Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Summary of South Africa

At the end of our stay in SA Tim asked what I thought of it as a country. My reply was, "weird." Tim put it a little bit more eloquently, saying that it is a land of contrasts. I am struggling writing this as it is hard to put the feeling into words. I guess the overriding impression is of the still obvious segregation between rich and poor, which apart from a few exceptions is marked in the race divide too. Obviously this is because it is not that long ago that apartheid was in force and it will take time to change. The townships and informal settlements shocked me, I think mostly because they were such a contrast against the richness of the rest of the city. It saddened me that so many people were forced to live like this because of such blatant nazism.

You could do a township tour, apparently the only safe way to experience these communtities. However, we felt uncomfortable with the idea of that, feeling it would have been like going to look and pity the poor people.

I felt uncomfortable with the number of security warning signs up,security guards patrolling areas, the gated communties and gates across a lot of the shops which they have to buzz you in to. I'm sure if I had stayed longer I would have taken all this for granted. I know there is a lot of crime in South Africa, but all that just made me nervous. I must have contracted some of the fear though,as early on in our trip we had a walk down a path by the sea. I looked around and there was a man (he was black) following us. I instantly felt nervous and wanted to turn back. As we passed him he smiled and I noticed he was holding a walkie talkie and was wearing a security badge and coat. I was disappointed in myself. I had judged because of the fear of God put in me from other people. On the other hand I began resenting white people for this fear factor and for being part of the reason there is so much crime in the first place. At this point I realised that I was guilty of judging, generalising, and over simplifying, all things which I do not generally do or strive not to. So, I immediately checked myself whenever I felt one of those thoughts creep in. Things aren't simple over there. They are complicated and I wasn't going to understand it straight away. South African residents don't even understand. There is still alot of confusion and chips on shoulders. For instance, the lady, Belinda who we stayed with in Robertson, she asked me what I thought when I saw she was "coloured' ( the term they use over there for people of mixed race, malay desent, etc.) This took me aback, because I really didn't think anything whatsoever about that, so suggested to me that she is very self conscious of it. She also kept peppering the converation with, "I have a sense of humour because I am coloured", or "I am unique because I am coloured" etc. No you have a sense of humour because you are you and you are unique because you are you.(Well, thats what I think anyway) I'm not going to try and analyse it.

We talked to a South African white man who was about my age. He said that in terms of his future he does not feel secure in his country because it is becoming increasingly difficult to get a job due to positive discrimination. Due to this most of the people his age, look to go and live overseas in Australia, U.K or Canada. I thought this was sad and again highlighted the complicated nature of the country. What are the answers? It is not easy. Hearing things like this made me appreciate the U.K more. O.K it's not perfect, but at least most people get a fair go.

Another reason I appreciate the U.K is for the National Health Service. Having trained as a nurse (and I know my friend Jo agrees) we know that the NHS is a good thing. The media slates it and highlights the negative things, but never the positive.I read an article in the SA big issue about a U.K man with a spinal injury who travelled across Africa to visit people who also have spinal injuries. He is expected to have a normal life expectancy in contrast to someone in Africa with spinal injuries who has an expectancy of 2-3 years. Why? Because complications from things such as U.T.I' s and pressure sores are picked up through regular x.rays and ultrasounds in the U.K courtesy of the NHS whether you are rich or poor. In Africa (including South Africa) the poor aren't that lucky and can't afford the treatment.

In contrast against the poverty is the richness of the scenery and wildlife. It is beautiful. We only travelled around the Western Cape (and a bit of the Eastern) but we went up Mountains (in actual fact we were a bit mountained out by the end of it!) through desert, around dramatic coastline and through Forests. The wildlife was a highlight for me (of course!) and I will never forget the feeling of being so close to wild elephants. I was chuffed with myself for driving 4000km and really enjoyed it (apart from panicking a bit (ok a lot) on a mountain pass, but I had visions of us going over the side when I couldn't get up the slope and just kept rolling back)It was great to just hop in the car and drive off with empty roads stretching ahead for miles. It was great having that sense of space. Another highlight was sitting watching the stars at Buffalo Bay by a fire on the beach. I know this is a cliche but the sky and stars seemed to go on forever, punctuated by shooting stars. Basically just being outside and going where we wanted (well sometimes, maps and lonely planets allowing!) with visits from animals does it for me everytime!

All in all a land of contrasts, but quite frankly a bit weird too!

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