All Finished

Well, the semester is completed. The last exam was written last week. My marine ecosystems course ended with a lengthy and in-depth examination that taxed not only the writing hand but the lessons of the semester. Unfortunately, we had to write the exam in the Sports Centre on campus. This means we were somewhat outdoors (there is a roof and some walls, but it is exposed to airflow from the outside) and had to sit in the same room as other course examinations, one of which had numerous typos that needed to be announced to correct (and thus was quite distracting). Still, when all is said and done, all is done.
We've been watching you study. We want to go see something interesting. Let's Go!

The house on Grotto Road is emptying out. All of the Princeton students (Prianka, Alicia, and Paarth) have departed. It just leaves us UC students (Mandolyn, Saachi, Joe, and me) for the coming week. We are all, in addition to taking care of final business, trying to make the most of the remaining time here. Some are making up for their dedication to their studies and are trying to do a bunch of the things they did not take the time for earlier in the semester.

A portion of the Grotto Road crew: Me, Mandolyn, Alicia, Prianka, and Paarth. Kathleen, Saachi, and Joe were not present.

The household with Monica and Dumisani (Matthew) who help out with the household maintenance
I have been spending time with some of the friends I have made here. My departure in a tiny bit over a week is evoking a mixture of feelings. I am excited to see Fred, my family, my animals, and my friends back in the States. I am looking forward to summer (winter continues to set in here, and I miss feeling my toes) and going to bed without a hoodie and beanie. I anticipate my next year at UCI and the research position I must secure there. At the same time, I am going to miss my life here in South Africa. I have grown quite fond of this country, and Cape Town in particular. I have made some excellent friends here, and for the first time in my life, I have a group of friends my own age. I am curious to know if the sense of belonging I experience here (something I have never really felt in my life) is the result of personal growth or this geographic location. Time will tell.

I have been back to the Watershed (a giant local artist craft market on the waterfront) and the Two Oceans aquariu. I have gone on a couple walks in Kirstenbosch Gardens.

I got to go on a last couple of Friday night nature walks. Sally, a graduate student at UCT with whom I was in contact before coming, had invited me along on a weekly nature walk above Kirstenbosch Gardens, which quickly became one of the most anticipated and savored events of my weekly routine here. When the weather was warmer (and the sun up later), the walk would conclude with a picnic in the gardens. Now that a portion of the hike is in the dark, we usually head to Dennis and Gigi's house for "Sop'n'dop" (Afrikaans for Soup and Drinks). Everyone brings food to share, and there is an assortment of hot soups on, in addition to excellent company among local birding enthusiasts, botanists, zoologists, a geologist, and assorted other people interested in the local nature. The warmth with which I was received by this group has been truly gratifying.

Nic, Susan, Linda, Sally, Marc, Regina (I believe, had not met her previously), and Dennis. Notable in absence are Gigi, Florian, and Ragna.
View of the city lights, photographed poorly, from the heights of the nature walk.
Sally also has taken me along on a couple of bird ringing outings. As a avian scientist and an advocate of citizen science movements, Sally regularly goes with her nets, catches birds, and measures, rings, and catalogs them. Through this, there is a vast collection of data on bird populations throughout South Africa, their growth, movement, and responses to human development. Usually, I accompanied her  on these outings when she would host a primary school group who was there to observe and "help." I would man the nets, gently untangling the birds caught, placing them in a fabric bag and taking them over the Sally and Robynne (another citizen scientist and bird enthusiast) to measure and ring. It was usually cold and wet, and this last time I ended up covered in bird poop. It always made for interesting outings, afforded the chance to spend time with Sally (and when he was in town, Florian), gave me some awesome opportunities to participate with this sort of science, and exposed me to locations and activities in Cape Town that I am willing to bet other exchange students did not experience.

Sally explains the ringing process to the raptly attentive students

Robynne shows how to check the moult status of a bird

And then I am passing time with some of the other amazing friends I have made here, for whom it would take too much time and space to describe the provenance of our friendships. I had gotten to pass time with Wendy, Michael, Ben, LeeAnn, Gus, Ferline, Johan, Ncedisa, Philipa, Lenore, and many others. Yikes, I almost sound social. At the same time, my Saturday night was spent working on a giant jigsaw puzzle with Ferline. So, I am hardly being the wild and crazy man about town.

Actually, between the birds and the jigsaw puzzle, I sound like I am trying to recreate On Golden Pond. "The loons, Norman, the loons!"

And on to the loons.
Or how about urban zebra as seen from the freeway to the CBD. Yep, zebra alongside a freeway in the city.
Ben and LeeAnn have conceived an outing for this Monday that will be a combination of going away (good-riddance) party and birthday celebration. Ben was one of the first friends I made on the UCT campus, and I have been very grateful for his friendship as he helped me navigate the early lonely days at the beginning of the semester. I guess they are taking me across the valley to a hike in Jonkershoek and lunch in Stellenbosch. At first the details were kept hidden from me, though the event was not supposed to be a surprise, which led me to some entertaining conjectures about the irrelevance of my attendance at my own function. I am really looking forward to this outing with my friends, who I will be sad to say "tot siens" to.

I will post some other things about some of the other outings to the Heart of Cape Town Museum, actual day-time visits to the Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, and whatnot.