Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10th Anniversary - Western Cape, South Africa

Greetings from Botswana!  We hope that everyone back home is doing great.  2015 is the year we return home, it is crazy how time has both flown by and crawled at different times over the past 18 months.We miss our family and friends terribly, and this blog is an outlet for us to at least feel somewhat connected with you all.  We are looking forward to a visit from Jojo’s Aunt Gail in April, and we are crossing our fingers for another visit of some really special people in June (don’t want to jinx it).  We are off and running on various ongoing and new projects here in Tonota and we have a very positive outlook for our last 8 months of service.  Next month we will give more of an update detailing our various work activities.  

Although it may seem that our lives are filled with vacations and big game sightings, we are mostly engaged in the daily business of grass roots development work.  To some this might have a romantic, saving the world type ring to it but let me tell you honestly that although we do occasionally experience incredible highs, mostly our work is thankless and hard to measure.  This makes life as a PCV very difficult at times, and it is hard to find that motivation it takes to put yourself out there and do the work of a development volunteer on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  We are lucky to have each other to share that burden, bounce around ideas, and generally pick each other up when needed.  Life here in Botswana is a constant wave of both new and mundane experiences.  This dichotomy can be both exhilarating and very boring, which is difficult to process.  One way I do so is to notice the changes in my own perception of things around me and how those perceptions have changed so much since arriving in 2013.  I have basically gone from a well-intentioned wide eyed trainee, to a well-intentioned realistic PCV.  It has been very interesting how even our small amount of experience here has led to a deeper understanding of so many things, yet there are many times I still feel like a fish out of water.  I have learned so many things about the people of Botswana in the past 18 months, yet I have only barely scratched the surface of truly understanding the lives of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who face challenges that we as western educated middle class white people could never truly understand.  My very basic level of Setswana precludes me from having a deeper understanding of Tswana culture that can only be known through the intricacies of language, yet by simply greeting people every day we share a real meaningful cross cultural experience.  My American ideals around time management, gender roles, and political correctness for example cloud my view of many different parts of the culture here in Botswana, yet I feel like certain things I’ve tried to implement have rubbed off.In the end I am very proud of the way we have tried to integrate and come to a deeper understanding of things through open minds and I think that is all we can ask of ourselves.

So now onto the real reason everyone comes to this blog: vacation recap and pictures.  As I’m sure many of you know Jojo and I just celebrated our 10th Anniversary!  Many of you who read this blog were there with us for that crazy, rain drenched, mudslide affected weekend 10 years ago in Santa Barbara.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and to have shared it with so many amazing people always makes me smile and feel blessed.  2015 also marks 20 years that we have known each other, and it was Jojo’s birthday in January, so to celebrate these awesome occasions my beautiful wife and I made a trip down to Cape Town and around the Western Cape in South Africa.  The trip was much needed, for as much as we love being PCV’s, we also love eating ‘normal’ food and not being constantly stared at.  

We flew down to Cape Town, which I have to say was so worth it, I really can’t take too many more 10+ hour bus rides.  Upon arriving you are immediately struck by the unique beauty of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Devil’s Peak.  These mountains dominate the horizon and make for really crazy views no matter where you are in the city.  The city itself is not that big and you can walk most places.  We also immediately got a bus pass, so between walking and the bus you can navigate all around the city very easily.  Some highlights from Cape Town were:  FOOD, seriously we were beside ourselves with the selection and quality of most everything we were eating.  We have discussed since being back weather things were really that good, or are we just jaded by living in a small village and having zero access to anything.  Either way we ate our way around the city and pretty much made ourselves sick with all of the rich food that we are so not used to eating.  Really good coffee, real pastries and bread, hot pastrami on rye sandwiches, pretty authentic NY style thin crust pizza,Thai,beer with taste, charcuterie, seafood seafood seafood, spice markets, a restaurant called Hallelujah was my favorite – highly recommended for anyone going that side.  Seriously if you’re going to Cape Town, go to Hallelujah.  We also loved walking the beautiful beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton, sort of the chic/fancy ocean front neighborhoods.  The Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens on the back side of Table Mountain was amazing.  Jojo and I love botanical gardens so that was a real treat, although we were about a month late for most of the flowers.  Table Mountain itself is really cool, and we got lucky with no clouds at the top to obscure the insane views.  

One of the most powerful experiences we had was visiting the District 6 museum.  District 6 is an area of Cape Town where mostly black and coloured (this is the actual term used by both the government of South Africa and everyone in the population to describe a person of mixed race) people lived and were forcibly removed during apartheid.  There still seems to be a feeling under the surface of a black/white/coloured divide in South Africa.  I am by no means an expert, but it is a very interesting/uncomfortable thing about being down there.  I think this especially hits home for us as we come from a village where we are the only white people, and although we are obviously different, we are treated with respect and kindness by virtually all Batswana we encounter in our daily lives. We saw at different times some really large “townships” on the outskirts of the city.  These are areas of thousands of corrugated tin shacks where black and coloured South Africans were forced to live during apartheid, and continue to do so.These shanty towns were really a humbling site to behold, and drove home the legacy of separation and racism that affected and still affects South Africa to this day.  We have seen many of these types of townships around Johannesburg, but to see them so close to such a cosmopolitan city was eye opening.  I’ll awkwardly get back to vacation talk now, which incidentally reminds me in a nutshell of the weirdness of race in South Africa.  On the one hand you have some pretty obvious poverty, and on the other hand right next door is westernized development, very beautiful scenery, hipsters, beach volleyball, Sir Richard Branson’s winery, foodies, and basically a rich person’s lifestyle.  Unfortunately I suppose it is this way in many if not most parts of the world. 

Moving on, we then picked up a rental car and drove the relatively short distance from the city out into wine country located just about an hour from Cape Town.  We stayed for a few days in this super beautiful landscape of mountains and vines, drinking amazing wine, and again eating really good food.  I think Jojo’s highlight was going wine tasting on horseback.  She had the biggest smile on her face all day and when it was over she said that this day would be her “groundhog day”.  Next we drove about 5 hours down the coast to what is known as the Garden Route.  We stayed in a tree house, hiked a really cool canyon with a rooibos (red tea) colored river at the bottom, went canoeing in another “black water” river, and just did a bunch of beach chillin’ for several days.   Finally we had to drive back to Cape Town and we stayed at a little beach community for our last few nights.  A huge highlight was Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town.  This beach is home to the African Penguin, and you can just walk right down on the beach and hang out with them.  They are so cute, and it was such a cool thing to be able to do.  After some planes, buses, and taxis we made it back to Tonota.  

Overall an amazing trip, I feel very lucky to have been able to do it, especially with some of the things we saw along the way.  Let us know how you are doing, we love getting emails, and we can’t wait to be back at the end of the year!  Below are some pics from our wedding and the trip to South Africa. 

Peace and Love, 
Erin and Jojo

In front of our guest house in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens

Top of the world.

District 6 Museum.

Bo Kaap neighborhood.

Franschhoek, could have stayed there for a month.

The vines at our guest house in Franschhoek.

View from the tree house.

Red tea river, so weird.

Kysna Heads, garden route.

Just one of the hundreds of empty beaches on the garden route.

Kalk Bay Harbour.

Boulders Beach, Simon's Town.

Penguins are cute.

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