It was easy coming back to Seattle.
I packed up my things 2 hours before taking off to the airport. Washed stuff in the last bottle of vinegar I purchased from the Kwikspar (supermarket in SA) (heard vinegar is good for killing bacteria). Slept in a house that belonged to my Momma Nubantu (my benevolent caretaker in our home-stay). Ate an outstanding feast prepared by all the Mommas (farewell parting).
Arrived at the airport. Got through customs.
Boarded the plane.
Flew for a while.
Landed in Seattle.
And, now that it’s been 3 months since, I will say this. I don’t think I suffered from culture shock.
I think I’ve been bulldozed with relief.
As a White American I traveled with privilege and prestige. Had my life been different and I’d been born a South African, my whiteness would have secured me from the oppression that South Africans of color have suffered. Because of Apartheid. This was a status that I had no choice but to carry around with me. During the entire trip, it was like an invisible sign hung above me. It’s rims were lined with flashing bulbs and it read, “Privilege! Privilege!” When I walked through the streets of Observatory, even to get a cup of cocoa, I was struck with this awareness. Every. Single. Time. Especially if I was the only white person to be seen. My presence sometimes became a symbol of money. Wealth. Someone to milk for all that she’s worth in the markets. My presence was seen as a place of power. And…this caused me to be uncomfortable.
No one, no one human being should ever possess this much prestige over others.
I can’t tell you how many moments I simply observed the events unfolding around me with a quiet eye. Leaping into situations with words or thoughts would have been careless. If I hadn’t been open to them, there would have been so many learning moments I’d have missed.
You bet I made myself humble.
Pride and fearlessness erupted from moments such as the ones I’m about to share. Humor too. I experienced all.
A fearless moment: Hiking deep into the Cango Caves. Our last stop before fully returning to Cape Town for our 10 day road trip up the Eastern Cape. A place that I finally recognized that I am claustrophobic! There’s a damper on the ego. Yet, I got through the caves in positions I never thought I would! It was incredible to overcome that fear. You should have seen how sweaty my palms were!
Some gentle humor: Breakfast in Addo, South Africa! The place we saw Elephants! We had many good eats here. That morning, my prof made the mistake of looking critically at the waffles he ordered. It wasn’t a huge stack but there, sitting like an oversized crown, was a large dollop of whip cream. His eyes dancing, he politely flagged down the waitress and said to her in consternation, “There isn’t enough cream on these waffles.”
We all knew that he was just being sarcastic, dipping into the air of playfulness he carried with him in an ease that would shame the most aloof of this world.
But that waitress had spunk.
Next thing we knew? Plop!
Her hand placed a bowl of more whip cream right next to his plate. She gazed down her nose at him, most serious.
Boy, were his students were howling at him, then!
Relaxed moment: Standing in the Cape of Good Hope. Looking out over the world. We were finally on the most southern point of Africa herself.
Road trip moment: Pausing on a 3.5 hour hike of the coast of Coffee Bay, our last destination on the Eastern Coast of South Africa. Our guides walked up and down these hills with such practiced skill, I felt like an awkward duck next to them. My thighs and calves definitely trembled on the last incline, but the views? Were more than worth it. I wasn’t feeling particularly well. Almost passed up this opportunity! Yet, during breakfast that morning, my prof convinced me to change my mind with a casual, “No, you should go. It’s just a walk!” Aha. Hahahaa… You’re funny, Doc.
Ah, well, I guess I can’t complain.
Sometimes, you gotta throw in some attitude.
Did I mention there were a number of these four hoofed creatures up here? I tried to get close enough to pet one, but, humans are definitely on top of the food chain. Dairy farm cows would probably look me in the eye, unflinching, if I walked toward them. These fellas? Jumped and trotted away at once! One of my friends stared at them with a silly grin on her face and said, “This is the only hike we will ever experience that is full of cows.” Moooohum!
Fearless Moment: Standing on the post that Nelson Mandela used to raise his voice, a man that continued relentlessly to inspire Black and Colored South Africans to stand up for their lives, amass their courage. This podium is located in Fort Hare; the prestigious university that Nelson himself attended. We were given a tour, a lecture, and lunch by a high positioned faculty member that very day.
Quiet moment: During one of our last days in South Africa, we visited this monument. Gugulethu Seven memorial in the Gugulethu Township. This is a place that honors the 7 male activists between the ages of 16 – 23 that fought against Apartheid, who were chased and murdered on these very streets by the SA Police force. I looked down that street, into the faces of the people that milled about, looking at us curiously, and thought hard. What was it like to run for your life? Even though you knew you stood up for the right thing, what was it like to be hunted for it? Friends and family, their lives are just as important as yours and mine. Just as important. This type of violence is so destructive of our world that…I can’t help but know that it needs to stop. When I paused to read each of their name plaques, gazing steadily at each statue, I apologized to each of them for their treatment. They deserve to be honored so beautifully. We paid our respects to these men for a while.
Road Trip Moment: Here we are in the village of Qunu, located on the Transkeei. This is Nelson Mandela’s museum. We came here at an off time, having the entire place to ourselves. Nelson Mandela’s very own grandson gave us a tour. I regret deeply that I never got his name. Despite this, I can only think to myself, “What an honor. What an unspeakable honor.”
Here is a picture of him, with a picture of Mandela in the background. It’s a powerful image for me, symbolizing many things. Yet, to to meet this man was even more profound. I still can’t believe that we were blessed to cross paths.
An incredible part of the tour in the Nelson Mandela museum was our time on the rock slide on the hills of Qunu. This rock slide was the VERY same that Nelson used as a child. He spent hours here with his brothers, racing them down this hill. And he we are…doing the exact same thing! A friend challenged me to complete a 360 going down, instead of a straight shot. Something we all did. With some hesitation, I took him up on it. I completed not one…but two! Two 360’s! At the cheers of my friends and prof, I walked back up to the top only to be congratulated by Nelson Mandela’s grandson. He shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said,”That’s never been done before.” I won something even deeper than an Olympic Gold medal that day.
Humble Moment: Standing with one of the political prisoners that was held here at Robben Island, the jail where Nelson Mandela was kept. He was our official tour guide, showing us specific cells, Nelson Mandela’s cell, and speaking to us about the true experience in this horrific place. Sobering. Mortifying. Something that I needed to know. I will be forever grateful.
A break on the Robben Island tour, with two of my best gals!
Fun Moment: Learning so much and having so much fun with the kids in the township high school Walmer High School. Sitting in on their classes. Endeavoring to learn their recess games. Being accepted and loved.
A moment for me: As another cold ravaged through me, as I walked with crazy emotions and new awareness, this time became my center. Sitting out on the rocks. Closing my eyes. Just breathing. Letting myself be. Beautiful Cape of Good Hope.
Ha! Moment: Caught taking a selfie up on Table Mountain. Couldn’t take it all in. Drew images of the views around me.
One of the Last Moments: My Momma Nabantu. Incredible woman. She was so generous and kind to allow us to live with her for two days, providing us meals, speaking with us, listening to our stories….What a way to end my trip.
Momma Nabantu’s grandchildren. Strong, incredible Yanga and little Likona. Amazing souls.
When I think about all of the the things we accomplished in those short 4 weeks, all of the things you have yet to read in my blog posts, I can only grin foolishly at the immensity.
Every day was full of challenges and inner realizations enough to make me struggle internally. Really struggle. With who I was, who I wanted to be.
Every day was full of triumphs. These moments filled me with enough courage to shed off the person I thought I was and stand up with one that faces challenges head on.
It was like I glowed on the inside with something I couldn’t explain, and appeared quiet and retrospective on the outside.
Every day also hit my senses like a tank.
The lessons I learned. The places I stepped into. The lives I touched.
The lives that touched me.
I don’t know how to end this blogging. How to tell you everything.
But, I guess I can’t. Ha!
That’s a somewhat bitter realization. Yet, at the same time?
Maybe I’m not supposed to.
Maybe, many of the things I learned? Need to rest inside of me, dormant, until I reach down and embrace them once again.
A mentor once told me that these types of experiences plant seeds within you.
They may not be actively growing now.
They may not begin to germinate for years to come.
But they are there. Yours. And yours alone.
Thank you, everyone, for joining me on this incredible, once in a life time journey.
This isn’t the end. I assure you! I know there’s always room for many more blog posts to come.
But, I need to give an ending. To this section of the story. And…here it is.
Until next time that I travel!