Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Few Numbers

Thus far, I have:

-taken 4 courses (2 graduate modules, 2 undergrad)
-attended 14 weeks of classes
-submitted 10 papers (and received 10 A's!)
-(which makes over 21,500 words)
-read 4 textbook sized course readers cover to cover
-presented for 2 days of class
-completed 15 hours of participant observation for a group research project

-and I have 2 finals to go.

I promise I'll blog when I'm done.
...I've been busy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Party at the Emasithandane Orphanage

Hello again!

The morning after Easter we got up early to make 70 sandwiches and last-minute toy runs before we left with Michael to the Emasithandane orphanage in Nyanga Township. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we were well received when we got there, greeted immediately by hugging children. The orphanage houses and feeds 34 kids, ranging from 6 months old to about 17 years, and the entire property is only about the size of my flat in Cape Town. It was started by a woman we call Mama, who simply started taking in children one by one until she reached what she thought was full capacity. The government insists that she can only adequately house 5 children in such a space, and instead of providing more funding to expand or move to a better location, they are threatening to cut support all-together (I’m unclear just how much this is, but I know it’s not enough). After a short tour of the house, we were told that some of the smaller kids sleep 5 to a bed, and the bigger girls sleep wherever they can fit, like underneath the kitchen table. In spite of all this, with the help of other women in the community and a few reliable volunteers like Michael, Emasithandane is able to properly feed, clothe 34 children and keep happy and healthy. They get along wonderfully and the older kids watch out for the younger ones, and it’s remarkable to see how little they need to stay content.

A few of my friends had been volunteering on the weekends after meeting Michael, and I’d heard many stories about how starved the children are for attention. The few toys that they had were worn out, and Mama insisted that any donations that my friends or others brought had to be sorted through and fairly distributed according to need unless there was something for everybody. With this in mind, my parents used their connections to get things donated, like backpacks from the Salvation Army, and kids’ meal toys from McDonalds. My mom also used her excellent bargain hunting skills to find age-appropriate toys for everyone, like jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, playing cards, coloring books, nail polish, a soccer ball, and a basketball. When we got there, everyone got something new to play with and we kicked off a very fun and successful Easter party, giving Mama and the community ladies a much deserved break (although they were still busy doing laundry and cooking up a storm in the back).

The little kids loved to be picked up, but it was difficult at times to play with them because of the language barrier (my !Xhosa is pretty rusty). Some of the older kids spoke English but were shy to use it. Everyone was fascinated by Zach’s hair, and they all liked to play with cameras and have their pictures taken. The older boys mostly kept to themselves and played a game involving a soccer ball and a basket, where they divided themselves into teams named after political parties. Standing in a wide circle around the basket, anyone who kicked the soccer ball in got to kick someone out of the circle, and the last remaining political party wins.

he liked mom

everyone with Mama

Speaking of political parties, with the presidential election coming up on the 22nd, we saw a parade of Zuma supporters singing and marching down the street past the orphanage – there’s a lot of energy surrounding this election, what a great time to be in South Africa! What blows my mind is how much support there is for Zuma, considering all of the controversy surrounding him, but it’s pretty much accepted that he’ll win. There’s a lot of activism on campus, and just yesterday the student president of the ANC (who has been all over the papers recently for his quick mouth) spoke on upper campus and drew a huge crowd. There was also a huge DA bus that went through campus, blaring music from its loudspeakers above shouting students on board its second deck. There’s a lot at stake, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next Wednesday. I’ll keep you updated!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Epic Entry – you can just look at the pictures if you want

Hello Everyone!

Mindy and I actually DID end up going rock climbing with the mountain and ski club, which was SO MUCH FUN! I’ve never climbed outside before (only in indoor caves) and it was absolutely exhilarating (and a lot harder than it looks)! I was inspired enough to buy my own pair of climbing shoes, which I try on at least once a day. So far I’ve been practicing climbing on the baseboard around the house – I don’t think the landlord will be very happy with the black rubber marks they leave behind though… Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to climb with the club since school had picked up and I’ve been completely occupied with my classes.

I'm on the top left

Speaking of which, after a stressful week of acquiring signatures and permission and breaking the rules and running from building to building, I decided to drop my independent study course. Because volunteering with My Africa Jam fell through for multiple reasons, which I’m still pretty bummed about, and I was so overwhelmingly busy with my other courses, I just couldn’t fathom writing another 40 page paper at the end of the year. I picked up another short module in postgraduate research methods that starts this coming Tuesday in gender analysis for research projects with a really great professor. My other module ended before break and I REALLY loved it (getting an appreciative A on my first paper may have had something to do with it). I had an EXTREMELY busy couple of weeks before break with three papers and a presentation due within a week and a half of each other, but I pulled it off with a couple all-nighters (literally no sleep) and miraculously did really well on all of them. I celebrated the first two with friends and bloody marys over brunch at a restaurant above the train station in Muizenberg. It doesn’t look like the semester will be slowing down at all and I still haven’t caught up with all of my readings, let alone reviewing the material for the final that counts for a honking 50% of the final grade. I think I’ll have to start scheduling all of my waking hours in order to be ready for them when they come in June (I know it’s so far in advance, but seriously, South African students are robots… I don’t know how they do it).

During my hectic schedule somewhere, Interstudy took us on another one of their excursions. The first stop was the District 6 Museum. District 6 in Cape Town used to be a racially and religiously diverse area in the heart of Cape Town until the forced removals under Apartheid declared the area to be for whites only. Over 60,000 people were forcibly moved to the Cape Flats and their homes were bulldozed – the only buildings left standing were places of worship. The area had been left untouched until 2003 when the government began building homes for former residents to return to, however many refuse to move back. The museum opened in 1994 to display the history and culture of the neighborhood, including photographs, personal stories, murals, old road signs, the history of the area and the impact that Apartheid had on its destruction. The museum is owned and operated by former residents who give personal heart-wrenching anecdotes of their experiences there.

plaque on the D6 Museum (click to see closer image)

Next, our guides took us on a walking tour of Langa township where we were able to see firsthand the terribly impoverished lives of township residents. We visited various stores, neighborhoods, and shebeens (unlicensed bars) from the ‘nicer’ parts of the Langa where people own their homes or live in standardized government housing, to the poorer areas where people inhabited leaky corrugated shacks, sometimes containing 3 or 4 families.

a typical one-family bedroom

Interstudy provided us with candy to pass out to the kids who would run up to you with their hands out, snatch a piece, and run away to eat it. Some of them liked to have their pictures taken and would laugh hysterically when you showed them their pictures. Something about the whole situation felt wrong and exploitative, and I couldn’t get myself to pass out the candy or snap many pictures of people.

I felt ashamed coming off an air-conditioned tour bus in a big (mostly) white and privileged group, giant cameras in hand, gasping at the awful way people had to live and asking kids to pose so we could have cute pictures of poor children to put on facebook. Our guides, who were raised in the township and knew the residents, insisted that this was okay since the money that we spend there and on the tour benefits the community, however I still felt uneasy about it all.

Our last stop in the Langa was at a shebeen where we passed along a bucket (formerly a paint bucket?) of homemade beer at the amusement of the locals, who thought our disgusted faces were quite hysterical. I started to realize how the experience was more reciprocal than I thought, and that it was important and beneficial for us to interact with residents and them with us. I left feeling less guilty about the whole thing.

sharing homemade beer in the shebeen

Our last stop was a tour of Robben Island and its maximum security prison, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the Apartheid era. All parts of the tour were guided by ex-political prisoners who at some point in their lives had occupied its prison. They shared their own experiences about the daily life there, as well as stories about Nelson Mandela and his influence there.

Mandela's cell

The following weekend I went with some friends to volunteer in Khayelitsha township with an after-school program for children with HIV and AIDS. When we arrived, we were told that one of the buses with the children on it broke down, so the volunteers outnumbered the kids. They sang and danced for us and looked so happy and healthy. Fortunately, they’re all receiving ARVs and one of the volunteers told me that he almost didn’t recognize one of the girls because the last time he had seen her a couple months before she had been about 20 pounds lighter because she wasn’t getting any treatment. When all of them look so healthy and happy, it’s very difficult to grasp the reality of the situation – that many of them live in violent and abusive homes and they all share a life-threatening disease.

singing for us

A group of us split off and started brainstorming about ways to improve the space for the kids, including cleaning up the yard and the abandoned building next door. Although I’m really busy with school, I hope to spend more time volunteering with them, as well as with an orphanage in Nyanga township that my neighbor Michael volunteers with often.

On March 31st my mom, dad, Zach, and Zach’s friend Liz flew into Cape Town and we kicked off our adventurous vacation with a couple pitchers of Margaritas and shots of tequila at the Fat Cactus for dinner. After a morning of rest, we crammed into a public taxi and rode to downtown Cape Town, which left mom pale-faced in the front seat, nervously chatting up the lady sitting next to her, June, while we blew red lights and weaved our way through traffic. When we asked for directions to Bo Kaap, June offered to take us there, stopping along the way to see traditional dancers performing in the outdoor market. We walked around Bo Kaap to see the beautiful houses (I brought my camera this time), and stopped for lunch at the same Indian restaurant as my last visit.

Bo Kaap

lunch with June

June walked us to the waterfront where we had drinks and met a man from Johannesburg who said he would show Stefan and I around if we travel his way during the summer. Finally, we walked down to Long street and had a few more drinks while we waited for Al (my favorite cab driver) to come pick us up and take us home for the night.

June - walking around Cape Town


The next day we took the cable car up Table Mountain, had lunch, and hiked a few of the trails on top until we were ready to collapse form heat exhaustion. We spent the evening recuperating and ordered in pizza for dinner.

on the top of Table Mountain

In the morning we left bright and early and drove along the garden route on N2 all the way to Plettenberg where we checked into our condo, took a dip in the pool, and went to bed for the night. The next day we drove to Tsitsikamma where dad, Zach, Liz and I jumped off the Bloukrans Bridge – the highest commercial bungee jump in the world!

pre-jump (Liz was still dangling)

I was disappointed that I didn’t go the first time around, so I convinced everyone to come along with me, and it was so incredibly thrilling! I only managed to scream for a second or two until I lost my breath, and the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling only lasted a couple seconds as well. You didn’t even feel like you were falling after that – it was so bizarre. Next time I’m falling backwards!


After jumping, we went over to the Knysna elephant park and fed the ellies (again for me!). This time around we had a really crabby guide and it was way more rigid than it was the last time, but still an unbelievable experience. I still can’t get over: one, how well they listen, considering how little anyone could do to punish them – and two, how strong and dexterous their trunks are! They have some serious maneuvering skills.

feeding time

The next day we went to Tsitsikamma national park and hiked the boardwalk to a suspension bridge right out of a movie, with the most amazing blue lagoon-like water, green hills, and white sand beaches. Zach and dad climbed the hill for a better view while mom, Liz and I relaxed in the shade before we shook the bridge until my mom threatened to murder us all on the other side (party pooper).

On the way out of the park we spotted a group of dolphins jumping through the water just off the coast, as well as dassies, my mom’s personal favorite because they are the closest living relatives of elephants (???). On the drive to our next stop in Port Elizabeth we had to stop several times to avoid hitting the baboons on the side of the road (???).

a view from the drive on N2

That evening we went on a township tour in Port Elizabeth with a local tour guide, Mizolisi. It was just him and our family so we didn’t feel as invasive and we got to stop and chat with the residents whenever we wanted. Unfortunately, the school, the crafts lady, and the community center were all closed, but we got to spend a great deal of time going from tavern to tavern and chatting with locals about their lives. We went home in the early evening so we could get up early to drive north to Schotia where we would go on a safari at in the afternoon.

dancing for us

new friends in the tavern

The following afternoon, after signing a waiver, we all jumped into a truck and headed out on the safari. The park was humungous and beautiful but the trails that the trucks followed served as a reminder that everything was not quite natural, however, we were reminded several times that it was definitely not a zoo. For the next four hours we spotted: giraffe, white rhino, red hartebeest, common duiker, springbok, blue wildebeest, jackal, dung beetle, ostrich, warthog, bushbuck, kudu, and zebra up close and personal. Totally surreal.


and Pumba

At sundown, we heard from other park rangers that they had spotted a lioness up on a hill that had just finished a meal and we zoomed off to find her. And there she was, not 15 feet away from us, belly full of fresh kill (shockingly just on the other side of our vehicle), ignoring us as we shined a spotlight on her until we were ready to go.

We drove off to a hut where there was a hot meal, free drinks, and bonfires waiting for us. We stayed for a couple hours and then drove back to our huts in the park for the night where I snuggled a humungous bullfrog (so cute).

In the morning we got up early for a 7am drive, covered ourselves with the warm wool blankets on our seats, and almost immediately came upon an adult and an adolescent male lion lounging in the sun 10 feet from our vehicle. While we were in shock with how close we were to them, our guide explained to us that the animals recognize the vehicles as non-threatening, but they don’t know the human form. So as long as we stay in the vehicle we will be safe. Just as he finished his sentence, the safari ranger from the vehicle ahead of us jumped out with a stick to tap the termite next 100 feet away to get their attention – which made for beautiful pictures but definitely got our hearts pounding. We finished off the trip with a fresh hot breakfast, and a few cups of coffee and made our way to Addo Elephant Park 45 minutes away for a self drive.

We spent all day in the park until closing at 6 and were shocked to see most of the animals listed above, plus meerkat, elephant, mongoose, leopard tortoise, vervet monkey, and dung beetles in action. We spent the night at a charming cabin on a citrus farm and got up in the early a.m. to make our way back home.

Halfway back, just outside of Oudtshoorn, we stopped at an ostrich show farm to ride an ostrich. The animal lover in me feels guilty, especially seeing how hard the big guy was panting with me on his back, but it was way too fun to pass up. They really are ugly.

Liz, ostrichback

Now we’re back and we’ve been relaxing, eating, shopping, watching movies, playing with Nelson (turns out ‘she’ is a boy) and sleeping. Tomorrow we’re going with my neighbor Michael to Nyanga township where we’re throwing an Easter party for the orphanage, eating at a popular local restaurant, and taking another tour of the area.

Fewf! I’ll try to write more often from now on. Hope everyone’s having a happy Easter!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Update on School

Since my last post I have been … busy. I’ve been in and out of faculty offices, getting used to changing venues, dressing in layers for the schizophrenic weather, joining clubs, meeting new people, attending art festivals, meeting with non-profits, climbing mountains, adopting kittens, walking up and down the million flights of stairs on campus, and reading until my eyes cross.

-Let me air that out a little bit-

Friday the 13th was the first day of school, which was uneventful and disappointing. None of my classes were actually held on Friday, but I did get to pick up one of my course readers and sink my teeth into a little bit of academic material before our first class. From where I live it takes about 25 or 30 minutes to walk all the way to upper campus (sweating and panting), or 6 minutes to the jammie, a 3 minute ride up to campus, and 5 more minutes of walking to my building. I ALWAYS walk down though (mostly because I’m afraid to take the wrong jammie and end up on a different campus). I went on a run up and down campus with Laura yesterday, and I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. But campus is beautiful with Table Mountain as a backdrop, and I’ve already found a cozy place in the library where I can hermit between classes. I’ve also found a very popular Indian lady that sells delicious vegan-friendly food and sweets on campus and I visit her every day. We’re good friends – I’m already a regular.

On Sunday afternoon Mindy and I met three guys from Congo, Tanguy, David, and Angel, and after they insisted on walking our groceries home for us (they turned out to be our neighbors), we invited them over for dinner. Tanguy is very deep and likes to ask huge and unanswerable questions like “Do you think that youth today really understand what love is?” which, it turns out, is even more difficult to discuss through the French-English language barrier. Angel is very fun-loving and outgoing and aspires to live in New York. He asked Mindy and I to show him all of our photos from the U.S. and says that he loves my family, and thinks that dad looks Lebanese (??). And then there’s David, who spoke almost no English and giggled at his end of the table all night when we would try to involve him in the conversation. We ended the evening around 8pm, just in time to relax and unwind before the next school day – it was great to meet some people who were as sick of the night scene as we were.

On Monday the 16th I had my first classes, and I LOVE them. I have quite a heavy load, but I’m excited about it. I am taking Medical Anthropology (a second year course and my favorite), Anthropology through Ethnography (a third year course), Ethnographic Approaches to Research (a post-graduate level month-long module through March), and a post-graduate level independent research project in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. I have been VERY busy already, and haven’t even started my March class or much of my independent research. I have been meeting with the head of department in Anthropology frequently about my project, and today we’ve made it official that she’ll be my advisor. Inspired by my classes and the unique history of South Africa, I will be studying South African youth and HIV/AIDS education through the arts.

Last weekend Mindy and I (we’re getting to be great friends!) went with Angel and Tanguy to watch some performances around town. The Spier Arts Festival - Infecting the City presented by the Africa Centre is a group of outdoor performances in random public locations, all surrounding this year’s theme of “Home Affairs.” These performances are in response to the xenophobic violence that took place throughout South Africa in May of 2008. Sixty-four immigrants were murdered, many more were beaten or raped, homes and businesses were destroyed, and thousands of immigrants fled the country. One of the most famous and horrific images of the media coverage is of a man on his hands and knees, completely engulfed in flames, and this was the image they chose to represent the festival. We watched four amazing performances all over downtown, but my absolute favorite was one performed in the water fountain in a roundabout in the center of the city. It was beautifully choreographed, with about 30 men and women splashing through the fountains, and it had a happier ending than the depth of the material would suggest. It’s amazing to think that not more than 15 years ago, this type of public protest could get you imprisoned or killed. If you’re intrigued, the website is

When I first got here I contacted a non-profit organization here called My Africa Jam. They call themselves a youth empowerment organization and lead events for thousands of impoverished high school aged youth in a township near Cape Town. They have several programs within the organization, including an afterschool theatre arts program, and an HIV/AIDS awareness theatre production put on by Africa Jam staff that they tour around different schools ( for more information). We met yesterday and there’s a lot of excitement on both ends. They’re excited to learn from my experience teaching theatre workshops and being in a touring social justice theatre company and want me to train their staff. They were also very excited about my ideas for theatre education techniques (thank you Jan Mandell!). I am pumped that I will have the opportunity to do some real ethnographic research that could benefit their curriculum. It’s a win-win and we feel like it’s destiny that we found each other (they’re also based out of MN – small world). I will be volunteering with them on the weekends as assistant to the theatre youth group leader and I’ll be starting as soon as we can figure out the logistics (Kayalitsha is quite the trip by public transport).

Mindy and I also joined the Mountain and Ski Club at UCT, and our first event was last Wednesday: a sundown climb up Lion’s Head. It was about 10 times easier than climbing table mountain, but unfortunately when we got to the top we only got about 1/10th of the view. It was so foggy that we couldn’t see the trees 25 feet in front of you, let alone the sunset. Our hike down, therefore, was very dark (usually they’re guided by the full moon), but we made it. I’m looking forward to our next adventure, rock climbing this Friday!

Well, this week has been challenging and it will only get busier. I’m disadvantaged in that I am taking classes simultaneously that usually are taken in a strict order, and I am doing my research backwards (and packed into a semester instead of a full year). The good news is that I’m in a beautiful country in a new educational setting that will teach me new ways to learn - and what better place to study Anthropology than in South Africa where I am constantly (although subtly) adjusting to a new culture. I feel truly lucky to be here. Talk to you soon.


Sorry, no photos this time - haven't taken any in a while

PS – I’m adopting my landlord’s kitty for the semester. Her name is Nellie Mandellie and she is very naughty. She likes to bite my ankles when I’m walking and attack my pencil when I’m trying to study. I really like when she falls asleep on her back with my skin or clothes between her teeth.

The best pic I could get of a kitty that can't sit still

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Garden Route is for Tourists - and I Love It

I got in last night just before midnight after a short driving tour of the Garden Route along a small part of the South African coast. After registration on Friday (which wasn’t so bad), Matt, Mindy, Pujita and I rallied together to plan a trip before the first day of school on the 13th. After a couple hours of planning and last-minute hostel bookings, we rented a small car and headed out on Saturday afternoon to our first and furthest destination - Jeffrey’s Bay. For 8 hours we ate and drank through half of our cooler and took in the breathtaking views along the way. When we got to our hostel, the Cristal Cove Guest House, we hunted for the key that the owner hid for us under the “fire ladder.” After 10 minutes, we realized he had said “fire lighter” by the grill and let ourselves in. We went in for a beer and a round of pool and chatted with Bruce from Jo’Burg who had studied and travelled in the states, and a man from Germany who was on his 11th month of vacation. After nearly falling asleep at the bar we excused ourselves and went to sleep while Matt stayed up to chat.

The Cristal Cove Lounge

The next morning Matt got up at 6am to surf. The weather was less than ideal, which was disappointing since Jeffrey’s Bay is home to a national “super tubes” surfing competition, and is one of the best surfing spots in the world. Mindy, Pujita, and I went to lay out on the beach and swim in the warm water, but we were a bit discouraged after walking a mile down the beach in order to find a shore free of rocks, stepping on and popping tiny blue washed up jellyfish along the way.

Eventually the weather cleared up and the sun was scorching and I burned sunscreened hand prints onto the sides of my back (I forgot to reapply after I turned). After a few burning hours, we dodged the sun and went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, then came back and chatted/debated with Bruce into the night.

Monday morning we went to a little café called the Sunflower for breakfast before we hit the road again. We drove an hour or so west to TsiTsikamma where we went on a canopy tour of the indigenous forest in Tsitsikamma National Park. For two hours we got an awesome view of the forest while we ziplined between trees 30m above the ground, using our double-gloved hand as a cable break.

I was really impressed with the platforms around the trees that were held up by tension alone, using no bolts or nails that would harm the tree (scary…). We were then served a light lunch before we made our way to the next hostel, called Tube N’ Axe. Matt and I played a couple terrible rounds of pool and we all sat around the TV at the bar to watch a bit of the Grammys. I met a friendly little kitty that the hostel adopted, and he curled up next to me the whole night (not always against his will).

About 9am the next day, we packed up and drove 20 minutes away to Bloukrans, where they proudly boast the title of “the world’s highest bungy bridge.” The girls watched an adrenalin-filled Matt leap off of the bridge, which he said was one of the best experiences of his life. Regretfully I didn’t go. I was holding out for a Victoria Falls bungy over spring break and learned that it is a sad one-third the size of the Bloukrans jump and about twice the price… Matt promised he’d return with me for a second bungy on a weekend trip this semester. In the bungy waiting area, we overheard a group of people talking about an amazing elephant tour that they went on and decided that we needed to go as well. We drove to the Knysna Elephant Park where we signed up for a “be touched by an elephant “ tour. For an entrance fee of roughly 6USD and a 2 dollar bucket of fruit, we set out with our tour guides to go meet the “ellies.”

We touched and fed massive elephants and their babies, literally centimeters from their gigantic round feet. They slurped up every last drop of the fruit juice with their snotty trunks and I got to bottle feed an elephant baby. By the end of the tour (you could stay as long as you wanted) my hands were completely covered with dirt and we had chased the elephants up and down the fields until they were downright avoiding my touch. Never in the U.S.

That night we drove to Outdshoorn a few hours away, stopping at a beach in Wilderness so Matt could take advantage of the humungous waves we saw from the car. It was possibly the most beautiful beach I have ever been to, since we arrived just in time for the sunset and it was nearly completely free of people. We took our time on the beach, took a lot of pictures and a few short walks.

When we got into the city, we checked into the Karoo Soul hostel, which was my personal favorite. It was an old house-turned-hostel, and we had fresh clean towels waiting for us when we got there. We were all spent from the days excitement, so after showers we went quickly to bed.

After a lazy morning, we were kicked out of the room and headed toward the Cango Caves.

We signed up for the 90 minute adventure tour “for lean people only” that required shimmying on your belly through tiny passages and crawling through very narrow chimneys, grunting the whole way. We had an exciting group for our tour, which allowed our very flamboyant tour guide to show off his German, French, Italian, English, and Afrikaans. He referred to me as “Miss Minnesota” and offered encouraging words as I hesitantly squeezed through a passage that he explained a “horizontally challenged” woman had insisted on attempting after many warnings. It took 12 hours, drugs, and lube to get her out of the passage. Luckily, we all made it unscathed.

Actual size of the smallest passage

For our final destination, we headed to the Cango Wildlife Ranch where we were promised supernatural and interactive encounters with wild cats and crocs. The whole thing seemed a bit exploitative, but all of the animals seemed happy and healthy and welcomed the attention and affection. After a brief tour of the whole park (more like a zoo), we were given the opportunity to cage dive with the crocs (no thanks) or touch and play with the big cats for a small fee. This was definitely the highlight of my trip. Pujita and I forked over the money to touch a full-grown Bengal tiger, 2 full-grown cheetahs -and my personal favorite – cheetah cubs. They acted like giant housecats and purred really loudly, jumping on and wrestling with the other workers. The tiger kept sucking on the fingers of one of the workers and I was told it was ‘not allowed’ when I gave it a try.

I was warned many times to not touch their faces so much or let them lick me, because they follow the same lick-lick-bite routine that other excited cats do. I would have taken the stitches for the experience. We headed back to Cape Town afterward and made it home just before midnight last night.

The first day of school is tomorrow and I’m ready for it. I’m registered for a heavy load of courses and seem to be one of a handful of international students who gets grades A-F and not Pass/Fail on their transcript. I was encouraged by the Head of Department in Anthropology to take a couple postgraduate level courses and audit a third, including an independent research project and paper. I’m already familiar with some of my professors and others in the department and I’m excited to work closely with them; an experience I don’t have in MN because Anthropology is so large there. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Oh – and a quick recap of last week. We had the UCT orientation for about 300 of us international students which involved a lot of unnecessary and redundant lectures, but did include a really fun peninsula tour. Most of the sites I had seen before, but we did get to go to Boulder’s Beach in Simons Town where the penguins are. I had accidently kept the manual settings on my camera so none of my pictures really turned out. Argh.

But after I figured it out we went to the Cape of Good Hope/Cape Point and got to take in the view on the hill by the lighthouse. The best part, however, was when we went to a community center near Simons Town for lunch and watched the local youth group break dance and sing for our entertainment. The rest of the week was pretty drab.

PS – Thank you everyone for your Valentine’s Day cards! What an awesome surprise!