Natasha's trip to South Africa and other countries  - August 2004  Link to Photos

Africa. oh Africa. so beautiful. so colorful. so deep.
I went with my friend Paige; we know each other from college. It was a whirlwind ten day, three country extravaganza.
First we went to Capetown, South Africa, a gorgeous city by the sea surrounded by mountains. Very western; very
diverse. I felt very local there, lots of "coloured" folks. Apparently it's the only city in South Africa that does not have a
black majority, but has what they call a coloured majority. That was another thing; this whole distinction between white
and black and coloured was very interesting. I mean I know in the states we have similar issues with light skin and
mixed race and paper bag and all that; but it's actually a state of being over there. At some point, you officially become
coloured and then you are not considered black. Certainly this was a tool used by the apartheid administration, divide
and conquer; if coloured people don't feel aligned with black folks, then blacks have even less power. I also had a
chance to talk to some Capetonians while I was there. One night we went out to dinner and hung out with a couple of
local guys (self proclaimed "coloureds") that we met at restaurant called Mama Africa. It was so interesting to pick
their brains and hear their perspective on what they thought of the distinctions based on race. It definitely seems to be
an internalized distinction because one of the guys told me that although he understood that the apartheid administration
used color distinctions to divide, there were actual differences that could not be ignored.  I compare this with a
conversation that I had with a black man in Soweto, who indicated to me that most blacks felt abandoned by coloured
during the years of struggle because they would not fight alongside them, but participated in the benefits afterwards.

Back to the land - incredibly gorgeous. We toured up and down the Cape and saw stunning, crystal blue beaches (it
was only in the 60s when we were there since spring was on its way), so no swimming; botanical gardens, I finally got
to see the little African penguins on boulder beach that I have always wanted to see. We went to Robben Island, the
prison where Mandela was held for 18 yrs. in a cell about the size of the desk in my office. We then traveled up table
mountain for gorgeous views of the city and surrounding area.  But our visit to capetown was too short, we definitely
could have stayed longer; however we had to get on our way to Botswana.

Botswana via bush plane...we got to the airport where we were supposed to be catching our plane into the bush and
discovered that we could only take 12 kilos aboard; well I had about 35 kilos just by myself (no one had told us about
this little restriction issue before), so we had take apart our bags, dump out all the things we had bought and take only
the necessities. Apparently we were supposed to put our "extra" stuff in some duffel bags provided for us at the airport
and our luggage would "meet us" at the next location, before we caught our next plane connection to Zimbabwe. I was
pretty sure that we were never going to see our luggage again. In any event, we get on a tiny 4 seater plane, and now
I'm thinking, "Shoot, forget about the luggage, I might never see me again." Our capable pilot treated us very well,
although I was a little scared of moving too much in the place, b/c my elbow had the potential to knock open the plane
door mid-flight. We arrived in Botswana in the Okavango Delta region where we were personally greeted by the staff
of our "Four Seasons-like tree house" camp where we were to be pampered guests for the next two nights. We made
it just in time for afternoon tea (this is all very civilized of course), and then we were off for an afternoon game drive.
We boarded our Landover which seated six, no roof, no sides, just us in the open, ready to see the land. And we did,
we saw lots and lots of beautiful jumping impala and baboons and zebra drinking by the sides of the delta troughs.
About a half hour into our drive, we round a corner and happen upon a herd of breeding elephants! Well were not
more than 20 feet away, our guide/driver cuts off the engine and the elephants immediately become alarmed at our very
near presence. They circle around the babies and start flapping their ears and blowing their trunks and kicking up dust.
I'm snapping away with my camera, but starting to feel a little nervous because it is quiet clear that those elephants are
not pleased that we are there. and you know what, I'm thinking "holy sh*t, we're in this elephants territory now; this is
not a zoo, there are no bars, no trainers, nothing between me and this now grumpy elephant" and you know what, that
dust starts to get kicked a little more furiously and suddenly, the elephants are coming toward us! I have never been so
scared in my life because there would be no time to turn on the engine and go if those elephants keep coming, and they
could kick our vehicle right over and you'd be reading about me in the paper. Well, apparently our guide spoke
"elephant" b/c he stands up in the vehicle and starts shouting at the elephants "ai" "ai" "ai" and you know what, they
blew their horns and backed off. While they still stared us down, apparently it was just a "warning charge". We're still
snapping pictures, although by this point my heart is palpitating and I'm beginning to wonder if we shouldn't be getting
on our way; this whole scene happens once more and then our guide says, "well, ok, we can leave them alone now,
they seem a little bothered by the fact that we're in their personal space" and we move on. As sunset approaches, we
pull over for a little wine and snack provided by our guide and nosh while we contemplate the beauty of the brush and
grassland, the beauty of the orange gold sky blazing with intensity. That night we slept in a tree house tent, on 300
count sheets, with the option of outdoor tree shower or indoor tree shower. I admit there were a couple of spiders, but
they stayed away and there were virtually no mosquitoes. We saw many more animals the next day, including some
elephants (this time at a bit of distance) and we observed them shaking the palm trees to get the nuts to fall from the
trees so they could eat them. We saw a leopard stalking some impala that night; she was practically 5 feet from the car
and beautiful and very uninterested in us. We also took a mekoro ride (a cigar shaped canoe) on the delta rivers and I
felt such tranquility sitting in the front of this tiny two person canoe, riding through the reeds, watching little black and
white painted reed frogs jump off their perches as we glided by and birds of all colors, purple and red, black and
brown, gold and white flying right above our heads. I absolutely did not want to leave.

As our bush plane to our next locale took off, I could see two giraffes in the distance feeding on the trees and I thought
wow this really is something else. We landed in the airport in Kasane, Botswana and lo and behold our luggage was
there! We got in a van and drove into Zimbabwe since our next destination was Victoria Falls. Along the way, we
were stopped by a troop of police who appeared in the highway suddenly coming out off the side of the road and I
was sure we were about to be kidnapped by rebels. They checked our passports, made sure the van had a fire
extinguisher and let us go on our way. When we finally got to the Falls, I felt for the first time like I was in the Africa
that everyone thinks of when they think of Africa. Everything up to this point had been very easy, very familiar, we
were well taken care of, and everything was so beautiful as to almost not even seem real at times. Being in Zimbabwe,
we saw the children street beggars, the tin shack houses, and the lack of amenities, including the fact that our credit
cards worked no where in that country. The actual Falls were beautiful and powerful, awesome strength, they seemed
to go for miles. We did some great bargain shopping at the local market, surprisingly, everyone in the marketplace
really wanted pens and were willing to give us almost anything for pens. Unfortunately, I only had two to my name and
the next day I ended up trading in my dusty old sneakers, that I had planned to ditch before I left, for two pretty stone
statues.

I also felt very safe while I was there, I'm sure partly a function of the fact that we had someone picking us up and
taking us to most places we wanted to go; we certainly weren't hitchhiking on the side of the road.  But I remember
feeling much more uncomfortable when I was in Morocco a few years earlier; I always felt like someone was trying to
touch me or harass me.  After dinner one night, a young Zimbabwean boy briefly gave my butt a pat as I was preparing
to leave, so subtle that I almost didn't notice till I saw him and his grubby little friend giggling ahead of us.  Aside from
that mild annoyance, we encountered no problems whatsoever.

Back to Johannesburg, somehow we made it onto business class for the one hour flight. But we only had one day and
decided to take a tour of Soweto the next morning in the time that we had. Soweto is where all blacks had to live
during apartheid. In a 7 by 7 mile area lived every black person, rich, poor or otherwise. There were mansions, there
were middle class row houses, there were dusty shacks with communal spouts in the middle of the neighborhood
where residents could do their laundry. We saw Winnie Mandela's house, Nelson Mandela's old house, Desmond
Tutu's house, and a museum dedicated to commemorating the Soweto student uprising of 1976. Our guide and driver,
originally from Soweto himself, took us to a local shebeen restaurant (although, it was obviously the place that they
take all the tourists to). The food was fantastic though, it may have been the best meal I had on the trip (and boy eating
well was state of being for me on that trip). I asked my usual throng of questions, and learned, not surprisingly that very
few black folks have moved out of Soweto, despite the fact that apartheid is no longer legally enforced. Our journey
had finally come to an end, we left Soweto, packed our bags for the last time and headed back to NYC. When I got
back, my first thoughts were, my goodness this place is noisy.

Link to Photos