South Africa in the Post-Apartheid Era - Andrew Szilagyi
Greetings to everyone back home. It has been only a few days since the Semester at Sea (SAS) voyage has departed the third port on our itinerary: Cape Town, South Africa. After leaving Salvador, Brazil, we were forced to endure an eight day sail across the Atlantic Ocean while confined aboard the M/V Explorer. The crossing of the ocean provided us with unique opportunities, unexpected events, and rough waters all before arriving to the southern tip of the African continent.
Upon leaving Brazil, SAS had the privilege of welcoming Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife aboard our cruise ship to share in our journey to their home of Cape Town. Throughout the eight days, we learned about the rigid apartheid policies that devastated South Africa for nearly fifty years as the black majority was suppressed by the ruling white minority. Our understanding of the apartheid era was enhanced by Archbishop Tutu's presence as this 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner shared stories of his contributions in ending this repressive policy. As former head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the archbishop was appointed by Nelson Mandela to develop a strategy to heal the wounds of apartheid after its 1994 dissolution. Archbishop Tutu and his wife provided us with incredible insights on non-violence and forgiveness while keeping us entertained with their down-to-earth humor throughout the long eight days.
Sailing across the ocean allowed us to experience the rocking and rolling that accompanies the rough Atlantic seas. With waves rising to about eight or nine meters, many students and faculty were left running out of classrooms due to sea sickness. Also during the sail, we were met with unexpected and disappointing news we are no longer going to Kenya. The SAS administration made the decision not to visit the East African Coast for fear of maritime piracy and terrorist activity directed against Americans. Based upon U.S. State Department warnings, American tourists are strongly advised to avoid visiting Kenya as even our U.S. Naval destroyers have left the harbors fearing a potential terrorist attack. As a result of their decision, the itinerary has been altered and we will now be docking for three days in Mauritius, a small island country off the eastern coast of Madagascar.
As for our stay in Cape Town, the trip was lengthened to a total of seven days which proved to be rather exhilarating for all of us. It was a refreshing to finally break the language barrier as most everyone spoke English and to visit a state that is in the final stages of modernization. However, these two factors aided in showing our adventurous side as many went skydiving, paragliding, or repelling. For me, I was fortunate enough to visit the Cape of Good Hope, the maximum security prison on Robben Island housing Nelson Mandela's prison cell, experience a one day safari to a wild game reserve (in lieu of my scheduled Kenyan safari), and even go shark diving in sixty degree water with Great Whites.
As I mentioned, our next port is only a few days away at Port Louis, Mauritius. If you would like to know more about our SAS experience, you can go to www.semesteratsea.com or www.gng.org. The latter is a private organization's website which works with SAS students in developing a journal of international experiences entitled Currents.
The Land of Better Tomorrow
Greetings to everyone back at home. It has been well over a week since the Semester at Sea (SAS) Program has been underway and on the water aboard the M/V Explorer. Since arriving aboard the ship in Nassau, Bahamas, life has been spent trying to quickly adjust to a new and ever-changing environment. Fortunately, aiding in this process, are the numerous qualified crew, faculty, and staff who impress upon us the ideals of safety and academic excellence during our voyage around the world.
Only two days ago, our cruise ship of 650 students departed our first port of call "La Guaria," Venezuela, situated on the Caribbean Sea. However, the main attraction here was the capital city of Caracas which is nestled in a valley surrounded by the Coastal Highlands Mountain Range. With over thirty organized SAS activities on the itinerary and numerous opportunities for independent travel, each of our four days in the largest Latin American metropolis were busy and well-spent.
While the shopping, food, night life, and numerous tourist targets' including the national Pantheon, museums, secluded beaches, and the 2,250 meter cable car ascent up Mount Avila were fascinating, the most intriguing part of Venezuela for me was speaking with the citizens about numerous political and social issues that are not only apparent in their lives, but have also slipped into U.S. headlines. The most infamous and heated issue within the country is that of their president, Hugo Chavez. Many Americans have only recently been introduced to this Latin American icon through recent news headlines associated with Mr. Pat Robertson's comments on assassination and Chavez. While we were told to avoid the issue, many were curious enough that we asked our tour guides, taxi drivers, or waiters their opinions on their president. The response I and many others received was astounding. Overwhelmingly, the Venezuelan people felt Chavez is attempting to establish a military dictatorship that sympathizes with Communist ideals. Obviously, the few conversations I and others had do not account for the overall political view of the country; yet, it was still heartbreaking to hear some of these citizens' personal stories and fear of this man. On two different occasions, Venezuelan natives remarked, "I wish you (the United States) would come in and liberate our country like you did Iraq. We would welcome you with open arms." Numerous comments and stories, such as this, aid in re-evaluating how lucky we are to live in the country that we do.
Overall, the Venezuelan people were extremely kind and thoughtful people who helped clueless American students in any way they could. They were a cultured people who were well-informed and continuously gave their sympathy for the disaster in New Orleans. As for now, one of the few things they can look forward to is the outrageously low gas prices (bottled water costs more than gasoline in Venezuela). One tour guide referred to Venezuela as "The land of a better tomorrow." This struck me as rather disheartening, but maybe one day this country with so much potential can have that better tomorrow when freedoms and rights are restored under proper leadership.
I hope all is well at home. The next stop for our ship will be Salvador, Brazil and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.