Part 1 of a 2 Part Blog Series
The boomslang (go ahead and try pronouncing it), Mopane worms, and the furthest south you can possibly travel on the continent of Africa were just a few things that I enjoyed in South Africa. I am a member of both the Concert and Chamber Choirs at E&H under the direction of our amazing fearless leader Dr. Allyss Haecker. It was about one year ago when Dr. Haecker began to mention to the choir that we might have the opportunity to travel and sing in South Africa. After extensive hours of planning by Dr. Haecker, one year later thirty members of the E&H choir landed in the country on the southern tip of Africa about to experience the trip of a lifetime!
My first attempt at chronicling this magical trip was way too long, so I've decided to highlight just a few of my favorite experiences. With each new day in South Africa there were even more new, incomparable and indescribable moments.
1. ENGAGE IN THE HISTORY & CULTURE
It is imperative when traveling to understand and engage with the history of the place you are traveling to whether you are in the country for only a week, ten days, six months, or five years. Our choir was able to visit several places that helped us better understand the country of South Africa. One of the most impactful tours our group took was of Robben Island where many political prisoners during the apartheid era were kept including Nelson Mandela. Mandela was kept as a prisoner on Robben Island for twenty-seven years. Our tour guide was also imprisoned during the apartheid era. He provided first hand perspectives, stories, and experiences of incredible hardship and difficulty. During the trip we were also able to visit two townships, which are areas where people who were not white during the apartheid movement were forced to leave the cities and form communities. We visited a township outside of Cape Town called Capricorn, but we learned that the original name of the township is actually Free Ground because during apartheid it was uncontrolled land where the people freely settled. We also visited SOWETO (Southwestern Township) outside of Johannesburg. SOWETO is the largest township in all of South Africa. This is also where both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are from. In fact they are the only two Nobel Peace Prize winners to have lived on the same street. We were able to tour SOWETO and visit the Hector Pieterson Museum, tour Mandela’s house, and see Desmond Tutu’s house.
2. EXPLORE THE MARKETS
The markets of South Africa are like nothing I have ever experienced before. These markets consist of people both native and nonnative selling virtually everything, including: musical instruments, clothing, jewelry, masks, bowls, artwork, tapestries, and so much more. We discovered that in several ways these markets can be daunting because the venders can be assertive and zealous when trying to sell to you; however, these markets are also places to buy souvenirs, meet people, gain confidence in your bartering skills. While the markets were slightly overwhelming at first I grew to enjoy visiting them and spending my rands there.
3. EXPERIENCE THE NATURAL BEAUTY
When we first landed in Cape Town, our tour guide Prosper welcomed our choir to a city he declared as the most beautiful in the world. After spending about ten days in the country of South Africa, I can say that the nation is absolutely gorgeous. While in Cape Town we got to experience a fascinating landscape where towering mountain ranges meet the blue ocean. The epitome of this was when we visited the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point), which is the furthest south you can travel on the continent of Africa. Fun fact: this is not where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, that is at Cape Agulhas further north along the east coast of South Africa. While at the Cape Point, we had close encounters with the wild baboons that call the cape home. We also got to experience the wonder of South Africa when we were able to spend time on top of the iconic Table Mountain. Here we got amazing 360 degree views. We also were able to spend time in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens which rests at the base of Table Mountain. The boomslang is a native snake that resides in the canopies of trees and the botanical garden had a canopy walkway designed to resemble the boomslang which provided amazing views. We were able to learn about and encounter many of the native plant and wildlife species.
4. ENJOY THE UNIQUE FOOD AND DRINKS
Not only were we able to learn about the history and culture of South Africa we were also able to truly experience parts of the culture. This came in the form of food. The food that we had while in the country was incredible. Food was the number one thing that I was concerned about because I am vegetarian, but it was honestly easier to be a vegetarian there compared to the United States. We got to experience several different types of meals including a pan-African dinner, where we ate traditional food from fourteen different African nations. Here we also got to have a fun drum lesson and watched several different performances. We also ate at a traditional restaurant that served worms, and yes, I tried one. I might only be in South Africa once. One on the most amazing meals we had was at a winery in Stellenbosch, an area outside of Cape Town. Here we were able to taste incredible wine and food. The meal I enjoyed the most however was after our tour of SOWETO when we ate lunch in the township outside of someone’s home with a local choir. They had prepared food for us and we all ate together. Members of our choir sat with members of their choirs and they taught us how to eat the food properly. They gave us traditional African names and taught us greetings in the respective language of our names.
5. ENCOUNTER THE WILDLIFE
We were also able to experience many animals native to the country, including African Penguins which are also called Jackass penguins. We were also able to pet a cheetah, named Rafiki, at a cheetah preserve! Once we traveled away from the coast we went on safari in Pilanesberg Game Reserve. Here we were able to not only able watch the incredible African sunrise, but the sunset and moon rise too. This is also where we encountered elephants, giraffes, springboks, wildebeests, warthogs, hippos, owls, antelopes, impalas, white rhinos, zebras, a brown hyena, and the ultimate encounter was with the lions. Our safari guide, Patrick, was able to find two male and two female lions. We watched the lions walk down the road about two meters from the truck. Needless to say South Africa does not lack in stunning scenery and remarkable wildlife.
My experiences barely scratched the surface of what constitutes this amazing country. South Africa offers an immense amount of diversity from its population to history to things to do and we only experienced a tiny portion of what this country offers to the world. I would go back in a heartbeat.
Not only did our choir get to experience the places, history, and culture that I described above, but we were also able to meet, interact with, and build relationships with many of the people we met in South Africa through our experiences and through singing. Please take a minute to read my reflection on the people I met, the musical experiences we had, and what I learned about the importance of studying abroad by clicking here: http://www.honors.ehc.edu/blog/2016/6/9/baie-dankie-south-africa
By: Emily Jones '18