Thursday, July 27, 2006

From Grahamstown to Cape Town

Here I am in Cape Town on the last leg of my South Africa trip. It’s overcast and a wet winter day. Like Cape Town, it does show signs of sun, so there might be a blue sky yet!

My last two days in Grahamstown went fast and were full of friends. I stopped by the English department a few times to say hello to my former professors and to wax lyrical about my year in Grahamstown and my thesis days.

Thelma and Derek Henderson, my Rotary contacts and friends, took Jayne, Kerry, Craig, and I out for dinner at La Galleria. The Hendersons always take me to this restaurant, and I consider this “our” place as friends. As always, Thelma and Derek entertained us with fabulous stories and treated us to a fantastic dinner. They are two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

Kerry, Jayne, and I spent my last day (Tuesday) on a drive in Kerry’s car out to Bathurst, a small town outside of Grahamstown, with reputedly the oldest pub. We window shopped, ate, etc. The perfect last day with friends. We wrapped up the final day with a cozy dinner at Kerry and Craig’s, laughing over the first episode of The Amazing Race. At one point I almost said, “All the contestants are American.” Then I realized that I was thankfully out of touch with American Reality TV!

Now I am in Cape Town, where I will shortly head over to the National Gallery. There are reputedly some Pre-Raphaelites there, which are my favorite. Madonna is playing on the speakers in the internet café. I am in the mood for fun.

Tomorrow I turn 32, and I start off my birthday with a Meningitis shot, the last of my immunizations before I head to Nairobi. I tell you, I’ve put more money in my veins to come to “darkest Africa” than I thought possible! I shall spend my birthday buying books with vouchers from volunteering at the Grahamstown Festival and heading out to Franschhoek, a gorgeous town in the winelands. I am happy.

As I celebrate 32, I want to thank each of you for making my life so full of love, laughter, and friendship. From the tip of South Africa, I send you love and hugs.



A Literary/Artistic Pilgrimage

What a strange thing to be on my last two days in Grahamstown. A month flies by fast. As always happens, I find myself trying to fit in last minute things that “I meant to do” earlier in the trip.

For example, this morning I went and bonded with my thesis. I went to the library, plucked it off the shelf, and read through bits of it. I didn’t feel horrified like I thought I would. I actually felt quite proud. Isn't it pretty...

This weekend I took an artistic pilgrimage to Nieu Bethesda. I drove up with Billy de Klerk, a Grahamstown Rotarian and Paleontologist (I hope this is correct!). He gave me a fascinating seminar on the geology and history of the Easter Cape, dating back 300 million years ago. What a fantastic three-hour drive. If you watch the Discovery Channel, it’s quite possible that you’ve seen Billy. He’s quite a fossil finder! Way back in the UIUC days when I was filling my General Education credits, Geology was my favorite…

I was making this trek to Nieu Bethesda to visit The Owl House and write ( Nieu Bethesda is a tiny little dorp (village) of 90 people in the main part and 800 in the township. It’s quiet, safe, and beautiful. I first visited eight years ago with my Honours class at Rhodes, and since then, I have struggled to write a poem about my love of this place. I’ve workshopped it again and again, in many different forms—all with the same conclusion: it needs more work.

I found myself last Thursday under a clear blue sky and a crisp wind sitting in The Owl House garden. I must have looked “creative” because a few people stopped by to ask me what I was doing, why I was here, etc. One woman, an artist in PE, even gave me her email and said I must come and see them. It’s a quirky place where quirky things happen!

On Thursday night there were only three other people at the Backpackers, two German women and one of their daughters, a cute little eight year old. We ended up having quite a few chats, and I’ll probably see them in Cape Town next week. It’s so fun meeting people, and I’m getting used to this traveling alone gig!

On Friday, I took a fossil tour in the riverbed, the new venture of Billy de Klerk and some of his fellow scientists. I never would have noticed most of these fossils on my own. This area of South Africa, the Karoo, is a rich area for fossils and ecological history. The final proof that the continents of Africa and Antarctica were once joined came from the correlations of fossils in the Karoo and Antartica.

I then went back to The Owl House for more writing. I meandered the garden again and again, writing and rewriting, observing and listening. The weather was turning cold, so I didn’t last too long. I enjoyed a few fun conversations with café and restaurant owners as I enjoyed my last day in Nieu Bethesda. That night when I went outside, the Karoo sky gave me what I was looking for—thousands of glorious stars. Beautiful. The Southern Cross in all its glory.

On Saturday morning I woke up to rain and chill, a perfect day to leave town. I went to Graaff-Reinet, where I would meet Cathy and Brian Hopkins, a couple I met on a Rotary talk-tour in 1998. I think all of Nieu Bethesda knew I needed a ride to Graaff-Reinet, and when one ride fell through, the other person was still going. I rode in the back of a pick-up (a covered one of course) with a traveling preacher going to a funeral. As we traveled on the dirt road, we rose in elevation slightly—just enough for the ground and the cows to be covered with a heavy frost. The preacher said a prayer for a safe journey, and he prayed that this young woman (me) would be kept from the devil. The journey went well, but the devil…well, you can be the judge of that J.

I enjoyed a fabulous Saturday with Cathy and Brian, and it made me wish all my visits could last indefinitely. I haven’t seen them for eight years, but we laughed and carried on as if I just saw them last week. Alas, my ride to Grahamstown (another ride found through the grape vine), left Sunday at 9am. I enjoyed the ride back with Clive and the three guys being brought back to Rhodes. I saw some wildlife along the road (monkeys, springbox, wildebeast) and felt a bit melancholy that my time in the Eastern Cape of South Africa is almost over.

Now, I am off to have my last of two dinners in Grahamstown. Travel is wonderful, but it always comes to an end too soon. Pictures coming soon. I ran out of time at the internet café J.



Aka Moe

Monday, July 17, 2006

A Weekend in Adelaide

Five weeks come and gone. This trip continues to speed on, and I am starting to say some goodbyes. It feels like I just arrived, but the calendar says otherwise. I'm just not ready to say goodbye yet!

This weekend I went up to Adelaide, a quiet town 60 miles north of Grahamstown, where my friend Rowan teaches. School only starts today, so the school and town were not yet buzzing with kids. I do enjoy Adelaide, but I don't think I could live there. Too quiet. Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time with Rowan and his friends.

I arrived Friday afternoon and sat down to a cup of tea with Rowan's friends, the Kloppers. I tried not to get in a sparring match with Tiennes, the only person I've ever met outside the US who likes George Bush! Geraldine, Tiennes, and their two daughters are great friends with Rowan, which is fabulous in such a small town like Adelaide. Friday night, Rowan and I hopped off to the Hotel bar in town--the only place to go "out" in Adelaide. I was the token American, but also the token "new girl" in town. Oh dear. A bunch of farmer men who really need to get out more!

Saturday proved a delightful day of socializing and teas. I have to remind myself to drink water, as I am continually drinking tea. We went to dinner at a small farm just out of town, and the company was jolly at ten people, three dogs, and two cats. Nights like these make a vacation truly unique. A bunch of friends sitting around a hookah, smoking some fruity concoction with no nicotine and apparently little tar. All of us nonsmokers did this first "anti-nicotine" round before the serious ones started! It's a shame I didn't bring my camera for evidence. We all ate and chatted and laughed until we ate at 10:30pm, not heading home until a sleepy 12:30am.

When I left Sunday, I just didn't want to acknowledge that it was goodbye with Rowan. Thankfully, there are cell phones that help us out! The drive back to Grahamstown was full of contemplation and conversation with Rowan's parents, who generously picked me up. I just sat back and admired the landscape, reminding myself how lucky I am to be here.

This week I am spending time with my two very good friends, Kerry (and her hubby Craig) and Jayne, as I am only in Grahamstown Monday-Thursday morning, when I head to Nieu Bethesda for the weekend.

On Wednesay I am off to Mary Waters High School in Grahamstown, where I will meet with the teachers and hand over the catalogue lists of the 14 boxes of books Lab School donated for them. I don't know if any books arrived yet, but I hope the post offices on both ends don't disappoint us all!

Life in South Africa continues to inspire my writing, and I keep at it! I've done quite a few poems and my daily writing log is sporadic but consistent. I need to sit down and start a travel essay, but I imagine Nieu Bethesda will be a good place to start. The town is tiny, tiny and the stars are unhindered by light and pollution. I am heading to Nieu Bethesda specifically to write, as The Owl House is a place of continual inspiration for me. Those of you who have read or seen Athol Fugard's play The Road to Mecca will understand. Photos to come.

All my love,


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Where is she? Moe in South Africa Part 1

This is my long overdue first “what’s going on inSouth Africa” post. I’ve been here a full month, and while a few of you have emailed me, I thought I’d sum things up. My flight to South Africa was on-time and easy.

The flight stopped over in Dakar, Senegal, and it felt strange to be touching down in an unknown country and staying on the plane. Maybe someday I’ll visit Senegal. I spent two days on my own in Melville, a quiet neighbourhood in Johannesburg. Usually, I fly in and out of Jo’Burg, never really staying. I’m glad I tooka few days to decompress on my own after a hectic end of the school year. I used hot water bottles at night as the temperature began to drop…

After two days, I went to Cape Town to visit Doug, a friend I met in South Africa back in 1998. Cape Town is such a beautiful city, and the weather cooperated. I spent a few days out in Tulbagh with Doug and some of his friends. Tulbagh is situated in the beautiful South African wine country. We did some wine tasting, ate good food, and watched the World Cup matches… I tell you, I haven’t watched this much soccer since Mike and Matt were in high school! Then it was back to Cape Town where I spent my last day atop Table Mountain enjoying the view and writing. Not a bad place for inspiration!

After Cape Town, I boarded a backpacker bus that lets you hop on-hop off as you go through the southern coast. So hop on-hop off I did. I stopped in three places as I made my way from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. As I visited many of the towns on previous visits, I opted for quiet, natural places. First stop: Wilderness. Wilderness is situated at the foot of a vast forest, and I hoped to meet someone at thebackpacker’s hostel to join me on a hike. Unfortunately, no such luck. No people and rain. So, no hiking and no horseback riding. Instead, I enjoyed cups of tea, books, and writing.

After two days, I hopped on to the Southern Comfort Horse Ranch outside Knysna. The Knysna forest factored into some of the books for my thesis, so I hoped to pay homage to my thesis with a horse ride into the forest. Again, Mother Nature had other plans. The two days I spent there were full of interesting people and animals, but the ground proved too wet for either hiking or riding. I sent thoughts out to the forest and left for Nature’s Valley, another forest stop.

The disappointment of the previous stops washed away with the drive into Nature’s Valley. A gorgeous stretch of beach with nothing but forest on all sides. There are many holiday homes here, but they hide behind trees, leaving you entirely isolated on the beach. The weather was gorgeous, but I was on my own with a sore heel. Alas, no hiking but plenty of inspiration.

Finally, after two weeks in South Africa, I made it to Grahamstown, one of my official “homes.” My friend Rowan and his father picked me up in Port Elizabeth and took me home, along the road that I often remember in my poetry.

I’ve been in Grahamstown for two weeks now. The National Arts Festival came and went, and I made it to a few shows. I saw Athol Fugard’s new play, Booitjie and the Oubaas, which left me inspired and in tears. I saw a jazz performance, a lecture by the World Wildlife Fund (which stressed the same important points as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth), and a few other fabulous shows. I also spent a good amount of time volunteering for Wordfest, the literary arm of the festival. I even found myself being published! Iwrote a book review, and while it may not be thepublishing I expected, it’s a fun first step! See the review online:

Now I am enjoying quiet Grahamstown. How wonderful to see friends multiple times a week that I haven’t seen in four years! I am sitting in my favourite haunts, drinking Rooibos tea and writing. The lure of SouthAfrica still stirs, and I will have to accept it or move on soon. For now, I am enjoying my friends and the freedom to be here and happy.

As for the rest of my time here, I am going to go on a jaunt into the Karoo next week, one of my favourite areas of South Africa. Then, it’s back to Grahamstown for pre-birthday festivities with friends before I head back to Cape Town for a week. I am gearing up for my safari Aug. 7 through Kenya and Tanzania. Just last night I saw a program on tv about the Great Migration. Oh, I can’t wait.

My little travel narratives are never little, so forgive me! I miss you all very much, but I am so thrilled to be back here in South Africa. I hope you are all well and healthy. Send me an email and let me know how you are.