Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thursday-October 22

We woke up in the morning and went down for breakfast. Oooh la la… buffet-style. I ate heartily and joined the others to wait on our tour guide who came 45 mins late because he went to the wrong Southern Sun Hotel…seem like there’s more than one or I figure two in Jo’burg. Well, we got on our way and our first stop was the Kwa Mai-Mai Market of the Zulu people. Our tour guide, Jimmy seemed to know a lot about the peoples of South Africa and their languages. It was enlightening. Everything in that market was HAND-MADE! From clothes to footwear, jewelries to weapons, furniture to household utensils….It was just amazing! We took a few pictures, and I got to wear a Zulu hat! We later drove on to SOWETO! Ok, before I go on with our experience in Soweto, let me put this place into perspective. As I child, I watched a movie called “Sarafina” and Soweto was the setting. This movie showed the struggles of students in Soweto against Apartheid in South Africa. After that movie I put Soweto on my list of “places to visit”. Having seen Sarafina, I developed a greater sense of appreciation for Soweto so when I finally had the opportunity to visit Soweto township, I was ecstatic.

Now, Soweto like other townships in South Africa is not the typical South African picture. Rather, it is the typical African picture. What I mean by this is that, there is no doubt that S.S is one of the most developed countries in Africa, all of what we saw. It is a beautiful country and for a sec, all of us forgot that we were in Africa and would have been convinced if we had been told that we were in a Eurpoean or North American country had it not been for the signs and billboards. Personally, I didn’t feel that “ I’m home” feeling that I thought I would have gotten from any country in Africa, myself being a Liberian. However, all that changed when we visited Soweto. In my opinion and from what I saw, Soweto is home to both middle and lower class. There were parts of the township with really beautiful houses and parts of the township with shanty houses. It seemed like a peaceful town but one still rooted in the memories of apartheid. There stands a monument of Hector Peterson, a young man that was killed in the June 19, 1976 Soweto student demonstration against the use of Afrikaan as the official teaching language in their schools. In Soweto like many other places in Africa and the world, the ills of society look you in the eye. Teenage mothers/pregnancy, poverty, lack of jobs, the uneducated……etc.

As we entered into the township, we met three young girls, one of them with a child and here was her story: She had graduated from high school but because her parents could not afford college, she went on to look for a job……………..which she never got. Unfortunately, she ended up pregnant. Now in a brief analysis, here is a young girl, a high school graduate, without a job, with a baby, with no possibility of continuing her education due to poverty but now have to worry about taking care of a child for the next 18 years and putting her future on hold for that of the baby’s. This is a story of most young, impoverished people in every part of the world. What was interesting about meeting this young lady is that our tour guide used this opportunity to scold her. He reprimanded her not trying hard enough to further her education and for having a baby at such young age with no guarantee of support. Although I understood where he was coming from and how he a stranger could take that role of a parent or guardian ( which is typical of the African culture as summed up in the belief that” It takes a community to raise a child”), some of my colleagues from the US took offense.

They could not understand how or why a stranger or betterstill someone who was not the girl’s parent could reprimand her in the presence of them (total strangers). It took a minute to make them understand such aspect of communal life in the African society. What they also failed to realized was also the fact that when you find yourself in a different cultural environment, you are merely a spectator and not a commentator nor a director/producer of what goes on and you are in no position to dictate to people about how to run their affairs or change what they have practiced for years and already ingrained in their society. However, it is admissible to express your discomfort at a point where you don’t cross the line and infer your opinions about what It is or what should be. Regardless, we had a good time in Soweto and then drove off to the Apartheid museum. On our way to the museum we briefly stopped at the construction of one football stadiums for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa……the first one ever held in AFRICA!!

We finally arrived at the Apartheid Museum-Here was a period of reflection. No amount of movies or artistic portrayal can show the ills or realities of this system that was allowed to persist. It’s a system that forever left scars on the hearts and minds of the people. It’s a system that’s still imprinted on the mentality and thoughts of these people. A system that still has its residue woven in the web of this society; as seen in their employment structure, neighborhoods, and other aspects of their society. Our experience in the apartheid museum differed according to each person as we each designed our journey based on what interested us the most. Although we all started off with a movie on the origin of the Afrikaans, we all took different routes throughout the museum. I personally went through the journey of the struggle to end apartheid, the life of Nelson Mandela, and finally freedom!

After our visit at the museum, we had lunch and went back to the hotel. On our way, I bought an artwork of Soweto…I just had to.

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