Monday, December 01, 2008

In the Home Stretch

Almost halfway done with senior year of college... wowza

I'm going through a, I don't know what to call it, what most seniors go through? Trying to figure out how to graduate, what to do immediately after graduation, planning for life? Umm... apparently they don't teach you that no matter which school you attend. Enough grumbling for now though.

Thanksgiving with my family was wonderful. Albeit, I was sick, but I still enjoyed the company of my family and the wonderful care and lavish food! I am reminded of how lucky I am every year. With each passing year, hopefully I'll be more thankful and less complanatory. Is that word? Eh, doesn't matter.

Only 3 weeks to go then that glorious time known as winter break. Ah the life of a college student.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

Celebration on Swarthmore's Campus in Upper Tarble

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

From London to Cape Town 2008 Slideshow



Unforgettable times with wonderful people

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

S2A2 Week 7


Anne, "Sabs", and Aire at the V&A Waterfront collecting Fair Trade surveys

I cannot believe that it is my second to last week at EMG and in Cape Town. It has really started to feel like home after being here for nearly 8 months. There have been so many ups and downs, but overall it has just been incredible.

I know that I have to come back here in the near future. There's so much going on, and I want to be part of it. This week, I've mainly been working on putting together a report that summarizes the data collected from the SAMWU questionnaires about water management devices that I mentioned in an earlier post. Hopefully, I'll be able to meet with Lance or Jeff from SAMWU, sometime next week (before I leave).

It's August 1st today! Just a random exclamation. Some of my best lessons from this internship have really come from the informal conversations I've had with my supervisor and co-workers at EMG. Yesterday, Lazarus (who works in the same office as me) discussed his idea to start an NGO that focuses on education, which is run mostly by former teachers/principals. It's really inspirational to work each day with people who are so dedicated to serving others. It's a contrast to much of what I see elsewhere, but I know that there's a lot of of hope and enthusiasm from young activists. I really want to believe that some of our work will come to fruition and show results in the near future.

Last week, I helped collect surveys with my fellow EMG interns and another intern for Fair Trade South Africa. The surveys were trying to assess what South Africans know/think about Fair Trade to determine how it needs to be marketed here, if it is going to be expanded. Currently the main fair trade products are all agricultural, but there are also a lot of handicrafts that could potentially be Fair Trade certified. I wonder if it's really necessary or prudent to use Fair Trade as a means to accomplish the goals of improved worker rights/environmental sustainability, since there are local initiatives in place. Is the umbrella of Fair Trade always necessary?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

S2A2 Week 5

Tuesday, 15 July we had the Western Cape Water Caucus meeting. The morning was hectic trying to get everything together, but we got to Obz Community Centre, only a little behind schedule.

Jessica opened the meeting and I feverishly began taking minutes. It was an advantage to have my laptop there in a way, but I felt like I couldn't fully participate since I was trying to record everything around me.

There were a lot of major water issues discussed, but I thought the discussion around the impending failure of water infrastructure was particularly interesting. I don't think it's just a problem in South Africa. I remember hearing about a major water pipe bursting in NYC and a news special about America's "aging cities," which many countries are facing.

Back to the internship though, the rest of the week after the meeting was quieter, but it took quite some time to write up the minutes and follow up with caucus members. I think the most challenging part of helping to organize the meeting was trying to contact everyone and get any sort of feedback about the meeting agenda.

Since not everyone at the meeting belongs to an organization, many people do not have access to a landline or internet so e-mails were not that effective or useful as a means of communication. It's different for me to switch from my usual mode of communication to phone calls. However, there is something to be said for the personal nature of calling, and each place I called had a different background noise. Some places had phones ringing and sounded like offices, while others I called had a baby crying in the background or noisy chatter.

There are a lot of big issues to tackle, and it seems not a lot of support or resources for most civil society organizations here, but there's hope.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

S2A2 Week 3

 

Last week was filled with quite a few things, including a trip to Home Affairs and Sea Point, a meeting about Water Management Devices (WMDs), and a puppet show. My visit to Home Affairs allows me to stay in the country until my plane leaves ( a relief) but left me with a very unpleasant feeling and frustration. Luckily, that was quickly remedied by a trip to Sea Point with my friend at sunset. The photograph is of the waterfront area in Sea Point, which is absolutely breathtaking.

I was very inspired by my meeting in Cape Town with members of another group belonging to the Western Cape Water Caucus and a legal councillor (albeit informally). It was really intriguing to learn about the details of legal proceedings around the constitutionality of prepaid meters and other devices in the same league. I was then asked to help with work around the WMDs (a poor acronym to be sure). Part of the work may be to compile some of the survey information being conducted by the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) in some of the areas where the devices have been installed. I think one of the major difficulties will be trying to look at the surveys objectively, when in the back of my mind I am convinced that unless the WMDs function and operation changes, they should definitely not be used. On the one hand, as a device to help conserve and manage water demand there is a lot of potential, but on the other, since the devices are only being pushed mainly in low income communities, there definitely seems to be a bias as to who is being targeted for water savings.

The puppet show I attended was a really innovative production produced by Janni Younge http://www1.sogotheatre.co.za/. The show was specially designed for a conference, which was cohosted by EMG and international environmental NGOs surrounding desertification and drylands. The show highlighted the effects that desertification can have on rural communities in particular. The puppeteers were all youths from Mpumulanga, where people were interviewed to find out what the real issues facing communities affected by desertification. It was really beautifully done, with an opening that exhibited 3 frames covered with plastic sheets, which were covered with clay and then the actors (puppeteers?) drew in the clay and used shadow puppets to set the scene. I wish I had taken pictures becuase it was really amazing to see. Some of the major issues brought up were:

1) The need to cooperate to utilize a scarce resource effectively
2) The effect of desertification on agriculture
3) A need to diversify crops to adapt to changing climate

This week should be just as full if I can recover from this stupid cold!
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

S2A2 Week 2

I did some more background research this week about different projects that the Environmental Monitoring Group (EMG) is involved with, and decided to pursue work with the water management devices. The devices are being installed mainly in homes of people who have arrears, although it's supposed to be on a voluntary basis. The amount of water distributed to homes with the devices is preset and turns on at a specific time each day. It's been really interesting learning about prepaid water metres and their use in various places, including the United States, mainly in migrant communities.

There's a policy in South Africa known as Free Basic Water, whereby every household is supposed to get up to 6 kL of free water, after which they can pay for more. That amount divided into daily portions is distributed by the water devices, which in theory is supposed to be good since people can monitor their water usage with the device and will not go over the free limit if they cannot afford it. Unfortunately, there will always be circumstances when people need more water, especially if there is a sick person or a funeral so an inflexible daily water limit is really problematic. Especially if there is a fire, which happens really frequently in townships. It comes back to a longstanding argument about whether water and water services should be commoditized in such a way. Learning more and more each day, but many questions still remain...

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lion's Head Hike

 

View from Lion's Head before sunset

 

Gorgeous Coast Line

 

Table Mountain at Sunset
It looks unreal I know, but I promise that we were really there!

 
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Me and some of my housemates

I wish everyone could have seen this sunset!!!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

First Full Week of Classes

First full week of the semester:



(Scene from Green Market Square in Cape Town)




Classes started this week, except I didn't have class on Monday (AMAZING). I really think that I'm going to like Urban Engineering I. At least from this week's perspective. We're getting a broad overview of the historical/social/economic background of transportation and its role in the development of cities with a particular focus on Cape Town. The class is a little bigger, well a lot bigger than what I'm used to at Swat. There are around 90 students, but it doesn't feel too impersonal actually. I am very happy to see that there are quite a few female engineering students in the class, and the course convener is a female engineer, which is very encouraging! She also seems really really cool and friendly so that helps a lot as well.

Tuesday evening our house made dinner for Mayra's belated birthday, and it was really nice to reunite so to speak with our former house mates and fellow consortium students. It's nice that there are 3 houses in a way since we've gotten the opportunity to meet so many other study abroad students as well as having 3 houses as resources! We also gained a new roommate here, who is from Johannesburg. She is very knowledgeable, friendly, and such a joy to be around. Pretty much I think all of my housemates are awesome, and we get on really well fortunately.

I started my African Dance class here, which is indescribably fun. I'm really happy to also have a discussion portion included with the class because I think it'll enrich the dance experience as well as give me a context for the dances that we are learning. I am also fortunate enough to be taking an African Music class, where we get to learn different instruments. We started on the Jembe (spelling?), but I might try and learn the bells as well. There was no introduction really, it was basically sit down and start drumming, which was nice but also a bit intimidating. I felt like the instructor was staring right at me, and could see all of my mistakes! But after a while I got past the nervousness for the most part and just started playing to the best of my ability, with plenty of mistakes.

I'm still working on trying to find an adviser for my directed study, but hopefully that will be sorted out soon. I can't quite believe how happy I am. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to study at UCT in Cape Town. Even the "trials and tribulations" have really taught me a great deal, especially about being patient. I must say, I can't believe that I was able to watch 2 movies (ON SCHOOL NIGHTS) go to coffee shops and read for fun. I really like the fact that schooling is only part of my life here, and not an all consuming entity. I definitely don't want to slack off, but I'm really going to try to avoid being unnecessarily stressed about working or the need to constantly productive in some way. Probably my best lesson this week!

Random thing that happened Thursday evening. On our way back from dance class, Jemaria, Jackie, and I were walking down Main Road, and this very eccentric older man with a beard approached me. He was wearing a sort of 17th century get up that was very colorful and he had a long white beard. I've seen him before, but he's never really approached any of us before. Here's how our conversation went:

Him:"Do you write Chinese letters?"
Me: "A little, but not well, and probably not well enough for what you're probably asking."
Him:"Can you write to the Chinese government and tell them to stop dumping waste in South Africa?"
Me: "I don't really know enough to write a letter like that."
Him:"Well when you go back to China can you tell the government?"
Me: "I've never actually been to China before. I'm from New York."
Him:"Oh well you look like a Chinese. Can you please write a letter? I really want them to stop dumping waste in South Africa."
Me: "Umm... well I think the best course of action would be to have an international collaborative effort. Collective action!"
Him: Blank stare then... "That's a good idea."

Warning: Just rambling....
So... I think he has a mental illness, but it was interesting the way he felt really passionately about this issue. I didn't feel offended really because he seemed well-intentioned and sort of forlorn. But, it was such a strange interaction. I also can see the effects of spending 5 full weeks talking about globalization and international governance organizations , etc... coming out. It's hard because I want to talk to strangers, but I also feel the need to be really cautious, especially since it was nighttime, and being a woman. And granted, it may have been really foolhardy for me to stop and talk to a potentially dangerous person, but I also don't feel right completely ignoring someone when he/she directly addresses you. For example, I never know what to do when I see people begging on the streets. On the one hand, I want to help them, and giving them some money seems like the easiest course of action, but I've also been warned that sometimes they're not acting independently. And even if they are, it's possible that the money goes toward drugs/alcohol rather than food or something that will help them get out of the situation they are in. But, just walking by seems really heartless. I know that I can't fix all of the world's problems, and maybe not even one problem, but I want to do something!!!!!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cederberg Field Trip

It was amazing!

Day 1: Wednesday, 23-Jan-08 Swartland and Eland’s Bay



I was working on my S2A2 grant frantically, but I realized that there was no way that I could finish and still turn in a quality proposal, especially since I was half asleep. After rushing around hurriedly for a half hour, I showered quickly and polished off a pancake and the remaining granadilla yogurt. I was in Mike’s car with Lily, Sarah, Bonnie, Sindy, Dillon and Andrew. We ended up playing several word games, including one which you dropped clues about a made up compound word consisting of 2 usually unrelated real words. An example would be to give the clue “a famous actor in To Kill a Mockingbird and the end of a children’s tongue twister,” the answer to which would be GrecoryPeckofpeppers. It was really fun, and the drive to our first stop passed quickly.

The first stop was the Swartland, which mainly consists of wheat farms. Mike talked about the agricultural land use history of the area and the impacts of wheat farming on the soil. Major soil erosion occurred as a result of the Wheat Import Ban (1937?) Mike seemed really proud that the solutions to many of the soil erosion problems were offered by a geographer at UCT, Dalton.

Our next stop was at the Eskom nuclear power plant in Koeberg. Pauline, the PR person, talked to us for a length of time about the different types of power plants—coal, nuclear, hydroelectric, experimental wind farms, and solar. Apparently, they were funding research on alternative sources of energy, such as waves, but some of the research may be halted because of the current energy crisis in South Africa. There’s a major energy deficit due to population increases, energy export demands, and many other factors.

It was interesting that she was definitely putting a spin on why Eskom couldn’t pursue wind farms more aggressively because at least around Cape Town, there are pretty high winds every day. One of the policies that has been implemented recently is “load shedding” where different areas around the country have scheduled power cuts, but unfortunately, that schedule is not published or announced! Eskom has a near monopoly on the energy market in South Africa and in most of Africa because they are the cheapest energy provider. However, they are not able to supply enough energy to all of South Africa on top of many other African nations with their current energy production capacity.

The company seems to be a huge force in Africa and globally, but we weren’t able to extract too much technical discussion about annual emissions or daily water usage for the nuclear facility. Being at a nuclear power station reminded me a little bit of being at Argonne. I realized that I didn’t really learn a huge deal about nuclear technology, despite the weekly seminars. However, in some ways I was convinced that nuclear power is safer and more environmentally friendly than many other types of power production because there are no emissions. BUT of course you have to consider the highly radioactive and potentially lethal waste byproducts. And really, no one wants to live next door to a nuclear power plant. (Think of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island…)

After Pauline finished, Hilton, the Koeberg nature preserve manager stepped in. He spoke to us about the challenges of controlling invasive species like eucalyptus trees (a major problem in the Western Cape) or roikraan (a shrubby tree) both of which come from Australia (I think). He also really encouraged us to come back to the preserve to view the flora and fauna, and to try out the biking trails. The photos of different animals found in the preserve such as springbok, elands, and gruysbok (sp?) were really cool. I kept nodding off even though I was interested because of my late evening the night before. He spoke to us about the challenges of controlling invasive species like eucalyptus trees (a major problem in the Western Cape) or roikraan (a shrubby tree) both of which come from Australia (I think). He also really encouraged us to come back to the preserve to view the flora and fauna, and to try out the biking trails. The photos of different animals found in the preserve such as springbok, elands, and gruysbok (sp?) were really cool. I kept nodding off even though I was interested because of my late evening the night before. It was interesting to revisit how nuclear power is produced as well as to think about the possibility of expanding nuclear power production and the added benefit of nature conservancy (Eskom’s stab at promoting it’s green image).

Our last educational stop of the day was at Eland’s Bay. The view from the rock art cave was incredible. Intensely clear blue water, red sandstone rocks, and in the background cave art. The handprints were so small, and Mike explained that the Khoi-Khoi were probably very small in stature. My hand was bigger! The art was usually created under a trance state, probably self-induced though drugs may have been involved. Unfortunately, very little is known about the Khoi-Khoi herders as most were wiped out when other settlers came, and the remaining oral history is patchy at best. However, many of the local people are descendants of the Khoi-Khoi as evidenced in their small stature and distinctive Asian-African facial features.

Our hotel wasn’t far from the cave, and after unpacking we had free time until dinner. Bonnie, Sindy, Trish and I went for a walk along the white sand beaches. It was lovely, but the wind was so fierce that it was actually painful to walk against the wind that was blowing the sand all around. It was a nice exfoliant though! When we returned from our walk, everyone had already left the beach. I thought someone had picked up my sneakers since I didn’t see them so we all walked back to the hotel. After asking around, it seemed that my sneakers were actually lost on the beach! Luckily, Bonnie accompanied me through the cutting sand and we were able to recover not only my sneakers, which were half buried by that time, but funnily enough, Ray’s borrowed hotel towel as well.

After taking a bath and clogging up the drain with sand, it was time for our buffet dinner. Everything was so delicious, can I tell you how tender the beef was? And all of it was of course enhanced by the surrounding environment and company. The power went out halfway through dinner, but eating by dim candlelight only added to the ambience. Sindy, Bonnie, and me split 2 scrumptious chocolate mousse cake slices. Then we played with the fire for a while…

After dinner, most of us headed down to the beach to stargaze and relax. Andrew entertained us for quite a while with a number of songs while we all struggled to think of songs that we all knew. Apparently, collectively we could only come up with about 2 songs for which the majority of us knew more than the chorus. It was sooooo beautiful though on the beach at night, and later on Trish, Jasper, Kyle, and Mayra joined us. Trish and Jasper contributed to the musical portion of the evening, and some of added our two cents with some of the African percussive instruments that Trish brought. Neil Young, the Beatles, and other “oldies but goodies” were the most popular. All in all it was a nearly perfect evening. The only thing we were lacking was an open fire, but looking up at the stars and singing along at the beach was more than enough.

Back at the hotel, around 11 PM, there was a small commotion involving a very drunk man, but Mayra assertively turned down his unappealing invitations to join him downstairs in the “bar”. Ariane, Lily, and I were preparing to go to sleep when we heard another commotion outside. Dillon was locked out of his and Mike’s room so he spent the night in our room. Much to our amusement, we found out that Mike had been in his room that evening, but he apparently hadn’t heard Dillon banging on the door and yelling.

Day 2: Thursday 24-Jan-08 The Cederberg


The "chill house"


We departed Eland’s Bay and headed for the Cederberg preserve. Before arriving at Cederberg, we made a short stop at Verlorenvlei (where the V is pronounced like an ‘f’). Mike gave a short lecture about how a supposedly “pristine” wetland area such as Verlorenvlei was actually significantly impacted by the historical land usage of early Dutch settlers as well as current farmers, many of whom use a pivoting sprinkler and pump watering system. The most visibly abundant wildlife were fragmiates (sp?) reeds and various birds. We only saw one pelican. As we were leaving, Mike took an “alternative” exit, which led us into a really muddy area. Our group had to get out of the car and give the convey a boost, which resulted in most of us getting covered in mud up to our knees. It was actually pretty funny, although the mud was hard to get off.

Our last major stop before Cederberg, was Bird Island where thousands of gannets come to roost each year. It was a really impressive sight to see 15,000+ birds standing in a huddle for the most part. The sounds they made were so loud, and we got a chance to view them up close with binoculars in a nearby observation tower. Apparently, there used to be more than twice the number of birds, but for reasons not yet understood, the number of gannets has been declining in recent years. Currently, I think they have protected status. Historically, the island was used for guano collection, which was a really big business app. more than 100 years ago, but now the area is really supported by mainly fishing and ecotourism.

The drive to Cederberg was scenic, but it was hard to stay awake. Ray and I started talking about my S2A2 application. He is writing my recommendation, which is more than nice. I was a little hesitant to ask him initially, but he was actually really quick to offer his support.

As we got closer to Kromrivier, where our “chalets” were, we observed the intermingling of native fynbos and invasives like the wattle tree. Apparently, before it became a preserve, Cederberg was run by the Dept. of Forestry, which is why there were a few remaining pine stands that will be harvested later. When we arrived at our site, Mayra, Sindy, Bonnie, Trish, and I decided to house together. We were assigned to the food storage house, Fishwaal, (yeah, good planning I know), which was good in that it was a center of activity, but bad because our kitchen received the most abuse.

That first evening we had 2 lecturers. Quentin aka “leopard man” described the work done by the Cape Leopard Trust that he helped set up. His talk centered around the work he had done trying to cooperate with local farmers and convincing them that the leopards were worth saving. Afterwards, Richer (sp?) the manager of the Cederberg and nearby Mijierivier preserve, which covers a massive area talked with us. She stressed the importance of having a protected corridor through which wildlife could travel as well as for integrated park management. The second portion of her talk focused on efforts to preserve the Widdrington cederbergensis, which are on the verge of becoming extinct. These cedars are of course the namesake for the whole region, which may actually be a major contributing factor to why so many resources are going in to the cedar resuscitation project. (Unfortunately, I must say it seems like a losing battle given predicted climate change models (shrinking habitat), and the fact that as of yet no reason for the rapid decline of the cedars has been discovered. The case reminds me of the major decline of eastern hemlocks in the States, but in that case, the woody adelgis was identified as the major tree killer relatively soon after the decline began.

Both speakers joined us afterwards for the very tasty braai, which Saeed and Trish helped us pull off. (Without them, I’m fairly certain we wouldn’t have eaten until 10 PM since the second lecture carried on far past the expected ending time.) Bonnie and I did get to throw the potatoes in the fire at least.

After dinner I got to have a really nice long chat with Quentin about how he found his life’s path in a way. I began by asking how he decided to focus his work on leopards, but he saw through my question pretty easily. I guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought, and he also seemed to be able to narrow in on exactly why I was asking the question. His answer in a nutshell (which isn’t really doing him justice) was to find your passion, follow it, and other things will fall in to place (such as where am I going to live, how am I going to support myself?) Also, that it’s not important to seek success because again, you will be successful if you end up doing what makes you happiest. I didn’t get to ask him about familial responsibilities or how it’s something of a luxury to be able to study whatever you want in school. However, based on his response, that didn’t really seem to be a major factor in his decision making process. It was definitely an interesting conversation, and he was really interesting to talk to. He told this great story about how marketing is useful, but can also be completely ridiculous (think of adopting a leopard spot and you’ll get the point).

As much as I detest overt manipulation, it’s undeniable how effective and necessary marketing is for any nonprofit or research organization. (As I learned in my brief externship at the WWF a few years back). I’m not sure how that’s going to fit into my life goals or exactly what path I’m setting myself on. But at least I feel that I’m on my way somewhere good. I’m definitely hoping that this time abroad, and wrapped into that a plethora of experiences, challenges, friendships, etc. will help me clear my head and reflect on just what I want to do. I really need some serious reflection and prayer time, but I haven’t been very disciplined in either lately.

After the braai, some people decided to sleep outside. While on the one hand that would’ve been really nice, I couldn’t just turn down a nice bed and protection from bugs, especially since I had melted chocolate all over my blanket.

Day 3: Friday, 25-Jan-08

The main event of the next day was the hike up to see the remaining cedars. It was extremely hot as expected, but the view was well worth it. The rock formations were really intriguing. Although I must say, the cedars were much less impressive than I thought. Probably because the ones that we saw looked like they were dying, and mostly we saw dead trees. It was a bit sad, but it does raise the question as to whether or not the efforts to save them are worthwhile. Especially since, both Jasper and Mike mentioned that the cedars don’t seem to be an essential species to the ecosystem.

It was nice because the Anatolian shepherd dog from the main facilities office followed us part of the way up to the mountain, but being wiser than us, he turned around before it became too hot. Sindy, Maryra, Kyle and me ended up walking in the lead for quite a while. I think that was because we didn’t stop to take as many pictures, and also because for some reason I really like to walk ahead.

It was funny because the place that we stopped to talk was a little shaded cave where Mike had gotten research material from, research material that is basically poop. The euphemism for it is “dassie mitten,” which translates as dassie waste, but it’s pretty much poop. The cool thing about it is that pollen samples contained within years and years of waste buildup can be used to determine what the vegetation of the area may have been like 100s of years ago. It’s such a fascinating idea to use waste in such a way, and it seems like it could provide a huge breakthrough in constructing the natural history of the area as well as providing potential answers to questions about how and why plants in the area evolved in such a way.

In the afternoon, I finally took the plunge and decided to swim in the pool for a while. The water was quite warm actually, which was nice, but it was also deeply rust colored. We were told that the water’s very clean thankfully, but there were definitely a lot of iron deposits so my brand new white bathing suit bottoms became an unpleasant rust color afterwards. But, I guess that I can’t complain too much given that I got to swim in fresh mountain water in a gorgeous outdoor environment.

That evening, the “kids” were in charge of dinner, and Andrew led the way with chili. I helped make rice, which was much more challenging than I thought given that the burners kept turning off every 5 minutes. I became a little concerned that the rice wouldn’t cook, but with enough patience, the little rice kernels plumped up and softened up enough to eat!

After dinner, Mayra gave Jasper her camera and we started taking really nifty long exposure shots where we used multiple lighting schemes to set up really cool photographs. Mike and Ray got in on the act, and the end result were a series of really trippy photos where people show up in two places in the same frame in strange contorted positions. It was really fun and really random, which are usually two of the best combinations.

Day 4: Saturday, 26-Jan-08 Nieuwoudtville

In the morning we left Cederberg, and I was a little sad to have to leave such a beautiful area. Sindy, Bonnie, and I were hand-selected by Saeed to ride in the bakkie. We actually got a really good deal since we probably had the most room, and Saeed is absolutely hilarious we found out. It was funny because I thought he was pretty much a silent kind of guy, and then he started joking around with us.

The car ride was interesting, but the landscape got a little monotonous after a while. We did notice a transition from the fynbos to the succulent karoo vegetation type. But the coolness of the landscape was somewhat overshadowed by the overwhelming heat. When we stopped at Wippedaal (sp?) I was really grateful for a rest. We ate lunch in the shadiest spot we could find, and then we had a short time to walk around the town.

Our first stop was a small soap making business which apparently got a shout out from Oprah in her O magazine, which has really helped spread the business internationally I think. It is currently run by 6 local women who make everything by hand from rooibos tea. The soap smells absolutely amazing to me, and it’s really impressive what these women are doing. Also, I find it somewhat ironic that what is sold here for what can be called “ a song” will probably show up on the shelves of a really exclusive German boutique or British spa for 10 times the amount that we paid. All it cost was a few thousand dollars for a plane ticket I guess. (That puts things in perspective.) The next place we visited was a small shoe factory, also run by local community members, and also mostly manpowered.

I was very tempted to buy a pair of leather hand-made baby shoes as a souvenir, but I’m not quite sure what anyone would do with it. The man showing us around was very nice, and he described the trading pattern that is going on with monthly pick ups. It seems that the business is pretty successful right now. Most of the time, they sell all of the shoes that they make within a month or so. I can’t imagine living in such a small town though. There looked like a handful of buildings, and the heat was truly unbearable. In a way, I think that I should push myself to live in area where things are truly scarce and that is pretty inaccessible, but I also don’t know what purpose that would serve for me other than to toughen me up. I’m not too sure how productive or valuable of an addition to the town that I would make either given that I don’t speak Afrikaans nor do I have any craft making ability.

After our lunch break, we got back in the bakkie. We did make a few pee stops, and then we made a long stop in a small cave. It looked like it had been used as a kraal for hundreds of years, since there was evidence of cave art as well as a few sheep in there. Getting out of the car, our faces were blasted with dry heat, and we found a carcass which made me really worry about the possibility of getting stranded in desert-like conditions! Fortunately, nothing untoward happened on the way, and we arrived in N-ville safe and sounds.

The town was much smaller than I expected, but our accommodations were really lovely. Walking down the main road, I was again struck by the quietness of the surrounding area. There was a small pub that we visited where Mayra, Saeed, Bonnie, and me struck up a small game of darts. I hit the bullseye once, and decided I had to stop while I was ahead or at least not losing.

Before dinner Jasper led an expedition to the quiver tree forest, a ways north of N-ville I think. We stopped at a winter-rain fed waterfall on the way there. It was pretty cool to get off the road and walk a few hundred yards and see this gigantic canyon. It was totally unexpected, and I wished the waterfall had been active, but I could imagine how lovely it must be come winter rainy season. The quiver tree forest was even more breathtaking. The trees themselves were such interesting shapes, and add to that the background of these inspiring mountains. As the sun started lowering, I couldn’t believe how lucky we were. I had to climb to the top of the hill, although everyone else decided to stay at a slightly lower elevation. I felt a little bad sort of abandoning everyone, but I can’t describe how beautiful and incredibly peaceful it was to be at the top of an almost mountain surrounded by quiver trees. The loneliness was sort of beautiful. The only sign of habitation was one small farmhouse a kilometer or more away. The silhouettes created by the quiver trees is definitely the stuff of legend. I didn’t want to leave. I probably took 50 photographs just of the trees and the sunset.

It was such a beautiful view, and I got to thinking how I wished everyone could experience something so wonderful. But then, I thought about how much damage and disturbance is caused by humans trekking up and down the hills where the trees grow. There has to be some sort of regulation and measured balance for how many visitors there are. I really think that the isolation and harshness of the climate are actually really beneficial to the wildlife. It’s such a dilemma for me to want to enjoy “unspoiled nature” while not wanting to damage anything. But for the time being, the quiver forest remains relatively safe, and we were afforded one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.

Dinner was soooooo delicious and we had a tasty fish called snoek (I think that’s how it’s spelled). Definitely try peppery snoek with an apricot chutney if given the opportunity. Also, add a serving of sweet potatoes, and you have the makings of an unforgettable meal. It was fun to eat together, and Mike was forced to give us a brief autobiography. Ray got a little out of hand with his question about Mike’s most embarrassing moment, but I think we were all curious about how Mike met Allie, so I’m glad that Ray asked.

After dinner, it was time to return to our abode, and we discovered the huge mosquito population. Mayra and I stayed up for quite a while talking, and I didn’t notice the mosquitoes at first. But after a short while, all I could hear was the most incessant and annoying buzzing of mosquitoes by my ears. I tried sleeping with the sheet over my head, but then it got too hot. It was a choice between heat or mosquitoes, and I alternated between the two. Finally, I gave up trying to sleep in my bed and headed to the common area. I set up a makeshift mosquito net by draping the sheets over the small loveseat and a dining room chair. It was somewhat effective until I knocked it down in my sleep I think. But it was one of the least restful nights I have ever had. I HATE mosquitoes, and I would find it very difficult to argue for keeping mosquitoes in existence if there was ever a discovery of a way to eradicate all mosquitoes. I know that every organism has some part in the food web, bur I really hate getting bitten.

Day 5: Sunday, 27-Jan-08 N-ville

We met with Bettina, a community organizer (among other cool things) at 6:30 AM, or something crazy like that. We learned about PGIS (participatory geographical information systems) and how effective and powerful of a tool that can be for small farming communities. I’ve never thought of the potential for PGIS to serve as a social change tool, so it was really cool to hear Bettina speak about the work that her organization is doing in and around N-ville.

Some of the work that’s being done has helped offer legal evidence for land ownership rights for small landholders which they otherwise would not have been able to afford. We also got to participate in a small exercise to map out a nearby rooibos farm in Papkuilsfontein (don’t ask me to say it). The owners were a fairly affluent looking white couple, but they actually turned out to be much more liberal and progressive than I would have imagined. I really respected Mariet (the farmer’s wife) who seemed like a really strong woman.

Our group lucked out and got to map out the cottage area, which was probably the cushiest job of the day. We had an amusing incident in one of the cottages where we tried to locate an information binder about one of the local rare tree species. Trish went into the cottage, which was occupied at the time, although the guests were out for an excursion when we stopped by. However, she felt so guilty about being their when the guests renting the place weren’t there, that she had to exit quickly. However, we realized that she had tracked mud all over the newly cleaned floor, so Mayra went in and saved the day by mopping up all of the tracks with her socks.

After we finished mapping out the area, which was relatively quick (~35 min.), we ended up swimming in a small pool for a while. It was fun to chat with the girls of the “chill house,” and Saeed. We tried to pry some personal information out of him, but all he revealed was that he came from a pretty large family who mostly lived in Cape Town, but he wasn’t close with them. (We must try to dig a little deeper).

After a while, we felt a little guilty since we didn’t know where/when we were supposed to meet the hiking group. Fortunately, Mariet came by in a 4x4 and led us to where we thought we were supposed to meet Zoey, Sarah, and Jasper. We were pretty worried when they didn’t show up because it was such a hot day, and there was no shade anywhere along the section of the trail that they were mapping.

Luckily, everything worked out in the end since we located the hikers who were safe and sound, if slightly dehydrated. Then Mariet, Ray, and me headed to the canyon for a while. I love climbing things, so I got to scramble around the rocks for a bit before running into Jasper, Zoey, Sarah, and Saeed on their way back from the rock pool, which sadly I didn’t get to swim in.

After along hot day, Jasper decided to scrap the survey idea. We were going to try and conduct a survey of N-ville accommodation providers to try and gain an understanding of the impacts of ecotourism on the economy as well as the environment. But, I think our observations may have provided us with enough qualitative if not quantitative information.

In the evening, we had a bit of confusion trying to determine where everyone was going to sleep since some people discovered bed bugs, and none of us wanted to return to a mosquito ridden flat. We went to visit the boys who were staying in a farmhouse just outside of town. Unfortunately, it was really too hot to play any games or to even move for that matter, but we chatted for a while. I definitely will not forget seeing these gigantic spider-like creatures which are apparently carnivorous and not true spiders. If you ever see a solar-fuge (or sun spider) run the other way.

Back at the main house, Sarah, Zoey, Katie, Annie, Mayra and me crashed for the night. And luckily, I didn’t get any bugbites! At the expense of not opening the windows, I think it was worth it.

Day 6: Monday, 28-Jan-08

Last day of the field trip : (. In the morning, we departed fairly early to try and beat the heat. Our destination was the Heiveld co-op just south of N-ville. I LOVED the woman who acted as one of our tourguides. Katrina, alias Tempes, was so spirted and lively at 60+ years, that I felt like such a slacker in comparison. She and her fellow co-op member Maria led us around to some of the small landholdings and described various things about the community as well as the cultivated and wild rooibos grown and harvested on the farms.

We were fortunate enough to get a demonstration of the traditional harvesting method. I got to use the scythe, which I wielded pretty unskillfully. Probably the most labor intensive step of the harvesting process was seed collection.

Seeds are scooped up by hand, but then they have to be sifted through to remove sand and this weird worm poop. All of the sifting is done by hand using water and a coarse and fine meshing screen. I kept trying to think of ways that the process could be sped up, but nothing came to mind without heavy duty machinery. Also, I think after harvesting rooibos for so long, that the people of the co-op had a very good grasp on what was the best process to use.

Along the way to the farms, Maria and Katrina would point out medicinal plants that were traditionally used as pain killers. It was interesting that she said that one of the plants could treat HIV, and we were all a little skeptical. But, later on Jasper mentioned that there is a plant that helps bolster your immune system, so in that it would be a useful HIV treatment. I ate a leaf, and it was absolutely disgusting tasting, but maybe it’ll keep me healthy.

Again, I was struck by the contrasts between my life and the lives of the people living on such harsh yet beautiful land. There was no running water or power lines, but one of the homes that we visited had a solar panel which seemed to be connected to something in the kitchen area.

Apparently, guests can come to stay in the community for a while, and they get fed amazingly simple yet delicious food. It’s a form of agro-ecotourism, but I also think it’s a way for the co-op to advertise and reach an international market.

The only way that the co-op has really been able to succeed is through finding a niche in the fair trade market, and that is now being threatened. It’s interesting to map how certification began as way of trying to equal the playing field in a market for environmentally and socially conscious consumers, but now large farms and corporations are trying to force their way into the niche. It’s hard to say whether certification systems are sustainable given that most man-made things are corruptible. I was really struck by the hospitality of the people that we encountered at the farm.

Granted, breakfast was paid for, but in relatively poor community, we were offered an abundant amount of food. The hearth baked bread was amazing. It was slightly smoky flavored, and it was so simple with either cheese or jam inside, but it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. Food has definitely been a major part of my experience in South Africa so far. It’s something permeates everyone’s life, and it’s a huge component of globalization and environmental impacts so it’s hard to overlook.

Before leaving Heiveld, our group took a photo with Katrina, Maria, and another gentleman whose name I can’t remember at the moment. I was fortunate enough to get a hug from Katrina and an invitation to return during harvesting season. I’m seriously contemplating it, but I’d have to find a way to get back. We parted with waves, and she asked us not to forget them, which made me want to cry.

I’m not sure how everyone else was feeling, but it was a really emotional tour for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed almost every minute of it. The car ride back was much less bumpy since we took a paved road back. Most of the car ride, which I meant to spend sleeping, we ended up playing another guessing game. This time it was to guess a famous person, which you had to determine by stumping the person who was “it,” and earning questions. It was really fun, but there were a few mini-clashes when Katie and I tried to bring in American pop culture “icons” like Nicole Ritchie and people in the car protested. When we finally arrived back at Cape Town, I felt a bit like I had been on an epic journey similar to Frodo and Sam in LOTR. Oddly enough, the house that we’re staying in was called the “Shire” last year because of its location I’m guessing. But also probably because of the quirky residents.

And with that the fellowship of the cedars was ended.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

First Week





I still can't believe that I'm here in Cape Town, SA. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The scenery with Table Top Mountain is incredible. It's very cliche to say this, but it really does take your breath away. Backtracking a bit...

Friday 4th-Sunday the 6th



The flight on Friday left JFK on time and was very smooth thankfully. The aerial view of NYC at night was quite a sight, and I wish I could've taken a picture. The grid-like structure becomes very clear, but the irregularity of the land mass prevents it from being a boring view. I was glad that I got the window seat! I switched with the passenger sitting next to me since he had a back problem. We struck up a conversation, and he mentioned that he had been to Cape Town before and that it was absolutely amazing. I got more and more excited as the plane took off, but I had a lot of reading to do as background for our Globalization and the Environment Course.

When we arrived in Heathrow airport, it was the morning. I was eager to get going to meet Cheryl in front of the gate at Hyde Park. However, the process was a little more confusing than I initially thought to check-in and obtain a boarding pass 7 hours in advance of the departure time. Everyone in the airport was extremely helpful since I needed a lot of assistance. The Heathrow Connect was my transportation of choice to downtown Paddington London. I couldn't believe how clean the train car was. Before leaving the airport, I quickly reassured my family that I had arrived. Just paying for the internet was at least one pound, which is pretty ridiculous since I only got a few minutes of time.

In London, I headed straight for Hyde Park since I didn't know how long it would take to get from Paddington to Lancaser Gate. Along the way, I couldn't help but stop to take pictures of some of the residential buildings as well as taking a really long time to cross the roads. I'm still adjusting to the fact that you drive on the left side of the road in London and South Africa as well. By the time I got to the gate it was around 12:15 PM, and I was worried that Cheryl may have left already. I decided to wait until 12:30 PM to see if she would come. It was fun to people watch, but since there were mostly cars and not many pedestrians people-watching wasnj't too action packed. Eventually, I decided that I should just start walking around Hyde Park since my time was limited, and maybe by some stroke of fate Cheryl would find me in the park!

I played the role of camera happy tourist very well and stopped by Kensington Palace, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, with several other stops in between. I stopped for lunch at a small cafe contained within the park, it was situated right on the water front. I couldn't believe how expensive food was. The conversion from USD to pounds was pretty painful. Overall, the excursion to London was fun, but it would have been much better if I could've hung out with Cheryl and Adrian!

Back on the plane... I essentially spent the entirety of the plane ride reading Meredith's very comprehensive and large book The Fate of Africa, much to the dismay of my fellow passengers. I felt bad about leaving the light on all night, but there was no way I was going to try and read by the dim light provided by the screen in the seat in front of me. I was able to finish, and I treated myself to a few television shows (The Simpsons and Sex and the City).