Thursday, September 8, 2011


1.) In the ocean. My colleague and roommate Emma and went running along the shore almost every day in the past two weeks. (Trying to stay in shape despite the not-so-healthy food at AIMS, this is the best thing we've come up with so far.) She's been spotting whales all over the place, and telling me about it excitedly every time. I haven't. I think they hide from me. But yesterday, finally, I got lucky: We were jogging along together when we noticed a lot of people pointing out into the ocean. And lo, there was a whale there! Really close, maybe 50 meters out from the furthest out rocks. We stopped to watch it, and noticed that there were two of them, a big one and a very small one. Now whales are actually very difficult to observe, because only small parts of them stick out of the water at any given time, and they look mostly like very flat, smooth black humps in the sea -- but we think it was a mother with her baby, possibly even giving birth right there. 

As if that wasn't enough, we managed to spot another two or three whales at other points in the bay. And just as we were about to head back home we saw a seal flitting through the water just about 10m away from us. All that was missing for real excitement was a shark...

2.) In my office. I've actually started work now, including grading. The other night I brought some graded  problem sets over to the other tutors' office and was just about to put them in the box when I was greeted by an old friend: A cockroach, wiggling its legs and feelers at me merrily from inbetween the assignments. I let him (or her?) be, I'm getting used to them.

But then, this morning, I'd been awake for at most half an hour, I got to the office and produced my travel mug from my bag in preparation for my morning coffee. I open the lid, and who's there, already wide awake? A cockroach! They're invading my private space now. So this one went down the drain, followed by a lot of very hot water which I used to clean out the mug -- enough is enough.

3.) At work. We went on a few trips this past week. Much like 8th grade class trips, remember those?

Taking 50 students for a hike is a lot like herding a flock of reluctant cattle, even though they're mostly older than me.

Yesterday the group went to visit Stellenbosch University, one of the universities they are registered at as students, and the same thing happened again. Us tutors were set up in different strategic locations inside the building and near the bus, with checklists for the students and phones in our hands, trying to get everyone there on time. I can now empathize with my own teachers from way back -- strange feeling!

On Saturday, we decided to walk up Muizenberg Peak, just about five minutes from the institute, scheduled departure: 9am. I showed up at 8 and waited, with a cup of coffee, for everyone else. The French-African students started appearing at breakfast around 8:50. 5 minutes later, a bunch of still fasting members of the Arab league. Some of the signed-up students had to be retrieved from their rooms, bathrooms, the table tennis table and other places around the building. A pattering pulsating crowd slowly formed in the lobby, and about half an hour after our declared departure we set off for the mountain.

Lots of photos

Lots of stops
It was supposed to take about an hour to climb the mountain. But we didn't quite anticipate some of the drag forces on our trek: first, our students love to take pictures. About every 10 seconds someone stopped to snap a photo, or pose for one. Then, some of them are not in very good shape -- one of them asked me "So this trip, is it for going for a walk, or for exercise, or for taking pictures?" The fasting faction grew weaker as the sun grew hotter, and some of them were threatening to collapse about halfway up. Two of us tutors went in the front, two in the back, trying to keep the forty-some students together, but to no avail -- only about three quarters actually made it to the top, and did so one by one, spread out over a surprisingly long period of time. The last people made it up around 2 hours after our departure.
Muizenberg from above

But so what, it was beautiful anyways. At one point you could hear the gurgling of a little mountain stream mixing with the distant sound of the waves; fantastic.

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