Published: April 3rd 2009April 3rd 2009
So those of you who don’t know, I decided to head to South Africa for the weekend, lol. Ok, so I was there for five days. Thierry and I had been talking about going to South Africa for a couple of months and when March rolled around and we hadn’t gone yet, we decided we had better get our butts in gear. By the way, having a fantastically nice roommate who works for Air France is wonderful!
A couple of days before we were supposed to leave, something came up and Thierry was not going to be able to leave with me. Luckily, he was able to arrive two days after me. I have two friends from UNESCO, Rovani and Diana though, who have friends and family who live in South Africa, plus, Lizzy, who shared my office with me, had just arrived the day before me, to start her two year contract with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). With a network to greet me, I felt comfortable going a couple of days before Thierry and he would arrive on Saturday. Rovani is South African and her best friend/sister lives in Johannesburg and offered to put me up for
a couple of nights. As it turned out, she met me at the airport and it was her friend’s birthday, Denise, at midnight. Since my flight came in at 11 pm, we headed to a little pub/bar for a drink to celebrate her birthday with her and midnight. The next morning I go up with Tahiera, my gracious host. She had to go to work that day, and we looked into getting a taxi for me for the day to visit the Apartheid museum. The man wanted to charge me 1500 rand (150 Euros) for the day. Ouch! Safe cabs are really expensive in Jo-berg, probably one of the most expensive things I encountered.
Luckily, Lizzy was only working until 1 pm and had made arrangements with a safe cab for the afternoon at a better price. We then negotiated him coming to pick me up so that we could go out together. He took us to the township of Soweto, which is one of the areas where the abolition of the Apartheid movement had begun. We went to the restaurant called Wandee’s and had traditional South African cuisine, including pap, tomato gravy, baked beans, mashed pumpkin and potatoes,
lamb, chicken, sausage, beef, tripe if I wanted it, and a few other things. It was really, really good. There were also a couple of gentlemen there that serenaded us while we ate. By the time we got to lunch it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and we were so hungry that we were not appreciating our music and feeling a little bad and awkward. However, after we finished eating we talked with the musicians a bit and they sang us some other songs. Our cabbie, his name was Happy, then took us to Sandton. We were meeting Tahiera, Denise and her friends at the Nelson Mandela Square for Denise’s birthday dinner. About ten people showed up in total and it was super fun. Everyone was so nice and there were some great conversations. I met one lady, Anusia, who has an NGO where she takes underprivileged kids in two different townships and teaches them Indian/African contemporary dance. The idea is self esteem and education through dance. I was able to go to her class the next day and meet some of the students and they were really great. Her concept is really good too. I am hoping that
I can help make some connections with some people for her to expand the program.
On Saturday night, Tahiera had plans already to go to see Slumdog Millionaire. Considering I had already seen the movie, I decided to meet with Diana’s sister, Veronica for dinner. Anusia and Anita (another girl I had met at Denise’s dinner) decided to join us. It ended up being one of the best girl’s nights I had had in a long time. We sat at the restaurant called Cubanos for three or four hours just talking and having a really good time. When the movie was out, Thierry had arrived at the airport and Tahiera and I went and picked him up.
The next day a convoy of about 8 of us headed to Moyo’s at Zoo Lake for a wonderful, three hour lunch. We had a great buffet and just enjoyed the afternoon. After we headed to Rose Park where a great market was. That evening, Tahiera wanted to make a meal for Thierry and I and she made us this most wonderful curry. It was absolutely delicious.
The next day Thierry and I were slotted to go for a safari,
but before I get into that, I will share a few observations I had of Johannesburg. Obviously, I found the people there to be so pleasant and welcoming. As for safety, you just had to be aware. For example, Tahiera was telling me, purses are always kept in the trunk so that when you are driving and if you are stopped someone can’t easily smash your window and take it. On Saturday we were driving around downtown Jo-berg. The downtown core of the town is a little rough. We were thinking that it can be compared to the Bronx about 20 years ago. We had to pull over to the side of the road to figure out our directions and while Tahiera and Lizzy looked at the map, Denise and I kept aware of our surroundings and made sure that no one rushed the car. At night, Tahiera doesn’t always stop, a slowing down and making sure the coast is clear is good enough. Besides the safety, I found that I was really surprised at all of the big box stores. There are malls everywhere! I think there may be more mall than Nanaimo, and that is saying a lot,
lol. Ok, the town is WAY bigger, but still. I did notice one or two inter racial couples, but even 15 years after apartheid, there is still an air of racism. Areas are still general areas of race. However, I am not sure if that is a societal thing or a natural thing or a combination. In Vancouver, Richmond is home to a large Asian population, many East Indians congregate in Surrey. The same race and culture can relate to one another better. I find that I am much more comfortable around a Canadian, as opposed to a Serbian. Having said that, I really like learning about the other cultures and welcome the friendships.
We were also there during an election campaign. Zuma is the leader of the ANC party, which is the party that brought an end to apartheid. For the vast majority of the public, who are predominantly under education black people, they see this party saviors to themselves and their families, and rightly so. Unfortunately, from conversations I had with quite a few educated South Africans, the current leader Zuma, is a corrupt individual that may pose problems for the country. What is worse, is the
main opposing party is being led by a white woman. Being a white woman myself, my first instinct is to say good for you, but when you are in a country that has been so oppressed by white people, and women are still not completely considered equal, at this moment in time, for the advancement of the party, perhaps she was not the best choice. As much as I try not to judge books by their cover, many people in this world, still do. Hopefully Zuma does not live up to his reputation and all works well for the country.
Now the safari - we got picked up on Monday morning at 10 am by our tour company. After being in the car for ten minutes, the man for the company phones and says that on top of the 3000 rand (300 Euros) each that we have agreed to pay, we have to pay 2100 rand more, each, and later get reimbursed from Air France. I had been talking with the company since Friday when I got to Jo-Berg and was a little perturbed to say the least that they were telling us when we were on our way.
Thierry and I were not happy about the treatment and asked our driver to take us to the airport where we decided to rent a car and do the trip ourselves. Thierry had already been and knew they drill. We knew the name of the lodge, Ukatula, got their number and made the reservation. Then we got a GPS and headed out. Thank lord Thierry knew how to drive on the other side of the street, and quickly learned stick shift on the other side.
When we arrived at the lodge, we greeted and I quickly discovered the four cutest lion cubs known to man. After settling in, I went over and played with them before dinner. Thierry and I ended up having a little too much wine that night, but a good time. We made new friends with the staff of the lodge and partied with them for most of the night. The next morning I got up and played with the lions some more. We then went and say the bigger lions and I even petted ones that were one year old - no sudden movements!
After we left the lodge, we headed to Pilansberg National
Park. We missed the last tour of the day but about 20 minutes, so we decided to go in the park by ourselves. Here we were, driving around in our four door Nissan sedan. It was very cool and liberating. I will admit to my shock when we turned a corner and a rhinoceros was crossing the road in front of us - right in front of us! We also saw Zebras, a herd of elephants, and a few other animals. It was really an amazing experience.
The drive home was perhaps the scariest of all though. The GPS had us go through townships and down hella long roads without street lamps on a two lane road where you are expected to drive on the shoulder so that faster cars can pass you. Thierry did a great job of driving, but after many hours, my backseat driver was having such a hard time of not saying anything, lol.
We did make it though and had just enough time to have a quick shower and head to the airport and fly home, business style! It was a truly amazing trip and I am so grateful to have gone there.
There are more photos below