Could life get any better in Mexico? The answer is NO!

I have been trying to upload pictures here but for some reason it does not work! So please trust my words…
Guadalajara, Mexico is an amazing place to live. I have traveled to many other spectacular sites here as well. It really has everything: wonderful people, warm climate, beaches, rivers, mountains, delicious food, beautiful history.. this list really could go on forever because my experiences here have been incredible. I feel like the US thinks that Mexico is very dangerous, it is a shame we don’t know more about it! Come to Mexico and learn for yourself. It can be dangerous, but so can every country. I have fallen in love the language, the people, and the culture. My time here has flown by, I only have one month left. The truth is, I don’t want to leave!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Easter Break Road Trip

If you have the chance to travel to two continents in your life, travel to Africa. Twice. Not only are the chances for (unplanned) adventures so much higher on this massive continent, but it will be unlike anything you have ever seen before.
We live a privileged life as rich fat Westerners, and Africa makes you realize that very fast. Two weeks ago I witnessed the stark contrast between Western life and the way the other half of the world lives in a road trip across South Africa to the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. Urban sprawl diminished as Cape Town disappeared over the horizon behind us, and signs of country living abounded. Rolling green hills, each sprinkled with shacks and sheep and cows, stretched on for hundreds of kilometers. Inside out sealed metal tube, supreme poverty rocketed past at 100kph.
We backpacked into Lesotho, where more poverty met our eyes. After a burger and a Gluwein at the highest pub in Africa, we ventured onto the rolling plains of Lesotho, situated at 3000 meters above sea level. Stone shacks with thatched roofs adorned the tops of the mountains here, with walls of stone erected around them as an attempt to stall the biting wind.
And yet we didn’t meet a single impoverished person.
We met plenty of poor people, but their white teeth shined, their lithe muscles worked with incredible vitality, and what little tattered clothing they wore seemed to adorn their proud bodies more glamorously than Banana Republic or Calvin Klein ever could. Up in the mountains, out in the boonies, these people lived their simple lives: herding sheep, collecting water, and watching out for family. And I have never met happier, more genuine people. Poverty, in the face of such contentment, is nothing.
Anyway, our trip is quite exciting. I almost got bit by a snake, it snowed on us (in Africa!?), we had to bail out of Lesotho and sleep in a baboon cave shivering all night long until the glorious sunny morning, we hitchhiked in the back of ranger pickups on insane 4×4 roads, and I ate 20 Snickers bars!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Berlin, the Birkebeinerrennet, and the FIS World Cup.

It has been a while since my last post but I can assure you I have been doing great things in the mean time.  I have finally begun travelling around Europe as I made my way to Berlin.  I have also been doing some exploring here in Norway as my study abroad trip comes to its halfway point.

My trip to Berlin was an absolute success.  In the three days we were there we tried our best to do as much as we could and even so, felt like we did not have nearly enough time to completely explore the city.  After a short one and a half hour flight we arrived in Berlin before noon on Wednesday.  From there it was easy to ride the train to Alexanderplaatz where our hostel was located.  It was my first time staying in a hostel and I was surprised to see how modern and nice this hostel was.  The check-in had a bar and our room had nice bunk beds and a clean feel to it.  Everyone in the hostel was around our age so we felt very comfortable staying there.

One of the things about Berlin that was tough for me to handle at first was the fact that there was no absolute city center.  In Oslo, there is one city center called Sentrum and all the metro lines lead to it.  However, in Berlin there was no single city center as the city sprawled out for miles.  Our hostel was located at one of the centers, Alexanderplatz.  This is where the famous T.V. Tower is located.  That first day we explored our surrounding area, taking pictures, and getting lost in Berlin eventually finding checkpoint charlie, the famous pass between East Germany and West Germany during the Cold War.  We also visited yet another chocolate factory, Ritter Sport.  There we had a lot of delicious chocolate and again it was almost too much.

By far my favorite part about Berlin was feeling like wherever I walked I was walking through history.  From World War I to present, Berlin has been a part of so many important historical events that walking through the streets gave a feeling of experiencing history.  This became evident during the second day as we toured around the entire city seeing the Olympic Stadium, the Parliament building, some old churches, and visiting the museum for the cold war.  It was amazing to see how much history could be found in one city.  That night we had dinner at a small restaurant in near our hostel that served some delicious Shnitzel and beer.  I was beginning to really love this city.

The final day was spent mostly on a tour of “Nazi Germany.”  Our tour guide brought us around the entire city pointing out all the important locations that took part in the Nazi takeover of Berlin and Germany.  The tour was fantastic because it gave me a lot of historical context for the city.  This made it even more interesting when walking  around as I could begin to relate how much occurred here.  There were countless landmarks that it was almost overwhelming to see how much Berlin has changed in 60-70 years.

At the end of the day it became apparent that we had not enough time in Berlin.  I had hardly any expectations for the city but as I boarded the plane back to Oslo I felt a little sad as I know we could have spent at least another whole week in Berlin without losing ideas of things to do.  When I was first coming to Europe I had a list of cities I wanted to see, the generic ones like Paris, London, and Rome.  I had never thought to put Berlin on that list but after a trip like that I highly recommend that city to anyone wishing to study abroad.

After another week of schooling I was invited to attend the Birkebeinerrennet in Lillehammer, Norway.  Lillehammer was the place of the 1994 Winter Olympics and therefore had an amount of Norwegian culture to share.  Some of my relatives here in Norway were participating in the famous cross country race and had asked if I wished to see it.  I was excited at the opportunity because my family in Minnesota has attended the American birkebeiner in Wisconsin.  After purchasing my ticket at the Oslo central station it was only 2 hours by train to the beautiful city in the “mountains.”  Now living in Bozeman we are a little spoiled when it comes to mountains right outside the city so that when I came to Lillehammer having been told about the mountains there I was slightly disappointed as they were only hills compared to the Bridgers.  However, the city itself was beautiful.  It was the first city that I had been in Europe that reminded me of Bozeman as it was a small yet busy town.  It had one main street that was very similar to the one in Bozeman as well as plenty of things to do outdoors in the surrounding area.

Just outside the city we arrived at the finish line of the famous race.   There were countless people skiing and the participants ranged from 16 years old to 94 years old!  All in all there were 17,000 participants in this years race.  This made me really appreciate how much cross country skiing is a part of the Norwegian culture.  After a little wait we got to see my relative cross the finish line.  He seemed happy to have finished but extremely tired as the race took him about six hours to complete!  It was only a day in Lillehammer and again I wish I could have stayed longer but being able to see first hand the amount of importance that cross country skiing has in Norwegian culture made it all worth it.

The Norwegian culture weekend was not over as the next day myself and friends were attending the FIS World Cup right here in Oslo.  It is the world championship for ski jumping that is held at the Holmenkollen ski jump.  There is also a professional cross country ski race that is held right next to it.  This event is very popular here in Oslo as when we arrived we saw many people dressed up in the colors of their home countries and carrying flags from Norway and all around the world.  There were representatives jumping from all around the world including the United States!  It was awesome to see the amount of support everyone had for their home countries in a sport that I had never imagined would be so popular.  In the end an American won the Women’s Ski Jumping and a Polish man won the Men’s jumping.  It was a great day to be an American in Oslo.

In the coming weeks I have Easter break which is the equivalent of spring break in the US.   I will have two weeks off of school in which I will be going to the island of Svalbard in the Arctic circle in Norway with my relatives.  I will also be going to Alghero, Sardinia in Italy in about 3 weeks.  Finally, it will be my 21st birthday in about two weeks.  I will be trying my best to try and make it as incredible as it would be in Bozeman.  Thanks for reading the post if you did and as always I will try and make it more frequent. Skol!

Too long, Did not read: Went to Berlin, loved it.  Went to a popular cross country ski race in Lillehammer, loved it.  Went to the ski jumping world championship in Oslo, loved it.  Going to Svalbard soon and going to Italy soon.  Birthday is also close.  Whew!

Posted in General, Grant Gittus | Leave a comment

Monday’s Work

This is an example of the journal I have to write every Monday for my LSCE class. Retrospection is very important in this class, as it allows us to learn from the experiences we have with the children from the Lynedoch community. The lessons go by in a whirl of chaos and screaming children, so it good to sit down and quietly collect your thoughts about the day.
For most of my knowledge partners, respectful relationships have not only been formed, but they have flowered. Within the small group of LSCE students working with the Grade 5 students, a very tightly-knit relationship has already been formed. Every day, we gain more respect for each person’s skill set: I personally admire Simon’s levelheadedness, keen thinking, and photography skills, as well as Rachel’s kindness and child-intuition. Having this type of relationship with these people makes it easy to respect myself, because in return I have my personality and skill set to bring into the mixture, and it melds well with what they already have to offer. However, I believe we are all struggling slightly with our relationships with the children. It can be difficult, only being in their presence once a week for two hours, to build a respectful relationship. Aside from time constraints, we often are stuck in the situation of wanting to become the children’s friends, not their teachers. For example, I feel uncomfortable doing a sleepover with our children, because it seems inappropriate for us as twenty-something college students to switch from sleepover companion back to discipline-dealing teacher in the span of several days. Does a sleepover with us teach the children to respect their teachers? I personally don’t think so.
For the first of these diaries I talked about my frustration with my lack of child-skills, and my plans for mitigating this problem. In the second diary, I talked about breaching my comfort zone after Rachel forced me to facilitate activities by myself. Today I felt much more comfortable about my skills communicating to and directing the children. There are still a few more kinks that need to be ironed out, like meaningful discipline and clearer explanations, however, I think those things will naturally come over the next few weeks. So, I will not bother this diary this problem anymore, unless it becomes a problem again!
Instead, I will start talking about attempting to integrate Mrs. Adams into the knowledge conversation. First of all, Mrs. Adams is a lovely lady. She is very calm and collected, and a tremendous asset when it comes to discipline. Without her there, I am sure I class would descend into the types of chaos that I hear happens in many of the other classrooms. One look from the steely eye of Mrs. Adams, and the room will go silent in a heartbeat. The children obviously respect her very much, and she respects them in return. There is a beautiful mutual adoration that goes on between the two groups.
However, we often find it difficult to engage her in our lesson plans. She is always there, but often just observes us closely, stepping in occasionally when we are in need of an Afrikaans translation or some kind of disciplinary action. But we would love to her be there with us, however there are several barriers in the way.
First of all is the language barrier. We sometimes have a hard time trying to tell her what we are doing, and asking her how it could be different.
I think sometimes she just wants to sit down and watch us, take a little break perhaps. Her job is stressful, so I can’t blame her for wanting someone else to take over the reins for awhile.
Our activities manual is also difficult. We often forget that we have only submitted a proposal of an activities manual, and not a finalized version. It is easy to follow a plan blindly, knowing that there are problems with it; you are often too lazy to wish to revise the plan. It was difficult integrating Mrs. Adams into the lessons when were sitting down doing the activities proposal, because she was not there writing it with us. Therefore, she is not in the plan we are following.
That being said, I often feel that all of us like it this way: this classroom leadership switch on Monday mornings. It works, and runs smoothly. However, if we are to gain the full experience of working with all the available knowledge partners at Lynedoch, I believe we must start integrating Mrs. Adams into our plans more often. Stay in tune for more updates on this new problem and the ways to tackle it in next week’s diary.

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Becoming a True Norwegian

Hello everybody!  It goes without saying that I am still having a fantastic time in Norway.  The snow has been falling and melting and falling again but my love for the place has not yet diminished.  These past two weeks I was involved in a lot of activities but most notably I got in touch with my Norwegian roots.

One of the great things I have done is attend a tour of the Freia Chocolate Factory here in Norway.  Freia is basically the Hershey of Norway as it produces almost all of the chocolate consumed here.  It was purchased by Kraft Foods not too long ago so… ‘murica.  It was a free trip set up by the International Student Union here at the University and it was a load of fun.  After meeting up for some coffee and waffles the group set out to the factory located not too far away from the downtown area.  All of us were super excited and many of the international students were able to connect with some of us Americans as we discussed the possibility of it being exactly like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  We were pretty excited when we arrived as when we got off the bus we were greeted by the sweet aroma of chocolate.  Even before we got inside it smelled of sweets in the air.  Needless to say, many of us decided that this is where we would live should we come back to Oslo.  When we got inside we were treated with a trip to the chocolate gift store in the factory.  All the prices were cheap so a lot of candy was purchased; if only we had known the amount of chocolate that would be given to us on our tour.

At first we were shown a brief video about the history of Freia chocolate factory while we ate some Kvikk Lunsj, the popular chocolate here in Norway that is very similar to Kit-Kats.  (Kvikk Lunsj is so popular because it is a “quick lunch” advertised to be a replacement for a lunch when you are cross country skiing or what have you. This will come into play later in my post).  Once the video was finished we quickly realized all of our excitement and jokes about it being like Willy Wonka were becoming true as a secret door opened from the wall.  From there were brought on a journey through “Ancient Mexico” where we learned about the cocoa bean.  Next we got into a time machine and traveled to 1800′s Oslo where the first Freia chocolate store was opened.  All the while we were given loads of free chocolate which was incredibly delicious.  At the end we created our own chocolate bars all the while eating even more chocolate.  Yeah the tour did seem designed for kids but hey, I had a great time and my expectations for the tour were blown out of the water.  At the end of the day most of us left the factory with sick stomachs and the desire to never eat chocolate again but I think we all had such a good time it more than made up for it.

The next day one of my friends from Montana decided to show up on a whim.  He works for an airlines in Bozeman and was able to land incredibly cheap tickets to Oslo.  It was such a surprise that I could barely give him directions to my flat before he had no more internet.  Luckily he was able to make it and enjoy one of the more fun nights I have had in Oslo so far.

On the Saturday before last, one of my German friends hosted an International Dinner Party in her kitchen.  All you had to do was make something you felt was representative of your country and bring it for everyone to try.   I am a bit embarrassed but I am going to come flat out and say this, I made a load of bacon for the party…  Currently, I blame my friend arriving from the States as the reason for my lack of creativity.  However, when I arrived everyone had a good laugh about it and agreed with me that bacon is pretty American.  Plus some other Americans were there to pick up the slack.  The party itself was a great success.  There were dishes from all around the world.  Spicy tofu from China, fried chicken from South Korea, delicious potato cakes from Czech Republic, Sauerkraut from Germany, Tiramisu from Italy, traditional meat and veggie soup from Poland, apple crisp from the US, and quesadillas from Mexico.  It was so much fun to try everyone’s favorite foods from their home country and the conversation was entertaining.  After that we went on an adventure to downtown Oslo to grab some drinks at bars and pubs that some of the Norwegian people in our group enjoyed.  The drinks were expensive but the dancing made it well worth it.  Plus the public transportation was so great it even had buses at 3 A.M. to take us home!

The next day (Sunday), I woke up early and went over to my relatives house in the “suburbs” of Oslo.  It was time for me to become a true Norwegian.  It was time to cross-country ski.  Borrowing a pair of extra skis from my relatives we set off to a trail not to far from their house.  I had not cross country skied in over 5 years so I was a little nervous about how I would look in front of all the native skiers.  The first kilometer was difficult as I had to adjust my balance being so used to downhill skiing at Bridger.  I was even more distraught as children not older than 5 years old were speeding past me and more than likely talking about my in Norwegian.  But after only a few falls I felt my Norwegian blood take over and guide me as we skied to waffle house located in the woods.  4.5 kilometers of intense sweating on my part (none of my relatives looked the least bit tired) and we finally made it to the waffle place.  There were a lot of people gathered eating waffles and drinking something my relative described as “hot lemonade(??)”.  It was all so delicious and I could feel my Norwegian roots growing stronger.   But a lunch break on a cross country ski outing in Norway wouldn’t be complete without some Kvikk Lunsj!  My relatives brought some for me and after consuming the chocolate that is when I felt like I had truly become a Norwegian.

That night my relatives had my friend from Montana and I over for some dinner.  As always with my family in Norway the food was great and the conversation greater.  After the dinner they were gracious enough to drop us downtown where I was able to give my friend a quick tour of Oslo before he left to the states.  We saw the Opera, the harbor, city hall, parliament, the National Theater, the palace, and the famous Die Hard ad next to the central station.  All I can say is my friend picked a perfect time to come visit me in Oslo.

After an amazing weekend it was back to school as we learned about religion in Norway, how to identify certain lithics, and how disease affects the progress of human culture.  But really that is all I will say about school this post.

On Wednesday I attended a party for the volunteers of the pub I had been working at.  It was a great party with free pizza and free drinks.  I was able to meet a lot of the people who work there and once again the foreigners outnumbered the Norwegians.  Again, I was so happy to be meeting people from all around the world.

This last weekend was a bit more relaxed when compared to the activities from the week before.  On Friday night it was one of my Polish friends birthday!  I had the perfect gift as I brought a bunch of Caribou Coffee from Minnesota before I left.  She was so excited to receive her “American” gift and the rest of the party was great.  Finally on Saturday myself and a few friends of mine attended a “Latin Party” at one of the student pubs.  It was advertised as a party to learn salsa and dance to music from South America.  However by the time we got there the party was already a typical dance party with top 20 music from 4 years ago being played.

As I conclude this post I cannot contain my excitement as in less than 36 hours I will be on a plane to Berlin!  A group of friends and I planned it a week ago and for 60 dollars round trip we couldn’t pass it up.  I am looking forward to delicious food, rich history, an interesting night life, and cheap beer as I finally make some steps outside of Scandinavia.  Look forward to my post next week for all the capital of Deutschland has to offer!

Too Long; Did Not Read: Went on a tour of the Freia Chocolate Factory here in Oslo, surprise visit from my friend from Montana, dinner party with international foods, became a true Norwegian, leaving for Berlin in less than two days.  SKOL!

Posted in Grant Gittus | Leave a comment

Classes in South Africa

I am taking Learning Sustainable Community Development, which is a pretty hefty class (5 hours Monday and 7 hours Friday) that uses practical teaching work with children and theory to attempt to eradicate poverty and bring about community change in poor South African communities. The children I work with are in the fifth grade and some have learning disorders or personality problems due to malnourishment and living in abject poverty. So we teach them on Mondays, mostly physical education stuff and arts and culture. But the class is also about SUSTAINABLE development, so we do lots of reduce, reuse, recycle things with the children. But it is also not just about sustainable living as in terms of being good to the environment, it is also about producing sustainable relationships and economic practices and community ideals that will help boost this developing community.

This is not a class I am used to; there is alot of discussion and talking about feelings and not much math and science. But it puts alot of what I am doing at MSU in perspective: the role of engineers in society is to improve the quality of life and to develop solutions for the world’s problems. It is boring to sit up in a skyscraper and design a pump when you have no idea about the lives that pump has changed. But when you actually get down on the ground and see your work in action, see and interact anc form partnerships with the people it has changed, then you know you are doing a good job. It will make you a better engineer. Anyway that’s class number one!

I am also taking a photography class! It should be really fun, because we do a lot of practical assignments where we travel into Cape Town and the surrounding mountains on photography assignments, exploring along the way.

Finally, I am taking a HIV/AIDS class that is focusing on the role of the disease in a South African context. We learn alot about the biomedical facts , treatment and prevention, and social impacts of the disease. We also do some work in the community as well, designing prevention strategies and tools (like posters, or condom dispensers, simple things like that). That will be another cool class that will get me deeper into South African problems.

Sharks! I saw them. I did go shark cage diving, and there were sharks down there. BIG ones, and the biggest one we saw was only 3.5 meters. They get to 5+ meters!

Posted in General | 1 Comment

Cruising to Denmark, Serving Beer, and Feeling Comfortable here in Oslo

A lot has happened in the past two weeks.  So much that I forgot to make a post last week.  But I will waste no time in getting down to business here.

Unfortunately I did not make to Tromso, Norway two weekends ago.  Our couch surfers did not respond in time for us to make a cheap flight to the north country.  Instead I had the opportunity to go on a free cruise to Denmark.  Yes, it was completely free.

On Saturday the 2nd, myself and a bunch of friends made reservations for a free cruise to Frederikshavn, Denmark.  I do not quite understand how it became to be completely free but we believed that because it is a “low season” for tourism that they want people to travel on the ship so that they may buy alcohol and other commodities on the ship.  So that night we arrived at the port and after a brief screening of ages we were all on the ship on our way to Denmark.

The cruise was a blast.  Our rooms were small and windowless, however the duty-free shopping and partying made up for it.  The prices for everything from beer to chocolate was significantly lower as there were no taxes aboard the ship.  Needless to say my friends and I partied the entire night.  There was a club on board with dancing and less than okay music.  It was not crowded by any means but I felt like we were of the minority being younger than 30 years old.  We were able to hang out on the deck outside of the ship and at night it was great to see lights of passing cities and the bright Oslo departing in our wake.

However, because it was a free cruise we were only able to spend about 1 hour in Frederikshavn.  The town was small and we really only had time to visit the market to take advantage of the cheap Danish prices.  Our journey back was shorter but a lot more beautiful.  You could witness the ship breaking the ice in front of us as we made our way back into the Oslo fjord.  On shore, you could see small yet beautiful towns lining the ocean.  It was a great sight and I could not help but wish I will be living in one of those places in the future.

During the past two weeks I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the student pub in my “dorm village.”   It is strictly volunteering so I am not paid for my work, however free beer and meeting Norwegians is all the payment I need for work like this!  I was working with other students my age and they taught me how to serve a beer and work a Norwegian cash machine.  The work was very easy as I did not have to know how to make a cocktail or do anything more than pour beers for other students.  It was a great experience as I was able to meet a lot of Norwegians who were intrigued to find an American working behind the bar.  Playing off the stereotype, they were all friendly and talkative as much alcohol was served.  Plus I was able to practice some of my basic Norwegian.

And yes, I am still attending classes however little of them there may be.  I have had few readings and no homework as the entire grade is based on the final exam which are in April and May depending on the class.

In the coming weeks I am hoping to start doing some travelling around central Europe.  My friends and I wish to visit Berlin and Prague in two weeks.  And I hope to travel to France and the Netherlands to see some of my friends from Montana!  So look out for some more interesting posts coming up at the end of the month.  Skol!

Too long, did not read: Went on a free cruise to Denmark, started volunteering at a pub in my student village.  And hoping to begin travelling in central Europe within the next 3 weeks!

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Tino and the Ghetto Taxi

Public transportation in South Africa is wrought with problems: mechanical breakdowns, operator error, and time table inconsistencies abound. I experienced all of these problems on a recent trip to Cape Town and the beach, and that eventful day stands as one of the most memorable I have experienced in South Africa.
The day began with a half hour walk from campus housing in Stellenbosch to the train station. Unbeknownst to us, the train schedule is different on Sundays, so we had to wait for 45 minutes for a train to arrive. However, due to track problems, a bus arrived instead, and it drove us five minutes down the line to the next train stop. There, we sat on the train for 45 minutes before it actually started to move. When it did begin to move, we traveled for an hour in the packed, smelly train cabin, surrounded by beggars and men selling lolly pops and nail clippers and cheetos.
Upon arrival in Cape Town, we still had to figure out how to get to Camps Bay, the beach and our ultimate goal. We ended up finding a local South African we already knew, and he bargained in Afrikaans with a man in his van. We still are not sure if this man actually ran a taxi service, or whether it was just a family van. Needless to say, for 15 South African Rand per person (approximately $1.60), we found a ride to Camps Bay.
The driver’s name was Tino. He hailed from Tanzania and had moved to South Africa because of the better economy. He was a very nice man, and we took his phone number in order to have access to another cheap ride back to the train station in the evening, with someone we knew.
The beach was lovely, although the water was frigid, and the wind blasted sand hard enough to sting.
Once it was time to go, we called Tino and he found us along the crowded beach front road. This time, Tino had is 11 year old daughter (whose name I was never able to pronounce) along for the ride. None of us wanted to ride the train again, so we bargained with Tino and decided on a price of R300 (five bucks each) for the 50 kilometers all the way back to Stellenbosch. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
Tino’s van was wreck. A 20 year old Toyota Quantum, it looked and sounded like it had been driven all the way across Africa and back, maybe enduring a few off-road safaris along the way. The clutch was giving out, and it rattled and swerved all across the road at its maximum speed, which was painfully slow.
Furthermore, Tino had never been to Stellenbosch before, so we had to describe to him the way on an iPhone, and he had terrible English. However, with perseverance and Tino’s daughter’s translating skills, we were able to make it onto the main freeway.
Where we promptly ran out of petrol.
Tino ran down the battery for a while trying to restart the van on an empty tank. Then, he got out, and ran to the next exit and into a township to find some gas. We were parked on the shoulder of the highway with cars whizzing past at 100kph, right next to one of the sketchiest looking shanty towns in South Africa. Needless to say, it was a bit unsettling. Thankfully, Tino was a fast runner, and within half an hour we were off down the highway again in a cloud of black smoke.
This experience was very interesting to say the least. All of my companions came from countries (America and Sweden) where things tend to work 99% of the time. This day was our first experience with the infrastructure of a country which is much less reliable.
We were so impressed with Tino and his daughter, and the way they handled each tense situation with a quiet smile and chuckle, that we invited them to dinner on us once we got home. It must have been an incredibly awkward situation for Tino, being the only black man in a café filled with Afrikaaner people who until only recently enacted Apartheid legislation on his people. However, his daughter thoroughly enjoyed it, ordering a massive strawberry milkshake and a salad as big as her head. The milkshake disappeared; the salad went in a takeout box.

Posted in General | 1 Comment


I am enjoying my time in Guadalajara, Mexico. The culture is so fascinating and parts of it are strikingly similar to the culture in the US. I have met people from all around the world. I love listening to their stories, it has opened many opportunities for me to learn about other cultures as well. I think that it is important to meet all different kinds of people, and never judge anyone. Estoy disfrutando la vida en Mexico…

Posted in General | Leave a comment

The Brrrraai

Perhaps the most important part of South African culture is the braai. Spoken with a long ‘r’ that rolls off the tongue, a braai is essentially a barbecue. South Africans take them very seriously, and several rules must be observed while engaging in a braai.
1.) The heat source must be wood. Charcoal is low quality stuff around here.
2.) There must be no flame. The initial roaring fire must settle down to red-hot coals, then the cooking can commence.
3.) Meat must not be stabbed with forks or knives; this is especially important when cooking boerewurz (a juicy South African sausage). All the tasty juices must be left within the meat or the sausage casing.
4.) Copious amounts of wine are to be consumed, preferably pinotage, a South African specialty.
Ninety percent of my dinners have been prepared at a braai on one of the residence halls’ many braai pits. The ability to cook food outdoors is helpful since our kitchen cooking equipment is extremely rudimentary, but it also lends itself towards a great social atmosphere. Each braai never has fewer than 20 people, with many different countries in attendance. Long conversations with interesting people from far flung corners of the globe occur over glasses of wine and slow cooked meat, and an extremely tight-knit atmosphere develops. I can already tell that one thing I will miss about South Africa will be the braai: its smells, tastes, and the conversations with the people it brings together.

Posted in General | Leave a comment