Archive | March, 2012

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. 🙂

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#StickWithMe

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 (http://www.districtsix.co.za/). 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,

ang