Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Horseback riding

and terrible videos:

They really shouldn't sell video cameras to people like me.

An open letter to Joseph Stalin

In retrospect, I don't think that statue is actually Stalin.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More load shedding

The first blackout was kind of funny and cute. The second one wasn't. Seven years of this??? No thanks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Load shedding

Today I had my first experience with what South Africans call "load shedding." The electricity system in South Africa was only designed to support 10% of the population (i.e. the whites). As a result of this and extreme weather conditions, the country experiences intermittent blackouts.

At 10am this morning, all the power went out in our office. Most people expected it, because the state's energy company, Eskom, had issued warnings over the past few days. But no one knew exactly when it would come.

This was a "planned" blackout. Others are unplanned. The other day I was watching SABC news, and a little message ran across the bottom of the screen that said everyone should cut down on their energy use for the next few hours to avoid a blackout. Luckily I got the message in time, and I turned off one of the two lights in my bedroom. Crisis averted!

Eskom said that load shedding will be around for at least the next five to seven years.

Today's blackout only lasted about three hours. It gave me an opportunity to leave work and go grocery shopping in the dark!

Cullinan diamond mine

I went on a tour of it Sunday. It is big.

They gave me a hardhat, so I was under the impression that we were going underground. After about 2 hours, they told me the tour does not go underground on Sundays. I was angry for having worn my hardhat for so long.

Monday, December 3, 2007

More ugliness in a beautiful country

A lot of things about my guest house make me uncomfortable: They wash my towels every day. They put little stickers on my toilet paper before I come home. They offer to have the black maids bring things to my room, as if my arms and legs are broken. They constantly ask me if I'm "doing ok," while old women hunch over next to me scrubbing the floors.

There is a new Afrikaans girl working here. She is majoring in tourism, so she is doing a sort of intership. She grew up on a small farm outside Pretoria. She has never traveled outside the country.

I asked her where I should visit in my last two weeks here. "I heard Durban is nice," I said.

"Ya, well, I don't know. Are you a racist?" she asked me, in the same manner in which someone might ask, "are you a vegetarian?"

"Because a lot of black people go there, and they can't swim. They get really excited when they see the waves, too. It's really irritating."

The guy whom I'm renting a car from also runs a car recovery service, meaning that he goes to recover stolen cars. I dropped my car with him before leaving for Cape Town, and as he drove me back to my office, he started telling me about the business.

"You can think I'm a racist after I tell you this. You can take your business away from me. I don't care. But I have recovered thousands upon thousands of cars in the past 10 years. Not one of them has been from a white person."

"Don't tell me it's because they're poor. They do it because they want to get rich. I see these guys every day. None of them are on their last meal."

I didn't ask (because I was too busy listening) but as he was talking I wondered whether he thinks it's something genetic in black men that makes them steal cars. Like an extra chromosome or something. Because from his perspective, I can see how he could conclude that all black people are greedy criminals. That is what he knows. Twenty-five percent of his VW Citi Golfs get stolen. He has been shot at numerous times. One of his friends was recently killed.

Last week and yesterday there were shootings in my neighborhood. One was a carjacking down the street from me. A young woman was killed. Her car locks and house gates may have brought down her insurance costs, but they did not save her life. Someone wanted to kill her, and he did it. Simple as that.

What I wonder is why he wanted to kill her in the first place.

Cape Town

Cape Town. Cape Town. Cape Town. Who knew you could be so magical?

I suppose plenty of people knew. But now I can count myself among them.

I arrived Friday. Bright and early Saturday morning I went mountain biking down table mountain. This is it:

The omnipresent cloud on top is commonly called the "table cloth." I hope my dad can tell me why it's there.

Mountain biking was a little more difficult than I thought it would be, especially because we went down the mountain, rather than up. And by the end my hands were killing me from gripping the brake.

There are more species of flora on table mountain than in all of Europe combined. And you can drink the spring water that runs down the mountain. Delicious.

The couple I biked with was on holiday from Israel. They were both America. One worked at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. The other worked fro UNOPS in Gaza. Needless to say, they were interesting to talk to. So in addition to the workout and beautiful scenery, I had great conversation. They were also very young and gave me good advice about working in international development.

On day two I went to Robben Island. The guides there are all former inmates or exiles. So they add an extra dimension to the experience. Our guide was chums with Mandela and Robert Sobukwe - the man who first told blacks to abandon their identification booklets and turn themselves in to be arrested. He had some pretty amazing anecdotes; many of then funny; many of them very sad.

He wove the nationalities and appearances of the people on the tour into his story of Apartheid and the liberation. He told me that under the standards of the Dutch army, I would have probably been sent to the leper camp; because I had two earrings in one ear and one in the other. The island was used as a leper colony before it housed political prisoners. This was at a time when leprosy was not well understood.

I cried when our guide told the story of how the prisoners worked in blinding quarry pits without sunglasses, many of them losing their vision from the harsh glare. To this day, no one is allowed to take flash photos of Mandela, because of the damage this did to his eyes.

The prisoners later learned that the stones they hauled day and night were not put to any use; they were just carted around the island and back to their original locations. The prisoners were overseen by 16-year-old-white boys. They knew that the boys were not evil work locking them up, they were just manipulated by an evil system. Mandela and some of the other well-educated prisoners tried to teach the guards what they learned at university on their breaks.

Like everything under apartheid, the prisoners food and clothing allotments were determined along racial lines. This former terrorist showed us the meal rations, and talked about how the Coloreds and Indians would share their food with the blacks, and they went on multi-day hunger strikes together.

Here are all my pictures.

And for those of you not in my family, here are the picture I took from my safari the weekend prior: My claim to fame on the trip was spotting a hyena. My guide told me that was very rare.
Custom Search