Archive for September, 2009

28
Sep
09

Playing Catch Up

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The last week and a half have been incredibly busy. This place is starting to feel like home. I thought when I first got here and heard Tom say he was sick of this place or had seen enough of that place that I wouldn’t do that – that this place wouldn’t get old or familiar to me. Now I know better.

I pass the same people on my walk to work, which in this town isn’t always the best thing. Do I want to be the well kempt white kid walking with a backpack the same route every day? I dress down for work – today was a sweet Hoops4Hope t-shirt I got my first week here and a pair of jeans. I don’t take the nice briefcase I (thanks Mom) bought right before I left, because it screams AMERICAN WITH A LAPTOP and that’s not exactly the vibe I want to give off. The beggars and street people here are everywhere, and they stay in the same place every day. Every morning I pass a group of 7 guys posted in a doorway outside a nice bookshop right around the corner, and another group of 5 guys on the corner of a church about a mile from here.  They could be day laborers waiting for someone to drive by and offer them work, but the couple times I’ve left work early I’ve found them at the same spot, just posted on a ledge. I just walk like I know where I’m going, and if someone stops me to talk to them I look them in the eye and act as polite as possible, while pushing forward and moving on. Most people don’t bother me, and once some people realize I’m American sometimes I get a smile and a laugh about something.

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Last Friday I took a crash course on the unsavory sections of this city. Valerio’s mom came to visit him for two weeks, and we got Ravic and Lavouyo – two of our coworkers – to drive all three of us around the townships and give us a real tour. We drove through a couple of the rougher areas around Gugelthu and Khayalitsha before we stopped at one of Lavouyo’s schools. He’s an All-Star in our program, which means he coordinates the Khayalitsha district’s programs, working directly with the MVPs at the individual schools to make sure everything runs smoothly. He makes weekly stops at each school with a program, passing out uniforms, making sure the MVPs and referees (often MVPs from nearby schools) know what they’re doing and have things running smoothly, and doing a little bit of coaching.

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We stopped at one of his nicer schools because he needed to drop off some kits – the term H4H uses for uniforms – before the two boys and girls games.  Barbed wire fencing surrounded a well-kept Southwestern style school, with outdoor courtyards and classrooms that opened up to exposed passageways. African flowers and trees shadowed our walk into the school. A group of girls in their school uniforms played on a pile of old battered plywood off to the side. Behind the school was a brick basketball court, with uneven tiles and old beaten hoops, sans nets. The hoops rose at least 11 feet off the ground, and I paced the court at 49 yards – or around 50 feet longer than a regulation court.

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The girls played the first game. Barefoot, wearing donated jerseys originally owned by a team of under-10 Canadians, ten girls ran up and down the court to the cheers of at least 40 other kids, all of them whooping and hollering at every turnover and every foul. The basketball fundamentals on display were terrible – one team relied on their tallest girl cherry picking, and the guards gunning for steals and then throwing the ball blindly as far as they could in the direction of the tall girl. More often than not this meant a turnover, and a fast break back the other way. Sometimes the tall girl would catch it, take a few dribbles, and heave a layup six feet over the basket, taking hacks and slaps from the defenders the entire time. The refs operate under a ‘no blood no foul’ streetball refereeing style, letting everything but a straight mugging or what is probably considered some form sexual assault in at least seven US states go without as much as a slight admonishment.

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The boys played next, and while their fundamentals were a little bit better, their basic skill level was about the St. Ann’s Youth League’s half court under-8 league, and these kids were about 13. The final score of the girls game was 6-4 and the score through three quarters of the boys game was 7-2. I guess that explains why Disanga Diop sucks. I walked around while the kids played, snapping pictures and talking to some of the little kids watching the game. A few of the boys were dribbling a ball, and when I asked them to pass it to me they immediately wanted me to try to dribble around them.

Once I showed that I could actually dribble a ball, the first kid – replete in a khakis, a handed down polo from a Catholic middle school in the Boston area, and a bandana tied just under his knee to show his gang affiliation – wanted to take me one on one. He didn’t speak any English, but smiled when I popped his crossover to the wall. The kid tried to go between my legs at least 6 times, and at one point even tried to throw the ball over my shoulder, off the backboard, and back to his other arm. None of it worked – playing on a Rec team with Marcus Monroe and one on one with Sean and Frank taught me, usually after getting thoroughly embarrassed at least ten times by the same trick, how to stop those kinds of shenanigans, but the kid kept trying. He seemed like one of the tough guys of the group – the other kids were noticeably quieter around him, and played up his successes and ignored the times I stole the ball from him. It was an interesting experience – Lovuoyo told me after we left that he keeps trying to get that kid to join the program, but every time he signs up he misses too many practices and doesn’t show up to games or our life skills lessons. His gang affiliation, through older brothers and neighborhood friends, has already sucked him into the downward spiral that’ll leave him in the townships his entire life. His chances of graduating high school, because of the role that gang is playing in his life already, at the age of 13, are around 15%. Statistically, he’ll probably drop out within 3 years, start using drugs if he hasn’t already, and amp his drinking up substantially – all of which will stop him from ever holding down a legit job, leading him to crime. His life expectancy, especially in a country with close to a 25% AIDS infection rate, is probably around 30. That kid, bandana and all, and all of his buddies are our target – the focus of our program, and the reason I found myself playing one on one on a Friday afternoon at an elementary school in a South African township.

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The next day brought with it a beautiful morning. I was up at 6:30 a.m. watching the sun rise over the ocean. The group I’m living with was working in a township for the day, building a government funded house as part of an Irish Habitat for Humanity program. Since I’ve been on a Habitat trip – New Orleans Spring Break 2008, I jumped at the chance. We took a bus over to pick up another group of Westerners, and headed out to a nicer township. It was the first time in a township for most of the kids I live with, and it showed. They were taking pictures of mundane things, gawking at the shacks and the people walking around, and in awe at the utter despair and the terrible conditions. (Obviously I was never that naïve, and never took any pictures like that or thought any of those things, previous posts and pictures excluded.) We split up into groups of about 10, and headed out to individual lots. The government recently started a rehabilitation fund for people in townships to upgrade their homes with free houses, as long as they can show that their current home – most often a shack put together with pieces of plywood and aluminum – didn’t meet the established housing standards. Once they were granted a house, they had to go through the process of getting someone to build it. The organization we volunteered with builds houses all over the township we were in, using the government money to fund it. The money goes straight to the organization, who then builds the house. The residents just have to move their shack to the back of their lot, to make room for their brand spanking new free house.

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Our job was the build the exterior walls. To do that we had to mix what South Africans call duga – mortar – and use it to put up the cinderblock exterior. We worked with two contractors, who supervised us through their limited English and with what I assume was more than a handful of Afrikaans curse words. We built the house up from a flat foundation to the window level – about 4 feet in 5 hours of work. Not bad for a group of Americans with zero construction experience. At one point I was carrying cinderblocks off the pile and into the house, so the people putting up the walls didn’t have to go get the heavy blocks every time they needed a new one. While I was doing this, a kid from a house across the street was leaning against one of the electricity poles, watching me. He didn’t say anything, but I nodded to him and he gave me a little nod back. He was probably about 14, skinny, with a buzz cut and a Nike tshirt on. When the organization gave us waters at our break time, I walked over to the kid and gave him mine. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember what he asked for: my Live Strong bracelet. I shook his hand and he immediately looked at my bracelet, and after he introduced himself he just flat out asked for it. Luckily I had packed three with me, in case one broke, so I figured what the hell. After I explained that I wore one in honor of my mom, I took it off and handed it to him. The smile on his face made the day worth it.

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I spent the next day hiking Lion’s Head – the smaller mountain next to Table Mountain in the pictures of the skyline I put up earlier. A group of six or seven of us went out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, guided by clear skies and 70 degree sunshine. The hike itself is pretty easy. It takes about an hour to do it walking, and the toughest part is a set of chains hanging off a ten foot sheer wall that we had to rappel up, using footholds and handgrips to help. It was a lot easier than it sounds, and took me about 10 seconds to scale. The girls had a bit more trouble, but I had a great time. At the top of the chains I randomly met up with my friend Ravic and his friend Monene, a fantastic random meeting. We climbed the rest of the way with them, and Ravic proved to be as adventurous as I wanted to be. We climbed off the path a couple times on the way to the top, hurdling and scampering up nine and ten foot rocks every time we spotted one next to sheer drop offs. It was fantastic – and not nearly as unsafe as I’m making it sound, I promise (Mom).

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The view at the top is absolutely mind blowing. Camp’s Bay, the City Bowl, ten miles into the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain, the harbor – its all right under your feet. The picture right above this paragraph is the view of the city and the townships off into the distance. My apartment building is the tall one about an inch to the left of my right elbow. The huge pool of water to my right is the city water reservoir, which has a 1 km running lane around the edges, a lap I’ve recently begun to take advantage of.  The picture at the top of this post is from the other side of the top of the mountain, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the downtown area. There are more pictures on my facebook of this hike and the view – you should be able to look at them here(second album with pictures from the township and my hiking) and here(pictures from my first week), even if you don’t have a facebook account.

More later about my Garden Route weekend and the employee development training I spent the week at last week.

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17
Sep
09

A Week Later

Picture 161Its been a week since my last post, and a whole lot has happened. I didn’t come here to sit around all day and hang out at my computer (just after work) and that goal is finally coming to fruition. I say “finally” like it took longer than a few days, but 3 days with nothing to do, by yourself, in a town you don’t know is pretty boring. Thankfully work started last Wednesday, and my spirit has just been crushed and stomped on by my daunting workday. I work every day of the week from 9:30 to 4, and it is a grind. I’m constantly exhausted and the work just never ends. Waking up at 8:15 is awful, and getting home at 4:30 is one of the most obnoxious things I’ve ever experienced. That puts me like halfway through Oprah, and I miss most of the Today show before I leave for work in the morning. That doesn’t even cover all the prep time I need to prepare for the next day’s slave labor. November can’t come soon enough.

So how much of a jackass would I be if that was actually the way I felt? (Its ok Genie, if the President can call  Kanye one I can use it too) Seriously, 9:30-4 rules. The African work day is about ten times more relaxed than the American work day. People stroll into my office around 11 some days and have the African equivalent of a ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse – usually something along the lines of ‘I had to kill a lion with my barehands on the way to work’ (No lions actually live in the wild in Cape Town), ‘I had to get an AIDS test because I saw blood on the way to work’ (Did you know you can’t get AIDS from just looking at blood? I think you might be able to after the way MSU health people talked about it before I got here) or ‘I passed three gang shootouts outside the local middle school’ (This might be a legit excuse) – and my boss doesn’t care.

Picture 150No doubt contributing to the incredibly slow pace of work is the glacial internet speed. You know when your computer gets overloaded or your network has too many people connected and facebook albums don’t load very fast? Yea, that speed is like someone hit the hyperdrive on the Millenium Falcon compared to the speed of the internet at work here. I swear I can hear the phone line static thing whenever I walk by the router, and I check like half the time to see if someone is watching You’ve Got Mail. But how good is that Kid CuDi album? It took me three full workdays to download it, and it’s about College Dropout level.

I’m working with 2 girls who are from townships around here to organize and structure Soccer4Hope, an offshoot of Hoops4Hope that’s based on the same ideals – teaching life skills, leadership, and providing structure and productive afterschool activity through sport to boys and girls from the townships around Cape Town and eventually throughout Africa. There are branches of Hoops4Hope in Tanzania, Joburg, Cape Town, and a few other areas throughout Africa, with plans for more, but their home base is my office in Cape Town. They get funding and help from NBA Cares and the Boston Celtics, and everyone in my office actually spent the week before I got here in Joburg at an NBA Cares camp, working with Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitski, and other NBA players.

The program is based around a volunteer infrastructure that extends into each township. Soccer4Hope is based in 4 townships around the city, and has an “All-Star” for each township. These All-Stars are usually between 20 and 25, live in that township, and had something to do with the program before they became All-Stars. They receive a small per diem to cover basic expenses, but its by no means a full time job – although most of them don’t have any other kind of employment. Their responsibility to set up and coordinate a system of volunteer “MVPs” – high school kids from their townships that will become coaches and help lay the groundwork for recruiting kids from the primary schools to participate in the program. The MVPs are the people that work directly with the kids, the All-Stars sometimes work with individual teams, and the handful of people at the administrative level mostly work with All-Stars and rely on them to move information down the food chain.

Picture 147There are really only 2 administrators that work with Hoops and Soccer – the head boss, Kita – an ex-semi-professional basketball player who spends every preseason interning with Doc Rivers and the Celtics, and my boss, Karl. There’s another American intern working in the office too, a kid from NYC named Valerio. The office is very relaxed. It’s basically in a glorified warehouse, and I usually wear jeans and a tshirt and sometimes I’m overdressed. I caught some crap from a few of the All-Stars yesterday for wearing a tucked in button up on my first day, but they’re good people and fun to hang with. I brought Valerio and Raviq – one of the All-Stars who is a little bit older than the others – out with me and the kids I live with last weekend and everybody got along pretty well, although Raviq was laughing at being the token black guy for once, when usually Valerio and I are the token white kids wherever we go with work.

I’ve spent the last week and change organizing, planning, setting a budget for, and implementing a Coaches Clinic for next week and then a Holiday Program for the week after that. The schools here get a spring break the week after next, and we’re organizing a soccer camp from 10 to 3 every day over that week to keep the kids out of trouble and into a structured, productive environment. The Coaches Clinic is so the MVPs know what to coach their teams during the Holiday Program, which should be a pretty full week. I get stations and responsibility at both events, which should be an adventure. Most of the kids from the townships here have never heard an American speak English before, and they always ask me to repeat things or elaborate, and most of the time I have no idea what their names are or what half the stuff they say means. It’ll be fun though – its coaching and working directly with kids, which will be way better than working in an office all day.

After being here for 10 days or so, you being to notice how different it is here. All my coworkers, and all the kids from townships, call stoplights “robots”. As in, “When you get to the robot, turn left”. I still laugh at that, but I’m sure I’ll start calling it that soon. There’s also 14 million little Toyota sedans from the 80s and early 90s in the townships that are called “cockroaches”. They’re basically mini-taxis that will take you anywhere in that township for 5 rand – basically 75 cents. They’re called cockroaches for two reasons – both according to the kids I was driving through the townships with yesterday. 1) “Every time you turn on the lights you see cockroaches scatter, and when you drive into a township you see cockroaches scatter everywhere.” 2) “You can hit a cockroach nine times before it dies, and I’ve never seen a cockroach without at least 3 dents or scratches in it”. The police often set up roadblocks for them, and yesterday we drove through 3 in my 4 hours in the townships. Most of the drivers don’t carry ID and a high percentage of the cars are stolen from other townships, so they’re easy prey for cops here.

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Time to go pick up my laundry – I paid six bucks American to drop it off in the morning before work and pick it up washed, pressed, and folded after work. Very nice. More later from the past week – I also went surfing, got drunk at the American Consulate’s private residence on your tax dollars, saw whales jumping in the ocean, and some other stuff I can’t think of right now.

08
Sep
09

An Afternoon Stroll

Apparently in Cape Town 60 degrees and sunny is the same as 20 degrees and snowing in Michigan.

Apparently in Cape Town 60 degrees and sunny is the same as 20 degrees and snowing in Michigan.

I think my body is finally starting to get adjusted to Cape Town time. I went to bed around 1 last night and woke up at 10 to a sort of cloudy day, which was a vast improvement on the previous two days of pouring rain followed by hard rain followed by a little bit of rain.

I start work tomorrow, one of the workers here at Connect is walking me to Hoops4Hope, which apparently is only a few blocks away. I meet her at 9:15 a.m. tomorrow morning, so thats a vast improvement on my 7 a.m. wake up call this summer. It should be really fun – I have no idea what tomorrow will be like, but I’m very excited.  Sitting around while everyone else works and has things to do in a city I don’t know very well is getting to be kind of boring.

Since it’s been raining the last few days, I haven’t been able to go explore the city like I usually prefer to do when I visit somewhere new.

So after eating some lunch this afternoon I grabbed my camera, put on jeans and a tshirt, and packed a light windbreaker in my jacket. The sun was peeking out of the clearing clouds, and it looked like a beautiful day. I stepped outside and felt fine in a tshirt, and began exploring. The first few people I saw all were dressed substantially warmer than me, even though I was more than comfortable in just a tshirt. Eventually I realized that I was definitely out of place without three coats and a winter hat on, which was strange given that it was probably over 60 degrees in the sun, and it wasn’t that cloudy. Its one of the more interesting things I notice about the residents of the city.

Barbed wire by the massive central train station - almost everyone here was black or colored. Whites don't ride the train apparently.

Barbed wire by the massive central train station - almost everyone here was black or colored. Whites don't ride the train apparently.

Another thing I noticed about the city was the surprising amount of barbed wire. Barbed wire by train tracks, in backyards, by shipping yards, surrounding churches and museums, on rooftops limiting access, at ground level on certain porches. It seems to be pretty rampant – maybe the barbed wire industry has good lobbyists in South Africa? It struck me as pretty interesting, and it was a bit offsetting. Why else would so much barbed wire be necessary if the danger that gets hyped up about this city isn’t real?

But as it was broad daylight, I felt pretty comfortable walking around the downtown district of the city. It was like any other big city – skyscrapers, homeless people, businessmen and women both white and black stomping from building to building, students carrying backpacks holding hands on fieldtrips. I decided to make my way over towards the neighborhoods by the shortest part of  Table Mountain, where all the trees that remind me of The Lion King are.

On my way I kept noticing billboards advertising the World Cup and how ready South Africa is to host it. One in particular made me laugh – check out the bottom right. Yea, that’s the aftermaths of a demolished building that homeless man is salvaging scrap metal out of. People throw the word ‘irony’ around alot – but this is definitely ironic.

Helping the city prepare, one piece of scrap metal at a time.

Helping the city prepare, one piece of scrap metal at a time.

After I passed through that area, I started to ascend a really steep hill. The streets were all cobblestone – and I don’t mean nice, even cobblestone that you see in DC around Georgetown, or in Kerrytown in Ann Arbor. I’m talking if you ride your bike down these cobblestones your wheels will fall off, you had better have a helmet on, and wearing a cup might be a good idea. Of course immediately as I’m thinking this, a guy on a moped rounds the corner and begins his ascent down a 50 degree sloped cobblestone road. Miraculously I think he made it. Probably related to Evil Kenevil.

Anyway, as I kept climbing I noticed the houses were turning into really colorful Middle Eastern type homes, and there were tons of crecents, head dresses, and Middle Eastern rugs hanging to dry. A couple of older women stopped me and asked if I was from London, and eventually they said this was the Muslim neighborhood of the city. Apparently most of the Cape Town Muslims live in that one area, and the differences in their housing is amazing. I passed a house with a wooden door that looked condemned, but saw a man walk into right before I passed. The very next house was an exquisite brand new house with a beautiful arched entryway to the garden, with brand new doors and a well-kept lawn. The houses are also extremely colorful – neon greens, blues, pinks, reds, oranges – you name a color, one of the houses here is painted it.

It's like a Crayola box - any color crayon you could possibly want.

It's like a Crayola box - any color crayon you could possibly want.

I also noticed an abundance of older Muslim men and women sitting and standing around, talking or just observing the day. Most all of them smiled and said hi if I looked at them, and I had a few nice conversations with some of them. Apparently it’s rare for an American to walk through the neighborhood alone – its not that its dangerous, its just that the tour companies rarely take buses up the steep hills, and Americans don’t venture to that side of town very often. They were all very nice, and were constantly insisting that I go eat at this restaurant or get a cup of coffee or tea at this diner. There were also black cats everywhere, running around with abandon.

If you look above the cat, theres a 'no people' sign under the District 6 sign.

If you look above the cat, theres a 'no people' sign under the District 6 sign.

I made my way over to a city park near my apartment building next. It was a pretty boring little park, but tons of tourists were walking through taking pictures of the trees, which I guess looked sort of African, but its nothing you haven’t seen before. I wasn’t into it. I saw a couple little native African kids sitting on a park bench, however, and walked over to say hi. They were three brothers waiting for their mom to get out of a job interview at a nearby hotel, and the oldest was carrying five pens and a journal and had just come from school. The youngest didn’t speak anything more than gibberish, but he was really playful. The middle brother spoke some Afrikaans, but I don’t think he was comfortable with English. He kept telling the little one to say “No!” and then “Yes!” and the little one was giggling his head off the entire time. The middle one also kept rolling his eyelids back, which was pretty gross, but he laughed really hard everytime he saw my expression. The little one and I got in a stick fight, and I showed him the best way to stomp in a nearby gathering of pigeons to scare them off, and he did it probably 10 times, laughing hysterically the entire time.

And boom go the pigeons.

And boom go the pigeons.

Then I went home and wrote this. No plans for tonight, just getting ready for work in the morning. Today was a nice acclimation to the city. I prefer doing it on my own – it gives me a good feel for where everything is, and I think I’m a little more daring than an average tour in where I go and who I talk to. It was a very interesting experience, and made me excited for working in the bad neighborhoods and hopefully helping some of the kids, like the ones I met, become better people. Or maybe it’ll be them helping me become better… hopefully some of both. I put a few pictures I took that I really liked at the bottom. More later.

Notice the Michael Jackson tribute under this barbed wire lined wall in the Muslim district.

Notice the Michael Jackson tribute under this barbed wire lined wall in the Muslim district.

One of the older Muslim men standing around in the Muslim district.

One of the older Muslim men standing around in the Muslim district.

The oldest brother, the youngest brother, and the middle brother hanging off the edge of the bench.

The oldest brother, the youngest brother, and the middle brother hanging off the edge of the bench.

07
Sep
09

The Rainy View

My building is a 20 story apartment building right in the heart of downtown with a gym and the tiniest pool you’ve ever seen on the roof. These are mostly pictures of the side of the city I can’t see from my window. Table Mountain dominates the skyline behind my apartment, and forms what is called the City Bowl here, as the Mountain slopes downwards and creates a de facto bowl that houses most of the city’s white population. The neighborhoods behind my building up towards the mountain are all pretty nice, full of manor houses and residential neighborhoods.

Behind the mountain and off to the side are the townships, where most of the black and colored populations live – coloreds in South Africa are any kind of mixed race citizen. The city is still largely segregated, mostly because of economic issues. The City Bowl properties are extremely expensive, and many black and colored families simply cannot afford to move into the area. Many of the townships are dangerous, filled with drugs and all the trappings of extreme poverty, and there are beggars and homeless throughout the city. However, my apartment building is in the City Bowl, right near where the business district starts and the residential area stops.

There’s really nice views of the city from the top of my building, which I would show you if it hadn’t rained the entire time I’ve been here. So you’re stuck with crappy pictures of the view, full of clouds and rain in the distance. But you get the idea, and it’s pretty awesome. I’ll put up better pictures when I get a nice day, but its supposed to rain tomorrow too so don’t get your hopes up yet.

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The view of the right side of the mountain from the top of the building. Notice the Lion King-esque trees on the right.

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This is off to the right when the sun came out. I think the trees are really cool in this picture

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It was sorta cloudy. This is to the left of the first picture, and is actually Table Mountain, a giant mountain I'm hiking at least twice, hopefully soon.

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Same picture, with less clouds. Still can barely see the top though.

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The sun came out, so I took another picture of the view from my window. You can see the ocean a little bit in the distance, and if you look closely *ahem* you can see the rain moving off to the right under the clouds.

07
Sep
09

My Apartment

While I’m in Cape Town I’m living in an apartment building off Roeland St, which is a fairly central location, with most of the other interns in my program. It’s near Long St, where all the nightlife is – think Bourbon St in New Orleans, replete with balconies and old French/Dutch style railings.  Each apartment, as far as I can tell, either has 2 or 3 people living in it. My apartment is set up for 3, but I’m not getting another roommate, so I get a room with two single beds in it. Each bedroom has its own bathroom, which is nice – except my bathroom only has a bathtub. I haven’t felt particularly old lately, so the bathtub will probably go unused. Anyone have any advice for how to use a bathtub? Meanwhile, I felt like putting up a handful of pictures to show what I’m talking about. I felt a little like a 15 year old Myspace user thinking about taking a picture in the bathroom, so use your imagination for the bathtub image.

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I thrive on putting away my clothes

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This is the view out of my bedroom window. Past all the buildings is the Pacific Ocean, and off to the right you can see the start of a mountain in the distance. Obviously it was a nice day out.

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The kitchen/dining area. The stove is in celsius, but luckily I realized that before I put any chicken in at 350 degrees.

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This is our family room area. There's a little tv to the right that gets 7 channels, 3 of which are the same PBS/local news station in different languages. That's not a balcony, its just a massive sliding glass door with a little railing so you don't fall down 16 floors.

More later.

06
Sep
09

10,000 Rand To Do What!?

Airport arrival time in Detroit: 3:10 P.M, Friday, September 4.
Arrival time in Cape Town: 9:15 P.M., Saturday, September 5.

Let me preface this by saying that aisle seats rule and if I’m ever forced to sit in a middle seat on a trans-continental flight, please give me so much Tylenol PM I don’t wake up for 3 weeks. Anyway, South Africa is 6 hours ahead of Detroit, but that’s 24 real time hours of travel time. The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam went pretty well – I ended up sitting next to Lisa, a girl from Miami University (the Ohio one that like 25% of you reading this went to) who told her professors she had a job interview in California on Thursday but was actually flying to Paris for a week to hang out with friends. That made the flight go fairly quick, as she was probably the only other American college student on my flight. I didn’t sleep at all, but ended up watching the new Star Trek movie, which somehow I missed in theaters and is fantastic, and The Proposal, a nice romantic comedy that left me feeling completely homosexual. No it was actually pretty bad.

So we got to Amsterdam at around 7 a.m. and my connecting flight wasn’t until 9:45, so Lisa and I walked around for awhile and got some food and I marveled at how weird it was to see people who looked completely American, eating McDonalds and wearing Gap, but weren’t speaking English. We figured out that texting on my phone works – although apparently it costs like 50 cents a message, so don’t text me unless you’re dead or need the answer to a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire rerun question. The Amsterdam airport is kinda weird – apparently you get a customs stamp for flying to Paris, but I didn’t get a stamp for catching a connecting flight to South Africa, which made me pretty jealous because I wanted another stamp in my barren passport.

The flight to Cape Town from Amsterdam takes 12 hours and is awful. I watched the new Terminator(decent), He’s Just Not That Into You(exceedingly predictable), Yes, Man(kinda funny), and 4 30 Rock episodes. I still had 4 hours to kill after all that. I sat next to two mid-20s girls who spoke very little English, but I talked to them as much as I could. I spent an hour talking to a French woman living in DC who was flying to Cape Town for a cotton business conference, which was pretty interesting. I spent another hour talking to a Michigan State University supply chain management professor who was flying to Cape Town for 48 hours to work on a business deal with the University, then flying home. 44 hours in the air for 48 hours on the ground, all on MSU’s bill. He gave me his card and recommended a bunch of places to visit, so that was pretty productive.

South African Immigration is the biggest crap shoot this side of a Vegas casino. As many of you know, I bought a one way ticket to Cape Town so that I could buy a return flight to wherever I wanted. I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go, so I hadn’t bought the return ticket before I left. My plan was to see if something popped up here and I wanted to go on safari or travel to Europe with someone here rather than just by myself.

So when I got to the lady at the immigration counter, I handed her my passport and smiled. First thing she says is, “Take that piece of wood out of your mouth”, because I had a toothpick from the dinner on the plane in my mouth.

You will now buy a ticket, and you will not get a good deal on it.

"You will now buy a ticket, and you will not get a good deal on it."

Great. She looked at my passport and asked what I’m here for and when I’m leaving. When I said I was interning and then leaving in November, she asked for my return ticket. Not having one yet, I was kind of confused, but told her I didn’t have one yet and that I was planning on leaving November 28 – within the 3 month Guest Visa time limit. She decided to find this answer offensive, and told me that in order to be admitted to the country I would have to buy a return ticket out of the country, and if I didn’t have sufficient funds to do this I would be deported immediately on the next KLM flight out. I argued for a few minutes and she wasn’t budging, so I followed this short African woman who spoke barely any English through customs and baggage claim, past the front door, and over to the ticket counter. A Dutch KLM worker in his mid-20s was behind the desk at 10 P.M. on a Friday night – obviously he was in a great mood. I explained my problem and he looked up flights out of the country, which it turns out are around 10,000 rand if you buy them on the spot.

Now keep in mind this is a modern airport, and I’m standing there with my laptop in my bag. I asked rather forcefully at least 10 times if I could use my laptop to buy my own ticket, only to get shot down faster than Oklahoma’s national championship hopes. At this point I was pretty pissed – rightfully so, since I told both my advisor at MSU and people here at the internship program I’m working at that I was flying in on a one way ticket, and no one said this would be a problem.

Obviously I understand the situation and why a return flight is necessary, but you’d think someone would have told me ahead of time when I was telling them my plans. Fail on my part, but I was still very angry no one in an advisory position for this trip bothered to fill me in on this minor $1500 American dollar detail. I could have bought a $400 ticket to Athens off studentuniverse.com on my laptop, but no, since I came in on KLM I was forced to buy a KLM ticket out of the country. So I bought a 10,000 rand ticket from Cape Town to Amsterdam, walked all the way back to immigration, got my passport stamped and back, picked my bags up, walked back to the ticket counter and filled out a ticket cancellation form, which says I get a full ticket refund – minus a 250 Euro penalty – in 6 to 8 weeks. Yea, probably the best way to enter a country possible. Welcome to South Africa!

The best part of this entire situation is that Megan – the other girl from MSU going this internship program – got through immigration without getting asked for her return ticket at all, and got a stamp by saying she was interning and leaving Nov. 28. She showed the most basic paperwork imaginable – a slip from Connect 123 with emergency contact info on it – and she got into the country. Meanwhile, I get Nazi immigration official with a stick up her ass who sticks me with a $1500 plane ticket. I hope no one I know gets swine flu, but since I don’t remember her name it doesn’t count as knowing her… right?

So Megan and I hopped in a cab to our apartment building on Roeland St.

The kitchen in my apartment looks like this.

The kitchen in my apartment looks like this.

I spent the entire time talking about the Confederation Cup last June with the cabbie, who shook my hand and insisted that I have a fantastic time in Africa and that we didn’t have to tip him at all and that he really enjoyed our company when we got to Roeland Street. I got up to my room, found a note from my roommate Tom – a senior at USC who has been here for about 3 weeks, so he knows the town pretty well – saying to call him when I got there. So I put my bags down, figured out Tom was at a nearby bar with a bunch of other interns, and hopped a cab at 11:15 P.M. to a Cape Town bar after having flown across the world and been traveling for over 24 real time hours straight. The rest of the interns all seem really nice and like we have similar interests. The bars we went to were very reminiscent of college town type bars with a younger crowd. I was pretty wary of pickpockets – apparently last week my roommate got his cell phone stolen out of his pocket at a bar across the street – so I just took 100 rand and no credit cards or ID with me to the bar. It was a nice way to shake off how angry I was at having to buy a ticket and then canceling it immediately just to get through immigration, and was a good way to meet a large group of interns here.

I ended up staying up pretty late, and went to bed around 4:30 A.M. Cape Town time – 10:30 Ann Arbor time – and woke up around 11:30 feeling pretty well adjusted to the day.

View from the treadmill.

View from the treadmill.

I think staying up all night on the flight really helped me adjust quickly to the time difference, as my body was so exhausted that now it thinks its on normal time. We’ll see in a few days when I get into a regular schedule if it actually is, but for now I feel fine. I went grocery shopping, ran on the treadmill on the 20th floor of my apartment building while I stared at Table Mountain and the city in front of me for 45 minutes because it’s rainy today, and haven’t decided what to do tonight yet.

I start work on Wednesday, and have no idea what I’m doing in the meantime. This was a nice verbal diarrhea post – my word count is pushing 1600, but whatever. I hope you guys have a better feel for how my trip is going and what its like here – if I missed anything or you have any questions or comments or think my writing sucks, leave me a comment and I’ll let you know. You can also feel free to email me at jack.robenalt@gmail.com or get on AIM (Jackus189) or Skype (Jack.Robenalt). I’d love to hear from all of you!

More later when my job starts and I have actual interesting things to say.

04
Sep
09

First Post

Alright, I don’t have time to fully edit this right now, but expect a longer post once I arrive in Cape Town on Saturday. In the meantime, I’ll just pull my post off TheCoolestOut to suffice as a first entry. Talk to you all soon.

In about 3 hours I’m headed to the airport to hop a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. I’m spending the semester interning for Hoops4Hope, an organization that uses basketball as a youth development tool, trying to teach disadvantaged youth in South Africa how to improve their lives, using sport as the catalyst to create leaders and upstanding citizens. I’m working marketing and PR for when a handful of NBA players come work a clinic, and I get to work directly with them while they’re in Cape Town.

I have no idea what my internet situation will be like while I’m there, but South Africa is a fairly westernized country, so I imagine I’ll have internet available at times. What that means for my contributions to The Coolest Out over the next few months, I have no idea. Obviously Trey will be holding it down, and I’ll definitely be popping in from time to time to post something dope, and expect some regional South African flair to pop up from time to time.

If you want to follow my trip, I set up a blog for my family and friends to check out what I’m doing at https://jrobenalt.wordpress.com. Nothing is up there now, but once I get to Cape Town tomorrow night I’m posting a longer intro. Thanks for your continued support of The Coolest Out, and we’ll let Trey take the stage from here. See you all in December, and if you’re in Cape Town be sure to hit me up.

Peace, love, and good luck.

– Jack