Friday, April 5, 2013

5,113 Days

... Or 15 years including some three extra days to account for the leap years.  That's the number of days I've lived in the US, but more specifically it's the number of days since I left home.  May 1998.

Home. South Africa. The country the furthest South on the continent of Africa.  A country of heritage and cultures as rich as the red clay earth and as vast as the wide open skies. And misperception. 

The typical reaction when people hear I'm from Africa is "But, but, but  ... you're white". Their surprise never ceases to surprise me. That's inevitably followed by "what's it like" "do wild animals roam the streets" and even an occasional "I have cousin who went to Kenya, (or Egypt or Ghana) do you know him?"   Sorry, 'No'. [You do know those are all other countries on the continent of Africa, right?]   

South Africa is a land of mixed cultures and peoples. To an outsider, a country perceived to be divided by color - blacks against whites, and vice versa.   What we are, is a cosmopolitan melting pot of many colors, many traditions and many nationalities.  Portuguese, Lebanese, Italian, American, (East) Indian, Jews, Greek, Arabs, Chinese (and more)......all of whom have their own little piece of the South Africa they call 'home'.

The years of Apartheid are well known, world wide.  This can never be undone.  It's complicated.  The country had no TV - at all, until 1976, nor freedom of the press, both of which resulted in life in South Africa being censored.  It is only in the last 15+ years that details of the injustices have become known, and they should never be repeated.

As the first 'one man one vote' election approached in 1994 after Nelson Mandela's release, South Africans prayed for peaceful change and the sharing of power.  The world watched and waited as lines of South Africans, of all colors, stood for hours in the sun to cast their vote. I was there, black and white waiting together. Offering one another shade, or a can of soda. Respectfully. Orderly. Were we all wondering if changes in government would result in Civil War?  Despite all the fears, we didn't have bloodshed - the first indication that this was positive, despite our own individual fears and insecurities. 

Much has happened since then, and for the most part, for the better, but the country is not without its struggles. An entire generation is growing up as orphans having lost their parents or even grandparents to AIDS. Political corruption is everywhere,  Education of the masses lacking, unemployment high, and crime the result.  People live behind huge walls with electric fencing.  If life consists of some trade-offs, and adapting is part of life, then life in South Africa is good, considering no country or city is challenge-free.

It is a country with rich and poor. Some are black and some are white. It's new and modern, it is steeped in history and tradition. There were wars fought - lost and won. There was land claimed and life lost. There are achievements. There are disappointments.There are regrets and embarrassments. But, this is a new beginning and this is a country forging a new future, with excitement and passion!

And South Africans have passion.  In everything.

We are a nation that is fiercely patriotic. Especially when it comes to sport. You only needed to see or be at the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995, just a mere year after the abolition of Apartheid, to witness the new South African flag waved by blacks and whites and every shade in between, singing Shosoloza and proudly cheering our Rugby team on to win the World Title. When I sat down to watch Invictus, I wasn't expecting to cry, but there I was, home again, reliving every moment and every emotion! 

We are lovers of Rugby, Cricket, Sunday afternoon braais (pronounced 'brr eyes') otherwise known as a BBQ, served with crisp rolls and every variety of salad, (All South African men are A+ braaiers - it's a fine art!) Biltong (dried meat - like jerky, only better). Boerewors (handmade sausage) green Cream Soda, delicious Chocolate, Milk Tart, Vetkoek, and Biscuits  (cookies) of every kind.

And then there's that unmistakable accent. Nothing can describe that warm fuzzy feeling when you're somewhere else in the world and hear it. You find yourself looking around trying to identify the owner of the voice! Someone from our familiar place - 'home'. We've never met, yet we know one another, and suddenly life is good.

We South Africans, also speak a different language - trunks are boots, traffic lights are robots, cookies are biscuits, cubbyholes are glove boxes, flickers are indicators.  We drive on the left side of the road, and we don't know how to give directions "go to the robot, then turn left, and cross over two streets, then turn right at Kentucky Chicken"

Maybe it's the red dust, but sunsets in Africa are like nowhere else in the world.  Neither is the smell of the first drops of rain on the earth. Or the spectacular lightning shows that light up the sky. And sunshine.  Hot bright sunshine virtually all year round.  Here you see, there are two seasons rather than four - the few months of winter, cold, but with bright blue skies.

South Africa is beautiful. There's semi desert, there are rolling hills, stony mountain crags, beautiful beaches and then ...   then there's the African Bushveld. That's when I know I've come home. The smells. The Acacia trees. The Elephants. Those red sunsets. The wide open spaces where the animals roam, and bright stars in clear night skies.

There are no words to describe the feelings boarding a 747 with the South African Airways livery, or the overwhelming emotion when those wheels first touch down on a runway at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport.

This is the Africa I love, and the one you will too if you ever have the opportunity to visit. But be warned, prepare to be ever changed. While you may leave Africa, Africa never leaves you. It's in your blood.  It flows through your veins.


Ask any South African Expat.

If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela