South Africa Escapades

29 March 2009

Interview with

Meera Senthillingham

Diana - This week, Chris, Meera, Ben and Dave are all in Grahamstown in South Africa for "Scifest Africa" while we're stuck here in Cambridge.  While the lads were doing explosive science demonstrations for packed houses, Meera has been able to see some of the events going on throughout the week, and she joins us now... Hello, Meera

Africa LogoMeera - Hello - I've been practising how to say hello in Afrikaans - do you want to hear it?

Diana - Yeah, go on.

Meera - Goeie aand. It's - you know the phlegm sound? It's goeie aand. I'm hoping people listening aren't going to be offended by the way I'm saying it. That's how I've learned to say hello.

Diana - Hello! Tell us about this festival. Just how big is it?

Meera - It's actually really big. It's a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be before I got here. It's in a town called Grahamstown which isn't a particularly large town and it's not really well-known if you don't live in South Africa. It's in the Eastern Cape and it's actually a bit like Cambridge. It's quite a small town, you can walk around everywhere but it's got a really good, prestigious university, Rhodes University as part of it which is hosting a lot of things to do with the festival. It's a small town but they're expecting up to 60,000 visitors to come here just for the science festival and children are travelling from all over the country. They're sitting in buses for like 12 hours and 7 hours just to get here to see all the different scientific activities going on.

Diana - I hear you guys are something of a celebrity down there - what sort of events are on at the festival?

Meera - There's a whole variety of events. Yes, the guys are celebrities. I'm not a celebrity because I'm not in the show with them but they have been asked for their autograph. Also people are asking for pictures with them which is quite interesting. Their show's even a hit here. It's been sold-out the first two shows and so 900 people came to see them do their thing. They've been doing great activities, things like that to do with light. Ben does a brilliant joke at the beginning of the show where he's showing how UV works. He's drawn a skeleton onto his body with a highlighter pen and then they dim down all of the lights and put UV lights on him and then obviously he's then glowing because the UV light is being absorbed and reflected out as visible light. The kids just roar for this - they actually give large rounds of applause just when they see this effect. They're blowing up balloons and exploding bottles of liquid nitrogen. It's going down very well.

Diana - Fantastic. Are we going to hear about any of this next week?

Meera - Yes, I'm sure we're going to hear about what they've been doing as part of their show as well as them doing this particular show I've been roaming around doing interview with various lectures and workshops that are talking place. That's going to be the material for next week's show. Today I actually went to a game reserve to see some very cool animals which will all be part of next week's show. I've been learning how to glass blow and I have been out to an estuary as well to learn about the species that you find in estuaries because they're very interesting ecosystems.

Diana - I hear you had a go on a kudu horn - what was that like?

Meera - It was interesting - I didn't do it very well. The person showing it to me did it a lot better but the whole kudu thing came about because part of my game reserve trip today I managed to witness a cheetah eating a kudu. Apparently you don't get to see that very often - especially as I went at midday which is the worst time of day - completely - to go to a game reserve because everything sleeping and hiding under trees. It did get to see that. The kudu horn is a very interesting sound. I think they used to use it as a good form of communication.

Diana - I'm not jealous at all. Have you made a trip to any of the vineyards yet?

Meera - I think they're mostly in the Western Cape but I have tasted the products of the vineyards, anyway.

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