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Category: Global Partners

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

Last weekend, I left Accra for the first time in a while to go to Cape Coast, a mid-size city some 150 kilometers west of the capital. Cape Coast is known to many Africans and oburonis alike for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but aside from that I found it to be a bright, lively town of merchants and fisherfolk happy to see visitors.

On the rocky shore of the ocean is situated a massive castle, covered in white lime to reflect the hot sun, but weathered from years of salty spray. Hawkers, painters, vendors and their booths line the street leading up to the compound’s entrance. Akwaaba resounds from their mouths at the sight of foreigners. A tour of the property was 40 Ghana cedis for a non-Ghanaian student like myself. The price for a Ghana resident was significantly lower – around 15 cedis for an adult pass. Three of my friends and I joined a tour that had just gotten started. The group was 90% white people. It was the most white people I’ve seen here in one place outside of UG’s campus.

Our tour guide was a young man named Frances who studies at the University of Cape Coast, one of Ghana’s most highly ranked universities. We joined him and the group in the castle courtyard facing the ocean, the parapet lined with rusted black cannons and piles of mortar shells. I squinted as the sun bounced off the whitewashed walls and as mist from the waves blew into my eyes.

Courtyard of Cape Coast Castle. 

Frances spoke with an exacted rhythm and tone that told me he’s done this dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. I followed him practically on his heels as he led us through the courtyard and toward a dungeon entrance. He invited us to put our heads into a 3×3 hole in the wall with a crumbled staircase that led to a dark tunnel. It smelled like must and salt and faintly of ghosts.

If you, dear reader, know nothing of the slave castles that are littered across the “Slave Coast” of Africa, I beg that you soon learn.

Established by the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, these castles served many purposes for the growing imperial economies of the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. They housed the European merchant leaders and, later, colonial administrators who supervised imports and exports from major towns along the Gulf of Guinea – Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire; Lome in Togo; Lagos in Nigeria; Takoradi, Accra, and Cape Coast in the Gold Coast. In exchange for the promise of European trade, the land to build these structures was sold by the African leaders whose people had lived there for generations. They were designed as commercial hubs, defensible forts, and corrals for the human livestock around which trade boomed.

Scale model of Cape Coast Castle.

This legacy was in the air that I breathed as I stepped under an arch leading to the female slave dungeons. Like before, I was met with the smell of old dirt, wet rock, and thousands of ghosts spread out across two small chambers. Our wise guide explained how young adult women were kept in these rooms for weeks or months at a time, in total darkness with no air, surrounded by hundreds of their sisters.

Across the castle were the male dungeons, made up of three chambers, deeper underground. Frances bent over and placed his hand against the wall about a foot off the ground where there was a deep stain in the rock. Here, he said, was how deep in shit and vomit hundreds of men had to stand and sleep and eat.

On the south side of the chamber were about a hundred small sculptures of men’s faces carved into stone. Many of them were grimacing, or had their mouths open in shock, or simply looked broken – literally and metaphorically. Frances suddenly asked us to look at the faces. Did they look familiar? Whose faces did we see?

A sculpture similar to those found in the male dungeons.

“You might see my face,” he said, as he looked up from the sculptures directly into my eyes.

Whose ghosts were down there? Was it his family? Was it the father of any of the Black Americans I knew back home? People I graduated high school with? These ghosts came from Ghana, sure, but also from Nigeria, and from Benin, and Burkina Faso – maybe even further inland from Mali, or Sudan, or the Congo.

I blinked tears away as I broke eye contact with Frances and with the hundreds of men who stared at me from the dark floor of the chamber.

Upstairs, we faced a huge wooden door painted black with a plaque above reading “Door of No Return.” It was this door which led to the water, where small boats would shuttle captives out to the ships anchored offshore. Countless bodies passed through this door, never to step foot on their mother soil again. Of the twenty million who were led through this door and doors like it across the Slave Coast, only fifteen million survived to see the New World where they would be enslaved (N.B. below).

Five million ghosts, not counting those who died on the march from the inland to the coast, those who died in these dungeons, or those who died on plantations in the Americas. Five million dead not counting their descendants who didn’t survive convict leasing in the coal mines, or the Jim Crow South, or the prison-industrial system of today.

I felt all these souls as I left the castle. My skin, white as the walls that were beaten by the waves, crawled.

View of the coast and the Gulf of Guinea from the Door of No Return.

Examining my position as an American who has inadvertently benefited from the stolen labor of these bodies, I am humbled, humiliated, and somber. I am privileged enough to know where my ancestors came from. I know the names given to them at birth by their people. My ancestors were not doomed to a fate such as this – snatched from their homes, forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to be shipped thousands more kilometers across the sea, and given names foreign to their tongues. Of all the benefits I reap from the color of my skin, this is perhaps the most heart-wrenching. To my Black American sisters and brothers back home, I weep with you at the number of souls lost to the slave trade.

But more importantly, I will fight with you to get back what was stolen, to hold accountable those who devalue your lives and your labor to this day. Africans and oburonis alike – we, the living – vow to uphold this.

The exterior of the Door of No Return, relabeled the Door of Return for those of the African Diaspora who return through the archway.

N.B. There is much disagreement on the exact number of people captured from Africa and brought to the Americas, due to inadequate primary materials from the slave traders. Twenty million captives is generally the lowest estimate. Most agree, however, that of the millions who embarked on the Middle Passage, anywhere from 10-20% of them died on the journey. For more information on the particular controversies surrounding the historiography of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Panaf Publishing: Abuja) 2009 ed., especially pp. 108-120.

For further reading on the African Diaspora, especially from a Ghanaian-“American” perspective, I highly recommend Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing (Knopf: New York, 2016).

Additionally, the literature of Ta Nehesi-Coates and James Baldwin provide insights on the contemporary experiences of Black men in America as they have been shaped by America’s legacy of institutionalized racism.

Madrid to Mallorca

Madrid to Mallorca

Time is running out, and finals are fast approaching. Earlier in the semester a couple of friends and I decided to book a trip for the long weekend before finals week to the island of Palma, Mallorca.

I’m not sure if it was because I know my days are numbered now, but this trip was by far my favorite. I arrived with only two expectations: laying on the beach every day for the whole trip, and leaving with a heavy tan.

Not only were my expectations met, but they were surpassed. I made friends with other guests at my hostel and we tanned on the beach and went on adventures for the three days there. I went cliff diving for the first time, visited a palace, took a picturesque train ride to the other side of the island, and partied with people I just met! It seems like a dream, how perfect the trip was. It made me realize that talking to people who didn’t come on the trip can add to your plans, not take away from them.

Of course, I was afraid to do a lot of what I’ve done, but I’ve also conquered a lot of those fears now. I’m terrified of heights, so cliff diving seemed ridiculous to me, but I went anyways. I still have no idea how I mustered up the courage to jump, but I did, and even though I landed wrong I’d do it again any day. You don’t have to do anything as extreme as cliff diving, but you should do things that push you out of your comfort zone.

The last night I was there I got to see the sun set over the mountains and the ocean, while thinking about my study abroad experience. As often as it is repeated, I really do believe you have to go into all of it with zero expectations, ready to change plans again and again, and be open to new experiences. My time studying abroad wouldn’t be as amazing as it is without trying new things.

    

Buen Camino

Buen Camino

During Semana Santa (which was essentially my Spring Break) I walked 165 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I walked for 8 days, with my only goal being to each day get closer to Santiago. There are many different routes, but I walked along the French Way, which is the oldest route and one of the most common for pilgrims nowadays to take. I began my camino in O Cebreiro, which is the first pueblo on the French way in Galicia, a northern region of Spain. Walking the camino has been a dream of mine since I began to learn Spanish, and I know that I couldn’t spend a semester in Spain and not do this.

My program ends May 18th but I don’t fly back to Chicago until June 1st, so my original plan was to walk the camino in my final week of being in Spain. A few weeks before Semana Santa I realized that if I were to swap trips around and do my camino then, I would have 10 days to walk rather than 5, so that is what I did. What that meant though, is that I had to prepare for this 165 km (approx. 100 miles) journey in just a few weeks. I have always loved the outdoors but I had never gone on a hiking excursion like this before, meaning that I had no idea what in the world I was getting myself into. I began to do what I do best– aggressively research and make so many lists to feel somewhat in control of this situation in which I couldn’t even fathom what to expect.

I am a planner. I plan down to the detail because planning,  for me, takes away the a bit of the anxiety about the unknown. I made an excel document detailing which place I would end up in that night, and which albergue would be the “best” to sleep in, but after day one, I ended up disregarding my carefully detailed work. Regardless of how much I wanted to plan, this was a time where I needed to give up control and just exist. Now, that sounds like a lovely thought, and now it is, but I figured this out because the first day I was on the top of a mountain in a middle of a snowstorm. I arrived in O Cebreiro the night before to find a pueblo covered in snow (it felt like a whole different world than Salamanca, which, that same day, was 60 and sunny). I was told by the woman working at the albergue that the following day we would be unable to walk on the pilgrimage trail, but rather we would have to follow the highway until a pueblo named Triacastela. I immediately asked myself what I had gotten myself into, and in that moment I felt entirely underprepared. I hadn’t planned on arriving in Triacastela until my second night, but that first day I hiked there along the highway and through a snowstorm.I arrived to the public albergue freezing cold and soaked to the bone, but I had arrived. Despite the wretched weather, you are always greeted by other peregrin@s with the greeting buen camino. All along the camino you hear this being spoken between pilgrims, as words of encouragement, solidarity, and community.

    

That first day, I began to develop my camino routine. Each night (minus the ones in Santiago) I stayed at the public albergue in the pueblo. The region Galicia has a network of public albergues solely for peregrin@s, meaning that you needed the pilgrim’s credential in order to stay there. Each morning we had to be out of the albergue at 8 am, which meanta 7:30 alarm so I could throw on clothes, brush my teeth, and pack up my bag. Most mornings I got breakfast in whichever pueblo I slept in, and then I walked until I reached the next place I would be sleeping, arriving anywhere between 1 and 5 pm.

Most of the time, I had no idea where I was. Along the camino there are yellow arrows marking the way, so you never had to think too hard about where you were going. A man I walked with for part of a day said to me, “out here, there are only two names for towns: the next and the last.”When you’re walking, pueblos come and go as you walk through, and time doesn’t really seem to exist because your day consists of walking and sleeping. This disconnect from reality brought me a lot of peace– I didn’t have to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the next town.

     

I walked the camino sola, by myself. Before leaving, both my real parents and host parents were worried about me going out into the mountains by myself for ten days, but doing so allowed for me to have one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I began my camino with the intention of using it as a time of reflection and to spend time being connected to God through prayer and nature. I left everything happening in my life back in O Cebreiro, so I was able to focus my energy on being with God. The first day of walking I listened to the playlist I had created beforehand, but the more I walked in silence the more comfortable the silence became and the more out of place the music felt. There were times when I walked with others, but most of my time was spent by myself, in silence, surrounded by incredible beauty. When I did run into other peregrin@s, though, I was welcomed with open arms– there is a wonderful community of support between peregrin@s along the camino.

After about a week of walking, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. My last day was about a 20 km walk, and it poured the entire way. I arrived at the cathedral the same way I arrived to my albergue the first day: soaked to the bone and freezing cold. But this time, it was the end of a journey rather than the beginning. The cathedral was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I returned to the cathedral more than once so that I could really take in everything. After my first visit, I went to the oficina de peregrinación, so that I could “officially” complete my camino by receiving the Compostela stamp in my credential passport. The reality that I had arrived didn’t start to set in until the next morning, when I didn’t have to wake up at 7 to walk more. I spent the next day and a half exploring Santiago, visiting the Cathedral, and reflecting on the experience I had just had.

     

After that week, I felt closer to God than I had thus far while living in Spain. I had intended to use my camino to be in conversation with God and to strengthen my relationship with Her. I was on a Jesus high, and as always, I didn’t want that feeling to leave. Going back to Salamanca, I felt at peace. My entire body hurt, but my soul was calm. I was utterly exhausted, but recharged at the same time. There were points on my camino where I felt a jealous of my friends who were spending the week traveling to places like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Budapest, whereas I was in the mountains, walking until my body couldn’t take anymore. Ultimately though, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Since coming home from Santiago, I have begun to notice the indicators for the camino wherever I go, and each time I see one I feel at peace again.

Seen in Cádiz, Salamanca, and Brussels!

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Top of Table + Approaching Community Development

Hello friends. Welcome to the fifth installment of my blog during my semester abroad in Cape Town.

Firstly, I’m going to add some pictures at the end of this post of my trip to Zimbabwe / Zambia / Botswana a couple of weeks ago. There’s not much else to say about that trip other than to describe it in one word: euphoric. Victoria Falls is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, or likely will experience again in my life, and is generally quite amazing – I would recommend to anyone. Enjoy the photos of rainbows, waterfalls, and animals I’ll attach!

One notable thing I did during these past two weeks was climb Table Mountain. Despite seeing Table every day while being in Cape Town, I hadn’t yet been to the top. We made it up on accident; we started on a different trail quite far from Table, and walked around Devil’s Peak – the mountain next to Table – and ran across a trail (Platteklip Gorge) that would take us to the top of Table. We’d already been walking for about four hours in the very hot sun at that point, and we were all basically out of water, so the hour-long steep hike up was difficult. As per usual, the payoff from the views at the top made the five-hour day completely worth it, and we made it up in time to watch the sunset, which was…. good. I run out adjectives to describe the skies here, so I often resort to simply calling the incredible and beautiful sunrises and sunsets I see as “good,” rather than taking the time and energy to make a sordid attempt to actually give them an accurate representation with words. So the view from Table Mountain was good. Hiking, in general, is one of my favorite things to do here – the walk just around the mountain always gives a different perspective of Cape Town.

Other than finally making it up to Table, we’ve gotten back into our school and service routine, while going to various excursions on weekends. I visited two markets in the Cape Town area – Old Biscuit Mill, which is in Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town that isn’t far from Observatory, the neighborhood where we live, and incidentally also where my service site is located. The other market we visited was the Hout Bay Market (in Hout Bay), which is about thirty minutes away. If you’re coming to Cape Town and looking for recommendations, I would highly encourage you to visit either of these markets as there was lots of good shopping and food.

Last week, we visited Lotus Park, a township in Cape Town, and talked to a community leader named Fraser, about his work and his development efforts in Lotus Park. It was very cool to hear about real community development efforts occuring in Cape Town. We have been learning about community development in our Grassroots Leadership class theoretically, so it was refreshing to actually hear from a person who works with a community on a daily basis and has been working on a project for a long time with success. He emphasized communication with the community itself and the people who have real knowledge about what should be changed. The main thing that is emphasized in our Grassroots Leadership class is people-centered development, in which the members of the community are consulted and thoroughly involved in changing their community. This is a bottom-up approach, and is preferable to a top-down approach which is usually a bunch of people who don’t know about the community attempting to implement policies that don’t actually create the change that is needed.

Fraser’s approach reminded me of an organization I worked with in Peru, which promotes indigenous peoples’ rights in the Andes. The organization was formed in conjunction with the native peoples because the communities were passionate about sharing their heritage and way of life with outsiders. They also wanted to form relationships with the communities around them in order to help their biocultural heritage and promote agrotourism. The non-profit organization uses representatives from each of the communities in order to implement tourism programs that are true to their culture and beneficial for the indigenous people as well. They constantly communicate with the indigenous people when thinking of new programs and trying to fix problems. This model, which is sort of a mix of both a top-down and bottom-up approach, I think, is an ideal way to approach community development, and can translate to development efforts in my own communities. It is similar to the approach Fraser spoke of in terms involving and valuing the local peoples’ input, encouraging them, rather than coming in and taking over as an outsider.

While it was very cool to talk to someone who has had a large hand in transforming a community and our conversation gave me hope for our own ability to help our communities, talking with Fraser also made me realize how incredibly difficult it is to implement change. We (referring to the students in this program) all have big ideas for how we want to help marginalized groups and create change on a large scale, but we have to realize that often we can’t focus on those big ideas, and instead we should look at concrete ways in which we can make a difference, like focusing on building a community center. It was eye-opening to hear him talk about the process and the length of time it took to build one building – the practical elements of that, like obtaining permits and building one wall at a time.

So yes, that’s all. Hope the little note about community development perhaps makes you think about the difficulty currently facing those attempting to create change in underprivileged communities, and the most effective way to do so. Again, enjoy these pictures from Victoria Falls. See you in a couple weeks. x

Pretty in Paris

Pretty in Paris

Make sure to visit this at night for a stunning light show every hour on the hour
If you can afford it, the views from the tower are breath-taking

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Europe before. I saw some cities in Spain, France, and Italy, and loved them all enough to come back. Recently, I returned from a trip to Paris, which I saw last time I was in Europe.

I thought I wouldn’t have much to do, since I’d been to the Eiffel Tower, seen inside the Louvre, and entered the Notre Dame, but I didn’t have enough time to visit half of what I wanted to.

As preparation for this semester abroad, I hunted down works of fiction that took place in Europe as inspiration on where to visit during my stay, and I had a few new ideas on what to see in Paris. This trip was so fun because it was like a scavenger hunt, I was either viewing the touristic attractions in a new light or visiting places a tourist would normally walk by.

Be sure to look for the cat if you don’t have the time to read part of a book in there
A complicated, beautiful work of art. If you think it’s pretty on the outside, wait until you walk in

I highly recommend reading a couple books that take place in the countries you’d like to visit, because that way you’ll learn about new places to visit, or gain more knowledge on places you already know of.

Thanks to the books I have read, I was able to visit the church of St. Etienne du Mont, Shakespeare & Company, and learn more about Point Zero.

I learned Point Zero is where all distances in France are measured. Apparently if you make a wish on it, it’ll come true, and if you don’t make a wish, you’re bound to return to Paris again one day.

Don’t worry, I made sure to stop at Point Zero before I left Paris, but I can’t tell you what I wished for, or it won’t come true!

It’s worn away from the tourists walking past, to Notre Dame
Mid Semester Break + District Six Museum Visit

Mid Semester Break + District Six Museum Visit

Greetings friends. Welcome to my fourth blog entry.

Apologies for the lack of posting last week, but I have a good reason – I was in Zimbabwe the past week! Our school had their mid-semester break so myself and thirteen other of the students in my program planned a trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls itself was an incredible sight. We visited both the Zimbabwe and Zambia side of the falls and left each absolutely drenched but entirely satisfied and amazed. We also managed to go on a safari that took us through Chobe, Botswana, where we saw elephants, hippos, giraffes, kudus (deer-like antelopes), monkeys, and more! I also went on a helicopter ride over the falls and embarked on a bike tour. It was all around a great trip, and it was nice to get out of Cape Town and see a different African country, as Zimbabwe was completely different from Cape Town. I’m currently in the process of gathering my pictures from the trip but I’ll have photographic evidence next post!

The couple weeks leading up to Zimbabwe, I attended Cape Town’s carnival, hiked to Elephant’s Eye cave, watched the sunset at Signal Hill, and visited District Six museum. I’d like to talk some about our visit to District Six museum, as it was a very interesting place. District Six, located near downtown Cape Town, was one of the largest communities to be forcibly removed by apartheid laws. On February 9, 1966, the government enacted a law declaring the area, then a vibrant mixed community, a white only area. Today, the museum serves as a gathering place for those who used to call the area a home and a memorial for the lives destroyed by the apartheid regime.

We were fortunate enough to get a tour of the museum by our program driver, Mr. P, who spent his early childhood in district six, until apartheid laws forced his family to leave. He spoke passionately about how he was evicted from his home and forced to travel hours to get to school thereafter.

I’m attaching a few pictures here from the museum that illustrate the state of Cape Town during apartheid. This was especially shocking for me to see as this was the first time I’d actually seen what apartheid looked like. I’d obviously heard about it and read about it, but actually seeing the signs separating races made the history of South Africa more real.

A quote displayed in the museum from President Thabo Mbeki: “The forced removal of our people from District Six has come to symbolize everything that was wrong about the system of apartheid and white minority domination. We are renewing ourselves as a district, as a people, and as a nation, giving back to all our people their common heritage without the distinctions of race, color, and gender.”

See you next week. x

Halfway done??? What???

Halfway done??? What???

This weekend I took my first solo trip. I spent the weekend in a hostel in Granada where I explored the city and built relationships with the others in my hostel. As I wrote this, I was on the bus home from Granada; I went first to Madrid and then I had a shorter ride back to Salamanca. I am exhausted from this weekend, but it was so wonderful and will absolutely be a trip I remember for a long time.

I began traveling at about 8:30 on Thursday evening, and I arrived in Granada at 6:30 AM on Friday. Overnight but travel wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable way to do this weekend, but I was able to spend the full day on Friday exploring Granada because of it. My hostel was about a 35 minute walk away from the bus station, so after a cup of cafe con leche I hauled myself and my backpack towards my home for the weekend. Throughout the semester I have been collecting photos of graffiti that has caught my eye, and the graffiti in Granada did not disappoint.

It was pretty early and I technically wasn’t supposed to check in to my hostel yet, so on my way I just wandered, took my time, and took in the sights of the city. I lived in the neighborhood Albaicín, which is located above the city center which means that it has some of the most amazing views you can find in Granada. I stumbled upon a beautiful view on the way to my hostel and decided to sit and journal for a little bit. I wanted to spend a weekend by myself in part because I wanted to relax and recharge, but also to reflect on the semester as it has gone thus far.

In the past few years I have realized how introverted I am, so even though I am very social and love spending time around others, it drains me of energy. I anticipated a weekend where I didn’t really talk to other people and would just be spending time with myself, but what I did not anticipate was how wonderful my hostel would be. I spent the weekend in Makuto’s backpackers hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I have stayed in. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. It still wasn’t technically time to check in, but one of the employees got me set up with a shower and breakfast. In all other hostels I have stayed in the people living there keep to themselves, but at Makuto there were multiple rooms designed just for people to hang out and be in community with one another.

After I got showered and changed, I went back out into the city to explore. I walked around the city center, ate some lunch, stumbled upon a beautiful garden, and wandered. The beautiful thing about traveling alone is that I was able to wander without a destination without having to be mindful of what others are wanting to do. I just walked without any intentions, and experienced the sights of the city. After checking in later, I took a siesta (because I am now adjusting to the relaxed Spanish lifestyle and get a little cranky if I don’t get my daily nap oops), and began to talk to some of the people in my hostel. I ended up going for tapas with a group of 5 people– it felt like a group of friends though, rather than people I had just met. We went to a few different tapas bars, and spent the night enjoying each others company.

The next day, rather than going out by myself, I went on a journey to the Alhambra with a few new friends from the hostel. We didn’t have tickets, but there are a lot of places you can visit for free! We spent a few hours there, but we could have spent the entire day because it is so huge. Afterwords, we got chocolate con churros and pizza for lunch which was exactliy what I needed at that moment. We then relaxed at the hostel for a bit, before it was time for the guided walking tour!! Every night at about 6, the hostel provides a free walking tour of the neighborhood, which takes you to all the beautiful viewpoints. The last viewpoint was on a MOUNTAIN!! We climed a mountain for one of the most beautiful views I have ever experienced. We came home, and it was time for dinner. The hostel has a family dinner every night, and last night we had paella. We didn’t do much for the rest of the night, besides spend time with each other, and it was so wonderful.

I miss my mom. A lot. I miss my friends and family, I miss Chicago, I miss the kids I work with, I miss my apartment, I miss my dog– I miss home. A few days ago, I talked to my mom over facetime and I told her how much I missed her and how hard it is to be thousands of miles away from her. She asked me, “do you regret going to Spain?” because she said it worries her, how much I miss home. I was actually talking about this with a friend a few days before my mom and I talked, but I didn’t come to Spain to have an easy time, I came here to learn and grow. I’m not in Spain to feel comfortable, because if everything were comfortable I wouldn’t be growing. I have been in Spain for two months now, and these months have been incredible but they have also been so difficult. Despite the hardships, though, I have grown so much in both my Spanish but also as a person. I just spent the weekend in Granada by myself without having second thoughts. Two months ago, I would not have been able to just up and go to a city I didn’t know for the weekend without another person, but here I am.

This upcoming week marks the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, but it also marks the beginning of me walking the Camino de Santiago. For about ten days I will be walking a section of the ancient pilgrimage trail by myself. I won’t be fully alone because there are going to be many other pilgrims walking the trail, especially since it will be semana santa. I have gotten all my gear, bus tickets, know where I will be sleeping each night, and now it just needs to be time. This is something that I never would have been able to do prior to being here.

I may miss my family endlessly, and I may want nothing more than to be in my apartment surrounded by my best friends, but if I were to have spent this semester in Chicago I would have had a regular semester and wouldn’t have gone so far out of my comfort zone and wouldn’t have grown as much as I have. I miss the comfort of my life in Chicago, I miss the monotony of every day life: walking to class, taking the train to work, being at the IC all night; however, I am so thankful for the experiences I have had, because without them I would be stagnant rather than growing. 

A departure from Cape Town

A departure from Cape Town

Hello everyone. Welcome to the third installment of my blog in Cape Town.

My last two weeks have been relatively routine, with weekend activities including the Cape Town Pride Festival, visiting various coffee shops in the neighborhood, and, most notably, a venture outside of Cape Town to Hermanus (about two hours away) to attend a retreat. We returned from the retreat this past Sunday after two nights away. We stayed in cabins at the Volmoed Retreat center in order to meet with the author of a book we have been reading: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice by John de Gruchy. De Gruchy lives at the retreat place full time and spends his time writing more books and connecting with those who visit. We had three one-hour conversations with him over the weekend, not just about the book, but about his life and his political and religious views. Reconciliation looks at reconciliation in the Christian faith and applies it to the Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa post-apartheid. It’s mainly sort of promoting the Christian way of reconciliation. He’s written many more books, all of which are centered around his Christian Humanist way of life and his views from that lens. The conversations we had with him were relatively interesting, although I wish he would have been more upfront about his own stances, as that is what I, personally, was most interested in – the way that he specifically views the world now and how his book fits into the picture as well. Regardless, it was interesting to meet a South African author and discuss his book and his writings a bit.

Over the course of the weekend, we went into the town of Hermanus (the retreat center was in the countryside) and explored – it’s right on the water so it was beautiful – we spent time around the property we were staying, and my friend and I went on a sunrise hike on Sunday morning (pictured). In Hermanus, we saw a large group of seals, and at our home we saw lots of baboons! The place we stayed was picturesque – we were surrounded by farmland, so it reminded me a lot of the US midwest, minus the mountains; there was a waterfall not too far from our houses, and we could see all of the stars at night. The hike my friend and I went on was incredible; we had some trouble finding the right trail in the 5am darkness, but eventually made it to the top and watched the sunlight over the mountain. I’ve never really watched or valued the sunrise until I came here, but I guess it teaches you that you don’t notice the absence of light until the light comes, which is something I’d never experienced before.

Also in the last two weeks, we’ve had some amazing guest speakers come in, including the former mayor of Cape Town during the 1990s – Frank van de Velde – and an influential woman affiliated with the Amy Biehl foundation, which seeks to help with education of youth. She was incredibly inspiring, talking about joining the ANC during apartheid and going against the law, and also speaking out against her own situation and demanding better education for herself at a young age. There’s one constant thing I’ve heard from many South Africans, which is the power of education. “If our kids are educated, they won’t be oppressed,” she said. While I’ve always been pro-education, I’ve definitely taken for granted in my life my access to quality schools and now my ability to continue my education at a four year university. I’ve never thought of education as a tool for change; it’s always just been something that I need to do to eventually get a good job. And I think that in the US, that’s the general view that many people would hold. But in South Africa, the people that I have talked to emphasize the role of education in liberation. One of Nelson Mandela’s most famous quotes is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you and use to change the world.” This makes me view education differently, and provokes thought about how needed it is in the US right now.

Other than the retreat, my last two weeks have been largely “normal,” with school and service. Our spring break is in two weeks and myself and fourteen other people are all going to Zimbabwe, staying at a hostel, and planning activities from there – which will include a safari, zip lining, and much more! My next post will likely be before that trip.

I want to use this entry as an opportunity to talk a bit about race. Being here is a completely different experience from the US as here, whites are a minority population. In classes at the University of the Western Cape, it’s not uncommon for there to be no white people, other than those in my program. We had a group discussion about race last week, and it was interesting to discuss our experiences here so far with dealing with our white and American privilege (the majority of the people in my program are white, so when I say “we,” I’m talking about the other white people), and how we are all forced to be more aware of our privilege being here. One comment stuck out to me was when someone pointed out that she only recently realized that we (the people in our program) were the only white people in one of classes. Because we’re white, when we walk into a room, we never really have to consider if there are other white people, because we’re always protected by our skin color. This is in contrast to, say, black people in the US, who are constantly aware of how many people in the room look like them. I thought it was especially interesting that even though we were a minority in that class, it didn’t really matter because our white skin always means we still felt safe and included, which is not the experience of many other races. I always have the protection of my skin color, regardless of the situation. I constantly am forced to think about my privilege being here, more so than in the US. At home in the states, as a white person, it’s easy to brush off privilege, and go to a space where you don’t have to think about race or your identity and pretend it’s not a problem. But here, we don’t have that option, so I know that this experience will make me more aware when I go home. My views on race and my own privilege will continue to develop during my time in South Africa, so I’m sure that I’ll have more to say later, but I did want to put that out there and perhaps encourage you, if you’re white, to check how often you’re actually aware of your own privilege in the US.

Apologies that this entry was a bit jumbled. See you all soon. x

The Time of my Life ™

The Time of my Life ™

I have now been living in Salamanca for a little bit over a month– things have been incredibly difficult, but at the same time I am having a wonderful time. I’ve been having an internal struggle because studying abroad is made out to be the ~best time of your life~ and while I do love Spain, my life is far from perfect here.

As you know, the first weekend I was pickpocketed and was without a phone or access to money for two weeks. For those two weeks, I stayed in Salamanca, explored the city, but didn’t have the means to do much else. I spent a lot of time by myself (which is something I am very thankful for, because I am very introverted), but at points I felt very isolated because I was only able to communicate with my family and friends when I was on my computer. Since I had to be on my computer to communicate, I spent my time either at home or at school, the two places I had wifi. This meant though, that I spent a lot of time with my host family. My family consists of me, my host mom Gloria, my host dad Jonas, and whatever group of students we have that week. Gloria and Jonas are a young couple, which has allowed for us to connect on a familial level, but also on a level of friendship. Gloria cares for me as if I were her own child, and for that I am so grateful. I miss my family and friends so much, but I now have my family here.

The first month was honestly pretty lonely. I have generally been very good at making friends, but for whatever reason, I still don’t feel as though I have settled into a solid group. I have definitely made a bunch of surface level friendships with people I see in class and enjoy talking to, but there are only a few people who I have cultivated a deeper friendship with. I realized this last week, and I have since been making an effort to grow the friendships I do have. Reaching out to others has always given me anxiety, and it still does, but I am trying really hard to do so. Since, I have been spending more time with Alyssa, who is my closest friend here. We only met about a month ago, but she is a person that feels like home and has a comforting presence– she is a person that I love being around. I also have been spending time with Colvin, who is the one other person from Loyola that is studying in Salamanca. We are in completely different programs, so we do not have any classes together or any mutual friends, but it has been so nice having a familiar face around.

I have also found myself feeling a disconnect between myself and faith here. Right before leaving, I was feeling very solid in my faith: I was working with the after school program at my church meaning that I was there 6 days a week, and I just became an official member which was so so exciting. I came to Salamanca and found a church, but I am oftentimes not in the city on Sunday mornings due to traveling. I have recently started going to church programs throughout the week with another friend of mine, Rick. It was very hard coming to this place where I do not have a solid faith community, but I am excited to begin building this new faith community.

While things have been very hard, I have also had some wonderful experiences. Last weekend I traveled to Prague and visited Mickey, a close friend from Loyola who is studying there for the semester. We spent time cooking together, exploring the city (on public transit!!! Heck yeah!! Their transit system there is super neat), and just enjoying each other’s company. Prague was absolutely gorgeous– we saw the Lennon wall which is a space of peace and graffitti started by students after the fall of communism, which was without a doubt my favorite sight. Leaving Prague was one of the saddest moments of my time abroad, because it was so lovely to be around one of my best friends again, but we will be seeing each other in Madrid next weekend, so more adventures to come!

      

This past weekend I traveled to Lisboa with my program. The weather was not superb (it was pouring about half of the time), but the city was stunning. Pictures we took could never do it justice. Lisboa is well known for their ceramic tiles which are all over the outsides of buildings and are absolutely stunning. The first night, API treated us to a wonderful dinner where I had some amazing fish and mashed potatoes (I had no idea how much I missed mashed potatoes, wow). I spent time with the people around me, and it was very wonderful. I felt like I really got to know a lot more people on this trip, and I really made an effort to cultivate friendships. My friendships with Alyssa, Kim, and Liam (along with those of a lot of the girls in my program), grew a lot this weekend, and for that I am very thankful, even if the weather wasn’t the best.

      

All in all, things have been a complete rollercoaster, but for that I am grateful. I may not be having the picturesque time of my life that study abroad is often depicted as, but I have learned and grown so much, even in the past month. My host family doesn’t speak English and all of my classes are in Spanish, so the only time I speak English is when I am with others from the United States. Ultimately, I am here to immerse myself, and I am doing just that. The Universidad de Salamanca is an incredible school and I love my classes (especially Las mujeres en la historia de españa) along with my professors. Considering how much has happened, the fact that it has only been a month baffles me. Regardless of how hard this first month has been, I am very thankful to be here learning, exploring, and growing despite the trials that come my way. 

Winter Break in the Winter

Winter Break in the Winter

At Loyola we get Spring Break and Winter Break, but at SLU Madrid we get Winter Break and Spring Break. Our Winter Break was after our midterms, so it just ended, and I chose to spend mine in the cold snowy countries instead of on a beach (and I only slightly regret it).

Bike riding through Copenhagen

I travelled to Scandinavia, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, Oslo, Norway, and Copenhagen, Denmark and even in below freezing temperatures I loved them. I definitely recommend bringing a Chicago winter coat for the Spring semester, because I incorrectly assumed it’d be sunny and beachy weather, so I had to buy a winter coat in Spain.

Walking the streets of Stockholm

Despite my mistake coming into the trip, I wound up having a lot of fun touring the cities! Since it was so cold my friends and I took every opportunity to go into the little shops along the streets and saw things we wouldn’t have if we had just walked by, and I ended up with some pretty cool souvenirs. We also booked tours so that we were doing more than just walking around in the cold. There are free walking tours in every city we visited, but we paid for ours in order to be a bit warmer travelling inside a bus. I learned a lot about the local history and current opinions on the city I visited and I stand by the belief that guided tours are worth the money.

Out of all the cities, Oslo was my favorite just because I loved how the city looked and felt covered in snow, and how beautiful the parks were even in the winter. I do think Copenhagen was the most fun city I visited though, because we booked a bike tour, so we were biking to all the sights! It was freezing so I was completely bundled up, but the tour was absolutely worth the cold weather.

My friends and I kept joking how it was warmer in Chicago than where we were, regretting not choosing the warmer climate, but enjoying the experience we were having. I definitely don’t regret the trip, but next time I book one I’ll be planning according to weather first.