Southern Africa, Fall 2018
TTS32 Semester Blog
Transitions, Beginnings, And Holding Space
In many ways Thanksgiving is a simple marker for the beginning of our shift toward returning home. It is a holiday which many cherish and a marker of the time and distance which separates us from familiarity and thus an example of what we give up when we step into an unknown adventure. Sitting at a long, cobbled together table in Soweto, our group tried to figure out a new way of celebrating a holiday with a challenging narrative. From the beginning of semester, we have examined and re-examined that which we see, read and hear. This means questioning the simple constructs of society we rely on to navigate through our days. It means questioning one another openly, honestly, and poignantly. And finally, it means questioning ourselves, with compassion, in order to step into a space of growth.
At our Thanksgiving table we read different perspectives about the treatment of indigenous peoples in The United States, founding myths, and words from indigenous peoples about their own experience. We spoke about the families, roots, and friends we are grateful for. We sent love to those far away through lighting candles. We burnt (figuratively) that which we need to release from ourselves. And finally, we held shells from the Indian Ocean, which represent the start of a collection of moments and adventures. That is, in so many ways, what TTS is: a beginning.
And so as we approach a long series of flights to return individuals safely home, we focus in on this sense of beginning rather than ending. What can you gather from this experience, from these courses, from these full days of paddling, walking, conversing, and analyzing to bring home with you? Much of this will not be clear upon the first day, week, or month home. This experience percolates and exposes itself in unexpected ways.
As with the transition into TTS, there are hopes and fears for the transition out. Nervous excitement surrounds the return to friends and family. Will it feel normal to be home? Perhaps…too normal?Will I still fit in with those close to me? Will I still connect with my friends? Do I look different? Do I act differently? Will people understand what I have done? The simple answer is: no, people will not. But they will be there, holding space. We talk about how to share stories. We talk about the concept of a bath tub, bucket, and tea cup as an analogy for the information we can share. There are those in our lives who can accept and hold the bath tub of our stories. And then there are those, who in passing, may only receive a tea cup. It is worth noting as well, that sometimes we keep moments and stories to ourselves, processing them quietly or away from those who know us best. It can feel important to shelter some moments.
We talk about values – how to distill what matters to us and hold on. How to live more closely in line with these values. How to simplify even when not living out of a 90L bag. As Denis Goldberg wisely said in response to a question about how to be an activist: “Figure out your personal morals and live by them. Do not give them up.” We talk about reverse culture shock, and how we ride the wave of highs and lows long after the jet lag passes. As always, there will be both.
Putting finals behind us, we will take the next few days to hike as a group and revel in the unique energy of this community. It is not easy to live within one, traveling group for 3.5 months. It is not designed to be easy. But we are here: stronger, fuller, fiercer women. We have bigger questions than answers about ourselves, our own country, and our next steps. So we will hold space for one another to leave this group and embark on what truly matters: filling the rest of our wide, lush life. And perhaps as the wise poet Rainer Marie Rilke suggests, we may, “gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Unadjusted and Raw: Culminating Pieces From World Literature Class
Abigail had students deconstruct a piece of literature (literally!) this past week. Students cut their chosen piece of writing apart, pulling out words and excerpts to incorporate into a visual representation of their semester experience…..
The Final Stretch
Saying goodbye to Big Blue and heading toward the coast for a few more adventures….
Reflections From The Road…
In the fluorescent lighting of a SPAR in the wellness center of Cape Town, I purchased two magazines. After checking out, I tore open the plastic wrapping of the malinger revealing a fresh paper smell and the bold titles “Women’s Health” and “Marie Claire.” Later that day as we rode on Big Blue, I read both magazines. I began with “Marie Claire,” turning the first page to find a table of contents. Here, multiple news articles were reviewed along with one or two interviews. I enjoyed reading it overall, and at certain points was almost brought to tears by heart wrenching articles describing lost abortion rights and sex trafficking. These articles were articulate and well written, accompanied by moving and powerful photographs. This magazine shows me how influential good quality journalism can be. I think that my strong reaction to this article came from a fear of the issues presented such as sexual assault and lack of abortion rights. These are topics that directly affect me in society and reading about them provokes empathy and sadness. After I finished this magazine, I decided to read my other purchase, “Women’s Health.” The sub-headings all over the cover read, “how to lose weight,” “get a summer body,” and displayed an image of a fit, young woman. I was instantly concerned by the number of articles and ads describing weight loss. Part of the magazine was dedicated to swimsuit advertising, while the rest included “slimming meals” and a few workouts. I originally purchased this magazine because I saw on the cover that it offered a month-long workout plan. I thought that this could be a fun challenge for the remaining month of the semester, but the magazine itself repulsed me. For the remaining hours of the bus ride I had time to reflect on the magazines I read earlier.
I think one of the main reasons that I was so horrified by the Women’s Health magazine was because I read it directly after reading “Marie Claire.” Maybe if I had read them in the other order I would not have had such a strong reaction. While reading “Marie Claire,” I was caused to heavily reflect on the state of the international community and the fact that it cannot support women’s rights. With this critical mindset, I turned to “Women’s Health” and was presented with a strong focus on weight loss. This lack of body positivity leads me t believe that this kind of mindset contributes to a lack of control for women over their own bodies. In my mind, a lack of abortion rights felt not directly, but somewhat related to the idea of body shaming. When the media strongly portrays the message that thin = beautiful, it takes away the control and confidence that one has of their body. Another reason that I felt so repulsed by the message behind the “Women’s Health” magazine was because I ave seen the effects of this promoted idea of weight loss. Because I spend most of my time around fellow teenage girls, I have witnessed body insecurity caused by the media. I myself have often felt that I am not pretty enough because I do not look like the models that I see on magazines or on TV. I truly believe that the media has an incredibly influential role in the ideals of our society. The media influence nearly every aspect of my life along with almost all of my friends and family, and most likely the majority of the people in the world. This also leads me to the question: how can I minimize the impact that the media had on my life and decisions? I think that to be at least more aware of the issues, I should be more critical of what is presented to me through social media ads, magazines or television.
Now that I am writing about those experiences, I wonder if I am contributing to the perpetuated messages of weight loss and false beauty standards? Purchasing a “Women’s Health” magazine, did I not support the magazine and the issue itself? Furthermore, by lending this magazine to my classmates, am I not spreading the influence of the harmful message promoted by the magazine? This awareness may be the first step to actually speaking out against body insecurity. I hope that I will be able to encourage those in my close community to be aware of these issues as well. More specifically, I would like to do my best to ensure that own 13-year-old sister is not harmed by body standards from the media. I would remind and educate her on this topic and the danger of magazines such as “Women’s Health.” This may be unrealistic to completely protect my sister, but as an older sibling, I feel a responsibility to at least try. In the future, I will remain aware of the effects the media’s has on my life, and attempt to minimize that by being critical of my sources and being less dependent on social media.
During the weekend of our homestay, our homestay dad, Stafford, drove Lilah and I around Cape Town to show us neighborhood that during apartheid were black, coloured, or white. He showed us the disparities that existed between each. Toward the end of the drive, Stafford decided that he wanted to us the public hospital. As he told us this and drove towards the hospital, I started to feel anxiety fill my body. Not only do I not like hospitals due to the negative implications that they have in so many people’s lives, but I also feel that they are areas where very personal events occur, and I was uncomfortable going into the hospital to “see.” That anxiety that I was feeling only grew when we arrived at the hospital. As we entered, a security guard stopped us in the full waiting room, saying that only one person could enter the wards a a time. At this obstacle, Stafford insisted to the guard that we were Americans, that we neededto be let in, that we wanted to see a, “third world hospital.” I felt the eyes of the other people in the waiting room stab at my back. The security guard carefully thought about whether we should be allowed in, the hot blood crept into my face and flushed y cheeks. To my dread, shame, and guilt, we were let into the hospital wards just to “see.”
Once we left the hospital, I was still tense my heart beating tightly in my chest. As we drove away, I felt enraged, at Stafford for taking us, at the guard for letting us in, but mostly at myself, for not saying something to stop the situation. Who am I to walk into a hospital and straight into the wards to “see a third world hospital” while people who are there to see family members and loved ones are forced to wait silently in the waiting room? Why do I have the right or excuse to do this because I am “American” and white? I believe that a lot of my anger came from the fact that my privilege was being used by someone else to excuse my presence and push boundaries. Disrespecting those around me. I felt ashamed and embarrassed for this, and I felt guilty for not stopping it. Although for a long time I have been aware of the privileges that I have, they have never been used in such a way, making this situation completely new for me. Despite the unfamiliarity, this situation reminds me of how privilege effects my daily life. Until now I am still wondering, was it race, where we were from, or both that made the guard let us in?
I think that this moment and the feeling that it carried will remain with me for a long, long time, and that is incredibly powerful. In the end, despite it not being the lesson that Stafford meant to teach us, I definitely learned or reinforced something that day.I want to use the privilege that I have to support others, not myself.This is a lesson that will help me in the future and that I can implement in my daily life. As Ali says, I can “spend” my privilege on others. For this I can form a concrete plan of action, spread it out in my daily life, or both. For this, I can find situations where I can help or create them. However, I also must be careful since I do have the intention of helping others but also don’t want to step into the cycle of “victim” and “ savior.”
Cape Town Living
It’s hard to pin down what exactly draws people into Cape Town – what holds a gaze, and asks our minds to question a standard understanding of the world? Is it the ever present 3500ft rise of Table Mountain from sea to sky? The bright blue of bays surrounding the peninsula? The charming cafes, colorful homes, and diverse population? The stark contrast between the lush gardens of neighborhoods in the city bowl and the townships of the Cape Flats? The pull is different for each us, no doubt. And so our time in Cape Town is spent using the extremes and all the in betweens to understand South Africa’s past as well as it’s current moment, and pulsing future.
On our first day, we drive to University of the Western Cape where Professor Toni Sylvester, The Traveling School’s long time Cape Town guru awaits us with his soon-to-be-graduated class of teachers. We join in on a discussion about the challenges facing education in South Africa (training for teachers, language barriers, cost, access etc.) and speak about the challenges and differences within the system in The United States. The similarities far outweigh the differences. After a tour of the vibrant campus, we pile into a van with Lennard, our kind, local Capetonian driver, who will act as our school bus galore, and make sure not a thing in Cape Town is missed. Next is a visit to a primary school, to see how teachers are working in neighborhoods with high crime and poverty rates which impact their students and community daily. Some students play with six-year-olds while others are put on display in front of older classes and asked to talk about their lives. It can be challenging to know what one’s role is in these scenarios – how do you introduce yourself and share about your life when one feels out of place?
The following days are a smattering of activities: town time on Long Street, where café balconies and vintage stores mix with hostels and corner shops. A sunset and full moon hike to Lion’s Head offers a sense of place, looking out over the city, surrounded by others enjoying an Atlantic sunset, and the lights of the peninsula silhouetting Devil’s Peak. Outings to The National Gallery and Bo Kaap Museum for Travel Journalism highlight the culture of art within the Western Cape and how communities are reviving this tradition in new ways post apartheid. A ferry to Robben Island and the subsequent tour from a former political prisoner stuns history students and brings to life the narrative of oppression and strength, standing side by side. There are shrieks of excitement over food which has been craved for months (sushi), and bewildered looks at the reality of a lack of change in vast social arenas since the end of apartheid.
Mid-week students are sent out in pairs to their homestay families who center around a neighborhood known as Kensington. Evenings are spent chatting in homes, eating meals with families, and taking in the novelty of being in a house again without 17-people surrounding you at all times. Over the weekend students spend whole days with their host families – attending church, youth group, exploring Cape Town by foot or car, taking a drive up the Western Cape, or trying their hand at surfing. Our group is naturally social and takes well to the infusion of new people and voices within the community.
Re-gathering post homestays in a flurry of Monday morning traffic, we immediately dive back into our Cape Town explorations with a trip to see anti-apartheid activist Denis Goldberg (who served 22 years as a political prisoner). Sitting amongst his extensive art collection, he speaks to us about his life, advice on following one’s own morals, and reminds us that being a compassionate and engaged human is a choice we must make every day. When he speaks about his sentencing at the Rivonia Trial with other legendary figures such as Nelson Mandela, he says, “My mother couldn’t hear the sentencing in the chaos of the court, so she shouted to me ‘What is it? What is it?’ And I said ‘It’s life, and life is wonderful.’ And it is you know, life is truly wonderful.” We find truth in this statement on our final day in Cape Town, rising to the top of Table Mountain in the cable car for one final view of the representation of the world that Cape Town manages to be. Life is wonderful – and we’re trying to learn as much about it as we can.
Our time in the city sits at the perfect moment within our curriculum. Global Studies focuses on the concept of racial formations, privilege and power dynamics. History dives into the thick of apartheid policies and resistance. Literature wraps up Mother to Mother, a fictional account of the mother of one of Amy Biehl’s accused murderers. Science looks at geological forces before turning its attention to infectious diseases. It all compounds and comes to life in Cape Town.
And as we climb up on Big Blue on the day of our departure from “the mother city” we wave goodbye to Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. We shift our attention to the calmer energy of The Garden Route and familiarizing ourselves with Indian Ocean vistas. We take a breath, so we might attempt process the deluge of information, images, and introductions, and we carry on down the road.
Orange River Days
The Orange River is decidedly not orange. It’s a deep blue that roles over shallow rocks and slows through wide openings in the 80-150 million year-old rock walls which linger above its curves. Reeds line the edges, grass stretches down to the water, and herds of goats shuffle along the banks, gardening, without a shepard in sight. We paddle in fiberglass canoes, four buckets and two people to each boat. It’s hot but the water is easy to slip into and cool down in — the hard part being climbing back into the canoe without flipping your boat partner. Altus, one of our four Namibian guides, points out the geologic timeline which cues us into major forces that shaped this landscape. Floods, earthquakes, even a splintering of continents can be visualized from the scars left behind.
We pull ashore in the early afternoon for lunch and camp. Our time on the banks is spent playing hide and seek, reading, napping in the shade, and wandering to the refreshing water. It is relaxing to be by a source of water which holds no major predators — quite a shift after our days on the Zambezi and Okavango Delta. We lay out underneath the stars at night and learn about the southern skies which reflect different constellations and stories than our familiar layout from the North. At 4:30am a few brave souls wake to learn more about constellations only visible without the moon.
Our next three days are dominated by a rhythm of morning paddling, short swims, recovering ourselves from various capsizes, and floating down rapids in “nappy runs” where we wear our life jackets as diapers to protect our bums. Different rapids take different amounts of time depending on the shenanigans that our motley boating crew gets up to. Glancing back one can see everyone paddling hard – sometimes there are boats on top of inconveniently placed rocks or headed sideways into the reeds. We follow guides energetically on the river and off. In the afternoons we take walks to an abandoned diamond mine which is rumored to still house many gems and the ghost of a former prospector. We try our hand at prospecting ourselves another day, climbing nearby mountains to dig up fluorspar, a mineral used in smelting and clarifying glass or lenses. We toss the bright green stones on the fire at night to see them glisten and explode over coals. We tell ghost stories and question our guides about life in Namibia and how they came to cherish days on the Orange River.
We slip into a rhythm decidedly different than that of midterms and Big Blue travel days. It is the perfect reprieve, laying out under the moon, and letting our conversations wander every which way. Days are long in a different way than days are long when we have classes or outings focused on curriculum. They stretch with the sun, and let us be tired from paddling, swimming, flipping, and soaking up strong southern rays. One night sitting around a fire we play a game of questions – first answering questions pointed to the entire group: if you were a sandwich what kind would you be? What is your greatest fear? Who is the most important person in your life? Then we focus on individuals. For a minute the group asks one person any question that comes to mind. What do you believe to be True about the world? Where is favorite place? Why do you love art? Where will you live when you’re older? Answers and thoughtful pauses and giggles spill out as we are reminded that for as well as we know one another, there is still much to learn. And glancing across the banks to our final destination of South Africa, we know, there is time yet, to keep asking questions.
100 Word Stories
Drabbles – 100 Word Stories. The prompt was to write two fictional pieces set in Cape Town: one focusing on the essence of a person and the other focusing on the essence of a place. Here are 8 examples.
Everything was ruby red, from her lips to her skin-tight dress that glistened from the broken streetlights and bright moon. Her six inch heels stepped carefully to avoid broken glass and puddles of god knows what. Her hand shakes as she puts a cigarette to her full lips. The streets are quiet for once, which makes me an easy target. We make eye contact and she saunters towards me. In a scratchy voice she asks, “Can you spare a few cents?” I shake my head which prompts her to leave. Nobody has anything to spare here.
I am only sediment built up over time. A broken piece, detached and alone. Cursed with loneliness, struggle and fear. For the isolation I feel, for the things I have seen. From the beginning it was only the ill and deformed, outcasts taken to die. No children to nourish with my soil. The “it” was the prisoners, the dangerous, the revolutionaries. Such cruelty for a tiny island to foster, to hold above the Atlantic waves. Now more people come to me than ever before. Never to enjoy my beaches. Only to remember the struggles. No one ever asked what I wanted.
She didn’t walk through the city, she pranced through cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes to the revving of motorcycles. In the morning she waltzed downtown, calling out greetings to Simone, Elizabeth, Jess, and all the other smiles that emerged as she strode past. In front of her ship she paused to greet her favorite face – a woman so radiant she couldn’t help but smile. “Darling, aren’t you something,” she laughed. “I sure am,” replied the woman. With that she reached for the glass door and moved past her reflection, blessing her day’s work with leftover songs from the night before.
I have been here since the very beginning. I was here before people of any color called Cape Town home. I have watched Cape Town change over the years. In my eyes change is the essence of this beautiful city. I watched as Cape Town – which was once empty and quiet – change into a noisy city. I watched the changes in race relations and dynamics change the city. I watched peaceful protests change to violent once. I watched police men turn into bad guys and students turn into change makers. I watched as hate changed into tolerance then to understanding and slowly but surely to love.
She stares at her Mary Jane flats and navy blue socks gliding down the cement sidewalks. Reaching the youth center, she smiles at the sight of murals that she and her friends made two years before. She sits to work on her drawing from the day before. Looking up she notices an old white woman asking to take a photo of her with her drawing. Bending down to eye level, she enthusiastically compliments her work. The young girl scrunches her eyebrows, confused. Is it so difficult for her to believe that a child in Langa is able to draw?
I set it on fire. It’s burning behind me. I set it on fire! When I was younger I did not anger easily. MY mother used to tell me I’d be patient and re-assuring with something if they set my finger on fire. I was passive. The irony is not lost on me now. Now, my heart is always ablaze with anger, though sometimes the fire is calmer than others. The anger is a background to everything. And now, the flames on that bright building reflect my heart. I remember when the peaceful mountain behind it did instead.
I run out of the hokkie,saying goodbye to mama as I start my trip to school, walking through Langa. On my way I am greeted by neighbors, familiar smiles along the way. Laughter from the other school children fills my ears, a woman calling for the taxi to stop, heavy bass music drifts out of a home into the street. I watch a line forming at the tuck shop, a man zooms by on his bike, a baby playing on the house’s stoop. I continue my walk through Langa, every day seeming the same, but every day slightly different.
Had she blinked, that brief whisper of grace would have evaded her gaze. Her bones ached for she had trudged the entire sweltering day across Cape Town’s electric streets. Finally reaching the water’s viscous edge the glint of an iridescent tail suddenly caught her eye – she was clearly a child of the soil. The edge of its tail slipped into its mother of godly untampered power and with it eternally altered the girl’s understanding of that is whimsically untamable. The girl stood still as the tide rose, allowing the sea’s omnipotent embrace to take her with the current.
If Pictures Could Talk…
Diamond Day Blog: Cross-Curricular Learning in Action
Kolmanskop, Namibia lies just ten kilometers outside of Luderitz, and fills with sand daily as wind drags the Namib toward the Atlantic Ocean. The site is still owned by Namdeb— a partnership company between De Beers and the Namibian government — despite the decline of the diamond industry along the old rail line. On a sunny day, we arrive in Big Blue. Finding our way into a former home, we sit among worn paint walls and sand-filled rooms. TTS lends itself to interdisciplinary connections constantly but on “Diamond Day” we step fully into a morning of shared classes. Gathering to address a whole picture of how deeply mineral resources shape the region, and how the diamond industry has shaped the economies of countries and power brokers across the world. We begin, quite literally, at the beginning of time with the formation of diamonds, tectonic plates, and piping hot magma. Ali’s hands shoot upwards as she describes a kimberlite pipe, the famous origin of South Africa’s diamonds, and sideways as she imitates an alluvial plane, the source of most Namibian diamonds. Autumn steps in, picking up significantly later in time, with a narration of a colonial experience spurred fiercely by diamonds.
In the late 1800s, as the “scramble for Africa” unfolds, whaling and a guano boom push the Germans to claim their piece briefly, shaping forever the modern history of Namibia through the formation of colonial South-West Africa. In 1883, grand swindler Adolf Luderitz establishes a land grab from a local Nama chief, Frederick II of Bethanie. The growth of Luderitz, and subsequently Kolmanskop, explodes in 1908 with the discovery of diamonds. World War I slows and then shifts the control of the region from German to British to South African.
We continue talking beyond Luderitz: Cecil Rhodes, Kimberley, De Beers, Anglo American, Oppenheimer…names and the construction of the infamous diamond giant spill out through a series of events and dates. We pause to read an article about the processing of diamonds current day. The National Geographic piece follows gems from Africa to India to Israel and back. Why? echoes through our windowless classroom. Why are they so valuable? Why are there images of children with limbs chopped off in Sierra Leone? Why is De Beers powerful?
Morgan steps in; On butcher paper behind her is a graph of supply and demand models. “Who is paid a higher salary in the NBA?” she asks. “An average player or a star?” A star. “Right, there is only one LeBron. What do you pay more for: a 1962 Corvette or 2004 Corvette?” A 1962. “Why?” Because it’s rare and it holds status. Bingo. Kimberlite pipes are, geologically speaking, an exceptional compounding of events, yet diamonds themselves are not, in actuality, a rarity.
Abigail joins Morgan in front of the butcher paper, moving our basic economics back into the timeline. We walk through the absorption of small-scale diamond fields, the building of a monopoly, the threats to flood a delicate market, intrinsic value, and the exploitation of natural and human resources. Supply is the easy side of the relationship to control — next comes demand. Riding out World War II quietly, supplying industrial grade diamonds, we speak about De Beers next phase the brilliance of a New York advertising agency’s scheme: connect the concept of romantic love and commitment to a a stone in an engagement band, a formerly rare practice. The power of advertising is not just that it highlights a consumer’s material desire, but the pursuit of something grander: long-standing love, economic status, and perhaps ultimately, in the wake of World War II, an achievement of the modern American dream.
The tour of the ghost town leaves from the grand hall which once hosted ostentatious steak dinners, opera singers, and evenings of caviar and champagne. To untrained ears the thick Afrikaans accent is challenging to make out fully over the wind. But we walk through old homes, the butchery, the shop, the power station. Just imagine the wealth! The glamour! Students look around; tomorrow they will put colonialism on trial for their history midterm, addressing the genocide of Herero people. Workers stayed on two year contracts. Having studied the history of forced labor, genocide, and the Shark Island concentration camp, students raise an eyebrow at the use of the phrase “workers.” When we re-gather we talk about other regions deeply impacted by mineral wealth and a “natural resource curse.” We talk about blood diamonds, civil wars, and environmental destruction. We pause to absorb.
Wandering the abandoned homes, shops, bowling alley, and company buildings, one can’t help but sense the eeriness of the rise and fall of the community. With the final days of the town stretching only into the late 1940s, its chronology is as abrupt as the overly grand town itself, almost impossible to reconcile with the surrounding desolation. The old hospital holds a long corridor, paned shadows from tall, sun deck windows fall across tiles. It’s not hard to imagine lives lost here. Lost to forced labor, lost to rudimentary medicine, lost to a dream of wealth. There’s no formal graveyard but a field of bones was discovered a few years back as shifting sands exposed unnamed bones. Without residents and miners, the only digging done on the property keeps the buildings from fully joining the dunes, but one can’t help but wonder if this place should be left to the Namib for reconciling. But then again, De Beers never lets go of a holding.
TTS 32 in Action
With the semester just over the half way mark, here are a few more pictures of the all of the strong, determined and curious young women in action over the past eight weeks.
TTS Daily Life: More Excerpts from Travel Journalism Class
By Sophie (11th grade) from Vermont
Food feeds the soul. We don’t just need it to survive, we need it to thrive. Here at TTS, everyone is trying to adjust to the new food choices offered at meals. Students fight for the last piece of banana bread, condensed milk rusks, and shove peanut butter in their faces like their lives depend on it. No matter where we are in the world, we will always desire food that tastes so good it brings tears to our eyes. TTS students will do anything to make sure they fuel their souls while on semester, no matter how many adjustments they have to make.
The teachers at TTS graciously do the grocery shopping for us students. They collect our outlandish food requests the night before shopping and then set off to the local Spar to try to buy our requests as well as staple foods for the community. Spar is the name of the grocery store we find most prominent in southern Africa. Spars are usually large, with many isles stocked with unusual food such as cream soda marshmallows and ketchup flavored potato chips. In the store the students bustle around finding chocolates and cookies while the teachers fill three carts full to the brim with food. The staple foods include crispy crunch granola, salami, and a whole lot of peanut butter.
We go through peanut butter like its oxygen, we inhale it. Kate exclaims, “I have consumed more pounds of peanut butter on this trip than liters of water.” Rachael tells me, “sometimes I feel like my blood has turned into peanut butter and I need it to survive.”
Lilah says, “At home I eat meals, here I eat ingredients.” Maybe this is because her lunch looks like deconstructed sandwich. She laughs as she says, “my meals have stopped having logic to them, I have realized it is just easier to eat a little bit of everything and pretend my stomach is a blender.” As unappetizing as her meals may look, they seem to demolish her appetite.
Some girls are craving comfort foods from home. We recently got access to a microwave and Hazel took full advantage. She utilized the microwave to concoct the perfect sandwich. She describes her grilled cheese as, “a buttery, melted, mushy, soggy, masterpiece.” This shows our expectation for good food has decreased to the point where we become ecstatic over soggy bread and cheese. The limited food choices force TTS students to enjoy foods they might have considered inedible before. For example, Leeya says, “I never liked yogurt before this trip because it’s consistency reminds me of baby food.”
An overarching concept TTS girls have grasped this semester is how food is energy and it doesn’t always matter how it tastes as long as it gets us through the day. TTS students need to consume enough energy to make up for the energy we exert on a daily basis. Every day is a new adventure that flies by so by the time lunch creeps up on us, we fuel up like cars as at a gas station. Food fuels the soul. We don’t always get the option of premium but regular will fuel us just fine.
By Lilah (10th grade) from New York
I am staring into a whirlpool of dish soap, tinted brown water with streaks of peanut butter and shimmers of oil all in the convenience of a bucket that I am squatted over. I realize this squat, accompanied by dirty utensils in one hand and a sponge in the other is my office here at TTS. My place of work, where my mind generates great thoughts and I do my part in the community. I deem myself, Mrs. Pots.
We each have a part in TTS that makes the gears turn. There is cook crew, who graciously offers themselves up fifteen minutes before each meal to set out sparkly clean utensils and plates, (that I easily could have cleaned). There is truck crew, who has a job that typically is set in motion while getting ready for bed. All truck crew entails is shoving some under-the-seat lockers shut and sweeping up the filth we left behind from the daily adventure the next crew is the crew for slackers; pack crew. Pack crew does nothing, other than on travel days when they shout to their fellow classmates’ words of encouragement as they schlep tents and sleeping bags onto the truck. Finally, there is one crew that I never seem to escape. The crew that makes six days of break from it feel like thirty seconds during an hour-long workout. I am talking about clean crew. I have to admit; clean crew is where I flourish. In this crew you put away the one thousand condiments the group ate as well as many leftovers. Then, of course, someone has to do the dishes. We rotate these four crews every two days. So, everyone gets their fair share of pots. Yet, I seem to always draw the card of dinners consisting of twelve pots and one million utensils I did not know we used.
Mrs. Pots is a role I elected for myself, which leaves thoughts like, “why the heck do I choose to be dish lady every meal?” and “I’m seriously too deep in dishes to climb myself out of this mess”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of meditative once you accept you will always be designated dish washer within your crew. When half your arm is soaked in murky food remnants and Dettol, it’s a great place to reflect on your life. It is also fun to entertain yourself while your ankles go numb from squatting. I find myself thinking thoughts like, “everyone’s face looks funnier from a squat position” and “flies only land on me when I smell like old food.”
Doing the dishes sometimes gets me more aggravated than one would think. I can come up with dish related threats when I am in this mindset like, “I will flip this bucket of dirty water on the next person that hands me another pot!” or “If I have to clean one more personal dish, I will have to make an announcement!” I have never had to throw disgusting water on someone’s head, but I have had to make a couple announcements.
There is also a lot of strategy one would need while doing the dishes. If you’re were lucky enough to be clean crew on a night with shima, a sticky maize dish that burns onto the bottom of the pot, you can easily “leave it to soak” overnight for the next clean crew tomorrow. If the trick works out, this plan is diabolical. It is not worth cleaning so many pots that your fingers get pruned from being soaked in lemon scented soap and soggy food.
I think about my dream house for when I am older while pots are piling up next to me. I realized I don’t need to be conventional and use stone or bricks to build it. As a human dishwasher, I had a realization, “I could build a palace for myself and my eight children purely from the amount of pots it took to cook this spaghetti bolognas.” Seriously though, sometimes I am flabbergasted by the amount of pots it takes to cook a dish consisting of noodles and meat sauce.
On nights with this abnormal number of dishes, the bucket of supposedly clean water I clean the dishes with can get contaminated fast. I had some thoughts and concerns while staring at opaque brown water like, “I cannot see the bottom of this four inch bucket of water due to the amount of liquified food that has infiltrated it” and “the water is so dirty, I wonder if these dishes are even getting cleaned?” and “I am elbow deep in canned corn, last night’s meat sauce and peach flavored yogurt, who are we?” Those were just my thoughts but in real life I know the dishes are getting clean because the second thing the dishwasher does is dip the dishes in a bucket of water and Dettol. This is a chemical that kills any bacteria it encounters. We water it down, so we don’t ingest any, but the aroma is still very much present. This sparks my brain to think that “I don’t even have to wear perfume anymore, I wear Dettol now.” Considering my arms are constantly being dipped in the Dettol bucket, this makes me question my chemical intake, but the answer is zero because the genius system has the washer wash off the Dettol in a third bucket, so we don’t ingest bacteria or chemicals.
I may constantly complain about doing the dishes, but we all know I love to squat over a bowl of dirty food water and do my dishes like my job. Either way, I don’t know what to do if I wasn’t doing the dishes because I don’t know where any food goes other than the unwanted food that ends up in my makeshift dishwasher. I would talk more, but I am late to a meeting at my office. I have pots to scrub.
An Excerpt From Travel Journalism Class (and some fun goat pics!)
Cheetah Conservation Fund staff interview: Becky, a Cheetah caretaker interviewed by Hazel and Flannery
Q: What is your favorite part of your job here at CCF?
A: Just working with the cats everyday because I am a caretaker I get to spend a lot of time with them. I love getting to know them as individuals, I have been working here for two and a half years now so I know them all pretty well. I enjoy just working with all the animals a lot. When I was an intern I spent a lot of time with the dogs, goats and sheep too. When I have time I try to visit the dogs. I have a few favorites (laughs).
Q: Was it a previous dream of yours to work with animals when you were young? What led you to work here?
A: Yes, when I was really little I sort of had the classic dream of wanting to be a veterinarian, so I studied a lot of biology and ecology and then started to take classes to prepare to be a veterinarian but it was really a lot of work. When I was in college I took a class in ecology that was really interesting and I loved it, so then I knew that I wanted to work with animals, so I came here and was a intern for a bit and then luckily enough a position opened up to be a caretaker, so I took it.
Q: Is there sometime in particular about cheetahs that interests you compared to other animals?
A: I think they are really intelligent animals and I love how specialized they are at what they do best, running. I love how different each individual is as well. They are really quite human in some of the ways they act. It has always impressed me how they are the fastest animals in the world.
And a few more pics of the girls in action at the CCF Headquarters in Namibia with some non-cats (because goats are pretty awesome too…)
An Academic Update
Stepping into our second week in Namibia, TTS32 finds itself very much “in the thick of things.” Our classes overlay one another, deepening an interdisciplinary understanding of the world around us and the people who have lived on these lands for thousands of years. Impossible to have a discussion in one class without the mention of an article read in another, or a debate held the previous day, our conversations feed. Just as Big Blue rolls constantly down the road, our classes roll forward, creating an ever-growing foundation for the assertion of personal opinions and a critical and questioning lens. Mixing in the voices of guides, visitors, and passerby’s, it finally feels as though we have begun piecing together the puzzle of southern Africa.
After leaving Elephant Sands Honors Natural Science continued to engage with an understanding of landscapes and wildlife as we traveled to the stark landscape of Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Along the way we stopped to touch the smooth bark of thousand-year-old Baobab trees and to watch a colony of meerkats keep watch over their home. The students inquired about the formation of the pans and ogled at the brilliant stars. Continuing west, we entered the Okavango Delta by way of mokoros, dugout canoes poled by skilled guides. Sitting two to a boat, girls held their textbooks in hand, reading about these lands as they sat low on the water, glancing through long reeds. The rich delta setting lends itself well to the transition between wildlife ecology and land management, mixing their continued learning about the hippos, giraffes, zebras, elephants and wildebeests that we saw during walking safari, with a deeper understanding of the land’s multiple uses. Additionally, they engaged with our polers in conversation, walking the boundary of science and global studies as they discovered how the delta is managed and how it effects the people who grew up among the reeds. Upon our return from the Okavango, we jumped head first into one of the most debated topics in Southern African land and resource management: hunting and poaching. Each student read a visually graphic article about Rhino poaching, listened to the story of Corey Knowlton, and individually investigated another perspective on the topic. While in Etosha, a rhino researcher from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) and Park Ranger presented a guest lecture on Namibia’s strategies to combat poaching that included a demonstration with their detection canine. Additionally, the girls took initiative, engaging with our guides in Etosha to ask questions about land management and tourism in Namibia from a local perspective. After stacking these layers, students participated in a Socratic seminar to piece together their newfound perspectives and concerns. Up next? The Cheetah Conservation Fund where we will continue to explore the relationship between humans, wildlife and land.
Pairing well with science conversations, Global Studies,is grappling with large questions: Who are indigenous peoples? What is authentic indigenous identity? What role do we play as tourists in perpetuating negative or positive economic systems? Through reading articles about the San people – the oldest indigenous group in Southern Africa – we began discussing issues surrounding land management, education and marginalization. Using the lens of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples Rights, we compared the current state of San people in both Botswana and Namibia. While making our way towards Namibia, we spent two days at the Dqae Qare San Lodge. Owned by the local San population, we participated in demonstrations of making fire in the bush as well as making beads from ostrich eggs. Posing questions to our guides, students inquired about the benefit of lodge and their role of guides to understand the continued marginalization of the San people. Carrying these themes forward, we have drawn connections back to the US and experiences of indigenous populations in North America. These intertwined narratives of colonial history lead us to an exploration of the system and status of foreign aid, global structures such as the UN which draw our world closer together, modern day imperialism, and our own role as individuals in it all.
Grounding Global and Science conversations, History and Politics of Southern Africa continues to study geography and its effect on history. Delving into the study of colonialism, both globally and regionally, the pillars of colonial structure drive our conversations about the cause and effect of political, economic, and cultural imperialism and how it has shaped the regions through which we travel. Next, the class will look specifically at responses to colonialism, resistance and each country’s journey towards independence. During our time in Windhoek, Namibia visits to the Owela Museum of indigenous history and the Independence Museum, broadened our view of the people involved in each moment of history. Upcoming visits to former German colonial strongholds, Luderitz and Swakopmund, will continue to highlight the radical forces which have shaped modern day Namibia in the last century. These visits to historical sites and museums reinforce our classroom discussions and readings as we dig deeper into the power struggles still occurring daily in both Namibia and our final country, South Africa. Soon students will begin to prepare for a “mock trial” where they will put colonialism on trial as their midterm project and explore what it means to question the larger, reinforced, societal structures.
A welcome reprieve from the often demanding conversations of other courses, the small crew of Pre-Calculus students, Kate, Reisha, Camila, and Ella, are gearing up for their Chapter 1 Exam. We have covered functions, graphing, inverses, and modeling examples from the real world with a guest lesson taught by Ella. Each of the girls in this class bring something unique and valuable to the class. Whether they be question askers or problem solvers, there is curiosity in each student and a building confidence in the STEM field. As we move into Chapter 2, the girls will participate further in group teaching and learning as we investigate polynomials and complex numbers.
Algebra 2 carries on at a similar pace, after spending time in chapter 1 refreshing algebra memories, the class is now jumping into linear systems. The students will try their hand at teaching the class, a format we will continue to use throughout the semester. Each member of the class picked one section from Chapter 2 to present to the group and are working on crafting their individual lessons. Brightly visible, their understanding of the material deepens as they hold themselves responsible for their classmates’ learning as well as their own. Student-led sections offer a variety to the flow of our classes and give the students a chance to have a voice in their learning process. I look forward to seeing the product of their creative work in the coming weeks.
Honors World Literature and Composition sits deep in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, examining themes about the role of “the West” in the shaping of countries such as The Democratic of the Congo, the collective guilt of the United States in the post-colonial era, and forces such as sexism which hinder the individual independence of the book’s narrators: The Price family women. Through theme presentations, found poetry, quote monologues, and student led discussions, we work on drawing meaning from texts, and interacting with them in as vibrant a way as they are written. Shifting towards midterms, students will produce an analytical piece, developing arguments about The Poisonwood Bible. With a focus on the use and power of language, students will be asked to break out of a model of summarizing quotes, and instead focus on their own ability to creatively approach the process of outlining, drafting, and coalescing a meaningful argument. Looking forward, we will return to creative writing workshops, layering poetry projects with short readings from regional authors, constantly using an artful lens to deepen our relationship with the region.
Finally supporting students in absorbing the most from each experience and continue to open their eyes to the world around us, Travel Journalism students continue to practice creative yet informative writing through a variety of structures. Recently students created newsletters featuring different activities that have occurred so far on our semester and began an ongoing portrait project inspired by “Humans of New York” where portraits of classmates are accompanied by the singular question, “what do you love?” Additionally, students have begun to practice crafting and conducting both formal and informal interviews with classmates and will soon take this experience into interviews with individuals outside of our group. These basic tools of information gathering, and reporting are accompanied by photography lessons focusing on image orientation and picture composition. As students continue to develop their own style of writing and work, we will also begin to strengthen our editing techniques through editing workshops, developing an eye for constructive critiques rather than criticism. Building on this foundation, we will create a community of writers who support one another’s unique contribution and challenge one another to engage with and view our world creatively.
Be the change.
Commitments and intentions of the adventurous, strong, and curious young women of TTS 32…
As a young girl, I am strong-willed and observant. I am curious and hard-working. I care deeply about those around me. My vision is to become more empathetic and empowered. Through this journey I hope to become more eager to learn and acknowledge mine and everyone else’s differences to become a strong individual.
My mission is to go into the world curious to see, feel, smell, hear, taste and think about as much as I possibly can, and let all that I encounter be a catalyst for my personal growth. To evolve and strengthen both my physical and mental capacities and have a positive influence and impact on the environments which I move through.
My mission is to be involved with the world—to have fun, learn as much as I can, and work to change things for the better where I can. Through my semester with The Traveling School, I aim to gain new perspectives. I am to be involved in my classes so that they might be the kind of classes that radically change how I think about everything. I also aim to become inspired by the world around me in order to have great stories to tell and to invent.
With an accepting, curious, and inventive mind find confidence and comfort in the new. Understand the world through a broader scope while connecting on a individual and emotional level to all.
Mission: To be a constantly curious and questioning individual. I have been formed by a very family and community-oriented upbringing. I consider myself an open minded and involved person and hope to bring that to my conversations with others. Vision: I hope to bring kindness and positivity to classes and travel alike. I would like to integrate constant learning in my life from the people I surround myself with and from the experiences I may have inside and outside TTS.
My mission is to teach people about the unknown and make them see there is so much out in the world for them to learn from and see.
I am a hard-working, open-minded individual with a motivation to make life worthwhile by experiencing and understanding who I am and the world around me. I strive to be the best person I can be and see the best out of myself and others. I am ready to take on this new adventure and gain a new perspective and appreciation for the world.
My mission for this semester is to add something positive to someone else’s life and hopefully gain some understanding of who I am and what my place may be within this semester and outiside of TTS. I feel like I am a compassionate girl who has a lot of kindness and love to give around. I hope to take what I learn from TTS, keep it with me for the rest of my life to keep improving and growing.
Magical Delta Moments
Last weekend we spent two days camping in the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. We wound our way along channels lined by papyrus reeds and lily pads in mokoros, traditional dugout canoes. Our guides stood at the back of the small boats, propelling us through the water with their poles like gondoliers. We camped on a small island surrounded by the channels of the Delta, where we enjoyed beautifully crafted meals and exchanges of song, dance, and stories around the campfire. We experienced the landscape through walking safaris, where we tracked hippos, servals, and hyenas by their prints left on the dusty ground. We crossed paths with herds of wildebeest, zebras, and giraffes as we circumnavigated our small island at sunset and again at sunrise. Read on to hear a few students’ perspectives on their time in the Delta…
Kenny told us that in the old days, when animals could talk just like humans, Hippo was the most beautiful of creatures. All of the other animals were jealous, so one night at a party they all agreed to a plan devised by Spring Hare. They lured Hippo to the campfire and set him on fire, burning him, and by the time he made it to the water he was no longer beautiful. His burned skin was sensitive to the sun and raw. That is why today, Hippo bathes in the rivers all day, hiding, and only comes out to eat in the night when it is dark.
–Leeya, Senior, Vermont
After a 45-minute motorboat ride early in the morning we arrived at the mokoro checkpoint. We loaded into the long dugout canoes in groups of two, each assigned to a poler. Soon after sitting down with our eyes almost at water level, the polers guided us out into the Delta. The gentle force of the wooden poles against the muddy river bed pushed us forwards, gliding through the tall papyrus grass. Minutes later the mokoros containing all of my classmates came to a halt to observe an elephant peacefully dipping its trunk into the water to drink. Our graceful two-hour mokoro ride through the Okavango consisted of friendly conversations with the guides and precariously passing peanut butter between boats until we arrived at camp.
– Hazel, Junior, Massachussetts
Our trip to the Delta was absolutely incredible. The mokoros were graceful and hypnotizing and after our guides let us try to pole them, seeing how difficult it was to stay balanced, I had an insane amount of respect for them. After settling into our beautiful campsite, and enjoying the first of many delicious meals, we traveled inland to spot animals. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything better. We tiptoed through new landscapes and encountered giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, buffalo, and warthogs. Afterwards, back near camp, we went swimming in the glassy waters where we were told the crocs wouldn’t be hanging out and I loved every minute of it. The night before we left we all sang and danced together with the heat of the fire in the middle and when we were ready to sit down we shared the folk tales of the places where we’re from. Each day started and ended with the most breathtaking sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen. I didn’t want any of these moments to end, but I will forever keep the memories of those precious days.
– Frances, Junior, California
Waking up at 6am always holds the question “Is it worth it?” proceeding it. But if I have learned one thing this semester so far, it’s that yes, it is alwaysworth it. This particular early morning adventure was in the Okavango Delta. We peeled ourselves out of our tents to see warm tea waiting for us, then headed off for the morning extravaganza. We climbed into the serpents of the Delta (mokoro boats) and slithered out into unchartered waters where the animals roam in peace. Our destination was an island in the Delta near our campsite. As we walked around the island we encountered mystical zebras, extraordinary wildebeests, and magnificent giraffes. Seeing the herd of sixteen giraffes emerge from between the acacia trees really impressed me. From time to time the giraffes stopped and stared at us, flapping their ears in a friendly greeting. They walked past us with pride, like queens of the Delta. The young ones frolicked playfully as they moved past, their bodies looking disproportionate yet graceful. I never would have believed what magic happens in the Okavango before seeing it for myself.
-Lilah, Sophomore, New York
We sat around a quiet fire, TTS students on one side and Delta polers on the other. Awkward smiles were exchanged, and I desperately wanted to connect in a way that transcended the proscribed dynamic of tourist to guide, but I did not know how. Soon, timid conversations began to take shape around the circle. The Delta guides and polers stood in front of us and began singing Botswanan folk songs. As their playful and unified voices coaxed me into a happiness that felt like a realized sense of togetherness, the awkward smiles and rigid conversations of the earlier evening felt like a distant memory. We began dancing and I quickly forgot the perceived routine of our interactions. We were simply a group of people joyously dancing.
-Rachael, Senior, California
Scenes From Camp
Imagine opening up a picture book, an old Where’s Waldo? of sorts. Except instead of cities of the world or Christmas scenes, what fills our view is canvas tents with green windows, folding chairs, piles of notebooks, and a large blue truck. The background behind these items changes constantly: elephants drifting in for a drink at Elephant Sands, boats floating down the Chobe River, towering baobabs at Planet Baobab. If asked to play the game “Find Your Daughter,” you would no doubt win instantly, zooming in through an innate sense of where she might be. But since the picture book of our days is just out of reach, let me offer a bit of insight into where you would discover her in this scene.
Mbali and Rachael have committed themselves to doing burpees every day — they add ten each week, and when they miss a day, it means they land themselves somewhere in the realm of doing 80 burpees. This plays out in the middle of camp in their in between moments, squeezing the most out of passing periods and waiting for a meal, chipping away at their daily count. When not burpee-ing, Mbali and Rachael could be found in a larger circle, as Flannery, Camila, Olivia, Harley and Kate, all discuss topics ranging from: If you could see any musician, anywhere at any time who would be? To the public and private school system of the United States and Ecuador and how it has affected their own lives. Olivia astounds everyone with an articulate point, Camila offers a lesson in widening perspectives, and as the conversation ebbs and flows in and out of the serious, Harley and Kate begin making silly faces again and Flannery launches into one of her infamous ten minute long jokes.
Pan to another zone and we find Frances, our musically-inclined hair wizard, standing above someone, braiding their hair, or masterminding a fresh way to wear a hair band or buff. Perhaps she is even holding scissors, cropping Lilah’s hair to a bob (pre-approved), as others laugh and comment as they go. The conversation here flows in and out of song – some harmonizing, some belting blindly — but all good natured about the wide range of talent. Lilah then takes her bob to interpretive dance, with Sandra joining in, they fling their arms around and leap in the air.
Ella and Reisha are reading at the pace of competitive book-readers, gobbling up the library as peers attempt to catch up. Excellent multi-taskers they are able to keep tabs on the pieces of conversation, picking up salient points, and offering a witty remark as they enjoy the wide-view of a debate or lively conversation playing out. Reisha recounts her recent story of a ginormous Choi fish leaping out of a pond at Elephant Sands towards her. This story ends with Sandra jumping to both Reisha and the fish’s rescue, grappling with its slippery scales to get back to safety.
Pan to Hazel, Leeya, and Sophie, who all like to move through this space constantly. Sophie drives forward a task, making sure her crew is working hard at setting up a meal. She moves expertly between our folding kitchen tables and the truck, already memorizing the systems which make our community efficient and functioning day in and day out at camp life. Leeya steps in and out of conversation, questioning her surroundings and encouraging others to do the same. Her camera strap around her shoulder, she is always ready to capture the moment. Similarly Hazel can be found with her film camera at the ready or perhaps pencils to make her field journal into a true piece of art. Her easy appreciation for that which floats in front of her inspires a friend into a moment of gratitude.
The young women who move through these camp scenes are as diverse and dynamic as the places we visit. In constant motion, it can be hard to grab a freeze frame, to remember all the detailed pieces of who said what, where, and when. Perhaps this is part of the challenge of being far away – knowing that so many moments might be lost when a daughter or granddaughter, niece or friend returns. And yet, I will assure you that these moments — the in-betweens, the quiet epiphanies, and loud exclamations —are precisely what come home in the form of minds filled to the brim with the serious, silly, and intangible.
Working on their field note skills….
Field Notes: An Update on Classes
Honors Natural Science
Honors World Literature and Composition
Photographs undoubtedly capture powerful moments, but writing can transport an audience into an experience. Travel Journalism begins by practicing the art of concise and descriptive writing. Inspired by a photo captured during our morning on the Zambezi River, students crafted descriptions of waking up in this extraordinary location. Pairing words with an exploration of the capacities of our cameras, students practice photo composition skills while capturing the scenery, the wildlife, and their classmates. Acknowledging the inevitable involvement of our own voices in our interactions and interpretations of the world around us, students produced “350 Word Life Stories”, crafting concise, vivid histories of their own life. As Travel Journalism continues, we will dive into the intimate and detailed world of portraits—up close and personal, just like our life on the road.
History and Politics of Southern Africa
More pictures and updates from other classes to come soon!
A Look Back on Orientation and a Mail Call
In case you were not in DC for orientation, we thought you might want to see the powerpoint that the group went through and get a better sense of where the girls will be heading over the next few weeks as well as a little more about the program.
Also, quick mail call reminder. Please send letters to our office (PO Box 7058, Bozeman, MT 59771) by September, 13th if you want Jennifer to deliver them during the campus visit. Just a friendly reminder, letters only. Please no packages.
More to come from the field soon!
Into the Unknown
One week ago, nineteen people set off on a fifteen-week adventure. Some had been to Africa, a few have felt the mist of Victoria Falls, a couple have explored safari life and many have ideas of how this experience may unfold and what southern Africa will look like. As the group settles into life at TTS they explore what it means to make a community, to build new friendship and open their minds to new ways of being. These changes come with questions… what does intention mean? What do I value? How do I want to present myself in a new community? What do others want to see in a community? And how do we bring all our different backgrounds and perspectives into a new community? These big pictures questions swirled through students’ minds as teachers presented workshops on culture shock, privilege, identity, community living and more.
Week one was a week of formation and observation. Everyone has welcomed this newness and offered ideas to help build this group. Now they are developing their community standards to set forth priorities, hopes and inspiration for one another in the coming weeks. The group dressed in traditional chitanges (sarongs) for the first dinner as Ruth, who helped prepare a traditional Zambian dinner, taught everyone to eat shima with their hands. Ruth and her crew continue to delight us with delicious dinners while TTS crews began their cook crew rotations to prepare breakfast and lunch for the group. With all of these new pieces, teachers also offered taster classes so students could get a feel for what each class will hold.
Meanwhile, these ladies are also exploring the southern corner of Zambia. Livingstone is a bustling town set on the border of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. The “smoke that thunders” Victoria Falls rumbles on the edge of town, enticing visitors to explore the mighty Zambezi. We began our journey with a visit to Vic Falls where we felt the misting smoke as we witnessed gentle currents transition to cascading waters tumbling into the turbid canyon walls. Next we set off for a two-day adventure beginning with paddling the tranquil upper Zambezi in two-person kayaks, catching glimpses of majestic elephants grazing along the bank, gregarious hippos peeking above the surface, and lazy waterbucks chilling in the shade of acacia trees.
We then swapped paddle styles, grabbed rafting helmets and marched down to the depths of the Zambezi Gorge to sleep under the stars. Our three whitewater guides Sven, Kay J and Scottie, shared stories of how they became river guides around the campfire and offered their best wishes for the group to find empowerment and passion for learning this semester.
Excited and nervous laughter echoed through the morning light as we listened to our safety talk and practiced paddle techniques with our boat guides. Leeya, Kate, Rachael, Hazel, Sandra and Abigail situated themselves in Scottie’s boat eager for some serious waves and full boat splashes. Kay J prepped Olivia, Flannery, Harley, Sophie, Reisha and Morgan with practice commands, “all forward,” “all back,” “left side forward, right side back” as they circled the eddy. And Sven echoed these commands to his paddlers Ella, Camila, Frances, Mbali, Lilah, Aunge and Ali before zipping into the current below rapid #10.
Every boat crew found their rhythm and began charging through the rapids with guides yelling commands. The river proved to be exciting, drenching boats and inducing laughter after we conquered towering waves. The sporty waves of Rapid #16 managed to “dump truck” Sven’s raft and pop three people out of Kay J’s boat. All the swimmers were pulled back into boats with exacerbated expressions before full laughter began as everyone recounted their story. Camila even gave it two thumbs up! For the rest of the day, boat crews rowed in unison and paddle high-fived after each big rapid. Then we climbed back out of the gorge and enjoyed pizza while watching our whitewater videos and pictures back at the rafting office.
Here is a video that the rafting company put together of the girls in action. Disclaimer: there are some pretty impressive flips (especially on a particularly sporty rapid known as “Terminator 2”, which clearly proved to live up to its name) but everyone ended the trip with smiles and giggles.
As TTS32 crests into week two, the focus shifts to academics and settling into learning on the road. Soon the truck will arrive, and we’ll move into life with Big Blue – sleeping in tents, working with mentor crews, and holding class in the shade at each location. Stay tuned to the adventure and check back soon for photos and academic updates.
More pictures from the field can be found in a google folder linked here.
Officially Landed and Settling In
A new semester begins! More to follow in the days ahead, but here are a few pictures from the first few days of orientation in southern Africa.
And They’re Off!!
Here are more pictures from the weekend orientation in DC.
The First Few Days
-Seabring Davis (TTS27 Parent)
When my 16-year-old daughter, Isabel, left for South America in 2016 it wasn’t the first time she’d traveled abroad. We’d prioritized trips to Europe and Mexico. She’d traveled without our family, too, on a two-week exchange to Japan in eighth grade. There had been week-long summer camps and ski racing camps and extended trips with friends. We weren’t worried that she’d be homesick. She loved traveling and, so in that sense, this semester-long trip didn’t feel that different from other adventures, just a little longer this time.
My husband, younger daughter and I said our goodbyes and wished her well on her flight from Bozeman, Montana to Miami where she would meet the rest of her group. We were all anxious for her to make her connections and get this trip started. She didn’t take a cell phone. That was a new thing, but I didn’t give it too much consideration. She’d call when she got to the hotel later that day. She made it just fine, of course.
The next morning Jennifer emailed an update to parents letting us know that the girls had left for Ecuador. Later another message confirmed they’d made it safely into Quito. Next it was long a bus ride through the Andes Mountains to Tena where they’d planned to ease into the culture over the course of a few days. I remember this great sense of relief sifted over me knowing that they’d all arrived safely. Next, I felt incredible excitement and maybe a little envy over this incredible experience Isabel had embarked on. This was it.
Over the next two days the house turned achingly quiet, unsettling as an awkward silence. The morning rush to get out the door for school was noticeably less hectic. Isabel’s bedroom door remained closed. There were no high school sports, choir, parent teach conferences to attend. I made dinner for three, though our 12-year-old daughter insisted we set a place at the table for Isabel, a ritual that she never let go during the whole time her sister was away. It was a bittersweet gesture.
Those first four days I refreshedmy email fifty times a daily in hopes that there would be another TTS update. After nine months of planning, raising the funds through babysitting, a community dinner, working the farmer’s market, taking extra jobs and appealing to family for help to cover the cost of tuition for the semester, shopping for gear, scheduling the slough of immunizations, by comparison our life seemed too calm. The planning was done. This was it. Isabel was out in the world, a continent away. I refreshed my email again.
Trying to be constructive, I bought a big map of South America and hung it on the living room wall so we could track the group’s route over the next three months. We pressed a red pin into the first location: Quito. Then a yellow pin for tiny Tena. I Googled Tena and refreshed my email. Jennifer posted that the internet service was spotty, but there would hopefully be news soon.
It seemed like an eternity, (actually only three days) until a message from Aunge popped up in my inbox! They’d hiked in downpours. Slept in hammocks. Seen a spider as large as your hand. Swam in the Jatunyaku River during the run-off.
After a week the blog was up and running; I’d seen pictures. My daughter wasn’t easy to spot. But in one I saw her tucked along the back row in the middle of a group of fresh-faced girls. She looked like she was hiding. She is a person who tends to be shy at first, adventurous and fun-loving, but an observer until she is comfortable. In the group picture she didn’t look very comfortable. I was worried.
Our first Skype call with Isabel was scheduled shortly after the blog went live. Just the voice, no video, 10 minutes. My husband, daughter and I huddled around the computer, longing to see her face, but straining to hear her voice. And finally the sound of it traveled across the miles: Hi Family!
There was barely enough time to hear all that the group had packed into the first 10 days of the trip. They were digging into Spanish and other studies. They bonded over the reality that clothes never get dry in the rainforest, over nighttime songs and a ukulele and the slow process of overcoming awkward moments with laughter — lots of laughter.
On that first call, all we did was listen to her elated voice. We didn’t have much to tell in return, nor the time to say it. I think all three of us realized from the joy in Isabel’s voice that she was more than fine; she had found her people. Clicking off the computer, we three looked at the map and recognized that marking locations with red pins was no substitute for understanding her journey. She loved us, but didn’t miss us. She was on a path that, for the next few months didn’t include our family, it was all her own.