Monday, January 31, 2011

Ramblings from the Indian Ocean

Hey all,
to those who may or may not be following my blog regularly, you may have noticed my posts being random and sporadic, a collection of incoherent and awkwardly stitched together blurbs. The internet has been really touch and go here in the Eastern Cape. I don't have a strong enough signal to post pictures yet and I have been super busy with class and such, so things are a bit crazy, but in an absolutely, unequivocally amazing way. Thanks for the love and support,

from the Indian ocean,

Here is the first piece of poetry I have written in years, written last night after a walk across the Wild Coast. Hope you enjoy:


pieces of trees,
pieces of the whole,
now driftwood,
temporarily occupied
as a tiny levee
on a winding beach.
as if,
by chance,
something decided that
these branches
would be better as
and not as branches.
salt water fills
wood pores
and, ironically,
desiccates the tissue
before the alter
of an entire ocean.

I question the rationale,
behind moving things
just so they are moved.
Seeing things just because
they are seen.
Doing things just because they
must be done.
If driftwood has taught me
its ‘never employ yourself as a
wave break’.
let the waters flow.

Arriving: Dwessa-Cwebe

    This is the Wild Coast. Roundevals and thatch-roofed homes dot the hillsides along endless kilometers of unpaved roads. There is dirt in my lungs and little pieces of Africa digesting in my stomach. I sweat. I am slowly absorbing its atmosphere through my pores. Children wave and laugh as we pass by, pointing to their bellies, asking for sweets. Cows, goats and dogs regularly block the way. Women going to market with stacks of wood balanced on their heads, their babies clasped tightly to their back by a swaddling cloth. Our convoy gradually makes twisting, sporadic progress toward the distant ocean. It can be smelled long before it can be seen. Sixty-nine kilometers of dirt before we reach the Dwessa-Cwebe nature reserve. Three tumbling landrovers on a winding road. Two hours to the nearest hospital. One Wild Coast.

    Yesterday, we were stranded in the Cape Morgan coastal reserve for the day due to faulty wiring on one of the vehicles. I spent the day reading and hiking and staring at a curious vervet monkey from about 3 meters away. He blinked first and jumped off into the brush. Today, a few swift punches to the steering column cleared up our car troubles enough to press on. This morning we left for Dwessa-Cwebe and tonight we are here.

    Driving through the small towns and communities in rural South Africa is a much different experience than the cities. Here, on the farmland that borders wilderness, there is no contrast to the poverty--there are no large mansions or European luxury automobiles flaked by shanty towns. There are no individuals in tailored suits stepping over the scraggly dressed homeless. Instead, there are just entire communities of people living at a particular standard of living. This is not a land of have-and-have-nots; it is simply a land of people living lives on the periphery of the national consciousness.
    This area of the country is called the Transkei. It’s history extends to the Apartheid era when the white National Party forcibly relocate millions of black South Africans into separate ‘homelands’ according to their propaganda driven policy of ‘separate development’. Today, despite the end of Apartheid, these boundaries still persist, now a result of a socioeconomic caste system instead of overt political racism. This is the new racism of our age and a pressing issue for South Africa and the world. Still, these people farm their land, awaiting the once promised change from the revolutionary ANC led government. This change is slow coming.
    The rural areas are spread across the countryside; this is because the communities came first, the roads followed long after. The sprawling villages occasionally coalesce in small towns. These places are hubs of communication and people. These are places where words and gestures are haphazardly thrust across busy intersections, from fruit stand to fruit stand and store front to store front. Phrases in tongues. People pulling carts. Balancing bags of produce on their head. People selling things, everything, anything for 50, no 30, no 25 rands. Street lights are suggestions, roads are ambiguous. Sidewalks are stone and dirt. The air is thick with cigarettes and the smell of citrus and the boiling of ground sorghum.
    I share a smoke with a man who barely speaks English. He asks my name. I say, “I am Mario”. I ask him for his name. He echoes, “My name is Mario”. We can’t talk much, but he knows the name of the famous South African soccer player ‘Shebelala’. We smoke mostly in silence. That is the universal language: tobacco. We pass several towns like this, connected by long stretches of country road, herds of cattle, over-crowded taxis and the occasional dead animal. We reach the Dwessa-Cwebe reserve in the early afternoon. I am not sure where the farmland ends and the forests begin, but now we are in the wilderness.

    My room is a concrete and thatch hut. We have plumbing and electrical, but it is certainly not a Hilton, although it really doesn’t matter, this is far better anyway. You can hear the ocean constantly. From my doorway, you can seen the brown waves crashing on the beach; crashing, because this is a notoriously moody part of the coast line and brown, because the river delta empties into the ocean about a half of a kilometers walk down the beach. The sediment that spills from the river mouth makes ideal conditions for crocodiles, sharks and lots of other big, bad animals. Fording rivers is tricky--you’ve go to be quick and keep your eyes open. Swimming in the ocean is not advised, but temptation never reared such a seductive head. This is one apple, however, that I will leave on its low hanging branch. There are so many other things to explore and I value my limbs.
    The reserve houses a corral of horses, some 10 or 15 in all. There is one Zebra as well, the last of a herd of three that meander among the horses and drink from the pool. It’s skittish, but calm enough for a brief petting. As I write this, there is a juvenile vervet monkey picking figs out of the tree in front of me--about 2 meters away. The leathery skin of his little black face protruding with mouthfuls of delicious figs. He seems friendly, I will name him Roger.
    The reserve is split into two parts by the Mbashe river; Cwebe to the north, and Dwessa to the south. Cwebe is where we are staying, full hundreds of bird species, some smaller antelope breeds (dikka, springbok, bushbuck and others) bush pigs, vervets, the light house and a several-story waterfall. Dwessa, where we will be doing some of our field work, research and camping, is home to a small herd of white rhino, the larger antelope species (kudu, eland, blesbuck and others), some larger predators (jaguar and some other big cats--however, not lions), snakes and everything else.
    The truth is, few researchers actually know the extent of what wildlife is actually contained within the reserve. There have only been two or three rudimentary surveys conducted in the park. We are hoping to change that, to get a better idea of what is going on here. The Parks Board conserves this area of pristine coastal forest because it represents a small remaining island of what once was an even Wilder Coast of sprawling trees and coastline. There are so many things alive here. We will probably be doing flora surveys, ecosystem rebuilding, and possibly shark catching and tagging. I will sleep well tonight under the blanket of stars shining through my window, if only these horses would stop making so much noise on the porch.

good night, good morning, good life from the Wild Coast,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A South African Braai

    There are billions of stars in the sky. Last night, our group of students celebrated our last night on the road with a bray (the Afrikaans word for barbecue) with the Eastern Cape Parks Board. This department oversees all nature reserves and community conservation projects in the Eastern Cape; they are also an immensely eclectic, intelligent and hilarious group of administrators. We will be working with them on-and-off for the next 9 weeks we will spend at the Haven, located in the Dwessa-Cwebe nature reserve on the Wild Coast.
    After a few local South African brews and a braai of beef and pork, we made our way down to the shore. Down a rocky and muddy trail, past the lagoon and onto a vast stretch of beach. The sand laid out before us, a carpet leading to the dark waters of the Indian ocean that rolled gently across our bare feet. It has been a while since I last realized: there are billions of stars in the sky. Here, just out side the sleepy ocean town of East London, there are no lights, no big buildings, no traffic, no nothing to obscure the view of the night sky. The southern hemisphere--a ballet of constellations with the borders of the Milky Way galaxy clearly visible as a brush stroke across the entire sky.
    Sitting on the dunes, listening to the waves, with lighthouse periodically illuminating the hazy horizon and wet sand in an eerie neon blue. Belly full. Eyes wide. I am a very luck person. It was quite an inspiring moment, just one of many so far on this entire adventure. There are billions of stars in the sky.

peace and love,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Some Lingering Thoughts

    A few thoughts:
    I wonder what our responsibilities are as people--to each other, to the natural world, and to this earth. At what point are we justified in entertaining our own self-interest? What is the threshold at which we can no longer ignore suffering and devastation and greed and injustice? On a very fundamental level, when one is reduced to the point of honest and absolute personal reflection, do all people feel the twinge of guilt, the insurmountable pressures of an overwhelmingly troubled world? How can we cope with such personal and global issues? Can we consciously decide to do noting and still call ourselves moral, compassionate and worthy human beings? Do we rationalize and justify our responsibilities away? Do we pass the blame?

Doesn’t this world belong to all of us? Aren’t we all in this together?

    It seems that many in the history books have tried to make the world a better place. Whether for better or for worse, with horrific consequences or wonderful ones, many have tried to align the world with their own conception of rightness. And yet, history repeats itself--an endless cycle of heros and villains, the strong and the weak, the rise and fall of empires. Patriotism, they say, is a matter of dates; today’s traitor is tomorrows loyalist and vice versa. I wonder if it is the same with humanitarianism? With conservation? With activism? Today’s humanitarian, today’s conservationist, today’s activist is forgotten, wrong, or somehow demonized tomorrow. How the tides of history change.
    How does one stay upright? In a world of incomplete knowledge and pseudo-political swings in an accepted reality, is their anyway to be an honest human being? It seems a self-defeating task; every step forward, a step back. Are there absolutes? Can their possibly be rightness or wrongness in a world that changes its mind daily? If we divorce ourselves from society and its constructed paradox, one might achieve some notion of truth. However, once we have left the social realm, we have forsaken our brothers and sisters, indulging in a vice of personal harmony and peace. To me, it seems that such a decision is equally as selfish as a decision to live in opulence with no concern for one’s fellow man.

    Harmony through service. Peace through selflessness. Finding yourself by giving yourself entirely to others.

    Are we capable of such a sacrifice? Are we willing to walk such a path? Is it worth it, considering the cyclical course of unstoppable juggernaut that is history? I don’t mean to sound too , “Whooaa man, life... it’s just, like, so awesome”, you know, too ephemeral or weird. Its just hard to understand how one might fit into this picture or how I might act after experiencing certain things. Its hard to know if it will help, if it will make a difference. To see suffering and to be helpless to alleviate it--that weighs heavy on the heart. There are personal struggles and social struggles. But really, these are the same thing--they are human struggles and ones that we all must face.

peace and love from the Wild Coast,

The Nature Conservancy

    The last 24 hours: we drove about 300 km across the southern African coast, ending at a hostel and nature conservancy just outside Port Elizabeth. The nature conservancy was owned and run by Craig “Wayne” Doone, his wife and three children. It is a beautiful old home tucked away in the lesser slopes and trailing end of the folded mountains. Surrounded by mountain upon mountain, stream upon stream, and grassland upon grassland of untouched African wilderness, the place is somewhat of a school for conservancy students, somewhat of a farm for sustainability research, and somewhat of a playground for all those with a mind for adventure and four inch wide spiders in their beds. During diner, we watched a troop of baboons cross the savannah field, about 100 yards outside. Their calls, and the calls of hundreds of frogs, insects, birds and a pattering, persistent rain lulled us to sleep.
    Wayne is a terrific individual. He possesses almost every honor, every degree and every iota of knowledge one could possibly hope to learn about Botany. This professional background, for which he is world reknowned, is supplemented by an encyclopedic understanding of the African bush--truly, he is a man at home in the wild. He bought up the land several years ago in hopes of creating a conservatory and learning environment for what he sees as the future of human-environment interactions. His days consist of fighting back invasive plant species, monitoring the faunal life moving through his property, publishing his research, visiting the Koi San rock paintings and Acheulean rock shelters in the nearby hills and educating guests and students. A man of meaningful words, he has a wonderful sense of humor and an intense love of this land. Who could blame him--these places do hold a deep and mysterious power.
    We this morning at 5 am for a 5 km nature hike that covered only 1/3 of the entire property. We could hear the baboons calling early as we climbd the first scraggly face on one of an infinite number of unnamed cliffs. It was overcast and cloudy, with only brief interjections of the sun onto the grassland valley. We saw a number of antelope species, some the size of a large horse, others the size of a small dog. Bush pig, warthog, anteaters dikas, African crowned eagles, and of course, baboons had left their obvious tracks in the dirt, their holes in the ground, and their distinctive droppings pretty much everywhere. Fog poured over the mountains and into the valleys like a waterfall as a persistent misting kept us cool. This was a very different, but unbelievably beautiful side of Africa that I had not expected. We spent the day, discussing conservation, politics, bush medicine, botany, academia and why poop looks the way it does.
    We left this afternoon for our last stop before our final destination at the Haven. It’ll be nice to get off the road and settle down for the next 9 weeks, but this last week has been amazing. Tonight, its away with the vans and onto the Landrover Defenders that will be taking us the rest of the way into the untamed wilderness of the Eastern coast. Reputedly some of the most isolated and wild territory in South Africa, the Eastern Cape and specifically, the Dwessa-Cwbe reserve will be our home for the next 2 months. Balls to the wall.

peace and love from the bush,

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Along the N2

    Things have changed. What I mean is that the landscape has undergone a metamorphosis in the past 300 km. Yesterday, we crossed the RSA from the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth parallel to the coast. This stretch of highway, called the N2, varies in both upkeep and size. At times, the N2 is a sprawling highway with speed limits of 120+ km/hr, even consisting of four lanes in places. At other times, the N2 is hardly a narrow mountain pass around 3 m wide; seasonally active waterfalls showering the road, vertical cliffs on either side, blind corners with questionable guard rails.This road passed through 4 biologically, geologically and culturally diverse biomes in a distance roughly equivalent to the distance across Pennsylvania. I don’t know if there are many analogous amounts of diversity anywhere else in the world, definitely not in the US of A. There are still unchartered lands here in South Africa. Houses built on rivers that are, “Only accessible by obscure, hidden and treacherous dirt roads”. I wonder at the kind of effect such a landscape evokes in a person. Especially those living in the shadows of the mountains or under the guise of an endless indigenous forest. It’s truly beautiful.
    We started in the outskirts of the Western Cape, leaving the 4-star hotel in which we stayed for the past two days. Just a disclaimer: my professor intentionally put us in this ritzy hotel the night after seeing the poverty in Langa and Khaylesha as a means of presenting stark juxtaposition--it worked. The wine and linguini ratatouille were delicious, but with the poignant aftertaste of guilt. We drove out of this mountainous wine growing region before reaching the flats of a valley basin. We drove for a time along a semi-arid plain, flanked by mountains peaking out at around 3,000 meters (roughly 9,000+ feet). The ocean was obscured from view by the southern range, but its effects were quite visible. Clouds haloed around the highest peaks, blanking the foothills and casting a rain shadow across the entire valley. The presence of ocean influence and a Mediterranean-like climate in this area has enabled a deep history of world renowned vineyards, brandy distilleries and fruit farms to flourish. This area alone provides 60% of the apples consumed in Europe.
    The flat valley road rose gradually to meet the base of these mountains and their vertical stratigraphy, a remnant of a violent past that has earned them the nickname The Folded Mountains. Several quick, winding turns placed us into the heart of the mountains--a place called Montagu. Known as a rock climbing paradise, this place was originally discovered by a British explorer named Montagu who carved the first great pass in these steep slopes. This part of the N2 has been carved directly into the red-stone walls of the mountain. There is one way in and only one way out of this valley, via the Montagu pass. This area is the birthplace of guerilla warfare, long before the Viet Cong and long before Che Guevara. Here, among the boulders and slopes, the outnumbered Dutch Afrikaans used such tactics to combat the gentlemanly war-machine of British troops. In response to such a new threat, the British began to establish the ‘prisoner of war camp’, a notion that would prove of great significance for the manner in which future wars would be fought by all nations. These Boehr wars between the Afrikaans and the British colonialists shaped not only the history of South Africa, but also, the history of the world.
    The last section of these mountains is known as the flower valley, a unique hotspot of biodiversity. There are more species of plants, specifically flowering plants, here than in the entirety of the British Isles, some 1600 in total. The somewhat less steep slopes in this area are coated by knee-high vegetation, almost all flowering. The seasonality of the blooms meant that there were only a few species in full plumage at this time, but during the spring, the sight is said to be utterly marvelous. One can only imagine. My frustration with cameras--an inability to truly capture any of this on film--has now reached an all time high. It is a truly poetic problem to have. To fill in the spaces that a picture cannot fill, all I can hope to do is write. I am, of course, assuming a lot of myself.
    Almost immediately after the flower valley, we entered the rolling hills of the agricultural region. The pavement turned to dirt and stone and the mountains receded into the distance. Although still visible like ghosts on the horizon, the tallest peaks remained hazed by the perpetual oceanic cloud cover. The farms in this area are fertile. The soil black and blood red. Crops of wheat, sorghum and canola stretch ad infinitum. Cattle lie with an indifferent languor at our passing. Blue crane, the national bird of South Africa, dot the sky in groups of 6 or more, sometimes landing to pick worms or small mice from the fields.
    The farm region eventually meets with a second mountain range into which we plunge headfirst. Here, the landscape changes once again, this time, into thick forest and impenetrable vegetation. Forget the Mediterranean climate, these are the subtropics. The mountain roads begin to form a series of switchbacks, swinging our van closer and closer to cliffs that dive straight down into the crashing surf of the Indian ocean. Houses dot these playful slopes, the space between them filled with the subtropical forest walls. In this place, any person must dance precariously between two powerful forces--mountains that end at the sea, sometimes stretching their spines like defiant peninsulas into the surf. It is a staggeringly dramatic topography.
    Small villages are nestled between breaks in the mountains or along calm lagoons. The sun plays like a disco ball through the thick clouds covering the hills. People walk the small streets. This mysterious land is full of pirate lore and centuries of history, however, one would not guess such things from its unassuming situation at the interface of a great land and a great sea. Again, as we pass each small town or village, there is an inevitable shantytown development. Even in modern South Africa, following the end of apartheid in 1994 and an ANC run government, wealth remains in the hands of a few, while the lower class (often black minorities) continue in poverty and persistence.

    I am amazed by this land, dwarfed by its size and humbled by its people. It is a paradox of beauty, both epic and profound and, at the same time, subtle and graceful.

    Last night we slept in a hostel in the subtropical forests. A chorus of birds and insects, the heavy smell of rain and atmosphere. Today, we venture into the untamed lands of the Eastern Cape.

peace and love,
-little hupo

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Townships of Langa and Khaylesha

        The day started as a trek out of Cape Town proper heading east. The day ended in a four-star hotel in the wealthy wine-growing region of Sommerset West in the outskirts of the Cape Province. The experience in between has altered my perspective profoundly--and it is still processing in a very strange way within my mind.

    A short drive out of the city, somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 km, took us into the township of Langa. This township, and others like it, are a direct result of the apartheid policies enacted between the 1950’s and 1980’s to congregate the black racial groups into specific and segregated locations. Such townships have a dynamic caste system of their own that occurs as a result of a marginally defined lower, middle and upper class. We were led on a tour of the township, which essentially turned out to be a tour of poverty. My thoughts on this matter are still evolving, but initially, it occurred to me that such “poverty tourism” is fundamentally immoral and degrading to those people we are observing through the lens of a camera. I took only two pictures before I felt an overwhelming sense of irreverence and guilt. I put the camera down and tried to spend the rest of the day being a human and not a tourist.
    People in Langa live in old shipping crates that have been converted to 10 foot by 10 foot rooms for an entire family. Others occupy old hostels, originally constructed for black Cape Town workers, that now contain twelve families per unit, three families per room, one family per bed. The children sleep on the floor or under the stove. There is usually only one bathroom to be shared among all 12 families, but these are the lucky ones, the ones with running water, the ones with a concrete foundation. The rest live in shanty-towns, the tin houses built of scavenged materials from the garbage of the wealthy from Cape Town proper.
    We visited one woman in particular, living in a used shipping crate with her husband, three children and one bed. The tour guide, a local Langanian, encouraged us to look inside her house and offer her money for allowing us to do so.

This was immensely fucked up, on many levels.

    As I looked through the door, this woman sat on a tattered quilt, gesturing with a forced smile and looking nervously at her children being engaged by several other white American tourist. I gave her a handful of change, maybe 5 Rands in total, and told her that her home was beautiful. She knew I was lying. I didn’t know what else to say. This group, this tour was somehow designed to inadvertently commodify the poverty of others, turning their disposition into an item to be consumed, to be photographed, to be used as a talking point in far away lands. My heart is full of guilt, my head full of a sense of injustice, for that which I am responsible for and for that which I am not. Either way, I am sorry for this grievous moral transgression.
    Following our visit to Langa, we headed to Khaylesha, another township and one of the largest in the Cape Town district. This place was almost entirely shanty-town, tin roofs and awnings. Hair salons under shaky roofs. Pubs behind decrepit gates. Unemployed young men playing with home-made dominos. Barefoot children running through the streets filled with garbage. And among this entire mix, two vans of white American students driving through. Local Khayleshians waved and yelled in Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans and sometimes English at our passing group. Its hard for me to believe that they were entirely supportive of our being there, but if the harbored resentment, they hid it well, although I am fairly certain I felt in in my bones even if I didn’t see it overtly.
    The day was sobering. The children loved having their pictures taken, but I hid my camera and tried to talk about soccer instead, or their school, or their favorite music. If I took their picture, I deleted it later. I didn’t want to make a spectacle of their situation without giving anything in return. I handed out what Rand I had, gave away my bracelet and laughed at their persistent antics.

    Behind their excitement was honest happiness, kids being kids.

    There were many things that I felt that went unsaid. It didn’t need to be explained. The adults and especially the kids, were not ashamed of their lives or of their poverty. They were proud like you and proud like me. It is my own ethnocentric, egotistical materialism that led me to ever assume otherwise.

    These people are just people, in every possible normal and abnormal sense of the word. Just people living their lives.

    The people in South Africa call everyone brother. Somewhere in the mix of people, shanty houses, stray dogs and street trash, I saw several signs bearing the image of Che Guevara with captions written in Xhosa. I didn’t understand this but I would like to; it seemed somehow, more significant than just pop-culture iconography. Still its meaning is up for grabs.
    Below are the only two pictures I took today. The first is a sample of the brilliant graffiti in Langa. A friend once told me that, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the best place in the world to find art and theater was in the newly abandoned, downtrodden and impoverished states of Eastern Europe. Out of strife comes creation, artistic expression. I feel as if this story is somehow analogous to the situation in Langa, the artwork and the people as a co-evolving being born from a certain social situation in a politically and historically ravaged country. There is strength, resilience and pride in these people, in their eyes and in their words. A few may beg, but still others spill beautiful expression onto their urban canvas.
    The second is a picture of the house of the woman living in the used shipping crate with her family. I don’t think I can say much else about this except that I am sorry I took this picture. She has beautiful children. She smiles like my mother. What she may lack in a home, she makes up for tenfold in her social presence within this sprawling neighborhood. There are not only millions of people in this land, but millions of individuals, far removed from my narrow eyes, but living lives in spite of their situation. They struggle, they falter, they love, they hate, they anger, they cry, they smile and they laugh, just like you and me.

peace and love from the RSA,

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Western Coast

    My first night in South Africa, I didn’t sleep at all. Maybe it was jet-lag, maybe it was the humidity, but I watched every minute of the night pass by. Outside, there is a city sleeping to the tune of a cool ocean breeze and a chorus of dreams in a thousand different languages. I laid awake and listened until morning came.
    The following day, we visited Robben Island, the South African version of Alcatrez, used for black political prisoners during the apartheid era uprisings. A native Indian-South African with a voice made for storytelling led us across the island, telling his own stories about being an activist in the anti-apartheid resistance of the past 40 years. I felt an odd sense of guilt as he explained the role of tourism in the new South Africa.

    “For every 6 visitors to Robben island, 1 job is created for a South African”.

    In a country fraught with 46% unemployment, this would appear to be a great service to the people, however, it does not occur without a dramatic irony. The fact is, most of the jobs created on Robben island often go to ex-prisoners of the island who remained without jobs since their release in 1991. It is a strange sort of injustice--those who experienced the brutality of a government that functioned to destroy their humanity, both in and out of prison, are driven by economic necessity to return to the very cells in which they suffered. This tragic dynamic, of course, is the result of to a lack of jobs and opportunities within the country that they fought to create. I felt somewhat irreverent, but I’m not sure there was anything, any gesture or statement that I could have made to remedy this Catch 22. So our tour guide, imprisoned for his retaliation after witnessing his pregnant girlfriend being shot dead by South African police, continued the tour with an unassuming sense of humor and a distant gaze. So it goes.
    My second night in South Africa, I slept like a baby. The following day, we took a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, not quite the southern most point in Africa, but the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian ocean. Along a drive that entailed winding, narrow roads across cliffs that dropped hundreds, even thousands of meters into the ocean, we saw passing baboons, endemic African jackass penguins, wild ostrich, and elands (an antelope like creature). It was a taste of South Africa, its various endemic biomes and biodiversity and the wealthy end of its development. Tomorrow we are going to venture into the outlying townships surrounding the city, into more impoverished and, at times, shanty-town like developments. From there, we begin our trek across the country. I’m excited, but wary of my role as a wealthy American student in this complex and fascinating country.

From Africa, goodnight my friends,

Cape Town

    Yesterday, we beat the snow out of the northeast, flying across the Atlantic into the night. Its untrue, of course, but I immediately began to visit a notion that flying against the rotation of the earth might undo the tangles of aging. I don’t think that my biology would agree with these physics. Time passes. The ocean seemed somewhat innocuous from 10,000 meters, but, after a crossing that consumes 8 hours, it appears that its vigor could be substantiated by size alone. Heights can be deceiving. Between the number of stars I counted the number of clouds I mistook for land, I gradually realized that the Atlantic ocean that they showed my on the globe in grade school was a lie, or underestimation, or at least a miscommunication--its much bigger in real life. I am not at all disappointed at this revelation.
    I entered the African continent via Dakar, Senegal--a flat city that sleepily offered fuel at 5 am before sending us on our way. My eyes ached for a sleep that wasn’t going to come easily, so I forced myself to stay awake for the sunrise. Africa yawned as we cruised just off shore.We landed in Johannesburg some 9 hours later, attesting to a continent that is as long as the ocean is wide. This city, unlike sleepy Dakar, was like a circuit board under the approaching night sky--its buildings and determined skyscrapers like switches and diodes of a microchip providing a spark for African development.
    From Johannesburg, a 2 hour flight put us in the city of Cape Town--a cultural haven, a cultural collision, an intersection of a political and social history that I am not a part of. Cape Town lies like pieces of a jigsaw fit under and around the towering Table Mount, shaped as well by Lions Head mount and an expanse of rolling hills. It reminds me of the Bay area, but with more sunshine and less Asians. This city is Africa; a patchwork of modernity and heritage and people from across the world thrust into an uneven plane under a profound landscape. Immediately, I feel some inklings of Africa creeping up my spine, some maternal presence in the land and the people. Still, this occurs with a sense dis-familiarity. It reminds me how those who have lived the South African story are like witnesses to the resurrection, and those who have not will never quite understand. I wonder how at home some people must feel among these streets a half of a world away from those streets that I call home.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Hello Friends!

Hey all,
This is my blog for the coming few weeks that I will be spending in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa as well as my time spent in the Peace Corps for the following 2-3 years. I am hoping to update as often as limited internet access will allow. Feel free to post comments, send me an email at or just come and visit me, wherever I may be. Thanks for the love and support.

Peace and Love,