By Maddy Baxter
History teacher Ken Neisser accompanied his wife, a member of the Angel City Chorale, to South Africa to help raise money for the Amy Biehl Foundation this summer. The 15-day-long trip included stops in Dubai, Johannesburg, Cape Town and a three day safari at a game reserve in the Limpopo Province.
The Amy Biehl Foundation was started after Biehl was killed in Cape Town due to political violence. In 1993, Biehl was in South Africa for a Fulbright Fellowship and was killed whyilewalking a boy back from his classes at the University of Western Cape Town.Her parents visited Cape Town shortly thereafter and decided to create the foundation in their daughter’s memory in an attempt to improve the lives of those living in the townships.
The Angel City Chorale is a singing ensemble of 120 men and women from Los Angeles.
“They took a tragedy and turned it into this truly wonderful organization,” Neisser said.
The main focus of the trip was the foundation’s annual awards night in Cape Town where the Chorale performed South African music.
“Kids just jumped out of their seats and started singing and dancing, Nesisser said. “It was an extraordinarily moving sight.”
The Chorale visited the foundation’s school that focuses on arts education. The students performed drums, dance and choir along with the Chorale. They also performed for students at the South African College High School.
“The choir breaking into song was a great icebreaker for mixing with the African people,” Neisser said.
The group flew 8,500 miles to Dubai, flying directly over the pole and the Arctic. The temperature in Dubai peaked at 122 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 percent humidity.
“The architecture in Dubai is something out of a Tim Burton movie., Neisser said, “Those modern buildings are fantastical.”
After Dubai, the group stopped briefly in Johannesburg on their way to the game reserve in the Waterberg Mountains to go out on a safari.
“You’d be eating your lunch and a monkey would jump up on the table and try to steal your food,” Neisser said. “Then you would hear some screams and realize that they had succeeded.”
Neisser and the Chorale spent the next eight days in Cape Town. He took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain and sat in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.
“The tour guide was terrific,” Neisser said. “I engaged with him a lot about the apartheid regime in relation to the Cold War.”
The group also took a trip down to the Cape of Good Hope, which “is not actually the southernmost tip like most people think, but the most southwest point,” Neisser said. wSo, the tour pleaded to go to Cape Agulhas, the actual southernmost point, as well.
“There is nothing as extraordinarily dramatic as the Cape with the crashing waves on one side and the mountains pressing down on the other,” Neisser said. “The physical topography of South Africa was awe-inspiring.”
Among other sights, the group visited Stellenbosch, a university town, and a tribal cultural center in the Western Cape. He also saw the statue of Cecil Rhodes, a key player in British African imperialism.
“The World and Europe course was all around me,” Neisser said.
In Cape Town, the Chorale visited a restaurant on the waterfront and Neisser ate ostrich for the first time and found it delicious, he said. During the meal, the choir stood up and sang and the restaurant staff poured out of the kitchen and started dancing and singing with them.
“Everyone was in tears and it was incredibly moving,” Neisser said. “We were making a connection. I of course did not contribute my vocal talents.”
Neisser, an experienced traveler himself, considers his trip to South Africa to be “the most remarkable two week trip” he has ever experienced.
“It really was the trip of a lifetime,” Neisser said. “Linguistics, history, geography and culture. It was a bounty of all kinds of riches.”