VIEWS: 18 PAGES: 8 POSTED ON: 8/19/2011
South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia 01.09.2010 32 °F We have now been nine weeks and 13,000 kil.+ traveling through Southern Africa in a reliable Toyota 4x4 so as we continue, i am happy to relate some impressions while fresh. A constant pleasure has been the warm and enjoyable African hospitality. A traveler of continents, I don‟t recall hour after hour and day after day interaction so soft spoken, connected and respectful. Everywhere it‟s fun to talk with charming locals. It is wonderful, yet in the context of the poverty it is astounding. Most Africans have no internet, computers, cars, bicycles, electricity, running water, heat, second set of clothes, shoes; sufficient food, but only mealy, a corn cereal with the occasional vegetable or meat side; often education to only a third grade level if they are lucky; locals live in reed or branch single room huts or government provided matchbox houses to whom they struggle to pay rent. Nevertheless, greetings always start with a Howzit/How are you? …better a small discussion before anything else. They laugh so easily and typically love joking. Smiles are relatively certain passing any African, despite their very hard lives. A few roughnecks in the cities would be the exception, perhaps because there are more whites to be harassed, but maybe just because it is tougher in cities everywhere. The police are even nice; I would have never dreamed not dreading a potential speeding ticket - did get one, but became such friends with the officer, I gave him a gift at parting. (Whether I was at the indicated speed I question, but that‟s not new). Whether a warning stop or check point, smiles and conversation come easily; albeit these folks don‟t face the potential of being shot as in the US. Which is also a reason campground security requires only one young guard at night. Since few locals have seen a map or traveled further than walking distance, (most) any questions I might have will be answered incorrectly, but with best efforts, only because people so it is never smart to follow; yet the answers seem to be delivered with deep sincerity and are enjoyable. This politeness and respect far exceeds what I have come to expect in my life when meeting strangers anywhere so is particularly comforting. At this basic human level, the typical African may be more “civilized” than us Westerners. Given their simple living (poverty), it is very inspiring to witness the degree of contentment, the calm and their appreciation for what they have. It‟s also humbling! A common characteristic that the African is more “content” than both Westerners and Africa‟s whites was a sentiment universally agreed upon. Theirs is a more grounded demeanor. Maybe it derives from the simplicity of life and taking each moment as it comes. There is a lack of urgency, rushing, deadlines; instead prioritizing family and community. This does not mean the poor African would not love to have a first or second pair of shoes, a radio, or $2 cut of fillet; they do, but not so much it is worth rushing, stressing or carving into life Western style goals. Through the trip we heard criticism that many Africans are slow to arrive at work and unprepared to provide the service required in today‟s world ; their African politician is corrupt, uneducated and needs whites to lead. My observation is sometimes the service mentality is different and can seem apathetic, yet I can let it go because the African is usually such a humane and upbeat person to be with. At the government level, it is a valid point and corruption is obvious too. In effective scale and impact it doesn‟t seem worse than just less mature than the US where lobbyists, marketing and campaign finance control legislation. There are many parallels in governmental and social problems and causes here as at home, but I think the cycle stage is different. Human greed seems so often the root of serious problems. In America, the world impact is magnified with glamour our unsustainable consumption rate. African countries ask for few things but need help Western help educating its people as authorities have failed and are most concerned with short term economic gains, like many politicians around the world. They need more fair trade opportunities, less export of opportunities and resources to the West and East. Another wonder of course is Nature: the unimaginable weaving over millions and billions of years of true beauty and balance. I feel awed every morning with the native birds that sing and wake us. Frequently we are in places where there seems to be an infinite diversity of birds; sometimes singing with the accompaniment of a jackal, frog or gecko. In camp, little birds that watch with curiosity or beg for a snack. Every evening I am dazzled first by a guaranteed spectacular sunset, then multitude of stars, and then either the calls of baboons, hyenas or hippos that occasionally keep me awake. It is the less disturbed ecosystems where life is most diverse and alive. It‟s easy to picture that these magical places reflect what most of earth would be like if man had continued living in balance or can achieve it. Here I can breath cleaner air and feel energy that awakes my soul. Not poetically, but physically and real. Here we discovered quiet places where the sun rises in solitude and it is easy to connect with the spirit of life. Repeatedly we were in places where there existed complete silence, an experience I have never before had. Sadly, such places long ago ceased to exist in the US so I am tremendously appreciative to have these experiences. Since it is was benevolent politicians who set aside these parks, I can appreciate far sighted votes, which seem rare too often. It is tough to exceed the exhilaration of being awakened by lions roaring nearby or the frustration of having my only boot stolen in the night by a hyena. In terms of landscape: geography and geology, South Africa is “awe‟” inspiring from vineyard valleys that are more beautiful than Napa or Sonoma; to desert, parts of the Indian Ocean coastlines as beautiful as Big Sur, billion year old canyons and hills and beauty like in NM or AZ, veldt, estuaries, game parks, perfect beaches, Tabletop Mountain and Kirstenbosch gardens(!); this country takes the prize given all that is available in an area that can be traversed by car in 14 hours. South Africans are not much into hiking or mountain biking as few vehicles and density is minimal, however in the US, there would be hiking and biking trails everywhere! In Capetown, one can own a reasonably priced dream home on the ocean and walk out the door for incredible bike rides, runs, surf, volleyball, soccer, rugby and restaurants the quality and energy of San Francisco. Much smaller, but maybe greater beauty than SF(!; food is good too, with large portions; here the servers are white though the laborers black. There are wealthy neighborhoods where the locations and estates are grander than one can imagine. Africans appear to be exploited yet on the other hand; any individual can provide his help with double pay and time off and still, have the full time gardener and housekeeper for $200/mo each. Outside the cities are often Townships of tiny, single room houses or corrugated metal and cardboard homes that stretch for miles. Most commute packed in vehicles or minivan taxis to the city for menial subservient jobs at poverty wages. Many whites are careful to hire good help and are certain country‟s problems are about Communist vs. Christians. The current SA leadership under President Mbkei is not great as the economy is weakening, public employees are striking and corruption and nepotism is large, though no worse than the white administration had been. Medical care though better Africans has been diluted from the all white care for the Afrikaners. Though some Africans live to 60 years old, the average age is around 40 due to Aids and limited health care. There continues to be a trickle of professionals departing for better wages and a higher standard. That being so, a few Americans live here very happily as beautiful real estate is relatively inexpensive, a full time gardener for you vegetables and full-time house cleaner for everything else cost just $200 per month. One can be open, fair and content as long as they avoid the politics. The most memorable impression of our summer will be the Racism by the 10-15% minority whites not only here in S Africa and in Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. It‟s far worse than I imagined. It bothers me daily to see white person bringing along or hiring an African helper to do the things they do not like. Throughout all of the countries, more often than not business ownership was white South African. The parks, hotels, tour buses and campgrounds are comprised of 99.5% white faces, except for the occasional black guide and helpers. A last great spot we visited was Ai-Ais N.P. campground, spa, pool and mineral baths. I was happy to share it with four Indian men from Johannesburg as it was rare to be with non-white park patrons. As they entered the poll the all the connected pools sort of emptied of people. They blew it off as, “we„re used to it“. The African‟s secondary status surely continue for decades to come as it has become institutionalized and educational opportunities remain difficult to attain. Since Europeans‟ initial Capetown settlement in the early 1600s, the scenario has changed little. It was the Dutch Reform Church‟s Afrikaners (Boer and Voortrekers) who expanded north with guns and religious righteousness on their side. God fearing people they barely hesitated to declare most of the indigenous African tribes non-human and as a result half were killed in the next 200 years, even after the English took from the Dutch administration over the Colonies. The independent minded Boers courageously fought the English in a number of skirmishes as they opposed the taxes, abolition of slavery, and English language then being taught in schools; greatly outnumbered they lost. However, through the political system in 1922, the Afrikaners‟ National Party won majority and codified the races of all colors and methodically created segregation and a powerful police power, not too far different than Hitler who many backed during WWII; although there was no extermination of race, for decades to come the SA police and military fought for their beliefs in their neighboring countries, prolonging democratic revolutions and causing thousands of deaths. There is little pride in being American here as the US and Britain were the two holdouts in the United Nations who blocked sanctions against the racial horrors of S Africa in 1962 and each year for 25 years thereafter, due to “economic interests”. It appears to me that African exploitation continues most engrained in the most developed countries of South Africa and Namibia, where Germans amounting to about 15% of the population own 85-90% of the GDP and real estate. I repeatedly, to my angst, have encountered Afrikaners with dispositions from a little rough to the most arrogant, impatient and ignorant humans I know. Some despise the English who are probably also the, too many, with a tendency toward heavy drinking, opinions and drive fast driving. The younger generation often is generally easier going and we have encountered professional and farmers who are warm and helpful Afrikaners. Education for the African is low. So low that moments ago, relatively educated employee at this resort noticed my Nelson Mandela book, but did not know he is. A few weeks ago, a supervising ranger in the national park was unable to multiply 8x20 without a calculator, three times in a row! Through most places we visited, Africans can get a primary level education, but only on half-day schedules and frequently fifty to a class due to the lack of teachers, books and facilities. It seems 1/3-½, still, nearly 20 years after apartheid ended in S. Africa, receive none because they cannot afford the required uniforms and books. In S. Africa‟s north, the best schools remain Christian and more often than not, Africans are still not allowed to attend. The second best schools, with public funding , frequently have limits of no more than 30% colored so the Africans that can go to school are often pushed into separate institutions as they are in Church. In SA, affirmative action is now in place since apartheid has ended, but lawyers are relatively few compared to the US - I think a good thing usually- yet here is an example of how the poor can suffer. In this area near Graaf Reinet, we stayed in a beautiful B&B home from the 1600s in the servant‟s quarters. The area is dominated by Afrikaners whose descendents were primarily the Dutch settlers, likely but deniable, mixed with mates from following migrations of French, German and English. The home is gorgeous in detail and antique furnishings and it felt like we were still in the period; or I was part of a screenplay set in the deep south of the US during slave times. “Yes‟m” cook, thin African servants with eyes down addressing me with subservient “Sir“. It will take a few generations before the secondary status can begin to recover. We had some begging we tried to avoid, but mostly just the cities, more in number and desperate than the west. but relatively few as it is embarrassing for everybody… However, even the toughest and most remote places we have felt safe. Africa is full of ironies and we discovered bittersweet elements in many of the destinations we most appreciated and enjoyed. In Mozambique where we experienced the most wonderful snorkeling in our lives, inside the archipelago islands, but all life in this area and inter-tidal zone is illegally net fished by a handful of Dhows that scrape the sand for any sea creatures that may have wandered in. This is likely to continue without international enforcement funds not only because the Mayor owns the primary Dhow fleet, but because the people of Vilanculos are hungry and the political focus is on feeding the electorate today instead of the longer term benefits of maintaining the unique natural resource for tourist income in the future The country is so poor after decades of war and lack of educational opportunities that last year, NGO donations provided 75% of Mozambique‟s entire GDP! In Botswana, the government has done a sensational job of preserving wildlife in parks and attracting tourists from all over the world, yet around the Kalahari , we passed by the most impoverished families I have ever seen and when we stopped at stores, were surrounded by starving kids. We had the most incredible cultural experience with some San villagers, yet it is hard for them to continue their lifestyle as the government considers every method possible to extinguish the culture and bring the San into the cities where they suffer greatly. The newspapers explain that the government‟s position is that (this happy, but) uncivilized mode of living is embarrassing for a country aiming to become more Western. In Namibia, the industrious German government has built great roads and infrastructure together with a modern capital city with most western amenities. They are constructing desalinization plants on the coast and boast the world‟s largest uranium mine, yet many Africans are starving inside the cities and others live outside in small huts or tents as they do in S. Africa. Zambia seemed better in terms of inequality as most everybody was poor and there are fewer whites, yet they have had the longest experience as independent and continue to benefit with export from their copper mines, yet the resource is diminishing. The most successful and best educated country, Zimbabwe, experienced and economic collapse and starving citizens when the selfish and vindictive elected president e Mugabe turned dictator a few years ago. The world‟s economic sanctions are increasing the pain. One of the most diverse and wild park in the world, Mana Pools NP is sadly being encroached upon by poachers. One reason they have pretty much extinguished species from other Parks and only a few have lions or rhinos still. As if Americas shrunk wilderness, here many animals too roamed the continent. The scariest experience of the trip was being threatened and berated by a group of outrageous Afrikaners who camped far outside the designated area and with sophisticated sound equipment, played territorial lion and other animal sounds all night (!) confusing them and scaring all wildlife to miles away by morning. Nearby the area is managed but open to shooting where S African and American tourists pay big bucks to hunt the Big Game. In South Africa, the world‟s most rich and diverse estuary in the world was granted funding and protection as a World Heritage Site, yet a local scientist explained the key fish species has in just three years become near extinction as the ecosystem's webs of support have been killed as each nightly some villagers illegally net fish with so in the morning truck loads of fish are delivered o Durban‟s best restaurants. His research indicates the system is near crash if a complete turnaround does not miraculously occur. Meanwhile, the corrupt police and officials turn a blind eye and the businessmen continue with their bribes. There seems to be no consideration for the future or will to educate the villagers who far from understand the biological connections as most cannot even read. “Ignorance produces a distorted perception of life and the world around” and so in a place like Africa, it is not so hard to mislead or minimize villager objections. Many are still struggling with understanding AIDS or TB given the lack of education and connection to the outside world so what is most salient becomes the fact the diseases cannot be “seen“. The newspapers are few and most cannot read or could ever afford a paper. Nearby, in McHuze National Park we were enthralled by the large game we watched from blinds and felt privileged to witness the endangered white and black rhino who naturally occur here more than anywhere else, yet during our stay, a helicopter flew over a few times and it turns out that night seven of the endangered rhino were shot for the horns that are in great demand by Chinese businesses as many believe it increases their sexual drive while Arabs too will pay over R$1 million per horn to include the horn in a celebration of manhood (for the rich). I wonder, are the park‟s security intentionally under-funded to avoid stopping these sorts of atrocities (?) I think they affect all of us in the world to one degree or another, at some point in time. When I inquire about these issues or problems, frequently the answer is simply, well, “that‟s Africa!” There does not seem to be serious concerns among the privileged European minority who live here that preservation of remaining resources should be a priority. Spirituality has always been important to Africans given a connection with nature, reliance on animals for food, natural medicine and the common desire for explanations that not understood. Today, “religion “is very big here after nearly 400 years of missionaries from US and Europe to prostelize. In this respect little has changed. Many Africans have multiple spiritual outlets, yet 90% consider themselves Christian, “Church-goers”. Shamans are still respected in many communities yet I think the spiritual healing methods are less than good in by most European Christians; meanwhile evangelists perform miracles on television and accept the cash some are willing to offer for salvation. I enjoyed a discussion with a kind American gentleman who is living his conscience and is responsible for leading hundreds of Americans who come to his African country for missionary work. His “objective” is teaching of Jesus and gaining belief in his God over others because he is certain this framework is critical for human life. He explains that salvation is more important than diminishing poverty, educating those without the means or preserving what remains of nature for the future; because without the Christian framework, one cannot possibly comprehend the meaning of worldly matters. Inoffensively he conveyed that my personal feelings and the power I feel from walking in the mountains or the spirituality I might sense from crystal clear skies is not “real “because it‟s impossible to be happy, content without connecting through Jesus. Alternative happiness and sources for connection are imaginary, not sometimes heartfelt like I think, but manufactured. It saddened me in I felt such narrow-minded and self righteous attitude in the long-run deprive future generations from connecting physically or spiritually, as their ancestors have in health for thousands of years. Ancient cultures must survive the waves of hostility before they might possibly expand upon the strengths. Strengths of each belief seems to encourage focus upon love, compassion, forgiveness and community, as Jesus did really. Christian preaching here though seems more effectively “man over nature” and with less sensitivity, more damage has occurred it appears. It‟s easy to sell Hope here, but what is the best product? In Botswana we saw firsthand how the San, perhaps the most ancient culture in the world, is forced by the government to abandon their hunting and gathering, and peaceful existence to move into the 20th C and into the cities, into “civilization”, where they are more hungry and hundreds of generations of knowledge is encouraged to be extinguished within them. My missionary friend related that his people teach reading, but only reading and was keen to clarify the purpose was to read the Bible and better understand it rather than to improve comprehension of the world or improve other skills. The time and money missionaries invest might be brought to more productive use by more often helping educate, empower and balance the inequalities. While pressure continues to abandon ancestral beliefs (similar to Hindus and Buddhist as a soul lives on and learn from the past), many maintain the old as they accept Jesus, perhaps to cover all the bases or maybe simply to maintain the heritage that has helped them survive in contentment longer than any other race. Zambia includes in national holidays important days as honoring ancestors that have died. (We saw the first airplane in two months as the President arrived in an ancient old Russian(?) cargo plane to attend the event in Livingston - classic!!) It appears little has changed over 350 years in terms of the causes for little economic or educational opportunity, disparity between haves and have-nots, and extinguishment of ancient cultures religions that accumulated knowledge over thousands of years. Yet, today, a surprising number of Africans today believe they understand the benefits of material wealth and are eager to attain it. They learn it from People magazine and such which is more common than decent news. Repeatedly, I hear questions related to the common assumption all Americans were much happier and content than the African. Often to surprised eyes, I explain that in America one does not hear as much laughter or feel the easy nature of Africans outside the cities. We as Americans have big responsibilities I had not fully before recognized as individually we are looked up to wile nationally, America possesses influence disproportionate. We are still the world‟s leaders; yet the example we seem to be setting is consuming fixed natural resources at unsustainable rates. In one day, the average American probably causes more deterioration to the natural environment than an African does in a year. They have virtually no information or contact outside the village so can do little to improve. There is a new trend. Over the last decade, Chinese families have opened retail shops in virtually every town, village and city we visited. The small stores are stocked with hundreds of cheap Chinese products, with unhelpful family members at the register taking in cash that would otherwise be dispersed more widely within the community and be of significant benefit rather than sending the precious local currency overseas . In the larger towns, the stores are too and the service by employed Africans much improved, the situation is very much like Wal-Mart without the corporate middleman and little employment opportunity. … ..a.and I expect the income is sent home to family in China. More disturbing, on the larger scale, Chinese companies throughout Africa are winning contracts for large scale infrastructure projects. They win the projects with low rate and no-interest loans with 100% financing from their government; utilizing Chinese laborers who they pay even less than Africans would be and who reside for the term of the project in fenced cities. They do not need to and usually don‟t abide to environmental or human rights that Western bidders must. Across Africa they have negotiated terms where they trade payment for the future mineral rights. It appears that in our Children‟s lifetime China will gain control of many African countries given these factors and their exploding population that has created dire need for natural resources, land and continuing cheap labor: and Africa has all of this and a dire need for capital which China has a surplus. The fear of many is the greatest asset Africa provided us: pieces of environment in a natural state and wild animals will be destroyed in the development process. I hope the US press and government will awaken to this soon. And so I have learned a lot about Africa, myself, family and had a great time. There have been surprises and shocking reality updates that sadden, yet glad to have the knowledge more. We had again and again the most precious, beautiful and peaceful times so I hope I can remember some for the future, particularly when the next deal takes a twist. I will try to attach my journal to this site, but if cannot, and I don‟t know who may want such detail, let me know and I will send it as it is on the computer here. Hope to see you soon! Peter PS. 11-Sept…have returned home TO a place WITH mail delivery (Hurray!?) and so emptied two large boxes of bills, retail catalogs, investment trash - I didn‟t think I needed this before the trip and now know I do not. I return to my Blackberry which is taking charge from my left brain traveling and thinking activities while the right side attempts to shake cobwebs from my head and slower tempo from my bones. As always, vacation has reminded me I like life without phone, computers and appointments. In Africa it seemed sometimes I could forego electricity forever too, but now realize I could not run half the things we own….I still need the mortgage, busy work life car, gas, insurance, etc. to keep my American style life I recalculate (again). In one week I notice too that my patience I thought had expanded, did not when it comes to my crashing computer, or finding the proper page to enter this blurb, yet I am more thankful for household‟s plentiful healthy food, warm showers, lights, vacation savings, and the world‟s best educational opportunities….however, I am more acutely aware than ever that the USA, once producing kids educated better than any of the thirty industrialized countries, now ranks 24 and 25 in math and science literacy; with the gap increasing, drop-out rates rising and US technology companies outsourcing processional jobs because there are not enough Techy college graduates here. Americans in general MUST get off their lazy asses and realize we are NOT special and NOT entitled! Anywhere else in humanity citizens would kill for our educational opportunities and Americans blow it off and say give me a bigger TV, let‟s go shopping. Our drug, alcohol use and crime rates are huge. Anybody that read this far, please pass this simple message to everybody you know - together with the fact it is time to PAY taxes again! We now have the lowest tax rates in 50 years and whiners are still friggin whining! There are NO perfect policies. “Thoughts are nothing without action”. Citizens must wake-up here and begin shaking our legislators silly to educate our kids now! If not, who will take over? How can we take the Fillibuster from our legislators so America works again? It is like keeping attorneys, lobbyists and corporate financing out of the system - how could we break the new age‟s political backbone. Recently, each year more US jobs in technology, engineering and science are exported simply because there are not enough college graduates here to fill the positions…even with a 10% fed / 18% effective national unemployment rate. I wish I could help everywhere.
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