Category Archives: South Africa and Beyond

33.33% Capetonian

Four months. It seems so strange that I have been away from the States for this long. Four months also marks my end of TSiBA, my start at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), and my family’s visit to South Africa. My first placement has gone by better than I could have hoped for, but I am glad it is not the end of my experiences here. I still need more time and a change of industry to learn more about South African culture, society, history, and future growth.

My team at the Ignition Centre has been like a family. We collaborate closely and genuinely care about each other. The IC has been one of the most positive forces in my South African experience thus far. The office’s humor and creativity has encouraged me to think about entrepreneurship in a more collaborative mentality. My conversations with my colleagues have revealed to me the ways in which South Africans identify and seek to improve local and national social issues.

The largest differences I have seen in South African and western philosophies of social justice are each culture’s perception of poverty. While many Americans’ measurement of poverty is shifting, charity overwhelmingly is used improperly in place of justice due to a belief that poverty is a lack of material wealth. While people in poverty often lack material necessities, many South Africans I work with view poverty as a lack of dignity. This is demonstrative through the aphorism posted on the wall of the Ignition Centre stating “You may be broke, but you are not poor.” Several of my coworkers live in the townships that appear shocking destitute to many Americans—and sometimes they choose to live there. The communities are their homes and the ekasi (the word for township in Xhosa) culture makes up part of the community members’ identity. While living conditions are a direct factor into a population’s standard of living, social issues surrounding housing need to be addressed at physical, intellectual, sociological, spiritual, and emotional levels rather than just throwing money at a problem without proper consideration. While this opinion is not completely foreign to the American mind, I have observed it more frequently here.

My next placement at the SAHRC will also address social and ethical issues in a South African context as I work in the legal division. I anticipate working with legal counselors, interviewing victims of human rights violations and moving through the process of reconciling their complaint.  I also hope to start practicing alternative dispute resolution by assisting the mediation of these cases. SAHRC also has a policy branch, so I am also hoping to visit parliament hearings and report on the minutes.

However, before I transition to the SAHRC, my parents are visiting me for a little over a week. We will be exploring Cape Town, going on safari drives in Kruger Park, and visiting Victoria Falls in Livingstone, Zambia. Please wish us health, safety, and nice weather as we reunite and experience Africa as a family.

Road Trip!

Day one on the Garden Route with Rachel at the Outeniqua Mountain Pass.

After discovering that Madagascar was not covered in lemurs as certain movies might suggest, I decided to spend my last week of summer vacation exploring the Garden Route. Rachel and my strategy was to get most of our traveling out of the way now, while we are on break, so we won’t have to ask off of work very often for the rest of the year. Since TSiBA’s academic calendar runs on a semester schedule, I was able to spend five days with Rachel and five other travelers on a tour called Bokbus. The trip went from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and back, exposing us to some of the loveliest parts of the country.

Once I discovered that Tolkien was born in South Africa, I have imposed Lord of the Rings imagery everywhere. I perceive these to be the Misty Mountains.

Wilderness, a small town in the Western Cape at the beginning of the Garden Route

“Map of Africa”

Our fearless leader and bus driver Benjamin was an absolute gem. He diplomatically handled our one disgruntled passenger, while making sure the group had a nice experience. Benjamin led us through Oudtshroon, Wilderness, George, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, The Crags, Tsitsikamma, Addo Elephant Sanctuary, Port Elizabeth, Mussel Bay, Hermanus, and Kogel Bay.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Suspension bridges

The Garden Route is famous for its gorgeous scenery while also providing a youthful, adventurous spirit. Road trip highlights include feeding ostriches, spelunking in the Cango Caves, bungee jumping from the world’s highest bungee from a bridge, feasting at the game lodge’s African animal buffet, hiking to Tsitsikamma’s suspension bridges, spotting dassies, getting out of the Western Cape, safari game drives, eating delicious seafood at Knysna’s waterfront, one night of air-conditioning, driving through Tolkien-esque mountain passes, and zip-lining over waterfalls.

Baby dassies!

World’s highest bungee off a bridge

Picture of Bloukrans Bridge by Face Adrenaline

Promo picture of Bloukrans Bridge by Face Adrenaline

Furthermore, the trip was even more enjoyable by spending time with Rachel and my co-passengers from the Netherlands, England, Australia, and South Africa. The community we formed by the end of the trip reinforced my hope to participate in group tours through other parts of the world in the future. However, for now I am content living in Cape Town and working at TSiBA.

The lemurs we never saw in Madagascar

The color of a male lion’s mane darkens with more testosterone, so apparently this is a pansy lion.

Baby tigers playing


Happy Holidays from Sub-Saharan Africa

Johannesburg has invaded Cape Town. High heels and designer brands attached to a Jo’burg accent are easily distinguishable among the Capetonian trendy flats and plaid. Cape Town and Durban are often the annual holiday destinations of preference among Jo’burg professionals. In the spirit of Jo’burg’s holiday traveling traditions, another Connect-123 intern and I decided to get out of Cape Town and explore other parts of the country and the continent. In eleven days we were able to briefly explore a new South African city and two new countries. Leaving from the Durban port, Rachel and I went on a Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) cruise to Madagascar and Mozambique.

The trip was not funded by Lumos, and while it was a good price for what we were able to do, I still hesitated on spending money on extravagant travels. In the end I obviously still went on the trip, but as my friend Jennifer advised, I decided to approach the trip with the goal to share these parts of the world with others while being mindful of how I spend money and participate in new cultures.

To experience different parts of Durban city center, Rachel and I stayed in two parts of the city. Before we embarked on the cruise, we spent two nights at Gibela Backpackers Lodge located near Florida Street. This was a lucky guess since we ended up in a neighborhood with several shops and restaurants to explore. Also, Durban has the highest population of Indians outside of India, so we made sure to capitalize on the delicious Indian curries found around town.

Gibela Backpacker Lodge

Gibela highly exceeded my expectations

Apart from the curry, Durban is also famous for the Victoria Street Market, which offers a fusion of African and Indian goods. We found the market to sell more touristy merchandise than authentic good, so that was a slight disappointment. However, the experience was well worth it. In Cape Town, the colonial Dutch and British influences are strong and can sometimes overtake the African culture. Durban is far less westernized and the area surrounding the Victoria Street Market made me feel like I was in a completely different country than Cape Town.


The MSC Opera

The ship deck

A view of a sunset at sea

With scrumptious seafood in our bellies, Rachel and I set off on a six day MSC cruise stopping in Anakoa, Madagascar and Portuguese Island, Mozambique. We soon discovered that our cruise companions were a diverse range of nationalities, races, and ages. Also, we did not hear any other American accents the entire time. Since the cruise was over Christmas, there were many families on board, along with endless Christmas music, and ridiculous Christmas outfits worn by the staff while they paraded and hosted a Christmas countdown that was about 10 minutes before midnight.

We were able to engage with two South Africans for the majority of the time through our dining assignments. We were seated at a table with a South African young couple from Pretoria. Fia and Kobus were lovely dining companions and joined us for several events and excursions. We found their company especially entertaining since we don’t usually have the chance to interact with white Afrikaners, so it was interesting to hear their perspectives about domestic and international current affairs.

To manage the 2,000 passengers while at sea, MSC sponsored voluntary organized group activities for a majority of the time. Most of these activities were wildly cheesy, giving Rachel and me ample entertainment to look upon. To highlight the ridiculous events, you must first look to Arrested Development as a reference. If you haven’t watched the show, quickly acquaint yourself with Arrested Development Job, the Alliance certified Magician. MSC hosted a magic show with an Italian magician that not only looked like Job, but actually had similar mannerisms as well. It was magical.

Also, my love for karaoke was fulfilled through the show, “MSC Stars” (aka American Idol). In the theater, Rachel and I looked on with Fia and Kobus as we watched some lovely and terrible musical performances. We heard songs from the musical styles of Celine Dion, Miley Cyrus, and Duffy. Hilarious.

Along with cheesy magicians and horrible karaoke, I would also say that I am drawn to most choreography.  However, MSC’s group dance of “Wavin’ Flag” was too horrendous to participate in. Instead, I looked on and took pictures of the dreadful dance numbers. Enjoy:

This occurred everyday at the same time

Sometimes they danced the Cha Cha or the Mambo as well

Our first stop was in a small fishing village of Anakoa, Madagascar.

Anakoa, Madagascar

Locals at the port

A local woman spoke to me while selling jewelry. She only spoke French to me, so the conversation did not last long.

A couple days later we arrived to Portuguese Island. Mozambique.

Portuguese Island

Inhaca, Mozambique

Inhaca was just a short boat ride from Portuguese Island

Portugese Island has no residents, but Inhaca had these mysteriously shipwrecked and deserted boats

Clearly I was captivated

Finally, our return to Durban hit a slight rough patch. We had to disembark fairly early, leaving us with about five hours until we could check into our next location, the Happy Hippo Backpackers. We found our location to be lucky again since the lodging was situated in the nicer part of the Golden Mile (Durban’s famous strip of beaches and casinos). Rachel and I walked to Ushaka Marine World to find the closest coffee shop to read in while we waited to check into our room. Our priority was to find air conditioning to evade the humid Durban weather. The early time left us with KFC as our best option. My low point hit when Celine Dion came on the radio as I was reading The Book Thief (which has a terrible beginning and should never be read after J.R. R. Tolkien). Just when Celine ended, a massive parade filled the streets, rendering any attempts of reading fruitless.


Durban’s Golden Mile

One of the many, many, many parades I have seen since coming to South Africa. This is Ushaka’s interpretation of Zulu culture.

Real life Wizard’s Chess from Harry Potter! If only... but this match is between then funniest two people. Rachel and I really wish we saw how the game was initiated.

However, I was cheered up while watching a life size game of chess that resembled Wizard’s Chess in Harry Potter. After getting some rest, Rachel and I were able to mostly enjoy the beach, more curry and Ushaka Marine World before heading back to Cape Town.

This is why I said we mostly enjoyed the beach. Here is the part of the beach for surfers...

The portion of the beach reserved for swimmers. After being spoiled at Madagascar and Mozambique’s desolate beaches, we missed an open place to swim and sand that did not stick all over us.

Sixto Rodrigeuz

During the apartheid years, the nation of South Africa was segregated, censored, and oppressed. Coloured and Black Africans were disenfranchised from society and displaced from their homes. The majority of the white culture remained in positions of power and prosperity. However, Antjie Krog’s description of politics in the book Country of My Skull illustrates that political ideologies are much more complicated than supporting or dissenting apartheid. Similar to politics in the States, there are many people who fall somewhere in between rejecting and supporting apartheid.

Wednesday I learned that during the dark years of apartheid, you could walk into the house of many white, liberal families’ homes and find a collection of music that was rebellious in a conservative South Africa. According to the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, three popular artists in the liberal community were the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Rodrigeuz. The irony is that while Rodrigeuz never was popular in his home country of the United States, he was wildly popular in South Africa. In a country of 40 million people, Rodrigeuz sold at least half a million albums in South Africa (excluding the immeasurable black market albums that sold during periods of censorship).

Due to filtered and misinformed news, the country of South Africa thought Rodrigeuz committed suicide. Searching for Sugar Man is the story of South African Rodrigeuz fans who wanted to know more about their favorite, mysterious musician. Through their investigation, they discovered that Sixto Rodrigeuz was in fact alive and well. He was an American artist who never knew of his fame in South Africa and worked in manual labor to support his simple life in Detroit. Rogdrigeuz played a sold out tour in South Africa and has now been here several times since his resurrection. His music reminds me most of Bob Dylan with his voice, style, and lyrics that resonate with a community fighting for love in a hateful world. See below to hear one of my favorite Rodrigeuz songs.

Crucify Your Mind