Monday, 26 February 2007

Fourth Post from Cape Town

Hello everyone,
'Tis another week, and another chronicle. We had some more balance in the past few days. Or, put more frankly, school started and life is getting a lot more mundane. Lectures are beginning, societies (i.e. clubs) are meeting, I even have a group presentation on Thursday. Even so, the days of sitting on the beach have not gone out with the tide. I still went to the beach this week, I just brought along my course readings.
What clubs did I join, you ask? A slew, I answer. To date, I belong to Habitat for Humanity, Varsity (the biweekly student newspaper), the History and Currrent Affairs Society (all the cool kids are doing it ;) and SHAWCO, a huge student group that for 60 years has run welfare programs in the townships (it's a great organization - see For sports, I did the surf club (!) and the soccer club.
The soccer club met on Thursday and, whew, did those guys serve me up a reminder that I hadn't played soccer in nearly a decade. It was largely a mishmash of European graduate students and African undergrads, and then, there in the corner, the pasty, bespectacled American in running shoes, me. As they mentioned positions that didn't exist when I played and did tricks with the ball that had previously appeared impossible, I felt like an anachronism, as out of place as a brussel sprout in a fruit salad. Nonetheless, once Uup from Holland lent me an extra pair of boots (i.e. cleats) and we started playing, I began to speak the language once again. I wasn't necessarily fluent, but I fell into a groove of sorts and held my own, even registering an assist. I give it another go tomorrow when tryouts begin for the premier team (ha!).
The overarching reason I bothered joining the soccer club was the same reason I went to church last night - the experience and the community. In my first e-mail nearly a month ago, I said something to the effect of 'I'm a bit impatient, but I'm looking forward to settling in, kind of sinking more into some of the culture and the consciousness of the area and the country.' Time has that effect, but initiative also helps, accelerates the process even. Vacations, which this essentially is, just a 4.5 month one, are made up of memories, which are based on experiences. When enough time goes by, any experience - regardless of whether the actual event/incident was positive or negative - becomes a fond memory (or at least something to laugh about). That's why my general mentality here is to have as many experiences here as possible. The soccer club and church - a relatively new, non-denominational Christian one nearby - were not worthwhile simply for what I did while I was there - pull my groin and sing songs in different languages, respectively - but for whom I did it amongst. Both activities were shared with people of all different ages and races. That's not always the case here, not by a long shot. When I had dinner and a movie at the mall Tuesday, I was almost exclusively in a white audience. When I went to a braai (i.e. BBQ) Thursday, I was almost exclusively among American study abroad students. When I went to high tea at the Mount Nelson hotel Friday, I was almost exclusively among white, upper-class tourists. All events were enjoyable, but if I simply hopped around town from white spot to white spot - which one could easily do here - I wouldn't be fully experiencing Cape Town and South Africa. So I hit some of the black spots, too, so I can at least be a dalmatian and not a yellow lab (a dalmation has black spots - get it? Get it?! :).
I'll talk more about race in subsequent e-mails. It's a fascinating topic, one that is surprisingly and refreshingly openly discussed here, and one where I think you see a lot of personal backgrounds coming into play. But before I digress completely or bore you utterly, I'd like to close with the tale of Noma. (Her full name is Nomandla, but the 'ndl' is not as easy to pronounce as you think - her name is Xhosa, one of the 'click' languages). Anyhow, Noma is in my Policy and Administration course. On the first day of class, she asked me some basic question and then, simply to extend the conversation, I asked her what book she was reading. It was Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' I'd also been reading a book (yes, without the New York Times around, I've had to resort to books - blah!) and she asked me what I was reading. It was Nadine Gordimer's 'July's People.' I was struck at how a South African student was reading an American author and an American student was reading a South African author. We talked after class, and do so every day now. It's the favorite part of my day. I'm not in love, now, now, and I know my anecdote must sound eerily similar to something out of a Hugh Grant movie. But she maintains no pretenses and is disarmingly honest. (The first time we talked she said she was scared to go to America because it was a "ticking time bomb" and she believed she was much safer in South Africa (at which I couldn't help but laugh). Sometimes we talk about how laundry was taken, sometimes we debate whether Americans are as self-centered as we are perceived to be. The conversations aren't profound, necessarily, but they're pure in the sense that a young South African and a young American, who heretofore had been living completely separate lives, are realizing that just because our lives were being led on different tracks doesn't mean those tracks weren't parallel. Our ages, races, sexes, nationalities, mother tongues, they're all different, but our interests and values are similar, and they bring us together. (Maybe church actually got to me!)
Alrighty, that's all for now, folks. Thanks for sticking with me and reading and replying. It's great to hear from each of you and maintain the ties to back home. They're not quite as nourishing as the brownies my mom sent me (delicious even south of the equator!), but they're very satisfying nonetheless. :)
Take care,

Picutres have been added. Instructions are below.

Instructions to find photos
- Go to (no typo, there's really no 'e')
- Click the link in the top-left corner that says 'Already a member?
Sign in' (I know you may not be a member, but proceed anyway)
- You will most likely be prompted for a Yahoo! ID. Enter saphotos.
The name has been created specifically for you to view my photos. The
password is photossa.
- Sign in, and then click the down arrow next to the search link in
the right-hand corner. Choose Flickr members.
- Enter lowebrendan into the search field.
- My number of photos (80) will appear next to the word photos. Click photos.
- My photos will appear. If you want more organization, click the sets
on the right-hand side of the screen.
- From there you can see photos from Stellenbosch, the wine region 30
minutes outside of Cape Town, and Clifton Beach, one of the nicer
beaches within the city limits. (Note: the photos named 'Khayelitsha'
in the Stellenbosch section are of the townships the proliferate
around the city)
- Enjoy!

No comments: