Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cape Town, South Africa

My blogs about South Africa and India will probably be the two most complicated to write. It is extremely difficult for me to really share my experiences and how they affected me, but I will do my best. South Africa was a different experience for SASers from the start. For one thing, the port was non-industrial and had a huge mall within walking distance from the ship. For another, this was the first country where our logistical pre-port left me terrified! In past ports we had been warned of petty crime and occasional riots. For South Africa we were told of past student rapings, violent crimes, and some political upheaval. This was not my experience.

My first day in South Africa was spent on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Robben Island is a fairly unique experience because they have former political prisoners work as the tour guides. The ferry to Robben Island was filled with tourists and we were given an informational video on the prison. Our tour included the village, the leprosy cemetery, and the prison itself. I was able to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and the lime quarry where he worked. I also got to see penguins! After getting back to the ship, my roommate Hannah and I got dressed up for a night on the town! We chose to go to Mama Africa to meet up with some friends and try some authentic African cuisine. And so what did we eat? Crocodile, springbok, kudu, and ostrich! My personal favorites were the crocodile and the springbok, although the ostrich was pretty damn good! We also had some delicious vegetable samosas! Mama Africa had an amazing band come in later that night which was a lot of fun! Hannah and our friend Jillian were given a chance to dance with the lead singer which created one of the funniest videos of the voyage thus far! After Mama Africa we met up with some more friends and went to a few more clubs before calling it a night.

Day two was by far my favorite day of the voyage thus far. A group of about forty students boarded a bus headed to an Operation Hunger service visit without really knowing what to expect. Our first stop was a Xhosa shanty town where only about three community members spoke English. Our work center was the Green Park community center; an ironic name considering that only trash and dirt surrounded us. The assignment was to weigh and measure all of the community children and to plant seedlings in a small garden next to the building. At first both university students and shanty children were awkward and did not know what to say. Finally we were able to break through the language barrier with digital photos and the high five! I have a theory that Semester at Sea will bring two main things to children around the world, smiles and high fives!

As the more industrious students weighed the kids, I started playing ball with one little girl who was maybe five years old at the oldest. By playing ball I mean that she would throw a tiny red ball into my hands and I would toss it back to her. I almost felt like she enjoyed missing the ball more than catching it because when she missed it she would have to run around after it! I could spend all day talking about that one little girl! When she finally grew tired of her toy (which took quite a while), she and I went outside to see how the planting was going. I left her with one of the other students while I quickly went to get my camera. When I returned I had my personal life-changing moment. I walked in the gate and saw her standing alone by the door looking somewhat worried and confused. She turned to look at me and suddenly I knew what to do. I knelt down and held my arms wide open and she ran straight to me! As I held her I understood the power of unconditional love. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t understand each other, or that we had only met several hours before. At that moment I was the mother and she was the child and there was nothing else. Sadly our time at Green Park had to end and I said goodbye with tears in my eyes. We had done good work to help a community in need, but I felt that I was the one who received a real benefit.

This moment was not the end to the day and our Operation Hunger trip continued to a soup kitchen in an English-speaking township where we fed anyone who needed food. I did not have another epiphany, but it made me feel good knowing that my actions in the world were making a difference in the lives of others. Our trip concluded with all the students pooling together approximately $250 to buy toys for the children of Green Park and our trip leader telling us that she had seen forty students who would someday make amazing parents. At the end of the day I was feeling fairly morose and I did not know what to do with myself. Most of my friends were on safari and I was still having trouble digesting everything I had seen and done. It was at this moment that Clive from deck 6 Garden Lounge told me that things would get better. I went to a bookstore and out for coffee with my favorite professor, who had also been the trip leader for Operation Hunger. Clive was right, things did get better!

On the third day in Cape Town, I was somewhat unsure what I was going to do. I wanted to go up to Table Mountain, but I wasn’t sure about climbing it. At breakfast I ran into Joan Knecht who is our ship nurse and she invited me to take the cable car with her, Shirl (a LLC), and Bob (an adult passenger). Needless to say, I was the youngest person in our group, but it was still a lot of fun! The cable car revolves, giving passengers a 360 view of the mountain ascent! It also took about two minutes as opposed to the two hour hike! Once on top of the mountain we wandered for a bit, cameras in hand, before taking a lunch break and the cable car back down. We still had some time to kill so we decided to go to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden which is reputed to be one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. I felt that it was a beautiful picnic spot and had some amazing statues, but overall the gardens were not that impressive. It was still a fun place to be for $2! We headed back to the ship in the early afternoon and I got ready for an exciting dinner out. By which I mean dinner alone with a good book at a sushi bar. It turned out to be just what I needed! Living in close quarters with about 1000 people does not give many chances for quiet or peace. It was great to go somewhere by myself and just relax with a book.

My fourth day in South Africa was delicious! Yes! It was time for Kendra’s COOKING SAFARI!!! One of the things I miss most about home is my kitchen. It might be small and impossible to maneuver in, but it is still a kitchen! There is nothing better on a stressful day of class than going home and baking brownies, or cheesecake, or bread. Even in the dorms I at least had a kitchenette downstairs! Our day of cooking started with an explanation of Cape Malay culture and how the Indian influence is evident in the food. After this we visited the stores that our cooking teacher had shopped at for our class supplies. The main store was the spice shop where there was an overwhelming medley of smells in the air! We were taught about each spice and what it does to flavor a dish. When our spice adventure concluded we continued to our host’s home. Our host was a wonderful woman who had volunteered to work with us students despite her husband’s surprise home renovation which left her missing half a kitchen. Under her tutelage we learned how to fold samosas, cook up “chilli bites”, make chicken curry, and make a special kind of bread (similar to naan). Once everything was cooked our group sat down for a fabulous meal in which we had a chance to speak to our host and guide about their lives as Muslims in Cape Town. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the V & A waterfront with friends.

The final day in Cape Town was bittersweet. Most of what I did was hunt down souvenirs for family and friends and attempt to find something for myself that follows my global kitchen equipment theme. I ended up getting a metal teapot with traditional paintings on it to go with my Spanish mug, Moroccan tea cups, and Namibian salad tossers! Leaving South Africa was extremely hard for me because I felt like I belonged there. I found a place that I could make a difference and you never know, maybe someday I will go back and see what good I can do!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Spelling Bees and Snorkeling

As most people are forced to realize, technology is not always a friend. In my case it has become the frustrating enemy! What happened, you might ask. Well, long story short, my laptop has left this mortal coil. It is no longer with us. The funeral will be held on Tuesday. With it go my Namibia and South Africa) blogs and about half of a paper for History of U.S. Immigration. I will try to re-write the blogs (and paper, but they may not be in order. For starters I am going to do Mauritius and the Sea Olympics!

Mauritius was beautiful! It reminded me a lot of Hawaii except that it didn’t have nearly as many flowers. Since we only had one day in Mauritius I chose to spend it on a catamaran! Snorkeling equipment was provided and I spent the majority of the day with my head underwater. The water was amazingly clear and we could see a ton of fish at the first site! Sadly, my mask was leaking and the pretty fish were not worth salty eyes so I spent most of my time there just swimming around. After about an hour we all got back on our catamaran and went to another area of the bay. And then it was time for lunch! This was one of the most amazing meals I have had on this trip! We had barbequed chicken skewers, barbequed swordfish, garlic bread, and mashed potatoes. After eating (and waiting twenty minutes!) I went back into the water to see more fish with a non-leaking snorkel mask. There were fewer fish at this part of the bay, but I still was able to see glowing squid and some other small fish swimming around. I forgot how much I love snorkeling. It is just me, my breathing and the water. It was so peaceful and it reminded me of meditating. Hopefully I will have a chance to do it again in either Thailand or Hawaii!

After snorkeling we returned to the ship for more barbeque (of a lesser quality) in anticipation of Sea Olympics! Now in order to understand Sea Olympics I need to explain how the MV Explorer is organized. Similar to dorms with floors and RAs, SAS has seas with living learning coordinators. The seas include the Red Sea, Bering Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea (yay ninjas!), and Adriatic Sea. The professors, lifelong learners, and family voyagers are all in the Odyssey. Now the seas were required to participate in events such as wheelbarrow race, spelling bee, synchronized swimming, and potato sculpting. I was only participating in the synchronized swimming (although I wish I had done spelling bee).

Now here is a small (large) rant. I stayed after at the meeting to sign up for events to see if the spelling bee was still open. About four other people were asking about various things and the leaders were assigning things that had no contestants yet. Suddenly I hear “spelling bee” and before I can jump at the chance a (CU) jock goes “Oh I’ll do it!”. I turn to him to ask if he was a good speller and he replied “Oh yeah…sure”. I repeated the question letting him know that I was really good at spelling and would love to compete. Finally I gave up and left. Round one of the spelling bee the Baltic Sea was eliminated on “celery” spelled “cellary”. Hell hath no fury like Kendra when epic stupidity strikes! I have nothing against poor spellers (I love you Dad!), but I do have issues with people who ruin the chances of others on a whim. Needless to say the Baltic Sea came in second to last place in the Olympics overall with medals in Sudoku and Twister. Synchronized swimming was a lot of fun though and there were parts of the day I did have fun, but those of you who know my competitive attitude will understand how the spelling bee broke my spirit!

Well, there you go! One semi-coherent blog entry with a complimentary rant! Now I feel like sleeping for weeks. India left me physically and emotionally drained and I need some time to absorb everything I have seen and done in the last few days. No class tomorrow so I will try to write out entries for Namibia and South Africa! Happy Purim everybody!