RachelCushing's Travel Journals

RachelCushing

  • From Georgia, United States
  • Currently in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Chasing my lions

I have always wanted to be a traveler. Everything about the nomadic, exciting, adventurous, and unsure lifestyle just calls to me. Having only been out of the country once before that aspiration has thus far been, well, just that; an aspiration. But now I have been given the amazing opportunity to spend five months in Stellenbosch, South Africa and come one step closer to being that traveler. This journal is the catalogue of my various adventures in and around South Africa.

Looking Back

South Africa Stellenbosch, South Africa  |  Jan 03, 2013
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 Having previously lived my twenty-one years of life in the US, I was easily able to see where Africa did not fit into my developed comfort zones and it was in these small spaces of my life that I began to see the beauty in a unfamiliar way of living. 

Looking back on my previous entries I can really see the change that South Africa has crafted in me. Whether it is through the greater awareness and appreciation I now have of my privileged life in the United States, the overcoming of my daily anxiety, or my newfound passion for the outdoors, that place changed me. One change that I didn’t seem to predict or document before was my gained ability to ‘roll with the punched’ as they say. This newly realized ability has been popping up frequently throughout the past week I have spent back in the US and I have been trying to really reflect on what specific elements of my time in Southern Africa caused its advance. When I began this reflection the most influential and explanatory truth I found regarding my experience is this: Africa (forgive my use of this continental term; here I only mean Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Zamiba given that these are the only nations in Africa I was able to visit) exists in a far different reality than the United States. This may seem obvious to most, but I found this fact to be quite revelatory. To further elaborate on this revelation I will provide the metaphor which first allowed me to understand its importance. That is, the best way to simplify the difference between the US and Africa is to compare the images on road and municipal signs. You know, that ones that mark national parks, scenic turn off’s, government buildings, schools, museums, hospitals…you get the picture. You see in the U.S you can pretty much expect these images on signs to be uniform. Most road signs direction you to a museum are the same just as most road signs direction you to a national park are the same with only the slight variation of name. In Africa, however, this is not the case. Each sign marking a new attraction seems to bare an image made specifically for that attraction. One sign I remember specifically directed my friends and I to a bunji jump near Plettenberg Bay actually showed a figure jumping off a bridge attached by a bunji cord. Now the images are still simple of course, but these are official government signs we are talking about. I think most Americans (dare I say even Europeans?) would notice attention to detail and find it strange.  

As I thought more about this small but interesting difference between Africa and the United States, I began to see a similar trend in other facets of everyday life. That is, a sense of case by case flexibility; an understanding that uniform molds hardly ever serve their intended purpose given the grand variation of all elements of life. One of the easiest ways for me to find this feature was to observe aspects of my life in Africa that I found particularly irritating or difficult. Having previously lived my twenty-one years of life in the US, I was easily able to see where Africa did not fit into my developed comfort zones and it was in these small spaces of my life in Africa that I began to see beauty in a unfamiliar way of living. Some of these small differences include: the lack of respect for ‘lines’ or ‘ques’, the slow and fickle nature of the postal service, the general unconcerned nature of social gatherings or plans, and the flexibility of ‘breaks’ during work, school, or any other daily obligation.

By re-examining these things that I once considered to be signs of inorganization and poor infrastructure, I was able to find a new appreciation for African life. Far too often, it seems, the ‘Western World’ looks down at Africa with pity and sorrow, only seeing the tragedies which seem to plague its lands and the organization problems which burden its people. It is less common that we observe this naturally and culturally rich continent as an enduring and evolving group of nations which, despite the horrific exploitation of its people and natural resources during colonialism and still today, endures fiercely and never hesitates to acknowledge that there is room for growth. In fact, I believe it is here that the ‘Western World’ could really learn something from Africa. That is, to embrace the inconsistent nature of life; to move with the unceasing and ever present waves of change that crash and pull at its inhabitants and the comparably small efforts of control they try so to fervently to exert on their truly uncontrollable lives. Sadly, I do not see the ‘Western World’ letting go of its strict social structures or its over-planned, over-controlled, and over-stimulated way of life. I wonder, then, if it is inevitable for America, with its tense and rigid cultures and doctrines, to snap under the pressures of life while Africa so naturally bends and flows with its motions. Either way, although this American girl has returned to that ‘western’ way of life, it has not been to its concession. In fact, I truly believe I will always keep that sense of flexibility and openness to change that I found out in that beautiful African land.

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