Skip to main content

My first thought: I am never going to make it to Johannesburg. The traveling seemed like it was never going to end. My flight from Newark, New Jersey to London, UK was standard but the layover in London seemed impossibly long. The London airport was just unfamiliar – security was different (mainly slower) than TSA and you weren’t told your gate until what felt like the last possible second. The gate was sperate from the shops and it made me feel more out of place. But, having the other members of my group with me made the connecting site a little more comfortable.

My first impression of Joburg was that it was a lively city. We went to dinner at a restaurant called Poppy’s. A fun atmosphere overall, we enjoyed great food and live music. The easy mood persisted as we toured the city itself, but it turned a little heavier the more we learned about the darker parts of South Africa’s history. Going to Pretoria to see the Voortrekker Museum, Freedom Park, and Union Square provided a rough timeline of South Africa’s beginnings, its fight for freedom and its current democracy. I think that the week our group spent in Joburg was the best thing we could have done. Duke Engage is constantly critiqued for promoting “voluntourism,” but being able to connect with SA through its history works against that notion.

However, having the opportunity to visit so many museums brings up many questions about their effectiveness, or rather how they are curated. Looking back, I think going to the Voortrekker Museum first gave me almost a distorted view of the country’s history, mainly because it praised the trek of the Dutch as they settled into the country. While I do believe that the monument should exist, I feel as that the way the tour was done made it seem more commemorative than educational. I think the history of the Dutch is important, but almost praising the plight of people who would later play a part in the subjugation of the black people in the country doesn’t sit too well with me.

When we visited Liliesleaf, there was an entire room dedicated to Bram Fischer, a white lawyer who gave up his privilege to serve the interests of the anti-apartheid movement. The tour-guide made it a point to let us know this fact, he emphasized that Fischer often was pushed away by the white community because of his actions. While I think that Fischer’s actions are important and should be at least recognized, I don’t think they should be praised. A white man simply having humanity isn’t noble and I don’t think someone like him should be put on such a pedestal. The things that black South Africans sacrificed to gain their freedom are much more noble.

After our historically themed first week,  we finally boarded another flight and landed in Cape Town, where we’re staying until the end of our trip. Instantly, the stark differences of the city were apparent to me as we drove through a township. This place was filled with one-story houses that were almost wall-to-wall with each other, and I was quickly reminded of the country’s history. It is in contrast with the town we’re staying in – a quiet suburb with mostly white inhabitants – and continues to make me evaluate my place as a visitor of this country.

Finally, my internship at Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town gives me high hopes and excitement. The organization clearly does meaningful work with migrants and refugees, and each department seems like a pleasure to work in. I cannot wait to become fully immersed and contribute to all the work they have going on at the center.

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be in this beautiful country. I have already been pushed out of my comfort zone by my other group members – from going on my first hike ever up Lion’s Head (although it was definitely brutal – I’m still sore, days later) to something as little as trying sushi, which I don’t usually eat. I’m excited for this new beginning and all that it has in store for me, good and bad.