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In the apartheid museum, there is an exhibit filled with photos from the height of the apartheid struggle in the 1980s. The film photos sat in the photographer’s basement for twenty years where they were distorted by water, exposure, and time. The damage produced something new. Water stains and streaks obscured the scenes in the photos to the point where only shapes of protesting men and women could be seen. To the photographer, the photos represent the fading of communal memory and of ideology from the apartheid struggle.

When standing in front of the exhibit, each person creates their own story from the photos on the wall, filling in the gaps with their own imagination and elaborating based on their own experiences. Even though apartheid is still fresh on the minds of South Africans, the exhibit suggests that memories and stories have become distorted or flat out forgotten.

In our first week in Johannesburg, we visited more museums and monuments than I could count on my hands. And as we did, I wondered how time had come to shape and change the ‘histories’ we viewed on the museum walls.

When we were given the prompt “First Impressions” for our first blog post, I sat in my room for a while and tried to recall my first impressions of Johannesburg and of South Africa as a whole. I honestly couldn’t remember. I had a blurry photograph of a memory of my first week, and each time I thought back on those first few days, I just could not trust what I remembered. My memories were distorted by subsequent thoughts and experiences.

I had forgotten about all the curiosity I had in my first week because many of the questions I had then had already been answered. I had forgotten about both the wonder and shock I felt while learning about South Africa’s history because I had already spent too many days processing and reasoning things away. Even though I had kept a journal on my experiences, I found that I had failed to truly capture them in my own writing. So in thinking of my first-week, I learned I had already forgotten so much of the richness in my experience.

I don’t think the analogy between my memory of my first week and the exhibit in the apartheid museum is the best analogy. The parallels may be minimal but I bring it up because I am surprised at how much the museum’s message resonated with me on a personal level. In the short time of a week, the memory of a summer experience I have been looking so forward to has already been distorted. Some things I have forgotten and some details are misremembered.