Sunday, August 8, 2010

Post-trip Thoughts and Reflections: the South African Experience

We’ve been back from South Africa for almost two weeks now, and I still haven’t posted my final thoughts on the trip. It’s amazing to me how quickly upon returning from a trip we get re-immersed in our daily lives, the hustle and bustle, and how easy it is that experiences can get pushed to the back of one’s mind, to the back burner of our focus and attention.

I’ve decided the best way for me to attempt summarizing what the trip meant and all that I’ve taken away with me is to do so in two thematic categories: the experience of visiting South Africa and South African higher education. And if I can pull it off, I’ll finish off this blogging experience with a photo collage to help bring to life the stories I’ve shared.

Today’s posting will focus on the experience of visiting South Africa. In previous postings I’ve shared in some detail the incredible natural beauty of the country, so I won’t go on about it again. What I will say is that I am fully aware I didn’t come close to seeing all that South Africa offers in geographic variety and sights. But in seeing the Cape Town and Johannesburg areas, as well as the Pilanesburg Game Reserve, I was in awe of the beauty and I would go back for another visit tomorrow if given the chance.

The food and drink in which we partook were equally pleasing. The rich diversity of cultures found in the people of South Africa provides for myriad tastes and styles when it comes to food. Whether you are looking to sample the many different meats found in traditional African barbecues or seeking vegetarian options, it’s all there… and it’s all delicious.

Lastly, and most importantly, it was the people of South Africa that were the true highlight of the trip. In learning about the different cultures and backgrounds that are found in South Africa’s population, I was enlightened. Words cannot describe the atrocities that occurred during the Apartheid era, and while democracy is now the country’s form of government, the visible and ever-present injustices and inequalities are a constant, undeniable reminder of how even the most seemingly ideal systems of government cannot rectify decades of narrow-mindedness.

And yet, throughout our ten day journey and common among all of the people we met, there seems to exist among South African’s of all backgrounds a sense of hope. In the traditional sense of the word, we observed a sense of hope for a more just future. Even among those who remain marginalized, such as the residents of Kliptown, the sense of hope seemed to extend backwards, to the present. Living in conditions that we, as Americans, can’t even imagine nor comprehend, South Africans who live in the squatter shanty-town slums seem to hold on to hope as a guiding force to transform their daily lives and conditions into a focus on the good and the gifts versus the bad and the injustice. I can’t help but recall the words expressed by my son, wise beyond his 11 years, when he said through tears that “they have so little, but they seem so happy.” His assessment, I believe, is transferable to any country, any population that is among the less fortunate. The measure of a person’s happiness is not seen through material things. The people of South Africa also showed that happiness cannot be represented through one’s living conditions. Happiness is found in the heart and in the mind. This is a lesson for which I am grateful and which I pray I never forget.

Tomorrow, I’ll offer my thoughts on South African higher education.

No comments:

Post a Comment