“You must be very careful. It is very dangerous there.”
I was hoping to begin my summary of our travels in South Africa by writing “Though we heard this warning again and again from so many people our experience was very different. We found only a warm, embracing hospitality from everyone we met.” I would like to write it now with the addition of “except for those few moments in Mtubatuba when we were mugged” (see David’s blog for May 28th). And really, that was our experience of South Africa. We talked with very many wonderful people from very many different walks of life and cultures who were interested in us and wanted us to feel welcome and to enjoy their country. Their hospitality rivaled anything we found in South America. Speaking the language has made it so much easier for us to ask questions and have conversations about people’s lives, families, philosophies, apartheid, politics, the World Cup, religion, racism, culture. South Africa has been a fascinating and beautiful country to visit.
To ignore our mugging, however, would be Pollyannish of me. It was a scary and maddening experience, though the picture I carry in my mind of brave Glenda chucking groceries at the muggers still makes me laugh. After knowing we were unharmed, my first reaction was anger, that though I yelled “Rogue, rogue, rogue, help, help!!” at the top of my lungs and people were around, no one came to help. Later, our hosts at the backpackers explained that people don’t help because they are afraid of retaliation. That understanding made me feel better but it also makes me think there is a hopelessness and acceptance of crime which helps to fuel it. Though I feel that some of the warnings we received were more about fear of “the other”, segregation, and racism– theft (petty and grand) is a huge issue in South Africa. The majority of victims, however, are not tourists, or even relatively well-to-do South Africans, who can afford security systems, guard dogs, and high walls topped with barbed wire, but they are average people living in poorer neighborhoods.
Glenda’s visit with us was one of the highlights of our tour in South Africa. It was geat to catch up with her on her life and to share our journey, seeing it a bit through her eyes. In the two weeks she was with us I felt she had a good taste of what our experience has been, from the warm hospitality of the bike shop owner and staff who picked her up, toured the city, had lunch and dropped her back at the backpackers with her rented bike, to climbing 1000m with the bike in the beautiful and peaceful Swazi countryside. We had great conversations with Ebby and Joanne, South African business women, with Sumeshini, the widowed hotel owner, with Mlonde the manager of the bar and restaurant next to the dive hotel we stayed, with the cook Tulie in the fancy hotel we stayed, to name just a few of the people we met. We also had fine interactions with countless school children and people along the road. Finally we toured a game park and wetlands area where we were treated to sights of some of the African animals Glenda had first been introduced to long ago on the Sunday night TV show “Wild Kingdom” and I got to see my first rhinoceros.