Friday, December 29, 2006

Lesotho Pony Trek Adventure!

Lena an I headed off from the Cape at dinner time on Friday December 15, right after work ended for the both of us. The bus took a while to leave the station, but we made it to the border of Lesotho by 10:30 am the next day. The bus ride was not very memorable; we were shown "Ocean's 13" but without much volume and then in the morning were terrorized by a "Best of Celine Dion" DVD.

Our initial encounter with the Kingdom of Lesotho was marked with lots of miscommunication and a frantic attempt to contact Jess, Mac and Sheena (coming from Jo'Burg) before they crossed the border. South African cell phones cease to work in Lesotho, so we needed to plan a meeting spot before we were out of touch. Mission was succesful and we met up by the giant Basotho hat in Maseru. Eli, a guy from Brooklyn, had met our friends at the backpacker's in Bloemfontain and he decided to join our pony party for two days. Sheena and her brother Mac could speak Sotho which was AMAZING as many people we encountered in Lesotho could speak almost no english (except for "give me some sweets!" and "i love you!"). Their ability to translate for us enriched our experience greatly!

We all went to the minibus taxi rank and waited for about an hour before heading for Malealea, a town 2 hours from the capital. In the van we had dozens of people approach the windows, trying to sell us things. Jess scored an amazing cassette with a screeching kitten on the front. It was pure Basotho tunes.

I swear, the Basotho music is great but it all kind of sounds the same! I bought a house mix for my vehicle (I have no tapes here but have a tape deck in the car) featuring an eyeball on the cover. While it features some african language, it is unfortunately not blessed with the classic vibes of Lesotho music. I also scored some sunglasses while waiting, but they were a bit small and ended up hurting my head a lot over the next week. We rocked all the way to Malealea with eardrums hurting from the blaring "Famo" music.

At Malealea, we found the lodge and shared forest huts for the night. I enjoyed the giant St. Bernard and the two silly Staffordshire Terriers. We had dinner with a nice couple from Germany who work for BMW and were exploring Southern Africa for their holidays.

The next morning we awoke at 7:30 and packed the big leather bags for the pack ponies. We met Samuel, our Masotho guide, and were assigned a pony each. Sanghu, the smallest and youngest (4 years) was to be my pony for the next few days.

He was pretty funny. His theme song would be "You can go your own way!" as he consistently diverged from the route only to end up taking a short cut or something. There was one nice horse that he would nuzzle into if we got close to, and Samuel told me that it was his mama Selina.

The first day was great as we must have passed through about six villages, all quite beautiful and peppered with these cool aloe tree things:

At about 3 pm there was a crazy thunderstorm that we rode through. I felt bad for the pony eyeballs, as the rain turned into big ice pellets! The ponies trekked right through it and we all got soaked! Our first night was spent in a village in Ribaneng. The women were all gathered around the cooking pots and the men were dancing to blaring "Famo" that came out of a giant speaker powered by a single solar panel. I am so sad I did not capture that scene. The main dancer was moving as if he was drunk, as his dance involved leaning on a giant stick as though he couldn't stand properly.

There was a litter of puppies that appeared to be starving. They were so so so skinny. Lena and I wanted to scoop some into our saddle packs but that night we realized we'd never get back across the border with them. Poor little guys. I'd be surprised if even one or two of the six survived. Below is Sheena in front of our first night's home. In each village, we would stay in a hut next to the local chief. The huts were equipped with air mattresses, a gas stove and some cooking utensils. We'd get a big bucket of drinking water as well for the night.

After we got to this village, we hired a local guide to bring us to the Ribaneng waterfalls. The hike took over three hours in total but was well worth it.

The next morning we bade farewell to Eli, who had to head back to catch a flight to NYC. Day two of the trek took us through high mountain plateaus. We didn't pass many villages as we had the day before. We saw lots of gorgeous birds and butterflies though and the occasional Basotho horsemen. Here are some that rode by as we were having lunch in the grass and were kind enough to pose for a picture:

Check out the hat and the blankets and the rubber boots. This was the Bosotho uniform.

As we desecended into the village of Ha Hlalele where we were to stay, a nice young pony followed us and heralded our entry into town with a series of "neys!"

Mac had a nap and I made a huge pot of tea for us ladies. While the others read, I wandered around taking pictures of the village animals.

The doggie in this village was special and I loved him a bunch. I witnesses the local children kicking him for no reason at all! I tried my best to tell the kids that they should be kind to the dog. I shared my bread with the little guy.

I gave an orange to three kids that were so interested in us. They really enjoyed it. The youngest one in this picture would cry if I got too close though. I was spooky I guess.

Our home on this second evening was decorated! Here is a close-up of some of the decor:

The chief's wife Georginna was very well spoken and thrilled to meet Sheena, the only Sotho-speaking South African she had ever met. Georgina asked for our help as the local school had been closed since the winds blew off the roof. I got her address and will be sending her photos that we took there of her family and village. I also want to send some clothes for the children. This was the most remote village we ended up at.

At about 8 pm there was a knock at our door; it was Philip, an electoral official who had hiked into the town to stay for the night (above). He was there to register the locals to vote in the national election this February. What a crazy job! Accessing these areas all on foot! He was very educated and interesting to speak with. He was thirty and had no wife. He was ashamed of this, I think. He described the local political parties to us. I asked him if he wishes that Lesotho became a province of South Africa and without hesitation, he said "yes."

The next morning we met our local guide Joseph and hiked towards the Ketane Falls. They are 401 feet or 122 metres high and were beautiful! We were basically viewing them from the edge of a cliff which made it a bit unnerving. It was incredible though. Way more impressive than the falls the first day. The scenery around the waterfalls reminded me of photos I have seen of Ireland, mixed with Arizona. Lena said it seemed a lot like Hawaii. As we were very high up, there were gorgeous alpine flowers all over the place.

The pony trek that day was again through fields high up in remote mountain areas. I picked a lot of sage from bushes as we trotted by. We stopped at the most beautiful place for lunch on this third day. We ate on rocks in a stream. Lena actually braved the chilly water and took a dip!

The skyline as we descended into the village of Ha Sekoting where we stayed that night:

The kids here were absolutely hilarious and got into more than one session of flinging horse turds at one another. Sadly this was not captured onto video. The videos posted below of the happy apple kids and of Alice and her friends dancing were taken in this village. I got out a deck of cards to play solitare and Alice called me over and played some game with me. Of course, she couldn't explain the rules to me because of the language barrier, so she won every single time. The kids watched over our shoulders completely fascinated. I will mail some cards to Alice.

Here is a photo of our "Ponies for Life" crew - unfortunately I never got the name of Samual's assitant who couldn't speak english.

Mac, Sheena, Samuel, Jess, Lena (kneeling), Meghan (me) and the unknown assistant!

There were some sweet puppies in this village, but the one that stole my heart was this slightly older pooch who looked like a labrador retriever mix. I thought his eye was infected and tried to open it to treat it with polysporin, only to realize that there was no eyeball inside! Poor guy! So young and already missing an eyeball? I was sad about this and cried at one point while hugging him. I wanted to take him home with me. He was getting no love at all. It breaks my heart.

On our final day we took a bit of a detour to check out some caves in which there were bushman (san) paintings on the walls of several caves. The San people are the oldest living humans (genetically speaking) and we are all descendants of them. They no longer inhabit this portion of Africa and are now scattered around Botswana and Namibia. Anyhow, the petroglyphs I am in front of below are up to 27,000 years old!

On our way back to the lodge, I figured I had better capture a photo of one of the thousands pof mountain goats we passed by on our trek.

Here is a panorama of our lunch spot on the final pony day:

We got back to the lodge and showered! So nice to wash all the grime and sun tan lotion off of ourselves! We bought a bunch of cold Savannas and made chow and sat and watched the local choir perform. Then Sotho Sounds came on! They are my favourite African band! They have a song called "Oh! I whip horses!" They had CDs, amazingly, and so I have one. I am posting a video of them performing to this blog asap. It was a great night. We played board games and I became acquainted with Johnny Klegg and realized that Paul Simon rips him off!

The next day was a little stupid, as we waited for four hours in the rain at the border for our bus to show up! It was annoying. We said goodbye to Jess, Sheena and Mac at Bloemfontain (they were headed into Mozambique for christmas). Then the bus ran out of gas on the side of the road at 2 am! It was hilarious, actually. Some people were SO pissed off.

We got into Cape Town December 22 at about 11 am and I took a minibus taxi home to find Laure in the kitchen doing school work. She is my new roomate and is subletting from Frank while he is in Spain for two months.

Lesotho was awesome! I miss Singhu!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Katane Falls

Monday, December 25, 2006

Alice and her buddies dancing!
Happy Apple Kids

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Donkey Calls

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Pony Trekking

Friday, December 15, 2006

High IQ link to being vegetarian

Vegetarians were more likely to be female, to be of higher occupational social class and to have higher academic or vocational qualifications than non-vegetarians.

I wish they had reported statistics about those who chose to reject dairy and eggs... In North America, the meat, dairy and egg industry are deeply inter-twined, so what is with people who choose not to eat animals out of concern for animal welfare, only to contribute to their suffering though the consumption of cheese, eggs, etc? From a nutritional perspective, I suspect that eating meat and rejecting cheese is healthier...

Any one want to debate this or offer some insight so that I can better understand?

Basically, I think if you are avoiding meat because of animal welfare, you are a hypocrite to eat dairy and eggs. Same thing for those doing it for nutritional reasons.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Celebrations at the CLC

We played softball and my team won! It was neat to play with people who had no idea how to play... I thought it was more of a universal sport. Some people would run around the bases and think they were scoring points but they had not even gone to bat!!! Others would strike out and then run to first base.

Here we are getting down at the Cuban restaurant in Kalk Bay. People were drinking crazy drinks (like white chocolate pina coladas) but I stuck to Savanas and wine. Mike the waiter is to the left. No one seemed to care that Fidel Castro is dying of terminal cancer. There is a statue of Lenin in the bush there, near jesus. I though about how pure communism rejected religion, right? Anyhow, my colleagues ordered this "sheesha" (that is how it is referred to in Canada ) with some molasses tobacco in it. My boss bought some vanilla cigars.

Below is me and Annette, the only full time female researcher in the local government project. There is actually a gorgeous beach behind us.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sore muscles, happy mind.

Tomorrow I start the last week of work before the summer break. On Friday after work I am hopping on a bus and heading to Lesotho, where I will embark on 4 days of "Pony Trekking" from Malealea Lodge!

I love how the big papa seal is waking up the napping small seal because he just needs to scratch that itch! This was in the waterfront. The one sleeping in behind kind of looks like a walrus.

Here is a partial panorama I took this afternoon. It is looikng South-East from "Lion's Head" which Lena and I climbed up (669 metres above sea level). I have an amazing 360 degree panorama here!
I forgot to put sunscreen on my legs, so now they are burnt!

This is a view of "Lion's Head" from the city centre (which is to the left of Table Mountain in the photo above taken from the peak). Lion's Head slopes over into that hump on the right known as "Signal Hill." To the right of this photo is the waterfront, where the seal at the top lounges.

Yesterday I went surfing! This is a photo of "Roxy Surf Club" where we rented boards and wetsuits. You can see the beach and waves straight ahead in this picture. You have to carry the board across the train tracks which was tough, as the wind was very powerful. I was really happy that surfing was not as hard as I thought it would be! I plan on taking lessons once a week in the new year so that maybe I'll be able to stand on the board without falling off.
It was also really nice to get all salty and wet in the ocean. At one point it felt like a crab or something pinch my foot, so I got a bit spooked and wouldn't put my feet down for awhile. Maybe it was just a shell though.
This beach is at Muizenberg (I posted a nice panorama of the beach a few weeks ago) and there are great white sharks around there. There are shark watchers employed to sit on the hills above the bay and watch with binoculars. If they see a shark come into the bay, a flag on the beach changes and some alarm bell goes off so that everyone can come out. In August a lifeguard had his foot bitten off at the beach!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Alarm Systems are Crazy!

Whoa - my roomates left while I was here in my room and I guess they set the alarm! So I headed downstairs and a crazy sound went off! I know the code to turn it off, but the company calls to make sure it is all good. The thing is, i don't know the "password"... So they were okay with that but now I am spooked the "armed response" is still going to show up!

So above are my flatmates - we all made different courses of dinner and chowed down for St. Niklaus Day which is when Wistnel (sp?) comes and leaves anonymous gifts for you!
Above are Rebecca (a doctor visiting from germany), Angie, Franci, Frank and Anne. Anne and I collaborated and made noodles with asparagus and carmelized onions!

Niklaus? Dat you??

Kerensa and Maya harvesting gemstones to make jewelry for the Prince George market next summer.

Me lying in a bed of gemstones. I have always loved Tiger's Eye and there is tons of it here! Apparently South Africa has the best quality Tiger's Eye on Earth (though India and China have some too). Wait - I just checked the link and they say it is in CANADA and don't even list South Africa? What fool was I talking to?
I found this other stone I had never heard of, called Chalcedony, which I really liked too. It is from Namibia.

Maya's creation: a bird/giraffe/elephant dressed as a witch!

This is Lila, by latest co-worker. At staff meetings, she likes to chew on bones!

Kerensa and I out to dinner on her last night on the town. She is now either in London or Paris.

This is my favourite feral kitty at the campus I work at. He is SO friendly! He purrs and lies down next to me. He may need to come back to Canada and be Muchacho's african brother.

Here are six other feral cats near the Community Law Centre. Most are spooked, except for the charmer above. They lounge around. I like them all a lot. I have yet to figure out how many there are in total. At least fifteen, though.

This was taken this morning. It is Omo, me, Michaelle Jean (Canada's Governor-General), Lena and Jean. We all met up at the "Zip Zap Circus" in a weird part of town. We all got lost a few times.

Here is a circus dude with his anti-retro-virals... this is reality here in South Africa, and it is great to see them taking the bull by the horns (well, civil society, at least....) These children were AMAZING! I was so envious of their flexibility and strength!

Apparently our Governor-General is a man. I wonder what the Conservatives will think of a transgendered person occupying the most senior post in Canada?

What a burn on Zaccardelli. What a turd. Did you know the RCMP aren't allowed to be unionized? What is up with that?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Some local news...

WOZA protesters and babies brutalised on Human Rights Day
By Violet Gonda2
9 November 2006

At least 63 members of the pressure group Women Of Zimbabwe Arise, including six babies, were arrested in Bulawayo on Wednesday. Four members of the group Men of Zimbabwe Arise were also arrested when police allegedly used brutal force to break up a peaceful launch of the activists People’s Charter.
WOZA spokesperson Annie Sibanda said an ambulance had to ferry people to the hospital after they sustained serious wounds from police beatings. Those taken to hospital include a baby with an injured leg and a woman who may have a broken leg. Unprovoked the police officers embarked on a vicious attack on the demonstrators, who had sat down as police arrived.
WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu and a Presbyterian priest are among those arrested. The arrested were taken to Bulawayo Central Police Station while another vehicle is believed to have been diverted elsewhere, as some members who were arrested were not at Central.
It’s reported the level of the brutality was so extreme the police had to take 6 of the victims to Mpilo Hospital themselves. An emailed report from a Bulawayo onlooker says he witnessed police assaulting people before some of them were bundled into police trucks; “I saw devilish beatings inflicted by the riot police on these women at Hyper Supermarket. Kuudzwa kunyimwa mbare dzekumusana (seeing is believing). Satan would have smiled to himself and marvelled what faithful followers he has.”
More than 300 demonstrators had successfully walked several blocks through the streets of Bulawayo to the government offices at Mhlanhlandlela where they began reading out the People’s Charter to the assembled workers at the government complex. Annie Sibanda said, “Approximately 30 riot police arrived and in customary WOZA fashion – the women sat down and prepared to be arrested.”
Despite being International Human Rights Defender’s Day the riot police surrounded the group and in a violent outburst; “began to viciously beat both women and men with baton sticks.”
Sibanda added; “I saw 6 people being offloaded from an ambulance. People cut in their faces from where there were beaten over the face. One woman is bleeding profusely from her leg.”
She said the security forces also chased the crowd down the streets beating the unfortunate ones in the process. “I personally witnessed a person who was sitting in a parked car being pulled out of his car and being bundled into a (police) defender,” Sibanda narrated.
The activists said the brutality today was unspeakable saying “it was obvious that the Zimbabwe Republic Police were there to spill blood because that is certainly what they did.”
A senior police officer at Bulawayo Central told us he was not allowed to comment, referring us to Police Spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena in Harare. It was not possible to get him.
WOZA said Wednesday’s launch of the People’s Charter was a result of a yearlong countrywide consultation. They say it was launched on International Human Rights Defenders Day as a fitting day to launch the Charter and demand social justice for all Zimbabweans. Bulawayo, the WOZA stronghold, was seen as an appropriate start to a series of protests that will roll out around Zimbabwe.Also see WOZA/MOZA demonstrators viciously beaten and arrested on International Human Rights Defenders Day
If you wish to contact the Bulawayo Police force to ask them why they think it is necessary to beat innocent women, you can reach them on +263 09 72515,263 09 61706, 263 09 63061, 263 09 69860 (Central Police Station).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Canadians! Be grateful!

Maybe I am just irritable, but I am bothered by complacency that we seem to have in my homeland. I posted the following "bulletin entry" on myspace and only got one response?! What is up with that? Do Canadians not really care about gender equity, or am I just a poltical geek?

"So a few months back I posted a rant about proposed cuts to Status of Women Canada and I hope you all wrote to Bev Oda. I have yet to get a repsonse from this cabinet minister, but I guess she has been busy coordinating petty cuts that undermine the work of those fighting for women's equality in Canada. Read news story below, please. I cannot believe the conservatives have the gall to do this. I have also now sent numerous emails to "REAL Women" - a right-wing lobby group in Ottawa that alleged what I consider to be crazy stuff on their website.

As an aside, I am learning lots about women's participation in governance here in Africa and the many mechanisms used to increase women's participation in decision-making. I remember about a year or two ago, the Liberal party voted on whether or not to introduce a quota system into their policies with respect to electoral candidates. At the time, I was dissapointed that the party members voted against it. Now that I am studying the issue in more detail, I am quite horrifed that Canada doesn't have ANY type of quota system in place for women and other disadvantaged groups. WHAT DO YOU GUYS THINK ABOUT THIS? Do you think reserving a certain number of seats (locally, nationally, etc.) would be undemocratic? Or do you think it is legitimate? Please share your opinions with me!

Now here is the bullshit from today's news:

Tories close most Status of Women offices
Nov. 29, 2006. 05:40 PM

OTTAWA — The Conservative government has stunned women's advocates with a decision to close three-quarters of the regional offices of Status of Women Canada.

Cabinet minister Bev Oda says 12 of the 16 offices will be shut by April 1.

Status of Women Canada is a federal agency that works to advance women's economic equality, human rights and eliminate violence against women.

Oda says the regional offices do little to serve women directly and money can be better spent by streamlining services.

But Liberal MP Maria Minna calls the move "reprehensible."

She says women still have a long way to go to reach equality with men and the government should be doing more, not less.

New Democrat MP Irene Mathyssen says the decision shows the Tories have no commitment to promoting women's equality.


Bev Oda, MP Parliament Hill Office
121 East Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
(613) 992-2792 (Phone)
(613) 992-2794 (Fax)"

You really don't need a law degree or an xx chromosome to care about these things, folks. We are so so so lucky to have democratic institutions and consultative mechanisms to interact with our elected officials.

I was just in the city centre, looking for a christmas gift for my grandma and saw a young guy that looked about 11 huffing some gas or glue (?!) out of a bag. Then he came right over to me and asked for some of my old diet drink. I asked where his family was. He shrugged. He pointed again at my drink and I told him he needs something with energy so we went together to the corner store and I bought him chips and fanta (his choice). I am not sure what to do in these situations. I told him to keep safe. Driving home I admired the glaciar-like clouds coming down the crease between Devil's Peak and Table Mountain and imagined how horrible the little guy's future is going to be.

Tonight I go to Mama Africa for a going-away dinner for Kerensa. She just got back from Nairobi and is leaving for BC on Monday.

I have been working very hard on an essay for the Forum of Federations and am learning so much. I went to the mechanic today to get my roadworthy certificate. I am such an idiot when it comes to cars and it doesn't help when the mechanic's accent is hard to understand.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Goldfish at Kirstenbosch

Why aren't the people dancing? Pretty beautiful venue though, eh? Some of my roomates are visible here.