1.14.2012

warm weather, relaxation, and the penultimate holiday before total world annihilation

Hey folks –

I’m in Atlanta now (feel like I’m somewhere new every time I update this thing), nearing the end of a 24-hour layover and about to board my plane to Johannesburg. The holidays are over, and it’s time to dive back into the experiences, friendships, and stress of IB and Swaziland. As is typical, I’m feeling a range of emotions right now, but on the whole I’m incredibly excited to get back and see old friends, as well as make new friends, and slightly apprehensive, but determined, for what the coming year holds. Indeed, while I’ve finished half of my TIME at Waterford, I’ve only finished about 20% of my WORK.

Challenge accepted.


The holidays were an amalgam of wonderful times with friends and family, and less-than-wonderful times, following the removal of my tonsils. As I came down with tonsillitis three times in 2011, we saw it as a good idea for me to get them removed during the holiday. I thought it would be a piece of cake – after all, I powered through my wisdom teeth procedure with relatively little pain or inconvenience. Unfortunately, this proved to be much more painful and aggravating than many of my other procedures, and after a few days I became rather cranky. This was in part due to the pain, but also in part due to my inability to eat solid food. This drove me up a tree for a number of reasons:
           
-       One of the highlights of coming home from Swaziland is getting to experience the amazing and diverse food once again
-       It was difficult for me to concentrate with my pain medication, so I found myself watching TV a lot. As a consequence, I saw a LOT of commercials for food.
-       I missed the opportunity to go snowboarding, which I enjoy greatly and have missed out on for the past few years.

For many days I wouldn’t eat hardly anything at all – just water, mostly, as I had no appetite. No fretting though – I got my Western bacon cheeseburger, my Lil Ceasars Pizza, my tamales and burritos. Looking back, it seems much more bearable.. but surely, at the time, I was NOT in a good place.

Fortunately enough, I healed in time to enjoy Christmas Eve dinner with the family, and boy.. Christmas at home was exactly how I envisioned it, centered around family and togetherness and relaxation. The end of December and the beginning of January was filled with lots of a. family stuff and b. work stuff (I got rehired at Bluefin). As some examples:
-       Starting a new tradition with the Kleins, our close family friends, of making pasta from scratch. This involved the whole family, and while it was a lot of work, it was the best damn pasta I’ve ever tasted
-       Hiking with the brother et al., as the weather was absolutely phenomenal. I wanted to brag to my European friends every day (in fact, I probably did) about short sleeve weather in Tucson. Nick and I went hiking in Sabino Canyon and passed more hikers without shirts than with. We also went to  Mount Lemmon, where I tried (fruitlessly) to find some of the bolted climbing routes. Unfortunately, we were held back, as we had dogs with us.
-       The family went to see ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ in theatres… three of the four of us fell asleep for parts of the movie, which was already damned confusing. So we basically just took a pricey nap:)
-       I worked the busiest night of my life on New Years Eve – while most would complain about having to work, I’m incredibly lucky in that I love the place I work and the people I work with. The night was horrendously busy, but we all still made it down to the bar at midnight to watch the ball drop.

If I haven’t already mentioned, this holiday went remarkably quickly, and I’m amazed that I’m already going back to Swaziland. We’ve had discussions as a family about what I want to gain from my experience this year in Southern Africa, and I’ve been pondering it as I travel back. Part of me realizes that I can’t necessarily force an ‘experience’ onto my time in SD.. but at the same time, there are steps I can take that will help me to have meaningful experiences and benefit from my time in the small kingdom (or, at the very least, steps I can take that will help me realize what I can do in the future to benefit from similar opportunities). It’s all very difficult to articulate, what I want from my time in SD, in part because I don’t know fully for myself. I guess the important thing is to never forget that I did go for a reason, a reason that I fulfill to the best of my ability, if not just address.

A short update for today as I am boarding soon – Some pictures, before I part, though:









Cheers, everyone - you'll be hearing from me soon:)

Eli

11.28.2011

the end of IB1

Hey folks. Sorry, I’ve been remiss in updating the journal. Here’s what’s up:

My main excuse for not updating the blog: Summer is officially here in SD, meaning CRAZY lightning storms – lightning storms that are not to be messed with. This, in turn, means limited internet or even power. The things I take for granted in the States…

So yeah, lightning struck hostel some weeks back and melted the magic stick on the roof that gives us internet (sometimes). Ever since, the internet has been pretty unreliable / completely off.


Anywho, as I move into my last week of term three, I realize that I’ve finished IB1. Woah. I’ve been here a year? This is all still news to me. While it feels like I just got here, I’ve already finished half of my time at Waterford, and likely, half of my time in Swaziland (though with all of these siSwati lessons, it would be a waste to not come back and visit every once in a while, hey?). A note to all of the incoming IB1s that read my blog: it goes FAST. Be ready.

So what have I been up to for the past month and a half? After going back and reading through my last post, I see that there’s a lot of ground to cover... although a lot of it is boring school stuff. I finished exams and wrote a bunch of internal assessment work that counts towards my final mark in English, Music, and Maths… but y’all don’t want to hear about that. I got my final grades for term, including exam grades, and I’m happy with them, etc etc.

On a more interesting topic, I was lucky enough to celebrate BOTH of the major US holidays (Halloween and Thanksgiving) in these past two months.. woo woo! For Halloween I was invited by Algerian/American friends Amel and Zohra (I’m sure I’ve mentioned them before) to celebrate with a friend of a friend of a friend of a parent… or something like that… basically, an American family that lives in Swaziland that had a Halloween party.

Oh, and I should mention that it was a Halloween party for the family’s children and their friends, who were all about six-ish.

Regardless, it was great. First of all, those of you who know me know that I love playing with children.. so I pretty much just ate a bunch of candy and then pretended to be a monster (I hope no prospective colleges are reading this…) while the kids chased me around. To make things better, they had American candy. Which was pretty much the bees knees. Because those of you who know me also know that I have a crazy sweet tooth (Mom says I used to refuse to eat my vegetables when I was a kid, but would eat candy off the sidewalk if I could get away with it).

So essentially I just got sugar high off of Laffy Taffy and Resee’s Peanut Butter Cups, and then ran around the garden with a bunch of children until I collapsed. I’m s mature college student.

For Thanksgiving, I was lucky enough to get THREE celebrations:
-       The art teacher Ms. Patel invited the American students to her house for some home made pumpkin pie and ice cream. Whattup.
-       The American Ambassador to Swaziland invited American Waterford students and about 70 peace corps volunteers to his house for a potluck Thanksgiving dinner
-       Amel and Zohra’s parents came down to Swaziland from South Africa and made a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for a small group.

Needless to say, I gained about 5 pounds (or should I say, 2.2kgs) this past week. So worth it.

And while this isn’t much of an elegant transition, Thanksgiving, and hell, just this time of year, has had me thinking a lot about two years ago. This year I celebrated my two year falling-off-a-cliff anniversary in Swaziland. And for some reason, it seemed especially significant this year. Perhaps its because I’m in such a different place, or because I’ve come a long way, or even because my doc said I could start contact sports after two years (rugby hint hint)… I just felt truly, especially blessed this past month. I owe so many of you so much, and you all know you have my eternal thanks.

This whole fall thing was at the forefront of my mind as I watched the IB2s graduate from IB and leave Swaziland, because I realized that I was supposed to be part of that graduating class. It’s been a strange feeling, and I can’t help but wonder how incredibly different my experience would have been if I came here when I was intended to.

Still, I’m incredibly happy to be here now, and while it sounds cheesy, everything worked out for the best. The extra year I spent at home helped me to mature in so many ways, and I feel like I’ve clicked so well with the people that are in my year group now at Waterford. It really has beneficial for me to come later, and I wouldn’t take anything back.

Anyways.. that’s my sentimental rant.

Continuing on a serious note, I was upset to find in my community service last week that one of the children that I took care of, Linhle, passed away after weeks of illness. For those of you who may not know, in my community service at Waterford I go to the government hospital and spend some time taking care of the abandoned children of Ward 8. Every week we work with two children, Linhle and Ncolisi, who are both severely mentally and physically handicapped.

I was struck by Linhle’s passing, mostly because I felt as though, after a year, I was finally developing a very basic relationship with him. While he didn’t speak, it became evident after some time that he was becoming more comfortable around me and the other volunteers. The year saw a change, from uncertain and apprehensive gazing in my direction, to cries of glee and recognition as the Waterford students walked into the Ward. There would be times in his final weeks where I would be holding him and he would reach his arm out, feeling around until he firmly grasped one of my fingers. Needless to say, I felt as though I was finally making some progress with Linhle, which made his passing all the more upsetting.

To end on a somewhat happier note, I promised you all pictures of tango, as well as my latest prank endeavor. Check it out:



Stephen (Wales) and Zethu (Swaziland) in rehearsal.



Dancing with my lovely tango partner Ingrid (Norway)


Ruddy and Zethu


Sebastian (Germany) and Anne Caroline (USA)




Malibongwe (Swaziland) and Sofia (USA)


To the pranks! -


Looks harmless, but each of the 126 cups here is filled to the brim with water. Took about 20 mins to set up but was an absolute disaster for Leo to clean. 


Success!


Leo's swift retaliation: Wrapping my mattress in 200m plastic wrap. Yes, that's the length of two football feilds. 

Since we’ve all moved into our new rooms for next year, I’m not sure how to keep up the pranks with Leo (since I don’t have his key anymore). Knowing our friendship, we’ll find a way.

So, hopefully the insatiable desire for my blog posts has been fulfilled, at least until I get home. Flying out in one week, then its home for the holidays! Looking forward to seeing everyone again :)

Lots of Love
Eli


10.14.2011

oh yeah, i have a blog..


Hey peeps –

So this is it – term three, the beginning of the end.

Well, not really. But the popular opinion among my second years is that term three is when IB begins to really pick up and get difficult. Unlike AP, where you essentially are doing an accelerated class with an exam at the end of the year, IB has many, many components beyond immediate classwork: extended essay, internal assessments in every class, group projects, theory of knowledge presentations, reports on community service, and so forth. And term three at Waterford is when these components start coming to the forefront of my education. And on top of this, we are now beginning to get to the more difficult material in many of the classes (as beginning terms were about laying a groundwork, and now we’re building).

So, needless to say, there’s a lot to do.

The entire IB1 began the term with a piece of work that will actually be part of our final mark: Group Four Projects. Seeing as that group four is the sciences in IB (physics, chemistry, biology, and environmental systems&societies), the whole thing was essentially like a science fair project that I did with nine other students from IB1. Now, as cheesy as it may sound, I really appreciated the Group Four Project, as it gave me a chance to get to know students from IB that I normally wouldn’t have mingled with. The groups were selected based on alphabetical order of last name, so by crazy random happenstance, I ended up being the only non-African student in my group. To be quite frank, I usually hang out with white people. And that’s not to say that I don’t hang out with others, but to be honest, national committee students tend to gravitate towards each other, just as old students remain tight knit, and so on. In any regard, it was really cool to get to know my group members in this new capacity.

The other fairly significant project I’ve had this term was a Theory of Knowledge presentation on knowledge issues in Paradise Now, an outstanding film about the Israel-Palestine conflict from the view of a Palestinian suicide bomber. I don’t want to bore readers with the details of my presentation, but if you ever get the chance to watch the movie, don’t hesitate – it’s really quite fantastic. Check it out and we’ll have an existential / epistemological discussion sometime.

Now that I’m done with these projects, I can get a momentary breath of fresh air before plunging back into the next set of challenges: IB1 Exams (start next week, eep). 

But enough about schoolwork – while I’ve been busy, the weekends and activities I’ve been taking part in this term have been by far some of the best. To name but a few…

-          I ran my first half-marathon. The decision to do this was (almost) entirely whimsical (I had heard about it last term but hadn’t been training… at all). It was a great experience and I’d like to do another someday – while the last three kilometers were totally killer, I still managed to push on and run the whole thing (although it helped that I had company and an iPod, dunno how people did these things before portable music devices). Because the run started at 6am, I still managed to get back to school before I would have normally woken up on a Saturday morning… it’s frightening to think that, instead of bumming around and sleeping until noon every Saturday, I could be running a half-marathon every morning. Even considering this, though, I don’t think I’ll be changing my habits any time soon.
-         Last weekend I went with a group of friends to see Coldplay at the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. WOW. The concert was phenomenal and the place was ABSOLUTELY PACKED (estimates at 65,000 people there). Even though we were out in the boonies and had to sit, the show was still worth every cent. We stayed at a friends house in Pretoria where we were received amazing hospitality and extraordinary meals (many cyber thanks to the Bezergas!)
-          I performed, along with a group of others, in Waterford Kamhlaba’s Evening of Dance. We’ve been working for the past few months on a choreographed piece in Argentinean Tango, and during this evening we got to share our work with the whole school. The performance went quite swimmingly, and there’s a ton of pictures and videos that help to recreate the event (I’ll share the vids when I get home). It was the first tango performance ever done at Waterford, and we’re likely one of the few tango groups in Southern Africa (if not, at least, Swaziland). So, needless to say, it was pretty exciting. Pictures are forthcoming..
-         I went to a show at House on Fire (premier concert venue in Swaziland) with some friends and, by crazy random happenstance, met a group of Arizonans, including a Tucsonan who went to Catalina Foothills High School. Circumstances didn’t really allow us to sit down and have a proper convo (music was quite loud), but I managed to ask him if he knew anybody I knew:

Me: “DO YOU KNOW CODY REIFFER??”
Cameron: “MAYBE.. I CAN’T REMEMBER! WHO ELSE?”
Me: “DO YOU KNOW GENE BUNGER??”

Etc. Totally random. SMALL WORLD.

 Check out the pics from some of the better times here in Southern Africa:

 Euphoria outside of Soccer City - On our way to Coldplay

With Dimitri (France), Jenny, Live, and Ingrid (Norway) 

Kind of the biggest concert I've ever been to? Far back but still phenomenal. 

As a final note, I’ve started a prank warfare with my friend Leo (Germany) that will likely last for… an indefinite amount of time. Until the end of IB? Keep an eye out for pictures on FB and the blog of our shenanigans (Mom, Dad, I’m working hard. I promise).

 
Leo's first prank: booby trapping my room with string. He also changed all the contacts in my phone. Stay tuned for pictures of my retaliation (coordinated with Jenny). 

Nelutsandvo (With Love), and until next time, 
Eli
           


9.09.2011

My (Strikingly Brief) Time in the States

Hello friends, family, family of friends, and friends of family –

I’m currently sitting in the airport in Johannesburg (although I probably won’t post ‘till I’m back in Swaziland) going through pictures of the time I spent at home this past month. What can I say - It was fantastic to see friends and family again, to sleep in my own bed, to play with my dog, and to eat top-notch Mexican food once again, after a very long (and simultaneously very short) time.

Just a little summary of my time in the States:

The first week was designated “family time”. Mom and Dad took the week off from work and Nick (brother) was home from Boston for just a week. We picked up Sarah (sister) from her house and had a fun week of family activities, including a family trip to Rocks and Ropes Climbing Gym, Art Exhibits at the University of Arizona, Project Nim at The Loft Cinema, making decorations for our backyard, and meals at our favorite restaurants. Here are some pictures:








It was so wonderful to see my whole family again, hanging out as a unit. Nick has been off at college for quite some time now, and Sarah lives out of the house now… so it was great to have some designated time where we could all be together. Featured guests at “Family Week” include Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle David, Aunt Sophia, and Aunt Donna.

Unfortunately enough, the close of this week brought the opening of “Eli Gets Tonsillitis Again” Week. I still tried to get out and do things with my friends during this time... but tonsillitis is a toughy to ignore. Needless to say, this put me out for several days. During this time, I embraced the sit-and-relax-and-do-nothing side of my vacation... which I was OK with :)

I realized in my last two weeks of vacation that one month isn’t nearly as long as it seems – on top of this, my friends started college at around this time, meaning they had either moved away or were much less available. Considering this, I think I made most of the circumstances – I hung out with friends at their new dorms at the U, went hiking with people, went paintballing (a first!), had lunch dates, etc etc. Also, I went to my old school and finally picked up my diploma (yay?), and spent some time speaking with the principal and new IB Coordinator (as they’re starting IB at CDO next year). Also got in some family time here with the parents – we revisited an old favorite activity, and watched an entire season of 24. Despite the fact that watching TV together may not seem like “family time”, we actually had a lot of fun speculating on what would happen in the next episode, staying up late to watch multiple episodes in a night, conversing about how unrealistic Jack Baur is, and so on. What can I say – some people play Monopoly or start family bands… we watch Jack Baur thwart terrorist attacks. America!

The close of my time at home got somewhat ugly when I decided to tackle the monstrous pile of homework my teachers so lovingly assigned for the holiday… let’s just say, I never want to see a snowflake again.

For those who care, my journey back has been… long. I was originally supposed to leave on Friday night, but the plane I needed to catch in Tucson was caught on the tarmac in Denver, and the flight was cancelled. I left the next day and thus am arriving at school a day late. At this very moment I’m missing my first say of school, including a test in Biology (oh shoot! ;)

Hope all is well in the US of A, or wherever else you may be – I’ll be seeing folks sooner than you think. Third term… hobey ho, let’s go!

Love always
Eli

8.07.2011

The End, Pt. 2

Hey folks –

So I’m sitting in the Los Angeles airport right now, feeling a mixture of emotions about being back in the States – above all, I’m totally stoked to see what this holiday has in store for me.

But before I plunge into my innermost thoughts at this moment, let me share a little about the last few weeks…

One of the most striking elements of the past few weeks has been the attacks on Norway – the Waterford community was hit hard by this, as six of our students are from Norway. I consider myself very close with the Norwegians at the school – if folks recall, I traveled with Jenny to Cape Town and Mozambique during the April holiday, and I’m very close to my IB1 co-years (Jenny, Live, Ingrid) and have a good relationship with the IB2s (Ane, Yulai, Jens). Because of this, I felt very affected by the atmosphere of gravitas, the weight of sadness, which was carried by many at the school on that day.

I wanted, in this post, to make special mention of the incredible fortitude and strength I’ve seen from the Norwegians since the event. In particular, I want to mention Jenny, who attended the island camp for the Youth Party for years before coming to Waterford, and who lost four friends in the shootings.

The bravery I saw from Jenny on the day of the shootings, and in subsequent days, has nearly reduced me to tears more than once. If this had experienced this horrendous event in the way that she did, I surely would have locked myself in my room and refused to see anybody. Yet I saw the complete opposite from Jenny – she was at the carnival (not jumping around and laughing merrily, granted, but with other people, getting fresh air and talking about what had happened), and later helped to organize a community forum of solidarity for victims of the shootings. If this isn’t already remarkable enough, what I saw at the forum made me even more proud of my amazing, amazing friend.
At the meeting, Jenny told us about what had happened, based on accounts not only from the news, but also from her friends who had managed to escape. She told us stories of friends hiding in fear for over an hour, friends who tried to swim away, friends who jumped in front of others to save them. She illustrated the scene for us, so that we could understand just how horrible the nightmare wreaked by the shooter was. Yet she also did something that took more strength than I could ever find in myself – she called for forgiveness, not hatred, towards the politics of the shooter. She realized, and vocalized, that hatred cannot be met with hatred; rather, it must be met with a continued fortitude and endurance of the politics of those who had been killed. The shooter was out to destroy more than lives – he wanted to destroy an ideology. If the Norwegian Youth Party leaves its ideology in favor of hatred, then they allow the shooter to win. However, with courage and persistence, they prove that an idea cannot be shattered with firearms. Jenny reminded us that hatred between political beliefs breeds no progress; rather, it leads to more degradation. In my opinion, this is not only incredibly brave, but also incredibly wise. The world has a lot to learn from this display of strength and forgiveness from Jenny.
My co-year Dimitri (France) wrote a speech for assembly the Wednesday after the attacks – I was very impressed with the speech, and asked him for a copy afterward to post on my blog. Here it is:

On Friday the 22nd of July a dual act of monstrous barbarity rocked the peaceful, idyllic nation of Norway. I am sure you all know of the details of what this one man did in the space of a few hours in one of the most peaceful countries. As Norway mourned the death of more than 90 people this past weekend the Waterford community was also hit on a personal level. On Saturday evening a memorial service took place up in Emhlabeni, and amidst the silence that we shared many powerful words were spoken. And I would like to renew that message of solidarity today, and I hope every one of you can spare a thought for our affected friends.
Today I come to you with my reflection from this horrible attack. I believe this monstrous act is testament of a very worrying trend in Western liberal democracies in particular, but also across the globe: I am talking about extremism in all its forms; fascism, Islamism, and the rest. There has been a resurgence of racism which has been created by people forgetting their values, forgetting the fundamentals of human rights, forgetting that we are all equals. This is not only something that has happened across Europe, but in all parts of the world: Pakistan, Libya and Mexico to name but a few. Also the divide between the haves and the have nots, between those with opportunities and those without, has been exacerbated by the current economic and population crisis. With these hardships politicians everywhere are blaming the other, the foreigner, for the misery. We cannot continue like this, we cannot always blame the other, we cannot always confront each other. There are now 7 billion humans on Earth, we cannot afford hatred, we cannot afford intolerance, we cannot afford to forget the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are all equals, we all have a right to a home, to security and to a decent living.
What happened in Norway, and especially the man who perpetrated the massacre, embodies the worst ideas upon which a modern society might be constructed; not only does he reject minorities, but he also despises the Norwegians who work with foreigners and support the concept of multiculturalism. By accepting so many asylum-seekers into Norway the country has carried out one of the most beautiful acts of solidarity which the haves can make towards the have nots, and this murderer committed a horrendous crime to protest against this solidarity. Although this man’s aim was to provoke hatred and violence from his enemies, playing into his game is the most dangerous thing we could do today. I think Jenny in IB1 best summed up how we should react in such a time of crisis; she said: “It is not time for hatred, but for forgiveness.”
I would like to express with my plea to you: do not forget your values, your ideals, always remember what you have learnt here at Waterford, how you have learnt to listen, to tolerate, to respect. Never fall into the trap of hatred, never fall into the cycle of violence. We are here together, we must live together in peace and solidarity.

Jenny ended up going home early for the term, as she was hit particularly hard amongst our Waterford Norwegian community. However, I ask you to hold Jenny, Ingrid, Live, Yulai, Ane, Jens, and the rest of the Norwegian community in the light as they continue to recover from the attacks.

The last weeks of school brought few exciting, interesting things, besides piles of last-minute homework (which teachers have extended into holidays… ugh). However, worth mentioning is the Social and Cultural Anthropology class field trip to a Swazi sangoma (diviner). As we were studying Swazi society for the entirety of the second term, Mlunga (teacher) organized a trip for the class to the diviner. Sangomas basically have a special connection to the spirit world – they are able to communicate with their own ancestors, and ask them to find your ancestors, who then tell the sangoma’s ancestors about you. Unfortunately, due to lack of time, I was one of about half the group that wasn’t able to be seen – however, I heard quite interesting accounts from those who were seen…

So apparently the first thing that happens upon entering the room is that the sangoma ‘throws her bones’ – these are usually a collection of trinkets, including dominoes, dice, small animal bones, etc, that the diviner throws over the table and thus interprets for meaning about the subject’s life. Then she asks the subject what he/she wants to know. From those who were seen, the common interpretation from the diviner, for almost all the students who saw her, seemed to be this: your ancestors are angry with you. For some reason or another, they want to withhold your luck from you, or prevent you from getting married, etcetera. Thus, your parents and you must hold a party when you get home to honor the ancestors. So, even though I wasn’t seen, I’m going to stick with the common prediction, and send out this message:

Mom, Dad – the ancestors are angry with us, and thus we need to have a party when I get home. I’ll bring the chips and salsa.

Still unsure if I buy into this whole supernatural set of beliefs that the traditional Swazi hold – there’s a lot in there that really goes against my firmly established Western over-rationality, yet there’s a certain draw to the whole thing. The idea of magic, witchcraft, and divining is still a very prominent idea in Swaziland, and I don’t want to discount the whole thing… just yet.

And this brings me nicely to being home. I’ve only been in the States for a handful of hours now, and already I’m feeling mixed emotions. Maybe it’s just because I really hate airports (and LA), but I find it quite interesting that I feel more confident and knowledgeable walking the streets of Maputo than trying to navigate LAX. But moreover, there’s a certain… atmosphere to Southern Africa that I feel is missing here. Perhaps I’m just crazy (it’s very likely that I am, actually, as I’ve lost my sense of space and time after flying for so long), but I feel almost like there’s a quality missing, as I sit in this airport. People seem more detached, more “bubble-oriented”.

At the same time, though, most of the people I’ve dealt with have been airport personnel, announcements, etc. And you guys know as well as I do how annoying TSA in the USA can be. There are lots of similarities as well – for example, I stepped off the plane in LA and was confronted by an escalator… which was completely broken. I nearly muttered the letters T.I.A (“This Is Africa”, a common phrase of exasperation for non-functioning aspects of Southern African daily life), but caught myself. Because, after all, this is NOT Africa.

In any case, to sum it up everything feels very different, and simultaneously exactly the same (because I know that makes things clearer). The first thing I did when I got to my terminal was buy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (none in Swaziland). Yum :)

Gonna cut the post short here, dunno if I’ll be able to throw it online before I get out of LA, but I’ll try. See many of you all in a matter of hours!

Cheers
Eli

7.20.2011

Backpacking the Drakensbergs!


Hey peeps –

So I’ll spare the whole “funnel” introduction and get right to it. Backpacking in the Drakensberg Mountains (!!!):

The whole thing was called a “Global Youth Summit”, put on by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation in South Africa. They do summits like this every year and all over the world – it’s self-described as an event which “promotes peace and cooperation between countries” thorough outdoor expeditions. I went with a slew of other people to represent Swaziland in the Summit (even though it wasn’t really necessary to ‘represent’, per say, we still brought a flag and broke it out for every picture). The group from Swaziland included Anne Caroline (New Mexico), Lykke (Denmark), Dane (Swaziland, leader of the Waterford climbing department), Baba (Swaziland), Mdu (Swaziland), and myself. We set out on a Friday morning for Johannesburg, where we would meet a group of 18 other individuals (most South Africans) that would be our backpacking partners for the week. After a night in Joburg, we took a bus to the foot of the Drakensberg, where we stayed another night in a hostel and were treated by the Federation to dinner and goodies. By Saturday night, our bags were filled with a week’s worth of food, sleeping bags, warm clothes, and dangerously few changes of underwear. We set out on Sunday morning for one of the most astounding and challenging trips I’ve ever been on.

And along these lines, I must say, backpacking is a great way to deflate the tough-guy ego. Because when you’re going between 10 and 18 km (~6 and 11 miles) a day, up and down huge hills, with 30-40 kgs (65-85 lbs) on your back, you start to realize how incredibly UN-tough you really are. The first few days were filled with me huffing and puffing up to the top, face tomato-red, usually somewhere in the back of the line. It became really fulfilling though, around the fourth day, because my backpack soon started to feel less like a burden, and more like an extension of my body. Perhaps it was the fact that we had less weight due to food, or that I had dumped the tent off on another one of my group members – whatever the case, I began to feel stronger and lighter by the third or fourth day. And after a few days of complete exhaustion, this was a phenomenal feeling.

So after “phenomenal”, the first word I would use to describe the trip to the Drakensberg would be “really freaking cold” (yes, I know that’s not one word). And if you ever decide to travel to Southern Africa in the winter and backpack in the Drakensbergs, please, do not assume that it will just be ‘a little chilly’. Some examples:

-       The first night we were camping the temperature got down to -18 C (that’s -0.4 F).
-       The first night I collected water from the river to cook our food. By the time I got back to the campsite (~half a football field away) it had already frozen a little.
-       We would sleep with our water bottles in our tents and would wake up to find the water in them frozen completely
-       We woke up almost every morning with frost on our sleeping bags and inside of our tents.
-       We were traveling with a person who had summitted Everest twice – he said that certain nights were colder than Everest base camp.
-       We hiked through snow five of the seven days of the excursion, sometimes knee deep.
-       The second highest waterfall in Africa is in the Drakensbergs. We went to see it – it was frozen. 

I put this warning out to the Internet community just because a few weeks ago we had a group of visitors from Malboro College at our school that planned on heading out to the Drakensbergs after our group. They packed light jackets and shorts. Aish. I was luckily quite prepared so I didn’t freeze my pants off, although there was a time that I decided to wash my hair in the river (snowmelt water) that ended with a very painful scalp.

But anyways, enough about the cold (I’m pretty sure I’ve beat the whole point to death).

One of my favorite aspects of the hike was how incredibly natural the whole thing was. I know this seems kind of obvious (mountains are nature, duh), but still… drinking straight from any stream we came across (the BEST water I’ve ever had), being able to pack my whole life in one bag, using the john with the best view imaginable, walking along and just listening to the sound of nothing… it’s very Romantic of me, but connecting to nature, even for a short time, helped me to organize my thoughts and become grounded. The thing about Waterford and IB is that there’s SO MUCH going on, all the time – on top of all the homework, there’s always weekend and after school events, plus all the social pressures that come with living with so many people, plus sleep (not always applicable). The bookshelf of the mind becomes cluttered by the IB tornado – getting away from it, to a place where you only need to keep track of is a few items conveniently located on your back, helps to get the mind re-centered.

I know, very ‘zen’ of me, eh?

I was so pleased on the trip to develop such close relationships with the other 18 backpackers – considering that we all spent 24 hours a day with each other, it’s no surprise that we quickly grew close. Everyone was incredibly interesting to talk to, totally receptive to others’ input and completely unafraid of diving into friendships. Looking back, one of the things I’m most grateful for was the group of intelligent, determined, sociable, friendly people that were on the trip. It’s also worth mentioning that we had Sibusiso Vilane, the first black African to summit Everest, on the excursion with us. I was so pleased to find how incredibly un-pompous he was – he was a joy to talk to, and always had something insightful to say about the trip. He was also filled with a wealth of stories (only person I’ll ever meet to start his sentences “When I was on top of Everest…” in such a casual manner) that helped to make everyone a bit more determined in those moments of exhaustion.

So even though I talk as though I was constantly cheerful throughout the whole trip, ogling at amazing views and walking around with a big watermelon smile on my face, I had my set of frustrations as well. There were times that I became frustrated with the other members of my group (Baba and Mdu, as there were three to a tent) or began to question what the hell point there was in walking around all day with a oversized bag on my back. But every time I got to that next amazing view (frozen waterfall, field covered in snow, endangered vulture colony in flight, incredible drops and passes) I knew that the trials were easily worth the magnificent experience of nature.

Here are some of my best pictures from the trip. As I’m sure you know, there’s no way in a million years that these photos could ever do the real thing justice. Nevertheless:













Extending my deepest thanks to Jenny and the Mountain Club of South Africa, as well as Dane, for providing this outstanding experience – I know I’ll remember it for years and years to come as a beautiful excursion and a great personal achievement. Thanks also to the others on the trail, who encouraged me when the times were tough and provided great friendship and endless laughs. (NO) thanks to my teachers, who have bombarded me with homework upon my return to school. Guess I should have had more foresight when I decided to skip a week of school, eh?

And with that, I bid my Internet homies adieu. Soon enough you all will be hearing of these experiences as I sit next to you on a sofa… hope you all are as excited as me (flying out in 17 days :)

Cheers
Eli



7.05.2011

24Hr. Run, 'Quiet', Term Two Drag, All that Jazz


Hey everyone –

So I’ve been a bit remiss in updating the blog, but I’ve returned now with a heaping, steaming pile of new stuff that will (hopefully) please whatever followers I have left.

One of the reasons I haven’t been updating too frequently is because the last few weeks have been mostly WORK. I put all of the interesting stuff on the blog, vacations and the sort, mostly because I know people don’t want to read about all of the prep (homework) that I have. The interesting, fun stuff is just interjected in between assignments to make it all bearable.

Now I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, because even within the work, stuff is quite interesting. I recently started sitting in on Peace and Conflict Studies classes – it was a course I was interested in taking during orientation week, but bureaucratic conflicts prevented me from signing up for the class. So, a few weeks into this term, I started going to PaCS anyways, and told the teacher I was really intrigued by the material, and would like to sit in on classes without signing up officially. I’ve been in the class for maybe a month now, and am enjoying it a lot – we’ve had discussions about just war, addressed psychological aspects of aggression and violence, and frequently talk about current events. My involvement in the class is also nice because, if I feel too overloaded with other classes, I can just stop going to lessons. I’m going to try to keep it up for as long as possible, though.

A couple weeks ago, a student showed up at our school that I had a fantastic time talking with – his name was Prestige (or that’s what people called him), and he was the Swazi NC studying at UWCUSA. It might clarify some of this jargon (what the hell is an NC?) to know that I’m the American NC studying at Waterford.

Maybe that doesn’t help. Basically, in the same way that I was sent to Swaziland by the US, Prestige was sent to the US by Swaziland. He’s currently at UWCUSA, the United World College in New Mexico, studying the same diploma programme as me. Since the US is on holiday now, he came back home to SD and visited Waterford to meet other IBs.

We talked for the few hours he had at the school about all sorts of stuff – UWC ideals and expectations, our personal experiences with IB, and even some of the same places we have been in New Mexico (specifically, Ghost Ranch). It amazed me at how small the world is becoming – here I meet a Swazi guy, coming from a completely different cultural background to me, and we’re chatting about our favorite hikes at Ghost Ranch. It was kind of comical at one point, because he was asking Anne Caroline and Sofia (my American co-years) who they knew from interviews that made it into UWCUSA, and when he turned to me to ask, I told him my situation was a little messed up, and my interview group has already graduated because I had to delay my admission at Waterford for a year. His eyes widen a little and he says, “Oh man, you’re the cliff guy!”

I was pretty taken aback at first (alarm bells were going off in my head), as I contemplated how a Swazi I had never met, spoken to, or even heard of knew about my accident and delayed admission. I found out later that his link family (like a host family for exchange students) are people we were in contact with when I had fallen.

Like a said, small world.

A couple weeks ago was the 24-Hour Run, an event loosely based on the 12-Hour Relay for Haiti hosted at CDO High School (… maybe I have that reversed?). Everyone was really stoked for all of Friday, and at five o’clock on Friday afternoon the event began.

Man, it was a treacherous twenty-four hours.

For starters, six of the twenty-four hours were occupied, for me, by rehearsals for my play (covered later in this post). On top of this, the team I was on scheduled me for a running shift between midnight and 2 a.m. One of the ideas of the event is that there should be a person from every team on the track for the entirety of the run. So I got the golden midnight shift… typically I would have had some fun with this shift, as everyone is quite delirious and a little loony by this time. The only problem was, it was SO COLD. I’m not sure how I can emphasize it enough on the blog, so let me just say again:

SO

SO

SO

COLD.

While everyone in Tucson was baking in 105, I had turned into a giant ice cube with legs, waddling around a track in temperatures well below freezing. Once again, the culprit of the weather was the wind, which made regular cold turn into my-hands-would-shatter-if-I-hit-them-hard-enough cold.

However, I had no say in the matter, and had to run from 12-2, regardless. Luckily enough, I didn’t have the 2-4 shift, because at around 3am the power went out (classic Swaziland) and the wind picked up. The only people that stayed on the track fell ill the next day (big surprise).

Despite my time being dominated largely by rehearsals, I still managed to do a fair number of laps (50 laps = 20 km = 12.5 miles), and while it was total hell during the event, I look back on it with (mostly) positive feelings. Shoutout to Mom, Dad, Gramma, Grandpa, Katherine, and her father for their sponsorships (especially the latter two, as I know Katherine was prepping to head off to school. Cheers, and good luck!). Reports in the future for how much the event raised in total!
The reason I had so many hours of rehearsal during the event was because we performed the day after the 24-Hour Run finished. The piece was entitled “Quiet”, a devised piece by director Philine Gessner and cast (consisting of me, Anne Caroline [US], Sebastian Kern [Germany], Ane Grinstad [Norway], and Ibraheem Baqai [Pakistan]). The performances went really well, and on the whole I was VERY happy with the production and the results of our efforts.
The piece was essentially a critique of modern society, and the dichotomy between how people act and how people really feel. There was no dialogue, but it included synchronized, contemporary, and ballroom dancing. There were no characters in the conventional sense; rather, we all were ‘the common person’, although we could construct what that meant for ourselves in our own minds.
Working with the play was definitely an interesting experience. At times I became very discouraged and frustrated, worried that the ideas that we were devising wouldn’t be understood by our audience. Imagine watching an entirely silent play that’s an artistic criticism of society, and searching for the deeper meanings within the acting.

Lemme give an example..

We had a scene where we all walked in silently and began a long a tedious process of getting dressed in our Sunday best – as fancy as possible. We took our sweet time getting dressed, making sure every thread and hair was in its proper place. We then all got together and began to decorate a table in a similarly lavish fashion, with many candles, streamers, perfectly placed cutlery, etc etc. We then carried out, in a very regal fashion, a tiny cake, which we then took ages to decorate. Then, all at once, we grabbed a piece of cake with our hands and chowed down like pigs.
The scene was critiquing the fact that we spend so much time getting everything so fancy and ridiculously nice, but in the end we eat like pigs and finish before we even know what had happened. And as one of the people that devised it, I thought the message behind the scene was very cool and insightful. I was worried, though, that the audience wouldn’t appreciate the message of the scene if they had to watch for half and hour as we silently and compulsively decorated a table to look perfect.

As it turns out, my assumption turned out to be totally false. People came up to us after the play and seemed to get the hidden meanings in all of the scenes, saying they really like the intensity of the more drawn out scenes. All of us were a little shocked that people understood our artsy-fartsy production so well, but it was a pleased kind of shocked. We got a lot of positive reviews from students and teachers, and on the whole it was definitely a success.

And as I always like to end these posts with a positive or funny note, the other day my friend from Germany got a care package from home that contained Pop Tarts. I saw and said something to the effect of, “Score, Pop Tarts!” (or something equally uncool). He looked at them for a moment with a puzzled expression, and then turned to me and said, “What are they?”

WHAT.

So I had the pleasure of teaching my German co-year about the wonderfulness of S’Mores Pop Tarts. What a great night in hostel.

I think that’s about all I have to report on for now. I leave in just a few days to go backpacking in the Drackensburg Mountains as part of a South African Global Youth Summit. I couldn’t be more excited, and although I’m going to have a horrendous amount to catch up on when I get back… it will be totally worth it. I’ll bring a small journal with me so I can write thoughts night to night, which will then be transcribed onto my blog for you, creeps of the internet.

As always, love you all. I haven’t started an official countdown yet, but in a month from now (give or take a few days), I’ll be touching down in Tucson. Excited as all get-out :)

Cheers,
Eli