Why do so many people mistake Africa for a country? It’s a continent! Maybe if we truly understood the vast diversity within Africa, we’d rethink our terminology. The first 2 weeks of my South Africa study abroad program have taught me just how unique the country South Africa is.
South Africa is not like the rest of Africa. For one thing, there’s white people. I’m assumed to be white South African here… until my American accent begs to differ. The country also has significant disparities. I drive through a suburb of posh gated estates displaying Jaguars and BMWs, but less than a minute later observe a township of crowded, racially homogenous informal settlements.
What perhaps captures my attention most about South Africa is that it’s like Africa and the West fused into one. There’s villages that still prioritize tribal leadership, crowded mini-buses that daily bring black workgoers from the cities’ fringes to its interior, and an eclectic mix of African songs and dances. Yet there’s also paved roads, widespread electricity and 4G networks, skyscrapers comparable to any European city, and restaurants that know what hot dogs, burritos, and smoothies are.
After spending the first 2 weeks of my fall semester at the School for International Training (SIT) in Durban, here’s what else has surprised me most about South Africa:
South Africans understand Indian cooking
Did you know that Durban, South Africa has the largest South Asian population outside of South Asia? Since I’m staying in Durban until October, that means I have heavenly food available daily! Indian food aside, I’ve sampled plenty of other unique foods here, including
~Peri-peri: an African hot sauce I like to douse everything with! It is made from bird’s eye chillies, onions, peppers, garlic, and lemons.
~Cow head: meat from a cow’s noggin sold at the cow head market section of Durban’s Warwick Market. It’s also perhaps the most tender, satisfying meat my tastebuds have met!
Animals in South Africa can be dangerous yet entertaining
South Africa has the black mamba and green mamba, both of which have bites that can cause death within 6 hours if not treated. These snakes are aggressive too, so SIT’s doctor warned my fellow SIT students not to search for them under our beds! If we ever see snakes, we should call the Durban’s snake catcher. Another familiar animal here is the vervet monkey, of which I’m also not a fan. Other SIT students think it’s the most adorable animal, but I believe it only means mischief! However, male monkeys’ blue balls are a surprise for the eyes.
Nelson Mandela is venerated like a god
One of the reasons I decided to study in South Africa is the country’s history, particularly its struggle against apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s leadership in moving the nation forward. Mandela’s pictures are spray-painted on fences and his quotes are plastered onto community boards, while many people I meet still speak highly of him. I too think he’s the coolest person besides Jesus Christ, so I’ve loved seeing his exhibit at the Apartheid Museum and meeting many individuals who worked alongside him pre- and post-apartheid.
Safety is key
Before I travel to any place, I usually receive many safety briefings from over-concerned Americans. I often roll my eyes at this, but here in South Africa I’ve found that safety precautions are more necessary than not. My cellphone was stolen last week by a mini-bus conductor who took it and ran. I’ve also been pursued by the most persistent street beggars, who despite my insistence that I can’t help them have followed me for several minutes. I can’t even go to a park to hike by myself, and for that purpose have joined a hiking club.
The South Coast is where Blood Diamond was filmed!!!
Before I discovered Bollywood flicks, Blood Diamond was hands-down my favorite movie. Come to find out, even though it takes place in Sierra Leone, it was almost entirely filmed in South Africa! Last weekend I was shown its main filming site along South Africa’s South Coast by an environmentalist named Benny. As Blood Diamond’s environmental assistant manager, Benny used a GPS-mapping system to ensure that all the trees and grasses that had been removed for the 5-month filming were placed in the precise position from which they came.
South Africa has provided me with both surprises and delights these last 2 weeks, so all I can say is hhayibo (Zulu for wow!) and that I look forward to the next 2 weeks… including my birthday celebration in Mozambique, more Zulu language classes (my 4th language!), and hopefully a horse race in Durban! Since I have 13 more weeks in this SIT program, I’ve got plenty more posts to explain what exactly I’m studying here, my journalistic opportunities, host family, and how I’m keeping my body in beastly shape! Stay tuned to Fran’s Lands!
More fabulous South African photos are below: