Cultural Impressions

Have you ever been to South Africa? Talked to a South African? White or Black?

In all my traveling about, I have met several South Africans – none of which have been black. Yet, we are talking about an African nation here where 90% of the population is native to the reign.

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In traveling to this particular country, I have never felt so uneasy to be white in my life. If not for the knowledge of the history of oppression the white population had imposed on the native population, than for the extremely high crime rate of the nation. According to a UN study conducted in 2005, South Africa ranked as one of the top countries in the world for rape and murder. This fact is compounded by the widespread epidemic of AIDS and extreme inequality of wealth between the top 10% (who are mostly white) and the impoverished 90% (who are mostly black) – which many would argue is the reason for the extreme culture of violence.

Upon landing in Johannesburg, one of the first things I noticed was the bared windows and walled up homes with shards of glass surrounding the living compounds. To say this is unnerving is an understatement. Lucy, a friend I met on my travels, explained that growing up they could not play outside or walk to school because it was too dangerous. Instead, families spend their times on buses or within the walled up compounds of their homes – that is if they are well off enough to have a home.

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Picture: Soweto, a shanty town in Johannesburg of roughly .5 million

Regardless of its notorious reputation, I did not experience anything more than uneasiness while walking about Johannesburg or surrounding areas (solo I might add), but I did experience something else that I did not quite expect while making the obligatory trip to the apartheid museum.

Lost and attempting to find my way, I pulled up to a gate guard and naturally asked for directions (locked doors and cracked windows of course). Instead of answering my question he tilted his head and asked where I was from. ‘America’, my response.

He gave me a look  I will never forget.

It was a look of inherent respect, one I had never before received for just stating my nationality. He then promptly put his hand my car, keeping his steady gaze and shook my hand. ‘That way,’ he pointed. And away I drove.

This moment is forever branded in my mind and has yet to be replicated. I don’t know if it was the recent election of President Obama (which I think was a large player), or the large respect for the values of the country. Regardless, that one moment will stand out among the others as one I will never forget.

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From Johannesburg to Kigali

I could probably write a book on my two week experience in Rwanda. Not because I changed the world in 2 weeks, but because of the culminating meaning of the trip.

Many people dream about what they want to do when they grow up. For me – I had no freaking clue. I started off in fashion/modeling (dream, not reality) when I was 16, moved to business when I was 17 and signed my life away to the military at 18. Needless to say – I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

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The one thing I have decided, however, is that I want to live a life of service; service to others, in whatever capacity. Make whatever argument you want, to me you have not known true fulfillment until you have the ability to life for others before yourself.

While meandering down this path, I decided to look into life as an aid worker. What better way to see if this was for me than to volunteer in a developing country? Which one to choose? Well, I was going to be in South Africa for the World Cup, so why not tack on a trip to Rwanda!

With its tumultuous past, seemingly quick recovery and uncertain future, to say Rwanda was interesting is an understatement. While I was placed in Kigali, the capital city, my initial impression was pretty much what one would think of an African country.

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First, I started off on kind of a bad foot – I missed my initial flight to Kigali from Johannesburg. My fault? Mmmm… note to self – leave at least 2 hours to check in at any African airport. I arrived an hour prior to my flight (having forgotten most of my money, credit cards and dignity in the rental car my friends dropped me off in) and was told by the Airline manager that they could not possibly let me one the flight. Apparently, an hour is cutting it too close. Their loss really since he ended up expensing a 2 night stay in Johannesburg as well as free transport to and from the airport…

So 3 days later, I finally was met by one of the local volunteers, Muvunyi. After pushing the car down a hill to get it started, we made our way down the dirt roads to the compound where volunteers lived in a family style housing.

Crawling into my mosquito-netted bed, I wondered what the next few weeks had in store for me.

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Well, what the Hell

Why not go to the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa?

In Feb 2009, this was exactly the thought going through my head. So I applied for the Golden Ticket – and seriously this is how it goes, without the chocolate bars.

You apply for the lottery, maybe you get one, maybe you don’t. I found out that I had, in fact, got a golden ticket when my credit card agency called me for fraudulent charges to my card. Apparently when you live in Texas it is weird to get a charge in Geneva.

Well when I got that call, I figured out that I would go to Africa in a year. Did I have a plan? Nope. But I soon recruited friends to go along with the adventure. Two awesome college friends, Ben and Kayode, also joined for the trek to South Africa, which in and of itself could have a separate couple of pages written on.

Honestly, I would have never traveled to South Africa had it not been for the world cup. It is a rather interesting country with a sorted past – I didn’t quite like being white in a country full of a purely white upper class and purely black lower class. It was ire and made me want to put a huge A (for American) on my forehead.

But turns out, the world cup events were nothing of the sort. It was simply a gathering of people from all around the world bonding together through the name of sport.

And don’t imagine a football game either – it is nothing like that. Is there beer? Yes, but rarely belligerent drunks. Simply, excitement. The feel of being there for one purpose: to root for YOUR country against another. The game takes on a whole new edge just for this fact – that there are thousands people from all around the world all there to cheer eachother on. It was an amazing experience and absolutely not what I expected.

Brazil 2014?

I’ll put my hat in for the lottery and see what happens.