By Matt Tracy ’13
While boarding my plane to Amsterdam last week I was still in New York, but I already felt like I had left the country. The accents, the different languages, and the appearances and clothing styles of the other passengers were all new to me. This was when I marked the official beginning of my international experience. My introduction to this semester-long series can be found here.
My travel schedule to Africa included a seven-hour flight to Amsterdam before my 11.5-hour flight to Cape Town. Usually, flights are not the most exciting thing to blog about, but something happened on my first flight that I will probably never forget.
It isn’t a secret to the people who know me that I have been a loyal Giants fan for my entire life. I rarely miss a game, but last weekend there was a conflict to my loyalty when I realized my flight to Europe was departing a half hour before kickoff of the NFC Championship Game. Of course, I had slightly more important things to worry about (just going to Africa, no big deal) on that particular day, so I wasn’t able to watch the game.
However, I worked my magic and made a request to the pilot, asking him if he could possibly give me an update on the score of the game. I thought he would find the request to be a bit ridiculous, but it seemed there wouldn’t be any problems. My request was granted, so I sat back during the flight and anxiously waited for his update.
Fast-forward five hours into the flight and still no update. I was disappointed and I knew there might be a chance that the pilot would forget about it or become too busy. I was on the edge of my seat, holding out hope. Then, as we were flying over Ireland, several hours after the conclusion of the game, I suddenly saw the word “announcement” on the screen in front of me. The screen then read, “NY Giants 23, San Fran 20. Congrats NY.” My reaction was priceless — the person next to me hadn’t a clue what football was and she was a bit confused. Regardless, I was glad that I knew the score and I could move on with my international adventure.
I intentionally kept myself awake for all but two hours of the 20-plus hours I was traveling because I was scheduled to arrive in Cape Town at 10:30 p.m. local time, which meant it would be bedtime once I passed through customs and everything. I arrived in Cape Town that evening and fell right asleep so I could be completely rested for the busy week ahead.
The first few days were very busy with orientation and trips to different parts of the city. I was glad to finally be in sunny, warm Cape Town, but I was quite jet-lagged the first day and struggled to stay awake. Once I got past the first full day, I felt much more adjusted to the time difference.
Our first adventure as an IES group was a three-day trip along the Garden Route of the southern coast of the country in the Western Cape. The weather on the trip was quite warm, reaching 90° F on one of the days. Otherwise it has been in the mid 80s so far in Cape Town.
To kick off the trip, we woke up at 4am for a seven-hour bus ride to the east. We traveled through mountains, hiked through the jungle, canoed through a river, and went swimming at a waterfall — which really reminded me of Ithaca with all the gorges in that area. We also went through some caves where we had to wiggle through some really tight spaces.
We saw animals we had never seen before in person, including cheetahs. I had a chance to go to a cheetah reserve and I was able to actually walk up close and get a picture taken with the cheetah, which you can see in the photo. The cheetah population is dwindling in Africa, so the conservation workers are doing their best to preserve the population.
Among other animals we saw on the trip were elephants, wild baboons and ostriches. We even were served ostrich and antelope for dinner, which were probably my favorite two meals so far. During this adventurous weekend we camped at backpackers lodges in rural South Africa, where I had such interesting conversations with the locals about the difference between sports in the United States and in South Africa. They really love their rugby here more than anything else, even more than soccer, and if you have ever seen the movie Invictus you would understand their loyalty to the Springbok rugby team. With that being said, the South Africans love their soccer as well – every single television I have seen in a public place has soccer on and nothing else. They don’t even bother having any televisions for news unless it is a sports-related news station.
Since we are on the topic of sports, I’ve been scrambling to find out whether I will be able to watch the Super Bowl. I am hopeful that I will be able to find it. It will begin at 1 or 2 a.m. here, but some of the locals have told me that they hear some local bars stay open longer and broadcast the Super Bowl. I would be so disappointed if I missed the game, but being in South Africa is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience — and I can watch the Super Bowl every year for the rest of my life.
I live in a house with four other American students and a great RA named Roland, who is from Cameroon. We are fortunate that our house is conveniently located in a neighborhood of Cape Town called Rondebosch, basically right across the street from the large campus of The University of Cape Town. On my first day in Cape Town, I left my house and immediately looked up in awe as I saw Table Mountain just towering over the city.
Walking through the area for the first time was surreal for me. There were these taxi vans which drove by us and beeped their horns repeatedly with the drivers sticking their heads out of the window to ask us to ride their taxi. This was the first time I had ever seen these taxis and I had been warned beforehand specifically not to take these because they were the unsafe taxis.
Now that I have been in the area for a couple weeks, I have grown used to the daily annoyance of these taxis because they do the same thing every day. They even stop and open the sliding door and try to convince you to ride their taxis. In fact, today one of them stopped as I was walking to campus and they opened the door. Only this time, the door actually fell off and slammed onto the ground. They are ridiculous.
As for the school, The University of Cape Town easily ranks up there as one of the nicest campuses I have ever seen. I have been very impressed — the appearance of the school constantly reminds me of any Ivy League school. It also helps that the weather is beautiful every single day here with rarely any clouds and no rain. The campus is very diverse is well — interestingly enough, I met a student at this school who went to Ithaca College for two years before transferring to UCT. I also met another UCT student who spent a year in high school as a foreign exchange student in the Ithaca area.
We registered for classes today, which was actually quite long and tedious because it had to be done on paper before officials from the school transfer it online themselves. UCT doesn’t have any kind of thing similar to HomerConnect because South Africa lacks the infrastructure that would make it capable to allow thousands of students registering online at once. Internet is very limited here due to bandwith costs. It is pay-as-you-go in every capacity. The Internet service in my house is very limited and it is quite costly so I usually try to check my things quickly and log off in order to preserve the Internet I have left.
The last experience of my trip so far that I will share is our trip to the Langa township earlier this week. I saved this for last because I feel this was the most powerful, eye-opening experience I have had in this country so far. Words really cannot describe what I saw that day, but I will try to give at least a brief overview of the experience and I have provided photos to go with my description.
Townships are extremely poor villages located throughout South Africa — and they really shine the light on the leftover effects that Apartheid has on the country. Many of the black people were forced to relocate from their homes to different parts of the country during Apartheid. While Apartheid may be legally eliminated, years and years of the system cannot be reversed in a span of just a decade and a half. The path to recovery and development will take many years and many generations.
The residents of the townships live in small shacks similar to the size of an American backyard tool shed. The level of poverty is very extreme. Destitute living conditions run rampant through the villages as people struggle to live their daily lives. There was trash on the streets, flies everywhere and shocking signs advertising things such as 30-minute abortions. Never in my life have I seen anything like it.
There were young children all over and they ran towards us to greet us with excitement. They posed for photographs, they asked us questions and they seemed so happy to see us. Many of these kids had just returned from the township school.
There were quite a few women standing outside their homes and we saw a couple of them cooking sheep’s heads over an open fire [1st photo of this post] in their front yards with flies buzzing all around, which you can see in the photo. They offered us a bite and I nervously tried it, unsure of what I was getting myself into. Only about half of the students in my group tried it because they did not feel too safe eating it. For the record, it tasted great and I never got sick.
I will be staying with a family in a township for a weekend later in the semester, which I am really looking forward to because I will be able to further understand the struggle they are experiencing. All of the things I am doing this semester will allow me to understand and view things outside of the narrow American scope that I have been confined to for the duration of my life until now.
Tomorrow we are going on a tour of the city of Cape Town and that will be great for future reference throughout the semester. I have been able to see different parts of the city, such as when we went out and experienced the nightlife on Long Street and when we went to the beach. So far the city has been beautiful and I can’t wait for the semester ahead.