Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Interns are Coming!

To increase the Canadian contingency in South Africa by two more, Angela and Karin will be arriving in East London and joining Andrew for their 6 month CIDA internships.  There's enough of us here to have a proper celebration of Canada Day on Friday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Bachelorette Pad

The bathroom with a very nice stone shower

Just one of my beds

A view of my private garden

My 4 channel TV (on a good night!)
The private garden
The "loft"
The garden
The entrance to the main house is to the left, complete with giant water fountain
My tiny pantry

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Pap Mishap, Headless Chickens, and a Braai

Now that I’ve eaten umphokoqo (crumbly mealie meal with amasi-sour milk) many times and cooked it with friends twice, I thought it was time for me to prepare it by myself.  I consulted almost every woman I know in East London, bought the bag of mealie meal and the big bottle of amasi, and was ready to tackle the beloved dish.  As there are no exact measurements for water or mealie meal, I eyeballed it based on what I’d seen before and what I’d been told.  Within seconds of pouring the mealie meal in the boiling water, I realized I had no idea of how much I should have actually poured in!  It simultaneously firmed up like concrete while also bubbling and threatening to spill over the sides.
 As I share the main kitchen with my landlord’s family, I could hear them approaching and I was both totally embarrassed by my cooking attempts and worried that I was in the process of destroying their stove and pot.  I also knew that boiling mealie meal is equivalent to molten lava, so dumping it discretely in the plastic garbage bag was out of the question.  So I ran with the pot back into my flat, took a reusable cloth grocery bag, and dumped the steaming mess in!  I wasn’t thinking completely logically and hate to waste food, but the 1 kilogram bag cost the equivalent of 90 Canadian cents so I was willing to sacrifice some of it to save my pride and their kitchen. 
Just yesterday I got my third guided cooking lesson from a friend where he made it me do it all by myself while he supervised.  It turned out perfectly and I think it’s safe to say that my next solo foray into the world of umphokoqo will be much more successful!

At my most recent Matolengwe family sleepover, Sis Ghana’s daughter prepared  umleqwa or what Sis Ghana described as “an African chicken that got its head cut off by someone running after it”.  When I told another friend about trying umleqwa, he also described it as “a chicken you have to run after”.  Much more descriptive than “freerange”!

I’ve been to many Xhosa braais and events where I’ve paid close attention to the food served, but I’d never been to an Afrikaans braai and quite frankly, my interaction with white South Africans is limited to my landlord, Marianna and her family.  On Saturday night, Marianna invited me to her birthday braai with her family and some friends from Oudtshoorn-home of my ostrich riding fiasco.  (Sidenote: a strain of bird flu infected the ostrich population and farmers Oudtshoorn have had to cull a couple hundred thousand birds with huge economic impact.)  But back to the braai…

The menu included:

booerwors: traditional braai sausage
sosaties: marinated meat kebabs
krummel pap and chakalaka: dry and crumbly maize meal with a sweet and spicy tomato and onion relish
melktert: a milk-based custard tart with cinnamon
potbrood: savoury bread (traditionally baked over coals in cast-iron pots)
springbok shooters: a layer of crème de menthe liqueur under Amarula liqueur

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Youth Day

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the June 16, 1976 uprisings in Soweto and Youth Day is now a public holiday.

Tomorrow, Walter Sisulu University and the University of Fort Hare will be holding an all-day rally and march through the city and all of the Canadians will be participating and representing Niagara College (including sporting the bandanas that Dusty and I spent the week hand-making!).  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Look up at the sky tonight!

The universe is going to be busy tonight: a total lunar eclipse that will be visible in South Africa.

Monday, June 13, 2011

East London: Round Two!

When I left South Africa with tears in my eyes and a suitcase full of memories (and Tennis coconut biscuits), we all decided to say “see you later” or “abeke babonana bayakuphinda babonane”, instead of “goodbye”.  This was more to comfort me even while I knew  deep down that I was going back to the other side of the world and perhaps this was a final goodbye.  Was it as small a world as they say?  This chapter didn’t have a clean ending and I wasn’t prepared to think this was the last time I would be in East London and forget all of the people I met or the work I  had been involved with.  As I sit here in the WSU offices, I almost still can’t believe that I returned three months later to a warm welcome and reunion.  It felt like landing in a “second home”, where instead of formal introductions, it was big hugs, laughter, and catching up on my time back home in Canada.   

In between my time in the Eastern Cape, I reunited with and love my family and bored them with stories, experienced some serious winter weather, painted the house, read a ton (check out the new entires on my reading list) and worked the federal election.  I spent a few days in the Niagara region and worked with Kyla (as well as got a crash course in how to be a superwoman when I stayed with her and her family) on what my six months would look like. 
After being hosted by Ms. Jordan and visiting Soweto, I barely slept the night before my plane ride to East London where Sis Ghana was waiting with a baggage cart, cellphone, and itinerary!  I was thrilled to help Sis Ghana and Dusty on the “Go Global, Live Local” trip where we visited Duncan Village, Mdantsane, Mthatha, Qunu, a home-based care centre, tomato cooperative, children’s home, Ikhwezi Lokusa HIV/AIDS Centre, the Department of Housing, WSU Centre for HIV/AIDS, and Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre.  I was proud to show them places and introduce them to my friends and colleagues and hear their impressions and observations.  I also liked the section on the itinerary where “Lise is to take charge”! 
Your two trusty group leaders and our swanky leather hats in Mthatha
It’s different living here by myself, although there is a Canadian diaspora currently in the city with the International Commerce co-op students (Joanna, Kyle, and Madjid), part of the “Go Global, Live Local” group, and the impending arrival of the CIDA interns.  But I had prepared myself for a different experience and it’s always good to learn how to be by yourself, no matter where you are.  But for some family time last week, I went home with Sis Ghana and her family (nine of us plus rugby and school bags in a compact car) where we had umvubo (sour milk and pap porridge) and then I fell asleep in her bed after helping out with homework.  I plan to make that a regular thing and just blend in with the furniture, as well as practice my isiXhosa with Gogo.
I am excited to hit the ground running and be a support for Sis Ghana, the new CIDA interns, and Niagara College, as well as to see the path that my six months takes and what can come of our big plans and ideas.  I am still intent on being (nearly) fluent in isiXhosa and broadening my culinary horizons.  Even though I’ve been here before, I know I’ll never understand this place and I am excited for what I see and learn this time around!

Youth Day in Mdantsane

After three straight days of torrential downpour, the skies cleared on Saturday morning for Ikhwezi Lokusa’s Youth Driven Generation to celebrate Youth Day in Mdantsane.  We had a moment of silence for Ma Albertina Sisulu who was laid to rest in Orlando stadium in Soweto with the Archbishop of Capetown (who Sarah and I shook hands with) presiding over the service.  The rest of the day featured guest speakers, singing, dancing, acting, and prayer to commemorate the youth in 1976 as well as to celebrate the power of today’s youth.

In the now-to-be-expected moment of “how did I end up here?”, Lumka decided to enlist the Canadians’ help in singing “We Are The World” in front of the entire audience, including solo parts for all of us.  That’s how I usually like to spend my Saturday mornings.  But the audience was very supportive and sang along with us and it was much more fun than I expected.  The day ended with a netball and soccer tournament and Lise overeating on Big King’s wife’s delicious catering.  After a harrowing taxi ride out of Mdantsane, we made it to a family gathering where the eating continued and I felt like a blimp.  But how can you say no to three different kinds of meat and chakalaka, especially after my Mdantsane singing debut?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Know Your Status

Having never tested before, but working and living in a world where "knowing your status" is a mantra, I decided it was time to overcome my own fears about HIV/AIDS testing.  Dusty Campbell (another HIV test newbie) and I headed to the university's Centre for HIV/AIDS to overcome the stigma and know our status.

After pre-counselling on the testing process and the outcomes of either a negative or positive result, I was led into the nurse's room where she pricked my finger, squeezed a tiny red drop of blood on the stick, and we waited the 5 minutes to see where the telltale blue line would land. 
Sitting in the chair, across from the nurse with posters plastered to every inch of the wall, I felt sick to my stomach.  Being someone who is relatively well-educated about HIV/AIDS with a low likelihood of exposure to the virus because of my circumstances and lifestyle choices, I should not have been shaking in my boots.  But it was all I could do to keep the tears back and when I expressed this to the nurse, she said no matter how many times you've tested, there's always an underlying fear.  I now have a much better understanding of why it's difficult to get people out for testing, especially if you have (even just that one time) exposed yourself.  To an irreversible and clever virus that doesn't discriminate, that has no shame, and is spread through the most basic and intimate human interactions.

With the current UN Summit on HIV/AIDS in New York and the UN Secretary General calling for an end to AIDS by 2020, I was proud to have faced my own fears and learned my status.