Emails From Africa Which Inspired This Blog – Part 4

Hey Everyone,

Well that time has come. We’re on our way to the airport as we speak, home Tuesday afternoon. I’m looking forward to coming home, I miss some of our comforts but most of all I miss my cats, my routine and friends.

This has been an incredible experience but at times, emotionally draining. Time to come home and brave the cold.

The end of our trip except for today was relaxing but not a lot of culture to be had. Saint Lucia is a tourist town, an estuary (where the river meets the sea) and is known for it’s crocodile and hippo cruises. We did one but I could have skipped it and do an extra day in Mozambique. After an 8 hour drive from the coast back to JoBurg, watching the Planet Earth series we fell asleep in minutes in the tented camp that we first slept in, this time I used earplugs to avoid being part of WWIII once again.

This morning we woke and began our tour of Soweto, an emotionally charged experience for me and likely others in the group. Soweto for those who don’t know, stands for “South Western Townships” where all blacks we banished to during apartheid. They were bused out to their jobs  where they worked for white people and bused back in. Massive violence, poverty and sadness.

We began by visiting an informal settlement, with extreme poverty, no electricity and water and kids who beg for money because it makes more sense than going to school. We went to a daycare with the most precious children who were yelling “white men” in Zulu as we approached.

Most were used to white people, some had never seen whites and cried. But overall we were mobbed by them and we cuddled, held and sang to them. They loved having their photos taken, yelling “cheese!” After we drove through Soweto seeing the controversial Winnie Mandela‘s home and we drove on the only street that boasts the homes of two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. We saw their homes but unfortunately they cannot live there anymore as the media mobs them.

Mandela’s house is currently being made into a museum but I heard the house is so small that it will actually remain intact wholly inside the museum.

Next we went to the Hector Peterson memorial and museum. I was only three months old at the time but the protests of June 12, 1976 were a huge moment in history. There are some very famous photos that have been taken throughout history, the girl sprayed by napalm in Vietnam, the US flag rising in Vietnam and the photo of the dead limp body of Hector Peterson being carried by a boy unknown to him.

The main cause of the protests started when the Afrikaans mandated that the blacks learn only their language in schools after treating them like animals and banishing them to Soweto behind barbed wire where they were followed by security searchlights at night. The school children and parents began protesting and very quickly 2100 children were not going to school and everyone began gathering in the streets. Police started shooting, killing everyone and anyone and Hector was one of the youngest killed that day. When the photo was taken the boy who didn’t know him had picked him up and carried him, crying for help with Hector’s sister by his side. The boy who carried him left South Africa shortly afterwards, leaving his family behind and was never to be seen or heard of again. The pressure was too much as he became instantly famous for trying to save Hector.

Over the next few days police would cruise in their green Chevys with sniper rifles killing everyone including a 2 year old toddler. Major players in the movement were Steven Bilko and Nelson and Winnie Mandela to name a few. The museum and monument was very moving but it brought back a lot of memories of racism and sexual harassment I endured in highschool which I have tried hard to bury and forget and it was very hard one for me to get through, very emotional.

To clear my mind I went outside the memorial and hung with the locals. We spoke about physiological differences between African and Jamaicans (they knew I wasn’t all white, lol) how Caribbean quadriceps are bulkier and make great sprinters where as Africans are long distance runners with the same leg form overall. We enjoyed discussing the dramatics of Usain Bolt, the Jamaican 100 metre Olympic gold medalist – a fun conversation for me and uplifting after such an emotional afternoon.

We next visited a community church which was interesting because during apartheid people were not allowed to gather in groups larger than two so the church provided a place for them to have their political rallies without problems…until the day when soldiers came in and smashed the alter, killing a few people, bullet holes still remain in the ceilings.

So…we’re boarding now, it has been an incredible trip, can’t wait to see you all.

Lots of love, see you very, very soon! JEM

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