Friday, June 09, 2006

A WEEK IN AFRICA ... SOME IMPRESSIONS

Hi everyone. It's Friday evening here in South Africa (Friday morning there at home in Washington), near the end of a very long but productive week, and I thought I would take a quick break to let everyone know how we're doing, and to get some of my impressions of Africa down "on paper."

Mandy and I arrived here in Johannesburg last Saturday, so tomorrow morning we'll have been here a full week. We've had some adjustments, but I really feel like we're starting to get comfortable. We're staying at a very nice bungalo, a bed 'n breakfast called "King's B&B" in Roodeport, which is a suburb of Johannesburg.

We've worked pretty hard since getting here. We had one full day in Soweto, which is the world's largest ghetto, interviewing and taking photos at World Vision projects, which generated about two full days of work to write up the stories and post the photos to the internet so communicators at World Vision could use them. Some of what we're working on is also being posted to the World Vision blog, so you can read that and see Mandy's great photos at http://blog.worldvision.org/. There are about 5 million people in Soweto, and 37% of them have AIDS. It's desperately poor and very sad.

So, we're looking forward to the weekend. We're even thinking about going to a big game park and looking at the lions!

Johannesburg is very interesting. It's a huge city, a lot like LA, and bustling with people. It's at about 5,500 feet in elevation and it's early winter here, so it can get fairly cool at night (and there is no heating in our bungalo, so we sleep with warm blankets). But during the day the sun shines most of the time and it is warm enough for shirtsleeves.

There is a lot of crime (theft mostly) so we take good security precautions. Our B&B is very secure, surrounded by walls topped with electric wire and even patrolled by German shepherds. Cost of living is fairly low; we went out to a pretty nice restaurant and had a good dinner tonight for a total of about $11 for the two of us. And that's considered expensive here. Our B&B, which is really nice and includes a great breakfast, is only about $30 or $40 a night. South Africa would actually be a great place to vacation. It's beautiful, and cheap, and probably about the most modern place in all of Africa.

We're renting a small car, and it took me a few days to get the hang of driving it. Everyone drives on the left side of the road and the driver sits on the right side of the car. It has a manual transmission so you shift on the left, which is hard to get used to at first. But after driving for 6 days I think I'm getting pretty good at it. It may be hard to go back to right side driving when we get back. Your brain gets adjusted so after awhile you don't even have to think about it much. But the first few days it took so much concentration it made my head hurt.

Other than driving on the roads, most of the differences are in lifestyle. Things are definitely slower here. "You're on Africa time now" is a common saying. And the other thing that's very noticeable is a definite class distinction. The menial labor or very servile jobs are always done by blacks. There are some blacks doing higher level jobs, but not near as many. Apartheid is gone, but much of the culture hangs on.

This will be our last weekend in Johannesburg for awhile. Monday we're driving about three or four hours (toward the southern coast) to a small village out in the country called Okhahlamba. (If you try to pronounce that, I guarantee you won't get it right. It's pronounced something like "Okaschlamba" but with a kind of Germanic gutteral sound.) If you're looking at a map, Okhahlamba is right on the eastern edge of Lesotho, but still in South Africa. It's supposed to be very beautiful, with a dramatic mountain range behind it (on the Lesotho side). Lesotho is very mountainous and actually gets snow in the winter. We will visit there later in July ... when it's colder!

We'll stay in Okhahlamba for three or four days, doing more research and photography in projects there. Then for the following weekend we may either drive out to the south coast, to the Durban area, to go sightseeing and explore KwaZulu-Natal, or perhaps just stay in Okhahlamba for the weekend (if we really like it), or return to Roodeport. Right now we're playing it by ear.

Then the following Monday we fly 2,000 miles north to the Congo, where I'm sure it will be much warmer! We will spend a week in the Congo, doing research in several projects there. After that we will spend up to a week each in Zambia and Zimbabwe, then return to South Africa for a few days before flying back to London, then home on July 19.

So far I have been a lot busier than Mandy, although she's probably been catching up on more rest than I have. She also is becoming an expert at South African TV, which is mostly full of B-run movies or old, cancelled TV shows. Anyway, she's looking forward to hitting the road Monday.

So, Mandy and I are both excited and doing well, though we miss home. We have gotten good resource so far and things are coming together. Technology has been a little frustrating, but we're learning how to deal with it.

I intended to attach a few of what I think are her most interesting photos from Tuesday's visit to the Soweto Township of East Orlando, but Blogger isn't cooperating again. Please check http://blog.worldvision.org/ for photos, for now. I'll post some here later if I can.

We miss you all. Drop us a comment!

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