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!