And the rain rain rain came down down down

Throughout my time in Mahajanga, I have had a song from my childhood running through my head every day as I walk to class. It is a song from the original Winnie-the-Pooh film, and because it is the rainy season here, the lyrics are all-too relevant: “And the rain rain rain came down down down.” My host family told me that this year, they have experienced even more rain than usual. I will admit to being a little frightened one of my first nights in Mahajanga when I woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of a big storm; the rain, thunder, and lightening that frequently illuminated my room lasted for hours. Normally, I love listening to storms and, being a native of the Pacific Northwest, listening to the rain at night is soothing and familiar. Laying in my bed that night, however, I started thinking about cyclones and the potential problem of me being stuck in the mosquito-net tent I had so thoroughly tucked all around me. I half-jokingly told our director the next day that I was a little scared of cyclones, and now I am the designated receiver of all daily weather updates: no cyclones forecasted here today! Since then, I have come to appreciate the rain again, and the stormy nights are back to being soothing and the rain back to causing a little feeling of being home.

For Malagasy people, rain is perceived as a blessing. We first learned this after visiting a Sakalava doany–a sacred prayer site of the coastal Sakalava people. As with many of our scheduled and unscheduled activities here, the visit started out dry but a downpour commenced shortly after our arrival. The member of one of the royal Sakalava families who received us said that to them, the rain signified that our meeting there was blessed. We were welcomed warmly and invited to come back again. Another such blessed occasion was our last night in Mahajanga. We had a party with all the host families during one of the more torrential rains, and the evening was filled with much dancing, singing, and laughter. At the end of the night, my host family and I darted to the car, laughing as we all got soaked. I will not forget the car ride home making one last tour of the city by night: by the market and the Grand Baobab, along the waterfront and the port, eventually making our way home, all the while singing together the Shania Twain song playing on the radio.

During this blessed stay in Mahajanga, we started the academic program, explored much of the city, interviewed many important members of the community, and practiced both French and Malagasy a lot. Staying with a host family for me was the highlight. It felt like time flew during these two weeks together and I was sad to say goodbye after forming a connection with this family.

The emblem of Mahajanga is a giant baobab tree located right off the boardwalk and, conveniently, not even a two minutes walk from my host family’s home. The tree is over 400  years old and its size and grandeur demand attention. The intricate trunk and root system is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life; it looks as though 50 trees all grew together, twisting around one another into a single unit.
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On one of my last mornings in Mahajanga, I left earlier than usual to walk along the boardwalk before class and I stayed for a while to admire the baobab and reflect on my time there. As I gazed at this sturdy, impressive tree, I was reminded of the theme for this church year in my home congregation, “Rooted and Grounded in Love” (Ephesians 3:17). As I thought about this theme in relation to my experiences here thus far, I realized how appropriate it is. Along with many other people I have met, my host family is a perfect example of people living in this faithful way. They have been so hospitable and loving to me, and their commitment to their faith is evident in all that they do. I joked with my Dad that I traveled entirely across the world and I somehow still ended up in a “Pastor’s kid” household. I would frequently hear my host father reading scripture out loud  or singing familiar hymns in Malagasy all around the house-including the song my Dad’s family in the united States commonly sings together before meals. When I went to church with him, he translated much of the two-and-a-half-hour-long service from Malagsy to French for me, and he belted the hymns from his favorite spot in the back of the packed sanctuary. On particularly lucky occasions, I would listen from my bedroom to both my host parents singing prayers together in the other room in perfect, uniquely Malagasy harmony.

The morning of my departure, we packed all my things and I thought we were going to take advantage of the pause in the rain and all get in the car too. Instead, they ushered me back inside and sat me down so that they could pray for me together before I left. Their prayers were in Malagasy so I didn’t know most of the words, but I understood. The rain started again. After their spoken prayers, they sang the song I had cherished listening to from my room, and tears formed underneath my shut eyelids as I thought about these people and their loving hearts that have touched mine in such a short period of time. After the song, they asked me to pray in English. Like me, I don’t think they knew all the words, but they somehow understood.

They drove me to our place of departure, and we exchanged our final goodbyes huddled under an umbrella. They wished me safe travels and a future return. Standing there in the rain between them, I truly felt blessed.

Kirsti

This City Only Works For a Few

This City Only Works For A Few

I started school last Monday. Hard to say, but I kind of missed school in a weird way. As much as I “dread” going to school, not being in school for 3 months I was eager to get back to learning. I am taking three courses this semester, because classes here are worth more credits than in the USA, its confusing so I won’t explain.  I am taking Italian level 2, Religion, Conflict; Violence, and lastly Political Economy of the Social Service Professions. Classes are almost every day, but are only 45 minutes. Local South African students keep asking me if the classes at UCT are harder than the ones in the states. Apparently most American’s struggle. I’m not sure if they struggle because of the difficulty of the class or the fact they are doing other things rather than study. So far I feel like I can succeed! *knock on wood*

I also joined a volunteer program called “Shawco.” If you are interested in what Shawco is about you can check out their website at  http://www.shawco.org.It’s great! I have chosen to volunteer with grades 4-7 and I  help out with the English, Math, Art and Sports. I also chose to volunteer in a township called Manenberg. It is a short bus ride of maybe 10 minutes away from the University of Cape Town and has been in the news for their high crime rates, unemployment rates of 65%, and known for their famous gangs “The Americans,” “Hard Living.” Manenberg was a township created during the apartheid for coloured people living with high poverty rates to live. If you want to read more about the town here is a link http://www.sahistory.org.za/place/manenberg (if you read about the town don’t freak out- there are positives of the town as well, and it’s not all dangerous- I go with the University of Cape Town so it is as safe as possible for me!)

It is one thing to talk about gangs or high levels of poverty in a class room sitting in Seattle or for that matter most any other University in the USA, but it is heart wrenching seeing it in person. Today I went on my first volunteering project to a township called Manenberg. I sat in awe in our van as we pulled up through a barbed wire fence, drove through a dirt path, and stopped in front of Manenberg Primary school. The school resembled a large shack, rather than a typical middle school. I instantly wanted to bawl and if you know me I’m not usually one to cry.

As we got off the bus all the kids came RUNNING, and jumping on us. I had three kids playing with my hair asking if I knew Tupac personally and two kids WRAPPED around me. After prying the kids off we then went to our class room, I was working with 3 other volunteers and 14 7th graders. Our program advisors warned us how unruly the kids would be, so they asked some older students to help.  The first task we were suppose to do was have the students do a lesson in their math book. I was shocked how simple their math was at 7th grade- they were learning how to write 1/10 as a decimal and visa versa. We then read with the kids for a little, I think for the whole 2 hours I was there, 75% of the time the kids were yelling, running around, jumping on the tables, and speaking in Afrikaans to avoid any actual learning. All of the kids were nice to me, it was rather them being rude to each other. They kept hitting each other with this big piece of plastic piping. I finally grabbed it from one of the boys and he told me I was suppose to beat the kids. I gave him a confused look, and he said yes you beat the kids if they’re bad, that’s what you’re suppose to do. I can’t even imagine.

I was speaking with a couple boys and they kept throwing up a sign with their hands, which in the USA means “I love you,” but I obviously knew this was not what they meant, rather it was a gang sign. The boys went on to ask me if I knew about “The Americans” and I said yes (the famous gang). I asked if they knew people in the gang, and one of them said yes, and one pointed to a younger boy who was maybe 7 and said his dad was a gang member. The boys then went to inform me if a gang does come to the school I will need to duck and dodge the bullets.

Talking about gangs to them and joining gangs to them was a right of passage. It was a common sense thing, once you turn 18 or 19 you join a gang. But do they have a choice? I mean the obvious answer is “yes” we all make our own decisions. But I mean do they LITERALLY have another option? I think in this specific case, these kids don’t. There isn’t another way of life, there isn’t enough (if any) support from family members, government funding to provide extra curricular activities or proper tools for education. It’s a vicious cycle-yes they go to school, but they don’t have the proper tools ( food, clothing, text books, writing utensils) to learn, to prosper, to dream, or to hope for much of a future. As I was leaving the kids came up to me and made me promise them I would come back next week, they’re infatuated that I am from “America.” They act as if I am royalty of some sort. It’s twisted.

I think about the way I was raised and it’s the complete opposite, the theme of always being able to do more, or to do better, or to dream bigger. Whatever I have wanted to do in life my mom has always supported me and helped make it happen. If I had never had her I would not be the person I am today. I think this goes for most everyone.  It was in these moments with these kids that I realized how truly lucky and grateful I am to be able to have the luxuries of things I don’t have to think twice about- feeling SAFE in school, at my house or not having to worry about gangs coming to shoot me or my family members and having a support system.

I know I am just one person, and it’s not that I am going to be able to make a huge difference in my time abroad at the Manenberg primary school, but maybe my difference will be one less ignorant person.

Manenberg is one of many townships that faces these problems in South Africa today. I was learning in my Social Service class that since the rise of democracy here, there has been an increase in poverty levels. When I get a complete answer of why this has happened I will write about it, but as of now I don’t know exactly why there is a rise of poverty. I think part of the problem has lied within the questions of what defines poverty is? And what constitutes poverty? There is no exact definition of poverty in South Africa and I think this plays a large role.

Interestingly, former president Thabo Mbeki promised in 2004 that poverty levels in South Africa would be cut in half by 2014, clearly this isn’t going to be possible. It’s so hard to wrap my head around the idea that both the United States and South Africa are democracies. I feel as if the word democracy means two different things for each of these two countries. How can you have democracy with a Constitution guaranteeing its people, basic human rights, social justice and an improved life, but then COMMONLY have townships like Manenberg?!  On the way to Manenberg we drove past another township and written in spray paint in huge letters was, “This city only works for a few.” Sadly, today I can truly say I have both realized and experienced this.

This wasn’t suppose to be a sad post, but hopefully we can take a second to be grateful for everything we do have.

Lo

Unexpected Changes

Probably the number one piece of advice I was given before embarking on my study abroad adventure was to have no expectations. I definitely tried this but there are a lot of things I wish I had known before leaving.

The first is that apparently not everyone enrolled in university is a bleeding heart liberal. I’m kind of exaggerating, of course, but it can be off putting to be around people that don’t have the same views as you (and most of the people you know at home) – both the host culture and other American students. My advice would be to stick to what you believe in but don’t try to push your beliefs on others too much, especially the ones you have to see on a regular basis…

The second is that life does go on without you back home. This has probably been the hardest thing I have to deal with. When you are trying to befriend people in your new city, your good friends back home always seem like they’re having a lot of fun. It is hard to stay in touch and you might feel out of the loop but it is alright because hey, you’re abroad!

Now, in particular to Italy, you may want to be aware of these things:
1) Walking on the sidewalk and crossing the street will never feel more terrifying than it does in Italian cities, stay alert!
2) There are more mosquitos here than I have ever encountered camping, I think we are particularly sensitive to them because they are a different kind than the ones in America. Buy bug spray!
3) Starch is a part of every meal, make sure to walk a lot to balance it out.

That’s all for now! Hope I didn’t scare anyone but you live and you learn. Italy is a beautiful country with lots of beautiful people (in and out)! So thankful to be here.

Olivia

Lions, Elephants & Ostriches

The past week and a half has been crazy! Everyday was a new adventure. I’ll try to do a little recap.

I had class registration a week and a half ago. THE MOST STRESSFUL THING EVER. The University of Cape Town DOESN’T have online registration. Which means to add, drop or change classes you have to walk to different buildings and have different signatures. Holy mess. The campus has about 26,000 students, and 600 of those students are study abroad. So picture 600 study abroad students + the incoming freshmen students running around campus (mind you this campus is so large it has bus’s to get you from lower to middle to upper campus) going from department to department to sign up for courses they want. It was insane. I had to take a placement test for the next level of Italian and was notified 18 hours prior to my test. Thank goodness I tested into the correct level of Italian. All I  have to say is after this experience I am never complaining about online registration- EVER AGAIN!

Fingers crossed I did my registration correct, because classes start tomorrow.

After registration last Monday morning many of us departed via bus on a Garden Route tour of the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape! *South Africa has 9 regions, and Cape Town is situated in the Western Cape* South Africa is HUGE. To give you an idea it is about a 13 hour drive from Cape Town to the edge of the Eastern Cape! This was a four day intensely packed itinerary! We went canoeing in the Wilderness National Park, walked with lions, bungy jumped off the biggest bridge in the world ( I chickened out and could not do it, way to high for me ), went to J’bay and surfed in the Indian Ocean where Billabong surf competitions are held every year ( more like I was swallowed by the waves, but surfing sounds cooler), went to Tsitsikamma National Park which was so beautiful, rode and fed ELEPHANTS, rode ostriches ( I did not do this, I thought it was too mean), and finally crawled yes literally crawled through the Cango Caves. Parts of the caves were so small that people in the past have actually gotten stuck INSIDE of the cave for many hours! I wanted to make a note, petting lions, riding ostriches and elephants is not a NORMAL thing to do in Africa. Many locals who I told would laugh and say they have grown up in Africa and have never done any of these things.

A side note. I wrote a paper last spring quarter on the relationship between China and Africa. The question I explored was: Is the China-Africa relationship mutually beneficial? I then asked if African’s welcomed the Chinese and liked their involvement in Africa, and felt their relationship was furthering their continent. At the end of my research my paper I concluded it was in fact a beneficial relationship and the African’s welcomed them. During the Garden Route, my tour guide was from Cape Town, and she told us we could ask her any questions regardless if they were political or not. So I asked her opinion. For the most part she wanted nothing to do with the Chinese, and she felt they extracted the natural resources and left Africa with little. She acknowledged they built infrastructures, but made the point that these infrastructures they built were not meant to last, and many of the roads they have recently built are already falling apart. The Chinese also take their large boats and hang these huge nets off of them sweeping the floor of the ocean killing all and everything in their path including dolphins, wales and any coral. I met another man from Mozambique this summer in Portugal, and I asked him this same question. He replied to me that he has never seen so many Chinese in Africa before, and they are taking all of the African jobs because they can provide the labor and the resource for much cheaper than the African’s can. Therefore only contributing to the high rate of unemployment. He was also against the relationship. I just thought these two perspectives were interesting and some food for thought.

Before I left for Cape Town my professor at Seattle University made the comment, you shouldn’t go to Africa to help, but to listen. I LOVE THIS. Since I have been here my study abroad group has urged us to volunteer ( GREAT ), however the way in which you volunteer is important. My tour guide also made the comment if you want to help, teach someone a skill they don’t have, but don’t just feed them soup for a day. I think this is key. It is easy to volunteer and feed people for a day, but after that day tomorrow they will have to find food again. Therefore, if you instead teach them how to make a specific food, or how to grow a specific crop they will have this trade with them for life not a day. My tour guide further went on to say it is part of the African culture to beg, and we need to change this, or they will never be able to rise out of poverty. When we volunteer it is easy to get caught up in, what WE think they need, instead of listening to what THEY need. Last spring quarter I watched a video about Ethiopia and how the United Nations came in dropping food off, the people made the comment they didn’t need food and showed footage of all the fields of crops they had. Rather they needed to learn how to make this crop into food! As I sign up to volunteer around Cape Town I am going to take into these different perspectives on how to volunteer, because I think these points are so crucial.

I am off to try to go find out where my classes are tomorrow, so I don’t get completely lost. Hopefully since school has started I will be able to keep up with my blogs. I love Cape Town and couldn’t have made a better choice to spend a semester abroad.

Cheers,

Lo

Speak slow

I was very surprised to find out how common it is for Austrians to know English. German is their most widely spoken language, but English was everywhere. Every restaurant had English translations on the menu, every server spoke a decent amount, and some street signs were even in English without any German accompanying it. Speaking so much of my native language that weekend was a delight and a treat, and hearing a language I didn’t know a single word of really cemented my confidence in the fact that I actually do know how to speak Spanish. When I returned to Granada, I really started to put my all into the language portion of this abroad experience of mine.

I made the very difficult decision to abandon the book I’m currently reading and instead pick up one of the novels on my host mom’s bookshelf, which are of course all in Spanish. Seriously tragic and seriously necessary. It seemed to me that I needed to integrate Spanish into every possible facet of my life, and reading for pleasure is surely one of the big ones–exclusively utilizing Spanish in a completely language-based activity felt like one of the best ways for me to do what I came to Spain to do. So for now it’s hasta luego to Milan Kundera, and hola to Gabriel García Marquez. It took me about an hour to read 4 pages (my reading in Spanish process entails looking up every unknown word, writing them down, reading over what I just read out loud, trying to figure it out like a puzzle if something still doesn’t make sense, thinking to myself for several moments, waiting for an aha! moment, continuing that process for the next section of the page, then reading the page out loud as a whole when I’ve finished). It’s terribly frustrating and it makes me feel nearly illiterate, but it has also been extremely effective in better understanding how to use words and phrases in context. At the end of that hour, I knew exactly what was going on in those four pages, and I’m really proud of that. #1hour4pages say it with me now.

My classes started and now I have a full schedule. I’m taking Political Systems in the European Union (my favorite), Oral and Written production (basically practice with reading/writing in Spanish), Contemporary Art in Spain, Islamic Culture in Spain, and Development of Spanish Cultures. In case you’re wondering, yes, all my classes are in Spanish, and I understand my professors with ease! If only all Spaniards enunciated every sound like my professors do…SIGH. Even more than reading novels in Spanish, speaking with natives on the street is a really great way to make me feel like I know absolutely nothing. A natively spoken sentence in Spanish is a string of beautifully flowing sounds, and could almost be one giant word; it’s hard to tell when one word stops and the next begins. My original New Years resolution was to become good enough at Spanish to articulately talk about philosophy, but I see now that that’s too difficult. My modified resolution is to be able to hold a conversation with native Spanish speakers, truly understand what they’re saying, and feel relatively confident about it. Say some prayers for me or somethin’

Here’s a cool fact: I was talking to a guy in Vienna (in English) and he told me I spoke English very fast and needed to speak slower. Ha!!! Felt very nice being on the other end of that scenario, for once

Sydney

I went to Vienna (not to be confused with Venice, guys!)

We (Gabby, Brandon, me) knew Vienna was going to be cold, so we bundled up like eskimos before we ventured outside the hostel. The chilly air met our faces (the only body part exposed) and the confrontation actually felt nice for awhile, like a splash of cool water after a long day. Something happened, though, and the refreshing breeze got upset and started slapping us with massive gusts of icy wind until our faces were tingling, almost numb. It was like a dog calmly sniffing our hands until deciding that it hates us and wreaking the subsequent havoc. Was it something I said….?

The shocking and painful cold never went away and it made venturing through the city really hard for me. My chin felt colder than anything else on my face which not only reaffirmed its physical prominence to me (I know, Cold, stop rubbing it in), but made finding a store that sells winter-wear to be my top priority. Gabby needed to buy a hat herself, so luckily I didn’t feel like a self-serving jerk dictating our destination.

In reality, however, the city itself was dictating our destination. Though we were on the hunt for scarves/hats, we were stopped dead in our tracks more than once by the awesome, unfathomable grandeur of Vienna’s beauty. She captured us, hypnotized us; we followed her beautiful features like a fly being summoned by a flickering light. My free will and everything else melted away while the beauty that I couldn’t quite comprehend came into focus. All I knew how to do was stare and get closer. Mesmerized, you could say.

This was our first unplanned, reality-altering stop:

vienna

vienna1
Obviously nothing can be captured in its full magnificence through a photo, but isn’t it absolutely stunning? It’s a cathedral called “Votivkirche”.

We had a few more of these amazing stops before I snapped out of my daze and realized I still really really really needed a scarf. The one I eventually found was big and warm and quickly became very essential to our cold routine (succumbing to our awe and walking around the city for hours, taking refuge in a warm cafe, journeying around outside some more, dinner and wine, sleep)

Vienna is most certainly the most beautiful city I’ve been to in my life thus far. It was a beautiful vacation, I had some great laughs with great company (shoutout to Gabby and Brandon!!) and I can’t wait to return to Vienna at some point when the weather is a bit more kind

P.S. EXTREME SHOUTOUT TO SWISS AIRLINES FOR HAVING SUCH COMFORTABLE SEATS AND GIVING US SERIOUSLY DELICIOUS SANDWICHES

Sydney

American Insulation in Florence

Over and over we are warned about culture shock – when we will experience it and when it will go away. While I have one roommate who is having a hard time adjusting, overall I think that in Florence culture shock happens much less than in other areas. The reason being that it is a university city – Italians, Erasmus, and a high population of American students every semester. The university I take courses at has over 700 U.S. students and only a few other international students. In this way, there has not been a lot of adjustment.

While this may be ideal for some, I came to Italy for cultural immersion and frankly, it has been hard to find. I live with five Americans, go to class with all Americans, everyone speaks English, and it is a challenge to avoid the comfort zone.

I hope that as time passes on I find myself in restaurants or cafes where I’m a national minority. So I can finally experience culture shock!

Olivia