My desire to see the world landed me on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa. I arrived on African soil with no expectations and an open mind. As an African American woman in the motherland for the first time, I indulged in sensory overload when it came to the culture, food and attractions. With the various misconceptions of Africa as a whole, I traveled to Cape Town to form my own opinion and create my own experience. A trip like this has the potential to change your outlook on life and the rest of the world. Here are 5 things I learned on my journey.
1. Racism still exists.
Is that a stupid statement? Probably. We witness racism daily in the states. With only 23 years of freedom from apartheid under their belts, the wound of racism is still very fresh. The feelings and effects of the former laws are subconsciously, and consciously occurring. While blacks, whites and coloreds (yes coloreds... I'll get to that next), mix freely, there is a distinct class system that still allows blacks to remain at the bottom of the totem pole. The government is working to break down the racial hierarchies by providing aide in the areas housing, education and employment. When apartheid ended, the African National Congress began to implement three primary means of reform: redistribution, restitution, and land tenure reform. Redistribution transfers land taken from blacks during apartheid back to them. Restitution compensates those who lost their land to whites due to apartheid, racism, and discrimination. Land tenure reform aims to give more access to the land.
2. Being "colored" is a thing.
The term "colored" is dated, taboo and offensive in the US. It takes us back to the days of slavery and segregation where being addressed as colored was the same as being called a negro. In South Africa, colored is a racial group that classifies biracial people or any group that can't identify their African tribe. Surprisingly enough, if I did not identify as African American, I would be considered colored because I can't specify the tribe of my ancestors.
3. Don't believe everything you read or see about Africa.
Television will have you believe that all of Africa is underdeveloped with dirt roads, naked people walking around and random animals roaming the streets. Remember the continent of Africa is huge. It takes 15 hours to drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town and that's just South Africa. That said, South Africa is very developed. Those images are never seen. Besides the gorgeous scenery and rich history, the city has a striking resemblance to parts of Downtown LA and Miami. Like any major city, crime and poverty exist. South Africa as a whole is a melting pot full of people from all over the world. Influence of the various cultures can be found in the food, stores and specific townships. There is more to South Africa than what’s seen on television. In discussing the perception with a local store owner he said, “I hate the way people see us in America. We are not harmful people. We are not poor people. If you want to send aide, don’t send it to South Africa. Send it to other countries less fortunate than us!” Until we provide an alternative image, people will continue to think that all of Africa is poverty-stricken, under-developed and dangerous.
4. Africans LOVE Americans!
Ever walk into a room and everyone stops and stares? Imagine that happening everywhere you go. For a week straight. At first I didn't know what it was about. Maybe I had something on my face, who knows. Turns out Africans just really love Americans. I asked my tour guide why I'd be met with long stares wherever I went. She explained to me that people recognize that you're not from here. They hear your voice and think, "That’s the voice I've heard on TV!" She concluded, "I used to envy black American girls. Not you, but your freedom." Powerful.
When I planned my trip, I initially saved $2,000 as spending money. I paid for all of my excursions beforehand but I figured between food, cabs, shows etc., I'd need a hefty amount of cash to be comfortable. I later spoke to a friend who pretty much called me a wasteful American and said all you need is $400-$600 at most. I was baffled. Between food, travel, last minute excursions and souvenirs, I spent a total of $800.
If you’re looking for the journey of a lifetime, I encourage you to visit a place rich with history, culture and adventure. Beyond the raw beauty of Cape Town, the calm, humbling energy will enrich your soul. I found that the best way to travel is with an open mind and a willingness to absorb the moment.