Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Good Morning South Africa

Sorry for the lack of blogging over the last week but I've had limited internet access. I had to jump on a plane and head back to Durban and then Greytown, the teeny tiny town I grew up in to sort out some admin. :/

I head back to Cape Town today for my graduation on Saturday! I have a beautiful dress, heels, and a whole weekend of fun planned to celebrate me (finally) getting a degree! I cant wait!

While I was here in Durbs, my mum dragged me out to an event and it ended up being pretty cool. It was a Johnnie Walker whiskey tasting evening at Plush Lounge. Okay, so the club was not really my scene, but I do love my Scotch (in moderation!)

Good news for the morning:
1. Prince Charming has returned to SA from his distant palace and I will see him tomorrow!!
2. I may be in the newspaper, I need to buy the Post today
3. EWB SA: there is a motion in the ocean!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

African Beer!

I absolutely love this picture! 

I was lucky enough to visit our Engineers Without Borders project site one last time before I hand over the reigns to the new leads. Our mission was to find 'hidden' traders to get a idea of how many traders were operating 'behind the scenes'.  Most of the traders selling meat or vegetables line the main roads of the Nyanga interchange and the taxi-rank, but those who brew African Beer or 'Umqombothi' in Xhosa. (Both 'umqombothi' and 'Xhosa' have clicks in their pronunciation just by the way). The master's student on the TD4SUD project, Rissa came with us with the minivol, a machine that collects air samples for testing in the lab. While she set up and waited for the minivol to do its thing (accompanied by two chaperone's who agreed to take care of her), Tumelo and I followed Jack, our translator through the township.

Steaming drums of beer, being cooked with
harmful treated wood
The sights, sounds and most of all, the smells of Nyanga never fail to surprise me. We passed groups of old men gathered, drinking umqombothi or just sleeping off Friday-night hangovers on their humble porches. I wanted to know more about the method of brewing the beer so Jack took us into a 'shebeen' or drinking house to speak to one of the mama's. We needed this information to be able to design a stove to meet their needs.  We sat on a bench in a small shack, facing another row of customers as they talked, joked and sipped on paint-tins of beer. Jack, respectfully as always, asked the elder if she would tell us the recipe of umqombothi, which she began to relate to us with excitement.

An elder explaining the significance
of the walking stick
Once she and the other customers heard about our project, they were all to willing to help with any information we needed. Jack paid the 'mother' R5 (about 80 cents) for half a can of umqombothi and Tumelo (who is Xhosa) and I had our first try of the drink. One of the mamas taught me that the cultural way for a woman to drink umqombothi was in a kneeling position. I obliged out of respect, a value which is extremely important in the Xhosa culture. The elders told us about the traditions and cultures of the people and told us they were really glad we'd come to visit. One of the elders then said something really special to us: he told us that when we were there, nothing will happen to us and nobody will rob us. This is a privilege afforded to people and NGO's that work to help the community in township areas.  The influence of mob-justice or vigilantism exacted on caught criminals in townships by the community can be quite powerful. A colleague who worked on the upgrade of Warwick Junction in Durban a few years ago had her stolen phone returned to her 20minutes after it was taken.  Although this makes me feel slightly safer, I still wouldn't take any risks as its sometimes difficult to control the younger 'skebengu's' in the area. 

Tumelo drinking umqombothi

Me drinking the African beer
We rejoined Rissa, who had been chatting to some young men about her home in Rwanda and sharing stories over a can of umqombothi.  A group of children gathered around us, curious about the strange new faces and machine. They pushed to be in front of the camera and begged us to show them their images on the digital screens. We chatted a while longer and Jack told us about how the community had been shaken up about the Anni Dewani murder and how his Township Tours business had suffered. This unfortunately was the result of the media rampage surrounding the murder.

A man selling trinkets and plastic jewelry came by to offer his wares. I replied, in Zulu 'Ngiyaxolisa Baba, kodwa siyasebenza namhlange. Asikhona iMali.' (Sorry my father, but we are working today and do not have and money to spend). Rissa was shocked that I could speak Zulu (although that is just about all I can say in Zulu)...but I was anxious that I may have offended the man, as he was Xhosa-speaking. Jack just laughed and said, "Sweetheart, you're speaking a language of the African people, of course its ok!"  The man beamed at me, answering is Zulu that it was alright and walked away, chuckling to himself as he went...
'Mama' in her 'shebeen'

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Engineer Joke of the Week!

Hot Nerd Guy...Working for you? No?

Engineering Pick-up Lines

  • I won't stop bugging you until I get the address of your home page. Cringe!
  • You fascinate me more than the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.
  • Since distance equals velocity times time, let's let velocity and time approach infinity, because I want to go all the way with you. Ouch, this one is wrong on so many levels
  • My love for you is like a concave up function because it is always increasing.
  • Let's convert our potential energy to kinetic energy.
  • Wanna come back to my room? ...and see my 1000 Mhz Pentium VII?
  • How about you and I go back to my place and form a covalent bond?
  • You and I would add up better than a Riemann sum.
  • You're sweeter than glucose. Chemical Engineering Scum!
  • We're as compatible as two similar Power Macintoshes.
  • Why don't we measure the coefficient of static friction between you and me? They mean DYNAMIC FRICTION I'm sure!
  • Wanna see the programs in my HP-48GX?
  • Your body has the nicest arc length I've ever seen.
  • Isn't your e-mail address
  • You're hotter than a bunsen burner set to full power! Sigh, poor engineer boys...You gotta love them!

Boiling Point

So I have been known to get quite stressed out at times, and I must admit, I am not fun when I do! The thing that stresses me out the most though, is getting Visa's. I don't know why, but something about the complicated process, ridiculous documentation and varying waiting times just gets works me up into a frightful mess. Do you remember this post? Travel Trauma wow.

But you've got to understand, I have had to get four different visa's this year, plus a replacement passport for my lost one! USA, UK, Australia and Canada. Not only were these really expensive and most of them were valid for only 6 months (Australia gave me a 1month visa and USA gave me a ten year), I have a habit of leaving things a little late. At one stage, I had 3 weeks to get a passport, a USA and a UK visa! (I must applaud Home Affairs for their awesome new passport process). 

A few weeks before I left for Vancouver, right in the middle of possibly the most stressful phase of my thesis project, I applied for my Canadian Visa. There was a huge mix-up with the courier company collecting my documents. I had specifically told the operator to call me before coming to fetch them, since I was working late at camps that week and couldn't guarantee where I would be. So the courier comes for my documents, and I wasn't home and he leaves. The next day I call back, and ask them to come back and this time, to PLEASE CALL ME! Around 4pm there was still no call so I race home only to find that the courier was just there and had left. Again. Now with the clock ticking on the visa-processing, I panicked. I called the courier office, insisted that the driver return immediately. I was so angry, I think I may have even tried to lodge a formal complaint against the driver.

So this skinny dude arrives at my gate, and honestly, I am not proud about the massive earful I gave the poor guy! *Rhea, breathe, one, two, ok* (is what I should have said. I'm not going to tell you what I actually said)  To be fair, it wasn't really his fault since he hadn't even got the message to call me in the first place. 

So today, after a sweaty gym session I was cooling off in the shower when the door-bell rings. The book I'd ordered had arrived. Crap, I'd forgotten about that! So I race out in a bath-robe, with a towel on my head, leaving pools of water all over my floor. I fling open my door, clutching my towel around me, and my jaw drops! Standing in front of me is THE SAME DELIVERY GUY that I'd been so inexplicably rude to a month ago! For a moment I was lost for words, then I half close the door, pretend like I don't recognise him and proceed to sign for my parcel from behind the door. It was really ridiculous but I just couldn't face him! (By the way, to make matters even worse, I got my visa more than a week before I left for Canada! Cringe!)

Moral of this story: Don't lose your cool in stressful circumstances. Treat people well, even strangers, because the world is way smaller than you think! On that note...

By the way, the book I got is called 'Boiling Point' by Leonie Joubert. I've wanted it for ages...It follows the lives of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, showing how their lives are so severely turned upside down by the effects of climate change. Let me quote something from the intro:

"When you tug on a single thing in nature, said the conservationist John Muir, you find it is attached to the rest of the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the climate crisis. Tugging on a thread of our shared atmosphere in China or the U.S., for example, by shunting pollution into the skies, causes the fabric of local weather patterns to unravel half a world away.

Climate change is the biggest moral problem of our time, as people who have contributed little to the pollution responsible for global warming are increasingly understood to be most vulnerable to the shifting environment around them. In Boiling Point, Leonie Joubert embarks on a journey in which she explores the lives of some South Africans affected by this phenomenon: a rooibos tea farmer in the Northern Cape, a traditional fisherman in Lamberts Bay, a farmer in the center of the Free States maie belt, a political refugee in Pietermaritburg and a sangoma in Limpopo mining country. Most of these communities live on a knife-edge because of poverty and their dependence on an already capricious natural environment. Boiling Point considers what might happen to them as normal weather trends are amplified in a hotter world."

I know this is going to be a good one! Enjoy!