resemblance to this.

That said, it is obvious that prejudice still exists, even to us on our first day. One of our cab drivers – a white man – felt no qualms about telling us that “we don’t really go there if we don’t have to.” (referring to the townships).

So much more to say, but eyes are closing…

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

In transit...

8 hours later, sitting in the mccafe of Frankfurt airport, drinking not the best but certainly not the worst cappuccino ive ever had, especially considering it came from mcdicks..

Beyonce then shakira then nelly, all circa 2005 fill the air through the stereo… The window of the lounge looks over the tarmac…planes coming and going every minute…cars…trucks..buses..zipping about. Such a hub of international travel this airport.

the gay couple beind me are speaking german and eating ries..the young French couple with two small children to my left look tired. In front of me auntie anne struggles to sleep, exhausted after being unable to catch any shut eye on our flight over here. the finger of the gate to my right is attached to a massive air India jumbo jet, sandwiched between its air china and Lufthansa counterparts.

And the cars continue to zip around and around and around and...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Leaving on a Jet plane..

and so it begins..

10:34pm, January 7 2008.

Am sitting on the plane next to auntie anne, our air Canada flight 876 out of pearson having left about 10 minutes ago…in air en route to Frankfurt, final destination: cape town.

Wow. Cape town. Its happening. Its really real, isint it? Ever since the beginning, when the seeds for this adventure were planted, after the initial conversation with bonny, the meeting/interview in Vancouver…talking of the possibility of what could come of this…nothing really seemed real. Even when the wheels began to be put in motion…the word was put out, the fundraising begun. Even when my ticket was purchased and notice was given at work. Come to think of it, even now…it still doesn’t feel real.

But it is. It most certainly is. The big question now:

What comes next?

A million thoughts somersault and back flip through my brain…

Sadness at the endless goodbyes I have just said. Saying goodbye to my grandmother of course the tough-as-nails stone cold killa mother…breaking down on the phone in tears after we had parted and telling me that it only hit her when she returned home and realized that I really was gone..ouch. hard. Saying goodbye to my aunt of course is going to be insanely tough but we wont think about that for now…

My wonderful wonderful beautiful hilarious supportive caring gorgeous friends. So blessed I am. As if I didn’t already know this, over the past few weeks it has become all the more cemented.

Its always the anticipation that kills you, innit? The build up? The goodbyes..the what ifs..the scrambling to get everything done…the packing…which of course was going on until the minute we left the house for the airport..

How does one pack for an experience like this?

Moreover, how does one prepare? Mentally? Emotionally? Is it even possible to do so? What lies ahead of me? Do I want to know? The fear of the unknown. it fear? Cannot honestly say that I feel afraid. I don’t fear what comes next. But I do wonder. I suppose that all will begin to become clear in a very short while. Recognition of THAT reality however..a shiver raises the hair on my arms.

My mom and I were talking about preconceived notions…and about what I imagine my experience will be like. Is it strange that I don’t really have any? That is to say that I do envision my experience being just that – an experience – but beyond that…the details?

What will it be like to be among the minority? To stand out because of the colour of my skin? I am a 28 year old white-skinned woman and for the first time in my life I am going to experience, or at the very least have some semblance of the experience of, being the ‘other’.

My heart keeps watching…through the skin of my eyelids…

The arcade fire plays its mournful tune while I clickitty clack clack away, and stare out the window of the plane into an impossibly dark sky.