Thursday, March 10, 2011

Goldfish and Dolphins

As a final farewell weekend we managed to get tickets to see the South African band Goldfish, a stellar finale weekend to say the least! The band consists of a pair of guys who play instruments and one guy who just sings. Their trademark instrument would probably be the saxophone, but they also mix a bit and play other instruments too. I think on their website they have some sample tunes which I highly suggest checking out, and will do them much better justice than me trying to explain their music. The venue was perfect as well, partially outside, partially inside a lounge, lots of people but small enough we were right close to the stage! And best part of all they are even better live and seeing them play was so much fun. 
As if going to a concert wasn’t enough, surfing was in store for Saturday at the famous Jeffery’s Bay. I surfed there once before when I first arrived in S. Africa, but now that I have had a month of daily surfing I can appreciate the location a bit more (not that I have actually improved that much…). I guess I should explain the purchase that was made about a month ago, a surf board! My roommate and I split the purchase of one for us to use for our time in Hamburg; so this past month I have gone for a surf nearly every morning. Although there are definitely mornings I can barely peel myself out of bed, and it is even harder to convince myself to plunge into the shark infested, body numbing cold water (literally to the former and latter) it has been amazing – and I have survived thus far! No joke, the waters are actually swarming with Ragged Tooth Sharks, however, they don’t typically attack so all you can really do is take your chances and hope if you do encounter any they will be in a good mood.  And yes, it is intentional I waited to write about the sharks until now (since tomorrow is my last day surfing for a long time and I didn't want to worry anyone). On a much friendlier note, I have had encounters with huge pods of dolphins twice this past week, once this weekend in Jeffery’s Bay there were dolphins almost touching Michelle and I on our surf boards, and then a few actually surfed the wave right underneath us!  Again this morning while I was out in the water Mike called my name and pointed behind me, which of course completely terrified me and I got out of the water as fast as someone can in a wetsuit with a surfboard (i.e. not fast enough to escape a shark) but for my hearts sake it was another pod of dolphins in the horizon that went on for miles and miles, a sight I doubt could ever lose its novelty. 
Well, on that note I should say that I have to really take in all of these amazing moments, I fly out tomorrow afternoon!!! I can't begin to express all of the mixed emotions I have, as excited as I am to see everyone I am also going to miss so much here, it is bitter sweet. I have learned so much, experienced so much and met some of the most amazing people here that I think it's inevitable that I will be back, sooner or later...much more to write about my thoughts on this entire experience, this is just a bit of a prelude.  xo

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Robbed by a Monkey

Evidence of where the monkey snuck in, that little brat!
I am writing this just after I was actually robbed by a monkey. This little monkey had the audacity (as they usually do) to sneak through our front kitchen window with both Mike and I home. I was in my room and Mike was outside on the deck, but I could hear rustling in the kitchen so I thought I better go check it out and low and behold, there’s a monkey perched on our kitchen shelf helping him/herself to whatever it felt inclined to.  When I saw it I just screamed and yelled, “Auhh, there’s a monkey in our house!” and it got startled a bit, jumped back and just stared at me. This scared me enough to do the only logical thing, hide in my room. This gave the monkey the opportunity to get back to what it does best -rob me blind of the only treat I bought from town (which is an hour away), homemade granola snack bars; needless to say they are delicious enough that a monkey chose them over the bananas that were also a perfectly accessible option. I finally peeked out from my room just as it grabbed my treat and made a mad dash back through the window and into the trees.

This is now the second time I’ve been ‘robbed’. Once a few months ago I left my runners (known here as “tackies”) and one other pair of shoes on my balcony overnight, which I had done for months, but this particular evening they were stolen. Oh right, how could I forget, I also had my running jacket “go missing” from the balcony on a different occassion, although at the time I thought the wind may have swept it away??? I should add, this balcony is quite a few stories high, so in order for someone to take something it would take a bit of strategic planning; although completely understandable for a country that has an unemployment rate of 25%, (the Eastern Cape province, where I live, has an even higher unemployment rate of almost 28%). Based on these facts alone it is not surprising people are opportunists, and I actually don’t blame someone for taking my shoes that were left out in plain sight. Ok, I admit at the time I was a bit resentful, who wouldn't be? The mysterious part is that there were other shoes still remaining on the balcony, so only select items were stolen, hmmm...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Art of Capoeira

I have been hesitant to write about this yet because it’s been such a great experience it seems hard to convey in writing, but I'm going to give it a try. I started to attend Capoeira classes, now this is already the tricky part, trying to explain what it is – or if you’ve heard of it, all the better. Historically speaking, very briefly, it is a form of martial art and dance and music that originated in Brazil from African slaves. My understanding is that the slaves were not allowed to practice or perform any kind of fighting or defence so this type of martial art was created as a disguise to them actually practicing fighting because it looked like they were just dancing. As for the current situation, it is widely practiced all over the world.
Simply put, it is mega hard. I’m talking about being as flexible as you are strong, as you are coordinated and quick. Some of the moves include: cartwheels, a variety of different kicks, acrobatics, handstands, flips, takedowns, etc. with the foundation move being Ginga (a rocking/stepping movement back and forth). Needless to say I can only do a very very small portion of the moves but it's been fun trying to learn them. I also feel it’s necessary to add that the environment we are doing the classes in is much like that of a hot yoga It is taught and attended by locals, all of which are equally amazing at Capoeira as they are inspiring. We’ve actually taken some video footage that I will hopefully be able to put up here at some point. Classes are held every weeknight, 4:30 – 6:00, the first hour is physical training and practicing specific moves, and the last half hour is 'Roda' – 3 people play musical instruments and the rest of the group stands in a circle clapping to the music while two people do capoeira in the middle. It looks as if they are fighting against each other (which they are) yet there is usually no body contact. It really is amazing to watch and attempting it is quite the humbling experience!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A love for Hamburg

An early morning view from where I live of the Keiskamma River
Since it's Valentines Day I decided it would be suitable to talk love, so here I go. I have fallen for a place called Hamburg (not the one in Germany, but it does have German roots) where I've been living for almost a month. Tucked away in the Eastern Cape corner of where the ocean and the mouth of the Keiskamma River collide, the stunning views and never ending rolling sand dunes could win over anyone’s heart. Besides the immaculate natural beauty, Hamburg has a lot more going for it. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are many development projects here, in particular the Keiskamma Trust, who have made a significant impact on the livelihoods of those living in the community, particularly in the health, arts and education streams. With above the national averages for AIDS and unemployment rates, there is much that can be improved here, although the work that has been done here by the Keiskamma Trust has more than changed lives. The NGO I am working for is interested in a partnership with the Keiskamma Trust, as well as the association between the marine environment and those who subsist on it in Hamburg, and ultimately what can be done to improve the current situation. In part with the work of the NGO I am also doing a project on the social and environmental impacts of tourism in the community and local economic development. There is a lot of potential for tourism and I am curious to know what locals think of it and whether they view it as an opportunity they could leverage or whether there’s a negative connotation towards it. I have looked into the concepts of pro-poor tourism and eco-tourism, both interesting and interrelated concepts that could be incorporated into a place like Hamburg. 
Anyways, have plenty more to share but it will have to wait. Until then a Happy Valentines Day and lots of love to those who have supported me through this little journey, it means so much. xoxo

Student's at a presentation our NGO was giving

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all that jazz! I realize this is a bit belated but I figure late is better than never. So, this much overdue post will try to summarize my post month, although I doubt a few paragraphs will give an eloquent explanation, I will try my best.
I should firstly say I feel very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to gallivant around South Africa; from the South Western wine region, amazing Cape Town, Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape and all the way up to Kruger National Park (world renowned for viewing African wildlife!), there’s not much left to my imagination of South Africa’s beauty and diversity, although I know there’s still lots to explore and experience!
The first week of my holiday included a trip to Addo Elephant Park where I saw more elephants than I imagined possible, then myself and 5 other Canadians from the same program headed down the coast to spend the next week in Cape Town and the wine region. It was a blast, very beautiful and fun. After a fun new years on chaotic Long Street of Cape Town I bussed up the coast the next day to finally meet Shawn after a long 3 ½ months of not seeing each other! Our holiday was amazing to say the least. We drove all the way up the coast to Durban and then up to Kruger (where all the African animals roam wild!)
Shawn quickly became acquainted with life in Africa, and it definitely reminded me of some of the cultural differences I have become immune to, including racial disparity, crime, driving, and much more. I realized some of the aspects to life here I have just began to accept or even turned a blind eye to, so having someone here asking questions and pointing out differences was enlightening for me.  I did warn Shawn a bit about driving here since I knew we’d be doing a lot of it, however, nothing can really prepare anyone for torrential downpours and cows on the highway – yes, in some areas cows roam freely along the highways. Our tires lost a bit rubber one day from this unexpected obstacle. I think my friend Michelle says it best, ‘driving in Africa is like driving through an obstacle course’ animals, people, other vehicles, random speed bumps and various road conditions ensure every drive is an adventure. Anyways, Shawn now understands what it’s like to drive here, and not to mention he quickly had to become comfortable driving on the left side of the road, but us lefties like to think it’s finally something advantageous for us.
1500 km and 3 nights later, loaded down with more groceries than can feed an army, we found ourselves at the Berg-en-dal Camp in Kruger National Park, prepared for 4 nights and 5 days of safari expeditions! We were greeted by monkeys at our camp, and our very first excursion out we saw hippos lounging in a water hole, many kudu and impalas. After just a mere day of safari sight-seeing we realized that kudu and impala’s would be old news to us (they run rampant and at times there were so many they blocked the roads and reminded me of some sci-fi movie.) Every day (ok, I admit once we slept in) we woke up before the sun rose (i.e. 4 am!) and hit the dusty trails to catch those animals finishing off a night of hunting and those just beginning their day, and a bonus was watching an African sun rise! We spotted zebras, giraffes, elephants, wart hogs, wild dogs, rhinos, hyenas and…drumroll please….cutie pututie lions! Two of our very early morning excursions paid off immensely when we turned down a trail and low and behold there were three lions just lounging on the road in front of us. We suspected they were resting after a hard night of hunting and were relaxing while digesting their supper. Absolutely adorable cats and seemed very tranquil considering they’re lions. One evening we went on a “sunset” safari with a group of people in the classic safari style vehicles; it was an adventure of its own, regardless of the animals we saw. It started to rain, not a lot at first so everyone thought it was kind of fun, and we did some animals: rhinos, hyenas, and one massive elephant. But then it started to seriously rain, thunder and lightening. It started to get pretty intense right as the sun set and sky turned to a sheet of blackness.  Our driver started to speed up as the storm intensified and by this point everyone was completely drenched head to toe, it was actually even cold, the first time I had felt cold since travelling up North where daytime highs were in the mid 30’s. Because we still had driven away from our camp for about an hour and a half and then the storm hit we had to drive through the storm the entire way home while it gained momentum gradually along our drive. The feeling of travelling through the night of the African wilderness with lightening, thunder and rain soaking me was quite the experience I doubt I’ll have again, so despite being sopping wet and a bit cold it was definitely unique in every way.         
 A few other highlights of the holidays include golfing in the open wilderness with a risk of leopards and lions roaming the course at any time (and worrying about crocodiles in the water where unfortunately our balls ended up frequently), kayaking down a river with a group of people from Holland (and watching one couple tip their kayak 3 times, hehe), playing an interesting game of jenga with some kiwis, trekking down a completely deserted beach, swimming and surfing in 20˚C water, feeling scorching hot while it’s raining out, and watching Shawn bungee jump off the world’s highest bungee jump!       

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Life in South Africa

Just one of many places that needs some rain.
After realizing my lack of excitement for the holidays may be due to the lack of festiveness in the town I live in (minimal Christmas lights or decorations) I started to think about some of the other differences here. After a few months I've adapted to certain things and have not mentioned them but I figure there are some differences that might be worth sharing.
Let’s start with driving. I don’t think I will ever quite get used to the drivers here but it is definitely less shocking now. I should mention that not every driver fits into this category and these are just my observations, although I’m sure the statistics speak for themselves. I was quite astounded by the drivers here the first time I embarked on a lengthier journey.  I’m willing to bet if you’re driving more than an hour you’ll encounter at least once an oncoming vehicle in your lane; in my experience, they’re trying to pass other vehicles and eventually get back in their lane but it can be pretty close sometimes. You’ll also experience very slow moving vehicles, very very fast moving vehicles (likely to cut you off) and several cars will be stopped on the side of the road for various reasons. Apparently many people don’t have a proper licence but rather buy one illegally, which explains some of the unfortunate driving habits.  As well, it is not only other drivers you have to look out for here but animals as well. I haven’t had anything large cross the road yet but just the other day when I was driving with my supervisor we had about 5 monkeys cross the road right in front of us. The last monkey made it across just in the nick of time.
Next topic: Rolling blackouts. This is a new concept to me, but apparently something South Africa is familiar with (as well as other countries). The details are fuzzy, but from what I understand just a few years ago there used to be rolling blackouts to mitigate the demand for electricity exceeding the supply. The rolling blackout entailed certain parts of the country having no power for allotted periods of time. For example, one suburb would have no power from 2 – 4 pm every day and even some university’s time tables were scheduled around the blackout, imagine that? As well, there used to be messages on the television, from the electricity company, reminding South African’s to turn off their appliances and use their electricity sparingly. The only company I know of that demotes their product. On that note, electricity here is very expensive and I regardless of the lack of supply I can understand why someone would want to use it sparingly. I also understand why there are so few xmas lights here.

Probably not surprising, another shortage is water. It’s not to the extent of some places in Africa but it is an issue on and off depending on the rainfall, season and area. In the Eastern Cape there has been periods of time where entire towns ran out of water and had to have it shipped in. There was also a time at the University that they had no running water for weeks. There are signs posted in many districts to alert people about the water shortage and remind people to be cognizant of water use. At one rest stop there was a sign on the bathroom door that said no water due to shortage. Unfortunately the Eastern Cape has experienced some severe droughts the past few years but recently there has been some rain which has made a difference, in fact, as I write this it is pouring outside :)      

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Tis the Season

It snows purple flowers here, from one of my favourite trees!
I honestly can’t believe it’s December and Christmas time, it doesn’t even feel like it’s possible. I have to admit I’ve never felt so disengaged with the holidays. It is such a different experience being here that the holidays seem to have crept up on me in the most discreet manner that I still have yet to acknowledge they are here. There was a time that I had good intentions of sending presents back home or ordering presents online but those intentions have come and gone without me doing a single thing so I apologize to those who were on my list. I have officially accepted the fact this is a ‘presentless’ Christmas and I have to admit it kind of feels good to just let it all pass in front of me while I sit idle. I am thinking this is a rare feeling to have and I should enjoy it while it lasts. On that note, I should say it doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about everyone back home enjoying the flurry of snowflakes, Christmas lights, mountain adventures, hot chocolate with baileys, skating, bundling up inordinate amounts, baking up a storm and eating the most delicious Christmas baking. I really do hope everyone is savouring these big and small pleasures that come with the holidays. I am certainly thinking of everyone and hope you’re all doing fun and festive things. I am now realizing it is only 12 days till Christmas (wow!) so I will begin trying to get into the spirit in this last leg.  I will also try to increase my communication skills these next couple of weeks as I realize I have not been the best with keeping in touch and apologize.  Although I don’t write often my thoughts are with you all and just like my intentions of sending presents home, I always plan to write emails but…it just doesn't happen. Anyways, maybe I will write some emails and all of you in the winter wonderland  should go out and enjoy it and eat a  sugar cookie with extra icing for me.

All the yummy toppings for our sunday brunch Crepes! Maybe even better than sugar cookies.