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Friday, July 16, 2010

The things you learn…

Day 30-32

Traveling to Mossel Bay was easy; found Delfino's quickly and sat down to wait for my new host family. I wasn't sure if my stay with my newfound family was 'foreal' or not so I waited in anticipation for their call; they said they would call me when they got in around 4-5PM. I hadn't had lunch that day because we were trying to get to all the tourist sites before my 3PM bus so I ended up getting the 'chicken tenders' at Delfino's, comes to no surprise for those who know my fondness for anything fried. By the way, the South Africans love their fried chicken too! Seems like KFC or 'Kentucky' enjoys more popularity than the fast food giant, McDonald's!

Anyway, as I was munching on my grilled chicken with some sort of barbeque sauce (yes, I did order the chicken tenders but this is how it came!), Zelda had called out to me. I didn't recognize her at first because she wasn't in her biker jacket anymore (and because we were only together for about 10 minutes in Oudtshoorn) but then again, who else would know my name in this small town? She noticed that I was eating so she said she would come back in about 10 minutes. I quickly had my things packed because I didn't know when she would come back and still wondering if she would come back. Before getting ready to go, I snapped some shots of the ocean and the sunset. The kids next to me were so excited to hear that I was from Hawaii, especially because they were surfers and I suppose it's every South African surfer's dream to surf the Hawaiian waters. In little ways, it's gratifying to see how a part of 'Hawaii' has traveled to these far corners of the world…we invented surfing right? Well, that's my story and I'm sticking with it…

So, Zelda and Pieter did come back to get me and wow, talk about getting lucky! Their house looked like a palace inside! Such nice grandiose furniture, a fireplace and a car for every person in the house (6) including the pets (3), if not more! How fortunate I felt to have had briefly met this couple and how generous of them to offer me a place to stay! We spent the first night chatting by the fireplace. Besides Pieter and Zelda, Jondre (#3) and Nikola (girlfriend) joined us along with the very active Keetah and Flieka. Zelda was extremely polite and was often apologized for her terrible English, as she would say, and for always speaking in Afrikaans.
Afrikaans is one of the 11 national languages here in South Africa and is widely spoken by White South Africans and Coloureds (refers to people of mixed blood, I think they are extremely attractive! Africa's version of hapa) and more often spoken in rural areas than in the city. It is often referred to as 'kitchen' Dutch; originally brought to this land by the original settlers that came from the Holland (Netherlands) in the 1600s. Interestingly, speakers of Afrikaans and Dutch can understand each other, if spoken slowly (so I am told), but the Dutch often refer to the former language as old-fashioned. I find this extremely interesting…the evolution of language. Hawaii also has this where many of the basic Japanese words that locals know and often use: musubi, benjō, hanabara, hibachi, samurai (some examples) are extremely old-fashioned or have evolved on its own that it is either very rarely used in modern Japanese speak or not recognizable at all. I think it's so interesting that a language and culture can originate from the same source but through other outside influences and growing physical distance from its source, evolves into something completely different to a point where it assumes its own identity.

But I digress; I told Zelda that she shouldn't apologize because I am mesmerized by their language and how they speak to one another. I appreciate languages and enjoy listening to the foreign sounds even if I can't understand. I often find myself picking up words here and there 'Regina' for example in their sentences and their expressions are easily understood that most often I can sense what they are talking about and how they are feeling: frustrated, happy, surprised, etc. As I continue to travel more, to different parts of the world, it really seems to gets smaller as I watch first-hand how humans are humans and that no matter where and how we are brought up, are emotions drive us and the way we express these emotions are more or less universal. Anyway, long story short, it was great to be able to be welcomed into a local Afrikaans family, have a nice place to sleep and enjoy laughter, conversation and good food! What more could you ask for?

At around 10PM, the topic of braai came up since they were preparing dinner. Since being here for more than a month now, I have come to learn that braai is what I know as barbeque or what we would also refer to as 'grilling' back home. Many clubs and bars here often have a braai set up outside and patrons will stop by and get something to eat before going home at the end of the night. It's like how you sometimes can find a hot dog cart outside of a club (Ocean's 808) in Hawaii. Except here in South Africa, it's not some generic, processed hot dog meat but a proper grill with steaks (I think it's steaks, I've actually never bought one yet) grilled in front of you. So, I was asked if I had braai yet. Hmm…I've had it back at home but couldn't think if I had it here…Oh, I did have grilled chicken at the place we stayed at in Storm's River. We weren't standing by the grill though so I kind of felt like I was deprived of the braai experience but yes, I did have something that was grilled. "But, did you have a real braai?" Jondre asked me. "What's a real braai?" " Did you ever have a braai inside the house?" Huh? I was so confused…So here at their home, they have braai, prepared in their fireplace almost nightly. There are 3 men in this household, all over 6' and all rugby players and as Pieter said, 'we love meat'! So all their meats were cooked in the fireplace on the open fire; according to them, this is the only way to do it. So at around 10PM Pieter started grilling the Boerewors. They also served me melkkos, which is a milk porridge that although simple, was actually quite familiar and tasty. The porridge was basically flour mixed with heated milk and everyone added sugar to it and so did I. I guess it was kind of like poi (the Hawaiian staple made from the root of the taro plant) in the sense that it was a starch and sort of bland tasting though I enjoyed the porridge but do not eat poi (I save it for our customers since there is a shortage almost every year!).

I was surprised that they ate so late but they said that although it's not so healthy, it is their normal eating time. Aiymen from Tunisia also told me that they eat around 10PM so when he's in South Africa he often finds himself hungry around 10PM because he's usually having dinner around 6 or 7PM with everyone else. It was a good thing that I got those 'chicken tenders' earlier that night otherwise I would have been soooo hungry! Anyway, it was great to share a local meal the way they normally do. So grateful to have had this raw experience! No, it was cooked but you know what I mean!

That same night, Zeldamarie, the eldest, had come home with the youngest son, Piet-low (16) from Cape Town. Piet-low had gone to visit his sister in Cape Town for a few days. Zeldamarie was also coming home because she needed to pick up her stuff for her new home that she was moving into with her friend. She had actually gone out on a boat and traveled for 4 months and sailed from South Africa to the Caribbean via St. Helena (UK) and had only just returned a few months ago. How cool is that? I don't think I could be at sea for an extended period of time like that! But she did it and finally found a nice place in Cape Town that she could call home. She would be picking up her stuff that had been stored away and would be bringing it back to Cape Town to continue her Capetonian life that had been put on hold when she left to sail last year. What impressed me was that she would be doing this 4 hour drive on her own! You go girl! I don't know many girls back home who would undertake such a feat. But Zel is an easy going gal who is incredibly independent and will do whatever she needs to do to get things done…my kind of girl! Though I don't think I could move my stuff like that alone! She offered to take me to Cape Town, which is where I was going; I'd be able to keep her company though I'm sure she could have done without it but it really worked out perfectly for me!
The following day, Zel took me out to 'the point' in Mossel Bay which was literally right down the street from her house. An incredible view, we walked out to see the waves crashing against the sharp rocky cliffs. We also saw these furry creatures, I can't remember what they're called, but they looked a little like ferrets, running around through the rocks. After the drive and small hike, we went to visit Zelda's shop, 'Arabesque' located in the town center.

A very cute store that sold very tasteful and classy items from clothes to furniture to trinkets to wedding stuff; and the items, mostly imported, had an exotic flair to them. I felt that if you were looking for a unique gift for someone, this is where you would come and you'd be bound to find something. I loved how the store was arranged from a 'clothes' section with dressing rooms to furniture conveniently and effectively spread out around the store. You know those stores that everything you see is on sale? I love that! You see the nice picture frames then notice the stand that it's on and what do you know, the stand has a price tag too! Effective use of floor space if you ask me! Zelda was a successful businesswoman, a good mother (of 4), sold real estate, and now running her own store where she often went on buying trips to handpick the merchandise that she sold. She reminded me a lot of my friend Courtney (who is my biggest blog fan I must add! Thanks Court for always showing interest!) which put a smile on my face! I often find myself associating people that I meet with people that I know back home.
After stopping at the store, Zel dropped me off by the Bartolomeu Dias museum. Mr. Dias was known as the guy who missed the point of Africa (Cape Point in Cape Town) but instead discovered Mossel Bay. A somewhat small museum, it also (subliminally) showcased the Portuguese domination at sea and of all the foreign lands that they discovered and conquered: Mozambique, Japan (Nagasaki), India (Goa), Malaysia (Malacca), and of course Brazil, to name a few…it was so interesting because I didn't put all of the pieces together until it was laid out in front of me at this museum. I mean duh, but yeah, never thought of it like that. I didn't realize how powerful and exploratory the Portuguese were and somehow they have become the butt of all jokes in Hawaii! Somehow we got the malasadas and the ukulele but these 'minor' details in history never spread as quickly, if ever. It was an interesting place and I spent a good 2-3 hours learning about the history here. I picked up the pamphlet from the museum which had a 'Did you know' list. Included in the list are some interesting facts such as:
  • "Mossel Bay is the historical center of the Garden Route"
  • "The massive milkwood tree beneath which the early explorers left the letters was the very first post office in South Africa…and it's over 500 years old!" (Too bad I didn't read this pamphlet when I was there because I missed seeing the tree!)
  • "Bartolomeu Dias found a perennial freshwater spring which still flows today…"
  • "Mossel Bay is the biggest center in the country for restoring and maintaining steam locomotives"
  • The number of whales to visit Mossel Bay surpasses even that of the famous whale-watching town Hermanus….
  • And finally and most importantly on the list: "Mossel Bay has the second-best year-round climate in the world, next to" …..(yep, you guessed it!) "Hawaii (and we're working on that)…." I didn't know it was confirmed that we had the best year-round weather! Yay for us! Come tourists, come!
After reading almost every bit of text in the museum, I went out to catch a boat that would take me out to the Seal island…I found the ticket office okay but no one was there even though it was before their 5PM closing time. When I rang them, I was told that the winds were too strong so all of their trips were cancelled today. Oh well. So, I walked back to town and found Arabesque. Zelda had already left for the day so I decided to go to Delfino's again for some coffee, to enjoy the ocean view and sneak some wi-fi in even though the restaurant had told me that they didn't offer free wi-fi the day before. It was quite windy and the black clouds were coming in…someone in the street a few minutes earlier had warned me about the storm that was coming.
Although I didn't want to have a rainy day, I was glad that a storm was coming. When I first drove into Mossel Bay from Oudtshoorn the day before, I took notice of the 'water scarcity' signs that were dotted along every light post coming into the town. It was also confirmed by Zelda the first night when she asked that I be mindful of their water shortages and to shut the water off while I was washing. Wow, in Hawaii they tell you to save water, but not to that extent! But it was a serious problem; the area hadn't seen rain in almost a year; none this year in fact, and if you were cited for going over standard water level usage, not only would you have to pay a fee but you would also have your water shut off until the next period. Talk about harsh! But I suppose that's the way it has to be if people aren't taking the matter seriously. I decided to skip the shower the first night and didn't flush the toilet until after two uses; my modest efforts to help conserve water…I didn't want the family to get cited on my account!

On the second night, we had a fire going again in the fireplace and around 10PM Piet-low started to braai. He worked the fire and flipped the meat as if he had done this many times before. I later learned that night that it was actually his first time doing it! Welcome to manhood Piet-low! On the menu tonight was a whole lot of meat! It was lamb chops and curried vegetables and mash potatoes! Good stuff! I don't know how Zelda stayed so slim!

It was nice to be able to spend time with such a close knit family. Family dinner time seems to be quite important here in South Africa which I am not sure I can say for my family with all of us doing our own thing and not having strict rules about taking dinner together; I will have to suggest this to my mom for the next time I'm home!
The following day, Zel and I departed at about 3PM and made our way out to Cape Town. Zel spent most of the morning loading up her trailer (alone) that we ended up leaving 3 hours later than she had planned. It didn't matter to me, so long as I got into Cape Town tonight (since I kept changing the dates with Peter) and hopefully in time for the game – which was actually playing in Cape Town that night. And If I was lucky, I was hoping to make it out to the stadium and try to see if I could buy a ticket to watch it at their Green Point stadium.
Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way and Zel had to drive a little slower than usual because she was pulling so much weight behind her. The normally 3.5 hour route would eventually take us 4.5 hours and although it felt long, it was surprisingly not as long as she anticipated. By the time we pulled into Cape Town it was close to 8PM. Game started at 8:30PM. There was no way I'd be able to get to the stadium and try to watch the game. So I accepted this…we ended up going over to Zel's place and I offered to help her unload her trailer. Not wanting to burden me, she politely refused me more than twice. I kept on insisting though because there was no way she could do it alone; well she could but it would take her forever! And since her family had been so gracious to me, this was the only way that I could show my gratitude to her and her family.

Unloading was an arduous task and we tried to get everything up the narrow flight of stairs. Luckily it was only about 15 steps but the area was narrow so it was difficult to maneuver with her large pieces of furniture. Luckily, her new neighbor came out and advised us to get a ladder and have the resident manager open up the second story window so we could hoist the items that way. Well, there was no way we could do that tonight. So we instead unloaded: a washing machine, a bookshelf, cushions and a whole bunch of boxes. It must have taken us about an hour and a half. Not bad for two girls! Finally we were done just before 9PM; or at least done with what we could carry. She was so grateful for my help and I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to show my appreciation; it really worked out for us! I had a place to sleep for two days, got a ride to Cape Town (not free because I offered to help pay for some gas) and she got help moving her stuff in. It was as if the gods intervened and had us meet so that everything could work out smoothly for both of us! So, it was 9PM and I still had time to watch the remaining part of the game…except there was one problem. All her big furniture which we could not carry up was sitting in the back of her trailer and it was South Africa so we couldn't possibly leave it unattended. Zel also didn't want to drive into town with that big thing…she said that she couldn't leave but I was more than welcomed to walk to a bar a couple blocks away…but I didn't like this idea; especially since she was just moving in and really didn't know the area. She did have a covered garage but she didn't have the key! She tried to phone her new roommate but she was working so we were out of luck. Zel also didn't have a tv so I couldn't watch the game and had to instead listen to the play-by-plays over the radio waves.

As Zel was tidying up the kitchen, she found what she thought may be the garage key. She ran out to see if it would work and it did! Yay! So then we had to reverse the truck, detach the trailer and push this big thing with headboard, futon frame, dresser, table piled on, into the garage. It looked pretty simple and straightforward but it took us about 15 minutes to sort this thing out! FINALLY we got it in and we were able to close the garage door. NOW we were able to leave! We decided to take quick showers and then head out…but by now the game was almost over so we decided to just meet her boyfriend Constantine and his friends at Bronx.
Bronx was a fun place where a girl could freely dance because when you look around, you notice that the guys aren't checking you out…instead they are checking the other boys out! It was interesting to watch these gay boys, some discreetly but most directly, hitting on each other. Some were also quite entertaining with their flamboyant dance moves. We stayed out for a couple of drinks before calling it a night and stopping at a local convenience store to pick up some late night munchies: meat pies! But of course, that and the chips weren't enough so we decided to do a McD run too! Ha ha! Well, with all the driving, we didn't have time for lunch! And I only had coffee and a banana for breakfast because I didn't want to pig out at their house even though almost every family member encouraged me to eat saying that 'if you don't eat, you won't survive in this house!' But I didn't want to be rude so I politely refrained; I'm also not used to openly taking and eating food in a stranger's home.
Anyway, we ended up going back to Zel's place and even though her bed wasn't in yet, she had her mattress so I slept on that. I was actually supposed to have gone over to Peter's house but with the game that night, I didn't want him missing any of it on my account by having to come and get me. And since the game would end after 10PM and he had to work the next day, I asked Zel if I could just crash at her place which she was so agreeable to. I didn't stay up much longer. I was so tired that I almost immediately crashed after getting home. I only had 4 hours of sleep the night before because I ended up getting a lot of movies from Jondre and stayed up watching them!

I was finally here in Cape Town! 3 weeks later but I was here! I still hadn't seen Peter yet but I would be meeting up with him the next day and would be staying with him for a few days! He is the bestest! I haven't seen him for 8 years and here he was helping me by giving me so much information on South Africa and Cape Town, giving me a place to sleep and offering me to use his car if I needed to! So super nice! I am not sure how long I will be here, maybe a week or 10 days…After Cape Town though, I plan to leave South Africa and head out to Namibia to see where Stephanie used to live, then hopefully to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and then Botswana and then back down into South Africa to see Kruger National Park - the most famous national park here in South Africa - and hopefully to Swaziland, another country within South Africa and then finally Johannesburg. I am supposed to leave here on August 9 so hopefully I will have enough time to do all these ambitious adventures, otherwise I'll have to change my ticket again! So far it's been a month and I am reminded of how blessed I am and how I have been touched by so many people and have learned so much from them! Thank you!

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