Beetles, Zebras, and Homework oh my!

Trip Start Jul 14, 2007
Trip End Jun 23, 2008

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hope the final week of September is finding you all well. I
can't believe the month of October is almost upon us! Wow, time sure is flying!
Also, I would just like to tell everyone that the emails and messages have been
really nice to receive. It's fun to get online and hear about the news back in
the states, plus I just like hearing from the people in my life! Today the
weather is amazing and I am enjoying the beauty. Luckily, I have the pleasure
of enjoying yet another great South African holiday. Today is Heritage Day, so
we don't have classes (unfortunately, I won't be able to send out this email
until Tuesday, because national holidays mean that businesses aren't open, and
therefore I can't use the internet today)! Just a little side note, today is my
71st day in South Africa and I only have 5 weeks of lecture left.
Somehow I feel that time is just flying by!
My field trip over spring break went really well and I am so
glad I got the opportunity to go. We met as a class on Sunday the 9th
and piled into two VW Kombi vans. I found myself in the same van as my
professor and his two dogs (it is so nice to have animals around after not
seeing pets for so long). On the way up, my professor taught us a lot about the
areas we were driving through, which tend to change dramatically every so
often. When we finally reached Traveler's Rest (the 'camp' we were staying at),
we had traveled 4 hours and were located slightly inland along the northwest
coast. Our camp was located in an area of the fynbos region about 45 km outside
of a small town called Clanwilliams (which if you Google fynbos you can read
about how naturally rich this area is). Anyway, we spent the next 5 days going
out into the field and collecting insects. Some of these creatures were larger
than any other insect I have ever seen (like a grasshopper I collected that was
longer than my index finger or beetles about the size of my pinkie finger). Not
only that, but I discovered that I was pretty good at collecting some of the
rare species. We went to a valley on one of our outings where my professor
actually discovered a new species of lacewing that is endemic to that valley
(as in it is found no where else in the world). I was one of two people that were
able to collect his species, it was a big deal!
I'm not sure if I have mentioned how impressed I am with my
professors. My professor Mike Picker is essentially the top expert when it
comes to insects in this county, and he also knows a great deal about insects
throughout the African continent. In fact, he wrote the field guide that is
used to identify everything we find. He has discovered many different species,
helped describe a new order, and knew all about the plants and other creatures
we saw throughout the week. Not only that, but he now knows a lot more about
Idaho Falls, Idaho and Pacific Lutheran University! Ha ha! The other American
in my class and I were talking and we have decided that we wish that we had
field camps back in the states. I came out of that week much more confident in
my ability to perform as a scientist but I think I am more confused about what
I want to do 'when I grow up' now. I know insects don't sound very interesting
to anyone reading this, but if you sat in my class for about a week I think you
would have a very different perspective! Not only that, but my other science
class essentially requires me to make some trips to the beach to collect
various samples, life is rough!
In addition to the amazing learning experience I had at
field camp in terms of science, I also learned a lot about my classmates and
South African culture. One night, however, I lost my temper and probably would
have started a fight with one of the guys in my class if I had realized what
had happened sooner. The majority of the class was sitting around the table
drinking coffee and not helping clean up dinner (as usual). I was in the
kitchen doing dishes and my good friend was out cleaning something outside. Like
I said in an earlier blog, sometimes the accents make understanding others
difficult. Anyway, this rich obnoxious white boy in my class makes a horribly
rude and degrading comment about colored people, just as my friend enters the
room (who happens to be the only colored person on the field camp). No one
notices her right away and they all start laughing, then an awkward silence
fills the room as people see her, and slowly they all start laughing again. I,
on the other hand, initially thought they had said something about colored
people, but then convinced myself that I had just heard it incorrectly like
everything else I have misheard.
A minute later, my friend was acting different and wanted to
go back to our cabin. On the way there she confirmed that, in fact, our
classmates were making racial jokes about colored people. She looked like she was
going to cry. It broke my heart and filled my body with a raging heat that
burned in my cheeks and elevated my heart rate. I so badly wanted to go back to
the main building, open my mouth, and let my classmates hear what I have to say
about the comment made and see if anyone would dare to laugh then. I actually
would have gone back if it wasn't for her asking me not to go. She didn't want
to cause problems early on in the camp and we still have many classes with them
before the end of the semester. Instead, I found myself wide awake in bed that
night, wondering why problems like this exist in the world and sadly, what I
witnessed wasn't even an extreme example. I didn't speak up for her that night
because she asked me not to, but I have made a promise to myself that if
something like that happens again I will speak up.
Besides the night of anger, many positive cultural experiences
happened. I had many more conversations with my classmates and learned a lot
about Afrikaans cooking and language. We were all able to laugh at the
differences between America
and South Africa
as far as differences in English as well as school systems, sports, and other
common topics. Also, the environment was full of different languages and we
were all trying to teach each other. There is a girl from the Czech Republic in
my class, so we learned a few Czech words, some Xhosa words from the Xhosa
speaking classmate, Afrikaans from most of the South Africans, Spanish from the
other American, a little German from me, and then of course the differences in
English! Most down time and car rides were actually a lot of fun and
Anyway, last Thursday I had a really disturbing experience
on the way to school. I took the shuttle as always, which usually spends a lot
of time stopped in traffic before reaching the main road and eventually campus.
Anyway, we were waiting in traffic about a block from my residence hall and
there was a crowd of a few people ahead and two policemen. When we got closer,
I saw that they were crowded around a dead man on the side of the road. It was
horrible to look at, yet at the same time I couldn't help but study the way the
situation was being handled. The police officers were refusing to touch the
body, they kicked it a little and then I watched as they instructed a few of
the people in the crowd to pick up the body and move it more onto the sidewalk.
I'm not sure how the rest of the situation played out, because traffic began to
move and I slowly drifted away. It was not the way I expected to start the day,
and I'm not sure if I can really put into words the thoughts and feelings I
have about what I saw.
On the upside of things, later that day I met up with a
friend, Christi Berner, from PLU. It was really nice seeing a familiar face in Cape Town and we were
able to discuss our different experiences a little and show each other our
schools a little bit!
This weekend, my program took us to go see wildflowers and
to stay at a game park. The bus we rented for the trip up to the game park was
the team bus for the Springbok Rugby team (they are a HUGE deal here and
everywhere we went people were honking, taking pictures, and waiting to see who
was going to emerge from the bus). I'm not exaggerating when I say that I have
never been so comfortable on a coach bus! Anyway, we made a couple of stops
along the way to take pictures and hang out at a very popular beach and then a
short walk through the wildflowers. The highlight for most of us was actually
reaching the park. We went on a little hunt through the field first just trying
to navigate and find things they had set out for us (sorta like a big kid
treasure hunt). After that, we loaded into game watching trucks and drove
around for a few hours finding giraffes, zebras, buffalo, lions (but these ones
were caged, boo) and all sorts of springbok/antelope type creatures! I have
never been so close to these kinds of wild animals and it was totally different
than seeing them in the zoo. Anyway, we had a great time, staying in really
nice cottages, and ate some amazing food! It was a nice break for the weekend,
and was much needed. Unfortunately, I can't write much more. I have three tests
this week and a very important presentation/dissection that needs to be
completed before Monday. Needless to say, I'm pretty busy!
Sorry if these messages seem to be a little scattered. It
occurred to me that about 3 weeks had gone by and I hadn't sent back an update,
so then I was struggling to remember what had happened these past few weeks
that I could write about!
As for an abridged version, I guess I could have just said
I'm having an amazing time and feel truly lucky to be where I am right now.
Things continually improve here, and I am starting to develop a real sense of
ownership for this city and university. Times can be rough, but I am dealing
with things that are making me think and see in a different way, and I am only
going to emerge from this experience a better person. For all of you reading
this, I think of you often and hope that you are doing well. I look forward to
life everyday and can't wait to write my next blog because it means that I will
have many more adventures to talk about.
Sending my love and thoughts,
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