Monday, April 17, 2017

A weekend in South Africa

Most of the places Ian travels to aren't hot spots of awesomeness. Most are middle of the road, some are kind of "challenging," but there are a couple that are pretty neat.  Copenhagen, yes.  And I was lucky to accompany him to Johannesburg.  It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing because chances are pretty good we won't get down that way for a tour.  And just like our fantastic trip to Moscow when the Gormans were there, we were lucky to have the Hales in Pretoria for our time in South Africa. (and Dan in Stuttgart when we went through, and Rebecca in Copenhagen, and the Woodards in Munich...) Hotel living is fine but it's really fun when you have some friends showing you around.

The Hales live in a house on the side of a hill that overlooks a conservation park.  When they're lucky, they see wild animals from their gazebo.  And 15 minutes away is a safari park. (They spend their vacations in safari parks all over, one of their latest trips was to Botswana).

Part of the park is sectioned off for their lions, who were all doing a very cat thing. Sleeping. The park has 2 males and 4 females, broken into 2 rotating groups of 3 for 5 days inside the small enclosure and 5 days in the broad sweeping open area.

Welcome to Jurassic Park.

She's so pretty.

In the main park there are no tall animals due to lighting strikes (bunches of trees are charcoal, keep the giraffes out of there!), but plenty of zebras, ostriches, eland (big antelope), and even some rhinos and medium cats.  The cats there, as expected, were never seen.  Not with those tall grasses and it being the middle of the day.  We did track down a rhino which was very cool and we'd not found it unless someone pointed us in the right direction and it started moving in the shade of a tree.

Dark blob under tree = Rhino
The safari, as undersold as it was by Jason, was very awesome.  I know it doesn't rank with open jeep trips in massive parks following herds of elephants, but for a quick trip down the road on a weekend visit to South Africa.... Fantastic.

They took us to dinner at Crawdaddy's, showed us the Voortrekker Monument, found a Starbucks so I could get a Pretoria mug, and let us stay overnight in their home (thanks Noah!). We promised the Hales we'd visit while they were in SA and they took great care of us.  Thank you!

Wait, let me back up.  The Voortrekker Monument. Wow. I have to say I'm amazed it hasn't been torched and torn down brick by brick.  The history of Dutch (and British) advancement into South Africa is one that mirrors almost down to the tale of the colonizer advancement into north America. Covered wagons, indigenous peoples, backstabbing, sorties, guns vs spears.  And it's all told in a huge relief carved into the walls of the monument.  The Dutch are civilized.  The natives are barbaric. It was really awful.  The museum in the basement was interesting in a "hey, we have these identical things back in the States." I'm glad I went, I'd never go back.

Back in Johannesburg, Ian had some work, but we also had a day off so we got a tour guide through the hotel and went out for a day.  From the Apartheid Museum to the South Western Township (SoWeTo... Soweto), we spent all day out and about with our guide, Shepherd.  I think the most eye-opening part was realizing that the architects of apartheid learned from the processes, and mistakes, of the Nazis and other oppressive regimes.  Their design was brilliant and horrifying.

Stones in the garden plots outside Mandela's home.

Awesome birds wandering around.

Soweto matchbox home.
Bear with me, I know you know all this already, but I learned a lot (which is the point after all).  After reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, I was more aware of how much I didn't (and still don't) know about SA history.  Everyone knows that Mandela was released from prison in 1990, was elected president in 1994, and died in 2013. He was in prison for 27 years for conspiracy and sabotage against the existing government. Apartheid ended between 1990-1993, but of course, like in our own history, that doesn't mean that racism went out the window and everyone lives happily together in a grand world of middle-class abundance.  Far from it.  One of Mandela's promises was that houses would be built and given to all those who needed one - the matchbox homes... two rooms with electricity and water. The promise has still not been fulfilled. Part of our tour was visiting the home of a man who still lives in a shack.  His mother still lives in a shack.  She has been on the list to receive a home for 30 years.  Now with his own family, he is on the list as well, much further down. If there's anything that drives home white privileged American, it's visiting a man in his home made of random boards and corrugated plastic and metal sheets. Like my time in Antananarivo (and Lomé and Chennai and...) seeing this level of poverty is nothing new to me, but...

Black Madonna of Soweto
And then there was the visit to the Catholic Church where in June 1976, a Soweto student uprising led to children and teenagers converging on the only place that was open to them after police began shooting.  In the mayhem in the streets, one particular child became the touchstone for the movement. Hector Pieterson was shot and killed, along with hundreds of others. What were they marching against?  The language taught in the classroom. It's a convoluted tale and best read elsewhere, like here.

And our last stop was at the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.  Mandela was married 3 times, the middle one was Winnie who still lives in Soweto, but elsewhere.  It was an interesting glimpse into where Nelson Mandela became the statesman.

A visit with a touch of learning. We may never go back to SA, but I know this trip will stick with me.

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