The Mississauga Continues

Last month, I finally met my first Canadian who lives in Port Elizabeth, so this brought my total of known North Americans in the city up to five in total. It was exciting to say the least. She recognized the Blue Jays hat first of all, and then told went onto tell me that she was from Mississauga. Which allowed me to bluff my somewhat knowledge of Ontario due to my summer of working in Parry Sound, and of course staying with friends like Nibs, Doodle, and Iron Man while I was in the T-Dot itself.

South Africa has been nice lately, it rained for about the third time this past week in the time that I have been here. I am just wrapping things up for the most part, but to try and get a handle on what I have done to survive here I am going to provide numerous lists, because people love the lists.

I took some of the grade 9's who show up to my afternoon classes to a nearby penguin rehabilitation centre.
I took some of the grade 9’s who show up to my afternoon classes to a nearby penguin rehabilitation centre.

Music that has epitomized my time here:
1. 2Pac – No one even comes close to providing a soundtrack to my daily life here whether it is at the Masakhane Gym or driving around to wherever we need to go. Always a great start to the day.
2. Rudimental – My reflection music for the most part on the weekends, it is upbeat and pretty great as well.
3. David Myles – Mellow, catchy, and upbeat. He is hard to beat when craving the East Coast of home, to the East Coast of South Africa.
4. Girl Talk – The best music I have to cook to, pasta, stir fry, and omelettes do not stand a chance with the whole album playing through.
5. Nine Inch Nails – Not much to explain here, some days will not be great, but listening to some NIN will make you look a bit more positively at your life, or get you jacked up enough to tear everything else down. Either or.

Television
1. Sons of Anarchy – I had the idea of creating a biker gang with the guys at the gym, only thing missing was a mass import of Harleys and some sweet leather cuts.
2. Homeland – Mental illness, terrorism, and some edginess?! Hard not to like in my opinion.
3. Breaking Bad – Was never my favourite series, but the last season was fantastic. Crystal Meth is also quite common here, and destroys a lot of people, so there is some truth in fiction and reality.

The O.G.'s.
The O.G.’s.

Authors:
1. Neil Gaiman – I’ve read American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane since I have been here. All our thoroughly enjoyable, and are a nice offset to life.
2. Malcolm Gladwell – I’ve read Outliers and David & Goliath. Some of the easiest books that I have ever read. They just flow and are positive.
3. Louis Lamour – I read my first western. It was difficult at first, and predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless, especially as a collection of short stories.

Terrible Insects:
1. Bed Bugs – I had a two week battle with these suckers, my feet were the ones to suffer the most. Doom! is the worst insect spray, always spend extra on Raid.
2. Spiders – I have a nice toonie sized scar on my wrist from being bit in my sleep. I did not die, so I am thinking that it was not deadly, and there was no nerve damage. Double win!
3. Flying Ants – The most useless things I have ever encountered, they do not bite, but just hover on sidewalks only. The concrete jungle is where they exist. They are worse than mosquitoes or black flies.

Things South Africa is doing well:
1. Feta – Nothing compares with the numerous types and options of feta here. Just adds to your day.
2. Avocado – Put it on everything.
3. Pizza – The best pizza I have ever had, especially if you throw the first two things on top. There is no donair sauce, but every pizza gets Parmesan, diced chillies, and garlic. Ballin’!
4. Breakfast prices – The equivalent to a $2 breakfast back home including a fried tomato, two eggs, two rashers of bacon, two pieces of toast, and fries. Always a well balanced way to start the day.
5. Destroying my clothes – I am down to fewer clothes than I had initially brought with me, and I expect the number to continue to dwindle until I arrive back in Canada.

The journey home:
1. Port Elizabeth, South Africa – The jump-off.
2. Johannesburg, South Africa – Bring the ruckus.
3. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – You can call me Addis.
4. Rome, Italy – We are halfway there.
5. Toronto, Ontario – The time zones, they are a changin’. Good enough, it is Canada.
6. Halifax, Nova Scotia – The Maritimes welcome us back into her wonderful bosom, comparable to a White Snake concert.

Catch you on the flip side.

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Drop it Like it’s Hot

Last weekend I had the opportunity to partake in my first South African ultimate tournament called “Rocktober” in Johannesburg. I have had a week to think about it, and to delay the blog post, which I have been doing on the regular. Since the Eastern Cape province was unable to field a team, I took to looking and joined the Pretoria Labradors through connections of a fellow teammate in Port Elizabeth whom also was playing for them. We received the schedule earlier last week with how the teams were seeded. There are 14 teams in the tournament from all over South Africa and Mozambique. I then found out that we were ranked 14th, so without even seeing my team play, I already had a large chip on my shoulder. Yet, what also was a great motivation was to throw on the Jerk Factory jerseys in a tournament for the first time since Clambake, a full year ago.

We flew into Johannesburg Friday morning, and then went to Pretoria to some of the gardens, Church Square, the Union buildings, the international embassies, and some of the statues of former leaders. Since I came with my teammate Jedd, I was lucky enough to have free accommodation at his parents’ place, which looking back reminds me a lot of the Weasley household from the Harry Potter series. Supper on Friday night had nine people at the table. So I think that this will be the only time where South Africa and Harry Potter has provided me with a viable connection.

Luckily being the last ranked team for the tournament we got to have 8:00am games on both Saturday and Sunday, I do not know how we were so blessed. We started out our first game like every other game we played; slowly. We were down at half, but made a rally to nearly take the game from the Paddy Cakes, which I assume was named after Paddy who was from Pembroke, Ontario. I made a comment about the Pembroke Fiddle Festival, and he recognized the Jerk Factory jersey from none other than PEI’s native son himself Alex McCardle.

Onto the next game we were up against the Long Donkeys from Durban, which made us all look a little like a jackass. They were the eventual tournament champions, but we had our moments, and things were learned.

We then were off to play the Zone Rangers, which we lost, but I had chance to throw some “brap brap brap” down on some of their physical bids. This game also brought out some tirades and teachable moments for our team.

Moving on, we next played the Polokwane Ultimates, who were super Afrikaans. They were a great up and coming team to play against, and I would place some bets on them contending in a couple of years as a South African power. We had nine dropped passes in the end zone, that was the type of game it was.

Our final club game of the day was against Salusa 45. Who I found out is named after a vitamin I think you take after you turn 45. During this game, both teams physically fell apart due to exhaustion, not ready to play in a tournament, age, and heat. I found out at this tournament that generally, South Africans complain about the weather more than any other nationality that I have ever met. They can’ take the cold or the heat. Tisk tisk indeed, so that was another stereotype that came crashing down for me.
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The best part of my day came when I played in the Open Showcase game in which I played with the South Side of South Africa, mainly Cape Town. It was a great game and so much faster than what I had been playing since I’ve been here. We ended up losing 7-6 on universe, while our women’s team won 7-6 on universe. There were streakers, great offensive turnovers and plays. Everything that you could ask for in a showcase.
During the first day of the tournament I had finally met Canadians! They were largely situated either in the Johannesburg or Cape Town areas. The main Canadian cities that they hailed from was Vancouver and Toronto, but I did find my East Coast connections. I knew of Christine before I even came because she had played with Fredericton’s Spawn the previous years before I had got to Fredericton. I also unexpectedly met Steve who had played with Jerk Factory in the early part of the millennium at Clambake (the greatest tournament in the world). He is also originally from Amherst and went to X. Nova Scotia represent.
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Sunday provided me the opportunity to try and play with my mangled feet and open wounds on my elbows and knees. I ran out of tape, but I managed. The best part of the tournament was not having any knee pain which could be ranked up there in the top three of awesome things of my internship so far. We ended up getting thrashed by Chilli, so we had finished pool play at an 0-6 record.

We were on our way to a chance to at least move up in seed with a win over the lowest seeded team in the other division. In short, we ended up taking the match in a positive win, which will hopefully go a long way in the future of the Pretoria team.

After the tournament it was time to nurse the wounds of the tournament, luckily I did not get sunburn except for my elbows which were already opened up from laying out, so that was great. South African ultimate is a lot different from back home, and I found it quite frustrating at times because it is not for better or worse as much a cult. It will find its own brand though with more experienced nationals and foreigners leading the way in the non-traditional areas such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. Durban won the tournament, so maybe the times they are a’ changin’.

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The Not-So-Top 5:
1. Winter grass
2. Everyone plays vertical stack
3. Zones are hardly used
4. Getting broken is not that big of a deal
5. Not enough lay-outs

The top 5 of the weekend:
1. Canadians and friends made from Cape Town (already got beach ultimate planned for when I am there)
2. The shutdown end-zone defence we had after teams had taken a timeout.
3. The Open Showcase
4. Channelling my inner Jerk Factory pump-up speeches which were very colourful
5. Playing a real game of ultimate

I am less than a week away from my Cape Town adventures with the other Coady interns in southern Africa, so there is that.

Later days,

Blake

Training Day

  • The last few weeks have been extremely busy for me. With the return of school occurring quicker than an education corruption scam happening in the Eastern Cape, I have been rather in need of creating a well diversified plan of attack on my after-school schedules for my grade 9s. At first I was optimistic with a third of the 75 students showing up, and then seeing that plummet to about seven the next day humbled me quite a bit, but guess who is back on the come-up?! This guy! The regulars have been flocking back, and I have seen a few new faces as well in my congregation. Speaking of church analogies, I went to church for five consecutive weeks here. Why you may ask? There is not too much to do on a Sunday in Port Elizabeth when everything basically shuts down especially, the cafes. It has been a cool experience seeing people so passionately enveloped into a belief, but very open as well compared to any other religious event that I have been to. It has also been the best place to meet people my own age compared to at home, where I could go through a boring sermon. They also have free rooibos cappuccino and coffee, and it feels more like a rave at 10:30 in the morning, good times with the strobe lights and fog machines.
Training Day continues...
Training Day continues…
  • Fiks and I were left to hold down the fort for Masinyusane while Jim returned to the United States for a wedding. The two weeks riding around with Fiks reminded me a lot of the film, Training Day, for numerous reasons. Firstly, It felt like one long day. Secondly, Fiks and I have an uncanny resemblance to Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke respectively. Thirdly, we were driving all over the townships speaking with our contacts. Lastly, we listened to Pharoah Monche quite a few times over the two weeks. The reason we were all over the place was because of our huge project that we have been working on. We were gathering information from the top grade 12 learners from the townships, working with ABSA (one of the banks here) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Alumni Association to get some of the fees waived, psychological exams, housing, and bumped to the front of the line. Some may view this as possibly unfair, a semblance of affirmative action acting in the wrong way, sure you can argue that it’s always worth discussing between fair and unfair, good versus bad, but is a white child more worthy of getting into university when they achieve the bare minimum and have had many opportunities growing up than the Xhosa child growing up in the township. When you have a student from the township get the same grades, it is pretty significant because they are not going to a private school, a lot of them are surrounded by their peers who will often fail, they do not grow up with many opportunities, and these are just a few of the issues. To give some insight, of the 76 grade 9s, only four are passing every class or what equals to 5.3%. If you have time, I would highly recommend watching some Michael Sandel speaking about affirmative action.
  • Fiks, Danika, and I also attended a tap dancing play at the Opera House, as well as getting to see Canadians up close. We got to see the Kokopelli Youth Choir  from Edmonton, Alberta perform along with the NMMU choir. It was great to see some Canadians for the first time besides Adam. They were amazing, and it was great to hear some songs from back home. Some even hit me in the feelings, such as “Les Voyageurs de la Gatineau,” “Alberta Bound” by Paul Brandt, and “Home I’ll Be” by Rita MacNeil. It was great to see some of my people again. It was the first choir performance that I have ever been to, so I was blown away, especially by the NMMU choir performing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Mullets...
Mullets…
  • I have also returned to watch some more mediocre rugby performances by the Eastern Kings, but hey, at least they finally scored a try after the third full hour of game time that I had been watching. To go along with rugby and the Afrikaners, a fashion statement that I still cannot get over is the numerous amount of mullets, a little too much business in the front and not enough party in the back. Mullets are a joke back home, especially in team solidarity with hockey, but they are to be taken seriously here.
  • Living across the road from a beach has already provided some memories that I did not expect to have. While tossing the disc around on the beach, it was pointed out by some of the other gentlemen that I was with, that a pod of dolphins consisting of close to 20, were swimming with the current about 30 meters out. Pretty amazing to be blindsided by that when you were not expecting it at all. That day also provided me with the scene of watching people get baptized in the ocean on a terribly cold and windy day.
  • I finally got to experience some of the township nightlife in Motherwell and Zwide, which was a great experience. I am still not a big fan of African house music, but it could become a lot better if they sped it up a bit. Continuing on the tangent of music, it has become a pretty large staple of my daily commutes with Jim, due largely to the hip-hop classics that we continually listen to. I have never listened to so much Dre and 2pac ever in my life, but I could not be more grateful for 2pac due to the relevance and meaning of his lyrics. Jim has informed me that a lot of the guys at the gym prefer Dre and 2pac because their rhyme schemes are slower and allow for the guys to understand it easier. That also lends itself to Lil’ Wayne and Drake being so popular as well. 2pac dissects a lot of what I have noticed to be the illusion of good and bad in the townships, in “Changes,” he states, “I made a G today”/But you made it in a sleazy way./Sellin’ crack to the kids. “I gotta get paid,”/Well hey, well that’s the way it is.” I do not knowingly know any drug dealers, but I probably know quite a few people who do some shady activities in order to achieve funds. It all comes down to survival, and inequality, for better, or for worse.
  • From 2pac, I go to my Coady International Institute coordinator/multiple other things that he does (Adam) who came for a visit a few weeks back. He brought me maple syrup which was great, I just need to find out what I will use it on, maybe some Pro-Nutro, which I would argue is about the same consistency as sawdust, water, and cement dust. We provided Adam with a lot of great things like the ‘Masinyusane Diet,’ which is basically eating in the morning, and then before you go to bed, with little to nothing in the middle. I often wonder how we keep our great physiques. While Adam was here, I was gracious enough to allow the police to search me when we were pulled over in the township for having too many people in the car. The police were quite arrogant and dickish in my opinion, but I guess it is every day you have to wake up and find those who are really responsible in causing trouble such as an American, Australian, Canadian, and four university student volunteers. You never know how shady we may be especially when an officer decides the need to unholster his gun at a stop with six other officers there. I was happy to see the smile on the officer’s face when he searched me and asked me to empty my pockets when he thought I had something suspicious. SURPRISE! Many people don’t carry nail clippers and Burt’s Bees around with them here. All in all, I think Adam enjoyed his time here getting to know a new organization and what we were up to.
  • So, that has been my life for the past month, which is not a bad way to spend it at all. A lot of fun things, and I still hate taking pictures, but I will try to get some up the next time I write. I would also like to congratulate my friend Tim in biking across Canada, and stopping to play some ultimate here and there. I would also like to congratulate Jerk Factory captain Darren Clark for winning a silver medal at Nationals with the Ottawa Phoenix.
Stay Sharp!

Tupac, Protein, and Paint Chips

ImageIt has been a busy three weeks since with me falling behind seemingly everything besides the physical labor that I am exhausting. It feels surreal that nearly six weeks have passed already, and I feel like it is starting to go almost too quickly. This will be the longest amount of time that I have spent away from home besides working in Ontario, and at the moment living in Ontario seemed much more difficult. I base this around not being able to see the ocean, or to access it. I assume that if you ask a good number of Atlantic Canadians, the ocean plays such a role in our unconscious realms of existing, you just feel that much better when you have the ocean there. As much as I dislike swimming, the water can take whatever little stress that I have away.
The last nearly three weeks have been largely used to put in work at three different schools with painting, gathering resources, digging walkways, laying cinder-blocks, and a lot of carrying heavy objects. This week has been pretty great with a lot going on almost every day and night. Monday was everyone’s favorite day to celebrate Canada Day, being the only Canadian that I know of, I celebrated at Charlie Superstar’s with Danika and Jim. South Africans do not seem to be all that big into putting a city wide celebration on for the few of us in the woodwork. I moved in to my apartment as well, so that is a pretty big deal. On Tuesday, we took three of our boys to see Man of Steel, it was the second time that I seen it in two days, but it was appropriate to try to motivate them, hear more English, and they love action movies, no matter how removed they are from the South African context. It was also their first time seeing a 3D movie, but it was also their first time going on an escalator, Siya later proclaimed that he was “dizzy” after going up the escalator.
Wednesday was filled with running around doing errands, and planning on how to renovate the gym in the township.
Thursday was filled with transporting two truckloads of furniture to the high school, so we can set up better classrooms for our after-school programs. The Fourth of July, had doubled the celebrations of Canada Day by going out with Jim and Danika. We started the night off with Irish Carbombs, yet they do not know what those are in the bars, even the Irish Father Jerry did not know what they were.
I woke up Friday morning to two missed calls from Fiks at 2:00am. Not knowing what this was about, I met up with Jim around 10:00am because we were going to workout early with Fiks. What had happened was some people tried to break into the computer lab through a window, the alarm went off, and they ran. Fiks had to shut the alarm off by climbing through the window and the police came. It created one of the best comments I have ever heard which came from QeQe who is the groundskeeper of the school. We asked him if he thinks they will be back, his reply, “I can only hope so, they will have to deal with me, they were lucky this time. When the police arrive next time, I will just tell them that I have done my work.” QeQe; the myth, the man, the legend continues…
Later on in the afternoon on Friday, we headed to Grahamstown for the National Theatre and Arts Festival to take in some theatre. I ended up participating unwillingly in two out of the three shows that we went to. The first show I ended up being the former lover of a drag queen in the “Bitches be Bad” act, and then I was pulled from the audience by a participant during the hypnotist show. Exactly how I had planned for my day. It was also ironic how I had “Da Fiks” with me, who has starred in numerous South African plays, television shows, and films. The acts that we went to see were good, but nothing spectacular.
Saturday was filled with things that I cannot remember. We ended up with some tickets via Fiks to a do or die rugby match featuring the Eastern Kings versus the Crusaders. Not knowing the rules, it was just as much fun as knowing them I assume. Rugby seems to be the only sport that requires toughness and physicality in South Africa. That does not mean that the Afrikaan/rugby culture has not permeated through daily life with terrible haircuts and thigh high shorts. The Nelson Mandela Stadium was amazing, but it is a huge drain on the city due to the World Cup. It was supposedly the fastest built stadium ever.

Some rugby occurring here.
Some rugby occurring here.
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Hold me closer tiny dancer, the photo was too good to pass up.
Hold me closer tiny dancer, the photo was too good to pass up.

This past week has been about finishing all of our physical projects before school reopens next week. We have nearly done that which is great news. The best parts of the week were painting and renovating the gym. It was a lot of work, but we are nearly complete, and the guys really appreciated it. Cleaning the gym reminded me more of coal mining and asbestos. Powdered concrete added with carpet can not be that great for your lungs. I wll hopefully have the final pictures with next week’s blog.

Before the work, the spots on the photo are from dust.
Before the work, the spots on the photo are from dust.
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Random points of interest:
-Two of my grade 9s are currently in the Commonwealth Games Chess Championships held in Port Elizabeth, they are faring quite well, and surviving in the city, so that is a plus. They have some awesome nicknames as well, such as “The Great White Gegasi” and “The Big Black Pie.”
-I have been swamped with paperwork and actually working, so that has been the hold up, and the lack of decent internet around besides McDonalds. The best internet that I have found in South Africa, but only one free hour a day. It’s a rough life.
-Since being here, and not being able to download anything, I have found that TedTalks are downloadable for my Chromebook. I have watched close to 30 so far, my key interests so far have been: education, de-extinction, and healthcare.
Later days

Weekend at Bernie’s

So this week I was all over the place. Since school is out for a month we did a lot with the children who show potential and consistently come to our tutoring sessions. Monday, we took the grade 10s to the beach which was great with no wind, and it involved a lot of soccer. The grade 10s are going to be taught after-school by Danika, who is another volunteer, but who alternates between  Masinyusane and Mater Dei Catholic Church. I ran into my first somewhat hassle with people wanting something from me, but at the same time they get gold stars for their consistency. Two young children at the beach, tried to get me to support their fundraising efforts, after looking at the sheet, it was pretty apparent that it was a fake, and they had taken my frisbee. They were playing with fire at that point, they then tried to take my water bottle, which holds the most sentimental value that I have. After I recovered my belongings, they were still asking for money. This whole episode was summed up best by some of the grade 10s who these children asked, their response was one of no sympathy, since they have probably come from an even less affluent family.

What I will be looking at every morning shortly, it's no Folly Lake though.
What I will be looking at every morning shortly, it’s no Folly Lake though.

On Tuesday, I was doing home visits with Fiks delivering some food and clothing. It’s always great doing the home visits with Fiks since he has grown up in the township, and I get the perspective of what has happened in the past five decades with a great historical and social overview. I also began playing ultimate this week which was great for meeting some new people, the ultimate scene here is in its early infancy, which allows me a lot of input with the coach here who played for the USC women’s team back in the day. Later on in the evening, Tixi had put a basket for Jim and I together of wine, bread, and lentils. We forgot to pick this up around supper time, she called around 10:00pm, and left it out on her doorstep. Hell hath no fury like Tixi’s scorn. Again, it was delicious.

Wednesday, led to an adventure with the children that I will be working with the most which are the grade 9s. We ended up going to the Addo nature reserve, which is the largest elephant reserve in the world. The elephants that we seen were somewhat large, and could easily crush the vehicles we were in. We also seen some kudu, which compares to our Canadian variety of deer, except that they can jump eight feet vertically from a standing position and are physically imposing. Jim and I took the three girls who show up the most, while Danika and Fiks took the boys.
A few of many that we saw.
A few of many that we saw.
The next day was filled with starting our physical labor at the primary school. I touched up the painted lines on the school, and got to work with a pick-axe and shovel removing cinder-blocks from the ground which we reused to make a walkway for the main entrance. My manliness has improved tenfold in the last three days. A few children were up to the task of helping me out as well with carrying the blocks or doing the work for me, I just wanted to make sure that no child crumpled due to exhaustion. Another hilarious tandem of things that have happened at the primary school is the children running up to me and touching my arms, legs, or face because I am white, and hairy. They wonder why I have so much hair on my legs and arms, and often compare themselves to me with funny looks. The other great thing is the Xhosa name that they have given me of “Andile,” which means “the family has grown.” It is a very good name compared to one of the last volunteers here who ended up getting the equivalent of the grandmotherly name of Gertrude. Jim and I will often be driving around the township and a child that I may not even know will be shouting “Andile!” and waving which is funny in how I have been there for a short time and have been given such a name.
Getting their toothbrushes.
Getting their toothbrushes.
Jim woke up at 3am, and I woke up at 4am Friday morning to watch the NBA Finals game seven, which was worth getting up for. LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard were the main reasons to watch. Later on in the day was more of the same of digging out the cinder-blocks, but the evening was the best part. Jim and I were invited to Bernie’s place for an early birthday and going away braai for her son who got a contract to play professional cricket. Bernie works for the Ikhala Trust organization which has had a partnership with the Coady for many years and has participated in some of their programs.
What was really great was getting to experience another cultural realm of South Africa’s racial identity, and specifically Port Elizabeth’s. Generally South Africa is divided into three different racial identities: 1. White – Afrikaans, 2. Black – Xhosa, and 3. Colored – which consists of mixed race of black and white, or Indians, Malaysians, etc…. The term of “colored” is not viewed as a derogatory term, but it is still hard to say it without questioning it. The braai was amazing because I was fed home cooking. I had some curry, a barbecue sauce like spaghetti, wings, a spinach/cheese dish that I have had a few times, but know nothing about, and some great desserts. The food that was new to me was the opportunity to have kudu pie, it was a bit salty, but was a good quality game meat. The discussions that I had with Bernie’s husband, his brothers, and friends were also great because we spoke about the differences of racial and socioeconomic class; with the preferred alcoholic drinks of choice.
Tasty. This is what I seen, then ate another one.
Tasty. This is what I seen, then ate another one.
Last night Jim and I went to the Alliance Francais which puts on the largest event in Port Elizabeth, there was a lot of live music which was great. We met up with one of Jim’s friends there from Kenya.
My favorite story of the week is definitely the principal of the primary school telling us about the yelling that he heard from his office early in the week. He heard yelling, and ran out of his office to see what it was, and it was a mob of children kicking a goat on the ground, and they were yelling “stop destroying our school!.” I’m starting to enjoy this place more and more everyday with kids like this. Mob justice at its finest.

Braai, B’y!

QeQe is on the right, this is the happiest I've seen him.
QeQe is on the right, this is the happiest I’ve seen him.

So the second week of my time in Port Elizabeth is coming to a close. It has been filled with something new everyday and that is all that I can ask for. Some big news starting off is that I will have a new place to live starting on Canada Day, it’s also on the beachfront by the casino! Look out student debt, gambling seems like the best way to recover my costs. I was able to pull this off with having the cost of living stipends up front (thanks Adam). While banking and withdrawing money in a new country is always fun, it is even more fun to go to three different banks before you find one that will accommodate your Mastercard. This also allows me to spread my wings and leave the nest of Jim, which will be a welcome sign for him in the coming weeks. He has been a great host with a lot of insights and passion, but all living arrangements have to come to an end at some point.

Starting off the week I finally had the chance to see one of the main attractions of Port Elizabeth, which is the beach. I know at least seven cafes’ internet passwords now in PE and their overall rankings of internet quality. So we ventured to a cafe on the boardwalk, which is a huge tourist area and gives you that false sense of security in South Africa. There is an awesome cafe near Jim’s place where we have already gone close to seven times in the past two weeks. It is brand new and is part of a church. They serve some great food and drinks which you can never go wrong with, and they know our names and want to help out with Masinyusane, so there is also that.

Thursday was an eventful time with a lot going on. We headed out to the township because we were having a braai (a South African barbecue that uses wood coals) for the youth leaders that work for us doing tutoring. We were meeting at the high school and some of the students were playing soccer, which I joined in and expected to show my Canadian prowess. Little did I know that trail hiking shoes and little to no grass, or grip, do not mix easily. I ended up gravitating towards the ground’s hard embrace four times, very quickly. There were a few casualties such as my nail clippers, lip balm, and thigh having a rather nice bruise, but if there is one thing I’m good at, it is getting chirped by children about my soccer skills.

After the wonderful moments of my ego being ripped apart, we made it to our first braai. I was waiting outside of the restaurant while a nice man came down the sidewalk and struck up a conversation with me. After a couple of minutes of handshakes, pleasant nods, and other greetings that I did not understand, the youth leaders told me that he was trying to sell me fish. He was such a good salesman that I did not even realize. We then found out that braai #1 did not have enough meat for us…onto the next one.

Malizo and X getting their braai on!
Malizo and X getting their braai on!

Arriving at braai #2, we knew we were in for a treat. The youth leaders got to cooking and were warned multiple times about making sure the chicken was cooked enough. There were no results of food poisoning, so it was great. After we had our delicious meal, I headed back to the car to grab my sweater, but QeQe stopped me and would not let me go by myself. He escorted me to the car and I grabbed my sweater. I asked him if this was a bad part of the township, he said that it wasn’t, just that bad people make it a bad part. I believe him.

The braai was great, so Jim, Danika, and I then proceeded later that night to continue on to a hip-hop cipher night at a local bar. Both of the artists performing were great, but the female performer was amazing, she put all of the other MCs to shame when they came on afterwards, and she was up on the stage for over an hour on and off. It is something that we will be going to a lot more over the next few months.

Yesterday, I regarded my first cow in the township, just roaming, I would still rather fight the cow than the pigs that I have seen. So I have started my training for the eventual fight of Blake vs. Pig. Last night Jim, Fiks, and I went to the gym that they helped supply a couple of years ago. Fiks told me that this is where I will become a man. I agree, i would have some photos, but taking pictures of people working out is usually frowned upon and a tad creepy. It is filled with weights, one light, poor circulation, and monsters who are referred to as men. While beginning my Rocky like ascension into having the body of Adonis, I was nearly done my workout, and decided to do some squats, there goes my boxers. Ripped right in half, thought it was my shorts originally. So that was another good laugh.

Today, I was given the opportunity to check off another entry on my bucket list: to watch a chess tournament and not know the rules. I thought it would be great to go and support two of the students that I help the most to participate in something that they love, but when games can reach two hours and end in a draw, then I might have to say no thanks on the next go-around. I am lucky that this chance did not pass me by. It was at its climax during the times of level-headed arguments made around the repetition of moves to force the clock to run out. In the future, I will encourage them vicariously.

It’s been a pretty good two weeks for the jump-off…

The Legend of QeQe

This will be a medium account of my first week in Port Elizabeth.

As Fix* would say, “it’s not always like this!”

So Wednesday was full of fun, I went to work, had pizza for breakfast the second straight day. Helped my chess prodigies Siyu and Nzondelelo with their preparation for the math exam. Had lunch at Father Jerry’s place. It was amazing. Tixi’s** mnqusho was great, it has a lot of samp and beans. Later that night we had a going away supper for Bri***. Father Jerry, the Irishman that he is, can hold his own.

On Thursday, I had the chance to go to the primary school and work at the library by myself. It was the greatest vision of birth control having close to 50 children who do not speak English very well to run around. After a few hours of that I went to go tutor like usual. I also got to go with Fix to do some home visits in the township which was great. Fix was trying to find me a wife at all three visits. During this day with Fix we went to the grocery store, and I learned to respect my elders. The elders in the township have the right of way in every situation, A woman went in front of us in the line-up, she then needed to have the garlic weighed, so Fix was given the responsibility of doing that while she paid. Fix warns me that it is not always like this.

The township has also given me a new insight into the animal hierarchy and what to be afraid of the most. Roaming dogs are the least of my worries. Goats have become my largest nemesis so far, and there is no point in dealing with the pigs here. They are the kings. These pigs are monsters, they could easily devour a human. They remind me of the pigs that are used to eat the remnants of people in the film, Snatch.

On Friday, Jim had to take a student to the hospital because their parents could not. So for the rest of the afternoon I was painting the primary school and went barefoot for the first time, which was quite liberating. We finished most of our painting today. Later that night we went to a bar called “Zanzibar,” it was a good time, and it is a bar that is frequented with a lot of different people from different African countries. This section of town also leads into the main headline of my post.

There is justice in South Africa…it just may not come from the prescribed authorities. Jim told me that the neighborhood around the bar has a large Nigerian influence, and they do their business by selling drugs, but yet since they do not want their demand to be scared of entering their area, they rake care of anything that would affect their sales.

QeQe is the groundskeeper of the main school I work at. To give some perspective, I would rather take QeQe on my side instead of a gang with baseball bats. He is the biggest wild card of human being I have ever met. He stands around 5’8 with a black, bushy beard wearing his South African football jacket. If you need something recovered in the township, you send QeQe. If you need someone to be sent a message for breaking into the school, you send QeQe. If you want to talk about a problem, go to someone else. Since QeQe is an older gentleman, he has the seniority of the township as well. This man does not drink, or smoke, and when he is not on school grounds, he puts on his pin-striped suit. Jim told me about a story about how QeQe would take someone’s knees out and would say a prayer for them while they were on their knees before what would follow. He’s basically like the third McManus brother from the Boondock Saints. He is also one of the most loyal people that I have ever met as well. He is willing to put himself in danger to protect the volunteers and kids. Lately, he has been helping the kids learn how to type in the computer lab.

*-Fix is another one of my bosses. His sister is the lead singer for Freshly Ground, a huge South African jazz & blues band. Fix is pretty cool as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nUAarErp5Y

**-Tixi is an activist, and played a part in the struggle to end apartheid, her husband was a leader of the armed underground resistance. When she was exiled, other members of the resistance would stay with her. She stills works in schools today and in the community.

***-Bri worked for the church and Masinyusane here. She’s from Minnesota. She was returning home after a year in Port Elizabeth.

Port Elizabeth Arrival and the First Day

Weigh-in at Halifax: 207.7 pounds (me, not my luggage).

I arrived in Port Elizabeth last night to about a thousand people chanting my name, I was then hoisted onto the shoulders of the crowd, and the party raged all night long. In reality, I was met by Jim* and Amanda with a sign, which was just as good because I do not think that my internal clock has ever been so messed up with when or when not to sleep. I am beginning to get acclimated to the time change here, and did not really have any ill effects. My personal goal was achieved by having an unopened bag of Smart Food travel with me from Antigonish to Port Elizabeth. Mission Accomplished.

The days of knowing when exactly you are going to eat at meal hall are already a thing of the past. Getting caught up with playing with the children and helping out around the different schools makes you forget about that. I did get to sleep-in until 10am so that was pretty sweet, but you eat when you can.

Going to the New Brighton township (or location, as the government calls them) for the first time, did not hit me as hard as I thought it would, it is different for sure, but culture shock has not fully set in. Do I stick out in the township? Absolutely, when Jim and I are the only white people who I seen in the township all day, there is such a racial divide still due to Apartheid, geographical segregation is the epitome of South African cities.

I am also glad that I have a bigger or thicker body than most people here, those who have spoken with Daren and the privileges that physical size creates, I am only thankful now for that talk. I think that also being the only person to be wearing shorts makes people weary.

I am trying to pick-up on the language of the township which is Xhosa, which also presents problems for me because of the use of ‘clicks’ used in some words. The kids have been great with trying to teach me as well. I also had the opportunity today to visit one of the public hospitals, you can count your blessings with the wait times back in Canada, the infrastructure is here in South Africa, but the lack of services and doctors is an eye-opener.

Jim would describe the townships as “the housing being government-made is covered in garbage, but the people are beautiful, where else would everyone say ‘hello’ to you while walking down the street.” Within a day I have only partially experienced this, I can easily say that the people are wonderful. The children are amazing and resilient. Do terrible things happen in the townships? Yes, but wonderful things are happening at the same time. It will take a lot of effort to reverse the effects of Apartheid, especially through a well-balanced multi-pronged initiative, but education is the key. We often view athletics as being a way for some to universities in North America, but in South Africa, education is by far the most important way.

Later days

*Jim is my boss.

25 Hours and 18 Minutes

It still has not hit me yet that I will be living in another country for six months, but then again it is better to live your life six months at a time before your thirties. Nothing is ever constant anymore besides change, and at the same time, let us throw in some chaos as well. This opportunity has been beyond a savior. It was strange coming back to X, but there is not really anything that could derail me at the moment. I am where I want to be in life, and things have worked out pretty well for me lately.

The Coady International Institute has been unbelievable in the level of excellence that they show in their work and charisma. The professionalism and overall happiness cannot be compared to any work or learning environment that I have ever participated in. They are the best of the best.

On a more micro level, the other Coady Youth In Partnership participants are no slouches themselves. They impress me and make me laugh everyday. The scope of international development may not be my strength, but there are some future game-changers among the ranks. Living with them for the past three weeks has been great, we may have a limited amount of showers, and living in the supposedly haunted Mount Saint Bernard, but we have managed.

The greatest elation so far for most people have been the necessary paperwork and VISAs being returned through Xpresspost. There is nothing like sending part of your identity away to a foreign high commission or consulate. I have not felt that kind of uneasiness since not knowing what I would be doing with my life in-between my degrees.

I also cannot thank those of you out there who have given me the time of day, and opportunity to pursue something that I never thought I would get a chance to do, or even search the options. I thought I would end up traveling vicariously through Scott and Justin on Departures in reality. Luckily, everything started coming up Millhouse, to quote my Cuz.

Halifax-Toronto-Addis Ababa- Johannesburg-Port Elizabeth.

Halifax, it is time to step up to the plate…