Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hello, India!

You can follow my new adventures, as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in New Delhi, India, at this address:  See you there!  -ashley

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Farewell, Cape Town.

This final blog post is dedicated to the fifteen people with whom I have lived for the past five months, and also to Angela and Ronel, who are largely responsible for making this program possible. On Thursday evening at our “Closing the Circle” reflection session, I opted not to share my final thoughts right then and indicated that I would prefer to share my thoughts in written form. This, bhutis and sisis, is for you. This is for each of one you.

There are many things that I am good at, but saying goodbye has never been one of them. In all of the summer camps and programs and teams that I’ve ever been a part of, I dread the anticipation of separating yet again from human beings with whom I have woven some sort of web connecting the two of us within some larger entanglement with humanity. Perhaps this is part of the reason that, prior to arriving in South Africa, I had consciously prepared myself for the fact that these were temporary relationships I would be forming, and that maintaining some distance between those with whom I could potentially form relationships would make it easier to leave at the end.

Well, on Saturday I discovered that this is impossible, that forming relationships with people is something that happens despite even our greatest efforts to prevent this very thing from occurring. This is what my tears from Saturday taught me. Each of you has revealed to me something about the hidden mysteries of life. Many of you have shown me parts of me that I did not know existed; others of you confirmed for me things that I did know and, for this, I thank you.

More than anything else, for me, this semester has been one of personal growth and self-discovery. I am not the same person as when I arrived in Cape Town in January. Many things about me are the same – I still don’t enjoy going out to clubs or bars (they really are all the same to me), I still like to go to bed before midnight and to wake up early in the morning, and I still like to have a clean room and kitchen. But many things have also changed. As an individual I have grown more confident in myself and my own authority to make decisions, even when those decisions – whether that decision be to not go to Long Street with the masses, or to hop a flight to India – do not seem reasonable or rational to others; they make sense to me, and at the end of the day, it is me to whom I have to answer and who holds myself accountable for my decisions and actions. Many of you have supported me and encouraged me to have the strength to make and follow through with these decisions, particularly regarding the latter (India).

Naturally, I became closer with some of you than others; but know that each of you has played a significant role in shaping the person I am becoming, whether by challenging my own beliefs and attitudes or through the friendship we have formed over the past few months. I will not make “shout outs” here – you know who you are. Regardless of whether or not we ever have the privilege of meeting again, I will hold you dear to my heart indefinitely and am glad that you were able to join me during this portion of my life journey.

Aside from my personal development, there is also my experience of Africa. I was guilty of falling victim to the belief that Africa was in need of saving. Many of you will recall my enthusiasm to teach in South Africa; perhaps this was the way I had envisioned “saving” the children here. But after a few visits at Mannenberg and Masiyile, I felt that doing service at those schools would be emotionally and physically draining – not to mention that it would have been virtually impossible for me to maintain distance from those children. For this reason, and also because I have had quite a bit of experience working in school settings, I opted to work with Equal Education, which I imagined would allow me to further my experience in the area of education but through a different approach than ever I had taken before. (You all have heard more than enough about our experiences at Equal Education, so I will not belabor it here. I am glad for the experiences I had with EE and do not regret it, but if I had to choose all over again, I would have stayed with my gut instinct to go to Mannenberg and I would have immersed myself with those kids to the point that leaving them in June would have been almost impossible.) To Betsy and Laurie, I really admire your dedication to those kids and all of the efforts you made for them.

The point that I was trying to come to in the previous paragraph is one that I mentioned in an earlier blog post, namely that Africa is not in need of being saved. She does need our charity, or our missionaries, or any other kind of aid. And if She does, She knows where to find us. Yes, there are many problems in South Africa, most if not all of which are lingering legacies of Apartheid. But what country is without problems? When people hear “South Africa” they think of crime, Apartheid, murder, injustice, corruption, destitute poverty, Nelson Mandela, and Jacob Zuma’s denial of a link between HIV and AIDS. When I think of South Africa – and especially of Cape Town – I think of a microcosm of many worlds where injustice has been done yet life continues; a diaspora of skin colours and languages and income levels; a country with little hope for the future yet which does have a hopeful future.

At the moment I am safe and sound in India, where I have again found myself dropped into a country so different from anything I have ever known that it seems surreal.

And so here I say farewell to my blog. Thanks to all who have been accompanying me on my journey.

All is van die beste. Sayonara. Namaste.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Closer

I officially have only one day left in Cape Town, a fact that really hit me for the first time when we were driving home from Khayelitsha two nights ago. It is only a fraction of my life that I have been here, but in that small fraction, this place has also become my home. I have carved out a small space for myself here. I have a temporary home, I can cross the roads with ease, and I can use public transportation. I can speak a few words in Afrikaans, and fewer in Xhosa. On a few occasions I have even been mistaken for South African and asked for directions. In many ways I feel I have been absorbed into Cape Town, in its spoken dialects, body language, elocution, and mannerisms. I can eat (though less gracefully than true South Africans) without utensils, and though I still enjoy my personal space, my bubble has gotten smaller.

In many ways though, I’m still very American, and I’m sure I will realize this even more after I return home. I miss being able to wash my hands with soap whenever I use a public restroom. I enjoy being able to use the restroom without first having to purchase toilet paper by the square. I miss being able to walk outside at night, alone even, without heightened senses. I like when my milk can last longer than 3 or 4 days before spoiling. I like the orderliness of traffic and when people abide by the traffic light signals even when there is no one else around (this usually happens here, but not always). I like that teachers should have less than 30 students per class, and that libraries should not be luxuries in schools. I like that, though there are socioeconomic disparities in the US, they are less so along racial lines (though we still have a long way to go in this matter).

Though my time here is nearing its end, our program matters will not end until we get to the airport. Last evening I gave my final presentation on the factors affecting quality teaching and learning in South Africa, and I now all I have left is to complete my final research report on the same topic, which I anticipate accomplishing later today. And finally, one last trip to the market in town. Then all that is left is packing my suitcase, deciding what to take with and what to leave behind, and understanding how these last five months of people, challenges, and experiences are going to impact the rest of my life; and the latter is not something that can be stuffed in a suitcase.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Beginning of the End

All good things come to an end, or so they say. With seven days left in Cape Town, I think it is safe to say that this is the beginning of the end of my semester in South Africa. That is not to say that I will not one day return to this rainbow nation characterized, in my mind, by cash store names in white letters on bright red Coca-Cola backgrounds in the townships; vuvuzelas; rugby (and this year, the 2010 FIFA World Cup); overcrowded, often uninsured, yet efficient and economical taxis; Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela; ubuntu; a multiplicity of languages; a multiplicity of skin colours; university couples who are less shy than Americans to display their affection in public; the university students' fashionable dress (no sweatpants here!); the spontaneous Xhosa songs and dances that burst out while waiting for the bus, or riding the bus, or getting off the bus, or walking to class, or in the middle of the day at Equal Education, or...; British English spellings of words; British-style school uniforms (e.g. shirts and sweaters, which are entirely inappropriate when the temperatures are in the mid- upper-80s Fahrenheit; the overwhelming presence of meat in people's diets; mothers carrying babies and toddlers on their backs, holding them tight in place by tying a blanket or towel around them; the outfits that the Xhosa boys wear after returning from the ceremonies in which they become men; the ability to use the mountain as a geographical reference and permanent compass; the sunshine, the sunburn; the people who don't have homes; the number of people who tried telling me (a Christian) why I should believe in God; the white pastor preaching to a black congregation (save for me and Lin-Lin, who is Chinese); historically black primary and secondary schools whose pupil:teacher ratio is something like 40:1; the clear demarcations between poor townships and million-dollar homes; herders herding their goats and cattle across the N2; the seemingly carefree pace of life; a "holiday" nation; the cycle of poverty; the numerous legacies of apartheid; the hospitality of most of the South Africans I had the privilege of meeting; the prostitutes that stand on the street corners late at night; the man beating the woman on the side of the street, and feeling so helpless that I could do nothing but watch from inside the bus window; a dual sense of hopefulness and hopelessness; a future.

I'm not sure where this post was headed, but this is where it seems to end: a future. If there is one thing I have learned over the past four-and-a-half months, it is that everything Africa needs to succeed, She already has within and among her. Africa doesn't need our charity, our missionaries, or our approval. And my thoughts seem to end abruptly right here, right now. I suspect that the coming week will be a week of intense reflection, as well as mental preparation to close this chapter and open the next. Here's to the beginning of the end.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

12 days more in Cape Town

It's hard to believe how fast my time in Cape Town has gone, and how few days are left. The fact that our program ends in 12 days is beginning to sink in, and we are beginning to realize how close our group of service-learners has grown over the past four months. Despite our cornucopia of personalities and interests, doing service is the one thing we all have in common, the one thing that bonds us all together. And after leaving any type of group program such as this, there is always some small feeling of disappointment when you are no longer around people who understand certain jokes.

As I begin to mentally prepare myself to end one journey and begin another, I'd like to take a few minutes to reflect on (1) some of my favorite things about South Africa; (2) some of the things I took for granted back home; and (3) some of the new words and meanings I've learned. I'm sure I'll add onto these lists in the next several days.

1. Some of my favorite things about South Africa

- The ketchup. They call it tomato sous, but it's ketchup. It looks the same, but it's 10 times sweeter than the ketchup back home. It caught my taste buds off-guard the first time I had it, but I've come to like it sweet.

- Acquiring a bit of an accent. I don't consider it a bad thing to be able to immerse oneself in a culture so much that one's own language begins to take the shape of the host culture. I've found myself unintentionally using distinctly South African phrases and inflecting my voice in patterns that are more South African than American.

- Being mistaken for a South African. Much to my surprise, this has happened on a few occasions. It's a nice feeling though, really. Some people never overcome the stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb-tourist-phase; I consider this ability to assimilate with a new culture a gift.

- Taxis. The taxis in South Africa are what we would call mini-buses back home. The taxis are run by the Coloured population, are often overcrowded, and frequently uninsured, but they are an efficient and economical way to get into the centre of Cape Town, and it only costs about US $1. It's a great system, in my opinion, as long as the taxis aren't on strike.

- The BIG university setting. I think this one speaks for itself. Ursinus is going to feel even smaller after being at the University of Cape Town. I've enjoyed the anonymity of it all.

- Table Mountain. I'm going to miss seeing the mountain towering over me every morning.

- South African Sunshine. All these hours of daylight and sunshine have been great for my spirit - and acne!

- Being able to walk barefoot anywhere you please.

- Internet. I definitely took fast and free internet for granted. Never again!

2. Some of the things I took for granted back home: grated cheese, chocolate chips, M&M's, drying machine (for clothes), milk that doesn't spoil after five days, my car

3. Some of the new words and meanings I've learned

- Chips = French fries (potato chips are also called chips, so to distinguish between the two you can say "hot chips" to refer to fries)
- Petrol = gasoline
- Boot = trunk of a car
- Takkies = sneakers
- Speed hump = like a speed bump only wider, so it's more of a hump than a bump
- Hoot = honk, as in "Please don't hoot your horn."
- Learners = students
- Robot = traffic light (thought I admit I didn't hear this used too often)
- "Just now" = a phrase used to indicate time; it could mean 2 minutes, 15 minutes, half an hour, 4 hours, or never
- "Now now" = right now
- Howzit? = What's up? (An appropriate response would be "cool, and you?")

And, I'll conclude with a couple of pictures from the recent talent show we hosted for the learners from Equal Education...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Photos: Buffelsfontein

This past weekend was our Reflection Weekend at Buffelsfontein Game Reserve. Overall it was a very nice weekend in the bush, complete with African wildlife, a thatch-roofed hut, and fine cuisine. (Watching the lions devour those raw chickens with their massive canines made me glad for my decision not to eat meat.) But as far as I can tell, the general consensus seems to be that we had spent more time reflecting on our personal growth and transforming experiences rather than just constructively critiquing the study abroad program. Nevertheless, here are some pictures from the weekend...

The thatch-roofed hut where we stayed. (It's more aesthetically pleasing than practical, judging from the puddles we discovered the morning after the rainstorm!)


Mama and Baby.

Welcome to Darling, where my yogurt and milk are made.

This was outside a theatre of the comedian Evita se Perron. I had never heard of this person, so I didn't take any photos, but we had fun with this photo-opp.

A picturesque road in Darling.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The house where I'm staying.

The view from the bus stop. I'm going to miss seeing these mountains every morning.

Walking to Upper Campus.

Greenmarket Square in Cape Town. All the traditional homemade Afrikan crafts you could imagine.