xoxo, Robinson Crusoe

It has been some time since I last posted; time has flown.

My first English assignment for the course Romance to Realism was to read Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. My professor really hyped it up before we started the novel: “This is the first British novel! The 18th century marks when great works of literature are no longer are part of a universal truth. Novels become individual!”

Of course her banter about Crusoe traveling to far away lands to discover his very identity, and his identity as Western, reminded me of myself, and my motives about traveling to South Africa.

Am I here to discover “the other” in order to discover myself, as Crusoe does?

Am I writing this blog to elucidate those answers, just like how Crusoe details the mediocrity of his everyday life in his journal?

As the trajectory of my journey here has progressed, and as I have – slowly but surely – read more of this painfully slow novel, I cannot help but identify more and more with this wary character. Granted, I am not enslaving anyone as Crusoe does, but my actions are quintessentially Western, epitomizing the very result of colonialism, imperialism.

I can go to the District 6 museum as a curious traveler; I can travel to Robben Island and take photos to share with Facebook, “oh look at all of the great, cool, cultural things I am doing in South Africa”; I can spend my parent’s money in order to see a township or visit an “authentic” African market; and then I can quietly retreat back to the comforts of my suburb in Rondebosch, the comforts of my suburb in Katonah, ultimately.

Who am I helping and/or exploiting while I am here? Is it good and right to look, and stare, to be fascinated, horrified, and disgusted?

* * *

Then at the same time, when I am not consumed by this project to figure it out, to figure myself out and my place here, I have been discovering and learning and not feeling guilty about my whiteness, my privilege, my enjoyment.

For Women’s Day weekend (yes, they celebrate a day just for women here!) I travelled with five other Connecticut College ladies to Stellenbosch, or South Africa’s version of wine country. These ladies include Emily Sollars, Amanda Nadile, Bitsy Whipple, Frances Deamer-Phillips, and Ashley Crutchfield. To those of you reading this from Conn, you can laugh about how eclectic – or random– a group of people we are. I wear more black than they all do. I am the only Jew. I don’t play a sport; I have never played a sport.

Anyways, we, particularly I, enjoyed a day of wine tasting, cheese tasting, and chocolate tasting. I cannot remember the last time I indulged quite like that. The justification: “I am abroad! It doesn’t matter how many wines I taste!”

Shortly after traveling to four different vineyards, we arrived at Spier, i.e. the wine tasting, indulgence-indulging Mecca of Stellenbosch. We skipped over the wine, and instead, paid R200 (about $30 USD) to pet a cheetah at a cheetah sanctuary. Now, when you are placed in the enclosure of a cat-predator, it is vital (vital, not only essential or important, but necessary to the continuance of life) to listen carefully to instructions. So, when you all go to pet cheetahs one day, learn from my mistakes: back away from the cheetah when the instructor tells you to; do not rest on both knees (you need to be able to quickly react if the cheetah stirs); and do not wander around the cheetah pen, especially when the instructor tells you to stay behind her.  Typically, following these instructions requires sobriety, which does not follow naturally from a day of wine tasting, starting at 10:00 a.m.

* * *

So, I have been here now almost one month. More about living with Europeans, doing touristy things, and living in a transitional democracy to come.

Time has flown!


Robinson Crusoe

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