New fundraising site is now live!

Almost two years ago, after volunteering with the YMCA in Pietermaritzburg for the summer, Reis and I left with an idea. We wanted to set up a scholarship to send homeless, disadvantaged youth back to school.

A few months later, the idea became a reality when our friend Langa, whom we had met that summer, returned to school. As many of you will remember, we sold handmade bracelets in the fall of 2014 until we had enough money to pay his first year’s tuition. Some of you still wear those bracelets every day.

That alone tells you it wasn’t just me and Reis that made it happen. It was you, too.

Between our fundraising for the first trip and bracelet sales, almost 200 friends and family members played a role in Langa’s graduation from secondary school in January of this year. This time around, we’re thinking a little bigger. As we recounted on this blog several months ago, Reis and I returned to PMB for two weeks in March with plans of expanding the Umngane Scholarship.

Although Langa has finished high school, we both wanted to continue to support him in his ongoing education (soon to be electrical engineering college). We also wanted to expand the Umngane Scholarship to fund several other students’ studies at the same time.

That’s why I write to you today. When it comes down to it, bracelets sales are not a sustainable way to fund this scholarship — especially not for multiple recipients — so we’ve partnered with YMCA of the USA World Service to fundraise this project.

 

Reis and I can’t do this alone, and we don’t want to: There are a million ways to spend your money, but I promise that contributing to a young person’s future is more rewarding than any material thing money could buy. These kids have incredible promise and potential. It’s up to us to help them realize it.

So, if you’re interested in the project, here are some next steps:

You can listen to stories from some of the homeless youth themselves; watch Clinton George, the CEO of the Pietermaritzburg YMCA, discuss the importance of the Umngane Scholarship; see a breakdown of costs and then donate to our fundraiser at the new website.

 

Every little bit counts.

What We’ve Learned So Far

In the week or so that we’ve been back in South Africa, Reis and I have interviewed about 10 different people for our projects — the majority of whom have been youth living on the streets in Pietermaritzburg. The questions have been difficult to ask, but the answers are even more difficult to hear.

And before I explain more about those interviews, I want to clarify a few things. While we are indeed in Africa, we do not sleep in huts. While we walk most places, the roads are not made of dirt. While there are traditional languages and customs, the people we’ve met are civilized, smart and certainly as important as you or me. And while we are interviewing homeless teenagers and young adults who come from broken homes and hard times, these stories do not characterize the community, the country or the continent as a whole. I say this because I do not want to misrepresent what I’m doing or where I am, and I hope you will keep that in mind as you read ahead.

To refresh, I am here on a grant from my university to learn about youth homelessness in South Africa. I don’t intend to diagnose any problem or draw any sweeping conclusions about what I find. I simply hope to come away with enough knowledge to be able to write a thoughtful, informative article that can be published in a newspaper or magazine. Reis, on the other hand, is here to continue the Umngane Scholarship we began in fall 2014 as part of his senior project.

While our projects are different, we sit in on all the same interviews and meetings here. As we interview people living on the street, I learn about where they come from, how they came into their current situation and whether they see a life after the streets. Meanwhile, Reis is keeping his eye out for potential scholarship recipients.

And so far, the main thing I’ve learned is that you can’t generalize the lives of those living on the street.

Some of them were forced out of their homes and into the streets, but others came willingly. They sought the freedom and rebellion that comes with street life.

Most of them have used or regularly use drugs, but certainly not all of them.

Many of them have had at least a few years of formal schooling, but at least one young man has never been in a classroom in his life.

Some think a lot about their futures — what they want to be when they grow up, how they plan to get there, what it will take to get off the streets — while others don’t seem to care.

They’ve all lived on the street for a significant amount of time, but some for as long as five or 10 or 15 years.

Some of them began their lives on the streets as children, others in their late teens or early twenties.

Most are male, but a few are female.

We’ve heard many of their stories in the last week: Someone was abused by his aunt. Another was stabbed just last week. One girl has a 9-year-old daughter she visits weekly, but who doesn’t know they are mother and child. One boy, age 15, has lived on the street for over half his life. He’s been homeless since age 6.

So many times I wanted to run out of the room and away from the horror of what I was hearing. But if it was that hard for me to hear, remember these people — who are my age, give or take a few years — actually lived through it.

Many of them are hardened and distrustful. They have sad and sometimes cold eyes. I don’t blame them. After all they’ve been through, I’m not sure I’d want a couple of Americans probing into my personal life, either. Yet still, they share their stories with us. They admit to breaking the law, to disappointing their families and themselves, to wanting a drug more than an education.

These are not simple problems, just as there isn’t a simple, catch-all solution to youth homelessness. But still there is hope. Some kids return home. Some go to rehab. Others go back to school or start a job.

The success stories exist, and Reis and I (and, by extension, all of you who helped fund our first trip here or bought our bracelets last year) are already a part of one, with hopefully more to come.

Two years later, the same Y but a new energy

It was nearly two years ago that Emily and I arrived in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to spend summer 2014 at the YMCA here. I left in early August unsure when I’d see this place again. Twenty-two months (and a generous grant from my university) later, I’m back.

Outside the walls of the YMCA, not much has changed in PMB. The Y building is still located at one of my all-time favorite addresses, 1 Alan Paton Rd., just down the street from a bakery that sells doughnut holes for 1R (about six cents) and across the way from a place that sells the best fries (called chips here) I’ve ever had. The working-class city isn’t as famous as Cape Town or Johannesburg, but it’s gritty here and I realized, upon returning, that I had missed that.

When we were here last, the YMCA resembled the city in that way — it felt unfinished, like it was on the verge of transition. It’s amazing now to see the way it has changed. Structurally, everything is the same — there have been no major renovations to the property — but the spaces here have been injected with an energy that seems to radiate, and it’s reflected in the scores of new staff and volunteers and the innovative programs they have helped launch.

We witnessed the beginning of this change, toward the end of my summer stay here, when Clinton George took over as CEO of the PMB Y, and brought with him his wife Allison, who started as a volunteer, but recently took on the position of programs and projects manager. When I first met them, their energy and passion impressed me; it was contagious. I believed in them, but couldn’t imagine how anyone could keep it up for an extended period of time. But, in the two years I’ve been away, Clinton and Allison have proved themselves tireless.

They’ve sought out and hired staff and volunteers who are equally committed to changing the lives of people in the Pietermaritzburg community, especially disadvantaged youth. Some of the initiatives launched include after-school programs that teach young students entrepreneurship and economics, design, engineering and problem solving, and provide tutoring. The Y-Justice program, which I volunteered at in 2014, has a new life, engaging people living on the street in art projects, computer classes, and twice-weekly sessions that provide support, counseling, and a safe space. This week happens to be especially hectic as the staff here prepares for the PMB Y Day Camp, a three-day, values-based event that is expected to attract 70 to 80 local kids.

This is all to say that, as Pietermaritzburg the city has remained largely unchanged, the YMCA here is forging ahead, redefining itself within the community. When Emily and I were last in PMB, we painted a wall in the main building at the Y (see a below blogpost if you’re dying to check out our handy work). In big letters toward the ceiling, that wall now reads “Caring, Respect, Responsibility, Honesty,” the four traditional pillars of the YMCA. Since then, though, Clinton and Allison have added a fifth: Ubuntu. It’s a Zulu word and its meaning — “I am who I am because we all are” — perfectly fits the organization’s reinvigorated spirit and outlook. In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words: “We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Reis & Emily are back in PMB!

Hello friends, family and YMCA members,

We (Reis and Emily) are back in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa for the next two weeks, and in the spirit of our old blogging days, we thought we’d pick this back up. For those of you who don’t remember, we spent summer 2014 in South Africa volunteering with the YMCA here (thanks to many of you who generously donated to our trip).

Much has happened since then. As our summer came to an end, we felt compelled to leave something behind — and more than just our art on the walls of the computer room. Since PMB had left such an impression on us, we wanted to help out from afar.

During fall 2014, we established a scholarship fund — the Umngane Fund — to get homeless, disadvantaged youth off the streets and back into school. By January 2015, our first scholarship recipient, Langa, was enrolled in school. We had raised enough money through the sale of handmade bracelets to sponsor his completion of high school.

Earlier this year, in January, Langa learned that he had passed his high school finishing exams. This was fantastic news for us, for the YMCA and for youth everywhere who need something or someone to believe in. Langa plans to continue his education at a local technical college, where he’ll specialize in electrical engineering.

Now, we are back in PMB to pursue related projects. Reis is working with the YMCA staff to discuss expanding the Umngane scholarship fund. We hope to identify additional scholarship recipients and secure further funding for the project. Emily is researching the trends of youth homelessness in Pietermaritzburg — namely, how family life, drug and alcohol abuse, education and socioeconomic factors influence a child’s upbringing.

Our school, Miami University, is funding our travels, and since we’re just here for 12 days (it’s Spring Break right now), we hope to make the most of the short time we have.

We’ll be updating this blog frequently in the next couple of weeks, and we invite all of you to follow along with us.

 

65 Days in the Rainbow Nation

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'” — Hunter S. Thompson

PIETERMARITZBURG — As a college freshman, I really liked my dorm room. It was a good size, I had great roommates, but I was ready to live alone. The day I moved out, however, I didn’t want to leave. I was looking at the old bunk bed, my desk and my drawers and I was sad. I didn’t want to let go of all the fun I’d had there.
Here’s the point: I don’t think I’ve felt more at home in South Africa than I have the past few days. Perhaps it’s early onset nostalgia or something, but it feels like, after 60 some days, I’ve really become part of the country.
So please reader, allow me to indulge in my urge to recap these last two months.
We arrived in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa two exhausted Americans on May 28. We met Mike Cuthbert — then the acting General Manager at the PMB Y — for the first time in person at the Durban airport.
Mike and his wife Pauline deserve the utmost credit for welcoming me and Emily with a kindness that helped us transition from panicked travelers to comfortable members of the staff.
Our initial three week stint in PMB brought many firsts. We had our first encounter with street kids. Most of them were younger than me but their time on the street had hardened and aged them. Many inhaled glue, some abused alcohol or other drugs. But a few were working, fighting tooth and nail for a chance at college or technical school. For a more permanent escape than drugs could ever bring. Never in my life have I been more humbled and felt so fortunate to have a good home and a good school.
Those weeks brought our first computer lessons and, with them, a larger purpose to our being here. We had never seen 16-year olds who didn’t know how to turn on a computer. This was something we could change and Emily and I threw ourselves into it.
It was also the first time we met our hiking-guide-turned-friend Ian. He led us up the treacherous and wild Drakensberg Mountains. It was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done. We battled blisters and wind that would literally blow us over. But those mountains are damn beautiful.
We had adventures and a lot of fun, but in PMB and in Durban we were also witness to the widespread inequality that plagues the country.
While our time in Cape Town brought more of those three things, the weeks we spent there were decidedly different from the rest of our trip. Cape Town is certainly a different side of South Africa. It’s big, modern and fast-paced. Also, you can’t take a bad picture there. Walk outside and you either have the mountains or the ocean as a backdrop.
We met a lot of people at the hostels there. They were travelers mostly, like us, who just wanted to see the city and have a bit of fun. That we did. Cape Town certainly is one of the world’s most incredible cities.
We returned to PMB July 12 and found that a little bit had changed. Having successfully hired a long term General Manager, Mike returned to his position at the Y’s national office. The new GM Clinton George is a young guy with a history at the YMCA and other nonprofits. We arrived on his first day and in these last two weeks, he has made his presence and attitude felt. He and his wife Allison have been open, honest and gracious and, in doing so, have won the trust and respect of the Y staff. With their faith and dedication, I have no doubt that the Y is in good hands.
Since our return to PMB, Emily and I have worked to make a lasting impression on the computer lab and the computer classes. We developed a curriculum for our successor and we did a lot to brighten the room. The YMCA South Africa logo and YMCA USA logo are now displayed side by side on the previously blank walls — a symbol of our time here and of future partnership. The YMCA’s four pillars are scrawled above the logos because, hey, who can argue with those values?
IMG_4301
It’s kind of like my roommates and I leaving some of the year’s mementos in the ceiling (only less vandalism-y) — even if no one knows where it came from, we can leave knowing we made the room a better place.
So, I’ll be gone in two days. I’m headed to that travel purgatory that accompanies long journeys. The time in between South Africa and home will give me plenty of time to think (and to digest some rubbery airplane food). And, like my first college home, I won’t forget what happened here.

Just hold on, we’re going home.

PIETERMARITZBURG — Our last day of Y-Justice. Our last computer class. Our last load of laundry. Our last Thursday … in South Africa.

It’s that time, folks. We are tying up loose ends and squaring away last-minute projects before we head on back to the US of A.

As any of our semi-frequent readers may know, Reis and I have spent a great deal of our time here teaching introductory computer classes. With no Internet or Microsoft software, the lessons were simple and slow, but it made an impact — I have no doubt about that. Week after week, we saw the lightbulbs go off in their heads and the smiles spread across their faces. Despite some uncertainties of their return, they came back! And we did get to work with the kids one more time this week. In the mean time, though, we devoted our last days to establishing a curriculum for the computer studies (so someone else can, hopefully, fill our places and pick up where we left off) and fixing up the computer room.

After hours of sketching and taping and painting and touching up, the room is finished (Reis will have pictures soon, you can count on it). We painted the four core values of the YMCA onto the wall: Honesty, Caring, Respect and Responsibility, as well as the YMCA Africa logo. The blank white walls are no more. Now, there is a little pizzazz to the room we have come to know so well. And as imperfect as it is, it’s our way of leaving a lasting mark on this place. They can look at those walls and remember the two Americans who came — weren’t they brother and sister? And wow, that boy was tall!

It’s hard to know what to feel when something like this comes to an end. Do I wish I could stay? Am I ready to go home? Have I seen and done all I could? These are questions I simply can’t answer right now. We both agree — we need time to process the whole experience before we can really decide what it has and hasn’t been.

There are a few things I know for certain, though. We HAVE seen and done some incredible things. We’ve lived like South Africans because we have lived WITH South Africans. We have adjusted to the currency and the cuisine. We’ve hiked a handful of awesome trails. We’ve watched some breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. We’ve met some fascinating and inspiring people. We’ve been on a safari. We’ve pitched a tent and stayed the night in Lesotho (I mean, who does that?!). We’ve learned to cook (and quite well, might I add). We’ve seen disparity in ways I didn’t know existed. We’ve been the minority. We’ve picked up a bit of another language (a small bit). We’ve introduced computer basics to 58 South African teenagers. And we’ve spent two entire months away from home, halfway across the world, completely on our own — and survived (well, almost … better not jinx it).

I also know that it’s about time for us to go home. I’ve had an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I’d like to think we did what we came to do — that we contributed to this organization, even if only a little bit — and because of that I can leave satisfied, with peace of mind. But now, it’s time for Cheerios (Reis) and summertime, for driving on the right side of the road and seeing Orion’s Belt in the night sky. It’s time for us to hug our parents in the Chicago airport, and it’s time to go home.

CT to PMB: Some Stuff We Learned

A view from Lion's head Peak as It has been about a week since Emily and I left Cape Town, so I think it's high time to reflect on the experience. Looking back to our arrival in Cape Town on June 21, I think we were struck by how different it was from the humble working-class city of Pietermaritzburg. That stark difference began to wear off as we got used to the city's perks — it is the only place in the world where you can stand on one UNESCO World Heritage site and look at another (Table Mountain and Robben Island). The city is bookended by two oceans and a spectacular mountain range. There is certainly a lot to love.

A view from Lion’s head Peak as low-hanging clouds roll over the iconic Table Mountain.

PIETERMARITZBURG — It has been about a week since Emily and I left Cape Town, so I think it’s high time to reflect on the experience. Looking back to our arrival in Cape Town on June 21, I think we were struck by how different it was from the humble working-class city of Pietermaritzburg. That stark difference began to wear off as we got used to the city’s perks — it is the only place in the world where you can stand on one UNESCO World Heritage site and look at another (Table Mountain and Robben Island). The city is bookended by two oceans and a spectacular mountain range. There is certainly a lot to love.

“Honey, this isn’t Africa, this is New York City,” we overheard in one of our hostels. Herein lies one of the only flaws we found in Cape Town. The city affords a certain amount of escapism to its wealthier citizens. With the five star hotels and dining and the celebrity sightings, it is sometimes easy to forget about the impoverished around you.

Not to say that everyone with something to give should be constantly thinking about who to give it to, but it sometimes felt — in conversations both overheard and participated in — that some Capetonians used wealth as a means to forget and remove themselves from the nation’s poor.

It was great to have a bit of a vacation (I know, a vacation from a vacation, right?). Being in one of the world’s most beautiful cities was an amazing experience. We needed to come back to Pietermaritzburg, though, even if we’ll only be here two more weeks. We have plenty of unfinished business here.

The soccer academy Emily posted about will be returning, at least until the end of their school year in November. We’re working on a lasting curriculum for our computer classes — something that will, hopefully, be around for quite a while. After that, we’ll do some decorating of the computer lab (pictures to come, I’m sure). And we’re also continuing our Y-Justice work. We both feel like a little piece of us is here at the YMCA in PMB and, even though we will leave soon, we certainly won’t forget what we’ve seen this summer — the tragedy, the disparity, the perseverance, and the love.

The Beginning of the End (Take Two)

“Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye.”
—Ouida

DURBAN — There is something strikingly poignant about leaving a person or place for what is probably the last time.

Throughout our seven weeks in South Africa, this feeling has become routine.

In our first week here, we spent the day at a children’s orphanage. I met a bright 17-year-old boy who wanted some help analyzing poetry for class. He dreamt of college at Cambridge and of visiting the States someday. In our brief time together, he blew me away. I felt like we were fast friends, but practically as soon as I had introduced myself I was telling him goodbye … probably a permanent goodbye.

When we do the Y-Justice program (where we work with children from the streets), new kids show up every day, but still others quit coming back after one or several visits. Whether they have entered a shelter, gone home, been hurt somehow, or simply don’t want soccer and free lunch twice a week, I’ll never know. But these goodbyes seem most transient of all.

As for the students in our computer classes, the jury’s still out. There’s a good chance we have already seen them for the last time and didn’t even know it. It’s a rather complicated situation … Essentially, the 57 students are all part of a soccer academy that recruited them for their athletic talents. These are all children coming from low-income areas, and often from some rough situations at home. The soccer academy provides them with a better place to stay (the YMCA facilities) and zones them for a better school, plus they are able to focus on their athletic skills. Well, the soccer academy hasn’t paid the Y for the kids’ accommodations in over six months. For the sake of the students, the Y tried to give the academy the benefit of the doubt, but it can’t keep losing money on these facilities. After all, they are paying to have 60 rooms up and running but aren’t earning any money from the occupants (before the academy was there, the accommodation was offered to nearby university students and anyone stopping through in need of a place to stay). Unless the academy or the government has stepped up to reimburse the YMCA for its housing, though, the children will not be able to return next week (they are currently on summer break for a few weeks’ time). This is troubling for both Reis and myself. We found a great deal of purpose in our work with these kids. While some of the students only came to one or two computer lessons, there was a group of about 10 kids that couldn’t get enough. They would literally run through the doors of our classroom as soon as we unlocked the door, eager to learn more and play on the computers. It was both charming and rewarding for us. If we get more time with them, we are going to help them set up e-mail accounts and learn to browse the Internet. With a tool like that, so many more doors could open up for them — it would link them to a wealth of knowledge. So, fingers crossed we get the three extra weeks with them we had anticipated.

At the end of June, Reis and I spent a weekend backpacking through the Drakensberg Mountains, just hours outside of Pietermaritzburg, jutting into the tiny enclave country of Lesotho. For three days, we spent every moment with each other and the two other hikers on our trip — no technology, no artificial noise, no distractions, just the peace and quiet of the great outdoors. It was just the four of us hiking up mountains, climbing among boulders and trudging through the nastiest knock-you-over gusts of wind I’ve ever experienced — I mean, you can’t help but develop a certain inherent trust with the people you’re with when it’s a bit risky. The way I see it is, if we’re going to spend the night in the mountains of Lesotho with no human life in visible distance, I’ll probably call you my friend by the end of the day. Fortunately, we know we’ll be seeing our hiking guide Ian again before we leave (as we have already arranged another trip for our last weekend here :D), but I’m not so sure about the other hiker Tsara. And that’s strange to me.

In the three weeks we spent in Cape Town, Reis and I experienced another bout of this hello-goodbye scenario. Goodbye to Walter, our unplanned but fearless leader up the dangerous, unfrequented India Venster route to the top of Table Mountain. This seventy-something-year-old Austrian man carried us up the rock climbing route, where we scaled completely vertical boulders with the help of chains, drilled in handles and often each other’s tight grips. In addition to the thrilling hike, Walter imparted his final words of wisdom: “As we say in Austria, if you do happen to fall off the mountain, be sure to look left and open yours eyes … it’s a beautiful ride down.” Goodbye to Claudia, the British employee from our first hostel, who Reis and I quickly warmed up to after spending a day touring the city with her. Goodbye to one of our roommates Priscilla, who came here from Brazil three months ago not knowing a bit of English, aside from “dog” and “What street is this?” She shared some great stories, an authentic Brazilian dessert and not the least her magnetic personality. Goodbye to Reis’ makeshift French tutor, Adophie, who helped him with his online class in exchange for some of our cheese fondue.

In addition to getting attached to some very fascinating people, Reis and I have found it hard to say goodbye to some places as well. The Drakensberg, for one. Three days on the strenuous route through Giants Castle just about did me in, but like most challenging situations, it was well worth it. Every time we turned a corner or reached the top of a hill, the resulting view managed to leave me breathless (or was that just the exertion?). I had never seen a mountain range of that kind — from afar it looked almost like a mountain made of desert, lacking greenery now because of the South African winter. Cape Town alone offered a plethora of sights hard to leave. The view from Table Mountain after hours of grueling work to the top; an abundance of flowers and plants overflowing at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, with the mountains as a backdrop; the bluest sky I’ve ever seen above the Twelve Apostles (mountain range) on one side and the sun setting over the Atlantic on the other side at Camps Bay; the reflection of mountains over the harbor at both Hout Bay and the V&A Waterfront; the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive down the Cape Peninsula; the 360-degree view of Cape Town from the top of Lion’s Head Peak … have I convinced you to book your flight yet?

Over the last month-and-a-half, Reis and I have met some pretty impactful people and been to some pretty unforgettable places — that’s no question. And somehow, we have just over two weeks left in South Africa, during which we will have many more tough goodbyes. But while we may be leaving, we will be leaving with more than we came: may it be memories, friends, stories, wisdom, appreciation, what have you.

Quick Conglomerations from Cape Town

In today’s post, there are no penetrating thoughts or profound realizations. Instead, I merely have some observations, comments, and simple tidbits I wish to share with the general public (more specifically, the very minuscule readership Reis and myself have accumulated):

-After a few weeks in hostels, where we have met people from nearly all corners of the world, it is clear that Americans are not held in the highest regard. Reis and I have had to earn the favor of everyone we’ve met, as being American immediately docks us a few points. As a people, we’re allegedly loud, obnoxious, take more than our fair share — and my God, those accents! In our short time in Cape Town, we have run into several other Americans as well, few of which have done much to reverse this stereotype, unfortunately. (Translation: we see why we kind of suck sometimes). And I think, for many of us, this stereotype comes as a bit of a shock. After all, we are the best country in the world … aren’t we? AREN’T WE?!

-Tea is the new coffee, join the movement with us!

-In South Africa, “townships” are like the slums or the projects. It’s the shantytowns with homes made of anything that can form a makeshift wall or ceiling, anything that can count as shelter. In these shacks, more people sleep in one tiny room than probably live in your whole house. Whenever we drive or walk past a township here, I get a lump in my throat and find it difficult to swallow. They’re generally dirty and drab and unspeakably dilapidated. It’s very hard to see, honestly. And the worst part is, when we got to Cape Town last week, we started seeing advertisements about “tour a Township” so you can “see the ‘other side’ of Cape Town.”** Oh, like the side that isn’t living in $5 million homes on the beautiful beachfronts of Cape Town? The side that doesn’t live in the apartment complexes overlooking the ocean on one side and city on another?

**Before I criticize the set up too much, I must say I do not know whether any proceeds from the tours go back to the townships to improve them or if any good comes from it at all. (Though, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose since improvements would result in no townships to tour in the first place …?) Well, food for thought.

-Without actually visiting a game reserve or going on a safari, Reis and I have encountered baboons, ostriches and a number of deer-like creatures (eland and springboks and antelope) throughout our time in SA. Sorry to report that there have been a total of zero elephants and lions grazing in the passing pastures, but have hope, loving people, as this matter is subject to change.

-Some discrepancies in the English lingo are fun. For instance …
+Traffic light/stop light = robot
+Barbecue = braii
+Soon = now-now
+Trash/garbage = rubbish (duh)
+Cool = shop shop
+my dude/bro = mei bru
+Darn/sorry to hear that/that’s too bad = shame
+Grocery bag = packets
+Zucchini = marrows
+Pickles = gherkins

-If you ever have the opportunity to try some guava juice, please seize it on behalf of your dear friends Reis and Emily.

A Tale of Two Extremes

CAPE TOWN — This time last week, Emily and I were recovering from a three day hike in the Drakensberg Mountains. We walked some 20 miles at over 11,000 feet above sea level, crossed an international border, battled through the strongest wind I’ve ever experienced, and slept outside. Here’s a bit of what we were up against:Image

 

When we finished, we were beat. We were a little hungry, definitely dirty, and we surely didn’t smell very good. Our backs and knees and feet hurt from trekking all that way with 40 some pounds on our back. Above all, though, we were refreshed. It’s an effect nature has an uncanny ability to inflict. It’ll beat you up, yet leave you eager to return. 

Sadly, this is something a lot of us — me especially — tend to forget. It is said that 70 percent of people who live in Durban — an industrial city with Drakensberg in its backyard — have never been to the mountain range. Sure, everyone knows it’s there. The issue is that few people think they have time for it. I believe this feeling plagues most of us. Whether it’s school, a job, or whatever, it is far easier to let daily monotonies consume you than to buck the cycle and, say, spend the weekend outside. 

This week, Emily and I couldn’t be further away from the peaceful calm of the Drakensberg. We’re in Cape Town, South Africa’s second most populous city. There isn’t a time of the day or the night when I couldn’t walk onto the balcony of our hostel and look out at the city center devoid of activity. There is simply always something going on, always things to do, always noise to be made, and hardly a star in the sky. From what I’ve seen so far, it truly is an amazing city. Whether it’s working or partying, people always seem to be on the move. Its restless energy is certainly a lot of fun. But I also wonder if the place ever takes a break. 

In my experience, balancing my hectic world of homework and deadlines with a little time outdoors can really refresh my perspective. Spending time away from that stuff lets me know that’s not all there is in this world. I’m experiencing two ends of the spectrum here and enjoying one makes the other all the better.