Posted by: Naima | June 20, 2009

Day One

This past week has been weird for me. While the fact that I returned to my home in the United States on Tuesday and hopped on a plane to New York on Thursday to start work, the hectic nature of it all was overshadowed by its familiarity. Being thrown right back into American habits and culture-norms has somehow stripped me of my abroad experience. Not to be misunderstood, I’m not experiencing all sorts of devastating culture-shock that I was warned of. Instead, I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and rehash all of my experiences in South Africa. Perhaps I never will, at least not in one sitting. As I walked through the Chicago streets during the one full day I had at home, Cape Town already seemed like a distant memory. It just seemed so unreal that I was there a week ago. And now, as I sit in Brooklyn surrounded by friends and family, I feel as if I’ve started a new and familiar chapter of my youth.

Perhaps the first paragraph of that chapter was my first day interning at Kee Casting. Day one consisted of alphabetizing and organizing head shots at the open casting call. After reading the script for the project we’re casting for, it was really interesting to see who came out for certain roles. I had this vivid picture in my mind of what kind of people would be on screen and what they might contribute or translate to the plot etc… Watching people of almost every demographic line up for consideration shifted my vivid mental picture a bit. After work, I got off early and met up with some of my friends from Bates in Central Park to picnic while we bounced out semester abroad experiences off of one another. Day one = Success

Peace and the some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | June 13, 2009

And Scene

While my parents were in Cape Town, we discussed the possibility of me staying in South Africa until August. Since I have family in the country and finding a job in the U.S. is nearly impossible, it seemed like a reasonable idea. For the past 2 weeks I have interviewed for jobs and internships and even got one along the way. But when the time came to change my airplane ticket, expedia.com would not let me. Now, clearly this was at attempt to pocket more cash in a worsening economy but I don’t have the dinero to lend to Expedia’s cause. Anyway, as an attempt to avoid buying an entirely new ticket home, my parents and I decided that coming home would be the best plan.

Somehow, don’t ask me details, I finagled an internship in New York. I will be interning at a casting agency. I’ll be helping to organize casting calls, head shots, recruiting men that appear to be basketball players (the movie focuses on bball), and some administrative stuff. I found a post on Craig’s List for the summer job and couldn’t resist applying. I’ve always been really interested in film, but I focused more on the critical writings on the finished product. I’m minoring in Rhetoric at Bates so I’ve taken some really wonderful classes on film – particularly through the lens of homosexuality and color. These courses have no doubt been some of the most influential classes I’ve taken in college. I love the idea of dissecting a medium that most people interact with. Everyone has a favorite movie; sometimes looking into the messages embedded within screenplays, direction, and soundtracks both clarifies and reflects some of societies largest patterns – marginalizing or otherwise. In any event, this internship seems like the perfect opportunity to understand film from a production point of view. Other perks include being close to familial New Yorkers and some of my best friends from Bates and at home will be roaming NY as well.

On Monday, I return to Chicago; on Friday, I start work in New York. Even though my summer plans have just literally fallen apart and somehow fused together again, I am equally excited for a summer in a new city with old friends.

Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | June 12, 2009

Moms and Pops

First things first:

Sorry about the delay of blog entries, things have been quite hectic on this side of the Atlantic. From where I left off, I had just heard that my parents were coming to visit. Yes, those responsible for my existence made the trek through the United States and across the ocean to see where I’ve been spending all my time these days. You may remember that I have a couple of Uncles in South Africa, so that proved to peak their interest in visiting even more. By now though, they’ve come and gone. In short, they has a crash course in Cape Town. The journey passed through Table Mountain, Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island, the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa’s beautiful winelands, restaurants of all influence, and a steady flow of music. The best part of the visit for me was being able to show my parents the life I’ve had here for the last 5 months. They met some of my close friends here and we went to dinner at some of my favorites. Also, introducing them to the music scene I’ve immersed myself in was so amazing.

Even though I know that the live jazz I’ve been loving here is really dope, there’s nothing like having my parents reinforce that belief. Venturing to Cafe Sofia for live jazz and Asoka for some funk infusion proved to be a really great time. Also, the fact that many of the jazz musicians in Cape Town are fairly young (between 20-30) is one of those things that gives a fan of the genre hope for the future.

It was ultimately music, food, sightseeing, and good weather that helped for my parents to make their mark on Cape Town. Hopefully, Cape Town made an equally impressive mark. Family Reunion in Cape Town??

Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | May 9, 2009

Unexpected Visit

A couple of days ago, I received the most incredible email. “We’re definitely coming to Cape Town, South Africa, due to arrive on May 21st, 10:10 AM.” It was from my mom, my parents are coming to Cape Town! I’ll resist a typed out version of my subsequent squealing with excitement. Anyway, there have been so many cool things I’ve been able to do here that I want to share them all with the people who are responsible for my Capetonian experience. Probably the thing I want to do most with my parents is go hear some music. They’re music freaks – I inherited it – so I think they’d really like the jazz scene here. Whenever I want to procrastinate I just run the list of things to do in my head: Table Mountain, Kalk Bay, Waterfront, Bo-Kaap, Markets, things keep on getting added on. And then when I snap out of planning fun things to do when they’re here, I start to think about the papers and exams I have to start working on before they get here: the trip lands right in the middle of pre-finals. I’m not worried, I promise, just aware. So so so so so so so excited!!!!!! (okay, I’m done)
Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | April 23, 2009

Movie Nights

Rainy days and chilled nights have inspired me to attend movies. Since they are about half the price in Cape Town as they are in Chicago, I’ve been able to see a handful of movies on those days when I just wanted to curl up and be entertained. South Africa features movies much later than the United States (Milk will be released in theaters on Friday), but I’ve been able to see movies that I had hoped to see at home, before the Oscars. Here’s my short list of some great films that pumped my adrenaline (popcorn in hand) and affected me for hours afterward:

The Reader

This is a movie I didn’t expect much from since it had received such mixed reviews from people all over the internet. The long-running joke that Kate Winslet was only rewarded the Oscar because The Reader is considered a “holocaust film” suggested to me that the movie lacked some substance beyond tragedy. Some critics were upset that Winslet won an award for The Reader and not Revolutionary Road – a movie I saw and overall chillingly enjoyed. All that said, I wanted to make the decision myself.

Interestingly enough, the holocaust is merely a backdrop for a complicated story of love, responsibility, and shame. A woman so afraid to admit her personal struggles ends up aiding atrocities in Germany while a lingering love watches achingly. Yes, this is somewhat corny, but what makes this movie so good are the performances (Oscar-less David Cross, in particular) and the nuances of the story. I showed both empathy and frustration towards Winslet’s character. After the film has wrapped both the audience and the lead characters into a frenzy of sentiment, there is a reality check. We are all reminded of the holocaust, we are painted a picture of systemic murder and the role of six guards in particular. Upon my return from the movie theater, I was exhausted. The film and its soundtrack had taken my hand and whipped me an array of emotional directions. So much so that afterwards, my friend and I just sat in silence as the credits rolled. I continued to think about the evolution of reactions that I had had for 2 hours.

Please Vote For Me

While the I’m not sure that the trailer did the movie much justice, I really enjoyed this one. I was randomly invited to see the film at a free screening featuring the executive producer, Don Edkins. It was showing at The Labia Theater (the artsy-fartsy theater in Cape Town). The movie explores the idea of democracy in China through a social experiment within a Chinese primary school. The election race for Class Monitor has begun and with three candidates selected by the teachers, the children are asked to participate in a democratic election. The students take to the exercise quickly and candidates start buying votes, offering positions in exchange for support, and attacking each other for things other than their policies – just like national democratic elections. The only female candidate is often criticized for being too soft, a crybaby who will be unable to lead the class; the return Class Monitor is accused of being adverse to change and progress, and the third candidate’s pure passion for the job is overshadowed by his sneaky tactics to lessen this credibility of his opponents. Prior to and after the film screening, Edkins spoke on behalf of the filmmakers and told the story of the movie being smuggled out of China after it was heard to have been introducing democracy to young children. Please Vote For Me is both heartwarming to a certain degree and horrifying. To know that a child’s first experience with democracy is parallel to the corruption that plagues many democratic elections around the world is incredibly thought-provoking, but also a bit scary.


Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

If you didn’t notice, the film is in German. Laced with subtitles, this movie is about the Red Army Faction, a militant group of freedom fighters/terrorists of late-1960s/70s Germany. Through bombings, kidnappings, robberies, and ultimately murders, the RAF fought for, among other things, the end of Vietnam occupation. The film explores the different key players in the RAF and the story of their involvement and ultimately their chosen demise. The audience watches as the founders lay in jail while second and third generations of the militant group carry on the policies often engorged with more violence than originally conceived.

I loved this movie. I left the theater excited, heart pounding with fire. I gasped when mistakes were made, when the music changed key and the mood was altered. I got excited when the RAF succeeded, inspired by some of the characters, and then conflicted by the realization that the movie was based on real people and real events. That understanding affected my feelings about the movie and ultimately frightened me and challenged my ideologies. Two thoughts that played tug-of-war in my mind were 1) how many groups there were around the world in the 1970s fighting for similar things in similar ways to the RAF. It kind of explodes the urgency of the period in a way that makes one wonder how activism (or terrorism, however you want to look at it) has changed, whether the urgency has lessened or the platform to fight has been manipulated. And then there’s thought 2) how a woman like Urlike Meinhof, a left-wing journalist turned militant, went from criticizing oppression via typewriter to robbing banks to fund bombs and fake identification. Thus, beginning to use her typewriter to defend the actions of the RAF and list demands. That evolution of social involvement is one that is somewhat frightening but increasingly fascinating. Meinhof’s underground transformation seems like a mixture of accident and intrigue supplemented by obligation. Her ultimate willingness to part ways with her children and lover and ultimately her struggle creates a devastating picture in which Meinhof ends as she starts: alone with her typewriter – where her words find the most strength.

Go see this movie.

Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | April 22, 2009

Election Day

Today is April 22nd, South Africa’s national election day. Since it is a national holiday, everything is closed except for touristy things so some friends and I grabbed lunch at the V&A waterfront and have retreated to start one of our favorite afternoon activities: watching drug dealers. Yes, as the rest of the country is lined up for blocks to vote in South Africa’s fourth democratic election, we are inside watching the wonderful American television show Weeds while keeping tabs on election results via internet.

weeds

Even though the African National Congress (Nelson Mandela’s party, and the winner of every election since the end of Apartheid) is expected to win by a landslide, the fight for votes also affects how the parties are represented in parliament. Some members of the ANC recently broke off to create the Congress of the People (COPE), so it should be interesting to see how much support they garner today. The ANC’s president is Jacob Zuma (I went to a rally of his some months ago), most journalists in SA and elsewhere tear him to pieces in the press, but his supporters are die hard. Here’s a really great article about the political state of South Africa: http://www.newsweek.com/id/194606

voters

voters…

Can’t wait to see the numbers, but for now – back to Weeds

Naima

Posted by: Naima | April 20, 2009

Same As It Ever Was

It’s been a while, so this one is hefty. After ten days of highways, dirt roads, hostels, bribery, cities, mountains, craft markets, country borders, and mix CDs, I’ve returned to Cape Town – and it feels like home. Two friends and I wandered, somewhat aimlessly, around Southern Africa behind a large automobile.

We drove from Cape Town to Lesotho, a tiny country that is completely independent of South Africa and never was inflicted by the nastiness of Apartheid even though South Africa surrounds the country on all sides. Lesotho is beautifully mountainous. As we searched for a backpackers to sleep, we drove through the University area that was flooded with bars and spirits. After receiving inebriated directions, we ended up at the Trading Post, a hostel comprised of small huts scattered between vibrant plant life and views of Lesotho’s large mountains. We spent the rest of the day driving through the country: layers of corn stalks, mountains, valleys, and homes decorated our drive. Between “Madiba’s Carwash” and large billboards laid small brick and boxcar homes alongside tin shelters for phone booths and convenience stores. Cows and sheep weaved in and out of the road making way between vendors selling food and other goods. After bribing our way out of Lesotho, a cost we had not factored into our budgets, we headed towards the Kingdom of Swaziland.

When we got to Swaziland, whose border is much more structured, we settled in at a new hostel called Sunset Backpackers. We spent most of our time in Swaziland at the craft markets. About half a mile of wooden shacks filled with handmade clothing, bags, ashtrays, paintings, jewelry, tablecloths, etc stretched along the road in Swaziland’s valley. Back at the hostel, we met some Peace Corp volunteers who were stationed in Swaziland. They spoke of candle-lit homes without electricity and their relationships with their families and the country. As we told them of our plans to enter Mozambique, one of them warned us of hostile treatment at the border. More specifically, this man had been slapped with his own passport and then forced to produce a bribe to retrieve the re-imagined weapon.

On the road to the Mozambican border, roads were laced with cows, telephones, children, and red dirt roads leading to rural homes. A sign saying, “Cyclists & Pedestrians Beware of Lions and Elephants” understandably jumped out at us as we drove along the paved road. The next exit was the Hlane Royal National Park; we decided to check out the park to get directions to the border and maybe even see some animals. Before entering the park, a large ostrich lingered around the front gate. After deciding to pay the R25 to drive through the park, we struggled to maneuver our VW Polo through dirt road divots and mud. Inside the park we saw lots of Kudu and deer-like animals that would scatter and would only leave the mind to imagine what was going on behind the soundtrack of loud growling.

After the National Park, we gathered the directions we had obtained. They were very difficult: go straight, then continue on, pass exits, continue straight, continue on until you see the border, don’t turn, etc… While we continued on and on, it was nice to see how the mountains and sky blended together like paints and grassy hills produced vibrant greens. Somehow, we were able to follow the very specific directions we had acquired and made it to the border. Despite the fear of being smacked around with our identification and needing to bribe our way into the country, the Swaziland-Mozambique border provided a seamless transition into a new country. The only bribe we had to surrender was 1 mix CD. At first I thought it was a joke when the man came to the car, saw the CDs in my lap, and politely demanded one. It wasn’t. Within the car, it was agreed that sharing music in a new country was ultimately pretty dope, so it wasn’t too much of a loss.

We spent our first couple of nights in Maputo, the urban center of Mozambique. Barely over a decade since Mozambique’s civil war, Maputo lacks some of the things that I definitely take for granted. Perhaps the most obvious, at least to my nose anyway, was the lack of trashcans and the array of smells that accumulated as a result. But beyond Maputo’s distinct stench, I found being in the city really interesting. The culture of its colonizers (Portuguese) is still very prevalent through food, language, music, and even sports. It felt like such a contrast from Cape Town. In retrospect, it isn’t that different in that respect. South Africa’s colonial influence just seems more familiar to a city kid from the United States. For the first time, I was linguistically disabled. I had no idea how to express where I wanted to go or what I wanted to eat or buy to a Portuguese-speaking population. I sat in a convenience store for 10 minutes trying to act out body wash – nay, cheap body wash. After a couple of days in Maputo, we headed north to the small beach town of Tofo.

After sitting in a car for much of our trip, traveling through mostly landlocked areas, any beach was welcomed. Thankfully, Tofo’s beach was so incredibly beautiful and its warm water proved to be very inviting. The night we arrived, a full moon party was being held on the beach, which was also at the foot of our hostel. After dancing up a storm inside, we frolicked on the beach and jumped waves in the water. Pure bliss. The next day was spent exploring the town, its water and sand dunes. After watching the next morning’s sunrise over the water, we hopped back in the car and headed back to Cape Town, University, and our flats. Readjusting to real life hasn’t been too bad, but I’m itching to learn Portuguese or better charades tactics and head back to Mozambique. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be home, if not just for a moment. And it’s the same as it ever was.

My trip in a long winded, literary, nutshell.

Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | April 1, 2009

Procrastination

So at this moment, I am using this forum purely for procrastination. Sure, I love divulging the intimate details of my abroad experience sprinkled with reasons why Bates is awesome, but currently I am a little burnt out. For the past two weeks I’ve been drowning in a kiddie pool of essays. It’s not that they’re too hard, but it’s been so long (about three months) since I’ve had to write a respectable paper. I churned two out last week – neither will make my list of all-stars but they should both help me maintain the required average that Bates expects from their students abroad – and now I’m sitting in my flat wanting so badly to be done with the only thing that separates me from my Easter vacation. This paper on the Proportional Representation system of which South Africa’s current government is built upon is being a pain. A big one. But it will be finished.

It will be finished later.

On Friday, I embark on the wonderful journey that many would consider Spring Break. But since the air’s getting cooler (winter starts in June) and South Africa loves Christianity, it’s Easter vacation. My friend James, his friend Nick, and I are going on a roadtrip throughout South Africa. We’re starting in Cape Town, driving to Lesotho, then Swaziland, Mozambique, and down the coast back to Cape Town. All in all it’s a ten day trip, weaving in and out of rural and urban areas in the country. There is no doubt in my mind that I will love this trip. The thought of pony trekking in the mountainous lands of Lesotho, exploring the hills of Swaziland, and venturing through the islands of Mozambique is making me overflow with excitement. So much so that the thought of anything else – academic or otherwise – cannot sidetrack the focus of acquiring visas, grocery shopping, perfecting my stick shift skills, and finding more activities to do on the road.

The guidebooks are out, cell phone has the Mozambican consulate on speed dial, and grocery lists are being drafted. This is all instead of academia. On that note. I’m gonna get on that paper. Details from the trip are soon to follow the paper’s completion.

Peace and then some,

Naima

Posted by: Naima | March 18, 2009

Step Your Game Up, USA

As I enter my third month in Cape Town, I’ve become more comfortable with encountered South Africanisms. So comfortable, in fact, that until yesterday I didn’t even think twice about the free condoms being distributed all around the country. Due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, the boxes of condoms in most bathrooms (especially on campus) are provided by the South African government as a campaign to combat transmission of the disease. As I was drying my hands, staring at the eye-level box that sat half empty I thought, “Why don’t I see boxes of condoms everywhere in the United States?”

wear-a-condom1

While I do understand and believe that abstinence is the best way to avoid both STDs and pregnancy, it’s not the only way and it is absolutely not enough to tell people who are already sexually active. I have never understood why so many people go to great lengths to prevent people (regardless of age) who have already begun sexual activity from protecting themselves adequately This is important: South Africa’s government has it’s issues. But someone got it right when they started nailing “Condotainers” to many of the bathroom walls. Unfortunately though, realizing that I see these most in one of the top universities in the country, it’s clear that this wonderful installment isn’t always prevalent in the areas that need it most. I actually just got hooked up with an organization that works with children infected with HIV and provides meals, medicine, and good times to ensure long and happy lives.

The group is call Ubuntu Africa and is located in Cape Town’s largest township – Khayelitsha, where I saw Jacob Zuma speak a while ago. The NGO was started by an American who was on my program in Cape Town 5 years ago and came back to do something about the extreme poverty she saw. If the volunteering this semester goes well, I might start considering applying for a summer internship with Ubuntu.

I have a feeling I am going to feel slammed soon in terms of time. I’m still finalizing my time table so I’m hoping to get together with Amandla! soon and perhaps write about some of the experiences I have in Khayelitsha. Also, multiple paper deadlines and tests have somehow jammed themselves within two days of next week – awesome. I’m also starting to get knee-deep in spring break plans (details to come later) and of course, I’m in Cape Town so I fill up spare moments with running around seeing/meeting/loving new everything.

I love being busy.

Peace and then some, Naima

Posted by: Naima | March 12, 2009

Surprise Package

Ever since I started finalizing my study abroad plans, seniors who had recently returned to campus kept referencing the newspapers Bates sends everyone while they are studying off-campus. Even though I was expecting a stack of “Bates Student“s with articles drenched in Newman’s Day stories and debates between “Jimmies” and “Sprinkles, it was still very much appreciated. Along with the newspapers, Bates sent me a packet of fellowship and grant opportunities that will help fund my (possibly extended) stay in Cape Town after the semester is finished. The final touch was a nice letter explaining the environment on campus.

student-cover1

At first, these packages may seem small – maybe even insignificant. But knowing that I can tap into Bates at any moment (without wasting my pay-as-you-go internet) is so nice. Furthermore, it’s just quintessential Bates. Why wouldn’t your school want you to know how life is in Maine and on campus? We all see it as a home (regardless if it’s a first or second one), and even if most of your friends are abroad while you are, you’re bound to miss a few people or places (Commons or the Quad mainly) who you won’t see until fall or next winter. Until then, I will just have to settle for sitting outside in the 90 degree weather with my Student. Not too bad, not too bad at all.

Peace and then some,

Naima

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