Monday, August 31, 2009

And everything in between

Where to start? The past few weeks have been a flurry of details for banking, registration, proof of insurance, figuring out what I'll be studying. Of course interspersed with all the unpleasantness of paperwork have been the pleasures of building new friendships, renewing old friendships, and the general excitement of being back in Cape Town.

Apparently, this year's winter has been pretty mild with the exception of a few rainstorms where it feels like you're drowning as you walk up the mountain to campus. Some of the issues that we discussed in my research group involve the difficulties of finding acceptable alternative sewerage systems for informal settlements. No one wants to receive a system that they perceive as inferior, even if it actually isn't, but on the other hand, there are some locations where it's just not feasible or desirable to use conventional gravity fed waterborne sewage. So how do you prioritize environmental, social and political concerns? I guess "traditional" engineers tend to just trust that if the technical system works, then all the rest will follow. But especially given new challenges of unprecedented urban growth and development patterns the old approach needs modification. I.E. talk to people, and a lot of people, before you plunk any technology, no matter how good it looks on paper, down in the middle of their neighborhood. I'll definitely be posting again about infrastructure and service delivery, anyone reading this consider yourself forewarned!

The pictures above are from Green Point Stadium, which will be where the 2010 World Cup Finals are played, and from a stormwater channel behind one of the shopping centers near where I'm living. I think trying to reconcile why there are people who live on the street and have to do their laundry in stormwater sewers, while billions of rand are spent on building a shiny new stadium is one thing that I have to continuously struggle to understand.

To end this post, I'm going to fall back on an excerpt from an inspiring courageous writer/activist Arundhati Roy, on why we must keep striving for peace and justice no matter what:

To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Head Spinning

So after 1 week in Cape Town...

There's a bit of information overload going on in my head right now. Especially after attending a really cool, unexpected lunch meeting with a professor in the Environmental and Geographical Science department at the University of Cape Town. My head is swirling with ideas about urban water management, sustainability, integrating disciplines... All of that stuff that sounds wonderful in theory, but is very hard to put into practice. But, I have hope!

Next up: A word to the wise, for anyone who wants to register as a full-time student at UCT, especially as an international student.

Have patience, have patience, have patience.

To apply, I was bounced back and forth between the international student office (IAPO), the regular admissions office, and the Faculty office for Engineering and the Built Environment. Starting during the second semester is unheard of (wouldn't recommend it).

Be insistent because if you're not, you might just be shuffled off into an infinite loop of offices telling you that you must do this one thing first before registering, yet you can't register without doing this other thing first.

Pay up front. International students are something of a money machine for the university, which I'm actually okay with considering the overarching global disparity that exists between sub-saharan Africa and most of the "western world". But still, on a personal level it hurts the pocket book.

Try to find accommodations with people who are of a different nationality and experience than yourself. It is a wonderful way to informally learn about the world and yourself, and is probably waaay better than forced "cross-cultural" experiences.

Those are my general tips for now. If anyone has any questions about the nitty gritty details of applying and/or registering let me know.