Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Weekend in Johannesburg

Unfortunately my week consisted of extremely boring clinicals because of how repetitive all the motions are in observing the same kinds of routine services and ordinary health cases. Nothing really seems new anymore. In addition to my riveting work week, I also took my Setswana final and my Environmental Public Health Final, both of which were great fun (...but not really). My Environmental Public Health Final really showed me how different the education system is here in Bots...and how much I don't like it. We literally had to study for a test for a class that we only had three times and therefore had absolutely no idea what to expect! Enough of that boring stuff though. 

Thursday was the 4th of July and so a bunch of us attended a party thrown by the US Embassy but it was pretty disappointing because the food wasn't that great and the fire workers literally did not get off the ground...and it was actually really strange to see so many Americans in one place. My group also decided to throw a party for all of us in one of our dorm rooms so we had a blast with that, and the next morning I was off to Johannesburg! 

Brown Sugar Backpackers!

The first thing that I noticed about Joberg is how big it is. But really, it could have easily passed as New York or Chicago. We arrived in the evening on Friday and had an amazing (yes really that good) dinner at our backpacker called Brown Sugar, a quaint little hostel type place situation on a hill overlooking the city. We went out that night but nothing really interesting occurred so that's all I'll say about that. Except for the fact that it was FREEZING walking around trying to find a good bar to go to. Oh wait, I almost forget to mention this. So Joberg is a pretty dangerous city to live in and walk around, especially at night. For instance, we learned that cars don't stop at red lights at night but rather treat them as stop signs because if a car stops for too long it will become an easy target for getting carjacked. Nice right? On a happier note, on Friday we celebrated my friend Abigail's 21st birthday!

At the Top of Africa!
The next day we started out early to meet our tour guide for the day. Or first stop was the tallest building in South Africa where we got to see some really awesome views of Joberg despite the clouds looming all around us. 

After that we continued on to visit the town of Soweto, a really rural village where Nelson Mandela actually lives when he comes to Joberg. While we learned that Joberg is a pretty dangerous city to live in, the opposite is actually true of Soweto which is surprising considering how much poverty and lack of education there is. We got a tour of Soweto from a local guide that lives in the village and uses the tours to educate people the people living in Soweto that are defying the odds and going to school and trying to change their circumstances instead of sitting back and feeling sorry for themselves and not trying to work as hard as they can. 

Nothing more gorgeous than smiling kids
As we were walking around Soweto, kids came up to us and asked our names and if we had anything to give them. We were told that they would do this and that we could give them sweets or fruit but not money. We got to see the inside of a single family house that had two incredibly teeny rooms with two beds that were in the same room as the kitchen stove and table. The walls were covered with newpaper for insulation and there we cracks in the ceiling everywhere. Five people live in this house. We talked to one of the girls that lives there and learned that she is one of the exceptions. She is studying at University and wants to become a lawyer one day. Perhaps even a magistrate. The local guide kept telling us that it was offensive to taken pictures of everything we were seeing but I still really couldn't feel comfortable taking pictures (though of course I did anyway to document the experience and what I was witnessing). There's just something that seems very hierarchical about a group of white kids walking around a poor village and taking pictures of everything, shocked and astonished in disbelief. And while I'm not saying that I sent shocked by the extreme poverty, I just wish there were other ways to ingrain the images in my mind for reflection besides whipping out a technological device that I bet the majority of the people living in Soweto have never even held in the hands. At the end of the tour we were asked if we would buy sweets for the kids. We all pulled out some Rand (South African currency) and bought a bunch of tiny candies and oranges. The kids have obviously done this many times because they all immediately formed a line to receive the food. When I handed a child a piece of candy, they almost robotically clapped their hands and bowed their head in gratitude. Although I was happy to give them something sweet to make them smile, the whole process didn't really sit well with me. 

Walking around Soweto

A typical house 

Township Artwork

The fully restored house of Nelson Mandela
Next we visited Nelson Mandela's house that has now been converted into a museum. The original building has been restored, although some of the structural formations had to be redone. We toured the inside of the house and saw a variety of awards, pictures and artifacts that had been granted to or received my Mandela and his third and current wife, Winnie. Seeing and hearing all the stories about Mandela's life made me even more excited to visit Robben Island next weekend in Cape Town! 

The Joburg Group inside the Mandela House!
The famous picture of Hector Pieterson
We continued on to the Hector Pieterson Museum which was named after a young boy that was shot and killed during the riot when school aged children were peacefully protesting the use of solely Afrikaans language in schools, when the police open fired on the crowd. The picture of this little boy being carried by his brother away from the scene with his sister running along side them became an iconic symbol of the uprising and gave way to international recognition of the need to end Apartheid. I was really excited to visit this museum I had just learned about the Soweto Uprising in my History of Human Rights class this last semester, and it was awesome to see how much I learned from the class and then how much left there still was for me to discover. I believe it's important to learn about such student led uprisings that changed history because that's still the sort of thing that is today creating change around the world. It's our generation that has the power to make a difference in the world's future. 

Our last stop for the day was the Apartheid Museum. This museum is really intense and reminded me a lot of the Holocaust Museum iN Washington not just because of the similarities in content but also in how the museum was structured and layed out. There was quite a large Nelson exhibition, how ever, a lot of us thought that because of that focus on Mandela, we didn't learn as much about Apartheid as a whole as we would have liked. But not to worry, I got a great learning experience revolving around Apartheid from visiting Robben Island in Cape Town--don't worry the next blog post will go into much more detail about my Cape Town adventures! 

Outside the Apartheid Museum

Each color stick represents a set of quotes by Mandela.
We each picked one that we connected with the most.

Anyway, overall my weekend in Joburg was so much fun! W topped Sturday off by going out to a few bars and then spent most of the night at this cool club where Abigail and I shared a fishbowl (just a really huge bowl that gets you super drunk very quickly haha) of this drink called Sex Dragon which I can only describe as an amazing combination of Sex on the Beach and ginger ale plus different yummy favors that I can't even describe! Needless to say we had a fun night, and the pictures that surfaced the next day made that even clearer! 

My Girls!

I didn't really think I would like South Africa, but after visiting Joburg I realized I had had some very unrealistic preconceived notions about this country. I have come to really appreciate the culture and its people (and the night life :) ) and I'm definitely planning to come back! 

Stay tuned for what is most likely going to be my longest (and last) blog post from this trip, where I'll talk about my amazing trip to Cape Town to end my amazing African Adventure! 

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