Hey everyone! Let me first start this inaugural blog post by saying sorry for not posting until now. As I have discovered, South African internet can be hard to come by, and the SIT program here has been keeping us busy every day. After realizing that my adventures in the past month may be too large in number and awesomeness to recount all in one in post, I have decided to look for a common theme throughout my past five weeks here. As it turns out, this common theme was integral in my first experience of Africa.
Picture it (and you’re going to have to, since I sadly did not have an SD card at this point in the trip), Dakar, Senegal at 6:00 in the morning. My South African Airways Airbus touched down after a seven hour journey through the Atlantic night. Tired and groggy after barely sleeping on the first leg of the flight, I awoke just in time to see the lights of small, box-like houses around the airport as we flew in. After refueling and picking up new passengers bound for Johannesburg, the plane proceeded to taxi and prepare for takeoff. The world had grown lighter in the past hour. While where I was sitting in the plane did not allow me to see any glimpse of the sunrise before takeoff, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. The four huge jet engines bellowed up to full power. Everyone was pushed back in their seats as we left the earth in a southeasterly direction. Orange light warmed my face as I saw the first of what would be many African welcomes. Rays of light pierced a few puffs of cloud here and there as we proceeded to fly over Dakar, what I could see now was a beautiful coastal city. I’m embarrassed to admit that the “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King was playing in my mind. We slowly gained altitude. Dakar quickly disappeared beneath the clouds as the sun only seemed to get brighter. Eventually, the cloud cover would disperse and nothing but reddish-brown earth was revealed below us. I could not believe what I had just seen. This had to have been it, I thought. Africa had pulled out all the stops to make a good first impression, and it surely had nothing left of this caliber to show me. I would soon be proven wrong.
My plane would eventually touchdown in Johannesburg, the financial and industrial capital of South Africa. JoBurg is huge, comparable to Atlanta or even Chicago in the states. Surrounded by brown hills and dust, it was founded as a mining boomtown toward the end of the nineteenth century. There’s a saying among South Africans running along the lines of JoBurg being a city for work and Cape Town being a city for play. It is not surprising then, that my second African welcome would come at a business party being held at a hotel near my hostel a week or so after I had arrived. I had just finished using the internet in the hotel’s coffee bar and was preparing to walk back with some fellow students when I heard a voice ask, “Are you American?” I turned to see the voice belonged to a middle aged, white South African businessman named Renzo (From now on in my blog posts about South Africa, I will freely use the terms “white”, “black”, or “coloured” to describe people I meet. It should be understood that these terms are used freely by South Africans and are in no way intended to offend anyone). Renzo was apparently celebrating the fact that he had become head of his travel company’s South African division with several of his coworkers. While the night turned out to be hilarious, especially when Renzo told one of my friends that he was being a “naughty boy”, the interactions I had with these South African professionals were warm and memorable. On a more serious note, one of the black women we met that night, Tara, had actually taken part in the 1976 Soweto student uprisings and knew several people who were killed or forced into exile by the apartheid regime as a result of them. Soweto is a still mostly-black township (settlements on the outskirts of cities where the apartheid regime would gather non-whites) near Johannesburg. This points to another common theme throughout my travels thus far. While my experiences have been exciting and the people have been friendly, South Africa still resides very close to its tragic past economically, emotionally, and temporally. Nonetheless, my new friends welcomed me to what they still believed was the greatest country on Earth.
While I had my share of great experiences in Johannesburg in just a week’s time, Africa would show me that there were a lot more to come in the beautiful coastal city of Cape Town. Situated between soaring Table Mountain and the Atlantic, it is easy to see why Cape Town is referred to as the San Francisco of South Africa. This is where I have been living since spending my first week in JoBurg, and where I would spend three weeks in the black township of Langa with Ms. Nombulelo Msizi, or as I affectionately call her, Gogo. In Xhosa culture, “Gogo” is akin to “Grandma” in the states. Gogo runs a small, not exactly busy bed and breakfast in Northwest Langa where two of her grandchildren, Uya, age 5, and Pumelele, age 9, live on weekdays. Every day after class, I would come home and play soccer or cards with the kids, then try out my Xhosa skills over dinner with the family. I am proud to say that I have finally mastered the three basic clicks essential to speaking Xhosa. I can also say “Ndifuna ukugcada itshizi” or “I want to fry cheese” (for some reason this phrase has particularly stuck with me). Through all my troubles with their language, the Msizi family always made sure I felt welcomed in their house. Uya would always bring me a snack after dinner (made by Gogo) in exchange for a drawing of Mickey Mouse or Goofy she could color. However friendly the people are, the natural beauty of the Cape is just as striking. For this, I will let my pictures do the talking. My first month here has been one of wonder and surprise as well as warmth and acceptance. Now that I’ve lived here a while, I look forward to seeing how deep Africa’s beauty goes.
A blurry pic of my host family (they couldn’t sit still).
Simon’s Town further on down the cape. Squint and you can see Great Whites jumping out of the water! Seriously, Seal island is off to the left.
Yes it’s actually me taking all of these pictures. Promise to take more with me in them as the trip goes! This one shows Table Bay and Robben Island as seen from Lionhead.
One last one of Table Mountain. I wake up to this every day!
Thanks for reading! More to come, sooner rather than later.