On Monuments and Memories

Some of you may have already seen this piece I wrote which ran in this week’s Memphis Flyer.

rhodes must fall flyer

It describes connections between a statue controversy here and one at home.  A couple of further notes on this topic…

First, specifically with regard to the South African effort to undo the symbols of colonialism on monuments or street names or elsewhere, there is some irony in the fact that the movement to take down the Rhodes statue had as its name, “Rhodes Must Fall,” an English phrase.  There is no more lasting or dominating sign of the colonial conquest in South Africa than that the two European languages dominate civic life.  Although the nation’s other native languages are spoken widely, English is the language of government and the economy and, for the most part, entertainment.  Even Afrikaans, which was pushed for half a decade under the apartheid regimes, is being squeezed out of public life.  Regardless of the removal of the Rhodes statue, the prevalence of English remains an increasing, enduring, and unavoidable symbol of colonialism.
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Letters (and more photos) from Cape Town

For a change, this post will include the voices of the other Kiels abroad.  Below the photos below are letters that were written as an assignment once we returned from Cape Town back to regular life in Bloem.  The assignment was to write a letter to a friend about our trip.  First are Sadie’s and Ben’s, followed by Meggan’s example letter.


Click the photo to see the second batch of our Cape Town photos…


Click the photo to see the third batch of photos from our Cape Town trip…

Dear Friend,

I am in South Africa!  I just visited Cape Town!  Cape Town is a big city, but unlike most other big cities you don’t have to rush, rush, rush.  There are a bunch of fun things to do.  The Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean meet not far from Cape Town.  In Cape Town, there is an aquarium called 2 Oceans Aquarium with fish from both oceans.  You might see a lion fish from the Indian Ocean or a starfish from the Atlantic Ocean.  You might even see sharks and turtles and sea horses or touch anemone!  You might also visit Company Gardens and feed squirrels from your hand!  Now, that’s something you can’t do in America!  Maybe you would even go up Table Mountain and hike and see cute rock dassies.  I’m sure you’d go down and visit Boulders Beach.  You would see lots of penguins.  You might even spot cute penguin chicks or watch a penguin lay a egg.  You’d probably go down to the Cape of Good Hope, too.  Watch out, though!  You might see baboons!  You’ll laugh and laugh if one climbs on somebody’s car, but be careful!  It might be on your car next!  You might watch sea lions as you take a ship to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was in prison for a long time.  South Africa once had problems similar to America.  Black people didn’t have as many rights as white people and were treated unfairly.  Nelson Mandela was sort of like Martin Luther Ling because he tried to stop that.  The white people didn’t like that, so he went to prison.  (Fortunately, he got out and things have changed!)  You might even see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell.  You might also go to a National Park, like West Coast.  You might see fields of gorgeous bright flowers or some zebras, wildebeests, tortoises, and antelope.  Another thing you might do it go to the crafts market.  You might buy some fun crafts or even make your own mosaic!  You could choose your shape and glue on pretty tiles.  Then, you would group and polish, and voila! you have a beautiful mosaic!  You might go to Cape Town one day, and you might do all of these exciting things – just like me!!  You really might have a great time.


Sadie Kiel 🙂


Hi Friend,

we went to Cape Town! I am guna (going to) tell you abowt (about) it. We went to a mosaicing (at a mosaic art studio) we chose tiles. I had a heart. I scwesed (squeezed) the glue. It looked nise (nice). We went to Table Montin (Mountain) we got to see dassies! They are cute, brown, burred animolse (animals)! The next day we went to Company Gardens and we fed Erel (Earl, as in Earl the Squirrel) and the other squirrels! We went to Lions Head. Lions Head is a big rocky mowtin (again, mountain) it is a hard hicke (hike). There are rocks to push up on. Sometimes you need help so they put a lader (ladder) or a hand grip. It was butful (beautiful) and fun! You will like Cape Town!

Love Ben.


Dear Friends,

We just got back from a ten day trip to Cape Town, and I think you would LOVE it!  As a city, it kind of reminded me of San Francisco, but with Table Mountain in the middle of the city, you can’t compare!  Table Mountain is the most striking physical landform I have ever seen.  It is massive and amazing.  You can kike to the top or take the cable car.  We decided to take the cable car to the top since it was late in the afternoon.  The cable car went so fast and spun 360 degrees so you could see all of the views!  On the top we hiked around, and there were these cute animals called rock dassies all over – Sadie and Ben loved them! They kind of look like large guinea pigs.  We were on top of Table Mountain for a beautiful sunset.

You would love Cape Town because there is a great balance of an urban city with great arts and restaurants with amazing outdoor excursions in every direction.  In Cape Town, we hiked Lions Head, which is the mountain next to Table Mountain.  We chose that hike because everything I read said that it was an easier hike with great views.  They were right about the views but worng about it being easy! It was a challenging hike (it took about 4 hours up and down) with parts where you had to be on all fours on the rocks; there were also some steep parts where there were ladders and hand grips.  It was an awesome hike, and the kids did so well! At the top we could see all around Cape Town!

We also did a couple of excursions an hour or so outside of Cape Town.  One day we went to Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope.  At Boulders Beach, there is a large colony of African penguins! We saw so many. There were two that we watched for a while because one was making SO much noise! We watched them for a while, and when the one who was making so much noise got up, there was an egg!! We think that that might have been a mother who just laid it! Then when the first penguin got up, the second one went to sit on the egg – we think he might have been the father.  After we went to the busier penguin viewing area from the boardwalk (it was pouring!) we ate a picnic in the car and then went down to a more secluded beach.  There were huge boulders everywhere to climb (I guess that’s why it is called Boulders Beach!).  We climbed the boulders and found a few penguins.  They are so cute, but boy do they smell!

After that, we kept driving south until we got to the most southwest point of the continent of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.  When we drove up, there were baboons everywhere! At first, we thought that it was funny that baboons were climbing all over the parked cars, but then one climbed on top of our car while the door was still open! Daniel slammed the door, and Sadie and Ben were safely inside.  The baboon was looking at the kids through the window, which I thought was cute, so I decided to take a video with my phone.  By the time I pushed the record button, the baboon was mid-air jumping towards me.  It was terrifying, but the video is pretty funny now that I know I survived!

The other day trip we took was to the West Coast National Park.  In the months of August and September only, there is a certain area of the park that they open because there are fields and fields of wild flowers in bright, beautiful colors.  We (and a lot of others!) would get out and go amongst the flowers to see the flowers up close and take pictures, but then the rangers would come and blow an air horn and make everyone get back in their cars.  We still got some great pictures and enjoyed walking through the amazing beauty.

In addition to all of the places to enjoy the incredible natural surroundings, something I loved about Cape Town was the great restaurants.  Some of my favorites were El Burro (great Mexican food and chili margarita), Company Gardens Café (incredible outdoor atmosphere and amazing artistic huge swings), Gardener’s Cottage (in a really neat artist village called Montebello Design Centre – off the beaten path, but go!), and Royale Eatery (AMAZING burders – I had an ostrich burger – YUM!).

The arts and crafts in Cape Town were also extraordinary.  The best places to shop for art and crafts that we found were at Montebello Design Centre and the craft section of the V&A Waterfront.  Sadie bought a neat yellow bracelet, a cute dress, and an amazingly unique embroidered elephant who she named Taba (Zulu for “happy”!).  Ben got a neat bamboo lion that you build, I got a scarf, and Daniel got his favorite – unique post cards!

I think the combination of urban amenities, culture and attractions, the incredible natural beauty of the landscape and coast, and the many ways to enjoy being in nature is why I enjoyed Cape Town so much – it wasn’t one thing or another, it was a perfect combination.  Add to that the places of cultural historical significance that we visited (Robben Island and Gugulethu township) and yet another component is added to the unique combination that makes Cape Town Cape Town!

I can really see you loving a trip here!  But wait until you can spend at least 10 days here so that you can enjoy all the facets of Cape Town – you might even want to go to the beautiful wine country nearby that we did not get to.  You’d have to plan a different trip to South Africa to add the full safari experience, but you would never be disappointed that you spent 10 days in the Cape Town area.

Hugs to all,


Animals of the Cape

[Editor’s Note: We are fully aware that adding this particular post immediately after a post attempting to convey that life in South Africa is not so vastly different from life at home does a great deal to undermine that point.  It isn’t to be helped.  After a week in Bloemfontein leading our normal lives, we returned to being visitors (as opposed to residents), doing all the visitor things, including putting ourselves in places where we are likely to encounter animals.]

The weather forecast suggested that the weather would be clearer south of Cape Town, so we picked up on a Tuesday morning, hopped in the car (with Aunt Carly in tow), and drove down toward the cape.  In the afternoon (more on the morning later), the weather was indeed clearer and we were slowly approaching the southwestern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.  The scenery was incredible – steep, rocky mountains rising along the coast, some of them blanketed in an intense green in lower parts; waves crashing onto rocky shores.  En route we saw a rainbow over the sea thanks to the moist, but clearing air.  Wonderful.

We reached the Cape Point National Park in the mid-afternoon and wound our way toward the Cape of Hood Hope, where we hoped to go for a hike.  Upon our arrival, there were people with cameras gathered around baboons sitting on the rocks near the water’s edge.  The people with cameras, maybe a dozen of them, were clearly undeterred by the signs posted throughout the park informing visitors that “Baboons are dangerous WILD animals – DO NOT FEED THEM – Keep Doors Locked and Windows Closed.” I snapped a couple of shots from the car, then, emboldened by the apparent lack of concern of the other humans, got out to get our gear ready for what looked like it would be a terrific hike to the top of the ridge overlooking the cape.

Things became slightly more interesting/concerning as one of the baboons hopped atop a nearby car, then scampered onto a convertible and laid on its back, apparently using the top of the convertible to get at an annoying itch.  This was some distance away, so I returned my attention to Ben’s shoelaces. Continue reading

What Culture Shock?

As I glanced through the pictures of our recent trip to Addo Elephant National Park, I began to think that we might be giving a fairly misleading account of our time here in South Africa.  For 4 days, we visited a national park and surrounding environment and saw and interacted with animals.  But we have been in South Africa for 30 days now.  That’s 26 days in which we were not on safari.  For almost all of those days, we have lived a life that would be incredibly familiar to those who know our life in Memphis.

Indeed, the most surprising thing to me about our experience thus far has been just how similar life here is to life at home.  That this is surprising says both something about my expectations about our life here, which in retrospect were not based on much beyond caricature, and about the realities we are living.  Yes, we live near a game reserve where we have come across unrestrained (if not quite wild) animals and yes, we have had intimate interactions with monkeys and ostriches, but these are very much the exception – and even those exceptions occurred within protected wildlife areas.

Since we returned from Addo, we have spent the vast majority of our time in our cottage, a cottage that is situated in a tree-filled neighborhood within a modern city.  IMG_9845Near our house are a couple different squares – the nearest has our favorite pizza restaurant, a small grocery/convenience store, a DVD rental place (here’s a difference!  Still doing DVD rentals here), a gas station, a couple other restaurants, a bookshop, and a wine and liquor store.  My excursions out this week have been to the university a couple of times, for a jog through our neighborhood, and to a Target-like store to grab printer ink and a cricket set for Ben.  Meggan’s excursions out have been to the gym and to the grocery.  With the kids we went swimming at the gym and spent a lovely afternoon on the grounds of the nearby art museum, doing afternoon lessons among mosaic sculptures and the most interesting carousel I’ve ever seen.
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