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Dispatch from South Africa: A dining experience and a rugby match

Editor's note: During Spring Break, 16 Penn State students made their way to Cape Town, South Africa, as part of a weeklong journalism expedition led by Tony Barbieri, professor of writing and editing. The immersive project, part of Barbieri's spring 2011 journalism course on "International Reporting," provided an opportunity for students to experience duties similar to those of foreign correspondents working for media outlets. During the first part of the semester, the students researched South Africa and developed story ideas. In South Africa, they conducted interviews with subjects in and around Cape Town, and assembled a final portfolio of projects from each student that will be marketed to newspapers across North America. In addition to the students and Barbieri, two other professors attended, along with two documentary film students who are producing a documentary on the group's expedition, and their adviser, Barbara Bird.

In this fourth entry, Caitlin Burnham writes about the group's participation in a traditional African meal, and Jennifer Connor describes the scene at a campus rugby match.

On Tuesday night, our international reporting class learned that a traditional African meal is made of more than just food. The evening consisted of traditional Xhosa face painting, food from all over the continent and traditional African music at Cape Town restaurant Africa Cafe.

The evening began with women coming around to decorate everyone's faces. Peach, red and white paint was used to create swirling, flowery decorative designs on the women's faces and geometric, lined war-paint designs on the men's faces.
Before the meal was served women came around to everyone and poured warm water with rose-scented oil over everyone's hands. Soon after, the waiters began to serve a few of the 15 dishes we would be served over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour long meal.
The meal began with Cassava Bread, a flat bread made of tapioca and melted cheese. An Ethiopian cheese sauce and a coriander and chili sauce were served as dips for the bread. The cheese sauce was white with cheese curds in it and tasted a bit like a cucumber sauce that would be served with gyros. The coriander sauce began sweet, with a slight taste of mango, but as the sweetness began to leave your mouth you would start to feel the heat of the chili peppers. The bread and dipping sauce quickly became one of the class favorites.
Another interesting dish we tried was a beef stew from Botswana. The meat was very tender and still attached to the bone. The flavoring was subtle and you would feel the heat from the spices a few moments after putting the meat in your mouth.
Some foods we were served are very similar to foods found in the United States. An Egyptian dish made from lentils, chickpeas, noodles and tomato gravy tasted very similar to chili. The Channa Fish, which consists of hake fried in chickpea breading, tasted very similar to a fish stick you would find in any American freezer.
The most unusual foods we tried were sweet potato and cheese balls covered in sesame seeds, and spinach and maize patties that looked like potato pancakes, but were dark green. The sweet potato balls had a mildly sweet taste to them and a thick, rich texture. The spinach patties tasted overwhelmingly like fried, cooked spinach.
For dessert, we were served a nut and orange cake with vanilla ice cream. The citrus flavor was overwhelming and the creamy vanilla complemented the tart orange flavor.
After we were thoroughly stuffed on African cuisine, a group of men and women in traditional garb performed a short song to culminate our cultural experience.
-- Caitlin Burnham

A group of male students painted blue and wearing hot pink "tighty-whities" pumped up the crowd during halftime. Their flamboyant stunt was not a scene at Beaver Stadium. Rather "The Dummies" cheered on the University of Cape Town Ikeys at the Goore Schuur Rugby field when they took on the Stellenbosch Maties.

The omnipresent Table Mountain towered above the ivy-covered buildings of the University of Cape Town, as we searched for the Leslie Life Sciences building, after arriving on campus. I noticed the numerous gals and guys clad in dark blue t-shirts with bright orange print, "Varsity Cup, Rugby that Rocks." On the back of the shirts was "Ikey Tigers, University of Cape Town Rugby."

It was a scene just like you might see on our Penn State campus – football shirts everywhere.
I asked a student why so many were wearing the shirts, and was told "There's a rugby match today with our biggest rivals, the Stellenbosch Maties." Stellenbosh University also is in the Western Cape province and just a half hour drive away from the University of Cape Town.
The match was sold out, but students still watched from the next two levels of campus. Since the university is built on a very steep incline, the Rugby field, also known as "The Green Mile," is very visible. I stood in front of Smuts Hall, a men's dormitory, with a group of first-year students. The men who lived in the dorm littered the windows of the hall for the best view of Groote Schuur.

Mapitso Thaisi, also known as Mapz, is a first-year student studying occupational therapy from Free State, South Africa. She began her first semester three weeks ago and it's her first time in Cape Town. She has never seen a rugby match either. We bonded over asking the male students behind us for explanations.

I'll admit I didn't pay much attention to the game because I was too busy taking in the scene. There was no tailgating, just a few beers in hand during the game. The crowd of around 5,000 felt miniscule in comparison to Beaver Stadium's 110,000 on football Saturdays. The match also took place at 5 p.m. on a Monday evening.

The Stellenbosch Maties won 37-16. The Ikeys haven't beaten the Stellenbosch Maties since 2008. Today's headlines confirmed the Maties bragging rights can continue another year in the Western Cape.

-- Jennifer Connor

To follow the weeklong series of Dispatches after they have been posted, visit online.

Caitlin Burnham has her face painted by a member of the waitstaff. For more photos, click on the image above Credit: Andy Colwell / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated March 29, 2011