Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo elected into Congress

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Camila Vallejo’s fight for better education mirrors South Africa’s own cause for change.
Two weeks ago Camila Vallejo, the main spokesperson of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confech) and the most visible leader of the 2011 Chilean student protests, was elected to Congress.

The 25-year-old woman, a member of the Central of Committee of the Communist Youth of Chile, was elected on November 17 and will take over next March as the Deputy of the Chamber of Deputies for the 26th district.

The unconventional leader–a woman in her twenties, who rocks a nose ring and just finished her degree in geography–turned to Twitter after hearing the news: “We’re going to celebrate our triumph on the streets of La Florida,” referring to Santiago.

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If you haven’t heard of Vallejo, here’s a rundown: Her rise as an influential, political leader came in the heat of the Chilean student protests. For three years thousands of students, including Vallejo who was head of the University of Chile’s student body, participated in marches, sit-ins and other protests in an effort for free and improved education. The protests were covered nationwide by The Guardian, The New York Times, and other publications. Vallejo said it was the key to breaking “the cultural hegemony of the neoliberal model imposed on Chile during the military dictatorship.” It also shaped the 2013 electoral campaign: Michele Bachelet (Chile’s first female president and current leading nominee) promised, if elected, “to implement tax reforms to finance an overhaul of education.”

“We were elected because Chile changed,” Vallejo told foreign correspondents in a meeting held last last week. “Given the result of the elections, we have a majority that allows us to make structural changes.”

Vallejo got involved because education wasn’t just a student issue; it was a symptom of what was wrong with Chile.

Can the same be said about education in South Africa? Twenty years after the end of apartheid, South Africa still remains the hub for unequal education, between white, black, and coloured people, and between affluent and poor areas.

“Transformation in schools such as infrastructure and quality education is a painstakingly slow process and the school children suffer the most,” explains Lusisipo Piyose, a SANGONeT Volunteer. “This is especially true in township and rural schools where little has changed since the apartheid regime, and not just in terms of school resources but in the quality of the education students receive.”

A recent report by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) released on 20 August, titled, A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa’ found that less than 5 percent of African and coloured students in higher education complete their studies whilst on average white students’ completion rates are 50 percent higher than African students. The report also highlights that over 50% of first year entrants do not complete their studies.

Even The World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index for 2012–2013 ranked South Africa’s overall education system at 140 out of 144 countries, and its maths and science education at 143 out of 144.

“It is an uncontested fact that there are vast disparities in the quality of education provided to children at different public schools in South Africa,” states Pierre De Vos’ in his article, “Unequal education: The Problem with Providing Learning for All. He continues, “How to address this injustice has become one of the most intractable but emotionally laden issues in South Africa.”

edukashionSouth Africa and Chile may be in the same league in regards to education, but if Vallejo represents a change for Chile, who is the equivalent for South Africa? Are there any?

There are non-governmental organisations such as Equal Education that promotes the right for students to have access to equal quality education regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. The organisation comprises of community members and students.

But what about student-based organisations? Within schools are Student Representative Councils (SRCs), which are elected by the students and are supposed to represent any grievances made by the students. They are usually in the forefront of student protests in their schools.

Contrary to media reports, protests are usually the last resort for students when they have not been heard by teacher or the school governing bodies, according to Piyose.

One organisation that has seen progress through protesting is the South Africa Students’ Congress (SASCO), who strives to achieve a non-sexist, non-racial, working class biased and democratic education system. Mirroring Vallejo’s own efforts, last July, SASCO embarked on a nation-wide march across the Republic of South Africa. The march began with campus protests in all SASCO branches in the country, followed by provincial marches in all provinces. The national march, initially directed to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DhET) head office in Pretoria, to get the minister of education Angie Motshekgwa to attend to the Norms and Standard Act for infrastructure in schools, was post-posted.

The marches remained peaceful with students singing and cheering. In various articles, the two names mentioned to represent the group was SASCO provincial secretary, Sello Nkatho, and deputy secretary-general Luzuko Buku. Nkatho told Times Live that it was unacceptable that higher learning institutes increased their fees between eight and 12 percent every year.” These two student leaders have the potential to cause as much buzz as Vallejo has.

“South African students need a vibrant national student organisation that is visible and resourceful, that I don’t think is found with SASCO. One that will effectively deal with student grievances in primary schools and high schools,” suggest Piyose.

Nkatho has joined student leaders in other debates for better education, including UCT’s DA Student’s Organisation (DASO), which is made up of 18-22 year-old students. In a debate in March 2012, on UCT’s admission policy, DASO and SASCO fought for students with a similar background and education to be able compete on the same terms for a spot at UCT. UCT’s admissions policy uses race as a proxy for classifying students as disadvantaged.

”Too often student organisations are not given the power to address their issues resourcefully or even get access to relevant government bodies,” says Piyose.

The government has recently made an effort to change that. In October, the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande sent out a press release explaining the launch for the South African Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA), which has the potential to fill the gap between students and government. Their hope is to limit student protests in the sector and to provide a platform for students to engage on issues in a more civil scenery.

Piyose thinks its too soon to tell if SAFETSA will be effective for students: “I do hope that this is not a one-off occasion but one that remains a permanent body as this will improve communication between government and stake holders which will also improve education policies and education in general.” She continues, “Hopefully this will be a platform where students get to be heard and not be intimidated by bureaucratic government structures.”

Vallejo’s seat in congress not only represents the significant impact she’s had on Chilean citizens, but the Chilean citizens decision to vote in a radical direction. The nation-wide coverage that made its way to America, Europe, and South Africa, showed people just how much a new generation will work for the next generation’s future. (Besides Vallejo, three other 20-year-old students from student organisations have been elected to congress.)

But what can South Africa do? Vallejo told foreign correspondents that “social movements are pressuring many sectors that were not in favor of change before and that have now changed their mind.”

Is the answer to South Africa’s education problem a need for stronger social movements? If Vallejo’s success has showed us one thing, it’s that a strong voice and national recognition are powerful tools. After all, the world is rooting for progress.

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Will the Real South Africa, Please Stand Up?

Is the Garden Route real South Africa? What is real South Africa? And am I living in it?

A couple of days after I got home from the Garden Route, I received an email from a friend who was concerned about whether I lived in “real Africa” or “touristy Africa”. Granted the Garden Route was pretty touristy (see my previous blog post), but it’s become clear to me that a lot of people–both Americans and non-Americans–have a misperception on what South African life is really like. Which is totally fine, how can we understand any country we haven’t lived in? Some of the questions I’ve been asked have been, is South Africa safe? How is it different from North Africa? What’s the HIV situation like? Is Apartheid still going on? So here’s what’s up:

The problems in North Africa are horrific, as everyone talks about. I have a lot of friends here who have worked in Kenya or Tanzania–in much smaller towns in Africa where it’s not westernized–and it’s been an extremely unsafe experience for them. Just being white can cause attacks, kidnappings and other extreme acts. Last September there was a bombing at a mall in Kenya where many people died, including some of the president’s family members.

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Green Market Square

Since I am currently in Cape Town, South Africa, it is definitely easier because I’m in a city that’s very influenced by Western culture. But everything is about 50 years behind to America’s schedule. Apartheid (which was basically South Africa’s Jim Crow Laws, separating whites, Africans and colored people) ended in 1994, so now there is no more legal segregation.

On my first weekend in Cape Town, we went to Langa, which is a small township that was designated for Black Africans before the apartheid era. It’s still thriving and it’s filled with people but it’s a very poor community. We went to see where they lived and learn about the history. We saw that in one hostel, three families of five live in one room, and there’s a lot of poverty. But they seem very happy, our tour guide was 26 and still lives in Langa despite having a full-time job. The kids were playing outside and were very friendly. It’s mostly about tradition and being close to family. It’s hard going to these types of tours because you realize that while you’re learning and you’re experiencing how other people live for your own benefit of understanding different cultures, this is still someone’s life and someone’s struggle rather paying to see. It’s awkward taking pictures of someone’s painful daily life. But it’s also important that we see it for ourselves and share it with our families so that people know what’s going on.

However, it’s still very much apart of the South African culture. It’s obvious that certain jobs are for certain people, due to a lack of education. There’s also just an overall lack of sensitivity present in the conversations South Africans have when talking about race, something that most Americans are not use to hearing. HIV is widespread in South Africa, 1 in 10 people have it according to my three friends who are currently working in either hospitals or research facilities, and work with HIV-positive or TB-positive patients. They have to support these patients who are in serious denial about their condition and this all takes place in Cape Town.

Certainly there are areas made just for tourists. Green Market Square is filled with merchants selling products made in North Africa. All the items, from “authentic” drums, masks, scarves, bottle openers, jewelry, and more, are all the same, in every stand. All the merchants say that their paintings are an original. After living in Cape Town for 3 months, it’s obvious that these stands are for tourists. You’ll see it everywhere: Hout Bay Market, Old Biscuit Mill, even in Stellenbosch or Franschoek (towns outside of Cape Town). It’s a consistent idea that tourists come to South Africa and they expect to buy African artifacts, whether it’s a painting of an African tribe or clay bowls. Travelers come here expecting these gifts to bring home to their families, to show them what they got from “real Africa.” We buy it and then we go to other markets and see the same things over and over again. You realize that none of it is original, and the sellers are banking on our perception of South Africa to make money.

The Waterfront is another interesting aspect to what tourists . Though gorgeous and incredibly fun, the Waterfront is a combination of Hershey Park and your local mall. Except it’s better. It’s located by the harbor and its a tourist heaven. There’s the aquarium, the port that boats leave to go to Robben’s Island, a ferris wheel, opportunities to go sea-kayaking or rent a boat. The Victoria Wharf is a huge mall that’s very expensive. There’s also the best seafood restaurants, live music, a 7-day market and other daily attractions. You can have it all at the Waterfront. But it’s not authentic. It’s not the townships, it’s literally filled with people from Europe, America and other countries. It’s important as a traveler, and someone living temporarily to realize the differences. The Waterfront is not an ideal place to go to all the time for South Africans. In these two cases, my friend is somewhat right.

A little bit of the Waterfront

A little bit of the Waterfront

But outside the Waterfront, and Cape Town altogether, the country is divided by Western Cape and Eastern Cape. I live in Western Cape, which is the close to the city and the ocean. It’s still filled with a diverse crowd of South Africans from all parts of the country. Cape Town is the ‘Mother City’, so they see it as a place like New York City, a place to go after you graduate. In the city, everyone is much more integrated but when you get outside to the Eastern Cape where there’s the Afrikaans community, farms and safari areas, there is more of a separation. I actually just finished the book Disgrace, by JM Coetzee, and I recommend anyone read it if you want a better understanding on racial complexities in South Africa and the differences between the East and the West.

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Company Gardens

The story is about a professor from University of Cape Town, who’s divorced and lonely and doesn’t have motivation with his current job. He has an affair with a student in one of his classes, and when people find out, he chooses to leave the school and Cape Town altogether. He decides to move to a village in the Eastern Cape, where his adult daughter lives and runs a farm. There’s animals including many dogs who have been abused and are taken in for safety by his daughter. It’s in the middle of the country, where people are a little less civilized, and the idea of a woman running her own farm is a bit preposterous. The professor decides to help around the farm, even though he’s not supportive of it; he would much rather see his daughter come home and get married.

The story’s main themes mirror my own life in a strange way: A man leaves the comfort of his job, home and city-life for the life of somewhere completely new and a completely different culture. It challenges him because he lives by his intellect, he strives through his studies, his music and these things don’t matter in the Eastern Cape. It matters if you can run the farm and get your hands dirty, and he struggles with these concepts. I’ve found that being in Cape Town aka being in a new place has been challenging for me because it’s having to accept and work with people who may not do the type of things you would do, or understand why you would do them. It tests your patience in new situations, which I could definitely learn from.

The point of this post is that Cape Town, though not Botswana or Zimbabwe, is still real Africa. It’s real because the people living here are dealing with their own issues in the country: lack of education, racism, diseases, homelessness, theft. Cape Town, if anything, is in the beginning stages of post-civil rights America. They’re aren’t lions and elephants walking around Cape Town, but it doesn’t make the city or my experience any less African.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay

I messaged my friend a similar response and she was very happy to know what I told her. I hope this clears anything up. Thanks for reading! More later.

Until next time,
Mara

The Garden Route

Remember that time I made a blog and promised myself to write in it once a week? That was like pre-government shutdown times. Does anyone even remember that? New York Magazine redesigned their website and Apple put out the new iOS7 in the time that I said I would blog once a week. Among other things have happened, of course. What have I been doing with my life? Oh wait. Well, I am back and ready to write what has happened (or rather what I remember).

After my first week at Rolling Stone SA (which was and has been everything I had hoped for in an internship here), I went on a 4-day trip down the Garden Route, which goes along the south-eastern coast from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. I went with 6 girls in my program and we traveled in a van with a tour guide, provided by the travel agency we booked the trip with. This was my first trip outside the city, so I was very excited to be exploring different parts of South Africa, passing through towns like George and Jeffrey Bay. However the Garden Route is bound to be touristy as it involves doing many touristy African activities. Our trip included going on the Big 5 Safari (where you see wildlife animals such as giraffes, zebras, hippos, cheetahs, etc.), visit the elephants at the Elephant Addo Sanctuary, lion sanctuary, go to an ostrich farm, and bungee jump off of Bloukrans Bridge Bungy: the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee 709 feet above the Bloukrans River.

Though there has been criticism for these activities: from people at home and local South Africans, even the people who I actually went with, it was important as a cultural learning experience to see what what we as tourists and Americans will pay for to get the “truly authentic African experience” and to see what South Africans think is acceptable to do for money. But that’s for another blog post. For now – my trip and my experience bungee jumping.

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The group on our way back to Cape Town

On the first day, we left Cape Town at 5am and drove 4 hours to the Big 5 Safari. As I mentioned above, the safari was basically a game viewing, where we all got in a jeep and drove around the land looking for different animals, observing them eat, sleep and live. It was a nice introduction to the trip, we weren’t necessarily close to the animals but we saw them from a distance. Actually the giraffes were pretty close, which was probably my favorite part. We learned about the conditions that the animals face outside the Game Lodge, as well as how the money that people spend to go to the game lodge goes to saving close to endangered species, like the black rhino. It was definitely exciting to see, despite knowing the animals were brought from their actual habitats to be in this fenced in field. One elephant who walked alone was a male who lost his partner and their child when the mother died giving birth to the baby. He walked alone in the field while we took pictures. This idea of ‘something doesn’t seem right’ was a recurring feeling we had as a group. And yet we continued.

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After the Big 5, we went to a Lion Sanctuary where we interacted with two lions: Mufasa and Lila. We walked with them, pet them and stood next to them to take pictures. Besides the ostrich farm, this was the phoniest of the activities we paid for. Though it was shocking to be around actual lions without getting hurt, it was mostly because we were holding a stick and were instructed in how to use it when standing near them. It was scary at first, until you realized that the stick was more controlling than it appeared to be. The lions were totally trained by it. The whole thing ended up being a walk, stop, pose, take a picture, repeat with the lions in different, cool areas. It might as well have been advertised as Glamour Shots + Lions. I guess that’s what you should expect when you’re on the Garden Route.

Similar to the lions, we went to the Elephant Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay, where we walked with the elephants by putting the front of their trunks in our hand. We also learned about each elephant’s history prior to coming to the sanctuary, and heard stories about how they’ve gotten to know one another, and become a family. One of the elephants was saved after her tusks were ripped off by poachers, which is a huge issue for elephants because it helps them protect themselves. We were able to look at the bottom of their feet, the tail, feel their skin and then eventually ride them. The elephants, to me, were the most comforting of all the places we had visited. The instructors were convincing that even though these animals were in this space, they were living a fulfilling life with other elephants. The riding didn’t seem so fake at it did with taking pictures with the lions. Though I’m sure in both pictures below, I look ridiculous.

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We stayed in three different hostels for the three nights we were out. Each hostel was better than the next and all of them were next to the beach so we were always by the ocean. The first one was a Backpackers hostel in Jeffrey’s Bay where we had seriously delicious pizza, celebrated a friend’s birthday and met fellow Garden Route travelers from Norway, Germany as well as America. The atmosphere was definitely calmer and more relaxed compared to being in Cape Town. I guess one could say that about going from any city to the beach, but it was a necessary trip in this case. Cape Town has made all of us a bit on edge, with the street crime, theft and weather. We all were in need of a break (which is a bit ironic since Cape Town is essentially a break from home in America).

Other things I enjoyed about the hostels were the African dance entertainment and the ostrich braai. In our second hostel, a group of kids performed African dance moves, while wearing beaded anklets and skirts. At the third, the ostrich braai (barbecue) included grilled ostrich, on a stick, like kebabs, potatoes and grilled veggies. It was delicious and I really enjoyed that we ate something different — not too thrilled that it happened hours after we visited an ostrich farm, but hey, what can you do?

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On the last day, we visited the Cango Caves, which are located in Precambrian limestones near the town of Oudtshoorn. The caves were discovered in 1780 by a local farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl. I did the adventure tour which explored the caves on a more difficult level. There were three trails, where you either had to pull your body up or down through narrow paths and climb the rocks while being in a really enclosed space. It was hard but I had a lot of fun.

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While we weren’t on tours or riding animals, we were in the van driving from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. The scenery was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. There was no traffic and you were just driving down these winding roads that overlooked mountains for miles. The views were breathtaking. We drove through the desert at one point. Since this was only a couple of weeks in since I first got to South Africa, it was a joy to experience life outside of Cape Town, even though most of it was touristy. The in-between time: driving around, being at the hostel, gave us a look at more of South Africa.

(Note: I also DID go bungee jumping at the highest bridge in the world! But I’m making a separate blog post about it once I get my photos for it. It really was a different kind of experience, separate from the trip, so get ready for that too!)

Thanks for coming along for the ride everyone and I hope you’re still enjoying what you read. Please feel free to follow my instagram – @mars_baars or click on the pictures on the right side of this page.

Till next time,
Mara

Mara has added yet another internship to her timeline…

Hey everyone!

I can’t believe I’m almost four weeks in and have only written one blog post. Disappointing, really. Hopefully in the second month, I will get it together.

This post isn’t as exciting as the last one. It’s basically just me explaining what happened with my internship (now that I’ve gotten the courage to publish this on the web).

So you’re probably thinking, why didn’t Mara mention her internship in her first post? I mean, the reason I came to Cape Town was to intern at a South African magazine. Well here it goes: I started my internship two days after my arrival. What the [company’s name that I won’t write on here] does is hard to explain because they don’t really know what they do either. It’s part online magazine for women (which is what I was supposed to be working on), part non-profit organization for kids, and part business and marketing consulting service. It wasn’t really what I was expecting in regards to the magazine side of the business. There wasn’t really an editorial staff–it was just me and then the 5 people who worked there would sometimes help out. There was no organization or clear idea on what they wanted from me. On top of that, the company was very focused on promoting products, businesses and just marketing in general (which is not my thing at all). But my biggest problem was that they treated my accomplishments as a fault and not as a useful tool for their company.

The internship didn’t work out because it was not meant for a 23-year-old graduate: it was meant for someone who had never worked in a company before and seriously needed experience. I could honestly go on for hours on just how dreadful this internship was but it’s unnecessary at this point. It’s over. The point is that I came to another country to learn, but to also utilize my skills from previous work experiences.

In their heads, I had no previous work experience. I was not an individual, I was part of the “internship program” and whatever the group does, you do. I was told I had to relearn things I already knew, and whenever I reminded them that I had a degree, I was shut down and labeled as a “know-it-all”. Or insinuated that I thought I was better than the other interns because I was from America and had the opportunities.. so obnoxious. I’ve never been in a situation where having a college degree was seen as snobbish. The whole thing was just ridiculous: it was obvious they hadn’t read my resume because they were surprised when I knew how to use basic things like WordPress (……) or that I had my own website and had work published. I was looked down on for my accomplishments or knowing basic programs. Now I know I’ve really entered third world.

It was also difficult not being trusted to do the job I was hired to do. My boss didn’t trust me to find my own stories, do my own interviews or be able to write my own questions. When did it become a thing that bosses hold their employees’ hands for everything they do? I realized a week in that I wouldn’t be getting anything out of this experience. So I talked with my program coordinator, and we decided that I should switch.

It’s unfortunate when anybody has to leave because it’s not a right fit. No one wants to travel to a new country with the intention of working and then leaving a week later. It questions your ability to adapt to new work environments, it questions your maturity and professionalism and I really struggled with whether or not I was making the right decision. I was told to wait and let it get better, to suck it up and appreciate the opportunity. And I just couldn’t. I’m not at that point where any experience is acceptable. My time and work is now valuable to me. And if it’s a waste of time (and I’m not getting paid), the sad truth is it’s not worth it. After a couple of days, I received a call from my program coordinator that after receiving my resume and bylines, I had been accepted to be an intern at Rolling Stone Magazine South Africa! Now, I don’t regret my decision at all.

Rolling Stone SA has been incredible so far. It’s associated with the regular Rolling Stone mag–we use the same layouts and we’re open to use each other’s content–but Rolling Stone SA is independently run to focus on local South African musicians. The overall message is to promote musicians and art as a whole because the music industry just isn’t as advanced here as it is in the states. 3IPublishing started publishing Rolling Stone SA two years ago, so they are still relatively new but very organized and professional. I’m so proud to be part of this company. They’re very appreciative of what I have to offer and have given me a lot of responsibility. And we listen to music all day long, so that’s pretty awesome too.

What have I learned? This isn’t so much about working in South Africa vs. working in America as it is working for different companies. Obviously being American gave me somewhat of a disadvantage, where it was encouraged to know nothing and to gain whatever knowledge had to offer. At Rolling Stone, it’s a very chill environment, where my speedy and “first world” skills, as they call it, are more accepted. So obviously it depends on the company. I think in the end, you have to learn that there will always people you can’t work with, or a job that you don’t like, but it’s how you handle it that makes you grow. I wish I had handled it my leave more professionally. I know in the future, I won’t be able to switch internships or jobs so easily. That eventually when I get a real job, I’m gonna have to suck it up and work with what I have. But that time isn’t now. I had the choice to change if it wasn’t a good fit, and it wasn’t. And I encourage anyone in my program to stand up for themselves, for their time and for their value because they should appreciate what we do for them. The most important thing I’ve learned is that I will never be ashamed of my accomplishments.

I also want to add that even though it ended, I loved the girls I met and spent every waking moment with during my internship. These five girls were so generous and sweet even though we had only known each other for just a couple of days. I appreciate their support for my decision to leave and I’m so glad we still get together for drinks and dinner.

Me and the 'Spice' girls getting drinks at Rafikis

Me and other interns getting dinner at Beleza

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Me and my girl JoJo

What to expect in my upcoming blog posts: Some of the places I’ve been around Cape Town such as the Company Gardens, Hope Street Market and Langa. Hopefully after I can get into my trip on the Garden Route! And then a blog post on the differences between “real” Africa and “touristy” Africa. And pictures of me bungee jumping!

What I want to accomplish by the next post: Upload all of my pictures and get them online. Book more trips outside the city. Keep up with blogging. Walk slower and really see everything, but work faster. Oh and write less in my blogs and emails. People have lives.

Till next time,
Mara

He said, “One thing before I graduate, Never let your fear decide your fate.”

Welcome friends, family, Facebook and Twitter stalkers and anyone I told I was going to Cape Town and thinks I’m crazy. I know–what’s a Jewish girl doing in South Africa? A country where using #thirdworldproblems is legitimate, a fast internet connection is a luxury and most of the time you’re questioning the meat you’re eating. But a month after I graduated college, sitting at my desk at my 40+ hour, full time internship where I was making next to nothing, I realized that just because I was 22 and had a degree didn’t mean I needed to start my life right away. Also how boring, right? So after getting accepted into the Connect123 program where I got an (unpaid) internship at a magazine in Cape Town, I had found my next home from September to December of 2013.

15 hours to Johannesburg, 2 hours to Cape Town and an eventful time at the Cape Town airport later (where the airline lost my bag and I was sure all of my belongings were gone forever), I was on my way to my apartment at Perspectives to begin my journey. (My bag was sent to my apartment six hours later, but still).

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Saying my goodbye outside of JFK Airport

Like everyone who travels and has an opinion, I wanted to start a blog to document my time abroad and be able to share it with friends. But I also think it’s important that people really see what Cape Town is all about (through my perspective, that is). I’m frequently asked about what animals I see and how the safari is, or people are very concerned about my health and wellbeing. I’m not in Tanzania, people! Cape Town may be underdeveloped but it’s still a very modern city. Taking a walk in the Company Gardens feels like you’re walking through Boston Common. Camps Bay beach might as well be in Miami. Long Street in Cape Town could put any Philly citizen at ease because of it’s similarities to South Street. Though very far away, there’s a piece of home in many parts of the city (though I’ll add it’s like 100x more beautiful, sorry not sorry!) Obviously not every part is a dream to look at: there is a lot of poverty, where some sections of the city are filled with shacks for homes. It’s definitely unsafe (see my next blog post where I tell the great story of how my wallet got stolen and I have no idea how it happened). And like every place in the world, you have to be smart about where you’re going when you’re alone. But there’s a lot to learn too, like the culture. For example, everything runs so slowly here, and not just the internet, but the people, businesses, work, etc. You realize early on that no one is in a rush. The whole “time is money,” idea just doesn’t exist. My point is that while the stigma of Cape Town and South Africa is that it’s unsafe, unclean or something Americans could never relate to, it just isn’t the truth. I hope that with this blog, people will get a glimpse of what Cape Town life is really like.

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View of Table Mountain and Cape Town

Cape Town is so beautiful. The whole city and nearby islands surround this huge mountain called Table Mountain and Lions Head. A group of us are planning on hiking it sometime this month when it gets nicer out (it’s a 6 hour hike but there’s also a cable car). We’re currently transitioning from Winter to Spring. Everyone on the program was under the impression that it would be an extension of summer once we got here but it is anything but. It’s been 50-60 degrees everyday, and though it’s always sunny, it’s freezing! It’s suppose to get really hot in two weeks so I’m very happy about that.

I live on the 10th floor of an 18th floor building called Perspectives with the other Connect123 members and where the Connect123 office is located. We’re very close to cafes, restaurants and a shopping centre. I like the area even though everything closes early. Everything is incredibly cheap here. 1 American dollars = 10 rands so a big meal and drink is typically 50 rands. Not too shabby.  In the mornings, I walk to my friends’ apartment for a ride to my internship and the walk is an unreal experience: there’s Table Mountain to my right, kids in uniforms going to school on my left, Lion-King looking trees everywhere. It’s like America but… South Africa. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It’s just unbelievable to think how far away I am from everything. Luckily everything is accessible by walking, bus or taxi so I’m looking forward to checking out the city when I’m more settled in.

So far I’ve been to a lot of restaurants and bars on Long Street. We finally had our first program event at a place called Van Hunks. It was nice to finally see everyone in one place since we’ve all met separately. There’s about 30 people in the program, mostly girls, age ranging 18-26. Most are from America, with a couple from Canada and Panama, but we all have very similar backgrounds and goals. After Van Hunks, we went to a place called Rafickis. At this place called Mama Africa, where an authentic African band played live music, I tried crocodile! Hahaha so kosher, right? On the weekend, though, I went to a beach area called Camps Bay, which was beautiful. We went to a restaurant called Mezopoli Wine & Bar and then took pictures by the water.

Some of Connect 123 awkwardly gathering together at Camps Bay

Some of Connect 123 girls gathering together at Camps Bay

 

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A little embarrassed while the lead singer of the band at Mama Africa serenades me

On our 1 week anniversary of being in Cape Town, my friends and I visited the V&A Waterfront, a popular tourist area near the harbor where people can rent boats, go sailing, and shop. At a restaurant called Willoughby’s and Co., I ordered a thai curry calamari and rice dish and it was served to me in a pan! It was seriously delicious and a really nice treat on my first trip to the Waterfront. If you’re ever feeling homesick, the Waterfront is definitely the best place to go for a little American refresher. You can find a lot of American department stores and boutiques; the Apple store is called iStore (lol). We saw The Heat and when I came out of the movie theatre, I honestly felt like I was in America again.

Eating Thai curry calamari and rice, Willoughby's and Co, the Waterfront.

Eating Thai curry calamari and rice, Willoughby’s and Co, the Waterfront.

This weekend I’m going on a walking tour in the Langa Township. Langa is one of the many areas in South Africa that was designated for Black Africans before the apartheid era. There, we will go on a tour throughout the village to learn about the community’s history and eat different types of meat at Mzoli’s, a very popular meathouse where people come to braai (barbecue). I’m really excited to finally be doing different things and seeing more of the South African culture instead of shopping and going to the bars and restaurants. Unfortunately all of this is happening on Yom Kippur, so this just isn’t the best week to be Jewish. Sorry, mom!

Photo taken in Pick N Pay, supermarket in Cape Town

A local grocery store advertises food for Rosh Hashana!

I have to say the best part about this experience is the people. Everyone here, both the Americans and the South Africans I’ve met, regardless of age or their life story, is just so down to earth and real. When you’re out, everyone just talks to everyone and it’s not weird or out there. They’re not separated by their cliques. Cape Town’s style is really about a care-free, live in the moment kind of life. And the people in the program are so open-minded and down to try new things. It’s so refreshing. Though people here take their time for everything, everyone seems to have the same idea: To never waste a moment being negative and to always appreciate everything you have in your life. And it’s nice to be reminded of that fact everyday while I’m here and I’ll continue to think that these next four months.

What to expect from my next blog entry: My second week in Cape Town, the reason why I didn’t mention anything about my internship, my unlucky Friday night, my experience at the Langa Township and other weird and adventurous stories.

Things I want to accomplish before I write my next post: Learn which way to look when crossing the road (since everything is the opposite), start reading some of the books I brought like Disgrace by South African writer J.M Coetzee, take MORE pictures and stop relying on others to send me theirs, to check out the Green Market Square and (this one probably not by the next post) be more patient.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! I can’t wait to post more on here because I know I’m just getting started.

Cheers!
Mara

PS – The reason I named my blog ‘Anything but Shame’ is because a typical South African saying is ‘shame’ or rather, ‘shaaaaaame.’ It’s used when someone tells someone a story about something bad or horrible happening to you and the person says ‘shame’ as a response to understand or show concern. It’s kind of silly and I’ll probably change it soon.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more pictures – @mars_baars

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Panorama view from Camps Bay