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Travel and Overcoming Fear

Travel and Overcoming Fear

by H. Bradford

When I was younger, I never really considered going to Africa.  Although I could make some basic differentiation between countries and histories, it always seemed like a place that that was scary.  It was a place where there was war, disease, poverty, crime, and uncertainty.   It is only in becoming an activist, and by extension, becoming interested in issues of racism and anti-colonial struggle, that I developed any interest in Africa at all.  In subtle and not so subtle ways, racism shapes the way that many people view Africa.  Racism is such an inescapable American experience, that it is not possible to think of Africa as a continent in the same way we think of other continents.  With that said, I recognized a long time ago that I was afraid to travel there.  I was afraid to get sick or that something bad would happen.  I feared this more than other destinations.  But, I often tell myself, “life begins where fear ends.”  Yeah, some Indian mystic said that.  I would almost rather that Cecil Rhodes or Theodore Roosevelt said it.  I believe that the things that we fear limit our lives.  I have a lot of fear, but I don’t want to let fear limit what I do in life.  My life is already limited by my geography, gender, class, place in history, etc.  While I can never overcome fear, I can at least challenge it from time to time.  So, that is one reason why I wanted to go to Africa.  I simply didn’t want to miss out on going out of fear!  And, after figuring out where I wanted to go and how I wanted to go about it, I started to feel a lot less fearful.  Of course, my brother injected some more fear into my mind.  He was also of the impression that Africa was a monolithic continent of war, poverty, and disease.  He had a rough time visiting some Pacific Island nations and questioned if I was ready to take on the third world.  Life begins where fear ends…so, I set off anyway, despite some advice to reconsider.  Thus, here are some reflections on my fears, some scary situations, and how I overcame them.


Lions:

I have never actually been anywhere where the wildlife is something to fear.  In Minnesota, we have bear and wolves, but both mostly leave people alone.  Deaths connected to bear and wolf attacks on humans happen by the handful in a century in Minnesota.  In southern Africa, this wasn’t the case.  There is so much wildlife in some areas, that it hardly seems real.  There is a false sense of security, since animals are everywhere.  They hardly seem wild at all, as they become a normal part of the adventure.  However, while camping in the Okavango delta, we met some lion researchers.  A group of lions was staying on the other side of the river from our camp site.  In fact, I could hear them at night.  Elephants also were known to pass through the campground from time to time.  This made for a very interesting night of sleeping, as I could hear many animal noises outside of my tent.  A tent is not a very secure sleeping arrangement in the midst of lions and elephants.  Worse than this, I had to use the restroom at about 4 in the morning.  This involved unzipping my tent and walking through a narrow path…a path lined with tall grass…about 200 meters to the toilets.  Now, I was very afraid.  It was dark out and I had to walk through a gauntlet of grass that seemed like the perfect hideout for a giant cat.  I overcame the fear by trying to be rational.  A.) What are the chances that a wild animal has been waiting in that very spot for my passing?  B.) How often our tourists actually killed by wild animals?  C.) I need to use the restroom so what other choice is there?   Still, there is nothing like the darkness of night, the call of nature, and the sound of unfamiliar animals to draw out a primal fear of being mauled to death.


Fear Level: 3

Fear Strategy: Trying to use reason

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Scorpions:

Early on in the trip, I became fixated on scorpions.  While there are snakes and spiders to worry about, scorpions made me feel the most uneasy.  No one else seemed to share this concern.  There is something villainous about scorpions.  Even their dens are shaped like the letter v.  V for Villain.  Some scorpions glow in the dark.  Some are deadly.  Even a relatively benign scorpion could create a sting that might require medical attention.  Doctors and medical facilities were not always easy to access.  Now, to overcome the fear of scorpions, I became angry!  I actually told myself, “I am not going to get stung by some f’ing scorpion.”  I would say this as I checked my bag, shoes, the corners of the tent, and under the mattress.  The anger created determination to hunt down the little villains and prevent them from ruining my day.  Anger creates action and purpose.  Some say it leads to the dark side, but, clearly they have never dealt with scorpions.  Oh, I didn’t see any scorpions the entire trip.  I saw some scorpion holes and one or two were spotted near our campsite.  However, no one was bothered by them.


Fear Level 2:

Fear Strategy: Anger

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Even the home of the scorpion looks menacing.

 

Spiders:

I do not have a phobia of spiders, but at the same time, I rarely find them to be a welcome addition to my life.  While in Namibia, I went on an educational hike with a San guide.  The purpose of the hike was to learn more about San culture and survival techniques.  The guide was wonderful and taught us many things about the wildlife.  Towards the end, he spotted some spider tracks and began digging into the sand.  Soon, he uncovered a spider tunnel and grabbed the spider in his hand.  The spider was folded up, gently sleeping in the cold, early morning.  This was a pleasant way to “enjoy” a spider.  But, just when I thought that I was safe, the spider uncurled itself, doubled in size, and hurled itself towards the group.  I actually let out a scream.  Yes, I screamed.  I was so surprised by the sudden explosion in the spider’s activity that I screamed.  This was embarrassing.  The guide talked about how he and his father lived around deadly animals, yet remained calm.  He said that when confronted with a deadly snake, like a black mamba, he learned to remain still, even letting it crawl over him, and it would go on its way.  Finally, he said that people who fear/hate spiders, snakes, or other creatures are the same people who hate San people.  This made me feel bad for my fear of the spider, or for that matter the scorpions.  Fear sometimes comes from a lack of control, experience, or understanding, so I can see why people who fear animals might also fear people.  At least for me, I find that my fear of creatures lessens as I have more experience and knowledge.  Thus, I tried to reframe my fear.  The spider was actually quite beautiful, my my reaction was because it surprised me.  As for scorpions, my relationship remained pretty antagonistic, but I guess it is neat that some of them can glow in the dark and spray their venom.  They are 430 million years old, so we are evolutionary embryos compared to their long history on this planet.  I can appreciate their place in the world.  I think they have a fierce looking appearance.  The constellation Scorpio appeared brightly in the Southern Hemisphere sky, a reminder of their hidden existence all around me.


Fear Level: 1

Fear Strategy: Cultivate Understanding

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Sickness:

I have emetophobia, or the fear of throwing up.  This is an actual phobia.  However, my fear has diminished over the years as I have been thrust into confronting it.  I work at a Domestic Violence shelter, thus I am constantly exposed to a lot of germs and vomiting.  I have become pretty sick over the past few years, with a very memorable bout of extreme nausea and explosive diarrhea on my flight back from Prague.  I have had to accept that I really don’t have a lot of control over vomiting.  Yet, the fear remains.  Travel to less developed countries results in exposure to more diseases and more challenging food and water situations.  Overcoming this fear requires all of my fear strategies.  I need to be reasonable.  I need to give up my need to be in control.  But, at the same time I make preparations in case the worst happens.  As such, I always pack ginger candies, pepto-bismol, and Emetrol.  These things can stave off mild digestive problems and comfort major digestive episodes.  I also try to pack a plastic bag in my purse, so that if I must vomit, I have a baggy for it.  One part of my fear is that I will have to vomit, but that there will be nowhere to do it (thus I make a mess on myself, others, or the floor).  These precautions allow me to face the digestive unknowns that travel present.   At the same time, I have to be rational.  A person can get food poisoning here in the U.S., and often this does happen!  So, even though our water sanitation and refrigeration is more predictable, nowhere in the world is safe from sickness!


Besides my phobia of run of the mill vomiting, I was worried about more serious health risks.  It seems that almost every traveler that I speak with has some horror story of a great sickness they obtained.  Sometimes it is malaria.  Sometimes it is dysentery.  These tales often end with the traveler waking up in a foreign hospital or passing out somewhere, only to be attended to by a friendly denizen of their destination.  One story resulted in an unconscious trip directly to the Mayo Clinic.  Travelers laugh about these stories, since they lived to tell them.  They terrify me.  Well, I really don’t want a story like this.  So, again, I sought out some pre-trip preparation.  This brought me to a travel clinic and resulted in a barrage of vaccines, malaria pills, and anti-diarrhea tablets.  However, it also bought me the confidence that perhaps I wouldn’t become deathly ill.  Thankfully, I didn’t!


Fear Level: 4

Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Sexual Assault/Crime:

Another one of my travel fears is that I will be the victim of sexual assault or a crime.  South Africa has one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.  40% of South African women have been raped.  This is a terrifying number.  I have never been sexually assaulted while traveling, but as a solo female traveler, I worry about it.  This is why I often join up with groups when I travel (though I try to do activities on my own, I like to have a group so that if something were to happen, there is a group that expects my return).   I don’t know what I can do to absolutely safe guard myself against sexual assault.  I don’t drink alcohol.  I avoid walking alone at night (though the next items on my list will show that this doesn’t always work out).  I am not a very social person, so when I travel, I am not really hanging out with men.  Still, it is impossible to avoid all risks.  While sexual assault is usually perpetrated by someone known to the victim, there are instances of strangers doing this.  The best I can do is try to be alert of my surroundings.  At the same time, I know that because of rape culture, if anything happens to me, I would be blamed for being foolish, going out alone, or putting myself in danger.  It angers me.  Maybe the best defense against being raped is to fight against rape culture.


I also worry about being the victim of a crime.  This is a more plausible concern, since muggings and pick-pocketing are common travel experiences.  My trip was going to end in Johannesburg, which has reputation of having a high crime rate.  At least as of 2010, 50 people were murdered each day in South Africa.  I think my fear of crime did limit my enjoyment of Johannesburg in particular.  I did not stay there long at the end of my trip.  Even the resident taxi and shuttle drivers said that it was unsafe to drive after 9pm.  I went on a Hop-on/Hop-off tour, but that was about all I did in Johannesburg (and that tour was far less eventful than the Cape Town one, which you will read about next!).  Beyond limiting my time in Johannesburg, I was afraid of having my money stolen.  While I am certainly wealthy compared to the majority of people in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, I am not a wealthy person.  I had a fixed budget.  Having money stolen would have been a hardship.  Also, because many of the places I travelled did not have ATMs or accept my Mastercard Debit card, I carried almost all of my money with me in cash.  This made me feel particularly vulnerable.  However, I did take a few precautions.  A.) I wore a money belt under my pants.  B.) I carried some money in a bra (I purchased a sports bra with re-moveable pads and put the money where the pads would have gone.  This was cheaper than buying a special travel bra).  C.) I carried a fake wallet with some expired cards, a few dollars, and some old IDs- so that I would have something to give someone in the case of a mugging.  D. )  I secured my travel purse zippers with carabiners, so that it could not be easily opened.   Thankfully, I have never been the victim of a pickpocket or mugger.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Preparation, Reason


Hop on Hop off Bus from Hell:

Hop on/Hop off Buses are super dorky and ultra touristy.  You ride around in a giant red double decker bus while listening to an audio recording of your route.  Cities all around the world have them, and Cape Town is no different.  After returning from Robben Island, I thought that catching the Hop on/Hop off bus would be a great way to see the city, but also head to the Table Mountain.  Yes, the Hop on/Hop off bus actually went all the way to the Table Mountain!  It was a really extensive route with a lot to see.  So, off I went.  I made a stop at the Table Mountain, took the cable car up, and explored.  It was wonderful.  I felt like it had been a productive day.  Then, I took the bus back to the harbor.  I had studied the time table and the buses were in operation for another hour when I arrived back to the harbor.  Thus, I decided to stay on the same Hop on Hop off bus to do part of another loop (as this would take me back to near my hotel).


All of the tourists disembarked from the bus at the harbor.  I didn’t worry, as I figured that I was alone because it was near the end of the day and no one was interested in doing the loop at that time.  So, I stayed on the bus.  The driver said nothing and continued on the route.  Only, after a few stops on the route, the bus deviated from the route.  The driver picked up some friends and began making unofficial stops.  The bus veered further and further away from the route.  The recording stopped.  The bus deposited the driver’s friends.  I grew increasingly terrified with each passing second.  Finally, I just asked to get off of the bus- as I had no idea where it was going and no one seemed to mind the one white tourist who was sitting in their midst on what was clearly NOT the scheduled tour.  In retrospect, that particular bus was probably done for the day, even though the routes themselves had another hour.  I was terrified, so I disembarked…


Fear Level: 6

Fear Strategy: Flee

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 Run for your life!

This is part two of the previous story.  I thought my day was going to end with a Hop on/Hop off Tour.  Instead, the bus went rogue and I got off!  The only problem was that I wasn’t sure where I was or how to get back to my hotel.  The other problem was that it was getting dark.  After all, it was winter and the sun set pretty quickly once six pm rolled around.  As the sun set, the area took on a sinister look.  Markets folded up.  Businesses shuttered their windows and doors with metal gates.  I had a map, but I didn’t want to look vulnerable by opening it up on the street.  So, I ducked into a Burger King to study the map.  This was difficult, as I was not on the street, with the ability to compare streets with the map as I moved.  I ducked in and out a few times.  I thought I had a general idea of which way to walk, so I set off.


There are some things I try to do while wandering around in unfamiliar places if I feel unsafe.  One, I try not to look lost.  I try to walk quickly and confidently.  Two, I try to find a group of women to follow or walk with.  There is safety in numbers.  Well, there were zero women.  None.  Not one woman.  There were plenty of men loitering outside the closed businesses, socializing, smoking, and talking.  I was the only tourist, white person, and woman around.  It was scary to be different.  People asked me for money as I walked by.  I walked quickly, ignored everyone, and tried to just keep moving, even though I was lost and terrified.  A man grabbed my arm as I passed through group.  After that, I jerked my arm away and started running.


I don’t remember being that afraid before.  I am really glad that although I am a terrible jogger, I can run for a half an hour to an hour.  I kept jogging.  I watched an arm guard walk a car dealer to his car.  I jogged by police, asking them for directions.  They looked at me as if I was crazy.  There was a concern look in their faces as they told me how far I had to go to my hotel and how to get there.  I kept jogging.  I stopped at another hotel to make sure I was going the right way.  The bellman also looked concerned.


I finally made it back to my hotel.  This was met with relief and a rush of adrenaline that I had made it.  I made it!  I survived the crazy bus and my jog!  Was it wise to run?  Travel advice always says to be inconspicuous and purposeful.  Jogging draws attention.  However, I figured that if anyone wanted to hassle me, it would be too much trouble if I was moving too quickly.


Fear Level: 8

Fear Strategy: Flee

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I am a terrible runner.  But, I am thankful that I CAN jog.


Keep Calm and Don’t Get Trampled On:

There is a time to run and a time when it is not good to run.  I think that getting off the bus and running when I was afraid of my surroundings in Cape Town was an okay time to run.  I will end with a story about not running.  Now, I had camped in Africa for over 22 days before arriving in Matopos National Park in Zimbabwe.  Throughout my trip I went on many wildlife drives.  These drives consisted of sitting in an open vehicle and searching for wildlife, often at watering holes.  There were many close encounters with wildlife, but at no point were we allowed to disembark from the vehicle.  This was the pattern throughout Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe thus far.  As such, when we went on our final wildlife drive in Matopos National Park, I assumed that it would follow this same pattern.  I was mistaken!


After driving some ways, the truck stopped and we were allowed to get out of the vehicle for a quick refreshment from the cooler of sodas.  I assumed that we would resume our drive, but the guide informed us that we were going for a hike.  This was really exciting!  I wasn’t offered many hiking opportunities because hiking is not safe in animal reserves.  Then, we were told that not only were we going to go for a hike, we were going to try to sneak up on some white rhinos.  Okay…what?


The guide was a rhinoceros expert who had actually been on the Animal Planet.  He told us that we could get close to the rhinos, as they couldn’t see very well.  However, our ability to get close to them required us to move carefully, stick together, and NOT RUN.  So, if anyone in the group got scared, they were not allowed to run or leave suddenly.  Our safety depended upon everyone in the group’s ability to remain collectively calm.  We were told that if we ran, we could get charged and trampled.


The group had some hesitations, but we headed out together in some scrubby brush and tall grass.  It didn’t take long before we spotted some rhinos.  We slowed down and those at the front of the group crouched in the grass.  By crouching and moving slowly, we were able to follow the small group as they grazed.  We took turns moving to the front to get a better view and better photos, tenderly stepping our way closer.  It was a little frightening.  Rhinos are enormous.  These enormous endangered animals were just a few feet away from us.  Each time they moved or stepped closer to us, I became a little afraid.  It seemed impossible that they didn’t see us, yet, they kept munching on their food and minding their own business.  Eventually they moved on, deeper into the thicket.


Fear Level: 4

Fear Strategy: Staying Calm

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Trying to be as cool as a cucumber.


This isn’t a comprehensive list of every one of my fears!  And, I fear that talking about my fears makes light of the real conditions that people live in.  While it is funny to talk about my fears, it is not funny that so much of the world lives in conditions of poverty, disease, and danger.  At the end of the day, I get to return home, where there is clean water to drink and no threat of polio or typhoid.  At the end of the day, while I fear having money stolen, it would not sentence me to grinding poverty.  Nevertheless, I hope that the discussion of my fears helps to offer insight into how fear can be managed.  The world is amazing.  Fearless people inspire me.  I met a medical worker who traveled to West Africa during the ebola crisis as a volunteer.  That is fearless.  I met a woman who was in her 60s and went scuba diving with crocodiles at Victoria Falls.  Amazing!  I also hung out with a young Korean woman who was traveling across the entire continent of Africa all by herself, with limited English skills.  That is pretty fearless!  I will probably always be more limited by fear by those people.  Some fears can be overcome.  But, sometimes there is no negotiating with fear and you really do have to run!

An Overview of Overland Travel

An Overview of Overland Travel

H. Bradford


This past summer I went on an overland trip through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe through Nomad Overland Adventure Tours.  I chose Nomad because they included The Great Zimbabwe complex on their itinerary, they were reasonably priced compared to other companies, they had good reviews, and their website looked appealing.  The tour that I chose was “Four Country Trek” which involved 25 Days of camping…in southern Africa.  I had never actually gone camping in my life!  So, this is the review of a novice camper.  Because it was my first time camping, I did have some misgivings.  I feared that I was not be up for the adventure.  My brother tried to talk me out of it, or at least talk some sense into me.  However, there are plenty of people who go to Africa on overland camping trips.  I am sure I am not the weakest or least adventurous of this lot.  Am I?  Well, maybe I am.  Who knows. dscf3967


The Flight:  I flew from Duluth, Mn to Cape Town, South Africa.  This in itself was an adventure, since it involved a flight to Amsterdam followed by a flight to Cape Town.  This resulted in over 20 hours of flying time.  It was pretty amazing to fly over ALL of Africa.  I arrived in Cape Town at 11 pm and was glad that I purchased a transfer to my hotel, or for that matter, a hotel.  While I try to be a frugal person when I travel, I have found that it is nice to stay in a hotel when I first arrive somewhere, rather than a hostel.  This allows my body and mind time to adjust to my new environment rather than being immediately thrust into the discomfort of hostels.  I was happy to have a hotel for my first two nights.


Cape Town: I spent the next day exploring Cape Town, which was the most beautiful city that I have ever seen.  It is hemmed by cloudy mountains, strange forests, and the meeting point of two oceans.  My solo adventures in the city involved visiting Robben Island, going on a Hop on-Hop off Bus Tour, a visit to the top of the table mountain, and wandering around the waterfront.  It also involved a 45 minute frantic jog back to my hotel through darkened streets after a man grabbed me by the arm.  That is another story for another blog post.  I will only say that Cape Town was wonderful.  I particularly enjoyed seeing a hyrax (a rodent like mountain animal which is related to the elephant) and a variety of unique plants (the Cape is one of several plant regions, which families of plants found nowhere in the world).   Oh, our tour guide at Robben Island was once a prisoner on the island and was once part of the Black Consciousness movement. dscn0186 dscn0110


Registration and the Truck:

The next morning, I went to Nomad’s office to sign in for the trip.  This is where I first met the people who would be traveling with me, the guides, and the truck.  Our overland truck was named Ottis.  Ottis could fit 24 passengers.  We were each allowed a soft duffel bag or soft backpack with a daypack and assigned our own locker on Ottis.  Ottis contained all of our tents, cooking equipment, a freezer, electrical outlets, food supplies, a water tank, and basically everything we would need for our camping journey through southern Africa.  Ottis was a sturdy truck with the capacity to take on the worst bumpy and dirt roads on our trek.

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The People:

There were about 24 people on our trip, so Ottis was packed!  We were squeezed onto the truck pretty tightly.  The passengers came from all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Canada, France, United States, Netherlands, Denmark, South Korea, Switzerland, and Japan!  I was one of three Americans on the trip.  As a whole, it seemed that Netherlands and Dutch speaking Belgians made up the majority of those on the trip.  This is perhaps owing to the fact that South Africa was originally settled by the Dutch and Afrikaans is closely related to Dutch.  Just as there was a wide spread of nationalities, there was a wide range of ages.  Most of the people on the trip were in their 20s, but there were a few people in their 30s, as well as some adults who were in their 50s and 60s.  It can generally be said that everyone was well traveled and had a spirit of adventure.  It can also be said that everyone was at least somewhat athletic, with several individuals who had trekked up mountains or hiked extensively.  Many of the travelers enjoyed pursuits such as scuba diving, mountain climbing, skiing, biking, hiking, skydiving, etc.  Compared to the others, I was definitely on the lower end of fitness and propensity for adventure.


The Guides: Both of our guides were from Zimbabwe, which was great since I was most excited for my time in Zimbabwe.  The driver, Dingi, was a little older and generally had a good sense of humor.  Dingi was patient and never lost his cool as we faced long, arduous days on dusty roads.  Prince was younger and had spent some time working and living in the United States.  Prince did more of the cooking than Dingi and was a fabulous cook!  We all helped to prepare meals by washing and chopping vegetables, cleaning dishes, or otherwise helping as needed.  Prince worked his magic over the rudimentary burners and campfire to create flavorful southern Africa meals.  Both of them worked from before 5am to after 10 pm each night.  They did not get breaks between tours, so they worked non-stop from early spring to December.   They both tried to have a good attitude about it, as even the hyper-exploitative conditions paid better than jobs that they might find or not find in Zimbabwe.  Their low wage is bolstered by the tips they receive at the end of the trip.  So, as a note to fellow travelers: be sure to budget tip money.


The Camping:

My introduction to camping was my first night in the Cederberg region of South Africa.  We stayed at a campsite that was adjacent to a farm/vineyard.  A burly Boer regaled us with tales of leopards that pass through the farm.  I went to bed feeling giddy with my new adventure.  However, that night it rained very hard and became chilly.  My tent got wet inside.  I got wet.  I was miserable as I had to take apart my tent in the rain, pack it up, becoming covered in mud.  This was not the best introduction to camping.  This was one of the worst nights.  I will note that camping was much colder than I had prepared for.  I thought that it would be warmer…after all, it was Africa.  I come from Minnesota, where winter can involve 110 inches of snow and weeks of below zero temperatures.  I could not believe that winter in Africa could possibly be cold.  I was wrong.  There were nights that were near freezing, especially in desert areas.  I did not prepare myself well enough.  My sleeping bag was not up to the task.  So, there were some miserable, shivering nights.  However, there was also a sense of accomplishment and adventure.  Each day we had to get up early and take apart the tents.  Each day we had to put them back up.  It ended up being more work than it sounds like.  Also, because it was winter, the sun set early.  We were always putting up and taking down tents in the darkness of winter.  We chopped vegetables and did dishes in the dark, coldness of desert night.  It was fun, challenging, and beautiful all at once.  I never felt demoralized, but I also counted the days to my next warm shower and bed.  Thankfully, our longest stretch of camping was about five days.  Then, we had a reprieve in a city, where we stayed in a hotel.  This would be followed by another stretch of camping, with the eventual reward of a stay in a city.

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Showers and Bathrooms: The shower and bathroom situation was better than expected.  To be fair, I expected that I would probably be digging a hole and burying my pooh.  I also expected no showers or only cold showers.  In actuality, the bathroom situation was pretty good in South Africa and Namibia, which public restrooms at gas stations (which could be accessed for a fee).  The camp grounds featured flush toilets.  Showers tended to be either extremely cold or burning hot, with no way to moderate the heat.  This made showering a challenge, but since I was always extremely dirty it was worth the challenge.  Showers often did not have any lights, which meant showering with a flashlight or headlamp.  We did “bush camp” in Namibia for one night, which meant there were no showers and only an outhouse.  Really, I don’t mind outhouses.  In Botswana, the toilet situation took a turn for the worst.  The gas stations no longer had public toilets or running water.  I remember at one point, I had to use the toilet, but there was no toilet.  So, I had to trek away from Ottis, our bus, to find a secluded area to do my business.  However, ALL of the trees were variations of acacias.  Each tree was covered in terrible sharp spikes!   I squatted by this not very concealing, thorn covered tree…which jabbed by butt with a nasty thorn.  I pulled up my pants in disgust!  I was so angry that I couldn’t even answer nature’s call.  I felt angry at nature…angry at these mean trees that were neither concealing nor kind.  There was also a public restroom in Zimbabwe which was basically a tennis ball sized hole in a cement floor.  Despite some minor challenges along the way, I had access to flush toilets for most of the trip and a temperature controlled shower at least once a week. dscf3896


The Food:

The food was far better than I expected.  Each day that we camped, we started the day with a modest breakfast.  The breakfast consisted of cereal, tea, instant coffee, toast made over the campfire, fruit, and granola.  Sometimes the guides would make us bacon or eggs, but I never had these since I don’t eat meat and I prefer a light breakfast.  Each morning, I basically ate toast, fruit, and tea.  Our lunch was usually taken very quickly at a rest stop.  So, this usually consisted of cold sandwiches.  I ate a lot of cucumber, cheese, and tomato sandwiches on the road.  Since we made bathroom stops every few hours, there were opportunities to buy snacks and drinks.  Dinner was more of a production.  Once the tents were set up, we helped prepare dinner by cutting vegetables, setting the table, washing, or whatever else was needed.  Prince tried to make traditional foods, but also catered to my vegetarian diet.  I was the only vegetarian and didn’t ask for any special treatment.  Despite my protests, he always made me something special.  Our evening meals consisted of cooked squash, sweet potatoes, mealie pap, chakalaka stew, game meats, fish, pasta, curry vegetables, etc.  The food always tasted fresh and delicious.  There were always plenty of vegetable dishes and I never felt hungry.  Also, I usually get sick when I travel.  However, I did not become ill the whole time!  So, my digestive system handled the food very well. dscf3691

 

 

Health:

Before I went on the trip, I visited a travel health clinic.  Actually, it was my first time doing this, as usually I have not been too worried about my health while traveling.  I was given a variety of vaccinations, including yellow fever, meningitis, Hepatitis A/B, and typhoid.  I was also given malarial pills and anti-diarrhea pills.  I was told to take the malarial pills before beginning the trip.  Really, I was the only person on Ottis who was taking malaria pills (until Botswana).  Oh well, at least I gave my body a long time to get used to the malaria pills. I had no symptoms from the malarial pills other than vivid dreams.  I took them at night with my dinner, rather than at breakfast, since I did notice they gave me a little diarrhea and it was easier to deal with diarrhea at night rather than during the day while on a truck.  Otherwise, I had no major health issues during the trip.  Because it was winter during the trip, I really didn’t see any mosquitoes.  I had a few bites on my hands (since the spray was washed off), but mosquitoes were not very active.  Winter was also useful because snakes, scorpions, and insects in general were dormant during the trip.


The Days:

The days were usually long and involved a lot of driving.  There were places where the roads were extremely bumpy and dusty, resulting in hours of a slow slog through clouds of red dust.  At one point, the vibrations from the bumpy roads caused one of the windows to shatter into thousands of pieces.  We used a mattress to cover the window until it could be repaired.  I usually awoke before 5am, however I rose early to make sure I had enough time to shower and take down my tent.  I never wanted to make people wait for me.  Usually, we were sleeping by around 10 pm.  On days when we were not driving, we usually ended up in a vehicle …as we did wildlife drives to see animals!


The Excursions: Many of the activities were covered in the activity package I purchased.  However, many of the stops had the option for some optional excursions.  Many people did not partake in these optional excursions due to the price or the fact they wanted to relax after spending time on the road.  I went on several optional excursions, which I found to be fun, but not necessary.  For instance, I went canoeing on the Orange River.  I thought this was a good activity because I wanted some exercise after being cooped up in the truck.  While I Swakopmund, I went on a tour of the Cape Seal Colony via a boat ride.  This was also well worth the money, since when are you going to see hundreds of seals on a beach and in the water?  The land was dotted with the swarm of dark bodies.  I also went on a night wildlife drive at Etosha National Park.  Once again this wasn’t necessary, as we had a drive earlier in the day.  However, it offered me the opportunity to see nocturnal animals such as hyenas and an aardwolf.   This tour was freezing cold, as we were in an open jeep.  However, a group of hyenas brushed by our vehicle, a few feet away from us.  I also went on a helicopter ride over Victoria falls.  This was spendy, but worth it, because I had never been in a helicopter before and it offered the full view of Victoria falls.  Nevertheless,  a person could be perfectly satisfied without spending any money on extra excursions- as there was plenty to see and do without these excursions. dscn1225 Money: On a day to day basis, I didn’t spend much money.  I don’t drink alcohol, which was popular with other passengers.  I also tried to limit my snacks, as I didn’t want to gain weight (from the sedentary days on the truck).  Most days did not have optional excursions, as there were included activities such as walks, wildlife drives, or city tours.  My main expenses were water, soft drinks, and supplemental snacks.  This made me feel less guilty when I splurged on a helicopter ride.  I don’t like buying souvenirs, so I waited until the end to pick up a few small items.  In the end, I had money left over in my budget as I had not spent as much as I thought.


Highlights:

  1. Seeing rhinos and elephants acting aggressively towards each other at a watering hole.
  2. The Great Zimbabwe Ruins
  3. Climbing Dune 45
  4. Seeing the Cape Seal Colony
  5. Visiting Robben Island
  6. Taking the cable car up the Table Mountain
  7. Sitting a few feet away from lions eating a giraffe (in an open vehicle)
  8. Squatting in the grass a few feet away from a wild white rhino!
  9. Seeing 200 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and plants
  10. Sitting in a canoe- watching hippos in the Okavango Delta
  11. A helicopter ride over Victoria falls
  12. Star gazing in the Southern Hemisphere
  13. Visiting Cecil Rhodes grave
  14. Spotting a leopard!
  15. Spotting all of the Big Five: Lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino, elephant
  16. Seeing my first elephant, first lion…first zebra…first….etc.
  17. Scurrying across the border to Zambia..by myself
  18. Seeing both sides of Victoria Falls
  19. Meeting lion researchers in Okavango delta
  20. Surviving!

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Overall:

Overland camping involves long days in a crowded truck on bumpy roads.  In the winter, it was uncomfortably cold with late sunrises and sunsets.  I was covered in dirt and my skin became extremely dry.  However, it was still less challenging than I thought it would be.  It involved early mornings, effort, and cooperation.  Nevertheless, I think that anyone with a positive attitude, patience, and open mind could enjoy this kind of trip.  The reward for sleeping in a tent, is waking up to fresh, brisk mornings and nights under the expansive and exotic sky of the Southern hemisphere.  The group effort and shared discomforts builds camaraderie.  There is also something nice about sitting in a circle around a campfire with people from around the world.  They all have stories about where they have been and what they have done.  It is inspiring.  The days on the truck are also rewarded with sights of birds and animals that you would otherwise only see in the zoo.  There is something wonderful about seeing these animals in nature, behaving as they would naturally (eating one another, fighting, or showing indifference to each other).  Each day I saw or experienced something completely unique and fascinating.  It enlivened my curiosity and made me feel like a child.  With that said, I highly recommend overland camping!

What Do We Learn about South African Apartheid?

What do we learn about South African Apartheid?


This blog post stems from my plans to embark on a trip to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe in late June. Now, I am not an expert on South Africa or Africa in general. I really am in the stages of learning and thinking, rather than producing knowledge. In this attempt to learn more about Africa in general, I headed to the Duluth Library Book Sale. I came home with dozens of books, but there was next to nothing for sale on the topic of Africa! The only book I found was Brian Lapping’s Apartheid: A History, which was written in 1986! I read the book, but because it is so old, it does not make sense to write a book review. If I reviewed the book, much of the story would remain untold.   In any event, the book was a quick read that didn’t offer much depth or political analysis. I wouldn’t recommend it except as a nice introduction to the topic. Nevertheless, I wanted to write an easy to read blog post about apartheid in South Africa. As I thought of the topic, I considered what I learned about South Africa in school. Really, I learned next to nothing. I think I was given this general idea that once upon a time there was racial inequality in South Africa, then Nelson Mandela came along, and everything was better. With that said, I will explore some of the narratives about South Africa that seem to be popular in our society.


  1. Everything is Better Myth:

If you learn about apartheid in school, the narrative of apartheid is one of victory over injustice. This is the same way we learn about the Civil Rights movement or women’s suffrage movement. We are provided with a narrative that a historically isolated moment of struggle ends in triumph and change. Everything is better. The end.


Spielvogel’s Glencoe World History textbook, published in 2005 and used at a local high school, ends its two page coverage of apartheid (out of over 1000 pages) with the election of Nelson Mandela and a quote about the rainbow nation. This leaves the distinct impression that good triumphed over evil.


One of the problems with this narrative is that it ignores the ways in which apartheid continues through economic mechanisms. In 1993, South African Trotskyist Neville Alexander, wrote that apartheid laws could be removed because racial inequality already had a firm foundation. Over two decades later, 60-65% of South African wealth is in the hands of 10% of the population. 47% of the country lives in poverty and 25% of the country is unemployed. If unemployment is looked at along racial lines, about 39% of Black South Africans are unemployed compared to 8% of whites. The average white family earns six times more than the average Black family. Although some Black South Africans have joined the middle class since the end of apartheid, the country remains economically divided along racial lines.


There are many reasons why economic inequality persists. Although the original Freedom Charter adopted by the ANC supported the redistribution of wealth and land, economic demands of the charter were not adopted. The ANC is not an anti-capitalist party and apartheid was built upon economic inequality. As such, the end of apartheid allowed only for a democracy founded upon fundamental inequalities and a system that promotes such inequalities. The same state, police, and military continued on, but with a different face. While the racial demographics of government have changed, the state remains the same inasmuch as it has pursued neoliberal policies and used the police to kill workers (i.e. the Lonmin mine massacre that killed 47 people)!


 

2. The Nelson Mandela Myth:

 

Nelson Mandela died back in 2013 when I worked at the Boys and Girls Club. The children told me that they learned about Nelson Mandela in school. Although they learned about him in school, the content was pretty minimal as he was presented as a sort of Santa Claus like character. He was a mythical, jolly, peaceful fellow who ended apartheid and brought the gift social justice to the world. While there is nothing wrong with learning about Nelson Mandela, the way in which he and any other historical figure is presented is as a maker of history. This ignores other individuals, economic conditions, social movements, labor organizing, and other important factors in social change. In short, social change is reduced to the heroic actions of a mythical individual. Beyond this, the depiction of these heroes is white washed. For example, Spielvogel’s (2005) Glencoe World History textbook says the following: “After the arrest of ANC leader Nelson Mandela in 1962, members of the ANC called for armed resistance to the white government (p. 922).” In this statement, Nelson Mandela is a catalyst for armed resistance but not a promoter of it. Nowhere in the paragraph does it mentioned that Nelson Mandela believed in armed resistance and was the head of the Spear of the Nation (the armed wing of the ANC). He co-founded it in 1961 AFTER the Sharpeville massacre wherein 69 unarmed protestors were shot (in the back as they fled) by police. But, the textbook does not mention the Sharpeville massacre and the role it played in changing the tactics of the ANC. Rather, the reader is lead to believe that it was the arrest of Nelson Mandela (the great individual in this narrative) which was the cause of arm struggle. This neutralizes the subversive aspects of Nelson Mandela, making him out to a Barack Obama type character.   He was considered a terrorist and leader of a terrorist organization. He went to prison under laws made to persecute communists. He was, at least for a time, a member of the South African Communist Party. He was also a domestic abuser who threatened his first wife that he would attack her with an axe.


Individuals are thorny and imperfect. The right wing has a heyday with such things. Instead, it should raise issues of how a “terrorist” is socially constructed and what is deemed a terrorist organization is a matter of the power. It should also raise issues about the role of violence in social change or considerations of the role of capitalism in promoting racial inequalities (the SACP should not be idealized, but at least recognized as a part of history). In later textbook passages, Nelson Mandela is described with more apolitical staleness. He was imprisoned for 26 years and became the first Black president of South Africa. That is all. Desmond Tutu is mentioned in one sentence as a person who helped to release him. This is the complete cast of characters in the story of apartheid. There is no mention of Steve Biko, one of many people who mysteriously died in police custody (after torture). More important than the addition of other anti-apartheid figures is the lack of coverage of social history. The textbook does not mention the Soweto massacre, for instance. Students might be able to relate to the struggle of fellow students against curriculum changes. Up to 1000 (700?) people died to learn math and to speak their own language!


  1. America the Invisible/Elephant in the Room:

            Nowhere in the textbook I’ve been using as an example is there any mention of the role of the United States in all of this. I learned the other day that U.S. companies Polaroid and IBM profited from the creation of identification cards and card reading systems used for the passes that kept Black South Africans segregated and relegated to Bantustans. As of 1985, U.S. companies controlled 70% of the computer market in South Africa. The tires used by South African police and military vehicles were purchased from Firestone and Goodyear. In 1985, 20% of all foreign investment in South Africa was American. These corporations profited from the cheap labor of black workers, who lived and worked as impoverished guest workers in the slave like conditions of their own country. The United States refused sanctions against South Africa until 1986 and vetoed a UN resolution to expel South Africa’s membership. Even under the Carter administration, the United States abstained from a UN vote to impose an oil embargo on South Africa. Beyond the economic bounty that corporations gained from apartheid, South Africa was an important U.S. ally and staging point for wars against left leaning independence movements in Africa.   Of course, textbooks try to be apolitical and inoffensive, so the omission of this close relationship with South Africa is expected. But, the absence of the U.S. is political. It only adds to the amnesia of our negative role in history and a denial of our own troubled race relations. Digging deeper, it might call into question the U.S.’s relationship with Israel or the parallels between Israel and South Africa. White South Africans (of Boer descent) saw themselves as a chosen people who belonged on the land. People who had always been there. They also saw themselves as victims of British imperialism and genocide with a right to defend themselves. Just as the story of apartheid ends with Nelson Mandela, the story of segregation ends with Martin Luther King Jr. or the story of slavery ends with the Civil War. In these stories, racism exists only in a historical moment. It existed and, like the dinosaurs, vanishes into the deep history of dust and fossil imprints. The dinosaurs aren’t with us now. And we are led to believe that racism is also a thing of the past.


Conclusion:  

I am not an expert on South Africa or racism. I am not an expert about anything. I am a student. I like to learn. I would also like to be a teacher. In this capacity, I hope I taught you a few things about apartheid and how we think about it in American society. There is much more to say on this topic. I have a lot on my mind. I will save it for another post or wait until I do more reading. Until then, the story continues.

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