South Africa – a journey of a young mind and spirit
A moment lived in South Africa by Life…One Big Aventure, a traveler from Australia
Never was there a greener or more naïve traveler. I was your typical ‘babe in the woods’, and yet I had left the woods, or Australian bush, and had just touched down in Cape Town, South Africa.
My father was a long-serving Rotarian, and over the years, we had hosted a veritable mini-United Nations of exchange students from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Canada, USA and New Zealand. This bag of human liquorice all-sorts inspired me to apply for Rotary Exchange when I ‘came of age’.
I had my heart set on France as I had been studying French at school for the previous five and a half years, and it was with this goal in mind that I entered the interview room.
To say the interview experience was a disaster, would be the understatement of the century. I trembled, I froze, I mumbled, I blubbered! I was usually a pretty self-assured kind of kid, but on this day, the stars aligned to create a tsunami of emotions that saw me cower in the bathrooms in between each interview. And there were four interviews I had to survive! Thankfully one Rotarian knew me as the happy-go-lucky kid, careering around the paddock at Pony Club, and I believe it was his vote that got me over the line.
Anyway, in due course, I was informed that I had been selected as a Rotary Exchange Student to the Republic of South Africa. Not France, but still that is brilliant, fantastic, unreal, but hang on…where the bloody hell is South Africa? Yes, I know my ignorance was inexcusable, but I was a 17-year-old bush kid studying for my final Higher School Certificate that did not include any geography subjects. I quickly did some research, got excited all over again and did my best to concentrate on my studies.
Exams over, pennies saved, bags packed and I was winging my way to South Africa.
Landed in South Africa
Totally jet lagged and disoriented, I stepped off the plane at Cape Town and into the warmest, most welcoming embrace of half the membership of the Goodwood Rotary Club. Hellos and introductions over and bags collected, I walked across the carpark with my first host mother. I could not believe it when she stopped next to the largest, shiniest Mercedes-Benz car I had ever seen. Without thinking, I blurted out in a voice of wonder, “is this your car?” before scrambling to recover my manners. What was I thinking? That she had hot-wired it on the way to the airport?
That day was the start of the most wonderful, eye-opening and mind-expanding year of my life. Every day was a day to meet someone new, and to learn about a different culture.
I was enrolled at Fairmont High School at Durbanville, a northern suburb of Cape Town. While it didn’t thrill me to be back at school after just completing 13 years of the stuff, I adopted the approach of ‘all care, no responsibility’. The saving grace was that I was enrolled in the entire school e.g. Year 7 Afrikaans, Year 8 Home Economics, Year 9 History etc. A lasting memory was when one day in a Home Economics class full of 14-year-olds, a girl mentioned in passing that it was the first time in her life that she had done the washing up!
New language, new food!
I reveled in the new language and enjoyed showing off my growing vocabulary at the dinner table each night. There is a saying that Afrikaans is not a language, it’s a throat disease! I gave it all the brain power and tonsil gymnastics I could.
The world of food, another world away from traditional Aussie meat-and-three-vegies, opened up before me. Being permanently hungry, I inhaled boerewors, mealie pap, Yogi Sip, vetkoek, guava fruit leather, buttermilk rusks and Top Deck chocolate. All delicacies not readily available in rural NSW.
Then there was the alcohol! While people in Australia commonly invite you over for a cuppa, in South Africa the invite is for a glass of wine, a whiskey, witblits etc. I think I was permanently tipsy for the first three months!
Over the years, South Africa has received a bad wrap for its politics and human rights issues. While that may be justified, it is wrong to tar the whole country with the same brush. I could not fault the warmth and welcome I received.
In some ways, I blame the South African media, and by default, the all-powerful, controlling government of the day. It was only on my return to Australia that I learned about Nelson Mandela incarcerated on Robben Island, just offshore from Cape Town. I felt very guilty that I was not more politically aware. I was a standard 17 years old, full of happiness and energy, and oblivious to the larger issues playing out in the World.
May every person have one carefree year like this in their life!
This traveler has a blog: Life…One Big Adventure