Errands in Cape Town

13 Aug

Sometimes, you just have to mention the more routine things in life. 🙂

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Today, I want to share with you the experience of grocery shopping in Cape Town. Many of you may be familiar with my affinity for retail food outlets. Since a very young age, shopping for food has been one of my favorite past times. Being my mother’s daughter, going to the grocery store is so much more than a routine activity; it’s mostly social. Especially when you’re from a small town and know everyone at the local grocery store. I love it so much that I have even been employed in the industry, namely at the Linden Hills Food Cooperative (today, I can’t make a shopping trip into Linden Hills last less than an hour; between my boyfriend and cooking mate, Nate, and I, we literally speak to every person in the store). For the most part, my experiences acquiring vittles here in South Africa has been very similar to that of American grocery stores. On a trip made last weekend, here is what I purchased and how many South African Rand it set me back:

3 Avocadoes

Minestrone Soup Mix

Spinach bag


3 large grapefruit

2 cans of cannellini beans

2 cans of chopped tomatoes

3 cans of kidney beans

Ryvita crackers

Baby zucchini (known as “baby marrow” here)

Cottage cheese

Pkg of tomato paste

12 free-range eggs

2L Low-fat milk

Italian salad mix bag

2 kilograms of cherry tomatoes (for roasting!)

1.5 kilograms Granny Smith Apples

Total: R306.81 or $38.35

Many items are very comparable in price to that in the States. However, now it’s avocado season here in SA, making it possible for me to snag those three delicious avos for ~$.50/piece. Also, since it’s winter here, we’re up to our eyeballs in delicious and affordable citrus. Those grapefruits (which I’m having a total love affair with, BTW) were about $.33 each. Many of the fruits and vegetables happen to be locally grown (depending on the season, of course). A couple of big differences between my shopping experiences in SA and the USA include:

  • If one needs a plastic bag, they must pay somewhere around R.35 or ~ 1 penny per bag. This is totally brilliant. Stores in the US should follow this example. It means that most people bring their own reusable bags to the store. Reducing waste is incentivized!
  • Electricity for your home can be purchased at the register (you must pay cash for it, though). For most houses or apartments, your unit is equipped with a meter for electricity. Instead of paying the electric company at the end of every month for your home’s electricity usage, you pay up-front using a code that will be printed on your receipt from the grocery store (or other retail locations that sell electricity) and typing that code into the aforementioned meter in your house. With this system, one is more conscious of the amount of electricity they are using each day. Because you have already made the investment, the cost of keeping the light on in the bathroom or unused appliances plugged into the wall becomes much more apparent.
  • The lines. I’m always surprised at how long South Africans are willing to wait in the “queue” to pay for their food. Without going into how time is experienced differently here (if you want to read an excellent interpretation, check out my friend, Jeff’s, recent blog installment on the subject), the length that one will happily wait here is leaps and bounds longer than in the US.
  • They sell wine in the stores here, which isn’t entirely different than many states in the US. It certainly doesn’t happen in Minnesota! Not unlike Minnesota, though, one cannot purchase off-sale booze on a Sunday, and sales of liquor at stores ends at 5 pm on Saturdays.
  • Produce is weighed and given a price tag right in the department. So when buying a plethora of pears, you must place them in some sort of container and bring them to a produce associate to have them measured. They place your items on a scale and print out a sticker to place on the container (generally a produce bag). This is supposed to alleviate any confusion at the registers. I think it creates more waste than necessary.

Bon appetit!


Accidental Holiday (Or how to turn at 12-hour layover in France into a 4-day one)

27 Jul

Summer in the northern hemisphere is sublime. Particularly in a state like Minnesota where, for roughly 6 months of the year, our constant companions are snow, ice, and dark. The onset of summer means light. It gives us late evenings sitting at the end of the dock with family. It showcases some of the greatest fruits and veggies. For many people, it reminds them why they put up living in the cold for half of the year. For what it’s worth, Minnesotans yearn to hang onto the tethers of summer, feigning amnesia by the time the first bitterly cold days role around in October. I left Minnesota July 17th, right in the middle of one of the warmest summers that I can recall. Only 48 hours and thousands of miles separated me from winter. Which I was okay with. Summer 2012 and I had a good run. We shared a lot of wonderful times. It brought me closer to family and friends. Plus, winters in Cape Town are nowhere near as brutal as a Minneapolis one.

Despite having resigned myself over to the cold I was about to return, a minor travel crisis let me soak in 4 final days of summer in Paris.  The absurdly long travel time necessary to get back to Cape Town was mostly attributable to a 12-hour layover in Paris. Having read many travel blogs and forums about how to make the most of a long layover in Paris before departing MN, I felt prepared to jet off into the city for a few hours. I decided that rather than museum hopping and bicycle tours, I would just walk. That way, I wouldn’t put myself under any time constraints and I would get some much needed exercise after the long flights from Minneapolis.

The Long Story, Made Short: I missed my flight from Paris to Johannesburg. Admittedly, I was at first terrified. Unable to speak the language, I was left worrying about how I could rearrange my trip to get me back to Cape Town in time for class. I was alone, in a city where I really don’t know many people. After a stressful night spent at Charles de Gaulle, I had booked a ticket out of France for the following Sunday, four days after I was originally supposed to leave. I resolved to make the most of it. No one expects to have their first vacation in Paris alone. Despite that, I was bound and determined to make this trip (and the anxiety of missing a flight) worthwhile.

I purchased a 5-day unlimited pass for riding the trains and buses in Paris. Best decision I could have made. Public transport is a lifeline for Paris, and I was thankful for how extensive the system was. On Friday, I took the train out to Versailles and saw the palace and gardens. Saying it was “big” is a gross understatement. When my brother was attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the entire family went out to visit him. We toured the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC, the largest home in the US built by the tycoon of 19th century transportation, George Washington Vanderbilt, II. That place was big. The Palace of Versailles, where French King Louis XIV moved the Royal court in 1682, made Biltmore look like a New York City apartment that someone on my humble student budget could afford. Words such as magnificent, historical, ostentatious, tragic, absurd, and awesome buzzed through my head while touring it. I was there for 7 hours, which I sat down for maybe 20 minutes of it. There is so much to see and only a fraction of it is housed in the actual palace. The gardens themselves were like a state park. People from the community could park nearby, without having to pay a visit to the residences of the former royalty of France. People taking their dogs for walks, people riding bike, people just out for a hike. The Chateau de Versailles hasn’t always been a place where the public were free to meet. During the French revolution, attacks on the Palace and grounds forced the Royal family to return to Paris. After touring the grounds, I wandered the streets of the village of Versailles, the town that was built up around the palace. Today, it is one of the wealthiest areas in France.

I spent Saturday touring the area of Montmartre in the city of Paris. Many say that Montmartre isn’t what it used to be. Originally disconnected from the city, it has been incorporated into the urban landscape by decades of sprawl. Montmartre made a name for itself in arts and culture, being a place where the likes of August Renoir, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso would call home. The famous Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur are iconic symbols of Montmartre. Here, I experienced the old artists quarters on foot. My favorite part of the day was visiting the Montmartre cemetery, where Alexander Dumas and Renoir are buried. As you would expect, it was quiet, and served as a good retreat from the Disneyland-like streets of the City in July.

On Sunday, my final day in Paris, I arrived into the city around 9:00 am. It was the final day of the Tour de France, yet I had no idea what time the riders were expected to role through and frankly, I wasn’t going to rush myself into another crowd on my last day in Paris. Instead, I spent a while walking around the island of Ill Saint-Louis. Another good decision. It was so quiet and peaceful down there. Paris on a Sunday morning… ahhh. Got myself a latte at a coffee shop nearby. Then, I decided it was about time to shimmy down to the Champ d’Elysees to see how things were coming together for the end of the race. It certainly was busy. Great people watching! I finally walked up to one very popular area for view the end of the race. It was at that huge round-about (“Place de la Concorde”). Super popular because it’s one of the places where you see the bikers go by 8 times. This was at about 11 am. When I asked an English couple nearby what time the riders were expected to show, they said 4-5 pm. I was like, “Well, okay. At least I got a taste of this major event.” I wasn’t about to miss my second flight on account of le Tour de France. Besides, I really don’t follow competitive biking all that much. So I went down and sat on a chair near a fountain. Started reading my book and fell asleep. I awoke from my noon-time sunny slumber au Paris with a hankering for something cool. By god, a gelato stand! They were everywhere. Ordered my cone in French [“Bonjour! Cornet Petit. (Point at desired flavor with unpronounceable name) Merci!!!] Walked down to Invalides, actually read some more. Then decided to wander back to the train station, maybe eat some food and drink on the sidewalk.

On my way back, I saw a crowd really starting to take form along the Seine. I plopped myself amongst them, thinking, “I’ll stay only until 3:30. If the racers don’t come past by then, I’m out of here!” Met a very friendly family from California and another from Toronto. The former offered me sunscreen. By the time 4 pm rolled around, the masses had descended upon where we were standing. It was quite warm (probably about 83 degrees), and the spectators were joined by a battalion of food and beverage vendors. Official tour vehicles were whizzing by us, the world’s fastest and worst parade ever; so much anticipation was building. Standing there, murmurs of “Do you know when they’re coming?” were heard throughout the crowd, repeated in many different languages. At 4:20, I had just about given up hope, nearing the point of retreat. After all, I had a very important plane to catch. Then, a nice French man next to me told me they were in town and would be passing us in 10 minutes. Sure enough, at 4:30, I started hearing cheers erupt from the crowd many blocks away. Then, I heard the video chopper. Time to turn the camera on that I had been holding tightly in my hands for the past hour. Lead cars started coming past as the cheers grew louder. This is it! Aim my camera so as to shoot an epic photo. “Out of Memory” scrolled across the screen of my Nikon. “You got to be kidding me!” I said. The mother of the Californian family said, “Don’t worry! I’ll send you ours!” Instead of deleting a photo of the Montmartre Cemetery or one of the Versailles gardens to create data-room for this moment, I just looked up. And saw the peloton go passed. It was really cool. Although it is a lot of standing for just one brief moment (I didn’t stay to watch the other bikers).

I had experienced an event quite similar to that once in my life before. New Years Eve, 2007, Times Square. Standing 8 hours in the bitter January cold of New York isn’t entirely the same as a beautiful summer day in Paris, but the role of anticipation is similar. A lot of bravado, a lot of build-up for one solitary moment. And then it passes and you’re like, “WHOA! THAT WAS AMAZING! Once in a lifetime experience… that was it?” What I enjoyed most about seeing the Tour de France was the atmosphere around the event and meeting some really delightful people. The whole time in Paris, I had been a bit sad about being alone. It didn’t stop me from experiencing this city for what it’s worth. Still, I can’t help but thinking that this experience would be so much more meaningful if I had someone to share it with. For the first time on my accidental holiday, I felt like I was able to share a bit of Paris with another. Or many, thousands upon thousands of others.

I’ve been thinking a lot  about how I really wasn’t supposed to be there at that time. I wasn’t supposed to be alone for four days in purportedly the most romantic city in the world (Cape Town is a strong contender for that title, though). Even during the course of  my last day there, I had decided that I wasn’t going to watch the race, that it would make me late for my flight. Well, I made it (obv, as I write this from Kloof Street in the city centre of Cape Town). And most of the reason why it was so good because, really, I wasn’t alone. I had so much support from home. The “First Response Team” to my travel crisis recommended places to stay, things to see, and people I could contact. Those people really made this sort of serendipitous experience possible. Physically, I wish I would have been able to share the joys of my final days of summer with them. But they must know they were in my heart.
Let it be known, though, that the next time I wind up in Europe, I aim to make it a little more deliberate. And with a partner. 🙂

There and Back Again (There = MN, Back = CT)

27 Jul

Greetings, blog followers! It certainly has been quite a long time since I last posted. I could blame it on a bevy of things that kept me from visiting the blogosphere at the end of last semester. But I think I’ll utilize this space to document my trip back to the US. I’m glad you’ve stuck with me. 🙂

Many of those reading this entry will be fully aware of my time spent at home in Minnesota for June and July. After the end of the first semester at UCT, I took some time to return back to the States, to attend a number of weddings and experience the summer in the Northern Hemisphere for what it’s worth. A considerable amount of my time was devoted to enjoying the company of family and friends beside the shores of some body of water. Ala true Minnesota-summer fashion. My reentry back to Minnesota closely coincided with the beginning of what is surely to be a devastating heat wave in the United States. Coupled with an unseasonably dry and warm winter as well as low precipitation from the middle of June until now, farmers in the Midwest region of the States are experiencing serious drought and corresponding crop failures. Of course, in the company of Minnesotans, this was talked about in nearly every interaction. Weather is the great equalizer in terms of topics of conversation. However, I didn’t quite expect to be discussing it with South Africans upon my arrival. Nevertheless, it has come up in conversation more than once. The difficulties experience by farmers in the United States have a rippling effect on the global food market. Due to speculation of low crop yields in the world’s highest producer of maize, prices of the grain have risen dramatically. And this translates to a shared struggle all over the world in terms of food. Forgive my oversimplification of global food trade; the point is the world is watching what effect climate is having on middle-America.

While home for the nearly 8 weeks, I also took the opportunity to meet with Rotary clubs throughout the northern reaches of the state. These included Fergus Falls Noon Club, Detroit Lakes Breakfast Club, Ely Club, and, of course, the Pelican Rapids Club. I was warmly received by each one I spoke to. In Ely, The Gateway to the Boundary Water Canoe Are Wilderness, I was given the extreme honor to be featured on a radio show called “End of the Road Trading Post,” airing every weekday on WELY (94.5 FM in the Ely area, streaming online at from 9-10 am. I have to say, my radio debut was quite fun and kept me on my toes (“The fastest hour on radio,” said “Trader” Craig Loughery, the host of the show, past Assistant District Governor for District #5580 and an Ely Rotarian). During the hour, we read advertisements people would call in for either items to sell or items needed for purchases (I described it to family and friends as “Craigslist for the airwaves.”For you South Africans, “Gumtree for the airwaves.”) For instance, my favorite ad, which was not read on-air, went something a little like this:

“FREE! Foosball table. Like-New condition. You can pick it up at the end of the dock. We live on Lake Vermillion”

Craig peppered in questions to me about my Ambassadorial experience in South Africa. It was a great opportunity to talk about my studies in Cape Town as well as my impressions of the country. It served additionally as some (hopefully) good PR for the Rotary clubs in District #5580 and the Ambassadorial Scholarship!

I arrived back to Cape Town on Monday after a four-day impromptu layover in Paris (stay tuned for that installment). Classes have begun for the second semester already, and I have been busy working on my research project for my Masters. It is titled “The Role of Land Reform and Rural Development in Sustaining Small-Scale Agriculture,” and seeks to study the impacts of a particular program implemented by the South African government in a number of rural areas throughout the country with regards to food security.

With the semester already under way, I have a feeling these next few months will speed past even more quickly than the last 6 have. I am grateful to have a life established in Cape Town already. Returning from home, I knew what was here, busily thriving while I was away. I am blessed with the company of many friends, and have the support of the wonderful people in the Pinelands Rotary Club.

My mom, Denise, and boyfriend, Nate, creating a “proper” braai pit on the site where our old wooden barn stood using cinder blocks and rebar found in my parents’ yard. Pelican Rapids, MN. June 2, 2012.

Here’s to the next chapter!

My Friends, The Animals

9 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding the Jammie bus (UCT’s shuttle service for students, staff, and faculty) from the main campus back into the City Bowl where I reside. Our commute takes us onto two of the busiest highways in Cape Town (the M3 and the N2) at the height of rush hour. While the Jammie slowly worked its way down the highway, carrying the very heavy load of about 70 students, I looked up from my book and gazed up the side of Devil’s Peak, the mountain that flanks our ride into Cape Town proper. And there, right at the side of the very busy N2, a herd of Cape Zebras were grazing on the side of the mountain! No big deal; just another traffic jam in South Africa. Also living around the mountains here are baboons and a leopard species. And if you go a little further down the cape peninsula, you will see… Penguins! A couple of weekends ago, I made plans with some friends (fellow Rotary scholar Rachel from D.C. and her husband, Jeff) to attend a Afro-infused jazz festival in Muizenberg, a suburb of Cape Town renowned for its beaches on the Indian Ocean. We boarded the train in the City Centre around 10 am. One very short hour later, we were in Muizenberg, but after exchanging brief glances, we decided to stay on the train, letting it take us to the colony of Cape penguins that live in Simon’s Town. After taking the train, boarding a bus, and walking nearly a mile, we reached the national park on the shores of the Indian Ocean that is home to the most adorable group of little birds you’ll ever see. Check it out!

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Simon’s Town was a very interesting place to visit. It is a quaint community at the far end of the rail line, home to the South African Navy. For those of you familiar with District 5580 and Minnesota, it reminded me a lot of Duluth. Many small, independently owned shops, art galleries, museums, not to mention being hugged by one massive body of water and a high (very high in the case of Simon’s Town) hill. Small towns and villages pepper the Cape Peninsula, making it easy for a person like me living in the heart of the city to get a taste of some “rural” living without traveling so far. The camp I chaperoned was just up the road from Simon’s Town, in the community of Glencairn. Having been raised in a very small town, I am eager to visit rural areas throughout South Africa.

If It’s To Be, It’s Up To Me…

24 Mar

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being the female lead for a youth camp sponsored by Rotary. The camp, located in a small town south of Cape Town called Glencairn, is part of the selection process for a Rotary program called STEP (short-term exchange program). STEP provides an opportunity for young adults to go abroad for up to two months. The students can travel to Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Turkey, Hungary, India, Switzerland, and Brazil. During the short-term exchange, students will live with a host family during the summer holiday (December-January) and are expected to engage with their hosts and immerse themselves in their culture. Prior to leaving, their host family will send one of their children to South Africa during June-July, and they will live with a family here. Sort of like an international child swap. I didn’t know much about the program prior to arriving but was very glad to have the opportunity to learn about another type of Rotary global exchange. James Robertson, the coordinator of the camp and one of the “next generation” of Rotarians (he’s 27) approached me about 2 weeks ago about leading by the suggestion Dez, one of the Pinelands Rotarians. Full disclosure: I had never worked at a camp before but have enough experience working with youth that I felt comfortable enough to say “yes”. I am so happy I did. The setting was stunning, as you can see in the pictures, and I was able to meet some smart, vivacious, and charming high schoolers from all over the region. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did! The students have more camps to attend in the future before their departure, and I hope to be a part of the process down the line.

At the camp, we had a mantra we kept repeating over and over to the kids: If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me. What we told our campers was that sometimes when you’re abroad on one of these exchanges, things don’t always necessarily work out. You will find yourself in awkward and tough situations. But rather than throwing your hands up and thinking things are out of your control, you must make the most of a situation. Say you lose your bags in a foreign airport… What do you do? Or your host family doesn’t want to take you to go see any cultural attractions. Or your homesickness seems insurmountable. In those moments, it’s up to you to make the experience you want to have, to be bold and step out of your comfort zone. Those moments where you take control tend to be the most memorable and those are the situations that lend themselves to letting you grow and learn more about yourself and what you’re actually capable of. For me, as a 25- year old with a little bit of traveling under my belt, those words struck a cord with me. I thought about when I was in India on a study abroad program. During our stay in Goa, our group of 18 was split into 3 smaller groups for field sights. I was placed with a group of my close female friends to study local fisheries. One day, we piled into a car, driven to a fishing town, dropped off at a hotel and were told we would be collected in four days time. And then, our guide, the man we allegedly thought was going to be our instructor for our field study, the guy who drove us all the way there, left. Six 19-22 year old women, together, on a beach, in Goa. We were admittedly stricken with panic. We had no contacts, didn’t speak the local language, didn’t know where to eat, weren’t given enough money to buy food, and were a bit vulnerable. On top of that, we were supposed to learn something about traditional fishing. So we walked down the street, into a tavern, ordered food and Kingfishers, and over the sound of a cricket match on the television, we devised our plan. We resolved to wake-up at sunrise the next morning, the time that we knew the fisherman would be going out for the day. We would interview people on the beach, follow the catch from the boat to the beach to the market, and would go try some traditional Goan fish curry. The next morning, we awoke to see a spectacular sunrise and wandered to the ocean. There we found a group of young Indian men playing cricket. They invited us to play while we waited for the boats to come in. When the boats did come in, we were able to help drag the nets onto the shore. Talk about self-directed learning! We would have never had those experiences if things had worked out “as they ought to have.” I think “if it’s to be, it’s up to me” is applicable in so many other things in life outside of international travel, too. It was a particularly good message to hear as I contemplate what kind of experience I want to have in South Africa and with Rotary.

I was surprised and very, very touched at how, after only about 60 some hours, I bonded so closely with the students. It was encouraging to see them connect with each other throughout the course of the weekend. They were a very cohesive group and extremely well-behaved. James’ tireless work leading up to the weekend and during our camp was inspiring. That man has put in countless hours for the benefit of those kids, without asking anything in return. He represents the values of Rotary to the core and is a hopeful beacon for the future of Rotary. I hope he extends the invitation for next year.

Here is a line-up of some of the photos I took during the weekend; apologies about the formatting with the text. I guess a clear format just wasn’t meant to be. 🙂


7 Mar

On Monday evening at the weekly Pinelands Rotary Club, I participated in a really intriguing conversation (good discussion is a hallmark of anytime spent with a Rotarian) about social media. My table at dinner included two Rotarians, Brian and Melody, and a friend of Pinelands named Danie, all equipped with varying degrees of technoliteracy. We marveled about how sites like facebook and Twitter have the peerless ability to connect people who have been temporally and spatially separated for quite some time. I keep up-to-date on people who attended the same 2-day yearbook camp as me in 2004 at North Dakota State College of Science, for crying out loud! When Muammar Gaddafi was killed and during the 2011 Norway attacks, I didn’t go to the Google news feed to see what was happening, but rather logged into Twitter. Sure, facebook and the Twitterverse are steeped in mundane posts about people’s breakfasts while simultaneously functioning as Productivity Enemy #1, but when something big happens, they are incredible tools for keeping people privy to what’s really going on in the world, as told by those who experience it. So, I got to thinking about my fledgling blog, the platform that I’ve created thanks to the World Wide Web to tell the world, particularly those in MN, about South Africa. How neglectful I’ve been! I would be lying if I said this wasn’t one of the craziest months of my life. It has been. Busy through and through. Only within the last week have I settled down into my own accommodations near the center of the city. Only now have I had the wherewithal (and the motivation thanks to Danie, Melody, and Brian!) to revisit my blog. And I now have to confront that difficult task of trying to explain all that has happened in this last eye-opening month. My neglect started off small and benign enough; I would convince myself that today would be the day I posted to my blog. And then would find myself, a day later, again! Working towards the crescendo of one glorious blog post! The best one yet! And this happens over and over until, a month flies by, and you haven’t visited your blog. So this paralysis follows. What do I tell them first? Which days were good enough to go into great detail and which ones can I gloss over? Where do you start to retell the last 30 days in one of the most beautiful yet complex places in the world? How about I tell you what I had for dinner tonight? Sounds good? Okay. So in an effort to end my communication paralysis, here it goes: Brown rice, a sauteed vegetable concoction, and butternut squash (they simply love their butternut over here!).

This past month has been filled with coursework, volunteering, Rotary, and a reasonable amount of socializing. Also, like I mentioned earlier, I said goodbye to Pinelands and the hospitality of Bev and moved into my own place in Gardens, a very nice area near the central business district in Cape Town. I simply love this area. It’s a 7 minute walk for me to get to the downtown campus, called Hiddingh, where I catch the “Jammie” (the UCT campus shuttle). Fifteen minutes later, I’m on the main campus and ready to head to class. Since I don’t have a vehicle here yet (although I’ve been getting suggestions, some subtle and others not so much, that I should acquire a set of wheels), I rely not only on the Jammie but a wide variety of public transport provided in the city. Not to mention my friends and countless Rotarians who do have cars and are willing to cart me around. Metered taxis are my lifeline now; they get you anywhere but for a pretty steep cost. When a cheap ride is needed, I hop into a “minibus” with my fearless friend Julia and for under $1, we can get from campus to the Waterfront. The minibuses are about the size of an Aerostar van, seating sometimes 15-18 people. The drivers tend to be quite cheeky when it comes to driving and certainly abide by more of a philosophy of driving, rather than to a specific set of laws. All in all, not my favorite mode of travel but cheap and you can meet a lot of interesting people on a minibus. I have not taken the trains or the city bus yet; I’ve heard only good things about the bus, not so much about the trains. There is your occasional commuter on their bike, but not often. As far as the roads go, I’ve been very impressed. I mentioned to Bev the first night I was in CT that the quality of the roads was phenomenal. No potholes! No giant crevasses in the middle of the street! Much of the sound infrastructure here is a legacy of the 2010 World Cup. A lot of money was invested to make this city more inhabitable and navigable for spectators. The large symbol of the World Cup games is the stadium which is nestled down by the water, and to many who I have spoken with, is a large “elephant in the room”. Some think it’s just hideous, others are more concerned that this massive and very expensive building really hasn’t hosted many large crowd-drawing events outside of a U2 concert last year. It’s a pity, and I’m not sure what’s being done to utilize that building. Regardless, it’s a pretty stunning building on a gorgeous piece of real estate in Cape Town.

If one is to talk about spatial legacies in Cape Town and South Africa, you cannot do so without looking at Group Areas Act. Under the Apartheid, 3 acts were formulated that assigned residential and business sectors according to racial identities. In 1950, the first act was carried out. What this led to was systematically reinforced racial segregation where blacks and coloreds were forcibly removed from there homes and relocated to the outskirts of the city. District 6 is one very famous example of this ( The acts, along with a host of other discriminatory laws, were repealed in 1991, but today,  you are still able to see the long-lasting effects of this policy. The places that were chosen for resettlement by the Apartheid government were not desirable places to live. They tended to be situated on fields of sand and in the flatest part of the cape where some of the strongest winds blow threw (the “Cape Flats”). To this day, the Cape Flats are predominantly poor black areas. Last Friday, I started volunteering with a urban agriculture organization called Abalimi Bezekhaya. I was sent to garden with a group of 7 women who collectively operated a community garden in Gugulethu, a township where people who were displaced through the Group Areas Act resettled. Right now, it’s a very, very dry time in the garden. There hasn’t been a proper rain for some time. If the fields hadn’t been irrigated, the soil would be bone-dry sand. Like if you were on a beach. But still! What a glorious garden! “You must come back in the winter! That’s when the garden’s green and prettiest!” Mama Shamba, one of the 7 managers, said to me. I will of course be back. But I’m starting to realize I have a lot to learn about farming and food production on the Cape. It’s not just a different hemisphere and growing zone. It’s an entirely different social context that needs careful thought and patience to navigate.

So there is a smattering of what I’ve been up to. Stick with me. More adventures to come. Also, my good friend, surrogate Capetonian dad and Rotarian suggested having guest bloggers, to give you all a whole variety of perspectives about life in Cape Town. He’s even offered to write the first one! Stay tuned to hear from the one and only, Terence Matzdorff!

Many blessings,


How to Have a Field Trip In Africa

15 Feb

Barely after the dust of registration had cleared last week, I was off on a camping field trip with my Masters class. We had an overnight stay at Silvermine Reserve in Table Mountain National Park. For those of you who don’t know, Cape Town shares a peninsula with a 62,000 acre national park with some of the highest biodiversity in the world. Nine students went on the trip, accompanied by our fearless and intrepid leader and instructor, Dr. Pippin Anderson. The objective was to mainly have all of the Masters class meet prior to courses starting, but also to start putting us in the academic mindset. For most of us, work and other non-school activities have consumed our lives for the past few years, so it was an apt opportunity for us to try to ease back into academia.

Like any good field trip, ours began at the local bottle shop. The particular liquor store we visited was in Steenberg, situated near South Africa’s largest maximum security prison. It was nestled in this cute little strip mall with a grocery store called Pick ‘n Pay (a large chain here equivalent to a Rainbow Foods in MN), a salon, a veterinarian, among others. The prison was basically adjacent to this shopping center and right in the heart of the suburb. The planning in this city keeps me on my toes. We climbed up the mountain in our large VW van and made it to our campsite, complete with a fire area for a nice “braai” (a common social event here centered around the grill), a large kitchen, showers, toilets, and 5 timber huts for sleeping. After settling down, we took off for a nearly 4 hour hike up, down, and around Table Mountain. Pippin led us in ecological explorations of the flora found in the area. During the interpretative hike, I learned about fynbos (pronounced here as “fane-boss”; Afrikaans for “fine bush”), a shrubland vegetation unique to this part of South Africa. The fynbos has been threatened by invasive species from Europe and Australia along with the pressures of human development, and many species that constitute fynbos either extinct or have become endangered. The picture included shows some nice fynbos in the foreground, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. During the course of the field trip, we looked at ways in which people are trying to foster the growth of fynbos, not only on the mountain within the park but across the cityscape as well.

It didn’t take long to smell the pines. Being from northern Minnesota, where the odor of coniferous sap is analogous to getting warm embrace from nature, my nose is especially calibrated to sense it. The pines I saw were tall and probably pretty old. We were told that the pines we see here are not native and were actually brought by the Dutch to provide material for building and fuel to move their ships as they explored the seas. Now, vast portions of Table Mountain along with some suburbs are covered in pine trees. Many people appreciate the aesthetic benefits they get from the pines; they provide shade in an awfully warm climate and are a nice place to walk your dog. No doubt some ecological benefits come from the trees being a habitat for many other critters. There is also the economic incentive for having the pines through the logging trade. Unfortunately, these plants outcompete indigenous plants for moisture and have the ability to dramatically alter soil chemistry in a region. In a place like the Cape, conservation is a huge issue considering how much biodiversity is located in this relatively small chunk of land. For these reasons, conservationists and citizens alike have called for the mass removal of pines in Cape Town. That is not to say these efforts have not been met with resistance. This city and the surrounding region is widely diverse in so many ways, and this includes diversity in the values we hold in regard to the environment around us. Ongoing efforts are trying to reconcile sound ecology with human value systems. One such compromise is that for every plot of pines removed, a small portion is saved for the pinelands. I have to say, it was rather bizarre to look at these rows and rows of cultivated trees. If you kept the mountain to your back and you squinted just slightly, it looked just like Bemidji, Perham, Park Rapids, or the great, wonderful forests in MN. But it wasn’t. And there is no Paul Bunyan here to manage these larger-than-life forestry issues. It’s up to the people.

After our hike, we had time to read an academic paper and discuss it in our rustic kitchen back at camp. Then, we braai’ed. So the word braaicomes from Afrikaans, and means grill or barbecue (Afrikaans is a language that is spoken in South Africa, Namibia and in small pockets across southern Africa and has its roots in Dutch; 13% of the South African population are native speakers and it is the third most spoken tongue in the country). It was my first and only braai, so I don’t feel quite like I’m the expert on it, but I can say what we ate. Marinated chicken on kabobs and butternut squash cut in half and wrapped in tinfoil. We laid these both over our open fire (braai’ing in also done on a Weber or the like) and then chatted while we waited for everything to cook. It was fabulous! We ended the night singing songs and enjoying some good South African wines.

The following day, we got up and visited the parts of the city we saw the previous day while perched on the mountain. We visited the beach, watched a fishing net come in, stopped by nearby lakes or “vleis”, and checked out some really inventive conversation projects happening in this growing urban area. We shared a lunch underneath, you guessed it, some pines while the winds from the the flats blew dust into our sandwiches. “Boy Scout Salt and Pepper” is what I told my classmates dirt is called when you’re camping “Up North”.

I’m very thankful that this trip was organized and that I had the wherewithal to attend it. We had a great opportunity to meet each other and for me as a totally new addition to Cape Town, it was a wonderful introductory session to life here. I said multiple times that evening that this trip would rival all others as the best field trip ever (I still maintain that my Waste Water Treatment field trip in St. Peter is right up there). Now, classes have started, but I believe we’re all getting together again on Friday for “Sundowners” (an event where people get together to have cocktails and watch the sun sink beneath the horizon). May the legacy of the Silvermine Camping Extravaganza 2012 live on!

Many blessings to you,