I can’t believe it’s only been a week since I’ve been here, but I also can’t believe how fast this week has gone by! As you know, I’m spending a semester at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, which is in the Eastern Cape Region.
I think the best way to describe the last week would be to first briefly cover what I’ve done, and then how I’ve been feeling:
My journey started with a lot of tears at Syracuse Hancock Airport, where I waved goodbye to my family <3 I felt really independent as I got on the first flight all alone….and I started to feel what is now a familiar sense of fear and excitement/anticipation. JFK was a zoo, and security itself took half an hour to get through. But then I met up with Krystina, Emily, and Megan, the other three girls from Geneseo traveling with me. I can’t believe we didn’t know each other before, because now it feels like we’ve known each other forever. Traveling across the world with people forces you to become friends.
Cue the monstrous flight of monsters:
We flew on South African Air for 16 hours, and it was a really nice flight, but I didn’t sleep at all and arrived at Johannesburg exhausted. In JoBurg we had our first encounter with South African tipping, when a porter “helped” us find our gate, and then asked for a R100 tip…completely unnecessary, as I know now, but we were/still are gullible Americans
AND, most importantly, we got our first taste of South African…chillness? That’s what I’ve started calling it. Everything is done when it gets done, and stress about everyday things is a more foreign concept. For example, customs is someone glancing at your passport, and security was like a walk in the park compared to JFK. On the short flight to Port Elizabeth, I sat next to a woman and her daughter that I now know must have been Afrikaans, and they gave me some tips about where to travel, safety, etc. They were so friendly and interested in me! They asked me about Teach for America, because they had heard of it on TV and thought they should have something like it in South Africa. I have encountered South Africans being not overly fond of American foreign policy, but they all seem to think Obama is really inspirational, and they quote JFK sometimes…and, most of all, they LOVE to talk to Americans! Sometimes they want to coerce you to spend money or something lol, but usually they just want to tell you about the time they went to Texas, or how they have a friend in California or something.
When we finally arrived in Port Elizabeth, we had to take a shuttle to Grahamstown. This was an adventure, because the bus company didn’t know where to bring us, and then our luggage was stuffed to the brim in the trailer attached to the back. But on the way I saw zebra, impala, wild boars and…I THINK I saw an elephant, but I may have hallucinated. Also on the bus were several of the German international students, and now in total there are 6 Germans, 2 French students, 1 girl from the Netherlands, and then 20 from the United States.
We got to school, and let me tell you, it is beautiful here. The campus is absolutely stunning, although the amenities are not at all as good as I’m used to. The food is really limited and pretty…bad…and the showers have hardly any water pressure, the sinks are only cold, there is no heat except a strip on the wall, the power in the whole town went out for a day and it was nbd, and we didn’t have wifi for a painfully long time….but overall the campus is stunning and first-rate. Grahamstown itself is more of an enigma for me. There are quaint cafes, people selling necklaces on tarps on the sidewalks, a fancy bar, people begging on every corner, and a township in plain view up on a hill. One second you feel like you’re in London, and the next you’re unsure you should be walking somewhere alone, and beggars start following you heckling because they know you’re American.
It has been a really overwhelming experience in that sense, which leads me into the how-I’ve-been-feeling part. I feel as if I should be experiencing South Africa the “right” way: getting a true picture of the poverty, , being a respectful tourist, and not gawking at people.
But, I also want to stay safe, fully immerse myself in my classes, and travel as much as possible without breaking the bank. I’m not sure I’ve found this balance yet….I think that every day I understand more and more what the history and baggage is behind the people here.
BRIEF HISTORY INTERLUDE FROM BECCA:
So the British come all up in the Dutch grill, blah blah APARTHEID: In which the white South Africans say that the blacks can “live on their own countries!” which really means “we’re forcing you guys onto really arid pieces of land which only constitute 13% of all the land in the country, and oh yeah you lost your SA citizenship, so you’ve got to get a special pass to go on white land.” Wow. Then…SOWEDO TOWNSHIP REBELS! They burn their passes and run out into the white land. Then whoops they’re massacred and photos leak to the world which is like nope this means sanctions! So whites are like “okay, then we will only let the blacks learn Afrikaans and no English so they can’t communicate with the outside world!” Bad idea, because then the blacks rebel once and for all and by 1990 apartheid was on its way out.
So the townships today are remnants of those old townships, which were like ghettos or prisons. It’s so sad….and South Africa still has the highest disparity between rich and poor of anywhere. So while I’m on the Rhodes campus reading Brontë and Coetzee, a mile away are people who build their homes out of sheets of metal and walk to get water in buckets.
Anyway, as you may be able to tell, I’m still figuring this out. But, I can’t wait until classes start, because for me, literature always helps me make sense of things. I’m taking Modern Fiction, the Romantic Legacy, Transnational Literature, Modernist Literature, Themes in South African History, and French 2. This translates to 16 US credits which seems crazy to me. But hopefully I’ll survive! And I get to read alllllll the African authors! (nerd status)
Okay, I’ll post a few pictures too, but as a closing remark I just want to tell you all the the BEST THING HERE is how lunch turns into a 2.5 hour siesta in which everyone goes home and the world shuts down. This could be inconvenient, but I find it awesome.
CHEERS (I’m South African now),