It has been two days since we arrived in Johannesburg. We have acquainted ourselves with the area around where we are staying, we've experienced inner city Johannesburg, bonded with the Children of Fire, and visited two different local hubs. We knew this would be different from the safari, but our different experiences in Johannesburg have been a bit overwhelming. We are still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together as we study and learn more about South Africa. While it is easy to judge and make assumptions about South Africa from across the Atlantic, we are proud to say that we are expanding our knowledge and developing our own opinions about a country that has so much to offer.
"Yeah, But Have You Been?"
Yesterday (Saturday) came with the opportunity to explore inner city Johannesburg, an area rich in history that has experienced a whirlwind of change during the past decades. We went on a walking tour with Mike, one of the owners of Dlala Nje, a business that provides activities and a hang out place for the youth in the area to keep them off the street. Mike and his business partner, Nick, both quit their jobs in the corporate world to follow their passion for creating positive change in Johannesburg. Many people see inner city Johannesburg as a place ridden with violence, crime, and poverty. Mike and Nick began to give walking tours to provide outsiders greater insight to the reality of inner city Johannesburg. Many of us, especially Hannah M., strongly agree with Mike's philosophy that you shouldn't take another's word for something and should experience it for yourself before forming an opinion. When he is confronted with negative comments of inner city Johannesburg, Mike responds with, "Yeah, but have you been?" Fortunately for us, we have been. Now we can say that inner city Johannesburg is an area full of life. There was poverty, but there were also locals who were delighted to wave at us and talk with us and vendors who loved to tell us about their lives. After being encouraged by Mike, most of us interacted with these people and helped to support the local economy by buying snacks and fresh fruit. Many of us went into this experience a little anxious but walked out with confidence and an eagerness to learn more. Emma C. said it best: "I no longer felt I was an outsider looking in on South Africa. I was looking around me, immersed in this country, and that's a pretty good place to be."
We Are All in This Together: Our Braai with the Children of Fire
Following our tour of inner city Johannesburg we had dinner with some very special guests. The Children of Fire group came to our B&B and together we had a braai (commonly known as a barbecue in America). These children have all been severely burned through accidents and intentional actions of others. While they all have visible scaring, the severity of their burns vary. These children range from the age of eighteen months to twenty years old. Immediately, we were all overwhelmed with a variety of emotions, but once the ice was broken you couldn't get us to stop talking, playing, and bonding. Many of the children loved to stick their feet in the pool, while others preferred to just sit and talk while discovering common interests. Towards the end of the night, we found that many of the children loved to sing and dance, just like many of us. We had a little performance session with the kids, where they would perform for us and we would perform for them. We sang our respective national anthems and many of the songs from High School Musical. Genevieve sang "I Can't Help Falling in Love" and moved the audience to tears. Genevieve recalls this experience when saying, "This was the first time I got up in front of a group of people and didn't get nervous." The children gave a moving rendition of "All of Me" by John Legend, and the lyrics sounded different coming from them; it gave the song a new meaning. All in all, this night was one we will never forget.
The Other Side of the Coin
Today (Sunday) we went to Nelson Mandela Square and Maboneng. Nelson Mandela Square is in a historically white, upscale area. To this day, it is a major tourist hub and is still home to mostly white South Africans. Needless to say, we had a mini culture shock coming from our experiences yesterday. We ate a fancier meal than we have become accustomed to and glanced around the upscale shopping center. We found the placement of the Nelson Mandela statue ironic because of the given environment, we didn't feel it was an accurate reflection of his legacy or his hopes for South Africa. Next we boarded the bus for Maboneng, an intentionally created community for fostering the arts. For the first time we didn't feel as though we stuck out, given that this was a highly integrated community filled with locals and tourists. We enjoyed experiencing the food, culture, and pursuing vendors. For many of us, it was nice to feel as though we blended in. Sarah notes, "It was crazy seeing the differences from yesterday to today. How you could go a few miles down the road and you would be in a completely different setting."
Tomorrow we are heading to the Apartheid Museum and will later be touring Soweto, before a night out celebrating Kylie's birthday! Look out for our next blog, we're sure we will have a lot to share!
Stay cool (as we stay warm)!