Sunday, June 28, 2009

Boys, robots cubbyholes, and eating babies

The one and possibly only major downfall of having become so chummy with South Africans is that in befriending them I have offered them a window into hearing and being able to make fun of my fluent “American.” “American” is just day-to-day New England speak (to me) and apparently isn’t proper English (to South Africans). 

Literally anything and everything I say is subject to complete ridicule. I often feel like I am living in today’s “My Fair Lady” starring me as Eliza Doolittle (with plenty a Henry Higgins’ to go around, sheesh). 

I am outnumbered here and thus can never seem to win but hear me out my fellow Americans (and please sympathize): South Africans pronounce buoy as “boy” (as in “look at that boy floating the water”), traffic lights are called robots and glove compartments are called cubbyholes. Now, are you really going to tell me that that’s normal? Also instead of gummy bears they have jelly babies. BABIES. Seriously. I am not joking. You can imagine my disbelief and shock. And they were actually tasty. Tasty babies. Sigh. 



Monday, June 22, 2009

Robyn turns 22, Brian turns 19: Hectic Berg bendi-bashing ensues

I know, I know. It's been a long long time since my last post. I promise to make it up to you. I even loaded extra extra pictures this time around. Just for you. Please forgive me. 

This weekend was in one word: hectic. Young South Africans use this word with the voracity that most people use the pronoun "I". Anything and everything is hectic (hectic rugby game, hectic hike, hectic meal, hectic outfit, etc etc). 

This Saturday Robyn turned 22 and her brother, Brian, turned 19. Robyn's family and close family friends ventured out to the Drakensburg Mountains (The Berg) to celebrate and Robyn invited us to come along. 
Three hours of beautiful views (see below), the P.S. I Love You soundtrack (miserable but our only choice given poor planning on the CD front), 2 lattes, and one pack of fruity mentos later we arrived at Alpine Heath, the beautiful resort where we would be staying for the weekend.

Peeps you need to know about:

Brian (Robyn's adorable brother/avid athlete/has the patience of Mother Theresa: explaining Rubgy, translating South African English to American English, etc.)
Steve (Brian's friend who reminds me of Mogli from the Jungle Book/claims to have wrestled calves when he was growing up)
Struan (pronounced strewn: practically Robyn's brother/the greatest gentle giant/excellent hikingadventures buddy)
Peet (pronounced pee-et not Pete: my homeboy/Robyn's hilarious and fun boyfriend who has got a Pleet sense of humor and the same calm indifference as to whether others will like his jokes) 
Julian and Deb (Robyn's amazing parents/the most generous and kind people in all of Durban)
Campbell (Struan's sweet Dad, who proclaimed, "I was the worst influence around here until you came around Ivy. Now you are the worst influence.")

After meeting all these amazing people, we headed to a delicious dinner, talked about Wal-Mart and how much Americans love guns, found out that South Africans call samosas saMOOsas (weirdos), played a game of 30 seconds (South Africa's version of Taboo, which I am epically bad at), sang Happy Birthday at midnight, and fell fast asleep.

The next morning we got up and played some mini golf and then Rob and I went for a short hike, where we somehow missed the waterfall and I managed to dunk my entire shoe into a stream, oops. When we got back the boys were busy playing tennis so I sat by the pool to read. My reading was rudely interrupted by a game of Bingo, which I gladly welcomed given my good luck with Bingo. Sure enough, I won the first round (!) and the prize was a free zip-line through the forest from the tallest spiral staircase in the world. Sweet. Accompanied by Robs, Peet, and Struan we headed off to find the zipline.

"So, how many people have died on this thing?" I asked the guy at the zipline as he was putting my harness on. "About 10," he responded before breaking into a huge laugh, "No no. No one dies on this, it's very safe." Great. It actually is really safe (Mom, I am not trying to give you a heart attack) and it was seriously one of the most exhilarating things I have done. I promise to post the vid of me doing it on FB. 

As we headed back, Struan and I planned an epic hike up the mountain in front of our chalet back at Alpine Heath (pics below).

After bundu-bashing (which I call bendi-bashing, which means bashing through bushes) and being lifted and replaced on higher surfaces several times by Struan and hiking up a very very steep incline, we were welcomed by a baboon at the top of the mountain, where we hung our legs off a cliff and Struan proclaimed "The things you own end up owning you." Indeed. 

I came back to a warm shower and sweet-chili flavored doritos (ew) and made Brian explain Rugby to me. Explaining sports to me is quite difficult (I told you he was patient!), especially given the language barrier between us (see excerpt below): 

Brian: So then the players form a scrum haff...
Me: Is that h-a-f-f or h-o-f-f?
Brian: It's h-a-l-f
Me: Oh....half.
Yes, I am contributing to the world's notion of America as nation of stupid people. It's a hard job but someone's gotta do it.

We headed off for a huge braii (bbq) and consumed copious amounts of delicious food and drink.  Very very poor life choices given the "hectic" hike we had agreed to go on the next morning.

Robyn's Dad woke us up at 5:20am on Sunday and we would have put up a fight but it was Father's Day and not his fault that we had drank so much Savannah (An alcoholic cider, probably equivalent to Mike's Hard in that it's sweet and doesn't taste very alcoholic) the night before. Robyn's Mom had packed us all gourmet steak and chicken sandwiches, water, fruit, energy bars, and bundled me up appropriately. I am telling you. She is mind-blowingly amazing.

Our grumpiness was soon quelled when we saw the amazing sunrise that awaited us on the drive to Sentinel Peak. As we all scrambled out of the car to take pictures, it occurred to that South Africa may be the most beautiful place in the world. 

Sentinel Peak is really breathtaking. As we headed up the trail (Steve charging ahead), every twist and turn held a different and seemingly more beautiful view. 

At one point, we even got to go up these amazing chain ladders (down left). Pretty cool until you look down, which I didn't. Once we got all the way up we were greeted by amazing views. 

After this 25k (16 mile) hike, we were pretty tired. What followed (the ride back to Alpine Heath, packing up, getting a feta, avocado, bacon pizza, and the ride back to Durban) all seems like a blur. But we got back safe and sound.

For now I'm dreaming (of ziplines, long hikes, and the best damn steak sandwich in the world)...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday. You went to work, I went to Tala.

Yesterday was a national holiday in South Africa called Youth Day, which commemorates the youth’s involvement and crucial role in ending apartheid. In particular, it is a holiday that marks the 1976 Soweto student uprising. 

This holiday= a day off from work. 

Yes, this does mean I have only been to work two days since I’ve been here. 

Yes, this does mean I did not go to work yesterday. 

Yes, this is a pretty sweet deal.

Before I go into the details of my day off and the adventures that ensued, I need you to know this: the South Africans that we have met so far are some of the nicest people I have ever known. Here are the key players:

1) Judy: Judy owns the B&B we are staying at during our 2 months here. She is a serious sweetheart and I am pretty sure she could do no wrong (at least in my eyes). She has been so accommodating and has helped us get around, buy the things we need, and made us feel at home. Judy is really interested in American culture and she knows a lot about America to boot. For example, she has a deep love for Jay (Leno) and Conan (O'Brien).

2) Robyn: Robyn is a young South African intern at my job. Robyn is hip and fun and the best best tour guide in the entire world. She’s down to both show us Durban the way a young person sees it (clubs, food, drinks, hookah) and also take us to do some of the more touristy stuff. Robyn is literally a lifesaver (and a genius, she’s going to get her Masters in social policy at Oxford in October)

These are the two names that will keep coming up. The George Washington (Judy) and Abe Lincoln (Robyn) of this experience. The foundation. 

So, back to Tuesday. I got up early to go to “Durban’s Finest Game Reserve”: Tala. Ryan and I packed into Robyn's (told you she was down for an adventure) car with her and her friend from Durban (LeeAnne) as well as a Brown alum who is doing summer work in Durban (Jasmine).

First stop: Coffee/Grocery store/Biltong

Since we were going to picnic lunch it at Tala, this was a crucial stop. Groceries included Chutney flavored fritos and biltong. Ah, biltong. Biltong is a South African treat that we had been told was like beef jerky. Gross, I thought, I don't like beef jerky. But Biltong is better. Think beef jerky and bacon had a love child that got more of bacon's genes. That is Biltong. Yum. 

Next stop: Tala. We drove for like 20 minutes and then we were suddenly surrounded by beautiful countryside and then before we knew it we were at Tala. 

Tala is breathtaking. Words cannot describe the immediate serenity I felt once we were inside and driving around. We saw a lot of game (hippo, zebra, impala, kudu, warthog, giraffe...) and we had a pleasant drive/picnic. It was just amazing to see animals out of captivity and just roaming around or standing in front of your car and not moving. I know I'm not being very good at using descriptive language. I just can't do it justice. Just look at these:

think of this...

on tuesday you went to work..

I went here.

Damn, I must be dreaming...


Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Nation of Hipsters? An Essay on the Critical Theory of Hipster-ization in Durban and All Its Wonders (Written and Edited by Professor Ivy Martinez)

Despite being jet-lagged beyond belief, Ryan and I decided to venture into Durban yesterday. After a brief trip to the Kwa-Muhle museum downtown (a museum that briefly touches on Durban during Apartheid), we headed to the BAT Centre. Ryan had heard about this place from a friend of his that spent some time in Durban and told him it was a "must see." Sweet. The BAT Centre is a government sponsored community center that basically promotes young peoples involvement in the arts by giving them a space to express their creativity. A very cool concept.

I swear to god: someone bottled Brown/RISD and transported it to the BAT Centre. 

The smell upon arrival was distinct. A leaf whose illegality disappoints many. Weed. Strong strong weed. All the kids hanging out at the BAT Centre were straight up hipsters. I am talking Chucks, wayfarers, skinny jeans, checkered scarves. The whole nine yards. 

Their style could have been found on the Faunce steps. It kind of confused/delighted me. And as a we weaved through this crowd of hipsters to the beat of a loud concert going on inside the BAT Centre, I knew that this was going to be a dope little trip into the life of a Durban hipster. We wandered into a visual arts studio that reminded me of RISD and we were greeted by
the resident artists. The art at the BAT Centre was an perfect combination of Africianism, modernism, surrealism, and pop art. The BAT Centre basically hosts 7 local artists at a time and gives them this beautiful space to work in, which I thought was pretty amazing. After meeting a DJ named
"Shaft" (no jokes), we headed out of the art studio and back into the sea of hipsterliciousness. It was like being home. 

Today, we went for a walk down to a street called Davenport Road. Along the way we stopped at a place called the Kwa-Zulu Natal Society of Arts, a funky little half glass, half brick cafe/art gallery. The piece on exhibit was called "Transitions" and included visual art and a film. The film was reminiscent of something I've seen at the MoMA, contrasting the peace of a grassy field with the peace of the ritual headshaving performed in the army. I know. Wayyy outtt therrrrreee. The waitstaff at the place was hipster-fied too. 

Amazing. I travelled this far to meet hipsters. 
So, here's the big question: How does this happen? Hipster style isn't exactly popular in the media, so it isn't transported into South African homes via televisions or magazines. Yet, hipsters are here. Also, why does the connection between "hipster" and "art" transcend cultures and national boundaries? How the fuck did hispter-ization make it to Durban, South Africa?

These are the big questions on my mind. You know what else is on my mind? Monkeys. On. My. Patio. 

Digest that.

MONKEYS ON MY PATIO. I got home from Davenport, really drained and about to watch So You Think You Can Dance and I stepped out onto my patio and looked down at my beautiful front yard and saw something darting across the fence. Wow, I thought, that must be a big cat with amazing climbing abilities because otherwise it would be a monkey....oh my god. It is a monkey. It's a couple monkeys. It's a lot of monkeys. In the yard. 

Blaming my delirium on jet-lag, I came in and started unpacking my groceries when I heard scurrying on my patio. There they were. A group of monkeys standing (literally) outside my door and watching me. 

Now, if you know me envision the way I get when I see a baby. All dopey eyed and obsessive and unable to hold a conversation and constantly exclaiming words like "cute" and "adorable". This was how I was around the monkeys. After doing some research, the voice of reason spoke:

Ryan:  You can't feed them. It
 says here that a group of tourists fed them and a bunch more showed up the next day. They're smart. Apparently they break into people's houses and steal their food.

After a weekend chock full of hipsters and monkeys on my patio, its no wonder I feel like I'm dreaming...

p.s. An idiosyncrasy I must share because it is so delightful I cannot keep it in. While looking for a place to get lunch on Davenport Rd we wandered into a chic little bistro and looked at the menu. There was a cocktail called the "homojito." I didn't get one but don't worry: I will not leave Durban without drinking a homojito. After all, it is the perfect combination of two of my favorite things: gay men and mojitos. How can I resist?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The longest plane ride ever/Ryan/The Leopard Tree House

Well. Here I am. Sitting (pretty) in Durban and already loving every moment. There's a lot to catch you up on!

The Longest Plane Ride Ever:

We boarded our first plane at Logan and flew to NY. Quick flight. Once we figured out how to switch terminals we were well on our way. We waited for a bit and then boarded our second plane to Jo'berg.

15 hours, The Reader (surprisingly good), Rainman (Tom Cruise sort of sucks but Dustin Hoffman is unreal), half of Yesterday (a South African movie), some of Revolutionary Road (the book, not the movie), 4 hours of sleep, 2 South African Airways meals, and several gummy worms later we arrived in Jo'berg.

We picked up our luggage and "went through customs" (meaning we walked through a hall that had a sign on it that said CUSTOMS, I kid you not). Then a porter tried to rip us off (by expecting us to give him a $20 (yes dollar) tip) and we checked our bags and went to wait for our third plane to Durban. Our 4 and half hour layover turned into a 7 hour layover but we met plenty of friendly Americans and South Africans on the way and even made an amazing contact with a woman who works for an HIV organization here in Durban. We left a very cold and rainy Jo'berg and one hour later we arrived at this sunny paradise known as Durban! 

Now if you've been paying attention you might notice that they pronoun "we" has appeared a lot in the above description. No. I did not develop multiple personality disorder. I have a travel companion named...


Yes, Ryan survived the 30 hours of travel as well and managed to do so without killing me or even threatening to kill me (either I'm not as bad as I think or this guy's got patience). Ryan was a Brown undergrad (class of 2008) and now he's a Brown Med student. He has already been subject to my self-invented concoctions/explanations of things that are biological and physiological (1/4 Bio20, 1/2 Discovery Health Channel, 1/4 pure falsities) and he seems to be taking it all in stride. He's a cool dude who likes running long distances, mochi (the legit kind, not the ice cream kind), and sunshine (he's California born and bred after all). I didn't mean for this to sound like a personal ad. Oops. But ladies...he's a good one...

...and brave too. He'll be dealing with me for the next two months.

The Leopard Tree House:

No, this is not the name of a South African safari themed restaurant. The Leopard Tree House is the place I will call home for the next 8 weeks. It's a B&B in Glenwood, which is an area of Durban. I have my own apartment on the second floor. It is fully furnished and includes a kitchen/living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with a huge tub. It's pretty big for such a small person but I like it a lot and I have my own patio which overlooks the house pool (!!!!) and city center (which sort of looks like a baby LA with all its shining lights). 

I think I am going to like it just fine.

dreaming (and extremely jet-lagged),

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Waffles, new Chucks, to-do lists...

I leave in 8 hours to fly for 24 hours.

Today I:

- Packed and unpacked a total of 4 times.
-Had waffles for my last meal at home. 
-Stole a pair of Chucks from my 11-year old brother (they don't fit him anymore, but they do fit me!) 
-Checked about 30 items from my to-do list (neurotic? yes. organized? yes.)

Here. I. Go.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Your future is hazy, with partial clearing by Thursday."

That's what the quote attached to my tea bag said this morning.
Yo. My tazo tea bag is a fortune teller. How did my tea know that Thursday is the day I get to Durban? Yes people. I have reached such a level of nerves/anxiety/excitement/delirium that I am starting to think things like "How did my tea know that Thursday is the day I get to Durban?" 

My bed is covered with clothes. My mind is full of to-do lists. My economy-size bottle of Advil is getting emptier by the hour.

dreaming (of days that involve wearing these clothes, not packing them)...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Welcome/I am officially on malaria prophylaxis

Hey hey. Welcome to my Summer 2009 blog! I decided a blog would be the way to go in order to keep you all updated on my whereabouts in Durban. I know, I know--I am definitely not cool enough/computer savvy enough to have a blog but I figured you may prefer this to emails and it'll be a good way for me to keep track of what I actually did this summer. This way you can read at your own pace, skip some entries, or just look at pictures. 

Today is officially one week before my departure date which means today I took my first Mefloquine (malaria prophylaxis). Here's the deal with Mefloquine: it has mad side effects including stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hair loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness, drowsiness, headache, insomnia, and strange dreams. Apparently dealing with all of those things is better than getting malaria. Here's hoping. 

Another thing. I hate hate hate health insurance. Get this. You are supposed to take Mefloquine once weekly a week before you leave, every week you're away, and for four weeks when you return. I'm away for 8 weeks, which means I need to take 13 Mefloquine total. However, my health insurance will only give me 8 at a time. Not enough to even get me through my 8 weeks in South Africa. What if someone was going away for 20 weeks? Then what health insurance, huh? 

Thank you for letting me rant. 
Until next time.