There is so much to write about my most recent travels, but I’ll start with a description of a handful of people I met and some of the things they told me. I started in Lutry, Switzerland and traveled to South Africa, Singapore, Melbourne, and Hawaii.
In Stellabosch, South Africa, stunning wine country, I met an Australian man attending a work conference in Cape Town. He told me he’s now working in French Switzerland but that he left his job as a professional Aussie football player because his wife encouraged him to find a less dangerous job.
On a highway from Stellenbosch back to Cape Town I met a man of Afrikaner descent told me of the recent problems they’ve experienced with white farmers being killed and also of the armed robberies of people driving on that highway, where the robbers drop boulders from overpasses to get cars to stop before robbing the travelers.
In Cape Town I met a Xhosa man named Zandi, who lives in the Black Township of Langa. Zandi told me many of the residents of Langa trace their roots to the Black and Coloured Cape Town neighborhood called Section 6, a neighborhood which was bulldozed in 1966 when the residents were forcibly removed to the Langa to enforce Apartheid racial separation laws. Zandi also told me that today about half of the people in Langa use community outhouses and do not have toilets.
In Cape Town I met another man of Xhosa background who lives in Langa and is on the list for a government subsidized house there. I asked if he thought it important for people to stay in the mostly Xhosa townships if they were able to leave. He said, yes, especially if they have children, so when the children get sick they can seek traditional remedies and care.
In Pretoria, standing in front of the South African capital building, I met a man named Chief Khoisan SA, clothed only in an antelope loin cloth, who told me it was time for the South African government to stop classifying his Khoi San people as coloured.
At Robben Island, in the former Cape Town prison, I met a man, Sipho Msomi, who spent four years as a political prisoner there for his role as a recruiter for the African National Congress. He described the torture and solitary confinement he was subjected to. We talked a bit about his trial and whether the presumption of innocence is a reality or fiction. “Mostly fiction,” I said. “Interesting, coming from a lawyer,” he said.
In Johannesburg I met a young man, about 35, John Mashala. Mashala grew up in a traditional village in northeast South Africa. John tried to answer my questions about the upcoming South African presidential elections and explained that the African National Congress is starting to lose the big city vote.
While on a safari in the Pilanesburg Game Reserve of South Africa, I met a 30-year-old woman who is a flight attendant for Virgin Australian Airlines who told me she was glad flight attendants no longer have to be the cell phone police.
In the Pilanesburg Game Reserve I met a park ranger leading our jeep Safari who lives in the park. We experienced an angry male lion charge at our jeep. Seconds later we drove past a road crew patrolled by a crew chief armed with a rifle. “That rifle won’t bring down a charging lion,” the ranger said. It’s a good thing I didn’t know that information sooner.
In South Africa I met a man, Jason, of Dutch Afrikaner heritage, who explained that the difference between the Black Rhino and the White Rhino was the shape of their mouth, which accounted for the difference in their diets. He also said that it doesn’t happen frequently but occasionally rhinos will charge a safari car or jeep and they can ram their horns straight through the door.
In Johannesburg I was eating dinner at a restaurant called Carnivore. The host, a slight man in his ‘60’s, approached me and asked if I wanted to try some izigxobo zezinkunzi braai. I had no idea what he was referring to but I said, of course, having good manners and thinking Parts Unknown. Quite excellent, actually. It was barbequed bulls’ testicles.
In Johannesburg on the plane to Singapore, I met a young woman who was travelling to Singapore for the weekend. She told me her and her husband own an appliance business in Johannesburg and that she volunteers in a Township teaching English as a second language to children whose first language is Xhosa or Zulu. I asked her if she knows how to “click,” the Xhosa way of speaking. “Not that well,” she said, “but I try.”
In Singapore I shared a trishaw around Chinatown with a woman, originally from Iowa, who lives in South Korea with her husband who is enlisted in the U.S. Army and stationed there. She asked me if I ever heard of the Hasidic Jews from Postville, Iowa who ended up in prison. “The Rubashkins?” I asked, engaging in something called Jewish Geography.
In Singapore I chatted with a store clerk who referred to the U.S. as “the most powerful country in the world,” but agreed with me when I pointed out that almost everything in her store was made in neighboring China. “So is your I-phone,” she reminded me. I’m sure that’s true.
In Melbourne at the Jewish Museum I met a woman who lives in Melbourne, but was born in Brooklyn, like me. We played the Australian edition of Jewish Geography.
In Melbourne I met a young man, married with an 8-year-old son, who told me his life revolves around being a devoted fan of the Aussie football team the Richmond Tigers, and that the coming Thursday night he would join another 90,000 fans to watch them play neighboring rival Collingwood. Collingwood won.
In Melbourne, Australia I met a small business owner, Michael Gill who owns a business in Collingwood. In every room Gill posts an acknowledgement of country, recognizing that the business sits on the indigenous land of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. “I give you a lot of credit for doing that,” I told him. “It’s the least we can do,” he said.
In Melbourne I met a 55-year-old geologist named Brian who explained to me that for the last several years he’s been trying to get permits to tear down and rebuild a 1960’s era red brick house there, but that self-described historic preservationists have blocked his efforts. “They want me to build a Victorian house with a bloody white picket fence!” he exclaimed.
On the way back from a visit to Monash University on the outskirts of Melbourne, I met a 45-year-old woman who escaped the violence of her home in Sudan, first moving to Kenya and now living in Melbourne with her husband and adult son. She drives 12 hours a day for Uber so she can send money back to her family in Sudan. “There is no life in Sudan.”
In Oahu Hawaii while touring the Pearl Harbor Memorial Museum I met an elderly Japanese couple now living in Chicago, touring the with their adult daughter who lives in Los Angeles. The site of the U.S.S. Arizona was just as sad for them as it was for me.
On the north side of the island of Oahu, Hawaii I stopped in the neighborhood of Waimanalo. I met a man, Andrew, of Philippine background who explained to me that the village is largely comprised of Native Hawaiians.
He explained that housing for Native Hawaiians in the village is government subsidized and questioned whether that is fair, where, in Hawaii, the cost of housing is very expensive. I kept my opinion to myself. Yes, all things considered, it’s abundantly fair.
Who are you calling old?
Flying to Tucson, Arizona I reflected about my day with John Mashala. I shared a late lunch with John across the street from the house in the Soweto Township of Johannesburg where Nelson Mandela grew up, now an odd tourist attraction. Mashala explained to me that a good number of people now living in Soweto now commute by train to good paying jobs in the city and are beginning to be able afford a middle-class life. “I learned a lot from you today,” Mashala said, “you are a wise old man.” “Old?” “I’m not old!” I protested. He laughed loudly, causing attention to us. “Old people never think they’re old,” he said, with an ironic dash of youthful wisdom.