Today was my first real day in African society, and to sum it up, there is so much to learn and so much to be known outside of what one reads outside of a book. There is so much more to the culture not just of this continent, but of this country.
My day started off with a bit of reading. I read my chapter of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography (137 more pages of the 637 page book left). It was both informative and poetic. Some jet lag and some jets flying overhead woke me up–the joy of living less than two miles from an international airport–and after getting ready for the day I sat down around 6am to begin reading. I didn’t realize it until I was about halfway finished, but as I was reading about the latter years of Mandela at Robben Island, as his years there become more optimistic, the sun outside my window was rising and the day was truly getting started. The atmosphere and tone of the words I read from the South African monumental leader directly reflected the rising sun and changing temperatures in the South African weather. It was a truly beautiful poetic moment. The more I learn about him, the more I learn that him and I have common goals, visions and ways to achieve them. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I would like to model my emerging leadership style after him. I truly am a fan of him and of South Africa as a nation.
After a drive through Johannesburg and getting my first glimpses of my new home for a few days, we went to the Apartheid Museum. As the name suggests (there goes another plane as I type this), it is dedicated to the rise and fall of the apartheid system that gripped South Africa between 1945-1991. I had been to two Holocaust museums, so I thought “oh this is important, but it won’t affect me like those [museums] did.” I severely underestimated myself. From the moment I walked through the “non-whites only” as directed by my museum ticket, I felt n ominous air about the place. What kept running through my mind was how humans could do this to one another: ravage, torture, oppress, and blatantly kill one another. Not only that, but it was all for economic gain. Even further than that, a bit of history, the settlers first came to South Africa around 1890 to get rich from the newly found gold deposits. Since then, the Europeans felt that it was the Africans that were the strangers to the land. The Europeans felt the need to impose law and order on a supposedly lawless society; some sort of “good deed” they were attempting to fulfill. It was sickening to see and hear how nonchalantly whites would refer to non-whites, how they “needed” saving from themselves. I couldn’t help but ponder the parallels, thankfully some less severe, between here and American segregation. It wasn’t until violent, violent mass protests and killings and international pressure did apartheid end. Not the peaceful protests of Mandela, the civil responses by Indians, colored and blacks. It took the deaths of thousands. Just as economics and capitalism brought apartheid, it brought its demise as well.
My mind was racked with questions of justice, injustice, heinous crimes, and other savage thoughts for a few hours until we arrived at our next destination, and my most anticipated, Lion Park. It is an open park with a drive through safari of the most exotic animals: lions, leopards, giraffes (which we fed!), springboks in all their grace, and more. We got to get up close and personal with baby lion cubs, and I could not have been happier. That was what I looked forward to most in coming to South Africa (and I know of quite a few people that were jealous of my opportunity). To see these animals in a zoo is one thing, but to see them in Africa in their natural (sans cages) habitats is quite another. I had to keep reminding myself I was in Africa so I wouldn’t grow disinterested in the wildlife. It really added to the awe inspiring beauty of the animals.
We topped off the day by visiting a local bar, and I think this is where many, if not all, of the people on our trip had the first chances to really talk and get to know each other (with the help of a few drinks). We had some pizza as well and ended up staying for about 3 hours. I wonder how difficult parting ways will be at the end of the month, though I anticipate that in about 2 weeks, experience has shown me that about 9-14 days is the threshold for when people start to get annoyed with each other, especially in close quarters. We all danced to a few songs at the end of the night, talked with a couple locals, and just all around had a great time. After that and the apartheid museum, I’m starting not to feel like such a stranger in a foreign land. Although I try to mask my American-ness, I don’t feel that secret tension between blacks and whites that I felt in America. If I learn anything from this trip, I hope it’s that blacks and whites can truly live together or even walk on the same street without having to look at each other as unequal.
Those were the highlights from today, and in the coming days I know I’ll be kicking myself if I don’t start taking more pictures; the ones I do have are soon to come.