Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Africans and Afrikaans

So, remember in school learning about the spice trade in Europe? East Indian Trading Co. and so forth? Well, for European countries wanting the spices of India, one way to go was to sail around Africa. The Portuguese set up a refreshment stand where Cape Town is now today. Here they had some guys hanging out growing crops, raising livestock and brewing beer for the sailors to stock up on. Another reason for the name "Cape of Good Hope." (Check out my blog posting on that here.) There was also trade with the indigenous population whom were later completely wiped out (sound familiar?).

Anyway, the Dutch (from Holland/ Netherlands) were also into getting spices and eventually took over this refreshment stand and formed a colony in 1652. Later, the British, in the early 1800s, fearing that the French (Britain’s enemy at the time) might take over the colony (and thus a valuable trade route stop) took control from the Dutch. Up to this point the early Dutch settlers had settled in to Cape life and developed their own distinct language and culture—Afrikaans (pronounced Afri-Khans._ The Afrikaans language was basically a simplified Dutch mixed in with some African words. The colonists and their slaves spoke it (Slaves from Madagascar, Tropical Africa and Indonesia). Though the British rule was long lasting and wide spread, the Afrikaner population wasn’t into giving up the land they stole fair and square so a bunch of wars ensued between the British and Afrikaans. The Afrikaners, having lived in the area for about 200 years were familiar with the terrain and had experience fighting in it against the Africans and subsequently were quite able to kick the British’s ass a whole bunch through guerilla warfare techniques. The British, resorting to putting the Afrikaner soldiers families in concentration camps (were over 26,000 died) and burning farms and crops, eventually won. Meanwhile, the African tribes fought on both sides and against each other including the famous Shaka of the Zulus. In fact, Zulu had a huge part to play in destabilizing southern Africa to such an extent that it made it easier for the Whites to take over.

One thing about the Afrikaners, they were very racist and thought they were chosen by god to take the land of the heathens (again, sound familiar?) The Afrikaners, after being defeated by the British, begrudgingly agreed to a shared government which they eventually won control over. It was they who created Apartheid, which simply translates to “separateness” a brutal system in which to control a population they would rather do without, but needed to exploit for labor. On the basis of skin color, they divided the population up between whites, blacks, coloureds ( a distinct population that were descended from imported slaves and indigenous Africans) and Indians (who were brought in as indentured servants. All non whites were treated badly but no one as badly as the Blacks who were forced into township slums on the outskirts of cities and could be arrested, beaten and/ or killed at anytime for not carrying a pass book, which said where and when they could come and go. Constant raids were conducted in the township and people could be taken away at any moment, sometimes forever.

I’m trying to keep this short, but the atrocities committed during the apartheid years were some of the worst human rights violations ever committed and were allowed to continue unquestioned by many of the world governments including America during the Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and (especially) Regan administrations. See, South Africa had a huge supply of minerals that much of the world wanted, like 80% of the world’s gold, a bunch of diamonds and uranium. Activists, however, around the world called for and end to apartheid and a resistance movement began within South Africa. One of the major leaders was Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned for 26 years for his organizing activities. He was sort of a Martin Luther King Jr. figure. Eventually, some of the world governments came to impose sanctions on South Africa and the internal resistance movement intensified to such a point that the apartheid government couldn’t afford to maintain the status quo. Nelson Mandela, although imprisoned, remained a powerful force against apartheid and began talks with the apartheid government to make moves towards a democratic, majority rule South Africa. See, throughout history and to this day, South Africa has only been about 10% white. 10% of the population ruthlessly exploited and controlled 90% of the population. Mandela was eventually freed and during the first democratic elections in South African history in 1994, he was made president.

This in no way begins to describe the complexity of this country. Think of this post as a grain of salt on an iceberg. Today, 14 years after the end of apartheid there are still millions of people (in fact the majority of the population) that live in shacks that are really lean-tos made of sheets of metal set up like a house of cards. There is one water well every 100 plus people, everyone must use a shared outhouse, and when it rains everything turns to mud as there are no floors or even streets in some places. Poverty, crime, domestic and sexual violence and government corruption is out of control all over the country. There’s a kid who looks about 8 or 10 who sleeps on the sidewalk I see on my way to work. Some politicians openly threaten each other’s lives. And this is the richest country in Africa.

There are a ton of shocking examples of daily life I could describe, but this post is long enough as it is. I will say, though, that this place is the way it is because someone made it this way. This is the result the actions and lack of action by governments all over the world. All of Africa is the world’s store of natural resources and cheap labor that governments have been looting since the 1600s. Developing countries are the way they are because of the way developed countries are. It’s exploitation, greed, heartlessness and ignorance on the part of developed country’s governments and their people that little girls here are raped by their teachers and fathers, that 8 year olds sleep on the street, that men must leave their families for 11 months out of the year to work in diamond and gold mines for dollars a day. Months ago, a huge backlash against immigrants resulted in 60 people being killed, some burnt alive, by desperate, poor people fearing that what little opportunities they may have are being taken by other Africans.

It hasn’t been easy or very fun being here, but it has made me realize a lot. One, is that Africa’s and the world’s problems are complicated beyond belief but there are solutions, it just takes the right people to want to really do something about it. The thing is, the people that can create this change don’t want to because they benefit from the way things are. So it really comes down to the people to demand that their leaders do something. It’s the same with all issues really, globally and locally. Apartheid ended because of pressure put on the government by common citizens demanding it. Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, worker’s rights and the clean air and water we enjoy today in America came about only because of the actions of normal, everyday citizens demanding the government to change. Politicians and governments won’t do things against their interests without pressure and a swift kick in the ass by its citizens—Obama included. If we really want to see change, it’s still up to us to demand and create it.

beard check

Do you know someone named Seth?

merry christmas from jenna and travis

from south africa

Sunday, November 30, 2008


It’s been challenging living here. Jenna and I live with 6 other people. Four are German, the oldest being 21. There’s also a 21 year old girl in the loft above us who has a incredibly loud and dumb boyfriend who practically lives there and yells a lot during rugby games. So here we are living with these kids who have never lived on their own before. I’ve never lived among such filth. I should take a picture of the kitchen sometimes. They leave not only their dirty dishes out, but uneaten plates of food on the table, counter and anywhere with a flat surface. There are constantly stains a food smears on the kitchen table and counter and 1 million cockroaches at night. I don’t walk barefoot in the house. In Germany, there’s a mandatory stint in the military. If you don’t want to do that, you do social work in South Africa. So these kids aren’t really here out of the kindness of their hearts, they’re just partying and buying time until they get to leave. They party until really late at night and come home loud. One of them started bringing a couple of street kids home. One stole an iPod and then rode off with someone’s bike. We had a meeting and agreed no more street kids in the house. Then they just started hanging out on the porch (in front of my bedroom window) at all hours. We asked them to be quite about 8 times. The landlord (who lives in a loft upstairs) finally put a stop to it all. I haven’t had a full nights sleep in a couple weeks. Last night was the first.
This kind of thing can make you feel old. Telling the kids to keep it down, trying to understand why they leave bowls of uneaten yogurt, crumbs and spilled juice on the table all day to attract flies and roaches. Also thinking, “Those kids are so disrespectful and inconsiderate!” I guess I’ll be able to live anywhere and with anyone after this. This rant could go on and on, but you get the idea.
The house is conveniently located, though, close to the train station, a grocery store and the main strip in Observatory (the suburb where I live.) There’s coffee, bars, a health food store, book store, bottle store (liquor store which is the only place you can buy beer.) and Chemist (Pharmacy). Plus, it is safer (though annoying) to always have someone around the house. I’m coming to terms with the inconveniences and realize that I have less than three months to go. Someday I’ll wish I was back picking dried cheese off “clean” spoons and rewashing dishes (they don’t rinse the dishes when they put them on the drying rack! Is this a German thing?) Actually, I probably won’t.

Paintball, Turkeys and Reindeer

Sorry that the blogs haven’t been more forthcoming, you just get into a groove when you’re living somewhere as opposed to traveling. Really, not much exciting happens day-to-day (which is a good thing around here, believe me.)
I’ve been working a bunch, usually four 9hr days a week. These next two weeks I’ll be working 5 days because the studio closes for two weeks for the holidays (hear that American bosses?) Most things shut down during that time.
The job is going great. I’ve been doing illustration work, web design and am the contact person with clients in Germany and Holland. I’ll post the websites soon, they should be ready in a couple weeks. Last week we had an office outing of playing paintball. It seemed kind of odd at first to be playing war in a such a violent place, but it was actually a lot of fun. There was the added fun of possibly coming across wild baboons in the forest where we played. You don’t get extra points for shooting them though.
Thanksgiving came and went uneventfully. In fact I only realized it was thanksgiving once (while at work) and then forgot about it for the rest of the day. Christmas is coming up, but it doesn’t seem to be as big of a deal here. A couple temporary angel stencils on some storefronts and some cheap gift ideas at the stores. No lights though, electricity is too expensive to use on that. Have I mentioned that you have to buy electricity per kilowatt? You can literally run out. For a while the country was having a hard time producing enough electricity so there would be semi-scheduled rolling black outs. Problem was that some were unannounced so business would have to shut down and sometimes loose their perishable stock. Some tourists got stuck on a tram hundreds of feet in the air for a couple hours. Our house ran out of electricity the other day because people were using too much juice.
The internet is sold by the megabyte. I use about a gig a month. It costs around 24 dollars. It makes you careful about what you download when it’s not infinite and you can run out of internets. The studio where I work often gets capped out and is quite a pain in the ass. The boss has to call and order more internets and often work gets slowed down.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I have a job doing graphic design here in Cape Town at Sploosh Digital (www.sploosh.co.za). I'm pretty excited. I was starting to go a little crazy hanging out at the house all day and looking for semi relevant volunteer work. This will be my second week, too bad my computer is in the shop (of course!)It should be ready tomorrow, but things are always uncertain in this country.

In a internet cafe, gotta jam.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

the house

Here's a shot of Devil's Peak from in front of the house.

This is the entrance to my house in South Africa. You have to use a key to get in AND out (the inner gate doesn't have a handle and locks automatically when you close it.)

For those with google earth, here are the coordinates for my house: 33 degrees 56' 17.36" S 18 degrees 28' 13.91" E (the red roof, second house in.) If you're lost, I can email you something to click that will zoom you right in. Just to the right, check out the photos of the observatory railway station. I'm there just about every other day. The big bright building to the left is Kwik Spar, the super market. I'll have to do separate entry for that place.

Devil's Peak

I live right under this thing! You can see it just about everywhere you go in the neighborhood. It's a part of the Table Mountain (google image it) chain.

Apparently I'm going to like this

No AK-47s allowed on the train

...or spears or machetes. The bulbous thing is a traditional Xhosa weapon used to bash people over the head. Commuting everyday can get stressful!

Home at last

Some guy won something?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cape of Good Hope and Burkas

This is the Cape of Good Hope. To the mariners of yore, this very important geological feature meant that they could finally begin to steer their ships more East than South and meant they were close to the spice rich Indies (and right around the corner from fresh meat, beer, prostitutes, and Cape Town after a grueling two months at sea.) Cape Point is right behind, due South.

There were some Japanese tourists going crazy over this sign, probably 15 jostling to take turns. Speaking of tourists, I saw a Muslim family where the dad was taking a photo of his wife and son. The wife was in a full burka, imagine what all those vacation photos look like. Imagine when families whose women wear burkas get together to share vacation photos. Okay, I tried to take a photo, I know it's probably not the most appropriate thing to do but the guy is right behind the girl walking down the stairs. Really, think about all those vacation photos!

African dangers

look what you've done!

Cape Point

I went to Cape Point yesterday, the south west most part of Africa. It was windy as hell, here are a few pics. That top one is the point itself, taken from the lighthouse above.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Compound sitting and International TV

Jenna and I are house sitting for her somewhat well-to-do-friend for a week. There's an alarm on the house that will make your head explode if it goes off so we have to be careful not to accidentally press a button on the key chain that turns on the perimeter laser beams.

Like all the houses here, there are bars on every window and external barred doors outside the wooden doors. Here, those external bars are pad locked. So you can imagine what the key chain looks like for this house. I feel like a janitor.

I've been watching satelite TV. It's interesting to watch the news on Euronews, BBC and Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is the only independent middle east news station (as oppossed to be ran by a specific government.) It got a lot of attention for airing comments by Osama bin Laden after 9/11. There are journalists from all over the world represented at the station including American and British reporters. Last night, we watched a program about the privatization of cities in Atlanta. There are suburbs that have actually seceded from Fulton County, Georgia and are being ran by a Multinational Corporation. The problem is that the tax revenue generated within the new city limits doesn't go to the rest of the county thus crippling public services like hospitals and fire figghting (mainly in the poor, black areas.) It's really interesting in the time of corporations going bankrupt and collapsing. What if the corporation that runs your town collapes? There goes the sewer, power, garbage pick up, street repairs and everything else that a typical municipality takes care of.

Oh, wait. The corporation that runs these towns in Georgia is CH2M-Hill Inc. which is a Denver-based company specializing in full-service engineering, consulting, construction and operations, and just happens to be the major contractor for the U.S. in Iraq and Post-Katrina New Orleans. So I guess that corporation won't be going bankrupt soon.

Anyway, international TV is really interesting. We watched a Ghanian soap opera that looks like it was shot with a camcorder. There's also a station in Iraqi. Even though there are some interesting things, TV is still crap all around the world. Those international news stations still just have 30 second news stories and coverage of things like the making of the largest Ostrich sandwhich in the world.

Well, I guess I'll watch some more TV.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

bluegrass in So_Af

I was at a pub earlier and some White South Africans were playing bluegrass with really good, fake American accents. It's interesting to think of our own accents (we have one apparently). I was thinking about how bluegrass is one of the few truly American exports.

I think that we are very insular in America because we are so far removed from the rest of the world. If we all grew up in Europe, we would be a train ride from 3 or 4 different countries and distinct cultures. It's very easy for us to just assume that our way is the way even though we know intellectually that there's lot's of different ways of doing life (especially for those that have traveled.)

So, to be in Africa and see some South African guys playing bluegrass and local people considering a novelty (there were people recording it) makes me realize that we really are a part of the world culture and our culture can be just as foreign to others as Greek music, belly dancing or Sumo wrestling is to us.

Anyway, I don't even really like bluegrass, but it was nice to get out of the house. Jenna is from West Virginia and people go nuts for that stuff there, so it was nice for her to get a little of her hillbilly roots here in Africa.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

So_Af loves cell phones

Seriously, they're like currency. These are wooden cellphone keychains, huh? I've also seen in paintings of township scenes cellphone company billboards and stores included. There are also plenty of shops and stands around that sell accessories and "unlocking" services which is where you take the cell phone you just stole or robbed from an unsuspecting tourist.

Someone at TJ's tell Wayne I'm using one the phones he gave me to give to a mugger as a my cell phone. It doesn't work too well.

My south african cell phone number is 27 71 078 9159, in case anyone wants to give a shout out. Hey, it's only 25 cents a minute through skype to call So_AF!

I have a pay as you go plan, I buy airtime at grocery stores and punch a number in the phone to recharge it. This is also how people buy electricity and the internet is per mb so you can actually run out of electricity and internet. Fun!

So_Af loves Obama

Animal Money


Here's another interesting thing about So_Af. In the urban areas where there are a lot of cars, the homeless will stake out sections of parking space. When you come by to park they "help" you by standing between the parked car and your car (which is backing up) and guide you in. Then they want some money when you come back for "guarding" your car while you're away. Just think if the homeless of Portland got wind of this.

While on the subject of cars, I was looking through the car ads the other day and looking at the features you can get. Listed, was a "smash and grab application." This is a coating on the window that prevents it from being smashed open by people that come up to your car while stopped, smash your window and grab anything of interest.

Oh, plus cars are driven on the opposite side of the road (like Britain) which makes crossing a street (especially when there's turn outs) a little more adventurous.

This is a Ford, not unlike the Ford Rancheros of days of yore. This style of car is super popular here. They're everywhere.

I've seen five people on bikes the whole time I've been here. Boo hoo, my legs are shriveling up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

things about south africa

  • Ketchup is called Tomato Sauce and BBQs are called Braais.
  • Stop lights are called robots and texting is called SMSing.
  • There are no smoke detectors yet all the windows and doors are barred and gated with locks.
  • It can be hot one day and monsoon raining the next (and cold!)
  • The light rail company has it's own jail for people that don't have tickets where they can keep people all day sometimes.
  • The grafitti is pretty good.
  • There is no such thing as dark beer, only seven types of lagers (including Miller Genuine Draft which is brewed here under that label)
  • Maltabella is a breakfast favorite made of the South African native grain red sorghum and has the consistency and look of re fried beans.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

JP2: There's Tom Waits to be heard in So_Af

I was in a pub called A Touch of Madness: A Victorian Quaffery (I, of course, call it the Victorian Qweefery) and Heart attack and vine came on. Bars are the same all over the world: smoke, old guys talking to young girls, bad jokes and coworkers discussing the day's crazies.

It's still stupid cold here, I'll let you all know when it's Speedo weather.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


On the 21st, Jenna's friend Guy took us on a drive through the country and in the mountains. This is a shot of Franschoek, a small wine town that's pretty well to do (and subsequently white.) We drove through and had some lunch. On the way up we went through Pine forests which seemed very familar and smaller towns where most of the people did farm work and felt the most "Africa" to me. A lot of it could have been Eastern Oregon with lakes and forests and mountains. Actually, a lot of it reminded me of the country around Livermore, California where I spent the first part of my formative years. The fam will know what I'm talking about.

The geography changes as fast as the weather around here. Yesterday was shorts weather and today it's 55 F with driving monsoon-like rain. Not that I've been in a monsoon, but if it rained like this Portland, people would be flippin' out.

Okay, over and out.

the coast

On the 20th, Jenna and I took the train down to a small coastal town called Muizenberg. It's a surfer hang out and much like coastal towns all over the world it had antique stores, art galleries and caf├ęs. It's funny how unexotic this place can be at times, but the coast was amazing. This is a picture of Kalk bay (fun to say) where we hung out for a few hours before the trains got too packed (Tokyo sardine style.) This is a pretty good place for whale watching which I hope to do soon.

This is a shot of some of the bazillions of shells to be found here. Rick Steves would probably say something like "a true beach combers delight." I have to admit it was pretty cool finding shells that you usually have to buy.

This is an example of simple Dutch Colonial architecture with the thatched roof. There other buildings around with elaborate facades as found in the Netherlands but they are more reserved here.

Sorry about the formatting, still trying to get this blogger software down. Most of you probably don't care but as a designer and recent recipient of 30k in student loan debt, I care a lot.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I finally received my bag thanks to Jenna's phone negotiation skills, it took about 12 hours and 5 different people to find out what we had to do to just get the bag. Blah blah blah, it got it though.
It's nice to be wearing my own underwear again.

I'm pretty jet lagged, I wake up feeling really heavy and my waking hours are really surreal. I think what adds to the surrealism is that this place seems familar to what I know (gas stations, hippie shops, supermarkets, homeless people, cars, etc.) but there are some radical differences in mindset and lifestyle that I have yet to grasp.

The house Jenna and I are staying is pretty cool, it has a hostel feeling to it. Jenna and I live with four Germans (one who is leaving soon) and two White South Africans. We share two bathrooms, a kitchen and an enclosed backyard space with two fire pits (or fire stations as the Germans call them) for braiis (BBQs). The house is two blocks away from the train stop which is very convenient and two blocks away from a supermarket (Ketchup is called tomato sauce.) I have wifi that I have to pay for by the megabyte which is odd to think of internet usage in those terms. I just buy a block at a time. We had our first community Braii last night and watched a movie. They're a great bunch of people. Germans have to either do a year of military or humanitarian service after school so these kids are in cape town working with the homeless and the disadvantaged. The one South African is working on his Doctorate in astronomy and is going to take Jenna and I to the observatory soon. The other is in advertising.

Jenna and I went to the coast on the second day, I'll make a separate blog entry about that and start including photos and video.

Take care.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Made it!

Okay, so I was going to craft a beautiful opener but eff it. I made it! Holy crap that was some serious traveling. The 'puter is about to die, but I wanted to let everyone know I made it and to tell those that know my bad luggage luck that my luggage was marked as dangerous and the airline in Frankfurt is refusing to send it. I think it's because it sat around for 8 hours (the duration of my layover.) Jenna and I (actually Jenna mostly because she is better at this sort of thing) are taking care of it. Hopefully tomorrow on the next flight out of Germany.

It's pouring rain here, good thing I'm used to it and very cold. The flight into Soaf was awesome, there was a lightning storm over Africa (we were flying over the ocean). I'll post a video soon. I also got put into first class because of a mix up with a family, so that worked out great for me. I'll do a more involved description of the wonders of first class next time.

Things are well overall, it's my first day and dealing with little hassles, but Jenna and I still love each other and are glad to be within high-five distance.

Hope you're well.