Category Archives: South Africa 2009

Reports from Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa 7The excitement and array of things to do in Cape Town has kept the 27 of us busy exploring and enjoying every minute of these past few weeks in South Africa. We’ve ventured out into open air markets, traveled along the coastal peninsula to beaches and a penguin colony, hiked the overlooking Table Mountain, met Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and much more. The local rail line has been a great resource for us to explore so a few friends and I spent one of our days off soaking up the local beach in the town of Fishoek.

This past Friday morning our group traveled into downtown Cape Town to St. George’s Cathedral for a 7:15 am service where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided over the service. It was an amazing opportunity to meet a man who took part in speaking out against apartheid and who is also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. A few students and I had heard him speak at James Madison University 2 years ago but I think it is safe to say we have so much more interest and appreciation for his efforts now that we have our hearts in the country of South Africa.

The ladies hiking up Table Mountain Saturday morning a group of 15 of us students were led on a hike up Table Mountain by my host parents. We began our climb at 6 am to get a head start from the heat and appreciated those few hours when the sun began beating down. When we reached the top and captured the whole city of Cape Town, the 9 hour day of hiking was worth it. After a good night of rest, we had another fun filled day on Sunday. We spent the morning at our host family’s church service and followed with the South African tradition of a braai. It was a great time for us to spend outside in the beautiful weather and connect with our host family. In the evening we ventured out to the gardens of Kirstenbosch for an outdoor concert with a performance by South African native, Johnny Clegg. The amazing music and beautiful outdoor atmosphere put a great close to a fun filled weekend here in Cape Town.

-Kelsey Yoder

University of Cape Town Since arriving in Cape Town, we have had the privilege of taking lectures at the University of Cape Town. The lectures occur every Monday and Wednesday morning from about 10:00 until noon. So far, we have been taught on the topics of Apartheid, the history of Islam in the Western Cape, cape slavery, and the history and settlement of the cape by Shahid Mathee, Nigel Worden, and Zwelethu Jolobe. All of these speakers are professors at the university, but are also very involved in book writing and political speaking. In fact, earlier in the trip we studied a book written by Nigel Worden. As a result, we have found the lectures to be very detailed and quite informative. Personally, the most valuable part of these classes has been the question and answer periods that follow the lectures. The professors are very willing to take on any and all the questions that we have in order to clarify and give context to what they have just spoken about. It is also a good way to better grasp the complex issues and difficulties that South Africa has struggled with throughout its history. Believe it or not, it has been nice getting back into the classroom setting! After the lectures, our group stays to discuss the book we are studying, a bible passage that has been assigned by Harlan, or simply our schedule for the days ahead.  Around 2:00 we hop on trains, buses, taxis, and cars and make our way back to our homes in the suburbs.

– Justin Reesor

Meeting Desmond Tutu We had to get up early this past Friday, that was if we were to take advantage of an opportunity to meet Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who played an important part in the ending of Apartheid.  So we got up early finding our way to the Cathedral downtown in any way we could.  Those of us who were lucky were given rides from our host parents while others took the trains and taxis.  Now, we knew there was going to be a service of some kind and were pretty sure that he would be presiding over it, but nobody knew quite what to expect.

We filed into the cathedral arriving in small groups.  The church appeared empty at first. Then we noticed some activity in the front and to the side in a smaller sanctuary.  We learned that this was where the service would be held.  There were only 20-30 people there besides our group of 27, but we didn’t see Desmond Tutu anywhere and began to wonder if we were in the right place after all.  All these thoughts subsided when the service began at 7:15 and the man we were waiting for came striding to the front.  It was a beautiful service, simple and intimate.  Afterwards, he shook everyone’s hand and let people take pictures.  Then, he changed his clothes and headed down the street to have coffee with his friends.

– Philip Tieszen

The jump, free travel, and Cape Town

South Africa 6Moving into our final homestay in Cape Town has been quite an experience. We have now gone from having no electricity, running water and connection to the rest of the world to having absolutely all of that and more than we possibly need. It has without a doubt been a cultural shock for us. We are now living with middle class colored and white families and taking lecture courses at the University of Cape Town.

Reflecting back on this journey up to this point I’ve come to learn how divided the nation of South Africa really is. I find myself feeling guilty living in the comfort of my nice home while just across town, thousands are living in townships, jobless. I feel broken here in Cape Town; it’s hard to not wonder why God provides for some and not for others, but then I remember life in Lesotho and how much joy I found from living simply and from the little things in life. I know that God was providing for me then too. It has truly been a life changing experience living and learning from the families and everyday people we meet on the streets.

-Bia Stoltzfus
Nov. 11, 2009

Resting on a hike - Jason Ropp We bungee jumped at a place called Bloukrans Bridge. At 216 meters it is the highest commercial bungee jump in the world. I was very nervous on the bus ride to the bridge; just ask Rachel Yoder who was sitting next to me. After signing away all my rights in the case that something bad happened, I walked out to the middle of the bridge. They were playing mind-numbing, adrenaline-laced music, and there were 20 of us from our group pumping each other up. The atmosphere was perfect. One by one we would get hooked up and walk to the edge with our guide. Finally my turn came. He counted down from five and I just jumped without hesitation. The first half second was quite peaceful. For all my body knew it may have just left a six foot ledge and was about to return safely to the earth. Then came the point were I realized that I had just done something very foolish. I was falling very quickly with only one cord to save me from plummeting to my instantaneous death. I immediately proceeded to panic, but to no avail, I was going to die. (I think the panic is supposed to kick in earlier and prevent one from throwing oneself off of a bridge.) It took about four seconds to convince myself that I would live and that may have been my amazing courage and mental strength, or it may have been the subtle tug of the cord that I was feeling around my ankles. I transitioned from a terrifying free-fall into a state of complete silence and no movement and then I sprung back into the air again. At this point I was thoroughly enjoying myself. After three or four bounces I was pulled back to safety on the bridge. It felt good to stand on something solid again. I don’t regret anything about the experience, but I am not likely to attempt anything similar for quite some time.

-Darrel Miller
Nov. 9, 2009

Watching a traditional dance Free travel week was a nice break from the bigger group and a great opportunity to travel along South Africa’s Garden Route, which is a region along the southern coast that follows the N2 highway and makes stops at several beaches, inland villages, and tourist destinations along the way. We stayed in backpackers (like hostels) and traveled from town to town on the BazBus, a transportation system specifically for backpackers like us. My group of five stopped first in Outdshoorn, where ostriches abound (they actually outnumber people). Highlights include ostrich egg and steak, and riding 12 kilometers on bikes to an ostrich farm, where most of us were able to actually ride one.

Other free travel groups stayed closer to the coast, lodging in towns such as Wilderness, Mossel Bay, and Hermanus. My group finished our week in Hermanus, which is world famous for whale watching. We walked and hiked the cliff paths, saw many whales from the rocks, and on our last day, walked an hour and a half to spend the day on the beach.

Even though some groups encountered odd characters, transportation frustrations, and slight mishaps, we all had fun times and stories to share which will never be forgotten.

-Charlotte Wenger
Nov. 9, 2009

The mountains The last leg of our three month journey has begun. We arrived in Cape Town on Thursday, November 5, and ever since that day we’ve enjoyed the breathtaking sites of Table Mountain that mystically looms over the city. Our first few days were spent at Ashanti Lodge, located near the heart of downtown Cape Town, where we had the freedom to explore the city’s vast array of opportunities. The majority of us were drawn to the open-air markets, where our education in bargaining increased tenfold as we cajoled vendors into lowering their prices on everything from mahogany bowls to decorative earrings.

On Sunday, the group’s anticipation increased as we prepared to meet our new host families. Needless to say, our worries and fears were quickly erased as we embraced our new parents and siblings at the welcoming center that afternoon.

The following day we had our first lecture at the University of Cape Town, where professor Mohammad Shaeed Mati spoke to our group about the prevalent Muslim community in the surrounding area. Learning everything from when the first Muslims arrived from Malaysia in 1658 to the prejudice and second class status they acquired during apartheid, I became increasingly aware of the complex structural segregation embedded within South African history. Throughout the lecture, I could not help but feel privileged and extremely grateful for the opportunity to study abroad in such a culturally rich and diverse context.

-Elizabeth Barge
Nov. 11, 2009

Elephants on the road We arrived at Addo Elephant National Park pretty excited about our opportunity to finally see masses of African wildlife. We threw all of our inhibitions to the wind and did the most “touristy” thing you could think of…we went on a safari. Armed with our cameras, we set out on a khaki-colored truck and saw some pretty amazing creatures. We came within a few feet of monstrous elephants; we saw kudu, eland, ostriches, cape buffalo, warthogs, tortoises, and a few lucky souls caught a glimpse of the park’s six lions! Afterward, we grabbed a not-so-quick meal at the local restaurant before retiring to our “forest huts” for the night. And let’s not forget the most comfortable beds yet this trip, before waking up the next morning with free travel right around the corner.

-Jesse Springer
November 12, 2009

Reports from South Africa

South Africa 5Our first church experience in Lesotho was probably the most memorable. We were to be sitting through 1.5 hours of a four hour service. We all met together and walked through town to the outskirts of the village to a small rectangular hut on the side of the mountain. All 24 students and 3 leaders piled into a room with about 10-15 congregation members. There was a small candle burning in the middle of the floor while we all lined up against the walls. The small room was dark and muggy and there were two small windows. We clapped along with the lively music of the congregation while someone beat a drum as four people ran around the candle in the middle of the room singing and clapping, raising their arms in the air praising and worshipping the Lord. On several occasions a few of us were coaxed into the middle of the floor to run about and clap with the members.

The pastor delivered a kind and passionate message in seSotho while Harlan translated the key points for us. He then asked us if two or three people would step forward and share their brief testimonies. As Darrel and Nils spoke I looked around and noticed the looks of intrigue that all members of the congregation were showing. Everyone was so interested in knowing about us and why we had come to their small, primitive village for two and a half weeks and what we thought of them and their country. When each testimony had finished everyone smiled and clapped. We sang some of our songs for them and then entered prayer time. Three people could come and kneel on the floor while the pastor and his associates would lay a bible or a small metal cross on the backs of the people while praying fervently, eyes shut, heads tilted back, voices raised. Almost all of us knelt down and experienced one of these powerful moments.

Churches like this believe that through worship, prayer, singing, and dancing, that one can open up their soul to be cleansed by God. There is so much passion here in the services in Lesotho, and everyone feels free to let loose during the service, doing whatever it takes to rid themselves of stresses and burdens. I left that day feeling refreshed by the passion and love of the people of Lesotho. By praising with such vigor and abandon, one feels closer to God.

– Curtis Reesor

Blending right in - Allison Byler Building Relationships with my host family was one of my favorite aspects of our homestay in Lesotho. My family was fairly small. My ‘me (mother) Malekau has three children: Lekau(19), Mpho(9), and Mamococho(21). She also has a helper named Nopi (21) who was around the house. My family lives in an extremely small, two room house, and they own very few material possessions; however, they are rich in so many other ways. They taught me to take joy and happiness from the simple things in life. We spent hours in the evening over candlelight playing cards, dancing, singing, talking, and laughing until we cried. We used ate papa (cooked white maize meal) and cooked spinach, occasionally having eggs or chicken. They also made many kinds of bread for us.

My family does not have it easy; the father died in 2001 from a mining accident, and our mother has raised the family since then, while teaching first grade full time. She gets paid very little and teaches 40 students, but I have never heard her complain. They took us in and loved us like family, and it was definitely hard for Denay and me to leave.

– Maria Yoder

Showing off some impressive dance moves - Justin Reesor and Jason Ropp Richard Mohale, age 19, is a very talented young man. As his host brother, I was able to get to know him very well. By the time the two and a half weeks were through, I felt like we were truly brothers. Richard showed us what village life was about. He is captain of Malealea Lilala FC, the village soccer team, and his goal is to sometime try out for the Bloemfontein Celtics, a team in the South African premier league. Because of his goal, he has changed his lifestyle. He has stopped smoking and drinking altogether, and knows that Malealea village has nothing to offer him in the years to come, so soccer is his way out.

Not only is he the best player in the village, he is also one of the best dancers. In 2003 at the age of 13, Richard was able to experience another part of the world as a member of the Malealea Band, traveling to England and Australia to perform. The band plays with homemade guitars, violins, and drums. These instruments, combined with singing and traditional Basotho dance, create a one of a kind sight and sound. With plenty of free time, Richard was able to teach Justin and me the basic steps. We would practice two times a day, sometimes having an audience who mostly just laughed at us.

Another role Richard has in life is to be the male influence on his three year old nephew. His brother left for Capetown one and a half years ago in search of a job and has not been able to visit since then. Richard may only be nineteen, but village life has forced him to grow up faster. His own father died three and a half years ago because he was under the control of a witch. Disbelief is still evident in the Mohale house. There are small sticks placed in the rafters to prevent a witch from taking control. The beds in the house are also raised to prevent the Tokolosi, small people sent by the witch, from being able to reach you in your sleep. It is believed that Richard’s father was killed by a witch because the clinic could not figure out his sickness and none of the modern medication worked. The belief in witches is still a part of everyday life in Basotho culture.

– Jason Ropp

Pulling weeds in a village garden Since we left the “kingdom in the sky” a week and a half ago, we have embarked upon an exciting new phase in our trip. After a refreshingly delicious meal of steak, beans, and chocolate cake at the lodge, our group traveled to the small, rural town of Bethulie, with a population of 500 whites and 5000 blacks, most of whom still live in the “location” just outside of town. We reveled in the conveniences of running water, hot showers, electricity, and the ability to contact home for the first time in a month. We studied the town’s local history, especially the Afrikaner side of things, by visiting the prison, the local schools, nursing home, police station, and the memorial for the Afrikaner women and children killed in the concentration camps.

After this, we stayed with families for two nights, immersing ourselves over the weekend in what it felt like to live in a rural, largely agricultural community which was still changing from apartheid into modern South Africa. Then we traveled to Addo Elephant Park, where we were able to tour on a safari for the afternoon. The elephants came so close we could have touched them (although we were strongly encouraged not to), and we also saw kudu, lions, jackels, eland, warthog, and many other fantastic sights.

Since then, we have been staying in the beach town of Plettenberg Bay, a beautiful place right on the “Sunshine Coast.” And yesterday, over half our group took the plunge…and bungee jumped off of the highest bridge in the world, almost 220 m. Thankfully, everyone made it back to firm ground safely. Some of us are leaving for a week of free travel today, while the others will leave tomorrow for such places as Wilderness Bay, Buffel Bay, and Stellenbosch.

– Michael Spory and Katie Rodriguez

River hike - Jason Ropp, Darrel Miller, Jesse Springer, Harlan, Mike Erb, Darren Stauffer Lesotho has some amazing landscape. Everywhere you look there are mountains, valleys and rivers. Thanks to this incredible landscape, we were never short of hiking options. Whether it was hiking down the river to work on our tan or hiking two hours to a waterfall, it was always an adventure.

Some of our hikes included hiking an hour down hill to a swimming hole, only to hike back uphill twenty minutes later. Hiking an hour and a half up the only road to the “Gates of Paradise,” along the way passing a sign that said ‘13,335 kms to New York.’ I don’t know if it counts as a hike, but riding a horse on a two hour pony trek, which sure felt like a hike after we got off the horses!

But my favorite hike was a hike that Harlan referred to as the “All Wet Hike.” This hike included hiking down a gorge, then walking in the river to a waterfall, then jumping in the water and climbing up the waterfall, and then coming back down the same way you went up. The hike ended with a straight up scramble to the top of the mountain.

Every time we got to the top of a hill or mountain, I felt like I should break out in “the hills are alive with the sound of music…” But instead I found myself doubled over gasping for air. (I don’t know how Julie Andrews does it). Every challenging hike had its reward… a spectacular view of some of God’s amazing world.

– Michael Erb

Reflections after visiting the Apartheid Museum

South Africa 4Learning about South Africa’s devastating history while living in Soweto, a township where blacks were forced to move into during the apartheid, has been an enriching and powerful experience. A few days ago, we visited the apartheid museum in Johannesburg. While the museum experience was a painful one, it was necessary in order to understand what the blacks, coloureds, and the Indians went through just a few decades ago. My heart aches for the innocent people that were robbed of their humanity, respect, and dignity. I cannot begin to understand how a group of human beings could impose such intense brutality, hatred, and oppression on another group of human beings. We are all the same in our flesh and blood. I found myself purely hating the Afrikaners, who after the negotiations between the black and white parties began, tear gassed and shot down hundreds of school children. How can people do such harsh things? Why on earth did the oppressive and inhumane apartheid laws last 46 years without the rest of the world stepping in?

As horrible as apartheid was, only a small handful of white South Africans actually stood up against it, with the vast majority of whites in full support of it. Thinking about this, I have to wonder what side I would have taken had I been a white South African during the apartheid years. I would like to believe that I would have been among the handful who stood up against the injustice and oppression, but I cannot be sure. Going against the grain is always a difficult thing to do. Chances are, if I would have been present at Jesus’ trial, I would have shouted along with the crowd to crucify him. So who am I, really, to point fingers? At the apartheid museum, I realized that evil lives in all of us, including me, and therefore, I am capable of all the brutal crimes the whites committed against the non-whites in South Africa. By acknowledging the evil inside me, I am able to choose good over evil, justice over injustice, and peace over violence. This does not make me in any way less angry at the Afrikaners, but it does help me to see the plank in my own eye and remove it before taking out the specks from my sisters’ and brothers’ eyes. We all need God’s mercy and forgiveness.

-Heidi Hershberger

Heritage celebration at Progress High School - Elizabeth Barge, Dieo, Bia Stoltzfus, Ouma, Dimekatso On Tuesday we had an interesting experience at the local high school. South Africa is celebrating Heritage Day this week, so the students put on a bit of a show for us, complete with traditional costumes and dancing. When our turn came to share parts of our heritage, we sang a few songs for them. Everyone was clapping and trying to sing along. It impresses me how proud they seem to be of their own culture, and how much appreciation they show for our culture as well. The most memorable part of the day, however, was the taste testing that followed. The teachers had prepared a feast, which consisted of a number of traditional dishes that made their mouths water and our stomachs churn. I tasted chicken feet, mopani (fried worms), mohodu (cow intestines), and a few other things that I found barely tolerable.  I can only remember a few times in my life that I have actually gagged on something I was eating, but the worms definitely increased that tally by one more. Most of the time, though, we eat pretty well. My host mom Ester is a wonderful cook. She feeds us lots of meat and papa, a thick carbohydrate paste made of white maize meal that we eat with our hands. Sometimes we get beans, beets, potato salad, or mashed pumpkin on the side, and every once in a long while, she cooks a little spinach or some mixed vegetables. I have been missing my veggies, so by the time I get home, I might be willing to eat only greens for an entire week straight. We do get enough fruit, though, almost every “tuck shop” and roadside stand sells apples and oranges. Several times in the past two weeks, I have wished we had a little more variety, but after tasting some of their strange South African delicacies on Tuesday, I am no longer taking for granted their simple staple foods that I have come to enjoy.

-Briana Eshleman

The morning of the marimba

South Africa 3Wednesday morning our group took a relaxing trip to a local community center and was given marimba lessons. For some of the group, like myself, this was the first time we had ever seen a marimba. The marimba is a musical instrument made of smooth wooden pieces and pipes. The wood is struck with drumstick-type mallets, and sound is produced. All of us got a chance to display our skill, and some caught on quicker than others. Every one of us had a terrific time trying our hand at this traditional South African instrument and making beautiful music together. We also loved the break from our usually busy morning schedule to sit in the sun and listen to a professional marimba band as they played for us.

It is wonderful to see how well our group is getting along with one another and becoming a family. You can really tell that people are really comfortable with one another when they are willing to display their marimba talents, or lack thereof, as well as their “unique” dance moves. By the end of the morning, we were able to walk away with another piece of traditional South African culture, as well as many smiles and fantastic memories.

-Allison Byler

Our feeling of preparedness at the debate...-Rachel Yoder and Rochelle Fisher Two weeks into our adventure and I still cannot believe we are in South Africa. Being thrown into a completely different place and culture was not as difficult as I had originally anticipated. I had envisioned myself feeling unsettled and alone…I could not have been more wrong. I have never felt so welcomed in my whole life.

My host mom looks after me, and has made me a part of her family. She has taught me how to bake and how to hand wash my clothes properly. Doing such simple things in a different environment was an experience.

It is easy to feel lost when everything surrounding you is new and very different, but the amazing people you encounter along the way make any adjustments or transitions that much easier. I have fallen in love with the people of South Africa, they have a pride and sense of being that is unshakable. I feel honored to live with these people and to be able to learn from them.

-Rochelle Fisher

Soweto – wonderful hosts and hospitality

South Africa 2

On Tuesday, September 8, I finally arrived in Soweto, South Africa, just outside the capital city of Johannesburg. I entered Soweto filled with apprehension as well as excitement. It was time to meet my new seSotho host family. Many different thoughts were shooting through my head. Would we get along? Would my new family like me? How would they react when I accidentally broke their social rules?

Once I actually met my family, I was so relieved. They were absolutely wonderful. We live in a small four room house and my roommate, Justin Reesor, and I are sharing one room together. Our family showed us around the small, but nicely maintained house and tried to make us feel comfortable. ‘Me Pinkie, our host mom and the ruler of the house, had met us last week and took it upon herself to introduce us to everyone else. There was Pinkie’s forty-year-old daughter, Mawo, and her children, Bahloli and Lesedi. They are one year and eight months, and seven years old, respectively. Bahloli is the cutest toddler imaginable. I think that these living arrangements are going to work out wonderfully, and I am now more excited than ever.

– Nils Martin

Teboho Primary School - Rochelle Fisher Everywhere we go here in Soweto we are bombarded by many greetings and questions, the most popular question being, “What do you like best about South Africa?” Every time my answer is the same: the people. Every day the people of Soweto continue to bless us all as a group with their overwhelming love and hospitality. The primary school children all want to give you hugs, hold your hands, and buy you sweets, the high schoolers greet you warmly and ask many, many questions about our families, school, and what’s popular in the United States. Women on the street are constantly stopping us to invite us into their homes for a cold drink or tea and to “tutor” us in seSotho. Wherever we go, we are greeted with love. That is what I love most about South Africa. The people.

– Rachel Yoder

South Africa – first impressions

South Africa 1

As our plane taxied down the runway at the Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, my first thoughts on South Africa were “This is really…brown.” Although our first impressions might have been a little off considering our 18 hour flight, the last few days in South Africa have been eye-opening, inspiring, and filled with wonderful people and amazing sights.

South Africa, from what I have seen, is a land of fences. A land of walls and gates, guard dogs and barbed wire. Security is a top priority, largely stemming from the remnants of apartheid thinking, which demands that the whites maintain absolute authority to manage the much larger black population. Although this thinking is beginning to recede, the fences still remain.

We will go into Soweto this week for our homestays, and I am excited knowing that through those relationships, we might be able to tear down even just a little bit of the wall that divides black from white, maybe evening learning what it means to be a person instead of just a color. Living in Soweto will (hopefully) open my eyes to see the similarities between Americans and South Africans, between my culture and this new exciting place halfway around the globe.

-Michael Spory

Allison Byler, Rachel Mast, Denay Fuglie, Elizabeth Barge, Kelsey Yoder, Briana Eshlemen, Mike Erb, and Phil TiezsenThe novelties had worn off by hour two. We discovered every little gadget there was to find on the airplane. And lo and behold, there were no lions running through the fields when we landed in Africa.

We’re currently staying at Jacaranda Lodge–learning Sesotho, participating in daily group discussions, and bonding over Dutch Blitz and kicking around a flat soccer ball. On Tuesday we’ll head out to Soweto to live with our host families for 3 weeks.

We were able to experience a true South African welcoming as we visited Soweto this morning. There was singing, drumming, story-telling, stepping, eating, and oh… there was dancing. One hour of full out Mennonite/African dancing. It was quite a hoot. It’s unreal to think we’ve only been here for three days with everything we’ve seen, heard, eaten, and processed already.

-Katie Rodriguez