I began writing this post at the beginning of an eighteen-hour plane trip home from a whirlwind tour of Southern Africa. I'm full of fresh memories backed up in a journal full of observations and experiences, thousands of photos, a few dozen video clips, and over a gigabyte of sound recordings of various things. Then there are the brochures, maps and other paper my husband accrued. No trip I've ever been on has been more thoroughly documented. I have enough material to keep me writing for weeks or months on end.
The adventure began with a sixteen-hour flight from Dulles International to Johannesburg, broken by a refueling stop in Dakar, Senegal half-way through the flight. We spent more than half our time in South Africa, visiting Pretoria, Soweto (where we visited Nelson Mandela's historical home, just down the block from Desmond Tutu's residence — the only street in the world with homes of two Nobel Peace Prize recipients), Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, Stellenbosch (home of the thriving and excellent South African wine industry and a top four South African university), Uhmlanga (a Durban suburb), and Kruger National Park. We also visited Chobe National Park in Botswana, Victoria Falls in sadly oppressed Zimbabwe, and made a shorts visits to Namibia and Zambia.
One highlight of the trip took me by surprise. I would not have planned on my own to visit to the prison on Robben Island where non-white apartheid political prisoners were held, but it turned out to be memorable and moving. During a tour conducted by a man who was an inmate there for fourteen years, we saw the cell where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years, and heard first-hand about the solidarity that developed among the men there and their collaboration in educating one another. The visit concluded with his stirring and sincere-sounding testimony that in spite of the horrors they endured, they bear no grudge, and feel genuine goodwill toward all men today.
Other highlights included a short visit to an elementary school in Victoria Falls, where students from a culture class performed amazing native dances for us and we sang our national anthems for each other. Perhaps due to the sacrifice their families make to send them to school, these children seemed more than usually engrossed in their studies. We enjoyed a sampler dinner of typical native foods, including mopani worms, at the home of a Zimbabwe family, rode an elephant, and petted lions. Most especially, we enjoyed the National Parks where we saw thousands of impala, hundreds of elephants, dozens of giraffes and zebras, and all sorts of other exotic animals running free. I've posted several videos of these animals and some tribal dancers on YouTube.
The trip acquired personal meaning far beyond the planned activities and experiences. Equally memorable were snippets of information, much of it dark in nature, gleaned along the way, like the twenty-five percent unemployment and soaring crime rates in South Africa and the total ruin of the Zimbabwe economy under the rule of Mugabe, who has not relinquished power even after being voted out of office. Zimbabwe recently adopted the United States dollar as their official currency. In contrast, Botswana is healthy and prosperous, with the soundest economy in Africa and one of the strongest worldwide. Conversations and chance encounters with locals during free time roaming also added zest and perspective. I have come to realize that the world really is one huge community, though one with many differences.
My perceptions, interpretations, and tales will take some time to settle and digest into vignettes and essays. As I get around to writing about them, my variety of memory joggers — audio, visual and written, will be a huge help, and even if I never write about them, creating this backlog of information about the trip has helped reinforce the memories. It was worth the slight effort if only for that reason.
All of these memories will be enriched by the delightful group of people we traveled with. The trip would not be the same without the mosaic of personalities involved, especially Jo and Violet, octagenarians who enthusiastically dared to ride the zip line across the gorge below Victoria Falls from Zambia to Zimbabwe. You gals set a high standard, and you are my heroines! Cheers to those of my fellow travelers who happen to click over and visit here. Please don't forget my encouragement to write the stories of your own lives.
Write now: a few well-seasoned memories of your own travels, wherever they took you, be that the good old USA, or further afield. Write about what you learned from these experiences as well as what you did. Explore how they changed you and helped you grow.