Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Monday 1/23/2012 – Wednesday 1/25/12

Today is the day Swazi, Reinhardt and I are going to Pinetown, Marianhill (about halfway between Pietermaritzburg and Durban) for a workshop regarding the development of the Youth Justice and Y-Zone programs!  We plan on leaving at 3 or 4.  We are all so excited to go on this adventure!

We planned to leave at 3, but some unexpected circumstances allowed us to leave around 1.  As of Monday morning, Fish no longer works/lives at the YMCA and I had to say my goodbyes as he is heading elsewhere.  Reinhardt had to stay behind to work security because of Fish’s last-minute departure so Swazi and I went. alone  We took three taxis in order to get to Pinetown, a small quiet town where we stayed in a hotel.  It was located on beautiful grounds and had an outdoor swimming pool surrounded by rolling hills thick with trees.  There are monkeys in the area and many people saw them and took pictures as they crawled on our hotel, but I never did see one of the playful creatures. 
View of the pool from the hotel.

We arrived at the hotel Monday at about 3:30pm.  I am not sure what time the meeting started, but it had obviously been going on for at least a couple of hours.  There were between 20-25 people in the room.  I found out that this event was a national meeting, the purpose being reporting on and developing the Y-Zone and Youth Justice programs.  Many of the members had flown in specifically for this meeting.  There were multiple people from the national office there that I got to meet as well which including Sipho, which was exciting.  I have been hearing about them/emailing/skyping for the past several months so it was great to finally meet some of those people!  A facilitator named Brenda was hired to lead the meetings.  Groups of two from each YMCA were busy working on how to present to the group how their particular Y-Zone and Youth Justice programs work.  The presentations started and when it came time for Pietermaritzburg to present, Swazi motioned for me to go up and present it.  So I went up and represented the Pietermaritzburg YMCA in explaining their programs to the national members.  At the end of the meeting we were told that instead of rooming with the people that we came with, they mixed it all up so that we would get to know people from other YMCAs.  I roomed with Mpume, Sipho’s niece.  She is 20 years old as well and she is working in the national office as a marketing intern.  We became good friends and I am going to stay with her on Tuesday night in Durban before my flight leaves for PE on Wednesday morning.
Sipho and I!

Taking a break from the meeting and walking through the jungle behind the hotel.

The meeting continues.

We were interupted by this huge snail that decided to move through our meeting at its own pace.

My roommate and Sipho's niece, Mpume.

Monday night after the meeting ended a group of people, myself included, piled into the back of a baki and headed to Durban for drinks.  We went to an open-mic restaurant on the beachfront because one of the members, Dina, is a fabulous singer/guitarist so she performed while we sat and enjoyed each other’s company.  We then drove a short distance to the beach front by all of the touristy hotels, took off our shoes, and ran to the Indian Ocean to jump through the waves and take pictures.  The glorious moment I have been waiting for!

Indian Ocean :)  (Thinking of you, Rits & Court!)

Swazi and I on the beachfront with Durban in the background.

Dina playing guitar and singing at the open-mic night. The lights in the background are from the harbor (Dad - you would have liked all of the boats there!)

There were also a few guys that had made some pretty cool sand sculptures:

Piling into the baki with the other youth workers.

Tuesday’s meeting started at 9 and it covered what is needed to run a successful Y-Zone and Youth Justice Program.  Swazi’s tooth ache caused her to not be able to attend most of the day so I took good notes.  We ended around 4 and I spent the next two hours in the pool.  All of our meals were served by the hotel.  Dinner was at 6 and Sipho informed us that the YMCA would pay for us to go out for drinks that night.  So at 8:00 we piled into a baki again and were on the road to Durban.  It was difficult sometimes because everyone else knew Zulu so they would sometimes speak only in Zulu or switch back and forth between English and Zulu so I often could not follow what was going on, but I still enjoyed it.  Even if I do not know what they are saying it is fun to listen to their language because it is so beautiful.  The ride to Durban was about one hour and I’d have to admit – one of my favorite things about traveling through South Africa is simply gazing at the landscape out the window.  Every time I do, I am deeply reminded of how lucky I am to be in Africa and how diverse and beautiful this planet and its people are.  The pictures just don't do it justice.

We were going to go to a fancy club, but many of us were not dressed for the occasion and thought we would be turned away so we went to the casino.  We ordered some drinks and ended up staying until 11 or 12 before heading back to Pinetown.  Mpume and I took a stroll on the sidewalk down by the beach before hopping into her truck and going back.  We got slightly lost on the way back, which is completely normal going from Durban to Pinetown, especially at night. Since people always get lost on this route, it is often blamed on a ghost.  I do not know the whole story, but a good ghost story has everyone on the edge of their seats!  Despite our detour, we beat the baki full of the rest of the group back to the hotel.  We chatted with Ann, the old lady security guard at the hotel, for ten minutes before the baki arrived.
The outside of the casino - what they called a "mini Vegas." haha
Palm trees inside :)

Wednesday morning Brenda was not there, so Sipho wrapped all that we had covered up in the last couple of days.  At 11am Swazi and I took four taxis back to Pietermaritzburg.  Some of our connecting stops were in townships, where I was again stared at.  Swazi leaned over with a slight smile and said, “You see how they are looking at you… you are the first white person some of them have ever seen.”  Our last connection was in downtown Pietermaritzburg, where the sidewalks are full of people and small stands where you can buy pretty much anything from underwear and socks to cell phones.  I bought my first “mealie,” which is plain corn on the cob either boiled or braaied.  I got mine braaied while Swazi got a boiled one.  We scrambled into another taxi with our bags in our laps and waited for it to be completely full of people.  The last person crawled into the taxi and plopped right next to me.  He was a small boy probably about six years old dressed in a school uniform.  I found it odd that he was alone, but I think that is somewhat normal here.  In each taxi, money is passed from person to person until it reaches the driver, who skillfully counts and gets change for everyone while he is driving.  The change is then passed back and distributed among everyone in the taxi. 
My first mealie!

When we finally reached Pietermaritzburg a good two and a half hours later, I asked Swazi why no white people take the taxis.  She said that they do not feel safe because everyone assumes that they have a lot of money.  She reminded me that I should never take one alone.  I thanked her for keeping me safe and being my Zulu mom especially in times like these!  We are both so glad that we got to have a change in our normal schedules and participate in this meeting.  It was good to get out and see more of South Africa!
Swazi, my Zulu mom! She thanks you, Mom, for sharing me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

May I please have s'more?

16-22 January

As I am getting more comfortable and getting used to things here, it was a less hectic week.  I printed some pictures of my visit to Cinderella on Monday for Mbali to take back to the township kids.  The next day she brought back a hand-written letter from some of the kids:

To: Shanna

We greet you in the wonderful name of our lord & savior Jesus Christ, hoping that you are fine.  Thank you very much for the photos you sent to us.  We received them.  We wish we could meet again.  It was really good spending time with you.  We wish you a good journey hoping that you will enjoy it.  Good luck with everything you are wishing for this year.  We can’t wait to see you again.  Please take care of yourself.  We will miss you very very much.  THANK YOU. 

From: Zimkhitha, Alithamsaqa, Abongile and Nolubabalo.

Swazi said we may be able to take an afternoon off and go visit Cinderella once more before my departure for Port Elizabeth so hopefully I’ll get to surprise them.

During the past week I have cooked multiple meals in the YMCA kitchen with Swazi, Lindie, Reinhardt, and Fish.  Last Sunday I tried “pap” for the first time with some beef stew.  Pap is corn that is mashed/ground up in grain-like pieces and it looks and tastes similar to mashed potatoes.  As Swazi showed me, the Zulu way to eat it is without cutlery so we ate with our hands.  We also played a little soccer with the street kids and ate some meals prepared by Rrrrrita (her name is pronounced with a strong roll of the R).

Monday night I had a different sort of experience.  I was hanging out with Fish, who was the on-duty security guard, when Shannon came by not looking so good.  Shannon is a 50-year-old Indian man.  He is the nicest man, but he is extremely frail due to alcoholism.  He was looking quite sick as he was just coming off of a bad streak of drinking so Fish and I helped him to his room where we were joined by one of Shannon’s ex-drug-dealing friends.  Fish ended up calling for an ambulance.  Emergency response is a bit different here.  It took about 45 minutes for the ambulance to get to the YMCA.  When it arrived, a few paramedics strolled into the room at their own pace and asked what was wrong with Shannon.  We asked if they were busy tonight and they said yes, but they acted as if they had all the time in the world.  They took his blood pressure, poked his finger, and asked if he wanted to go to the hospital.  He said no but after about 15 minutes, Fish and I finally convinced him to go.  When Shannon arrived back at the YMCA the next day he explained his awful hospital experience.  He hardly slept at all –they didn’t have enough beds for everyone so there were many people sleeping on the floor.  They put him on a drip and stuck him in a wheelchair for the night.  At one point he fell out of the wheelchair onto the floor and could not get up himself.  No doctor or nurse helped him up – another patient who was on the ground ended up helping him back into the wheelchair.  After hearing this, I am going to try to stay EXTRA healthy!
The two Shannons enjoying an afternoon at the YMCA.

On a lighter note, I got to brainstorm camp games and activities on Tuesday which brought me back to du Nord!  Even though I will not be here to help run the camps, it was so fun being able to bring my du Nord experiences to Pietermaritzburg and imagining the kids enjoying new activities.  I typed up a detailed sheet of all of the name games and other activities that I could think of as well as a schedule and theme for each session, so hopefully those things will be implemented in the upcoming camps.  I also secured a R500 donation for paint from a local hardware store this week so that we can give the main Y-Zone building (the after-school program for teenagers) a makeover.  I am hoping to have this mostly done by the time I leave so I am spending much of my Saturday cleaning out the building getting it ready to paint.  Since I have been here, no Y-Zone kids have shown up yet.  I thought this was unfortunate so I made some posters both for a “Y-Zone Open Day Event,” which is free for everyone and also for the general Y-Zone program.  With the help of the two interns here, we distributed them around some malls in Pietermaritzburg.  I am hoping that some crumpers will show on Friday so that I can meet them and see them perform.  I also made advertisements for renting out the chapel and the sports center because they are great affordable spaces for events but few people know about them.  Reinhardt, Swazi, and I are going to an evaluation training session at Marienhill Monday through Wednesday so we will be staying in a hotel for a few days.  Because of this, I really don’t have much more time here at the Pietermaritzburg YMCA – I can’t believe how fast the time has gone!  I miss the US YMCA family so much and trust that everything is going well.  I’d like to give a HUGE thank you to Skip, Peter, Lisa, Ben, Niki, my parents, and everyone else who has helped to make this whole opportunity possible for me. 

I bought a cheap cell phone this week.  Here, one must buy “airtime” separately, which allows you to call and text message so I loaded it up with R12.  Also Reinhardt and I went to Checkers to pick up a cake, candles, coke, and cream soda and we had an office party for Thys, the CEO because it is his birthday on Saturday.  On our way to the grocery store, we had to slam the breaks for a chicken darting across the road in front of us so we yelled out the window, “Why are you crossing the road?!”  While we were in the office, Swazi showed me pictures of a previous intern eating chicken heads and chicken feet – yep… that’s right.  It is one of Swazi’s favorite dishes and she vowed to cook it for me before I leave.  Looking horrified, I told her I don’t know if I will be able to stomach something like that, but she insisted that I try it. 

After work one day I went out and set up the volleyball net!  It looks great – the grass is freshly cut, there are beautiful mountains and trees in the background, but there is one problem: there are no Blazers here to play with!  In fact, I haven’t been successful in finding anyone to play yet but I told the street kids that I want to teach them volleyball before I leave so we are substituting volleyball for their usual soccer game next week.

When we were setting up the volleyball net, I noticed a ring of rocks with a ton of weeds growing in it.  Those weeds couldn’t hide it – they couldn’t hide from me the fact that it was a fire pit!  Obviously it had not been used in years so the following night I gathered all of the workers who live on site and we had a “marshmallow braai.”  As I mentioned earlier, braai is basically the South African word for barbeque – it means to cook over an open fire.  No one was familiar with the concept of s’mores, so I bought some Marie biscuits (like graham crackers), chocolate, and marshmallows.  Since the fire pit is such a wonderful and open space, I suggested to Swazi that they have a bonfire or marshmallow braai for the teens in the Y-Zone program but she immediately explained that it would not work due to safety constraints.  Since this YMCA includes accommodation, they are not allowed to let people into the YMCA grounds after a certain hour.  It reminded me that there are many limitations that make it particularly difficult to run a YMCA especially here in South Africa. 
All of the essential s'mores ingredients.

Swazi's first s'more!

We got off at 1pm again since it was a Friday.  It was sunny and hot so I spent the afternoon at the pool across the street with Fish.  Though it is still a little weird, I’m getting used to being stared at.   Last night Fish and I were playing cards outside and all of the sudden we heard tires screeching against the pavement.  Fish started laughing as we walked over to the front gate to see what was going on.  He said, "All right just watch - when the light turns green those two two trucks will spin around and drag race."  Sure enough.  Ten seconds later the light turned green and two tow trucks did a U-turn and sped away as fast as they could.  They both had just heard on the radio of an accident in town and whoever got to the scene first would get the business.  On Friday evening, Reinhardt and I went to see the casino and a few other places around town.   Other than that, I have been going to the gym most evenings and reading lots.  Oh! I finally took the braids out too!

Sunday, January 15, 2012



Today I was going to go to the beach in Durban all day, but ended up going to visit Swazi’s friend in a township called Cinderella with Swazi and Lindi (Thys’s sister) instead.  Around noon, we ran across the street to catch a taxi on its way to the inner-city.  The taxis here are not like the ones in the U.S.  Here, taxis are their main mode of public transportation.  They consist of a large van with about five or six rows of seats and they pile as many people as they possibly can into each one.  Seatbelts are not worn and children pile onto the laps of their parents.  Swazi hailed a cab and we squished in to a crowded van with three empty seats.   It was about a five or ten minute ride until we reached our destination of the inner-city, where we proceeded to buy coke and wine to bring to the township.  People here drink coke ALL the time – it is incredibly popular, so we proceeded to buy four liters which the four of us finished by about 6pm.  Next we went to a huge taxi station where we jumped in another taxi and waited for it to be completely full.  I was squeezed into the back corner, my right arm/shoulder sticking out the window because we were so packed in.  We rode another ten minutes or so to the township of Cinderella.  There are lots of townships, each of which has its own name.  Swazi pointed out some rough-looking shacks along the way as well as some nice-looking homes.  She said the nice homes were the Indians’ homes.  Living conditions are still extremely segregated – the biggest populations are townships which consist of blacks and coloreds only, and nice Indian communities. 
Me, Swazi, and Lindi in the back of a taxi.

The huge taxi station - we caught one of these to the township.

Cinderella is located on a mountain and is surrounded by other mountains full of shacks and houses.  One of the first things I noticed when we arrived was the beautiful view - I’m amazed by how far you can see into the distance.  The taxi wouldn’t take us to the particular address we were looking for, so we got out and walked on the gravel road through the town.  Two men drove past us in a car, stopped, and reversed it.  They wanted to meet us, but they were obviously drunk as the driver had a bottle of vodka in his lap so we kept walking.  Children were gasping, pointing, smiling, and waving as we walked and Swazi explained that Lindi and I were, for some of the kids, the first white people they had ever seen because they rarely leave their township, if ever.  The way they are raised in the townships is that whites are superior to blacks and a white person is seen as good luck.  This would explain the staring, curiosity, and amazement in their faces when they laid eyes on us. 
Mbali's house.

We came to a small cement-brick house about the size of a trailer home in the township where we met Swazi’s friend, Mbali, who hosted us for a late lunch.  The house consisted of two small rooms – a kitchen and a bedroom.  We moved the chairs into the bedroom so that she could have some room to cook while we ate some appetizers of samosas, spring rolls, meatballs, and fruit.  Her two-year-old son was taking a nap on the bed so we spoke softly.  After the appetizers, I went outside for a view of the dumping site for all of the nearby townships, which was situated right up against one of the townships.  Mbali explained that people there were sick for many reasons, one being that adults would sift through the garbage and sell expired food items to children in order to make some money.
The dumping site - it looks like a thin stretch in the middle of the photo right up against the township.

A few minutes later, a young boy probably about six years old appeared behind Mbali’s house.  He smiled and waved, took a good look at me, and hopped on over to ask me some questions.  Within a few minutes, more children started coming out of their houses and finding their way over to me.  At first, many of them were obviously curious but didn’t know whether they should come closer or stay back and observe.  However, once they touched my skin they couldn’t stop.  It was not long before I was bombarded with excited children climbing all over me, which is how I spent most of the afternoon.  The types of questions they asked me were: “Do you have a dad? A mom? You have both?! Are you married? Do you have kids? I want to come to America!”  I taught them some games we play at du Nord including elbow tag and Little Sally Walker.  One of the older girls (about fourteen) would translate the rules to Xhosa as I explained them so that the younger kids would understand how to play.  They taught me some phrases in Xhosa as well as some African games.  They loved my hair and were very interested in my eyes and eyebrows.  They also loved taking pictures with my camera and ended up taking a little over 200 photos by the time I unwrapped their little fingers from it.  They would take a picture of me with them and then run and show it to their parents.  They would then run to me and tell me that their parents wanted to meet me so I would go to their house and there would be adults sitting around inside a dark room.  They didn’t know whether to come out and greet me or not – most just smiled and stared as I played with their children.  One man ventured out and gave me the Zulu handshake.

Mid-afternoon I went into Mbali’s house for the meal she had been cooking for the previous few hours.  She LOVES to cook, so everything was homemade.  We had some chicken and cooked vegetables, rice with gravy, and spinach dip.  For dessert we had mauva pudding with custard.  It was so very tasty!  Mbali said that she doesn’t get visitors often because you need to be extremely careful about who you let into your home.  She explained that once you let someone into your home, they know what you have and that can be very dangerous.
Mbali cooking away!

During the time that I was playing with the kids, there were men walking or driving up and down the road selling food items such as corn and fruit.  I asked to take a picture with the corn sellers and they said OK so I went and stood next to one of them for a few seconds while a young one took our picture.  Suddenly the corn selling man who was maybe about 30 years old turned toward my face and started smelling me and grunting – it caught me by surprise so I jumped away… it made for a slightly uncomfortable moment.

To see an American was so exciting for everyone.  People would stare out windows and walk from around the corners and down the street just to get a look at the white visitor.  I felt like a celebrity!  In the townships, they are raised to see whites as superior to themselves and white skin is a sign of good luck.  It got busier in the evening as more people came home from work.  The streets were full of children running around and people socializing – there seemed to be a real sense of community.

In the evening, I peeled the kids off of me and went in Mbali’s house to sip wine with Lindi, Swazi, and Mbali until Mbali’s hairdresser came.  Mbali asked her hairdresser, Khathiwe, to come a little early so that she could see if it was possible to braid my hair the Zulu way.  She came around 19:30 and it was a success!  After a few practice rounds with my “fluffy” hair, she got it down and finished braiding my entire head within a little over an hour. 

During this time, Khathiwe, Mbali, and Swazi spoke of how lucky I am to have hair like I do and all of the work that they need to do in order to get hair like mine.  Mbali said that even though it is expensive, no matter how much money one has, an African woman always needs to have her hair and nails done.  We laughed and they explained that to get a weave sometimes takes up to two 9-hour days of sitting in a salon chair.  We also discussed the weird beliefs that some people have in South Africa.  There have been cases where people have paid 25,000 rand for a rat that they think will go out and retrieve money for them.  When it doesn’t come back, they are flat broke. 

At the end of the night (around 21:00), we called a taxi because public transport stopped at 19:00.  We said our goodbyes and made our way back to the YMCA.

Friday the 13th


Happy Friday the 13th!  Everyone was worried about bad luck coming our way, but I explained that every Friday the 13th I think of my grandparents, who met on Friday the 13th and are still together today!  And it proved to be a lucky day indeed.  We got out of work at 1:00 simply because it is Friday.  Every Friday people get off work at 1:00 so that they can go and enjoy their weekend.  Right at 1:00, Reinhardt and I booked it out of the office and drove to his and Thys’s house (about 10 minutes away) for a swim.  Their house is located on a hilltop and is surrounded by gorgeous views of trees, mountains, and flowers.  They have a small pool and bar and his aunt, uncle, and younger cousin Gabby were visiting for a braai.  When we arrived we jumped in the pool with Reinhardt’s younger sister, Kayla.  We spent the afternoon swimming, relaxing, and socializing.  Thys explained that the braai we were having was Americanized – he bought a gas grill after going to America because it is so much more convenient than an open fire, but at a real braai the meat would be cooked over an open flame.  I helped peel some potatoes for a potato-bake made by Thys’s wife, which was delicious!  Some of the best potatoes I have ever had.  We also had corn, steak, and wine which were all very good as well.  Their whole family is incredibly kind and welcoming and it was a lovely Friday afternoon/evening despite the fact that it was Friday the 13th.



Today I played soccer with the street kids and the interns from Pietermaritzburg down at the sports center.   A former YMCA worker now-turned event planner stopped by and we had a meeting with Swazi and Reinhardt about the possibility of throwing a Valentine’s Day Ball here at the YMCA sports center.  We then brought the kids a Rita-prepared lunch that she cooks them every Tuesday and Thursday consisting of bread and stew.  I dished it up for the street kids and then for myself.  As we sat and ate, we talked of our favorite dishes and I told them I would prepare them an American meal one of these days which they were excited about.

Being as it was 107 degrees, we ended up getting off of work early because it was so hot.  I took a trip next door to the gym, talked with some gas station workers and cleared up their stereotypes of America, sat with Mr. Frank for a while, and went to bed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bunny Chow

I went to work today, but I got a nice break in the morning.  Thys took me for a little drive through Pietermaritzburg so that I could see more of the city.  We drove through the street markets, through the inner-city area, and by his residency.  On the way back we stopped to pick up “bunny chows,” which are an Indian delicacy.  It is a quarter of a loaf of bread, carved out with some beef, chicken, lamb, or bean stew type stuff in the middle.  I would compare it to a bread bowl.  It was spicy and quite delicious!  When we were nearly finished, Swazi piled all the plates in front of me so that it looked like I just ate about 5 bunny chows and Rein took a picture.

When I got off of work I got to Skype some people from home.  It was the first time I’ve gotten to talk to my friends and family since I’ve been here so that was exciting.  I went to the gym in the evening, chatted with Mr. Frank and Fish, and headed to bed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TV of the Kitchen


The Youth Justice program started up again today.  It is every Tuesday and Thursday from 10-12 where we meet street kids down outside of the sports center, bring them food, and play soccer with them.  Not enough people showed up to play today, but Rein and I brought them food and sat with them in the shack for a couple hours.  The street kids range from ages 18-25, which surprised me – I thought they would be younger.  They were enthralled at the fact that they were sitting with “a person of Obama.”  They dream about going overseas and they described what they thought America was like: there are no problems, there is no dirt like here in Africa – it is all made of nice paved roads, people are happy, and there are shelves in the schools that you can put your stuff on and people won’t steal it.  After it was established that I was not married, they all agreed that Rein should not let ANYONE touch me.  One of the kids was asking about the type of food we would bring them and he started describing a machine.  He called it, “the T.V. of the kitchen,” – he was referring to the microwave.  We all got a good laugh out of that.

In the early afternoon Rein and I went for a drive through the inner city because we needed to pick a stamp up for the office.  It was dirty, crowded, and so eye-opening.  The streets were filled with people – the majority just sitting on the sidewalk hanging out. 

In the evening I went to the gym for a couple hours and when I came back it was dark.  I had a nice long chat with Mr. Frank who was working security while I attempted to cool off before showering.  He is worried about money and he was calling various people to see if they could lend him some.  He would like to buy a computer so that he can get a better job and possibly move overseas.  He does not drink or smoke and goes to church often. 

I opened my room up to not one, but two geckos crawling around my walls.  I’ve named them Jim and Connie because they’re always watching over me, just as my study abroad directors Jim and Connie will be doing in about 21 days (not that I’m counting).



Fish woke me up this morning at about 7 to go to the gym.  I came back, showered (though it did not do much… you just kind of get used to having a layer of sweat on yourself at all times), and went to work.  Two interns from Pietermaritzburg came for their first time today.  They will be coming every day for the next three months.  They are both my age and it is a required part of their university program to have experience working in fundraising so that have been placed here.  I helped get them started on some projects they can be working on and then continued working on mine for the remainder of the day.

I finished work, came back to my room, and made myself a sandwich at about 17:00.  After dinner when I was sitting in my room reading a book, I heard some loud joyous perfectly harmonized gospel music.  I thought someone was blasting the radio, so I didn’t think much of it.  But then I listened carefully and it really sounded live.  I got up and in the room directly across from my bedroom door was a huge group of black people dancing with their hands in the air, belting out prayer music.  So I put my book down and asked if I could join them and they welcomed me with open arms… literally.  I was the only non-black person there.  Since there was never a break in song, I was brought into the room full of singing, dancing people by a young lady who escorted me to the front and center, which is where I ended up spending the following two hours.  I sat next to one of the pastors, who kindly shared her Bible with me and who was glad to answer any questions I had.  The event was a prayer service that signified the beginning of a fourteen-day fasting period.  One of the main lessons taught from the Bible during the service was that instead of turning around and around and being able to see only the enemies in our lives, we must stand still so that we can face those enemies and see the glory of God.  During the first hour, the room was filled with strong, proud voices.  Over and over again I was blown away by the increasing exertion of passion and energy.  Just when I thought these people couldn’t get any more enthusiastic, they did.  People were shouting, clapping, dancing, sweating profusely and some were literally on the floor in worship.  Then the music stopped and people started shouting prayers and chanting while the pastor repeatedly shouted “Thank you Lord!” and “Thank you Jesus!” and “Praise the Lord!” into the microphone for about fifteen minutes.  Then we sat and everyone got their Bibles out and the pastor read from the Bible, interpreting it in his own words along the way, all the while people in the audience were shouting “Praise the Lord!” “Alleluia!” “Amen!” “Mmmmmmhm!” “That’s right!”  I didn’t join in this practice in fear that they would think I was mocking them… it is not quite as natural for a white suburban Midwestern woman to belt out in prayer as it is for one who belongs to the African culture.  However, I did throw in a few “Amens” and “Alleluias” while throwing my hands up – being around all of that energy, I just couldn’t help myself!  Before I had gone in, I asked if I could take a video and they declined, so thankfully I had already secretly taken one (no real visual, but the audio is fantastic). 

I returned to my room and about half an hour later I heard a soft voice outside my door in a beautiful South African accent, “Shan-non, I am here!”  I opened the door to the two street kids that live outside the sports center.  They were making sure that I was planning on playing soccer with them tomorrow morning.  I assured them that I would be there. 

Phew! After all this energy, I am SO ready for a good night’s sleep.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Roommates


This morning I woke up to a dark figure four or five inches long on my wall.  I thought I saw it move so I grabbed my flashlight and flipped it on to reveal a lizard crawling into my curtain that separates my room from the bathroom.  Awesome.  Can’t sleep.  I saw it crawling around on my walls again before I went to bed so I ran to get Reinhardt who was working security.  When he saw it, he laughed and revealed its true identity: a gecko.  Geckos are completely harmless and they are so common here that they’re in every room of most people’s homes.  It’s too hot to close the windows and there are no screens so I keep them wide open all of the time – even at night.  While Rein was trying to convince me that the geckos will not crawl on me when I’m sleeping, he mentioned that I will have good luck.  “What?” I asked, not knowing what he was talking about.  He then nonchalantly told me there was a praying mantis in my doorway, and sure enough there was.  (It means you will have good luck if there is a small green animal in your doorway).  Well, looks like I’ve got a roommate or two!  

Sunday was a lazy day.  I got to sleep in, read a little bit, and then I hung out with Fish and Reinhardt at the front most of the day.  A large man from Cameroon came in to the YMCA just to chat for a while mostly about money, America and its differences to Africa.  A few other notable strides today: I tried lamb (a delicacy here in South Africa) as well as figs.  Both were not bad and I felt adventurous trying them.  Around midday, Rein and I went to the grocery store to pick up all of the food that they donate to the YMCA every week.  The YMCA then gives that food to the street kids.  There is a surplus of food at the YMCA (three huge freezers are completely full of donated food) but we are only supposed to feed the street kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  When I asked why we can’t give them food since we have extra, Fish explained that if we give them food today, next Sunday they will be back expecting more and if they don’t get it, they will trash the place.  I spent the evening reading and making friends with the geckos.

Local Pool


This morning I woke up and outside my door were the two Zulu street kids who I met yesterday, so I chatted with them for a while.  The two friends were waiting for Swazi to get them some food from the kitchen.  I found out that one of them is 20 and the other 18.  They are from a township nearby but they live on their own in the shack they built here at the YMCA. 

Swazi visited my room to chat about our plans for visiting a township.  She told me all about her life and family.  She brought pictures and told me about her daughter who is one year older than me.  She lives and goes to college in Johannesburg and has a boyfriend in London.  Swazi asked me if I would marry a South African and I immediately told her told her what my mom warned before I left: If I fall in love here, I CANNOT stay here- I HAVE to come back to the United States.  She laughed as she understood the grave concern of my mom. 

Fish stopped by to talk for a while and asked about my studies and told me of places I should visit here in South Africa on the weekends during my time in Port Elizabeth.  He also informed me that he has been mugged everywhere he ever has been in South Africa.  One of these stories is as follows: When he was driving at night, Fish’s car got a flat tire so he was forced to stop.  There were two guys coming at him, one from in front and one from behind, but he only saw the one in front of him.  When Fish asked him where he could get equipment nearby to fix the car, the man held a knife to his throat.  Fish tried to fight back but the guy from behind grabbed his neck, threw him against the gravel, and his pockets were emptied.  He said it happened incredibly fast.  That story was for you, Mom - guess I should be extra careful on my excursions!

Today I was put in a circumstance that I had never been in before – I was the racial minority in a huge group of people.  Fish and I went to the local pool across the street for an afternoon swim.  It is a huge outdoor pool filled with black people and a few dark Indians.  In fact, Fish and I were the only two white people there.  It was quite crowded but the deep end of the pool was almost completely empty.  Fish said that this is because most of them don’t know how to swim.  When we first arrived and set our stuff down on the side, I started taking my tee-shirt off because I had my swimsuit on underneath.  Fish immediately gasped, “No, no I would not recommend that.” I asked why and he replied shaking his head, “All of the men will start hitting on you.  You can do what you want but I definitely don’t recommend it.”  So I swam in my shorts and tee-shirt.

Issues of race and political unrest are still hot topics for conversations.  Politics are an extremely touchy subject here in South Africa.  The people that I have talked to are frustrated with the political system to the point that they have openly given up on their own country.  Fish was talking about the population size in South Africa and he said that when they sent people out to do the census, you just knock on doors of houses and ask how many people are living in that residence.  This included the townships and Fish said that something like 23 census people got murdered for doing so.  I think this may have been an exaggeration, but I can see why it would be a dangerous job.

The Red Door

Friday 1/6/12

Through this overall experience so far, a few things strike me in particular especially the diversity of the people.  There are Whites, Blacks, Coloreds, Zulus, Afrikaners, Hindus, Muslims, Indians, Dutch, and many, many more living together in peace.  After reading about how recent and strong racial tensions were in South Africa it is remarkable how accepting everyone is of each other generally speaking.  Though people of different origins get along, the racial wound is still fresh and certain groups do not necessarily mix with each other.  It is still segregated in some ways, but it is evident that enormous strides have been made in the last two decades.  I also cannot believe how accommodating, polite, welcoming, and inclusive everyone has been.  Despite language barriers (they often speak in Afrikaans to each other because it is their native tongue), they constantly remind themselves to speak in English when I am around so that I can know what is going on.  They also attempt to translate everything and find it amusing to have me repeat things in Afrikaans.  It is fun to listen to Swazi speak.  She is fluent in many languages and knows at least a little of all twelve of the official languages of South Africa, which is helpful because she works at the front desk.  She has suggested that she take me to a township sometime before I leave.

I worked this morning, took a lunch break, then in the afternoon I helped Reinhardt and Fish brainstorm for a Valentine’s Day dinner that they are hosting here at the YMCA.  On our breaks we talked of the variety of languages in South Africa.  Apparently there is one language that is specific to a particular part of South Africa and it is only spoken in that small area.  It is not actually an official language, but a combination of all 12 official languages in South Africa.  During my lunch break I went over to the gym next door and got a 1 month membership.  When I got back, Fish and I went down to the sports center (where the Valentine’s event will be held) to continue brainstorming.  Leaning up against the sports center is a shack where two Zulu street kids live, one of them named Lindoni.  They each walked up to me, stuck out their hands, and politely introduced themselves.  Immediately upon our greeting, they asked if I would come and play soccer with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Lindoni’s eye was quite swollen and discolored and Fish explained that he had been beaten up for no reason by some other kids about a month ago.  They asked Fish if he had any food so on our way back up to the office we stopped in the kitchen and gave them some food that had been donated by the local grocery store.

After work Reinhardt, Fish, and I went down to the sports center and played soccer with some street kids.  We went over and hung out in Lindoni’s shelter for a bit.  There were flies everywhere, so Reinhardt mentioned that he would pick up something from the store that they can hang to keep the flies away.  Lindoni told us that all of their stuff had been stolen by some other street kids- even their shoes.  Rein asked them where the heck they found wood that isn’t wet (it rains all the time here) and they pointed to a forest nearby.  They had set up a fire and cooked the frozen chicken that we gave them.  He also declared that it was his 18th birthday yesterday so we told him happy birthday and Fish announced that he would cook him some good meat for a present.

After we closed up the sports center Rein, Fish, and Fish’s older brother, Andre (about 23 years old), took me out.  After he and Fish were done running around and playing soccer in the sports center, we walked to a local karaoke bar and had a drink out on the deck.  We spoke of the extremely complicated political unrest in South Africa, which they had many opinions about.  On the way back, the guys were sizing each other up so they took turns carrying each other to prove how strong they were.  Conversions (km to miles, kg to lbs., degrees C to degrees F) have been a bit tricky.  Andre declared that he would judge how heavy I was.  He came from behind, picked me up on his shoulders, and carried me down a hill and across the street, shouting that I must be 57 lbs.  I was not on the ground long before Rein swept me up and carried me another block or so.  We wound up at a place called The Red Door, which was quite spacious.  It had tons of rooms including a pool room and a rave room complete with a strobe light.  All of the rooms were connected by large decks still covered in Christmas lights.  Rein and I hung out mostly on the decks while Fish and Andre played pool.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Midnight Crowds


Exhausted from my first full day in Pietermaritzburg, I fell asleep at 18:30.  I abruptly woke just after midnight to what sounded like engines roaring followed by a huge crowd cheering, whistling, laughing and screaming with joy not far from my window.  This happened repeatedly so I got up, but couldn’t see anything going on and I was too groggy to go and find out.  This morning I asked Fish what the commotion was about and he explained that it was the day that it was published in the newspaper whether or not students passed their exam so that they could graduate from high school.  So everyone stays up to buy the newspaper it is usually sold out by about 1:00 in the morning.

Clearly I am still jetlagged as I woke up at about 3:30.  I read out of a book for one of next semester’s classes for a few hours, ate a bowl of cereal, and went to work.  It rained all day today so I spent the day in the office at my computer.  Today I mostly worked on creating contact lists for paint/hardware stores in case they are interested in donating paint for the Y-Zone building, and contact lists of YMCAs in the United States in addition to a few other smaller programming/organization tasks.  Since the YMCA in the US recently changed their logo to “the Y,” our hope is that they will donate extra t-shirts with the old Y logo on them since those can no longer be used in the U.S. and we can then distribute the t-shirts during summer camps here.

After work, Reinhardt was working security until 22:00 so I stopped and talked with him and Fish as they smoked.  Mr. Frank raced by looking dressed up – he was on his way to church, as the boys explained he goes all the time.  Fish was playing Akon as well as some African artists on his phone.  He finished smoking and then he went to the gym to work out.  Reinhardt was telling me that he hoped a soccer team that was planning on coming to the Y a bit later would not show up so that he could get off of work early (they run security in 12-hour shifts here so he had been working since 10).  He asked me if I’d like to go out and grab a drink if he gets off early and I accepted, explaining that this would be my first time ever going out for a drink because the drinking age in the US is 21, whereas here it is 18.  However, 21 is still the big birthday in South Africa because when you are 21 you are legal in every way.  For example here, one needs to be 21 in order to sign their own documents (instead of having your parents sign it for you).  He did not get off work early and I fell asleep immediately after dinner at 18:30, so I am now up at 3:30 in the morning once again.  Will I ever adjust to the time change?!



I woke early this morning about 6am to sunshine and exotic birds.  At about 8:00 I went into Thys’s office with Swazi and he asked me what my expectations/interests were for the internship.  After the meeting, Reinhardt gave me a tour of the Pietermaritzburg YMCA premises.  Everything is run down, but there is a soccer field with long grass (it is not used very often anymore), a volleyball court also not used often, a sports arena, a few cottages for residency, a dorm-like residency building, and an outdoor area where the Y-zone program takes place.  Right now there is not much structure with the Y-zone program – it is more of a safe place for kids to hang out after school.  However, Fridays are the big days for the Y-zone program because huge groups of kids will come here to crump (a dancing style used to outwardly express themselves).  Crumping is extremely popular here.  I am so excited to experience this!  The Youth Justice program is every Tuesday and Thursday and it consists of feeding the children that show up and they can also wash themselves in the sports center, which has showers.  The tour continued and there is a very muddy river just on the other side of the Y.  Thys reiterated that I must never go out alone and though they did not intend to scare me, there was a recent case of rape of one of their residents here.  I met Mr. Frank - a security guard that works at the front desk, Swazi – youth director and my “mom” for the duration of my stay, Rita – a fiery-spirited cleaning/laundry lady who greeted me with my first experience of a Zulu handshake, Fish – a security guard my age, and Brent – another worker in the office.  There is a serious lack of funding, lack of volunteering, and it is an extremely challenging task to market to such a difficult-to-reach group (the Y-zone program usually only attracts 20 or so kids, except for crumping Fridays) and such a broad range of needs.

After the tour Reinhardt and I were not to go back into the office for a few hours because of a meeting between Thys, Swazi, and Brent (we were to join them later).  So, Reinhardt and I hung out in the courtyard for a while.  After a few hours we decided to walk to the grocery store about a half mile away to get the things that I needed.  My shoulders got a little burned along the way which Reinhardt found amusing, but he said that if I got a nice tan I would look just like a South African.  We bolted across the street dodging cars (it is a-typical for a South African to use a crosswalk), walked through some residential areas, and came to a mall with Checkers (the grocery store) in it.  As Reinhardt had mentioned before, he explained that South Africans LOVE meat and that was evident as I walked through the four or five different meat sections in Checkers.  I bought a hunk of chicken lunch meat that tastes like bologna along with some Gouda, bread, fruit, pasta, and cereal.  Reinhardt bought some fried calamari (a treat he enjoys about once every six months) and I tried a bite of it.  It actually wasn’t too bad - it tasted like chicken.  I also learned that the Pietermaritzburg/Durban area is the home to the biggest Indian population outside of India, which explained all of the curry in the grocery store.

When we got back, Reinhardt said he would take a break so I went to my room for lunch.  Not long after he came into my room declaring he was bored and we talked for another hour or so.  He asked if he could show me the nightlife.  Brent and Swazi stated they would like to show me nightlife as well, so I’m sure my weekends will be full of activity.  At about 14:00 we joined Swazi, Thys, and Brent in their meeting.  The meeting was extraordinarily different than meetings I have attended in the US.  My duties for the month were addressed which are: contact YMCAs in the US to see if they are interested in sending their old Y-logo shirts here, painting/fixing up a building so that it can be used for programming, and working with Reinhardt on Y-Zone and Youth Justice programming. 

Around 17:00 I came back to my room to use a little internet and since I left the door open, Mr. Frank stopped by and took a look at my place.  He was thoroughly impressed by pretty much all of my belongings including my bags and my CSB water bottle.  I have some WetWipes sitting out on my table and apparently he had never seen anything like it before.  I explained that using one was kind of like washing your hands and that no water was needed.  He was astonished by such a thing, so I offered him one and he used it gladly, proclaiming that he was ready to eat.

I made myself another sandwich for dinner.  I am trying to stay awake as long as possible so that I can adjust to the time difference but since there is not much else to do in the evenings except read, it is extra tough to do so.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012



This morning I woke up at about 6:30, got ready, and headed down to breakfast in the lobby.  Even though this hotel district is a popular vacation destination for foreigners, there weren’t many Americans so I was definitely being stared at.  After breakfast I went back up to my room but on the way out of the lobby I glanced over my left shoulder and there, through a glass wall, was a picturesque view of the sea.  It was magnificent!  I stopped and gawked at the countless ships that dipped in and out of the fog.  Eventually I made my way back to my room, used my free internet quota, packed up my things, and took a nap.  I was woken by a phone call at about 11:10.  Thys Nell, the General Secretary/CEO of the Pietermaritzburg YMCA, had arrived early to pick me up.  So, I quickly finished packing and rushed downstairs.  After waiting in the lobby for about 15 minutes, I was approached by a young man named Reinhardt, or Bruce, Thys’s son.  He welcomed me and helped me bring my bags to Thys’s car.

It was about an hour’s drive from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.  Thys asked me about myself and if I knew anyone in the Pietermaritzburg area.  I told him I do not know anyone on the continent except for him and Reinhardt.  They laughed and assured me that they would show me around.  The landscape is breathtaking and I was just soaking it up.  The terrain is very mountainous and there are homes everywhere, packed in very close together.  I will never forget the sight of the first township I had ever seen.  Staring out the left side of the car, amidst the hills there was one hill in the middle that rose up, full of shacks made of scrap metal and other trash.  It is hard to imagine that people are living in such poverty in the middle of an industrialized city.  We passed by many more townships after that, though they are never less striking.  There were also barefoot people walking along the highway with garbage bags full of their belongings, some hitchhiking, and some just sitting there.  There were women hiking up small trails in the sides of mountains that seemed to lead nowhere, carrying heavy bags.  Thys eventually turned the radio on and it was the one and only “Moves Like Jagger” song.

When we got to the YMCA, it was hard to tell where it began/ended because there is a gas station nestled right up to it on one side and a gym (not owned by the YMCA due to lack of funding) on the other side.  Thys drove us around the Y so that I could see it from the outside, as both Thys and Reinhardt made it clear that it is not safe for me to go outside the YMCA grounds without a security guard.  Thys and Reinhardt gave me a quick tour of the office, introduced me to a few people, and led me through the courtyard to my room.  The accomodations have everything I need and there is a security guard on duty at all times, 24 hours a day.
My room.

My bathroom sink

View from my window - the gas station is on the other side of the barbed wire.

I have spent the rest of the day napping and reading about the SA YMCA as a whole.