Yesterday was one of the first days that I could honestly say I cannot go through life without coming back to South Africa. After an amazing Friday of shopping at the Green Square Market and Pan African Market plus some celebrating of the end of our first papers I was ready for the 5am flight to Johannesburg.
The flight was quick and I honestly had no idea what to expect when we got off the plane—while going through Johannesburg aka “Joburg” as a connection flight I was a little skeptical. We met our tour guide as soon as getting off the plane, Crazy Dav who runs the Old Vic Backpackers up in Northeastern South Africa. He promised us a crazy first few days and week with him which I am sure will continue. We are riding around all week in this green minibus type van that says, “Old Vic’s Travelers Lodge” with an extra trunk being pulled along—hilarious.
Yesterday we had two main events on our agenda:
Soweto Bike Tour
The apartheid museum was moving and reminded me somewhat of the holocaust museum but we were only allotted an hour to go through the entire museum which easily could have taken an entire day, or at least a few good hours. It definitely portrayed the history and segregation of Apartheid and made me realize how young the democracy here really is—there is still so much to be done (for example, in Joburg there are street signs that are now being changed to non-apartheid related names but the old street names are still there just crossed out).
My true love for South Africa came rather unexpectedly when we made our way to Soweto, the oldest and largest township in South Africa. Compared to Gugulethu and Langa townships in Cape Town I noticed that there seemed to be much more poverty and illness—you could see it on their faces and in their eyes. When I realized that we were staying IN the township at this Lebo’s backpackers place with a local field that half the town (well okay maybe 30 people) were hanging out at I was really nervous…I mean I was freaking out as to why the program would put us here.
However, as soon as I made my way into the gate of the hostel I was hooked—it had a sort of carribean feel with tree houses and palm trees, chickens and even parrots. The owners and chefs were so incredibly kind and instantly welcomed us into their establishment.
The bike tour itself was really exciting as well—we rode around Soweto and learned a bit about the history (Nelson Mandela once had a house there). We sampled Johannesburg Beer which comes in a milk carton and is made the same way that it always has been—weak but good and somewhat creamy? The men that sat outside the “bar” or beer hut told us their stories—how their wives were mad they were drunks and how it was the local hang out for everyone who either just got out of work or had no work… We were all invited into one of the rooms with our tour guide and sampled the drinks and spoke with some of the men there—it was mainly ALL men since the area of Soweto was used for many of the male miners during apartheid.
When we returned to Lebo’s we were greeted with BRAAI—probably the best meal I have had here thus far. If anyone is actually reading this long post I promise that I will make some traditional food for you, including Pap (maize meal) which kind of tastes like mashed potatoes.
The best part of the evening had to of been sitting by the fire with a chicken sitting in the tree above us while we talked and drank some hunter ciders. The atmosphere was so relaxed, happy and chill. Older people from the community came and stopped by (the ones that are friends with the owners of Lebo’s) and they gave us the traditional handshake of the community where they say (peace, love, happiness…ironic?). They were so welcoming of us and explained that much of the community actually enjoys having the bike tour since it shows them that outsiders are interested and care.
Enough of all the details and let me just say that I will be returning to Lebo’s someday in my life—or at least another place like it. Words cannot describe how happy I was last night and how great everything was. I felt such compassion from the people and they were all so happy to see us and hear our stories as they shared theirs. It took a lot to pack up and leave today, I felt like I owed the women making us breakfast something in return.