REST OF THE WORLD
1998 to August 1999)
at a map of the world, I see two distinct regions I have not yet
visited – Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Gradually during my
travels, I have developed an increasing desire and willingness to
explore the more dangerous parts of the world. This proclivity has
come about after experiencing first-hand the rewards for venturing
off the beaten path, as well as a realization that the actual
risks are not as great as I had once imagined.
I begin this journey, I am not the same wide-eyed tourist who
began traveling seven years ago. I no longer look upon unfamiliar
cultures with indiscriminate bewilderment, and I seek to examine
more critically the underlying values and beliefs. Prior to
traveling overseas, I believed that the diversity of cultures that
existed around the world may have been the result of differences
that existed among the races of people, but my worldview has
evolved to where I now see that people everywhere are very much
alike – especially in the sense that they are products of their
am now traveling to the “Dark Continent” with hopes of gaining
an understanding as to why Africa has lagged behind the rest of
the world, both socially and economically. By experiencing the
lifestyles and cultures of Africa, I hope to dispel any racial
stereotypes that might exist deep within me. I believe that such
stereotypes are commonly held in people even when they are not
expressed outwardly; many times, they lie hidden away in secret. I
believe this is true because I have noticed those tendencies
within myself. Even people who do not desire such a predisposition
cannot avoid being influenced by the disparities in the world that
are often coupled with race. Only by boldly confronting the
sensitive and complex questions does one gain the understanding
necessary to rid the subconscious of racial stereotypes.
begin this third journey with plans to travel overland from South
Africa to East Africa before flying to India. I intend to move
about in Africa typical of a traveler (including hitchhiking) in
order to meet the common African, and I will remain mindful of the
hazards inherent to
the continent. (Although
the risks for travel in Africa are not as great as I
once feared, I will discover that even the innocent tourist can be
the focus of extreme brutality – including murder.)
1998 to February 1999)
South Africa & Lesotho
to my arrival in South Africa, every traveler uttered the same
warning: “When you arrive in Joberg, get out quick.” Known
locally as Joberg, Johannesburg has become overrun with thugs
following the recent political changes that have swept the
country. The city has an astronomical murder rate, and the
downtown streets are practically lawless. Upon arrival in Joberg,
I find myself hesitant to leave the security of the airport. I can
easily envision thousands of black South Africans waiting outside
to use my white skin as an excuse to take out their grievances
against apartheid. (However,
even my wildest imagination has not prepared me for the treatment
that I am about to receive from Southern Africans.)
airport’s tourist information booth contains brochures for
backpackers’ accommodations, many of which provide a free
shuttle from the airport. In fact, I don’t even need to pick up
a phone since the hostels already have representatives waiting to
pick up travelers. As we drive to the hostel in an old station
wagon, I am greatly relieved that we don’t have to strap on
bulletproof vests or travel with armed escorts.
hostel is located in a converted suburban home typical of the
“white” suburbs with a swimming pool, tropical garden,
full-time guard, and a perimeter wall topped with razor wire; even
the driveway has an automatic and impenetrable wrought-iron gate.
The perimeter wall creates a secure enclave where the hostellers
are lounging either inside the home or outdoors next to the pool.
While I have placed all of my senses on high alert because of
safety concerns, most of the other hostellers are smoking
marijuana specifically to diminish their own.
finally convince myself that it is safe to leave the security of
this fortress and amble over to the nearby mall, but after
strolling past several dozen homes – all of which have
impenetrable perimeter walls topped with razor wire – I begin to
question my safety. After all, I am walking completely vulnerable
to the hazards they are trying desperately to keep out. Home
security is big business in Johannesburg.
shopping mall could easily be mistaken for “Anywhere, USA”
with the exception of the numerous armed security guards stationed
throughout the mall. The mall’s visitors are well-dressed and
represent all of South Africa’s races, including whites, blacks,
Indians, and the socalled “coloreds” (people of mixed race).
South Africa’s multiracial population includes roughly 76%
blacks, 12% whites, 8% coloreds and 2% Asian (mostly Indian).
Within the mall, South Africa appears to be a harmonious
integration of many races, but I know that beyond the white
suburbs there exists another reality altogether.
the mall’s parking area are several primitive street stalls that
sell basic goods and provide essential services such as tailoring
and hair cutting;
this is the area of commerce for the blacks who can’t afford the
merchandise and services inside the mall. It is the first evidence
of the obvious discrepancy between the haves and have-nots in
set off to visit the black township of Soweto with a driver, a
guide, and Claire, a thoughtful young traveler from England. Our
guide, Stanley, is a black South African of small stature with a
warm, comforting smile who occasionally escorts travelers into
Soweto. Yesterday I feared stepping out of the airport, yet today
I am heading into the epicenter of black repression!
majority of black South Africans live in townships. Theirs is a
legacy of past apartheid practices that created densely populated
shantytowns as blacks were forced into small tracts of land.
During apartheid, blacks were not permitted to leave their
township without prior government approval. The end result of
these practices translates into an enormous population of poorly
educated and unskilled South Africans without much opportunity to
break the cycle of poverty.
spans across a vast region with a handful of middle-class homes, a
few tiny government row houses and, lastly, tens of thousands of
shanty homes extending across the distant hills; it looks more
like a refugee camp than the suburb of a modern and prosperous
city. As we step out of the van, my first thought is for my
personal safety, but, almost immediately, we are cordially
received by the black South Africans. I wonder why they don’t
want to string Claire and me up from the nearest tree, and Stanley
explains that the locals understand that a few travelers go out of
their way to see the appalling conditions in which most blacks
live, and they see us as messengers to get the truth out to the
world regarding their abysmal living conditions: They practically
look upon Claire and me as missionaries.
shanties are small huts constructed of tin roofing, plywood,
cardboard, and any other readily available discarded material.
Homes are closely spaced along the dirt streets and they resemble
the throwntogether forts I made in my backyard when I was a child.
I purchase some freshly grilled corn on the cob from a street
vendor. The mother and her young son selling this food are
amiable, treating me like any
customer. However, the young boy stares at Claire and me with
innocent eyes, which is only natural because he probably hasn’t
seen many white folks during his short life.
are soon invited into a local pub housed in an overgrown shanty,
and I can’t help but think that liquor is the last thing needed
in this community. The locals are eager for me to confirm that
their home brew is “great beer” but, as a non-drinker, I
haven’t a clue. I drink the beer against my better judgment.
This home brew probably tastes like any other although I have a
heightened concern because of its unusual color and the unsightly
froth that makes the concoction look more like a large urine
sample than a palatable beverage. Hey, I wonder … no, they
wouldn’t do that to me, would they?
is busy with activity, and walking along the dirt streets I feel
some embarrassment akin to gawking at freaks in a carnival
sideshow. However, all of the affectionate greetings from those I
pass on the street awaken me to the fact that I am not a shallow
spectator – I am regarded as a missionary man!
woman invites us into the home she shares with her two sons. They
are exceptionally courteous as they open their home to us. Their
one-room shack with its dirt floor has no electricity or running
water, but it does have a gas burner for cooking and a small
television powered by a car battery. As we are seated, the woman
asks us how many rooms are in the house. I know this is a loaded
question and, because of the blanket that partitions the room, I
reply, “Two.” She then chuckles and reveals that there are
actually three rooms. Somehow there is a bedroom, kitchen, and
living room in the shack that is the size of a small American
am struck by the openness of the woman and her two young sons.
They have no animosity toward their white guests – none at all.
Her two boys are youthful, innocent, and respectful. The entire
situation is a shock to my preconceptions about how I would be
treated by black South Africans. I expected South Africans to have
a prejudiced attitude toward me, but now I see that I am the one
with a prejudiced attitude – a mindset shaped by fear.
then visit a new government building with modern construction that
stands out from the surrounding shanties. The clean interior of
the community center is well-maintained and completely free of the
graffiti often found within impoverished neighborhoods. The
citizens of Soweto show tremendous pride in the facility, and the
local children share their enthusiasm by putting on a performance
for us with singing and dancing. The community leaders are
attempting to instill self-respect in the children of Soweto, and
hopefully they will not forget to teach valuable job skills as
an adjacent neighborhood, the former home of current President
Nelson Mandela has been turned into an informal museum with
from the civil rights leader. The museum’s guide is a man born
in Kenya who coincidentally attended college in my home state of
Tennessee. We have an enlightening discussion about his experience
as a black African attending a southern university during the
1970s. He tells me that his first experience with racism did not
occur during his years growing up in Kenya (where there was no
apartheid system), but rather during his tenure attending college
in the United States. He had never even heard of the word
“nigger” until he was a university student in Tennessee where
he was occasionally on the receiving end of racial slurs.
tour of Soweto is an unforgettable cultural experience and quite
an introduction to South Africa. I entered South Africa mentally
prepared to be the focus of hatred. However, my experience thus
far has been quite the opposite. The South Africans relate to me
with a genuine friendliness by which I am continually astonished.