A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

San Francisco in Africa

Cape Town, SA.

My Amma says that she may have lived in Cape Town in a previous life...the city felt familiar, it made her happy, and she felt at ease. Now that's what a city should make you feel. After seeing a bit of South Africa, you realize how Cape Town is not South Africa. It's San Francisco - cool, hip, pretty, good food, odd people.

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Table Mountain dominates the mind, the eye and the heart in CPT. You can practically see it from everywhere, the weather report specifically covers Top of Table Mountain, the best pictures are of the mountain, from the mountain, with the mountain. And it is truly spectacular...imagine Nelson Mandela on Robben Island looking out at the Mountain covered in a thick tablecloth of clouds. Uff.

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And then there is the other side of South Africa - not urban, but ancient. The Cradle of Mankind, where man began to evolve. There is a truly eye opening, interactive exhibit at the site of one of oldest human fossils found. Intriguing display that gets us to think about who we are in the context of others and what our role in the larger human community is. Made for good car talk on the way to Kruger National Park.

Pictures, for your viewing pleasure.

We also went to Durban, actually North of there to a sea side town of Umhalanga. Aside for the usual comparison of beaches around the world, also had interesting chat about Indians. A white South African told me that her view of Indians is that we are scheming, and up to no good! Surprised me, because the view that a Swiss friend shared is that in Switzerland, Indians are an educated class, well-respected, but often confused for Sri Lankan refugees. Indians are smart and respected, in Botswana. And they are the immigrant workers at construction sites in Singapore. So who are Americans? Does the world have just one stereotype, that of a loud Texan? Or are there more variations to this? and I happen to like Texans!

Posted by Goofy9 01:44 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

This is Africa - sort of

Observations of a halfway-visitor

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Am driving downtown to visit SAB World of Beer. Like taking the Coors tour in Golden. Idiot GPS tells me to turn right, which happens to be the wrong way down a one-way! And idiot me actually turns. Cars honking, people angrily waving their hands, and that's when I notice that it's only black people. No white ones, no brown ones. 

This is not the first time I have wrongly turned. Happened once in Chicago and the angry people were white and were black. And in India, where there are only brown people, you expect to see only brown people. But in SA where there are 3+ definite shades, it's shocking to see only one! How does a nation so effectively mark out stretches of neighborhood where the colors dont bleed over...

So, now I am driving back to the zhooosh (meaning posh, in Afrikaans) neighborhood, and I start noticing that for a city, Sandton, a suburb of Joburg (aka Africa's richest square mile), seems to have the highest concentration of Mercedes and BMW than an average city. Think Cherry Creek in Denver-- even there you wouldnt see as many. I cannot think of a single city that I have been to that has these many. Not even Zurich! So there is some truth to when South Africans are quick to point out that South Africa is not Africa!

Now, here's where I feel that I am in africa...woke up to find my bed crawling with 10s if tiny, tiny ants. And the bathtub regularly has at least two spiders, and the floor has some icky looking "silver fish" crawling around, and there typically are half a dozen dead bugs outside the garden door.

And I leave you with South Africa's version of Don'ts - on the door of a post office.

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Posted by Goofy9 10:59 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Slums and all that's incendiary

Soweto

Took a tour of Johannesburg and Soweto last month and ever since something has been bugging me about what I saw. Let me unpack that...drove around town, picked up other tourists, and the guide drove us through old neighborhoods and pointed out certain houses. It was actually a silly thing to do because you could not see the houses - they were all behind impossibly high walls, in mostly white neighborhoods with armed security guards. One had to imagine who lived there and use that same imagination to figure out what those houses looked like since you couldn’t see a thing from the street! Discovery number 1: The higher the wall, the richer you are. And we are not talking about palm-lined, pretty Hollywood-style walls. I am talking about Fort Knox with wires and barbs and electrocution.

Interesting fact: Mr. Nelson Mandela lives in that neighborhood. You can actually see his house, it's not behind a wall, just a normal fence, and his house is the one with minimum security. It's a wonderful thing that no one would ever think of robbing or harming Mr. Mandela.

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Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton

Drove through downtown Johannesburg. Not like any downtown I have seen before. It was completely black. Not even an Indian in sight, and we know that Indians are everywhere! And it felt like a scene from a movie, a scene from the future, where only 1 race survives and there's graffiti on the walls, and cars on cinder blocks. Seriously. Not making this up. 10 bucks says that my brother will say that I am over reacting!

Drove on to Soweto. Drove in through the "civilized" part...normal looking houses, some fencing, concrete walls. Deeper one drove in one saw the true shanty town. Some pictures...drove deeper in through the "ghetto" and honestly, I am embarrassed to type this, I was scared; in an unfounded sort of way. It was safe, but to me it felt like a country simmering on the edge of discontent. And disruption from malcontent was right there, upfront, and ready to boil over quickly - not a decade from now, not five years from now, but tomorrow.

I wondered why all of this was bothering me - there are Sowetos in India, I've seen them in Jakarta, lots of South East Asia is like that. What makes this odd? In India, the slums grow due to poverty, and I think that's true for most of Asia. You are poor, cannot afford housing, you live in a shack in a city. Simple. Not much more to it, at least on the surface (not withstanding the caste system, and economic disadvantage from birth). Soweto on the other hand is a black slum. It's not by poverty, it's by color! And it's so damned obvious.

There I said it.

Disclaimer: Not all of Johannesburg is like this, obviously. I live in Sandton - quite like any suburban American town. Wide streets (no pavements), lots of cars (on last informal count that I took, 7 out of 9 fancy cars, were driven by whites), malls and whatnot.

Posted by Goofy9 21:31 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

Things to learn at warp speed

Mini meltdown in Johannesburg

It's been one week since I got to Jo'burg, and there have been things that I have had to learn very quickly.

1. The very first thing to do when you sit inside your car is to...no, not wear your seat belt. It's to lock the doors. Practically every woman I have met has reminded me that I must remember to lock the doors, before even fumbling to put the keys in the ignition.

2. Not having automatic windows suck! I have asked Avis to change my car because this weekend I realized how important power windows are. The number of times I had to roll down my window to take a security pass to enter a lot, and then roll it up and then roll it back down to return the pass and then roll it up again and then roll it down again at the next place to get a security pass and then roll it up again. You get the point.

3. Must carry a purse (which I then hide behind my legs, under the driver's seat, while I drive and put in the boot of the car, when at the gym). Not using a purse the first few days was silly - there is a front door key to carry, and a key to the security metal door, and then keys to car, and then a clicker to let me out of the gates community, and then a pass to badge into the parking lot at work, and another one to badge into the actual building.

All this being said, after seeing compounds and roads and building with barbed wire and "Armed Response" signs (and having a little mini freak-out just now), I am told repeatedly that it's not all that bad and that one has to live ones life (but be constantly on the alert!). And oh, traffic lights are called Robots.

And the Green Ambulance, is a Sprite-ish kinda drink used as a Hangover Cure.
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Pictures of my absolutely lovely apartment, where I feel perfectly safe.

And to sign off for now, this is the sign that welcomes you as you walk in to work.
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Posted by Goofy9 12:24 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

Welcome to Zambia!

First impressions of Johannesburg

I've been traveling and have had time off. You probably know that because I have been completely underground. But didja know I moved to South Africa?! Yep, did. Today is my second day…

A first impression, a friend says, "happens only once and usually lasts forever." My impressions are pretty all over the place...Landed, deplaned, and walking to the immigration counter there was happy African World Cup sort of music playing. Made me think that Africans maybe have rhythm in their step. I don’t know if I will ever discover that to be true as most of what I have heard is that immersing oneself is not a good idea: quite unsafe. Better to stick to the "rich" areas, with barbed wires and security guards.

That being said, the car service person who picked me up was a pleasant, pleasant man who hollered "Welcome to Zambia!" and then cheekily added "Just checking if you are awake after your long flight!" He was quite the opposite of the immigration officer who, frankly, would have let me in to the country even if I looked like I shouldn’t be let in! She was like a lizard, just waiting to get out into the the warm sun for her lunch break. Completely and totally disinterested in me, in her job and in anything other than getting out into the sun.

The drive in to town was unexceptional - the roads are large, modern, anything you would see in any developed nation. The land is dry and hot, patches of green and lots, and lots, and lots of barbed wire. Lots. I might have to take a few pictures, create a Barbed Wire Album - there is pretty fancy spiked wire, high wire, electrified wire. And a mall every few kilometers.

Work Day 2 lunch break - the folks at work launched right in to asking me "How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend? Do you have kids?" I felt just as squirmy as I do in India. But then I told myself that in India I take all this personal inquisition in my stride; In India, I simply wear my India-hat. Now it's time to get me an Africa-hat.

Posted by Goofy9 10:54 Archived in South Africa Comments (4)

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