Tuesday, October 25, 2011

River Days and Nights

Kayaking the Orange River in Namibia is a fantastic way to explore the scorching desert while staying cool. Before embarking on this four day water adventure, you, and your group will be paired with experienced local river guides. As you float down the river you will find you are surrounded by an ancient geological landscape. Kayaking skills will be put to the test paddling through challenging, but exciting rapids. After a long day on the river you are welcomed by an African night with the Milky Way hanging above your head and a warm meal cooked by your river guides. This kayaking adventure is recommended for anyone who is capable of vigorous physical activity and who possess the eagerness to explore the Orange River!
-- Text by Izzi, Junior, Kansas and photos by Tate, Junior, NY (click on the photo to view the Namibian night sky in its full glory!)

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Traitor’s Heart Reading Response

In this section, Malan delves into the BC-UDF (Black Consciousness-United Democratic Front) aspect of black on black violence in the mid-80’s. He tries to understand the opposing sides of Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela supporters by interviewing some of them and hearing stories. There are many tales of horrific murder and casualties taken on both sides of the struggle. Then he goes into the more metaphorical realm of wishing to be blind to all the violence occurring at the time.

In the beginning of this book, Malan talked about a paradox, his struggle within it and how blacks didn’t work together. I remember pondering and writing about this question of unity. Why, if they wanted essentially the same thing couldn’t they work together to achieve it? This section brought things together. It explains the differences in the BC and UDF movements. It also answered other questions. Early on in history class, when we were just first beginning to learn about South Africa’s struggles, I grappled with the idea of good and bad. Malan sums it up by asking, “Who were the good guys? (pg. 270)” That is the exact question I struggled with and heard many others ponder as well. I believe it is deeply rooted in human nature (whether by cultural upbringing or part of our wiring I don’t know) to seek out clear distinctions between good and bad. A question frequently asked is, “Is that good or bad? Was he good or bad?” We seem to have this need to categorize by moral standing and thus orient ourselves to whatever is of question. However human nature is also such that there is hardly, if ever, an answer as simple as good vs. evil. The South African struggle epitomizes this concept fully. Originally the ANC affiliated UDF seems to be the good guys in the black war (or at least the only one a white would side with without condemning themselves). The ANC seems the logical to side with regarding the entire struggle. Their beliefs are the ones that fit closest to mine. Yet, in this section, Malan describes atrocious crimes committed by members of the UDF, committed even by Nelson Mandela’s wife. Suddenly my easy understanding of good vs. bad, right vs. wrong is shattered. It was never actually that simple, I was aware of some of the complexities involved in the whole situation, but the barrage of violent images and stories Malan showed me reiterated how complex it all is. Malan says, “In this war, as in all wars, there were no innocent parties and no innocent bystanders (pg. 260).” No one was innocent; no one was entirely “good.” There was violence on both sides, and in fact there are more than two sides. Malan talks about the paradox of being a sympathetic white during this time. “If you believe in neither [side], the paradox fractured your skull and burned its poisonous claws in your brain (pg. 276).” I can now begin to understand how Malan felt. There are no easy answers. As a learner of history I want to take sides, but there are no sides to which I feel I could belong to. As a participant during the time I can only imagine how intensified this feeling would be. It would be so much easier to just shove it to the back of the brain, to turn a blind eye. And yet just as there are no innocent bystanders in a war, there are no innocent learners of history. I believe it is my obligation to not turn a blind eye on the atrocities of the past. I must learn from them and utilize that knowledge. Only if we recognize the past, and our mistakes in it, will we be able to move forward to a better future. And there will never be easy answers, single sided stories or a clear, good and bad, but as a member of this earth; I must try the best I can. That’s all I can ask of anyone, including Rian Malan.

--Nell, Sophomore, WA

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Class Updates

Travel Journalism

These past few weeks in Global Studies we focused on educating girls in the developing world. Using the book Half the Sky as a lens, we learned that educating young women is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty in the developing world. Girls face many issues. In some countries, families choose to educate boys over girls, believing it is more economically viable to marry off teenage daughters than to keep them in school. In other parts of the world, girls are so devalued that they are aborted or killed as infants. Some young women sent away to earn money for the family often become entangled in the dark world of sex trafficking. The authors of Half the Sky call the unnecessary death and disappearance of thousands of girls across the world each year “gendercide”. They demonstrate through stories and statistics the benefits of keeping girls alive and educated. By questioning the ways aid is implemented in the developing world, the authors investigate various methods of keeping girls in school. The students connected deeply to this topic. They expressed their frustration with the world's general underestimation of girls' potential, and the epidemic devaluing of women worldwide. We began to discuss the idea of aid and how to best affect change and growth in places struggling with human rights issues.


Math Concepts

For the past couple of weeks the math concepts class has focused on the "Game of Life". Characters encountered life twists such as marriage, medical expenses, and job loss/gain. These issues showed the students the importance of saving and planning for the financial responsibilities of adulthood. Students managed checkbooks and credit card registers deepening their understanding of life skills. As the Game of Life concludes the class will move into creating resumes and general understanding of economics.

--Aunge and Brenna

Travel Journalism
When we arrived in Cape Town the girls truly became journalists. I saddled the girls with a "Record and Ask" assignment. The task was to have them write about three of the five activities they did in Cape Town. They were required to ask questions of the tour guide, document the pluses and minuses of the tour or academic activity and record what types of people would enjoy such an activity. The TJ girls were charged with writing in a Lonely Planet style, providing other tourists with pertinent information to help them make decisions during their travels about what to do and see. Look for an update on the blog from the girls and our travels in Cape Town.


On Table Mountain and Other Adventures

Table Mountain looms over Cape Town as one of the first things you see upon arrival and the last thing to disappear as you wave goodbye to the city. It is often covered by a table cloth of ominous clouds that drape over the vast, flat summit. However, when TTS18 set off for the top last weekend, the weather shined down on us with hot sunshine and clear skies all around. The girls chose whether to hike to the top or enjoy a mellower ride up the scenic cable car. No matter the transport method, all girls had a fantastic day. The hikers were a bit weary after a three hour hike, but they played games and cheered one another up the steep sections. It was a true sign of teamwork and sisterhood. Their other half greeted them eagerly at the top and all spent time recording their surroundings in their science journals. The group joyfully drifted back down to the city below via the cable car, taking pictures and ogling over the ocean views the whole way down. This was a great adventure to gain perspective of the city's layout, the surrounding Cape Flats, and the waterline. The girls had a bird's eye view of Robben Island from the top of the mountain – a great precursor to the following day’s adventure out to the infamous prison which held Nelson Mandela for over 20 years.


More Academic Activities in Cape Town
Thursday was a day filled with cultural and academic opportunities. We started by visiting a class at the the University of the Western Cape (UWC). It was a class for prospective teachers in South Africa, where the Freshman students discussed the educational difficulties facing the area. At the college we also had a chance to view the university's Robben Island Museum and Mayibuye Archives from Apartheid times. These archives included photographs never viewed by the public as well as letters written to political prisoners at Robben Island. After our tour back in time, we headed to a secondary school in a colored township with our guide, University professor and longtime TTS friend, Toni Sylvestor. The girls were met by enthusiastic faces eager to learn about us and we them. The day ended with a tour of a black township. Here the girls saw firsthand how the living conditions vary from township to township and the continued poverty and extremes in living conditions in the Cape Town metropolitan area. Though it was a full day the girls were able to obtain insight into different ways of life in South Africa and the history it has yet to overcome.


Science class on Table Mountain

Most recently, we traveled to the top of Table Mountain. A group of students hiked to the top, traveling slowly through the two main rock types that make up Table Mountain (mudstone and sandstone – quartzite). Another group sped over the beautiful geologic formation while riding up on the tram car. The entire group met at the top, enjoying the spectacular view of the Cape of Good Hope and the Atlantic Ocean. Students completed an extensive field journal entry on the landscape of Table Mountain and the specific rock types observed. This case study of the geology of Table Mountain will be carried over into the next few weeks as we officially begin our Geology Unit. The students will continue to look at the landscape and analyze, how did these features come to be? What forces are working on this landscape today? What will this look like in the future?

- Leah

Algebra 2 Class Update

To wrap up the first half of the semester, the students completed their Chapter 3 studies with a comprehensive test. In Chapter 3 students learned to solve systems of linear equations and linear inequalities. We explored three dimensional coordinate systems in terms of graphing points and solving linear systems with three variables. Starting this week, we will move into Chapter 4, studying Matrices. Students have also diligently completed weekly budgets, tracking their individual spending money. They will continue with these as we cross the border and transition to working with the Namibian Dollar.

- Leah

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Meeting Denis Goldberg, Freedom Fighter

On Friday the group had lunch with Denis Goldberg. Goldberg was tried alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial in 1964, the only white man to be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Raised by Communist parents in a working class suburb of Johannesburg, Goldberg recognized the gross inequalities in South Africa at a young age and joined the struggle against the Apartheid government in his twenties. Because of his background in engineering, he was recruited by Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, to assist in its mission of sabotage. He built bombs, planned missions, and trained recruits. Eventually caught, Goldberg spent 22 years incarcerated, separated from his family and his comrades. Goldberg was sent alone to a prison for whites in Pretoria, while his black comrades went together to Robben Island. The men on Robben Island built a community of dissidents within the prison; companionship was crucial to the survival of their bodies, minds, and spirits. Alienated and alone in Pretoria, Goldberg did not have this support system. The white warders who worked at the prison harbored a deep hatred for Goldberg because they saw his support of the black struggle as a betrayal of his race. Consequently, he was not allowed to see his wife and had limited contact with his children. Despite these hardships and enormous sacrifices, Goldberg continued to fight for the ANC after his release from prison in 1985. In exile in London, he became a spokesperson for the struggle abroad while attempting a private reconciliation with a wife and children he had not seen for decades. Goldberg eventually returned to South Africa to work in the new government. Today, he is an activist, a writer, a lecturer and an advocate. He founded H.E.A.R.T, a non-profit whose mission is to better the living conditions of black children in South Africa. He also raises money for a variety of organizations that promote racial equality. One such organization is a music academy that gives disadvantaged children opportunities through music. A talented young singer from this academy entertained us during lunch. Goldberg is a gifted orator - his words were, for lack of a better word, inspirational. He spoke with equanimity about the struggles of the current ANC leadership, explained why he believes that an armed struggle against Apartheid was necessary in South Africa, and urged the students to see the apartheid not as a racial issue, but as an issue of human rights. He said (and I paraphrase): "I was not struggling for black rights in South Africa, but for HUMAN rights." Many of the girls were able to purchase Goldberg's memoir, The Mission: A Life for Freedom in South Africa, but everyone was not able to get the book before they left South Africa: http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2010/07/12/denis-goldbergs-memoir-the-mission-launched-at-the-book-lounge-plus-videos/.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Class updates from Aunge


The precalculus class continues to build their mathematical terminology base and help one another solve problems both in and out of class. The students mastered the concepts of moving parent functions around the coordinate plane based on various shifts, reflections and stretches/compressions which occur due to specific algebraic operations. The group is now focusing on polynomial and rational functions to understand the relationships between variables described with a function. In class we are studying the end behavior of functions, the leading coefficient test, x and y intercepts, and symmetry to graph polynomial functions. Next we will explore the different methods of dividing polynomials.


The past weeks have been busy in the language class practicing Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. The language class now prepares weekly language nuggets for the Global Studies class for all the other girls to learn greetings and expressions in various languages. These presentations help the language students gain confidence in their speaking abilities, and I now hear them frequently trying to converse with shop vendors and fellow campers in different languages. For midterms the students created colorful and creative children's books sharing information about the languages and cultures of South Africa. This week the girls will have numerous opportunities to practice Afrikaans with their homestay families.

Activities and class updates from Caroline

Robben Island
Monday the students visited Robben Island, the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela and other notorious political prisoners were held captive for crimes against the government. It is here that the first drafts of Mandela's biography A Long Walk to Freedom were composed, its pages hidden from white prison warders behind photographs and in the small kitchen garden Mandela cultivated in the courtyard of his cell block. It is here that the visionary father of the black consciousness movement and founder of the PAC, Robert Sobukwe, was held in solitary confinement for six years. It is here that, under the guiding hands of Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, prisoners studied at “Robben Island University”, learning the history of apartheid, political theory, and debating their visions for a new South Africa. Young comrades who entered prison without a high school diploma left it years later with advanced degrees. This place is rich in history.

The day started with a blustery boat ride from the Cape Town waterfront to the Island. Because of its close proximity to the mainland, the Island has been used for centuries as a place to quarantine or isolate various undesirable populations from mainland South Africa (the island was a Leper colony under British colonial rule). Robben Island tours are led by ex-prisoners. Our guide was an ex-member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (“The Spear of the Nation”) or MK, the armed wing of the ANC. Born and raised in Soweto, he joined the ANC at the age of 19 and was imprisoned at 26 for high treason against the state. He remained at Robben Island for six years. Our guide was an eloquent and moving orator. The girls, seeped in seven weeks of South African history, had many questions and he answered them all. Listening to him speak, you got a sense of what Mandela's ANC stood for, the value these men placed on education, intelligent debate, and reconciliation. “To be most honest with you, we cannot live without the whites and the whites cannot live without us,” our guide told us. “We must find a way to live together.” His faith lay with the younger generation – a generation that has grown up without apartheid. He spoke of his friendship with an Afrikaner man that grew out of his young son's friendship with this man's son. He talked of alliances with white Afrikaner prison warders that grew into friendships after apartheid ended and the prison shut down. Today, ex-prisoners and ex-warders employed by Robben Island live together on the Island and their children attend the same primary school.

Considering the immense brutality of apartheid and the years of freedom these prisoners sacrificed in exchange for basic human rights, the peaceful transference of government that occurred in 1994 under the guidance of Nelson Mandela is remarkable. Visiting Robben Island, it is apparent how truly awe-inspiring this attitude of peace and reconciliation is in South Africa. It is also apparent that a society of its own manifested and thrived among the prisoners of Robben Island. This society involved professors and a university, a black market of news, letters, and supplies, governing bodies, sports teams, white allies and white enemies, and the ever-present environment of debate, hope, and purpose. The apartheid government’s idea behind imprisoning Mandela, Sisulu, Sobukwe, and others was, in the words of our guide, to break the “spine of resistance”. The result of imprisonment, however, was a creation of a new strategy of resistance – one of peaceful negotiation.

District Six Museum
On our first full day in Cape Town, we visited the District Six Museum. This small but powerful space pays tribute to the thousands of non-white families forcibly removed from District Six in the late 1960s. Historically, District Six was a mixed race neighborhood in the middle of Cape Town, an anomaly of multiculturalism in apartheid-era South Africa. The Group Areas Act, passed by the apartheid government in the 1950s, aimed to separate races into different living spaces. Thus, District Six residents were split up according to race and relocated to less desirable real estate outside the city center. Their homes were razed to make room for upscale white housing and development. Our tour guide, Noor, a District Six refugee, witnessed the home that had been in his family for generations bulldozed to the ground. Despite the government's plans to “whiten” this area of the city, protest and criticism kept District Six from being fully developed. Today, the original residents are moving back in, though the resettlement process is painstakingly slow. Once a church, the museum space itself reads as both an informative exhibit on the history surrounding District Six and as an eclectic art exhibit. Personal photographs donated by ex-residents cover the walls of the museum. Upstairs, an ex-resident and artist has created an interactive art piece around the relationship between memory and place. Old street signs create a huge pyramid like structure that dominates the main room.

History Update
In history class we continue to explore identity, race, and politics. We have just completed the midterm exam and are wrapping up our study of South Africa. Leading up to the midterm, we examined various phases of Nelson Mandela's life (revolutionary, prisoner, and negotiator) and learned about other South African leaders (past and present, white and black) through the student's oral presentations. Classroom study has been supplemented with academic activities. We visited Robben Island, the infamous prison where Mandela was held for 18 years, as well as the District Six Museum. Finally, as we continue to read Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart, we attempt to understand the subtleties of race relations and the complex nature of Africa through bi-weekly reading responses.

The literature class finished reading The Power of One, and the students wrote analytical essays examining a theme in the novel for their midterm exam. In anticipation of this essay, class focused on introducing and practicing various aspects of essay writing including constructing a thesis, gathering textual evidence, writing transitions, peer editing, and revising. In addition to book discussions and essay writing, the students have continued their study of poetry. They are in the process of choosing a poem to memorize and present to the class. They will also be responsible for explicating their chosen poem – a process we practiced in class this week. We will begin writing college essays and reading short stories as we head into Namibia.

These past few weeks have been busy for PE class: we completed a three day backpacking trip in Tsitsikamma National Park, learned to surf in Jeffery’s Bay and hiked up the iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town. Tsitsikamma National Park is situated on the coast of the Indian Ocean in the unique fynbos biosphere. The girls hiked a total of 31 km (19.2 miles!). A number of the girls stood up on their surfboards and everyone enjoyed playing in the ocean in J-Bay, one of the most popular surf destinations in the world. Table Mountain offered vigorous exercise and a gorgeous view of Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to surfing, hiking, and backpacking, we continue to strengthen our cores, arms, and legs, and build our cardio-endurance through running, plyometrics, and a variety of abdominal, leg and arm exercises.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On My Traitor's Heart

My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan

Malan discusses the uprising and the white people’s fear of black people. When he talks about his fear as he stops to pick up black hitchhikers, he shows how people can judge based on race. “I was stricken with remorse, to think that I had harbored such ugly suspicions about such kindly people (p. 225).” Malan is not a supporter of Apartheid, and doesn’t consider himself racist, but I think this shows that everyone is slightly racist in ways like Jurie (freedom fighter we met) had said. Although people may not use racism in a cruel way, perhaps it’s still there. All humans naturally stereotype and group people based on race. If it isn’t based on something as negative as fear and hatred, or even dislike, is this view really so bad? Does it make someone an evil person when they are afraid of someone based on race, or is it just how they were brought up? I think no one is really all good or all bad. Humans are more complex than that, and although some people lean towards one side, and racism shows this sometimes, people have multiple views. It is hatred in racism that I think is truly evil. Does that made the person evil? Perhaps. Looking at The Power of One, Hoppie is racist when it comes to the Indian woman, yet I believe he is neither good nor bad, though maybe it is simply a matter of opinion.

Reading response by Lindsey

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Few Student R, R & R's

Global Studies

Weekly Reaction, Reflection and Response Essay

The second I walked into the classroom belonging to Imemeza Secondary School, I was immediately excited. The whole class was joking and laughing and couldn’t contain their happiness. When we were instructed to sit among the class, the friendly girls patted their desk, gesturing me to sit down. These kids, who I came to know for less than two hours, made me feel more at home than most of my friends could because their interest in me was genuine and I had intelligent conversations with them.

This interaction was important to me because it reminded me that not every kid has an iPhone or a TV and certainly not a wardrobe of new outfits, but it’s not the appearance that matters but the quality of the person. The rowdiness of these kids was honest and genuine and it forced me to ask myself, “Why am I, who has a privileged life and gets whatever she wants, not even close to being as happy as these kids?” The realization was harsh, but true, that we as teenagers have become so jaded by our possessions that they hold little to no true happiness in them anymore. The interactions one person has with another are the key to happiness and general wellbeing, not playing Angry Birds on your iPhone.

The day at Imemeza will always stay in my heart, and I hope to learn from the memorable day and choose interaction over possession to cheer me up. Friendships, I am learning more and more every day, are the answer to a qualitative life and can satisfy any issue or harsh day.

--Ilsa, Senior, NY

Reaction, Reflection, Response

During my free time while the teachers were in a meeting, I hung around the Mdumbi backpacker’s campsite. I was walking up to my tent when two young girls handed me a slip of paper with “God Bless You” written on the front. Inside the note read a message about needing money for a church conference. I had no money on me and I had no idea what to say to these young girls. I was uncomfortable and alone. I told the girls I would have to talk to my friends and find them later. They proceeded to follow me around the campsite for the rest of the afternoon. I felt awkward until I started to become annoyed.

The interactions with these girls made me begin to question the concept of donating money. There is a distinct difference between donating money to an established fund or organization than giving money away to a begging child. However, my decision to not give the money made me feel as if it is going to be my fault these young girls miss out on this opportunity that is clearly important to them. They had a white, teenage American to blame, who prevented them from receiving the money they so badly wanted.

In the future I hope to have group meetings to discuss what to do in situations like that. I think it is important for us to know how to respond to people asking for money and when it is appropriate to donate. I am going to have to work on not feeling so guilty when I deny someone money, but still have compassion for those who are less fortunate. I would love to “make a difference” in someone’s life, especially young children, but I feel the need to get involved and learn about the kids before I just throw money at them. If I developed some sort of relationship with these girls and we spent time getting to know each other, maybe then the end result would have been different.

--Halle, Senior, NY

from Tsitsikamma to the beach...

We had a spectacular hike through the fynbos biome in Tsitsikamma National Park. The girls now approach hiking days of 13+ kilometers with no difficulty. We hiked into our first hut, late in the afternoon to be greeted by a wonderful natural swimming hole. The girls explored this by sliding on the slippery rocks and testing their mettle by fully submerging into the cold, mountain pool of water. You could hear shrieks and laughter rising up out of the little canyon. Our second day out greeted us with misty cloud cover. It was the perfect weather, as the fynbos biome is characterized by beautiful varieties of shrubs and low lying plants and not much shade from the sun. We were blessed to see hundreds of the 8,600 species native to the Fynbos biome in bloom. The best sighting of the day, was South Africa's token flower, the King Protea. Photographed with drops of misty rain on the outside, it was a highlight. We greeted the truck again after a 11.5 kilometer hike out and hit the road for our next adventure. Other highlights included science and travel journalism classes on the trail, smores, cooking dinner over an open fire and evening games. What's next for these adventurous students? Surf lessons!