Sunday, June 8, 2014

PASSOP Internship

It's been a week since our incredible program ended, and while everyone has left Cape Town to begin a new adventure, I'm still here awaiting the start of an internship that I will be doing over the next two months. I will be interning with an organization called PASSOP (People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty), which is also the word in Afrikaans for 'danger.' PASSOP is an NGO here in Cape Town that works with the refugee population in South Africa, doing everything from advocacy work to food handouts. The organization was founded as tensions between Zimbabweans fleeing the increasingly repressive regime of Robert Mugabe and South African citizens increased. While I know very little about what I'll actually be doing during my internship, I do know that I will be working with the Gender and LGBT coordinator, an area that I do have a bit of background in.

I couldn't be more thrilled to be staying in Cape Town for this experience! As mentioned in many other posts, Cape Town offers so much for those staying here. I'm now living in an area called Newlands, a southern suburb of Cape Town in a guest suite of a wonderful family's home. Everyone keeps saying how unfortunate it is that I'm here during the winter, but the weather, other than the occasional rainfall, has been fantastic! While it has been an interesting transition from a group program to by myself, I don't mind exploring parts of the city on my own. So far, I'd recommend to anyone who has the time and ability to stay on and explore this beautiful city for as long as possible.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Multilingual Rainbow

The Republic of South Africa has 11 official languages, the most in the world according to The Guinness Book of World Records:
The country with the most official languages is the Republic of South Africa with 11. These are: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Xitsonga, siSwati, isiNdebele and Tshivenda.
However, South Africa's 1996 post-apartheid constitution doesn't stop with the official languages.  Subsection 6 of Chapter 1 also obligates the national government's Pan South African Language Board to support the Khoi, Nama, and San languages of South Africa's first inhabitants and sign language and to ensure respect for 11 additional languages.  The Constitution's Bill of Rights grants extensive legal protections for individuals' language use, including "the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable" and "the the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice."

As with many of the other sweeping socio-economic rights included in the Constitution, the lived reality of many South Africans differs from their supreme law's soaring rhetoric. Disputes over the language of instruction used in institutions at all levels from primary school to university are ongoing, as are arguments about changing European place names.  During our time in Cape Town, bilingual (Afrikaans and English) and trilingual (Afrikaans, English, and isiXhosa) signs were common everywhere and the norm at government institutions.  The other eight languages are not as common in Cape Town or the Western Cape province.

The current situation and its linguistic disputes, which touch on deeper issues of ethnic and cultural identity, must be considered in the context of the racial segregrationist policies of apartheid which were in place until the early 1990s.  As part of apartheid, the ruling National Party aggressively promoted Afrikaans, a language which has evolved from the Dutch of South Africa's first European settlers, as the country's dominant language.  The National Party's efforts to impose Afrikaans instruction on black students sparked the 1976 Soweto uprising, which was brutally suppressed but marked a key moment in the anti-apartheid struggle.

Apartheid-era government sign in English and Afrikaans, now displayed at the District Six Museum
Today's legal linguistic dispensation may seem messy, imperfect, and confusing, but it is certainly preferable to a situation of domination.  The reversal of the apartheid-era linguistic social engineering and the government's acknowledgement of South Africa's amazing linguistic diversity are victories for the agency and resilience of the South African people over an alternative, dystopian vision of government-imposed linguistic conformity and segregation.  The late Nelson Mandela understood the importance of recognizing people's languages:
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Let me conclude with this image from South Africa's Constitutional Court building in Johannesburg, which I visited in 2008 and which is inscribed in all 11 official languages so as to speak to the hearts of all South Africans.

Monday, June 2, 2014


The townships are an ugly reminder of Apartheid - under Apartheid, racial groups were forced by law to do everything separate; from where one lived to where you were allowed to eat, to where you could even sit in public. This was how Jim Crow was for blacks in the U.S. South Africa is only 20 years removed from this reality where rule of law, legislative statutes and the entire apparatus of the state including the police, courts, schools, etc worked in unison to oppress the non-white majority. A person was limited in the access that they had to society's institutions, and forget about justice...many were physically abused and killed for trying to buck the system. Fortunately the paradigm has shifted, but the inequalities and the legacy of Apartheid remains. 

To me the townships represent a stark reminder of how far South Africa has to go. The townships are 99% black and the conditions of people who live there are bad. They are still segregated and they live in shacks with tin roofs.  Because of the locations of the townships (right outside or at the fringe of the metropolises) they are overcrowded with people who have to travel into the cities in order to work. These same people cannot afford a home or rent inside of the city. More and more folks flock to the cities from the country for jobs, and as a consequence these townships grow...they swell. Langa and Khayelitsha are two townships which we had the fortune to travel to. 

Interesting to see how some people who are able to save money actually stay in the townships. One of the homes that we visited started as a one room shack, then grew to a two room shack, and so on and so forth until after 30 or so some odd years (as told by the owner), that shack was no longer a shack, but an impressive abode which even housed a restaurant (which hands down had some of the best food that I have eaten while here). Also interesting that in Langa, there was a section of that township which was known as Beverly Hills, because the people who had good jobs and had acquired some status stayed in that part. Those houses had gates and were sprawling and well kept, yet it was still part of the township and the people where members of the community. This shows how the spirit of community predominates throughout this land. The govt is currently building houses at a frenzied pace to keep up with the demand, and a lot of these townships are being invested in. I can write on and on, but I will leave it at that. Suffice to say, millions still live in one room shacks with a dirt floor, tins walls, and tin roof with no toilet, sink or running water.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Professor David

Our experience could have been very different if not for Professor David.  Being originally from South Africa, he makes our experience worthy.  He takes us to most historic, exciting areas in and out of Cape Town. Cape Town is a vibrant city with a lot of interesting activities going on, without proper guidance, one can easily lose track on important activities.  David does not only lead us to right places, he participates in every activities we do.  He is very aware of the country history and the contemporary situations. I am truly glad that I came to South Africa study abroad and with David. Most importantly, he has a huge sense of humor :).

Professor David

Cape of Good Hope

Today, we went to the Cape of Good Hope, and it was quite an adventure. We drove about two hours and then walked up this trail, which was quite steep. This hike reminded me of Cinque Terre, a hike in Italy that involves hiking along the mountain across five cities. At the top, some of us went a little further and got a little too close to the edge to capture "the perfect facebook profile picture.".  After the hike, we decided to another hike down the hill to the beach, and it was quite scary as the wind was quite strong and many times was able to push us over. Chanel lost her sunglasses while the rest of us just lost our balance many times. However, the view was definitely worth it. We saw many baboons, who, for the most part, seemed harmless and entertaining. However, at one point, we encountered an army of eight to ten baboons charge  in the same direction as Emma and Professor David.  It was truly frightening to see Professor and Emma run away as the baboons started going in their direction. Luckily, they were able to evade the baboons by using "logic and prayer." As it was very windy, the students could not hear each other but we made our way down the hill without a direct path. As the bushes along the path were filled with thorns, it was quite tricky. But the students kept going despite the wind, the despite the slippery terrain, despite the thorny bushes, and despite the army of baboons. I felt like I was in a movie for survival. However after what seemed like forever, we made it down the path and took a picture to commence the journey. It was a great ending to an epic trip symbolizing the student's persistence and the challenges that each of us may have faced during this journey.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

District Six

My experience in Cape Town has been truly life changing. Prior to coming South Africa, I did not have much idea what to expect, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I thought that there would still be a lot of bitterness between the different racial groups because it's only been twenty years since the apartheid ended. However, after speaking to multiple individuals I have experienced that many people are not necessarily bitter towards a certain group but towards the past government. Many people whom I have spoken state that it's not the people's faults but the government's fault.

I've had very interesting days at Cape Town, but the most memorable day for me thus far has been visiting District Six museum. District Six was a district that was unlike other districts under the apartheid regime where various racial groups mixed. There were Cape Malays, Blacks, Jewish, Indian and White groups in the District who live harmoniously together for decades unlike the rest of the country where often other groups stayed within districts with their own races. Because one of cabinet minister's wife wanted a gentrification of the neighborhood and wanted only white families to live in that neighborhood, she convinced the government to pass an order to remove all of the residents from their houses. Thus, the government started the removal process and over the years, the houses were razed, and the people were effectively removed from their residences. These residences had been passed for generations. Because this action caused a huge uproar abroad, no houses were ever build in the District Six. Post-apartheid, the government has started the process to return the land to the residents slowly. However, since a university now dominates 40% of the land, and many residents have long since perished, it is difficult to re-distribute the land to all of the previous residents.

 It was truly sobering experience visiting the museum, which showcased the streets with the families names. The museum was filled with walls with pictures of individuals who had lived in District Six illustrating the lives of people. The pictures illustrated beautifully how people's lives revolved around their residences showcasing the resident's birthdays, weddings etc. If you think about it so so many life memories are formed around our residences. The museum also had a sheet with all of the resident's names. To top it all off, we had a guide whose family had lived in District Six for generations. The guide's family had migrated from Gujarat, India and his family was forcibly removed after living there for generations. Seeing the pictures of the museum really made me angry and truly resonated with me.  As my own family migrated from India, I can imagine how difficult it must be to uprooted from roots. My own grandparents also had issues with their house, which was forcibly taken from us in India by property developers. Your home truly plays an essential role in upbringing. Many people from District Six died with a broken heart because they were never able to return to their home as my grandparents who also died without ever seeing justice. Despite everything, though the guide clearly had a reason to be angry, he blamed the government for the issues that he faced without explicitly blaming any racial group. At the end of the tour, he said he was still waiting to get his house and hopefully he will see the house before his death.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Design & Cape Town

When you look around Cape Town, it is a colorful city. They may call it the "Rainbow Nation" for its diversity in language, and race, but its architecture and design is just as colorful. Too often we see in the media all over the world of Africa as a conflict infested country. There are some truths to that, but I want to shed light on the beauty of Africa.

Table Mountain sets the backdrop of Cape Town. Cape Town consists of many little "hip" areas from Bo-Kaap to the Waterfront. Without fail, you will stumble upon a well-designed boutique shop, chic bar, hipster bookstore, or well ambiant coffee shop. It has a touch of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, and naturally I feel right at home. Speaking of home, it was also unexpected to find a touch of Indonesia, my homeland, that exist here in South Africa. 

As a class, we had a lesson on South Africa and Culture, and due to unexpected circumstances we had our lecture at "The Bank", which is now a "World Design Capital Center" in a type of design district of Cape Town. I was excited of the topic, as design and art is a hidden passion of mine (not a secret now).

Currently there are hundreds of design projects to help the ongoing development of South Africa from sustainable food, education, Business and Innovation, and many others. It was a great insight, and great exposure for those who are not as design savvy of the influence design has on our environment.

In connection, Talib, Andy, and I went to the Cape of Good Hope Castle, which was once used by the Dutch colony for some military purposes I cannot speak much in-depth about, but within this castle there were a few art exhibitions. One being on food and design. The exhibition was intriguing as it covered the evolution of food transport, sustainable food, and food innovation. 

Above is a sculpture made out of recycling containers on sustainable materials in packaging foods, and food overall.

Above is a piece of different methods of packaging from plastic bottles to wine bottles. Time is far too short, as I could spend my hours in this museum alone. That my friends is a little insight of South African design. Keep your eyes open! You never know what you will find.

The Art of Forgiveness

As a newbie to the study abroad experience (first study abroad) I have had an amazing, and blessed time here in South Africa, Cape Town. I have always wanted to travel abroad ever since my undergraduate career. Although the burden of finances was heavy on my shoulders. Now that I am a bit older and somewhat wiser, I realized that life is priceless. My time here at Cape Town has been a testament that, "life is priceless". Every minute that I have spent in South Africa has been worth every penny or should I say rand.

When I arrived at the airport, I had no expectations of Cape Town. The only expectations I had were of the beautiful Table Mountain, and the beautiful beaches. Twenty-four hours later I arrived here at Cape Town. Andy, Emma, and I hopped on a cab at 11pm. We were going down the dark abyss of South Africa. Of course in the cab it felt just like another highway, and another city. Then when we arrived at our place aka "the camp", the vicinity was high class. I knew from that moment that we are provided above average treatment, which I am ever so grateful to American University, and our Professor for arranging such a nice stay. I am also aware that this is not what it would be like when working in the field. Nevertheless, I am grateful for this moment, and enjoying every moment.

I never would have imagined to have absorbed so much of this country in fourteen days. From 9am to 5pm we have a filled agenda. Despite my laptop failing, as they say, "the show must go on". I could go on forever about our experience so far, but two important points that have affirmed my believes, and as well as new lessons I have gained are:

1. Ubuntu - "You are through others". Growing up in a collectivist country of Jakarta, Indonesia I have always struggled to adapt to the individualistic culture and mindset of Americans. Americans often attribute their success to oneself rather than the connections and support that have helped them along the way. At least they don't recognize and acknowledge those who have uplifted them, and speak more in terms of, "I". Even in the way one speaks of themselves in the US it is often times "I" rather than "We". I think this is a philosophy that should be spread globally. I can say that from his experience I have grown, and I thank Professor Hirschmann, Sheila, and my cohorts here in this program. Here we are below enjoying a day out in Thandi vineyard and apple vineyard.

2. Forgive no matter how hard. I believe that forgiveness is a character. Before South Africa, I rarely come across individuals who have the ability to forgive wholeheartedly. I personally face my own struggle to fully forgive. Forgiveness is a hard act to execute. But after my visit to Robben Island (pictures below) I have faith in forgiveness. After years of hate through apartheid, the blacks of South African were able to reach a peaceful transition through a successful 1994 election. This event to me seems very surreal, and sitting here imagining a time where human beings were separated based on the color of their skins, and find peace after that is hard to fathom. Nevertheless, it gives me hope that all of us have- in every fiber of our body, the ability to forgive.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Nation in Transition

What a beautiful country! Having a great time and learning a lot! The combination of the field trips and the lectures combine to make this a first rate study abroad experience. From Robben Island to the township of Langa just outside of Cape Town, we are being exposed to the unique story and intimate underpinnings of a nation in transition. So many issues and so much promise…the saga continues. Feel extremely fortunate to have Prof. Hirschmann here as a resource and a guide as we navigate this complicated terrain.


Racial Divides in Cape Town's Gay Community

I definitely had an expectation about Cape Town's gay community.  I assumed it would be racially diverse and welcoming.  I mean, the country legalized gay marriage 10 years ago.  Furthermore, Cape Town is considered highly progressive, ethnically diverse, and has one of the most vibrant gay communities in the world.  However, after a few nights exploring various gay bars and restaurants, it is evident that the institutional legacies of apartheid still exist.  The bars here are informally "white" or "black/coloured" with very little mixing between the two.  It was particularly striking to walk into Cafe Manhattan to witness a sea of white faces.  It was similarly off-putting to walk into Zero to One and be the only white face in the establishment.  It's interesting, and a little sad, to see this kind of racial divide exist in an already marginalized community where, one would think, solidarity would trump and kind of racial division.


The game park/safari was truly an amazing, and possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience! Although we were split on whether we wanted to do the park that was far away or the one that was closer, in the end I am really glad that for circumstantial reasons we had to go to the one that was farther. We took off early on our first Saturday morning to go on the safari at a game park a few hours away. Although I wasn't especially keen on sitting in the back of the van (Talib/Will: "nobody has to know...") the ride was beautiful along the way. We stayed at this game lodge that was stunning and pairs of us matched up to stay in these adorable little bungalows. Emma and I called it our "honeymoon suite." The safari was what is probably best referred to as luxury and definitely not roughing it since we ate and drank like Kings & Queens and it's on a reserve so we were guaranteed to see animals. On our drive we saw kudu, impala, wildebeest, springbok, ostrich, buffalo, zebras playing (and fighting), giraffes, elephants, rhino, hippo and lions! (Fun fact: ostrich have a razor sharp talon that they can rip open a human from jugular to groin, through the rib cage and all. So ummm...translation: don't piss them off) Everyone was impressed that I actually knew what a kudu was and I had to explain that it's because my Dad went hunting in Africa a few years ago and my Mom has the head of one in her house! The vehicle was open-air which made for great photos and we were able to get really really close to the animals...lions included. The lion den has 3 females and 1 male and is protected by a high voltage fence- all of the other animals are free roaming (including two cheetahs, which we did not see) The lions apparently need to be separated from the other animals because they were born into captivity and do not know how to properly hunt. Meaning, they will not hunt to eat, they will hunt just to kill and not eat the animals. As David said, the lions are mentally unstable. Once in the lion den we had to drive all the way to the edge of the den to find all of the lions laying under a tower. Our driver/guide/ranger, Byron, got us pretty close (too close) to the group of them lying down and the male got up and started slowly walking towards us. The guide started slowly backing up the vehicle but the lion wouldn't stop walking towards us, in a slow and methodical stalk. It was really pretty fascinating because you could tell he wasn't angry and wasn't going to attack us, he just wanted to assert his dominance and make his message clear that he didn't want us to come any closer to his space- or at least that's what the guide assured us :) 

At dawn we went on a morning drive. I think one of the major highlights was seeing three giraffe (including a baby!) openly strolling around the guide's house and one of them even went into his garden! Even though we had already had quite the experience with the lions the night before our guide insisted that we have another go. When we entered the den there was another open-air vehicle with visitors viewing the lions from quite far away. Naturally, as I think our guide is a bit of a risk-taker, Byron had to get closer. This time it was only the female lions, which I'm not sure if that made us feel more or less comfortable that the male was not around. One of the female lions got up and started prancing towards the vehicle and I heard another ranger come through on our guide's walkie talkie saying "Active female headed your way...I cannot spot her anymore!" That was a little more scary cause I could hear the hesitation in his voice but later he said that she was just "playfully charging," because if she was aggressively charging the other female lions would have sensed it and charged with her. All in all, it was pretty exciting and made everyone a little bit nervous, but in the end, we were safe and with professionals and definitely made the experience more memorable!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wanna see some pictures?

Wonderful time in South Africa

South Africa Study Abroad is the best experience a student can have. We have so much to do in everyday. We do Safari tour, we eat at different traditional restaurants, we attend lectures at the University of Cape Town, and we visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. I personally don't want the experience to come to an end :).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Return to Cape Town

As I near the halfway point of my 17-day graduate seminar in Cape Town, South Africa, I continue to reflect on what it means to return here nearly six years after my first arrival in Cape Town, when I was a junior in college beginning a semester here with the South Africa Service Learning Program.  In my conversations with my fellow American University graduate students and with South Africans, in our lectures and site visits, and even just by physically being again in this complex and fascinating city, I find myself reflecting from time to time on the changes the past six years have brought.  I’m not primarily referring to the changes in Cape Town though there have certainly been many.  I have quickly noticed prominent physical changes in the cityscape, such as the improvements made for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but two weeks is far too short a time period to claim to “understand” the evolution of this city and its inhabitants, as if it could even be said that I understood the city after living here for those five months in 2008.

No, I am largely referring to my reflections about how I have changed in the past six years.  Study abroad programs, like any quality informal or formal education, should be as much about self-discovery and self-knowledge as about mastering some set of relevant facts and skills.  Given my decision to make sub-Saharan Africa my regional focus within my Comparative and Regional Studies course of study, there is always a temptation to pretend to “master” the “subject” of “Africa.”  Rather than adopt that flawed approach, I will hopefully always be learning and listening as I move through life and become more aware of the realities of the world around me and the people I share it with.  That process includes listening to myself as I process my feelings, thoughts, and experiences.  As I have gone through my first week here and had the joy of getting to know the amazing group of colleagues I am blessed to be here with, I have continued to remember and reflect on how I have changed in the past six years, where I have grown and where I have perhaps lost a bit of myself, how my faith and my ideals have shifted in some ways and remained constant in others, how conscious I am of my own shortcomings but occasionally also of who I am becoming.

Although I would not have said this six years ago, the friendships built and the self-knowledge received during my previous time studying abroad in Cape Town impacted me as much as the important and fascinating knowledge I have gained about South Africa.  I look forward to the remainder of my time here and all that I will learn.

[A note on photos, or my lack thereof: On my flight to Johannesburg from Washington, DC, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  In this movie, reclusive photojournalist Sean O’Connell explains to Walter why he sometimes doesn’t take photographs of compelling scenes:
 If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.
That approach really resonated with me, perhaps a way to justify my own failure to take many pictures, and probably explains why pretty much the only photos I have so far are from our game park safari last weekend, an experience completely different from my experiences in Cape Town. Hopefully, I’ll pull myself out of the moment just long enough to take a few quality photos to post next time.]