Posted from Mhlambanyati, Swaziland
Africa is full of contradictions. South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland, which is our next stop, are no exception. In so many of these areas the indigenous populations were conquered by colonizing nations such as England, Portugal and Holland during the previous 300-400 years. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s the reigning parties were shown the door and the remaining entities vied for power. Most of the time these were the rich whites who were a minority but had the money. Depending on whose side you are on there was an uneasy truce if one at all. In many but not all the future is unclear.
Our first stop was Zimbabwe where the attraction was the magnificent Victoria Falls. Many times larger and deeper than Niagara it provides almost singlehandedly for the local economy.The cascading beauty of the Zambezi River has guides aplenty. Hotels are well staffed and the people cheerful. The country itself has 75% unemployment. The people do anything and everything to exist. Their long time black leader, Robert Mugabe can be considered hero and tyrant in the same breath. Be careful not to speak openly or you could be arrested.
Our guide Dummie(DOOMAY) and I hit it off right from the start. After a quick stop at our hotel he took us to a township which is best characterized as a poor run down area. The market where people sold foodstuffs was shabby at best. It was all some of them had. We went and had tea with Raymond and Priscilla in their home. They had built it themselves and if they stayed long enough they could keep it and call it their own. Probably about ten years. It was clean and of good size. They survived by selling vegetables from the backyard. They seemed affluent by comparison.
Our next stop was the Hope Orphanage which during the daytime was home to around 50 kids but they only had room for about 20 overnight.The rest were shipped out to other families in town.They all came back for their one meal a day. They greeted us by singing and dancing. They weren’t begging. They just wanted us to be at home. I sat on the ground in the courtyard and they were scrambling toward me to shake my hand and rub my bald head. They passed my old white floppy hat around taking turns putting it on and giggling. I was smitten as was Kathy who held a 6 month old girl in her arms to the point I thought we were going to be adding to our family again. As we left they were singing thank you and waving until we were out of sight down a dusty lane. Tough act to follow.
Why did we do all this? It put so much in perspective. There is so much natural resource wealth in these parts but the populace who are incredibly literate and industrious have no way to bring this to fruition. Foreign industrialists and governments are loathe to invest because of the political insecurity and the beat goes on. I asked my buddy Dummie if he was happy? He said his people were naturally happy and cheerful. They have learned to cope and he was so grateful he had a job. He shared with others less fortunate. He bade me good bye at the airport with a hug and a handshake and pronounced,”You are my brother, just by a different mother.” Incredible experience.
Fast forward to the ride from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park. We passed though mile upon mile of coal and corn fields, citrus groves, and banana plantations, while going up and down mountains of granite. We could have been anywhere from Florida, to Nebraska to Colorado. You keep thinking this was supposed to be the cradle of civilization as we know it and perchance the true Garden of Eden. South Africa is nothing short of amazing and we are just getting started.
A 4:30 AM wakeup call heralded the day to be spent at Kruger. In the lobby I did my best rendition of Wimoweh and luckily my fellow travelers were too sleepy to be throwing things. This national park is about the size of Massachusetts! We travelled probably 200 miles over the 10 hours in the park atop our safari Range Rover and yet we experienced just a minuscule part of the experience. The vastness was mind boggling.
We viewed, antelope, elephants, giraffe, kundu, Cape buffalo, lions,rhinos, hippos and leopards. We actually saw all the Big 5 which is not always predictable. Adrian, our guide chattered back and forth with his cohorts in any one of 11 official SA languages. They traded sightings and were probably making comments about their crazy American passengers. Toward the end of our trek we watched three lions try to peel off a Cape buffalo from the herd. They failed and the guide said the lions do not go more than 100 yards in chase. I of course said the Detroit Lions only ran 100 yards too. Boo,hiss TTG. Now cut that out!
Back at the hotel I sat on the patio and had my glass of red and a cigar. As I looked out I could have been in Tuscany or Napa.How much of our world is the same and yet why are we so far apart? The chef came out to tend to his barbecue. His name was Night and we talked for almost one half hour. He told me of his dreams to own a restaurant. He had been to culinary school and wanted a chance to show his stuff. A little difficult when you are feeding forty or fifty people at once on a buffet line. He asked that I tell folks back home that his people were friendly, gentle and welcoming. I said I hoped I would be back to eat in his restaurant someday.
As I said last week a friend told me when I saw the animals in their natural habitat it would change me forever. That may be true but I have a feeling that my new friends might do the same. It’s kind of fun to just know people on a human level regardless of their politics. Haven’t seen the news in a week….and have not missed it a bit. See you on down the road.
As always Ted The Great
People in the townships build their houses when they have the money. It takes them a year to build one room. Then they all live in that until they have money to build another room. No mortgages.
South Africa has an enormous number of immigrants and most are illegal. The are 7 million Zimbabweans alone to add to SA’s population of 55 million. That would be like 50 million to America. They look the other way because it is right. Otherwise the interlopers would die. There is no welfare in Zimbabwe. They have to fend for themselves. In SA there is a small stipend.
There are huge forests of eucalyptus trees because they grow quickly. Amazingly these were brought from New Zealand and not a native species.
The antelope have coloring on their tails that looks like an M….the Golden Arches They number in the tens of thousands in Kruger and so they are considered fast food for lions. The old lion that was killed by the American dentist although illegally lured wasn’t of much use as a progenitor. Old enough to scare off the more virile young studs but not to increase the pride. Good press. Finally elephants are plentiful in southwest Africa. They when their 6th set of molars disintegrate and they are no longer able to eat their 250 kilos of greenery per day. They starve to death.
Africans walk everywhere. Several miles is considered a short stroll. Most are lean. There are very few bikes. They are considered too provincial. Of the 55 million people in SA only 10 million can afford cars.