Week Four: safari soph

Time is flying by!! I’ve been in SA for a whole month now and I’m about halfway through my time here. However, there is still a lot of work to be done on our project and many more exciting weekend plans on the horizon!

When I shared with friends and family that I would be traveling to South Africa, replies ranged from moderate worries to extreme concern. The continual apprehension sometimes felt overkill and I often left conversations feeling either more fearful or undermined in my ability to “fend for myself.” The problem is that across the world South Africa’s story, like many countries’, is oversimplified. Prior to this trip, my knowledge about South Africa extended little beyond the apartheid, expensive safaris, and a large wealth disparity, most of which I imagined to be between the government and the people. I’ve been struggling to understand the narrative that Americans have of South Africa and why such large pieces of the story seem to be missing.

All of the homes near our guest house are bordered with tall fences and murmur a tone of self-imprisonment and fearful hiding. Locals have shared with me that during the shift out of the apartheid system the fences got taller and wider. During this time many white South Africans fled the country, but those that did not leave were fearful of vindictive black South Africans. When I meet locals, right off the bat many of them ask me if I have felt safe throughout my time here. It is evident that the fear of crime within SA is not only international, but is an enormous domestic concern. Especially after having my phone stolen, I’ve come to learn that being a white female with an American accent has definitely made me a target for such crimes. And after hearing tales of mugging and more from the locals that I meet, I’ve been extra conscientious anytime I’m out and about. Our program directors told us that the only safe transport is Uber and it feels like we’ve taken #ubereverywhere to a whole new level! Although it’s extremely convenient, I’ve really missed being able to walk home from dinner, work, or the gym.

When I call home, I recount that Uber is the only way we can get places as it can be unsafe to walk places, especially once it’s dark by the time we get back from work. But with 1 USD = over 13 Rand, the purchasing power is unreal and things are cheap, especially the Ubers considering that Joburg is a large city! I am surprised every time my 3km Uber is less than $3, but soon grow uncomfortable recognizing that the reality of the my purchasing power lies in a bed of inequality — wealth inequality, opportunity inequality, income equality and more. According to the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. The top 1% of South Africans own over 70% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 60% of South Africans control only 7% of the country’s assets. Even though the country has had 24 years of progress after the end of the apartheid system, the aftermath is still evident in everyday life.

Meanwhile, work has been exciting and we’ve found ourselves getting involved in many various ongoing projects. After helping out more with the website, I realized that their team member photos were a bit blurry and in black and white. I spent the week taking new photos for the website which was exciting and a lively way to interact with all of the team members! Shout-out to Mr. Dehner for teaching me the portrait photography skills back in high school! We are also currently working on developing a CRM system for Tshimologong. After much research, we found a software that is free at first and is easily scalable and will allow them to grow the CRM as the company expands.

All week my friends and I were eagerly anticipating our safari (as well as a nice long weekend!) Going on a safari has been a life-long dream and I was really worried when I got here that I wasn’t going to be able to go as I assumed they would all be $1,000+. Luckily we found a ‘budget’ safari where we got the same safari experience as an expensive tour but slept in tents!! Yes people, you heard that right! I was EXTREMELY nervous to sleep outside in the African winter alongside wart hogs and the monkeys that stole our bananas (how quintessential!), but it turned out to be an amazing experience and I cannot wait to camp again!

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My friend, Haley, and I in our tent!

South Africa is home to the THE BIG FIVE: the five animals I’ve been hearing about since the moment I arrived in SA; the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot; the elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion, and rhino. We were lucky enough to spot four of the big five as leopards appeared to be in hiding this weekend 😦 Overall, the safari was INCREDIBLE. If you ever have the chance to go on a safari in SA, I cannot recommend it enough! We ventured to Pilanesberg National Park which covers some 120,000 acres! We sat in the back of a game vehicle and our conversant, knowledgeable guide taught us so much about the wildlife and vegetation we found ourselves surrounded by.  We had the option of renting a car ourselves and driving through the reserve, but I was very glad we were with an experienced guide. Our guide even spotted fresh leopard tracks that we followed for a good couple kilometers until they disappeared into the foliage.

I was constantly amazed that I was standing alongside wild animals freely roaming and looked in awe at the landscape that went on forever in whichever direction I gazed. The had to keep reminding myself that this was not a zoo, but rather all of the animals were in their natural element, unfazed by our intrusion. The wildlife controlled our day and when they stopped in the pathway of our game vehicle to munch on the savory bushes nearby, we waited for them to pass from a distance. For me, this lack of control felt like complete freedom. Typically being a Type A person, this forced me to slow down the typical pace of my day, relax, and enjoy the moment alongside my new friends. No words can do the experience justice, but hopefully sharing a few of my pictures will bring it closer.

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If you look closely, you can see a lion basking in the sun with a couple of her cubs. There are only six lion packs in the whole park and it’s crazy to think we got to see one of them!
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I LOVED the zebras!
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Fun Fact: Zebras sleep standing up!
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The water buffalo were very elusive this weekend, always hiding behind foliage. Our guide was just as excited to spot them this weekend as he’s only seen them 5 times in Pilanesberg!
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The baby rhino was oh so cute!!
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Whenever we came across an elephant our guide would stop the game vehicle and we were told to be extra quiet and not to make any sudden moves. This was in order to avoid startling the elephants and ultimately prevent them charging us!
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I woke up to one of these ~beautiful~ warthogs outside my tent! They make loud sounds similar to a pig (not very cute) but it reminded me how immersed into the wildlife I was. The interesting thing about the warthogs is that they kneel on their front knees while foraging for grass which is a pretty funny sight!

You have to understand – there is a romance to Africa. You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.
― Jodi Picoult

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3 thoughts on “Week Four: safari soph

  1. Sophia – I look forward to reading your updates and seeing your pictures every week. So proud of you for having this experience.

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