Being back in the US is surreal. It feels like I have been gone a century and also like I never left. Being in South Africa already feels like a dream I once had. I have already shared with you all the experiences that I had with the program I went with, but there are a lot of cultural moments that I really reflected on once I came back.
Everywhere I went, you could clearly see the class difference that is a part of South Africa and the racism that still plagues it. Every service job is filled by a black person. Every gas station attendant, store clerk, and waiter. That makes sense because an overwhelming percentage of the population is black. But then you notice driving around Johannesburg that every billboard showcases white people. It didn’t matter whether they showed two women enjoying a sauna or they were advertising a clothing brand, the models were all white. And then you look to the ‘elite’ jobs in the neighborhood. The jobs that required money and education to obtain were filled by white shoes. The vets I worked for were white and the game farmers that they worked for were white. The doctors were white, the lawyers were white, and the people who used their services were mostly white. The people who supported these professions were black. The game farmers would have at least 10 black farm hands. The power structure within that made me very uncomfortable. I tried to be as nice to everyone as I possibly could but I could feel the way that the black community felt about my presence. It made me want to hate the white people that I interacted with for participating in this type of culture and for not doing more to lift up their black neighbors. It was a hard thing to see and I am still trying to wrap my head around it, even back in the US.
Another thing that really struck me was how South Africa is not the wide open land that I thought it was when I came. When they said we would be working with wildlife, I had made an assumption that we would be working at a reserve or a national park or something under the government. This is not even close to what happened. A large percentage of the land that I saw over hours and hours of driving are private farms with acres and acres of land (or hectares, as they use). The only time you will see a sable or a zebra or a giraffe cross the road is within a fence. It makes me sad to think of the privatization of what I naively thought was African ‘wildlife’. Is there any place where land like that still exists? I hope to find out on my next adventure.
Thank you to Rutgers for this wonderful opportunity.
Thanks for learning with me and following me as I explored this very special country.