We all have that one special friend. You know, the kind that brings you a caramel latte when you’ve had a bad day, dreams about traveling the world more than you do, adopts you into their family, brings gas-x to every volleyball game you coach and talks the most crap out of anyone at your fitness class? Well, that’s my friend Vicki. She’s a special spirit and when I received my Fulbright last year, I knew she’d be coming to the African continent. She, along with her husband Conrad and son Gavin, are also the reason I’m struggling to re-enter the real world. This last week, I met 3/5 of the Radzak-Ross family in Johannesburg (MISS YOU LAUREN AND MADDIE). I was so happy to see their smiling faces that I nearly cried (typical).
As soon as we arrived, we hit the ground running. Conrad learned to drive from the right side of the car on the left side of the road, I learned to operate the GPS, Gavin learned to spot speed bumps and Vicki excelled at backseat driving (she will argue this point, but Conrad will confirm it). We headed straight out of town to Sterkfontein Caves. As Africa is known as the “Cradle of Humankind”, I was totally geeking. We were able to visit two museums, and ventured deep into the caves where two Australopithecus skeletons (dating back almost 3 million years!!!) Mrs. Plies and Little Foot, were discovered. When I taught World History, students digitally mapped human evolution and Sterkfontein was obviously a site. To be able to actually visit was an experience I wish all my students had. After learning about early hominids, we headed back to the large city of Johannesburg. I say large because it’s nearly 4.5 million people (that’s double the size of Botswana’s population and almost the entire population of Minnesota!) After nine attempts of trying to find our AirBnb, we finally arrived. Now, if you know Vicki, you know that she always hooks it up in AirBnb’s (ex: our 2013 Barcelona trip)–and our new home in Joburg was no exception. It was quintessential Vicki, complete with a wall of mirrors and clawfoot tubs in every bathroom. I’m pretty sure she took pictures of every single facet of that home in case anyone wants to check it out.
After some much needed coffee the next day, we went to the Apartheid Museum. This vast museum spans the history of Apartheid in South Africa from the Great Trek of the Boers to the election of Nelson Mandela. It’s complex, heavily-focused on text, a bit challenging to navigate and takes nearly 3 hours to go through. It’s a lot to take in but absolutely necessary. After the museum, we found a little restaurant in our neighborhood that served great Wild Boar Mac-N-Cheese and red wine. I was pretty much in heaven.
Our learning continued the next day when we took a morning tour of Soweto, a township of Joburg and visited the Museum Africa in the afternoon. Soweto spans many neighborhoods and as we drove through it with our guide, I saw homes of every socio-economic status, from shantytowns to large stately homes. I learned that Soweto was the result of Apartheid’s racial segregation and was home to Nelson Mandela, Hector Pietersen, and Walter Sisulu. Soweto was also the site in which thousands of students protested the enforcement of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools. On June 16, 1976, violence erupted and “two students, Hastings Ndlovu and Hector Pieterson, died from police gunfire; hundreds more sustained injuries during the subsequent chaos that engulfed Soweto. The shootings in Soweto sparked a massive uprising that soon spread to more than 100 urban and rural areas throughout South Africa.” We saw the house of Winnie Mandela (Mandela’s second wife), took a walk through a shantytown (there are 27 in the community) and strolled Vilakazi Street (a street that was once home to Nobel Peace Prize Winners Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela). Soweto was an incredibly heavy experience. As a white American who is financially stable and has everything she could want in the world, I felt guilty. Guilty for what I have, guilty for history, just guilty. But, I’m not sure how one should feel at a moment like this. As I talked to people in Soweto, I realized that they are proud of what they have, who they are and their community. They were happy to show us their corner of the world. They wanted us to tell others of our experience so that soon, more people will visit and learn the story of Soweto. Oooooooooooooof. There was some serious reflection going on after our time there.
In the afternoon, we went downtown where we explored Museum Africa. Museum Africa is like the Smithsonian of South Africa. It’s expansive and has nearly 850,000 artifacts of which only a small portion are on display. While Gavin was ready to slam his head against the wall after nearly two hours, the adults throughly enjoyed the museum and only wished we had more time to examine its exhibits. We spent the rest of the day, doing what we do best–eating. I must say that I ate goooooooood in Joburg (think, Goat Cheese and Butternut Pizza!! and Brisket!!!) But, I had to eat good in order to get up in the morning to drive to Madikwe! Madikwe is the fourth largest game reserve in South Africa and sits literally 15 minutes from the Botswana border. After following an elephant to our lodge (see video), we settled in at Buffalo Ridge—a ridiculously beautiful lodge. Because Vicki and Conrad are the best humans ever (and not just because of this), they gave me my own thatched-roof lodge! Words can not describe the safari experience we had so I’m just not even going to try (Please see pics, although even pics don’t describe. Can I just stay on safari forever?). I saw a zillion animals including:
-a million zebras
-a million impala
-lots of kudu, but only one male
-around 36 water buffalo
-2 warthogs and three baby warthogs
-a lot of wildebeest
-a banded mongoose
-many beautiful birds
and finally, a number of rhinos
I say a number of rhinos because Madikwe won’t even release how many rhinos are in the reserve. They do this to protect the rhino population which is heavily poached throughout Africa. In fact, 5 rhinos had been poached from Madikwe since the beginning of the year. Out of respect and due to the fact that poachers are using social media to target these animals, I’m not posting the many, many beautiful photos I have of rhinos. If you want to see them, you’ll just have to go to Africa or come visit me in Minnesota. Either way works for me.
Seeing almost the entire cast of Lion King was a huge hit for us and as we made our (short) way back to Botswana, I couldn’t stop thinking of the natural beauty of Africa. IT’S SO STINKIN’ BEAUTIFUL AND WONDERFUL AND MAGICAL AND AWESOME AND WE NEED TO PROTECT IT. WE NEED TO PROTECT THIS BEAUTIFUL PLANET WE LIVE ON.
After showing my friends the wonderful country of Botswana where we saw the weavers of Oodi, the museum at Mochudi, Matsieng’s Footprints and ate our heart’s content of Seswaa, reality called and they unfortunately had to make their way back home. Over the course of our time together, I realized a few things:
1- Conrad is really good at driving. Oh, and is one of the best humans on the planet. (I saw the tears in your eyes as I bawled through my goodbyes!) Plus, you survived another trip with me and Vicki!
2-Vicki is a crazy, clucking-chickens all the time, most wonderful friend and I’m so thankful for her and her ability to argue (with me), talk to anyone, drink coffee, plan vacations and make Gavin brush his teeth. Most importantly, I’m thankful for her big heart.
3-Contrary to belief, Gavin does actually brush his teeth. Oh, and we had a triple-lit time on our third continent together. Can’t wait for Vietnam2k19.
4-You should not drive fast over potholes. Or speed bumps.
5- Breaking into Botswana is not a TV show. Rather, it’s what happened when we showed up at the border without Gavin’s birth certificate.
6-Chocolate Crunchy Oat Cookies could be best and worst thing to ever happen to me.
Time is flying by and I’m already at the two month mark here in Botswana. I head out on a work trip tomorrow morning that takes me on a road trip throughout the country. I’m looking forward to participating in historical and cultural activities in Ghanzi, Maun and Serowe!! As always, thankful for time, people and places.
YOU MUST CHECK OUT THIS EPIC ALBUM OF A THOUSAND PICS THAT DON’T HAVE CAPTIONS BECAUSE I’M TOO TIRED RIGHT NOW. SOMEDAY I WILL UPDATE IT. P.S. VICKI TOOK A LOT OF THESE PHOTOS. SO IF THEY ARE REALLY GOOD, IT’S BECAUSE OF HER. AND IF THEY SUCK, IT’S BECAUSE OF ME.