Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Our First Visitor to South Africa

David and I welcomed our first visitor this month here to Stellenbosch- Flat Ethan! 

My high school teacher, Ms. Beechem, emailed me and told me about how her son, Ethan, is exploring different countries and cultures around the world through the travels of Flat Ethan and wanted to know if we would mind to take some pictures with Flat Ethan to explain what it is like to live here in South Africa.  We spent the past month showing Flat Ethan around and then I sent this letter back to Texas for Ethan to read: 

Dear Ethan, 

Flat Ethan arrived safe and sound here in South Africa and we have enjoyed showing him around! 

To start- this is me, Laura, and my husband, David.

We live in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Stellenbosch is a college town outside of the big city of Cape Town in the southern part of the continent of Africa.

David received a scholarship to study abroad from the Rotary Foundation and he chose South Africa because it offered the chance for us to do service work and Stellenbosch University is a great school for him to work on his PhD. 

I work at an architecture firm as an interior design assistant. We work on designing buildings for the university and renovating historic homes in this area. My office is in the same building as our apartment. On the ground floor of our building are lots of businesses, like architecture firms, yoga studios and even a bakery (which smells so good in the morning). The top three floors are apartments where many students and young couples live.

One new thing we had to learn when we moved here was how to drive on the other side of the road. It took a couple of days to get used to but we have the hang of it now!

The weather here is very nice and is great for growing grapes and olives. There are over 150 grape farms here in Stellenbosch and many of the farms also grow olives and make their own olive oil.

The people here in South Africa are very friendly and always helpful. Most people speak English but South Africa has 11 official languages- Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The National Anthem includes five of these different languages! Here in Stellenbosch, many people speak Afrikaans. Afrikaans is a blend of the English and Dutch languages. Here is a sentence in English and Afrikaans so you can see the difference. 

The food here in South Africa is much like what we eat at home in the United States. Sometimes though, the names are different- like hamburger meat is called minced meat, eggplant is called aubergine, zucchini is called marrows, and beef jerky is called biltong. This sometimes makes grocery shopping a little difficult. There are also different kinds of meats to buy here for grilling or cooking with. We made ostrich spaghetti this week. Ostrich looks and tastes a lot like beef but it is much healthier.

Many South Africans like to have people over for a “braai” which is similar to a backyard barbeque in the United States. They usually grill steaks, chicken and springbok sausage. Springboks are animals that are similar to a deer or antelope. 

When you heard we were living in Africa, you probably thought we lived in huts and have giraffes and zebras as next door neighbors, right? Well here in South Africa, it is a lot like the United States. There are no huts and the animals are in zoos for people to come and visit. 

Because we live in a college town, there are lots of apartments for students to live in and there are also many houses (that look just like houses in the U.S.) for families. Many rich people like to live in this area because it is so pretty so there are lots of really big houses in very nice neighborhoods.

There are also many people here in South Africa that do not have a lot of money. These people live in “townships” where they build shacks made with whatever materials they could find. Many of the townships are very big and spread out for many miles.

The money here is called “Rand” and it written like R100.00. $1.00 (U.S.) equals about R9.00.  Rand comes in coins and bills and are very colorful. On the front of the bills are faces of animals, like a water buffalo, an elephant, a rhinoceros, and a leopard. On the back of the bills is the face of the former President Nelson Mandela. 

Right now, here in South Africa, it is the summer time. Many people like to go to the beach for a swim. Here at the cape, there are many mountains that are right up next to the beach. The wind from the top of the mountain blows down towards the water and pushes the warm water back out to sea, so the water at the beach is very cold (about 50˚) which is too cold for me to swim in! 

Sports are very popular here in South Africa, but not the same sports as back home in the United States. Many people like to play cricket, which is sort of, not really, like baseball. There is a batter who swings a paddle at a ball but other than that the game is very different than baseball. Another popular sport here is soccer (or “football” as they call it here). In 2010, Cape Town hosted the World Cup. They built a brand new soccer stadium and had teams come and play from all over the world. People here also enjoy playing and watching rugby. Rugby is sort of, not really, like our U.S. football. The teams run down to the end of the field to try and score, but again, other than that, Rugby is very different from football. 

The Cape is a great place to come to see whales, seals and penguins. Whale watching season is not until this winter (which is summer in the U.S.) but we saw seals down at the harbor in Cape Town and David was able to swim with the penguins in Simon’s Town. 


Table Mountain is a famous landmark here in Cape Town. It is a mountain right in the center of town that is flat on top like a table. You can ride a cable car to the very top and see out for miles and miles over Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It was also recently named one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World. 

Another place to visit when you are in Cape Town is Robben Island. Robben Island is 12 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town that used to be an island for prisoners. Most of the prisoners on the island were not bad people- they were simply put in jail because they didn’t agree with what the government was doing at that time. Nelson Mandela was a prisoner at Robben Island for more than 20 years but after he was released he became the President of South Africa.

Thank you for letting Flat Ethan come and visit us here in South Africa! We had a great time showing him around. Happy travels to you and Flat Ethan in the future! 

-Laura and David

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