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July, 2011

  1. Closing a chapter, but not the book

    July 27, 2011 by Kaitlin

    I’m not sure how it happened, but here I find myself. My last night in Cape Town. There’s still two weeks of fun to be had in Joburg, Kruger, and Mozambique, but tonight is it for Kaapstad. Emotions are mixed, to put it mildly.

    I miss my family, of course, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss grocery stores that actually stay open past 6 p.m., but I’d also be lying if I said I was super excited to go back to smoggy, overpriced LA and be bombarded with complaints about problems that are not actually problems (“Ugh! The next iPhone doesn’t come out until September! ”).

    I’ve met so many wonderful people here, and it makes me too sad to think that I’ll never see any of them again, so I’ve told myself I’m coming back.

    And in many ways, I have more friends here after 3 months than I did in LA after a whole year. I know some truly incredible and inspiring people through Annenberg, but save for a few close friends, the depth of the relationships is different.

    In LA, sometimes it feels like there’s this hesitancy to get close to people. Everyone is competing for the same jobs, the same guys, the same traffic lane. Here, hearts seem more open. Which is especially incredible given the country’s not-so-ancient history.


  2. International ‘Cats

    July 27, 2011 by Kaitlin

    After I had been in Cape Town a month or so, it occurred to me that I should check with the Davidson College (my undergrad alma mater) alumni office to see if there were any fellow Wildcats in South Africa. Davidson is a small school and there’s a special bond between alums. The alumni office never wrote me back (what’s up with that?), but it turns out I didn’t need them anyway. One of my favorite Davidsonians was already here.

    Me, Jamie Cullum, and Molly after a UK concert in 2005. We've looked better, yes, but what a fun night.

    Molly McGowan was in the class above me, and we first met in the UK during a summer study program in Cambridge. Molly is vivacious. I liked her instantly. But we really bonded on our birthday weekend that summer in 2005. Leos unite—our birthdays are one day apart. Instead of going with the rest of the group into London, we took a train to stately home in the middle of the country and watched Jamie Cullum play an outdoor concert to 20,000 or so of his fans. Long story, but through the sheer luck of sitting next to a couple that booked Jamie his first jazz gig ever, we ended up backstage after the show, drinking a beer with Jamie himself.

    Needless to say, Molly holds a special place in my heart, so my reaction when I learned via Facebook she was also working in Cape Town for the summer was nothing less than a minor freak out. Molly is getting her masters in public service from the Clinton School and working with the Desmond Tutu Foundation. We’ve both been busy, but the nights we’ve been able to grab dinner and have a glass (or bottle?) or two of wine have been these awesome, unexpected treats. Having her here has elevated the entire experience.

    Looking at pictures from this summer and from that summer six years ago, I think two things are clear. We’ve haven’t aged too badly, and I really need to invest in a new denim jacket.

    Six years later, we can still rock a dinner party. And in my case, really old jean jackets, apparently.

  3. Does this website make my internet look fat?

    July 22, 2011 by Kaitlin

    As any roommate I’ve ever had in the States can tell you, if I’m at home, I’m probably on my computer. I may be writing an article or editing some audio, but I’m more likely simply sucked into the abyss that is the internet. I’ve probably got 10-15 tabs open on my browser, and half of those will have video or some other multimedia element. The other half will have content that’s updating constantly, like Facebook or Twitter, and I’ve probably got a couple podcasts downloading too.

    Those habits have changed since coming to South Africa. For one thing, the internet here is slow. A pigeon is faster. Literally. The other thing is that for something like in-home wifi, you don’t pay by the month, you pay by the amount. For instance, you might buy a gig’s worth of data, but that means every time you connect, the clock is ticking, and the more tabs you have open, videos you’re watching, or automatic updates you’re allowing, the faster the sand falls through the hourglass. Even coffee shops and cafes that offer wifi only give you a certain amount—usually 50 megs or so, which is fine for checking email, but not enough to have more than a 10 minute Skype chat or download an hour-long podcast.

    Mary Beth: So many devices, no way to connect.

    The same is true for cell phones. No contracts, rather, load your phone with minutes and talk fast or SMS a lot. Clothes dryers are used sparingly. Showers have gotten shorter to avoid sudden hot water drop offs.

    So I’ve adjusted. Three months ago, I would have told you I couldn’t function without weekly infusions of 30 Rock and Parks & Rec. Hulu doesn’t work in South Africa, so that took care of that. DJ Roomba does still sometimes mockingly haunt my dreams, but I’m slowly moving on.

    The contrast between here and the States really hit after spending some days at Bulungula Lodge in the Eastern Cape. At this eco-lodge, if you wanted a hot shower, it involved lighting a fire at the base of the water pipes. Your hot water lasted as long as the fire. The toilets were the composting variety, so no need to even flush. After a few hours of adjusting, this seemed totally natural. Here, entire (amazingly temperature controlled) houses are biodegradable. When their time is up, the mud bricks and grass and stick thatching crumbles back into the earth. On the van ride out of the Transkei, I was listening to my fave quirky podcast, TBTL, and the host and producer, Luke and Jen were talking about the new studies that show how much energy DVR boxes use—as much as a refrigerator apparently. Normally quite levelheaded people, on this one, Luke and Jen refused to budge. Their response to the cable companies was basically, “FIX IT,” because neither was willing to give up their TiVo. I understand that part of their jobs is being informed, and thus, watching certain TV programs is essential, but damn. After being without electricity, not to even mention TV for a week, their complaints seemed utterly ridiculous.

    No internet, no problem. Who needs Facebook when you can edit audio with a view of Table Mountain?

    And here’s the thing. When you’re not constantly watching TV or sending emails or posting updates on various social media outlets (and now with Google + you’re telling me I’ve got one more personal digital representation to worry about?), the feedback loop slows and the desire to constantly be checking these things fades. My online journalism professors would probably say this is bad for my digital footprint.

    But you know what it’s good for? Dinner conversations. Seriously. When’s the last time you sat through a meal without someone checking something on a smart phone?

    The other flip side is books. Like real paper ones. I’ve read more of them in the past 3 months than I did in the entire previous year. So many in fact, that I’ve run out and need to make another trip to the bookstore—my favorite one located a good walk across town. It’s moments like these when I wish I had a Kindle. I’ve vowed to get one as soon as I return to the States. But once I’m back in LA, dripping with it’s nectar of unlimited broadband, will I really have time to read again?

    Here’s to hoping and the occasional, conscious internet disconnect–Spanish Pipe Dream style.

  4. Radio Workshop Listening Bonanza

    July 8, 2011 by Kaitlin

    I realized it’s been a while since I’ve posted any new Radio Workshop episodes, the things that actually consume most of my time in Cape Town. I’ve had so much fun planning, interviewing, writing, and editing these episodes. Even shows that are repackages of earlier episodes, like the refugee piece, were like this fun audio adventure since it was my first time hearing the tape and my coworkers are very generous and let me run wild with the editing software.

    The shows run about 15 minutes each, so if you’d like to download and listen on the go, you can subscribe to our free podcast via iTunes. Otherwise, have a listen right here.

    Radio Workshop: Crossing borders to find a home by childrensradiofoundation

    Radio Workshop: Is the World Cup more than just a memory? by childrensradiofoundation

    Radio Workshop: A difficult conversation with parents by childrensradiofoundation


  5. You call this art?

    July 5, 2011 by Kaitlin

    Every year, in the dead of South African winter, the country’s National Arts Festival takes over the university town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Telling South Africans I’d be going to the Grahamstown Festival would invoke one of two responses: “Ohmygosh, you are going to just love it! The art, the creative geniuses, the parties—it’s all fabulous!”

    Or: “What’s Grahamstown?”

    Well, to my travel companions and me, Grahamstown is that place where we spent some quality time in the police station, saw a Dutch guy ribbon dance while wearing high heels and singing Lady Gaga, and slept in multiple layers of pants and sweaters because it was so cold—and that was all within the first 12 hours of arriving.