Joburg, Cape Town, Rhinos, Meeting Dignitaries, and More!

I’ve missed writing about a lot of things going on here, so here are some headlines of exciting things that have been happening. Here goes!

We went to Joburg!

Almost a month ago now (has it been that long?) we went to Johannesburg for the weekend with the whole ACM group. We went to the apartheid museum, Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson museum (focused on student protests around apartheid), and a lot of other places. It was odd how different Joburg felt from Gabs, even though it isn’t very far away. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing consistent streetlights on the roads, for instance, and seeing a real city skyline almost made me cry. Gaborone is a capital city, but it’s still relatively small and doesn’t exactly give you the “big city feel” that Joburg does. Driving into town I had the same emotions as I did the first time I drove to Minneapolis from Grinnell and was so suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of a city skyline once I had gotten so used to nothing but flat fields. Gaborone is much more of a city than Grinnell, IA, but still.

On the way back to Gabs we stopped at the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind and got to see where some excavations of early homo sapiens were done!

We went to Cape Town!

For Easter break (UB had Friday and Monday off) Jadah, Nasra, and I went to Cape Town! Jadah and I had our flight delayed/ canceled when we were supposed to fly out on Thursday night, so we spent the night back at UB while Nasra (who had been on an earlier flight) navigated Cape Town for a day on her own before we arrived the next evening. It was a journey, but when we got there…oh man…. Cape Town is gorgeous. We stayed in a really inexpensive Air B&B right on the water that was a beautiful studio apartment with views of Lion’s Head and the ocean and it was fantastic. In the mornings we would walk down to the gas station on the corner and get coffee and look out at the water. I relished in the joy of having coffee (even gas station coffee) so close. It was amazing. We didn’t have a lot of time in Cape Town, but we made the most of it, spending sometime in the tourist-heavy waterfront area, hiking Lion’s Head Mountain, going on a boat tour where we saw some penguins in the water, spending a day on the beach (the best thing imaginable), and just walking along the shore. The last morning we were there Nasra and Jadah went to the city center to find some souvenirs and I had a little morning to myself. I went on a really long walk along the water, bought a pancake from a food truck (THERE WERE FOOD TRUCKS!), ate it while sitting on some rocks by a tide pool, and then stuck my head in the ocean (I didn’t have a towel or a swimsuit with me, so I didn’t want to fully go in, but I couldn’t resist a little more ocean action). My favorite thing of the trip probably should have been something cool and unique to Cape Town, but the best part was that we had a kitchen in our Air B&B and I got to cook! We made pizzas one night and I made homemade pasta the next night, which was so much fun and so delicious, it gave me hope to keep on keeping on with the food for the rest of the semester.

In some ways it was a weird weekend for me because I was originally going to study abroad in Cape Town before the fees must fall protests at UCT made that difficult to do. On some level, when I was having a great time and feeling more at home in Cape Town than in Gabs, I was sad that my semester changed, but slowly I started to rethink that. I have learned so much more, gotten to go so many more places, and experienced more realities of a different culture in Botswana than I ever would have in the highly westernized city of Cape Town. I think it was a blessing in disguise that I ended up here instead. Cape Town might have felt more like a vacation semester, but this semester has taught me so much and shown me so many unique things that I don’t think I would choose differently if I were doing this again.

We went to Serowe

Last weekend we went up to Serowe, a town a few hours northeast of Gabs, where Seretse Khama (Botswana’s first president) and Ian Khama (the current president) are from. We went to a museum, stayed at a hotel in Palapye that we saw in some scenes of A United Kingdom, and on Sunday morning we went on a game drive in a rhino sanctuary and finally got to see rhinos!!

We got wifi in the dorms!!

It’s a little weak, but they installed wifi boxes in the hostel areas, so we don’t have to rely on just the Ethernet cables anymore! We’re moving up in the world!!

I want a nice place to sit on campus

On Saturday I got mad cause I walked all the way to the library only to discover that it closes at 4pm on Saturdays. I was so angry at the absurdity of that that I forgot to check what the hours are for Sundays (of course, they aren’t published anywhere online). Sunday morning, I waited a bit, assuming it wouldn’t be open too early, but walked over around 11:30, only to discover that the library doesn’t open until 2pm on Sundays. It wouldn’t be as frustrating except that it’s pretty difficult to find nice spaces to sit and study on campus except my room and the library. I’m so used to open classrooms, tables in public places, and comfy couches and chairs available for students at Grinnell. It’s easy to get frustrated when I can’t find anywhere to sit except hard metal chairs without tables nearby. The other frustrating thing about studying anywhere except my room is that people often approach me and trying to talk even when I have headphones in and am clearly pretty concentrated on something I’m working on. I know I should embrace the opportunity for cultural engagement and talk to everyone who wants to talk to me, but some days I just want to be able to sit down with my laptop, read some articles, and focus on my work without people coming up to me (even in really quiet parts of the library) and trying to chat. How I long to read a book on a comfy couch back at home.

We met the former president!

A few weeks ago we got to meet with Gaone Masire, an African Union official, graduate of Luther College (part of ACM), and daughter of Sir Ketumile Masire, who was the president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998. Five minutes into our conversation with her, the former president himself walked in the room and sat down to talk with us as well! He was so nice and talked to us a lot about Botswana history and politics. Who better to hear those stories from than a former president!! He eventually had to leave (He was meeting with an American historian who is working on a book about him), but soon after, Gaone’s sister arrived and told us we should stay for a while to watch a documentary that they were screening that evening about Botswana. Soon the filmmaker arrived, Donald Molosi, a young Motswana man who went to Williams college and UCSB (we had some nice California bonding there), but as we talked it became clear just what an incredible person he was! Donald has performed on and off Broadway, written one (or maybe two) shows performed Off-Broadway, was in the film A United Kingdom, and works closely with the UN and African Union on integrating performance and arts in children’s rights issues. He was incredible. And again, just someone who happened to walk through the door while we were there. It was pretty darn cool.

Winter is coming

It has gotten a lot cooler as we head into winter here (I know, it’s bizarre being in a place where June is the coldest month of the year), and it has been really fun to see how Batswana react to cooler temps. The hospice staff keeps being really concerned when I show up without a sweater (in 65-70 degree temps), and I saw a woman running the other day with a hat and gloves on while I was sweating buckets in my tank top and shorts. Living in Iowa has made me a little more obnoxiously proud of cold-tolerance when I go home to California, but here it is a whole new level, and it’s pretty entertaining.

I may never get used to people randomly barging into my room (but that’s not something one should have to get used to, is it?

There isn’t toilet paper in the bathrooms here, so you carry your own with you. Nicely enough, UB provides toilet paper for students, they just give it to you in your rooms instead of leaving it in the bathroom. The other day I was sitting on my bed when I heard a pounding knock on the door, followed immediately by someone opening the door with so much force that it looked like someone just busted their way into my room with a battering ram. The cleaning staff have keys to our rooms, and this woman had just walked in to give me more toilet paper. I appreciated it, and we actually had a nice conversation once she came in, but it’s still really unsettling and odd to have someone just enter your room unannounced on a Thursday afternoon. Our RA has done the same, and it’s really confusing.

Homesickness is still real

Even though there is only about a month left before I head home, little bits of homesickness keep nagging at me, which can be frustrating. It always comes up in small, unexpected ways, like when I was walking back from the store, heard a car drive by blasting the radio, noticed the tone shift as it passed me, and was suddenly launched into memories of my dad explaining the Doppler effect as a train zoomed past the beach in San Clemente in elementary school. I’m usually far away from my parents in Iowa, and a memory like that would just be some fun reminiscing, but here it kind of stings, reminding me of all the trappings of home. With only a month left I should just be excited (and sad, there are a lot of things I will miss about this semester, to be fair) to see fewer and fewer days standing between me and my flight home, but sometimes it instead feels like each day just takes me one day further away from the familiarity of home, when I didn’t have to exert so much emotional effort to do daily tasks. Often, I wake up in the morning and have to brace myself a little for whatever might come up in the day that I will have to figure out how to deal with. I have found comforts, like chocolate milk and swimming at the pool, that take my mind off of things, but some days I just can’t wait to be home and in the familiarity of the U.S.. I think sometimes study abroad is over glorified at liberal arts colleges, so that students who aren’t able to study abroad for one reason or another feel like they have missed out on something critical to their education. My experience has been incredible, and I am so thankful that I was able to do this, but there are also a lot of things that can feel crummy at times. My advice to future students worried about whether or not they can study abroad is to do it if you can, but not feel like you have missed something huge if you can not. There are so many meaningful experiences you can have back at your home institution (not to mention experiences abroad!) even if you can’t make it work to do a whole semester away. Your academic experience is no less valid, and there’s plenty of times I have been here and thought “oh man, _________ might have been better and more fulfilling if I had been in Grinnell this semester.”

My homesickness thing might be a darker picture than I mean to portray. I also wake up in the morning each day excited about the possibilities of things. Who knows when I might meet the former president, discover something as magical as the boxed custard I’m now such a big fan of (it’s like a juice box, but it’s CUSTARD!), or have a really interesting discussion about theology and culture while chopping butternut squash at the hospice. I anticipate that these next five weeks will fly by, and I’ll be here to make the most of them.

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