Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes #1

Today we are high above the plains of East Africa, enroute between Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam – Yes, John and Judy are on the road again… on our way to Northern Tanzania where we will base our visit around the Arusha area – We arrived from the Atlanta airport on Thursday after 16 hours of air time (8600 miles) and settled into the Purple Palm – a delightful small hostel style hotel that we shared with a mixed community of Europeans, Africans, and Australians…all friendly and eager to share experiences. We slept 9 hours straight the first night despite our jet lag. What to do with our one day in Johannesburg ?
We set off on a small van tour of the Apartheid museum and the township of Soweto… What a fascinating story… Apartheid ended only 16 years ago- and the story of how Apartheid came to be, the struggle to overcome it, and the development of an open democratic country is remarkable. Never before in history has there been a case of a harshly subjugated people becoming enfranchised by mutual decision, with so complete forgiveness of grievances… The South Africa we see today is one with effective interaction between all people. Soweto is a major suburb outside of Johannesburg synonymous with the evils of apartheid segregation. The popular press usually speaks only of the extreme poverty of Soweto – but today there are all economic levels within this community – a region of professional and middle class homes, state provided free housing for the poor, squatters in abandoned homes, and shacks built of scrap materials. We ate lunch in a local buffet restaurant, walked through a section of a shanty town, and visited the home of one resident – Many people live in a space of 3 yards x 4 yards, walls of scrap, tin roof. Inside is a bed, a cooking stove, and barely room to turn around. The home we visited had 8 people - the woman and her 4 grand children in the bed, the other 3 pulled out a pad for sleeping on the floor. No electricity, water, or sewage. July and August are like December and January in the Northern hemisphere – freezing temperatures at night. And this is typical for a whole portion of Soweto. In the midst of their poverty the people share what little they have, children appear adequately fed, there is universal health care provided, and free education.

So today we are flying on to our “base of operations” for the next 3 ½ weeks – Arusha, Tanzania – just south of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We have way more things that we would like to do in that area than time…so stay tuned… We meet so many fascinating people – Our first impression is that the part of East Africa we are seeing is still working its way out of the long legacy of European imperialism, in many cases there is still continued removal of African resources with incomplete compensation to Africans. But great efforts for positive change are also taking place…. both by Africans and by supportive non-African groups working here. I rode north today with a Tanzanian man who is the director of a communications program, radio internet, and other media, working to assist isolated farmers, women, and urban dwellers in economic improvement, and community development. I get very excited about the possibilities that he described.

The airline steward just made available a birthday card to be signed for Mandela’s 92nd birthday – after being a leader in overcoming Apartheid for many years, he was imprisoned for 16 years of hard labor, and with the fall of Apartheid, he returned to become the first President of South Africa. He is much beloved and a powerful reminder of the power of forgiveness. He urges each person to give one minute of his 92 years to support a worthy cause-