katemort

First Couple of Days- Created 5/24

            I have now been in Durban for three days. I have yet to start working, so these first days have been my adjustment period. At first I was somewhat hesitant to put off en starting work, but I am glad that I took this time to get things figured out a little bit and get settled.

            So far South Africa has been interesting. I was in Cape Town about four years ago for a week visiting a friend and despite that being a short experience, I saw enough to know that Durban is very different. There were times in Cape Town when I wouldn’t have really known that I was in Africa. Particularly on Victoria Waterfront, it feels so European and is very white. Since I have arrived in Durban, I have constantly aware that

I am white. It is still somewhat diverse here- there are many Indians and some whites, but when we walk around town I am very aware that I am different and seemingly everyone around me is too. On the way to the grocery store today, we walked through a park and were gawked at by school children. Perhaps I am being overly sensitive to this effect, but I tend to have a heightened awareness of people around me and a certain paranoia, so this might be something I have to discuss with my roommates to see if they have experienced the same thing.

            The rooming situation is going very well. There are Susan and I who have been friends since the beginning of the school year, and then two WashU students. One is Melissa, who is very nice. We are celebrating her birthday tomorrow. The other is Ande, who happens to be a friend of mine from high school’s cousin which is great. She reminds me a lot of him so we get along great.

            The first couple of days consisted of getting acquainted with your new place and our new city. While everyone else was at work Susan and I walked around and found the grocery store and the internet place and moved our stuff in. Our apartment is nice, but our “bedroom” is actually an indoor porch-like thing with no dressers or closets or anything so we are trying to make it as homey as possible. I found an ironing board in a closet so I am using that as a bookshelf/ coat rack with old running shoes as bookends. I gave my self a pat on the back for my ingenuity on that one. We will be basically living out of a suitcases for the summer but Susan and I are pretty resilient so I think it will all be okay. Besides, the view from our apartment makes it much better- I have never lived on the beach before and I love just looking out at the ocean, particularly at dusk when the white caps reflect off the moon.

            So far there haven’t been any real culture shock issues. Although I did have a funny incident occur today. I went into the grocery store to pick up some items, one of which was a cantaloupe. The clerk looked at me and asked what it was. I was confused and apologetic because usually you are supposed to get your produce weighed and get a sticker for it before you check out. The woman explained to me to me that I didn’t have to weigh it, she just wanted to know what it is. Cantaloupe I kept saying and she continued looking at me like I was crazy. Then she got the manager and asked him what it is. The manager scrolled through the screen and found “samaset” (or at least that’s how we remember it at this point, I’ll have to look it up). He smiled at me weirdly. I tried to explain to him that in my country we call it a cantaloupe. He smiled patronizingly.

These are the kinds of things that are going to make me realize that I’m not at home. Like for example, we went to Sea World today and Ande and I got hungry. We went to a food stand and had no idea what about 80% of the items were. So we got some sort of sausage thing. Not bad, a lot like a German sausage. Also, as the keeper was feeding penguins he was making gender-specific jokes. I found them funny but thinking about the US, he probably would have been slapped with a discrimination or sexual harassment suit or something comparable or at the very lease been told to stop because he was being offensive. Everyone in the audience laughed.

The other thing we noticed in Sea World today was the heavy focus on environmentalism and conservation. Apparently they are running out of certain species of fish for human (and penguin) consumption and have these little info cards indicating which fish are okay to eat and which are endangered. They also emphasized reduce, reuse, and recycle. We were trying to figure out whether they were more progressive on the environment, or they were behind and it has become a more imperative situation. As someone who is a great endorses and observer of the green movement, this is something I am going to pay attention to while I’m here.

Last point- I can’t go without addressing the civil unrest going on here. It started in Johannesburg and it was supposedly isolated, and then it spread to Durban and then despite all predictions even spread to Cape Town. We have not really felt the effects of it at all, but are very aware of it. The news last night was all about the violence resulting from xenophobia. I keep getting concerned e-mails telling me to be careful. I think I will be pretty sheltered from it but will keep an eye out. I saw a policeman by the beach yesterday with one of those Rambo-style sashes of HUGE shotgun shells draped across his chest, so I guess I am not the only one keeping an eye out. But it is nice to know that I have a strong network of locals and friends here to help keep me safe. This likely will not develop into something worth worrying about, but I’m very aware so don’t worry.

Looking forward to work on Monday. Will keep you updated.

1 Comments

zinho

Hey! I am also interning this summer at the Legal Aid Board in Johannesburg. Your dispatches are really interesting and I look forward to reading more of them. Do you know any students that are working in Johannesburg? Get in touch if you have a moment, and take care! BK

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