Sunday, 20 July 2014

HIV Testing and Addressing Health at Yabonga

Working at Yabonga—a non-governmental organization focused on “children, HIV and AIDS” ( in the Khayelitsha township—has been a wonderful experience this summer. On the first day of work, I arrived at Yabonga’s youth center with my JHU colleagues Carolyn, Arlene and Rachel excited and ready to help. Because all of the students on our program arrived in Cape Town with an interest in public health, I was initially surprised to discover that most of our work at Yabonga would in fact be focused on education and career guidance rather than HIV/AIDS and health, at least explicitly.

Our work on career guidance workshops was rewarding for the youth and for us, but I want to focus this blog post on one health-related process we experienced at Yabonga: HIV testing. On a July afternoon after visiting one of Yabonga’s many OVC (orphans and vulnerable children) sites, we returned to the youth center to find that a makeshift HIV testing site had been set up in Yabonga’s new crate that sat next to the permanent youth center structure. Nonklay, one of the many woman who works at the youth center, sat in the corner of the crate with a small table covered in materials used for testing. Upon entering we saw one of the Yabonga youth leaving after he had completed his test. After studying HIV at UCT for a month up to that point, the four of us realized that we had never been tested. One by one, each of us sat down next to Nonklay and took the test.

After all we had learned about HIV, it was eye opening to experience testing first-hand. HIV is much less prevalent in the US than it is in South Africa, and I had never even considered testing at home. The test we took at Yabonga was a finger prick blood test. The testing apparatus was small, approximately the size of a thumb. After submitting a blood sample, we each waited five minutes for the results to appear. One line on the test indicated a negative test, while two lines indicated a positive result. I took the test and found myself surprisingly nervous. While I had no reason to believe I was ever exposed to HIV, the anticipation made me jumpy. Despite my low-risk status, I could feel the anticipation of the test and imagined what it was like to be in the same place as someone who may be at a higher risk of contracting HIV, including some of the youth and staff at Yabonga. And while everyone tested negative that day, the process of testing gave us a small glimpse into the process of handling HIV in South Africa.

The four Yabonga interns getting tested for HIV by Nonklay. Clockwise from the top left: Carolyn, Rachel, me (looking squeamish) and Arlene. 

Moving forward, the day we got tested wasn’t our last encounter with HIV testing at Yabonga. Towards the end of our time at the site, we sat in on a staff meeting during which the staff discussed the recent HIV testing drive that occurred at six of Yabonga’s eight sites in and around Khayelitsha. Yabonga is understaffed with trained HCT (HIV counseling and testing) practitioners, but they understand the importance of their effort. Nonklay also told us that she would be moving from site to site soon to continue testing youth and gathering data.

While Yabonga has admittedly shifted its focus more towards education in recent years, it has been intriguing to see how the organization addresses health both explicitly—such as through the testing drive described above—and implicitly.

The HIV testing drive is an important initiative considering the magnitude of the HIV crisis in South Africa. The Yabonga youth seem aware of the issue, and testing helps reinforce it and also instills a sense of responsibility in taking care of their own health. Nonklay mentioned to us that many of the youth at the various sites want to get tested, an encouraging sign that they understand how important it is to remain aware and remain cautious. Even without any explicit health education on HIV (at least during our time at Yabonga), providing access to testing is helpful to youth who may not know where to go or may not have access otherwise.

Me at Yabonga's youth center. 

Moreover, Yabonga’s focus on education also implicitly impacts the health of the youth. Teaching them lessons about education, independence and career/life planning affect their decision-making ability and awareness. By providing them resources that hopefully allow for socioeconomic upward mobility, their health will improve simply through greater access to care and educational resources.

So while career guidance and education were major focuses of our work at Yabonga, health always remained an underlying concern. My experience with HIV testing helped me realize that and consider more how health can be addressed within a community or organization to help improve the lives of community members.

-Ben Kahn

Youth Day at Yabonga: “Youth Moving South Africa Forward”

For the past month I have been working at Yabonga a non-profit organization in Khayelitsha. Yabonga is an organization based in Cape Town that provides different levels of support to children and women who are infected and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. My time at Yabonga has been indescribable. When we first stepped foot at the youth center, feelings of excitement, nervousness, anxiousness, curiosity, etc. filled my soul as we were about to embark on the most fulfilling 6 week journey of our lives.
One of the most fun-filled, enjoyable glimpses of the spirit of South Africa was during Youth Day celebrations at Yabonga. Youth Day commemorates the Soweto uprisings that occurred on June 16, 1976 by youths in Soweto who were responding to the implementation of Afrikaans as a means of instruction in the Bantu school system. The gap year students we had been working with were preparing portions of the event with the youth they work with on a daily basis. For instance, gap year students and their youth from Strand prepared a drama and dance piece for the event. Gap year students and their youth from Nyanga prepared poetry and dance pieces for the event. Every community part of Yabonga contributed to the Youth Day event, which was a stunning success. While we were only present for the rehearsals, the outstanding effort everyone put in during practice was breathtaking and truly warmed my heart.
            Because the gap years were busy planning the youths’ activities, they forgot that they were also actors in the event. After 5 minutes of harmonizing and foot tapping to intricate beats, the group was ready. The result was a performance that gave everyone listening goosebumps.
           After we applauded the gap year students in awe like tweens at a One direction concert, we decided to have some lunch and discuss what would take place the remainder of the day. By 1:00 pm the youths began to arrive and assemble for practice. What took place at the center was something I will never forget:

During the performance, Nandi, the youth coordinator at Yabonga, stopped a student that was rapping about his frustration towards being a youth in South Africa and remind him the importance of Youth Day. While I understood her message to him, his words resonated with me because they were sincere, true, and most importantly, 100% his.
After the end of apartheid, Mandela’s parliament along with Desmond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) in 1996 where anyone who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be herd; perpetrators of violent acts during apartheid could also give their testimonies and request amnesty. The TRC was a fundamental part of South Africa’s journey towards healing and democracy. However, while some thought that the new generation would be able to live in racial harmony, reality is something many were blinded by due to the democratic euphoria that began to settle in South Africa.
The generation born in 1994 (when democracy in South Africa was established), referred to as the “Freedom Generation,” is a firsthand witness of the legacy of apartheid that exists today in South Africa. While youth today face a “new” struggle, unfortunately there is no TRC for them to report to and discuss the trials and tribulations they endeavor. However, Youth Day celebrations brought youth voices rising together; each voice empowered the other and was in perfect harmony- a testament to the strides South Africa has made not only in its history, but also for it’s people.

Arlene Bigirimana '16


              On July 6th we set off by ferry to visit Robben Island, a prison where political prisoners (most noteably Nelson Mandela) and people with leprosy were sent. 769 political prisoners were held on Robben Island during apartheid. Political prisoners, often considered more dangerous than criminals, were brutally tortured by their guards on Robben Island. Even while prisoners were sent to Robben for the same reasons (causing political unrest), everyone were still treated differently based on race (i.e. colored prisoners were given better food than black prisoners). The matter of the fact was that even on Robben Island where people were convicted of the same “crimes” and, away from mainland and the heart of apartheid, individuals not thought of as equals.

[meal chart for Robben Island prisoners]

[Mandela's cell]

 [our Robben Island tour guide that was also imprisoned during apartheid]

After the end of apartheid, the healing process began through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC offered these guards that had so brutally abused prisoners amnesty, while freed prisoners were left with the reminder, pain, and marks of imprisonment on their bodies. The truth of the TRC was that it was a system-like many other governmental imposed systems- that benefited the wealthy or those that had the money to be represented well in court. However, what people didn’t expect was that in fact the TRC gave those without monetary support the ability to utilize the power of their voice. While there were 769 prisoners, everyone was a Mandela. Each individual that served their time on Robben island exemplified what it really means to fight for what you know is right.

[entrance mural at Robben Island]

              On July 18, Mandela’s birthday, everyone comes together and performs 67 minutes of service to commemorate the 67 years of service Mandela gave to South Africa. At Yabonga, spirits were high and excitement filled the air as everyone part of the Yabonga community was preparing to contribute to the 67 minutes of service. Yabonga teamed up with REDISA (recycling and economic development in South Africa) to plant little tire gardens (vegetables planted in old tires) and put turf mats in the back area. As everyone was smiling and playing around with the paint, I was reminded of the reason we all came together: to honor all 769 Mandelas that fought for the democratic freedom of South Africa. While July 18 celebrates the life of an incredible man that is Nelson Mandela, we remember that the journey towards the new South Africa could not have been made without the support of all fighting for the freedom of South Africa.

To end our journey on such a special day truly left an inspiring mark on my time in South Africa. I feel so blessed to have learned about the community I live in and about myself as a human, student, and learner of this world. I can only appreciate the moments I have been afforded whether they be good or bad because at least I have learned from them and have hopefully made a difference in, if not someone’s life, then in my own life. Cheers to the day we reunite again, South Africa, and thank you for being a part of the most amazing time of my life!

Arlene Bigirimana '16

Food Markets in Cape Town: A Cultural Experience

One of my favorite parts about traveling in any city is exploring the food culture. Food can tell you a lot about a place—it’s history, the people who live there, the resources available to these people, etc. Cape Town, with its rich and tumultuous history of many cultures blended together offers its own unique food experience.

And so while some people enjoy spending their time and money on adventurous activities and thrills, I’m perfectly content finding great places to eat and indulging myself. Cape Town has not disappointed when it comes to finding good food, whether highly acclaimed or lesser-known gems.

As a group, we’ve eaten at plenty of delicious restaurants around the city: Sevruga, Beluga, Mama Africa, Gold, Lyra’s, Hussar Grill and Brass Bell, among many others. However, a major part of the food scene in the city is not sit-down restaurants. Rather, I found the numerous food markets to be particularly enjoyable. Every major city has its food markets, but Capetonians really seem to relish the opportunity to try a variety of fresh foods and experience it in the marketplace setting, which allows for casual social gatherings, a quick drop by, etc.

During our stay, we visited three local food markets, each with their own distinct selection of foods both raw and prepared. They included the V&A Market on the Wharf, the Old Biscuit Mill (also known as the Neighbourgoods Market) and the Blue Bird Garage Food and Goods Market.

The V&A Market is located on Cape Town’s bustling waterfront, a central location popular to both locals and tourists alike. The only permanent market space among the three aforementioned markets, this market’s vibe fit in with that of the rest of the waterfront, an area known for being a bit ritzy and shopper-friendly. While I personally enjoyed a delectable steak and avocado wrap, others enjoyed homemade dried fruits and springbok jerky (a local specialty), fresh fruit smoothies, fish and chips, empanadas and a variety of other foods and cuisines with influences from around the world. The two-story market was a great place to convene after an afternoon of exploring the shops along the waterfront or even a visit to the aquarium located almost next door.

A birds eye view of the V&A Market on the Wharf from the second level balcony.

The next market we visited was the Old Biscuit Mill, which was my personal favorite of the three for its tasty and varied selection of foods and cool venue. Located in the Woodstock neighborhood in the eastern part of Cape Town, the Old Biscuit Mill is known as a hip marketplace and became extremely popular for it’s Saturday-only food market. The venue is a converted mill (hence the name) that houses the market along with various other shops and restaurants, most of which operate during the week as well. However, the relative infrequency of the market compared to the daily V&A Market made a trip there an experience in and of itself. The market is filled with stands where vendors sell locally made products similar to those found at the waterfront—except the options are staggering. I came planning to eat a light meal and left on a very full stomach.

Walking through the market was a bit overwhelming at first, but after perusing the options it was easy to get tastes of everything. Many of the vendors even gave out free samples of dips, salamis and other foods, a major plus for college students like us. I worked my way around the market to try as much as I could, and for my last purchase I settled on a deliciously amped-up hot dog: the “Mandog”. Made by Dasdog, the Mandog was a German frank topped with caramelized onions, rocket, bacon and dijonnaise on a freshly baked bun. While it was by no means healthy, it proved to be one of the tastiest foods I ate on the entire trip. Who knew I would find a German hot dog with flair at a market in Cape Town?

The Mandog from Dasdog in the Old Biscuit Mill in all its glory.  

Last, on our free weekend in Muizenberg we went to a local market called the Blue Bird Garage Market. The market, which was only open on Fridays, was similar to the Old Biscuit Mill but smaller. Once again, I managed to taste a variety of foods ranging from samosas to Chinese dumplings to fudge. The market was also unique for its location just a couple blocks from the beach in Muizenberg, a surfing town south of Cape Town. It was a fitting end to our food market experience.

Overall, I loved the food markets for their affordability, their incredible selection of food, their casual environment and their cultural value. One can go to any of the food markets and expect to spend anywhere between R50-120 and leave satisfied. The foods also represent the awesome diversity of Cape Town, a testament to its international flavor. Flavors from Asia, Europe and the Middle East complement the more traditional African foods found in the markets. Cape Town is truly an international city, and the food culture as demonstrated through the food markets reflects that.

-Ben Kahn

A Fourth of July Celebration - Ubuntu Africa Talent Show

Imagine children frantically running around getting costumes ready, older kids practicing skits, dances, songs, poems, facilitators tending to performances and acts to make sure every little detail is in order, administrative staff well… administrating. It’s July 4th, independence day in the United States. At Ubuntu Africa, it’s the day of the first annual talent show.

Ubuntu Africa ( is a nonprofit organization based in the township of Khayelitsha that began providing services to children in the community in 2007. It has the mission of improving the health and wellbeing of HIV+ children through community-based health and support services. These services follow a four-pronged approach in the provision of psycho-social support, life skills and education, health and nutrition, and community engagement.
View of Khayelitsha from the UBA Office
UBA's four-pronged approach
This day was dedicated to the commemoration and celebration of the talent of all of these children living with HIV. We began the day by setting up for the talent show. Elizabeth and I helped in every way we could. From blowing balloons with eight year olds, to setting up posters with twelve year olds, the day gave us a chance to get closer to the children for whom we were working to better the lives of. All around us, during set up, the anticipation for the childrens’ big breaks was contagious. Some children were dancing while helping in setup, practicing every little foot placement and arm movement. Other children sang traditional songs while putting up posters, or practiced skits with each other on the side.

Throughout the course of the day I was given the opportunity to take pictures of this children, and this is what I loved the most. With a camera I was given by Hannah, one of the administrative staff at Ubuntu Africa, I was able to take lots of pictures of kids fooling around, posing, and giving grins to ear to ear. The role of photography has been an ongoing debate that we have had in our study abroad program. I saw the uplifting abilities of photography, allowing the children to just let loose and have fun! It was great fun to see the little girls pose in one way and another, while the boys ran away from the camera as if it was some sort of enchanted wand. Some kids had to pull others into pictures while others ran from all cracks and crevices of the building to be a part of the pictures! They’d ask to get their picture taken, run over to see the picture, and then only wanting to take more.

Practicing for a Skit

The Guys in front of the Posters

Me with my "girlfriend"

She is a diva

Everyone really went all out and dressed up for the day!
One of the insights I gained over the course of the day was the stigma that children at Ubuntu Africa received from the surrounding community. While speaking to Lele, one of the staff members and teacher of the class 2 students, I learned of an incident that had occurred earlier that day. The talent show was being held at an auditorium-type room that was open for the general public to use. However, at first when we tried to enter the stadium, the park supervisors would not let us enter because they had some complaints that they were filing against us. They were falsely accusing the UBA staff members of drinking in the buildings and not cleaning up the mess, even though it was common knowledge that the rugby players of the stadium were the ones who often did this. For quite a long time the supervisors told the staff members that they would not let the children enter, even though they had been practicing for these performances for weeks. The children were miserable and the staff members furious. Apparently this was something that they experienced a lot, because the local community was aware of UBA’s status as a space for only HIV positive children and thus the stigma in the community against HIV meant that the organization and the children in it met a lot of negative sentiments and discrimination. After a long and heated argument the park supervisors told the UBA staff that they would allow the children to use the park building just for the day, but after that UBA would have to find a new place to go. All this is despite the park being a public area. This was eye-opening for me because even though I knew that stigma and discrimination existed and were common place, this was the first time I had seen it so directly and first-hand.

The actual performances were amazing and uplifting. They ranged from dances, to poetry and raps, to songs, to skits. Many of the concepts throughout stressed the ideals that the children were being taught at UBA. For example, there was a skit on a rape scene and how negatively it impacts the surrounding people. The entire family was broken down, and the emotion behind the skit was evident. Then there was a poem about gender equality and female empowerment, given by Lele herself. Many people and children alike were in tears by the end of the performance, because of how strongly worded the poem was. It was clear that Lele felt strongly about the subject, and that she had gone through many of the experiences that she described in her poem. When talking to her later that day, I found out that she had written the poem the previous night!

All in all this was definitely an amazing day, and an amazingly appropriate way to spend July 4th.

Shaun Verma, Class of '17

An Exchange of Cultures - Homestay in Zwelethemba

Over the course of our third weekend in South Africa, we were given the opportunity to do a homestay in Zwelethemba, a part of the larger region of Worcester. The homestay this weekend was a really amazing experience. For me it started with a long time of reflection during the bus ride there. One of the questions that was on my mind during this time was a debate that I had recently had with my friends, over the “Western Savior Complex” and how many a times American students go abroad and then take pictures with African children for selfish purposes. I had a pretty large conflict inside myself mostly because though I have taken pictures with kids in places like Honduras, India, and Africa before, I did not see it as a way of subjugating them in any sort of way. I thought about this for a long time over the course of the ride, but once I had the opportunity to interact with the kids in Zwelethemba the ideas that may have been sitting in my subconscious became clear to me.

Township of Zwelethemba, Worcester
Over the course of the weekend I was staying at the house of Nozipho, a mother who took us in and took fantastic care of us. I was amazed at how open and loving this “Mama” was to some random American students that she had just met. I was being housed along with two UVA students, who both shared the same sentiments as I did.

My favorite part of the weekend was my interaction with the children in the township. As soon as we got there, the kids took our hands and started playing with us. With smiles on their faces and a skip in their step, they had a blast interacting with us on our first short tour of Zwelethemba. Kids and adults alike were hollering out, saying hello and hi to us as “foreigners.” People even walked up to us and shook our hands, bidding us a warm welcome to their country. More and more of the kids kept piling up and following us as we walked through the township, as if we were a of carnival attraction. Granted I kind of did make it one, picking the kids up and flipping them around like a “plane” one time or “superman” the next. And as soon as you were done throwing one of them around, them too dizzy to walk straight and me too tired to pick up another, another ten would show up in line! At one point some of the boys that were holding my hands took hold of my sunglasses and started posing for me. At that point I took out my phone and started to take a few pictures of them.

The first picture with one kid and the next with another, and then there were more and more. The number of children in my small little iPhone screen was growing exponentially, to the point where I couldn’t even fit them in anymore. And once I got in the picture myself, I leveled with them in a sort of way. They were my equals, and I theirs. We could all be in the same photo together, and all have fun doing it. This is around when the children went mad. They started jumping on top of me and pulling me here and there. And though it may sound as though I am subjugating them in some way, making “Americans” seem as part of some better class of people I am not trying to. What I felt was rather happening was the happiness that they were getting from interacting with someone from such as foreign land, from a place that they have heard so much about but never seen. When I told them that I had flew there in an airplane they were fascinated. They asked how big the airplane was, how many seats, how many people it could fit.

What I appreciated in all this was the equal exchange of information, of all of us as equals. I learned about the values, traditions, and customs of Zwelethemba. But at the same time, to these children the foreign land of “America” was no longer some distant, foreign place but something that they could connect to intimately, even if just for a little amount of time.

Shaun Verma, Class of '17

Views From the Top

Confession: when I was four years old, my aunt piggybacked me more than halfway up a mountain on a family hike in Maine. At that point in my life I had not yet grown into the appreciation of the outdoors and exploring nature that the rest of my family was exuding that summer day. I can safely say that now, sixteen years later, my overall level of excitement about and enjoyment in the outdoors has probably quintupled (minimum), so exploring some beautiful hikes in South Africa was one of my favorite parts of the past two months.

Mountain view from Cape Town
(Shamelessly taken from
Now that I’m competent at completing a multiple-hour hike on my own two feet, a bunch of others in the group and I hiked three different mountainside trails, some more famous than others, during our time in Cape Town (and also surrounding areas). We took on Lion’s Head, Table Mountain, and Muizenberg Peak. South Africa is a stunningly beautiful country, and Cape Town is set right at the base of huge mountains and mountain ranges, many of which can be seen from all over the city. I asked some locals if they ever forget how beautiful their home is because, well, they live here; some said that while they try not to become desensitized, it can still happen. While I don’t think we were here nearly long enough for the amazing views to become second nature, for me, going on these hikes was a way to disrupt the usual course of scenery and gain a completely new, but still impressive, perspective (literally) of the city.

Lion’s Head
Some of the hikers at the top of Lion's Head
(L to R: me, Sarah, Ben, Rachel, and Megan)
The right-most peak in the image above, Lion’s Head is a fairly quick hike that we did one afternoon after seeing the Bo-Kaap (a traditionally Islamic neighborhood in Cape Town, known in part for its colorful houses). The trail begins as a dirt path that slowly becomes increasingly rockier and winds around the mountainside—emphasis on “side.” Off to our left was the mountain’s unguarded edge, and below we could see Camps Bay, a popular beach spot, and the open ocean. We made our way closer to the top and then reached a metal ladder. We climbed up and heard from those coming down that we were fast approaching a pretty thrilling portion of the hike—scaling the mountain. Sure enough, we were soon faced with metal chains that were drilled deep into the rocks and provided support as one hoisted him or herself up to the next rock. This was an awesome end to the climb, and soon we had reached the top! The view was spectacular, and we could also see Signal Hill, which we had walked up as part of our morning tour of the Bo-Kaap. We started our hike fairly late in the day, so as we were hiking down the sun was setting, and lights were turning on in the city as we returned to its bustle.

Table Mountain
View through Platteklip Gorge
on Table Mountain
Our next adventure was Table Mountain, the well-known, flat mountain dominating many Cape Town post cards (also the middle mountain in the picture above). There is a cable care that goes from the base of the mountain up to its summit, but there are also a number of hikes one can do to reach the top. We hiked the most well-traveled and marked ones, called Platteklip Gorge. The trail is aptly named, as it winds around the bottom of the mountain and then straight through a huge gorge leading to the top. If you’re into Stairmasters, you’re into this hike; it is basically a path of big, rock steps. We hiked the mountain on one of the most clear and beautiful Saturdays we spent here, and it was pretty hot. Luckily, through the gorge there are some very cool spots where water seeps from the rocks and drips onto you, cooling you as you climb. The summit is huge—we only got the chance to see about half of it—and the view is spectacular: the entire city extends below you, and more peaks squeeze you on either side. We also took the (rotating!) cable car down to the bottom and got to see from afar what we had just accomplished!

Muizenberg Peak
Located in Muizenberg, a beach town just south of Cape Town where we spent our free weekend toward the end of the trip, this hike might get my top spot in terms of setting and trail. We hiked the Ou Kraal trail, which climbs gently and circles the bases of many peaks around that area. What I loved about this trail was that the view off of it was simply expansive ocean and beach towns below. For some reason I felt like we were closer to it than at Lion’s Head, and I found it really beautiful. I also loved that as we hiked further and further the sound of the towns below began to fade and we were simply just our group and the quiet trail. Many of us were lured to this trail with the hopes of finding Muizenberg Cave; regrettably, while the trail was fairly well marked the cave was not mentioned, and I had not taken detailed enough notes from my online research to find it (just means we’ll have to come back!). Nonetheless, it was still a fun, gorgeous, and circular hike up to Muizenberg Peak and down the final, steep descent through Peck’s Valley—which ended only about a 10-minute walk from our hostel!
Hiking the Ou Kraal trail in Muizenberg

These hikes have been a great way to see new views in the Mother City, but the many awesome people we have met while walking on the trails has been another major plus. At Lion’s head we met Brendan and Matt, two University of Kansas students who were seeing four countries in 11 days; Megan talked to some other Ohio natives on our Table Mountain climb; an experienced and friendly trail runner explained the ins and outs of the Table Mountain paths to me before we set off on the most direct path and he ran off on an unmarked trail with a group of friends. Did I mention that we also spotted (and some got to talk to) Rupert Friend, Homeland’s agent/hit man Peter Quinn, on Lion’s Head? Apparently screaming “Are you Peter Quinn?!” down a mountain is not the best way to get a truthful answer (“no, but I get that a lot”). Three hikes in six weeks isn’t too shabby, and these scenic views definitely give me another reason I’d like to return to this beautiful country soon.

- Simon Marshall-Shah, '16

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Snapshots of my Favorite Memories

There are too many things I loved about Cape Town, so I am just going to write about a few of my favorite!

1. Hiking Lion’s Head
            After lunch in Bo-Kaap, people decided to walk to Lion’s Head instead of taking a cab. Little did we know it was a 6.9 km walk just to get to the base of the mountain, not even counting the actual hike – and it was uphill the whole time! And we had just finished climbing Signal Hill before lunch... The hike itself was not bad because it was not steep. Towards the top, however, there is a section where you have to basically rock climb without the harnesses. Nonetheless, of the three mountains we hiked, the view from Lion’s Head was the best. It is next by the ocean so you have the view of 12 Apostles and Camp’s Bay on the left, and Sea Point and the Soccer Stadium on the right.
Our trek 

 Lion's Head

2. Homestay in Zwelethembe
            The homestay was one of my most memorable experiences. It’s nice living in the city of Cape Town, but exploring the more nitty-gritty parts of the Western Cape is a more refreshing experience. My home stay mama was Thempse, and she had five grandchildren, two dogs, and a son living with her. We all shared one bathroom and there was no hot water, so we had to boil the water if we wanted to take a shower. The close-knit community atmosphere was something new to me – we went door to door to her neighbors    and hung out with each family. My favorite part of the homestay was playing with her twin grandsons! Wearing matching clothes at all times, Azole and Azile were the most naughty boys to look after. One boy would whine if he wasn’t matching his brother’s clothes, they were jumping up and down all day, and driving their grandmother crazy.

3. Chapman’s Peak Drive & Cape of Good Hope
            Coming from California, I see the coast all the time. However, Cape Town’s peninsula coast is really something else. All along the scenic and twisty Chapman’s Peak Drive were magnificent mountains and a never-ending stretch of ocean on the other side. We visited Cape of Good Hope, the southwestern-most tip of South Africa. As we were leaving the cape, we witnessed the infamous baboon tamper with the car in front of us. Later, we visited the Boulder’s Beach penguins that are native to Africa. It was so cute watching them waddle from the ocean to their little nest with baby penguins.

Cape Point

4. Weekend in Muizenberg
            In our free weekend, we decided to stay in Muizenberg, a little beach city on the other side of the peninsula. We stayed at a hostel called Stoked Backpackers, which had a cool vibe and a delicious cafĂ© in the lobby area. I got a chocolate croissant immediately upon my arrival. The next morning, four of us took surfing lessons and it was the first time I was able to consistently stand up! I was proud of us for surfing the sharky waters (the probability of a shark there is low, although there have been shark attacks recorded there). It was also the first time that I saw shark flags at a beach. 
We took the train to Kalk Bay, two cities over Muizenberg, which was another charming beach city that was slightly more developed. The train system in that town is very convenient because it is right along the coast and comes every couple minutes, connecting the small beach towns together. We also hiked to Muizenberg Peak, a five hour hike round trip. At first we were on a mission to find these caves supposedly somewhere in the mountains, but we got lost somewhere. So instead, we hiked to the top of the peak and saw the whole inland and coastline. I sat at the top of the peak, thinking, I hope I never forget the 

-Elizabeth Chen