Experiences of a med student with an incurable travel bug.

Archive for February, 2008

and Found

I FOUND MY KEYS!!!! Seriously, it’s unbelievable…I had back tracked all across campus, my walk home, everything, and I kept checking in Campus Protection Services and the Jammie Shuttle to see if anyone had turned them in and I just wasn’t getting anywhere. Then on Monday night, in a stroke of brilliance, we decided to try the keys for my roommates’ doors in mine to see if any were the same, just in case I had to have new copies made (that way we could avoid our landlord). Well, to complete the chain of events as of late, Amanda’s key proved to lock my door — but not to unlock it. I really have no idea how that’s possible, but you know, whatever. So I finally called my landlord and told her that I was locked out of my room, could she please come let me in. Well, she had dinner plans, which were clearly vastly more important than her job in attending to the people she leases a house to, so she was too busy to come over, she’d stop by in the morning. So I spent the night in Amanda’s room, and got up in the morning to go to class, only to realize that not only were all my books, phone and everything that own locked in my room, so was my campus ID so I couldn’t go to my first class since I needed it to get through the turnstiles into the med school campus. So I called Janice, the landlord, to let her know that my phone was locked in my room along with everything I needed for class, so could she please call me on the landline to let me know when she’d be coming as I’d be there since I wasn’t able to go to class. After a bit she called back, and she had some woman named Annie that none of us knew stop by with her master keys to let me in. As it turns out, the keys got Annie into a wardrobe on the second floor, in which were copies of all our room keys that the cleaning lady uses. So there was a key to my room 15 feet away the whole time. We were a little irked.

After finally getting into my room, I grabbed my stuff and went to grab a Jammie to upper campus. When I got there, the bus ticket window was open, so I asked if they had happened to find any keys. She sent me to a manager type person, who got a security person, who had me talk to the head of the bus department, then passed me over to two other security people, one of which took me across the bridge to the other office, and after talking to someone through another window we went in the office over there, where my keys were sitting!! So I have no idea if someone grabbed them off the Jammie and turned them in, if they were on the ground, or what, but I have them back! I hugged the security guy that I was with, and then when I went back across the bridge to finally go to class, the first security guy, this 6+ foot big guy gives me a hug — “I’m so happy for you, I’m so glad you found them!” Me too, meeee tooooo. Wow. Miracles happen.

I’m still waiting to hear about classes; my home university is being pretty snotty about it, but hopefully that’ll work out soon, too. They just keep insisting that they need time for processing, though as I keep telling them, I do realize that this is a very busy time of year, and I have been trying to allow as much time as possible for processing; unfortunately, this time line has been imposed on me by UCT. I tried to seek approval for courses last semester already, and then UCT changed which biological courses they would be offering, not releasing the information until well into our orientation here in February. This meant that I had to find an upper level science course just a few days before lectures began, and then seek approval to even register for the course. As there are so few science courses offered, this physiology course was one of two applicable biology courses, the other one of which conflicts with another course required for my major. I therefore registered for physiology and have been trying to get approval ever since.

If the physiology course I am currently in will not transfer back at the 400+, I need to know within the next couple of days so that I may switch my entire schedule to try to accommodate a different class. UCT has been very understanding, making arrangements so that I can still switch courses this week despite the add deadline having already passed. As I absolutely must be enrolled in a course that will transfer home at the advanced level and UCT has only given me a few days to switch courses (it’s already passed the add deadline, they made extensions for me), I have to request that this be handled quickly. It is not an option for me to remain in a course for the duration of the semester only to find out at the end that I will not be receiving applicable credit. [I just directly copied some of this from my emails back and forth and didn’t change much, so sorry if it sounds strange…]

So hopefully I’ll find out soon…grr…


So every Thursday we have a housekeeper come to clean our house; the interesting thing is that we have to clean so that she can clean. I don’t understand it either. Yep, a housekeeper’s included in our rent; everybody’s got one. It’s nice that she comes once a week to keep the place clean, but I’d be ok with paying less and having the floor mopped a little less frequently. Also, it freaks me out a little how she moves stuff around in my room…I have it organized a certain way for a reason, it’d be nice if she’d leave it that way instead of condensing everything into one disorganized pile.

And talk about stressful, my classes still aren’t figured out, which is really frustrating; my home institution is giving me the run around in getting my classes approved for an appropriate transfer level. Every other science course that has been taken at this, the 3000, level on the UCT campus has transfered back as a 400-600 level course on my campus. This is only appropriate as 3000 is the highest level course one can take at UCT, so it is inherently comparable to the courses classified as “advanced” at home. But of course, there are miles of red tape and hoops to jump through in order to get everything to go through.

And to top it all off I seem to have lost my keys at SHAWCO training yesterday. Everything shuts down on Sunday so I couldn’t make much progress in finding them, but I’m praying that they turn up this week. Campus Protection Services has a box full of lost keys that I went through today (it was the only place open on all of campus, that and a sandwich tent run by this helpful Greek — at least he struck me as Greek, I was kinda preoccupied), and they said to come back tomorrow and over the next few days since people definitely turn in lost keys. Really, they’re no good to anybody since they’d have no way of knowing what house in four different suburbs they belong to. Hopefully I’ll also be able to get in touch with SHAWCO people and the Jammie shuttle (UCT bus) soon to see if they know anything. If they don’t turn up I’ll have to get them replaced; four keys at what sounds like it would be about $10/key, less for the one that’s not a skeleton key, which would suck, but it could be worse I guess.

Also, I’m trying to figure out travel plans for spring break, etc. There are so many cool things to do here, I have no idea where to even begin! And it would be a little bit easier to figure it out if I didn’t have to spend my time running around town and stressing about my keys and courses.

Refugees, concerts, and bobotie

On Saturday I went downtown with my roommate Amanda to meet Muhammed Ali, a Darfur refugee she met the other day. He’s really amazing; he was a doctor in Darfur, and he was imprisoned by the rebels when he continued to practice and to help all injured people/anyone who needed to help. While in prison, he was tortured and God only knows all of his experiences. He was fortunate enough to escape, at which point he literally ran through the jungles to seek refuge in South Africa, sneaking across the border as he didn’t have passport or anything of the sort. SA has a policy that permits all Darfur refugees to remain here, so he is allowed to remain here as he tries to rebuild his life. Currently he is selling his and others’ art downtown to help pay for necessities while he is earning his Masters in Public Health. Though he is no longer a “practicing” doctor per se, he continues to help all sorts of street and poor people in the area that can’t afford health care when they fall ill.

On Sunday we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for the sunset concerts that they have there all summer. We got there early so we could wander around the vast, beautiful gardens at the base of Table Mountain before picnicking at the concert. The Rudimentals were playing that night, a ska band that’s pretty big here. It was a very fun time, will definitely be doing it again.

Today, Monday, was the first official day of classes. It went pretty well, and my courses should be relatively interesting. Tonight Graham and Claire had a big party at their house since Graham’s sisters, Sandy and Sharon, were both in town from India and California, respectively. It was a blast; their whole family was there, plus all their friends, so it was a huge party. I obviously didn’t know hardly anyone, but it was very fun, and it was kinda cool to be on the opposite side of things for once – it was interesting to see what people experience when they come to my family holidays! Graham and the family were warning me initially about how there’d be so many people and they’d all be curious about me so I’d be kinda in the spotlight, but then they’d say that actually it shouldn’t be too bad, that it probably wouldn’t be anything compared to my family’s gatherings and that I’d be used to it! Lol, I guess I do come from a bit of a sizeable, rambunctious family, don’t I…

Claire made bobotie for the party, a traditional Cape Malay dish that was positively amazing. It was kind of like meat loaf, but better. She also made ice cream. When I left they insisted on sending home leftovers with me – clearly the concept of the poor, hungry college student is universal, and I was glad to have them!


Adjusting to life in Cape Town has been particularly interesting, mostly because I came here with a totally different frame of reference from everyone else. All of my friends are comparing this to home, and there seems to be a consensus around all the ways Cape Town is deficient in comparison: the internet is so slow, the mini busses are so sketchy, there isn’t this or that, such and such doesn’t work like at home, the power goes out all the time, and “South African” time is such a pain.


Having come here directly from Uganda, a very, very “third world,” developing country, I have a bit of a different outlook on things.

For one thing, this is a first world city, and it’s pretty strange to have access to things like malls, varieties of fast food, and nice roads again. Any thing you might want is attainable, which is great to know.

I’m just so excited to have internet at all, and it’s actually pretty darn fast, even compared to home it seems. Even though it is pretty expensive, at least it’s available.

As it turns out, mini busses are SA’s version of matatus, only they are much classier; I have yet to be in one with a shattered wind shield, all of the doors tend to open, and I’ve never had more than 20 people in one here. They are also a very cheap, effective way to get around the city, even if they’re not always the quickest or most direct. Unfortunately you really can’t take them at night as they’re just too dangerous after dark (which is true of the city as a whole).

I still marvel at the presence of hot water. I mean, it’s there every time I want to shower! It’s pretty exciting to have regular hot showers.

Food. I can drink milk again without worrying about whether it was boiled. Milk from the stores, shakes in cafes…and really, pretty much anything that I’d want is just a few blocks away at the grocery store. It’s not exactly what I’d get at home, but there’s a huge selection compared to three weeks of starch starch starch (and the same starch each time).

And the best thing? WE CAN DRINK TAP WATER!!! I hate having to buy water. Everyone should have access to clean water, thank goodness we do again. Shameless plug: check out Village Health Project if you’re interested in how our organization is working so that more people can have clean water sources.

It’s a little tough because coming from Uganda, things are expensive here! In reality, everything’s still cheap in comparison to home, but after being able to eat for an entire day for less than $2 it does take some adjusting. Now if I want to eat on campus or cheap take away each meal is under $2, so it really adds up! 🙂 It’s hard to adjust the perspective. Going out to eat at the nicest places in town can run you about $20, more if you’re drinking, but you can go to pretty nice places for about $12-15. Plus they deliver anything you can imagine – sushi, thai, ostrich, shakes, and pretty much all of it’s under $10.

As for the power outages, it’s all a lot of hype. There is supposed to be load shedding here at the moment, which means that different electricity grids in the city are supposed to have planned power outages for 2-3 hours every couple of days to cut down on usage. This is all because a few years back SA realized that it would need new power sources soon, and then failed to do anything about it. Now they’re facing a huge energy crisis and it’ll take another decade or so to build more power plants. This typical example of the planning, organization, and foresight here means that we should be regularly losing power; however, this hasn’t been happening at all. There was a huge, unplanned blackout the first Friday I was here, but nothing since then, so we’ve been really lucky. Knock on wood. We didn’t have power a lot of the time, especially nights, that we were in Uganda, so this is pretty nice.

And really, people need to stop whining about South African time. Yeah, someone will tell you 7:00 and show up half an hour late….One night in Uganda JB told us he would be over at 6. He texted to say he’d be late, so we figured about 1-1.5 hours late. Nope. 3.5 hours later he strolls in, totally casual and completely unaware that he may have irritated us. I threw a shoe at him to demonstrate otherwise. His response? “Don’t worry about it! I’m here!” ai yi yi. I was hoping that people would walk faster here as one would think they’d have things to do, places to be, but no such luck. Any time you get behind a group of South Africans you might as well be moving backwards for all the progress you’re going to make. I really have no idea how people make it to class or anywhere else on time, ever.

I’ve been trying not to be too obnoxious about my excitement over all the little things. I try to restrain myself from commenting on it every few seconds and irritating my roommates, so mostly Molly and I just marvel to each other about our hot, drinkable water, and try to ignore other people’s complaints over their unrealistic expectations.

Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch

With another week off before classes start, I decided to take a few days to go wine tasting in Stellenbosch. One of Molly’s 22 roommates organized it, and with most of her house and a few more on top of that going, we were able to charter our own bus! So after waiting two hours for the bus to find the house, we took off for Stellenbosch, which is only about 40 minutes from Cape Town.

After settling into our 10-person dorm-style rooms in our hostel/backpacker’s lodge, a few of us wandered around the city and grabbed dinner at one of the three oldest pubs in ZA. I had calamari steak, which I didn’t even know existed. That night we all went out for a bit, checking out the nightlife. What made for an interesting night was the fact that we only had one key, and of course it ended up with the girl who got the most drunk and stayed out longer than any one else, leaving most of us locked out for a while. It was all for the best though, because that meant we weren’t already attempting to sleep when they got back, which would have been utterly impossible with all the noise they managed to make.

The next day was wine tasting! We visited five wine estates, the third of which included cheese tasting and lunch was at the fourth. Being a true Wisconsinite through and through, the cheese tasting was far and away my favorite part, with the springbok potjies (virtually identical to venison stew in its own little cauldron and a side of rice) coming in a close second. I did learn that I prefer white wines over the course of the day, particularly Chenin Blanc and Gerwurztraminer. That evening we went to Bohemia, a hookah bar, since most people had had enough drinking for the day.

I returned to Cape Town on Wednesday, where the next few days were dedicated to running around campus trying to get approval for my physiology course. I eventually succeeded, but only after three trips to the Medical School (which is no where near upper campus, which is no where near anything), meeting with the course convener, sending emails, multiple stops at the International Programs Office, and numerous phone calls. Ridiculous.

University of Cape Town Orientation

On Saturday 2/2 I went to Clifton Beach with my roommates and some other people they know from the University of British Columbia. The beach was gorgeous: fine, white sand on the Atlantic Seaboard, with huge boulders separating the different beaches. We were on Clifton 3, the gay beach — 4 is the nicest, but it’s always packed, so we just stopped at 3 where there was still some room and dozens of guys running around in speedos. yikes. Amanda, my last roommate got in today finally after a night of insanity; their flight got in late, then most of their luggage, including all of hers, was lost, so they didn’t go to the houses until 3am. At that point they couldn’t get in anywhere because no one heard them (they didn’t make it as far as our place, we’d been waiting up so even though we’d crashed by then there was no way we would have missed our buzzer of a doorbell). They were able to get ahold of Ida Cooper, the woman who makes all the arrangements for the Princeton kids and other private schools, who was able to let the Princeton kids into their housing — and then she told the rest of them that they were on their own, that they’d need to get hotel rooms for the night or something! Unbelievable. Amanda was able to sneak in with a Princeton kid and spend the night there, eventually making it to our place Saturday afternoon, at which point she had to go shopping as she had absolutely nothing. Luckily she eventually got back one of her bags, but the one that was lost on her way to New York is never coming back. 😦

Our orientation started on Sunday, and they took all 400 of us on a Cape Peninsula tour. We went through downtown, the waterfront, Cape Point, the Cape of Good Hope, Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak, Boulders beach where the penguins are, and past the last prison where Nelson Mandela was held. We stopped for lunch, a braai (aka barbecue) in Simonstown, one of the poor townships, where the kids sang and danced for us.There were a couple boys that must have been about 9 years old that were just amazing dancers, it was so fun to watch them perform.

Over the rest of the week we were mostly just talked at during the day, but we got some useful info. We also had a drum circle, which was a lot of fun. One night we went to Mama Africa, one of the famous/tourist restaurants, with our orientation leader Blandina. It was a lot of fun and very good, I had crocodile! We went to a soundbar called Zula’s afterward, and it’s definitely one of my favorite places to hang out downtown; there are bands everynight, and people can come chill in the bean bags, at the bar, or on the deck overlooking Long Street (Cape Town’s much bigger version of Madison’s State Street).

On Saturday I met Graham and Claire, some of my aunt’s friends. They took me to lunch at Groote Constantia, the oldest wine estate in Cape Town, after which we drove around Hout and Llandaundo Bay. Then they invited me back to their house for a braai, where I got to meet Graham’s mother Barbie, my aunt’s South African mother. Barbie took her in when she had no where to live after first moving to Cape Town, so they are very close. It was so nice to meet them, they’re really great!