For those of you following along at home…
You’ll know that I’ve been to Africa a few times and have a soft-spot for this part of the world.
Twenty years ago I lived and travelled through here for a few months (1998/99) and also went on a rugby tour to South Africa in 2000. I’ve seen a decent amount of sub-saharan Africa and gotten a really good sense of what life was like here all those years ago. So I was quite excited to see how things stacked up against my memories and what changes have taken place.
After leaving Bangkok, we flew into Adis Ababa, Ethiopia before making our way to Johannesburg and then heading onward to Cape Town the next day. It was an immediate immersion. Fortunately for the girls, after several months of being the visible minority in South America and SE Asia, they weren’t fussed at all. But we were certainly in a new part of the world.
Cape Town was great except for a couple of days of questionable weather where wind and waves prevented us from getting to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Being there during a critical drought and water crisis was fascinating and we really tried to do our part to help conserve the supply. Avery has some great insights on what it was like to live on only 50 litres per day. The hike up Table Mountain was awesome and we had a great day visiting the penguins at Boulder Beach and a trip out to the Cape of Good Hope to see where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans come together.
Despite the traumatic incident for Meghan where a baboon stole her camera (and hilarious for the rest of us!), we finished the day off well by managing to coax a trade for an empty water bottle! Megs is now scarred for life and absolutely hates baboons - rightly so, they’re dirty, gross and far too clever for their own good!
So lots of good experiences in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe/Zambia which the girls will tell you about in a couple of different posts. Jody and I were chatting and she wanted to know what was the same and what was different from my previous trips.
Passing through as tourists we’re more spectators than participants, so the ability to dig into daily life, attitudes and beliefs is challenging. That said, there are a number of overt things that I can point to regarding positive change in this part of the world. In 1998, apartheid had only ended a few years prior, so legacy of that time still permeated the relationships between blacks and whites all over Africa. I’d described it as a colonial mentality where roles were still understood and accepted on both sides of the equation - just that in the post1991 era, no one was barred from anywhere based on skin-colour.
Now, however, those role structures have almost completely broken down. I’ve seen whites in roles previously held by blacks and vice versa. There is also a whole new generation that has come of age not having experienced systematic segregation. Based on what we’ve seen in our travels through Africa, the ‘boss’ could be black, white, green or purple and no one would blink. It was really quite refreshing to see interactions indifferent to race. I’m sure there are still some legacy issues that still persist but as tourists we aren’t privy to the subtleties of those interactions.
What has not changed is the constant questions about crime and safety. It is first and foremost in people's minds. There is still a wide gap between those with means and those without, so there is a need to be vigilant — meaning smart about where you go and how you get there. Using some common sense and having your wits about you goes a long way to keeping you safe. It can be a bit disconcerting to see security people walking around with big guns, guard dogs and scowls on their faces. Perhaps it’s our Canadian sensibilities but it is still hard to get used to bars on windows and what we called ‘African barb-wire’ on top of the walls surrounding private property - broken bottles set in concrete. But that is part of life here and we chose to experience it first-hand rather than taking it in through the protective bubble of a tour or worse, not going at all.
It was fantastic to be back in South Africa, we had no issues and the people were incredibly friendly. I really enjoyed showing the girls some of the sights and experiences I had had previously and they seemed to take it all in stride. I suspect, however, they were just biding their time until they got to see what we really came to Africa for… the animals!
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).