Originally posted 1/25/18
The ride home was long and exhausting. We had 5 separate flights and about 8 hours worth of layovers, but everyone's spirits were high, especially when we finally landed in St. Paul after 35 hours of traveling. I'm somewhat jetlagged (have been up since 4am) but am very happy to be home to start getting ready for Spring Semester.
Studying abroad is something I'd always wanted to do but never thought I actually would. This trip was a whirlwind of new experiences: my first time out of the country, my first time using foreign currency, going on a game drive, learning about the apartheid, sightseeing in an unfamiliar city. Twenty-four days wasn't nearly long enough to see everything there is to see in the places we went. I feel as though I got a snapshot of Johannesburg, Windhoek, Swakopmund, and Cape Town, but I know there's so much more to those places than just what I experienced. I tried new foods, tried (and failed) to learn a few words in a new language, bargained with vendors for good prices, walked barefoot on the beach, and more.
My favorite things about South Africa and Namibia:
The beaches in Swakopmund and Cape Town. I love love love the beach and the ocean, despite how easily I sunburn, and getting to spend time in the sun on the sand was one of the highlights of my trip.
The foods: creamed spinach, snack foods (Dairy Milk "wholenut" candy bars, and Safari Mango Fruit Rolls, specifically), fat cakes, fresh fruit, and all of the delicious vegetable dishes I ate.
Our fearless CGEE study abroad leader Albertina, our van drivers Jonas and Moeketsi, and my host family, Mahgotso, Timothy, Nkuli, and Ayanda
My favorite places we visited: The Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the Apartheid Museum, and Erindi Game Preserve. Though all of the places we went were meaningful, these 3 places in particular were my favorites.
My less-favorite things about South Africa and Namibia
Paying for public restrooms in Namibia, and the lack of clean, well-supplied public restrooms in a lot of places.
Struggling to understand people with thicker South African/Namibian accents, and feeling silly when having to ask them to repeat themselves 2 (3,4) times. This got easier as the days went by, but the first week or so especially, it was a struggle.
The many, many long, crowded van rides we took to get all the places we needed to be. We traveled on a lot of dirt roads in Namibia, which wasn't super comfortable
Lack of well-rounded, nutritious vegetarian meal options. The diet patterns in South Africa and Namibia are very meat-heavy, so it was difficult to find options other than salad or rice and vegetables.
Things I miss already about South Africa and Namibia
The weather! It was so warm and beautiful pretty much everywhere we went! Coming back to Minnesota was very difficult and quite chilly.
The sunshine: I got to spend time outside everyday, something that definitely doesn't happen in Minnesota in January. I hope I have enough Vitamin D stored up to last me until Spring!
The other girls in my class: it was great getting to know 19 other young women and our 3 professors, and letting them get to know me. A couple of them I'd met beforehand, but most were complete strangers. I made new friends, got to know a few girls who live in my apartment building, and developed an appreciation for spending 24 straight days in an all-women's environment.
All of the things on my "favorites" list!
What I want people to know about South Africa and Namibia
My experience as a student and tourist on this trip taught me more than I'd ever expected to know. I'm looking forward to telling my family and friends about what I learned and the places I went, but I'd be doing an injustice to both of these countries if I didn't also say this: South Africa and Namibia are big, beautiful places with complex histories, cultures, languages, and millions of people, all individual and unique. The things I learned and experienced in three weeks are not anywhere close to everything there is to know. I could have spent months in just one of the places I visited and still had more to learn. This is true about any and every place, all over the world.
Something I've been grappling with is how to talk about my travels to South Africa and Namibia without unintentionally perpetuating stereotypes that people might already have about "Africa". Africa as a continent has 54 countries, people of every color, and many, many languages, religions, and cultural traditions.
One of the preparatory materials we reviewed for this class was a Ted Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called "The Danger of a Single Story". In it, she talks about how we can't assume that one story we hear about another person or place is all there is to know. In her words, "The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” If all anyone knows about South Africa or Namibia is a single story that I've told them, then my challenge is to encourage them to take my words with a grain of salt, and explore new knowledge and new worlds for themselves.
Thanks to those who have been reading my travel blogs! I wrote these just as much for you as I did for me. I look forward to returning to writing about food and recipes in the near future.