Saturday, May 13, 2017

Day 21 - May 13th 2017 - Out of Africa

We are hanging out in the Cape Town airport waiting for our flight to Johannesburg. We had a couple of hours down at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront for some last minute shopping and eating. 

One we get to Jo'burg there is a five hour layover before boarding our international flight back to the USA. That will be a long 17 hour stretch but students look to be pretty excited to be heading back.

We have had an amazing three weeks with unique and memorable encounters and experiences but it's always good to get back home.  Happy Mother's Day and your kids will be able to wish you in person tomorrow : )

Friday, May 12, 2017

Surfing in Africa

In the seaside town of Muizenberg is some of Africa's finest surfing.  The waves come in long solid lines, the bay is sandy and clean, and the water's edge is lined in surf shops, cafes, bars, and hostels.  There's a real surfing culture here, and we jumped right in.  We gave students the option of surfing, and about two-thirds of our group decided to do it, including Mariam.  They got wet-suits, boards, ankle strap ties, lessions, and guides.  It very windy and the Atlantic Ocean water was cold, but people went in and tried getting up again and again.  We had a few who were successful, Megan and Caitin managed to stay up for a while, but mostly it was just a fun exercise in trying.  Then there was the cool posing with the boards on the beach.  Very important, of course.  It was really fabulous.


One of our main goals today was to visit a penguin colony in Simon's Town.  The African penguin is a smaller guy, about 16 inches high, with individually identifying chest freckles.  It's their nesting season, so we got to see some nesting parents (they take turns with the egg), and we got to see some fuzzy babies.  The interesting thing is that the babies grow really quickly, so the babies were almost as large as the parents, but didn't have their final waterproof feathers.  They were gray and fuzzy and looked highly huggable.  No penguins were actually hugged today, don't worry.  This was a nature preserve that did a great job with boardwalks and vantage points that didn't impede or disturb the colony.  It turns out penguins smell when they live for a while in the same place.  These penguins also had a really loud annoying call, more like a braying donkey than any kind of normal bird.  They in fact used to be named Jackass penguins, and we could see (or hear) why.

The Cape

We drove out of Cape Town this morning, along the ocean, going through scenic town after town built into the sides of mountains and sloping toward the dramatic beaches.  We circled to the side and back of Table Mountain, and drove along the mountains behind it.  The wind was whipping down and frothing up the ocean.  We stopped at one point to take photos of the dramatic Sentinel Mountain, at the head of a large beach cove filled with little houses.  Hout Bay, filled with beautiful million dollar homes.  Simon's Town, home of a navy base for hundreds of years, with charming shops built in the English regency style.  And eventually Muizenberg.

Here are some photos of the drive:

Day 19 - May 11th 2017 - The South African econony

We spent this morning visiting two different institutions and learning about the South African economy. Investec is a large investment bank and our agent Stephen had set up a talk with Brian Cantor, who according to Stephen,  is one of the most important economists in Africa. Brian had just published a book titled How to Get Africa Growing Again and although Investec is mainly a wealth and asset management firm, the talk at our request, focused on macroeconomic and growth constraints faced by the economy.

The thrust of Brian's arguments were that the South African econony is burdened by excessive regulations, especially in the labor market, and that preferential racial treatment and the heavy welfare state won't lift the majority of the poor out of poverty in a sustainable way since the youth unemployment rate is close to 50%. He believes that the economy needs to be more liberalised and focus on growth which will result in job creation and a more long-term solution to the poverty issue.

We then visited The Free Market Institute which as the name suggests is an economic think tank focusing on economic liberalisation as well. We were greeted by Temba Nolutshungu, the director of the Institute, who spoke to us for almost an hour about his vision for how best to solve the problems facing the South African economy including slow growth, high unemployment, poverty and income inequality.  For the most part Temba echoed many of the same points as Brian , with a more extreme focus on liberalisation and the removal of barriers and regulations which hinder free enterprise. His beliefs were firmly rooted in the power of the free market as the engine of economic growth and poverty reduction.  He even gave us a critique that he had published of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century which is peppered with criticisms of socialism,  Marx and the welfare state (I wish I had a fire extinguisher to put out the smoke coming out of Martha's ears : ).

As an economist,  for the most part I agreed with many of the basic precepts expressed by them on deregulation and liberalisation. However, I also believe that the unfortunate legacy of apartheid has left many systemic and structural imbalances in the country which need to be addressed by a more focused development policy before the gains of economic growth can trickle down to the lowest echelons of society.   The unequal distribution of human capital (health and education) is one of the most glaring causes of the current disparities in income distribution.  However, when  pressed on these issues with questions Temba and to a lesser extent Brian, continued to stress economic liberalisation as the only path forward with no complementary development policy.

I was proud of our students who focused intently on what were two fairly long and academic discussions and asked pertinent questions of both speakers. We were quite privileged to have gotten these oportunities as they are both important and high-ranking individuals who went through considerable trouble to take time to meet with us. We learned a great deal and kudos to Stephen for setting this up for us!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cape Malay cooking in the Bo Kaap

For lunch we went to a private home in the colorful area of Cape Town known as the Bo Kaap.  This is a very old part of the city where the first slaves settled.  These people were not Africans; rather, they were brought by the Dutch from the East Indies and they kept many parts of their culture.  Cape Malays, as they are called now, are highly multicultural, with food influences from Indonesia, India, Africa, and Europe.  They are still Islamic, and as we walked up the cobblestone hills to get there, we heard the call to prayer sing out over the neighborhood.  All the houses are small and colorful, built side by side up steep hills going up the side of Table Mountain.  It's a charming and bright little neighborhood.

Our visit was so we could learn about cooking.  Cape Malay food is really very distinct from more traditional South African fare.  Our host was wonderful and very friendly, welcoming us into her home where we packed in around the counters in the kitchen.  She was showing us how to make several traditional dishes:  chicken curry, rotis that we buttered and rolled and smacked into shape before frying, samoosas filled with chicken or vegetables before being sealed and folded tightly into small triangles and fried, and what she called chili bites (fried dough balls made with chick pea flour, onion, and spices).  We all got a chance to try making these dishes before everything was cooked up and eaten.  And eaten.  Yum!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Day 17 - May 9th 2017 - Khayeltisha's Dynamic Entrepreneurs

We spent the day visiting different projects in Khayelitsha,  Capetown's largest township. Martha has already written about the beginning and end of our day. Sandwiched in between, we spent the afternoon visiting two young African entrepreneurs both of whom had won competitions and obtained financing for their ideas.

The first was Iyeza Express which started out as a medicine delivery company. Public hospitals in South Africa are extremely inefficient with long queues for everything including picking up medicine that chronic sufferers might be taking on a daily basis. One can spend all day in hospital just to see the doctor or pick up a prescription. One bright, enterprising young man experienced this everytime he went to pick up meds for his diebetic grandmother. He saw an opportunity and offered to pick up meds for his neighbor for a small fee. His neighbor jumped at the offer and passed the word around and soon people were calling him and asking him to pick up their scrips.  His business slowly grew until be hired more people to do deliveries for him and he now has five couriers on bikes delivering all over the township.

The second and more lucrative branch of his business now includes a self-testing rapid result AIDS kit called I-Test which he has partnered with a pharmaceutical company to brand and distribute. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence and  infection rates in the world and there is still a social stigma associated with being HIV postive. The hospitals are set up with little regard for privacy and thus many people don't get tested. I-Test allows people to determine if they are HIV positive in the privacy of thir homes. In addition, if negative, it then allows them to take Prep which is an HIV prevention drug also distributed by Iyeza. I joked with him that I suspected that he would be able to retire in two years. He is only 24 years old.

Out next visit was to The Spinach King , who Bailey and Donato had been looking forward to meeting since before we left the US. The Spinach King had a similar story to Iyeza. In an effort to incorporate and bring more awareness of a healthy lifestyle and better nutrition, the Spinach King began baking gluten free spinach bread, and using the local grocery store chain to distribute it as well as door to door delivery.  As his business grew he built his first brick and mortar location and now has a second branch which is the one we visited.

He also met Richard Branson and Virgin Active  (a large fitness chain owned by Virgin) built him customised spin bikes that can be hooked up to make smoothies while you bike. Thus the emphasis on exercise and healthy eating in one shot. We sampled his spinach smoothies and spinach bread all of which were tasty. We were also entertained by a song which had been prepared just for this occasion, sort of like a Spinach King jingle. 

It is quite exciting to see these examples of enterprise flourishing and renews my belief in the essence of the market system.  One thing I have noticed is that people here are generally so vibrant, positive and friendly. Even the scores of migrants from impoverished African countries who have made their way here and are earning a living by selling crafts in the market place. Martha and I have spent time wandering around the arts and craft markets and chatted with people from Congo, Mali, Malawi, Senegal and many others. Even though they pitch a hard sell and we bargain , at the end they call us their sisters and give us hugs before we leave. They are all supporting families back in their home countries and let's just say that we are doing are best to help them out : ).  Students have been visiting these markets as well.  In fact our hotel opens out onto the main market square, so when they bring back their crafts and souvenirs , you should know that their purchases have helped families in need all over the continent. The best kind of gift!!

I'll end on an update for the families. Wednesday May 10th is our free day and the entire group with the exception of one had planned to go shark-cage diving. We just found out that it had been canceled because their are killer whales in the water that have driven away the great white sharks  (yes great whites are not the top of the food chain!) and it is too dangerous.  Understandably students were dispointed and have had to make alternate plans. About half of us are going Para-gliding for part of the day. I'm sure you'll hear about how they spent the day from your kids.