Thursday, January 2, 2014


So... Today was rough. It started fine, but the afternoon was very eye-opening and depressing and made me feel... ashamed, maybe? Guilty? I can't put a finger on it. 

Anyways, in the morning we drove around Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship), which is just outside Joha. We stopped a few times to see things, like the camps where mine workers used to live. As we went, our bus driver/guide, Dan, encouraged us to wave and shout "Ola Ola Ola!" out the windows. ("Ola" is pronounced like the Spanish "hola" and is probably actually the same word.) I loved seeing them smile and shout back "Happ-eeee!" (Happy new year). Without fail, they looked happy and blessed to see us. It was amazing. 

We had lunch at "Wendie's Restaurant", which was a local buffet-style place. I got Coke in a glass bottle (!!!!!) and a whole bunch of other stuff, including liver and chicken foot. I didn't really enjoy either of them, but when else am I gonna eat it? After that, we drove to Kliptown, and that's when things got difficult. 

Kliptown is an informal settlement, made of the "houses" we saw at Mosaic yesterday. It's not the biggest in the country, but it's the poorest. An estimated 50,000+ people live in Kliptown. The roads were filled with old shoe soles, broken beer bottles, scraps of fabric, and countless wrappers and plastic bags. It smelled like a mix of the Porta-Potties at the Champlain Valley Fair and a barn that needs a serious cleaning.  And gosh, it was HOT. Easily over 95 degrees, and fifteen or twenty hotter inside the metal shacks. There's no running water or electricity there, so the bathrooms are outhouses that everyone shares. Apparently the pump where they get their water is the main social place in the community. It was incredible to be there. 

But as sad and heartbreaking as it was, I didn't miss the sense of community and togetherness. Little kids ran all over the place playing tag. They would come up to us and wave, some shy and others bold. There was one little boy in a Superman shirt, maybe 2 years old, that sticks out. Tom, an adult on our trip, took a photo of him and the kid went into a beautiful fit of giggles. Every time someone else snapped a pic, he laughed again. It was amazing the joy it gave him. And like the people we saw in the morning, everyone was welcoming and happy to see us. I worried a little about people being unhappy or embarrassed for us to see their homes, but it was the complete opposite. It was comparable to being asked to dance in the center at a pow-wow on Pine Ridge. Just... incredible. 

On the bus ride there, we were joking and singing and dancing and laughing and shouting. The trip back was silent. No one had the energy nor the ability to talk about what we had just seen. 

On a slightly happier note, I have an awful case of sunglasses-burn: my nose is basically a tomato. 

But other than that, life is great. Today was special and unique and sad, and I'll never ever forget it. 

1 comment:

  1. Sunscreen! Sunscreen:)

    Thank you for sharing what you are seeing and what you are experiencing.