Posted by: mariabro | May 16, 2018

Paradise Lost

Ok this is a blog post. Not a news article…which it could be eventually, but for now I just want to get the ruminations in my head in writing. So please keep in mind these are just my thoughts on what I’ve seen. Research and analysis will come later after copious nights of discussion with Craig about the historical and political context.

Hmmm, I usually use the word Copious with wine, so I’m sure there will be wine with the historical and political chats as well.

So…Africa. More specifically South Africa, as we will not have experienced the real Africa until we’ve seen a few more countries…Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania to be exact.

Johannesburg was our first stop. We only had a few days there but with Joseph as our guide, we got a good sense of things. He drove us through the gated mansion neighborhoods and joked that they fenced themselves in versus fencing people out. Then we headed into the “dangerous” downtown area. It felt uncomfortable but not much different than driving through skid row in Los Angeles after cruising through Beverly Hills. The highlight of our tour was a visit to Soweto. The historic township just outside of jo’burg is well-known for the Soweto uprising of 1976. Today it still has the corrugated steel shacks in the slums, as well as some upscale restaurants on Vilakazi street. Joseph called it a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.

We also visited the Apartheid museum which was a testament to a very dark time in history. That was our “school” that day. Spending several hours immersing ourselves in South African history.

But South Africans are not alone. Many other countries have treated their native people inhumanely. Humanity must learn from the past and move forward to a society that respects all people and treats all human beings fairly.

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen. We drove along the southern coast from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, via Franschhoek (the Napa of South Africa). We had traffic jams of baboons crossing the road and stunning views similar to driving the pacific coast highway in California.

Cape Town also reminds me a lot of Rio. The white sand beaches, the mountains, the sunny weather…yet both have a dark side. The favelas and the townships are scars on an otherwise perfect environment. Surrounded by all this beauty I can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the economic disparity that is so evident.

Another issue in Cape Town is the water shortage. We monitored the situation for the past few months, debating whether to cancel our trip. But “day zero” has now been pushed off to next year due to diligent water conservation by the locals and we felt supporting their tourism industry in a mindful way would be helpful. Everyone is being encouraged (limited) to 50L/day. We are living the “50L life” as the local media exhorts. The boys have been told to time and limit their showers to 90seconds. This is a challenge for teenage boys…One toilet flush is 15L so we are using “cottage rules”. But it seems to be working. Reservoir levels are rising with the winter rains.

But strife is apparent very close to home. As I chatted with the lady who cleans our Airbnb and asked her how her Mother’s Day was, she wearily replied, “ok, but too much violence, too many problems.”  Not the answer you expect when you ask, “how was your day?”

So, I delved further into it and she shared with me the stories of what is happening where she lives…not 15 miles from where we are staying.

There are turf wars between taxi companies and violence between “colored” and “blacks”. Homeless people are taking city councilors hostage and burning their cars as they demand some kind of housing.

Gloria (the lady who cleans our Airbnb) takes the bus to work everyday. But they are not running on time because the drivers are on strike. When she leaves she worries about getting robbed on her way home.

When she gets home she hears gunshots and fighting. How can one ever feel at peace?

We have been to some “dangerous” places on this trip. We’ve seen the favelas of Rio, the slums of Delhi and the townships of South Africa. But we’ve been diligent and extra careful; no jewelry, passports and wallets in the safe, carry only a small amount of cash, don’t walk with your cellphone out, research and avoid dangerous neighborhoods etc. But it’s exhausting to always be on alert. Both Craig and I are more jumpy than normal. Great income disparity creates social unrest. We need to figure this out, in Canada, in America and everywhere.

When people have their basic needs met, they can live peacefully. They don’t want much. I know, I’ve asked. A place to call home, a safe shelter for their family, education for their kids so they can have a better life and perhaps some free time to enjoy good food with good friends. If we can fulfill these basic needs we can stop fencing ourselves in and others out.


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