Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Final Chapter

Well, I'm currently sitting in my house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, staring out into my backyard and the snow as I type this.

Let's recap for a moment: I shouldn't even be in Pittsburgh until the end of this week, but alas, weather delays and such forced a flight change.

We left the SHAWCO house in Cape Town around 7pm their time to head towards the airport for a 10 pm flight. It was bittersweet to leave. Like I've said previously, I miss my family and friends, but I had no desire to leave South Africa.

We made it to London an hour ahead of schedule (So, instead of an 11 hour flight it was only 10). Which of course meant our four hour layover became even longer. Which was whatever, I was able to relax and get some writing done.

The flight from London to Chicago was the longest. flight. ever. Which is ironic because it was about three hours shorter than the one to London. It felt like that flight took forever. The only saving grace was that we flew over Greenland (Again, no idea why, but we flew up to around Iceland, Greenland, over Quebec, and then over Michigan to Chicago). It was really cool to see some of the mountains of Greenland and the snow.

Then, Chicago. We got in and we were supposed to have a couple hour layover and then catch our flight home to Cleveland. So we went through passport control, and I was kind of worried about Customs. Everyone says that Customs is the worst thing in the world when you travel internationally. It was my time, and I handed the dude my passport and declaration form (if that's what you call it). He looked at me, and said "Study Abroad?". I replied yes, he looked at me, down to the passport picture, stamped the paperwork, and said "Welcome back". See, nothing to worry about.

So we had to reclaim our bags and re-check them with American Airlines. I get to the area and read the flight board. Flight to Cleveland? Cancelled. Sounds about right.

It's funny because my sister, Kirby, studied abroad in Italy two summers ago, and when she came back, her flight from New York to Pittsburgh was cancelled. Keeping the family streak alive!

So people in our group started freaking out about being stuck in Chicago (especially because the earliest flight according to the lady at the desk would be on Tuesday night. At this point, it's 5pm Chicago time on Sunday). I read the board and see that the flights to Pittsburgh are still on time. So I asked my professors if there was a way I could switch my ticket, and lo and behold, I can. So the lady at the desk tells me "You better start running to terminal 3." I say, "What do you mean? Didn't I get on the 7:30 flight?" Her response? "No, you have the 5:35 flight". Oh, fun.

So I give a very quick and no way near acceptable good-bye to the group and start running towards the escalator that will take up-stairs to the transit I need to take to Terminal 3, a good 5 minute transit ride away. Once I get off at Terminal 3, I had to run to the gate and go through Security, which I got through in a minute flat (mainly because I'm tearing my belt off and throwing keys and my wallet in my bag as I'm running, but hey). Which didn't even matter because I got to the gate at 5:20ish, but we didn't board until 6ish. And we sat on the tarmac for a good two and a half hours waiting for a de-icing truck. But it eventually came and we were on our way to Pittsburgh.

Walking out of the door of Pittsburgh International Airport was the toughest thing I think I've done. It was more than stepping back onto American soil for the first time in 2 months. It meant I was home: My trip, my adventures in the unknown, was over. Stepping out of that door meant I was staying put.

It feels weird to be home, like I shouldn't be here. Maybe it's what they call  'reverse culture shock', but everything feels different. Maybe I just need to settle back into the groove of things.

When I close my eyes, I'm back overseas: Walking through the Bogside, going home from work at the Pat Finucane Centre. Standing on the edge of a cliff at Giant's Causeway. Singing in a pub. Walking through the Townships. Standing on a cliff at the Cape of Good Hope. Standing on the top of Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town.

It's definitely going to take some used to the fact that I'm not in Northern Ireland or South Africa anymore.

To the people in Northern Ireland I had the pleasure and honor of meeting, you taught me that sometimes you have to fight for the truth. To fight for what's right. To have fun and come together as a community.

To the people in South Africa I had the pleasure and honor of meeting, you taught me the value of relationships: family, friends, community. You showed me the true meaning of Ubuntu, something that I would have never understood if I hadn't seen it in person.

To my classmates on the trip with me, Thank You. Thank you for making this trip as awesome as it was. Thank You for being you, for being honest and putting your whole self into this experience. We've become a family, and I truly hope that the relationships that were formed carry on outside of the trip.

With that, I sadly hate to write that I think my blogging from these adventures is over. My tale has no more chapters left, no more cool places to visit. Writing everything down, telling you my story as it happened, has helped keep me sane these past two months. It helped me organize my thoughts, vent frustrations, reflect on the events that occurred. And it'll be a book I can read time and time again, and I'll be able to relive my adventures.

Who knows, maybe I'll write my other upcoming adventures in this blog.  You can never have to many Adventures into the Unknown.  That's where you find out who you are, what kind of person you've become.

Northern Ireland, South Africa,
Until our paths cross once more and we meet again:
Cheers, Enkosi Kakuhle, and Salani Kakuhle

A Moment Captured in Time

Where were you on Friday, 6 December 2013? It's one of the days that will be entrenched in the timelines of history, a day when the world lost the last great Civil Rights Hero of the 20th Century.

On the day Nelson Mandela died, I was sitting in my accommodations in Cape Town. We saw a report that their was activity at Mandela's house, and minutes later we learned Madiba had passed.

It is still so surreal that I was in South Africa when he passed away.

Let me see if I can put this in perspective: Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't be assassinated, but rather continued the fight for equality in the Untied States and eventually won the Presidency, becoming the first African-American President. That's the kind of impact Nelson Mandela had on South Africa and in turn, the World.

Nelson Mandela was more than a person. more than the first black President of the Republic of South Africa: He was Madiba, the father of the new South Africa. He was a symbol of Hope. He was a symbol of Peace. He was a symbol of Freedom.

The mood in Cape Town was eerie. Normally, the street our house was on bustled with activity. About a half an hour after the news broke of Madiba's death, I went out to see if anything was happening. It was silent: no sounds, no activity, nothing.

Other than that, the news did not seem to change anything. Let me re-phrase that: People were saddened, but it seemed to be expected. He's been sick for a long time (including a trip to the ICU this past summer). It seemed like people were prepared.

Madiba's life was spent fighting for equality and it took a great toll on his personal life. He's changed so many people's lives that his legacy will echo throughout the ages.

"I was not a Messiah, but an ordinary man who became a leader because of extraordinary circumstances"

Final Day of Work

Thursday was our last day of work at the Athlone District Advice Center. Which, after Wednesday, was a bittersweet day.

Wednesday we held a youth forum for the community. The four of us plus Nicole planned the workshop for the youth in Athlone to give them a chance to come and discuss hot topic issues such as education, health issues such as AIDS, HIV, and TB, their role in politics, moral leadership, homosexuality, and active citizenship.

We had an amazing conversation comparing these issues between the United States, South Africa, and a surprise third country: Tanzania (someone showed up who was from there).  We were able to discover a lot about each other's country, and were able to give viable ideas to each other.

At one point, we got to trying to "fix" each others problems. We got so involved at this that we had to take a break and realize that what worked in one country won't necessarily work in another, no matter how similar our histories may be. We had to remember that we weren't there to give solutions but to share and learn from each other.

The funny part was that the local newspaper ran an article on our "Equality and Equity" workshop from the week prior, and it made the front page, where everyone could see it. And people did. In fact, most of the people who were supposed to show up didn't, because, as Nombulelo said, "They were intimidated by the Americans."

I think that speaks volumes. They were intimidated by us because we were curious and asked questions that required hard answers and made you think. Which all in all is fine, but the problem is that most South Africans don't know their rights. It's very unfortunate because the South African Constitution is considered the world-leader in inclusion of Human Rights. The root of the problem is that people don't know what they are and are not entitled to, which is why open discussions are so important in a community setting.

Thursday we did absolutely nothing. Nicole brought in her computer and Doanise had hers and we just played popular music and talked for the whole day.

I'm truly going to miss Nombulelo and Nicole. They have both been amazing hosts, countless times taking time to help us get comfortable in South Africa and getting us immersed in the Culture. I truly believe that both have an incredible amount of Ubuntu, and I take pride in calling both of them a friend. I truly hope that one day our paths cross again.

Until then, it's not a goodbye.

Till Next Time....  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Final Saturday and Sunday

In exactly one week, I will be back on USA soil, making my way home to the East Coast to Cleveland and eventually Pittsburgh. My Study Abroad experience will be over.

I just can't right now.

There is not an ounce of being in my body that wants to go home, to go back to the life I left behind. To the dull continuum of school and work. Sure, I miss my family and friends and can't wait to see them, and sure, I miss taking courses related to Criminal Justice and Political Science, but I would be totally okay if this trip never ended.

I don't want to get sucked back into what my life was. I can't go back to that.

This trip has taught me so much that I can't even put it into words. About Me, About what my life could be.

But more on that later.

Saturday morning I woke up early to head back down to the Waterfront to get some Christmas/Hey, I went to South Africa/ Souvenir shopping done. We also finally found where the Harley Davidson Store was for Kuz (Now that's a great story for a different time).

We got back to the House around noon, with just enough time to set our bags down before Nombulelo arrived. As I mentioned before (or I haven't. Either way), Nombulelo is the head boss lady at my service placement, and she invited us over to her house for lunch on Saturday. Turns out that she lives right down the block from where we are staying.

I am so honored to know Nombulelo. She is one of the strongest women I have ever had the privilege of meeting. She sacrifices so much for so many others. She works at the Athlone Advice Center without a salary, just so people in the Athlone Community can be helped.

Hell, for too many times to count she has taken the time out of her work day to help my peers and I get acquainted with Athlone and South Africa. She is a spitting embodiment of Ubuntu in my eyes.

Sunday marks the start of December, and with it, World AIDS Day. South Africa has been greatly affected by HIV and AIDS (mainly due to the Thabo Mbeki Presidency and the incompetence of the then Minister of Health). What better way to celebrate World AIDS Day than a church experience.

We went to the Baptist Church in Langa Township, and let me tell you, that's how Church Services should go. Well, except the whole two and a half hour time frame. But everyone was singing and into the service. Now I'm not a "church" religion person, but that's the way to do it: Up and into the service, not sitting in a pew listening to the scripture.

I was really excited to finally get up to the top of Table Mountain today as well. For my whole time in Cape Town, all I wanted to do was get to the top of Table Mountain. And I was sooooo close!

Except the wind was "too bad", so they closed the cable car that would take us up to the top of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

So. Much. Disappointment.

Thanksgiving and Equality

Talk about a difference in holidays!

I know Thanksgiving is a very distinctly American Holiday, but it surprises me how no one I talked to here in Cape Town knew about it. Not one person had even heard of it. Very surprising.

We got the weekend off because of the holiday (Thursday-Sunday), so Wednesday was the end of our work week. It so such a relief to have a few days to ourselves. It's great to think I'll have a few days to myself to react.

Before we left for the break, my Service Placement held a "Equality and Equity" round table discussion, which was supposed to be facilitated by the four of us from BW. In theory, it sounds cool, but none of us knew what we were supposed to be doing. We don't know the laws here that well, and no amount of reading about them is going to give us enough experience and knowledge to talk about them.

Luckily, it turned out to be more of a USA/International  and South Africa discussion headed by one of Nombulelo's friends (Actually, the guy who taught us some isisXhosa). It was interesting to see South African views on certain things and to be able to give an outside "fresh" perspective on issues here. Very cool experience.

We ended up doing Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday night instead of Thursday just so that we would have Thursday night to ourselves. For most people on the trip, it was the first major holiday they spent away from their family. From a sociological perspective, it was interesting to see how everyone dealt with that, and who broke their "I'm not calling home" promise.

During dinner, we all went around and said what we were/are thankful for (you know, the whole point of Thanksgiving is to give thanks for what your thankful for), and I realized that I have so much to be thankful for but I don't appreciate it or show my thanks nearly enough.

If this trip has taught me anything (which is a whole different conversation), it's definitely to appreciate what I have and to appreciate the little things more. Sometimes, the simplicity is the best part.

To use one of my favorite song lyrics:
"If you're too busy talking, 
you're not busy listening, 
So quiet your mind"

Sometimes, all you need to do is appreciate what you have right in front of you. Nothing else.

P.S.: I tried explaining the Thanksgiving Holiday to Lungisa, the SHAWCO guy who set up our service placements. He was very surprised to find that we teach Thanksgiving in schools (you know, the whole mass murder aspect). 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

So, that South Africa Beach, Right?

Sunday was Funday.

Sunday was the first day we had to ourselves since arriving in Cape Town: Nothing planned by Shawco, the service placements, teachers, anyone. So 8 of us decided to go Camp's Bay and go to the beach.

Preface time: I started feeling sick on Friday at the police celebration and still felt sick Saturday, but dragged myself through the Wine tour. It sucked to be sick, but at least I had a reason to sleep a lot. Anyway, Sunday, I woke up feeling better but still sick. Figures. I decided that maybe it would be a good idea to get some sun and maybe I'd sweat out whatever I had, you know, break the fever.

Long Story short: Didn't work. Sunlight does not sweat out a sickness.

The beach was beautiful! The water was the bluest I've ever seen at a beach. Granted, the last time I went to a "beach" beach (sorry to all my Ohioan friends, Lake Erie doesn't count as a beach in my book) was in 5th grade, and I don't remember the water being anywhere close in color. The sand was also incredibly white and soft (still didn't make up for the fact that it gets everywhere and I hate it, but at least it was..comfortable? Is that the best word?). The area was pretty small compared to other beaches, so there were lots of people in a very confined space. Plus there were lots of rocks people were climbing on.

Because South Africa (and Cape Town in particular) is at the bottom of the Continent, some beaches are located on the Atlantic Ocean and some are located on the Indian Ocean. Camp's Bay was an Atlantic Ocean Beach.

Now imagine a glass of water, filled with ice cubes, in the freezer for a day or two. Now imagine jumping into that. That's what the South Atlantic felt like! It was freezing! Kuz used to joke in Northern Ireland when our hot water tank was broke that the water felt like "a little penguin was living in there pooping lots of little ice cubes and that's where the water is coming from." I'd believe that for this water. You see, when you're so far South, the water only comes from one place: Antarctica.

Talk about a different beach experience.

It's also a good thing to note that the "Harsh African Sun" is no joke. You see, I normally don't need to put on sun tan lotion or sun screen back home in the States. Here, I put it on just to be safe. And I still ended up looking like Frickin' Elmo!

My entire chest, back, shoulders, ankles, and the insides of my knee caps. WHO DOES THAT?!?! Weirdest Sunburn? Check! Most Defined/Awkward Sunburn to Non-Burn? Check!

So, here's my final South Africa Beach Tip (#SouthAfricaBeachTips for all you tweeters out there): wear heavy duty sunscreen when on the beach. And reapply it very often. A lot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Police and Wine

So on Friday, my service placement went to a 100 year anniversary of the South African Police Service (SAPS for short) at the Athlone Stadium.

It was a pretty cool thing to experience. There were a surprising amount of people in attendance seeing as it was 11 in the morning (Another example of the high unemployment rate I guess). The police were lined up on the field in a formation that looked like 2013, and the minister of police and the deputy minister of police gave speeches.

It had to easily be around 85 degrees yesterday, but inside the stadium (which was unfortunately mostly white) it had to be around 120. Which had to be really painful for the police officers in their full dress uniforms. A conservative average would be around 10 fainted during the service. I guess that's expected when you have to stand at parade rest from 7am until who knows when.

But the crowd reaction to the police was what really threw me for a loop.

In Northern Ireland, the locals hated the PSNI because they believed them to be a continuation of the corrupt RUC. And I can't really blame them: from what I read the RUC, though trying to keep the peace, was just as terrible as some of the paramilitary groups. And during Apartheid the South African Police were just as brutal.

But the crowd reaction. I would have never expected it. They were cheering for the police! I wonder if it's because they think reforms are working within SAPS, but I was dumbfounded. To me, it just didn't make sense.

On Saturday we took a tour through 3 wine yards. It was beautiful scenery, but I've come to realize that I just am not a wine person.

The hardest part was definitely the contrast in wealth. We had to drive through some of the worst looking places around Cape Town to get to some of the wealthiest looking. It was very difficult to understand how someone can live on a manor making hundreds of thousands of dollars while their neighbor is living in a literal shack. I understand that it's just the way things work, but it doesn't make it any less confusing.

I'm going to end this post with a history fact.

 The wine yards in South Africa are similar to the Cotton Fields in the USA. During slavery in the South, the slaves would work on the cotton fields. The same thing occured in the Wine Yards of Cape Town. Very interesting to see some of the comparisons during the tour.