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Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I leave this beautiful country in less then a week and I am deeply sad to leave it. It has been wonderful/difficult/amazing/foreign/fun/enlightening and I hope that I can bring all the euphoric and happy vibes back with me to Kentucky to last forever. I will miss the Armchair, Taxi Mark, Editor Mike, Marcielle, Xavier, Rob, Derek, Tatinda, Jim and Ruen, The Black Sash, Stewart and Chance our house mice, getting lost, getting found, being an Obs gypsy, and everything else in between.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

music cope

Hows that view for musical inspiration?

           Music consistently pulses through my body. At home, I will neglect the natural sounds of reality and opt for the fabricated sounds of illusion. I thirst for more. The joyous ecstasy that a sentimental lyric or chord can cause for my mind is worth the hunt. I have not had the luxury to constantly absorb myself into newfound tunes by scavenging the internet, so I have had to abandon those means and adapt to new style of discotheque discovery.
In the states, I am spoiled and perhaps paralyzed by the constant display of music. Internet is very expensive here (bandwidth is to be conserved), and as I have lost a good portion of my budget due to my unhealthy habit of Internet indulgence. I have deprived myself of my energy in the forms of YouTube, Pandora, Hypem and Lastfm. Music listening and discovering for me is a solitary enjoyment. I have had to purge this modern way of discovery and prey for something more social and more primitive. I have locked these unique songs to places and people. As a local friend raced us to Hout Bay just in time to see the sunset within a secret cave, a foreign style of music played in the background. I was introduced to a new style of music during a spontaneous adventure, and I had no choice but to enjoy it socially. It was awesome.
The music that is individually South Africa’s, the sounds and lyrics (or lack of lyrics) say something about the roots of the individual, which are intertwined with this country.  I recently read an article found in the Mail & Order by Maya Fisher-French called the Economics of Art that stated; I saw how the arts are creating a new identity for this not-so-new South Africa, moving past struggle art towards an identity that acknowledges that the past is woven into the fabric of that identity without being trapped by it.” I could not even begin to paraphrase this sentence.
The music and the arts are a coping mechanism not for just an individual but for also a country. I have never heard anything like the music I heard buzzing through the sound system on that trip to Hout Bay. It was unique. The coolest thing of all is that no one else in the world could have created it. The experiences, sights and people of Cape Town, helped mold that sound.While many of the young people I have met listen to a lot of American bands like Kings of Leon and Lamb of God, I can't help but be completely drawn in by the original sounds that are different than my own.
It is interesting to witness the generational gaps when it comes to music in Cape Town. While the young free spirits indulge in trance and American rock bands, the older generation stays close to classics. My dear friends at The Armchair, Mike and Mark, are both self-proclaimed music theorists. I have had intensive conversations with them about the music they listened to during their freedom fighting days of the Apartheid. It interests me to know what kind of music they listened to as young activists. Mark usually grabs my right fist, treats it as a microphone and begins singing The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” when I talk to him about music. The more humble and soft-spoken Mike puts Bob Dylan on the same level of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Mike told me that listening to Dylan gave him confidence to stand up against the government. Cool little fact...Dylan contributed to the charity album, Sun City: of Artists United Against Apartheid.    

I am a firm believer that you are what you listen to. I despise that I am limited to the music I am exposed to due to my geographic location, which limits my creative engine and mindset. I think that exposing yourself to the art and music of a town you visit can reveal more than any souvenir or material item. It is just as important to open your ears when you travel as it is to open your eyes. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

u.s.a world pop

I traveled more than 10,000 miles away from home and I run into American pop culture on every corner. I have to wonder if American culture is global culture? In a taxi, Rhianna and Lil Wayne buzz through the airwaves. In a school, kids tell me their favorite films are Twilight and the Fast and the Furious. In a restaurant, coca-cola and hamburgers can be ordered.  In the homes of the locals, American television shows, posters, and books swarm their homes.
            Most surprisingly, when I was talking about celebrating the 4th of July with a friend, I asked him, “Do you know what that is?” and he applied with great annoyance, “Are you serious? Everyone does.” Everyone knows about our Independence Day? Where is this taught? The movies, school, television? George Bush, Obama and Fox News come up in conversations frequently. It is unreal to me, because I am not very educated on other country’s pop culture, much less their politics. Am I culturally limited because I am an American? South Africa has American culture and their own, as well as being fairly educated on other African countries.
            I recently read an article about South Africa’s search for its national identity. Eleven languages, many different ethnic groups, the largest income gap in the world, and diverse cultural influences make it hard to identify themselves as one. South Africa does have its own scene. It is uniquely South Africa’s culture, and when you visit the country, you taste something you never have before. South Africa’s culture has not been processed all over the world like America’s. While the sounds and pictures of American pop culture can be seen, aside from that culture there is something that has stayed within South Africa.
            It isn’t just the pop music that I hear buzzing through the airwaves, but the American underground music as well has channeled it’s way to the radios of students and all those seeking it. Websites like Hypem and SoundCloud are even frequently used.  The internet age has made globalization not only easy, but inevitable. Is American culture so easily duplicated and available that it is the culture you will run into? Without a doubt, I believe that American pop culture is the most recognizable culture in the world, and the most integrated into other cultures. I am not especially proud of this, because with that, bad stereotypes and misrepresentations are generated through out the world. Yet, also it is a common thread you share with someone you have never met when you find something you both enjoy, such as a similar music artist. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Coolest NGO on the Block

A post-man that rode his bike through the township of Khayelitsha, began an NGO that was aimed to teach kids on how to ride BMX and road bikes. He got his first 10 bikes donated and refurbished them by reading old bike manuals.
I was not expecting to wander into a BMX park in the middle of a township, much less an NGO that has produced world-class professional riders.
The name of the NGO is Velokhaya, Cycling with a Purpose. The name derives from the French word ‘velo’ (meaning bicycle) and the Xhosa word ‘khaya’ (meaning home). The NGO’s mission to make cycling more accessible to disadvantaged kids living in South Africa’s poorest of communities.
Velokhaya was piloted in July of 2007  in London by Team CSC, what was at the time the number one cycling team in the world.
Hundreds of kids have participated in the program, many who launched professional careers in cycling.
At the moment, one of Velokhaya’s 12-year-old girls is number one in her BMX division.
Visit Velokhaya

Cape Point

Last weekend, we took a train to Simon's Town, a historical Naval town, and then ventured to Cape Point, one of the most Southern spots in Africa where you can see the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.

Never Stop Writing.

I wasn’t expecting much when I walked into our most beloved Obs bar, The Armchair, one rainy Friday night. I was pleased to see our favorite bartenders, bouncer and Armchair regular, Taxi Mark. I decided to be anti-social and enjoy some solitude by sitting at the bar alone, while the rest of the crew was outside sitting around the fire pit.
Staring blankly at the muted television, I began to talk to Taxi Mark. Now, this legend is not only loud, outgoing and a complete character, he also has many friends. He was sitting next to the quiet, humble and unbelievably interesting, Mike. Mike was smoking cigarettes, alternately drinking red wine and Black Labels, and keeping to himself. Taxi Mark asked me again what I was studying in school and I cautiously said, “journalism.” Taxi Mark laughed and said, “Well, well.” Mike turned his attention to me and said, “Damn it, not another one.” I asked him why and he began to elaborate that three of his four sons were journalists.
            I gasped a big “I know. You have to understand, I have planned to do it all my life.” I thought I knew why he let out a sarcastic “not another one,” so I blindly ventured into a three-hour-long conversation with a living legend.
            Mike has dark gray hair that sits stylistically and happily atop his very wise head. He has a lighter gray beard that would get in the way while he sipped his ride wine. He lit a cigarette and began to ask me about music, my favorite subject.
            “Have you ever listened to Bob Dylan?” Mike asked me. I smiled ecstatically and replied with, “Of course.” Mike told me that first and foremost Dylan was a poet. Mike did not adjust the volume of his voice, regardless that the music and crowd volumes were getting louder. I had to listen carefully and while he was describing the impact one of Dylan’s lyrics had on his life, a tear slid down his cheek.
            We began to talk about his generation, the summer of ’69 generation. He told me that he was in his sophomore year at the university when Woodstock was happening and how he would have given anything to be apart of that. Music talk faded to more serious talk. Mike was the leader of a youth union during the apartheid. One of his best friends, Steve Biko, his fellow student leader, founded the Black Consciousness Movement. Biko was murdered in police custody and has been seen as a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement. “He was one of my best friends, it was horrible.” I knew that I had to be talking to someone great, but he would never tell me that he was something great. I dove in a little deeper.
            “I was sitting down on the ground leading peaceful protest and my worst enemy, Colonel Trey Marshall, came up to me his hand shaking with a gun pointed straight for my head. That was the scariest moment of my life.”
            Mike went on to say that if he saw that man lying on the ground dying of a heart attack, he would not help him. He would not kill him, but he would help him.
I asked, “Did you listen to your music to escape?” Mike elaborated that growing up he was very fortunate to have parents that supported his ideas and music interests and did not suppress his life, while the government did. He listened to Dylan, and still does to escape and to reflect on the past. He told me that he does not go a day without listening to Dylan. He went on to tell me that he went to school to be a minister and studied theology, studied philosophy, is a poet and an atheist. Mike mentioned that his 3 greatest idols were Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Bob Dylan.
The 60-year-old Mike excused himself and Taxi Mark leaned in and childishly whispered, “Do you realize you have been talking to the editor of the Cape Times all night?”
Mike returned and I let said, "Okay sir, your cover is blown." He nodded and I said, “Please forgive me, but what should I do next? I am 22 and confused.” He instructed me to travel the world and put it aside for a moment. Taxi Mark translated and said, “I know what Mike means is that you need to soak life up first and find your own voice before someone shapes and molds your writing.”
I asked Mike one last question, “What should I be doing right now?” He sat down his red wine, took a break from his cigarette and quietly said, “Never stop writing.”


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Train Day.

We were not lost, however we did spend one of the loveliest Saturdays day being wanderers. You hear about those stories from abroad, even though they are the most miserable to live through, they are the most intriguing to tell. This story, being the first complete bust of a day, was driven by the innocent desire to pet a cheetah.
The group had made a bucket list of things we wanted to do, Spier Winery being at the top of the list. Spier is located outside of Stellenbosch, which is about 45 minutes outside of our super cool and laid back neighborhood of Observatory. Yet, that 45-minute distance conveniently stretched to a 3-hour distance. Spier is this beautiful winery that also has a cheetah reserve located within, where you can pay R110 to hang with an adult cheetah and R220 to hang out with the cubs, a price that is unbeatable in my eyes. We were very excited to spend the rare 65-degree day with the cats.
We had been riding the train into Cape Town, Claremont and the further away Simons Town. However, we had never jumped lines before. We daringly took on the “jumping of the lines” and obliviously wandered into a nightmare. We first took the train to Salt River, where it is a major depot. We waited for about an hour for our next train out to Ereste River, where we had to connect to get to Stellenbosch. A man was pacing back and forth, his scuffed dress shoes competing with the noise caused by the rails. He held his bible high, his scarf swaying with the motion of the locomotive and repeating, “You must get right with Jesus,” along with many other messages.
After the 30 minutes, we then hopped on to Stellebosch, where we encountered another minister. This one was younger, and was speaking about the tensions of the world and specifically Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. “I am not from Zimbabwe, but President Mugabe is in power because God wants him in there. He will continue to be in power as long as God feels as if it is right.”
We got off the train, finally at our destination, however we unknowingly missed the platform that was closer to the winery. We talked to some young South African students and were informed that it would be best to walk a couple miles up the road and try to find a taxi there. However, we were informed about a mile up, that there would not be able to find a taxi on the weekend, which left us all puzzled. 

We hiked back to the platform and huffed a bit. I sat with my back against a planting pot, and exhaled “We aren’t going to make it.” The cheetah reserve was only open until 5 p.m., and it was already 4 p.m.. What was even more depressing than missing the cheetahs was that we were going to have to get back on the train and jump the lines once again. We hopped back on an hour later, and when we arrived to Salt River we waited for over an hour. People were bustling, men were screaming selling their Smarties and Nik Naks, and grim was surrounding us.We had to ride back gleaming at Spier Winery, staring straight at our failed attempt.
After much waiting, the train back to Observatory finally arrived. Hundreds of people swarmed the doors of the train, men were pulling the doors shut while we were trying to get on, and my friend’s camera was stolen out of her purse. All I wanted was to pet a cheetah.