Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 26th, 2012 Full schedules, early mornings and late nights have kept me from writing as much as I thought I would on this trip. Periodically things I wanted to write would come to me, of course, at the most inopportune times.  I could write pages and pages about this trip, everything we have seen, everyone we have met and what it feels like to be in this incredibly complex country called South Africa. I will include some of the what and the who but focus more on the feelings and impressions.  First - Life is fragile, at times dangerous, but mostly wondrous. This past week I was within 3 feet of the following animals: 3 leopards (2 of them eating an impala), uncounted cape buffalo, a musthy (look it up) elephant who charged us twice, 4 male lions (on 3 separate occasions), a lioness, a 12 foot long African python lunging at someone to ward them off and a charging black rhino who missed the back of our jeep by inches. Yet as unpredictable and scary as some of those encounters were I never felt at real risk. Watching a leopard or an eagle or a lion eat its prey reinforced the truth of the circle of life.  However, listening to the stories of real people who live in rural South Africa was a more poignant reminder of the dangers in this world and the fragility of life. So many villages do not have potable water or electricity. To get water people take buckets and cans to nearby rivers to bring home water that they boil hoping to kill all the germs and parasites before drinking it or bathing in it. The risks involved in this seeming simple task are easily solved but those with resources are unwilling to do so. Getting untreated water from a river brings not only the risk of disease (some people contract malaria up to 50 times in their lives) but also the risk of death from predators. Carnivores wander the countryside, reptiles wait in the grass to crush you and crocodiles make their home in the water waiting silently for you to become their next meal. But the greatest danger comes from the hippos. Hippos kill more people than any other African animal. Each day rural South Africans face these dangers just to get water.  Second - Reconciliation is possible in the short term but lasting changes in society take generations. Both our guide for the second safari and our driver to the airport from the safari were black. Both spoke about how reconciliation has worked to a point it has been limited. Both, however, feel that to move forward people need to stop seeing color altogether. Our guide spoke of the feelings his friends who are interracial couples feel in public. It is as if everyone, black and white and colored, are boring holes into them with their stares. As we were driving to the airport we passed through a village that was going on strike to protest not having access to clean water. They feel the government and even the ANC is corrupt and as focused on building their power and wealth as the apartheid governments, having abandoned Mandela’s dream.  Today’s issue of ”The Times” (April 25, 2012, contains an op-ed piece by Phillimon Mnisi in which he writes: ”Like pigs fighting for food at the expense of the country’s objectives, ANC members have ignored all the challenges in favour of power retention, access and control of resources. ”The moral fibre of the country has been betrayed at the altar of monetary wealth.” If both the guide and the driver, who are employed at good jobs and are from different tribes, hadn't expressed the same kinds of sentiments, I would have not paid such close attention to the op-ed piece even thought confirms my view of history that when a rebel group comes to power after overthrowing their oppressors, in most cases those who come to power continue the negative practices of those they replaced. Third - There is a poster at both the Johannesburg and Cape Town airports with the tag line: ”I came to South Africa looking for beautiful scenery and I found beautiful people” I have found that to be so true. Of course with an unemployment rate of 25%+ and an even higher under employment rate crime is a serious problem,to a person I have not met anyone who isn't at least outwardly friendly and willing to go out of their way to help you. Our new friends S and J who have spent considerable time here told us that was the case and we all have experienced it for ourselves. Some of our group have expressed that this is the trip of a lifetime. While I would agree that this trip has been wondrous, opening my eyes to sights, animals and experiences I could never have had anywhere else, it is but one of many trips and experiences I have been blessed to be a part of and I pray I am blessed to have many more.

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