No guns please, we are an educational institute!

Trip Start May 25, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of South Africa  ,
Friday, May 27, 2005

The 'No Smoking' sign at the main entrance didn't really bother me too much, until I realised that the red circle actually contained a gun. No firearms? What a welcome!

Mark, my new supervisor had collected me from the hostel at 7am, and I therefore had the privilege of entering the campus by car. As we drove along the perimeter fence he pointed out the turnstile gates I will usually use when I arrive on foot. It's amazing to think that a single swipe of my electronic student card will allow me access to a secure oasis of calm. But for now, we sat in the car, engine off and handed over the keys to the university security guards who checked the boot for contraband.

We are only about 10 minutes drive from downtown where the end to apartheid was announced in 1994 on the steps of the Union Buildings. The University was in full swing back in those times, teaching only the well-to-do white Afrikaans - a tradition since 1908. Thankfully, things have changed. Walking around, the students seem mixed, happy and loud.Click here to see a virtual tour of the campus

The campus is large but pretty, with a mixture of old and new architecture, and is lined with jacaranda and cycad trees and an exotic display of indigenous plants that look so alien to me. Everything green is so much larger than I've seen before; palm trees that touch the sky, whose fallen leaves you could live under for a month. The botany department must have a field day with so much space. It must be the blue sky and warm climate that makes everything reach up high. I wonder if I'll grow a bit taller while I'm here?

The Zoology Department is a lovely old white stone building with wooden floors and marble stairs. It surrounds a sun-filled courtyard and has a curious mix of animal and chemical smells that are all too familiar and signify that work is looming. The Mammal Research Institute - my official affiliation, was pretty empty with folks out doing fieldwork, but I couldn't help feeling excited about the future within these walls.

As we rounded a corner on the second floor I stopped at the biggest elephant skeleton I have ever seen. It's a real beauty and must stand at nearly three times my height. I mean, I know they are big, but this specimen was pretty special, especially next to the others, Harry, Jerry, Sol (giraffe, antelope, seal) It seems that the Rhino was shipped out to graze a while ago, something about needing more space (?) But, it will make my day greeting Heffalump as I go to collect my mail next door. Who cares if I never get anything but bills!

My new office is in the Geography Department, which is connected to Zoology by a catwalk bridge high among the Jacarandas. That side of the divide is nice and small, and full of friendly faces. My supervisor is also located on 'the other side' so it makes sense to work there, and will probably provide a useful distance from foot-traffic that is so easy to invite in for coffee when deadlines are fast approaching.

As I walked around campus to complete my tour and registration I couldn't help but wonder what you should do if you forgot - you know, to leave your firearm at home? It is after all, a very easy mistake to make. What would you do? Roll down the window and quietly apologise to campus security, handing over your 'piece', making sure to collect in on the way out? So much to learn. Nevermind. Blue skies always make me feel cheerier!
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