Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Of Turtles and Hippos...

This past weekend the three of us went on a trip to St. Lucia.  Rewind..... On Thursday Cesar finally arrived from Canada.  I am so excited he is here.  He will be staying for a whole month, so we will be exploring the beauty of South Africa together.  My office will be closed for the holidays, so we will have a lot of time to travel.  Fast Forward....  When I say the three of us, I mean:  me, Ali and Cesar.

St. Lucia is located within the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park about two and a half hours north of Durban.  It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999 because of its large biodiversity, unique ecosystems and amazing natural beauty.   The park is home to 1,200 Nile Crocodiles and 800 Hippopotami.  Marine turtles, including the leatherback and loggerhead, nest along the extensive shores of the park.  The leatherback turtle is considered to be critically endangered.

On Friday night we went on our six hour turtle tour.  Though we saw many other nocturnal animals, we did not see any turtles laying their eggs.

The closest we got to a turtle sighting was seeing a nest that had unfortunately been destroyed by honey badgers. 

On Saturday morning we did a boat tour along the St. Lucia Estuary, which is the largest estuarine ecosystem on the African continent and boasts the largest concentration of hippos in South Africa.

We passed by a couple of crocodiles lazying around in the water, including one debating whether to eat a bird or not.

We saw some hippos along the shore, including a mama hippo and a baby hippo.  The baby was too cute.  There were also a whole bunch of hippos in the water.

We saw a hippo with a bird on his back.  Symbiosis at its best I say!

There were also weaver birds along the banks of the estuary.  The weavers build the most elaborate nests of any bird. It is usually the male birds who weave the nests and use them as a form of display to lure prospective females.

We had a great time on the boat tour. 

The weather was amazing and both Cesar and Ali had a bit of a sunburn by the end.

In the afternoon we decided to drive to some of the local markets.  We made a stop at the Ilala Weavers to look for traditional Zulu baskets.  Basket weaving is a true Zulu artform.  Every basket is made by hand, using indigenous raw materials, such as the fronds of the Ilala Palm.  It can take up to one month to produce a medium-sized basket that will be unique in size, shape and pattern. Ilala Weavers helps over 2,000 Zulu people from the area, both men and women, to attain self sufficiency, by allowing them to work from their homes and promote their heritage.

We also visited the Dumazulu Traditional Village.  Though set up as a tourist attraction, the tour was very insightful into the lifestyle, traditions and culture of the Zulu people.

Our guide talked to us about marriage traditions, including the custom of lobola.  Lobola is a payment that a Zulu man must make to his fiancĂ©e's family for her hand in marriage.  Traditionally, the price was 11 cows, though nowadays the payment can be made in cash.  Lobola can be very burdensome on young people and can often act as a financial barrier to marriage. (And you thought engagement rings were bad!)

Our tour ended with some traditional stick-fighting and Zulu dancing.

On Sunday morning we drove through the St. Lucia Game Reserve to Cape Vidal.  The beaches there were absolutely beautiful and extended as far as the eye could see.  Though we had spent a few long hours on those same beaches searching for turtles a couple of nights prior, during the day the beach at Cape Vidal came to life.  There were people fishing, swimming, tanning, and playing in the sand. 

Driving through the game reserve we saw a number of different animals (but unfortunately no leopards).  We saw lots of kudus...

...and bushbucks.

Cesar spotted a mama warthog with baby warthogs.

Ali almost ran over a couple of zebras which were hanging out on the road.  Of course they got startled and ran off.

Though we didn't see any turtles, we had a wonderful time in St. Lucia.  And who knows... Maybe we'll get to try again...

Monday, 5 December 2011

Make Noise 4 Climate Justice

On Saturday December 3, Ali and I joined thousands of people marching through the streets of Durban, calling for action on the issue of climate change.  As the climate summit enters its second week, little progress has been made.  With Kyoto scheduled to expire next year, there is a sense of urgency over reaching an agreement in Durban. 

On Saturday morning demonstrators took to the streets to make their voices heard.  Though many civil society groups had their own agendas in joining the "Global Day of Action" march, there was a sense of solidarity and common purpose. 

When we arrived at the gathering point, the first thing we saw was the South African police in full riot gear, prepared for the protest.  I must admit, I did briefly second-guess my decision to join the march. 

As we awaited the beginning of the march, more and more people continued to arrive and gather into their groups.  We quickly got into the swing of things - we bought t-shirts that read "Make Noise 4 Climate Justice" and got posters from Oxfam.

The mixture of people this event had brought together was fascinating - farmers, communists, journalists, artists, women, young activists, gawkers, socialists, musicians, environmentalists, delegates, faith leaders, human rights lawyers, people from all walks of life.  Many different civil society groups had joined the march - some to make their voices heard, some to show solidarity, some to bring awareness to other pressing issues, and some to cause a little bit of trouble.  Each group was carrying its own banners, wearing its own t-shirts, shouting its own slogans and singing its own songs.

There was even a clown on a uni-cycle whose message was loud and clear.

As Canada has largely been the villain at these climate talks, Canadians were not afraid to speak out.

Soon the large crowd began its march towards the International Convention Centre, where the talks are being held.  The atmosphere was almost carnival-like - complete with music, dance and giant balloons being tossed around.

As we moved along the streets of Durban, the police lined the roads on both sides, keeping a close watch on the demonstrators.  Overall, however the march was peaceful with only few reported scuffles.

We decided to march with Oxfam, mainly because they were carrying really cool puppets.  Though we did not make it into a single newspaper photo or television clip (as we had strategized), it was also a great way to find each other in case we got lost in the crowd.  Of course in the three hours it took us to get to the ICC, both Ali and I helped carry the 15kg puppets (though we weren't doing much of the heavy-lifting). 

Although this demonstration may not have been enough to force world leaders to the negotiations table, the people definitely did make noise 4 climate justice.  Only time will tell whether anyone was listening.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mini emnandi kuwe!

I celebrated my 28th birthday last week.  It was definitely a bittersweet moment.  Though I really missed all my friends and family from home, I was very grateful and appreciative for my new ones here in South Africa.

My birthday celebrations began at the office when my colleagues surprised me with a birthday cake at lunch time.  They sang happy birthday, including the Zulu edition of the song, and then I blew out the candles. 

There is nothing like having Happy Birthday sang to you in Zulu - "Mini emnandi kuwe!"  It melted my heart!

 After work Ali and I decide to go to Zack’s for dinner.  This is our usual place across the street that we go to on Thursdays for the live music.  An oldie but a goodie!  We had our usual waiter, Ruben, who has now taken quite a liking to us.  Ali has even noticed that he keeps an eye out after we leave to make sure we get home safe.  By 9:30pm we had to be at the airport to collect (South African way of saying “pick up”) Joseph, who was flying in from Jo’burg for the weekend festivities.  We had decided to wait for him before we have birthday cake (we actually had milk tart instead!) and Amarula!

On Friday we fetched (another South African way of saying “pick up”) Mat from the bus station.  Mat had just arrived on the overnight bus from Grahamstown and was definitely ready to party! J 

First on the agenda was a tour of the Warwick Market (which has always seemed like a very intimidating place whenever we drive by it).  Here is some information:

The Warwick Junction lies on the edge of the Durban's inner-city and is the primary public transport interchange in the city. On an average day the area accommodates 460,000 commuters, and at least 6,000 street vendors. Given the confluence of rail, taxi and bus transport, this area has always been a natural market for street vendors. The Markets of Warwick includes between 5,000 and 8,000 vendors trading in 9 distinct markets. Currently this is the only informally structured market in a public space of this magnitude, and thus establishes itself as the single most authentic African market that South Africa has to offer.  The products available vary from beadwork, traditional arts and crafts, traditional cuisine, fresh produce, music and entertainment merchandise, clothing, accessories and traditional medicine.

The tour was extremely interesting.  We started off at the Victoria Street Market and proceeded from there.

Our first stop was the Bead Market, which is only open on Fridays.  The bead vendors, who sell their own products, usually travel from the coastal regions adjacent to the city to trade. 

 Our next stop was the iMpepho and Lime Market.  Here traders sell balls of white and red lime used to paint the faces of trainee and recently qualified iZangoma (Zulu healers).  Vendors also sell mpepho which is a traditional incense used to facilitate communication with one's ancestors.

We then went through the Music Bridge Market to get to the Herb Market, where one can buy muti (traditional African cures) for just about anything.  Vendors were selling different coloured powders, dried parts of dead animals, and various plants cut up in tiny pieces.  Sherylle kept on trying to convince me that I should buy some mother-in-law muti to make my future mother-in-law like me.  I kept on trying to tell her that I should be fine without it.

Next we visited the Bovine Head Market.  Bovine head meat is a Zulu delicacy. Originally the preparation of cow head was done only by men, however nowadays mostly women prepare the meat and are the predominant traders within the market.  Yes this was as gross as it sounds.  We were offered to sample some bovine meat with steamed bread, salt and chilly peppers. 

It wasn’t awful, but it probably would have tasted better if there weren’t cow heads staring at us.

We finished our tour with the Early Morning Market, which sells a variety of fresh produce, spices, flowers and live poultry, followed by the Brook Street Market and Berea Station.

Overall the tour was incredibly interesting and a great way to learn about African culture, tradition and way of life.

To continue our cultural experience Sherylle took us to Wilson’s Wharf to have some Indian food (of course a Durban delicacy).  Sherylle, Mat and Joseph all ordered bunny chows, a South African fast food dish consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry, that originated in the Durban Indian community.  Personally, I wanted something “lighter”.

In the afternoon Ali had to go back to work, but Sherylle took Joseph, Mat and I to visit Chatsworth.  During the apartheid era Chatsworth was the Indian township created as a result of the Group Areas Act, populated by those removed from their homes in mixed-race and whites-only areas.  Today, it is one of Durban’s largest suburbs with just over 450,000 residents.  We visited the Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding.  Sherylle also showed us the house where she grew up as well as her current home.  Overall, the entire day proved to be a wonderful cultural insight into Durban life, both past and present.

On Saturday morning Joseph and I went for a 10k run.  Yes that is right!  I did it and I was so proud of myself!  I have never been a runner, in fact I have always dreaded it.  But after I arrived in Durban I discovered that this is by far one of the best and most enjoyable ways to stay active.  So I have been running about 4.5 to 5k every morning before work.  Not only that, but I have actually come to love it!

We spent the morning at the beach!  Yes!  I finally went to the beach.  (It’s not my fault though, the weather hasn’t been great.) 

Sabrina joined us around noon.  She had only arrived on Saturday morning from Grahamstown and had arranged to do a market tour as well.  We spent the afternoon shopping and getting ready for the night of festivities ahead of us.

After we got ready, we quickly discovered that calling taxis would prove much more onerous during COP-17.  So we went outside and Ali managed to work her charms in hailing us a cab. 

We had reservations at Spiga D’Oro, one of the best Italian restaurants in Durban.  Ali’s co-workers Willene and Emma met us there.  We had a wonderful dinner with a lot of wine, appetizers, pastas and desserts. 

After dinner we went to Rocca, a club located in an incredibly sketchy part of town, which proved to be really nice.  We had tons of fun! 

It was an awesome night!  Thanks everyone for making my birthday celebrations so special:  Ali, Sherylle, Tando, Amy, Iqbal, Joseph, Mat, Sabrina, Willene and Emma. 

On Sunday we were supposed to go surfing, but the weather and the blue-bottles in the waters made that impossible. 

Side note:  I just looked up blue-bottles on Wikipedia (because I had no idea what the guy was talking about) and they are actually called Portuguese Man o’War J  It’s a jellyfish-type thing.  Its venom can paralyze small fish and other prey.  Its sting usually causes sever pain to humans, leaving whip-like, red welts on the skin.  Thanks but no thanks!

So anyhow instead we decided to climb the 550 stairs that took us to the top of the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Then we went to uShaka Marine World, where we visited the largest aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was a wonderful fun-filled weekend.  Though the weather didn’t exactly cooperate and our planned schedule was pretty much shred to pieces we had an awesome time.  I’m not lying when I say that I was in bed by 8:30pm on Sunday night!