Wednesday, February 2, 2011

First impressions: student life at NMMU

After three years studying at UNISA through distance learning I felt it was time to go back to school for the experience. Distance learning is also a long process that requires dedication, you can consider yourself a wiz if you can complete a three year bachelors degree in six years. At the rate I was going I estimated total of 8 years for me to complete my degree, that would take me way into my thirties. Honestly I was a bit paranoid about the decision to return to a contact university, due to my last disastrous experience. At the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, I’d just had sinus surgery, badly operated by a quack South African doctor called Jeff Feinstein (yes I named him and do not recommend him!). Once the British winter kicked in, breathing literally hurt. I couldn’t endure, I went into depression. I went back to Mozambique a wreck for Christmas, its tropical weather made breathing easier. I temporarily withdrew from university, but full recovery was a pipe dream, I was forced to cancel my studies, my world had crumbled. Four years later after much stalling I had corrective surgery done by the finest doctor in Southern Africa, Dr Keith Davidge-Pitts. So now, feeling better, I decided it was finally time to hop back on the bandwagon.
So why South Africa? I’ll only be an Easter, long weekend, mid-semester or semester break away from home, it is a neighbouring country, that has the best universities in the continent.

Why the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University? I chose the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) because it is the most multi-cultural university in South Africa. 10-15% of the student body is international. Coming from Waterford Kamlhaba, a united world college with over 50 countries, NMMU seems like a good follow-up. These were my first impressions of student life:
I arrived in Port Elizabeth on the 18th of January 2011, with the objective to complete my BA in Media, communication and culture. PE is windy and chilly at times, at first I thought my sinus problems would return, they didn’t, in fact I breathe better. At home I’d sometimes sleep with a humidifier to filter the air, in PE I don’t need to, the air is so pure and the university is only 1 km from the sea, so I have clean air in my lungs all the time. Incidentally PE is beautiful, in South Africa I’d say the second to Cape Town. NMMU is beautiful too, the first thing I noticed about the campus is how green it is; the office for international education is in a plaza, with a long fountain pool. It is by far the best looking campus I’ve ever seen, I’ve seen campuses in Maputo (none of them are great), I’ve seen the University of Zambia, the London School of Hygiene and tropical medicine, the University of East Anglia, the University of Sussex, Wits University and the University of Cape Town. None of these campuses would ever win a beauty pageant running against NMMU!

The faculty at the university seemed good, during orientation I learnt that in the final year we get a chance to do an internship at a top media organisation such as Mnet or FHM, quite interesting.

About transportation in PE, the so called taxis, which are actually chapas (combis) charge R6 trip, that’s already at least R12 per day just by going to University and back, which is 1.5 km distance. So I decided to buy a bicycle, a good 1st hand bicycle for R1230 from a shop that provides assistance.
-“That’s too expensive”, said a fresher from Zimbabwe.
-“Actually in the long-run it will save me money”, I stated.
A “taxi” would suck me at least R1260 per semester, that’s R5040 in the four semesters that I’ll be studying. R1230, that’s already less than I’d spend on a taxi in a semester and I’d be exercising. Naturally, there are maintenance costs, like when I punctured my back wheel, I thought I could take it back to the shop for a fix-up but they don’t do such petty repairs, I had to buy a cycle repair kit for R15.20. Repairing a punctured wheel is simple, you remove the tube, place it in a bucket full of water and squeeze it until you see bubbles and that’s where the hole is. Use a scrapper to roughen the surface, apply glue to the area and apply a patch when the glue is almost dry. That’s it, I learnt something new and it’s easy peezy diy.

Living on your own means doing chores, like washing dishes, the few times I ever washed my own dishes, I did so wrong. Washing dishes close to the tap is a no-no because it always spills water onto the adjacent surfaces, which means more cleaning and more time wasted. Dishes should be washed close the base of the sink to avoid all of that. The same goes for cooking, if you’re pouring stuff, pour it close to the recipient to avoid spillage. Incidentally, a lot of undergraduate students would rather live off fast food and sandwiches than on a wholesome diet. Many don’t bother to buy neither fruit nor cooking equipment. I think cooking is one of the most relaxing activities, period. It is not the 7 headed monster that these undergrads fear, all you have to do is read cooking recipes, they even come at the back of everyday ingredients like stock cubes and rice bags, I only noticed this when I began managing my own apartment.

The garbage. I placed my garbage bin outside the house in the morning. When I returned in the afternoon it had been chucked back over the fence. I must have pressed the garbage man’s wrong buttons. I told this to the landlord, who laughed and said, “You have to place the bags outside”.
-“Black bin bags right?”
Why black bin bags? I had left the bin itself outside filled with garbage in Spar plastic bags, these are no good because they are neither made from recycled material nor municipal size, it’s insulting to expect garbage men to collect pint sized commercial bags from your bin.

One thing I’ve always hated doing is the laundry. When I studied at Waterford Kamhlaba in Swaziland I’d accumulate a knapsack with dirty clothes and give it to the first Maputonian that went home for the weekend, he’d hand it to my mother who’d have the maid wash it and have it ready to give back to him when he returned to school on Sunday. At Sussex, we all had to wash our own laundry, which I found daunting. It’s a laborious process of separating colours, putting it in a washing machine, waiting, taking the clothes out, hanging them, getting dishpan hands in the process and ironing, what a drag! NMMU has a laundrette with ladies to wash and dry your clothes, they’re fast, efficient but they don’t do it for the love of students, 3kgs is R35 and they have a pricing for ironing depending on the item. It cost me R71 to have 3kgs cleaned. To save money I bought an iron and an ironing board because although I hate washing, ironing is not as bad and I’d be straightening small loads at a time.

The taxi (real taxi) driver told me Port Elizabethan girls were hot and willing. I’m not yet sure of the latter but he got the former twisted, these chicks are not all all. I come from Mozambique, a country notorious for having hot women, I don’t recall ever cruising the streets or walking in a restaurant, mall or park without seeing some amazing looking women, natural beauties, even those with no class are ghetto fabulous. In PE it’s a whole different story, the white women generally speaking are not exotic, they have no palpable attributes if you get my drift. Most black girls on the other hand are fat with HUGE asses, you might think that is what black men desire, we find an ass like Nicki Minaj’s amazing because it is round and firm, these girls on the contrary have bigger and flabbier assets and a disproportionate body to go with it. Take college chicks, on campus there is a gym, a swimming pool and an array of sports to play, but that doesn’t seem to register with them. Perhaps it’s their diet, I’ve asked the waiters at two cafes on North and South Campus for fish or seafood, both shook their heads saying, “We don’t have seafood”.
There isn’t a shred of fish on any menu on campus, whether it’s a cafe, a diner, a fast food joint or a buffet. The cafe on South campus has fancy dishes such as pork stir fries and beef wraps but can’t deliver seafood. Even the Chinese restaurant in town, though it has seafood, it does not have fish! How can this be? Port Elizabeth is known exactly for having...a port, yet you have to go treasure hunting for fish!? No wonder these chicks are unattractive!! On my first week here, I’d go for a number 2 twice a day from all that meat, it’s nhama nhama nhama and more nhama! My alternative was to buy fish at Spar and cook more often that I’d expected at first. Anyways, the other colours in the rainbow are generally speaking better looking, but seem to be living in their own segregated world, but I won’t put everybody in a box just like that, in time I’ll see who’s real and who isn’t.

At any given point walking around campus and I hear at least three languages, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English. I thought it’d be English the whole way because the system is in English, though that’s not how things roll in the rainbow nation, here the blacks here speak Xhosa, the whites speak English or Afrikaans and the coloureds speak Afrikaans. The kats here think that if you’re black you speak their language, WTF? Wherever I go, someone approaches me in Xhosa like, “Unjani buthi, click click click....” and I always say, “I’m not from South Africa”.
This lady at the faculty office started clicking at me and once again I said, “I’m not from South Africa”, by then I was already on autopilot.
She then asks, “Why?”
In my mind I did a double take, what kind of a question was that?!?
-“Why?? Because I’m form Mozambique”, I responded perplexed
-“I’m just joking!”
I didn’t find that funny, the whole Xhosa thing was getting to me. One day I wore my International student T-shirt and my international student bag. I walked down the corridor only to hear a, “Shap ekse, u click click kanjani click click”
-“Woa brother, I’m not from South Africa”, I said (again!) this time pointing at my shirt and my bag
-“Ohhh alriiiit, so you’ve neva lived here?”
Naturally, otherwise I would have understood you.
He asked for directions and I helped him get to his venue. This predicament is not only limiting for me but to this whole country, how are they going to become one unified nation if there are several different cultures? People are never going to see eye to eye. South African comedian Trevor Noah jokes about this in his special “The Daywalker”, how even in Joburg, his city, people ask him if he’s from Cape Town, and worse in Cape Town the coloured people think he’s from there and speak to him in Afrikaans! The man is half Xhosa, half Swedish and has nothing to do with being coloured culturally yet he was accused of being a ‘banana type’, yellow on the outside and white on the inside!
In my city people talk to you in Portuguese regardless or you being black, white, grey or green because that is the official language. How can you end segregation if people automatically put you in a box because of the way you look? I’m not going to click with these people, take a social environment, a bar for instance, you don’t know people, but you can easily join in on conversations or chip in on something you overheard, that is not possible if you don’t understand the language and already there is a hindrance in socialization.

Security. I’m living in a studio apartment, on the same grounds as a house. The walls have barbed wire, the gate has spikes and two locks, my unit has another lock for a barred door and a key to a second door, talk about security, it takes me 5 minutes just to enter the house. The whole neighbourhood seems to be like that. The taxi driver said, “People here are so f***ing paranoid, that even the people in asylums have more common sense than them!”
Are they? I went for a swim in the aquatics centre at NMMU and left my sports bag on a chair by the side, just like I do in Maputo. I then took a shower and placed the bag in the changing rooms unattended. When I got home I couldn’t find my wallet, and I distinctly remember putting it in my bag. There were people circulating the swimming pool and the changing rooms but it never crossed my mind that one of them would steal from me. I should have used the lockers, next time I’ll know. Gone is my ID, some money and my debit card. I was forced to cancel my card, fortunately I didn’t need money immediately, I had sufficient food for some days until a new card was issued. This is South Africa, the crime rate is high, in terms of security it has nothin’ on my country.

In hindsight, I’ve had and interesting experience so far. This is a learning experience, I’m finding out a lot about myself and a lot about life, I consider every situation either a win-lose or a win-win, these are lessons that I will take with me for the rest of my life. This journey is going to be educational, I’m constantly learning and that’s the beauty of it.

Edgar Munguambe 290111