SOUTH AFRICA: I’m not dead yet

I have at least 10 stupid excuses for why I haven’t written, but I’d much rather tell you about my last month in South Africa. Currently I’m sitting in Cape Town International Airport waiting for my flight to Johannesburg (from which I will fly directly to Atlanta, Georgia and from there to Dallas, Texas). These last three and a half months have been amazing and crazy and more than I have ever hoped for. I feel like the time has flown by extremely quickly, but when I think back to the last time I was preparing to get on an airplane for 17+ hours, I feel like its been years.

So, Splashy Fen (a South African music festival)– I’m going to sum it up in one sentence. It was muddy and sleepless and rainy and cold, but it consisted of three of the best days of my life during which I rarely slept, consumed wonderful food, listened to some terrific South African music, and became known as part of the ‘American’ group (when I met people they’d say: “ Ja! You’re part of the group of girls from AHMERICA!”).

And then there was an exhumation. Quick history lesson, during apartheid the government would kill people who were part of the resistance. So, after apartheid ended, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) began in order to try and heal the wounds of apartheid by searching for those who had disappeared. In 2005, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) created the Missing Persons Task Team (MPTT), which is tasked with finding the bodies of those who still remain missing (some of those who they continue to search for disappeared as far back as nearly 50 years ago).

For my Independent Study Project (ISP) I worked with the MPTT to find and interview family members who haved loved ones still missing. During this time period, I was lucky enough to attend the exhumation of a young man who was affiliated with the African National Congress (ANC) and Umkhonto weSizwe (MK or the when translated from isiZulu to English, “Spear of the Nation,” the MK was the militant part of the ANC). It was an amazing, disturbing, and extremely surprising experience (if you want to hear more about it you should definitely check out my honors thesis presentation next semester or, you know, just ask me).

I was able to meet with the sister of a man who was disappeared and the cousin of another man who was disappeared. From these interviews and from the experience of attending an exhumation I wrote a short story and 20 poems.

And then I went to Drakensburg (a mountainous region a few hours out of Durban where we relaxed in cabins and gave our presentations) for a few days, came back to Durban for two nights, and from Durban flew to Cape Town where I stayed for two nights and three days. If you feel exhausted after reading that sentence, just imagine actually having to go from place to place to place.

Cape Town has been beautiful, but it ain’t Durban. First off, the population looks a lot different here: white Afrikaners, the English, and coloureds (remember this term is politically correct in South Africa, it refers to people of mixed [white and another race, such as black or Indian] descent) are the main races represented in the Western Cape. Secondly, there are mountains everywhere and the port area is composed of ships and shopping malls (unlike Durban’s beaches and trader stalls). Thirdly, everything is much more expensive, and a lot of the time Cape Town feels like a trendy part of Los Angeles or Austin (SO MANY HIPSTERS).

While in Cape Town I visited Table Top Mountain. You take a gondola up which is slightly terrifying because the gondola goes really fast and also slowly rotates, which means you can’t hold onto anything… Anyways, it’s 110% worth it because the view is absolutely breathtaking especially at sunset. I also visited Robben’s Island (where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were held during apartheid). The ferry ride to the island lasted an hour and during it I saw a school of dolphins, several seals, and a few penguins. Oh and the sea was super choppy so I watched the majority of my friends turn an unsettling ash-green. That part was obviously less lovely.

The tour was interesting, and the whole ‘this is where history happened’ thing was awesome. But, I felt more like I was on a movie set then an actual historical site. Another unsettling thing – our tour guide was forced by the economy to become a tour guide. So why is this so unsettling you ask? Because he was a political prisoner during apartheid, and all he wants is to get as far away from Robben’s Island as possible. He can’t do this though which is heartbreaking and really speaks to the current condition of unemployment in South Africa. And that was my experience in Cape Town in a nutshell.

So back to me being in an airport and trying to reflect on this wild ride. I’ve had a more amazing adventure then I could have ever dreamed of. I will miss the people I’ve met, the beautiful views, and so many more things. It may have taken me five years to comeback, but I did. This will not be my last time in the beautiful country of South Africa. Until next time, sala kahle (stay well in isiZulu).