Tag Archives: Grahamstown

Beach day with Demarte Pena

You’ve really got to love spontaneity: this past weekend it took me to the beach in Port Alfred, a mere 45 minute drive from where I live. I had a charming ocean stroll, then went for some lovely fish lunch on the Kowie river where we casually bumped into friends. And the featherweight EFC Africa champion, Demarte Pena. It really isn’t every day you get to hang out with the top MMA fighter in Africa, is it?

MMA beach soccer team, Demarte Pena is the third from the left in the back row

MMA beach soccer team, Demarte Pena is the third from the left in the back row

I met Demarte recently through his trip to Grahamstown to train up the Rhodes University MMA (mixed martial arts) club. We have a mutual friend, and I was fortunate enough to get to interview Pena for the student newspaper, Activate. Apart from being an incredible athlete, he is also a really nice guy, and I really enjoyed interviewing him, and had a jam partying with him in one of Grahamstown finest establishments that is Friar Tucks. On his last day of his visit, he and the rest of the MMA club went through to Port Alfred, where they had lunch and a casual game of beach soccer.

Beach soccer in Port Alfred

Beach soccer on East Beach in Port Alfred

Here are some of the interesting things Pena had to say in our interview:

Demarte Pena, EFC Africa Featherweight Champion, with me, Kendra Dykman at Haricots, Grahamstown

Demarte Pena, EFC Africa Featherweight Champion, with me, Kendra Dykman, at Haricots, Grahamstown. (Photo by Sekata Ramokgopa)

On his evening at Friars: “It was different. Normally just so restricted because of my training through the year, so hardly have time to really go out, so, it was good.”

Pena trains in Sunninghill, Johannesburg, with Richard Quan as his head coach. Because of the multiple disciplines involved in MMA, he also works with a number of other trainers. He has been a professional fighter for two years. “It’s been great. I started fighting when I was back in Pretoria, and I eventually moved to Jo’burg where I joined my current team.”

Pena started with Judo and Karate back in his home country of Angola, but didn’t fight as much when he came over to South Africa. “I lost a little bit of that love and passion for it for a while, but when I was in high school, I met a few other guys who were training as well. At that time when I started training again I was doing Muay Thai and a little bit of Kung Fu. We would mess around after school, train together. We learned about UFC.”

“I didn’t actually want to be a professional fighter. But one thing led to another: the opportunity came to fight for EFC Africa, the promotors here. They called my trainer and said there was a chance for me to fight. I was like ‘alright, let’s do it’.” Pena weighed in the 62-66kg category, and won his first fight, even though he hadn’t been training for the fight. After a second fight, Pena was granted the opportunity to fight for the title, where he beat the top contender in his division. “It’s been quite a speedy journey to the title. After I became champion, I decided to work on my training.”

At that time, Pena was studying towards a BComm in Entrepreneurship, at Tuks University, which he gave up and moved to Jo’burg, in order to pursue his his fighting career. When he moved to Johannesburg, he didn’t have a place to stay, so he stayed at the gym from Monday to Saturday, where he says he needed to stay and train.

He defended his title for the first time, and managed to “hustle” a place to stay. “The more you win, the more you get paid. You still get paid if you lose, but it’s half, so it’s a b****.”

“I became the third guy in history to defend his title for the third time, and recently, on the 19th of July, I fought and I defended my title. I am the only guy to defend his title for the fourth time in the history of African MMA.”

“It’s getting better as the sport grows. The fights are shown live in, I think, 111 countries worldwide.”

“For now I just want to establish myself more as an African fighter, but maybe in two more years time, hopefully, I can fight overseas. Just get more fights in. I train very hard and I put so much work in, in two more years I think I will be able to fight overseas and be more competitive there. So, just keep fighting and just keep pushing hard.”

“Guys normally retire around 35/36. You can open your own gym, or you can coach, but for me, right now, I do other things as well, like businesses as well. So I don’t need to rely on my fighting. I’m young still now, and I have a lot of time, so the cash you make from the sponsorships and the fights, you can do other things. So when I stop fighting I can live off the businesses and other things.”

On the things he enjoys most about being a fighter: “For me, the biggest thing is self-progress as a man and as an athlete,” said Pena. “It doesn’t just build you as a fighter, it builds your character; it makes you a stronger person. Not to be able to bully someone to enforce your own will, but self-confidence as well and the way you conduct yourself.”

“It’s not a sport for me, it’s something that I do, that I love and that I enjoy.”

“It is painful, but obviously you need to put in the hours. It’s rough but it’s not as bad as it looks. You want to make sure that you’re so well-conditioned that your body is ready to take that punishment.”

“We train Mondays to Saturdays, roughly four or five hours every day, and we train in many disciplines. So we train in the ground game, train in the kickboxing, training in wrestling, you’re doing lifting, general conditioning, sprints, jogging. So it’s so many things you’re training in together so you can compete at a high level of the sport. It’s not that just anybody can do it, this type of sport you have to really like what you’re doing. Because once you’re in there and you’re getting hit, it has to be something that you actually enjoy doing.”

“For me, I’d rather take the guy down and control the guy. It’s easier because you get hit less.” This comes from Pena’s past wrestling experience, but he makes sure that he’s not predictable as a fighter by utilising other fighting styles as well.

“Ever since I became champion I’ve tried to promote the sport a lot.” Pena coaches kids in Joburg as well. The sport is still relatively new in South Africa. Even at Rhodes it has only really starting to take off in the most recent years, however Rhodes is the only University with a club like this. “There’s still that stigma that it’s cage fighting, that it’s brutal, that it’s violent.”

He came to Grahamstown to promote the sport and share his knowledge and get a few more people excited about the sport here. “Who knows, in a few more years, or less, we can get a champion coming from here.”

Alex Awolaja, a member of the club described his experience. “The fact that the number one fighter in the EFC is here and willing to teach us is such a learning experience. I’ve trained alongside him in Jo’burg, but being coached by him is way better: I’ve learned a great deal more. Also going out and chilling with him is great.”

Pena worked with the Rhodes club over a training weekend over this long weekend past. “Just getting back to basics, showing them a lot more grappling and wrestling techniques. If you have a good base then everything you build on gets better. The guys are very motivated and they want to learn. I’m pushing them very hard. They’re not just giving up, they’re actually appreciating my time here. It’s exciting when you go somewhere and the people are passionate for the sport that you love as well as you are. It makes everything worth it. I don’t want to go to a place where the guys are slacking and you can see they don’t really want to do it. So I’m really impressed with the people who have been coming to the seminars.”

“The world is so unpredictable, and if I can play a little part for someone else, maybe they can mention me and they can say that I was one of the factors for them becoming champion or succeeded in the sport, then I’ll be happy.”

“For me, the biggest thing is to leave a legacy, just to be remembered you know, because we’re just passengers in this world: you don’t know when your last day is. This sport is so great because it gives me the opportunity to be an inspiration for someone else, not just specifically in Mixed Martial Arts, but anything in life. It’s a challenge to train that hard. You also get criticised a lot, obviously, when you’re fighting a guy, and his fans are swearing at you at times, and a lot of people don’t believe that you can accomplish something. So it’s not just a physical battle in itself, but very mental. It’s the challenge that I love.”

“The thing that I enjoy the most, is when someone has been underestimated and they overcome, that’s the thing that I live for in life. I was once watching a show, America’s Got Talent or something like that, and this one guy walks up on stage, and he was a chicken farmer. Like a rough-looking kind of guy, and as soon as he started talking with his funny accent, everyone started laughing and judging him like a trailer-trash kind of guy. So when the judges see him, already in their minds they were like, ‘This guy can’t sing, he can’t do anything.’ Obviously everybody would expect him to fail. And then when he started to sing, it was so brilliant that every single person that had doubted him before just stood up and applauded him for that. That’s the thing I live for: when people say you can’t do it, and you’re not good enough, and you’re this or that, and you overcome.

“When people underestimate you, that’s when you must do everything possible that to show them that you can.”

Dining Hall dinners can’t be all that bad… Can they?

Dining hall dinners are the biggest challenge for the fussy eaters in Res. You can have chicken, or something whose name you don’t recognise… And more often than not, people will order anything, and just grab slices of bread to make a sandwich, or they will organise something in their room, like microwave pasta, 2 minute noodles, or take-aways. At least the lunches aren’t quite this bad.

This is a collection of most of the dinners I experience on our two week meal cycle.

Week 1

Chicken stew and dumpling (but actually it's just a ball of flavourless dough that apparently tastes ok if you add stuff to it)

Chicken stew and dumpling (but actually it’s just a ball of flavourless dough that apparently tastes ok if you add stuff to it)

Tuesday: Bean wrap (vegetarian option)

Tuesday: Bean wrap (vegetarian option)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday: One of the good ones: Grilled sirloin with cheesecake (some of the best we could know)

Wednesday: One of the good ones: Grilled sirloin with cheesecake (some of the best we could know)

Thursday: "Grilled chicken strips" with health bread (pretty darn good bread)

Thursday: “Grilled chicken strips” with health bread (pretty darn good bread)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday: roast chicken again

Friday: roast chicken again

Saturday: Chicken schnitzel. One of those meals that reminds me of home. Generally the rice is also done quite nicely as well

Saturday: Chicken schnitzel. One of those meals that reminds me of home. Generally the rice is also done quite nicely as well

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday: tuna wraps with tomato and mozzarella cheese. This one is quite delicious if you like tuna

Sunday: tuna wraps with tomato and mozzarella cheese. This one is quite delicious if you like tuna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 2

Monday: chicken stirfry (looks just like the grilled chicken strips, but ok) with a wrap and an apple crumble-type dessert

Monday: chicken stirfry (looks just like the grilled chicken strips, but ok) with a wrap and an apple crumble-type dessert

Tuesday: chicken curry. This was definitely on a bad day, not the most appetising piece of chicken I've seen

Tuesday: chicken curry. This was definitely on a bad day, not the most appetising piece of chicken I’ve seen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday: Sweet potatoes with grilled soya sausages (yes vegetarian option). It comes with chocolate mousse. This one is a good one, especially because you score some cheese with those protein-packed viennas

Wednesday: Sweet potatoes with grilled soya sausages (yes vegetarian option). It comes with chocolate mousse. This one is a good one, especially because you score some cheese with those protein-packed viennas

Saturday: Cape Malay style mutton curry. This can be a good meal, but one can be put off sometimes by the fatty or gristly bits that occasionally put a dampener on the meal

Saturday: Cape Malay style mutton curry. This can be a good meal, but one can be put off sometimes by the fatty or gristly bits that occasionally put a dampener on the meal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday: Mexican enchiladas. Basically another vegetarian bean wrap. But hey: cheese is always a win

Sunday: Mexican enchiladas. Basically another vegetarian bean wrap. But hey: cheese is always a win

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 2

I suppose when I look at it like this it really isn’t that bad… But the lunches are definitely better. I also feel that they really skimp on the vegetables. When I ask for lots of vegetables, I get a normal sized serving. When I ask for less rice, or a small amount of rice, they halve it, and I still end up getting served more than I would if I had dished it up myself. I only have a few more weeks in this town, not many more dinner cycles left. I will enjoy my last days here! The food isn’t bad enough to change that.

Also be warned that I need to review just about every restaurant in this town before that time is up, so much delicious content is on its way.

Twing – the only real sushi restaurant in town

Bear with me on the title as it is not the only place in Grahamstown that one can buy sushi from, but it is the only restaurant where sushi is their key dish, their initial reason for existing. That is, until I discovered their deep fried ice cream with is heaven in a bowl, drizzled with condensed milk. It is the best desert I have ever had, end of story. And then there are a couple prologues where I go into pecan nut tarts and cheesecakes and other puddings that blow me away, but we won’t go into that just yet.

Chop sticks are great, aren't they?

Chop sticks are great, aren’t they?

We will return to the sushi. I was never a fan of sushi, up until about a year ago, when I decided that I needed to get over my allergy to fish, and broaden my culinary horizons. My first sushi sample was average. My second followed suit. It was only on my third attempt that I really started to appreciate the delicacy, now that I was over the really weird texture and rather fishy flavour that I just wasn’t used to in general. But from that day, I was sold, a true fan. Condemned to a town where the only place worth buying sushi from (where I have not heard reports of people falling ill from eating the sushi) is Twing.

Maki Monday: an assortment of Maki as a special

Maki Monday: an assortment of Maki as a special

Twing has a great look about it. It has expanded into a separate upstairs and downstairs, where the latter hosts the cool green sushi bar, and the upstairs provides a comfortable setting for other Eastern delights, such as dim sum, soups, and noodles. I absolutely love noodles, and Twing Wok (the upstairs section) offers a wide range of noodle and rice dishes, with a number of different sauce options as well; one is truly spoiled for choice. And it tastes pretty wonderful too, as long as bitter taste of the price doesn’t ruin your appetite.

Noodles are the greatest! Here is a sample of chicken noodles in "Japanese" (soy) sauce (left) alongside the pork with fried rice (right)

Noodles are the greatest! Here is a sample of chicken noodles in “Japanese” (soy) sauce (left) alongside the pork with fried rice (right)

A similar thing can be said for the sushi: they most certainly have the monopoly for sushi suppliers in Grahamstown, and they exploit that extensively: it is nearly double the price of most sushi in Johannesburg, and about two thirds of the size. This is disappointing, but when you need your sushi fix, and if you can afford it, it really is worth it.

Teeny fix of sushi goodness

Teeny fix of sushi goodness

What is also really great about Twing, is that they deliver. They do free delivery, and they even bring their card machine, which makes it really easy and convenient to buy lots of delicious sushi. It’s a great service.

Salmon California rolls are probably my favourite

Salmon California rolls are probably my favourite

Sushi in general is an expensive venture, wherever you decide to enjoy it, and if you happen to be in Grahamstown, then Twing is a good idea if you need that fix. If you aren’t a fan of sushi, their noodles and rice dishes are also really delicious, so treat yourself to some prawns with udon noodles and Chinese sweet and sour sauce – totally worth it.

Lovely assortment of salmon samples: fashion sandwiches, California rolls, and Delux rainbox rolls

Lovely assortment of salmon samples: fashion sandwiches, California rolls, and Delux rainbow rolls

Classiest treats in Grahamstown

Haricot’s deli and bistro is definitely one of the classiest little cafés in town. Situated very near campus, right across the road from The Rat & Parrot, a local drinking hangout that makes truly fabulous pizza, Haricot’s provides the quaintest little treats and meals. However, for “sophistication” such as this, you really do pay rather heftily in some cases. I went there for a “first date” last year, and (apart from the school children who were out with their families) it was a really romantic venue to take someone for that kind of thing (where it really is a treat) It’s not all expensive, though, so a student can really make it work out for them.

Their cookies are delicious: chocolate and white chocolate chip. They go really well with the hot chocolate

Their cookies are delicious: chocolate and white chocolate chip. They go really well with the hot chocolate

Haricot’s makes the best hot chocolate in town, as far as I’ve had (and I have had quite a few). It’s really cosy in there, and I’ve decided that that’s where I like to get work done, if I feel like working in a coffee shop (which I do, of course). It is also a competitively priced hot chocolate.

I could really sit there all day working, so long as I had a steady stream of that fluffy, creamy goodness

I could really sit there all day working, so long as I had a steady stream of that fluffy, creamy goodness

I went there for breakfast with a friend of mine over the weekend. I had French toast, she had a croissant with jam and cheese. While her croissant was a fair bit smaller than my meal, it was about a third of the price.

More hot chocolate as we try decide from the numerous great options

More hot chocolate as we try decide from the numerous great options

Croissant with jam and cheese - note: it is smaller than it looks in the photo, but big enough

Croissant with jam and cheese – note: it is smaller than it looks in the photo, but big enough

They are also makers of wonderful different breads, which explains the unusual choice of bread in this French toast meal. It was also the first time I had maple syrup: I can't say I'm a fan as it tasted too much like plant (like tree bark or something)

They are also makers of wonderful different breads, which explains the unusual choice of bread in this French toast meal. It was also the first time I had maple syrup: I can’t say I’m a fan as it tasted too much like plant (like tree bark or something)

They do cake, of course. The cakes are pretty, sometimes they are extravagant, but all the time they are  really pricey. Granted, they are large slices, so maybe it works out well if you go there and share a slice with a friend. But when you’re paying the same price for one piece of cake as you are for a full take-away burger with large chips and a drink, you have to question your sweet tooth. I tend to stick to their cupcakes, which are more reasonably priced, and which are also really delicious.

Cutest and fluffiest little chocolate cupcakes

Cutest and fluffiest little chocolate cupcakes

The cupcake they have a solid reputation for, of course, is the red velvet cupcake, and it really is amazing. Make sure you get it fresh, otherwise the buttercream frosting (it tasted like buttercream more than cream cheese frosting, but I could possibly be wrong) will go a bit too hard, and their fresh frosting is light and fluffy and delicious, so don’t miss out.

This cupcake cheered me up after a very bleak morning today. Thank you, Red Velvet Cupcake, I love your fluffy sweetness

This cupcake cheered me up after a very bleak morning today. Thank you, Red Velvet Cupcake, I love your fluffy sweetness

Kettle baths and loads of laundry

(This post originally featured on my other blog, but I don’t post from there anymore)

The water supply was dodgy from Sunday lunchtime, something we became aware of as we were served our lunch on polystyrene plates with plastic knives and forks. This is becoming more and more of a problem, as it is now Wednesday, and we are still unable to flush our toilets, or have a shower.

Luckily, we have rainwater tanks behind our building. Unfortunately, it hasn’t rained in a few weeks, so this supply is dwindling as well (unsurprisingly, as it has to cater to the water needs of 73 girls), and our neighbouring building of 88 boys has run out of their rainwater supply completely, so I hear.

I had my first kettle bath yesterday. I am fortunate to have a sink in my room: I don’t know how I would feel about bathing from a sink in the bathroom where people come, do their business, and leave, unable to flush after themselves, and leaving a horrible smell behind them. You come into the building, and you are just hit by a wall of odours, emanating from bodies who, like me, have been unable to shower as often as they might have, and who, apparently, don’t know how to fill up a bucket of water to flush the toilet after themselves. It is severely unpleasant.

This morning I decided the kettle bath wouldn’t work for me, so I went down to the gym where there was rumoured to be water. Apparently I was not the only one to have heard such rumours: the change rooms, which are normally otherwise fairly empty at 6:30 am, was full, the floors wet, as ladies endured harsh conditions. My shower was brief: it was cold, with little water pressure (a huge disappointment, as the gym pressure is normally exceptionally good). One of the showers was blocked, verging on flooding. But I got to wash my hair, and my whole body. I now wait with anticipation for the water to come back, dreading the possibility of it not returning before my Spinning class that I have to instruct later today (the uniform for which I have to wash by hand, again).

My laundry is piling up: it was my intention to do laundry the other afternoon. I could have done it in the morning, but I was procrastinating. “It’s fine, I’ll do it this afternoon!” I had thought. I will never put off doing my laundry again: I am nearly down to my last set of underwear, and I am running out of laundry “shelf” space (the laundry basket was full a very long time ago).

Hold thumbs that pressure returns the water to us on the hill soon, and I am able to clean myself before I return home on Friday: we wouldn’t want my mother thinking I am unable to look after myself at university.

My new love… And it can come in chocolate too!

Arabica, Ethiopian Lima, robustness, chaff, crema… these were some of the words I became a little bit more familiar with today. A few simple words, that have inspired me to pursue the career of barista! Ok, not quite. I’ll probably never be a true coffee connoisseur, but I would really love to get there eventually!

Cuppaccinos and latte art

Cuppaccinos and latte art

I want to learn how to appreciate a good roast, and to be able to identify the different blends of international farms (except I don’t think that this is quite how it works – each farm produces it’s own kind, and you blend different farms together).

Beans being swirled around and cooled

Beans being swirled around and cooled

Basically, I want more coffee in my life. This is unusual for me because I only started drinking coffee last year. When I was much younger, I had my first cup of coffee. I loved it so much that I had two cups. That night I had a nightmare that there were giants falling from the sky onto and through the deck of my pirate ship which you gained access to from the office-block-style corridors. It was a horrible nightmare that has stuck with me for many years (over 16!) and so I never drank coffee again.

Ready for purchase, gotta get me some of that!

Ready for purchase, gotta get me some of that!

I reintroduced myself with a mature open-mindedness that has lead me to try a whole host of new foods (that you will hear about in the future, I am sure). I would say that the product that sold me to coffee was the Nescafé Cappuccino sachets: the foam gets me every time, especially when coupled with a crunchy biscotti!

My writing lecturer: Gillian Rennie

My writing lecturer: Gillian Rennie

Today was the start of a journey: Homeground Coffee Roasters showed us how they roast the beans from hard green beans to aromatic, warm, brown beans.

Coffee beans still

These are then ground to be used in the machines to produce top-quality espresso coffee, which we were lucky enough to get a taster of.

Ashley Brown, a fellow writing student, savouring that little cup of goodness

Ashley Brown, a fellow writing student, savouring that little cup of goodness

 I normally take my coffee with milk and one sugar, and a cappuccino comes with milk, but I do think that adding milk to this coffee possibly didn’t do the coffee justice: the milk of my cappuccino taster seemed to detract from the richness of the flavour, which was delicious, meeting the excellent standards that Homeground seeks to maintain.

Leo, Homeground's owner, serving up some of her top quality brew

Leo, Homeground’s owner, serving up some of her top quality brew

So, today marks the beginning of a long and close friendship between coffee and me. I know it’s going to be an intimate one with many regular encounters, and I am sure that if they are anything like today, they will be exceptional.

Purple Protesters Against Sexual Violence

Over 1500 students and staff members took to the streets of Rhodes University and Grahamstown, wearing purple and walking in solidarity with those who have been victims of sexual violence, particularly against women.

Silent Protest March

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Working At A Bar

“What are your drinks specials?”

“There aren’t any tonight… But all the drinks are cheap all the time anyways.”

“No, never mind, it’s fine, we’re leaving…”

Uhm… Ok?

Bottles Awaiting

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Study time

Travels are over and now I have had to return to my studies, away from home as well, so it’s almost like I am travelling.

Student life in Grahamstown is really vibrant, and as small as this frontier town is, there is always something to do. For the next month or so, my posts will be focusing more on the Student Life in and around Grahamstown, the stereotypical exploits of 18-25-year-olds (or thereabouts), and the many ways that I get myself involved in the community.

Grahamstown

I will post photographs of Grahamstown in the hope that you can experience some of its beauty captured, so you can see the views I experience every day as I walk to and from lectures, practicals, tutorials, and sports.

Occasionally I may post some news to the site, but we’ll see how it goes, I’m more likely to post links to the Rhodes University newspaper Activate’s (turning 65-years-old this year) website where most of my stories will be featured.

All this as I bide my time until 2 April. The East awaits me…