Friday, July 26, 2013

Gratitude in Cape Town

These past weeks I've been waking up full of joy and incredibly happy. 

Here are a few of the things that I've been enjoying about Cape Town lately: 

Fruit and veg. There are delicious fresh fruit and veg here. Vendors all over the place offer them at incredible prices. Coming from a place where many things are imported because the earth is frozen for a good part of the year, it is great to have year round access. My favourite? The avocados.

My fav fruit & veg vendor, Durban Rd, Mowbray

Cycling. I thought it would be scary to cycle here, but Cape Town actually has an emerging cycle scene. There are bike lanes downtown, new awareness campaigns for drivers on how to share the road with cyclists and fun cycling events. I gifted myself with an old one-speed for my birthday and derive a lot of joy from exploring the city by bike.

My 'new' bicyclette

My neighbours. I’ve become quite close with the young Congolese family 2-doors down (Ceclia, Mike, Gradi & Gloria). It all started when Cecilia passed by one day as I was opening my front door.  It was Easter and I was feeling pretty down. She gave me a warm hug and I invited her and her two young daughters in for tea and snacks. Since then, we visit each other frequently. They have been incredibly kind to me. On top of helping me practice French, they gave me a car radio after mine was stolen. One morning, soon after they knocked at my door late one night with a request to drive their sick 1-year old daughter to the hospital, Cecilia came outside still in her nightgown. She enthusiastically told me that she had been dreaming all night of braiding my hair (she is a hairdresser). She then invited me inside and gave me some pretty mean cornrows J  It is a nice exchange –I babysit occasionally and I’ve given driving lessons to Mike.

4 year old Gradi (Short for Grace a Dieu - Grace of God)

Cecilia in her home

1 year old Gloria and I

I also recently connected with some Malawians that work in the area. There are twin mechanics that work at the garage on the corner, Mtembe and Mtembele (translating as Peace and Peaceful). Mtembe is my link to Malawi – he told me where I can get Malawi gin, flour and chitenje, and keeps me posted when Malawian artists come to perform in Cape Town. I saw him one day in the corner store and we had a brief chat. When he left the produce guy turned to me and said ‘Mumalankhula Chichewa?!’ (you speak Chichewa?). Now Aubrey keeps me posted on when shipments of Avocado are coming in. The sense of community here is beautiful.

Mtende (left) and Mtendele (right)

Diversity. I love the diversity here. Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by the whole world. Being from a pretty diverse country, It feels simultaneously new and familiar. 

Open Streets, Observatory

On Campus, UCT

Alternative communities.  Cape Town seems to have lots of random, wonderful communities and events. I met a man at a poetry reading who invited me to a Dance Class called 'Bliss Dance'. Every week, the class provides a space to explore conscious movement. The facilitator and DJ work in combination to put together weekly themes in which we are encouraged to move creatively. I find it incredibly fun and healing. Another practice I've got involved with is the Art of Living. After wanting to do a course for many years, I did one in Cape Town last month. It was a great experience - among other things, they teach yoga, breathing and meditation techniques to live a more joyful existence. I make a point of going to the centre once a week. 

The views. It is such an irrationally, incredibly PRETTY area nestled in between mountains and oceans. I oftentimes find myself laughing alone in my car while driving, just because I don’t know how else to respond to the stunning beauty of this place.

Driving home 

Sensory overload! From amazing jazz, to deep rhythmic house music, street art, obscure galleries, shards of poetry sprawled on walls, brightly coloured homes, amazing gardens, projects to fuse genres of art, a mix of African and Western fashions, food from every corner of the globe… you get the picture.

You are always with me (check out the wall in the background!)

Words on walls

Cape Town and its inhabitants are teaching me about a new way of living. 

Oftentimes the focus from outside is on the bad bits. Despite the many insurmountable problems, this city is also chock-full of amazing stuff. 

I am deeply grateful to be living in this city with its myriad of beautiful offerings.  

Revision is Me

Monday, July 22, 2013

Winter Solstice

A few weeks ago it was the Winter Solstice of the Southern Hemisphere.  The shortest day of the year, it is when the sun is at its lowest and weakest. It is also considered to be the turning point of the year, after which the light will grow stronger and brighter.

Many traditions around the world celebrate solstices. The winter solstice (in December in the Northern Hemisphere) was dubbed ‘the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’ by the Romans.

Pagan Scandinavia’s festival of Yule involved drinking mead as minstrel-poets sang ancient legends around bonfires.  

The last few years, I have developed my own tradition of marking the solstice (despite that earning me membership in what my friend Deb calls the ‘Woo woo club’).

June 21st this year was no exception. In addition to being the solstice, it also happened to be one of those Cape Town winter days that rests in your bones - complete with heavy winds and rain.

Despite knowing that we wouldn’t SEE the sunset, three of us decided to brave it and go outdoors anyways. We found a west facing piece of beach on the Atlantic ocean for our reflections.

Incense on car dashboard :)

Sitting in the car, we lit some incense and wrote intentions for the upcoming year. My friend Allison, determined to find something close to mead (honey wine used traditionally in ancient solstice celebrations) produced some sweet wine to drink at sunset.

Allison (the mead provider:-P) and myself

Fortunately, the rain subsided to a drizzle and I took a few minutes in silence after writing my intentions, wrapping them around a rock and throwing them into the ocean.

To many, Winter solstice represents a triumph of light over darkness. After that day, every day will get a bit longer, a bit more sun-filled. I look forward to the lengthening days and new light in my life.

Despite being a wonderful time full of learning and growth, these past six months have also contained a lot of loss and grieving.

Coming here, I grieved leaving my family for a second year living in Africa. Soon after arriving, my Uncle Greg passed away unexpectedly.

South Africa has also given me some space to come to grips with my experience in Malawi, one of the most eye opening times of my life. Malawi taught me a lot and as grateful as I am for it, it wasn’t always easy.  I have taken some time to grieve the injustice of the crushing poverty. I left Malawi feeling like the rug had been pulled out from under me -I was flying through the air not knowing where I’d land. I lost my naive innocent belief in own ability to change things and began to grasp the enormity of the complexities and challenges of development.

The way I saw and understood the world had changed completely. It felt like the very foundation on which I had spent the past twenty something years had crumbled and I was having trouble situating myself in a new knowledge. These past months in South Africa have been my start to emotionally integrating this learning.

I’ve also been grieving from a tough break-up which resulted in my ex getting on a one-way flight to Norway. After moving to South Africa together, the man who had been my support system, friend and lover in some of the most exciting, challenging and heart-wrenching experiences of my life and I parted ways on very sad and unpleasant terms.

Being the longest night of the year, it felt like a pretty fitting summation to the grief and loss of the past 6 months.

Sorry for all the drudgery and whining, but to sum it all up, the world that I previously been so in love with has revealed a different, harsher part of herself to me. I was ready to start seeing more positivity and light again.

As we entered into the longest night of the year, I released some of the pain that I’d being carrying around from all that loss and grief. As the sky darkened, I knew that the next day would be longer and prayed that I be open to receive the light that each lengthening day brings. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vacation – Part 2: Durban

After hanging out in East London, I decide to continue on alone to Durban. This coastal city is situated in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, home of the Zulu nation.  

Durban - Look to the East Coast!

On the 8-hour bus ride, a few really cool things happened:

1) Staring out the window, I felt something familiar. I oftentimes miss Malawi, the landscape and the earthy, basic beauty of the place.

In big, cosmopolitan Cape Town, I often long for this feeling. Seeing the rural landscapes pass by, I feel like I am back in Malawi.

My Aunt Sandra once told me that as a child, she believed that it wasn’t the car that moved people places. Instead, she thought you would get in the car, close the doors, and then the world would somehow move around you.

I felt the same way on this bus trip (as ego-centric as that may sound!). I plunked myself down on a seat near a window and the world morphed around me, offering landscapes that I could never imagine. How could I, with such little effort, have such a nice experience sitting looking out the window? 

2) The bus stops for a while due to construction. I look down at my phone and use the Facebook ‘check-in’ function to figure out where I am. Turns out we were stopped no place other than Qunu, the place where Nelson Mandela grew up!

3) Somewhere past Butterworth (yes, towns here are named after the colonizer too, despite seeming very away from their namesakes!) a woman gets on the bus and sits next to me.

The first thing that strikes me about Jazz is that she looks like a character from the book I was reading, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. The beautiful character Olanna is described in this way:

Her oval face was smooth like an egg, the lush colour of rain- drenched earth, and her eyes were large and slanted and she looked like she was not supposed to be walking and talking like everyone else; she should be in a glass case like the one in Master’s study, where people could admire her curvy, fleshy body, where she would be preserved untainted.’
I feel shabby next to her in my makeshift head wrap, crumpled travelling clothes and pimple inflicted face.

She smiles and talks to me anyways. Turns out that Jazz is going home to Durban after visiting her family in the Eastern Cape. Her Dad is a town counselor and her Mom a teacher (sounds a little familiar right?!).

She asks where I’m staying and when I tell her the name of the cheap backpackers where I booked a dorm bed she looks very concerned. You’re going to be eating cockroaches all night there! How would you feel if I invited you to stay with me instead?

Technically, I know it isn’t the smartest thing to stay with an utter stranger in a city you’ve never been to. Especially when you are a solo female traveller in a very unequal country where ‘crime’ seems on the tip of everyone’s tongues.

At the risk of sounding trite, I disregarded that technicality and followed my intuition. And I’m glad I did.

Jazz is finishing her studies in Durban. She lives with her brother and sister who were gone for summer vacation. I had a room to myself, complete with a double bed. I woke up in the morning to a stunning view of Durban.

View from 'my' room - Durban

Jazz and I - at the Ocean 

The next few days, Jazz shows me around the city and I spend time hanging out with her and her boyfriend Lunga. They adore each other and I adore being around wonderful people who are positively in love. Having recently come out of a tough break-up, they remind me that love exists, and I feel hopeful and happy in their company.

Jazz and Lunga

The first morning she prepares breakfast for us and shows me how she makes eggs. The next day I make French toast for them, and the day after I teach them how to make it on request. Despite having to substitute corn syrup for maple syrup, they still liked it and wanted to learn! 

One of the things I love the most about travelling is this type of exchange. As trivial as it may sound, I love sharing breakfast making techniques and other little shards of lives.
I’m always floored by how willingly people share and open up to a foreign, scrungy traveller like myself.

I arrive back in Cape Town and am greeted at the airport by my dear friend Marina from the States. I am warmed, humbled and astounded by the love that I have been surrounded by here. This trip was exactly what I needed.

On the way back to Cape Town

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Trip to Eastern Cape Province

A few years ago, I interviewed health care workers in townships surrounding Cape Town as part of a volunteer project. These health care workers, called Patient Advocates were truly inspiring individuals who work tirelessly to support people living with HIV in taking their medication and living healthy lifestyles.

Eastern Cape
Most of them, like many other South Africans in this area, hail originally from Eastern Cape Province.

A mostly rural area, Eastern Cape is said to be the home of the Xhosa people. It also happens to boast some of South Africa’s most famous, including the first and second presidents of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki as well as founder of the Black Consciousness Movement Steve Biko (just to name a few!).

Needless to say, I've been wanting to visit the Eastern Cape for some time. 

I was lucky to receive an invite from a friend to join him on a trip home to East London (one of Eastern Cape's major cities) for a visit. There ended up being four of us travelling together, two friends from East London, a German expat and myself.

The 18-hour bus ride in itself was very eye opening. We move into more rural areas and pass through smaller towns. Siseko points out young Xhosa initiates wearing blankets with faces painted white, walking along the side of the road.

It felt new and familiar at once – in some places the level of development made me think of a less populated Malawi. 

One of my favourite things in the world is travelling overland to new places - I am always giddy with excitement and childlike as I press my face up the window to take in the new surroundings.

View from the bus window - Eastern Cape Province

East London is situated on the Indian ocean. The waterfront is beautiful and the weather more temperate (a treat after Cape Town winter). Rather than playing tourist as I usually do upon arriving in a city, I went along with whatever my local friends were doing - which was a lot of hanging out (and a lot of fun!).

East London
Street vendors posing for a picture - East London

One highlight was going to a Chisa Nyama, which is a barbeque restaurant. You buy raw meat from the attached shop and give it to the cook to have it braaied (barbequed). There are picnic tables to sit at, big bottles of beer to wash the meat down and loud, fantastic music.

Cook at Chiya Nyama, East London
Braai @ Chiya Nyama
I also stayed in a township for the first time which was both an eye-opening and heartwarming experience. People were extremely friendly and welcoming. A walk through the location quickly turned into hours hanging out on the street and chatting. The day was a beautiful blur of people blasting music from their cars, greetings, conversations and laughter.

The last evening, we visited another home and were met with (yet again) wonderful hospitality. We stayed up late into the night dancing in the living room to South African music (a mixture of old freedom struggle songs and newer stuff). What a beautiful glimpse into a different side of South African culture and life. 

Ewonke busting a move
Below are some pictures of our time in East London, most taken by Siseko in the community where he grew up. 

Owner of Lungi's Tavern - She invited me in to chat and hang out with her grandchildren (below)


Following a few days in East London, I continued on alone to Durban (next post!).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Rotary Host Family - The Matzdorffs

I am incredibly privileged to have been placed with a wonderful host counsellor and host Rotary Club here. Everyone teems with authenticity and the vibe is always warm, inviting and (oftentimes) quirky.

I couldn’t be luckier with my host counsellor. Terence is incredibly engaged, interesting and interested man. His family has opened up their home to me. Terence, his wife Connie and daughters, Michelle and Nicole have gone out of their way to make me feel welcomed and comfortable.

The Matzdorff's + Chrissy, last year's scholar & me
Terence and Nicole

Connie being a silly rockstar in my pink
sunglasses to match her shoes!

Michelle - on the way back from lunch

Through the time I have spent with their family, I have had the privilege to learn about bits of South African history, culture and perspectives through their personal journeys. It has been a very humbling, enriching and eye-opening start to my year in South Africa. 

They also happen to have a wonderful library of books and unbounded supply of silliness. On occasions when I’ve been upset, they have offered silent compassion and acceptance coupled with warm beverages and tissues for my tears.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I've spent chatting, laughing and eating with them. I continue to be floored by my luck, the generosity of Rotarians and the way that South Africans have opened their country and homes to me.

Me and Toffee