Where did you go, when did you go, and how long were you there?
I went to South Africa for a little under two weeks, traveling mostly in the North East. The sections in my piece specifically comes from Ncome in KwaNulu-Natal, Matiyani in the Limpopo Province, and the museum in Johannesburg.
What is the funniest or most hilarious thing that happened to you while you were there?
It’s odd how hard this question was for me to answer, there were a lot of really great moments but we were so deeply into everything that was happening, including the many hardships, that it’s difficult sometimes to pinpoint the “funny” things. If I had to pick something though, probably watching one of our professors, Glen Retief, attempt to do some traditional dances while we were visiting an artist commune. The students had been attempting to stomp and shake in time with the African beats the entire trip, it was reassuring to see that Glen, a native South African, struggled just as much as we did.
Looking back at your GO experience, is there anywhere you wish you had gone instead, or did you love your trip enough that you would still choose it?
I honestly don’t think any other trip could have challenged me and helped me grow in the ways that I did in South Africa. Sure I would love to have spent an entire semester somewhere, but the things we got to experience were so singular I could never pass them up for somewhere else. Plus, I don’t think any of us could’ve handled that level of emersion for an entire semester.
If you could travel the world, which method of transportation would you choose to do so?
Crossing oceans plane is still probably the best way to go, but for treks across land I think I’d normally prefer a train. There’s just something comforting about them, and yet still they’ll get you places in a timely manner. Plus you don’t have to worry about wrong turns. If someone tried to force me into a bus for another two weeks I don’t think I’d agree unless Lebo was driving again.
What is one good thing you want to tell people about your experience that nobody ever asks you about?
Once again, I’m not really sure. Usually people just ask me in general what it was like. Even after writing this essay I don’t think I’ve truly processed most of it. I suppose a “good” thing I like to talk about is our very first day, when I was given the chance to interact with some families living in the shanty towns of Alex Township. It’s the poorest area of Johannesburg where people are all living in corrugated metal leaning against each other, but there is so much more to see there than sadness over their living conditions. It’s a struggle to survive there, but people do more than just the basic task of keeping themselves fed and safe. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as connected to a group of people as when I was running up and down those winding paths playing hide-and-go-seek with the children there. They support each other in ways hardly anyone does in America anymore. It really makes me wonder what type of wealth we should all be celebrating.
Talk about one person, place or object from your GO experience that you wish you could bring back to your life here in the U.S.
There are so many wonderful people that I was able to meet. Maybe Light, just to help her realize the very special things about her life in South Africa, things that I long for every day just as much as she dreams of coming here. Probably Lebo. I can refer to him as our driver but he became so much more than that. Even though he is from South Africa a lot of the things we encountered while there were new experiences for him as well. He was one of our few constants and was such a deeply fascinating person. He said he wanted to go to Kansas, because a missionary told him about how beautiful it was there. I think all of the Americans still agree that he’d be more interested in New York, but I’d still really love to take Lebo to Kansas one day.
What was the best food you had abroad?
The worst was, without a doubt, grubs. I don’t even know a better way to describe it than some kind of small, crunchy grub that was covered in a green… sauce? Goo? I don’t know, it was the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Best… probably these muffins that Dudu made us for breakfast every morning in Ncome. I haven’t ever tasted anything else like it, but the closest American equivalent would probably be a corn muffin. It just tasted like home, and when she gave us a whole bag to take with us when we had to leave we all made sure to ration them out over as many days as we thought they would keep.
Interview by Katy Griffith