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Wrong Train

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I wrote this a little while ago about a two-day span of incredible bad luck that left me feeling unsafe and terrified during a stay that was relatively unmarred by anything remotely dangerous.

Re-reading this now, I sound like I was terrified of poverty. Keep in mind that I had spent the month and a half previous to the incident working at a newspaper based on stories from the townships and was repeatedly told by other journalists that I should never, EVER, for any reason take an unknown train, be out late at night or head into townships without one of them for whatever reason.

This was from people who grew up and lived in Cape Town, South Africa.

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I didn’t realize immediately where we went wrong. I was still in a state of shock from the night before. Those tiny, grubby faces surrounding me, the band-aid on the face of the oldest and the crazed look in the eye of the youngest haunted my recent memories of the train station. [“Give me your cell phone.”]

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My real Cape Town experience.

So I’m home in one piece. Sort of…

I did get mugged, but as everyone in the office said, I’ve truly experienced Cape Town like a local now…

It was late one night, and I knew that I wouldn’t want to take the train from Cape Town station to my station and then walk home in the dark by myself, so I called one of our cabs to come meet us. As I waited inside the station I stood by security guards, but then he called me to say that he was almost there and to meet him outside.
As I walked out I thought to myself, “it’s really dark out here.” Just as that thought passed, a group of four street kids obviously on drugs and following the oldest leader surrounded me and asked me for my cell phone.

Knowing that I wasn’t that far from the station, and that there were people around I told them that I don’t have a cell phone or money and that they should just go away. (This is actually the way that many locals have learned to deal with the scum of the earth that roam the cities streets at night, sometimes they’ll leave you alone because they don’t want a fight, sometimes it ends badly.)
As soon as I said that I don’t have a cell phone, my phone which was hidden in the sleeve of my sweater lights up as it receives a text. (Probably the cab driver telling me he was there.)
One of the younger kids that I could see said that he had a really big knife, and while I didn’t believe him for one second, I didn’t want to wait around to find out, so I handed over the cell phone.

While this was happening, I wasn’t as terrified until I realized how lucky I was. Only a week before, someone grabbed another girls backpack and when she pulled back, they punched her in the face and ran off.
I could have been stabbed, and they could have taken a lot more than they did.

Really and truly the jokes on them. They probably looked at me and thought that I had a really nice phone, but it was actually the cheapest phone you can buy in all of South Africa and not even worth the 5 minutes that they stood there asking for it.

Of course I started bawling as soon as I got into the cab, and the entire drive home and for most of the rest of the night. I couldn’t tell Andrew for fear that he would freak out and tell me to come home, and I wasn’t ready to leave yet..

The whole incident, compiled with other experiences by volunteers, makes me really and truly fear for the safety of all those tourists who the city hopes will come for the 2010 FIFA games.

Almost the next day, the neighbours to my host family got high-jacked in their own garage at gunpoint for their car. The theif took the car and drove into the fence and took off.

I always knew that poverty, combined with a high level of drug use could truly be the demise of a city and a society, but nowhere is it more evident than in Cape Town.

I experienced a lot of great things in Cape Town, but the constant fear that people live in and the extremes that you have to go to in order to be safe are more than anyone living in a Western Country could ever comprehend.
I’m glad to be home.

I’m glad to feel safe riding the subway, and I’m glad to feel comfortable leaving my back door unlocked.
I’m lucky to be so well-off, even though by many Western standards I’m not.

I still have to compile an entry of my last few weeks in Cape Town, becuase by all means it was still amazing despite the constant fear.
I experienced a heaping handful of wonderful experiences and another handful of things that I would rather forget, but all in all, it was a great trip…

I’m terrible, I know.

I haven’t been very good at keeping up this blog, and now, on my last day here it doesn’t seem like there is very much point.

The internet is slow, the cafe’s are greasy and there are just too many things to keep up with that I don’t even know where to begin.

When I get home, I will write the longest, most detailed post yet that should satisfy everyones desire to know what I have been up to.

All I’ll say now is that I’m not glad it’s over, but I am glad that I am leaving.
If that makes sense…

This whole trip has been bittersweet, which is what this whole town is like…

Pictures will be posted in abundance when I can access internet on a computer that can handle more than the stupid simple uploader. (I’ve forgotten how annoying that system was…)

Thursday morning, I’ll be waking up on a plane in Amsterdam to spend the weekend with my sweetie at a 5 star hotel in Amsterdam’s city centre. It is also Pride weekend, so there will be beautiful gay dutchmen running around, and the parade should be beautiful as a fleet down the canals. I can’t wait and I’ll take a million and one pictures (as always).

For now, shopping, wine with lunch, the most amazing homemade chicken curry for my last host family meal, then drinks and dancing with some amazing people. I couldn’t ask for a better last couple days.
Not to mention the most gorgeous day spent at the beach yesterday trying desperately to get some colour!

T.I.A = This Is Africa

Time is just flying by and I sure have been fitting in quite the load of entertainment, as well as enough articles written to make my portfolio look pretty good.

The gang in our pimped out bakkie

Two weekend’s ago one of my friends’ host mum arranged for us to do a day trip to a Game Reserve called Botlierskop, so we all climbed into the back of a bakkie (small truck) and made the trek.

It was a ridiculously long drive there, but it was worth it for the amount of animals that we saw. I thank the heavens above that I stuck with my super crazy canon of a camera, because it’s zoom was so fabulous that everyone else in the car just kind of stopped trying to take pictures.First we saw a small family of elephants, and it truly saddened me to see the elephant keeper, (I have no idea what the technical term is) herding them around so that people could see them.
Then we drove into the lion’s den. There were carcasses scattered all around the cage (it is a cage, even though it was a big cage) and rotting flesh that had been left over once the lion and his two lionesses (pimp) decided they were finished. The animals there are all raised in captivity, so they have never seen the wild. The lion’s wouldn’t know how to properly hunt if their prey wasn’t placed in their pen every 2-3 days.

At one point, the guide said that in order to protect many animals in Africa they have to be kept in captivity as the big 5 was named so because they are the hardest to hunt. This means that people come from all over the world to pay big money to hunt these animals. There are game hunting reserves that cater solely to this, where animals are raised and sedated so amateur hunters can actually make the kill.

We saw buffalo and rhino, and wildebeest (which will totally give new meaning to the ride at wonderland) ostrich, zebra, some of the bok family (no springbok though, which is like THE animal of south Africa… it might even be their national animal… hmm RESEARCH), and I can’t even remember half of them.
The picture below shows a rhino with no zoom, the closest we came to an animal at the safari. The Buffalo also kept walking towards us, but the guides were concerned that they would ram the Jeep.

Good thing my super wonderful fabulous camera captured every movement they made while we were in their presence. Not to mention that I have a whole load of video of buffalo that came super close to the jeep, just chewing their cud (they’re a lot like cows) and glaring at us.

This past weekend we went on a winery tour. It was nice to taste South African wine (although to be honest, I have been drinking it at most of the restuarants) but even better was being able to buy what we taste at really cheap prices. I bought a bottle for a gift and one for myself.
The two together probably weigh about 7 lbs, which means that I’m going to have to leave behind ANYTHING and everything that is unnecessary. (i.e. towel, toiletries etc.)
It was more interesting than a regular wine tour, however. We were taken to see a winery where the management gave the workers land to live on as well as a share in the winery. The workers were even given their own label so they could create their own wine and market and sell it. With the profits they plan on purchasing the land from the farmers so that they were official land owners and could make money for their childrens future. It was quite heartwarming, but from there we went to a winery that did not care about their farmers and were often fighting with them on the grounds of housing and proper wages.
Workers at this specific winery lived in an informal settlement right across the road from the winery. I found it quite interesting that you could see the shacks from the posh wineries front door.

I’m really quite ready to come home, as I feel like I’ve put in my part in the newsroom and seen and done most of the things that I wanted to do.
I was talking to another girl who just finished her 8 weeks, and she said that she felt the exact same thing at the 6 week mark. However, I’m going to stick it out at work and am working on a few ideas for news stories as well as features.
Thanks to my new office partner, Nell, we are going to take advantage of our humanitarian contacts who are working on the human rights project with projects abroad and write a piece utilizing all of our combined contacts.

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the internet, in all my running around. Today I’m heading home sick to read and sleep and eat chocolate, but had to stop at an internet cafe to get my internet fix. le sigh.

Seals and whales and sharks, OH MY!

This past weekend I realized just how much I want to travel more. I spent the weekend at a hostel in Hermanus. We went for a hike along the cliffs near the hostel and walked through the quaint little town where we went out for dinner. For the first time since my arrival in Cape Town, it was safe to walk around at night. There were fewer homes with gates and high security and, it seemed as we drove through, fewer townships close to the small town.

The closest thing to a mud hut that I've seen

Staying in the open and welcoming atmosphere of a hostel made me feel instantly at home. There were posters everywhere of things that you could do, and walls full of flyers from local companies with activities.

After a nice evening of playing pool and chatting, we went to bed and it was instantly like a giant slumber party. There was one guy in our room who was obviously annoyed at how much girls tend to gossip, but we continued giggling into the wee hours, even though we had to be up at 7 to get ready for a big day of shark diving.

Shark diving was quite the adventure. The little boat went pretty fast and handled the waves with ease. Many of the other volunteers didn’t handle the waves as well. By the time we had arrived at the site that they dropped anchor, there were already 2 pukers who had laid claim to the front end of the boat.

While the boat was stationary, the waves coming at it from all sides lurched everyone all over the place. Making it almost impossible to walk, and next to impossible to think of anything except how sick you felt. By the time we got back to land, there were only 5 out of our group of 16 that had not puked. I have no idea about any of the others who were on the boat, but quite a few had tossed their cookies while waiting for their turn to climb into the water and see the sharks.

These suits were NOT the most flattering, head shots it is.

They tied fish to a line and let it sit in the water in the hopes of attracting some sharks. Not wanting to miss the action and for fear of the sharks getting bored of the crew member taunting them with fish that they could not have, I volunteered to dive with the second group.

Pulling on the diving suit was a ridiculous pain in the ass. Not to mention that I had forgotten to bring my bathing suit and was wearing a tank top and some underwear, or the fact that the suits had been stored wet from the previous trip.

Once I got into the cage and figured out how my goggles worked (No snorkel, just goggles for my eyes and nose) I was ready to see some sharks. I floated in the water for ages, being thrown about by the waves and wishfully ducking into the water to see something underneath or around me in the murky salt water. (Which I was swallowing every other few minutes) Finally, when I was just about through with being smashed into the metal bars of the cage, they scream from above “down in front” meaning, get in the water, the shark is right in front of you.

Ahhhhmazing

It was amazing; the shark swooped around the bait and came a mere few feet from the cage, eyeing the 6 of us gawking at it while it swam by. Looking into the eyes of a shark with no bars, no glass, only a thin layer of plastic in my goggles was worth the R950 for the trip. There were some that had paid and made the journey that couldn’t make it into the cage because they were too sick, and I am sincerely glad that I was not one of them.

There were a few spots where the tour guide had said to watch out for whales, however I didn’t see anything except a few seals playing in the waves behind the boat on the way back to land.

I wasn’t able to snap many amazing pictures of sea animals, but one of the guys in our group got the most amazing shot when a shark got hold of the bait and was in the air biting it.

I do, however, have a picture of a new found wonder that someone told me about. In the crest of a wave that has just crashed, from a certain angle you can see a rainbow in the spray. That made my hike along the cliffs, just peacefully watching all the rainbows form as waves crashed against the shore.

Using Public Transport to get to know the locals

Riding the train daily is giving me real insight into the lives of the people that I routinely see. Waiting for the train to leave Cape Town station is always a buzz of activity. People swarm the platforms yelling “chippies, cool drink?” as they lug their boxes of multi-flavoured chips (Greek lamb is actually very good) and buckets of soft drinks for sale to waiting commuters. Apart from this ingenious idea of making money, there are blind beggars that ride the trains. Yeah, we have this type in Toronto, but they’re the “deaf” people who hand out cards. These guys ride the train with someone who can see and collect change while they sing and play a keyboard hanging from their shoulders with rope.
These are all part of the many everyday things that I wish I could photograph. I don’t pull out my camera at every opportunity for two reasons: 1, I don’t want to be robbed, 2. I don’t want to look like a tourist. I always knew that fitting in would be a struggle, but one reporter warned me harshly that I shouldn’t even talk on the train because people will instantly know that I am a foreigner.
Yes, I have an “accent” and it’s not the “aboot” that everyone thinks Canadians talk like, but I guess it’s just more the lack of an Afrikaans accent missing from my speech.

For now I hope you’re all enjoying your heat wave while I’m sitting here in a long sleeved sweater shivering a little (but not enough to even worry about.. haha.)
It’s hilarious here seeing people layering it on for their winter while I’m wearing a thin sweater and maybe a jacket. Then again, here at the office they’re laughing about today’s “heat wave” in Toronto. Apparently they had a heat wave a few years ago where it was above 40 degrees all week. And that’s not “what it felt like” that’s what the thermometer read! SO glad I’m not here during summer! haha.

Market Shopping, Table Mountain & Robben Island

The fun in going to the markets is not the actual shopping in itself, but the bargaining. It’s always an adventure to simply browse without buying. Often the vendors look like they are pleading and begging with you to buy something, and if you look reluctant they will drastically reduce the price to nearly half the starting price, or less. It almost makes me think, “yeah, maybe I do want this terrifyingly creepy carving of a face that represents war.” But I only think that so that even hurt their feelings in my own head. Although sometimes I feel like screaming, “Stop telling me what I want!” But the pleas keep coming, “please, I need to bring food home to my grandbaby,” “business has been bad today, you’re my first customer,” or simply, “I’m hungry.”
That’s the reality of life here, people don’t set up their stalls like a weekend bazaar, they come a few times a week to make money for their family to get by.

Relaxing at the top of Table Mountain

The past weekend was the first full weekend that I’ve had here. On Friday I bailed early from work to take advantage of a beautiful day and climb table mountain. (I made up for it by writing 5 shorts and an article) I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was ridiculously hard. The group of people that I went with wanted to do the hard trail because they believed that it was shorter than the easier one, so whatever I think, “I’m not THAT out of shape.” But half way up my legs were like jelly, my lungs were burning and I’m sure that my face was embarrassingly red and splotchy. So I told everyone to stop waiting for me and just go ahead with out me. I was so embarrassed that I felt like crying, but I got what I wanted, which was my trip to the top in an aerial car and an hour and a half of picture perfect opportunities.

Saturday we went to Robben Island and took a tour of the prison, and the island. The tour was led by ex political prisoners, so it made it that much more interesting. We learned about their treatment because of their opposition to apartheid as well as how much they actually learned while they were there, considering that all of the political prisoners from around South Africa were all housed in the same prison.

Afterwards we had a nice dinner on the waterfront and went out for drinks on Long Street; the street where it seems like every tourist in Cape Town congregates on a weekend. It’s generally a place for mayhem, dancing, drinking and eating amazing pizza at 4 in the morning.

Youth Day & Life at The Office

It amazes me how quickly I’ve gotten used to Cape Town. I’ve been here three weeks and no longer worry for my safety on the train, mainly because I know where I’m going and wouldn’t dare take it at night.(save the minor panic attack I had when I thought I was on the wrong train to meet up with other volunteers for a potjii social)
I’m also kind of amazed at myself that I take the train regularly and have a good idea of which routes go where.

Seafood Potjii

On Tuesday June 16th we had a social for a South African public holiday called Youth Day. It is a day that commemorates the beginning of the Soweto riots when youth protested against teaching Afrikaans in black schools, and aprox. 500 people were killed.
To remember this day, we had a true South African cook-off, potjii style. A potjii is a big black pot with three legs that you use to make stew. We made two different types, one including a whole wack of fish; snoek, (the traditional South African fish that is sold everywhere, (I’ve seen it selling on the streets in townships for R20 for a huge fish!) calamari and crab, as well as a chicken one. It took forever to cook them, we started making the fire at around 10:30 or 11, and didn’t eat until around 3. But it was worth the wait! They were so tasty, filled with flavours of all different vegetables and meats.

Some days at the office there is a lot to do, and some days I am left with absolutely nothing.
If I could browse the Internet normally, time might not drag on forever, but I have no patience when it comes to these computers.
I’ve decided that I’m going to stick it out here, I can contribute a lot, and today, June 23, I had four stories published. Two of them were a co-op article that I contributed to, but my contributions are what made the headlines based on thoroughly researching and developing knowledge in a subject that I previously knew nothing about.

The story I’m proud of was about the use of tik (meth) in black communities, as opposed to the majority of use in coloured communities. I spoke to professional researchers as well as social workers, but couldn’t find the township angle (due lack of contacts as well as inability to speak the language, isxhosa) which is the reason for the co-operation with another reporter.
The editor-in-chief loves my show (as Andrew would say… God I miss him!), I had a talk with him the other day and he said that it seemed like I’m fitting in here quite well. I explained some of the problems that I was having. He told me to be honest, and while I held back some of my bigger concerns, (the actual integrity of the paper) I made sure to tell him how hard it was for me to find work to do, except being assigned work.

That’s aside from “my” front page, where I went out on assignment and tried talking to people to get information, but everyone spoke isxhosa. (“kosa” and yeah, that’s the one with the clicks, it actually sounds REALLY cool). I also got the contact information and made sure that the traffic communications officer sent a media release to us to verify what happened.There were 105 kids and eight adults in a taxi (a mini-bus meant for 26 adults, including the driver). It was a front page, as well as a spread.

I’ve started keeping a journal. Maybe not everyday, but once in a while I just sit down and collect my thoughts, mainly what I was hoping to do in my blog, but that will be my completely uncensored version of my personal feelings and thoughts.

And let me tell you, working here requires a little bit of an uncensored outlet.

Things I miss:

I’ve been here for a little over a week and I think it’s safe to say what I miss about home.

Most of them are little things that we take advantage of, but make a huge difference in our lives:
– My hair straightener (haha)
– The dryer, wash has to hang on the line, and when it rains it’s incredibly damp everywhere. My sweater hasn’t been dry since I got off the plane as it soaks up every bit of moisture in the room.
– My family and friends, of course. That should have been at the top of the list, but I can still talk to you guys… my clothes can’t dry themselves, and my hair is never straight.
– ENGLISH! Even though I chose South Africa because most people here speak english, they also speak other languages. Today, I went out on a story in one of the poorest townships, but it is also the most African in the sense that they only speak isxhosa.
– The internet. Seriously, everything here runs on South Africa time. Everything.

Things that I love:
– The markets with all of the beautiful stuff. I want to buy everyone’s jewellery and paintings and carvings, but must resist the urge. (I am thinking though, that I should try and find out how much it will cost to send home a box of clothes that I don’t need, i.e. dress pants and dresses so that I will have room to buy all these wonderful treasures)
– How the people that do speak English speak proper English. People don’t say “where do you live”, they say “where do you stay.” They say lift, and lou, and eat marmite and braii, and have charming accents that are sometimes hard to understand.
– How polite everyone seems to be, I could be walking to the train station and while I’m completely terrified of talking to people,(but trying hard not to show it) they’ll still smile and say good morning.

 

I’m sure that I’ll get over the things I miss and I’ve already started to embrace the things that I don’t love about Cape Town. It’s likely going to be harder to leave than I thought…

The Daily Voice: First day in a Cape Town newspaper

I just finished my first day at the Daily Voice.
I was really only in the office for about 25 minutes before one of the other interns, Venencia(sp?!) took me out on a story.
We went to the township of Wesbank, and I really got to see what I’m getting myself into…
The living conditions there are very poor, and the houses are right next to a cow and goat farm, so there are cows and goats walking the streets near the homes.

The story was about a dead baby, who was suspected to have been killed by the mother (who is only 14 yrs old) but she claimed that she only turned her over for a minute to change her diaper, and when she turned her over again the baby was dead. We talked to the mother, who was obviously in distress, the police and some local people who knew the woman as well as the baby’s father.

The annoying thing about the day is that everyone speaks Afrikaans and I had no idea what was going on. I’m sure that I’ll catch on, but everyone speaks so fast. Luckily, I am able to pick up snippets because there are a lot of words or phrases that are spoken in English.

Hopefully it will get easier, and I’ll feel like less of an observer and actually get started on some wicked stories! I can’t wait!