Under South African Skies

What do Sylvester Stallone, Ryan Corr and South Africa have in common? | July 6, 2009

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I was going to celebrate anyway. July 6 is the birthday of Sylvester Stallone, Ryan Corr and 50 Cent, so I was going to do what I always do that day: watch Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, run up the longest set of stairs I could find in Fond du Lac, WI and watch at least four of the six Rocky movies. And then call Ryan to watch all of the Rambo movies.

But then I found out that that would be my first full day in South Africa for Marquette’s Service Learning in Cape Town program and suddenly, the Italian Stallion didn’t seem so important.

Along with 19 other Marquette and Loyola students, I set out for Cape Town from Chicago on July 3. This moment was the arrival of what for some of had been in the works for years. The essence of the program is that students take courses at the University of the Western Cape and the Institute of Social Development while also working at an internship two days a week through our Leaders in Grassroots Organization class. Through these classes, the internship and our experiences living in a new culture, we are to learn about South Africa and Cape Town’s unique history and people while also gaining an appreciation for the challenges that the country has had to overcome and continue to face.

The half of the group I traveled to Cape Town with arrived around 9 a.m. July 5, following the other part of our group who had arrived the day before. We had just had an exhausting 36 hours of travel: a tube ride into London during our layover, a meal at a tavern, a parade, efforts to sleep over the wail of a determined German baby, reading, journaling, and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm while flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

Though we were tired, there was no time for sleep once we arrived. Our program director Melikaya and our academic advisor Dr. Ellen Eckman picked us up at the airport. I was sans a piece of luggage thanks to British Airways but had been given 35 pounds for the trouble. I just hope the bag comes before the block party we’re having Friday night. The sausage and jelly beans I packed won’t do much good flying over the Atlantic.

After some preliminary business with Melikaya and Dr. Eckman, we opted to go to the beach. Though it is winter in South Africa, we experienced unseasonably warm weather at about 70 degrees. We were able to play frisbee on the beach, wade ankle-deep in the Atlantic and experience fine local cuisine at oceanfront restaurants. Major props to Pat Duffey for swimming in the ocean. What a guy.

We celebrated Ryan’s birthday because part of my tradition had to live on and then, we rose early July 6 to visit the U.S. Consulate’s Office to hear about the political situation in South Africa, the racial and class struggles the country still faces 15 years after the end of apartheid, and ask questions of the U.S. State Dept. employees. After this, we drove through South African townships to visit some of the sites that some of us will be working at for our internships. Though we had seen the shacks that many South Africans live in when we drove from the airport, we were now able to drive up close and see the people stand outside of homes that no one should have to live in. Many of us have lived in Milwaukee and Chicago and have seen poverty in our hometowns. But for some reason this seemed different. Maybe we had simply become used to it at home.

That’s not to say, however, that South Africa fits the stereotypes that we tried to get rid of in our African History class at Marquette. No, we aren’t living in huts in a jungle. We also aren’t doing charity work in a Third World country. Though we are here partly with the purpose of learning about the difficulties South Africa faces–high AIDS rates, people still greatly divided 15 years after the end of apartheid, and poverty–we also know that even the world’s most developed countries have problems with racial and ethnic division and poverty. We are also here to celebrate 

The highlight of the day, however, was visiting the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre. There, we got to learn about the organization’s purpose and the work of Archbishop Tutu while also listening to welcoming remarks from Judy Mayotte. Ms. Mayotte is one of those people who leaves you in awe after meeting them. She started the Service Learning in South Africa program in 2005 and is therefore responsible for our group being here. She also is an advocate for refugees and lost a leg in the Sudan for her cause. As she asked each of us to introduce ourselves and had some connection with each of our stories–i.e. she had once lived in our home town or had received an honorary degree from a university there–I realized that this is a woman who has lived her life to the fullest. I look forward to when we will have lunch at her home in a few months.

The rest of the day was spent visiting our work sites, exchanging dollars for the South African currency rand, going to a restaurant on Melikaya’s generous treat, and preparing to register for UWC classes tomorrow.

It’s only our second day here, so it is hard to sum up any defining moments. Everything that we’ve done and has happened as been touched by an I-can’t-believe-we’re-here feeling. We all feel very fortunate and excited for what lies ahead in the first five months. For me, I think that feeling kicked in a few hours before our flight from London to Cape Town landed. I had just woken up, checked the status of our flight on the plane’s video maps, and felt an overwhelming sense of peace after realizing that the wailing German baby was asleep. As I turned to look out the plane’s window, I saw the most brilliant orange sunrise beginning to ferment along the horizon. A sunrise observed from above the clouds. As we prepared to land from South African skies, I knew we were arriving in a place we’d soon call home.

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5 Comments »

  1. We at home in Fond du Lac enjoyed reading your first entry. We look forward to reading your upcoming entires. We are glad that you arrived safely and that your S. Africa journey is off to such a good start.

    Comment by Sheila Harper — July 9, 2009 @ 2:18 am

  2. Brian,

    I look forward to reading about your many adventures. Be sure take lots of pictures and really enjoy every minute. You’re on a once in a lifetime journey, take it in and make your time and memories count.

    Jessica

    Comment by Jessica — July 9, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  3. This is awesome. I’m so happy that you are in this great position to learn and help others in South Africa. Seems very fitting and right for you.

    Comment by Brandon — July 9, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  4. Strange , your posting turns up with a black hue to it, what color is the primary color on your webpage?

    Comment by news — June 6, 2012 @ 11:11 pm


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About author

I'm a 20-year-old Marquette student currently studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. I like to play the guitar and piano, watch the Mighty Ducks trilogy, read, travel and write. My favorite Judd sister is Winona, and I share a birthday with Dan Quayle.

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