Saturday, October 10, 2009
Catching up on S. Africa
De Oude Meul Guesthuis
Stellenbosch, S. Africa
I'm here in S. African wine country with Stepanka and Kathleen, friends from the ship. My first impressions are that the country is beautiful, complex, and a terrible mess. However, the feeling of the moment is, at last, a truly lekker cappucino!! Our guest house is fine, but I think I'd happily spring for the extra 100R ($12) next time to stay down the street in the Stellenbosch Hotel.
Since yesterday was Sunday, we weren't able to rent bikes and the wineries were all closed. So we did a bit of the town historical tour (Cape Dutch architecture) and then found a lovely place, The Wijnhuis, where we were able to do a wine tasting with a delicious cheese plate! (We miss good cheese on the ship - security won't allow us to take cheese on board.) Later, we had dinner at the Fish Market, which was also great - nice atmosphere, with one of those conveyor-style sushi thingamabobs. Sushi in S. Africa - who would have thought?
Here are some first impressions of this area: in regards to Cape Dutch architecture, I find it simply pretty, plain, very Calvinistic, not surprisingly. The whole region seems pretty fiercely Afrikaans, with the University touting itself as the only Afrikaans language university in the area (or the country?). It was also interesting to hear Arno, the owner of our guesthouse, tell me that he thinks Dutch sounds much harsher than Afrikaans. Maybe so. I did find the Afrikaans people to be somewhat loud and boorish (boerish?? :)
When we were discussing a route to take through the vineyards on our bicycles, Arno got a concerned look on his face, advising that the direction we had originally mapped out was not safe, running as it were too close to a township. And since the crime stats here are so high, we, of course, had to heed his advice. So, we took a very short ride out towards the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, stopping after only a few kilometers for a wine-tasting and cellar tour. I was having some kind of strange, unhappy anxiety attack (just worried about being away from David for so long, I think), so I didn't feel like drinking. It's just good I did the tasting in town earlier, so I at least knew that I'm not a fan of pinotage, the only truly S. African grape cultivar.
Oct. 8, 8 am
on the dock next to the Nelson Mandela Gateway
Kim wrote me this morning, wondering why my blog entries are so short. Thinking more about it, I realize that simple recitatations of my little 'adventures' just aren't all that interesting to me, and I haven't felt like I had the time or inspiration, honestly, to do more. I almost feel like my thought processes don't function on their own - I need someone to bounce them off of. Since David and I have finally been able to connect here on a daily basis, some of my thoughts about all this are starting to take shape, albeit a bit vague at first.
So, what is driving S. Africa and where is she going? Our views from the past 6 days are so fragmented and obscured by typical tourist activities, but at least I've got some basics. This is a strikingly beautiful area: awe-inspiring mountains, white sand coastlines, fertile valleys, abundant flora and fauna. Also, it's resource rich - diamonds, gold, bauxite, etc. All this results in centuries of land-grabbing attempts by the Portugese, Dutch, and British. With the aboriginal bushmen and all other African blacks exploited and enslaved as just another "resource" of the area. So, now that there's at least SOME attempt to recognize the rights of the majority black population, it all becomes very complicated. White residents complain that "their" blacks (they really do say this!) are lazy, don't want to work, and feel they should just be given land. As opposed to blacks coming here from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, all of whom, by account of various white Afrikaners, are industrious and hard-working. Reminds me of comments I heard over the years about Native American people living on reservations. It does seem to me that, no matter what the setting, simple "hand-outs" don't work. Centuries of illiteracy, poverty, poor self-esteem, forced break-up of family and community units require much more than land and money to rebuild. Education, training, emphasis on family and shared culture would be a better starting place. And working to generate improvement initiatives from within the community itself.
A student at dinner last night told me about his day spent working on a house being constructed in a township by Habitat for Humanity. The home was being built for a deaf couple with 4 children. The local coordinator of the project is from the township and still lives in a shack with a leaking roof, in spite of the fact that he has worked on homes for dozens of his neighbors. According to the student, this black African feels there are just too many whose needs are greater than his own. Certainly doesn't sound like he's lazy or lacking in motivation. Could be the exception, I suppose. But I think there's a lot of reason for hope here. It'll just take time, patience, and compassion.
I learned some interesting facts on yesterday's safari at Inverdoorn in the Kahoo Wilderness. First, there is a cheetah rehabilitation program in effect because male cheetah's have defective sperm, making successful breeding very difficult. Female cheetahs need to be slim and active to ovulate, but males kill off sperm cells if exercised too much!! Hmmmmm.....
There is a phenomenon in Africa called "canned lions", where lion cubs are raised in small cages to maturity so they can be briefly released into a controlled area and "hunted" for sport. This is illegal, so lions rescued from this must be fed and protected - the lions we saw on our safari were 3 of these, and can't ever be re-released to the wild.
Giraffes eat the leaves of the sweet acacia tree, which is covered with 2 to 3 inch long, nasty-looking thorns. The giraffe has some kind of amazingly well-adapted long tongue to deal with this.
By the way, ostrich burger is delicious! I hope most of you can see all my pictures on Facebook - posting to this blog is just too time-consuming, I'm afraid!