07/16/2008 60 °F
Late last week Kathryn and I finally got settled into our housing. We are on campus (which I find to be quite beautiful though the people here don't seem to think so - I guess I'll have to see the rest of the country!). We are in on-campus housing (after making a very big push with the administration for several days). I am so blessed to have had Stuart and Marion living here. They took me and Kathryn in no questions asked for the better part of a week. Not only did they house us and feed us but drove us to and from campus everyday - which is a 30 min. commute when traffic is good and the price of petrol is ever increasing here just as it is at home. (I have noticed many people are driving diesel cars here - not really offered in the states - i know that our semi-trucks run on diesel but I just don't think they offer diesel cars to the extent they do here, just an interesting aside - I guess it burns cleaner and is a bit cheaper here ... but I don't know much more about it than that).
I finally got all of my class schedule finalized yesterday (a week into the start of classes!) and had my first class last night - International Trade law. The lecture was mostly ecomonic stuff to give us a basis - WTO and International trading politics, compartive advantage and opportunity costs etc. It was very interesting - and also very weird because the teacher and other students talk about the USA in such a different way than Americans think about the country. I have obviously just always taken for granted the things I have and the way of life we have in the States ... It's very different here. There is a totally different level of poverty and racial division - yet they are trying to make it work, they are working together (and sometimes failing but often being successful) to make different cultures and very entrenched ways of life come together under one government. The sense of capitalism or maybe I mean materialism (or both?) that we have in the states also just doesn't really exist here ... people don't really buy things the way we do, most of what they have they really need. Having TV or the internet are privileges - whereas we look at them as necessities most of the time in the USA. It's not that didn't understand that to be true, I've just never actually been confronted with it. In any case the teacher used several examples of trade policies of the USA and coming from the perspective of a so called 3rd world country I can understand why it would be hard to understand the way we live our live in the USA and why we have certain policies - and when we have so much why we still put tariffs (largely reduced by GATT and WTO now) on imports or why we protect our domestic markets instead of buying international goods - if we bought more from other countries we could help them so much, and we already have so much more than they have .... but then what about our own domestic workers. I guess it's just here a textile or agriculture worker is probably living in a one room tin house with only public facilities for bathrooms whereas the textile worker in the states we put out of business by buying foreign goods will still have running water and electricity and probably a television ... Our standard of living is just so disproportional I now understand why it is so hard for us to appreciate the situation faced by many people in 3rd world countries ... But I'm rambling with very little idea of what i'm talking about after only one day of class. The main point is that it is just totally different to study things the USA does through the lense of another country, an English speaking, democratic, and relative to us very poor country ...
This morning I had my first Gender and the Law class and we talked a bit about SA's constitution ... it's far better than ours in my mind - by better I mean more detailed/descriptive and less open to large scale interpretation ... having said that however maybe that's what makes our constitution great? In any case It is newer and more developed to the end of human rights (they have specific protection for access to water and healthcare etc. whereas we don't have that explicit in our constitution). However, right now it is not being enforced to the level ours is because it is still so new. They haven't had the amount of time to legislate and litigate matters to make sure they are enforced and they just don't have the infrastructure giving peole as much access to courts etc. as we do in the states. Beyond which they don't even have the infrastructure to deliver on many of the things promised yet (healthcare, water). Though I suspect the longer they have in time the better it will get. Ultimately over time I think their constitution might prove to do more things for their citizens than ours does for us - but whether that's a good or bad thing depends on how you feel about how much a government should get involved ... but that's just a shot in the dark. I don't know how things will go over the next 100 years. Anyhow talking about women's rights specifically they have quite a way to go - in certain (more rural) areas a woman might still be laughed out of the police station if she comes in say she was raped ... And lesbian women are being killed here (mostly and especially black lesbian women) - two more were killed just last week. However, SA has signed on to most of the big and important Women's Rights documents from conventions over the years (CDAW, Beijing etc.), and the United States has not signed them - most likely never will. I'm not sure why ... do we think we don't need to? Do we think we're doing fine without it? Now in all actuality these documents are kind of soft law - however, they are the only thing some women have in some countries - countries that don't have constitutional protections for instance. And in fact women in those countries have made CDAW and things like it work for them, mostly by trying to internationally embarass their government into complying since their government signed the treaty.
Tonight I have a human rights class (same professor as the gender and the law professor actually) which should be very interesting. It is a 'perspectives from the discipline class - so a broad overview and many of the students are not law students. I'm rather exicted about. Though I am pretty excited about ALL of my classes. The last formal class i'm taking (I say formal because I am auditing one class ... more later) is Public Health and Systems Law. There are only 3 of us in that class though so it will be a very specialized course dependent on what we are interested in. Kathryn and I both have some medical background and are interested in the differences here (national healthcare combined with insurance and a public and private system) and home. Also we will be focusing on the AIDS/HIV epidemic as well as the TB epidemic here (mostly afflicting immune suppressed AIDS/HIV patients). This coming Monday the three of us and the teacher are going to a seminar called "Rethinking Health Reform" on capitol hill here and that will be our class for the week ...
I am also auditing a class - African Literature. I will read all the books and sit in on lectures but not take exams or write the essays. It should be good, i really like the lecturer for the course.
All in all then though I only have class Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, Wednesday late afternoon, and the Public Health one is scheduled as needed with the three of us here and there (no formal lecture time though we will have a couple seminar lectures throughout the semester) - technically the African Lit class meets three times a week (monday, tuesday, wednesday afternoon) but the wednesday one the teacher told me I should consider optional as it is a tutorial session (what we would call a TA discussion section) and it is mostly 18-20 yr. olds in the class so he thinks I will mostly just get something out of lecture and reading the books. So in any case that leaves a lot of time open for other things ... Kathryn and I are talking to the legal clinic people about volunteering and also about travelling. It is really cheap to fly within the country here (40-60 bucks) so we want to go to Durban for a long weekend, Pretoria is a day/weekend trip and we can take a bus, cheap flights up to Namibia (I want to see the wild Namibs - a special species of horse indigenous only to the desert in Namibia), a trip to Krueger (safari) and then maybe flights to some other places that we can dig up ... In any case I'm very excited for everything now that we are finally settled with a place to live and eat (we have a meal plan through the dining hall next to our building) - the only battle I have left to sort out now is internet, right now I must go across campus to a computer lab, but there is internet in my room - unfortunately this campus isn't really running Vista yet .... still on XP - so i'm having a struggle with my Vista PC ... but Stuart is looking into getting me a very cheap computer that would work ... we'll see.
I have been taking pictures but cannot upload on the campus computers so that will have to wait until I can get internet in my room (by room I really mean studio apartment, i have a kitchen, living room (desk and bed and closet) and a bathroom all to myself - well except for my cockroach friends ... I am winning the battle at making them go away but they are very common here and no one seems to think much of the fact that I have them, just something everyone sort of lives with and deals with, also there are no screens on any windows, if you open the window anything can crawl or fly in just a different attitude towards insects than we have in the States lol - i suppose we're kind of prissy about it) Anywho all for now! Must do some reading for HR tonight. Love to all.
~M My apartment building at night The view from my window Sunset over the Tower The Garden/Pond next to my computer The baby Egyptian Geese living at my apartment complex Pretty Plants Sunset from the Great Hall on Campus