Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The Internet hardly exists in South Africa. It is really funny the people's reaction to this alien technology. Really, it is just not part of the culture here at all and those who even know what it is mocks it.

South African Journal: Day Seven - I have not slept more than six hours per night since I have been here. I think it is catching up. I am also riding a low grade cold I am sure I picket up in Washington DC when I was walking around in 35 degree rain with a light sweatshirt and holes in both my shoes trying to get extra pagers in my passport. Plus, my sisters are starting to bicker.

I'm at a restaurant called Chatters on Gray Street. Though it has been open for seven hours (it is 5pm now), they didn't have change for a 100 Rand note when I bought a 10 Rand beer (about US$1.00) and they don't have the access code for the WiFi. The boss, who we meet when we ate her the night we drove into Knysna, will be here in one hour and will hopefully have both.

Today was a chill day, aside from my sisters arguing. No real running around trying to get anything accomplished. We went to the most famous oyster bar at the Quays but then no one wanted to eat oysters. Kinda typical minor dysfunction that we are dealing with as a group (my mother, two sisters Meg and Thea, two brother-in-laws Rolando and Miles, my five-year old nephew Benjamin and myself).

I don't feel like I am in Africa. This is due to a couple of reasons:

  1. My prejudice of what Africa is. I thought everyone I would be interacting with here would be black. I've been to Morocco, Egypt and Eritrea and had a good idea of who I would be interfacing with there but I was wrong with South Africa, at least so far. Only twelve percent of the country is white but it seems over 90% of the people I deal with are of the caucasian persuasion. More on the black/white thing later.
  2. I'm not traveling as I usually do: low budget, eating in local hole-in-the-walls, exploring local culture, etc. This is a family reunion where we are doing more touristy type things (though even those are not the most typical touristy excursions).
  3. Other people are 'running the show' (meaning my sister and brother-in-law mostly and occasionally my mother) and we are accommodating many diverse needs/wants, including that of a five year old boy.

The segregation is really strange to me. I don't think I could come to peace with this, at least through the lens I am seeing it now. Today is really the fifth day I have been in the country, with the excursion to DC and all, and I saw for the first time a black family eating in a restaurant. Blacks serve whites here, again, at least from my present lens. Very little interaction otherwise that I can see. Just that fact that townships still exist is strange. Its been 14 years since the end of Apartheid (April 1994), and it is truly amazing that there could be this much change in such a short time, but it still feels way too close to what I would image slavery, or at least colonialism to be like. My only interactions with blacks, over 77% of the population, is when they are waiting on me.

The huge townships I have seen on the outskirts of cities and towns is amazing! Wood, corrugated metal and plastic and plastic tarp houses by the thousands which run right along the beautifully kept highway. Built on dirt, most too small to house a car, running water doubtful. Amazing. Do any white people live in the townships? I doubt it. Though blacks were clearly segregated before 1950, it was then that the townships were officially erected. And 58 years later they still exist.

The white guilt I feel here is strong. I sit in cafes, being waited on by blacks, while white British and Afrikaner vacationers walk around laughing, drinking and having a good time. It is truly surreal. Again, all of these observations come after just five days in the country, so I'm sure there is much for me to understand, but this is one of the strangest places I have traveled in this regard.


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