This post was originally from March 24, 2020
Friday was our last full day in Africa. We decided to do a tour around the famous township of Soweto. Soweto was created in the 1930’s when the White government started separating people according to their race. Soweto became the largest ‘Black City’ in South Africa and experienced massive unrest during the Apartheid regime. In 1976 South Africa put into place a rule where Afrikaans be the language spoken in schools. Hundreds of school children took the streets to peacefully protest. This turned into a deadly massacre where 176 children were killed and thousands of others injured. It was this event that caught the world’s attention of how unjust the South African apartheid regime really was. No longer could the world turn a blind eye. It obviously took many more years for the apartheid to finally end, but this was the beginning.
While we were in Soweto we were taken around by a resident. This man was quite amazing. He was able to get an education and even study in Germany. He had dreams of being a pilot and owning a fancy car, but after graduating he knew that he needed to go back home to Soweto and help his badly needed community. He is part of a youth project where they do empowerment and education for the community. Things that seem like second nature to us like menstruation, hygiene and safe sex are talked about openly and they have seen noticeable differences within their youth. They also feed the kids which is another huge issue to tackle. We got to go into a family’s home. It was all a little too real that when the husband greeted us and let us enter his home we were met with a mother and her children having a midday nap. The entire home is a small room with the kitchen, bed and washing all next to each other. The corrugated tin roof made it hot and there was barely any light to see anything. This is the reality for thousands of families. They all share a main water source and have to use portable toilets that are emptied twice a week. (If you are more interested in this amazing organization you can email Jubulani at email@example.com)
We were then taken to the home of Nelson Mandela and his then wife Winnie. Seeing a major part of history is quite surreal. On the same street as Mandela also lived Desmond Tutu. 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners living on the same street!
After leaving Soweto we went to the Apartheid Museum. The parking lot was nearly empty due to Covid and there were only a handful of other tourists roaming around. It was a tough pill to swallow but I think no matter where I go in this world it is also important to acknowledge the ‘ugly’ part of a country’s history as well.
Saturday Kris and I spent the day vegging out and waiting for our flight out of Johannesburg. We took an 11 hour flight to Paris and when we arrived it was completely a ghost town. Only one cafe was open and what was available was extremely limited. You couldn’t even find still water. All the crazy chic high end stores like Hermès and Burberry were closed and every second person was wearing a mask. It was incredibly eerie.
After a long layover it was another 10 hours to Toronto. Once there we had to acknowledge to customs officers that we’d follow the mandatory 2 week self isolation once we are home. We were looking forward to getting on our last flight to Edmonton and finally getting home when we realized that our flight had been cancelled again (this was the 3rd cancellation). The next flight out would be Monday morning so we decided to get a hotel for the night. We didn’t have our checked luggage so we spent $20 on mini airport toothbrushes and tooth paste. They know you’ll pay anything when you are desperate! Dumb and Dumber struck again when we took a $24 cab 0.9 km to the wrong hotel. Then became less dumb when we took an Uber to the right one. The airline wouldn’t set us up with the hotel but we figured that one night on an airport floor in Paris was all we could handle and damn that bed felt AMAZING!
Yesterday we were finally able to make it home to Edmonton. I have to admit that when we were hitting the pavement I had tears in my eyes. It’s always sad when a trip comes to an end but this one maybe even more so. It was probably one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken. It had everything – the volunteering aspect and feeling a part of something greater, it had the cultural aspect, it had a bit of swank that I’ve never had in my life, it had multiple wildlife encounters, it had seeing a part of the world that is barely touched and stunning, it had reuniting with a dear friend and of course traveling with another and finally it had meeting a few more amazing people that we now call each other sisters. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I know I’m incredibly lucky because had my trip started even one week later everything would have been much different. Discovering the severity of Corona on the other side of the world has been surreal. Like I’ve said, we didn’t have regular contact with the outside world and when we did it was hard to decipher whether it was truth or hysteria. Corona was late to the table in Africa but we are extremely lucky we got out when we did as South Africa made an announcement yesterday that the entire country is under house lock-down for at least three weeks. (in the end lock-down lasted months)
I have to admit that when I come home from traveling I usually have to fight a mini depression. You come off of such a high and then get bitch slapped with the reality of mundane normalcy and of course the monotony of work. Keeping busy and being with others usually helps get me out of that funk but this time will be far more challenging. Being bound to my apartment will be something I’ve never experienced before. But also the realization and confusion surrounding this pandemic makes it that much more scary. It’s interesting that this virus puts us all on the same playing field. It doesn’t matter your race, religion, how much money you have, or any of the other divisive aspects humans seem to use as barriers from each other. The entire world is in this together. Corona will affect us all but I can’t stop thinking of the people in Africa or other parts of the world that don’t have much. We have met so many people (especially those in the townships) who literally live day to day. They rely on food parcels or perhaps tourism to get them by each day. Now what? They don’t have a social system like we do and many are already dealing with compromised health. It makes me so sad how this could literally break them. Even though this will probably change our lives dramatically, there are definitely others who have it far worse.
I guess I’ll end it here as I’m getting on a tangent. I just want to thank you all for joining me on this amazing roller coaster ride.
2 responses to “Leaving Africa ~the journey home during an apocalypse”
What a fascinating journey Heather. Cool how you traveled during the current situation too. We cannot wait to hit the road.T-2 weeks and counting.
Thanks Ryan! Yes, it definitely was interesting!! Where are you roadtripping?