Friday, March 23, 2012

1st professional rugby game, Durban, and turning 22 abroad

I've been in South Africa for over two months now. Naturally, two months abroad equates to 6-12 months of life lessons and experiences. Currently I am wrapping up the first half of the semester at school and a week from now will be on my way to Capetown, which is sure to be another incredible experience. 

I am still finding my footing here in Bloemfontein. As the weather is getting cooler, I finally feel like the people are starting to get warmer and open up. If there is any lesson I've gained from this study abroad thus far, it's patience. The atmosphere, in this town and university, is one that I've never experienced before. Now that time is passing I am starting to appreciate what this place has to offer. For instance, I went to my first professional rugby game two weeks ago; the Bloemfontein Cheetahs vs the Pretoria Bulls. It was a cultural experience that I'm glad to have under my belt. The atmosphere was very similar to that of an American football match; People sporting their teams gear, faces painted, belligerent men swearing at the opposition, and the flowing of beer and stadium food. I don't really know the rules of rugby but even so, I enjoy watching it. The sheer strength of these guys is evident when they tackle and push each other around. Men here love their rugby and just like in the States, supporting a team is not just a choice but a lifestyle. 

   There has been a pretty steady workload of tests and papers the past month and a half with no end insight until next week's holiday (This entry is a product of putting off real work). Luckily my birthday fell into the midst of a lull and I was able to go away for the weekend with a friend who is in South Africa from the States. We went to Durban this past weekend. If you haven't heard of Durban I would like to introduce it to you now. It's a culturally packed city on the Indian Ocean coast in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal. It's the third largest city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Capetown. It's famous for it's port which is the busiest on the continent. Durban is also known for its high population of Indians that were brought over by the British to work the sugar cane fields (there are a lot in KZN). The city is set against a beautifully lush green background of rolling bush on one side, then the wide open Indian Ocean on the other. It was my first time stepping foot into a new ocean. It was like my first day of summer back at the beach. The city has a lot of cheesy, touristy attractions that reminded me of Wildwood, NJ, but there are some cool historic parts that add some class. There is a large mosque which is the biggest in the southern hemisphere in the middle of the city. There is so much to do, the two days there were only the tip of a very large iceberg. It was a great weekend and wonderful way to spend my birthday, exploring a new city with a friend from home. It was definitely worth the ten+ hour bus ride. I hope to make a return visit in the future.
One of many vendors selling all things "African" along the beach front

Art Deco style Hotels along the beach front

The largest Mosque in the southern hemisphere

The Indian Ocean

Turning 22 abroad was very cool, but strange at the same time. Not because I mind the age change, but more about what my birthday has meant for me, in a cultural context. I was born the day before St. Patrick's Day, so since I was young I've been conditioned to associate four-leaf clovers, shamrock shakes, and the annual St. Patrick's Day race with my birthday. Being in a country where none of that is celebrated, I almost forgot it was coming up, and what time of year it was. As I said, I almost forgot, but with Facebook, it's impossible even for your distance frenemies to forget your birthday. It was really nice getting messages and calls from home to remind me that it was indeed my birthday, and St. Patrick's Day was still being celebrated even if there was no sign of it over here. Learning a new context for life is one of the cooler parts of traveling. Here in South Africa it is slipping into Autumn with the days getting shorter, and nights getting colder. I was a spring baby, my birthday meant warmer days, flowers, and Easter. Now, everything I've associated with this time of year is reversed and it's really interesting to switch mindsets. One thing that hasn't changed is having an Easter break which I am definitely looking forward to!

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