So Thursday’s are our official days to take field trips, and I must say, it has been an emotional one. This was our first Thursday here (cheers to that), and today we went on the Soweto Tour. This was us when we first arrived:
Our tour guide, Gugi was great, for starters. He was personal, very informative and also, humorous. This is him:
On our way to Soweto we were given the history of apartheid and of the townships that are in the outskirts of the city. It wasn’t surprising to see the distinct difference of the communities while driving through the city. The difference in the racial background of people and also the structure of the living conditions in the neighborhoods was very distinct. It’s amazing not only to see the effects of post-apartheid South Africa, but also to imagine how much more drastic life was during this oppressive time.
The question of gangs was raised while driving through Soweto. Gugi, our tour guide, described to us that there was no gangs. Most of the gang members that did exist at one point were killed. The solution that the community members came up with was to kill any criminals that messed with the well-being of the society and tried to prey on their own people. The idea of “ubuntu,” which means community or togetherness is the key to keeping the community members safe, honest and more-so, like a family.
We also stopped in one of the townships in Kliptown and met with Toulani, who is the leader of Kliptown Youth Center. It is a center founded in 1987 which provides hope, service and education to the children who are underprivileged in South Africa. They performed a dance called the “gumboot dance” for us as a surprise which was amazing!
Next, we went to the Hector Pieterson museum shortly after which touched me for many different reasons. It was amazing to see an entire museum dedicated to the thousands of youth who took a stand and participated in a protest demonstration for a better education.
We also visited the Regina Mundi Historic Church which was very informative and an honor to be standing there. It holds 2,000 sitting and 5,000 standing which is massive, and it was the center for many people to come during the apartheid era.
On Saturday, we went to Professor Bhayroo’s mom house for a barbeque. The food was DELISH! His family was so warm, loving and welcoming. After we ate the food which was filled with love, we took photos, played with the family dog, Beanie and caught the -itis from all the food we stuffed our faces with.
We are finally here! It is unbelievable, exciting and even more so, surreal to be in the Motherland. The plane ride went much faster and smoother than I had anticipated which I am more than thankful for. When I arrived in the airport, my first thought was “I hope I can make it through these next 4 weeks without much home sickness, overwhelming emotion of detachment from family and friends, and uncomfortable feeling of being in a foreign environment.” Seconds later, as I stepped off the plane, retrieved my luggage and headed out to go exchange money, a fellow South African smiled at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Welcome Home.” That solidified it. While walking later on that day I saw, this sign on the outside gates of the house.
My confidence was back in business, and my desire to want to experience all South Africa had to offer me once again surged through my body.
As I sat in the airport waiting for what we’ve now dubbed as “Shenid’s Magic School Bus” to arrive, the first thing I did was to observe my surroundings: the people, the music, the smell, and even the set-up of the airport. The one thing I did notice was that if it wasn’t for the incredibly cold breeze coming in, or the few signs that indicated that we were in Joburg International Airport, I would not be able to tell that I was in South Africa. The music was surprisingly American— with R.Kelly and Tina Turner songs coming out the speakers in the airport. The clothing of some of the local people was recognizable name brands such as Polo Ralph Lauren, a very expensive and popular clothing design(er) in the United States.
As we drove into Joburg, we passed through many different neighborhoods and witnessed a city 12,000 plus miles away from our own. I was surprised to see so many palm trees everywhere because it reminds me of a tropic environment. Also to see graffiti blocks away from the airport on walls and buildings. It reminded me of Philadelphia a bit. Both cities are stereotyped in many instances to be crime-ridden and dangerous, yet the other side of the people: artistic, detailed and cultured, seems to be left out and forgotten. Although North Philadelphia, (from what I have seen thus far) has more intricate art-work on actual buildings, the graffiti in Joburg that we passed on our way to Melville reminded me of the importance of the culture of the people. Instead of being seen as something threatening as I know it used to be in the 70s and 80s in New York City, I look at is as something that is left behind by an unknown individual that we probably won’t ever get the chance to meet or see.
Almost instantaneously, the many things that I witnessed in my first day of driving, reminded me of things I’ve either witnessed back home, or in my travels to places elsewhere. The mini-bus taxi’s that are very prevalent and quite popular in South Africa reminded me of those in Jamaica. There are so many people packed into one small mini-bus and from what I’ve learned they are used to take people to and fro the townships into the city. The driver beeps the horn to let the people know that there are seats left. We went to a mall called Cresta !Mall and it reminded me of just about every mall I’ve been to in the United States. The only difference was the people in them, the names of the stores and the food court choices. The set-up of the mall was exactly the same, but the cool and different thing about it that most of us noticed was that the people walked on the same side that they drove. Overall, the scene was really lively, packed and exciting to just experience in South Africa.
I am looking forward to all the new great and eye-opening experiences we will have and appreciate all the ones we’ve had thus far.
Thus far, this first week has been one of those moments when you realize that your goals and purpose in life are both being met and fulfilled. Yesterday was one of the many life changing moments that will occur in these next 4-weeks. The ones that you won’t ever forget, yet the ones you get frustrated by because the actual moment was so intense and surreal that it can never fully be explained or described. In the past few days we’ve read about the union strikes in South Africa. This morning, as we were doing our morning readings, we came across news that the union workers would gather together and protest in the center of Johannesburg. Since my original story ideas for the week were falling apart, Lucas, Dana and I were assigned to go cover the story. As journalists, we read some background information about the strike, packed our equipment up, and hopped in a car shortly after, directly to the protest. As we were getting closer and closer, my heart was beating and my adrenaline was rushing. It would not only be our first story in South Africa, but our first real cultural encounter.
When we first arrived, it was a bit intimidating…well, very intimidating. The second we stepped out the car with our equipment, the union workers around us began murmuring, smirking and pointing at us, giving us way more attention than I felt comfortable having before I even had a chance to feel the environment out. Swiftly we moved through the crowd to get better audio and video, and to feel as if we were a part of this protest. The workers were demanding higher wages, a 40-hour work week, and steady contracts. As time passed, one of the union workers looked at me and said “I see your with the media. If you want to know the truth, I’ll tell you the truth.” And he told me as it was. He pointed much of the problem to the fact that those in high places are too power-hungry, greedy and selfish.
When I told him I was from the United States his reply was for me to go back to my government and tell them to stop taking our resources. He said once the U.S is through with the resources of Africa, there will be no more Africa. The
passion in his voice, anger in his eyes, and truth in his words hit me. I shed a few tears because I couldn’t believe I was actually hearing this in person. The fact that he didn’t judge me and group me with the people he wanted me to deliver the message to also spoke volume to the importance of this experience.
I met a guy, his name is Reginald. I told him I was from America and he immediately pulled out his phone and took a picture with me, so I figured I’d do the same & pull out my camera. As interesting as it was for him to meet me, I was also intrigued with him. The very first thing that popped in my head as we were taking pictures was the advice I was given before I came here. “Don’t leave South Africa without making a friend or two…or three.” And so with that, we exchanged Facebook account information and it would be my pleasure to keep in touch.
I took a picture of myself through the mirror when I came back from covering the story.
It was meant to signify change. Although I may look the same in the mirror as I did hours ago before I left the Bed & Breakfast, the experience changed my life. To be in a peaceful protest with hundreds of South Africans, watching their culture, the culture of my ancestors be displayed in front of me through song, dance and chants was _____ (a feeling that can’t quite be described).
Some other photos from the day:
&& lastly, these are the best production crew members right here! =) Dana & Lucas
Hey Tumblr Family,
So this is my first post to this blog & I must say I am quite excited about having a semi-professional blog. I created this blog today, intentionally because it is exactly ONE month before take-off to South Africa. This post will be my connection to my friends, family, && anybody interested in keeping up with my steps, experiences, transformations, relationships, etc. that I encounter during this once-in a lifetime study abroad opportunity.
I hope you all enjoy && are inspired to want to have a study-abroad experience of your own. Even if you opt-not to, I hope that you are interested in learning alongside me relevant information about South African culture && the African people as a whole.