Of course I knew race is an acerbic topic in South Africa. It’s obvious in ever dimension of this country’s social sphere. But when Chris told me that people still hate to see a mixing of races, I thought he was exaggerating a bit. He told me if he and I were to walk along the road, we would get looks and some might even say something.

Probably not, I thought. That would just be going way overboard with the racial integration thing. I mean I know there’s some tension between black and white South Africans, but that’s just because things have been made awkward between them because of the history.

Awkward is somewhat of an understatement.

Francis, from the carwash, and I always have great conversation. He’s intelligent, and we always talk about our perspectives on South Africa’s state – socially, economically, culturally, etc. – and about our perspectives on the world at large. I love hearing from his Zambian point of view and he too loves hearing from my American point of view. We have grown up in two different worlds; and we share a mutual fascination because of it. He asks me questions about life in America; I ask him questions about life here. We learn from each other, and we always find something new to discuss – every day that I see him.

Zambians like to talk, and Francis is indeed a Zambian.

The gate to my residence is a 30 step walk away from the carwash at which Francis works. On slow days he likes to walk with me to my gate, especially if we’re having a conversation. Yesterday was one of those days.

My residence and Francis’s carwash are situated right alongside a main road. So as he and I are walking on the sidewalk, cars are passing or are stopped at the intersection. Yesterday we began heading back at around 5 p.m., so traffic was heavier than usual. The cars were stopped at the intersection. As we’re walking I heard yelling from one of the cars, and I turned to look and saw a man yelling at me. He was white, gray-haired and angry. His face was screwed up, and he was yelling in Afrikaans. I looked at Francis and asked him what the man was saying, but Francis doesn’t speak Afrikaans either. It dawned on me, though, that this man was yelling at me because I was walking with a black man. His yelling was relentless, and he continued to yell even after we walked past his car. Francis said, “Don’t worry about him. Just don’t look at him. Ignore it.”

Francis has been here for only 3 months, and already such racism is cavalier to him. He was completely unaffected by this man’s hatred of him. But I was affected. I was shocked – stupidly so – at the audacity of a white man to do such a thing. That man could have been verbally degrading me but it was only because I was associating myself with someone that man had already deemed unworthy and filthy. In that moment, I was thrown back in time to the era of racism and hatred. It was horrible. I only tasted a tiny spoonful of it, but it made me sick.

“That’s so sad…” I said to Francis, and that’s all I could say. He just shrugged and kept smiling his big, relentless smile.

The next day he kindly asked me if I was okay from yesterday. He thought it had scared me or something. It didn’t scare me, I assured him. I just feel sad that that is the reality of this country – still. I wanted it to hurt Francis because it isn’t something he – or any other black South African – should ever be desensitized too. It should never be something so cavalier and unimportant. But it is. That treatment of blacks was and still is accepted as something to be expected. That is sad. I could never take that lightly. It disgusts me – no matter how widespread it once was or still is. It disgusts me. And it will always disgust me when people see the world in black and white. It will always disgust me when they defend the separation of those races. It will always disgust me when they think color is indicative of superiority or inferiority. Sometimes I feel like being white in this country is shameful.

Because until they hear me speak, I’m automatically associated with that horrible history – as the villain.

I think I love Saturdays most of all. Saturdays are more my days than any other day.

I wake up almost as if on cue, every day at around 8 a.m., if not woken earlier by a my Miley Cyrus alarm clock song. I hate when I wake up at 8, knowing that I don’t have to wake up until 9:30 or even 8:30. It’s harder to fall back into a nice, deep sleep when you know you’re waking up in an hour more or less.

But on Saturdays, it doesn’t matter when I wake up first. Because I can close my eyes and go back to sleep for as long as I want. Saturdays mean my kitchen is a mess, my house is quiet, and my neighborhood is taking the day off.

On this Saturday, I woke up at ten thirty. I took my time eating my breakfast in my room. I pushed the curtains aside and let the bright morning light into my room. I opened the window and felt warm air outside. I did some reading for class in my bed, took some notes on various philosophers, and looked over the South African constitution.

Madison came over and we walked to the grocery store. I stocked up on gluten-free noodles and pancake mix, and she stocked up on those rare tortilla chips, which only one store that we know of has. I came home to warm up leftovers of rice and shrimp for lunch, and then I made some coffee.

My time in Africa is perfectly embodied by a leisurely pace. It’s like I casually stroll through life here at a speed dictated by no demands. I can walk as quickly or as slowly as I like, and most of the time, I walk the latter pace. I have nowhere to be, nothing to do. Time just isn’t of the essence. Days float by like bed sheets hanging on a clothesline. They blow in the wind, but they promise not to go anywhere, and they are certainly in no hurry to dry.

Every day is the same here. But that, and the fact that I can walk by at a pace slow enough to notice what I pass, allows me to learn of new things each day. It lets me become further established in my life here. It allows me to teeter on the edge of new and familiar.

Beyond the gates of my residence, my nerves are, for the most part, on edge. I worry that each man that passes me by is going to pull out a knife or a gun and put it to my head demanding that I give him everything I have. It seems almost comical that this is my fear: but it’s not a joke and that means it isn’t funny. I look around like a nervous dog as I walk down any sidewalk. If I hear steps behind me, my own quicken. I don’t look anyone in the eye, and I have learned not to say hello and smile kindly. I’ve learned to pretend like I know what I’m doing, to pretend like I have a purpose, to pretend like I’m not nice, to pretend like I don’t have a heart when they come begging.

Despite having to remain in this constant state of paranoia, though, I have never felt so at peace than in this place. Here, I know what it’s like to breathe. I know what it’s like to sit and have nothing to do but think, be still, write, or just listen to music. I go to bed early here because I want to and I can. Not because I need to. I don’t have American-Dream demands tugging at both my wrists. My shoulders feel less tense than they have in, seemingly, years. My time doesn’t need to be planned out and delivered in portions to demands I am obligated to fulfill.

And this, I have a feeling, is the way much of South Africa lives. I can infer this from the literal pace they walk at every day. We Americans have had a tough time walking behind a native; they walk like they have nowhere to be. And though we don’t either, we feel we should at least look like we have somewhere to be and things to do.

This leisurely way of life is nice, yes – it’s even rejuvenating. But it seems to come at a cost.


South Africa as a destination for study abroad is a destination only because there is a wealth of information to be learned by just living here. It requires that you have already an understanding of the global economy and a base understanding of developing nations.

South Africa is not a destination for study abroad because the education is top quality. It’s not.

Frequently, Matt, Madison and I find ourselves commenting on the lack of standards in a university that is supposed to be of high caliber. Our professors expect little of us. They tell us what to read and they tell us what we read when we get to class. Going to class may be “compulsory,” but it’s really not. You don’t need to go to class to learn here. The professors, save for a rare few, hardly add anything to the quality of education. There is a sad lack of dialogue between students and professor. Questions asked by students are basic, asking only for clarification. It seems that they are not encouraged to critically think on their own. Classes here revolve around a textbook.

Students here lack the basics – those basics that we, in America, learn even before high school. On one of the first sessions of one of my senior-level classes we had a lecturer come in and tell us how to write a paper. She told the class what an introduction and conclusion must contain, how to link paragraphs using transition sentences, and how to cite sources – things we learn no later than our freshman year of high school and hone throughout the rest of our educational career.

Madison had a professor address her students because in some papers turned into her students had cited themselves as a source. That same teacher complained out loud that the standards of the university had been lowered because half of the students in the humanities faculty failed.

The frequency of testing is much lower than I have experienced in classes at home. I have one class that has five-question tests every week over one chapter in the book. He is sure to tell us that these are difficult tests and that students need to study for them as they would any other test. But come the test, the questions ask nothing that involves thinking beyond what is plainly written in the text. If you read, you’ll do fine.

There is a sense of apathy among students. This is revealed in the absolute silence that follows when a professor asks a question – even a question about the current affairs of these students’ own country. Students’ low standards for themselves are only reinforced by professors that don’t seem to care one way or the other. There is hardly any relationship between professor and student here. And it clearly hurts the education of the students.

The University of Pretoria is considered the top university in the nation. We are at the Harvard of South Africa. And yet we struggle to find the school challenging. The professors only direct our eyes at what we need to see, and other than that they are unnecessary. We teach ourselves everything. Going to class has become a waste of time – so I don’t go. I go to two of my four classes because attendance is taken. The content and lecturing of the other two are elementary.

We are not students of our professors, or of the institution itself. We are students of South Africa while we are here.

I try to refrain from being a “typical American” who thinks that everything should be done our way. I don’t believe everything should be done our way. But I do believe, and the other two Americans agree, that the American institution of education – and especially university-level schooling – is something worth praise. While the quality of education is not evenly dispersed among Americans, generally speaking it is high.

Our elementary schools and high schools may be at a lower level than other countries’, but we at least have top-quality universities to reinforce our lower-level education institutions. The university culture that has been created in America is one in which all parties involved are dedicated to high standards. There is an atmosphere of competition in American universities, something I don’t sense in our South African university.

I had a long discussion about this with two of my new Zambian friends who work at the car wash right beside my coffee shop down the road.

Immediately upon meeting them I felt they were different than other people. They were warm and congenial – asked me questions, remembered my name, stood around to talk to me for a long time. It wasn’t that they were “interested” in me; they’re grown men, one even introduced me to his wife. That one moved to South Africa eight years ago from Zambia; the other moved only three months ago.

Their English is clear and grammatical. They seem well-educated and have a firm understanding of the world. The one, whose name I have completely forgotten so we’ll call him John, has been all over the world. They are both fascinating to listen to; their perspectives on things in South Africa, as outsider insiders, add an interesting dimension.

They asked me what I thought of South Africa and how it compared to what I expected from it.

I hesitated in my answer.

What I had expected was something I thought would be more “African” – warm and inviting people. Other than that I had no expectations. And that one expectation I had, I told them, was greatly defeated. I have spoken with the other Americans, and we all agree that it has been a challenge to find our way into “society” – into our university’s society. People are rooted in their own niches, and they aren’t looking to invite anyone else into them.

The Zambians wholeheartedly agreed with me, saying for them, in their country, people are always looking to greet each other, to invite each other over for dinner, to talk and talk and talk. Coming here, they told me, took some adjustment – no one looks at anyone else, no one says hello, no one cares to care. We hang out with each other, they told me, because it’s hard to make friends with anyone else. And furthermore, they say, it’s impossible to trust anyone else.

To look across campus in the student center, where everyone lays in the grass and sits at picnic tables, is to see a racially and sexually segregated population. There are black, white and Indian, separated by race and ethnicity. And those groups are further separated into male and female, save for couples. The divided history that has bred them is revealed conspicuously in their present lives. Even in class, the international students have all noted the separation. I looked across my classroom one day and saw blacks on both sides and whites in the middle. The mingling of our races is minimal.

There is not one international student who has found a niche in the wider Pretoria society. We have befriended each other, and these, the people who are our neighbors, are the people we spend our time with. Beyond that, making friends is difficult. There isn’t an outreach to the international students – not a tangible and effective one. So we sit on the sidelines and watch the racial interplay – or lack thereof. And it’s fascinating.

But I can’t paint such a terrible picture of this nation. As John and I agreed, this place has so much potential. But a wheel can spin when it’s stuck in wet mud. Even if the engine on the vehicle is working, it won’t go anywhere. Foundational reparations need to be made – starting with the educational system.

John and Francis, the other Zambian, told me that only fifty percent of South African elementary students make it through school; only eighty percent through high school; and one percent through university-level education. Those statistics are probably rough, but I wouldn’t think reality to be far from them. There are always jobs in the paper, John said, asking for employees. But those jobs require high-education, which a vast majority of South Africans don’t have. Such a lack of education has, it cannot be doubted, contributed greatly to the critically high (documented) unemployment rate of 25 percent. And beyond that, such educational deficiencies have inevitably contributed (among various other historical and current international and domestic factors) to the fact that South Africa remains at a status of “developing nation.”

Maybe my faith in education is too overplayed, but its effects can empirically prove lasting and beneficial results. There is, I think I will forever believe, nothing greater than education. It is the key to possibility. Its inexistence or deficiency is just a locked door, behind which opportunity stands waiting idly. This philosophy is what drives me to dedicate my life to being that teacher that delivers keys out to children who will inherit their towns, their cities, their states, their nations, their continents, their world.

Globalization proves to be a problem. It intertwines economy with all other facets of domestic life and culture. States can’t join the ranks of global trade without permitting domestic changes, dictated by the economic powers at be, to happen. If a state wants to become a major player globally, it has to start at a foundational, domestic level, in compliance with – inevitably – Western principles. Such principles can only be infused into a population through mandatory education.

It means the slow-paced life of African countries, namely those seeking a valid position in the global economy, can’t continue on that way. There must be a dedication to work; there must be a standard of efficiency and healthy competition among the population. Young students must be given opportunity and encouragement to be ambitious.

What drives young Americans is a capitalistic dream. And as much as I hate capitalism, its defeat is not going to come about through revolution. It will come about because of inevitability if it is to come about at all. For a healthy economy and thus a healthy citizen life, a nation like South Africa must adopt those traits that can make it viable. From the perspective of empiricism, those traits are clearly American traits.

I don’t think I know what I’m talking about anymore, so I’m going to stop.


We couldn’t go to Mamelodi last week because there was a huge strike. Teachers want an 8.5 percent raise, but the president promised them 6. They aren’t happy. So school was cancelled.


New Character Introduction:

There’s Chris from Kenya, who lives in House 12 in my neighborhood. He is a riot. He’s like a host straight out of an American TV show. Like Ryan Seacrest but better. He thinks I’m like this sweet, innocent little “minor” – the “beautiful girl from Oklahoma!” He talks so fast I often have to do a double take. He asks a million questions at a time, wanting to know all about me – how’s my mom, where is my dad from, do I like South Africa, I must miss my family back home, what does my boyfriend study, how did I get such a fit figure, how am I doing today, what do I eat, am I a vegetarian, what do I do for fun. He’s a graduate student. He thinks I’m just “so cute!” and such a “good little girl.” He tells me I’m the “hot American girl from Oklahoma” with such Hollywood animation I can’t do anything but laugh when he says it. Every time I see him he’s with another girl, but he has a girlfriend. She’s very pretty and calmly at ease. He introduced her as his princess and then said her name, but I couldn’t say it again much less write it out.

I like Christ from Kenya. I think he loves women, but in a respectful way, because I think he loves his woman a lot. He seems to find people fascinating and it makes him incredibly outgoing. He will stop me every time I see him and talk to me, about me, for as long as I’ll let him.

Twice I saw him today, and I stopped for a long time both times to chat with him and the girl he sat with on the bench. We all went to his house for some nasty flavored blueberry cheesecake ice cream. Another girl came over and we sat around talking about religion and other things. They asked me if I go to church, and I told them I didn’t. They asked me what I believe, and I was reluctant to expound. They promised they weren’t judging and that they were just curious. I told them I believe in God but that I’m not a Christian. I told them I’m on the search and that I’m not worried about finding truth. The girl that had sat on the bench with Chris outside said she was in a place of questioning her faith, even though (or maybe because) she had grown up in a family of pastors and Jesus-freaks. We shared a mutual fascination with one another because of our individual foreignness and circumstance.

There’s Shepherd from +27 Design Café – the place I frequent every single day. Shepherd works there and makes my coffee. For him, yes means no and no means yes. He oozes sarcasm.

Shepherd has a sideways, close-lipped smile. I can’t imagine him outside the trendy café in which he works every day. He fits it, look, attitude and all, to a T. He has a quiet voice, and he talks quickly with a heavy accent. But he is kindhearted and good-natured. He wears patterned shirts, slacks and a brimmed hat.

He can’t pronounce my name, so he conveniently calls me “B.”

I order four things at the café: a coffee with hot milk, a chai-tea latte, a cappuccino or a Turkish delight. When I order, he says “No,” but he makes it. And he serves whatever I order in a simple mug on an artistically simple plate, and he draws a perfect picture of a flower or a heart or a dog or a dragon in the foam. If I ask for white sugar, he brings me brown, because he says “it’s healthier.” I roll my eyes and take it and he laughs.

When I finish my drink, he looks in the mug to see if it’s gone, then takes it while asking “A nudda?” Always, I say no, no, I can’t! He smiles because he always knows what my answer will be.

Shepherd and I have become friends. We display our sarcastic muscles at each other, make jokes and pretend to be mad.

I’m sure there will be more to come.

There is a feeling of detachment here. I am living a life, but I stand in the corner and watch it happen, and later I write about it. I think that I will travel as an author of my life and the lives of others. But I will always have a home base, where I can come back to and remember that I am incorporated in the weave of involvement. I have friends at home. I know the laws. I know the roads. I have family at home. I know where to find things in the grocery store. I know the food, and where to go out on a date.

There are two things that are fundamental to development: familiarity and discovery. Abroad, I am an explorer; but at home, I am an expert. I love both.

I’ve reached the stage in this journey where it has hit me that I’ll be here for the four month duration. I left when it was the peak of summer, and I’ll return when Christmas is right around the corner. It scares me to come home to lives that have been living without me in them. But there are things I can’t wait to come home to because they’ll be different.  Only here do I sit in a mellow wait, anticipating from a far-off distance the new beginnings and finished ends.

So this is the way life goes. Here, I am a scientist and I can see the maze from some higher point of view. I am 10,000 miles away from my life. I can see how its undulations evolve. Pictures scroll on my computer’s sidebar, and at the same time I come to terms with those images being only memories of lived times. Is it scary, is it relieving or is it exciting to know that life is passing on into new stages and new seasons?

I’m happy that I was the only one laughing and waving at my family from on stage at my high school graduation.

Where are you taking me now?


August 9, 2010  National Women’s Day


I learned one thing from this trip: Men always have ulterior motives, no matter how nice and sweet and innocent you may think they are. Of course, I already knew all that, it was just displayed blatantly as a kind reminder over the weekend.

It’s always good to be woken up every once in a while.

It was seven in the evening before we made our way out to find a mini-bus to take us to the big bus station. Nighttime had fallen as it is wont to do at such early hours.

We were American tourists – it would have been fitting had that label been written on our shirts and on our foreheads and on the butts of our shorts just in case someone missed the front. We walked along the road with huge backpacks and other carry-on bags. Perfect targets.

But we were going to Durban so it was funny. And we laughed at how stupid and confused we looked. We laughed and we laughed, all the way down the road outside our residence. No mini-buses were driving past the corner, so we trekked down to the other end – the sketchier end. Our laughter dissolved the closer we got until a more potent reality stopped our laughing at our vulnerability completely. Fear made us short-tempered with one another when we couldn’t find a bus and we were forced to walk up and down the dark road.

We packed into one, eventually, with ten other people. Our successful last-hope effort. A group of young boys traveled with us, holding small duffel bags. I asked the one next to me, who looked no older than 16, where he was going. Far away, he told me and said nothing more to me after that.

Pretoria Station is ghetto. It took us nearly an hour to check in and get our tickets printed. And then we stood around for another 30 minutes, waiting in a line without first-come-first-serve rules. Finally, we found our seats on the second story.

I rather enjoyed the bus ride there – for the most part. For the other part, I sat in an agonizing terror at the thought of the man next to me taking one final lurch of a lean in my direction. I thought of all the different things I might do if he decided to plant his head on my shoulder. It wouldn’t fly. And for a couple hours I was in misery over his proximity to me.

I was sure from the onset that the bus ride would be pleasant. I had a window seat right next to a fresh, clean woman. Before the bus began to roll toward our destination, however, she traded places with a he. A big black young man who had neglected his duty has a human in the twenty-first century to take a bath (if not for his sake, then at least for the sake of others). Immediately the odor found somewhere to cling to inside my nose so that the whole time I was either on the verge of barfing or holing my Pantene Pro-V’d hair up to my nose.  He fell asleep almost instantly, and that’s when he began to lean. My arms were almost jumping inside my torso, and I too began to lean in the same direction he was leaning. My face was screwed up in fierce animosity and frustration.

I swear if he touches me I will freak out. I will shove him, and I will yell at him to get the hell off me. Matters of proximity are never made better when you are trapped inside a bus for the whole entire night and into the early morning.

Ever closer he came to me and ever madder I was. He was an inch away from plopping onto me like a heavy, smelly, hairy rock, when he as if by magic snorted and popped up. My heart twirled in my chest, and I heaved a sigh of utmost relief. Thank God. Things were about to get ugly.

Beyond that episode, I slept soundly, listening to Damien cake my ears with gentle music so the rest of the snorts and baby cries were inexistent to me. I was woken every now and then by the lights and the sound of people rummaging through their bags so they could get off the bus. But instantly, I fell soundly back asleep. And, eventually, Bubba moved to another seat, so it was me and my very own for the rest of the trip.


“I will be dirty until Monday. Even though I just showered, washed my hair and everything. It smells like something dirty is hanging onto me. It could be the bathroom, which is right in front of my bed. The German took a dump about ten minutes ago, I’m pretty sure. That’s alright because I don’t mind being dirty for the next few days.

We’re all tired like children who spent a long day at the zoo. We got to Durban at 4:30 this morning by bus, and we waited for Ruben’s bus to bring him until about half past five. We managed to find a taxi to deliver the six of us to our hostel. Our driver was an absolute madman, but I found his negligence of red lights to be thrilling – even at six in the morning.

Of course, we came with absolutely no plan. We figured out transportation and we figured out accommodation, but beyond that it was to be free sailing. That’s what Africa demands, anyway: nothing but for you to sail along through the current – no matter how fast (but it’s never fast), so no matter how slow.   So when we arrived at the gate of our hostel with the comedic realization that there would be no one at this hour to let us in, we were left only to laugh. And shivering in the windy morning chill, we did. And we waited for any sign of life to greet us.

Life indeed came, in the form of a shocked British woman with ringletted black hair and a motherly concern.

‘Well what are you doing here?!’ she asked, her mouth agape and her neck twisting in every direction as if looking for whatever brought us there.   We explained. And she explained that she was just staying here and had no idea how to let us in. She told us to wait and she went away in search of someone who could help us.

Help came in the form of a long-haired man with an earthy essence. He, too, was only a resident – but at least one with keys.”


Inside, the British woman showed us the lounge area where we could wait until the owner of Hippo Hide came. She sat at the dining table, sipping coffee and asking us about ourselves. She told us that she’s lived on a farm all her life, so she’s always the first one up. She’s been around the world and back, with property in Europe and in South Africa. She farms sugar among other things.

She looked like a mother or an aunt or something. But she was the cool kind of aunt who travels the world just because she’s a farmer and she can or should. She loves to travel, she tells us.

Hippo Hide is like a jungle house. We walk down big rock steps to get to our lodge, inside which 11 beds wait for new bodies to crawl into them. People inside are sleeping when we enter, so we quietly tip-toe around them and find our own beds to crash into.

My eyes are shut and my conscious is closed within less than five minutes of lying down.


We wake up that same morning to a gray and windy day.

Our new characters deserve an introduction.

There is Ruben, who I’ve already told you about. He’s been to two or three Olympic games as a middle-distance runner. He’s from South Africa, so he is our tour guide. He brings with him two backpacks full and one massive suitcase for a three day trip. He is sponsored by Nike, so everything he wears is Nike. He dresses better than any of us, without a doubt.

Ruben is kind and thoughtful, loves people and wants to know more. He’s driven, determined. He likes to have a plan – even on vacation.

And then there’s Ferdie, real name Ferdinand, from Germany. Ferdie has baby skin on his face, with little black whiskers under his chin that I’m not sure he knows are there. He has Aryan features to the T – authentic blond hair and blue, blue eyes.

He has an oval face, and a rounded belly. He wears drab, winter colors – neutrals. Ferdie trails behind us as we trek all across town, holding up the rear. He doesn’t talk often, but when he talks he keeps going. And when he laughs, his head bobs as if on a stick. If you make a joke with him, he won’t laugh. He’ll stand stoically as if you have said nothing. He gets riled up easily – over small things – because he likes things to go accordingly. His temper is quick, but harmless as a punching teddy bear.

You never know what Ferdie’s thinking. Could be anything, could be nothing. He’s a literature and history major.

For the most part, he’s silent. But if he’s feeling something, he’ll tell you.

He orders a Coke first without ice. And then he orders sparkling water, also without ice. Never fails.

His German accent dressed in his higher-pitched voice gets me every time. Sometimes I love the kid because he’s so quirky, and other times he drives me insane.


We walked no less than ten miles on the first day. We walked around and around in every wrong direction until we finally stepped into sand. I didn’t care about walking – I was on vacation, and I had nowhere to go. If anyone asked me what I wanted to do, I stepped away shaking my hands and head and point to someone else. I wanted no part in decision-making.

The boys (Matt, Ruben and Ferdie) were uptight the entire time. They wanted plans, they wanted transportation, they wanted time to stop, they wanted us to walk faster, they wanted to know what time we wanted to do whatever, they wanted to do this, they wanted to do that, they wanted to know what time to wake up tomorrow, they wanted to know if there was a way they could stop the hands on their clocks from turning.   Madison, Jamie and I walked along slowly; we shook our heads at their agitation with time. We were on nobody’s watch, we had no schedule, and we certainly didn’t want either.

We were content on the beach, the beautiful Indian Ocean beach, where we stayed for the duration of our trip. The palm trees twisted in the wind and waves crashed one on top of the other. We walked up and down the shoreline, taking pictures and loving the ocean breeze knotting up our hair. We frequented a pub/club/restaurant each day and then got ice cream dipped in chocolate from downstairs.

Durban feels like another world – a fantasy away from Pretoria. It’s beautiful, it’s sunny, the people are sweet. It’s a big city, with people walking down every street, vendors selling fruit and other products, and mini-buses and other cars whizzing by without heed.

I felt like I was in Africa.

And the whole time I wanted Reston there.   On the last night, in our pub/club/restaurant, I sat across from a couple madly in love with each other. I watched them like I was watching a sappy romance, and I wanted to cry. His hand around her waist, their lips finding every chance to come together, her whispering in his ear…  I hated them.

“I hate every couple I see here. Like that one,” I told Matt. He looked across at them, looked at me and said, “Me too, sister. Me too.”


Our second day on the beach was divinely FREEZING. Freezing in my terms. We woke up to beautiful, sun-shining weather. We got to wear shorts, and I wore a tank top. It was like a bit of home on our bodies. We walked all the way to the beach again, through the winding streets of the old city.

When we got to the beach, we stopped at our pub/club/restaurant for some lunch on the second-story balcony. We took entirely too long to eat lunch – because African food service is slow – because African mentality is slow paced and relaxed. I didn’t mind a bit. I’ve learned to enjoy the time as it passes slowly. I know that when I go back home, it will whizz past my face again. So I like to sit, doing nothing but waiting and enjoying the view.

We watched some human acrobats do some street performance, clad in nothing special at all. A man had apparently been training his children since they were tiny toddlers to do these stunts and whatnot so that they could make a buck. He had a crowd around him and his children as they climbed upon one another and writhed in abnormal ways. Spectators dropped change into his can. And after the show he let his two kids get an ice cream.   After lunch, we stripped down to our swimming gear on the beach. The wind was roaring around us. And I was absolutely freezing. Me in a bathing suit didn’t last long. I even ensconced myself into the sand while the others (minus Ferdie who sat in the shade) went and frolicked in the waves. That little guide book that told me Durban had year-round warm water was lying. Because the Indian Ocean is frigid. I only let it touch my toes. The others were all up in it – at least, as much as they could be in it. A lifeguard passed by and told them the waters were closed because they had spotted sharks that day.


As I stood watching the crazies play in the water, some men came and took pictures with me. Awkward. They wanted to take me to “Zzzzaaambia!!” where they were from. But I was firmly planted in the sand.

We walked all across the shoreline and stopped to get some coffee. When we got home that night we went to a real Indian restaurant close by (Durban has tons of Indians and, not to mention, the world’s largest mosque). I had the spiciest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life. I stupidly asked the waiter for something really spicy, forgetting that just plain old Indian food is spicy enough.

It was amazing though, despite the fact that tears were streaming out of my eyes and I had to gulp down water between bites. We all feared, however, the after-effects of spicy Indian food. I assured everyone that they would not be using the bathroom in front of my bed at the hostel.


Transportation in South Africa is…different. It’s fun if you ride the way black people ride – mini-bus style. You will never see a white person in a mini-bus. But that’s the way we travel. Mini-buses are made to fit about 10 people, but they inevitably transport about 15-20. It costs absolutely nothing (at least not in Durban), and it’s the thrill of a lifetime.   But sometimes it’s unsure if you’re going to get where you need to go…

On the third day we hopped on a mini-bus after asking if it would take us back to Ridge Road.

Ridge Road?

Yeah, Ridge Road.

Can you take us there?

Ridge Road?

Ridge Road.

Yeah, come on.

That was basically a verbatim dialogue between the “bus assistant” and Ruben. Evening is falling quickly on us, which means that night is following closely on its tail. We pile into the bus – all six of us. And ten more people pile in, too. We start driving toward the highway.

I’m squished in the back corner seat and they’re speaking another language as well as English, so I don’t really know how it came to happen – but the bus driver and assistant didn’t know of any “Ridge Road.” Ruben says that he asked the man if it could take us to Ridge Road and he said yes. So a little skirmish starts up and everyone is talking over everyone – all in different languages and English and whatever else.

And then Ferdie chimes in…

Ferdie, already an uptight character, does not do well under pressure – even mild pressure. Let it be known, that we could easily have stopped on the side of any road and picked up another three rand mini-bus to take us where we needed to go. But Ferdie is up in arms.


Madison and I are hiding our faces in shame. This is what happens when men handle things.

Ferdie does not stop at that, he proceeds to tell the bus people that he will pay a “special price” if they just take us back to Workshop (the bus stop) or to Ridge Road.


Madison and I are mortified.

But Ferdie has, of course, picked up the attention of the bus driver people. Okay, okay, okay, they say, we’ll take you where you need to go.

Let’s make a long story short and just learn from the moral of this story. Yes, the bus driver got us to Ridge Road somehow. And yes, Ferdie had to pay roughly fifteen dollars for a bus ride that should have cost 30 CENTS. The lesson: You do not ever, ever tell African people – or any people not in your own country – that you will pay a “special price.” You will be taken advantage of. Simple as that.

Needless to say, Ferdie learned his lesson and continued to drive me nutso from then on. Madison, Matt and Jamie had to stop at a pub before we got home. So Ruben and I sat drinking tea and coffee talking about our future plans, while the three amigos had some drinks to perpetuate their buzz from the previous restaurant. Ferdie sat drinking a Coke looking utterly miserable and pissed off.


Now I’m back in Pretoria. Today’s National Women’s Day, so we had no school. Why don’t we have National Women’s Day? I don’t know, but we should.

For more on my previous days in South Africa, check out my other blog at www.penjamminfrankly.blogspot.com.

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