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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Johanesburg, South Africa: Eventful day getting to and in

What a night last night was!!! We were all prepared to go to Jo’burg when we got a text message from Courtleigh informing us that Kathy’s passport, cell phone and ID were stolen and the trip to Jo’burg was off. Kathy would not be able to get to South Africa without a passport and to say we were disappointed would have been an understatement. I emptied the suitcase I started packing and sulked around the house for an hour or so.
Then Kathy called and said that even though we couldn’t go, we could still do things around Gaborone for the weekend – perhaps go to Mokolodi Park. She was off to the police station to make a report after they said they would come to the office and did not show up. I suppose having a passport stolen does not pose any urgency to them.
I felt somewhat better after talking to Kathy because it seemed that everyone had plans for the long weekend and we’d have to stay home. A few minutes after her call, I phoned my family in Canada to say that I wouldn’t be going to South Africa after all. Within a few minutes of the phone call, Courtleigh called again and said that, unbelievably Kathy’s passport was turned into the police. A thief with a conscience. Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s true, she got her passport back and the trip was on again. So I called my family in Canada again and told them that the passport was returned and the trip was on again.
We hadn’t even left home for the weekend and the level of excitement was already high!!
This morning we left at 6:30am and drove to the Botswana border without incident. There were a total of seven in the WUSC van. There was Emily my house mate, Lisa who I was meeting for the first time, Kareem and Shoal who are located at Ghanzi with the San people, and Reynold. This part is unbelievable. Three of us were from Winnipeg. What are the chances that I would be travelling from Gaborone to Johannesburg with two other Winnipeggers who were total strangers to me. Reynold is Mennonite and looks exactly like Trent (my son-in-law) and his mom manages the resource centre at Ten Thousand Villages in Winnipeg where I go to buy special presents. He actually lived In Botswana when he was younger. We had some discussions about living in Winnipeg.
When we got to the South African border, we watched the long, long, long line in horror and debated whether fate was conspiring to keep us in Gaborone for the weekend. Or maybe fate was just testing us to see how badly we wanted to go and how much we’d appreciate what we were going to see. I am not kidding, there was a total of two immigration officers, one for South African nationals and one for visitors. Kathy wanted to turn around and go to another border but we decided to stay at the one we were. Kathy said that sometimes it used to take them 3 to 4 hours at the Zimabawe and Kenyan border and we all had a good haha about that. Welll, it took us a little over 3 hours to get to the front of the line and clear immigration and just as we were almost finished, the officers changed and Kareem and Shoal had to wait longer. We laughed and talked and ran out of things to say and had backaches and most likely sunburns by the time we were done. And we hadn’t even done anything yet.
We piled back into the van and off we went. On the way, we saw a cheetah and I don’t know which of us was moe surprised. I’ve never seen a cheetah in its natural habitat. I supposed we are the ones looking like we’re in the zoo. Nothing else eventful except for stopping by the roadside to buy fresh tangerines and avocados.
We saw several mining towns on the way into Jo’burg and Kathy explained how during apartheid, the people were so segregated that at the end of the work day, everyone would have to go back to their own communities. If they did not have the appropriate pass, they could be thrown in jail. The present day shantytowns are a testament to the segregation and the resulting poverty for over three quarter of the SA population of 40 million people.
Later that evening we arrived in Jo’burg and went to Kathy’s apartment to unload our suitcases. I should remember to pack more lightly. With all the travelling I’ve done, I should be skilled at it but whatever the baggage allowance, I always manage to pack two pounds lighter. We went out for dinner and Kathy called one of her friends Mohamed Bhayat who was an exiled South African and returned to SA in the mid 1990’s when apartheid was over to start rebuilding the country.
Mohamed was a fascinating man to listen to. He talked about the time of apartheid and how his family was exiled and lived in several countries including Zimbabwe, Holland and Canada. He told us about his wife and how she continued to work for the African National Congress and was jailed in Canada for protesting apartheid in South Africa. He talked about how the RCMP came to his house to ask questions during the period of the arrest. We didn’t want the evening to be over but we were tired from the long day’s travelling and activities. Mohamed promised that tomorrow we would visit another of his friends Issy and Ramni who were also anti-apartheid activists and were also jailed for doing so. What a day. I could hardly believe what I was hearing let alone meet one of the people who lived through such a time. How much time has to pass before something is considered history? That was not so long ago but it seemed like a lifetime. I went to bed with more questions than answers. In many ways, the apartheid of SA reminded me of my growing up years in Guyana.

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