Soweto

 

During Apartheid, South Africa's government had sectioned off certain areas for "non-Europeans" to live and at times even forcefully moved them there from cities. These areas were known as townships. One of the most well known townships was the South West Township, or now officially known by its abbreviated name, Soweto. It's about a half hour drive from Jo'burg. 

Apartheid is the legal system of segregation and oppression of non-whites. As part of the Bantu Educational System, even schools in Black areas like Soweto were required to teach some content in Afrikaans, the language of the Dutch settlers. For the native South Africans, this new policy was often difficult and oppressive.  Forced to learn in a language in which they were not fluent, from teachers and parents who also were not fluent, the students' learning was suffering. The school system continued to enforce this medium of instruction despite the increasing numbers of drop outs and students being held back. 

Both teachers and pupils suffered from this policy and as a result, Soweto students mobilized to peacefully protest the use of Afrikaans, their oppressor's language, in their schools. On the morning of 16 June 1976, high school students in Soweto gathered together and planned to protest in the Orlando soccer stadium. On the way to the stadium there was a group of police officers who were assigned to stop the protest. The officers started out by using tear gas and firing warning shots to disperse the students. However, when that failed, the police began to shoot within the crowd of students. Many students were injured, but of the thousand who had gathered, two had been fatally shot. One of those students was twelve year old Hector Pieterson.  The photograph above is of Hector's body being carried by a fellow student. This event in Soweto would be known as the Soweto Uprising, and in memory of the critical role of youth resistance in bringing the end of apartheid, the Hector Peterson Museum was created. In the courtyard of the museum is a line of grass that marks where the police shot Hector Pieterson. 

Soweto was also once home to Nelson Mandela.  For those who don't know, Mandela was a central and indispensable figure in overthrowing apartheid, negotiating the peaceful transition from apartheid to the current democracy, and in shaping the vision of a united and egalitarian South Africa.  He is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a worldwide hero and symbol of peace and tolerance.  The home he and his family lived in for decades is now a museum.

With that historical context in mind, I can offer a few reflections on the experience of visiting Soweto.  The Hector Pieterson Museum was a beautiful yet painful display of a difficult piece of this township's history. It is definitely a must see when visiting Johannesburg. And while you're here, don't forget to grab a bite of a kota (sometimes called bunny chow), a South African street food that is made up of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with everything (and I mean everything). Nelson Mandela's home is also a great place to visit. It's a small home made up of two bedrooms. It's humbling to see the simple life the Mandela family lived, yet they were able to do so much for a nation. Soweto is a beautiful place with rich history; painful yes, but there's so much to learn from it. I left Soweto feeling full with motivation to help, and with poverty and oppression still relevant around the world, I definitely felt the urgency to do something. Soweto is a scary reminder of the hate that can so easily ruin lives, but it is also an inspirational reminder that simple things done by simple people can change the world. 

The Lion Park

 

A trip to the Lion Park has been on our to-do list for a while now. We actually went to the park a week ago, but disaster struck. We were minutes away from the park when I realized I had left the battery for my camera charging back at our cottage. I whined like a child. We were 45 minutes from our place and my phone had no more space. If we wanted good photos and videos (or any at all for that matter) we needed to turn around. So we turned onto the road where the park was located to make a u-turn. However, quickly approaching us was a lorrie (cargo truck). The road was narrow so Jordan quickly adjusted for space, but sadly over adjusted. Our car's tire hit the edge of the road, damaging the wheel. The roads in South Africa, although paved, sometimes don't have clean finished edges. We pulled into the parking lot of The Lion Park and as I stepped out of the vehicle, the tire's air gushed out and I knew there would be no Lion Park today. Somehow I stayed calm during the event. The guard at the entrance helped us get to a telephone (neither of us had calling services on our cell phones) so we could contact Avis.

Note: Jordan would want me to make sure I gave acknowledgment to the fact that he can change a tire.

When we returned from our call with Avis, the guard went to work and changed our tire! Afterwards we asked if we could pay him and he said, "If you wish. We are just happy to help." This man is a testament of how kind many South Africans are. We paid him, and we were on our way out of the park and back home. 

So as you can see, we eventually made it back to The Lion Park. The events of the previous Tuesday happened to work out because it meant we had plans for Jordan's birthday!

The Lion Park, located in the Gauteng province, is just 45 minutes from Johannesburg. There's no exact address for the park, but we simply put in the coordinates listed on the park's website (what normal person uses coordinates!?), and got there just fine. At least, the coordinates got us in the area. If you see a lion statue on the corner of Malibongwe Drive and R114 Road then you've arrived. 

So for the attractions! The Lion Park is a big tourist attraction in these parts, but going on a Tuesday wasn't crazy busy. In fact, I was able to go on the "Walk with Lions" attraction all by myself! I had three guides with me, Mbengane who fed the lions and kept them behaved, Kayla who also tamed the lions, and Lavious the photographer. Although I was excited, I was nervous about being the only tourist. I mean, I'm Asian and everyone knows that Asians are the worst tourists when animals are involved and South Africans get annoyed with Americans for the same reason. So the deck was stacked against me! I had no husband to protect me (he was watching the babe - we took turns walking with the lions sans baby) and no other tourist to distract hungry lions away from me! 

Nervousness aside, it truly was a thrilling experience! I had the opportunity to hang out with Jay, a 14 month old white lion, and Ben who was 12 months. Both of them were raised at the Lion Park and have grown accustomed to visitors playing with them, which is why the park considers them safe until they get a bit older.  It took me a while to warm up to the boys, but I soon got to know their personalities and learned which lion I could trust. Jay was mellow and willing to obey orders. And by orders, I mean the reward system of doing tricks and then getting a nice hunk of horse meat. He never did anything he wasn't supposed to. Ben, on the other hand, was naughty, and the rangers called him naughty often on our walk. Ben is a lady's man and being younger means he's more playful. So at one point he wanted to play with me. You see the photo to the left and below of Ben trying to play with Jay (Jay was not having it)? Yeah, Ben did that to me too! It felt similar to when a dog nips at you when it's being playful, but a lot bigger! This moment, getting bit by a lion, is something you want to brag about, but it's also a moment where you want to completely freak out cause a part of your body was in a lion's mouth!!!! But you see, I did have a reason to be worried, but I probably brought it on myself because Mbengane repeatedly told me to not be scared because they can sense it. 

One great thing about the park is that even though they have their professional photographers (and they're everywhere so you won't miss any photo ops), they allow you to take your own photos as well. The pros are also very willing to take photos of you with your device! So I was able to get photos and videos of me with the lion so I could just enjoy being with the lions!  

Jordan walked with Shandor, 16 months, and Naledi, who was from the same litter as Jay. During his walk, Naledi caught a bird! She just wandered off and came back with a bird! Kayla said that one of the things people worry about with lions living in captivity is that they lose their natural instincts. Naledi's hunting skills suggest otherwise. That's what's so great about the Lion Park! These animals aren't kept in solitude and in small cages. The antelope, birds and giraffes roam freely in the park. The wild cats and dogs live in large fenced areas (each pride has it's own area) and have plenty of opportunity to live freely!

After my walk with the lions, it was time for the game drive. Lion Park has two options for game drives, the group game drive or the self game drive. We did the latter since we had the babe and could go at our own pace. So we tucked Anthem in his car seat for a nap (he didn't take a nap), got our windows taped up and we were off!

The taping up of the windows is a recent change. Apparently, a few weeks ago, there was an American woman who was hanging out of her window and was killed by a lion. Locals would tell me how they used to drive through with their windows half way down (they wouldn't hang out of the windows though). There's no way I would have my windows open. Nope. So tape away!

We went on the drive around two in the afternoon. It probably wasn't the best time to see the animals because pretty much the time between noon and dusk is nap time. Every animal from the birds, great and small, to the wild cats were all tucked away, snoozing in the grass. Well, all except for the zebras who were busy feeding. 

The lions were of course the main event. However, they were all sleeping in big piles. They were active enough though. It was just mesmerizing to be near them and to see how big they actually are. That's one thing that I still can't fully grasp, is how big lions are. It's terrifying and amazing! Even the cubs are ginormous. The cubs were snoozing as well, which I guess is a good thing when you have your baby with you. The cubs did wake up after we left, so next group got to hold them and hug them! Shame.

After getting bit by Ben, I was nervous to get close to them. I've always dreamed of cuddling up next to these babies, but alas my fear got the better of me. Anthem was even braver than I was and petted the sleeping cub on his own! I didn't even pet it! But I'll blame that on being too busy taking photos and videos. 

The rest of the evening was spent feeding Perdi the giraffe and hanging out with Sebo the cheetah. No footage of our time with Sebo because my camera had died by this time (always bring a spare battery my friends!), but it happened and it was the cherry on top cause cheetahs are absolutely my faves! 

Maboneng

We've been in South Africa for two weeks now. We spent about four days sleeping, acclimating to the new time zone. The next week would be spent shopping and settling in. And when I say shopping, it's not the fun kind of shopping. Well, for me there is no fun kind of shopping, unless it's done in an art supply store or an asian market. The shopping we did was for groceries, a cell phone for Jordan, adapters (I ruined the one we brought, thanks to my straightener), a rental car, and a GPS. Yeah, settling in takes a full week or so when you plan to stay for a while. 

Now that we have mostly everything in order (Jordan still has issues with his phone and we're still trying to recover our diaper bag from JFK...yeah we left our diaper bag at the airport and survived a 15 hour flight without food and diapers for our babe. But that's a tale for another time), we finally got a chance to explore Jo'burg. Our first destination, the Maboneng Precinct.

Maboneng is on the eastern side of downtown Jozi (another slang name).  Once dangerously dilapidated, it is now teems with everything an artsy, multicultural family loves: creativity, aestheticism, restaurants, coffee shops, bars (for those who are into that), and (most importantly for Jordan and me) thrilling cultural eclecticism and inspiring art galleries!  For people who always have a piece of their heart in Joburg (like Jordan and, coming soon, me) it is also a symbol of hope for the redemption of this beautiful city. 

Maboneng Precinct

To get to Maboneng, take the freeway! Our GPS mapped out a route through downtown, the Hillbrow neighborhood. Locals have told us to avoid driving through there at night, but I wasn't concerned since it was daytime. I even had my camera at the ready to take cool street shots. I thought my husband was just being paranoid.  (He’d written freeway-only directions, but I just wanted to follow the GPS; he later told me he was very angry with himself for not insisting that I navigate.  “Better carsick than carjacked” he said.)  However, I soon found that his worries were valid.  In Hillbrow you are completely inundated by taxis and people. You find yourself in a notoriously dangerous area, where traffic laws are void, surrounded on all sides.  If something were to happen, you’d have no chance of getting away. Jordan also repeatedly told me that he didn't think it'd be safe to have my camera out. I was stubborn, but he was so adamant that I finally gave in.  He told me that people at stopped at robots (stoplights) have had thieves smash their car windows in to steal their valuables.  Plus, you don’t want to be misperceived as just a rich girl who sees the intensity of these people’s lives as a photo op to capture with your fancy Canon.  So it was away with the camera. 

Once we turned onto Main St. and arrived in the precinct, it was a completely different world! I was shocked at how much cleaner and significantly less crowded it was. And it was shocking because Maboneng was just a block away from all the craziness! I thought, "What keeps all the poverty, all the litter, all the traffic out of Maboneng?" It's not like there's gates or authorities keeping watch. Somehow, this little block seemed to blossom like a rose in the desert, and nothing could touch it. 

Jordan had planned out the day here and our first stop was brunch at Eat Your Heart Out, a cafe on the corner of Fox and Kruger Street that served healthy Jewish-inspired food. The design of this little space was too cool. The atmosphere was definitely a place where you could pop your laptop out and get cozy with a pillow, a blanket, and a warm drink. And I mean that literally. The woman at the table next to us was doing just that. (And I took that as a sure sign it was safe to bust out my camera). Each seat was cushioned with a pillow that was stamped with the cafe's logo and each table had a teal plaid blanket. Adorbs huh!? 

Baby boy duel wielding mini Marie Biscuits

After brunch, we headed down Fox Street and we came across this court yard. The buildings that surrounded it were nice restaurants, a design office, and other artsy places. 

David Kurt Publishing lured us in with its printmaking studio, art gallery, and bookstore. Of course we had to spend some time there! I was geeking out over everything in this studio. The gallery showcased amazing prints, printmakers were busy at their craft, and then there was the bookstore. Who could pass up a good bookstore? I was in heaven for sure! But little did I know, my level of geeking out would grow exponentially! In this very building of David Kurt Publishing, we met Anderson Cooper! Yes, CNN's silver fox! Watch the video at the end of the post for the full story.

On to more art! Our next stop was the MOAD, The Museum of African Design. They had a little exhibit on the power of education featuring photographs by Rebecca Crook, Zach Louw, and Sameer Satchu. Their works shared powerful stories of school children from Tanzania.

Our last stop was for some delish braai (South African barbecue) at Sha'p (It's sharp, but written with some coolness). Sharp (pronounced like "shop" in the US) is slang for any positive affirmation; cool, doing good, nice, etc. The restaurant was one of those giant shipping crates and it opened up to the street. Just like all the eateries in Maboneng, Sha'p had a cool vibe. The chairs were made from plastic crates. The African guests ate their food with their hands. We were given silverware, so no authentic eating for us. We'll for sure convert to no utensils sooner or later. For me, it was normal because Filipinos eat the same way.

Jordan has been missing this popular street food since his mission here eight years ago! So it was a big occasion. We spent R70 a plate, which is about $5! Yeah, we got plenty full from $5 worth of food! I even shared my beetroot salad with Anthem and I still couldn't eat my share. And that's saying a lot cause we both have big appetites! 

Sha'p Braai on Kruger Street

Sha'p Braai on Kruger Street

Well, that's Maboneng for you! We'll for sure be back. I mean, we have two and half more months here, so we gots times! There's plenty more restaurants and art to check out, so stay tuned! And maybe we'll run into Anderson Cooper again! Who knows!