Friday, February 20, 2004

Johannesburg, South Africa--Day 21

Today I woke up early and set off of the Emerald Safari Resort and Casino (oh la la) to see Pinky and The Brain (yes, that is their names) who are in the Animal World section of the casino’s grounds. I got a taxi driver from the hotel who was great and was really excited to take me “all that way.” Luckily I had a map because the taxi driver didn’t have his (hmmm) and so he made a call to his taxi partner to double check and then we were off. The entire drive (which was just over an hour) the driver kept looking at the directions that I gave him and then directions that were given to him even when I figured out that we were going the right way, he kept looking at them and I was just about to tell him not to worry about them (and look at the road) when he finally was convinced that we were going the right way and paid more attention to his driving. We did stop at a gas station to get gas (and to triple check) and the driver was very happy and satisfied when he talked to the people at the gas station and that we were going in the right direction (even though the whole time I kept telling him that we were based on my map).

Anyways, we made it to the Safari Resort and I was the ONLY person there. Luckily it was just opening so I guess I was the first person (people did come in after me) and so I went right to the hippos to take their pictures, disobeying the “one-way only” signs that would have meant that I would had to have gone around the entire zoo before seeing the hippos since they were the last stop on the map. Pinky (the male who was actually more yellow than pink) and The Brain (the more pinkish female but as the zookeeper put it, “of course the woman HAD to be The Brain”) were swimming around in their pond and the way that the viewing area was set up it you were standing RIGHT above them. I could as well have jumped right in and swam around with them (no wonder there were many signs saying not to feed the hippos) and since I was the only person at the zoo, after I was done taking the pictures I decided to walk around a little bit more (again going in the wrong one-way direction) and ended up in the staff only area (amongst many staff, none of which who stopped me by the way) and I found myself right near an exhibit that I definitely should not have been that close to since I was practically it! I then found the right one-way signs and followed them backwards to the official entrance, which was my exit. I spoke with a zookeeper for a little bit and then found my taxi driver waiting outside for me, who was collecting plants and was very pleased with himself.

The driver saw me approaching and got really excited and started waving his plant around furiously in the air, showing me what he had found. Apparently the driver prides himself on being an unofficial herbal medicine doctor and claimed that by boiling this bush and then drinking it, you could not only do good for your heart, but it helps in pregnancy and will make your baby see the right way out, if you know what I mean. Huh. So I looked in his trunk and he had collected practically an entire bush of it and we headed off back towards the hotel.

On the way back to the hotel I asked the driver if he could drop me off at the Apartheid Museum in the Johannesburg suburbs. He thought this was a great idea and offered to wait for me while I went in. I will just sleep in my car, he insists. So after about an hour’s drive we end up at the Museum and he drops me off.

The Apartheid Museum was absolutely amazing and emotionally I wasn’t prepared for it, however I don’t think anyone really can be. I was shocked at my ignorance about the entire matter and further shocked by seeing how racially segregated South Africa was and how RECENT all of these events occurred, especially the uprisings in the 1980s and the fact that Mandela was not elected until 1994. South Africans had to carry with them race identity cards in the late 1970s and early 1980s!! Its really unimaginable and was absolutely horrible. I spent three hours at the Museum trying to take as much of it in as I could and met the driver afterwards, who gave me his account of what life was like growing up in South Africa. He talked a lot about just not taking the train “because the white people would just come and shoot you on it” and how he and his friends would get chased by young white kids with chains, as if it was a game. Awful. However, the driver seemed to be really positive about how things are now and reassured me that he felt like things were virtually equal now between everyone living in South Africa.

Back at the hotel I read and transferred and filed all of the hippo pictures and then had some dinner at the Thai restaurant in the hotel (which I have to say is probably the best Thai food I have EVER had--more to remark on that after I go to Thailand!) and now am back in my room packing my things to leave for India tomorrow.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.