Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


My good friend Andre passed away the night of November 6. Please pray for his family and the SAS students of the fall 2010 trip. He will be missed. For more information, visit the Semester at Sea Web site.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Photos from South Africa

The Divide

Cape Town is a prospering, luxurious metropolis — and, a poor, violent township.

I went into a mall — a real mall. With designer stores and beautiful architecture. I watched American television on a huge bed. I took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and my skin turned wet as I walked through a cloud on a blustery day. I went on a safari through Kruger Park and sat inches away from some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures I’ve ever seen. I had a vacation. I had a luxurious vacation. And, that’s what most Americans, Europeans or Germans do when they come to South Africa — especially when they visit Cape Town.

I also spent time visiting the townships. Just a few blocks down from the high-rises, university, spacious theaters and fancy restaurants are hundreds of shacks, made up only of metal scraps leaning in disarray. The ground is dirt and rocks. Black women move through their daily work of scrubbing their clothes and corralling their children. Black men smoke cigarettes and talk to me about how they wish their houses were homes. It is difficult for the men here because it is hard to find work and women are cheaper labor. But, even for women, life is not easy. They are stressed taking on positions of homemaker and provider. Because of disease and violence, families are often fragmented — which makes life within the impoverished townships even more complicated and exhausting.

An American might think Cape Town is a city like New York or Baltimore — all have a bad side of town and a prospering side. But, South Africa is so different. The divide between rich and poor is blatant. There is absolutely no middle class. There is a white man sipping expensive wine in a multi-million dollar beach house in view of a drunken black man beating his wife to try to numb the feeling of having so much less than his neighbor.

While I have witnessed extreme poverty in the townships of South Africa, I do see ideas for change. I visited the Indlovu Project, a plan for sustainable development for a township community, and spoke with a woman who has a true passion and is making progress— she has new buildings, a way to deal with sewage and she has the intelligence to make a difference. This is something that was not as evident to me in Morocco or Ghana.

I see plans, I see organization and a will for prosperity. I see plans for a better township. I see wealthy people starting to mobilize those plans. And, while this process has not been speedy or as efficient as it could have been, I think South Africa has hope for a middle class. For example, tourism is a true moneymaker in Cape Town and townships are starting to realize how they can profit from people who are looking to buy crafts and pieces of African culture. There is a market in Cape Town, there are rich people and I believe that this part of Africa has the tools to reverse the corruption and chaos that has brought so much pain to this area.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Phone Numbers from Ghana

Ghana greeted me, with colors, open arms and music.

Sometimes I felt myself overlooking the sewage filled streets, the trash left scattered and the homes that barely stood on their cracked foundation. I merely saw the smiles, the “God loves you” signs, the love of Americans and the children waving at me as I rode past them. It was easy for me to spend a few days in Ghana, buy a drum, hike through a rainforest, give candy to a child, listen to a tour guide and leave with the sense that Ghana is a happy place. But, as I reflect on my experiences, I realize that Ghana is not always happy — poverty is everywhere. And, it’s important to study the problems that lie beneath the smiles and hospitality.

There were hints of desperation. I spent an entire day watching, learning, drumming and dancing with talented locals a few minutes away from the port. It seemed clear that the men who were single wanted to let all of the American girls know their availability. And, when I interviewed a musician about his ideas of love and marriage, he gave me a ten-minute speech about how he wants so much to marry a white woman. At first, I thought these advances were amusing and harmless, but I began to question why exactly people in Ghana love white people so much.

When I decided to go out at night with friends to see a live band and dancing, I spent more time with the friendly locals that had the same idea of becoming ‘fast friends.’ My friend Aman met the four local guys the day before. He played football (soccer) with them and they paid for his lunch. They seemed like nice people who were relatively well off. We thought they were safe and not just looking for charity.

So, we decided to go out with them. We were three ladies, one American, one Venezuelan, one Indian, and a guy, Indian. I was the whitest person there. I felt like a light bulb in a dark room — an awkward light bulb.

They wanted my telephone number, the young girls who were dancing the day before wanted it too. They wanted to meet with me later. They wanted to keep in touch. I hadn’t even been in Ghana for a whole day and these people wanted to be lifelong friends. I thought, maybe this is okay; maybe this is just their way. But, I still didn’t give them my phone number. It didn’t feel right.

I don’t know exactly how to feel about the people of Ghana.

I left with the idea that Ghanaians see white as salvation. They want to connect to white. They want to marry white. They think white will pull them from poverty and take them places. I can’t say that my experiences speak for all Ghanaians and I hope that my ideas are wrong. But, four days and over a dozen phone numbers later, I can’t help but think that the people of Ghana are desperate for something.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Her breath smelled bad. I was overcome with this smell as she sucked on the lollipop I gave her. After I saw a black tooth rotting in the back of her mouth, I questioned the wisdom of giving it to her.

I came to the Egyam Orphanage that day to bring dozens of shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks and toys. The donations from Semester at Sea were even paying for a full year of school expenses for all of the orphans. But, I couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t enough.

Am I really helping here? Am I really making any kind of difference? I don’t really know. There seems to be so much need, but it’s not clear how to even begin to fix it.

She is so young, maybe 10 years old. The owner of the orphanage said that she probably won’t get a good education. She doesn’t even have a chance unless she proves she is smarter than all of her peers. Even then, she probably won’t be prosperous. She won’t be able to academically grow. If you get a master’s degree here, you are lucky if you can use that degree to get a job as a tour guide.

She is smart though. There is no doubt about that. Her English is much better than most of girls her age at the orphanage. She can even tell the time. And, she shows an interest in learning. She is also a great singer. She sings about Jesus and how much she loves Him.

What will happen when the children here run out of shoes and money? Will another organization donate more?
If her shoes fall apart, she isn’t allowed to go to school.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to help. I don’t know what to give her.
She will never have a life like mine. I wish she could.

I’m starting to get discouraged. Every donation seems like the lollipop. It only satisfies for a moment. She’s smiling right now, but when she’s finished sucking on the candy, we will be gone. The sweet taste will leave her mouth. And there she will sit hoping that someone else will listen to her songs and provide her needs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

REWIND: FlipVideo from Spain

Hip Hop in Morocco

Men were screaming at me. They were pulling me and following me around. They were too close. I didn’t want their Morocco magnets, snakes, monkeys or jewelry. I was looking for music. I needed to find a hip-hop shop.

Before I stepped foot inside Morocco, I planned how I would find a story there. I wanted to find something special to the culture and the people — something that wasn’t well known, but was important to Moroccans. Through my Video Journalism class, I learned about a subculture that was using rap music as a medium for freedom of speech. My professor said the music has gained popularity among local youth over the past few years.

In America, hip-hop music is about sex, clubs, bad relationships, bad situations, love and money. My friends play it from their iPods at parties. I dance to it. I sing the lyrics when I’m driving with friends.

But, in Morocco, hip-hop music is serious. It’s underground. It’s powerful. It shakes and moves people not only on the dance floor, but also within themselves — their ethics, beliefs and life views. Hip-hop music speaks. It is the free medium by which Moroccan youth can publicly declare their opinions about politics, government and quality of life.

After watching a documentary on hip-hop in Morocco, I learned that rap music stores are not the most glorified Muslim places. In fact, most Muslims think it is sinful to listen or create rap music. The second day I was in Morocco, I asked my cab driver where to find a rap CD and he told me Morocco doesn’t have hip-hop music. So, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to stumble upon this music, but I was hopeful.

My hopes became a reality when I spotted a CD vendor on my way out of the market. His stand was full of “Best of Morocco” CDs and other more traditional playlists.

I didn’t want that. I asked him if he had any rap and I named off some of the popular Moroccan artists, like H-Kayne, I had learned about. He threw down a few cases in front of me. He had them. There they were. They were real. Rap music exists in an Islamic Country.

They weren’t the most professional looking CD cases. The cases were cracked and the cover looked like it was created in Microsoft Word. Honestly, I had my doubts that the broken CD cases I was holding were meaningful to Moroccan youth at all, but I bought them anyway. They were cheap and they sounded authentic.

That night, Moroccan hip-hop came alive.

I was meeting my friends at our hotel pool and when I arrived, I saw that they were engaged in a conversation with one of the hotel workers. All of the sudden, I found myself listening to a Moroccan man talk about hip-hop music. Aman, the hotel groundskeeper, had seen one of the CDs that my friends and I had purchased earlier and he was excited. He dove into a serious description of what rap music means to Morocco.

Aman’s thoughts were moving faster than his words because he was passionate about this music. Through this music, he said youth voices were heard. He kept repeating that the music held political opinions. After talking with Aman I realized that while the CDs might not look like much to an American, fans like Aman see them as a way to have a voice in Morocco. Aman told me to translate every word. He said this music is special to him and the youth of Morocco.

Aman wanted me to listen, analyze and appreciate the music. No one has ever told me to closely listen to the words of a rap song.

Pieces of a culture are hard to find. They don’t always come wrapped in neat packages, look particularly colorful or shiny. They can be dirty, ugly and strange.

While the CDs didn’t at first seem like much to me, I soon realized that I had just bought something that is valuable and sacred to the youth of Morocco.

Saturday, September 18, 2010