Monday, May 31, 2010

Shikorina in South Africa

Hey all this is who Ben referred to as “Chica-Rina”, but my actual name is “Shikorina” it is “dear” for Tigrinya in Eritrea! But haha that is my African nickname, this is Karinna here. My travel buddies, now my friends, have said pretty much all! But here is some of the mental notes I have taken. This city is very modern, not what I expected…even tap water is drinkable and is better than in DC !!! Now that is something! I have never been to a place like this, especially in the developing world!!! Coming from Latin America, yes I would have “died” doing this.

Another interesting aspect of this city is the amounts of white people I see. Partially because of where we are staying, but UCT feels like the USA sometimes, same racial clicks in a way. But cool stuff on campus such as Rhodes Status and this room where Martin Luther King was banned from speaking and where Kennedy spoke!!! And the best part of it all was that professor Hirchmann told us this story because he witnessed this at his time in UCT. How great is to have a professor from the country we are passionately studying?

I do not think I have ever eaten that many different animals in my life ... so far, crocodile, ostrich, deer, warthog, oxtail ... my favourite is bambie !!! But even when we do not eat exotic animals we get to go to places to try some Cape-Malaysian food with a beautiful view in front of table mountain or even better go out to dinner to the Langa Township, THE BEST PLACE IN CT!!!

First Day at the Internship

After a busy two weeks of lectures, site visits, sight-seeing and adaptation, we are starting the internship component of the program today. The last two weeks were informative, fun, and at times tiring, but overall a comprehensive introduction to the history, politics, and development of South Africa. We really crammed as much as we could into the two weeks and I feel I've learned quite a bit about the country pre and post apartheid. All the lecturers and practitioners on the field who talked to us were engaging and informative and the visits to organizations and must-see tourist spots enhanced the experience.
We visited the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point and Cape Aguilas, the southermost tip of Africa. This past weekend we were at a Game Reserve on the Garden Route. We roamed the terrain with zebras, rhinos, giraffes, lions, springbok, wildebeest and other animals and then had a huge buffet dinner where we tried some of the wildebeest and eland. Delicious meat. We had previously tasted kudu, alligator, warthog, ostrich, and springbok, so we are adding to our list of exotic meats and to our growing bellies. We have also eaten Cape Malay food and North Indian food, which was all delicious!
So now we begin the new chapter of this program, which is the internship. We are all in different organizations, in different locations, and hopefully overall we will learn and grow professionally and personally in our respective internships. Although it is only a month, I feel like I will gain skills and knowledge that I can apply in the future.
I am looking forward to the World Cup in a few days. I have tickets to two games! I'm looking forward to Mexico vs. South Africa, the first game. Vamos MEXICO! (i'll be happy for SA, if they win, but this is unlikely.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Two Weeks In

As the first two weeks of the seminar portion of our trip is drawing to a close, I spent some time and reflected on some experiences thus far.

Having traveled a decent amount and living on my own in a variety of settings, I figured South Africa would be pretty easy to adjust to. However, I underestimated the developmental transition SA is still going through after my electronics in my checked luggage was jacked. I also came to terms with an egregiously inappropriate porter and African internet (think dial-up circa 1999 and hair pulling).

However, I am having the time of my life with an exciting and diverse group of SIS graduate students (with the exception being me) interested in learning and experiencing as much of South Africa as possible. One of my proudest accomplishments thus far has been learning the shimi dance from the lively Peruvian, Chica-Rina.
With these awesome people, we have been traveling the past 14 days around Cape Town in our Mystery Machine. We have gone to the southwestern tip of Africa, and many places in between. Each new lecture and site visit provides a better glimpse of the incredibly unique, diverse, and beautiful characteristics that make South Africa what it is.

Four Seasons in a Day

Cape Town is a city of incredible contrasts. Most readily apparent is the volatile weather and the rapid shift from shanty towns to a gorgeous seaside metropolis. What sets Cape Town apart from the model of squatter villages you see surrounding major Latin American and Asian cities is the racial segregation of its impoverished areas. During the apartheid era a shortage in labor lead to the creation of townships to bring black and colored labor closer to the white urban areas without actually residing in them. Even though apartheid has long since ended, these townships still exist and remain racially separated. They continue to grow as the government provides more free housing and as poverty continues to increase.

One township we visited, Langa, is right next to Cape Town’s airport. A quick ride from our quality drivers Rithwan and Zaid down the N2 will put you right on the V&A Waterfront and the luxurious seaside Cape Town residences. Our residence is just down the street from Clifton and Camps Bay, posh neighborhoods with homes owned by David Beckman, Madonna, and others. If you opt for the M3, you’ll find yourself going from Langa to Newlands and other ritzy areas in a mere 15 minutes.

Less heart-wrenching but more physically taxing is the constant changing weather. Cape Town can be hot enough to tempt you to surf at 1PM, and freezing cold by 5PM. South Africa, like many other countries, does not believe in central heating, preferring tons of blankets and the occasional space heater to keep you warm indoors. Also, on one side of Table Mountain you may find low ominous clouds and on the other discover a gorgeous day fit for a stroll through Kirstenbosch gardens.

One thing you will not be in this city is bored. If you don’t like the scene, drive five minutes in any direction. If you don’t like the weather, wait. And pray you don't get sick!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We arrived in Cape town 12 days ago after 25 hours of traveling across the Atlantic and the entire African continent. Since that arrival I have never felt so white and so rich in my life and sure that should have been evident when preparing to travel to Africa however I am from Hawaii and because I have been a minority my entire life I was disillusioned into thinking this experience would be comparable. This experience is not comparable. I naively thought my living experience in Hawaii couple with living in Washington DC would allow me to easily adapt to poorer conditions and manage stark racial dichotomies but here in South Africa the extent of dissonance among different identity groups is exploited by the vast inequality which has metastasized here throughout history.
Now it is easy to think South Africa and specifically Cape town is developing, evolving, and modernizing however the existence of such entrenched and vast inequality has been predominantly muted and avoided. Tourists see the fancy new Green Point Stadium, the sparkling Water Front, Land Rovers roaming around Cape Hope, celebrity mansions in Cliffton, wineries in Stellenbosch, night clubs on Claremont, and hotels/restaurants in Kloof but they don't venture one step away to the Langa or Khayelitsha township or ride the mini buses or eat at Mama Sheila's or speak with the unemployed or HIV ridden population. Tourists see only what they allow themselves to see. And through these past twelve days we no longer are just tourists or by-passers, we are lenses trying to make visible the contradictions and realities that exist here to carry back with us.
I think the reality is that this country is bipolar. It is both beautiful and violent, forgiving and vengeful, rich and decrepit, and ultimately its future is precarious. There is no sense of peace here there is only an absence of media worthy conflict. I have never been so frustrated and so motivated at the same time thus this bipolarity extends to me as well. Regardless this experience has been incredible and if people allow themselves to see the inequality you cant help but what to lessen the gap. I hope to be a force in lessening the gap rather than perpetuating its widening trend with nonsensical economic policy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Our First Week in Cape Town

Hello and welcome to the account of our summer studying and interning in Cape Town, South Africa!

My name is Sarah Carter and I'm one of ten students from AU studying in Cape Town this summer. We all come from different academic backgrounds at AU, some of us are studying international development, others economic relations, and still others law. I'm studying for my masters in International Peace and Conflict Resolution, and I came to South Africa to learn about conflict resolution and the end of apartheid, democracy building, and development in areas where poverty and unemployment are extremely high.

The SIS study abroad program in South Africa offers the opportunity to learn about peacebuilding in a foreign country from the inside and features a two week seminar on democracy and development in South Africa and a month long internship at a local organization. I'll be working at a local NGO called PASSOP, which stands for People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression, and Poverty. You can check out their website online here:

Over the past week we've had our first lectures on several different topics, including race and class divisions, crime, the political history, the upcoming World Cup, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and economic development. We have most of our lectures at the University of Cape Town. UCT is built on the hillside and has a lower, middle, and upper campus. The view from the upper campus is just beautiful, looking out over the city, and Table Mountain rises up behind the university.

Pictured above (from left to right): Amparo, Sarah (me!), David, Christiane, Karinna, and Maria
Pictured below: The University of Cape Town; Jameson Hall and the main street

As you can see in the pictures, the vines on the buildings are all red and brown. It is the winter season in the Southern hemisphere. It has been cold at night (low 50s/upper 40s) and mild during the day (60s). Our group is staying in a historic house, built in 1893. Because of the mild climate, most homes in South Africa don't have heating, including our house. Not only does it not have heating, but it has an open courtyard in the middle. It's very airy and the nights get a little chilly. I'm so glad I brought an extra blanket with me! You can see pictures of the guesthouse (called Stonehurst) online here: It is wonderful to stay in the guest house, though, because we have the chance to meet other guests and our housemates. I had dinner with two guests that are in Cape Town for a construction job, and our conversation around the table took place in English, Xhosa, and Zulu. Another night we had a tradition braii (BBQ) and the owner of Stonehurst cooked us all wonderful grilled bread and sausages. Yet another evening Ben and I spent over an hour discussing local and international politics, leadership, and spirituality over a cup of tea with Stonehurst's manager. Getting to know South Africans in this informal and friendly setting has been a unique and interesting experience!

Last Friday, we had our first lecture and a tour of UCT. That night we went out to dinner as a group to a restaurant called A Touch of Madness. It was fun getting to know the other students better and trying some new foods, like springbok and kudu, which are like venison.

Saturday was the best day so far! After a rainy and cold first few days, it was glorious and sunny weather. Our professor led us on a tour of the Cape peninsula, through the many coastal towns all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. We stopped to admire the view in a few spots, and the guide pointed out Seal Island in the bay. This island is where they filmed the great white sharks jumping out of the water to catch seals on Planet Earth. Next we visited Boulder's Beach for a short walk. Boulder's beach is famous for its penguin inhabitants. The penguins were right there in their nests with their chicks! They were so cute!

Along the drive we also saw a family of baboons and several ostriches on the side of the road. I was so surprised to see them so closely. A male baboon got up and walked right up next to the car, sat down, and observed us. When we started the car and pulled away, he didn't run or even move, but just watched as we drove off. Baboons can be quite dangerous, I learn from Margeaux (our University of Cape Town liaison), for they can be extremely destructive when they are trying to get food if they get into your house or your car.

The best part of the day was our hike to the Cape Point. I'm scared of heights, so I don't often hike up mountains or along cliff tops, but I made it up to the top and enjoyed it! I was so proud of myself for making it all the way up to the lighthouse! The view was just stunning and I was determined to stand at the southern most point in Western Africa!

We've had such a busy week, full of new sights, new foods, new people, and new ideas. I can't wait for what's to come.