Well, I’m done with my semester in Africa and school at UC Irvine has started again, so it looks like my life is back to reality. The time I spent in Africa seems more and more unreal the longer I’m back.
I remember looking out the window of the airplane with my fellow Education Abroad Program participants when we landed in Durban. We had all known each other for less than a day, and each of us could hardly believe that our plane had really landed at our final destination, in Africa, and that we were really there.
The plane ride home was completely different, and even weirder. Before I had left Los Angeles International Airport for South Africa, I had no idea how I was going to last for 30 hours on a plane. On the way back, I realized that I had practically a day and a half to do nothing but enjoy free drinks while watching movies that I got to choose on my own personal LCD screen, which sounded great to me.
I realized that soon I would be behind the wheel of my own car, glad to be driving on the right-hand side of the road, instead of the left. I would no longer have to call cabs and wait to see if they actually show up and would wonder how long it will take for a ride to arrive. I also would no longer have to deal with the minibus taxis.
The minibuses are basically chaos on wheels. On the road, the drivers basically navigate the minibuses in the same way that I play the ‘Crazy Taxi’ or ‘Simpsons Road Rage’ video games. The minibuses are kings of the road and careen down the streets in any manner they please, while smaller cars and pedestrians frantically scatter from the taxi’s path. I thought for sure my ride was about to get in a fender-bender several times, but the worst incident occurred when a minibus scraped a little paint off a parked car.
I also realized that I was about to be back in Huntington Beach, where I could walk around at night by myself without getting mugged at 10 in the morning. This actually took a few days to get used to.
However, coming back was bittersweet. South Africa is so far away that the chances of returning there are slim, even though I’d really like to go back. The country has some of the most amazing mountains and beaches I’ve ever seen. I went on a hike in Southern California a week or two ago and I couldn’t believe how different it was from hiking through the Drakensberg. All the rich, green vegetation and the roaring river had been replaced by dirt trails, some bare trees and a ‘waterfall’ that probably pumped out about two gallons a day. Also, surfing in California’s cold water with small waves and tons of people took some getting used to.
Toward the end of my stay, I was starting to develop some real friendships in Durban and a strong sense of camaraderie with the African students. They still haven’t given up fighting for basic rights that we take for granted, like a functional security staff on campus that’s not allowed to sexually harass the females and a governing body that functions somewhat like an actual democracy. Around election time in the United States, I frequently complain that we’re voting for the lesser of two evils, and I’m probably right. However, at least we get to figure out what we think the lesser evil is. South Africa has a one-party democracy. You either vote for the major party in power, or you waste your vote.
I have so much respect and admiration for the South Africans