The Harvard women's tennis teams blogs about its 11-day trip to South Africa (photo courtesy head coach Traci Green).
Thursday was our busiest day, we had planned activities from morning to night. Our first event of the day was paragliding where we ran off a ledge on Signal Hill and were able to glide over Cape Town while strapped to a trained professional and a parachute. The whole team including the coaches went along for the ride and we jumped off one by one. While in the air the feeling was very peaceful and the view was magnificent. As we descended, our professional glider would do some tricks that made it feel like we were on a roller coaster. All of us opted to get the package that included videos and photos so we could relive our experience over and over. Paragliding was an intense and exciting way to start the day.
Immediately after, we headed over to our first Township Gugulethu. It had one court and about 30 children under the age of seven. Our host Ms. Zaida Beukes from Western Province Tennis told us how her goal was to get tennis to as many people as possible-especially people who would not typically have the opportunity to play such a sport. You could feel the passion in her and her coach's and their ability to engage the children was awesome. Every single child was grateful and participated in the games Coach Green had in store. We started off with a dynamic warm up and went into some groundstroke drills and volley drills. It was amazing how despite only having one court, all 30 children were able to stay active and excited.
Our first Township clinic lasted an hour and we headed to our second one -Bonteheuwel- directly afterwards. Bonteheuwel had mostly older kids ranging from about 11-18 and many of them had experience in tournaments. We followed the same pattern of dynamic then drills, but since these players were more experienced, we played a doubles game for 30 minutes.
Finally we headed off to UCT Tennis Club to play a match against the University of Cape Town Women's Team. Coach Jackie and the UCT Team were very gracious and welcoming and we were able to win all the matches.
After our win against University of Cape Town the day before, we were excited to challenge ourselves again against the team from the historic Stellenbosch University. We warmed up once at UCT and then headed off to the beautiful town of Stellenbosch where we were given a short historical tour. The town displayed a style of Dutch architecture with its pure white buildings and churches and had a peaceful atmosphere created by its many oak trees.
We arrived at the Stellenbosch tennis courts in the afternoon where we were warmly greeted by their coaches and the team. Le Roux Conradie and Brendan Thomas, their tennis coaches, gave us a tour of the athletic part of campus. Similar to Harvard's campus, the athletic and academic buildings are separated by a river called First River. The campus was beautiful and every field, court and track had an amazing view of Table Mountain.
The tour ended and we were back at the courts ready to play our match. We were able to pull out a victory, but had a great time on the court while doing so. The Stellenbosch team was very welcoming and we ended up exchanging shirts as a souvenir of our experience playing each other. We finished by showering and heading off to our next destination.
Following an eventful day of sightseeing and exciting matches, we topped it off with a three hour, seven course dinner at Myoga, a classy restaurant near Stellenbosch. One of the courses even included a sorbet cleanser that was served just before the main course. Every course delivered a unique combination of flavors and reflected a mixture of South African and European cuisine.
After a delicious meal, we headed back to the hotel with a satisfied stomach, excited and ready for the activities planned for the next day.
We started off the day with an early breakfast at the hotel before heading off to Sinnet tennis club for an 8 a.m. practice. It was tough waking up after such a late night, but most of us seemed to find our energy once we started hitting a few balls. Afterwards, we headed to Rondebosh at Lovers Walk complex to help out with a women's tennis clinic run by Zaida Beukes from Western Province Tennis. Since it is women's empowerment month here in Cape Town, each female tennis player brought along a friend who has never played the game before. We helped introduce these women to tennis, teach them the basics, and show them how much fun the game can be. We all felt really grateful to be able to help out with such a great cause. It seemed like these women really enjoyed hearing our stories, and hopefully we were able to inspire them to continue playing tennis in the future! We also made many new friends, and some of them said they woukd try to make it out to our match in the afternoon.
After lunch, we began our match against the Cape Town All-Star Team, which consisted of the best female tennis players in the Cape Town area. After a few very intense hours, we ended up winning the doubles match as well as two of the five singles matches. After the match, both teams enjoyed a braai, which is the South African term for a barbecue. Chicken, steak, and even ostrich, were cooked on an open fire and served alongside salad, potatoes, pasta, and bread. Most of us were hesitant to try the ostrich, but we all ended up really enjoying it. Two of the women at the Women's Empowerment Clinic also joined us at the braai. They told us about their school project, which consisted of finding the best coffee shops in Cape Town. We were invited to join them at their next stop. They were headed to a coffee shop to test out beans that fed beans to cats, had those beans digested and excreted, and then used those same beans to make coffee. Although the shop was rated one of the best in Cape Town, none of us were too eager to try it. So we all went back to the hotel with stomachs full of ostrich (but no coffee), and went to bed looking forward to a day at Robben Island.
Sunday was our final day in Cape Town. We started with a final session with Coach Fayaadh, the Sinnet Tennis Academy athletic trainer, who helped stretch our tired joints and muscles then made a last trip to the flea market.
We spent the rest of the morning at the Water Front, a popular shopping attraction with a beautiful beach view and a variety of craft stands. From the Water Front, we took the ferry for a 30 minute ride to Robben Island. There we visited the infamous prison that held both common law and political prisoners since the mid 1600s until 1990. On our bus tour of the island, we saw the preserved living quarters for the prison staff, the school, and the island hospital. Our trip to the island ended with a walking tour held by an ex-inmate who was imprisoned on Robben Island for three years after being accused of high treason. Our tour guide showed us the maximum security areas of the prison, including Nelson Mandela's (inmate #466) former cell.
The trip to the island was astounding -- the stories printed in various cells highlighted both horrifying and inspiring stories of cruelty and humanity. That the prison was ultimately terminated, the political prisoners freed, and the unjust apartheid system abolished proved the persistence and endurance of the human spirit over turmoil and suffering.
Our day winded down to a two-hour flight back to Johannesburg -- or Jo-burg -- as most South Africans refer to the city. Tomorrow we'll be looking forward to our first day out on the safari!