Author Archives: Lindsey Joost

South African Proverb: We’re all human

Shannon is a friend of my sister’s who now lives in Virginia after being born and living in South Africa for fourteen years. She shared with me a few common South African proverbs, but cited this particular one as her favorite due to its meaning.



“So a common saying in South Africa is ‘Even the maid has a family.’ Basically it means to be kind to everyone, you know, that everyone, even the people considered lower-class, has their own life and goals and problems and that you shouldn’t mistreat people just because you’re in a position of power. That’s important in South Africa because even after Apartheid not all the class and racial issues have been settled. But… yeah. Basically it’s just a reminder that we’re all human.”



In South Africa, it is standard for middle and upper class households to keep a maid. When I stayed in the country a few summers ago, I thought it was very unusual that perfectly capable families would hire help to deal the cooking, cleaning, and other household chores. It always struck me that, at the end of a long day of housework, the maid would have to go home and tend to the stresses of her own household. Where I stayed, the maid was treated as part of the family, but I was told that this is not always the case. Depending on the household, a maid could be a sort of super tidy aunt-figure or be treated as a servant.

The maids in South Africa were always black, but the reason for this was more economical than racial. Anyone with reasonable financial means kept a maid. White homes hired black maids, black homes hired black maids – it was simply that after years of oppression and discrimination, the bottom of the economic ladder in South Africa is composed mostly of black people, who therefore would be the ones hired as unskilled labor.

Beyond the literal interpretation of direct referencing maids and the custom of keeping house-help and the racial implications that come with that, I think Shannon analyzed the proverb well. Whether black or white, rich or poor, intelligent or uneducated, every person has their own set of joys, sorrows, stresses, relationships, and goals. Financial, social, political, or any type of power doesn’t warrant abuse of those in a lesser position. We’re all human.

The Legend of the Stolen Kidney

Josh is my best friend from high school who now attends Florida State University in Tallahassee. He shared with me an FSU urban legend that he was told by his RA upon entering as a freshman.



“A few years ago there was this guy that lived on the same floor I lived on freshman year… It was one of the first weekends of the semester; he went out to some party, had a few beers, was having a good time, and was really hitting it off with this girl. Pretty standard. She invited him to another party, and she was super pretty so he agreed and went along with her. He didn’t know any of the people at the new party, but they started drinking more heavily and pretty soon he started making friends. These people at the new party were all smoking and taking drugs, and even though he had never messed around with that stuff before he was pretty drunk and kinda curious so when they offered him some, he took it. Next thing he knew, he woke up completely naked in a bathtub filled with ice with a nasty hangover. When he finally got up and stumbled over to the sink, in the mirror he saw “CALL 911 OR YOU WILL DIE” written on his chest in Sharpie. Obviously that freaked him out, so he grabbed a phone and called. He tried to explain to the EMS operator what the situation was – that he didn’t know where he was, what he took, or really even why he was calling. His back was killing him which he figured was from sleeping in a tub, but he reached back and found two long wounds running along his lower back. The operator was really disturbed by this; she told him to get back into the ice-tub, and that she was sending a rescue team to his location immediately.

Apparently, he had had his kidneys stolen. They’re worth ten thousand dollars each on the black market, which for a college student is a whole lot of cash. Some people say that some twisted person took advantage of the situation when they saw him passed out from the alcohol and drugs. Other people say the second party was a complete sham and that the stuff he had been offered was more than recreational party drugs.

Anyway, I don’t know. It probably didn’t happen but it’s still freaky to think.”



RAs are charged with a difficult task: overseeing the general well-being of incoming freshmen who are living away from their parents for the first time. Curiosity over drugs or alcohol is common for kids that age, and RAs must try to prevent the students under their charge from getting into trouble or hurting themselves as best they can. There are plenty of true horror stories of the awful toll drugs can take on a person, but young adults are known to be rebellious and an adult listing off health dangers or reading news stories could come across as preach-y. Being told in the form of a legend makes a cautionary tale about the dangers of alcohol and drugs much more palatable to college-age kids. 

LA’s Biggest County Fair

Zach, my friend and fellow sophomore at USC, recently attended LA’s biggest music festival: Coachella. He is an avid festival-goer, attending different ones all over the world, and sited Coachella as his favorite. He shared with me his individual experience at the festival as well as the larger sense of what LA’s biggest cultural festival is all about.



“Coachella, where do I begin… It’s this big music festival about an hour outside LA out in the desert near this town called Indio. It happens over two back-to-back weekends in April. It’s kinda the LA thing to do come springtime. About 100,000 people attend each weekend, mostly 18-25 year olds, but I saw people of all ages when I was there, old farts, families with little kids, crazy stuff. It’s a music festival, right, so they bring in the best and biggest variety of artists from every genre, rock, EDM, alternative, indie, folk everything. The way they set it up, it’s kinda like LA’s county fair but way out in the desert and bigger, the world’s biggest county fair almost. They bring in all sorts of incredible food trucks and weird sideshows – some of the coolest artists in the world design the actual venue, which is so so cool especially when combined with all the unbelievable music. It’s held on the Eldorado Polo grounds which is this huge flat expanse of land that they completely transform with all these art installations and cool lights – it’s actually really sick, like you’re in a completely different world. Most people camp… It’s sort of like the place everyone goes to from around LA to dress up and have a fun hippie weekend full of music and dancing.

Me? I went with friends from USC; we had about a twenty person campsite and the people I came with really is what made it special. Even just within our camp we had a huge variety of people, which I thought really kinda represented the whole wide range of people Coachella draws, you know, people who aren’t all that prominent in stereotypical LA culture but who all come out for the weekend to sort of escape the city and dance around in the desert for three days. It was cool cause we would split off into small groups during the day and do our different things – I danced for basically 10-12 hours every day but other people took it a little more easy… If you got separated it was really hard to find people, its the middle of the desert so there’s not really cell service. But at the end of the night we would all come back to the campsite, decompress, swap stories about what we all did that day, go to sleep, then get up, go out and get to do it all over again.

The last night was really special. As fun as it was, being out in the heat and dust for three days straight is a lot, so when we finally got to Sunday night, it was kind of a celebration for everyone that we made it. Coming back to school after that was really hard – everything is so carefree and beautiful at the festival and having to come back and face finals and everything was a definite reality shock. I definitely suffered from post-Coachella depression for a week or two.”



Though it is marketed as a music festival, Coachella is so much more than just a glorified concert. From food to art to music, it is a complete celebration of LA culture and of the beauty of life.

It would make sense that festival celebrating LA’s culture would take place in Los Angeles itself, but the festival is held a couple hours away in the small town of Indio. By holding the festival out in the desert, festival-goers are able to escape the traffic and general chaos of the city, allowing them to be completely immersed in the festival experience. The art installations, light fixtures, hippie garb, lack of cell phone service, and camping on the grounds all contribute to the sense of being in a world completely removed from the real world.


While everyone is in this sae world-away-from-the-world, each individual’s experience in the festival is completely different. There is no planned ritual, no ordered manner in which one is meant to experience the festival. In a way, this complete freedom is Coachella’s biggest draw. Why would people choose to go tough it out in the desert for three days rather than get a ticket to their favorite artist’s concert or go down to the art district to see the latest talent? Because people want the Coachella experience. They want to enter into a world free of time and worries to take part in a celebration of what makes life worth living: food, art, music and each other.

The Weir of Palomar Mountain

Sam is a sophomore at USC who grew up in Escondido, California, about an hour or so south of Los Angeles. His father was a park ranger at the nearby Palomar State park, which often catered to middle-school field trips from schools in the surrounding area. Sam shared with me one of the legends of the mountain that he learned from his father.



So… the legend of the weir… The word “weir” actually means a low damn that helps to regulate the water flow of a river. At Palomar Mountain there is an actual “weir,” which is like this small mortar and stone type-looking tower on one of the trails that loops around the park- right on the edge of a creek. Legend has it, the Weir – the man this time – is occasionally sighted there for brief moments before taking off. He’s a recluse, a man of the mountain itself, and almost looks a part of the elements – dark mud-caked skin, small plants and flora growing off the top of his head, etc. For the most part he remains a rumor more than anything, but every once in awhile a story will come out in which the Weir has been said to have saved someone – rescuing a boy from drowning during a particular rainy season when the creek is over-flowing or distracting a predatory creature so that someone can escape.

But, regardless of the heroics, he disappears as soon as whoever he’s assisting is safe…”



The legend of the mountain man is nothing new: from Big-Foot to the Weir, this sort of elusive live-off-the-land figure has been talked about in stories for hundreds of years. Unlike some more violent versions of this character, however, the Weir is a benevolent figure who only  separates from nature and risks exposing himself in order to help those in a time of need. His elusiveness is attributed to shyness and fear of the civilized world, but in actuality this quality more strongly serves to perpetuate the legend surrounding him.

The legend of a benevolent nature-man watching over the mountain, aside from being a good campfire story, would be a useful tool for a park ranger who must often lead visiting children over trails throughout the expansive nature reserve. A quiet, watchful figure like the Weir who knows the mountain well, keeps to himself and always appears at the first sign of danger to provide help serves to inspire a sense of safety and confidence within the children that no harm will come to them while hiking over the mountain. Because of the Weir’s ability to blend in with the natural elements surrounding him, the story may even inspire a trust in nature itself.

Big Bear Initiation: A Rite of Passage

Zach, a sophomore at USC, is a good friend who just recently finished pledging the pre-law fraternity here on campus. While the entire pledging-process had a number of rituals and superstitions, he shared with me the frat’s main ritual: the final retreat to the mountains before the new members were considered ‘crossed’ and full-fledged members of the fraternity.



“So this semester I pledged PAD, the pre-law fraternity, and at the end of the new member pledging process it’s tradition that all the actives and new members go up and rent a house in Big Bear for the weekend. The actives all went up the night before and slept there, but we had to be there at seven AM so we left at four in the morning to get there in time. Once we were there, they immediately blindfolded us and walked us down to the pier where we stood out in the cold for three hours or so reciting every single one of the memorizations that we had spent all semester learning – the purpose statement, dates and things about the frat – everything. It’s harder cause you don’t just recite it yourself – you go around in a circle and first person would say the first world, the next person would say the next word, and so on and so on. And every time someone would mess up, we would have to start from the beginning. We had to recite it backwards too, so yeah we were out there for about three hours. When we finally finished that, they split us up into teams and sent us on a scavenger hunt throughout the local town. It was kinda dumb – most of it was just making fools out of ourselves in front of the locals. Some teams tried really hard to complete everything on the list and some just didn’t give a care. Our team pulled over the car and slept for an hour or two we were so tired. One team, all the guys shaved their legs. Same team, someone ate a hotdog out of someone’s butt. Like bare. Turns out it didn’t matter how much of the list we completed anyway, so joke’s on them. When we came back, they blindfolded us again and told us that it was gonna be okay, that they all had to go through this, and then they locked all twenty-five of us in a tiny bedroom and played all twenty-six volumes R Kelly’s “Trapped in a Closet.” And while we were all in there they would pull out people one by one and put them on the “hot seat” where they forced you to answer all sorts of embarrassing questions in front of all the actives – and you were still blindfolded so you didn’t know who was there or what was going on… yeah it was pretty bad. Not as bad as being in the bedroom though; it took about four and a half hours to go through everyone in our pledge class and, you’ve heard that song right? Yeah. Traumatic stuff.

And then once that was finally done we all came out and they unblindfolded us and we had a big feast and party and that’s essentially when we became active members.”



From forcing the new members to be up at dawn to locking them in a closet for nearly five hours while subjecting them to the worst music known to man, as the final stage of the pledging process PAD puts its new members through horrible situations that serve no actual purpose other than to force bonding both within the new member pledge class and with the rest of the active members. The weekend retreat and the various rituals Zach described serve a rite of passage; new members go to the lake as pledges and leave as fully initiated members of the fraternity. Rites of passage are an inherent part of all fraternities and many other organizations on campus; groups want to know that the new people they’re letting in take their organization seriously. In order to have a way of proving new members’ dedication, PAD created nearly unbearable situations that had no purpose other than to test their willpower and see how much they truly wanted to be a part of PAD. Another purpose for the tradition of the Big Bear retreat is so that newly initiated members and actives all have something in common. As the new members were told before being locked in the bedroom “everyone had to go through it,” and new members and actives alike now all have something to discuss and bond over, even if it is something as awful as R. Kelly.