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South Africa – short stories and photos

We leave the Cape of South Africa tomorrow morning for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Chobe National Park, Botswana. The cape area of South Africa was different than I thought it would be.  And different from most of Africa. It was geographically stunning.  Sophisticated with its food and wine and art.  And racially diverse, while still feeling very separated rather than integrated.  It could have been parts of Europe or Australia or other places that feel very familiar. But we were treated universally kindly by everyone.  And had a very positive experience. I do think that many people in South Africa seem very concerned about what the world thinks of their country - and them - with all the turmoil that still leads the news over two decades after it has shifted to the New South Africa from the old.  While I heard everyone express some frustration with what was happening in the country, it's clear this is a country in the midst of an enormous metamorphosis. And from the perspective of an outsider they seem to be moving forward. I'm sharing some photos I liked with short descriptions.  This is a fascinating place - and a unique place in the world.*********************************************************************************Jeffrey's Bay:  A world class surfing site, today the beach was home to surf lessons to very enthusiastic boys rather than the 20 foot high tubes it's known for in the winter.The Protea Plant grows wild over the sides of mountains in the drier mountains of this country.  There were many dead plants and blooms due to the drought this year, but some blooms still emerged ... a florist's haven.HIV/AIDs impacts 15-20% of residents in South Africa - especially those in the black townships.  This display in the Knyssa township library reminds people of the health necessities - and the humanity - behind HIV/AIDs.

WAY Off the Beaten Path

Mom navigated, I drove.  The GPS had totally lost it ... trying to send us back down towards the main roads, in the wrong direction, and "TomTom" was turned off in favor of directions from the website.Directions:  Travel 18.8 km on the gravel road.  At the Y junction follow the main road left.  (The directions fail to mention the "4x4s only beyond this point" big red sign, though we noticed it as we bumped along in our little chevy sedan.)Drive for 6 km.  Turn right on the small gravel road.  You still have 5 km to go.  (This small gravel road started with a big sand pit, which I revved up and skidded through, and small meant one car wide.)At the next junction, turn right if you have a 4x4, left if you don't.  Drive past several buildings and through two gates. (This turned out to be farm from some hardy family managing to grow something in this arid area.  We never found the junction with the alternate road, but given we had to drive the car through a small stream I think it's conceivable we might have picked the wrong way).And finally we bumped in to Blue Hill Escape, a nature preserve and research center run by  friends of my mother who she met while volunteering on an Earthwatch Macaw research project in Peru.  Driving down another bumpy roadish path and through another small stream and we arrived at our cottage.  No electricity.  Wood burning stove for heat.  It was cold.  I was cranky and tired from driving all day. I was eyeing the sky which was threatening rain and planning our escape route - wondering how we were getting this little chevy back through two streams if it actually rained. I had an image of myself covered in mud


Children singing at pre-school The woman in the chair is still in her pajamas.  She looked nervous when Mom pulled out her camera and asked to take a photo.  The hairdresser is curling her short, straightened hair under in tight curls. But the handful of candy and friendly banter from Ella, who runs Emzini Tours in Knyssa, makes this intrusion OK.  And more specifically, Ella, the charismatic black woman who lives here and who started this company with a white woman from Zimbabwe, makes this OK. And it probably also helps that much of the money from these trips into the township funds the charity work that Ella and Emzini undertake in this community.  And I suspect many people in the community know that, too. And so we spent a fascinating morning visiting a township that is very similar to many around South Africa ... and where so many black South Africans call home.  From afar, these communities look like a hodgepodge of shacks and small wood and block homes clustered up hillsides with splashes of color from laundry or paint.  They look run-down, and shambly and maybe unclean.  These are places we did not feel particularly welcome without an invitation. But with Ella as our invitation in, we were fortunate to be welcomed into this township graciously. What could have easily been a voyeuristic tour - and township "tours" are offered everywhere-instead was a warm and insightful visit. Mandela cement house with older wooden house ... And an amazing view The townships, she explained, were formalized after 1994 when Mandela took office and apartheid ended.  The government committed to build everyone a house.  The "Mandela Houses" are simple construction from cement blocks - one or two bedroom, indoor plumbing.  Some have additions.  Many replace the old wooden houses that pre-date them.  Some families keep their wooden house

What’s for Dinner? Exotic Eats in South Africa

Bless her heart.  My Mom loves dessert.The end of every dinner is the inevitable question.  "If I order something for dessert, would you have some?"  Why Yes ... Yes I will.  And I love to share it with her.  So off we go - to early dinner or late lunch - and we can always count on a little sweet to end the meal.Ostrich, anyone?And tonight, after driving to the start of the Garden Route in the tiny beachfront town of Wilderness, and tucking into a fabulous dinner and dessert, I've decided I might never leave here.  View from our guest house in Wilderness Because why would I?  With the beach out my window.  And delicious food and wine a couple of blocks away.  And national parks' worth of hiking and activities out the door, it really seems pointless to go anywhere else.We just made arrangements to stay here an extra day.  I'm pretty sure tonight's oysters and sparkling wine tipped the balance on that decision.After the first few days in South Africa with no appetite - it's hard for the stomach to know when it's time to eat on the opposite side of the world - I'm happy to report that the belly is back into to full-on food appreciation mode.We are now having a good breakfast every morning at the hotel, and then a nice meal out somewhere late afternoon or early evening.  We keep fruit and cheese and other noshes for in between.  And WOW.  Is the food here top quality.  Lots of fresh, organic, locally sourced.  Creative.  Inventive.  Just plain good.  Not to mention the wine.  And, honestly, we do not get the good stuff from South Africa exported back to the states.  In fact we were told that the stuff we get as exports is a

Leaving Cape Town

Left.  Left.  LEFT!Looking down at Stellenbosch from the passMy Mom has upgraded from chirps and grunts in the passenger seat to specific directional commands, which are much more helpful to me as the driver as we head through the Stellenbosch wine country and beautiful farmlands towards the coastal resort town of Hermanus east of Cape Town and near the beginning of the famous Garden Route along the Southern tip of Africa.We navigated our way out of Cape Town in a rental car.  On the Left side of the road.  In the rain.  In traffic.  We did not make it out unscathed.  As I drove the five blocks back to the hotel to pick up our luggage I couldn't find parking so attempted to turn around and ... scraaaaaape ... Oops.The green Mercedes parked too far out in the road was already missing paint off the bumper --- you could barely tell where I scraped it.  But I left a note anyway, being a good citizen.  And overcame my urge to ignore the incident and beat it out of town.  The rental car already had a scrape documented in that area when we rented it.  But there is nothing like having your mother in the passenger seat to keep you on the straight and narrow.  The rental car repair ... now that's probably going to cost me a touch.  But then that's why we bought insurance, and have back up travel insurance that covers what rental car insurance doesn't.So beyond frayed nerves, and the very embarrassing moment of walking back into the rental car office a mere 20 minutes after leaving with an unscraped car to file an accident report, we made it out of Cape Town alive and well and headed out on the rest of our journey.Driving got much easier

Perspectives – Conversations in South Africa

"It would have been impossible for me to own my own business ... or even just be a tour guide twenty years ago.  Before, only whites could be tour guides and interact with whites.  I can't tell you what a difference there is between now and before apartheid ended".  This from a woman of color - Cathy - who is not black - and who grew up in a coloured township with parents who had enough of an income to send her to school with lunch everyday and firm admonishments "not to take the free soup and bread and take it away from those who need it more."  Coloured was differentiated from Black under apartheid - they were the descendants primarily of slaves brought in from Asia and the near East - and they were treated better and held more privileges than black Africans under Apartheid - though were still marginalized."As a woman, I was forced out of my teaching job after five years with mandatory work limit rules before apartheid.  They hired a bachelor to replace me.  You see, apartheid went well beyond race.  It impacted everything - male, female, race, religion. Where you could sit.  Who you could marry.  Everything - much more than race."This from our white city tour guide, Andrea, who has lived in the country for over forty years, but still maintains her German citizenship and pays German taxes.  "Before the end of apartheid and during the unrest I kept my citizenship so I could leave if I had to.  Now it's just paper, but at least I can get a good pension in Germany if I needed to go back for it.  Here, there is no safety net." Both women acknowledge the problems still here.  Cathy sees promise, and acknowledges the problems still faced here

Freedom Day – 21 Years after Apartheid

South Africa celebrated its first Democratic Election today ... held a mere 21 years ago April 27, 1994.  That's nothing ... 21 years is no time at all.  It had never really occurred to me that this country is so young.  And so new to learning to live together after years under apartheid - the very antithesis of democracy - that systematically and brutally segregated this society by race.  We knew very little about Freedom Day when we boarded the ferry to Robben Island to tour the former prison that housed Mandela and most other political opponents of apartheid.  It was coincidence that I had chosen this day to buy tickets for the tour.  But as we piled on the ferry, and then trooped over to the prison and listened as a former political prisoner described life as a prisoner, I realized how far South Africa had come in such a short time.Our guide at the Robben Island prison was sentenced for "terrorism" in 1983 and spent seven years in prison until his release in 1990 - when the prison was closed and all political prisoners released.  His crime was recruiting members to the ANC - the black nationalist political party outlawed by the apartheid government.  He described how the prisoners work the limestone quarry where they were forced to move rocks from point A to point B ... and then back to point A.  For years.  Meaningless work meant to demoralize.   And how the educated prisoners - 70% of the political prisoners were educated and professionals - taught the uneducated to read and write by drawing letters in the sand.  They schooled their own followers and trained their ANC leadership on Robben Island.  The striation of apartheid reached into the prison, where prisoners were treated differently according to

Small Things – Kirstenboch National Botanical Gardens

Autumn yielded to summer once more today.   As we walked in the famous Kirstenboch National Botanical Gardens we could feel the sun and the humidity taking a toll, despite the floppy hats purchased from the garden bookstore.So we sat under a tree in the shade to cool off.  And as I looked up at the black underside of the fan of  branches framed by delicate green needles, filtering light through a light breeze, I realized that this simple view was perhaps the most beautiful thing I'd seen all day.It's always the simple things that help you really see.Visiting these gardens was the top priority for my Mom, a master gardner, Birmingham Botanical Garden volunteer, saver of countless dying plants in my Seattle home and the go-to decorator for events among her circle of friends. And the garden didn't disappoint.  It was  colorful and fragrant and educational and an important ecological conservatory in an environment that threatens many of the native species.  This garden is truly masterfully designed and cultivated.It didn't take long to realize that the garden was designed complement the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain that framed the sky behind.  The rise and fall of the trees and plantings seemed to follow and complement the mountain ridge.  And the black stone sculptures of African women and men not only became part of the garden.  They were surrounded by the plants and textures and colors that successfully made the garden part of the sculpture.  Best was the noise.  This place is joyful ... full of the laughter of families with kids climbing the perfect climbing tree or toddling after the waddling guinea hens or having a picnic.   And full of the sounds of the birds swooping on the bright blooms and flitting through the trees - making the garden