For the last two days in this amazing country I decided that one blog post was perfect! These last two days went by way to fast, and I am sad to see the trip coming to an end. It has been an incredible two weeks and there are no words to truly express the enjoyment and happiness that this trip brought me. Not only did I learn more about South African history and its struggles, but I also learned about its culture and its people. I had amazing experiences these two weeks, and it is definitely sad to go back home tomorrow. The last two days certainly did bring out the Bio major inside me 😉 .
During our last two days, we left Joburg and we headed to Pilanesberg for our two game drives. We left on Friday January 11 around 10am, we got there around 2:30ish (we had some pit stops, don’t worry… it wasn’t that long), and we headed out for our game drive at 4:45pm. Having already been on a game drive I was more excited to see everyone’s faces and reactions when they saw the animals they wanted. I know how incredible that first experience can be, and so I was very excited for everyone. Of course I was also absolutely excited to see the animals again. During this game drive it started pouring, and at one point it did feel like we were in a water park, but the weather got nicer after a while. We then continued on our search for animals, especially the Big 5. At the end of this late night drive, we had seen two of the Big 5, we had seen Southern White Rhino’s (the Northern ones are endangered and there are only two left in the world) and Elephants. During this drive we also had the opportunity to see a giraffe. At first glance and through previous knowledge I thought it could be a Rothschild Giraffe; however, after research, I concluded that it was a Southern Giraffe. There are 9 subspecies of giraffe, and so I was intrigued to find out which one was the one present in Pilanesberg.
Our second Game Drive took place at 5:30am on January 12. I do admit it was early, but completely worth it because we were able to see lions. Now, the lions were not super close, but we were still able to see them get up, move around, and almost (thank god it is an almost) see it attack/ chase a wildebeest. My favorite part of this morning drive was just taking in the atmosphere, the weather, and the beauty that the park had to offer. When I go out on safari’s, I always find it a perfect time to reflect and put everything into perspective. Of course, I also really loved the elephants crossing right in front of our truck, that was pretty cool. After our game drive we had to head back to the city and to the airport (those of us that are leaving today), and say Totsiens (goodbye or until next time in Afrikaans) or Hamba kahle (farewell in Zulu, the language that my host family spoke) to this amazing country!
January 10th was our last day touring and learning about Joburg an the surrounding areas. The area that we visited today was Alexandra, which was the first township established during the times of apartheid. For this visit we had an interesting tour guide to say the least; he had some interesting ideas, and they were not all incorrect. Besides the “interesting” tour guide, I really enjoyed the opportunity of walking around this township. I do want to say though, it was a lengthy walk. We kept going in and out of places, walking in the streets, walking between houses, etc. It was very interesting to see how there were very nice brick houses, but there was also shacks. There was great difference in the houses in this township, and this says a lot about the history of the place. We also walked through a men’s hostel in the township, and it was very neat, because we were able to see this aspect of Alex as well. We also got to see an aspect of Alex that was not so great, and that is the amount of trash and poverty; however, it was great seeing the families and seeing how happy they are. It was definitely a great opportunity because we walked through the streets, and said hi to the people; it was a way that we could interact with the community without completely intruding in their every day lives.
After Alex we had free time, and I had been campaigning since Tuesday for us to go to the Cradle of Humankind. Each day the other students would go back and forth, but this morning I believe I had them leaning towards the Yes! This yes became reality when we headed to the Cradle for our free time. I was so excited that I had convinced them to go and I was so enthusiastic to see the cave. I had to compromise on the matter, so we only did the cave instead of both the cave and museum, but I think that was a good way of doing it. At least I was able to see the caves. Heres the thing though: it was definitely not what I expected. First off, when we get there, the lady goes it is 115 steps down and 220 steps up and there are very small and tight spaces, so make sure this is what you want. Immediately my jaw dropped and I began thinking: I should have done more research because the site did not mention this lengthy step detail (I bet I’ll definitely get over 10K steps today 🙂 ). I was also expecting awesome stalagmite and stalactite formations, bats, cave paintings, pools of water, etc., but I wasn’t much like this. There were some cool rock formations and a large pool of water in which apparently many people have died, but it was a very short cave. I mean, it felt like we were in and out super fast. I wish there would have been more time in the cave and everything, because it is so neat to have this on Earth. I just think it is amazing how archaeological finds are discovered in places like this, because the remains (while still living) would have somehow had to have made their way into the cave. Overall I think it was a neat experience, but I wish it would have been a lengthier cave.
January 9th was a hot day! The places that we went to today were: the Voortrekkers Monument, Freedom Park, and the Union Buildings.
At the Voortrekkers Monument we had a guided tour. In the monument were 27 panels that represented the pioneer history of South Africa, and I found it very interesting how there were so many panels and how each represented a part in the history. This monument was also very interesting, because every little aspect, like many other South African monuments and museums, have symbolic meaning. I enjoyed visiting this museum because I was able to get better understanding about the history on how South Africa came to be, and the pre-apartheid/ colonization history of the country.
After Voortrekkers we headed to Freedom Park. In the park there was a lot of symbolisms, but the part that really caught my attention was the Wall of Names. This is a wall that remembers people that have passed away in 8 major conflicts (Apartheid, South Africa War, WW1, WW2, and more). These people fought in these conflicts and lost their lives because of it; however, you will not see the names of those that died on the side of apartheid. This is something our guide brought up: shouldn’t we also put the names of those that were not on our side so that our children and their children know their entire history and not make the same mistakes? There was one name that I was incredibly surprised to see: Fidel Castro. From what I know about Cuba, from the perspective and knowledge as a Mexican American is that Castro was a horrible dictator that treated the Cuban people horribly. From what I understand he was a horrible man, so I was surprised to see him on this wall. Our guide said that the Cubans were very helpful to South African people, and that there is a lot of controversy around his name being put on this wall, but the same can be said about other names. I found this point very interesting, because it is true… there will always be different perspectives on a subject and therefore controversy.
We ended our visit at Freedom Park by going to the adjacent museum. I especially enjoyed the parts about early humans and the myths surrounding the creation of human kind. One of the myths I learned today was that of the chameleon and the lizard. God tasked the chameleon with going down and telling humans that they will never die, and he tasked the lizard with telling humans that they will all eventually die. Apparently, the lizard (for some reason) arrived first and told the humans that they will all eventually die. They began seeing death around them, and they were like: oh the lizard is correct, so when the chameleon came and told them they would never die they didn’t believe him. However, they then realized that the chameleon was also right, because their ancestors still remained, but in a spiritual realm, so both animals where right: all humans would die, but they would all live forever. I think this is an incredible story surrounding death and the after life, and that is why I really enjoyed this part of the museum.
We also stopped by this huge Nelson Mandela statue to take pictures and also see the Union Buildings. Overall, it was a great day, because it was a day of remembering. We learned about how the Voortrekkers are remembered, and we learned of another way that apartheid and other conflicts are remembered by the country (through the park). It was another great day of learning about social movements, but I also enjoyed how there was also a deeper spiritual aspect to the day. Not only spiritual in terms of the chameleon and lizard, but also with one of the trees at Freedom Park where we had to remove our shoes because it was a sacred space.
Today we started by doing a tour with Roving Bantu Tours. I forget the name of the guy that we had for the tour, but he was an amazing guide. What I loved the most is that he gave us his perspective and he gave us his story. He had gone to prison during apartheid, and he told us how his life in prison was, how when he got out he left the country, where he went during his exile (one place was New York), and how he ended up back in South Africa. At the beginning he made it clear that what he would be telling us was his opinion, but what I heard from him are similar sentiments that I have heard from other people. He also brought up how there is still racism in the country and how there is still great difference between white and black neighborhoods. As we journeyed through Brixton (the area where we began) and other parts of Johannesburg, he told us stories about apartheid, his life, and present day South Africa.
I really enjoyed how he helped us immerse ourselves better in the South African culture by taking us to different places important in South African history that may sometimes be overlooked. One such place was a graveyard (cannot remember the name right now) where the people with old money are remembered. Not only is this graveyard full of the people that made their wealth in the 1800s with the Gold Rush, but it is also filled with Blacks, Chinese, Jewish, British, Canadian, and many other persons that lost their lives in the Anglo Boer Wars. What was also impactful is how he told us that in this one area, where there was a large mass grave, there were a lot of black people buried; however, when apartheid was enacted, the graves where bulldozed in order to create a park for the white neighborhood.
He had many impactful stories, but I do believe that the most impactful were the ones that he lived through and when he talked about the life he has lived. Finally, he also brought up the concept of corruption by saying that this country was founded on corruption. What I keep getting from people around me is that this is a very corrupt nation and that many problems stem from this one issue, so I want to investigate this more because I think it will show how Mandela’s legacy and how the ANC struggle has changed with time. The corruption angle is definitely a strong angle to investigate when completing my paper, because I believe that the great amount of corruption demonstrates that Mandela’s legacy is not powerful; however, what is Mandela’s legacy also changes with who you ask, which I find incredibly interesting.
Our guide took us to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, and it was through areas that some people deem “dangerous” of Johannesburg. However, he said that we must not be a nation controlled by fear, and how many people don’t visit this area out of fear, but there was an old lady in this area. He says, what about her safety? You see she is not afraid. I liked being able to experience Ethiopian food, since it was the first time I was eating it. I didn’t 100% love it, but I think it was good, especially the way that it is eaten with a spongy bread. I really appreciated this opportunity and that he took us to this neighborhood to show us his Joburg.
After lunch we headed to Fox St. (if I am not mistaken) where we were to meet Jo (I think this is how you spell her name, but don’t quote me on that), who would take us on a walking tour of this area. During our walking tour she brought up very interesting points. Especially when we looked at the differences between the financial part of the neighborhood and the “outskirts” of the neighborhood. The areas that are controlled by private corporations looked much nicer and cleaner than those that are solely controlled by the government. It was amazing how while walking through parts of the city you could see the rich and the non-rich parts.
One of the stories she told us really stuck with me, because it demonstrated the welcoming, caring, and helpful nature of the South African people. The story was about a homeless woman that has some mental issues, but the people in the community take care of her and make sure this is ok. This woman may not have a home or a family, but the community has become her family because they take care of her and they make sure that she is ok. This shows that yes, the government may be corrupt, but the South African people are there for each other no matter what and they care for each other (this also goes along with what I have heard from a lot of people that I have met and talked to). Jo also brought up how the new government has no experience with management and how they are still very corrupt, so as you can see, corruption is definitely a big aspect in the country.
After walking through these parts of the city we got back on the bus and we headed back to our hotel area where we were going to see street art. The sky began getting darker, and we began worrying about the weather, so we tried and hurry. I absolutely loved looking at the street art; the art was amazing and truly something. Doing a painting like that is hard, complicated and I believe that it would take an eternity to complete. What I loved most is that these paintings have meaning behind them and the meaning can be interpreted differently by who is looking at it. One thing that Jo brought up was that, through graffiti, people give themselves an identity, and they may begin by tagging unapproved spots, but that is how you get your start. I think this is so true, because even in Mexico, there is a lot of graffiti and most of it are tags of people. This is them trying to have a voice in the community they are in, and I think that there is much more to graffiti than people think (there is always meaning). Well, we made it into the car right before it began hailing! I was very surprised to see hail, and I cannot remember the last time that I had seen hail, so it was weirdly neat. Overall, it was a day that I think helped me further gain insight into the past of the country, it’s present, and where it could be headed in the future.
Today, January 7th, was a very relaxed and laid back day. We only visited one museum, which is where 12 members (the leaders) of the ANC where captured by the police. This area is known as Liliesleaf.
At Liliesleaf we got a tour guide named Tracey, and she told us that this is maybe one of the most important historical sites in South Africa. She then took us around the museum, but the cool thing was that this wasn’t like any old traditional museum; it was 1. interactive and 2. the actual home where the ANC members were caught. This museum had a lot of different exhibits with many videos, and the videos where on the people that were being mentioned in the museum. That is what I found amazing! We were able to hear from the people that were caught or that caught them. We were able to hear from the prison warden that helped four of the prisoners escape, and we were able to really get a first hand perspective on the event. I enjoyed being able to see where these men were captured, how many escaped, how many were acquitted, and how many were actually imprisoned.
It has been hard to see these videos and exhibits at times, especially because the videos and images where from people that actually lived through these events, but I really appreciated that the museum had these first-person narrations. As usual, I talked a little with Tracey about the country and Mandela’s legacy. She said that there will never be anyone like Nelson Mandela again, and that all people care about now is lining their own pockets. I could not agree more, because in some area’s Nelson Mandela’s vision lives on, but in others it is almost completely gone.
I also noticed, as we drive through the streets in Joburg, that there are a lot of people in the streets asking for money with signs and selling knick knacks. This is also very much like Mexico, and another time that I find myself being very surprised because the similarities between our two countries is uncanny. It is sad though that the similarities that I see between our two countries is in these areas; hopefully one day our similarities will be more positive. As I had mentioned at the beginning of the post, today was a very laid back day. After Liliesleaf we went to Thirdspace cafe where we had lunch and are now chilling, working on our blogs and enjoying some non-intermittent wifi.
January 6 was a morning day. We woke up at 6:30 am because Mama Busi mixed up the times and she accidentally woke us up an hour early. I was ok with this, because it just meant spending more time with them. Sadly, Buthle had gone home the previous night, but I did not know that I was not going to see her in the morning, so I was very sad. At night, we had to lock our room because Buthle kept opening the door to come in, and when we locked it, you could just hear Buthle banging into the door at full speed. I really miss her. After leaving Soweto, we headed to the Apartheid Museum.
The Apartheid museum was an incredible museum, because there is meaning behind everything. There are two entrances: whites and non-whites, and you have to go through the one that appears on your ticket. I loved how this museum was very interactive. It was definitely a very hard museum to walk through, especially when we got to the videos. I know the history behind apartheid, but physically being in this museum was emotionally exhausting. As I write this, I am thinking: this is just how I feel walking through the museum, imagine those that actually lived it. Apartheid was a moment in the history of the country that was incredibly hard, but the people here are still welcoming and forgiving. They know that it is not good to always look back; one must look to the future, and I think that this is something that we should all learn from. The museum had a lot on apartheid, and not just on what it was. There was also information on people that fought on the side of the non-whites, and there was a whole section on Mandela. As I ask more and more people about Mandela, I begin getting a different perspective on him (sometimes good and sometimes bad). As an outsider to apartheid and not having lived it myself in my country I really appreciate hearing all the different perspectives from different people.
The museum also had a lot of quotes from very famous people, and I think that a lot of these quotes address Mandela’s legacy and whether the country is living the values that Mandela taught. I think that one of the biggest things is that as outsiders we see Mandela as an amazing human being, but one of the people that I talked to brought up that Mandela is human like all of us, but his faults are never talked about in their schooling system. Another young person that I talked to said that pre-1994 people see Mandela as a Demi-god, but in reality he was not all that. I liked being able to see the museum and see the Mandela section for myself, because it helps me form my own perspective on him. This museum also had many interactive exhibits and areas, and I think it would be nice if American museums had more of this, because it makes the visitor interact with the history in a different way. Additionally, a lot of museums here have had first-person narratives and I appreciate that, because we are able to learn from the people that lived through the events. After this museum, we went to Constitution Hill.
Constitution Hill is where everything constitution related is at; however, this is relatively recent. If I remember correctly, the tour guide said that Constitution Court was not opened in that area until 2001. This area used to be comprised of three prisons, and we were lucky enough to see them all. It was at one of these prisons that Nelson Mandela stayed for a week or two, and we were able to see his cell. I also asked our tour guide whether he thinks that South Africa is inclusive in the present. He told me that South Africa has gotten better than before, but they are not 100% better. There are still some structures that shouldn’t be there, but are. For example, a black college graduate can lose out on a job to a white high school graduate. I really liked the conversation that I had with him regarding Nelson Mandela’s legacy and how the country is doing now. I definitely think that I got some very good information from him that I will be able to use for my paper and help to teach other people about South Africa.
As I had mentioned, we visited three prisons: a prison for non-whites, one for whites and one for women. I really enjoyed visiting these prisons and learning from the tour guide, because I was able to gain more understanding about how prisons were and the differences between prisons for the different races. I learned that non-white prisoners only got a couple blankets and mats for them to use to sleep on, but white prisoners got a mattress, pillow, several pillow cases and sheets, a comforter, etc. It is incredible to see the difference between the treatment of the two races. There was also a picture about the daily diet for the different races, and the differences between the whites and the blacks meals was very shocking. Visiting the other two prisons was just as shocking, because I was able to see the isolation cells, enter the isolation cells, and try and picture how they would feel. I know that I will never be able to really feel and understand what they felt, but just seeing them and walking into them was very impactful. In the woman’s prison, two of the other girls in the group were able to find a poster on the Mama that they had stayed with in Soweto. Even though I did not stay with this mama, I found this story very impactful. Especially after the two girls told us how the Mama told them the story. Their mama got very emotional telling the story, and her son also got very emotional. If you think about it, the son must have heard the story a lot of times, but he is still emotional. This demonstrates the impact and effect that apartheid had in people’s lives and the lives of those in the country.
Today was definitely a very emotionally draining and hard day, because we went to two places that were full of a dark history and pain. However, both of these places have been taken by the South African people and made their own. Apartheid was horrible, but the South African people made an incredible museum out of this pain and suffering. They made a museum that was interactive and full of meaning. On Constitution Hill, the South African people decided to put their Constitutional Court. This used to be an area devoid of human rights, but know it becomes the area where human rights are fought for. This is what I find amazing about the country: their ability to forgive and overcome the obstacles that they have gone through, and the way they change areas that once used to be full of pain and suffering.
The day ended with another nice traditional African dinner and great conversation. At the hostel we are staying at, they had a special event yesterday for 150 rand. All the students decided that we wanted to do this event, and I am very glad that we did, because we talked with people our own age from South Africa. We talked about the country, kindness, what we have seen, what we have liked, etc. We also brought up corruption and Mandela’s legacy (I bet you can guess who brought that up :)), which was incredible, because I got to hear yet another perspective. I sometimes have gotten the same perspective when I asked the legacy question; however, there are times when I get a different perspective that I had not heard before, and I really like this. I know that these are only opinions, but I believe that opinions of people within the country are very strong. I really enjoyed the dinner and the talk, and I cannot wait for tomorrow!
This day (January 5) started out early at 5:50 am and a flight to Johannesburg (Joburg). Once we arrived in Joburg, we immediately headed to where we would be having our homestay. Today we went to a bunch of places, but prepare yourself for a lengthy last couple paragraphs, because the homestay was amazing. I cannot remember a time when I laughed so hard and was having such an amazing time!
For lunch, we had traditional African cuisine at the house of one of the Mamas (Lindiwi) in Soweto. She appeared to be the one in charge of the whole event. The food was very good; I especially loved the pap, which is like a thick maize porridge used to eat the other foods. We ate with our hands, so the pap really came in handy. While we were having lunch, we sat with the Mama that we would be staying with later that night. My mama was Mama Busi, and she taught me Zulu. I loved this because, if you know me, you know I love languages and learning them. I also got a new Zulu name: Nonkuselo, which means protector.
After lunch, we moved the chairs into a circle formation and we had great talk. One thing that they asked us about was Donald Trump. This was an interesting conversation, because it was not just our group there. There was also a group from Washington D.C., and so all the conversation that we had was great. We asked them questions, and they asked us questions. It was a great time for our cultures to interact, and for us to gain more knowledge about the country that we are visiting. I of course asked the Mandela legacy question, and a young boy named Mpumi decided that he wanted to answer it. He said that Mandela’s legacy is dying slowly because of the corruption and drugs in the country. He also said that there is no protection of his legacy, and that people must show the leaders and government that they are ready to become leaders. This was a great perspective and the rest of the conversation was also amazing, because it really gave me information that I hadn’t really heard before, and it gave me the opportunity to give my take on certain matters. One of these being the wall with Mexico. One of the Mamas asked us about the wall, and as a Mexican American I was very glad, because I was able to answer this from the perspective of a Mexican. I loved having this opportunity, because I not only talked with the locals, but also the other Americans, and I gave them Mexico’s take on the wall. Overall, this was such productive and helpful discussion, that helped me better understand the country, how it is in the present, and Mandela’s legacy.
After this amazing discussion and singing, we headed to different historical places around Soweto. As we headed out, our guide, Colette, was talking to us about the places we drove by and their historical importance. The first place that we stopped at was the Hector Peterson Museum. This museum was about the June 16, 1976 event that occurred in the country when students protested learning in Afrikaans. Overnight, the government said that all classes in the Bantu school were supposed to be taught in Afrikaans rather than English. Students did not like this, and they went out to protest; however, a day that started with peaceful intentions ended in the deaths of many. The police shot and killed many of the students that were protesting against being taught in Afrikaans, and this museum commemorates that and portrays that history. While at the Museum, I made sure to ask Colette a bunch of questions about the country, apartheid, etc. and I this really helped me better understand everything. His responses where amazing, and I would love to write about every little thing that he told me, but then this would turn into a lengthy paper. After our visit to this museum, we walked to the Nelson Mandela house.
Visiting Nelson Mandela’s house was incredible, because I was able to see where he lived, and try and picture it. Going to the place makes it a lot easier to go through the situation, and live in his footsteps; it makes what one learns a lot more impactful and present in your head. Mandela’s house and Regina Mundi (a church that we also visited) both had bullet holes from separate events that took place at those locations. Visiting Regina Mundi was also incredibly impactful because this was a place where students tried to hide in during the events in 1976. Seeing the bullet holes in the church, walking through the church, and looking at the stained windows was extremely meaningful, because, like I said… visiting the place and trying to think back on that scene years back can have a great effect. These primary three places that we visited today (Hector Peterson Museum, Nelson Mandela home, and Regina Mundi) where three amazing places that have so much history and meaning, and what I learned from visiting them cannot be learned anywhere else. I mean… you can get the information, but not really the feeling and the vibe, so I am thankful for this chance that I have gotten.
Finally! We are getting to my favorite part of the day! We finished at Regina Mundi and we headed to our homes for the night. Ever since I found out I was going to do a homestay I got very excited, because I was going to be able to get the opportunity to interact with someone from the Soweto community more in depth. The house that I stayed at had a lot of people. Well, the house itself did not, but it is such a close community that a lot of people where just hanging out there. The family that I, and one other girl, stayed with had three 2 year-olds, one 3 year old, one 5 year old, one 14 year old, one 23 year old, and a bunch of cousins. I did take note on all their names and ages (including the cousins), but writing them down would take forever and my spell correction would go crazy. The one name that you do have to remember is Buhle! This was one of the 2 year olds and she was my all time best friend. Her name means beauty in Zulu, and she was incredible funny and had an amazing personality. She was also incredibly cute! When I first saw her, I began taking so many pictures and the second that I took the camera out, everyone wanted pictures. I took a bunch of pictures and I interacted with everyone, but I seemed to keep coming back and back to Buhle. At first she was very shy, but then she was incredibly open. Mama Busi, her grandmother, said that this was very strange, because she is not usually like that (I guess I have a way with children ;)) One thing about Buhle is that she is very dramatic; she is definitely one that loves flare and can get angry easily. If you took something from her, prepare yourself for the angry stare and the variety of faces being done to you, haha. She would just stand there with her eyes closed moving her lips, and she would not move at all. There are absolutely no words for how amazing it felt being there, but let’s just say that thinking back on this moment and knowing that I am going back to the US soon makes me very sad.
I was able to see how people live, and I was able to gain better understanding into the lives of the Soweto community. Now I will be able to go back home and tell the people there that their preconceived notions about South Africa are not completely right, and that the people are incredibly welcoming here. I loved every single person that I met, and I hope one day in the future I will be able to come back, bring friends and family and present them to my South African family. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget, because it was a time when I experienced such love and happiness that it is hard to put into words.