I met Andy Withers in 1993 on my first trip outside the US with friends Denny Young and Andy Adams. In London. He was Denny’s travel buddy/bromance from a previous trip. But they had an open relationship. A few months later he visited Cleveland to see Denny. So we had beers. We connected.
While traveling for a year in 1995, I hung out with him and Denny in Sydney, where Andy now lived and reconnected. Later that trip, I met his soon to be wife Jo and had dinner and laughs. We got along so well we later planned to meet on my 1998 trip to Nepal, TIbet and India for a few weeks. They had to cancel as Andy had a reaction to a rabies vaccination. In 2000, while living in Dublin, Andy was home visiting family in the UK and shot over to see me for a long weekend excursion to the Dingle Peninsula to hike and explore and see Irish music.
In 2007, Jo and Andy visited the west coast and spent time with Namche and I in the Mission in San Francisco before I moved to Arcata for grad school. In 2009, while in grad school, I flew to Vegas on a work trip to see them while they traveled the west again. Of course, through all of this we kept in touch and tried to stay in each other’s lives as best we could living halfway across the world.
Fast forward to 2018. I hadn’t seen them for nine years and had spent maybe 9 days together over 20 years? Of course that means a three week visit!
Anyone that knows me, knows that I have never really had a fascination with Africa. I haven’t dreamt of climbing Kilimanjaro or fantasized about paddling around the Cape of Good Hope. I did, and still do, have a fascination with the history here. And the animals. Nelson Mandela and to a lesser extent, Desmond Tutu, are people that have had a tremendous influence on me with respect to hope and perseverance and truth. They are icons in my mind.
WIth Andy and Jo moving here last spring, and me planning a year long trip (and well, South Africa IS on the way to South America right?), the timing was perfect.
Andy and Jo took me in as though I had seen them yesterday.
Their older, fun loving 4 legged friends, Ringo and George, made my stay comfy. So how lucky was I to connect with good old friends, travel throughout South Africa for three weeks with them on a trip they planned! They are such kind and great people and just allowed me to slide into their lives and travel and explore.
We drove the Garden Route along the southern East Cape coast and visited various wineries, game preserves and small towns.
We saw elephants, lions, warthogs, rhinos, jackals, penguins, wildebeests, cape buffalo, baboons
and many more. We were close enough to both male and female lions for me to actually jump while sitting in our open jeep (and nearly piss myself) when they got up to move.
The highlight for me was the nearly 50 or more elephants moving around the water hole in the morning. Walking around (and nearly on) our car. Meandering around traffic, rocks and trees.
These gentle giants have truly a Zen way to them that I never have seen in a zoo. I wonder why? Their regal beauty had me loving every minute watching them interact. Silent. Blowing water and mud on each other. The (not so) little babies running around like cartoon characters in a Disney movie. Ears flapping. Every once in awhile a massive one would walk by and take our breath away.
It is truly different sitting in a car or jeep on a safari, passively taking it in. And I enjoyed it. Not knowledgeable on the poaching issue, I learned a lot. WE are destroying these creatures for their tusks. And I feel helpless to do much. Poaching and policing it is a war here.
While in Cape Town, we explored the beaches and of course, Table Mountain, the iconic Urban mountain that reminds you of Jurassic Park.
It was amazing to climb. And I would do it every week if I lived there. We saw District Six (where apartheid displaced thousands of minorities from their homes and relocated them), visited Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner
and of course, George and Ringo time.
Andy and Jo and I see eye on many things and basically view the world in similar fashion and travel in a similar way. So it was very easy. Andy works for ESPN and they both have seen lots of the world and now about eight months of South Africa. I feel so lucky to be able to jump into and out of people’s lives and spend time doing cool things.
But dammit, they don’t make dirty martinis here. Or any martini for that matter. So I suffered. I wanted one. I needed one. And every dinner out began with the question of did they make them. And the denial. Martini racism. I hate it.
That being said, I spent my time trying to figure out South Africa. Since Jo and Andy have only been there 8 months, they hadn’t fully experienced personally some of the bad things going on here. Mainly crime. So we were all forced to pay attention to what HAS happened to others and heed warnings. Muggings on trails. People flying through the gated communities when opened. It was different for me.
These are my impressions. Not judgements or the gospel. Just how I saw (or didn’t see) things.
Apartheid is no longer government policy. Yet, it remains a country of two separate cultures. You drive through Shantytown areas (for lack of a better word) and see and hear about black on black crime. Yes there are blacks and whites living together in communities but not many. I also have heard of the gov’t being black now but super corrupt and enriching themselves. By butchering Mandela’s dreams. Simply switching the color of the oppressor. There is fear of repatriating white land to the blacks in ways similar to Rwanda. Now I don’t advocate any of that, yet the continual process of trying to right past wrongs always leaves someone in the lurch. One family may have inherited land that was taken from blacks centuries ago and one family may have slowly earned that ownership over time. Which is fair, if any? I don’t know. But I do know that South Africa is current example that greed and power are color blind. But the blacks got screwed here. How to right that wrong is above my pay grade.
There is no WHITE GENOCIDE. It’s bullshit. Is there violence? Yes. Tossing that word around does a disservice to places where it has really happened.
What I also know, is that I have never been met by, spoken to or helped more by people of color than here on a daily basis. Yeah, it was mainly on the surface, but the blacks and colored were friendly and helpful in all areas. I felt safe. I learned a lot. The whites were mainly older and somewhat disinterested but since they weren’t working service jobs much, what does that mean? I don’t know. And I certainly haven’t walked in any of their shoes. So I remain clueless as to the underpinnings of society here. There is this disequilibrium I don’t quite understand. Yet seeing hotels, restaurants and houses with gates and barbed wire is a stunning sight and made me uncomfortable. Because of the history here, it had me become more fearful of blacks. It really did. And that is coming from someone who normally is not and who has examined racism very deeply, taught a class on it in Ireland and pride myself in giving every race and religion a chance, no matter my previous experience. So that’s a glaring example of what propaganda can do to people. When you hear something a lot you subconsciously believe it’s true. See invading Hispanic caravan.
Knowing that most crime came from the black community is a total mind fuck for me. And it saddens me to see a much more recent example of exploitation, racism and prejudice in a society where the blacks were the first ones here. Unlike our horrible history of slavery in the US. But it allows me to more fully understand crime. When most of the people that are impoverished here are black and most of the crime involves them? Hmmm. Poverty. Crime. Coincidence?
So my struggle was that I didn’t know where I fit. Like most places i go, I connected with the local, mainly indigenous population. But on the surface. And I can’t be in their world for many reasons. For the first time in my life, I really felt uncomfortable about my whiteness and cared what they thought of me for my skin color. And I couldn’t (and still can’t) rectify it in my brain. This was the defining example for me of how much the white man has really screwed up the world. I just wish I was more present during the hopeful time when Nelson Mandela was president. An empowering and more positive time here. It just shows how a leader’s rhetorical content and tone can lift up a nation when it real and positive.
It’s a beautiful country full of contradictions and confusing social messages. Which one is correct? All of them. Off to my last stop. America del Sur! I think you can just see it…