After 5 papers, traveling to Jamaica, packing up my apartment, two long flights and an amazing 10-hour layover in Dubai, I finally made it to Johannesburg, South Africa on Friday, June 3rd. It was 5:45am when I got off the plane. Being half asleep didn’t stop me from savoring the sights and sounds of my new surroundings as I walked to immigration. In line I heard several languages that I didn’t recognize. I also realized that all the white people on the plane joined the line designated for South African nationals. I should note that although our flight from Dubai was not full, more than 90% of the people on the plane were white. I suppose I was expecting to see more black people on a trip to South Africa. Well, this isn’t as simple as I thought. Future blog posts will explore more of these nuances but for now I’ll focus on my first few days in Johannesburg.
My host mom, who you will hear a lot about on this blog, picked me up at the airport. Once we got to her apartment, I met Zodwa who works for my host mom two days per week. Zodwa is from Mpumalanga, a northern province in South Africa. Our first interaction involved me persuading her to come on the “tour” of Soweto my host mom had arranged for Sunday. She finally obliged and we’ve been friends ever since. As much as I tried to stay awake and continue talking to Zodwa, I couldn’t stop myself from taking a long nap which did not help my jet lag. Oh well. I’m caught up now so it’s all good.
On Saturday morning, I hit the ground running as I had a weekend to explore before starting work on Monday. My host mom, in partnership with a language lab based in Johannesburg, hosts international students from other countries who have come to South Africa to learn English. She insisted that we go to Zoo Lake, her favorite park in the city because of its history. Hermann Eckstein, who owned the property, willed the park to all people of South Africa before the introduction of Apartheid laws. Since the gift stipulated that the park was for all people, during apartheid, it was the only park that all South Africans (blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians) could enjoy. My host mom was right, this park was absolutely beautiful, peaceful, scenic and was a top destination for braais (Afrikaans word for an outdoor barbecue).
While at Zoo Lake, we ate a restaurant called Moyo, which means ‘life’ in a Mozambican language. The food was absolutely amazing. Check out the food section of my blog for more details. At Zoo Lake, I was greeted by a black South African with “sawubona, unjani”. I later found out that in Zulu, the phrase means “hello, how are you?” and is commonly used by black South Africans. But I couldn’t respond so I smiled, shrugged, and indicated that I didn’t understand. She smiled back and politely greeted me in English. I was so embarrassed. This has happened at least five times since I arrived on Friday. They assumed that since I was black, I had to be South African and should at least understand Zulu. Zodwa and I agreed that I should learn some Zulu, so, she started teaching me a few words. The greatest feeling one can have is when you show off your limited Zulu to a South African and they tell you that you sound South African and that your Zulu doesn’t sound strange. Yes! Mission Accomplished. However, South Africa has 11 official languages. I doubt I will be able to learn all of them. But if I can learn more Zulu and maybe a few words from Tsonga or Xhosa, then I will definitely feel even more accomplished.
There is so much to share but I’ll end here for now. Please stay tuned because a post on my trip to Soweto is coming soon. And then I’ll get to why I actually came to South Africa.
Ngiyabonga ukufunda (thanks for reading)
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