A Travellerspoint blog

Totsiens Seth Africa, Pt. 1

the end of Jo-Burg

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Now that I have switched continents for the third time and am beginning to get over the next wave of jetlag, I found this the perfect time to retell my South African adventures.

Jozy (Johannesburg)
The last couple of days for me were spent by day in the museums and other cultural landmarks of Johannesburg and by night with family.

One of the days I spent going to Constitution Hill (picture here) , which was originally a Boer fort and now houses both relics from that time period along with the Constitutional Court and the men's and women's jails that were used in the time of Apartheid. The Court for me was a must-see experience from both a historical and architectural perspective. What makes the Court itself so interesting is that it incorporates important cultural cues into a modern and visually stunning facility. The interior is built with bricks from the original fort and adjoining prison, as well as an exterior pathway called the "Great Walk of Africa," the entrance labels the court in the eleven official languages, and the interior has an art gallery with local artists, a library, and the court itself, which is appointed with local hides and has windows for the public to view inwards. In regards to the Constitutional document itself, which is proudly displayed in an exhibit inside, it serves as a study into such a recent democracy and tries to encapsulate all of the best characteristics of its predecessors. The other major component of the Hill was Number Four, which was a prison that was in use until 1983 and housed political prisoners including Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. Inside the showed how everyday citizenry, the vast majority of which were non-white, were imprisoned for such petty acts as not carrying a pass (under the pass system in Apartheid all people not considered "European" had to carry a pass in order to cross into "European" areas during restricted times). Inside of the prisons, conditions were bleak and changed depending on whether someone was "white," "colored," or "African." Overcrowding, abuse, and extreme rationing were endemic in the cells of non-whites and only got worse for "Africans." I think the most jaw-dropping part of the tour was walking inside of one of the solitary confinement cells, which was slightly bigger than a public bathroom stall in the US and had no windows. On the back of each door still remains the graffiti that still serve as a testament as to what the people their unfairly went through.

The same day I also visited the Origins Centre located on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, known widely as Wits (picture here). As indicated by its name, the centre chronicled the development of mankind, especially in Africa, from its earliest instances to the presence. One thing I did not know was that some of the earliest instances of art and creativity were discovered in Africa in the form of marking on the side of the tool and date back thousands of years before those later found in Europe and Asia. Additionally, the oldest known fossil of man known was found in the region, confirming that at the end of the day all major developments in the human race can be traced back to Africa. Some of the more experimental exhibits in the museum were done by modern artists and focused on re-interpreting "native" art with a focus on the themes of development, urbanization, and the sense of cultural transition.

The next day I went to the Apartheid museum, situated between downtown Johannesburg and the mine dumps that cover up Soweto. From the very entrance of the place, you had the feeling that it was going to be a real moving and informative experience. Entrance cards came out at random and specified you either as a "European" or "Non-White," meaning that you could only enter into the museum in a specific and unique way (picture here. From here, in excrutiating detail, the museum catalogues the development of population dynamics that eventually led to the implementation of Apartheid. This went from the original European settlers that disturbed the Bantu people of the region with the discovery of gold in the area around Johannesburg to the Boer Wars during 1880-1881 and 1899-1902 between the independent Boer Republic and the British Empire to the establishment of British and later government thereafter and the appropriation of laws and rules that went to place the various ethnic groups within the country into almost a caste system. What was most disturbing was that race was the only distinguishing factor and that the laws the Boer government eventually set up around it and continued from the 1960's onward looked to inhibit and severely punish every single freedom held by "non-whites." More than anything, the minority that was in power in the country governed with a sense of fear, using their perceived sense of superiority in order to subjugate those around them and continue to enjoy their freedoms for as long as possible. Combined with the experiences I had in Soweto and Constitution Hill, the museum helped to complete the picture regarding what really happened.

All in all, I am very happy that I got to go to Jo-Burg during the trip. In addition to getting to get to reconnect with family after roughly 6 or 7 odd years, I got to see the city in a new light. Before on family trips, it felt almost like a stopover in between the US and either East London, where my grandmother lives, or another part of South Africa. In staying there I saw it as more than that, serving as both an important commercial and cultural hub in the area. Beyond the sheer economical output, there are numerous experiences, from Soweto to the museums, to remind both citizenry and outsiders of the struggles that occurred and are still going on within the new South Africa.

Posted by ldroulez 16:11 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Fast Times at UCT: the Etienne Droulez Story

An ATWI77D Exclusive

Legal Disclaimer: the following events are retold in the Dossin/Droulez spirit of "telling a good story, not a true one." If the described party feels that these events are not depicted correctly, this is not the forum to dispute.

After a long hiatus, I have returned to the blog with many new stories to tell. Luckily, most of the best ones have to do with my father's years at college, so along with some amazing pictures that I will try to scan, I learned more of my parents past. Here are my favorite highlights:

Flying A's
While playing for the Who Farted Spurs (his club soccer team), a favorite activity of the team was called the "Flying A." Appropriately, this involved putting a piece of paper between your bum cheeks, lighting it, and seeing if you could run 100 meters before feeling the burn. I propose this be the new exercise to literally light a fire under US Soccer and propel us to World Cup glory.

World Traveler
While traveling around the world, my dad did as I am doing now and stayed with family in Belgium. One night, he wanted to go out with one of his good friends, but, because they were in a rural area, he needed to borrow a car to find something to do. Despite not being given permission by his relatives, he waited until they were asleep and snuck out with the car. While driving, he ended up running over this girl's bike. Once the local family found out and knocked on the door, his relatives were only too happy to oblige him to pay for the mess.

Driveway Shenanigans
One of the favorite activities of my dad was to drive through the driveways of wealthier homes in neighborhoods like Bishop's Court, make a ruckus honking, yelling, and ringing the doorbell, and promptly leaving after he woke the people up. Once, as they were doing this, he and a friend realized that the exit was sealed off, and in their rush to leave they ended up both stalling and hitting the garage door.

Pig and Whistle
One of the mainstay bars for my dad's crew while in uni was the Pig and Whistle. In addition to be a cheap and fun place for a pint, it served as a furniture store of sorts for him. After moving into an apartment, and being a student, he needed a table and chairs to fill his new space. Realizing that the Pig and Whistle had exactly the sturdy tables and long benches for the job, he rounded his mates up and concocted the ingenious plan of throwing them over the wall that separated the patio (putting that engineering degree to work). Using his friends to cover up the merchandise while they moved it, they carefully positioned people on one side to throw and on the other to catch.

Side Note: Since the days of my father there has been a change of ownership for the bar. As such it is no longer recognizable today, as the bottom floor was converted to retail, the patio area out back gone, and the upstairs renovated and renamed the "Pig and Swizzle." I was lucky enough to go to the "Pig and Swizz" as it was called by the group of Americans I found there, dancing around dressed in costumes and acting like the kind of cultural ambassadors that do this country right.

Mr. Photogenic
Among the pictures that have been unarchived include my dad wearing a bath robe (short would be an understatement), one foot with dress socks/shoes, the other foot with a flip-flop, leather ski gloves (could double as those of an undertaker), ski goggles, and an aerosol can of some sort. The other gem includes him and the mates from Smuts Hall standing on a nearby statue and mooning everyone. If anything, these photos have taught me that there is a reason your parents chide you about partying too hard: it comes from experience.

The Mushy Stuff
On a lighter note, I also got to hear some of the stories about my parents while in college, which, coupled with visiting the campus and their dorms, provided some greater context to my eventual creation. As the love story goes, my parents met while my dad was one of the head students in Smuts Hall in his second year and my mom was in the adjacent Fuller Hall as a first year. Apparently, upon meeting my mom he immediately knew she was the one, and had to from then on stop the advances of the many members of the "Etienne Droulez Fan Club." One day, he visited my mom's door unexpectedly, and when she came down the stairs to see who it was, he casually put down his newspaper and asked

"So what movie are we going to see tonight?"

To which my mom, being the subtle person that she is, promptly replied "none" and returned to her room. Despite my mom's initial hesitation, they eventually got together, and after weathering a break up or two, got married and left South Africa. The rest, my friends, is history.

Many thanks to the Aquadro family and Pauline Dossin for their help in piecing this together.

Posted by ldroulez 15:30 Archived in South Africa Tagged family Comments (0)

Happy Happy

Big News for the Dossin clan

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Just wanted to use this blog to send a very warm congratulations to my cousin Claire Deeks on her recent engagement to boyfriend Ed Shelver. Hopefully this will become a new opportunity to travel and blog about my experiences.

Posted by ldroulez 12:14 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

breaking news that happened over a week ago

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Something I have forgot to mention that very much bears mentioning is the fact that I did in fact receive the custom-made Argentinian shoes. For reasons that still are unexplained, I was able to receive them the morning after the whole "missed flight" incident. Around 8:30 in the morning I was awoken by one of the employees at the Che Lagarto, who informed me that I had a visitor at the front desk. When I came who to my wondering eyes did appear but my good friend Hugo, complete with a bag for me. At this point I was more shocked than anything and waited as he unsheathed these magnificent dark-brown mocassins with a perforated light-brown interior. He demonstrating the quality construction, complete with wood and multiple layers of leather, the flexibility (although he ended up bending and creasing one of the shoes), and lastly asked for the rest of the deposit. Better yet . Apparently the reason our fated transaction didn't go down is because he said 20:00 (8:00 PM American time), and I interpreted it as 10 PM (yet again demonstrating my prowess at knowing when I have to do things).

Faith in Humanity restored!

Posted by ldroulez 12:03 Archived in Argentina Tagged shoes Comments (0)

One Month and Counting

South Africa and Other Stories

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I have recently reached a historic milestone, relatively speaking, in my journey. As of this writing, I have been out of the US (and loving it) for exactly a month. Good thing there is another month-and-a-half left, so I can officially make my transition in adulthood and prove myself as a man who can catch flights, make reservations, and still have the prescience to have a good time.

One of the best parts about revisiting my South African roots is getting to see family. I feel very lucky to have such kind and generous relatives who have literally opened up their homes and country for me to see and yet are still able to call me out on my shiite. As much as I have enjoyed meeting new people in my travels, there is something cool about seeing familiar faces and getting to reconnect with people that you haven't seen in 6/7 years. So without further adieu, here is a recap of what has gone down during my first week here in Johannesburg:

The best thing about changing continents is getting a chance to change your diet. (Un)fortunately for me, I went from one meat-eater's paradise in Argentina to another one in South Africa. Between the bags of fresh biltong and dry wors right after I got off the plane, the late night McDonald's run after Greenside, and the boeri and the steaks in Kruger (see below), I knew it was going to take a modern-day miracle for me not to get the gout. Luckily for me though, South Africa has many more culinary influences swirling around from within, and I have jumped right in. First off, the key difference between the two has been the kind of flavors. South Africa has many more spices and heat in its dishes, allowing me to have curries with chutney and dishes with peri-peri and madagascar pepper sauce. Secondly, the selection of meats and non-meats is ridiculous, as I have had ostrich burgers, calamari steaks, and even kudu jerky (type of deer/venison). Lastly, the people here get the concept of having fruits and veggies with meals, meaning that I can order a side-salad with a meal and not look crazy and can find amazing grenadillas, mangos, papayas, lichis, and nectarines in abundance. I also can't mention a trip to South African without mentioning the sweets. Between the koeksisters, wine gums, licorice, and chocolates, if the gout don't get me then tooth decay will. Add this all up, and I have eaten like a king since the beginning of my stay whether it be at home, at a cafe/ restaurant, or even a bar. My only justification for the binge-eating is that in a couple short weeks I will no longer get to taste the flavors, and so I must persevere.

One of great parts about having amazing fruit is that you can make real fruit juices that are cheap and delicious. This makes a great accompaniment to any meal or maybe even alcohol, if you so choose. Besides that, I have renewed my support for Appletizer and Grapetizer, which put there US "cider" counterparts to shame without so much as a second look. In terms of alcoholic drinks, one of my missions when I go into a new place is to stick with everything local. As I only recently turned 21 and had my first drink in the US, I was able to see a new side of South Africa during my latest visit.

As of right now, I would rank the major beers here as follows:

  1. Windhoek Draught
  2. Windhoek Lager
  3. Hansa Gold
  4. Black Label
  5. Castle Draught
  6. their respective light counterparts

Outside of beer, I have had the opportunity to have Amarula again, which is a creamy drink made of the marula berry that grows here and is a favorite of the elephants at Kruger Park (see below). Whether you drink it alone or as a part of White Russian (affectionately called a "Witbank Russian"), it is a great way to end a meal and has a flavor that is more palatable than Bailey's. Another interesting concoction is the Cane and Cream Soda, which mixes a delectably green cream soda with a sugar cane based drink. I was fortunate enough to try this at the truly South African establishment Hooter's while cheering on Man U with the raucous group that filled the bar.

South African Lingo
Just wanted to share some of my favorite lingo/sayings so far with a brief definition for my fellow Yanks:

  • lekker - something that is delicious/good/fun
  • chilled - the same as saying something/place/person is chill in US (nothing to do with food/beverage temperature)
  • tonsil - a**hole (in US body part that needs to removed if inflamed - some irony here)
  • chop - see tonsil
  • juicehead - someone who drinks a lot (in US refers to steroid-abuser)
  • pommie - brit/someone from the UK
  • robot - street light
  • talent - reference to the attractiveness of the men/women in room
  • "Rolly Dodger" - affectionate nickname for the Jolly Rodger, a bar in Greenside that has half-priced pizzas on Wed/Sun, a sketchy spice you put on it, and good crowds that are split between the old-timers on the bottom floor and the younguns on the top floor
  • "let's play it by beer" - saying - refers to making arrangements in regards to going out

One of the highlights from the Jo-Burg stay was going on a guided tour of the Soweto Township with the always helpful and funny Kaizer. Situated behind the mine dumps that border the city, it serves as a stark reminder of the past of South Africa and can hold some insight into its future. Within the limits of the Township, one can see the worst poverty in communities of shacks that lack electricity and running water up to houses that are on par with some of the fancier neighborhoods in Jo-Burg. Kaizer also discussed the problems of overcrowding, as individuals will move from there shacks to government-built housing only to sublet out there place to relatives. During the tour we made stops at the

  • Regina Mundi Church - site of many meetings during Apartheid and shows some of the scars of Apartheid as the site of police brutality during the student uprisings of 1976, when live ammunition was fired both inside and outside of the church
  • Nelson Mandela's house in Orlando West - Shows the layout of one of his first homes and includes excerpts, awards, and relevant history on the his life and that of his second wife, Winnie
  • Hector Pieterson Museum - chronicles the events leading up to the 1976 Soweto student uprising and ensuing murder of 13-year-old Hector Pieterson, who served as the figurehead for the Apartheid struggle
  • Wandie's Place - home to authentic cuisine of the region, including pap (a thick rice dish), tripe, and beet salad
  • Soccer City - the location of the FNB Stadium, which hosted both the opening and championship match of the last World Cup and has some of the coolest architecture I have seen on the stadium

Kruger National Park
Over the weekend I got to travel with my aunt, uncle, and cousin to Kruger National Park, which is famous for its wildlife diversity and is usually the go-to place for seeing wild game in the area. During the short time I was there, not only was I fortunate enough to see each of the "Big Five" (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, water buffalo) and a host of other animals. Basically imagine the Lion King and then insert a brown person watching them all from the safety of a car and equipped with a camera and a pair of binoculars. My favorite encounters included have a herd of water buffalo pass right in front of the car, seeing a group of hyenas come out from under and bridge to check us out, and our numerous run-ins with the baboons, who by far are the most absurd and entertaining creatures present at the park. Even better was getting to return to our cabin along the river, which was complete with a thatched roof, nagapies and bats in the neighbooring trees, and a braai that was in full force during meal-time. When we left the park this past Sunday, the trip became even more memorable as on the way home we stopped at God's Window. During the drive one thing that struck me was how dramatically the vegetation changed from to more bush, grasses, and acacia to mountainous trees like pine being harvested to the top of God's Window, which had more of a deciduous jungle feel. The view from the top was spectacular and spanned all the way from a nearby canyon to Kruger Park.

Posted by ldroulez 00:32 Archived in South Africa Tagged jo-burg Comments (0)

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