Friday, October 29, 2010

Real Nigga

As a Black American I often have experiences that are a little bit different from the average American student abroad. There have been more than a few times when people have mistaken me for a local and addressed me Xhosa or Zulu (in Durban). Once people realize I'm American however, a whole different line of curiosity arises.

            Many South Africans who I have encountered consume a lot of American, particularly Black American culture. This sometimes puts me in uncomfortable situations because many of them have met very few Black Americans and therefore they are unsure exactly how to deal with me as a person. In my time here I have answered countless questions about rap music, the "hood", "baby mamas", or any other number of Black American stereotypes. Sometimes I just try to change the subject and sometimes I try to give a response that is accurate in acknowledging the truth of certain stereotypes but also their inability to fully articulate the Black American experience.

            One such encounter happened recently while I was on campus at UCT. A student who I knew saw me and approached. The guy was someone who I met early during my stay in South Africa and had talked to a few times but we are not very close. In the past he has disclosed to me that he is a fan of hip-hop and has asked me various questions about hip-hop and other facets of black life in the US. Often these questions skirted on uncomfortable subjects or phrasing for me but this particular time was the worst.

            As we talked I told him about my recent trip back to the US. He was intrigued and asked if I went back to the "hood." He was also curious as to if I lived in the "hood" with "real niggas." This question made me slightly uncomfortable and I tried to explain to him that where I lived was a somewhat rough part of town but not the worst. I also explained that there were people who would fit his idea of "real niggas" in my neighborhood (drug dealer, gangsters, etc.) but there were also many hardworking legitimate people as well. I tried to also explain that even these people aren't terrible people (or arbitrators of a glamorous lifestyle) but rather young people caught in a complicated system of disenfranchisement, lack of resources, and socioeconomic factors.

My friend thought for a second before brushing that off and honing in on the final part of his question. I think he noticed the discomfort in my face when he had asked the initial questions because then he asked me if I was offended by his use of the word "nigga." He repeated the word a few more times in a few sentences and then restated the question. He pointed out that he was also black and therefore presumably had similar ownership of the word.

This question really made me think. I was uncomfortable when he said nigga. Without a doubt I was and I didn't totally understand why. I use the word in my own speech and have plenty of friends who do as well (black friends). Even many of my friends back home who are African-born or have African parents use it and I don't feel any of the same discomfort. My rationale at the time was that the word occupies a particular place in the American historical context and more broadly the experience of Diasporic people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. I tried to calmly explain my discomfort to him and also my reasoning. I wanted him to at least begin to understand the psychological burden of being called that word as a kid in hate, of having it scrawled across the wall of your school. I wanted him to also understand what it meant to have a grandmother call you that word with affection or to have boys on the playground knight you with it once you earned their respect through a game of basketball. The word isn't something that comes and goes easy. Its history is as complicated and contradictory as America itself.

I know all that I just said was a little verbose and I'm sure that's how it came off (and in a more rushed and nervous way at that). Even still, his response unsettled me further. He just started talking about the "K" word in South Africa and how they don't use it since apartheid's end. He tried to draw a parallel between the two words and their usage and history. I understood what he meant but I felt that he had missed the entire point of what I had said. It seemed like he had spent the time when I was responding to his query thinking about the next thing he would say rather than really listening. He might have listened to me in a nominal sense but he didn't really understand any of the things I had said. That probably bothered me more than anything. After the encounter I just tried to be polite and continue quickly along my way. I didn't know what else to do because it seemed like he wasn't in the right frame of mind to engage in a true dialogue at that point.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shout into cyberspace...


For anybody who was following my blog you might have realized that I went MIA on here for a second. That was for a few reasons. I was writing everyday and becoming kind of fatigued with constantly documenting rather than living. I also started to look back and realized that some of the posts were getting a bit repetitive. In trying to keep this thing fresh for me and for the folks who read this I've been trying to think about a way in which to keep the blog entertaining for myself and others. So I'll try this...

A lot of folks ask me "How is Africa?" I never give good answers to that question because it's not a very good question. So what I want to do for this blog is to open it up to questions. Hit me up via my blog, email, facebook, or any other way that you can and I'll try to answer most of those questions in a public forum of my blog. This will allow me to address stuff that people actually wonder about my time in South Africa. I want to dialogue so I hope people respond to this... So...


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010, 11:31 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

This morning we got up and checked out. I was actually a little sad to leave Durban. I like it and I definitely could spend more time exploring it. I am happy to get back to Cape Town and my own space though.

After we checked out we took the city bus to the aquarium. It's called uShaka Marine World. It was pretty cool The aquarium was a half water park half aquarium. It's apparently one of the largest in the world. It was pretty decent. We looked around and also checked out the dolphin show. While we were leaving we ran into some people from our study abroad group.

Once we got back from the aquarium we went to eat at an Indian restaurant. The food was really good. One of the servers was talking to me about how his dream was to come and visit America. He knew a lot of random things about Chicago. It was kinda cool.

After that we caught a shuttle from the hotel to the airport. The shuttle took forever and we were almost late to our flight but our flight was delayed a little bit so it worked out perfectly. Airport security is much easier to get through here. It's quite convenient and you don't have to do things like take off your shoes and all of that.

The flight was pretty uneventful. Once we got back to Cape Town and back to the dorms I've basically been chilling all night. Glad to be back.

"this dolphins splashing, getting everybody all wet"

-the lonely island



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thursday, September 8, 2010, 10:44 PM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

            Today we decided to go back to the market. This time we took a minibus instead of catching a cab in order to save money. Once we got off the minibus we had to walk for a couple of blocks to find our way to the market. It was pretty funny. The girls I was with were both wearing skirts.  While they weren't super short by American standards they were definitely the shortest thing I had seen anybody in Durban wearing. As we were walking literally everybody was turning their heads to look at the girls, men and women alike. Lots of the men stopped and tried to talk to them but they also spoke in Zulu so we didn't understand anything of what they were saying. That was a pretty interesting moment of cultural disconnect. Something the would be wholly appropriate in most American spaces (The skirt were only right above the knee) seemed almost scandalous here.

            Anyway we got back to the market and I bought a few more items. It was really cool because a lot of the people who we had talked to and bought from the day before remembered us and even remembered our names. In a way it felt really homey in that respect. It was cool. After that we really just went back to the hotel and chilled for the night.

            Tonight when I was in the hotel I was thinking about how similar hotels kind of are to each other. When I was in the hotel I kind of forgot that I was in a different country in a way. Just an observation.

"skirts on the ruffle"

-nicki minaj




Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 11:53 PM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

Today we woke up hella early to go to a safari. We ended up not going because we found out that the big 5 animals weren't going to be on it and it also cost more than we initially thought. Instead of hitting the safari we went to the Victoria St. Market. It was a great time. Things there were a lot cheaper than Cape Town and I enjoyed trying to haggle for prices and everything. I ended up buying almost all of the gifts I need for people back home.

The guys we met in one shop were really nice to us and we talked to them for a long time. Mostly all the people in the market were nice, even when we didn't buy from them. One jewelry store that we spent a lot of time in ended up being one of the funnier parts of the trip.

The women in the jewelry store thought I was really good looking so they wanted to take a picture with me. We all took a bunch of pictures and such and traded facebook info with the ladies. It was really flattering but I didn't really know how to take it (I'm quite bad at receiving direct compliments).

After that we headed back to the hotel and chilled for the night. Getting deals is tiresome work.

"excuse me my friend, what is the price?"

-phonte of little brother



Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 11:53 PM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

Today we woke up hella early to go to a safari. We ended up not going because we found out that the big 5 animals weren't going to be on it and it also cost more than we initially thought. Instead of hitting the safari we went to the Victoria St. Market. It was a great time. Things there were a lot cheaper than Cape Town and I enjoyed trying to haggle for prices and everything. I ended up buying almost all of the gifts I need for people back home.

The guys we met in one shop were really nice to us and we talked to them for a long time. Mostly all the people in the market were nice, even when we didn't buy from them. One jewelry store that we spent a lot of time in ended up being one of the funnier parts of the trip.

The women in the jewelry store thought I was really good looking so they wanted to take a picture with me. We all took a bunch of pictures and such and traded facebook info with the ladies. It was really flattering but I didn't really know how to take it (I'm quite bad at receiving direct compliments).

After that we headed back to the hotel and chilled for the night. Getting deals is tiresome work.

"excuse me my friend, what is the price?"

-phonte of little brother



Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 12:02 AM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

            Okay, the complimentary breakfast at our hotel is off the CHAIN. That's not really relevant to anything but I just had to put it out there. After we ate we took a minibus into Downtown. The minibuses in Durban were a lot more laidback than the ones in Cape Town. They didn't try to jam as many people in and the guys weren't as aggressive trying to get people to ride. They were also cheaper (3 Rand, less than 50 cents).

            Once we got into town I noticed something that I had kind of noticed before at the airport. Everybody in Durban has a good tooth or gold teeth. A ton of people have them. It kind of reminds me of being in a city in North Florida or something. It's interesting. There was also a lot more signs and all that in the native language (Zulu) than in Cape Town or even Jo'burg. In some ways it felt like I was more "in Africa" because there were a lot more black people out on the streets and the language thing but in some ways it felt "not African" because the street reminded me of Times Square or State Street in Chicago and there was a lot of Indian people. It's kind of funny how that works. But downtown was cool. Looked around a lot of places, didn't buy anything, but I did get my haircut.

Another thing that I noticed here, especially at the barbershop is that people speak to you first in Zulu. This has happened to me before in Cape Town but usually as soon as I talk back and they hear my accent or hear me speaking in English they switch to English. In Durban I've kind of had to straight say to people that I only speak English to get them to use it. It seems like they're less used to dealing with tourists, or at least black tourists.

            That night we had dinner and went to a bar with a few students from our study abroad program that were also vacationing in Durban. It was a fun time and the food was great. Lamb is my new favorite meat. I've been eating it all the time. At the dinner they had more African dancing and such. It was cool. Kind of similar to some of the stuff they did at the place in Jo'burg.

"hey zulu"

-method man and redman




Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tuesday, September 6, 2010, 12:07 AM Durban Time- Bel-Aire Suites

Had to wake up hella early to get to the airport for a 6 AM flight. At the airport I picked up a pocket edition of The 48 Laws of Power. I've wanted to read that book for a while so I figure it'll give me something to thumb through when I'm not doing work.

In Durban the weather was pretty nice. Not too hot but very comfortable. We took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. The airport was really far out from the city. Almost as soon as we landed I noticed the Indian influence. There were a lot fewer white people and almost no coloured people but a lot of Indians and blacks.

The hotel is super nice. They're doing some construction but even still. In our room we have a huge window that's overlooking the Indian Ocean. After I got settled in I called back to Cape Town to make sure all my stuff got turned in.

Eventually we walked down the beach in search of food. The beach looked pretty cool and we happened upon a casino and food court really close to where we were staying. We ate at an Indian place in the food court. The curry was really good.

Later on we walked to a grocery store and got some snacks for the room. On the way back from there we noticed some people on the side of the beach who were selling souvenirs. The stuff they had was a lot more reasonably priced than anywhere in Cape Town. I'll probably be stocking up here. Indeed.

"hotel, motel, holiday inn…"

-big bank hank of sugarhill gang




Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010, 10:37 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today I basically spent the entire day working on my paper. I worked
mostly at Cocoa Wah Wah and then tried to go up to campus to turn it
in. The building where I had to turn it in was locked though so I
asked my roommate to turn it in for me in the morning.
Other than that I packed and got ready. Durban tomorrow. Should be a good week.
"keep it movin, yea yea to the k-i-m"
-q-tip of a tribe called quest

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010, 11:56 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Got up pretty early and headed to cocoa wah wah to grab some breakfast. After that I headed up to the library to work on my paper. Didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted to but did some work. After I couldn't manage any more focus I left and walked back to my dorm. Chilled out there for some time and got some rest.
    Chilled upstairs and then decided not to go out tonight. Still was recovering from the night before.
    I really need to finish this paper. Ugggh.
"i keep a 4 point and i don't even like school"
-vic mensa

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Saturday, September 4, 2010, 4:31 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today was the most unexpectedly brilliant day I've had in a long time and definitely one I really needed. I went to bed last night feeling pretty down about myself and it seemed like the universe had to balance it out because I woke up in such a great way. I got a text from the president of the hip-hop club text in the morning. He told me that my track had been selected to win a contest with Blackberry and that I would have the chance to open for the Blu & Exile show. This really made my entire morning. I jumped up and down was just feeling myself a ton. It was really helpful because the past few days I haven't been feeling well so it was a good thing to get some positive feedback.

            I spent some of the morning working on my paper and outlining. I ran into a friend who usually hangs around and watches the Wednesday ciphers. Her and me had a pretty good conversation about hip-hop, South Africa, race, and all that. She's really the first coloured person my age that I've had a chance to talk to for an extended time so that was good. She definitely acknowledged that although she is coloured she is also black and that part of her heritage. I'd be curious to know though how many coloured people share her feelings. She seemed like she was in many ways more enlightened that many.

            After class I went to Café Sofia just to check it out. It was decent. Killed some time there on the internet then went back to my dorm and got the stuff I needed for the show. After that I took the shuttle down to the downtown UCT campus and walked over to Long Street. I had about an hour and a half to kill so I checked out some clothing stores and bookstores and bummed around.

Once it hit time for the soundcheck I went over to Zula (the venue for the show). When I got in Blu and Exile were there setting up. I immediately recognized Blu but tried to play cool. I asked him if he knew who to talk to for soundcheck and he told me then I introduced myself and he did likewise. I actually bummed around for awhile before talking to dude. Eventually I gave him my mp3 and everything and it was gravy. Here's a quick hitlist of things that happened or I observed during soundcheck:

Exile is a stickler for his sound quality

I called my homegirl Blue in NYC to gloat about sitting right next to Blu (who she loves)

The guy who was running the show and does a lot in the hip-hop scene here is actually from Nashville.

Yeah. Once the people from Blackberry got there I got a chance to meet them. They were cool, young and students like me. They kind of got mad because it took me a long time to get a soundcheck but I personally didn't care because the other two acts had much longer sets and specific needs for audio. My junk was basically straight once you press play. I keep it easy. But either way I got my check in and the Blackberry folks got on the nerves of the cat running the show. I had a decent conversation with one of the security guys. He asked me about the differences in life between Cape Town and America and he gave me the lowdown on the type of crowd that usually comes through when Zula does a hip-hop show. 

After a while I split to grab some food before the show. Had a good meal in a bar alone. This was interesting to kind of see people getting ready to start their Friday nights and the exciting around that. It's weird but it's tangible and something I'd kind of forgotten because I hadn't gone out on a weekend like that in so long. Eventually met up with a friend and she hung with me during the show. It was cool because I got to sell back the tickets I bought for the show so I saved a bit of loot. We went to another bar further down to get a drink and chill for a second. By the time we got back Zula was starting to get packed and I was getting pretty excited. I talked to the DJ who was spinning some and just watched the crowd as they got full. It's funny because for all the hip-hop shows I've ever been to this one was straight up one of the only ones I've ever seen that had a mostly black audience. I don't think that's a negative or positive thing but definitely something I observed. People were getting a lot of drinks and starting to get loose and the dude running the show told me I would go on after the next song.

After the song went off some other cat got on stage and welcomed everyone to the show. He explained a little bit about the Blackberry sponsorship of the whole thing and then introduced. His introduction didn't really make sense because he talked about how Blackberry was trying to promote local artists and then introduced me as "all the way from Chicago". lol. It made me think about how appropriate it really was for me to win the contest but I think the president of the hip-hop club picked and I suppose if he would've thought it a bad look to have a transfer student rep then he could've picked anyone else.  The dude introduced me as "Nathan" which is a little bit of a pet peeve of mine and I admit it threw me off my game a little bit. Once I got on stage all the cool banter I had been thinking of basically went out the window. I said something goofy and forgettable and then I told the DJ to play my track.

            At first I was a little skittish. It was a bit weird to do a single song on a show, especially when you're not used to the venue or the rest of the bill but I tried to roll with it. My lyrics and delivery all came off crisp and the beat sounded great in the system to me so I got a little more comfortable. By the second verse I really got into it and was working both sides of the crowd. After my last verse I got a little bit of call and response going and the crowd seemed pretty into it. There was definitely a group of girls on the left side of the stage that was staring at me pretty intently by the end. I got some good applause and felt like I did my thing. Once I got back into the crowd after a few minutes in the back area folks gave me a good bit of props so it was fun.

Next up was this local cat Mingus and his band. He's a pretty good MC (he hosted the open mic I went to a few days ago) and his band definitely played well. The sound was a bit off though, which is common when bands play hip-hop. It's rare to hear a band that doesn't drown out the MC. I couldn't really hear what Mingus was saying over the band but the show was still decent. I spent most of the time during Mingus' show backstage. Talked to Blu for a little bit. He was clearly pretty blazed.

After Mingus got off stage there was an interim where they had some b-boys come and dance, then Blu and Exile's set. The crowd was definitely amped to see them. Girls and guys had been jocking Blu all night to that point running up and asking for pics or trying to see where the afterparty was. The show started okay. Blu ran through a couple of tracks that were newer that I hadn't heard. I was watching from backstage but I ended up standing on the stage for most of his act actually. That was pretty cool to get to see the show from the other side and really watch the crowd. The show was fairly average. Blu forgot a good number of verses, especially the older joints from Below the Heavens. That was kind of disappointing because that is his most popular stuff and the stuff a lot of folks, myself included, were most excited to see. Still I liked Blu's stage presence. He's such a big guy so he kind of was able to occupy the whole stage. He's also super laidback with his presentation. It's weird but he comes off as a down to earth person on stage, but it works.

Exile on the other hand, did nothing but impress and amaze me. First off, he's the sickest person I've ever seen on an MPC. He did a Michael Jackson tribute where he chopped up and reassembled Thriller. He also did a ton of beats on the spot. Not only were they dope but a lot were really complicated and his finger movement and sense of rhythm was super on point. The fact that a lot of his stuff was very frenetic also worked well because of the whole House scene that is very popular in South Africa. He started even doing tricks. At one point he played with his head, then picked up a beer and drank while playing with one hand, then he started playing with the bottom of the beer bottle. Amazing.

At one point Blu busted a freestyle and referenced me (which was cool as hell). Overall the show was just alright. The vibe of the whole night was great but both performances could've been better. Towards the end of his set Blu really seemed to be losing steam. It was kind of like forgetting the other verses made him lose some confidence or something. He just looked like he kind of didn't want to be there. He invited MCs from the crowd to freestyle. A few guys came up and rhymed. I busted a short free with them. It was mad cool though cause for a lot of the time I was just chillin in the cut with Blu and talking while the guys rhymed.

After they got offstage Exile kept spinning for awhile then the guy who was managing the show took over. I got Blu's email backstage and then left out to work the crowd. Oddly enough I probably got more props during this time for my performance than when I first got off stage after spitting "Pompous". In a way I think people were disappointed with Blu or something and they realized that I did quite well. Either way I gave out my number to a few MCs who wanted to collab or were talking about getting me on shows and it was a good night. Had a few conversations with some folks and also noticed a lot of women looking at me. Didn't approach any though. Meh. All in all it was a really great night though.

"i don't be fucking around on that microphone"

-royce da 5'9




Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010, 10:32 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Even after the craziness of last night I was able to wake up at 7 AM to work on my paper.  I got a decent bit of work done. Mostly outlining and really organizing my ideas for the paper. I also organized a meeting with my tutor about the paper. He gave me some good pointers and things to think about and include and he also gave me an extension until Monday. Unfortunately, learning that he had created an extension actually had the inverse effect of making me not really want to do any work at all. lol.

            This afternoon I had my group at LEAP School. A lot of the boys weren't around so we had a much smaller group than usual. It was still alright though. I played a few songs for them and then did an activity that is basically a rhyming game. It was a good session and I really do like the boys who stick around.

Also today I was feeling a little bit down. Had a good conversation with my homeboy Lamar about how I present myself to people and the ramifications of that and he spoke a lot of sense. My issues with being in a new place aren't necessarily unique to me but they are definitely recurring. I don't know. We'll see. It's always difficult though to be in a new place where people don't really know you because they make very snap judgments about you.

Also talked to my boy Jose. We had a good conversation about poetry and writing and about why we write and the importance of that and how to stay committed to the work. Whenever I talk to him he makes me feel like I need to approach that craft with a renewed focus and I'm thankful for that in him.

I also wrote two things today. The first was a Statement of Poetic Purpose. It was basically a short essay about why I write and a little about my life and what it has meant to me throughout it. Jose and Kevin Coval both dug it a lot. Maybe I'll throw it up here one day once I edit it a little.

Also wrote a poem about Drake. I really like this poem initially. I think it has some potential. Its in the same form as the poem to Soulja Boy in my chapbook. I think this may end up being a series of pieces. We'll see.

Tonight I just chilled with some friends in my dorm. And that's it.

"i left the office, got a phone and called my partner jack and I asked him, remind me why I'm rappin? and right before he answered i remembered my passion in the past
when I was scribbling in my tablet to box out my mom and dads scrappin
to help me when my grandmother passed…"




Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010, 2:03 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Class was okay today. My African Poetry teacher cancelled class for Thursday so that was dope. The Wednesday cipher didn't happen because the weather was rainy and really cutting up.

            Went to Young In Prison. It was good to work with the boys. Right before we got there they had been using drugs. I don't know but it makes me sad that at such a young age have been socialized to seek drugs and all that and that people within the system will get it to them. I don't know. Still, it was a good day. We made collages with them about what a friend should be and the guys I was working with really did well with that project.

            After that I went to the library. I wish I could've been more focused but I did get some outlining and a little bit of writing for my paper done. I grabbed dinner at Cocoa Wah Wah and after that went back to my dorm.

            A bunch of us went to Long Street to a bar called the Waiting Room. It was pretty good. Every 1st Wednesday they have a hip-hop open mic. It started mad late though. Before it started I kind of floated around, ciphered upstairs with a few guys, which was alright.

            The open mic had a different format then I've seen. Basically the DJ played beats and people would spit and then pass the mic off round robin. You had to be a little aggressive to get a shot on the mic. It was dope though. I got about 3 rounds in and I worked the crowd well. A lot of the MCs there didn't seem to have much show experience. They tended to look down or not interact with the crowd and also to not rap really on the beat or try to ride the beat. At the end of the open mic the host got on and said he had a prize for the cat who repped the best on the mic that night and then called me up. I really wasn't expecting anything, especially not a prize. I got to have a little moment of shine to spit a 16. It was very cool. I got a shirt that says "The Fraternity of Capestreets". And it's red and white. Hahahah. Klearly I was meant to win (Kappa moment, my bad).

            It was really dope. I talked with the host afterwards and he told me to hit him up on facebook so that we could connect and build. He's opening for Blu & Exile. It felt good to get a little bit of traction in the scene here. Hopefully I can parlay it into something. I would love to do some shows while I'm here. Maybe I'll even see if there's a place where I can get my record pressed up here. We'll see.

"don't you hate it in the cipher when your rhyme is through, and some wack rapper rhyme right behind you"

-punchline & wordsworth



Monday, September 6, 2010

Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 10:37 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today in Literature class we went over what to expect and how to approach an exam. He had some good things to say, nothing super obscure but some things that I think will help as a I prepare.

Today at LEAP School I chilled with a group of the boys who are in my Thursday session. It was pretty cool. We talked about how our high schools are different and also how they learn differently as bilingual students who are generally learning in schools that don't speak their native language. They were surprised that I had problems saying the clicks in their language the same way that white people do and I had to explain to them that because I was socialized in a Western language only from a young age that the nuances of their language are just difficult for me to do with my mouth. I did also though get a chance to talk to another group of boys and help them with an oral presentation they had to do. I got to use a lot of the things I learned from Jack Kent Cooke and also things I've picked up from doing slam. It was a good time.

I also started putting down some serious writing for this history paper. I'm really trying to finish it by Thursday afternoon so I can meet with my tutor and see if there's anything he could suggest to improve. I'm trying to knock this one out the park.

Tonight I had dinner with a friend and watched Salt. Salt is a crazy movie. Some very cool action and kill scenes. Dope

"for the dark night, any kid who's ever talked white…"

-illuminate mics




Sunday, September 5, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010, 9:12 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Most exciting thing about today is that I copped Blu and Exile tickets for 80 R (about 11.50 USD). Friday night will be fun and a nice little present to myself for handing in my history paper earlier that day. I'm really looking forward to the show to see Blu and also to see the opening acts that will be some local Cape Town acts. Hopefully I can make some connects or at least meet some more people who are on the scene.

In my study abroad seminar we had some decent conversations. We had an activity where we discussed and tried to identify dominant American values. One that virtually everybody agreed on as a value was freedom. Americans just generally love freedom, even if we don't understand what that means or anything…it just sounds good (don't it?). Haha. Other than that we talked about these evaluations that we did to try to identify the type of learners that we are. I apparently learn best from conversation and hands on things. This makes so much sense to me when I think about myself and where I learn. Even in high school I remember having way more so-called intellectual moments on the train, or a poetry slam, or the studio, than in a classroom.

I also got my first big assignment back. Didn't do as well as I would've liked on it. Got the equivalent of a high C. It'll work out though. Just gotta ace everything in that class from here out. That counted for about a quarter of the grade so I still have 75% to make up through other assignments. Small things to a pimp.

"trouble i don't shy away from it i annihilate"




Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010, 11:45 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

My god it was a beautiful day today. Just a very idyllic Sunday, which is always nice. I had breakfast at Cocoa Wah Wah with a friend. We had some good conversations about Cape Town and being foreign here and such. She also had a lot of interesting things to say about male and female relationships and how they differ from here and the US.
After I got back from there I took a nap and then went to another café that I've wanted to check out in Observatory (another community adjacent to my own). It had a very cool vibe and a nice outdoor section as well. And please let the record show that I hate eating outdoors (other than a barbecue or cookout it just seems weird to me). But it was cool there, got a little bit of work done and started outlining for my history essay.
This evening I had a really good conversation with my roommate about the differences that he's noticed between American and South African men and women. He observes that the American women seem more prone to promiscuity than the men (which I've observed as well). Why that is we weren't sure but in a way it seems to be a function of reputation. I say that to mean that women in our society (globally, not just American) are looked at less favorably when they're promiscuous than men. So being somewhere foreign (or with someone foreign) allows people to act out their most adventurous selves without having to put their reputation in jeopardy. It's definitely kind of an inequality of our society that I don't understand or agree with but I think its definitely something present that affects behavior and kind of makes the inequality of society something palpable and observable in behavior.
"women they do the same things men do…but they a little better at it"

Sunday, August 29, 2010, 2:04 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today was pretty chill. Went to Cocoa Wah Wah and spent a few hours there. Ate breakfast and chilled. Had some good conversation.
Later on I went upstairs and chilled. Talked and goofed off for a bit. Nothing much. Today was a very plain day but you need those sometimes.
"relax, relate, release"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010, 11:51 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

    First big assignment turned in. Felt good to have something under my belt but hopefully the grade comes back right because if it doesn't I'll have very little recourse because my professor will be in Germany for the next 2 months (we switch lecturers in the class at 6 weeks).
    After class I relaxed a bit. Did my laundry and then went grocery shopping. I've spent a good bit of time this week working on a short story. Maybe it'll see the light of day one day. Who knows?
    I ended up staying in tonight and having dinner with a South African friend. It was good. Got to have another one of the many conversations about the similarities and differences between SA and America. One thing that we did talk about that was pretty interesting though was the sexual habits of South Africans. In a lot of ways they didn't seem that different, at least in a collegiate or urban context. I think where the difference in the HIV rate and all that comes from is from a rural and medicinal standpoint, and also cultural somewhat. Its complicated but I think in a way at this point it doesn't come down to the people having different behaviors than America but just that the problem is more out of hand here so its harder to manage. I don't know. It would make me feel very nervous if I was living here permanently and faced with the prospect of having to get into relationships and all that but maybe I would feel differently if I were in that situation.
"I had dreams beyond our borders"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010, 12:41 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Class today was pretty forgettable. Went to LEAP School though, which was pretty fun. Today I showed the kids the video of the first episode of Brave New Voices. It was actually pretty interesting myself to see it. They seemed to respond well to B Yung's poem particularly (perhaps since they are all black boys).  I tried to use the video to illustrate for them that youth writing and expressing is a worldwide thing and that it has platforms bigger than what they can just see initially. Next week I'm going to try to get them into writing some more structured things but I tried to use this week to chill and also to set the table for what was to come.

After LEAP I went to the library to work on my paper for Community & Youth Development. I got an invite from one of the RAs in one of the study abroad houses to come to dinner so I took a break from writing to head over there. After getting a bit lost I found the house. The food was great and it was basically me kicking it with 3 of the RAs so it was pretty chill. Eventually I got a ride back home from one of the house security guys. Finished my paper in good time and got a chance to chill. Also came home to find the Internet was back working. So that was a great end to a good day.

"pass more essays, than motorcade police parades through east la"

-pharoahe monch



Wednesday, August 25, 2010, 8:38 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Not having access to the Internet kind of sucks. The Internet in my dorm has been down for the past day or so and I haven't had time to go to the library or somewhere else to use it so I haven't updated my blog or anything for a while. I know today is the first day of school at Vanderbilt. What's weird about that is that I'm almost halfway done with my semester. Still, thinking about starting school there does kind of make me wish I were there.

            Today was cool though. Class was basic and afterwards we had the Wednesday cipher. It was pretty good today. Only about 3 of us spitting but there was a really big crowd. For some reason I wasn't feeling it too much which was kind of frustrating. I was coming with a lot of good lines but I also kept kind of running out of gas. There was also one moment where I had a line about the Springboks (South Africa's rugby team) losing. When I said that people definitely didn't feel it and I had to take a bit to recover. I wonder how much of it was because I was American though. Still, it was very fun.

            Today I went to Young in Prison. The boys were very restless while we were there and not as into things as they were last week. They kept kind of doing little things to cause trouble or slow things down. Towards the end of the session a lot of the boys started leaving and going to their rooms. Eventually we smelled smoke and realized the boys had gotten hold of some drugs that they were smoking. It was kind of sad but I don't know. I don't feel like I'm in a position to judge anybody really.

            After we got back I was pretty worn down so I ate and took a long nap.

"i never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death"





Monday, August 30, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010, 11:24 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Today was straight. In Lit class we discussed this book Matigari, which I liked but it was a surprisingly divisive book. Quite a few people found the book to be too simplistic but to me it just seemed episodic. I was about to launch into a whole thing about the book in this journal entry but then I realized that the chances that the person who reads my blog has read this book isn't too high so I'll spare you.

Today I also went to LEAP School. Today I actually didn't end up really talking with the kids. I pretty much spent the whole time talking to the principal about life and just everything. He's a very cool guy and really passionate about his work. After LEAP School he actually gave a few of us a ride back towards UCT and we all ended up chilling and talking in a café for a good couple of hours instead of doing work. It was a great time though.

Once I got back to my room I chilled with my flatmate. I had to interview him for a thing for my study abroad seminar so we had a discussion about his name and what it meant. It was actually pretty interesting to see the differences and similarities in the way people construct names. After that he asked me about my kane (which I brought and I twirl from time to time). I was explaining the concept of a step show to him and we actually watched the video of my chapter's show at Vandy. It was a pretty chill time.

"hi my name is…"




Saturday, August 28, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010, 11:24 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today in history class we started talking about the creation of Afrikaner nationalism, which was a pretty interesting topic to cover and it worked well with the trip to Jo'burg and the Apartheid Museum from over the weekend. African Lit was also decent. After class I went to the gym and got a good run and workout in also.

In the afternoon we had our CIEE seminar and we discussed the different parts of our trip to Jo'burg. After that we talked about Values and how they vary from country to country. We were presented with an example of a misunderstanding that happened a few years ago when a white South African girl who was a radio host at UCT played a rap song that used the N word multiple times. After the song she continued using the song and sang the N word and also proclaimed that the artist was "her nigga." An African American student who was studying abroad at the time heard this and was very offended. He complained to the station but had his complaints totally dismissed.

We discussed the repercussions of that and about use of the word in general. It was a complicated thing to think about. One thing that I found interesting was that out of the three black students in the group I was the only one who didn't wholly condemn the use of the word. It's something I've thought and read about a lot and I know why I use the word and my rules of engagement for it but it becomes difficult to explain or apply those when everyone else around is saying its wrong or too afraid to have an opinion. It was an interesting conversation. One thing that we did learn was that in South Africa, however, a person (of any color) can be taken to court for saying the word "kaffir." I don't know if a similar rule would work or be constructive in an American context but it was very interesting to see how South Africa went about dealing with its own troublesome epithet.

This evening I also sat in briefly on my fraternity chapter's retreat via Skype. It was annoying because Skype kept dropping the call but it was very good to see some of my brothers and to hear about the plans for the year. It kind of made me miss them also.

"what's the deal broski? i know its been awhile."

-vic spenser



Friday, August 27, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010, 11:00 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Was actually pretty sad to leave Jo'burg and the place I stayed there. The woman who owned was very sweet to us. We headed out to this "village tour" destination called Lepedi. It was very tourist-y. There were a ton of crafts and souvenirs for sale and we spent a long time sitting around and waiting. Eventually the tour thing started. This might've been my least favorite thing we've done since I've been in Africa.

It was marketed as "tribal experience" of South Africa and it had 4 different "villages" set up that showcased the way particular peoples lived. The way the tour was set up seemed kind of exploitative to the peoples to me and I think presented a very simplistic version of each people's history and culture. Also the video they showed us definitely had footage from the old movie "Chaka Zulu." In one of the villages one of the "village women" was I'm pretty sure hungover from the previous night and it kind of underscored for me how corny that piece of things was. In a way it felt like I was back in America because I felt very much like a tourist. With the understanding that I'm not from here and that is obvious to many people I generally try to avoid feeling super "touristy" (if that makes sense). I don't know.

            After the tour there was a big dance exhibition that the people performed for us. That was pretty tight. There was some gumboot dancing which is strikingly similar to stepping and then other African dances. That was all pretty interesting. Though throughout there were a few people in the audience who were doing too much (this old white guy who was wearing a dashiki and standing next to the "chief" the whole time dancing and this nun who kind of hovered close to the performers and put her video camera all in people's faces). Not that people shouldn't enjoy an experience they paid for, but again it just came off weird.

            We ate at the place afterwards. For all the negative things I felt about the tour, the food was awesome! Quite possibly the best food I've had since I've been in South Africa. I have chicken, beef, lamb, ostrich, and crocodile. It was all really good. Crocodile also might be my new favorite meat. It's maaaad good.

After we left there we went to a market. We didn't have much time there so we kind of rushed through but it was interesting. The people who were selling were very aggressive in trying to come and shake your hand or engage you immediately and they all claimed their stuff was handmade by them or something though a lot of the places had similar items. I didn't buy anything but when we got back on the bus a lot of people had different stories about their success (or extreme failure) haggling for prices. It was definitely an experience.

One funny thing that happened when we were in the airport was in the terminal all of the black students happened to be sitting together. One of the people who runs the program (she's a white South African lady) asked us if we had ever read the book "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Lunchroom?" I actually have read the book and I told her, "Yes, I have and I'm writing the sequel. It's called 'The White Kids are Sitting Together Too So Leave Me Alone'." Afterwards we actually had a conversation about the book she asked about and self-segregation and how it plays out but it was a very funny moment.

The plane ride back to Cape Town was pretty decent. I sat next to a white South African guy. Eventually we started talking and had a quite good conversation. We talked about sports and travel and the differences and similarities between our two countries. The guy seemed cool and he's actually the first white South African who I've spoken to who wasn't affiliated with my study abroad program. He ended up paying for my soda on the plane so that was a cool also. Talking to him kind of made some things that black South Africans had told me about white South Africans stick out. At one point in the conversation he kind of switched gears and started pointing out how he was a total "non-racist" and how he had great friends who were black and white. Directly after that he started talking about the South African Black Business Empowerment program. He said he was fine with them but wished that the ANC government would give them a public "expiration date" after which everything would be "equal." He was also quick to point out that even though whites had a leg up because of history there was a lot of opportunity in the country for anyone who is willing to work hard. He himself was not an educated man but he was in business for himself and doing quite well. He told me he had two children and in a way that made me understand his concern with "reverse racism." Though I think some of his views oversimplified really complex problems I understand that as a parent his first impulse probably would (and should be) the thing that will most benefit his children.

He also told me his favorite sports were cricket, golf, and rugby. That kind of highlighted the segregation in the sports system of South Africa. When we were talking about golf he asked me a really interesting question. He pointed out that Tiger Woods was an "African American" and then he asked if white people in America were "Native Americans" since in South Africa blacks were "Native." I tried to explain to him what a Native American was and what place white people occupy in American society but it kind of pointed out to me that often times things that are very apparent to us are not understood by others, even if they seem basic to us.

"if you can talk you can sing if you can walk you can dance"

-talib kweli



Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010, 12:37 AM Jo’burg Time- Emthonjeni B&B (Soweto)

This morning was great. Had a great breakfast and headed to the Apartheid Museum. I really enjoyed the museum. It was interesting. The first part of it you actually get a ticket that says White or Non-White and you have to enter through a particular entrance based on that. I got a White ticket. Weird.

            One of the most interesting things I saw in the museum was a list of people in a given year that had changed racial categories officially in South Africa. It was interesting because it showed the fluidity of a constructed concept like race even in a rigid structure like apartheid.

            Another thing I thought was interesting was the creation of Afrikaner nationalism and white identity in South Africa. I think when we consider the history of oppression we consider the people as groups constantly without every thinking of the makings of that group identity. Hate is rarely unsophisticated in its construction I think. If it were then we would see through it too easy.

            The thing that impresses me the most about all those things once again is the ability and impulse of South Africa to embrace, commemorate, and build upon its mistakes. They seem to embrace things in a way that I could never see America doing and I think it's refreshing coming from a country that is so quick to want to forget about the ugly parts of its history.

            After we left the museum we were headed back to Soweto to grab lunch when disaster struck. Our minibus stalled out on a hill right before the ramp to the expressway. The starter was messed up so we ended up getting stuck for about 30 minutes. Eventually we had to push the car in order to get it to start in second gear but eventually we got it to work. It was actually quite a fun experience though we had to get traffic to move around and all that was a bit intimidating.

            Lunch was great. After lunch some of the neighborhood kids came and danced for us and the other people who were eating. There were a lot of white Afrikaners in Soweto today because there was a big SA-New Zealand rugby game happening at Soccer Stadium (one of the sites of some of the big World Cup games) in Soweto. After that we went on a driving tour through Soweto. The woman who was our guide owned the restaurant where we ate and was really knowledgeable. She told us about growing up when she did and how things were back then. We ended the tour in a square where there is a memorial to a young boy who was shot in the 1976 student uprising. The monument's design was very cool and it was a good end to the tour. Learning about the township and really getting to see it made me feel even more so than I did before that it's not that different from black neighborhoods in America. Some are better than others but many have a lot to offer and a great spirit and sense of community that fuel them and make them beautiful places.

            Afterwards we went back to our B&B. Most of the folks in the group went to watch the rugby game on a big screen that was set up for the public. I was tired and wanted to get some work done for school though so I stayed behind. Even still the concept of having the game on in Soweto is a crazy one. Rugby's history in South Africa is very much one dominated by white Afrikaners (the descendants of the Dutch, some of whom were key architects of apartheid). To be able to have an audience for the game in Soweto and also to have white South Africans there also to watch it does give hope for what South Africa can do and also how far it's come.

We had dinner at a mall food court. I wasn't too hungry but ended up grabbing some chicken at a spot and eating. There was a boy who was wandering around the court beggin for money and looking for food. I got his attention and invited him to sit with me. I gave him my cole slaw and some of my fries (cole slaw is one of the few foods I hate). I ended up giving him a few of my wings to finish as well. It felt good to share a meal with someone and to do something good for someone else. We talked a little bit, not much, but I could still feel that he was grateful.

            After that we went to a soccer game. It was a team called the Kaiser Chiefs from Soweto playing a team called the Celtics from a city who's name I can't spell. It was a hell of a lot of fun. The game was almost all black in terms of the fans. It kind of spoke to the segregation of sport that is still in South Africa (rugby for whites, soccer for blacks). The atmosphere reminded me a ton of HBCU game in terms of the spirit of the fans and the general crunkness. We stood the whole time chanting and dancing with the Chiefs fans. Vuvuzelas and all that madness. It was awesome. The Chiefs won the game 1-0 and our whole group of Americans made friends with the Chiefs supporters in our section and had a great time.

Also copped a new GQ today. Excited.

"and wherever i go it's the same as home. it's the h double o d, the name is known."

-masta ace



for the hoops on 116th in between Carpenter and Morgan

they removed the basketball hoops
from the park this summer
the alderman said they were increasing crime

i went to the community meeting
where they discussed the crime
there were 6 of us there
the alderman wasn't
i was the only person under 50

they complained
that the courts attracted the worst
kinds to our park

said it would be safer to
take down the hoops
maybe put a garden there instead
or a vacant lot

they complained about the benches by the courts
how weed smoke wafted above them
like street lights
how boys there shot dice
and hoops
and people

when i was a shorty
I spent every Saturday
from sunrise to pitch black
at the park
the only reason
i can walk through ragtown today
as an adult
without fear
is because of the ball
and the hoop
and how the hood
respects hustle

i sat at benches
that weed smoke halos
with GDs who wouldn't pass
it to me so i could pass
in school

there was always someone
playing on the court
always shooting
not people

Monday, August 23, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010, 11:54 PM Jo’burg Time- Emthonjeni B&B (Soweto)

            ATTENTION EVERYBODY WHO WANTS TO CALL ME. SOUTH AFRICA IS 7 HOURS AHEAD OF CENTRAL TIME IN THE USA. That means that 5 PM in Nashville is midnight. Or 7 PM in New York is 1 AM. This morning I got a call at about 2:30 AM from Ashley Oliver. I wish you well at law school Ashley. I also wish you hadn't risen me from an already too short sleep. lol. It's all good. But anyway by the time I got back to bed I ended up oversleeping until 6 AM (the time our van was leaving for the airport). Needless to say, packing at night is a good thing. Made it to the airport. Security here is much more lax than London or the US (which makes sense I suppose). The flight was decent. Blah blah.

            We went to the Constitutional Court and the Constitutional Hill Jail. The tour was really interesting. Winnie and Nelson Mandela were there and Mahatma Gandhi. Some of the things that people were subjected too were really crazy and inhumane. The method of search was also terrible. This prison was also different because it housed white prisoners and prisoners of color. Because of this you got to see the difference in accommodation that you don't see at Robben Island (which was all men and all people of color). Some of these injustices were staggering. What I thought was really one of the wildest things was that if a woman was arrested with a child and there was nobody in Jo'burg to retrieve the child then the kid would serve the sentence alongside the mother. Wow.

            The Court was pretty cool. I really loved the design and some of the reasoning behind the design. Everything about it is very symbolic and even its placement at the center of a once notorious prison is significant.

            After that we went to Soweto and settled into our accommodations. I have my own room and the place is very nice. Soweto looks much nicer than the townships in Cape Town. It is visually a lot nicer and it actually reminds me a bit of Gretna, LA (suburb of New Orleans where my Great Aunt lives). We got a chance to walk about and do some people watching. It was pretty good. The particular area right by us was very much catering to tourists. There was a museum of Mandela's old house and plenty of merchants. Winnie Mandela also lives close to here and has a restaurant here.

            We left Soweto and went to Nelson Mandela Square. There we walked around the mall there for a bit and grabbed some food then we went to see a play. The play turned out to be a one-woman show. It was very interesting. The woman was a mixed race woman who had been born of an Australian mother and Ghanaian father. She was put up for adoption and adopted by a white family. She grew up being classified as white though she was fairly visibly "coloured". She encounters a lot of confusing situations because of this racial conundrum. Eventually she begins to explore political ideologies when she goes to college and her parents tell her the truth about her background. I bought the woman's book of poems afterward and got her to sign it. Excited to read it.

After the play the bus wouldn't start for about an hour. Kinda sucked but it's all good. We made it back to the B&B and now I'm about to knock out for tomorrow's day. Hope I don't get any calls tonight.

"your girl, your girl keep callin me"




Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010, 11:54 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today class was standard. Didn't do too much. Went to Leap School to volunteer and that was kind of a big deal. Today was the beginning of me leading a cultural activity about hip-hop and creative writing. I was pretty nervous about it just because I always am when I go into a new classroom and especially since it would be my first time doing anything like this abroad. I was curious and kind of worried about how the kids would participate and respond.

At first when we got to LEAP things were in a fair amount of disarray. The guy who had been our coordinator was out for the day so we didn't really know who to talk to in order to find out key information. I eventually found one of the students who had given me a tour. He helped me out and eventually I found the room we were supposed to be in. The group was a bit smaller than I planned for. It was about 7 students, all boys. I liked having an all male group. They were pretty cooperative and I tried to ease into the writing thing. I talked to them about stuff I'd done and let them ask questions and then I eventually transitioned into talking about the importance of place.

I used the song "H.O.O.D." by Masta Ace as an example of a song that described a place well. I thought it would be a good song to use because English isn't a first language for them and Ace's flow is pretty slow and audible. Knowing I was working with non-native English speakers made me feel like I'd had to be a bit more deliberate about the song I chose. I then spit my verse from "Sun is Shining" and sent them to write. They seemed to really enjoy when I rapped. I realize more and more that even though South Africa has a lot of contact with Americans and our culture they have limited contact with Black Americans so much of who we actually are is obscured. We talked about the song and then they wrote. After they finished I talked to them about Langston Hughes and then read "Daybreak in Alabama." After that we did a read around.  It was pretty good. They were an observant group.

After the reading we talked and they asked me what was the purpose of doing this (writing and such). I thought that was actually a brilliant question. I told them it would be a good opportunity to get in working with English and learning more about the language and also to learn about themselves and so I could learn about them and vice versa. They were a good group and I hope they come back next week.

That evening I had dinner with a South African friend from class. She is very well traveled (been to Chicago, and loved it of course) so it was great to have her outlook. It was good to be able to converse with her because most Black South Africans aren't well traveled and haven't been to the States and actually seen how Black Americans live and who we are. She had some questions even still and so did I for her but it was definitely a good time and a valuable one. You should read James Baldwin's essays about where the Negro fits into Africa and its people. The conversations definitely made me think of my readings of those (currently ongoing).

I leave for Jo'burg tomorrow morning. I'm excited. I should probably get more sleep but hopefully I should be okay.

"never thought i'd be perceived as just some rapping schoolteacher"




Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010, 11:54 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today was fairly enlightening. I know a few people from back home have hit me up because they don't really understand the idea of coloured people. Well it just so happened that today I had a lecture on exactly that!

            In my history class we talked about the development of coloured identity and this is a rough description from my understanding.

1. Coloureds are descended from the Khoisan Africans (Bushmen), white settlers, and East Asian former slaves (India, Java, Malaysia, etc.). (South African had a slave trade that brought people in from East Africa and Asia rather than West Africa.

            2. Before 1900 "Coloured" was used as a term for any non-European.

            3. After 1900 the identity began forming, specifically in the Cape.

4. Many coloured people in the Cape are Muslim because that religion was brought with some of the slaves.

            There's a ton of other stuff but I don't want to go into the whole bit but suffice to say that it is a complicated situation. It was good to just have a straight academic lecture though to couple with my understanding of it from talking to people informally.

            My other classes were also good but pretty regular. The weekly cipher didn't happen because it was raining today, which kind of sucks but oh well. This afternoon I went to volunteer with Young in Prison. We had a group of older boys who were all around 16. It was pretty cool. We played some games with them and then we sat down in groups to talk about the idea of friendship with them. We discussed what makes a good friend and the good and bad implications of things that friends can influence you to do. Some of the boys were very insightful but it was honestly pretty sad the way many of them are ghettoized to feel like their best prospect is to commit crimes. Even though they know that it's wrong they are still endorsing of that lifestyle, perhaps because they don't know of a better one. It actually reminded me of conversations with cats I've had back home in my neighborhood who are convinced that they have to be involved in gangs. It's always hard to reach a young man who has determined that he can't be saved.

Also did laundry today. blah. that's all.

"i wish my homies wouldn't have to suffer when the streets get the upper hand on us and we lose a brotha."



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010, 11:13 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Being the only person in a classroom that is willing to talk is pretty annoying. That is how it is in my history tutorial though. Nobody seems willing to try and answer the questions posed by the tutor. Today he was so annoyed he actually called on me when I wasn't raising my hand at all just because he knew I would actually say something. lol. It makes me realize that I really learn by actively engaging with material. But it also makes me worry that I'm too quick to talk and not listen. I'm going to try to be more conscious in my dealings with people to not dominate conversation but to really try to listen and learn from what they have to say.

            My impulse to cop this James Baldwin collection was such a good one. Reading Baldwin while being abroad is really helping me make snese of my journey and experiences. There are times when instead of write a blog entry I would rather just copy and paste parts of Baldwin's essays and writings about being abroad and also about coming into contact with Africans and the Negro's place in the larger African world. I've read Baldwin before and of course I aspired to be in his tradition enough to shape my last chapbook around an essay of his (and a similar cover design) but now I feel like this is the first time I'm really connecting with more of his work. I really feel like a player in his tradition, if only an exceedingly minor one.

            Today I went to LEAP School and got to kick it with some of the kids there. I hung out with the grade 11 boys. They were very cool. We talked about South Africa and the states and girls (they loooove black American women, lol). I also rapped for them and we talked about music. They were legitimately thrilled I think to hear someone rap like that in real life and not on TV or on a record. It was pretty cool. Hopefully at least some of them will join my cultural activity when I try to teach a little bit of creative writing and rap.

            I've also been emailing back and forth with my homie Ben Spacapan. He's in Istanbul right now finishing up an internship with Coca-Cola. I know a lot of times I come off harsh in this journal and like I'm making snap judgments of people because of how they look but I really hope that when I engage with people I really give them a chance. Talking to Ben always reminds me of that because he is exactly the "type" of person I'd be dismissive of quickly (rich, white, Republican, Ivy League, frat boy, etc.) but he is one of my best friends and one of the most thoughtful people I know. His responses to some of the things I've written in my blog really challenged me and made me think about why I have certain feelings rather than just blindly having them. His conversation keeps me honest. It always has and that's why I've always valued him as a friend so much.

            Also this evening when I was talking to my South African roommates we talked about ethnicity and how it impacted relationships. Neither was opposed to being involved with a woman from a different ethnic group but my one Xhosa flatmate said he would most likely marry a Xhosa woman. His chief reasoning was so that when his son became a man and had to go through his initiation she would understand the demands of that immediately. My other flatmate said his family was not as much into their tradition (Tesotho) and it wouldn't matter. To be honest listening I was kind of jealous that I didn't really have a body of tradition to look to in any substantive way. It's weird but I guess that's part of the condition of being American, particularly a black American. That kind of knowledge about tradition is nonexistent. Which give opportunity in some ways to create new tradition but it does in a sense make me feel like I'm missing something. Some of the initiation things he told me about reminded me of black Greek life in America. In a sense that's probably the closest thing that myself or my sons will have to initiate or teach them about manhood.

"i walk like a man and i walk what i talk and i walk, never ran."





my flatmate gave me the episodes of the boondocks I missed except the last one. i am happy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010, 11:48 PM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

            Today was a decent day. I had two lectures, which were both decent. The classes here are decent and I'm not having as tough of a time with lecture-based learning as I thought I would. After class I went to a drug store and copped a razor that my dad recommended and shaved my head for the first time. It went all right, although doing the back is pretty difficult. I'm going to probably stay with the shaved head for awhile and see how I really dig it. I feel like it makes me look mad old, but then again so does losing my hair, lol.

            Today I had the second meeting of my study abroad seminar. For the class we had a reading called "American students can't be global citizens." The reading was cool but it quite honestly I didn't totally identify with or agree with the points. She had some interesting things to say about becoming aware of her privilege as a rich, white, American woman when she studied abroad in India, Nepal, and Tibet. I thought she was spot with some of her observations about how her privilege played out in that context but she makes the mistake of applying her experience broadly to all American students in developing nations. Undoubtedly this was not intentional but implicit in her analysis was the neglect to consider study abroad students who were not white and affluent (like me) when she discusses the reality for "American" students. My qualm is not with her experience or background but I think it is indicative of a key issue for many white Americans and many black Americans. Black (and other minorities) are not really seen as American.  Of course we are in some ways but for so many people even within our own country when we talk about "America" and the "The American Dream" it doesn't really work for us. When the Tea Party talks about preserving our America, many minorities are straight up not included in that. The Tea Party is of course a problematic group and their existence is problematic altogether but they are not baseless. They don't come from a vacuum. They are a product of America as much as Barack Obama or John F. Kennedy or anybody else.

Another thing that struck me is that so many people in America don't examine their privilege until they leave the country and that is a mistake. There's a lot of reasons for that but it definitely I think is problematic if some has to travel to Nepal to see the privilege they hold over a huge percentage of the world's population. This is not to minimize the plight of developing nations but simply to say that there are third world spaces in America. In our ghettos and in the rural spaces of our country that have suffered in silence and misunderstanding there exists similar conditions to those you might see in developing countries. The saddest thing about "American privilege" to me is that is does not extend to all Americans and even on the ground we fail to see that.

Of course we're all human and I'm human too and we like cool stuff. We like to splurge and do things to feel good and that is cool. We shouldn't have to feel bad for the opportunities we've received or the things we were born into. With that said I think that there are ways to operate responsibly in that knowledge and to try and remain cognizant of your privilege and what you can do to empower others. I'm trying to learn and think about how to do that but in the mean time I try to stay cognizant of the privilege that I do have (male, heterosexual, educated, etc. etc.). I don't know. It's a start though.

I also went to the gym. 'Twas good to get some running and lifting in. It's been a while.

"moments in time are sorta like bricks in your path, landmarks to reflect on your past"

-chali 2na



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday, August 16, 2010, 1:08 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

Today I went to church for the first time in South Africa. The church was an "Every Nation" church and it was pretty cool. The music was really good. I suppose a few key observations in how it operated differently from the Lutheran, Baptist, and Methodist churches I'm used to back home:

1. Very little liturgy. No chanting or reading of lessons. Basically we sang. Got announcements. Got a sermon. Got gone.

2. White people. For real. I don't go to church with white people. Having a white preacher was a little weird (only other white person I've ever heard preach in person was Father Phleger). This is not to say I don't read white theologians but oral delivery is definitely different.

3. They stand for a long time. Basically the entire time we were singing (about 30-45 minutes) we were standing the entire time with no break. That was definitely different. Most churches back home its stand up read this sit down do this stand up etc etc.

4. People seemed to be more visibly moved in the spirit quicker. It seemed like as soon as the music started some people started crying or shouting or going to their knees. The type of fever pitch that we really have to work to in a church at home seemed to be their default setting.

These are my main observations. There are others but these are the biggest. It was a cool experience. I'll probably go back and maybe try a few other places also.

            After church I went grocery shopping and then we went to eat and then to a film festival with my study abroad seminar. The place we ate was called Eastern Bazaar. I had some chicken shwarma. Shouts to Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin for putting me on. The movie we saw was a documentary about sexual violence against women in South Africa called "A country for my daughter."

            The film was really interesting. It highlighted some very grisly cases of rape in South Africa and the way the justice system tends to not work for women, particularly those without resources.  Stories that need to be heard but often are not. It was a good film.

            I also read some great stuff from Baldwin. He's writing about being abroad and encountering the Africans (who were in France with him). I relate a lot to what he says about the contrasts in the African and Negro experiences. Oh to be a Negro…

"flyers passed out like my mama at revival…hallelujah…"

-phonte of little brother



Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010, 12:44 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

It's interesting to me to see the reasons why people want to go abroad. I remember when I first thought to go abroad and I completed the application and everything I went to the office to get a form signed by the study abroad counselor. She told me to approach the situation with little or no expectations. She talked about how she had often heard of black students in particular going to Africa with the expectation to be embraced. Sort of a cosmic, diasporic homecoming of sorts. I understood her point then and still do but I took exception to the way it was presented. Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive but the whole thing smacked of paternalism to me in the way she spoke. Not malicious paternalism, but so many things aren't malicious and yet still suck.

In any case, I was excited to come to Africa in order to interact with and learn about the people. For all the students here who had read up on the geographic and natural wonders of the land and were excited to go backpacking and stay in hostels I shared none of that knowledge or excitement. In truth, the only thing I've ever read about South Africa was about apartheid and its aftermath. So my primary interest was in talking to the people and seeing what the deal is on the ground now. Perhaps it makes me someone who misses a lot of beauty but I never get too bogged down in the beauty of nature. I think that people constitute so much of what is important to me. Maybe it's the byproduct of growing up in a city gentrifying but for me the place is paramount but the people give it the things that really make it important (I don't mean this is an anti-environmentalist way but everybody on State Street who stops me for "a moment for the environment" while people are dying everyday mere blocks from there kinda lose me).

So all of this put me in an interesting place to when I visited Stellenbosch today. Stellenbosch is a little bit out from Cape Town and its some very beautiful wine country. As we drove in we saw ostriches and zebras and cattle and horses of all kinds. We were out there for a tour of a wine farm and a wine tasting. Almost the entirety of my study abroad program (over 100 students) was there for this. Which doesn't seem strange because of course a wine tasting is both a cool cultural activity and free alcohol for college students. However, what struck me was the disparity in numbers between the roughly 120 of us at wine tasting and the 10 or so of us who took the township tour the week before. It just seems like a big drop off and while I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of a township tour to begin with, it seems weird that people seem so much more interested in gleaning the perks from the land and its attractions and not meeting, learning about, and trying to understand the people (seems like a parallel to imperialism). Now I am not at all suggesting that my fellow students are colonizers or that people should feel bad for being tourists or wanting to enjoy their privilege and experience cool stuff. I just think that wherever we exist in the world we should enjoy the beautiful things but also appreciate the ugliness that might've had a role in creating it. The planter who hates handling manure will have an awful garden.

"isn't it strange how we estrange ourselves from our neighbors?"

-blue scholars



Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saturday, August 14, 2010, 1:14 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

First off. The 14th is my little sister's birthday. Happy birthday to my little bighead girl. She's 13 and that's weird. I remember the phone call when my mama told me I had a little sister and I got to name her. Wow.

So I missed my first lecture because I overslept after finally falling asleep at 6 or so after the fire alarm. Class was okay otherwise. I went to get my hair cut after class though. Decided to cut all my hair off. I'm trying to decide how I like it. It's cool. Makes me really look like my dad I think.

Also went to the mall. Nothing much to tell there. Got a few things and it was decent. The fashion here is sort of random. Meh.

            Had a good long conversation with my line brother Jeremy. We talked about a lot of stuff, including the construction of black culture in America and how that played out. It's always good to talk to him and we always have challenging conversations. It's something I really value about him.

            I was also able to email the English and African American Studies Departments at Vandy and get their lists of their course offerings for the fall and I've basically decided on my fall classes. I'm excited about my schedule both because of the classes and the times it looks like they'll be. I'll have Thursday off and me done by noon on Friday if everything works out properly. That plus one class on Tuesday makes for a pretty sweet schedule. We shall see though.

            Not too much to say for today. My head feels weird. I'm gonna have to get used to this.

"hate to say it but it seems so flawed. success didn't come 'til i cut it all off."




ps. got Erika Dickerson's (Sanele Vox) chapbook. Excited to read it. She's my labelmate. New School Poetics Press. We murk hoes. (not the official slogan, though I will suggest it to Kevin Coval).


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010, 4:22 AM Cape Town Time- My Dorm (LBG)

I am writing this in an angry sleepy haze. Tonight at about 3 AM we had a fire drill. It was super loud and obnoxious and we all had to go outside and stand around until we got checked in and it was wack. Blah. Anyway.

Class today was pretty meh. Started going through some poems in my African Poetry seminar, which was good. My teacher really knows his stuff and that makes it easier to get into the work. After classes today I went to the library and did some poking around and found James Baldwin's collected essays "The Price of The Ticket." Baldwin is very much one of my idols so I had to check out the book. His writing really is spectacular. His construction is masterful and some of the insights he had even way back when are so true to me now in terms of the fate of America and the condition of the Negro (this is my current preferred word for Black Americans). He is that dude.

Today I also went to LEAP School to volunteer. I'm probably going to end up working with the kids during their sports time on Tuesday and on Thursday I'm going to teach a hip-hop/creative writing program during their cultural activities. It should be good. It'll force me to get organize and do some serious lesson planning and it will hopefully make the kids more dexterous in English (which is particularly important as they go to college because it is not their first language but it is the language of university). I'm looking forward to getting into things and teaching and learning. Some of the other volunteers kind of annoy me. They mean well (oh such dangerous words) but they tend to say and do a lot of stupid things. And on that note…a surefire way to irk me is to use the term "ghetto" indiscriminately and flippantly for things that you consider to be of poor quality or construction (particularly when its said from the place of privilege of never having to live in so-called "ghetto" spaces). But yeah. Meh.

            What was funny and great was the "black privilege" I experienced at the school. There are 2 other black students who are volunteering and all three of us basically took initiative to offer our skills and establish new programming for the school. The other students were more tentative and kind of waited to be placed. As a result when we were talking to our coordinator he sorted us 3 out very quickly and invited us to chill in the other room. All the other students looked kind of confused. When everything was done and they called students from the school to give us a tour the two girls who were tour guides immediately gravitated toward us (the black volunteers). Our coordinator had to tell them to not simply focus on us because we were black. Once we got back to his office, we had a very frank discussion about the ethics of educating black kids and teaching them more than how to imitate white intellectuals. He talked about the importance of social responsibility and giving back, particularly from a black, urban standpoint. These are things I get very much and it was great to hear an educator sharing my views. The other (read: non-black) volunteers looked confused and distraught slightly.

            This is not to degrade whitefolks or anything like that I assure you. But honestly sometimes it feels good to have the tables turned. I can bet that is probably the first time that most of those kids have been in an all-black school and had to have that conversation. It's nice to sometimes be in a context that gets you straight up without you having to code switch.

So LEAP was dope. After that I pretty much chilled. T'was a good day. Until of course, this damn alarm. Good night/morning.

"count days of the week while you fools count sheep. i'll have enough time for z's when i'm 6 feet deep."