After a very long day of flying (15 hours from Atlanta to Johannesburg – aka JoBurg), we arrived at 5 PM on Wednesday, went for dinner with the group, and promptly crashed.
Thursday, March 6
This was our day to tour Johannesburg and Soweto. We had an excellent tour guide (Mgugi – don’t pronounce the “M”) who lives in Soweto but has also lived in Detroit and Boston. Some of the St. Cloud State folks already knew him from previous trips so it was sort of like meeting old friends.
Our day started at the Apartheid Museum. Our entry passes randomly classified us as “white” or “non-white” to set the atmosphere. There were so parallels to the Civil Rights Movement in the US. It never is easy to see the oppression and violence that our brothers and sisters have experienced. I wish we had had more time. There was so much to read and so many pictures.
Lunch stop was at a BP station! There was a local fast-food restaurant inside. Ken and I had pot pies – mine was lamp curry, his was peri-peri chicken. We ate on the bus so we didn’t have to lose too much time.
We stopped at the huge soccer stadium that supposedly resembles a mug of beer with foam on top. It seats about 98,000 – yes, these folks take their soccer seriously.
We went to the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication which celebrates the Freedom Charter (more on that later – I need to look up something about that Charter). We visited Regina Mundi Catholic Church which has seen its share of violence, including a statue of Jesus with the hands missing – they were shot off by a police officer.
Then we went to the Hector Peterson square which commemorates students lost in violence in in 1976. The photo on the monument was very graphic and heart-wrenching. There was also a small market in this area where some of the travelers purchased native crafts. Lots of ebony stuff – beautiful.
We were told that South Africans enjoy being “shot,” as in having their picture taken. So I took advantage of near Nelson Mandela’s home. Aren’t these boys adorable?
Today we flew to Port Elizabeth. A 6:45 AM departure meant a short night for trying to catch up on sleep. We first went to our hotel, Fifth Avenue Beach House. Lovely place and only a block from the beach. After a quick freshening up, we were taken to Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University for an orientation and tour. Saint Cloud State University has had an exchange program with this university for many years. The university has 6 campus across South Africa, with 3 in Port Elizabeth. We learned a lot about higher education in South Africa and the challenges they face since apartheid was outlawed. One that I would never have thought about is bringing students together who speak different languages but some without English proficiency (all classes are taught in English). They are trying to find a workable solution to help the students learn English so they can tackle university level work. There is also the challenge of students who have not all had the benefit of quality education in their K-12 years.
Our tour included a visit to the engineering department. You could just see Ken’s eyes light up when we got there! And they got even brighter when he heard them say something about friction stir welding, USC, and two of his professors at Carolina – this was his research for his Ph.D. I was pretty happy for him. We got to see some of their ongoing student projects, including a race car on Michelin tires – now that made me proud!
We ended our day with dinner at Blue Waters Café on the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth. Ken had Kingclip (it was equated to Minnesota’s walleye) and I had ribs. I couldn’t believe how many ribs I got for around $13. I must say we are pleasantly surprised by the cost of food. We are not breaking the bank on dining out.
Today was super! We toured the city and surroundings of Port Elizabeth, including visits to black and coloured communities. A true learning experience! We had lunch at Lunga General Jazz Club in a black township. Great entertainment, good food, and wonderful hospitality. Children everywhere and I fell in love with every one of them. More tomorrow.
Sunday, March 9
Church and Addo Elephant Park were on our agenda for today. We attended a church in a black community. Church was held in a school that the church had started. I need to find out more specifics, including the name of the church. This was not your typical Sunday morning. It was a very interactive service with the pastor asking for reaction to Oscar P's murder trial. It evolved into a discussion about oppression of the black Community under apartheid and how they can get to the starting line (vs. catching up) so they can improve their lives. He highlighted how enormous amounts of money and effort were spent in the past to control the minds of blacks so that they thought that their lot in life was the way it should be, but now there is not such effort being expended to help change that mindset. A most interesting discussion but not totally comfortable. Good music too. A very welcoming congregation.
It was a 2-hour service so we were late getting started for our trip to the animal park. We had bag lunches so we ate while we traveled. The weather was dreary so we weren't expecting to see a lot of animals. We loaded our group of 30 into a couple of Range Rovers and headed out for our 2-hour trip. As we entered the park (almost 1 million acres!), we were promptly met by a very large elephant having lunch along the roadway. I am very glad I was not sitting in the front seat of the open-air vehicle. He was a little too close for comfort. Over the course of the tour we saw well over 2 dozen elephants, including some babies, lots zebra, eland and kudu antelope, a buffalo, warthogs, ostriches, and a couple of lazy lions. Our guide was wonderful and very funny. If only Mother Nature has supplied better weather!
Dinner at Yi Pin chinese restaurant in The Boardwalk.
Tomorrow we are attending two lectures at the university. Ken has meetings.
Monday, March 10
The morning lecture was about the history of South Africa. It was very informative. The presenter told us that he was a former supporter of apartheid but he has now changed his views. He had an explanation for his prior support of apartheid, originating in his university years. It had something to do with the “founder” of apartheid and his support of students, and this morphed into support of apartheid. I’ll have to research that explanation more.
Dinner at Leonardo’s Pasta and Pizza with Mark and Linda Donnay.
Tuesday, March 11
Ken had meetings today so I went shopping with friends. We took a taxi to MGE Fabrics to look for African fabric. This store was heaven for fabrics. I bought a panel for an apron, potholders, and a dish towel, with the matching backing fabric – something to entertain Mama. Then we went to a mohair factory store where I bought a mohair throw. While waiting for the taxi to pick us up for the next stop, I ran into a knit shop and bought enough yarn for 3 pairs of socks. Our next stop was Walmer Park Shopping Center. It was much like any mall in the US but the stores were all different. We had lunch at John Dory’s Fish and Chips (just OK). I grabbed some peri-peri sauce in the grocery store and a pair of sunglasses at Woolworth (definitely not the five-n-dime from back in the day).
Dinner at Ginger’s (our white-tablecloth dinner) with 7 others
Wednesday, March 12
We spent our morning at two black schools in the Walmer township. Both schools have large student populations (over 1100) but the faculty is not large enough so class size can be 50+ students. We were greeted at the high school by a wonderful musical performance. It’s not an official choir – just a bunch of students who love to sing! And let me tell you, THEY CAN SING! The harmonies were absolutely amazing. What a treat that was.
We visited several classrooms and were able to interact with the students. Ken and I visited an English class (seniors) and chatted with Nobanda and Mhlauli. They were actually in the middle of a quiz about a play they had been reading. They told us the plot of the play and discussed some of the themes. Their English is near perfect.
We also visited the school’s library. A couple of young people from a German NGO are working there for 3+ months. The library, small as it is, was developed 3 years ago with assistance from a couple of Fulbright scholars. The library needs encyclopedias – they have a donated set of World Book from the 1960’s! I want to look into encyclopedias on CD for them. On-line subscriptions are available, but they have internet challenges so the CDs may be more fitting.
In the afternoon we were taken about 60 km away from Port Elizabeth to Schotia Private Game Preserve for our safari. We loaded into the Land Rovers (“Landies”). Our group had to be split. We were with Donovan, a student at NMMU who is working as a safari guide for his internship. From about 3 PM until 10 PM (with breaks for tea and dinner), we drove around the 1600 hectare preserve in search of wildlife – and we were not disappointed. Giraffes, ostriches, kudu, impala, hippos, lions (with 4 cute cubs!) – the list goes on. After dark Donovan used a big floodlight to scope out the animals. He even spotted a lynx on a far hillside. I have no idea how he saw that. Our Landy was having some fuel pump issues and twice we got stuck. Each time Donovan called for a tow but he eventually extricated us.
We had a delicious dinner at the Lapa – chicken, cottage pie, green beans, mashed pumpkin, rice, and two kinds of gravy. I don’t remember what the dessert was called but it was yummy.
Our accommodations were simple –double bed, shower and sink, electricity and running water. The toilet was attached to the building and served 4 rooms.
Thursday, March 13
When we woke up this morning, there was wildlife all around our lodge. Really cool. A bunch of ostriches on the facing hill. Kudu right in the yard of the lodge. Donovan picked us up at 7:15 for our morning ride (in a new vehicle!). We saw elephants, a couple of lions at neighboring Addo Elephant Park, lots of guinea hens, 4 giraffes, and Big Boy (the preserve’s male lion). The other group got to Big Boy earlier and saw him along with the two females and the 4 cubs. I hate that we missed that.
Our day ended with breakfast at the Lapa – sausage, bacon, eggs, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, assorted cereal and other stuff.
We returned to Port Elizabeth by 11:30 and Ken went off to meetings at the university. I took a walk along the beach with Mark and Linda, followed by some shopping.