After 8000+ miles of travel, we finally made it safely to Pietermaritzburg’s tiny airport. The plane ride here (the plane is picture above because I know how much my dad loves large airplanes) was not very pleasant at all. I wasn’t able to catch a wink of sleep, which made the 2 consecutive days of travel a rather miserable experience. I am not looking forward to the flight home, which is 3 hours longer and 18 hours total…good thing it’s 2 months away!
The airport was a short drive away from the Aberfeldy Bed and Breakfast, where we will be staying for the duration of our time in PMB (the official abbreviation for Pietermaritzburg). Since it was dark at night and I was exhausted, I really didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings. When we arrived at Aberfeldy, we were handed our keys and sent to our cabin (two pictures of Aberfeldy above…the first one is of the main house and the second is the courtyard in the back where our cabin is located). The B&B is very nice, but I taken aback the gate at the entrance, the spiked fence surrounding the property, and the metal bars around the windows. We were told by the owners that this is very common in the area, due to the threat of break-ins. It was a rude awakening and a stark reminder that I am not in the US anymore.
On Saturday—our first full day in South Africa—we headed to the University of KwaZulu Natal** for orientation and a tour of campus. We will be working History professors there and using their archives to study the anti-apartheid movement in the area. The campus, built in the early 1900s, was very beautiful, and its high elevation offered breathtaking views of the city of PMB and the mountains in the distance. While we were there, the University’s open house for high school students was taking place (it is only first semester here because the seasons are reversed), and we got to see the Chemistry department demonstrate how to make ice cream from liquid nitrogen (see above).
After a late-afternoon nap, we headed to the house of Professor Ralph Lawrence who heads up the PMB Girl’s High School where several of the girls in our group will be volunteering. He and his wife treated us to a delicious braai dinner, the South Africa version of BBQ. Not only were the dinner and desert delicious, we were also able to meet several of Professor Lawrence’s children and students. Talking with them was a really neat experience because we were able to exchange our viewpoints on various issues and learn more about each other’s culture. It was a very enjoyable evening! (See picture above…hopefully we will be able to teach Professor Chafe how to take a proper picture with a digital camera—without cutting people out—by the end of the trip!)
Today was a very low key day. We finally got to visit downtown PMB where we stopped at a museum and an art gallery. The museum featured an exhibit about segregation/ Civil Rights Movement in the United States sponsored by the Smithsonian. It was very interesting to see how the presentation of the topic was tailored for the South African audience who have their own (and more recent) history of racial segregation.
It really is hard to believe that I am halfway around the world in South Africa. Despite the glaring differences in landscape and racial composition, everything seems very Westernized. Restaurants and radio stations play American music, television stations play American TV shows and present the latest gossip about American celebrities, and there are tons of KFCs and McDonald’s restaurants! At dinner tonight, our waitress (a white South African female) was so excited that our group was from America; she asked us if we had ever met any celebrities and told us she wished she could speak with our accent. We all, of course, laughed because we all were jealous of her accent! I guess my whole point is that it really is interesting to see just how pervasive Western culture has become. While I am sure that South Africa is not the norm for the rest of the continent, it really does speak volumes about the (for better or for worse) unifying force of globalization.
All in all, I am enjoying myself here. Food and drink are cheap (for those of you who know me well, that’s really all that matters to me!), and the people for the most part are friendly and helpful. It is, however, a challenge to get used to cars driving on the left side of the road. You wouldn’t think that it’s a big deal, but try crossing a street when the cars are coming from the opposite direction that they should be! That’s confusing!
Tomorrow we start work at our community organizations…I will post more when details arise/I find out more about what I will actually be doing. Until then, good night! Let’s hope that the jet lag subsides and that I can get some good sleep tonight!
**PMB is the capital of KwaZulu Natal, the region of South Africa we are currently in. The name of the province has an interesting history that reflects the influence of both European and African tradition in the country. On Christmas Day in the late 15th Century, the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama discovered a large bay on the East coast of Africa and named it Rio de Natal (Christmas River). The area (and its university) was known as Natal until it was changed in the 1990s to “KwaZulu Natal” to reflect the influence of the native Zulu tribes.