I’m Back

Apologies for neglecting the blog for such a long time.  One of the wonderful luxuries of traveling is that it tends to leave sufficient dead time to reflect and write.  The lack of free time has been my first clue that this is not the average “travel” experience.  Between the responsibilities of class, Rotary, and consistent change in my living situation, life has been über busy.  A few random thoughts:

After about a month of 10 hour days spent researching and typing papers, I have finished classes for the semester.  Those classes represent 75% of my coursework for the degree.  My paper for “Conflict in Africa” is about Zimbabwe’s intervention in the DRC.  My topic for “Comparative Transitional Justice” is on the intersection of development and transitional justice.  For “Political Ethics”, I wrote on the effects of neoliberalism on the spatial framework of African cities.  With any luck, I might pass.

South African winter is pretty vicious.  It’s not cold like Boston, but it is wet and windy and an enduring bone chill.  Just as Boston is uncomfortably hot during the summer due to the general lack of air conditioning in any building, South African homes do not have heat.  Instead, there is hot tea.  I have never imbibed so much tea in my life. 

Another peculiarity of living in South Africa is the prevalence of debit utilities as opposed to subscription.  My phone runs on air time that I purchase from the grocery store each time I get low.  The house I live in uses electricity credits that I refill in the same way.  This puts the burden on the user to spend time and effort multiple times a year to stay ahead of the needle.  It also creates some intractable and potentially humorous situations.  My car is parked behind an electric security fence, which doubles as the pedestrian passageway.  When we run out of electricity (which usually happens before we notice we’re getting low), we can’t get out of the house without climbing the security fence.  As Murphy would have it, this usually happens when the stores are closed.

Adhering to a familiar pattern, I am once again homeless.  To prepare the way for a road trip during my break from class, I moved out of my house in Observatory.  It would appear that my accommodations have a shelf life of about two months.  The record for living in the most areas of Cape Town is in my sights.  For the second time in as many moves, a wonderfully generous friend (thanks, Anna) and her border collie took Sara and me into her home.



As classes take an extended break for the World Cup, I’ve long been plotting a journey inland.  Cape Town is an international city that at times bears little difference from any other western city.  I am extremely excited about the opportunity to see a different side of southern Africa. 

My Louisvillian friend Sara, in her zeal for international futbol, has joined me for this foray.  Another friend, Tran, will come along for a portion of the trip.


We set out from Cape Town with my friend Sara on June 12.  We spent the night in a tent staked outside a backpacker’s in Mossel Bay.  The next day brought cold and rain and we had limited visibility of the landscape as we drove along the much celebrated Garden Route.

Due to a change in mode of transportation, the original plan has been slightly modified.  From Durban, we will head north, hopefully hitting Lesotho and Swaziland, through Kruger National Park, up into Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls.  We will temporarily cross into Zambia on the way to northern Botswana before turning around and heading back to South Africa.


I never wanted a car.  I fought against it for months upon arrival in Cape Town.  Good public transportation is a form of environmental justice.  Riding public transportation is a way of participating in it and/or fighting for it.  Public transportation builds community, breaks down walls of separation between classes, creates sustainable cities, and builds stronger connection with the urban environment.

Despite all of these good reasons, I gave in to the cajoling of previous scholars and the requirements of my scholarship and bought a car.  It certainly provided a previously unrealized access to Cape Town.

Yet, the costs have been high.  Between the cost of the vehicle, insurance, registration, speeding tickets (they’re bloody clever over here!), maintenance, petrol, and parking fees, I’ve spent the majority of my budget on motor car expenses. 

The idea of using it for a road trip through Southern Africa was its saving grace.

As I left Cape Town, my Kadett packed full, I experienced a sense of freedom, but also an ominous feeling.  There is a mythology of traveling overland in Africa.  Immense skies: exotic animals, intriguing cultures, exhilarating adventure.  But it is a storyline that usually includes a 4×4.  The roads in Africa have a reputation for devouring even the hardiest of automobiles.  Would my car make it? 

Well, actually, in short, no.  Apparently, it takes more than twistie ties…

I figured I had performed all due diligence.  I took it to the Automobile Association to have a technical examination and then to a mechanic to fix some suspension problems and got the go-ahead from him.  I had a gear lock installed and upgraded my insurance.  In fact, I spent most of my last week in Cape Town sorting out car stuff.

Yet, as we prepared to depart Port Elizabeth yesterday, the Kadett refused to go.  The estimation from the mechanic is north of R7, 500, about $1,000.  Worse than that (well, maybe not worse) is that it won’t be finished for another week, long after the match for which I have tickets in Durban has already been played. 

That leaves only one option: abandon the car and go back to the roots: public transportation.  Fortunately, while in Port Elizabeth, I have been staying with a housemate from Cape Town.  His family has blessed me with their generosity and hospitality, and is allowing me to leave my car in Port Elizabeth while I continue on the journey.

Feel it. It is Here.

The first African World Cup began on June 11, 2010.  The day before the tournament was a kickoff concert that included famous musicians, athletes, politicians, as well as my favorite moment of the World Cup thus far.  Archbishop Emeritus Desmund Tutu was summoned to rile up the crowd.  Even as he came onto the stage, he couldn’t contain himself, dancing with glee and sending the crowd into conniptions.  In the middle of speaking, he lost himself in the moment and moved away from the podium to dance again.  The man is a legend.  And you could see immediately what the World Cup means to this country.

The first match of the tournament featured the home country’s Bafana Bafana versus much higher rated Mexico.  I watched from the FanFest public viewing area with 25,000 other yellow-clad fans.  When Bafana scored the first goal, it was everything the country had dreamed of during six years of preparation.  The crowd of South Africans and foreigners alike erupted in a delirium of celebration: primal roars, hugging strangers, kissing friends, and blowing vuvuzelas.The ubiquitous humming of the vuvuzela will be one of the lasting memories from this world cup.  There is no mistaking the sound; if you’re wondering whether you’ve heard a vuvuzela, you haven’t.  The incessant droning transforms each stadium into a hornet’s nest.  Entering one without ear plugs is a risky proposition.  The decibel level is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced at a sporting event.  To top it all off, it is the perfect length to reach directly into the ear of the person sitting in front of you.

My host counselor with the Rotary club surprised me with tickets to the first match in Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium.  The dreary play of France and Uruguay was bested by the beauty of the new stadium. 

Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban

The second match I attended pitted the Ivory Coast against Portugal.  Despite having two of the best strikers in the world in Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo, the two teams failed to score.  I have now seen just over 180 minutes of World Cup soccer without seeing a single goal.  On Saturday, I hope to break that streak when the Netherlands takes on Japan in Durban, home to the only stadium in the world with a cable car over the pitch.

Road Trip

I’ve finished class for the semester, moved out of my house, stashed my extra luggage in a friend’s closet and bundled my car together with twistie-ties.  It’s time for a road trip.

When I have more time (seems to be at a minimum these days), I’ll write more about the end of the semester, the World Cup (Viva Bafana!), and my journey itinerary.  For now, I’m off.  Will update soon…