I have arrived in South Africa safe & sound and am spending my second full day here. In the past 48 hours I have already learned “looks are deceiving.” The South African morning has been greeted with the familiar cawing of birds; not crows but rather something called a “Hadeda” (pronounced Ha-dee-da) an Ibis with a crooked bill and raucous call. My original impression of here was it was quite modernized and similar to the U.S. with a European flare. Other than driving on the other side of the road all appeared to be familiar. The grocery store has similar items, fresh fruit & vegetables, electronics abound, and everyone has a cell phone. Traffic is heavy in the city and pedestrians cross anywhere they want. But it is in the unseen the deception exists. I was going to originally write about how people are the same all over the world and for the most part I believe we are. It is in how life is lived out there is a difference.
Unemployment is 25%, white people make up 8% of the population, and while discussing wages many figures were tossed around, but suffice it to say many South Africans make in a day what many Americans make an hour, while the cost of living (rents, food) is similar to the U.S. Many houses have security systems, gates and bars on doors and windows; however I have seen this in parts of the U.S. The difference is in the % of people who within their lifetimes have experienced some form of trauma from violence, which is considerably higher than America. South Africa has the distinction of having the worse drivers around, a fact I can attest to having driven in Pinetown with my friend. I learned that some newborns do not have receiving blankets and are wrapped in newspaper when first born. I have been told that over the next week I will witness living conditions totally unknown to me, worse than the worst in America.
South Africa is known as the “rainbow nation” due to the multi-national make up of the population. Here in the Natal province, British culture is pre-dominant, but there is a large Indian (people from India) population. I was incorrect in thinking Afrikaans was synonymous with white South African. Correction, Afrikaans is someone of Dutch South African decent while there is British South African, and other African tribal associations all living together in the same area. What is interesting is most people maintain their cultural heritage separate from others, where in America everyone assumes bits and pieces of American culture. There are 11 official languages with English, Afrikaans and Zulu being foremost. The evening news broadcast extends for hours on end to accommodate the most common of those 11.
I still maintain, every American should travel to a foreign land and learn about the culture in order to truly appreciate what we have. For the most part we can move in society without fear of personal harm, we make live-able wages, we have good medical care with competent healthcare providers readily available. It is trips like this one that make me appreciate what I have.
As I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in South Africa, I choose to be thankful for what I have, what I don’t have (violence and squalor) and especially for a wonderful family and close friends. I am thankful for the ability to travel to a foreign land and meet wonderful people, who when it comes right down to it are the same as I am; similar hopes, wants and needs.
|Where I am staying in Pinetown, KZN, South Africa|