Displaced Populations

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The Sabarmati River Front Park is one of Ahmedabad’s biggest renovation project that has gone on to win numerous national and global awards. The park is pretty and clean with jogging paths and gardens thought it does have a ten-rupee entrance fee it borders on being a public park. However, it has also been the creator of one of the worst rehabilitation and displacement programs literally responsible for bulldozing thousands of people out of their homes using force such as tear gas and beatings to then transport them and their belongings (if they could pay extra) in trucks to a site that was unfinished. A site directly next to factories and a hazardously toxic chemical dumping ground that families were forced to settle on by government replacement methods indebting them permanently as they are removed from the riverfront they occupied for home and work.

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This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this phenomenon in my travels and across the world different settlements of people are uprooted by the government supposedly for their own good, but they are instead dumped, trapped into debt, and disenfranchised from their rights. The problem with this case which made it stick out more than any other I have witnessed is how constrained this specific rehabilitation has made the people to the new space. They have been put so far away from any mainstream society. Example schools are now 17km away and the nearest grocery store is 3km. I walked in and I felt like I was entering a European WWII Ghetto, it as so enclosed and all concrete with trash burning and farm animals roaming freely with shoeless children following us around so intrigued and excited. In the United States we are so overwhelmed with the possibility of newness and modernization that rarely anyone asks questions about how space used to be used, its past life being irrelevant as long as new money is the now. If anything this trip has taught me is that when money is being made and ‘new’ is being built, there is someone whose life has been ruined, replaced, and reinstated somewhere else. It is those who are truly in extreme poverty that are constantly thrown away with no say in the matter while people planning don’t consider. No one asks they just do because money in our world means superiority. The world lacks humanity is many ways, a global problem as modernization rampages society. I will never understand someone who says insists on taking someone’s property and promises to build them new homes. Would they ever build these people an exact replica of their homes? No, because they convince themselves that not everyone wants a certain level of comfort, an accessibility to resources, or a certain community of friends and family nearby. The new doesn’t have to be destructive but the global economy is in many ways forcing it to be. The world exists in poverty, but bonuses get bigger for the already wealthy. It is disheartening to see people so abused and violated, but have a system against them with voices no one will listen to. It exists even in the U.S. with populations being displaced incessantly at the demands of our government. The people who are displaced don’t just disappear to Neverland; they are forced to face worse conditions and injustices that takes generations to repair. New doesn’t mean that the old will evaporate, its just placed so the consumer class doesn’t see it. Because seeing is believing right?

Experiences and Acceptance

I am beginning to feel comfortable in the chaos here. Rickshaw rides that include my driver pulling to the side of the road every ten minutes for directions does not induce anxiety but acceptance and calmness. Moving around in India is a journey within itself, a factor that has helped me relax when it comes to anxiety on not seeing and experiencing everything. It is different here of what there is to explore and hopefully one day I can come back to India and see the bigger sights/cities I have always dreamed of. Getting lost on the unnamed streets amongst the cows is relaxing now as I just try to look at what is around me. It doesn’t hurt that I can now recognize more of my surroundings to get a better sense of overall placement, but something is becoming magical about those rides. It’s a period of surreal time passing by with my body feeling both enclosed and not enclosed by a moving vehicle. I am indeed sitting down with something over my head but at the same time completely privy to the elements. The constant cars swerving towards me and incessant honking, doesn’t even make me flinch. It truly is a world of chaos where no one drives in lanes and traffic lights don’t exist that I find no qualms with surprisingly. I don’t feel like I’m putting myself in harm even as people drive on the wrong side of the road looking like an accident will constantly happen. Adjusting to India is seeing the calm in the chaos. One will never adjust if they can’t accept the cultural differences that work for the environment. I am coming to enjoy India, despite my groups nagging to go home already, for what it is. Sure I am often at a loss of what to do with my free time but just being here and living with a family is the ultimate tourist experience anyway. Especially hanging out with the three old Azee whose sass and spark is indescribable.

I am experiencing India. I am taking bucket showers. Eating all the cuisine (though I truly never know what exactly I’m consuming), meaning that like 90% of the trip I am eating pure vegetarian. Visiting all the heritage sites that are the main tourist attractions due to the religious ties. Wearing acceptable clothes in public despite how I despise covering up in the heat. Using a water spray instead of toilet paper. Observing gender patriarchal norms. Abstaining from alcohol (illegal in my state for all). I watch soap operas in Hindi and pretend I understand. I get lost crossing the river to class in different rickshaws. I get stared at for sticking out. I walk around the different markets and observe how people interact. I go with the flow and try not to get scared (it helps that I’m usually not by myself). I rode on a motorcycle (most popular form of local transport, few people own actual cars) with my host dad. (You wouldn’t believe the amount of babies/toddlers you see on motorcycles everyday sitting in front/being held or women who ride them sidesaddle. Oh and no one wears helmets). I’ve tried all the unique ice cream flavors (again no clue what they are based on because I never know what I’m eating). And I’ve got the itchy eyes/smokers cough from the pollution like the rest of the population. I am experiencing India, not in the way I expected or wanted to (my dream was to backpack around the country) but I am here and living here for five weeks is the ultimate atypical experience. Hopefully I’m doing it right.

Rambling

Yesterday I headed over to Manek Chowk, the largest market in Ahmedabad that specializes in stationary, clothing, jewelry, and spices during the day and at night turns into a huge food market offering fusion cuisine for all types of taste bud preferences. It basically is an entire neighborhood of winding alleyways tightly packed with people buying all sorts of items from 9am to 8pm when the shops close and the food carts open. The bustling and B.O. as one winds through the open store fronts, cart sellers, and street hawkers is poignant as the mind wanders on all the buying possibilities. It was an easy to get lost and overwhelmed kind of space but enjoyable to witness the interactions considering the market stores have been around for decades. It is a market that never sleeps located in between the tombs of the Queen and King of Ahmedabad raised up on each side as beacons. I didn’t end up buying anything but it was a definite experience unlike any other. Especially considering the stares my classmates and I receive when we go anywhere including numerous requests by people to take a picture. Going anywhere is always a full affair but its normalcy at this point has created an interesting complexity to the novel of taking a picture with someone who physically is different than you. A true reminder that America does classify as a true melting pot of people from across the globe. Some of my classmates find it amusing and others not so much. I am on the end of annoyance but a polite No is all it takes. As a photographer, when there isn’t a point for a photo I don’t understand why it is taken and this case files in that category just like my mom taking pictures of something she wont ever look at again like a random window display. It shows how much America trains us to think that everyone has the same kind of global exposure that the U.S. society holds. And how obsessed this generation is with capturing every moment. It’s refreshing to see people who just take everything in with their eyes and not feel the need to document their every glance. As someone who wishes to enter into the professional photography world I am sure one day I’ll eat my words, but sometimes I wish to be in the moment rather than looking through my viewer. Photography at the market seemed like a chaotic hassle and I didn’t want to bring any more unnecessary attention to myself in the space. A lot of what I have seen in India is not traditional American tourist fair, that stuff doesn’t exist here, but memories of people, conditions, and daily life. Hopefully my mind and the impact India has had can be the mental pictures I need from this trip. Photography vs. memory is a risky game to play, but a necessary one in the digital age in order to remain grounded. _DSC0192

Diwali

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This week I had three days off because it is Diwali, the biggest celebration for Hindus. Despite living in a Muslim homestay, I was able to celebrate with some friends who invited me to their homestays and witness how the city operates during this time. It is a festival of lights and is their New Year. People get more than a week off of school and lots of people travel around to visit relatives. One of the nights I had off I went over for dinner and fireworks. It was very fun to light some, but this is no Fourth of July. Fireworks rage over the city, booming loudly throughout the winding corridors filling the night with splashes of orange and yellow continuously in every direction. It’s so loud that it is scary because blasts come at random. People light them on the sidewalk, in parking garages, off of roofs. You walk down the street and fireworks are going off around your feet. Fun and scary is the best way to think of it. Truly a night to remember as the sky was filled with majestic lights and ear blasting noise. The next night I was able to go to another friend’s homestay for dinner and truly saw how families at this time make it a point to come together. They also make these amazing designs on the floor made out of colored sand that are called ragolis. It has gotten me excited about coming home in three weeks to our holiday season. But do not think that I am ok about missing Halloween and Thanksgiving on this trip. Everyone on my program is going to try to see a new American movie together that night.

On the last day of my mini vacation I recruited a few friends to make take a day trip out to Champaner. A two or so hour drive south that houses a huge archeological site filled with ruins of over fifteen Mosques, Hindu and Jain Temples, and castles. It was nice to get out of the city and look at some incredibly impressive stonemasonry work from the 15th and 16th century. There was so much detail in each building that was completely awe-inspiring. The patterns and precision is truly a lost art in today’s modern stonework. It has been hard to exist in city where the main destinations are temples and mosques, and food markets but I can’t eat the street food, instead of museums and art galleries. But I have found that just riding in a rickshaw everyday and being in a homestay is giving me an experience within itself. India functions in a very different way but just being here is enough to entertain me. A lot of what it seems people do for fun is hang outside small chai rest stops or ice cream parlors at night chatting with friends and family. It sets an interesting tone for the city that simultaneously appears to be fast paced and slow. I wish I had more energy for the fast pace movement of the city but for now sipping my chai every day with my host family is the slow pace of experience I need.

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p.s. My internet is not a guarantee and slow so pictures will not be uploaded until I am home in two weeks

People, Pollution, and Perspiration.

A week in India and the first thing that comes to mind is that India is in your face.

Culturally it is different in mannerisms, clothing, food, language, and partially religion. Eating with your hands, using a water spray to clean up after going to the bathroom, locking all doors from the outside because you know those wild monkeys, and covering up legs and shoulders at all times. Things are different that’s for sure. But definitely not bad. It has been the biggest struggle to acclimate to out of all the countries, but in part because my classmates and I are getting tired of all the demands of our program and have the most schoolwork while in India. Also it has been hard to adjust because our program is so full in India that I have only been out three or four times with only one of those outings not guided by class. There hasn’t been much exploration and no one is quite sure what Ahmedabad has to offer but hopefully I can get out and about soon. It is the start of Diwali and fireworks go off constantly outside. Everything seems exciting but I wish my family were celebrating.

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India is a complicated place and I truly believe that my understanding of it is not coherent enough to discuss. I am currently learning about the communal violence riots of 2002 in Ahmedabad surrounding the majority Hindu population and the marginalized Muslim communities. It still haunts the city and has greatly changed the relations of its citizens to this day. I also am still trying to figure out the complex caste system, which deeply regulates social and economic life. It surrounds the Hindu religion and is all based on purity levels in relation to the Gods originally and ranking can often be determined by job or last name today. It is very clear that I still have a lot to learn and some time for introspection. First I am just trying to process the hustle and bustle around me. India may be a place were I don’t ever truly feel like I adjusted or understood, but I am trying. Or perhaps the appeal of India is that its complexity can never truly be understood as an outsider. I have four more weeks to find out. It is quite an overwhelming place to be, and I find myself a bit unnerved everyday. I find myself putting so much pressure on what I want my experience to be in India that I find myself stressed out that I cannot make it that way. The city I’m living in is not a place that appeals to my interests and with all of my friends exhausted from traveling it makes it hard to rally a group to explore. I want to be here and am excited but switching from strangers home to strangers home is wearing out my comfortable levels of being. I am not ready to go home, but I want my own travel experience alone. Unfortunately I am not traveling around after this program ends despite my wishes to do so, but tomorrow hope to head about two hours outside of the city to see the archaeological World Heritage Site Champaner and a nearby wildlife sanctuary. I think leaving the city will be a nice break and riding in a car will have some nice scenery. Ahmedabad is nice and what I have been able to see has been very enjoyable but it is not a city built for exploration, which is slightly crushing my dreams. Hopefully Ill get over my qualms soon.

P.S. I have tons of photos but haven’t uploaded… I know boring…

First Impressions: India

I have been in India a total of two days now. I have seen very little of Ahmedabad so far besides the auto rickshaw rides to and from class, but what I witness is intriguing. Such a comparison between the urban space and natural as cows/bulls graze in streets here and there, large monkeys play on rooftops, and horses occasionally are used as transport around. Now the picture I have painted so far of farm animals roaming the city streets, although true, is deceptive. Yes I did even see one elephant being ridden down the street (and one camel too) next to my rickshaw, but Ahmedabad is not a crazy place where cars don’t exist or technology hasn’t been invented. Ahmedabad is one of the oldest industrial cities, often compared to Manchester in the UK, that was able to escape being doomed at the formation of British rule maintaining its strong textile and fabric based economic structure. It has a long history of being a hub for the clothing industry and the place of many of Gandhi’s campaigns. I have seen very little of the city so far as to truly give ay real opinions on what I have witnessed. One thing I can say is that street lanes do not exist and I wouldn’t think the faint of heart could handle the open rickshaws, motorcycles, small cars, and people all within a foot of each other weaving with no required space. I surprisingly don’t find it alarming at all, it all seems calm as people don’t go very fast, but it often times has the appearance of looking like you’ll crash. Don’t worry it is safe. I can’t wait to actually see, meet, and understand who lives her and how this city works. I am working my way to eating all the great vegetarian food and hopefully at the end of the week will get my bearings. This program is constantly being uprooted, and unfortunately it often comes at the time when one most starts to feel comfortable in knowing how things work and how to get around. It is crazy to say this is my last stop around the world, so I am going to try my hardest to stay connected to everything around me. It is starting to hit me all the things that have happened. Brazil feels like years ago. I would have never thought I could do the coolest thing imaginable and live out of a (still) single suitcase for months on end. My experience may not be the typical one abroad, and yes the photos of my friends in Europe do make me jealous, but at the end of the day I have experiences that very few people do. I am living with other real honest human beings. I am witnessing cities that tourists don’t go to and some people don’t even know exist. I am literally traveling the world and seeing completely different things everywhere I go. I am living what I could never have imagined at twenty. If you actually know me, which probably the people who read this are just my family, you would know that 2015 went from being the a horrible time in life at the beginning to one of my biggest years with numerous dreams coming true. Hopefully with India being until early December it will continue to be a year for the books.

Reflections On Cape Town

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The past five weeks in Cape Town I can see, after arriving in India early this morning was the best midtrip location possible. I am flabbergasted at how much faster it seemed to go by in comparison to Brazil, and how much more familiar it seemed than India. Cape Town is known across the globe for its natural beauties, and those do indeed draw a crowd of urban dwellers who appreciate and desire nature. In Cape Town I felt the luxury of a first world society when wandering around the city center. There were lots of things I didn’t get to d around the city such as hike Devils Peak that could have warranted my current state of wishing to stay. The city offers extreme sport enthusiasts lots of tourist opportunities of hanging with sharks, parasailing, etc. that if my college kid financial situation and time had not kept me rom participating it would have been a beautiful place to be. As I see my time there, I feel I can say that Cape Town is a great place to go on vacation to. It’s a place to explore, but it is not what first the rest of South Africa looks like and definitely not what the continent as a whole is like. I would recommend anyone to vacation in Cape Town and spent a few extra days exploring the sprawling countryside. Would I tell someone to go on vacation to Sao Paulo? Probably not. So, why Cape Town? The colliding cultures, the luxuries, history, and the current struggle. The transition into democracy isn’t all rainbows and butterflies as the country enters its twenty-first year post-apartheid. Watching the city was watching the real world.

There are two things said to me by strangers over the time I spent there that still ring in my mind as I spend my first exhausted night in India. Both of them come from two very different people but share similar ideologies.

“This is not the real Africa. This is Europe. Don’t expect to stay here and think you’re in Africa”

“ I live in a third world country, but am living a first world lifestyle”

Words cannot express how much I have enjoyed my time in Cape Town exploring local wildlife, fun neighborhoods, and the beaches. I knew that say my family came to visit me I would have loved the city and they would have loved the city. It is hard to come to the city and find stuff not to like about it. However, my experience wasn’t that fully of a tourist and I was able to be more aware of the systemic oppression and apartheid policies that still govern society. No place on this planet is perfect, but Cape Town offers an interesting façade. Change has occurred, but the promises of 1994 are still being fought for. You witness history if you look closely enough to the interactions. I wouldn’t take anything back from my experience there and would love the chance to live there for a short period of my life. It truly is the perfect combination of the natural and urban environment, but socially it has a long way to go in creating equality, breaking bias, and forming unity.

Somewhat Detailed Vacation Description

Today was an awesome first day of vacation. I explored the entire Cape Peninsula, a vast and beautiful region with coastal views, amazing wildlife, and towering rock formations. The day started off heading to Hout Bay, which is just a bit south of Camps Bay. On first arrival at the harbor the sun was shining bright with a cool breeze. We could not have lucked out more on weather. Once we got there we found out we would be taking a small ferry out about twenty minutes into the Atlantic ocean to observe a large wild South African Fur Seal colony on some rocks. This was the first of many wild animal sightings to come. We first encountered the seals when some local men were feeding them off the dock (even fish from their own mouths) for tourists. It was a sort of trained show and quite interesting. Then we made our way on the boat were hundreds of seals were beached up and swimming around. It was crazy! I loved watching them dance through the water the most.

After the seals we kept going south and made our way to Simons Town, the home of the infamous Boulders Beach. Here one out of the five colonies of African Penguins lives naturally. The teeny penguins were adorable and we were able to get extremely close through small barriers without interrupting their natural habitat. They are puppy size and sleep on the stomachs. I have been hearing about these penguins all month so it was a treat to finally see them.

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We then made the small trek to the Cape of Good Hope(biking around 10k through the national park). Let me say that you don’t know strong wind until you’ve experienced the wind at the Cape of Good Hope. I saw more than one person fall down. It is the most southwestern part of all of Africa and the ocean waves were definitely a sight to be seen. On the way down we had a wild ostrich sighting right on the beach. A new sight to my eyes, that’s for sure.

We went then went to Cape Point. The most southwestern tip of South Africa. We went up to look out from the lighthouse. Upon coming down there were twenty or so baboons out looking for food. South Africa has a serious problem with baboons. Not only are there tons of them but they have come to associate humans and their belongings with food so it is common for them to steal items or in some case attack for what they believe to be snacks. One even pawed at my leg. Yes they are very cute but still wild animals and many tourists were encroaching too close for comfort.

The rest of my vacation was amazing as I went on a three-day garden route/safari tour. I went on two safaris counting up fifteen different kinds of animals plus freshly hatched baby ostrich, went successfully whale watching, held a snake, swam, went to the most southern tip of the African continent were the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meets, went to another penguin colony, explored a cave, and the list continues. Truly, truly, truly, an all around amazing four days of exploration and amazement.

P.S. Mom I got lots of pictures, I swear I just don’t have good internet….

Vacation Plans

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Today was my last day of class in South Africa as vacation looms over the last week before my departure for India. The time here flew by quickly and I am extremely excited for a few days of relaxation with my friends. I don’t have many interesting updates so I thought Id share some of my plans. On Monday I am heading out to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point of the Western Cape. Stopping along the way to visit the infamous penguin colonies at Boulders Beach in Simons Town. I can’t wait to see small flocks of tiny wild South African Penguins and some apparently beautiful views of the coast. Cape Point is at the end of the peninsula, which is still under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Cape Town. However, there are is largely inhabited and natural beauties reign.

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Tuesday to Thursday I will be heading off on a safari/garden route tour with a third of my classmates. We will be traveling around the provinces of Western and Eastern Cape quickly seeing caves, wildlife, and numerous other sites. It will be more hectic traveling and schlepping of all my things, but definitely an experience to go on. Maybe a picture of a Big5 animal will appear on the blog later. After that, three of my girlfriends and I are splurging on a Holiday Inn right in the City Bowl within St George’s Mall Square. It will definitely be two luxurious nights as we continue to explore the city probably eating our way through it and chilling in the Company Gardens. I have two more big museums I want to hit up before I leave so hopefully I can sneak those in and hike up Devil’s Peak. Lots more adventures are meant to be had in Cape Town as one week in left to busy up. This is when my role as a tourist definitely comes out to play in such a particular sense. Some thoughts on the code switching to come soon.

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_________ Must Fall

Fees Must Fall. Rhodes Must Fall.

South Africa ever since its transition into democracy has had a huge culture surrounding protests. A protest happens in Cape Town almost every week and in the country I could imagine every day. Different issues are discussed, but no one is afraid to clearly state their opinions in a physical manner, whether violent or nonviolent. Across college campuses two huge issues are happening that I have had the privy of witnessing. I am not studying directly on a college campus but most of my local faculty and guest lecturers’ work at University of Cape Town (UCT). Right now college campuses are closed down for the week; with final exams being pushed back a week due to the Fees Must Fall protest, which started with one university and has now reached the whole country. All colleges have been shut down the week before exams as students have been marching on Parliament for numerous issues relating to fees and higher education. Students and staff are arguing for an end to institution fees increasing and make aware the conditions and limited access that oppressed demographics still have to higher education. Universities are public in South Africa but tuition fees increase every year with yearly costs ranging from 20 to 50 thousand Rand. Students are not only arguing with their home institutions but the government as a whole as they argue for more governmental aid given to higher education across the country. Budgets in general are being argued and students have been protesting nonviolently with the government reacting violently a few days ago when they entered the government building. Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired. I highly recommend looking up more information on the Fees Must Fall movement as it has become rapidly a national issue that has received tons of media coverage and represents interesting demands around the politics of higher education that people talk about wanting in the United States but it is rarely seen any physical action demanding change. At least on a national front. Students here take full action in demands and I deeply respect the movement I have had the pleasure of somewhat witnessing.

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Another interesting movement across campuses is the Rhodes Must Fall call to action. It directly calls out different South African universities, especially UCT, for ties to Cecil Rhodes and colonization. Currently it has been physically manifested in the call to removed Rhodes statues and memorials on campus and in public squares across the country. Rhodes represents the majority of the country’s oppression and white supremacism. Removing the people responsible for the horrifying colonist history in South Africa is about reclaiming the real history of the people who inhabit South Africa. Rhodes is a person known all over the world and greatly in the U.S for the Rhodes Scholarship. Yes Rhodes encouraged higher education but ultimately his policies and actions were racist, oppressive, and sexist. It is about removing him from these institutions and ultimately removing white supremist policies and putting the past away. I highly recommend readers to do more research on this national movement. It echoes some similar ideologies to the American Black Lives Matter. I truly admire the protest culture in South Africa and the unity and organization of people my own age against higher powers. The protest culture around American colleges has faded away in the past few decades and I believe that it is leaving out an important part about learning and life for today’s students.

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Prison, Politics, and Penguins.

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Last Saturday I made my way across the Atlantic Ocean in a treacherous ferry filled with seasick tourists to the World Heritage Site, Robben Island. The infamous island that housed anti-apartheid political prisoners, including South Africa’s first democratic president, the late Nelson Mandela for if I recall correctly around 18 years of his 27 year sentence. However, the island has served as a prison since the 1600’s and at one time was reserved for a leprosy colony, It also has a long history of being dumping ground in the 1800’s for the mentally ill and homeless. And during World War II was a military base. The island itself is about 9km in total and very visible from various points in Cape Town. It is a presence that is unavoidable with an incredibly long and fascinating history. I am dying for some long Internet access so I can do some more research. At one point it was home to four prisons, one being for political prisoners. About three hundred people live on the island, including eight of its political prisoners who work as tour guides on the island. Ours served four out of his fourteen-year sentence for terrorism and anti-apartheid acts when all of the political prisoners were released in the 1990’s. It was truly incredible to get a first hand account of what conditions were like and the politics of the time. We were taken all over the island to the quarry were Mandela worked for many years and argued against for health reasons and to a small breeding ground were about one thousand wild South African penguins live which we saw migrated down the beach. Prisoners before better conditions were argued for and in which Mandela served most of his sentence included a stool, two mats to lie on, and a bucket. It was not until much later were beds given with padded mats and blankets. I encourage anyone to look further into the details of Robben Island, it truly was an invigorating visit and I wish to continue learning about the island after my program.

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Visiting Nelson Mandela’s cell was an experience that I am not sure how to process. In reality, viewing it was rushed and an impatient wait in line among other tourists to take a picture. It just didn’t feel right. There was not a moment to process what that cell meant to the greater history of the country, nor all of the other people who served time or didn’t who also contributed. Politics are still a very hot topic in South Africa, as they revolve and are the center of everything. Cape town exists in the only province in the country that is not majority ANC. Mandela’s cell is very representative and I wish that more time was given to personal reflection on visiting such a historical place of meaning. Walking down the hallway of cells was a force to be reckoned with. It was a powerful experience as walking into any place of suffering and strife is. Humanity is questioned, judged, and passively relapsed. Honestly, I am not sure what to say. Putting people in cages to think is not a system I can say I support, but am not sure how to change. I wish my visit to this cell was more impactful but in reality the process of it being rushed and at the very end, consequently disregarded the whole reality of seeing it and standing in front of it. Nelson Mandela was a hero that will hopefully never be forgotten. I know I will never forget standing in front of that cell, but for now, surprisingly; no final thoughts can be given. Check in with me later as I hope to answer my own questions and sort out this day more in my head like a true analytical researcher.

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HomeStays

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I have two more weeks in Cape Town studying before my four/five day vacation at the end of the week. Currently I am staying in Langa, a traditionally all black township twenty minutes outside of the city bowl. The only person in my house is an elderly woman who retired from teaching 2-5 year olds for thirty years in 2014 and is as sweet as can be. It is a very quiet and comfortable environment with us three (my roommate included) already having a little system in place after three days. We eat breakfast and dinner together all cleaning up with our host mom doing the washing well we dry and put away the leftovers. Tonight was very calm as my roommate and I joined her on the couch while doing our work, which didn’t last long as we got sucked into her soap opera drama shows that are quite addictive. The environment switch has been a blessing as days are quite long in my program with emotionally taxing subjects being studied. So far staying in this house has provided me with the most balanced healthy diet I have eaten since probably halfway through this summer. I am really enjoying my current homestay and the lack of internet or night activities has gotten me to bed early, overall a happy and healthy twenty year old whose living out of a suitcase is starting to drag on. So far I am halfway through the program and have had a total of 8 different beds, and with my vacation coming up it will end up being 12 beds by the end of South Africa. The program I would be careful in selecting who I recommend it to based on the fact that you are literally living out of a suitcase, have your days scheduled from almost dusk till dawn, and never stop researching or critically thinking. My abroad program is not the kind were you can skip class or gallivant in-between lectures to go shopping, it is longer hours than a typical job would be with extra obligations and independent touristy exploration to get done.

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Langa is a very stereotyped community that so far my experience has been the complete opposite of what I have heard. I would tell you what shows up on Google when you search it and tell you that wasn’t true, but I don’t have internet access, so I will just assume based off the society of judgment and “otherness” that our world exists in that I am right in my Google result assumptions. When mentioning to a taxi driver or any South African curious as to my tourist origins where it is that I am staying, I am typically greeted with concern, warnings, and even a bit of laughter at the absurdity. Of course this is just my situation that I have been placed in by an organization for the past three days. But my experience has been fabulous and the opposite of all the dramatized rumors told to me in superior tones. And some of my fellow cohorts seem to not be having the same experience. It’s interesting how outsiders are quick to label a neighborhood on a basic, not individualistic, level. The world’s history is not about all the aspects of what defines a noun, but about judging and labeling. Power complexes have decided how people live and value those around them since the first leaders we can trace back to. Humanity when we break it down to reality, to say it straight is fucked up. We all live with stereotypes ingrained in our mind, classify low-income neighborhoods as dangerous, or talk down to others based on outward appearance assumptions. Society loves to classify and has infiltrated each human mind on this planet.

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Langa still suffers and exists in many ways in an apartheid era system. The township is a mix of formal built environments as well as informal shack dwellers. It suffers from being removed from the city bowl, which creates long commutes, flooding in the informal settlements, and scarce access to physical/cultural/ and social resources and capital. There are houses in this community (not mine) that exist without toilets, electricity, heat, or any sense of permanence with eviction a looming presence coming tomorrow or in two months. I am enjoying my stay in this neighborhood in part because I am in a very comfortable dwelling with an awesome host mom but that could easily not be the case. South Africa is a country with one of the highest inequality rates in the world. The disparity is present at an unavoidable rate within my programs itinerary, but is well enough hidden that if I were a normal tourist staying in the city bowl I would think this is the most beautiful and equal city on the planet. From the short ride to and fro the airport the disparity s seen briefly and in the distance, it doesn’t stare you in the face as you walk down Long Street. The European colonial architecture, the mountains, and beaches filled with luxury do nothing to show the ten minute drive to slums filled with unemployed people who are receiving little to no recognition from the government. My experience in Cape Town would be drastically different as a tourist, and I struggle with defining my position as I travel. I am not a tourist, yet not a student, and definitely not a resident. I am a researcher whose eyes are open to the realities that tourists and locals often cannot or refuse to see. I do tourist activities yet make almost daily visits to NGO’s and engage with local residents of all demographics. My role is not clear and I struggle to figure out what more it is that I can do. I absorb information and take, but am never able to give. Absorbing information as an academic is never enough and I am trying to figure out how I can give back, promote change within theirs and my world, and contribute to the bigger picture. If you have a suggestion let me know, because my consciousness is screaming for something.

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My Program.

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Coming from an extreme case of concrete jungle in Sao Paulo and coming to the diverse natural environments that Cape Town builds on and around has been a transformative experience. I was craving some green viewing pleasure towards the end of my time in Brazil and cannot describe the transformative process it has manifested within me. The life of the c
ity is so different because if natural resources and takes on a more outdoor oriented, suburban type of feel. No large masses of people on any street at a time or swarming a market. It’s a city where its like everyone knows each other through some connection. In Sao Paulo people didn’t know the street names down the block let alone other people outside of their social circle. Cape Town is the most global or international city in terms of tourism, economy, and historical narratives out of all the places I will be visiting. Today in a aw vegan chocolate shop right outside of our neighborhood frequently visited by my friends for its Wi-Fi, we ran into a girl from Penn from upstate New York who knows two out of the thirty one students on my trip. Cape Town exists locally in a small world and globally, a huge one. This factor greatly changes how I see things. We are not at a university here, but have been hearing a ton about different happenings at University of Cape Town where many people from Europe and the States choose to study. But our experiences are totally different. My program does not operate around a classic work schedule. I am in class with no breaks from 8:30am to 5pm (often later) that consists of four classes (1 taught by local faculty in each city), guest lectures, and site visits to NGO offices, organizations, or neighborhoods to meet with leaders. We don’t sit in a classroom, but experience the physical divides of the city. I have been to a slum filled with aluminum shacks to talk to housing community organizers arguing for better conditions provided by the provincial government. I have been to gentrified, “up and coming” neighborhoods that are kicking out the poor and welcoming revolutionary youth. I have been the glitzy coastal neighborhood were ocean view apartments go for millions of rands. My group is not afraid to question leaders on motives and productivity. We are learning about how things do and do not work, how does change manifest, and the problems facing different populations. Subjects are emotionally taxing and everyday we end up discussing the ethics of what we are doing, photographing, and researching. We are privileged individuals in these communities and we try to include some sort of reciprocity, but at the end of the day we come in and leave; an obtrusive force that is “studying an other” in one sense. We are becoming aware but more is needed to make studying a beneficial use for each party involved. Knowledge is a power and I haven’t figured out how to use mine and am still debating the ethics of asking certain research questions or photographing living conditions, but I as a student through this program am searching for something greater through my abroad program. People my age go abroad to enjoy life and often do so in a frivolous manner that entails trekking across Europe. My program is intense, rigorous, and taxing; but is a program meant to expose reality and prepare a generation of leaders to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. I have struggled so far in South Africa with the gruesome aspects of life but have come to realize that exposing yourself to them is the only way to live a true existence. The world is massive ad filled with things I will never experience or know. I am learning about the world and am becoming more conscious, yet I am still privileged. Perhaps there is no in-between. Perhaps no way of creating change. But I wonder what and how different the world could look like if simply people knew what it was like. Media has changed how the 21st century works, but in reality it was has done nothing to open peoples eyes to humanity.
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Free Days in South Africa

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The past few days I have made as much as possible over my short time spent living right at the edge of the center of town or the Central Business District (CBD as its called). The next two weeks we are going to be lining in Langa, which is a township on the outskirts of the city. On the first day of arrival I made it up to Signal Hill, which offers great views of Table Bay and Sea Point. Yesterday, a few friends and I decided to take the hour hike up Lions Head Mountain. Don’t let an hour up fool you into thinking it was easy. It was definitely a beautiful, but steep hike involving some ladders and chains to hold onto. The view is an incredible 360-degree outlook over the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, the other mountains and the city that weaves around them. However it become creepily foggy at the top during sunset so no super view except on the way up and down (still incredible from each side). Being at the top and barely able to see anything was a gorgeous time of self-reflection. Also, the second time I have literally been in a cloud on this trip. It was a great challenge and the first moment of being in nature/physical activity so far on my trip. We also helped a guy jump of the mountain who was paragliding (a hugely popular thing here), it was so cool to watch. The hike up was a truly amazing experience and a needed reassurance of self- conquering ability. I can’t wait to head up the famous Table Mountain this weekend.

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I also spent a morning in the Company Gardens with friends chilling and explore the South African National Gallery, which was hosting a giant exhibition of South African photographer whose work I fell in love with. It was gritty, real, and exposed the South Africa that I could never be able to witness. It was a true reminder to humanity, ethics, and what I want to see through my camera lens. Afterwards I walked around the infamous V and A Waterfront that is apparently the most visited tourist attraction in all of Africa. Quite the sight, but overpriced and basically just restaurants and a huge mall. What was cool was seeing viewing decks on the walkway were wild South African Fur Seals were hanging around.
Since my program has instituted a curfew of 11pm for our homestay in Bokapp, my friends and I decided to do something a bit different and with my roommate leading the way attended a beginner swing-dancing lesion. It was geared towards learning the lindy hop and was very out of my comfort zone; however, I definitely enjoyed myself and was proud for dancing with 15 or so different strangers. I am not a very skilled dancer and definitely was still trying to master the first move by the end of the class but it was fun and the free food and drinks after made for a great local social scene feel. More exploring is necessary, but the size of Cape Town is much smaller and definitely less intimidating when it comes to seeing it all. Lots of cute cafes and fun restaurants have been tried and neighborhoods walked through. Exploration has been fun, tiresome yet enthralling. This program is a never-ending journey into seeing everything possible.

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Off for now,
Allison Gretchko

First Impressions

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Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen (which coming from the Midwest may not mean a lot). Ginormous mountain ranges encircling Table Bay where the city lies with the Atlantic and Indian Ocean hitting each side of the peninsula. An ocean view, mountain range, and city landscape all in one view outside of my bedroom window is definitely something I would love to bring back to my bedroom window at home that’s only sight is a giant acorn tree’s massive branches plus an occasional squirrel. The city has an interesting life, and coming from the overcrowded bustling streets of Sao Paulo, by comparison one that is a lot less hectic and overwhelming. The fact that English is one of the main languages, huge American chain stores, and European building influences make the city a comfortable and familiar city. I do not feel as much of an obvious outsider as I did in Brazil, but I do feel in certain communities I enter, a stereotypical and targeted tourist. In Brazil people were shocked that American students had come to their city, here it is commonplace and it seems possibly annoying. No one likes tourists in their city anywhere in the world except for the money it generates for the economy. Did you know that I hate being a tourist? Travel is a privilege and gift, but it can also mean being an intruder and an obtrusive force in day-to-day life. I felt more uncomfortable in Sao Paulo with my positionality, but it is important to remember that even though surroundings may be more familiar, global identity is a recognizable and influential force.
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Cape Town is so Western influenced it is unbelievable, but as post-apartheid society is still in its historical beginnings problems are playing out. Currently the economy is not doing too well globally, and people are divided drastically both economically and physically in housing. Since the economy is becoming deindustrialized, jobs are changing and the unemployment rates are at almost 50%. Due to extreme unemployment and long commutes, crime is on the rise and a big societal concern for citizens. Another interesting thing I learned today is that basically public art is illegal (and so is skateboarding), and is very hard and expense to get governmental approval. It is fascinating to see such a new democracy deal with tough political and social repercussions. In many ways the country is still in a state of transition. Yes the regime is over, but many things have not been changed or agreed upon to change so far. The economy prevents many changes from reaching the idealized rainbow nation society this post apartheid era is supposed to represent. Historically, South Africa is a lot more interesting than Brazil as I am seeing and learning about its long transition. It has only been a week though; I still have boatloads more to learn.

Thanks,
Allison Gretchko