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All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

All the security we use at our home in St Lucia. Think she could take on a hippo?

Oscar Pistorius, his bail hearing and the pending trial for his alleged premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp dominates not only my Facebook news feed, BBC Homepage and Twitter page – it dominates my life. I’m glued to the updates as the courtroom drama unfolds, and although I do acknowledge that it’s a little sick, I have a special connection to violence in South Africa as a foreigner living here.

The events that transpired on the night of Valentine’s Day at Pistorius’ house are without a doubt horrific and tragic, but as a Canadian residing in South Africa, some of the articles and comments I’ve read about the country I’ve lived in for the past two years have hit me the hardest. These pieces condemn the country I love to live in, calling it “crime-ridden,” “dangerous” “wracked by violence” and saying the people “live in constant fear” and are “paranoid about home security.”

The worst came today, when my Twitter feed brought me to an article in the Toronto Star by Cathal Kelly. Although it’s well-written, it truly embodies the hyperbole so many who don’t know what it’s like to live in South Africa fall victim to believing. One thing I can’t help but point out is that Kelly generalizes that all South Africans are obsessed with safety, when all of my Zulu friends and staff sleep behind what is probably South Africa’s most common security system – a dog in their yard.

Thankfully, since the Twitterverse provides no safe refuge from argument and ridicule, the Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York came to the rescue with a rebuttal that got me thinking about how South Africa, and my life therein, is perceived by outsiders.

Kelly is half right – living in South Africa is no easy task. Maneuvering security gates (not “rape doors” – I have no idea what the hell that is but it’s a disgusting name) is no easy task for someone who grew up in a house where we used to sleep with the door unlocked. Having to get used to opening and closing a driveway gate, or keeping a security button next to your bed is daunting at first. In the first months of living in South Africa, I found the security a bit suffocating. Why was it needed?

I answered my own question the hard way when my house was broken into on August 24 of last year. Ransacked and pillaged, my roommate and I luckily got the majority of our stuff back, but the damage to my psyche was done. I felt violated, and mostly betrayed by a culture and community that I was working so hard to help.

But Pistorius got me thinking – do I really live in a society that is so prone to violence that it excuses firing four shots through a closed door at an alleged attacker?

Surely not.

The break-in that happened in my house in August? The same happened to a friend of mine in Paris just two weeks ago.

That unlocked door of the house I used to live at in the Toronto suburb? My dad used to freak when he woke up to find it opened.

My Afrikaans boyfriend is moderately obsessed with my safety and security, but he has never gone as far as to keep a firearm in the bedroom, or even in his house. When I think back all of our conversations about locking doors, not walking at night and sharing each other’s insurance information, these are all discussions that would have been had anywhere in the world.

I tell the volunteers that living in South Africa is all about avoiding the temptation for people to take your things. Keep belongings in the trunk of your car, don’t flash money around or leave your purse unattended. Aren’t these things we do at home? I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have been robbed if our plasma flatscreen TV hadn’t been so visible from our yard – I miss that TV so badly I think I’d consider stealing one.

Of course South Africa can be dangerous – there is no question about that – but it’s no Mogadishu and it’s not a warzone. Like York says, there aren’t bullets zipping over our heads every day and although all the houses I have lived in in St Lucia have a gate and high walls, it’s mainly to keep out the hippos. In fact, the gate has no lock and the electric fence above it doesn’t work.

Being safe is the name of the game, and although it is more difficult in a place where crime is higher, it doesn’t mean that South Africans live in a constant state of fear from being raped, robbed or shot. We love living here despite the harsh reality that crime is a way of life – not a paralyzing black cloud.

The sad truth in all of this is that if someone in South Africa is a victim of crime, it’s usually by their partner or someone they know. The Institute of Security Studies found that 60% of violence against women in South Africa is committed by their own partners. The Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of every four South African women are survivors of domestic violence, and every 1 out of 6 women who dies in the province of Gauteng (where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located), is killed by an intimate partner.

Crime, and even violent crime, in South Africa is commonplace, but it doesn’t mean that those of us who live in the country live in a constant state of fear, as Kelly has told the readers of The Star. Of course there are times that I’ve clutched my panic button after hearing a noise, been thankful for my big dog sleeping next to me, or felt undermined as a woman.

That doesn’t mean that every day I don’t enjoy my life in this beautiful country. I only hope others will take the chance to experience the wonder of South Africa instead of being persuaded by the nonsense some people choose to write.

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Photo courtesy of Kenji Ashman.

The highest mountain range in Southern Africa, the Drakensberg rises to 3,482 metres (11,424 ft) in height. In Zulu, it is referred to as uKhahlamba, meaning “barrier of spears.”


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You can also read this blog on GotSaga.

From the relatively obscure to the well traveled, my adventures are far from over. Up until now, here is a list of places that I would return to in a heartbeat and that I recommend you visit at least once.

1. Antrim coast, Northern Ireland

Breathtaking Northern Ireland’s hidden jewel is a car trip that can easily be navigated within a day, as the road around the north of the country has four magnificent sights. It’s such a great experience that I did it twice.

First stop is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, once used by fisherman and though not for the faint of heart, even if you don’t to cross the bridge its locale provides great views. Second is Torr Head, just off the Causeay Coastal Route which is another great lookout, though not as fantastic as the medieval Dunluce Castle, whose kitchen once crumbled into the sea. Finally the volcanic anomaly of the Giant’s Causeway, the most popular attraction in Northern Ireland, is the last, but not least stop on the road.

2. Drakensberg, South Africa

Trekking and hiking are among my favourite activities to do abroad, which is probably why climbing the Drakensberg mountains in Zululand ranks a very close second on my list.

A relatively easy climb for the inexperienced mountaineer, the mountain has breathtaking views from all altitudes. It may take a couple days, but one can camp or stay in beautiful mountainside lodges as they make their way up the mountain. Once at its peak, you’ll find yourself standing on top of Tugela Falls, the world’s second-largest waterfall.

Full of beautiful gorges and the rare opportunity to drink straight from the fall’s crystal streams, it’s a must-see for anyone traveling to South Africa.

3. Ezuluweni Valley, Swaziland

Swaziland is one of the most underestimated travel locations in southern Africa. With plenty of adventure attractions combined with luxury hostels and spas on the cheap, the Ezulwini Valley has everything any traveler could want in one street.

Surrounded by beautiful hills filled with typical African flora and fauna, Swaziland is rife with culture and beauty. Quad biking, game drives, white water rafting and caving all provide great experiences for the adventurous traveler. At the same time, spas and luxurious bed and breakfasts will please any traveler looking to relax on the cheap. I loved it so much the first time jumped at the opportunity to return two years later.

4. Santorini, Greece

Home to the best Greek salad I’ve ever tasted, this small Greek island is packed with activities for every breed of traveler. Whether you choose to hit the bars, stroll the streets or quad bike around the small island, you’re sure to be satisfied – and the beaches will not disappoint. If you arrive by boat, riding the donkeys up the steep slope from the harbour is a must – not only is it thrilling but you’ll be laughing about it for the rest of the day.

5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

My first experience on mainland Europe has really stayed with me, however it’s probably because I did everything right during my brief stay in this beautiful city.

If you only have 24 hours like I did, I highly recommend visiting the Amsterdam Historical Museum, located in what was once the city’s orphanage. Having a friend who was attending the university, I was able to borrow a bicycle and see the city the way it should be seen, and I recommend renting a bike and doing the same. And of course, don’t miss a brief stop in one of the local coffee shops.


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Returning to the project for a third time brings up lots of mixed emotions. I feel more at home and comfortable here than ever, which has probably led to my laziness at updating the blog. Other than more personal development and issues, there is really not much new to tell you all about what I’m doing here.

Which is why I took a trip last weekend. Weekend traveling is a great way to take a break from the project. In the past years I’ve taken trips to Swaziland and Mozambique, so when the opportunity to travel within South Africa arose I was excited at the prospect of seeing more of the country.

Going on the photography trip to Drakensburg, the highest mountain range in South Africa, combined learning more about taking photos from guide Emil and some rather intense day-long hikes and climbs.

On our final day going to the summit we woke up at 4 a.m. and climbed the highest portion of the mountain in the dark (some of us without headlamps). The views were well worth the many early mornings, and climbing the mountain gave such a sense of accomplishment.

The group we went with got along really well and we all had a great time. We camped one night at the base of the mountain, which was just my style.

Hiking and being outside was such an exhilarating experience, I recommend climbing a mountain to anyone.

There’s nothing like standing on the edge.

I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits the bottom. – General George S. Patton

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I woke up at six o’clock on Saturday morning to be ready for whale watching with Jack and Jenna, two new volunteers that arrived last week. At seven o’clock we’d set off in a big truck across the sand dunes and along the beach.

Whales migrate from the arctic towards tropical waters every year, where they go to breed. They migrate up the west and east coasts of Africa, and even towards the east coast of Madagascar. While in the arctic, the whales can eat seven tonnes of krill per day during their three month stay. They migrate to tropical waters to give birth to their calves as well, after a gestation period of almost one year.

Bruno, our guide from Botswana, has a PhD in marine ecology and marine biology. He and his partner have the largest photo database of humpback whales in the world, and the only picture of a double-breech. They do a lot of recording and analysis on whale migratory patterns. It was really interesting to hear all the information he told us about the whales and his job. During peak season, he said tourists will see up to a couple hundred whales per day.

While out, we saw a large sea turtle in the middle of the ocean, which is very rare. We saw two male humpback whales migrating together. Bruno said they probably paired up for the journey and will wait around the coast until the females come to breed. The whales were so peaceful, it was amazing to sit and watch them. We stayed taking pictures for probably about an hour.

Many of the other volunteers have begun leaving, and a new batch of volunteers have arrived. On average, volunteers usually come for a month or so. As of now, we have six volunteers in the house, where we’ve had as many as thirteen at one point.

We’re trying hard to rearrange all of the activities so there are enough people on each. I’ve been doing a lot of building (my back is killing me), but it’ll be all worth it when I see the new daycare centre be finished.

We’re starting the thatched roof tomorrow so hopefully I’ll get to try the builders’ roofing techniques. We’re also starting to teach HIV Education in the schools on Wednesday and Thursday, so I will definitely be reporting back as to how that goes.

Elaine and I are planning to travel around this weekend, whether it’s into Mozambique or Swaziland, or just around KwaZulu-Natal.

Until Next Time!

-A


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I’ve read somewhere, and been told, that there is something special about Africa – something different. Africa gets into your bones somehow and you can become addicted to it. Maybe it’s the mystery that comes along with travelling here; a sense of the unknown. Or maybe it’s the people and their welcoming culture. It could be the landscape and wildlife. Maybe instead it’s the fact that Africa is such an enigma.

It should be a tourist hotspot, should be rich off natural resources, and the list goes on. Instead the continent is full of corruption, exploitation, marginalization, and that list goes on. It makes the allure of Africa appealing on different levels. Africa is like a drug. And I’m hooked.

Everyone’s pegged me as an Africa-addict. They say they can easily recognize their kind – those who arrive in Africa and always return, or stay forever. As opposed to those who visit and never return.

Those are the two types of Africa-bound travellers, and it’s easier than you would think to see the divide. So I’ve extended my visit. I’ve noticed already when I walk by myself, or I’m in the market, I can speak Zulu with the locals, and I’m starting to really fit in. I’ll be spending more than a week longer than I had planned.

My chicken pox were still too bad to go to Kosi Bay with the other girls, so I ended up driving with Josh to Richards Bay to do some shopping for the HIV support group. It was interesting to see more of South Africa, especially a city, where the subtle racism evident in St. Lucia wasn’t easily observed. We saw a billboard that read “Real Men Don’t Rape”, and another promoting the ‘ABCs of AIDS’ – Abstinence, Be faithful, Condomize.

The girls lost their key to one of their cars in Kosi Bay so I ended up driving up with our relief manager Anna to meet them and bring them back. On the way, we almost hit a dog, a cat, some cows, and people carrying their water cannisters home after work (it gets dark around 5:30 here). Such are the dangers of African night-driving.

Until Next Time,
-Alanna the Africa Addict

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