James Butler, a long-term World Vision supporter, is in South Africa right now. Take a look at the first instalment of his blog as he reflects on the joy and challenges of being back there.
We’ve travelled a lot before, so we were ready for the flurry of activity, sorting out injections, travel money and anti-malaria tablets. But this time it is all wrapped up in the excitement of seeing Dieketseng. How will she react to meeting us? How will we react to seeing her and her family? Our packing list was extended – what gifts could we take that would be appropriate for a fifteen year old from a totally different culture?
And then there were the other gifts kindly donated by friends and acquaintances – some used football kit for children in the project, some pens and pencils for the schools, where we know resources are so limited. And perhaps most bizarrely, an advent calendar from our primary school (yes, it is August) because they had come up in correspondence earlier this year with Dieketseng, so we had to take an example to explain. Thank God we convinced BA to give us some extra baggage allowance!
After a long flight, watching the whole continent pass below us on the in-flight map, finally we land at O R Tambo airport and we’re in South Africa. Returning after a few years, we can see the improvements made in infrastructure – the airport buildings are massively improved and all the facilities rival Heathrow. Luckily, this time the baggage handlers are not on strike and we are soon on our way towards Limpopo.
Once clear of the airport and the city outskirts, all those things one forgets about South Africa come flooding back. Everywhere is brown – such a contrast to green and verdant Oxfordshire and an indication of how water is a scarce resource here. Attitudes to personal safety are so very different – one rarely sees pedestrians, or animals, on the M4 at home, but here both are common place. And, most heart-wrenching of all, are the townships – mile after mile of tin shacks, clearly lacking sanitation and providing a desperate environment to raise a family. Such a contrast to our air-conditioned comfort in our rented SUV.
The Sugar Man
Buying gifts for a sponsored child is a moral minefield. We have so much and, materially at least, they do not. What would be a small sum for us would be a significant sum for them. But we want to be sensitive, to not appear ostentatious or patronising. Perhaps that’s our Britishness? Unfailingly worried about being polite, about doing the ‘right thing’.
All of that is a long-winded way of explaining why we ended up at the Sugar Man this afternoon. We had bought some little gifts for Dieketseng, but had learnt from a previous visit that useful household items made good gifts for the family. The Sugar Man is the trading store that sells the sorts of food rural black South Africans eat every day. This was nothing like Tescos or Waitrose. Essentially a warehouse unit, there were no frills and goods were just stacked on racking from floor to ceiling. That air of chaos which permeates much of African commerce was certainly in abundance. But the owner (Afrikaans and a symbol of the economic apartheid that seems to pervade longer than the abandoned political apartheid) was very helpful and was keen to ensure we created a box of provisions that would serve Dieketseng’s family for weeks to come.
And this was post-apartheid South Africa in a nutshell. Theoretically equal, but systemically divided on colour lines. The Afrikaaner shop owner was full of respect for us, probably the first white customers she had had this year. Yet she barked orders at her black staff, physically punched one of them at one point and left us embarrassed and awkward that the poor staff had taken this abuse in order to serve us. When you live in a liberal circle of friends in multicultural Britain, you just cannot understand how someone’s character changes instantly, purely on the basis of skin colour. And I am sure she didn’t know she was doing it.
Now well-stocked with gifts we were ready to visit Dieketseng and her family. I’ll tell you all about our wonderful reunion in our next blog.
In the mean time if you’ve got any questions for us about South Africa or our trip please feel free to post them below and we will get back to you as soon as we can.
Any views or opinions contained in this blog are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent those of World Vision.