December 16, 2012

February 13th, 2013

My parents arrived today from Pakistan. I could hardly contain my excitement. I feels like I haven’t seen them in years.

I had to wait until 6 in the evening when their flight arrived and it felt like it couldn’t come any slower. Finally the time came. My friend’s parents were coming in from Zimbabwe so we went to the airport together. I couldn’t sit still and my friend was teasing me that I would cry.

Finally after what felt like hours I saw my dad’s head bobbing up and down in the sea of people (one positive of being so tall). I had made a big sign that read “Welcome to Cape Town!” Then I saw my mom, she was running at me. (While my friend and I were waiting in the airport I told him that when my mom saw me she would start running/skipping towards me with her arms spread out ready as soon as she reached me to give me a hug, that’s exactly what happened.)

It was so nice to see them again. I can’t wait to show them where I have been living for the past six months and to go on our adventurous road trip to Kruger. I am so blessed.

December 3-7,2012

January 13th, 2013

South African Soccer Nationals! This was yet another one of my favorite experiences since I arrived here. I remember the day it was confirmed that we qualified for nationals, we were all so excited. The excitement began to wear off as we began seriously training for the tournament, practicing two times a day and giving up time on the weekends to practice as well. We all worked hard and encouraged each other to keep working towards the big tournament.

We were definitely underdogs in the tournament but that did not stop us from playing our hardest, leaving everything on the field. Our team had become united with each other. A week of soccer, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Each of my teammates worked their hardest leading up to the tournament and they gave everything on the field. Although we played with heart we ended the tournament in second to last place. Not what we were expecting but it showed us that we could play at a higher level than we had previously been playing at. It also isn’t too bad considering we played against players that had just been at the Olympics playing for their respective countries.

It took a lot out of each of us but we all miss it, we all wish that we could have another tournament but the season starts again in February. I will have to wait until then, I really can’t wait though!

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December 2, 2012

January 9th, 2013

This is probably my favorite story that I have the opportunity to share with you. My coach came to our practice today with a bright smile on his face. After running through our warm up he called us in so he could tell us what the plan was for today’s practice. After running through the practice he told us all to sit as he had something to tell us. We all sat down looking around anxiously at each other, wondering what it was he was about to tell us, your big tournament was starting the next day so everyone’s nerves were on edge.

He told us that after we had raised the money for the girl to go to the tournament he went to her house to drop off the money, just an hour before the bus was leaving to take the girls to the tournament. He was greeted by the mother who told him that she had just told her daughter that they did not have the funds needed for her to participate in the tournament. The girl was devastated. Coach asked where she was. She was in her bedroom, he walking in and told her to pack her bags. She asked him why? He told her that we had raised the money for her to go. She jumped up and packed her bags and made it just in the knick in time to make it to her tournament. He told us that she had a huge smile that spread across her entire face. Her mother was extremely grateful.

She was a new player so in the first game of the tournament her coach did not play her as he did not know what kind of skill she had. The team lost their first game. Some of the older girls insisted that the coach put her in for the next game. He reluctantly did and she scored 6 goals in the first game. She played every game after that, scoring a total of 26 goals. She won top goal scorer of the tournament and her team won first place in the tournament.

The only thing that stood in the way of this girl doing what she is extremely talented in was a simple question of money. I am so happy that we were able to give this girl a chance of a lifetime. It makes me wonder how many others are out there who possess a talent but are unable to display it because of a lack of funds or materials. I am glad that my team was given the opportunity to assist this talented young girl live her dream, I hope that we can do more in the future.

November 28, 2012

December 18th, 2012

Sorry that it has been so long since I have written. I am sure you are all curious as to what I have been up to. Between studying for exams, saying goodbye to friends, house hunting, moving, preparing for nationals and getting a job time has been a rare commodity.

Today was an unusual day. Our coach works at a school in an underprivileged area of Cape Town. He had the idea to hold a soccer camp for the girls at the school, to show them that there are alternatives to the lifestyle of gangs and violence that are so prevalent in their respective communities.  My soccer team went to the school at ten in the morning. We first visited the grade R’s in their classrooms, they were so excited to have people visiting them. As with any young kids their excitement manifested itself in showing off, they performed their end of year dances and songs for us. It was so adorable. After spending some time with them we went out to meet the girls in grades 3 through 6, they were the ones that we were doing the soccer camp with. They were full of excitement, mostly because they didn’t have to be in class for the rest of the afternoon but also because they had a passion for soccer. They greeted us with a cheerful “good morning ladies.” My coach then made me greet them in Afrikaans, which sent them into a fit of giggles.

The camp consisted of doing drills with them, focused on passing, headers, ball control and dribbling. We were each given a group of girls to work with, mine were quite shy but as the day progressed they became more animated and goofy. We then made five different teams for a miniature world cup, my team was Germany. The girls came up with a war cry that they screamed at the top of their lungs. Unfortunately we lost our first game so we were kicked out of the rest of the tournament.

It didn’t bother them too much. One of my girls told me, “it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun.” Wow what a great attitude for a little six year old to have. By now they had figured out that was from America so they peppered me with questions about America, they were really interested in if I had ever met Selena Gomez or Justin Beiber. They also wanted to know if I walked to South Africa from America. They then told me about their lives and the gangs, I asked them if any of them would ever join a gang and they all responded immediately with no.

After the tournament we talked to them about how sport is a great way to express oneself. They all listened eagerly. It was then time to wrap up and head home. They sent us off with chanting “UCT” and telling us how we could win nationals. I left with a tattoo on my arm “Akeela loves Esther.”

It was a lot of fun. Our team hopes to do it again next season.

That evening we had our practice. Our coach told us that one of the girls has the opportunity to play in a soccer tournament in Durban this weekend and is shy 300 R. She needs to have all the money in order to be able to play. Each of us donated 30 R to give this girl the chance to play the sport that we all love. We are anxiously awaiting to hear back from her to see how she did.

October 19, 2012

October 23rd, 2012

My semester is winding down to a close at the University of Cape Town and the phrase, “all good things must come to an end,” comes to mind as I reflect on these past few months. I can’t believe that I am saying this but there are certain things about being at school that I will miss over the summer. One thing that I will especially miss is the children at Manenberg that I have grown close to over the month.

Today was my last day with the kids and it was bittersweet. There is one little girl who I have really developed a bond with. When I walked into the classroom today my heart dropped as I scanned the classroom to realize that she wasn’t there. This is not to say that the other kids aren’t great but there is something about this one girl that has really got to me. Maybe it is because she reminds me of myself when I was a child. She has an impish smile, an over abundant amount of energy and she is always up to some sort of mischief. She is so much fun!

While searching frantically for her I felt someone jump on my back and wrap their little hands around my eyes. I reached around and started tickling and loud giggles ensued. I looked around and there she was! My little friend! I was so happy to see her and she was so happy to see me!

She then looked at me and told me, “let’s read a book!” What a change , she normally just wants to play games but today she wanted to learn. I was so sad when the time came for us to leave but I cannot wait for school to start again so that I can see her and continue to read books and mentor her. What a joy.

October 5, 2012

October 15th, 2012

I made some unexpected friends today. It all started as a desperate grocery shopping trip. I was starving and we had absolutely no food left in the apartment, literally the only thing left was some salt, pepper and a tub of moldy rice. It was one of those BIG shopping trips where you have to buy everything, they are always so overwhelming. I walked to the store with my flat mate and as we were loading up on groceries I just smiled at one of the woman that was working to restock the shelves. She smiled back and we struck up a conversation. She was an extremely motherly figure. Asking me if I missed my parents, when I would see them again, how I was liking my time in Cape Town so far, advising me on what food to buy and asking if she could help me with anything while I am here. Her name is Jackie, or as her friends affectionately call her, “Jackie Chan.” She proceeded to introduce me to all of her friends that work in the supermarket. They were all so friendly and insisted that I come back on a Friday during their lunch break so that we could go and play pool together across the street.

That was a few months ago and today I finally had the time to play pool with them. It was so much fun. They taught me some cool pool shots and they even on occasion let me beat them. After two hours of playing pool their lunch break was over but they got my number and invited me to a brai (South African barbeque) in November. I can’t wait. Now whenever I need to go grocery shopping I try to go when they are working. I am beginning to feel a part of the community.

My story for today doesn’t end there though. After my time playing pool I had to stop by a different grocery store to pick up my concert ticket. As I was waiting in line I noticed an extremely feeble old man with only two teeth. He was sitting by himself, looking lonely. I smiled at him and he smiled back. He asked me if I knew how old he was. I guessed seventy-five; he laughed and told me that he is ninety-two. Incredible. After I got my ticket I went and sat next to him because he told me he had a story to tell me. He proceeded to tell me about his experiences in World War II and the Apartheid, retelling his stories was so emotional for him that he was moved to tears. He spent an hour telling me all about his life, I was enamored. It is amazing how you can learn from anyone, no matter what their age is. I’ve spent a lot of time studying World War II and Apartheid, but to have someone who lived through both of those times relaying their personal stories was priceless.

It is amazing how a something as simple as a smile can form a connection with a complete stranger. I hope to see the grocery store ladies soon and maybe if I am lucky I will see the World War II veteran too.


October 1, 2012

October 2nd, 2012

“We live in a beautiful world.” -Coldplay

I could not have had said it any better myself. It is so true, our world is beautiful. So often we are too busy to stop and notice the beauty that we are surrounded by. I have become so used to seeing magnificent mountains and glorious beaches, it just seems normal to me.

Today I took the time to really notice how beautiful Cape Town is from a new perspective. I climbed Lion’s Head for the first time. It was an easy hour and a half hike. It was my housemate’s first time hiking and it made me really appreciate hiking for the first time in a long time.

The views on the hike were magnificent. On one side of the mountain you can see the entire city and on the other side you can see the never ending ocean. We reached the top just in time to see the sunset. Incredible. Then we waited for the full moon to rise to light our way back down the mountain. Something about being outside is so invigorating. I came down from the mountain with a deeper appreciation for this beautiful city and how blessed I am to be able to spend a year here. That certainly won’t be the last time I hike Lion’s Head, next time I’m going to bring a sleeping bag and spend the night on the top so I can catch the sunrise in the morning.

We live in a beautiful world. Take the time to notice it. Soak it in.



September 30, 2012

September 30th, 2012

Poverty- the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions (Merriam-Webster dictionary).

This definition doesn’t even begin to describe the amount of poverty that is in Egoli. Egoli is an informal settlement about half an hour away from my apartment. Ironically enough “Egoli” means “place of gold” in Zulu, there is certainly no gold to be found in Egoli. Those living in the settlement have made houses of whatever materials they can find. The houses are jammed together. There is no plumbing or electricity, one or two of the houses have generators. The people living here don’t own the land so they are at the mercy of the landowners. Due to the fact that they don’t have ownership the landowners do whatever they can to cut the costs, which means that they do not arrange for the trash to be collected from the settlement. Trash heaps cover the streets of Egoli causing massive sanitation problems. I spent my morning in Egoli playing with the kids. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with some people from my program and we handed them out to the kids. In spite of the abject poverty that these kids have to face every day they were full of smiles and laughs. They taught me the games that they like to play, most of them consisting of dancing.

Egoli is where I am doing my service learning project. Today we visited to do a basic needs assessment of the area and decide how best to go about serving the community. There is a small community center that we are going to work to refurbish and make it more inviting for the kids to spend their time there instead of getting involved with the wrong crowd. We are going to set up soccer and rugby camps and a daycare for the younger kids. These are just a few of the ideas that we have come up with so far. Our main focus is to help these families but doing it in a way that gets them involved, giving them a sense of pride and ownership.

Although these families live with basically nothing they have the sweetest dispositions. They welcomed us into their community with open arms and warm smiles. The kids had great manners, asking for things using “please “and “thank you.” The human spirit is amazing, that those that have so little can be so happy. I was fortunate enough to spend my morning with them and as I reflect on my time there I guess in a sense there is gold in Egoli. It certainly isn’t real gold but metaphorically those that I encountered today are golden. They have nothing yet they give so much, they have become determined to rise above their financial situations and keep a positive outlook on life. Golden.

September 21, 2012

September 22nd, 2012

Mannenberg is one of the largest colored townships in Cape Town and this is where I spent my Friday afternoon. I caught a bus at 1:45 with a student led organization called SHAWCO. SHAWCO is an organization that focuses on providing for the townships within and surrounding Cape Town. The two main focuses of SHAWCO are literacy and health. I have joined a literacy focused group called SHAWCO Star. Every Friday afternoon a group of us heads out to Mannenberg where we work with grades kindergarten through seventh grade. The literacy workshops take place in a primary school located in Mannenberg.

The volunteers are separated into grade levels. I was placed with the kindergarteners and first graders. There were around forty kids to the eight volunteers and to say it was chaotic would be a massive understatement. These kids crave attention and they are willing to do just about anything to get it. I spent the first hour with the kids coloring with them and helping them sound out words that I wrote on pieces of paper.

They had too much energy to sit still for much longer than an hour so we took them outside and we played all sorts of games. It is amazing how much creativity and imagination kids have. There is no playground or toys to play with at the school so they improvise with making games out of tossing stones and using juice boxes as a ball to throw around. It was a lot of fun! After some playing around we gave each of the kids a sandwich, pieces of fruit and a juice box and sent them home.

It was incredible to just give these kids the attention that they crave even if it wasn’t for a very long time. I cannot wait to go back next Friday and spend more time with these kids and try to be a positive role model in their lives. I already have one of the little girls calling me “mommy” and sticking to me like glue. It is going to be a great way to spend my Friday afternoons and I am counting down the days until next Friday. Hopefully I will make some lasting relationships with these kids and be able to make a small impact on their lives. 

September 7, 2012

September 9th, 2012

I spent the whole day surfing. The waves weren’t too big but I go a few really good rides, still can’t stand up that easily. I plan to spend a lot more time practicing though so that I get really good. Even though standing up on the board was exciting, the most exciting part of today was that I saw a seal. It popped its head out of the water literally right next to my board. If I hadn’t screamed because I thought for a second that it was a shark I could’ve touched it. It swam around my board and then went off to the ocean. After that all I could think about is how seals are great white shark food so I got out of the ocean to have a little break. I was walking along the shore and I saw another seal, a dead baby seal on the coast right next to the biggest jellyfish that I have ever seen.

After surfing all day I went to this local beach market and had a home cooked Indian meal, it tasted like home. 

September 4, 2012

September 9th, 2012

When you think about South Africa or hear it being mentioned one of the words that often pops into your head is apartheid. Today I visited the National Apartheid Museum.

Upon entering the museum you receive a ticket that designates you as either “colored” or “European.” This designation determines how your experience in the museum is like. I was designated “European” and so I got to learn about a number of individual stories of people during the apartheid. After being separated from your friends you can meet up with them after and tell them how your experience was and compare it their experience.

The museum begins with laying out the historical significance that colonialism had on this nation. It then goes on to show how the finding of gold and colonial greed is what began the process that led to apartheid. It showed through pictures how it was like living under the apartheid. It then showed the uprisings against apartheid. One of the most moving sections of the museum was a room that had nooses hanging down from the ceiling; one for each person that was executed in the fight against apartheid, the ceiling was covered in nooses.

There was special exhibit on Nelson Mandela and his life. It was extremely moving. I learned a lot about him and found myself moved to tears. It is amazing how one man can inspire such change. He sacrificed his whole life to make a change.

Later that day we visited Soweto. Soweto is the largest township in South Africa. It is located in Johannesburg. We went on a biking tour around the township and met so many friendly people, the kids were the best. We saw were the Soweto uprising took place, a very important time in the anti-apartheid movement, where students were slaughtered at the hands of the police. It was another moving experience.

I love being here and learning about the history. Being here makes it all so much real to me.

Here are some pictures from the tour of Soweto, the kids were so cute. 

September 2, 2012

September 8th, 2012

I woke up at four in the morning today (yes, I know that it’s hard to believe). It was my second day of “spring break” and we were headed off to go on a safari in Kruger Park. We got to the park right when it was opening at six in the morning in an attempt to see the sunrise but the sky was overcast. Even though the weather wasn’t very cooperative it was still a great day.

I spent the whole day driving around in an open topped safari truck looking for animals, in hopes of seeing the Big Five (lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros), we saw all of the Big Five before we stopped for lunch. The elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo were so close to the truck, I could have reached out and touched them. We saw a lion right after it had killed a buffalo and the leopard was hiding up in a tree. Not only did I see the big five but I saw hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, zebras and a number of different antelope. It was amazing to see these animals in their natural habitats, so much different than seeing them in the zoo. I took so many pictures of them and it’s hard to narrow down which ones I want to post so here are a few. It was a fantastic day and I am so happy that I was able to have this experience (plus I get to check it off of my bucket list). Spring break is off to a great start!