Monday, April 19, 2010

And we're back....

I've been terrible about keeping up with this blog but I'm back!  Recently, someone mentioned to me that they actually enjoyed reading my posts (go figure).  I intended this blog to chronicle my trip for my h.s. English teacher but I eventually kept her abreast via personal e-mails.  Nevertheless, it was also supposed to serve as my personal scrapbook/photo album/travel log of my trip...maybe even a book someday (all is not lost).

The clock on the right currently says that it's been 131 days since my return stateside.  Although the memories of my trip remain in my heart, the truth is the memories have aren't as fresh. I drafted about 10 blogs before I returned that I have not completed.  I'll use them as my roadmap to completing what I started.  My life has changed in some ways since I've returned and in other ways it's back to the same madness of big city American life.  

I'm creating an entirely new blog (feel free to subscribe) and keeping this one solely related to my South Africa experience.  One of my friends pointed out to me that I'm too secretive to have a successful blog that captures my thoughts (whatever that means).  Makes me want to rise to his challenge.  But I still have to master the art of the internet and blogging (stay tuned)!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Cape Town Day 2

On day two of my visit I woke up to a bright and sunny day.  Brie informed me before I left that the moment there was a clear day I should head to Table Mountain--so I did just that.  First I headed to Lola's Cafe on Market Street for a tasty breakfast/lunch, then I headed to the mountain.  I knew I was in for a serious climb because my ear popped as I drove up to the start of the mountain.

As I drove through the traffic (many of the streets are congested due to the construction for FIFA 2010), I drove by a group of students heading into a municipal parliamentary building.  I assume it was for a field trip, but I really enjoy seeing kids dressed in their uniforms embarking on learning.  I am a firm believer that education is the path to freedom and opportunity and many of the children of South Africa are in search of those two things.

In the center of the city there's also a beautiful waterfall.  I passed by it a couple times then decided to take a picture of it on that beautiful day.  Just a reminder of how beautiful a country South Africa can be.  There were two men cleaning the area.  Of course, with World Cup looming, the country is making a greater effort to ensure that when the 500,000 people arrive into the country next summer, they leave with a changed image of the African country.  They even have McDonald's (I am not a fan so I never went inside of one).

So back to this crazy hike.  Table Mountain is vying to become one of the eighth wonders of the world.  It is a beautiful and majestic mountain that is situated across from another mountain called Lion's head Mountain, with the city of Cape Town tucked in between.  I knew I was in for a serious climb because my ears popped as I drove to the start of the mountain. 

Lion's Head Mountain                                                                

Table Mountain

The city of Cape Town nestled between Lion's Head and Table Mountain

As I headed to the entrance to start the climb (the lady informed me that the climb would take approximately 3 hours) I began to have second thoughts.  I could not see anyone else climbing up the mountain and I feared that I might be attacked by snakes, or even worse--cascading down the mountain to screams only heard by mother nature.  I became more hesitant with each step toward the entrance of the trail.  I walked a bit further when two men approached me and asked whether I knew the entrance to the climb.  Then they asked if they could join me because they had been climbing for a couple of hours but they were unable to find the entrance.  I agreed, and my two new friends who hailed from Ireland joined me as we embarked on climbing to the top of Table Mountain.

Jack and Ben

Jack and Ben arrived in South Africa from Ireland a week before I meth them.  They were a part of a group raising money for the blind by hiking various mountains throughout the country.  Jack, who is 51 years old is the soin n-in-law of Ben, who is 73 year young!  Ben was insistent on getting to the top of the mountain and was more game than Jack was.  Jack, was mainly worried that another three and a half hours of hiking would be too much for Ben.  But with Ben's determination, the three of us started to climb.

Jack and I took turns leading the way while Ben took his time hiking up the steep trail.  I prayed for the mountain to level out, but to my dismay, it appeared to be going up on a 90 degree vertical angle.  Despite all the running and yoga I have been doing, my heart felt as if it wanted to jump out of my chest on every step.  However, Ben remained my motivation.  At 73 years-old, he climbed that mountain better than some 30-year-olds who I know.  I asked Jack if his wife was on the trip, and he proceeded to tell me that his wife was ill and passed away in 2006.  However, she is with him whereever he goes.  He always carries around her memorial cards and leaves them in special locations which he visits.  Thus, on our way up the hill, he tucked one of the two cards he had in to a hole in a rock, and filled the hole with other rocks.  It was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.  We made it our goal to find a good place to leave the other card.

The view of the mountains as were picturesque as we climbed.  There were tiny streams which turned into waterfalls that cascaded over the mountains. There were black beetles and butterflies sometimes camouflaged by the shrubbery.  Every so often we would take a rest and glance at the scenery in amazement.


Another waterfall

Black beetle

We knew we were close to the top as the temperature started to drop and the air began to feel cooler and cooler. When we finally arrived at the top of the mountain, we felt like we had conquered the world.  As the feeling of accomplishment seeped in, we took in the majestic view as we stood over 1000 meters above sea level.  It was a blessing that we met each other, because after seeing how steep of a climb we had to make, I doubt I would have climbed the mountain otherwise.

Ben was still ready to find another trail to continue our hike over the top of the mountain, but Jack and I had had enough.  In every picture we took of Ben, he constantly requested that we get his good side (he had a beautiful spirit and sense of humor).  We decided to tuck their wife/daugrhter's other memorial card underneath a large map depicting the landscape of the mountain.  We decided to take the cable car back down to the bottom of the mountain.  I drove the men back to their hotels and headed back to the flat after a very long and tiring day.  They stayed in a hotel in Camp's Bay with a beautiful view of th ocean.  On may way home, I noticed that there was a rainbow piercing through the sky

After returning to my flat, I decided to have dinner with a friend  who is living in Cape Town for the summer.  He took me to the waterfront area which was amazing at night (though very cold because the temperature had dropped tremendously).  After dinner, we headed to the nightlife on Long Street and ended up in a bar that played old and new school hip hop music.  We danced, and chatted until we closed the bar down.  I'm still not sure how I was able to even keep my eyes open after such a tiring day, but Day 2 turned out to be my best day and evening in Cape Town.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Many More Posts to Come

For all my faithful blog followers who have e-mailed me to find out when I will be posting something new, I promise I have many posts that are forthcoming.  I will be returning to the States in a few days and I am doing quite a bit of running around and have not had time to sit down and post my new adventures.  I have tried to capture the experiences on my camera as well as the travel journal I have kept, so my posts will still be as detailed and thoughtful once I have time to sit down and post it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cape Town Day 1

My time here seems to be coming to an end faster than I would like.  I can’t believe that I am over half way through my visit.  I would be remiss if I didn’t explore areas of South Africa that I have never visited before I departed.  I planned to take this trip with a friend who planned on visiting from the States.  But when those plans fell through, I decided to challenge myself yet again and venture to Cape Town on my own.  With my camera, maps, and tom tom in tow, I flew to Cape Town  (one hour flight from Jo’burg), rented a car and hit the N2 to the City Bowl area where I spent the next four days.

my car for the week   

                                                               map and tom tom in tow
                                       (yes my car is a manual--most cars in South Africa are)

As I drove from the airport to the apartment, I noticed areas with zinc homes.  The downside of traveling by myself is that it was difficult to keep my eye on the road and shift gears and trying to take pictures while driving (I do not advise anyone to try this). It was raining when I arrived, so I decided to forego my attempt to take pictures of the township so that I didn’t end up causing an accident immediately after arriving. 

I rented a beautiful flat (they call it self-catering apartment) twenty minutes from the airport, near the central business district (CBD) and central to many of the main attractions that Cape Town has to offer.  I was worried about the quality of the flat when I arrived because I chose it online and th price was very inexpensive. However, when I arrived and Jason showed me around, I was relieved at how nice the flat actually was.  The one bedroom, one and a half bathroom flat was the equivalent of a penthouse loft in the U.S.  It was fully equipped with microwave, dishes, dishwasher, white linen, etc.  Though I had no plans of cooking, it allowed me to really feel at home.  Cape Town’s weather is very rainy during the summer months causing quite a lot of cloud coverage.The living room contained a beautiful sliding glass window that opened up to a balcony with a gorgeous view of the mountains, including the famous Table Mountain and Lion's Head Mountain. 

Thus, it was difficult to see the top of the mountain, and I realized very quickly that I might not get the opportunity to take advantage of the swimming pool.

view from the balcony and the clouds covering the top of table mountain

A bit tired after waking up very early to catch my 7:00am flight, I took a nap shortly after arriving and woke up hungry.  I decided to head to a nearby hotel (called the Diamond Hotel) with a small restaurant and internet access.  I asked for a slice of cheesecake to go and I learned very quickly after being here that you should not walk on the street with take-away term used for carry-out) in your hand.  The Central Business District was quiet because it was Sunday and many of the stores were closed.  However, there were a few people hanging around on the street.  As I made my way back to the apartment, two ladies (missing their front teeth) approached me quickly yelling that the take away in my hand was for them.  A bit nervous,  quickly assessed the situation and determined that if I handed over the cheesecake with no hesitation, they may decide to ask me for money and next, they might be pulling at my purse.  Unwilling to easily part with my slice of cheesecake I stepped off the sidewalk and into the street while firmly telling them that it was not for them.  They insisted that I give it to them and I made my voice louder, and the look in my face a bit more firm and said, "No!"  They caught the hint the second time and backed off asking me where I was from and telling me that they liked my accent.  I told them I was from Jo’burg (saying I am American might have caused them to chase after me for my coveted slice of cheesecake and I was not wearing appropriate shoes to make a run for it).  When I ate the cheesecake later on, it was not very appetizing.  I took a couple bites and decided to throw it out.  But I didn't regret not parting with it.

the infamous cheesecake

The flat was also equipped with a flat screen t.v.  I had been without t.v. access since I arrived in South Africa so I  thought I would take advantage of the rainy evening and the opportunity to see what types of programs were popular.  I am not really a t.v. watcher when I am home and generally keep my t.v. on CNN watching the repeated programs the same way that some men appreciate watching ESPN.  To my dismay, the programs they showed depicted Americans in a very negative light (I'm not saying that this was done purposely, I believe t.v. lacks quality programs).  There was a bridezilla marathon where brides vented their frustration and anger on their family members and grooms. After one episode I thought my time would better spend continuing to get through reading The Known World.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Imposing Our Views

I know I always say that it's difficult to keep up with posting, and I recently realized that I meant to post a comment regarding President Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize (I will post that one at a later date).  As I follow his first presidential trip to China, I able to find examples of how his approach to diplomacy might make him worthy of such a prize (though I am not sold on the fact that he should have received it).  In a recent (scripted) meeting with a group of Chinese students (who were specifically chosen by the Chinese government and all members of the Communist Party) Obama stated, that "freedoms of expression, and worship, of access to information and political participation — we believe they are universal rights. They should be available to all people, including ethnic and religious minorities, whether they are in the United States, China or any nation."  He continued on by stating, "the United States did not seek to impose 'any system of government on any other nation [but] America will always speak out for its core principles around the world.'"  How does this tie into my trip to Africa (trying to make all of my posts relevant in some way)?  It brings me back to the conversation that I had with a South African friend who has a negative view of America as being a country of arrogant bullies.  

I agree with the Prez that there are certain universal rights that should be shared by everyone, and I like that he stated that his purpose was not to impose a certain type of governmental system.  The real quandry is whether these two statements can be mutually exclusive.  Despite providing these rights within their constitution, many Maoists and members of the CPC might argue that there must be a limitation on certain rights in order to have a truly functional socialist government.  Therefore, if we impose our views on how these rights should be carried out, are we also imposing our notion on the best types of governmental systems which everyone should have?  I am far from a Marxist, but I have become more conscious of the effects of Americans imposing their views onto others.  Do we have a right to dictate how one should run their country? 

Some countries could argue that our penal system is one of the most barbaric and severe in the world.  Our crime rate continues to increase and we have the highest documented incarceration rate in the world.  However, the U.S. stands by its use of the death penalty and still allows the use of the electric chair in some states.  Does any other world leader have a right to criticize our penal system?  If they did, would we respect their views and change it?  One may argue that having access to public information and dying by the electric chair is comparing apples to oranges, but does that really matter?  I recognize that everyone has a right to certain fundamental human rights (and some may argue that the death penalty is a human rights violation) but maybe we should think twice before imposing our views of how to govern a country onto others.

South African Man v. American Man

Okay, before I begin, I'm going to place a huge disclaimer on this post and inform you beforehand that this is solely my opinion and I recognize that I am drawing huge generalizations.  But since this is my blog, I get to do and say whatever I want.

So I have been here for about a month and a half and I must say that there is a big difference between South African men and American men.  Before I go any further, let me narrow my focus a bit---since I have never seriously dated an American man who was not black, I will only discuss my experience with that group of men when I make this comparison.  For purposes of trying to create a direct comparison, I will only discuss my experiences with black South African (though many are immigrants from other African countries) men.

I find that the language used to articulate one's interest in a woman varies drastically amongst these two groups.  The idea came to mind after having three different but memorable encounters with various African men.  My first encounter was while I was walking along the street on my way to the store.  As I approached three men standing together I knew one of them was bound to say something (not sure whether it's me or if it's just a requirement to comment when a lady passes by).  As I walked by politely saying excuse me, one of the men blurted out, "If I cannot have you as my girlfriend, I will slit my throat and bleed to death."  To say I was shocked is an understatement.  I thought to myself, was that line supposed to cause me to run into his arms or run to find him the nearest psychiatrist?

My second memorable encounter was when I stopped by a building to pick up my bib number for a road race I was running a few days later.  I went to the building after my bikram yoga class, so needless to say I was drenched in sweat, disoriented, and not in the mood for small talk.  I asked the gentleman at the gate where I should park and he began to speak to me in another language.  I politely told him that I only understood English and he smiled and showed me where to go.  As I was leaving the building he walked over to me and said that he wanted to ask me something, he said, "My heart has been paining me for the past 15 minutes.  Why you might ask? (note: I didn't ask), can I put this....I love you and must be with you."  At this point, I was used to the "crazy" comments so I smiled politely and gave him my usual retort, "I am married." Most men seem to back off when you tell them you are married, if you tell them you only have a boyfriend, you leave the door wide open.  Expecting that this realization would cause him to allow me to walk back to my car in peace, I was wrong.  Instead, he said, "I do not mind being the third wheel.  Please I love you and must be with you."  I smiled and walked into my car (and immediately locked the door).  I knew his overtures were harmless, though a bit strange, and chuckled to myself as I drove away.

My third encounter occurred while I was perusing the mall.  As I was walking around in circles (unsure of where I had parked) I was also responding to an e-mail.  After a few more laps around the mall I located my car and as I walked towards it (still continuing to tap away on my crackberry) a gentleman walked over to me and said, "I will cry if my name and number are not added to your phone."  I looked up a bit startled and thought to myself, here we go again.  I smiled and said, "I can't add anymore."  His retort was, "Oh I get it, you have too many friends and don't need anymore."  I answered affirmatively.  But that was not enough (surprise surprise).  So he asked if I could give him my number.  I thought that was easy enough and proceeded to give him my number, incorrectly.  I hopped in my car, but before I could finish sending my e-mail he came back over to me in his car and said the number didn't seem to be going through.  I smiled to myself and feigned astonishment.  I told him that I had to add minutes to my phone and it would be working later that day.
Now, I understand that these three examples sound extreme (but are extremely true) and might scare most women away in the U.S., but I was intrigued by the way the men expressed their interest.  I have had men approach me in the States but never using such strong language and persistence.  If I were in the States and a gentleman made any of the comments made by any of these men, I would b very afraid. In the States, a guy may tell you that he thinks you're hot, or that he likes your smile, but I doubt that during your first encounter he will profess his love for you. But is there something to be said about a man who knows what he wants and isn't afraid to make it very clear the first time he sees a lady?  Are there certain feelings that a man should hold off on expressing until he gets to know a woman more?

I suppose there is something that both groups can learn from one another.  

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Self Image

Black women in South Africa are less concerned about their appearance and body image than women in the U.S.  Don't get me wrong--the women here love to look their best, but they appear to be much more comfortable with the size and shape of their bodies.  Granted, they are probably not bombarded with the t.v. and magazine images that cause many American women to become overly conscious about the size of their waists, busts, and rear ends.  Or maybe they realize that there are more important things to worry about on a daily basis, than the shape of one's legs or the flatness of one's abs.  Even those women who I've seen at the gym or at the races I've competed in while here, don't seem to workout because they want a body of a woman that's as skinny as Paris Hilton (or whoever the current "it" gal is).  Rather, they generally just seem to want to be fit.

We all know that black women have certain assets that are their trademarks.  However, the women here don't make an effort to hide their shapes.  What used to be an awkward experience was when I would go into the changing room at the gym or at the yoga studio and the women would be changing their clothes.  They are completely comfortable in getting completely naked in front of you.  Whether they have a few extra rolls around their waists or whether their breasts droop down to their belly buttons, they appear to be 100 percent proud of it.  I haven't gotten to the point yet that I want to stand naked in front of a bunch of people I don't know (though when I think back to college days, many times we showered in open communal showers) but I'm sure it must be exhilarating to feel comfortable in baring your body without any hangups about the way it looks.

I admit that I am conscious of my body image at times.  I'm not sure if that's due to television images or the fact that I have been a runner practically all of my life, but as I get older it takes a lot more energy to try and maintain that 18 year old figure.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not obsessed with being skinny, but having a healthy body attributes to a healthy self-image--South African women demonstrate that having a healthy self-image does not mean that you need to look like Halle Berry (or again, whoever the "it" person is these days).

As American women, we need to be proud of who we are and the way God made us.  There is something admirable about someone who feels comfortable with themselves regardless of how they look.  We should take a page out of their book and learn to appreciate ourselves more.  When we appreciate ourselves for who we are, then others will too.

Soweto 10k

On Sunday, I ran in yet another race, this time it was a 10k through the township of Soweto.  The race was great, and it was awesome to see so many black people energized and ready to run.  Before I talk about the race, I would be remiss if I didn't give a brief (very) background of Soweto.  Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnship.  It has a historically Black population and is known mainly for the role it played during the apartheid era.  In 1976, an uprising occurred within the city and 10,0000 people (mainly students) peacefully marched through the streets to protest the government's enforcement of all people learning and speaking the language Afrikaan rather than English.  Afrikaan is the language spoken by Afrikaaners.  As police officers stood by, gun fire broke out and when it was all over, 566 people were dead.  The impact of the massacre had a devastating effect throughout the country.  Soweto is also the only city in the world to produce two Nobel Peace Prize winners--Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.  Of course this is a very abbreviated description of the township, so I suggest reading more about it.

The race went off at 6am so you had to admire the dedication of the thousand of people who were up and ready to run.  People arrived in bus loads to run and to cheer the runners on.

Brie has been out of town for most of my trip, so I've managed to make some friends, and a few of them were game to enter the race.  We all met up at 4:45am to head to the race on time.

                                                               the ladies and I too early in the morning

I've never ran a race that early in the morning and needless to say I was tired, and considered backing out when my alarm went off at 4am. But the energy of the crowd when we arrived got me geared up to run.  Although Jo'burg is heading into summer, the mornings and nights can be a bit cool.  If you registered for the race early, you were given a goody bag which included a dry fit t-shirt.  I wore the shirt over another t-shirt and also had on a long-sleeve in hopes of keeping my body warm.  I was all smiles before the race, but that smile disappeared around the 6k marker.

                                                      smiling before the start of the race

When the gun went off, you could see people running miles ahead.  We had three options of distances to run when we registered weeks earlier.  The ladies and I all agreed to run the 10k (approximately 6.2 miles).  There was also a 10k walk, as well as a full marathon (42k).

We all separated early in the race, each running at our own comfortable speed.  I stopped briefly along the run to take pictures of the township.  The first thing I encountered was this sign that welcomes you to Soweto.  I have a similar picture underneath this sign taken a little over a year ago during my first visit to South Africa.

                                                       the sign along the road while I was running

                                                            the sign when I visited in April 2008

The irony is when I visited the first time, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to ever visit again, especially a year later.  Never did I think when I revisited the area, I would be running a 10k.  I bobbed and weaved through the crowd thinking that it was going to be a pretty good run---then I arrived at heartbreak hill.  The hill was not very steep, but it seemed to stretch on for miles and miles.

                                                             view of homes in Soweto

At one point I thought I would give up because the hill was taking all the energy out of my legs.  I could also feel blisters developing on the bottom of my feet.  As the hill finally came to an end and I rounded the corner,
there was another water stop.  This time, instead of water, they were handing out cokes.  CocaCola has a lock on the South African industry.  If you are a soda drinker, I don't think you can find a Pepsi anywhere.  I am not a soda drinker, so I was apprehensive about drinking soda in the middle of the race.  I figured the cup was so tiny that it couldn't do much harm.

                                                                      Coca Cola break

In think that cup of soda helped me to finish the race.  It was just enough to provide me with a sugar rush, but not cause the lactic acid to build in my legs.  The water breaks consisted of a bag filled with water that was handed to you as you ran by.  There were also people along the route providing encouragement and blowing these horns as we ran by.  Some even brought a hoes out to provide runners with a refreshing and quick shower as they ran by.  One gentleman had a glass of something that looked like Hennessey. He held out the bottle and a glass, offering anyone who desired, a quick swig.

                                                                          water pass

I tried to take as many pictures as I could along the way, but with every kilometer that went by, it became more and more draining to take out my camera and snap pictures.   Here are a few below. 

                                                                  sign above for laundry detergent

                                                  Gentleman doing a dance as he heads to the start line

The people smiled and greeted you along the run, so it was very easy to remain motivated and to keep running even as fatigue kicked in.  There was a lady along the race who could not be less than 65 years old.  As I lumbered along, she cheered on the people around her with enough pep in her step to run the entire marathon. I tried to keep up with her but realized that I would be crawling across the finish line if I continued to try and stay alongside her.  I didn't see her when I finished, but I'm sure granny finished earlier than I did. When I saw this greenmile sign I began picking up my pace rapidly, excited that I was near the finish line.  As I came closer and closer to it, I realized that I was not at the finish line and I had approximately 400 meters to go.

Winded, and with my legs barely able to lift themselves up, I made a final push to the finish line.

                                                                   celebrating at the end of the race

The race was great!!!  I really enjoyed myself and the feeling of accomplishment once it was over. The ladies and I didn't meet up again until the end of the race.

marathoners coming to the finish line

                                              Tanya barely keeping herself up at the end of the race

                                                              blister at the bottom of my foot

My next adventure is the Soul City half marathon at the end of the month!