Thursday, February 11, 2010

Safety and Security in South Africa

This picture is of Rosie, Anna and I on our holiday trip to Tanzania. This picture is from the rim of the Ngorogoro Crater, a huge mecca for animals. Probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.

Hey Everyone,

Well, things in Port Elizabeth are certainly better than they were last time I wrote. The four of us are very relieved to have the month of January behind us, and we are looking forward to the rest of 2010. The end of January consisted of us being herded from motel, to holiday flat, to our Boss, Mpumi’s house, before we finally found and confirmed the lease on our new home. After numerous negotiations and complications with our Cape Town office, we were able to solidify our new place, and even though it was a nightmare of an experience, it all worked out well in the end. Our new house was probably the best of all the homes we were looking at: four bedrooms, incredibly safe(alarm system both up and downstairs, a beeping system for every time that you open a door or a window, and keys and bars for every window and door). It is a FORTRESS! Literally. And, we live 2 doors down from our boss, which is pretty hilarious as well. Our home is spacious and comfortable, we have a pool and tennis court in the complex, and we are within walking distance to the gym as well as the beach, so we are all getting back into our active lifestyles. January put a damper on everything: our routine, enthusiasm, fitness and energy level, so it’s nice to get back into a healthy and happy routine. Plus, summer is finally upon us in Port Elizabeth, so we are psyched to be out in the gorgeous sunshine every day!

While January was stressful, and something to put behind us, we certainly learned a lot of things along the bumpy journey, and we as interns are optimistic about getting to help create a new Grassroot Soccer protocol for emergencies. Heaven forbid a situation like this ever occurs again, but if something were to happen, it would be incredibly effective to have a plan, and money set aside. We were working with minimal amounts of money during the month of January for our housing(which resulted in us living with our boss for ten days), so simple logistics and financial issues like that could be avoided in the future.

The other day, Rosie and I were talking about what we have learned throughout the six months that we have been living in South Africa, and while I have learned so many things, one thing that we both agreed upon is that we have learned to appreciate America. Sure, one of our most famous athletes is involved in a giant sex scandal and our former President has a less than perfect track record, and our obesity rates are through the roof, but the US has so many incredible opportunities and freedoms, many of which are a given for every citizen, that I have to step back sometimes and thank my lucky stars that I was born in America, as corny as that sounds.

To give you an example, we had our friend, Meg, a South African over the other night to see our new place. As she was walking around looking at the windows in our living room(all of which have bars on them), she commented that she was looking at pictures from her cousins home in Australia, and she noticed that there weren’t any bars on the windows. “The windows looked so naked and bare, I had never seen anything like it!” While in the States, many people certainly have gates and alarm systems, it is a rareity to find bars on the windows, especially on the second floor. Here, in South Africa, that is a reality. Along with that, you NEVER leave your windows open at night. There are so many ways of life here that are so common to South Africans, but become such a burden and frustration to foreigners. And, while now we are beginning to adjust and accept these habits into our daily routine, we are by no means perfect. There are times where we forget to hide our possesions, leave a window open, or forget to close curtains. All these little details are things that I would certainly stress to any visitors to South Africa before they visit. Obviously, visiting any country you have to take certain precautions, but many of them are just more extreme here.

The other night, Dom and Mike met some Americans who have only been in Port Elizabeth for a week, and already three girls within the group of twenty have been mugged. The reason being that they walked alone at night. Huge Red Flag, and as soon as Rosie and I heard this story, our reaction was, “You never do that here”. But, I can remember back to our intern training in Cape Town when we first arrived here, and most nights were spent dancing and enjoying ourselves on Long Street and downtown, where none of us were hyperactively aware of the fact that we needed to walk in large groups and be mindful of our wallets. While there were a few close calls, as a group we were incredibly lucky that nothing bad happened. All these lessons, along with so many more, are just daily reminders that life is different in South Africa, and this is a constant learning experience. The best solution is to try and keep as open of a mind as possible, and to accept that things here will never be as they are in the States, so there is simply no point in comparing the two. I must say, in the month of January I have never longed for home so much, which is ironic because January is usually the month in New England when everyone wants out!

When we talk about life lessons, many of those come from our life outside of work, but we have also learned an incredible amount as interns for Grassroot Soccer. Every day at work tries your patience and work ethic in one sense or another: whether it is dealing with the inconsistent internet, persistently calling someone for a price quote on something, conversing with teachers and principals who are hard to track down or negotiating schedules with our peer educators, there are constantly moments of humor and frustration. As we are slowly becoming GRS ‘veterans’, we are learning more and more tricks of the trade, and how to navigate these systems. While in a sense I feel like many of these systems have made us lazier, I think that in reality it is just learning, and accepting that things are done differentely, here than in the States. While work has its moments of frustration, 2010 has only been exciting and positive, and there is so much to look forward to in the upcoming months. Work was actually the driving force for all of us during our low points in January. The amazing people that we work with were helping us to maintain our sanity and sense of humor, and they were the only constant that we were able to find in our disorganized lives.

But, I’ll get into more specifics of work in the next post, so look out for that! I hope you all are doing well, thanks for taking the time to read my blog. As always, please reach out to me at any point( with questions or an update on things in your life, I always love hearing from people!

ps. I am including a few pictures from my holiday trip to Tanzania, enjoy!

This is a picture of us with our guide and cook from our safari in Tanzania. From left: Gamba, me, Rosie, Anna and Tuma.

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