Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Life Back Home

Generally speaking, coming back home after 3 months in "paradise" is hard. The 4" of snow we had last night and the week and a half we went through without sunshine didn't help.

But weather aside, I'm left wondering if it was all a dream. I'm frustrated with myself for not being able to remember so many details of my time there - and am thankful for the journaling I did to record the memories, thoughts, challenges, and moments of learning that I was able to. It's a different world from the one I live in every day, and it seemed to vanish so quickly.

I think it would be much harder for me if I had spent more than just a couple of weeks in a rural area (like Coffee Bay). In Durban - as in so many cities around the world, I imagine - there's no escaping "Brangelina," Prada, Top 40 music, and Atkins.

The difference in Durban is that all of this is happening right alongside extreme poverty.

Which leads me to what is likely the biggest lesson I learned while there - my understanding of "poverty" has drastically changed.

In Minneapolis living in poverty means a family's income is less than about $15,000/year. Maybe you're on welfare or live in public housing. You eat canned food for dinner, buy clothes from Goodwill, and take the bus. Let me clarify that I am not arguing this to be a comfortable or fair lifestyle, I just mean to say that basic human needs are being met.

Poverty in Durban means that you have no income. Nothing. Your home is a shack made from plywood and corrugated metal in an informal settlement where you're crowded next to your neighbors. You have no water, no electricity, no toilet. You're malnourished. A quarter of everyone you know is dying from AIDS. Children are orphaned. Crime is abundant.

How do we deal with that? Not only how do we deal with that - but how do we deal with that from over here, across an ocean?

The bus route I took to the Y in the morning went down a road where a group of street kids slept every night. They would all be lying there on the sidewalk, huddled together - in the shadows of the buildings, the sun just starting to get hot. And I saw them every day - a constant reminder that life is really miserable for a lot of people in the world, a constant reminder that I must do something to help.

In thinking about all of this now I do feel overwhelmed - incredibly overwhelmed. And I remember a quote from way back at the beginning of this blog:

"From outside Africa it's difficult to see the trees for the forest. The raging fire looks too widespread to quench. The key is to look beyond the forest to the individual trees. If one person at a time is educated or cared for, an entire continent can be saved."
-Recah Theodosion

I know I promised it long ago but the 'Best of Durban' list is still a work in progress. Mostly, I made a preliminary list and lost it somewhere in between Durban and home. And, to be honest, it is kind of hard to think about all that is wonderful in Durban when it's snowing in Minneapolis. In April.

Once I get my photos online I will post that link here as well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

American Soil

My grandma and aunts will be relieved to hear that I am safely back on "American Soil." I'm not sure what's wrong with soil in the rest of the world, but the American variety seems to be favored.

Either way, I'm home. And I'm happy.

Sure it's 7am and the sun hasn't risen yet. And sure it's cold. But I'll get used to it. I just started the coffee - how I've missed making coffee in the morning! And I slept incredibly well last night - fell asleep, just exhausted, in about 3 minutes and probably didn't stir the entire night. I feel well rested, finally.

The flights went well, for the most part. I was travelling for 33 hours. That's incomprehensible to me, but I made it. My parents and Angelina came to pick me up at the airport and I can't think of a better homecoming. I ran to give Angelina a big hug and she ran towards me and let me pick her up and twirl her around. I was afraid she would be distant at first but not at all. She's just a happy little girl - happy to see her aunt. We got caught up on school and skating lessons and how yummy the pink medicine is that she has to take for strep throat. And there's nothing a girl (even a 25-year-old girl) wants more after travelling for so long than big hugs from her mom and dad.

Seeing Blake has been more than wonderful as well. We went to get dinner last night and I was struggling because I knew that anywhere we went on a Tuesday night would feel particularly desolate and without character in comparison to Durban. But we went to Chipotle (burrito-y heaven) on East Hennepin and there was a man out front on the sidewalk playing the saxaphone. And the night skyline was gorgeous, as always. Minneapolis is home. There are great people here. There are great things to do here. It's just a matter of keeping your eyes open.

So now I start my journey back to real life. I'll be taking care of logistics today - resinstating car insurance, going through mail, unpacking, dusting, vacuuming, grocery shopping, and getting in touch with temp agencies so I can hopefully line up a job for next week.

But I'm going to do it a little more slowly than I would have before I left. I'll take a long walk through Theodore Wirth Park this morning (with hat, mittens, and flip-flops - I just can't give them up!) and maybe stop to watch the sun set this evening, if it's out.

I will dearly miss the warm Indian Ocean reaching out for my toes, but this is home. And rumor has it there's no place like it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

1 for 3

As of today, I have only made my return flight as planned on 1 out of 3 of my international trips. I arrived at the airport today and they had no record of me. My first clue that I was in trouble was when the check-in guy asked me, "Did you miss one of your connecting flights before this?" (I'm not really sure how that would work when I'm standing there right in front of him.) Anyway, it's a long story but I'll be flying out tomorrow instead, God willing.

There's always a positive - I now have a little more time to spend with the Hesches (I'm staying at their house tonight) and a little more time to spend in the warmth. Tonight is just lovely - I'm not sure anything will ever soothe me as much as a warm summer night does.

Meg and I did Durban in a day yesterday - well, not all of it, but we did a lot. I had about 4 days of Durban tourist activities planned for the end of my trip but stayed in Coffee Bay for 3 of those days (which I don't regret). We went to Essenwood Craft Market in the morning, had a wonderfully creative lunch from a stand there - bread, avocado, tomato, feta, some sauces. Yum. Then we went to Victoria Street Market and I shopped like crazy, walked around uShaka Marine World at the southern end of the beachfront and drove out to The Point right by the entrance to the harbor.

I said goodbye to the ocean this morning and it was hard. I'm not too sad about leaving Durban (Coffee Bay was the hard one to let go of) but leaving the ocean breaks my heart. A wave came up to meet my toes and we shared a moment with a seagull. Then I walked away. It would be easier if I knew when I would be back, but I don't.

Coming soon... my 'Best of Durban' list.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

"To Getting Stuck in Coffee Bay"

Last night, Sam - the resident surf instructor from the UK - offered to toast me (it turns out he was just trying to catch me drinking with my right hand so he could call me on "buffalo," but a nice thought, nonetheless). I asked him what we were toasting to and he said, "To Coffee Bay - to getting stuck here."

Cheers to that.

Nate - my fellow American (who is from Indiana and also grew up thinking Indiana Beach was the most wonderful place in the world) - has been at Coffee Shack for almost 3 weeks now. Much like me, he only intended to stay a day or two.

I did intend to leave today. I even had my name down for the shuttle to town. But it's a hard place to leave. So I'll stay another day - but only another day. If I stay any longer I risk missing my flight out of Durban on Sunday. And now I only have one day when I get back to Durban. It's hard to believe.

So another day in Coffee Bay - coffee and time in the hammock, exploratory walks and sea life, the companionship and stories of fellow travelers.

The only way I have been able to console myself about leaving has been to promise I'll be back. Maybe I can come visit for 3 weeks every year. Or maybe I'll again find myself at a place in life where I want to spend 3 months overseas, maybe volunteering at the school here.

Walking along the rocks yesterday - watching the fish in the tidal pools and seeking shells - I was overcome with contentment at the thought of one day bringing my future kids here to explore the beach with childlike wonder, just as I have been doing.

It's a playground for imaginative wanderings and whimsical delights, Coffee Bay.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Home Part II

So I've become somewhat of a resident here at Coffee Shack. It's quite lovely. Every time I think I might leave I decide to stay another day or two. And when I tell the staff my new planned departure date they smile at me - knowing I likely won't stick to it and saying, "You'll stay forever, you love us!" And I agree - I do love it. But I am flying back home on Sunday, so I must make it back to Durban by then.

The staff has been incredible from the moment I arrived - remembering everyone's name (which is impressive with 40+ guests on any given night) and making it feel just like home. If I'm not greeted by my name it's "sweetie" or "sisi" - it feels so much like a big family of people from random corners of the world. There are about 30 people from the local village employed here and 30% of the profits go back into the community. It's impressive, to say the least.

I met a girl who was born in Minneapolis and will be moving back in a few months to do her residency. We got to talking and it turns out her grandma lives about three doors down from me on Parkview Blvd. How's that for a small world story?

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Coffee Shack

Coffee Shack is the name of the hostel I'm staying at in Coffee Bay. If anyone has seen the movie Camp Nowhere, it reminds me a lot of that. Camp Nowhere is about a group of kids that create a summer camp without any adult supervision - except that we're all (supposedly) adults here.

These are the rules at Coffee Shack:
1. Do not feed the dogs.
2. No shoes in the hammock. (The hammock is a huge net about 10 feet off the ground and 4 people can lay in it at once.)
3. "Buffalo Rules" in the bar - you must drink with your left hand (if you're caught doing otherwise you must finish your drink) and no drinks on the pool table.

That's it.

Here's a day in the life: I wake up at about 8am and have a cup of coffee and some cereal while I sit in a tree and watch the waves roll in. Whatever outing is planned for the day usually begins at 10:30am. Today we went to another beach - about half an hour away - surfed, played volleyball, had sandwiches toasted over a campfire for lunch, and just laid in the sun. When we got back here I climbed into the humongous hammock and listened to some music for a while. Then I played a game of pool. Dinner is served at 7:30pm and is consistently delicious - tonight was pasta and chicken with traditional Xhosa bread. The remainder of the evening is just spent hanging out - cards and Jenga are popular. Anything you eat or drink at the bar just gets added to your room fee - and it's all reasonably priced.

I can't complain.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Coffee Bay

I don't know where to start. Simply said, it's beautiful here - and a much welcomed break from the city-speed of Durban.

Even driving in yesterday through the countryside I was in love - the green hills, shades of gray mountains in the distance, Xhosa hut after Xhosa hut (they're circular and usually turquoise), and children - just playing. That's what children do - in whatever nation, in whatever climate, in whatever state of poverty or wealth - children play.

I've met so many interesting people - from England, Germany, South Africa, Denmark, and the US - and I've been fascinated listening to everyone's stories. Apparently I'm not the only one who takes 3 months off from the real world to spend time in Africa, and that's reassuring. People have such diverse backgrounds and yet such consistently human needs, wants, and desires.

After we arrived yesterday we went up to the top of a big hill with a cliff dropping right down to the ocean for "sundowners" (drinks at sundown). Dinner last night was fish on the braai (bbq) and some girls from the village came to perform traditional Xhosa dance - then there was a group of drummers. We spent today at the beach. I had another surfing lesson and actually did alright.

The coast is just beautiful. And my favorite part about the town is that the farm animals roam freely - even by the shoreline. A bunch of cows were hanging out with us while we surfed today. It's hard to move too quickly when there is a cow sitting next to you munching on grass. It's such a humane pace of life.

So I cancelled my bus ticket to Cape Town tomorrow. I'm not sure if I'll go at a later date or skip it altogether. I love it here - and I'm not feeling any desire to try to navigate my way through another big city. We'll see what happens. Isn't it wonderful that I don't have to decide right now?

I'll just be here for now, hanging out with the goats and the waves - absolutely loving every moment of it.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Two Weeks

I'll be home in just about two weeks - and I'm ready, for the most part. I'll be traveling down the coast this week and into next. I'm taking the bus from here to a hostel in Coffee Bay ( for three days. It's supposed to be one of the most beautiful stops along the coast. Then I'll take a bus to Cape Town and stay at a hostel there ( for three days. Then I'm flying back here to Durban. And I still have quite a bit on my Durban "To Do" list - museums, old buildings, botanic gardens, the sugar terminal, and I hope to spend much more time at the beach. I think I'll be busy.

I hope I'll get a chance to post some more photos along the way. But if not, I'll put an album online when I get home.

The Grand Prix was last weekend and I'm glad it's over. Those race cars are noisy. But - being the champion sleeper that I am - I was still able to nap on Sunday. I intended just to cover my head with a pillow for a minute to get away from the noise but I fell asleep. I'm quite impressed with myself.

Off to the beach now...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Photos from The Y

I don't have much time for commentary, but here are some photos.

At the High School in the Township

At the YMCA

And yesterday...

An on-duty policeman hit on me. Yeah. I've made it a general rule not to respond to any guys on the street who try to talk to me. But I figured he was a policeman - an upstanding public servant looking out for my welfare and safety.

Apparently, not really.

Minibus Taxi name of the day: "Fussion"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Facts of (My) Life

1. There are swarms of ants everywhere - including our flat. How they made it up three flights of stairs, I'm not sure. Fortunately, they float. So when they make it into my coffee or juice, I can easily remove them. And anything else that I ingest already has texture.

2. Soda cans are heavier than they are in the US. This may seem insignificant, but every time I finish a can I continue trying to drink it. I am convinced there must still be soda inside, because of the added weight. Way to throw a foreign girl off.

3. Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Even though I don't drive here, this has still taken some getting used to. For weeks I thought I was going to die every time I was in a vehicle that made a left turn when there was traffic coming from the left. And even still, I can never remember which way to look when I'm crossing the street. (But Meg gave me great motherly advice - "Look both ways - then look again!")

4. Phone calls are ridiculously expensive. Even local calls are charged at a per-minute rate (during the day it's about 6 cents/minute land line to land line - 20 cents/minute land line to cell phone). And that's on top of the monthly fee. Cell phone calls are even more expensive.

And lastly, the biggest "duh" moment I've had since I've been here:

5. Sea creatures actually live in shells. I'm sure I learned this at some point in time but I had dismissed it as irrelevant to my life in Minnesota. Imagine my surprise the first time I picked up a shell on the shoreline and there was a wiggly guy in it. Eew.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Life Worth Living

So I have the flu again. Can you believe it? I have been sick since Tuesday and not too happy about it. I've made it through most of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books (by Andrew McCall Smith) and highly recommend them. The story is set in Botswana and there's quite a bit of cultural info woven in.

Here's a Q&A question from Adam, received via email: "from the perennial beer geek - what are you drinking? and along similarly important cultural issues lines - what kind of music have you found? more about entertainment, friendships and sleeping-in - you know, those things that really make life worth living for Anne."

Great questions!

I have two new favorite beers. Number one on the list is Windhoek (which I pronounced "Wind-hook" and received a confused look - apparently it's "Vindhock", who knew). It's brewed in Namibia and made from all natural ingredients. My second favorite is Castle, the most popular South African beer, from what I can tell. It comes in many varieties and some are bad - but I think it's the basic one, Castle Lager, that I like. Black Label, Peroni, Amstel, and Heineken are all generally available. And when I'm feeling homesick, there's MGD (never thought I would be grateful for that). The sad part of the story is that I haven't yet found an establishment that has beer on tap and I'm not sure why. Maybe it has to do with the humidity? Or lack of turnover? Or distribution expenses? Adam may be better apt to answer that one. He was, after all, on the first wave of the home brewing revolution.

South Africa produces an awesome version of hip-hop - I guess I would classify it as - called kwaito. It tends to have more political/positive messages than talk of bling, hos, and grillz. (Although, a lot of the songs are not in English so I can't understand everything they're saying). The artists I can think of off the top of my head are Tkzee, Mandoza, and Bongo Maffin - all are well worth a listen. Also, this is a great article - Kwaito: much more than music.

Entertainment/Friendships/Sleeping In
These are the categories where life here does not compare to my life in Minneapolis - well, except sleeping in. I've managed to do a fair amount of that even though the sun rises at 5am and they're constructing the Grand Prix race track right outside my window (more on that soon).

Durban has a respectable number of restaurants, bars, and theatres. The problem is that it's generally unsafe to travel alone at night. So I've been able to do a fair amount of tagging along with my roommates but they're both quite busy. The group I work with at the Y is great but they mostly speak Zulu amongst each other (though they have been kind in trying to include me). Planning outings is difficult because of the discrepancy in disposable income. I have seen quite a few movies here and one play. I have found a couple of restaurants/bars that I love - Zack's (on the harbour) and The Beach Cafe (on the beach, go figure).

My primary means of entertaining myself has been the beach and beachfront. I love walking along the shoreline with bare feet, laying in the sand - watching surfers, kite surfers, families by the water, kids playing soccer in the sand, skateboarders at the skate park, sand sculptors, fishermen, beach volleyball matches, and all kinds of vendors - crafts, ice cream carts, fruit stands. The beach brings everyone together. At restaurants I see lots of white people, in the streets - lots of black people, at shopping malls - lots of Indians. But everyone comes to the beach - young/old, wealthy/poor, black/white. And the waves don't seem to know the difference.

The ocean will no doubt be the hardest part of Durban to leave - the seemingly abundant flu viruses, not so hard to leave.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

What I Miss Most

I'm doing alright with homesickness - 3 months isn't too much to handle. But these are the main reasons I don't think I could permanently move overseas:

I'm sure I have gone 3 months without Chipotle before but at least I always had the option of eating Chipotle. Yummy rice, beans, chicken, sour cream and cheese wrapped up so perfectly in a tortilla - sigh, that's perfection.

I know. It's terrible. But what I wouldn't give for a good cup of coffee to go. "Take away" coffee is uncommon here, as it sounds like it is in other parts of the world as well. Apparently we're all supposed to sit down and enjoy our coffee, which is ridiculous. My Aunt Karen wrote me an email and said the first thing she did when they got back from Europe was stop at a coffee shop at the airport and get a large cup to go.

And now on to the more obvious...

My Niece and Nephew
Aren't they the greatest? All of that energy, fun, playfulness and snuggly hugs rolled up into two amazing children. I miss dancing and being silly with Angelina and listening to Landon try out all kinds of new words.

My Boyfriend
Isn't he the greatest? He makes me laugh more than anyone I have ever met - and laughter is an important part of life. He's supportive of whatever I set out to do and is there at the end of the day for me to rant or rave to. Also, he's snuggly. And I'm quite fond of his cat.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

"Africa" Time

Things move more slowly here. I've been told that's the case with most of the world outside of the US. Buses run on a flexible schedule, and may or may not arrive. Meetings don't start on time. Fast food is not.

But I think it's good for me. My patience level is definitely expanding. And I have begun to reevaluate (but not completely dismiss) the sense of urgency I feel in my own life.

As a part of our Life Skills courses at the YMCA we're teaching time management. The Zulu speakers in our group generally teach in Zulu - and I know when the topic comes up because it goes something like this: "zulu zulu zulu zulu ... time management ... zulu zulu zulu zulu." Apparently there is no direct translation, which isn't surprising.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Zulu Customs

I feel like I have quite a bit to get caught up on - we have been teaching Life Skills classes at a high school in one of the townships and I am being challenged daily. The past week has been full of important experiences and I'm not sure where I should even start.

So, instead, I'm going to tell a story.

The Zulu language book I'm using has a page of information on "Zulu Customs" - one of which is belief in witchcraft.

Belief in Witchcraft
This is firmly engrained... it should never be ridiculed.

Alright then.

A group of us visited one ot the townships yesterday and while we were waiting to catch the Minibus Taxi back into town, some goats walked by. The conversation went like this:

Me: Do those goats belong to someone or do they just wander around?
Mbuso: No, they belong to someone.
Me: Oh. Why isn't anyone watching them? Aren't they likely to run away?
Mbuso: They won't.
Me: Why not?
Mbuso: The owner put a spell on them.
Me: Hmm. A spell that prevents them from running away?
Mbuso: Yes.
Me: Well, what if someone steals them?
Mbuso: They won't.
Me: Why?
Mbuso: There's a spell for that, too.
Me: I see.
Mbuso: If someone steals one of those goats and cooks it then eats it, it will make goat noises from inside their
Me: Got it. Makes sense.

He then went on to tell me that the reason people "go mad" - become mentally challenged - is that they have likely stolen something from someone and the owner of whatever was stolen went to the witch doctor to put a spell on them.

So it sounds like they have crime and runaway goats under control in the Zulu communities. We will all sleep better tonight, I'm sure.


This is the part of my blog where you (the readers) ask questions, and I (me) answer them. But it only works if you ask the questions.

You can ask me, "What did you have for breakfast this morning?" or "How do socio-economic status and race relations manifest themselves in the sugar cane industry of post-apartheid South Africa?"

To the first question, I would answer muesli rusks, a delightful bread product manufactured here in South Africa.

To the second question, I would remind you again of the delight inherent in muesli rusks.

Ask away.

Q: Hello Anne! What is the weather like? Elizabeth
A: This is a difficult one for me to approach - because I have heard that it has been brutally cold in Minnesota and I don't want to rave about how warm it is here when everyone at home is experiencing the unpleasant sensation of snot freezing in their noses. But it is absolutely gorgeous in Durban. It's summer right now and temperatures during the day are between 80-85. Nights don't get much cooler than 75. And there is lots of sunshine. Being on the coast, it is quite humid, but I am thoroughly enjoying it and I think my skin is more moisturized than it has ever been in my life. Anyone looking to escape below zero temperatures is more than welcome to visit.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Buses and Surfing

The bus drivers went on strike and decided not to tell anyone, apparently. So I waited for a bus for about 30 minutes yesterday then realized I should probably take a taxi. Shouldn't someone post a sign or something?

But the great part is that loads of white people are now riding the Minibus Taxis. On my taxi this morning there was an older white woman who told the driver, "I never take your taxis just because the step is too high and it's hard for me to get in and out. That's the only reason. Otherwise, I would. I swear." Right.

Is anyone tired of hearing about the Minibus Taxis yet?

Eleanor (one of my roommates) and I had a surfing lesson on Sunday morning with her 60-something (I'm guessing) yoga instructor. He's everything you would imagine a 60-something surfing yoga instructor who offers to give free lessons to 20-something foreign girls to be. Really. He told me I have nice teeth. But he was incredibly sweet and it was very nice of him to give his time. I made it up to standing twice, for brief periods, which was a huge accomplishment. And I was incredibly sore yesterday - in unexpected places like my toes and elbows (who knew we had muscles in our toes). Surfing is a lot of work. But I think we're going to go out again sometime soon. I can understand why the sport attracts a whole culture of fanatics. There is something spiritual about having the power of the ocean behind you, carrying you along.

I have been missing Minneapolis quite a bit lately. Having the ocean here is great, of course, and the warmth and sun are blessings, but being on unfamiliar ground day in and day out is tiring (and a bit lonely). It is, however, a wonderful experience for me to go away and realize exactly why I appreciate being at home.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Photos I Didn't Take

I haven't taken many photos here so I'm cheating: here are some photos that other people took (I found them on But they're all pictures I could have taken, i.e. places I have been, things I have seen. How's that for a compromise?

The Beach

Hair Cut Salon

Smith Street

Woman Carrying Bag on Her Head (This is incredibly common.)

This is How We Drive

Gateway Mall ( the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere)

Harbor at Sunset

Kwa Mashu, Inanda, and "Fat Cook"

Yesterday was a big day. We went to two townships, Kwa Mashu and Inanda, with a team of four to speak with high school principals about the possibility of doing Life Skills programs at their schools. In general, the response we received was positive. Whether it's due to a genuine interest in our program or a genuine disinterest in creating their own curriculum, I'm not sure.

But being in the townships was an experience in itself. I'm continually amazed by how little people need to live. So many of these families are packed into one- or two-room homes. They are without running water or a bathroom. They have few personal belongings. But they love each other - and love is what makes a home.

Dealing with a history of apartheid is incredibly challenging for me, as an outsider. I can't even imagine how difficult it is for the blacks and Indians. The end of apartheid was in 1994 - only 12 years ago - and I don't think that 12 years is nearly long enough to forgive and move on from something so terrible. One member of our team yesterday was a white South African who volunteers here at the Y. We were talking to one of the principals about getting a large group of students together and he said that they don't have a space that holds more than one class at a time. She was surprised and said, "Don't you have a hall or something?" And he looked right at us and laughed. I felt like he was saying, "You kept us under the rule of apartheid for decades and gave us no money to build and maintain our schools. What do you expect?"

In one of the towships yesterday we stopped to buy "Fat Cook" - which is probably not how it's really spelled, but that's what it sounds like. I think it means "cookie of cooking fat" in Afrikaans and it sounds more like "fet kook" when they say it. But it's essentially fried bread dough - and it is the most delightful combination of carbohydrates and saturated fat I have ever consumed. Really. Yum. Apparently the tradition is to eat it with polony (imagine the disgusting artificiality of bologna x10) and cheese but I passed on those.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

West Street

Me: "I feel mostly comfortable walking along West Street - except for the block that has all of the escort agencies. That's creepy."
Meg: "Because they're run by Nigerian drug lords?"
Me: "Um, no. I hadn't thought of that."

Monday, January 22, 2007

I'm Back

I had the flu last week, unfortunately, which resulted in me being essentially out of comission for 3 days. But I'm better now and back to regular life. I spent my first full day at the YMCA today - at a Youth Committee meeting, designing a spreadsheet to categorize member info, typing up notes on leadership, and hanging out with Thabi, the Kids Club coordinator.

Thabi and I were talking about our families and she was showing me photos of hers. She has a niece who is 5, too, so that's fun. The sad part of the story is that her niece's mom (her sister) died last year. I'm assuming from AIDS, though no one ever says. Even on death certificates doctors will not record AIDS as the cause of death because of the shame it brings to families. When talking about people who have AIDS we just say that they are very sick. So Thabi's niece is growing up without a mommy. And I'm reminded how thankful I am that my niece's mommy is healthy.

Yesterday I went to church at Emmanuel Cathedral. It's the big Catholic church in town - and it's old and beautiful, but I can't say when it was built. Mass was half in English, half in Zulu and attended by mostly Zulu people and a few Indians. So I only understood half of it, which was interesting. I felt sympathy for my Dad who had to attend Masses all in Latin back in the day.

And now I'm headed back to my apartment... on either the bus or the Minibus Taxi, whichever comes first. :)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Just an Update

I'm without internet access at my apartment again (the power cord on my computer died) - and I know I owe a lot of people email responses, so please be patient with me if you're one of them. :)

I met with, Paul, the Programs Director at the Durban YMCA yesterday and he is great. I'm going to be volunteering there - helping out with administrative/programming stuff and also just hanging out and playing with the kids. The center is located in a not-so-safe area of the city, Albert Park, and they have kids/teens/youth clubs with about 400 members and activities every day of the week. The programming staff is made up of only 4 people so they definitely have their hands full. Paul also said that I am more than welcome to start up any programs or activities that I want while I'm here - an amazing opportunity! So I'm thankful to have found something so wonderful... and I feel like this is just the type of organization I was looking to be a part of.

In other news, Joel (Sarah's brother) left for his bike trip yesterday (he's biking from Durban to Kampala, Uganda over the next 3 months - see his blog under my links) and it's sad that he's gone but really exciting that his journey is underway.

Oh, and I rode the Minibus Taxi for the first time - it was a little squishy and a little loud, but all in all, a pleasent experience.

That's all for now...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The aWAKE Project

I'm reading a book right now about AIDS in Africa called The aWAKE Project (aWAKE stands for AIDS: Working toward Awareness, Knowledge, and Engagement) - I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested. It's a collection of short writings from a number of sources.

Of many meaningful quotes, I think these are worth posting:
"From outside Africa it's difficult to see the trees for the forest. The raging fire looks too widespread to quench. The key is to look beyond the forest to the individual trees. If one person at a time is educated or cared for, an entire continent can be saved."
-Recah Theodosion

"I am guilty of living well, and in comfort, and hiding within the shadows of our majestic American steeples. I would hope we could walk out of our comfort, once in a while, to feel the heat of truth on our faces."
-Kevin Max

"No child should die alone without knowing that he or she is loved."
-Tony Campolo

Friday, January 12, 2007

Minibus Taxis

South Africa has a ban on roaming taxis. Truly, I’m not sure what the logic is. So you can call a cab company and arrange a pick-up or you can take the preferred method of transportation, the Minibus Taxi.

Here’s what I know about the phenomenon that is the Minibus Taxi:

1. Each taxi has a defined route that it must follow.

2. The main objective is to pack as many people into the taxi as possible.

3. Operating a taxi requires two men – a driver and a guy who opens the door, collects money, and tells people where to sit in order to achieve the previously mentioned ‘main objective’.

4. Taxis are notorious for driving recklessly and have a high incidence of accidents.

5. Taxi drivers partake in unwarranted and excessive honking (which South Africans call hooting, by the way).

6. All taxis play the exact same hip-hop/Kwaito beat at a blaring volume.

7. There is a system of hand signals (foreign to outsiders) that the operators use to indicate which way the taxi is headed.

8. Drivers spend hours each day washing and waxing their taxis.

9. And the best (and most entertaining) part, taxis have names such as Itsa G'Thing, Oh So Sexy!, and 100% Pure Love – often utilizing the characters z, 4, and ‘.

Pictured here are two versions of Ghetto Boyz at a taxi hub:

I haven't yet ridden a Minibus Taxi but I plan to, at least once. I'm not sure my South African experience will be complete unless I do.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Say what?

South Africa has 11 official languages – English, Afrikaans, and nine tribal languages. That’s a lot to keep track of. In Durban, most people speak English and it is the language of business – though not the majority’s first language. Most blacks speak Zulu amongst each other – or a Zulu/English mix, it seems (again, I’m not the expert).

Anyway, English is good because - as most of you know - that’s what I speak. Unfortunately, I do not speak South African English. So understanding the accent has been difficult at times. And being understood has been difficult at times (most often when I’m trying to ask for water, which I must pronounce significantly different than everyone else).

On top of the accent business, there are quite a few words and phrases that will take some getting used to (as there are in any new culture).

For example:

sorry = excuse me or that’s unfortunate (when you need to pass by someone, when someone drops something)
South African: Sorry!
Me: Um, for what?
South African: You dropped your bag.
Me: Oh, uhh… thanks
isit? = really?
Me: I haven’t seen a movie in quite some time.
South African: Isit?
Me: Uhh… yes. It is
howzit? = how are you?
now now = now
just now = anytime but now
have = take (e.g. “have a shower”)
stay = reside (e.g. “She stays in Johannesburg.”)
pleasure = you’re welcome
shame = that’s unfortunate
hey? = pardon?
hey = (used at the end of a sentence for emphasis, e.g. “There are a lot of people at the beach, hey.”)

And that's about all I know.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Of Life and Purses

One of the largest lifestyle adjustments I’ve made since I’ve been in South Africa (and I know this sounds silly) is not carrying my purse with me everywhere I go. Crime is a big concern, especially in the larger cities. Every guide and piece of tourist info that I have seen makes some mention of mugging and pick pocketing – we’re bordering on paranoia.

I was at the mall my first day here with my purse hanging off my shoulder and a very kind, young South African woman said, "Hold on to your bag, lovey." Mostly, I thought it was strange that she called me lovey, but I was grateful that someone is watching out for the clueless foreigners.

So I leave my purse at home and put my keys and whatever money I will need in my pockets. (I even put a hair binder on my key ring so I can attach them to my underwear if I don’t have pockets.) That means I am frequently without lip balm, floss, tissues and hand sanitizer but I am proud to say that I am adapting well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s liberating. The only downside is that I haven’t been carrying my camera with me and have taken few photos.

I’m starting to feel mostly at ease in my immediate neighborhood and at the beach – and don’t worry, Mom, I am cautious. I try to stay near areas with lots of people and don’t walk alone at night. But going downtown is still a little scary. The Lonely Planet guide offers this tip: "Don’t assume that everyone is out to get you." It might take me a while to get used to that idea but it helps to know that if I am mugged I won’t lose much.

A Brief Overview

I first visited Durban in May 2002 and I fell in love with it for several reasons. For one, it’s a coastal city. For two, it’s dynamic. That’s really the best word that I can come up with, unfortunately.

The population of the city is about 3 million. There is an incredible mix of cultures – Zulu (68%), Indian (20%), and White/Afrikaner (9%). The history of South Africa is complex (and troubling) and watching the post-apartheid era unfold – the racism, political differences, cultural differences, and socio-economic differences – is absolutely fascinating.

Like any city, it has its problems – most notably: poverty, crime, and HIV/AIDS.

During apartheid, blacks and Indians were forced to live in townships outside the city. Many families still live in these townships and most are without flush toilets and running water. The unemployment rate is high and many households have no income.

Around 1994, South Africa was called "the murder capital of the world." Crime has since lessened but is still an obvious concern. It’s dangerous to walk alone at night and most homes in wealthy areas have barbed wire fences and security systems.

And like the rest of Africa, HIV/AIDS is prevalent and the infection rate is increasing. It is estimated that around 35% of the population is infected. That’s 1 out of every 3 people I see when walking down the street. Unbelievable.

So that’s a brief background; from my very limited knowledge.

In lighter news, my apartment is right on the beach and I drink my coffee in the morning while watching the waves come in. The ocean really is beautiful and I am thankful to be so close to it after spending the past 25 years in the Midwest. I am even able to buy Cheerios (Otees) and ramen here. That’s luxury!

It has been 80+ degrees, humid and cloudy, for the most part. Summer is the rainy season.

Sarah and Paul’s wedding was Christmas weekend and there have been lots of people in town and lots going on. Sarah and Paul just left yesterday and now that life has calmed my goal is to get in touch with some non-profit organizations and find a place to volunteer while I’m here.

That’s my life these days. And here are some photos:

Hiking in Kloof

Spices at Victoria Street Market

Beachfront at night

I found this one online - my building is the one in the lower right corner

Wishing everyone a happy New Year!