Monday, 1 August 2011

August 1

It has been a week since the students left Cape Town.
Abe, Cristi, Jared, Jen, Julian, Kevin, Kim, Michael, Natalie, PK, Sarah, Sasha, Saznin, Valerie.  Other than a couple who I knew as advisees, and another pair who had been in my class this past fall, they were new acquaintances to me, and largely to each other.

But in their time in South Africa and the week since they left, as I have followed up on their work, I continue to learn more and more about them: 
  • From their reflections over the six weeks, where many of them spoke thoughtfully of paradoxes they had not anticipated even among the ones for which they had tried to prepare themselves.
  • From their work in the classroom, where Dr. Chris Colvin did not allow them to take what they knew for granted, and made an awareness of the "unknown unknowns" an important focus of their learning - everything from the differences in the three clicks of the isiXhosa language, to the effect that one woman can have on her community just by making space in her garage for local children.  The students, in turn, pushed him right back, wanting to know more about the South African health care system, and about the CBOs that they were assigned to learn from.
  • From what I saw of their work at their community sites - a presentation to 100+ recovering drug addicts, (many) a soccer game with young TB patients, a table cluttered with computers and data in a cold back room loaned by a church as their office, comprehensive reporting on family policies across sub-Saharan Africa, and patient, pensive observation and action in response to a request for recommendations from an overcrowded clinic.
  • From their supervisors, who used words like "wonderful", "passion", "dedication", "valuable", "bright", "willing", "enthusiastic", "self-motivated", and "collaborative" to describe the internships and the interns.  As well as "sad to see them go"!
  • And, of course, from the images, and thus the stories, they both take with them and leave behind...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Seriously Jaw-some Day!

When I first found out I was travelling to Cape Town, I immediately envisioned myself doing two things—climbing Table Mountain and cage diving with Great Whites.  When it comes to adventures, I’m a pretty motivated person, so with the help of my leftover birthday money, I set off on a cage diving adventure. 
At 8:45am, ten of us piled into a van, with our knowledgeable tour guides, Hilton and Arlene, and of course some pre-shark diving jitters, and headed off to Gansbaii.  The two and a half hour drive was nothing short of breathtaking.  As we drove along the coastline of False Bay, we got to see baboons running along the road and even a whale out at sea! 
When we finally arrived at the venue, I was so excited I just wanted to get on the boat and go! After a quick lunch and a short presentation on great whites, we were off—in our bright orange raincoats.

The ride out to our final destination was filled with beautiful scenery and the smell of the open ocean, but we couldn’t wait to see our first dorsal fin—and then there it was!

All I could think as I stared at the great whites circling our ship was “Is this real life?”  I’ll allow some pictures to speak for themselves—
 As I watched group after group enter the cage, I became more and more excited.  I just could not wait any longer to get in the water, no matter how cold it was! So a few of us zipped up our wetsuits, put on our water shoes, and hopped in.  It is impossible to describe the feeling I got in my stomach or how fast my heart was racing when I watched a great white, jaws opened wide, swimming directly toward me.  I actually screamed out loud underwater, “OH MY GOD!” when I took the following picture:
The entire experience was unreal, plus we got some great pictures of a few of us in the cage—

After everyone had their chance to get in the cage, the boat headed toward the Gansbaii version of Seal Island.  It was just that—a very small island that is home to what seemed like a million seals.  I’ve never seen—or smelled--so many seals.  It smelled like a million wet dogs.  Needless to say, when the sharks hang around this island, they never go hungry. 

The day came to a close as we headed back to shore.  All of us were exhausted and in need of a shower, but excited to tell our tale to the remainder of our group when we got home.  It was a phenomenal experience overall, and I would highly recommend seeing these magnificent creatures up close!
Stay tuned for my account of our climb to the top of Table Mountain!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Zwelethemba, you have stolen my heart. Your sandy paths, mountain silhouettes, laughing children, and quiet survivors will stay with me forever.

Zwelethemba is a township on the outskirts of Cape Town in Worcester, which is about an hour and half away from UCT. We arrived Friday afternoon and met our homestay mothers. Valerie and I were paired with Nothemba, an elderly woman with a huge smile on her face. When she took us to her tiny brick house, we were surprised to see the number of children running in and out all day long.

When we first met Nothemba, she had three children and ten grandchildren. But by the time we departed, she only had two children. During our first night in Zwelethemba, Valerie and I awoke at midnight to chanting, singing, and praying. We were confused and slightly scared but decided to not leave our room. But in the morning, we were told that Nothemba’s daughter had passed away in the night. This was not the first child she had lost. This daughter left a pair of twins just learning to walk and a five-year-old son, Iviwe. Nothemba had already been taking care of these children, as her daughter had been sick for a year. The previous night Nothemba told us how she was getting old, and she was tired of taking care of so many children. I counted seven roaming around and coming in and out of the house throughout the day and I wondered how many actually lived with her.

After breakfast we were quickly transferred to another mother, because funeral preparations had to be made. The furniture was moved as neighbors, family members, and even Nothemba’s ex-husband visited her and offered their condolences. But no one uttered a word of how Nothemba’s daughter died.  

Curious, I asked Olga, our second homestay mother, how Nothemba’s daughter died, but she did not answer. Later on, I heard it was AIDS and that she had refused treatment. She had refused to fight the death sentence. She had refused to care for her children. At our HIV panel that afternoon, a healthy, HIV positive woman adherent to treatment told us how she refused to become a victim of the death sentence, how she found the courage to disclose to others, and how she would continue to fight for the sake of her children.

For weeks I was working at an HIV clinic where I met patients testing positive for HIV, starting treatment, and either adhering to or defaulting treatment. Finally, I was put into a house with a family that experienced death from the virus. My experiences with HIV went from reading about it in medical journals at Hopkins to seeing it in a personal matter that I could never have imagined would occur on this trip.

On our arrival to Olga’s house, which was a minute walk from Nothemba’s, I was surprised by how quiet our second homestay was. Olga’s concrete house was much larger and did not have the dirt of children’s games smeared on the walls. And after a few hours of talking with Olga, I realized her stories painted a different picture.

Olga was a victim of the 1996 Shoprite bombing in Zwelethemba. A young, white man by the name of Stefaans Cotzee had worked with others to plant a bomb at the store where many black South Africans like Olga did their general shopping. After the bombing, she spent a year at the hospital receiving treatment on her badly damaged legs. The sound of the blast had also damaged her ears. The memories of the incident still keep her up every night and as a result, she can only sleep for a couple of hours.

Olga stands in front of her previous home during a tour of her old neighborhood.

Years later Olga heard from two German journalists that the perpetrators of the bombing had been caught and sentenced without her knowledge. With their help, Olga went to Pretoria Prison to visit Stefaans. There she was stunned to see a 31 year young man, when, for so long she had imagined him to be much older. When she asked him what he would give in return for her forgiveness, he could promise nothing for he had nothing. She was satisfied with this answer and so she forgave him. I never witnessed the meaning, the power, or the simplicity of forgiveness until I came to South Africa.

Because of the injuries from the bombing, Olga could no longer work or financially provide for her children and so her husband’s family took in her children. Her husband died in a hit and run accident a few years ago and the compensation she received in court for his wrongful death was used to build her house. Before she moved here, she lived fifteen minutes away in a tin shack with no electricity or running water. But even now that she has a roof over her head, she cannot pay the municipality bills. She will have to go to court soon to settle this or they will cut off her electricity and water. She showed us all the papers, including her court summons.

There are only two light bulbs inside the house, one in the hallway and one in the kitchen, and so we ate dinner in the dark in the living room. At dinner, Olga quietly confided in us that she is amazed that she is able to put food on her table. She has no job, children who look in after her, just friendly neighbors. She told us to take as much as we wanted and not to worry about her because she is a small eater. I know that she will save the leftovers for as long as she can because the money she gets from being a homestay mother is not much. This is not a meal where you take seconds.

Later that night, when everyone else went to the shebine, I sat down with Olga and gave her a small gift and she held me and started crying. Apparently, she had been living in the house for the past two days with no food. She is frail, lonely, and has no way of leaving Zwelethemba. If she leaves, where will she go? What kind of work can she find? What will happen to her house? She does not know and therefore, she does not leave. She said I was a miracle, because of the gift I had given her. She insisted I must have been a miracle, sent from both God and her friend Nothemba. She was losing faith in God the night before, and God was the only thing she had left. 

As we left Zwelethemba the next day, Olga gave us many hugs and kisses, but she repeated that once again she will be all alone. The only comforting thing I came up with was to tell her that she had God by her side and when you have God you are never alone. She went off to church to pray for us.

As we waited for the van to pick us up, I saw Iviwe again. He is a naughty kid, who always makes trouble, but he still smiles genuinely every now and then and he is most relaxed when he is held. I asked Nothemba if he knows his mother has passed away. She said yes but he does not care much because she never took care of him.

As we said goodbye, Nothemba handed us a copy of her book, Not the End of the World, and I put it with my copy of Olga’s story that she had given me. Within the first few pages of Nothemba’s book, I learn that her name means hope.

The children of Zwelethemba, who have come to know our faces and love our presence in only three days, ran over to say goodbye. They love running their fingers through our hair, braiding and twisting it. They love throwing around Abe’s football, dancing with Sasha, and making funny faces with Jen. But most of all, they love running to us as we stroll the streets of Zwelethemba and fighting over who gets to hold our hands. I saw Ano with watery eyes as she asked me when I’ll come back and I told her that I don’t think I can. She came back with a tiny plastic bag with a sticker and a button. She wanted to give me a gift and that’s all she had. I hugged four-year-old Thama one last time, and in Valerie’s arm she sang a song in Xhosa after I had asked many times to hear her sing. As we drove off, Valerie asked me, how can they love us so much so quickly when we have done nothing for them. I reply that kids get attached easily and our presence, our games, our laps and shoulders provided an escape from their daily routines and households where parents were busy, neglectful, or absent.

The truth is, memories of the view of Table Mountain, the breathtaking scenery of the Cape Peninsula, and dinners at exotic restaurants will probably fade, but I cannot imagine forgetting the people I have met in South Africa. The people and stories of Zwelethemba will especially always stay with me.    

Sarah Islam
PHS 2012

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Getting to the Point

Cape Point, that is!
On Saturday, July 2nd, we piled into the van with our able driver, Chris, and headed South - to the very South-western tip of the continent, as we would soon see.
We started with a drive through beautiful Hout Bay, which was most beautiful from a vantage point at Chapman's Peak for photos...I know I am not alone when I say that it was then that I wished we were here in January so that we could have dived in to enjoy the water lapping at the shore!

From there, we moved on to the Cape Point Nature Reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park, which stretches from the north end of Table Mountain (which 9 of the students hiked the next day, I might add!  But that is another story...) all the way down to the Cape of Good Hope, which had originally been called the Cape of Storms.  Highlights of the Point include the original lighthouse, quite high on the peak, built in 1857, and the secondary light house, erected in 1911 when it was finally clear that the original was simply not doing its job!  It was too often completely obscured by clouds and fog to be of any use. 
Then on to the Cape of Good Hope!  We did, of course, HAVE to have a group shot there.

Onward up the eastern coast of the Cape, with a stop at Boulders Beach where the African (aka jackass) penguins are little fazed by the attention of the paparazzi, and were happy to show off for us their fuzzy young ones, much to our delight!

And a final stop at Kalky's, a good old fashioned fish 'n chip joint with live music, the smell of the sea, and hake, yellowtail, and calamari that simply couldn't be any fresher.  A real highlight, and a recipe for a full belly after a long day of dramatic scenery!  Yum.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Site visit - Yabonga!

Material resources, raw personal commitment, and experience: in a very basic sense, they’re the three fundamental elements on which many public health ventures are founded. Ideally, dedicated and trained staffers work in pristine facilities, distributing baby formula, scheduling shots, or explaining STI prevention. Frequently, though, one finds a partial admixture of the three. The employees may have little experience in public speaking. Or maybe they’re interns who aren’t fluent in the local language. Or they work in a crumbling structure hardly able to cope with the crowds who need help.

Last Thursday offered a view into the different sorts of arrangements that can exist, as we visited two sites in the township of Samora Machel. The first was a clinic overseen by Yabonga, a local organization that offers a range of services but that focuses largely on AIDS transmission and therapy. Most of the staffers are in fact HIV-positive, and are thus able to partially dissolve, through their very presence and energy, suspicions that AIDS is simply incurable. In speaking about their experiences, moreover, they attempt to dispel the powerful local stigmas surrounding the virus. While we were there, we also saw an educator speaking to a group of new mothers, who were gathered in a relatively spacious waiting room that doubles as a lecture hall. The picture was generally rather impressive: committed, experienced individuals working in a healthy environment, replete with colorful posters and posted reminders.

But a second stop revealed that significant contributions can also be made in the absence of splashy resources. A few blocks from the clinic, a local woman ran a safe house for roughly 25 local kids between the ages of 5 and 13. Safe house, though, is perhaps overly generous: it was a single, low-ceilinged room at the back of a small township abode, erected directly on the sand dunes of the Cape Flats. We pressed to see, but the room could only house about nine adults at a time. And instead of featuring professionally produced posters, the walls were hung with handmade illustrations, and a few handwritten songs. Overseen by a single female volunteer, the room embodied a sense of necessary modesty.

Was the second site thus less significant, or less effective, than the first? Not, it seemed, if judged by its goals: not for a preteen surrounded by violence, or for a seven-year-old whose father worked in the distant city and whose mother was attending a lecture at the clinic. Sure, it had less in the way of resources. But the sheer commitment of its overseer, and her clear experience in entertaining children, seemed to go a long way in offsetting the limitations of the structure in which she worked.

Guest blogger: Kerr Houston

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Turkish Delights!

            After a riveting evening lecture on the Apartheid by UCT's Professor Charles Villa-Vicencio, what better a way to continue exploring different cultures than to dine at an authentic Turkish restaurant? Six among our group chose to do just that, and all were thrilled by the delectable supper experience.
            A taxi ride into Green Point and a short walk down the street brought us to the heavily-mirrored entrance of Anatoli’s, a venue that Natalie Stein had discovered in a guidebook. More mirrors guided us into the main dining area, where our host seated us at a long table covered with white paper and lit, almost romantically, by a single candle. Promptly, our jovial server brought tall glasses of water and offered us a large tray that buckled under the weight of a smorgasbord of different appetizers, from which we eagerly selected a half-dozen dishes. Grilled cheese, potato pastries, octopus, meatballs—as we sampled our choices, we deemed the variety of flavors and textures marvelous. Meanwhile, the server slid sliced hot loaves of bread directly onto the table (hence the necessity of the paper covering), and we broke off chunks of this crispy staple to complement our appetizers.
            Although several among us claimed that their stomachs were already satisfied up to this point, the best was indeed yet to come. Our appetites successfully whetted, the server invited us into the kitchen, where we saw samples of the available entrees—including mince-filled pasta shells, lamb stew, baked eggplant with pine nuts, and kabobs of several species skewered across daggers. Each person indicated which of the delicious-looking creations was most to their liking, and we waited at our table until the main course made its grand entrance. Words cannot accurately describe the incredible tastes we experienced as we savored our dinner, but rest assured that this food delivered to us an absolutely fantastic introduction to Turkish cuisine.
            Full to bursting though we were, we simply could not resist indulging in the desserts that our server offered on another large tray. One baklava, one rice pudding, and one flan-like custard later, our group unanimously felt that we had completed our evening in one of the most savory and enjoyable ways imaginable. Exiting the restaurant and accepting the final, final ingredient of the experience—lokum candy—at the door, no words but praise and gratitude escaped our very content mouths.

-Michael Dawedeit

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The one and only Robben Island

Fact: Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years of confinement.
Fact: Many many other people were imprisoned here, and the Island museum does a great job of reminding you of this important reality! 
Fact: Robben (which means 'seal' in Dutch for the many of them in Table Bay) Island was used starting in 1657!  From then until 1846 it held slaves who quarried rock for structures in the City as punishment.  There are 3 quarries on the Island.

Other things you may not know:
RI was a leper colony starting in the mid-1800's until 1932 when the cure became more widely dispersed - there is still a church there, called both the Leper Church and the Church of the Good Shepherd, that remains in use from that time.

Another church on the Island is open to the public on February 14th each year - this year, 23 couples were married there on that day!

Around 190 staff and their families live on the island, including former convicts AND former guards. Side by side...

During WWII, Britain used RI, and other sites around Cape Town, as lookout points, and various gun turrets remain.  After WWII, it was used for black political prisoners from around 1960 to the early 90's.  It was then reopened as a museum in 1997.  That year, Hilary Clinton visited as first lady, with a rather memorable mishap.  Seeing as how she would be touring the island with a number of other dignitaries, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu among them, a Mercedes van was airlifted by helicopter to the island to improve the comfort of their tour...but midway across the water, one of the support ropes tore, dropping the van into the water!  So they took a regular tour bus, just like the rest of us...

Our tour guide was a former inmate, imprisoned for 18 years with a nasty cough that is probably attributable to his work in the limestone quarry.  He was full of stories of torture and random acts of violence.  He also spoke of how Mandela was often singled out for better treatment which he always refused, gaining the begrudging respect of many on the warden's staff, and the unblemished alliance of the rest of the inmates.  We learned about the Sobukwe Clause, the unjust continuation of Robert Sobukwe's imprisonment after the completion of his sentence, and his family's (wife and four children!) two week visit with him while he was otherwise held in solitary confinement. Meanwhile Parliamentarians and prison staff played golf on the links just over the fence...

In short, we learned a great deal, but there is so much more for you to learn when you visit yourself!

Monday, 27 June 2011


One of our more colorful group excursions so far took us to Bo-Kaap, a small district near the historical center of Cape Town that has long been the heart of the local Muslim community. Our pleasant tour guide, Bilqees – who has been active for a number of years in preserving the neighborhood’s character and history – began by showing us the site of a tree that long stood above the block on which the city’s slaves were bought and sold. Many of those slaves were brought to the Cape from India and Eastern Africa, and some were lodged in the slave lodge, which has been restored and is now a handsome museum. As they were forcibly brought here, though, the slaves often brought a number of traditions with them, and one can still see the traces of that history in the prominence of turmeric in the local cuisine, in the heterogeneous Afrikaans dialect, and in the several minarets that rise above Bo-Kaap. Bilqees led us toward the most famous of those, and we were soon standing in the cool prayer hall of the Auwal – or first, in Arabic – mosque, which began to host services in the late 1700s. A few minutes later, she took us to a local grocery, where she showed us a range of spices for sale, and we then walked along a street of brightly painted facades to a locally famous quarry, where an early imam had delivered a number of sermons to the local faithful despite Dutch prohibitions regarding public preaching. Finally, we were invited into the home of a local woman, who had prepared a generous lunch of curried chicken, rice, and a custard with a dash of cinnamon. We left with full stomachs and a much better sense of the neighborhood, which may occupy a relatively small area on maps of Cape Town, but is clearly a rich and deeply significant site in the city’s history.

~ Guest blogger: Kerr Houston (Lisa's husband)

Cape Town

Well, in the interest of getting up to speed, let me recap some of our first 2 weeks in Cape Town rather quickly...
We left Johannesburg on Sunday, June 12th - an early drive to the airport, and very smooth flight and transition to the University of Cape Town campus (including a MUCH roomier bus...nice!).  The group was ushered into Fuller Hall, their residence for the program where each of them has a room to him or herself, and we were shown the very imposing wood-paneled dining hall, and the even more Hogwarts-like Common Room with a breathtaking view of the valley below campus. 
(yes, that's my photo - it's pretty easy to take a good one on a Sunday day on campus!)
Monday morning, UCT ID cards for access to the gym and library, and an orientation with Ms. Angela Mias, our Community Coordinator, who has worked hard to ensure that the students will have an enriching internship experience.  That afternoon we went, as a group, to several of the Cape Town townships, to get a glimpse of the context in which many of them will be working.  Beginning in the small but impressive District 6 Museum, we added to our understanding of the Group Areas Act (one of several 'pillars' of apartheid) and the forced removal of the coloured population of this area to the outskirts of Cape Town.  A former resident now works full time at the museum, Noor Ebrahim, gave the students an impassioned narrative about seeing his childhood home destroyed in front of him, and the controversy that still surrounds the open land of District 6 - many are on a waiting list for housing the government has promised, for years, to provide, even as somehow it is parceled off for development little by little...

From there we headed on to a community center in Langa, where they have a functioning kiln, drum, dance and singing lessons for kids after school, and lots of arts infrastructure for people in the area to come and take advantage of.  We even tried our hands at it...

We spent some of the afternoon touring three of the student sites as well - but more on those in another post.  AND we got a taste of the famously mercurial Cape Town weather.  After leaving this sunny spot, by the time we got to the Amy Biehl memorial, it was raining...

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Lions, Rhinos, Impala, Oh My!

On June 11th our full time job was searching the plains for animals.  Beginning at 5 AM, we all piled into a South African National Parks open air vehicle, complete with BRIGHT spotlights and blankets for the early morning chill, and headed into the Park.  Let me just let some photos speak for themselves...

Oh, there are many more (and that's two rhinos in #3 - so rarely do the pictures do the experience justice)!  I couldn't even get a good elephant shot, but one trumpeted our arrival into the park at about 5:12 AM...with the number of cameras we had trained on him, I'll bet someone did.  Please see our Picasa site at _________________ for more.

After the early morning drive, we had a full breakfast and checked out of Rio Vista, piling back into a Park Vehicle for transport to our accommodation for the second night - Skukuzu Camp.  This drive took a few hours, and being midday, sightings were sparser, but the scenery was beautiful and the day sunny and warm.  We were in the Students' Quarters of the camp - a large dorm facility with a swimming pool next door, so a few brave souls dove into the chilly wateer after lunch, while some of the rest of us napped...

With our late arrival the day before, we packed it in today, so Round 3 began at 5 PM and included a dramatic sunset.  Lions and leopards were missing from our viewings of the Big 5 (water buffalo, rhino, elephant, the other 3.  How did hippos and giraffes not make the list?  They were also so fun to were kudu, baboons, waterbuck...), so they were the focus of our efforts.  Several herds of impala and one majestic (and very close) elephant bull later, I admit I was losing hope that we would see any of the elusive cats.  But heading back to camp, sure enough, there were FIVE lions napping by the side of the road...soaking up the warmth of the pavement as the evening cooled after sunset.  Amazing.  At one point one of them sneezed and we ALL gasped and jumped back - he was that close.  He could have been deciding to eat us...
A truly memorable finale to an ambitious day!

Another very South African Braai for dinner (consensus was that this one was better than Thursday's) in the Camp's dining hall, and time for bed before we head on to Cape Town!  Wow, Cape Town, here we come.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Day 3 - Vilakazi Street and on to Kruger!

Today it feels appropriate to be writing about last week because today is Youth Day - a National Holiday honoring student uprisings in Soweto on June 16th, 1976.  On Friday the 10th, we started our day with a visit to the Hector Pieterson Museum, so named in honor of a young man, only 13 years old, who was killed, unarmed, in the uprisings of that day - a non-violent protest against Bantu education.  Designed by the same team as the Apartheid Museum, it also used effective video and first-hand testimonials to describe the event and the watershed that it was in the downfall of apartheid...

From there to Vilakazi Street where we toured Mandela's home where he lived before his imprisonment in 1964, and then for 11 days after his release in 1990 before it was determined to be simply unsafe due to the media frenzy that surrounded it 24/7.  It is a tiny but remarkable monument - full of significance and of his presence.  There are numerous honorary degrees that have been conferred upon him, the chair he sits in when he visits, and, of some note, a certificate from the Congressional representatives of the State of Michigan – turns out the US had a significant role in providing information that lead to his arrest in 1962, and the certificate is an apology for the US Government’s participation.  Apparently, they had asked for George H. W. Bush to sign as well, President at the time of Mandela’s release from prison, and he refused; he had been the head of the CIA in 1962!

After lunch, we boarded the bus to Kruger!  The road was a long one, and the scenery changed dramatically from Soweto to the National Park area…by the time we arrived (a little cramped, and a lot hungry), we were ready for a big meal and not quite enough sleep before the 5 AM game drive.  The Rio Vista Guest House set us up very comfortably for our nap…

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Really? They've only been here a week? Let's recap...

Alright, I'll be honest - it is June 16th, and it is hard to believe that the group only arrived a week ago - lots has happened already.  But I just can't not backtrack a little and add some more here about our time in Soweto and Kruger!  On the morning of Thursday the 9th, we headed to the very impressive Apartheid Museum.  Interesting to me, you have to go through the gates of a theme park - Gold Reef City - complete with roller coaster and log flume to access the Museum...definitely not what I would expect. 
Once inside, we received a designation on our ticket stub as white or non-white, and headed in through the separated doors to the facility.  The museum does a terrific job with interactive exhibits, and really covers a great deal of the history and the process. 
We started with what is currently a temporary exhibit about Nelson Mandela (though, in our opinion, it should be made permanent).  Start to finish, from village royalty, to outspoken lawyer, to convict, to president - what a remarkable journey! 
Upstairs, paraphenalia from the long oppression of rights in South Africa, including troubling video and much reflection on connections to the past, the necessity of forgiveness, and the reasons to be optimistic for the Rainbow Nation.  It was a great way to contextualize our stay.

The afternoon brought a real highlight of the trip - our bike tour of Soweto!  This is where Lebo found his niche, and the tours really put him on the map.  We saw the original mining hostels where laborers were housed, learned about local delicacies like a (weak) home-brewed beer and cow jaw with lots of salt, and biked past other cultural landmarks including Nelson Mandela's Soweto home.  We learned a few songs (that I doubt any of us could recreate, unfortunately) and even caught a glimpse of Abigail Kubeka as she drove past us to her very upscale Soweto home.  Tonight, a braai - the South African cookout - lots of meat and sitting around the fire pit.  The students are showing me NO signs of jet lag, and seem to be enjoying each others' company a lot!  Spirits are high and so is the energy level, despite the cold of Johannesburg...

And we're off!

The day is finally here!  The students arrive from the US today and the program is officially launched.  Well I suppose it launched when they gathered in Mason Hall on the JHU campus yesterday, but being the one waiting for them here in South Africa, today seems more significant.  I arrived in Johannesburg a few hours ahead of time to meet our guides, Thapz and Hillano, face to face.  Having made our arrangements via email, it was wonderful to be able to talk to them about our program, and about their backgrounds and what brought them to this role.  Both studied at UCT, it turns out, Thapz in Chemistry, and Hillano in business/marketing.  Thapz is now based in Durban where he is doing research for his Masters, and Hillano lives in Cape Town where he does some consulting.  Hillano told me he has seen a few episodes of “The Wire” but did not know it was about Baltimore! 
The students’ plane was 15 minutes early, and we had them all gathered in the arrivals hall quickly and easily.  Awesome.  Then, as Hillano said to me, there is this thing called “Africa time”.  The transport from the backpackers took another hour to arrive – it had rained heavily today, which is not typical in Jo-burg this time of year, so lots of ‘robots’ (stoplights) out and some accidents apparently mucking things up.  We then all crammed in to one van and one car, making use of every inch, and soon enough we pulled in to Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers [].  Everyone seemed very much at home very quickly!  Dinner was served and delicious, rooms were allocated, and before I knew it, there was a heated foosball game in full swing and a group cozying up near the fire pit (definitely a chill in the air…hard to believe when they left 90+ degrees in Baltimore). 
So, to the clack of the (tiny) pool table I leave them, thrilled that we have such a great group to kick things off.  Tomorrow: to the Apartheid Museum!