Stellenbosch Update #4 (Wednesday, February 13, 2008)

Stayed up late last night (too late) reading some of the material Christo has given me, so I overslept a bit. Spent some time at the café grading UVa work. There are some problems with the online delivery system we are using (it is still beta) so I am trying to navigate some of those issues too. Talk about distance learning. One frustration is that when I am online here, it is night there, so often they are doing maintenance or upgrades and are sometimes offline. But overall everything seems to be working out fine.


OK, the burning question everyone wants the answer to: What happened to the ATM card? Well, yesterday I did retrieve the card from the bank, but they warned me not to use it because it was “closed” or “blocked” or something dastardly like that. Fortunately, I can get online in the evening here while it is still the business day in PA. So, I chatted with Mark and he got on the phone with our bank. First, let me tell you that when I travel overseas I always take the time to inform everyone (banks, credit cards, etc) that I will be using my card overseas (and where) and to make sure there will be no problem. I took my card into the bank branch on Thursday before I left and did my usual routine. They even took the card to the office to make sure it would work in South Africa. No problem. So, Mark gets on the phone with them and they say it got blocked because of fraud because it was used out of the country. Duh. There was no record of me informing them I was out of the country. So, the card was “closed”… not the account fortunately, just the card. So I asked Mark to explain that I had come in and notified them, and now I was stuck in Africa without an ATM card to use and could they please reactivate it. Usually they do not do that. Fortunately, Mark was persistent and worked with the supervisor to get it reactivated. Hurrah. But you can bet I won’t put that card in a machine again. The bank suggested I do it over the counter with a real person to try to avoid the same situation (they can’t reactivate it again if I have another problem).

I needed a flash drive to take home a bunch of files from Christo. I ended up finding one downtown. Computer prices here are actually quite good. I got a 2G thumbdrive for about $20.

So, let’s talk about money. Rands are the currency. Right now the exchange rate is about R7.95 for every $1 (US). Stellenbosch is very definitely a tourist area. Other than the university (with all us poor students) the rest of the “visiting” population is mostly European and American tourists. The guesthouses are numerous (no big hotels here) and can easily charge R3000 for a night (yikes!). Most include at least breakfast. The tourists think this is a big bargain. Actually, it probably is. The guesthouse rooms at these nicer places are quite luxurious and the setting is ideal. My “self-catering” room is much more reasonable. I am paying R100 per night. I am buying fruit, cheese, yogurt and some bread for my breakfast and in-between meals. I am eating out about once per day. I can get a nice cup of cappuccino for less than a $1 (US). I usually spend about $5-6 on a meal once a day (but you could get by for less) and so far I have had really delicious food (lamb-burger, smoked salmon on bruschetta with fresh herbs). It is so hot that eating is something you don’t really want to do very much.

After meeting with Christo today I went home to catch up on some reading. My new friend knocked on the door and asked if I had eaten lunch yet (which I hadn’t), so we went out to a fabulous local place for lunch. You take a plate and fill it with whatever food you want and then they weigh it. I had meat pie (chicken) and various kinds of fruit salad and also a really good dish made of quinoa, cranberries and mint. Mint is used in many of the dishes. The water usually has lemon or mint in it. She talked me into buying a “crunchie” which is kind of like a granola bar/cookie. It has oats in it and I’m not sure what else. It was put in a little wax bag. After about 5 minutes the bag was soaked through with oil stains, so I’m sure it has quite a bit of oil or butter in it!

Then she took me to a place on the other side of town (still walking distance, but I never would have found it). There was a strange little antique store called “Oom Samie Se Winkel.” It was full of bizarre, interesting, insane, and terrific stuff. You had to sift through smelly dried fish, fresh spices, antique books, homemade “fudge,” postcards, leather fly swatters, dolls, and trinkets. I would never have felt bold enough to tackle that store on my own (especially because they have to ring you in (you push a buzzer and they unlock a little gate door). My friend helped me select some spices for Bobotie (a traditional favorite meal here). I passed on the fudge. We also went in a little bakery/tea shop. Lots of yummy things. I may go back sometime because they have the little almond cakes I love (ammer ________ , can’t remember the second part). It is nice being the international student and having people want to take you around.

I’m trying to get used to traffic and cars. I still forget which side to get into a car on. But I am better at looking the right direction before crossing a street. There are lots of zebras here (in addition to the skins in the shops). No, not live ones. Rather, the ones people cross streets at. Most drivers are quite polite and will stop and expect you to cross. You always do some kind of little wave of gratitude. Not all corners have stop signs, so you really need to pay attention. And there are lots and lots of roundabouts.

Funny name for a common item: Grandpa Headache Powder. I can just conjure up some hilarious stories for how that got its name. The funny thing is that the local people don’t even see the humor in it because it is so common to them.

I’m sorry for the low quantity of photos. I’ve been picking up postcards of various sites. It is a little hard being alone and out on the street taking photos. Nothing screams “target” like having a digital camera out on the street. So, I am being wary of when I actually take photos. Fortunately, I have some bags that are pretty innocuous looking and I carry around a local grocery store bag, so I fit in a little better than the obvious out-of-towners. I just don’t understand why people flaunt how much money they have! This weekend when we go to Capetown I will be with a group (Christo, his wife, and 2 other American students), so I should be able to get more photos then.

Every street and parking lot has a parking meter marshal. These people (men and women) wear little vests identifying them as the Marshal. They make sure you pay the meter (you use a card that you load up with money and then swipe the meter at the end of the street). If you don’t have a card, you pay the person some money and they use their card. They stay in their little area and watch your cars (and usually expect some extra money for the service). They are not the people who ticket, they just make a living by the extra money that people pay meters and whatever “tips” they get. Restaurants are usually the only place you tip. You are not expected to tip all the time. And if you do tip, don’t tip over 10%. I’m glad I’ve had some local folks to ask these kinds of questions before I’ve gone out.

Reading list while I’m here: Vocabulary Acquisition: Implications for Reading Comprehension; Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings; Translation and Relevance: Cognition and Context; Understanding Utterances: An Introduction to Pragmatics; and Cognitive Linguistics: Current Applications and Future Perspectives. I knew you were really just waiting for that list.

Did I say it was hot here? Ja, well it really is.

Language. Most people here speak Afrikaans and English. They speak Afrikaans to each other but if you start out in English they will speak English to you. Sometimes Christo mixes both languages when talking to me. It is nice when they start speaking Afrikaans to me because at least I feel like I must look a little like I fit in.

Word of the day: kirk (no, not Kirk L.’s first name… it more like “k-ear-kh” (one syllable, although the end is a guttural that sounds like another syllable)…I’m sure Libbie can pronounce it right). It means church and it is also the name of my favourite street in town (notice I am getting my spell-checker more accustomed to the British spellings that are required for my academic writings here).

Speaking of British things. The schools (high school and younger) all wear uniforms. The teenage guys are wearing a short-sleeved shirt, a tie, a knitted vest (with some kind of crest on it), short trousers, knee socks and dress shoes. Every single one of them. In this heat!

OK, so this post is kind of long, so I will wrap it up. I hope you are enjoying these little tastes of Stellenbosch. Stay tuned tomorrow for some words on the Dutch India Trading Company. And I’ll tell you about my bartering skills.