chriseumont, January 23rd, 2016
Today was one of the most exhausting, informative, and insightful days of my life. We woke up at 7AM and I had my usual omelet with bacon and cheese at the Rivonia. The plans for the day included trips to multiple museums and Soweto, the former black sister city of Johannesburg. We first went to Nelson Mandela’s old house when he was president. It was located in a very nice part of town. Along the way we passed by many signs of luxury including Aston Martin dealerships and enormous gated houses. Our guide was named Victor and he talked about the current condition of South Africa. One thing he continuously laughed about was the fact that many leaders of African countries have multiple wives, including the king of Swaziland with 14. He also talked about how polygamy is allowed in many of these countries and about the overall dim outlook for many women when it comes to marriage. I find it interesting that many countries that practice polygamy are the same countries that make higher education very inaccessible to women. This creates this situation in which women become funneled into financial dependency, leading them to subjecting themselves to these less than ideal marital conditions. I feel like the lack of education opportunity and ultimately the absence of the ability to advance is the catalyst for so many of the problems the world faces today.
The last stop of the day was Nelson Mandela’s first house in Soweto. This neighborhood was in stark contrast to the earlier neighborhood with gated houses and lush green lawns. We had dinner tonight at a restaurant by Desmond Tutu’s old house. The restaurant was buffet style but I did not like most of the food so I didn’t eat much. One of the most rewarding parts of dinner was getting to sit next to one of the guides from the other bus named Kenny. He was from the Soweto area and was a kid during the Apartheid struggle. He helped put the entire fight for freedom into context and it was very eye opening to see that he was not that old but still experienced the full forces of Apartheid. I asked him during dinner was his favorite place in Africa to visit was. He surprised me when he replied “Liberia”. Liberia is objectively one of the worst countries in the world in terms of crime, poverty, and disease. His answer was that because of these factors, because it is so bad there, all they have is the people. No superficial distractions, just raw humanity and personal interaction with them. I don’t know if I share this viewpoint but it was definitely new and refreshing.
That night I tried to reflect on the day and what I had experienced. I had seen so much inequality and such a distinct difference in opportunities provided to people of differing classes in South Africa. You could make the argument that any person born in America can achieve financial success if they have the intellectual talent and work hard. They can go to school, get great grades, win scholarships ect. However, some of the kids I interacted with at Soweto do not have this chance. They have next to zero chance to live a prosperous life just because of the situation that they were born into. They could be just as smart and talented and I am but they can’t live a prosperous life because of their setting and surroundings.
Categories: 2016 Trip