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Our South African Journey

“I sat at the edge of the cliff overlooking Cape Town.
  I was the only thing holding me back from a really long drop.
  Exhilarating.”

In January 2015, 30 Carthage students spent two weeks exploring South Africa — the region’s economics, businesses, people, culture, architecture, and breathtaking wildlife. The J-Term study tour was led by Carthage economics professor Yuri Maltsev, and included visits with famous economists and businessmen, sight-seeing, and a safari. Carthage sophomore Amerin Idell ’17 documented her trip in a journal. Read Amerin’s reflections below and enjoy photographs by Carthage photographer Johanna Heidorn ’13.

January 15, 2015: Who’s Writing this Journal Anyway?

Hello, my name is Amerin. I am a sophomore at Carthage, triple majoring in German, marketing, and public relations. At Carthage, I am a member of the sorority Kappa Phi Eta, the honor society Alpha Lambda Delta, United Women of Color, and Black Student Union. I work in the Office of Communications and as a resident assistant in Denhart. I am beyond excited to be spending J-Term studying economics and business in South Africa, and I am eager to share my experiences with you all. I chose this trip because of South Africa’s unique economy and the effects of its very complex history, both of which we will witness firsthand. 

Peace, Love, and Elephants,
Amerin

 

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We arrived at our hotel at midnight after 18 hours of flying, and woke up to our first official day in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our first stop was Constitution Hill, the site of a former prison. Our tour guide showed us around the prison and explained to us the difference in treatments between whites, “coloureds” (biracial, Asian, and Indian inmates), and Africans. In the prison, whites were considered the most privileged, followed by coloureds, with Africans having the worst treatment. All three groups of races bunked separately and never even saw one another in the prison.

Constitution Hill is also the place of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. We were allowed to walk inside and see the court. I was amazed by how much it differed from the typical American court. Everything from the carpet to the drapes had a purpose and meaning. A large beaded flag of South Africa lingered in the front of the room. Somehow, it felt more personal than any American court I had ever been in.

Afterward, our group went to a museum with an apartheid art exhibit. The museum mostly was composed of photographs from the 1950s through the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela became president. Many of the images were extremely powerful; they depicted not only protests against racial violence, but also photos of blacks and whites sitting together peacefully — showing the complexity of the racial relations at the time.

Most interesting fact of the day: At Constitution Hill, we learned that Africans imprisoned would sometimes lie and say that they were “coloured” in order to receive better treatment. Prison wardens tested the prisoners to see if they were lying by sticking a pen in their hair and asking them to jump. If the pen stayed in a prisoner’s hair, the warden reasoned that prisoner was African. If it fell, the prisoner was deemed coloured. The wardens based their theory on the typical hair texture of Africans.

 

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“My heart sank as I watched the conditions that people were living in.
Houses had roofs held together by placing bricks on top of them,
and many of the houses did not have working toilets.”

We spent our morning listening to lectures by members of the Free Market Foundation. Our professor, Yuri Maltsev, is affiliated with the group.

Both lectures enlightened our tour group on how South African politics and policies affect its economy. The second lecture from economist Leon Louw advocated for the need of a increasing income gap to show increasing prosperity and questioned if equality stops those from succeeding who are trying to lift themselves up from the status quo. I found Mr. Louw’s lecture very thought-provoking and adjusted my ideas on how and whom we view when we think of equality.

Both of the lectures were attended by Carthage students, as well as students from the University of South Africa. We also spent the morning networking with the South African students.

Afterward, we took a tour of Soweto, where we witnessed the slums. My heart sank as I watched the conditions that people were living in. Houses had roofs held together by placing bricks on top of them, and many of the houses did not have working toilets.

However, what impacted me most was the pure joy of the children as they saw us. Our tour guide explained that the children love visitors, and about five children ran toward us grinning from ear to ear, waving their hands in the air. It made me feel so grateful not only to be a part of this trip, but for the everyday amenities that I take for granted.

We were then accompanied by famous South African economist Herman Mashaba for dinner. He gave a speech about the beauty of South Africa and its current economy.

 

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“We came to a group of nine elephants, including two small babies, roaming together as a pack.
We waited patiently as the elephants wandered behind our Jeep and made their way across the road.
It was truly a monumental moment.”

Today was rather unique, because we only had one excursion. We woke up extremely early to go on a safari. After a three-hour drive, we arrived to our location. Our group of 40 boarded two large Jeeps. Our goal was to see all of the “big five” animals: the leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, and buffalo.

Our first sighting was at a watering hole where our tour guide pointed out the hippo bobbing up and down in the water. In the distance, we also saw a group of baboons roaming around, one of which had a baby hanging from her back. It was definitely surreal to see these animals roaming around in the same area as one another and without a zoo-like fence keeping us from them.

We saw an array or giraffes, zebras, and wildebeests. Our tour guide was providing us with animal facts along the way. At one point, our driver, Peter, heard through his walkie-talkie that a leopard had been spotted roaming in the grass. He threw the Jeep into the next gear and took off on a fast chase so we could see the leopard.

When we arrived, people in a group of cars were looking into what seemed like a patch of grass surrounded by a bunch of trees. Suddenly, Peter found the leopard’s spotted tail swaying back and forth underneath a tree branch. Using binoculars, we were able to make out the body of the leopard, but we were not able to see its face. Peter then explained to us that leopards like to take their prey into the trees and feast on them there. Our first sighting of the big five.

After our leopard encounter, we continued to see dozens more zebras and wildebeests. We then came to a group of nine elephants roaming together as a pack. The elephants included two small babies who walked underneath their mother for protection. We waited patiently as the elephants wandered behind our Jeep and made their way across the road as a pack. They did not even acknowledge us. It was truly a monumental moment watching them walk away from us as a united pack. We now saw two out of the big five.

About midway through, we stopped and were served a traditional South African meal consisting of maize, a dish similar to American grits, and antelope. I was surprised by how salty the antelope was and even more surprised that I liked the maize so much. I am by no means a grits fan, and, at a first glance, the maize was not a familiar sight.

The end of the safari was by far the most amazing. About 50 feet from the entrance, we stopped our Jeep. To our right, about 20 feet away, were six rhinos traveling as a pack. To our benefit, the rhinos took their time traveling, so we watched them closely and took pictures for about five minutes. We were so close to the rhinos that we observed each individual wrinkle on their bodies as well as the hair on their tails.  We ended our day seeing three out of the big five — not bad.

Fact of the day: Elephants are pregnant for 22 months.

 

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Today was my roommate Sarah’s 21st birthday. Prof. Maltsev and our tour organizer, Sue, arranged for her to wake up and ride to breakfast in a carriage led by two donkeys. After that, our morning was fairly relaxed. We didn’t have any activities until noon and spent the morning playing beach volleyball and going on a tractor tour of the salt mines, where we even got to eat the salt.

At noon, we boarded the bus and drove to the Central University of Technology, where Prof. Maltsev would give a lecture later in the afternoon. When we arrived, the university gave us a short tour as well as a presentation on their 3-D printing technology and capabilities at the university. We then got to see their 3-D printing machines up close.

Once 4:45 hit, we walked into a large lecture hall and sat down in anticipation of Prof. Maltsev’s lecture, titled “Economic Freedom and Economic Success Around the World.” The purpose of Prof. Maltsev’s lecture was to explain his reasoning that freedom among the people is what leads to economic prosperity in a country’s economy. He used examples of fascist economies to show what destruction comes of economies with very strict regulations for its people.

 


JANUARY 21, 2015: BOER WAR, THEN BARBECUE

On to the next place! Another early morning at 9 a.m. so we could take off to our next destination in Graaf Reinet.

On the way, we stopped at the Anglo-Boer War Museum and listened to a presentation on the purpose of the war and its effects — mainly on the women and children in South Africa at the time. Personally, I was surprised to know that concentration camps ever existed for South Africans, white and black. We saw the photos of emaciated children in concentration camps and heard the heroic stories of a few people who influenced the war.

After the museum, we endured a long seven-hour drive to our destination in Graaf Reinet. It’s a very small town composed of about 30,000 people that is surrounded by these beautiful giant cliffs that look as though they create a fence around the city.

At dinnertime, we enjoyed a South African braai at a hotel. A braai is essentially a specific way that South Africans like to barbecue their meat. Overall, the day was very relaxed in comparison to other days on our trip so far, but it was nice to take a moment to breathe and enjoy the summertime sun.

 

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“The exact moment when the sun finally hid itself behind the mountains in the distance made me feel so grateful for this experience, and so lucky that I am experiencing it with some of my closest friends.”

Waking up to expected temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit, our group prepared for a two-hour walking tour of the city. Our tour unexpectedly began at the hotel where we were staying. Our tour guide, Chantelle, told us our hotel was fairly new and had gone under a massive remodel before it became Hotel Drostdy.

The history of the hotel dates to South Africa’s abolition of slavery. When blacks gained freedom, they had no way of accumulating property. A wealthy man in Graaf Reinet granted the black residents a deal. He bought a large section of property and told the blacks that, once they earned enough, he would reserve a section of land for them to build their houses. As a result, small houses were built one by one in a row, and black residents in Graaf Reinet owned property for the first time.

Once apartheid was implemented in South Africa, the area where the blacks lived was deemed a white-only territory. The black homeowners were forced to move to another area and abandon their homes.

In the 1980s, the area was bought and turned into a hotel. The recent renovations and remodeling of the hotel are to pay respect and acknowledge the influence of the black South Africans’ homes that once stood there. The hotels rooms are built to look like small houses and are painted with varying colors of yellow, pink, blue, and green on the outside windows and panels. The colors are symbols of the bright colors the black residents used to paint their own houses, in contrast to the typical white South African home colors of white with forest green detail.

Afterward, we saw Graaf Reinet’s famous Dutch Reform church, parsonage, and pub. Graaf Reinet also has these large, random holes in the ground on every block; we were told they were once used for water transportation, but the water has since dried up. Nevertheless, Graaf Reinet finds it important to remember the system and does not cover the holes with concrete. It should be noted that I am very proud for never falling into these holes and injuring myself. You’re welcome, Mom, for not having to handle an international hospital bill.

After a lazy afternoon, we took off for our second and last excursion of the day, a hike into the mountains. Beginning at 5 p.m., all 40 of us jumped into various cars and drove into the mountains, stopping at various peaks and cliffs along the way to take pictures and/or observe animals.

At about 7 p.m. at a very high elevation, we parked our cars and ascended toward the highest point of the mountain. Once there, we looked over a railing and amazed ourselves by how much higher we stood. To our left, we could see the entire town, barely making out each individual house — and, to our right, more mountains. At last, we sat down and watched from the top of this cliff as the sun set. The exact moment when the sun finally hid itself behind the mountains in the distance made me feel so grateful for this experience, and so lucky that I am experiencing it with some of my closest friends. I felt so blessed for the opportunities this J-Term has already provided me, and what will be provided in the next few days.

Fact of the day: On the drive over to the hiking place, we asked our driver, Maxie, what sorts of unusual pets people in South Africa own. Her responses included zebras, goats, porcupines, and my favorite: a meerkat named Spike who enjoys sleeping in a hole he created in his owner’s couch and eating a fried egg for breakfast every morning.

On the drive, we asked our driver what sorts of pets people in South Africa own. Her responses included zebras, goats, porcupines, and my favorite: a meerkat named Spike who enjoys sleeping in a hole he created in his owner’s couch and eating a fried egg for breakfast every morning.

 

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Today was interesting, to say the least. We spent our day driving to our new city, Knysna. However, we stopped at two really cool places along the way.

Our first stop was an ostrich farm. I’m not sure how others feel, but when I think about South African animals, ostrich does not make my initial list. Nevertheless, the ostriches were a sight to see. The tour guide informed us that ostriches are far from bright and therefore can be ridden.

The first ostrich we met was a lady named Betsy. Our tour guide said that she is the friendliest ostrich on the entire farm. A few of us got the chance to feed Betsy or kiss her by placing her food pellet in our mouths. I got the chance to feed her and was startled by the fierce pecking she did to retrieve her food.

We then met Adam and Eve, the oldest ostrich couple on the farm who just recently had babies. We watched the couple take care of their young and then made our way to a seating area that overlooked a gated area of ostriches.

Our tour guide announced that five members of our group could ride an ostrich and another five could sit on one. The guide’s way of “capturing” the ostriches so one could sit on them was to run up to them and put a bag over their head. As he announced before, ostriches are not very smart. Apparently, when a bag is covering their head, because it cannot see you, the ostrich assumes you cannot see it. We watched as members of our group took off racing on an ostrich before being dropped from them and caught by the workers.

Afterward, we ate lunch at the ostrich farm. What were we served? Chicken, ostrich, vegetables, and salad. So, after sitting on, feeding, and kissing an ostrich, we were eating an ostrich? I only contemplated this morbid thought for a moment, because I then remembered “When else in my life would I get to eat an ostrich?” For the record, it was delicious.

Our next adventure of the day was a cave tour nearby. We got to marvel at the centuries-old cave as our guide explained each of the varying tunnels and peaks. Each room of the cave had a name and a story centered on it. We even got to see a baby bat nestled into one of the corners on the roof of the cave.

Once we left the cave, we continued our journey toward Knysna. More to come.

Afterward, we ate lunch at the ostrich farm. What were we served? Chicken, ostrich, vegetables, and salad. So, after sitting on, feeding, and kissing an ostrich, we were eating an ostrich? For the record, it was delicious.

 


JANUARY 24, 2015: GREETED WITH OPEN ARMS

After a late start, we woke up this morning to spend our Saturday relaxing at the beach. For the first time on the trip, we got to swim in the beautiful Indian Ocean, jumping the giant waves. The beach looked like a movie scene. The sand was a perfect pearly white, and the ocean a gorgeous blue.

So far, we have had a packed agenda almost every day. Although I love all the activities and experiences we are having, it feels so great just to have a day to relax and literally “soak in” South Africa.

After the beach, our tour guide gave us the option of either shopping in our town, Knysna, or going back to the hotel. A couple of others and I decided to go shopping for souvenirs. At one point, we walked into a store named Traditions of Africa, and when we walked in, a couple others from our trip were already there talking to the owner. Upon seeing the 10 of us from the trip, she repeatedly told us how blessed she felt that we traveled all this way and ended up in her store. She asked her daughter to turn up the African gospel she had been playing and then asked all of us to gather around in a circle for a prayer. Our group, this woman, and her daughter all stood holding hands as this woman thanked God for our presence and then proceeded to dance to the music.

The store owner explained afterward that she used the profits from her store to start a church, which she now leads. Her gratitude for her life and to see us as visitors to her store felt so warm. This trip is the first time I have ever traveled to a place where people are so kind, welcoming, and grateful. Multiple people now have told us of their struggles and how they have surmounted them. The people in South Africa seem to have this amazing sense of humble pride.

 

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Today we took off for the city I am most excited to see, Cape Town. We said our goodbye to Knysna and took off for our six-hour-long bus ride, which gave me ample time to catch up on my John Green book.

When we arrived, we had an hour to get ready and then took off for the waterfront for dinner at Ferrymans. After dinner, we all had about an hour of free time to roam around the waterfront before we had to meet back at the bus.

Initially, my group of friends and I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel, but the wheel closed at 9 p.m. and it was already almost 10 p.m. We were explaining this to Prof. Maltsev when a man walked up to us and said that we could ride on the Ferris wheel, and he gave us tickets and motioned to the man operating the machine to let us on. So I, my friends, Prof. Maltsev, and our tour guides all were able to board the Ferris wheel after closing and overlook Cape Town lit up at night.

When we got off, the operator informed us that the man who gave us tickets was the owner of the Ferris wheel. We thanked him graciously, and he was eager to know about our trip and inquire about where in America we were from.

Still with some time to spare, a couple of us went back to the restaurant, where there was now live music, and danced in front of the live band. Before we were there, everyone was seated, but by the time we left, we started a dance party for the band. Definitely a fantastic welcome from Cape Town.

 

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Today has been a wonderfully busy day, to say the least. We started our day off going on a boat tour, which was absolutely wonderful. During the boat tour, we got to see a ton of seals piled on an island barking loudly to us. Before we got on the boat, a couple of people in our group fed seals by placing fish in their mouths and leaning over into the water. I, personally, am not a fan of putting random fish my mouth, so I did not partake, but instead took pictures. On the boat, we also got to see an abandoned ship, which was absolutely gorgeous. The ship is still completely in one piece floating on the side of a cliff.  I very badly wish I could have gone exploring on the ship.

After many penguin selfies, we bid the penguins adieu.

After the boat tour, we went to Cape Point, a place where the Atlantic Ocean meets with the Indian Ocean. After taking a train car up for four minutes and climbing a bunch of steps, we were finally at the peak and could see the two currents pushing against each other. I also took this time to spark up a conversation with some tourists from Germany and speak in German with them. My German professors would be proud.

Lastly, we went to Boulders Beach, a beach that has the highest population of penguins in Africa. We as a group marveled from a bridge at all of the penguins on the beach interacting with the water, sand, and each other. Eventually we walked over to another part of the beach, where we were actually able to be on the same cliff as the penguins. After many penguin selfies, we bid the penguins adieu.

 

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We spent today at the Company Gardens, filled with a lot of hiking trails and unique trees. The most magical part of the gardens was a bridge that wrapped around the tops of trees. The bridge, although stable, rocked back and forth a lot, which was terrifying, but the view was absolutely beautiful. We could see the tops of trees, the trees below us, and the mountains in the distance.

After the garden, we had a nice five-hour break, which a friend and I used to go souvenir shopping for our friends and family. That night, we went to Mama Africa, a restaurant rich in African culture and food. After ordering our dinner, many members of our group including myself started dancing to the live music in the restaurant, which was a very traditional African music style. It was an absolute blast, and many of the songs were common enough that we could sing along with them.

We also got to speak with some of the locals, too. At this point in our trip, a lot of us have bonded with one another, and it is these moments of dinner and dancing and interacting with people from the country that will make this trip such a memorable one.

 

 

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… And we are off to another city!! By now, we are making our way back to Johannesburg for our flight home on Sunday. But, before completely leaving Cape Town, we stopped at Table Mountain.

We arrived to Table Mountain early, at 8 a.m., before it got too crowded. To get to the mountain, we staggered onto this circular cable car with glassless windows and traveled at a very steep incline. The floor of the cable car moved in a circle, so I got a 360-degree view going up the mountain and away from ground level.

Table Mountain is famous mountain with a completely flat top where tourists walk around. The mountain also provides some pretty breathtaking views of Cape Town and Robben Island. The best part is that the farther away you are from the entrance, the fewer rails you will find. So, when I sat at the edge of the cliff overlooking Cape Town, I was the only thing holding me back from a really long drop. Exhilarating.

Next, we drove for another three or so hours until we reached Franschoek, the known wine country of South Africa. The town feels very wealthy. Our hotel is absolutely stunning. Everything is granite; we have a full kitchen, two bathrooms, two bedrooms, and a living room. Unfortunately, we only have this luxurious hotel for a night.

 


JANUARY 29, 2015: WHERE AFRIKAANS IS PRESERVED

We had a late start to our day, so we could relax by the pool. Once 1 p.m. came, we all staggered into the bus and traveled to our next destination.

During the early afternoon, we stopped in Orania, a city within South Africa that has its own government and money system. A couple decades earlier, a group was dissatisfied with the emerging influence of English and felt as though their Afrikaans identity was dwindling. So the group created a new, mostly self-reliant town. We took a tour and noticed how almost everyone in the town strictly spoke Afrikaans, and for the first time of our trip all of the signs were in Afrikaans.

We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant and learned about the economic structure of Orania. After lunch, we continued driving for another four hours until we finally reached our hotel in Beaufort West.

 

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Today is bittersweet. I am at the airport waiting for our flight to Atlanta, and I am not ready to leave yet. I am so grateful for this opportunity to travel to South Africa and am so thankful for Prof. Maltsev taking more than 30 students on this trip.

Whoever reads this, current Carthage student or incoming one, I strongly suggest you take the chance and go on a J-Term study tour.

I already knew before I left the states that I was going to love this experience, but I did not anticipate making so many new friends and meeting some of the kindest, most humble people in my life.

I did not anticipate climbing the tops of mountains.
I did not anticipate observing rhinos and elephants less than 30 feet from me.
I did not anticipate spending my nights dancing to live music.
I did not anticipate all of the wonderful cultural stories that I will pass when I tell others of my travels.

I loved this experience with my whole heart and am all ready to go back to South Africa.

 

Ready for your own adventure?