Forcing Drama on a Story

Glimpse has re-published my first piece that was earlier featured on Matador.  Day to day in Riempi: Life in a South African township.  Same essay, different name.

Additionally, my editor from Glimpse has chosen that essay about living in Riemvasmaak for her column detailing the editorial process.

Check out the Glimpse Editorial Blog.

It’s a bit embarrassing to have a first draft published with mistakes highlighted and discussed, but it is indicative of the struggle I went through with this piece, and Sarah’s perspective on the other side.  She has invited me to post a response, which I hope to do in the near future…


“Notes from RVO 337” published at Matador

I don’t use Twitter, so maybe this happens to everybody, all the time.  To me, however, it is unique: I have never been tweeted about (at least that I know of), or done anything of note that someone felt must be known–at 140 words or less–immediately.  I’ve never had twitter significance…er…twitter-ifigance .  Until today.


writing from places ppl romanticize or ignore, anything but having the balls to go live: Notes from RVO 337

The editor of Matador, an online magazine for independent travel writing, just published one of my pieces.  And I learned about it from a tweet.  I feel uber-hip.

Click here for the story…

Special thanks to my Dad for final editing.

Glimpse Photo Essay

First things first: my photo essay has been published over at Glimpse.  Find it here.

I enjoyed the process of writing for Glimpse.  I have spent years of my life writing academic papers (usually hurriedly, with little sleep and not a little beer)  to be submitted for a grade and never thought of again.  I used to joke that once I hit the prescribed word count, I would stop mid-sentence, press print and elatedly (if not belatedly) turn it in.  This was no exaggeration.  Most of my papers in graduate school really did go straight from screen to submission, without even a hint of revision.

“Creative Writing” (for that’s what they call it, it turns out) was never required, nor was it attempted in my normal life, for the most part.  I began to write “creatively” as a means of expression, to give critical thought and voice to my experience as I traveled and encountered new things.  I never really thought about the difference between this and how I had written in school, except that this was more fun and more fulfilling.

Nothing I had done in school had prepared me for the experience of submitting a piece of my creative writing for the editorial process.  I had become used to the red ink on a critical essay for class; I had not anticipated the emotions I would feel when I received my creative writing, basically my journal, with pages of feedback and critique.  My travel journal was a place of freedom.  I hid my embarrassment, fuming about my editor at Glimpse: “These are my thoughts.  If you don’t like them, too bad.”

Whereas I really wasn’t that concerned with how well I expressed my analysis of theological typologies, my creative writing was much closer to my heart.

After the initial shock, I began to appreciate the feedback from my editor.  After several months of the editorial process, I emerged a better writer.

I initially applied to Glimpse as a photographer.  It turns out that words definitely form the core of the program.  While I do enjoy that form of expression, photography is my passion.  I was allowed one photo essay of the four pieces that will eventually be published.  Where writing was sometimes a struggle, the photo essay was pure joy.

My photo essay is now live on Glimpse.  In pictures, it tells the story of a mass public protest action in Riemvasmaak.  I wrote this about the experience at the time.

You can find the photo essay at Glimpse here.

Special thanks to Erica for feedback on the original round of photos.  Thanks to everybody for your support!

First Glimpse Article Posted

Some you may remember a post I made several months ago about becoming an international correspondent for an online magazine called Glimpse. For the last six months, I’ve been writing, editing, and revising essays for publication on their website.

Well, the day has come.  My first article, In the Shadow of Table Mountain, has “gone live” (do they say that?).  It is about my decision to leave Cape Town and move to the Eastern Cape.  They give me a twizzler for every comment, so if you leave me one on their website, I’ll give you half.

Several more articles will be published on their site in the near future.  Thanks for reading!

For those interested, this is the Mission Statement from Glimpse’s website:

Glimpse believes that independent travelers, particularly those who spend significant time abroad, have a unique and often overlooked opportunity to effect positive change around the world. This begins with bearing witness to place, people, culture, and especially the stories and struggles that might otherwise go unrecorded.

Our goal is to build a worldwide community of “Correspondents,” travelers with strong creative visions for storytelling through words and images, and to provide them with a professional platform–including stipends, community support, and one-on-one editorial training–for publishing high-profile journalistic work based on their travels abroad.


I love to travel.  That much won’t be news to anyone who knows me, or has read this blog.  What may come as a surprise is that, in the most literal sense, I also love the process of travel.  Bustling airport terminals, never-ending plane rides, rectangular trays of airline food (minus the rage-inducing plasticware).  Nevertheless, there is a point on every return trip that I dread, when the reverse culture shock kicks in and when I realize that the adventure is over: the American domestic terminal.

Those first few steps past customs can be isolating and disorienting, even if colored with a modicum of relief.

Until this point, you have something in common with all the strangers surrounding you. International travel–exciting, uncomfortable, perhaps even mind-altering–forges a common bond.   But more than that, the shared experience of life in the same city brings you together.  Even the tiny things reflect converging worlds, a sense of camaraderie and understanding.  At the Cape Town International Airport, we could hold a conference about Stoney Ginger Beer, the best way to braai, and the pros and cons of Wellington Sweet Chili Sauce.

In Chicago O’Hare’s Terminal 3, however, there is no one who I can nudge to communicate my appreciation of my first cup of Starbucks coffee in over a year.  I try to share with the barista, but receive no more than a blank look in response.  I pause in a row of seats with cold metal armrests to try and figure out what day it is, what time it is, and why am I so tired?  My neighbors–the airport requisite one seat interval between us–do not seem to have the same problem. The airline asks me to take a bump.  I explain that I will need to use their phone to inform my ride.  The attendant stares in disbelief: how can you be traveling, yet not have a phone?  “It’s in South Africa, with the rest of my life!” I irrationally want to shout at her.

But that’s too forceful, of course.  And untrue.  Home is glorious in its familiarity. Family that loves you.  Old, comfortable relationships. Places of (personal) historical significance.  The food and drink your taste buds were raised on.  The morning newspaper which looks the same as it has for twenty years.  The sports teams you grew up cheering for.  Even old clothing you forgot you owned.  Re-acquainting is joyful.

Yet, it can be a bit lonely when your world is different.  It is always with mixed emotions that I return home.  I have changed.  Home has changed.

In addition to relational isolation, returning home also involves, preeminently, a broader cultural disorientation.  Whereas on one hand, previously harmonized mates struggle to understand your context, on the other hand, it is more complicated to understand the now estranged cultural milieu.

Contemplating my relationship with home, the old break-up standard enters my head: “It’s not you, it’s me.”  And with that in mind, I refer you to Sarah Menkedick’s reflections on her recent homecoming, Encounters With Ex-Boyfriends, in which she compares the United States with a former lover. Bracing myself against that icy metal in a bustling O’Hare terminal, trying to figure out where all the snow came from, Menkedick’s article helped structure some of my beleaguered emotions.  If you get a break from your eggnog, give it a look…

End of Year? Christmas?

Within thirty minutes of disembarking the plane, I was standing in Kirstenbosch Gardens in the shadow of Table Mountain, flanked by verdant flora and stunning proteas, with the sun caressing my skin.  After the chilly, wet day in Port Elizabeth, it was easy for me to see why people fall in love with this city so easily.  I almost began to regret my decision to leave—almost.  The venue for the summer concert series is second to none—in the entire world.

Writing the date in my journal shocks me—could it really be mid-December already?  I have to remind myself that it is Christmas time when I see people wearing red Santa hats with the white fuzzy ball at the top.  It will reach ninety degrees in Cape Town on Monday.

My only previous hot weather Christmas came in Venezuela on a resort island (spent romantically with my roommate, John Mac).  I layed on the beach and then had a fish dinner.  Despite the news of icy conditions coming from Europe’s airports, I am happy to be spending Christmas back in the United States.

My acting debut as a Wise Man came on Thursday in front of 5,000 people at Carols by Candlelight, a Kirstenbosch Rotary tradition held at one of the world’s most beautiful venues, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.  It is really special to see 5,000 candles waving in front of you with Table Mountain over your shoulder.  Yet, it won’t feel quite like Christmas until I trade my shorts and sandals for a heavy coat.

Returning to the (Real?) World

So I am now leaving the life of the township for Western habits and mores.  The transition is not automatic.

I initially mistake the reflections of sunlight on the polished metal bench at the Port Elizabeth Airport for insects crawling around my couch back in Riemvasmaak.  Chairman once said to me, “you know the insects personally and they know you.  This one knows when he sees you, ‘that’s the owner of this house.’”

One of the many things you learn in the township is how to wait—often, for nothing in particular.  I have adapted.  The initiative and ambition that is so valued in the Western workplace has taken a backseat to endurance and perseverance.  I will have to realign myself.

Scarcity and transience causes a particular mindset: better to do it now—there may not be another chance.  I notice a peculiar, but now familiar anxiety as my phone charges in the outlet at the airport.  I must get as much as possible now, before it goes away.

My withdrawals from township style living are now being overcompensated with overindulgence.  Long hot showers, hours of surfing the internet, oversleeping in a full size bed with clean sheets, sitting on the couch and wasting time watching TV.