What is daily life like for the people in your host culture? What joys and challenges do they say they experience? How is it different from life in the United States?
This is an entry from my journal for Monday January 29th, 2007.
Today was one of the best of the trip. We visited two high schools, one more middle class, the other struggling.
The first was Midrand High school (like the river, The Rand, from whence the name of the currency also comes) which was a former Model C (White) school. It is the only public school in it's area and charges students R6,000 a year in school fees--which is in a fairly middle class price range. The entire school, like most places in the city, is dressed in thick metal bars and barb-wire and even features a heavy and massive iron gate at it's entrance.
The best part of the day was talking to students. I got to ask and answer questions in front of a nervous 8th grade class room. Four 10th graders kindly escorted me to the bathroom and then gave me some insight into how young students of Indian descent felt about living in South Africa. Later Chris, Fefe, and Ronaldo, all 12th-grade school leaders (like prefects), showed us around the school and challenged us to a gamer of basketball. These interactions were frank and refreshing.
We also visited Equinisweni High school, where fees are only R60 per year. The differences were stark--Equinesweni was in disrepair, suffered from severe overcrowding, and barely had sufficient teaching materials. In talking to a science teacher it was clear that he felt a sense of fighting an uphill battle. He pointed to the endless cycles that his students get caught in: girls trapped when prostitution produces HIV or a pregnancy, bright students who can't afford University application fees and instead of continuing school, end up supporting the needy families.
Te disparity in wealth between these schools is shocking, but it's sobering to remember that Equinesweni is far from the worst off and that Midrand is far from the top.
First of all, thank you all for your wonderful comments and words of inspiration. It is the attention that you have all paid writing that keeps me coming back.
We have been on a bit of an internet hiatus as we spent the last three nights in an Anglican Monastary in Grahamstown (home of Rhodes U). We spent little time with the Monks(brothers) during our stay but fortunately had opportunity to sit out with them under the Southern Hemisphere stars and watch the comet (name escapes me).
I cannot begin to describe to you the connections that Barbara Temple-Thurston (our professor) and Roddy Bray (Cape Town tour guide, trip planner) have. We have met such incredible people. This blog entry is dedicated to one of the numerous and most recent incredible people we have met.
Our time in Grahamstown was spent visiting BTT's childhood boarding school DSG and visit her favored research venue the National English Literary Museum(NELM). The tour was led by Grahamstown historian, snake catcher, animal rehabilitator and phenomenal storyteller Basil Mills (yeah, what a great name, I know!). Basil, a large man with leathered skin and protruding beer belly showed up the first day to guide our group around Addo Elephant park with his blonde handle-bar mustache and mullet cascading down his safari shirt.
This man's personality, generousity and pursuit of knowledge has undoubtedly made this trip for many Lutes. In our first morning with him as we toured Grahamstown he was called four times about wild snakes that people needed trapped. After the third call he politely told the woman on the other end that he was currently leading a student tour and that her best option would be to call the fire dept. Yeah, we got a tour of Grahamstown and a history of the Eastern Cape of SA from the guy who is called before the fire dept. to safely remove so the deadliest snakest in the world!
Later we were led on a tour of BTT's childhood all-girls school by the now Head Master (formerly Mistress). Before the tour was over Basil had left and returned with a Puff Adder snake safely contained in the back of his hatch back. He told us he would show us the snake that night when we came over for dinner. Right then we all found out two things. 1) We were invited over to Africa's equivalent of Steve Irwin's house for dinner; 2) We would all get up close and personal with one of the fastest striking, poisonous snakes in the world.
We finished our tour of NELM later that afternoon and began to become fatigued. Basil, always on the go, was wondering what our problem was the 40C heat (keep in mind body temp is 37C). We decided to go by the store and put together our lunch for the next day and buy food for our braai(BBQ) at Basil's. We returned to the monastary to freshen up and before we knew it we were all holding the 5M boa that he and his wife Debbie were rehabilitating. Again, it is appropriate to keep in mind that I am 2M tall! Soon we discovered that throughout his farm all the animals we saw bat, falcon, rock monitor (large iguanas), owl, dogs, geese and numerous snakes had all been injured at one time or another and Basil, his wife and two boys had all been working on bringing that back to full recovery.
We all sat around and ate Kadoo and Warthog kabobs and steak, potato salad, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and the standard Coca-Cola Classic as Basil told us of his life/adventures. Currently, he works for NELM, catches snakes, rehabilitates animals, leads student group camps on: outdoor survival, cultural heritage, SA history, wild animals, and native art. THis man somehow had time for us.
He and his twin brother were orphaned around the age of 13 and both escaped the orphanage and ran off to the mountains and were raised by the Khoi-San or Bushmen in South Africa. He grew up with his parents who were both anti-apartheid supporters that began the first circus in SA. It was integrated which ultimately pissed off the Nationalist Government and led to his parent's untimely death.
Nevertheless, Basil earned his appreciation for animals working with Bears and lions in his parent's circus. Scars and all his love for animals continued as he lived with the Bushmen and began to learn their lifestyle. He and his brother fought in the Angolan war and his brother is still a pilot. Basil has studied archetectual design and native art. He can speak English, Afrikaans, Xhosa (a click language) and little bit of Bushmen.
He was so inspiriation and reminiscent of the late Steve Irwin. He did not get all caught up with social norms, and proper degrees. He doesn't use his computer. He got his first watch last Christmas! This man has gone out and lived life. He has studied nature and the world around him by living it. He shares his passion with everyone he meets. He is a joyful character and I hope the pressure we put him will convince him to write his life stories.
Every moment listening to him I felt like I was in the middle of cross between the movie big fish and the adventures of Steve Irwin.
Oh yeah, Basil's motto to keep moving was the result of an injury he sustained from croc wrestling paralyzing him for ayear! I love this guy.
Daily life for the average person here seems very rushed, kind of like it is for working people in the US (they call it USA or America) but there is a little more imperativeness to it. We have people begging in the US but here you wonder if some of these people will make it through the winter. We have homeless shelters and food banks. Here I don't know of anything like that, it's more of a fend for yourself attitude. This attitude is aggressive but without the confrontative nature we Americans add to it. I've seen some good things here that we can learn to adopt like bumps in the sidewalks so blind people can get around easier but the attitude as a whole of everyone for themselves I think needs to take on a little more of a look out for your neighbor behavior as well.
I am currently staying at the "Tube n' Axe" backpakers resort somewhere on the south eastern coast of South Africa. Last wednesday we spent a night in Township known as a Khayitlisha. A township, for those unfamiliar is semi-temporary housing built by poor blacks moving in toward the cities to find work. The townships are basically shanty-town, where each house is crudely (but creatively) fashioned out of corrugated metal sheets, and any other building materials available. A number of problems are associated with town including lack of healthcare facilities, lack of utilities, and crime/gangsterism. The development of townships is directly related to racist Apartheid policies which kept black people poor and disadvantaged. And even though Apartheid is over, finding housing for the millions of residents of the townships is a long and difficult process. We stayed at a bed and breakfast there--yes, it too was a shack--which goes to show that the people who live there, contrary to stereotypes, are industrious, creative, and kind. It was beautiful community and we had quite a nice time.
Students with very little pocket money like to go to Hot Pots in China. They are an inexpensive way to eat out. Typically, at Hot Pot restaraunt there are two boiling pots filled with a different kind of flavored soup and people add a variety of vegetables or meat into either pot. When the various foodstuffs are adequately cooked they are removed from the soup (with chopsticks) and eaten.
I went to a Hot Pot last night with a delightful young student by the name of Mei. At our table was a large pot connected to a heater and filled with a spicy and red pepper soup. In the middle of that large pot was a smaller pot with a far less spicy soup.
As my friend was ordering she asked me if I would like to eat the brains or internal organs of an animal in much the same way we would ask if our dinner guest would like a Coke or an Orange Juice. I declined brain and every internal organ with the exception of a pig's heart. (I figured that a heart is like meat since its basically a muscle) Much to my regret it tasted like the darkest piece of meat ever and was rather unappealing. Additonally, we ordered potatoes, melon wedges, beef, lamb, fish, mushrooms and cabbage.
Regrettably, the Hot Pot, when compared to the other restaraunts we have frequented on this trip was rather luckluster. The problem was that everything was flavored the same and thus tasted very similar. For the locals I guess that Hot Pots provide a change of pace and for me it was a new experience. However, when I come back to China I don't think I'll put much effort into finding a nice Hot Pot place.
Daily life here in Chengdu is fast paced. Pedestrians, taxis, cars and buses all rush to get from one destination to the next. From the early morning to around midnight, people are always seem to be on a mission. The only time that I have seen people completely relaxed was at the People's Park where the elderly come together for martial arts, sword fighting, yoga, dancing and singing. We were told that once you retire in China, it is hard for the elderly to go from a structured, hard working life to a slow paced, relaxing environment. I have also noticed that it is hard for the average individual to make ends meet finacially. In order to succeed here you must obtain a degree at a university. As the market for jobs become more competitive, getting into a university is becoming even more challenging than in the US, but the quality of education is not as great.
Although it seems that the daily life of waking up, working, eating and sleeping seem similar to our own, the structure of life and working to the point of mere exhaustion is quite a wake up call. It seems that most people here in the city only have the basic essentials that they need, but don't take for granted what they have. Each and every day, most people seem more content with their lives. Instead of wanting more and more material wealth, family values and looking out for one other is more important.
I find the people of Tibet very interesting. We have visited two cities, one with a mixed ethnicity and one mostly if not all Tibetan. The people of the rural city (Tagong) lead harsh lives by out standards. They use coal or wood for heat in there homes without venting the fumes to the outside. They only heat one or two rooms and the rest of the house is pretty much at the outside temperature. These are a tough and hearty people who don't complain and just take on their live mostly cheerfully. Their clothing is sometimes drab and sometimes very colorful with the reds, yellows and more that we have become accustomed to seeing with Tibetan people. The mixed city (Kangding) has a rich Tibetan culture with shops, resturants, and people everywhere. I didn't see how the mixed city people lived but I witnessed Tibetan performers singing and dancing. The voices and dress of these people was stunning and amazing. There performances are something we all should experience as it is something one will never forget. I hope somehow through travel, the internet, or perhaps tibetan communities in our country all of us can experience these people.
Yesterday, in Tagong, a small Tibetan city just beyond the start of the Himalayan mountains, we received a personal tour of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery from a real live lama. We spun the prayer wheels, traveling around the monastery as part of what is a daily ritual for some people. We have spolen to some people who spend 2 hours every morning in the temple. Prayer wheels have long scrolls inside of them which are spread good will to people across the land. (The tenet of altruism is a significant connection between Tibetan Buddhism and Christianity.)
Just outside the monastery there was a monastic school housing male orphans fro 3-18 years old. They are taught the various sutras and ways of the Tibetan monk, and are given the choice to become a monk or attend a different school for more education. If you ask me, Tibetan toddlers and babies win for being the cutest in the world.
For Tagong, and the entire Tibetan population, religion plays such a large part in culture, politics, and economy. In a sense, Tibet has been left behind the world as for as technology goes. The romantic side of me always yearns to preserve this type of pristine culture. The Tibetan NGOs Professor Youtz wrote about are certainly putting out a valiant effort, but there must be more that can be done for a people with such a beautiful culture.
Hello! We've been in Cape Town for 4 days now and there are so many experiences to tell about! Today we visited Crist the King Revival Church in downtown Cape Town--quite an experience! The service was bilingual--the pastor spoke english but a translator was there for the mostly Congolese, french-speaking congregation. The pastor spoke feircly and passionately. And the music was wonderful, a great african rythm.
In a few hour we'll head off to see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years.
HAve to go, the computer is talking to tme and telling me my time is up! I'll write again soon hopefully!
On the whole, the Chinese life seems to be very similar to our western practices. Chinese people will wake up go to work for the day, come back for dinner and then go to sleep. The youth party like the students in the states. Last night we went to a club and it might as well of been in Seattle. However there are some major differences between our country and China. It seems that people have to work so much harder to make a living here in Chengdu. The taxi drivers will work 24 hour shifts every other day. Street vendors seem to never leave their corner. Half of all the little corner market shops seem to be open 24/7. I have never lived in or spent a long time in a city before so I cant say that these practices are not common, but to me these are out of the ordinary. It is not only the working life that seems a little different then the states, but the family life seems the complete opposite. In the states the youth will strive for independence from their family and go through the "rebellion" stage. While the youth of China go through this phase, it seems that they learn to reconnect with their family while they are still relatively young compared to the youth of the US. The few instances were we have been able to communicate with fellow youth we do not here the expected "I am so happy to get away from home an live on my own" response. Instead the younger Chinese will treat their absence from the family as a necessity rather then a step to freedom. While this is logical due to the ancient philosophy of family ties in Chinese traditions, it still is a different view then I was expecting. To me this is just a foreign view because as I grew up I would try and assert my independence when ever I could.