It’s been over a month since I returned from Stellenbosch, and I’m just now getting around to finishing my travelogue. The last three days in Stellenbosch were some of the most memorable of my life, so it’s hard to encapsulate the fulfillment of two lifetime (or at least long-time) dreams in a blog post. So, I’ll write about Wednesday and Thursday, January 29-30, and save the story of the defense (Friday) for another time.
I awoke early on Wednesday morning, packed my swim trunks and towel, and drove to Simon’s Town, a small town along the Cape Peninsula. I had arranged to join a trip to Seal Island to go cage-diving with great white sharks.
Now, I’ve been interested in sharks since I was a little boy–maybe all little boys are to some degree. But I memorized all the different species, read books, saved pictures, etc. I remember as a teenager seeing a TV special on these great whites that jump out of the water hunting seals at the Cape (this was before “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel was so popular), and I resolved that if I ever had the chance, I’d go see those great whites.
On previous trips to Stellenbosch, I’d looked into cage-diving–price, safety, ecological concerns, etc. I had considered not doing it. But given how safe everything seemed to be, I realized that I would always regret not taking this last opportunity–and I pulled the trigger on a last-minute booking. I was glad they had a spot open right at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, it was too early in the year for the sharks to be jumping, but we did get to see at least four different great whites around Seal Island, and we (five passengers, four crew) swam in the cage. The closest the sharks came was only about 8-10 feet (they were interested in the bait on a rope, not us).
Overall, it was a wonderful experience that I recommend. It was quite exhilarating to see these apex predators in their natural habitat. For all that we know about it, the sea is still so mysterious, romantic and scary–and sharks doubly so. Safety is a concern for some people, but I felt very secure in the cage. I could climb out at any time right into the boat, and the sharks never came close enough to touch (not that I would have reached out!). Sure–it was probably more dangerous than staying at home on the couch. But as I reflected upon the day, I realized I was probably more likely to die in a car accident on the hour-long drive from Stellenbosch, what with South Africa’s absolutely insane driving culture (but that’s a discussion for another time!).
We arrived back at the wharf in Simon’s Town around noon. My friend, Craig, met me there for lunch at a local restaurant. Craig has connections at two local institutions of biblical higher ed, and he wanted to take me to meet the faculty at one of them. BISA is in Kalk Bay, which is a little town further up the Peninsula overlooking False Bay. It was wonderful to meet these folks and to hear of the challenges and joys of training church leaders in southern Africa.
On Thursday, I spent some time studying in the morning. It was difficult to know exactly how to prepare for the defense other than just…know everything. But I took comfort in the thought that I knew more about my specialized subject than any of the examiners, so I tried to focus on method. That turned out to be not as important as I thought it would be–but more on that later.
I took a break mid-day to walk to the campus centre and purchase some university swag. It’s virtually impossible to get any Stellenbosch clothing or souvenirs in the USA, so I always make sure to pick up a shirt or a hat or something when I’m there.
I then had a wonderful time at lunch with the pastor of the local CESA church in Stellenbosch. Pastor Doug was very encouraging, and we discussed again the unique challenges of ministry in Africa. Culture changes, but people are pretty much the same and struggle with the same sin and suffering.
I returned to my room that evening to “rehearse” my seven-minute introduction to my dissertation. I made a couple of videos of myself (pathetic, I know) and rewrote and re-rewrote the outline. After a shower and some three-year-old American TV (mostly what you get on South African broadcast stations), I settled in for a night of fitful sleep, anticipating my final, final exam the next morning.