My First African Experience

 

The very first time I travelled out of my country was to South Africa, Mandela’s country in 2009. As I prepared for the trip, I thought of what other people had said about flying- that it was scary taking off and landing. I wondered if I would have butterflies in my belly or if I would clutch my seat, so afraid to let go until we were in the air. Some of these doubts result from the fact that we know that machines are made by man and so are imperfect. On the take off day, I fried some delicious fish, which were to accompany me during my flight. I didn’t know that food was not allowed on the plane and discovered to my dismay that I had to abandon all of it at the airport. Happily for me, my adventurous nature prevented me from panicking as the plane took off. I was busy experiencing everything that was happening from the time the pilot started going down the run-way until when he took off. I was quite certain the pilot was a man, so this is not a natural assumption. I even noticed how he did it. Some pilots will fly straight up before veering towards their path while others will make a circuitous turn as they go up and up. I now know the differences from all the other trips I’ve taken after that. During the flight, I spent my time filming the clouds as I tried to identify the various shapes that they formed. I saw animals of different sorts, castles, palaces…ooh it was all so beautiful. Travelling with South African Airways meant that our flight was basically downhill, not going east before coming down south, so it was a straight flight and we arrived before midday.

Once we reached South African airspace, one of the first things I noticed, which interested me particularly were the plots. From the air, I could see how uninhabited land had already been partitioned. Roads had been marked and traced and all the land had been carved up. I was amazed at such planning especially considering that where I was coming from i.e Cameroon; there was no sign of such advanced urban planning. I saw that it was possible to do things differently. Though in Africa, I saw a different story from the ones that I regularly saw on television about the wars, poverty, hunger and disease. As I landed and continued my trip to Grahamstown, everything I saw confirmed to me that South Africa was a different world. The infrastructure, the urban planning, the vision was all so amazing. In this haze of admiration, I spent my time happily and fully participating in the workshop that had taken me to the Rhodes University.

Towards the end of my stay, I was fortunate to have a friend drive me around the city. I thought it a very good idea because at the back of my mind, I had been struck by the fact that the sight of black people was a rarity except for those who worked in the hotels and the students I met in the university. I had no idea what their neighbourhoods looked like. This was the day to remove the dazzle from my eyes. As we drove out of the majority populated white neighbourhoods, the first thing I noticed was the change in the nature of the road. We were moving out of perfectly tarred roads into broken cemented roads, then dusty roads. I noticed the change in the buildings – from storey buildings, proper pavements and shaded roads, I started seeing small stand alone structures roofed with zinc; basically no trees by the roadside and so much dust. That is when I saw South Africa for the first time. What I saw were questions before me to which I had no answers and to which there were no answers to justify such an anomaly. What I saw was myself if by some design of faith I had been born there. I felt so angry I cried and was traumatized about it until I left South Africa. This brought close to home for me the issue of racism. The last time I saw racism was on Kunta Kinte, the African American slave movie. Coming so close to it that I could touch it, smell it, breathe it and feel was a completely different experience. In my limited knowledge of Apartheid, I had considered that when it ended, everything changed and went back to normal, but again that is my normal, not their normal. I can’t even imagine what normal for them is, what it means or how it is supposed to work. Apparently, during the period of Apartheid, very few blacks had benefited from any form of constructive education. Someone told me they had been given only enough education to enhance their service work. Under Apartheid, blacks were invisible. In that moment, I was tempted to hate all whites good or bad. I considered what had been done to my race historically by white people and what is still being done. At the end of the day, I saw that Africans are very strong: to have overcome such historical torture without returning the favour required strength and resistance. History is evolution and I wait to see the day when the story of the African will be constantly written in more favourable light. The beauty I had seen of South Africa from the sky now looked like a shallow shell that you can only listen to and wonder at the unfathomable depths of the ocean that calls from within it. In that moment of clarity, I was like a new being, born into a new reality, yet I also recognized the fact that as a new born baby, I did not have the capacity to navigate all what had gone on in that country. All realities do matter and though I may not understand all perspectives, I saw myself taking a side and I hoped in that time, that I would feel so passionate about all injustice to whomsoever, not only about race.

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