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Day 1 Johannesburg
Headshot 128 Ben, August 16, 2010
After the 22 hour journey we made it to Johannesburg, through immigration and via a rented van, to the hotel. Apparently we are in a really nice part of town where a number of the downtown businesses recently moved ( just north of city center). The hotel was fortunately really nice. We then stopped by a local place for Italian..haha

Today we got up nice and early for an 8 am guided tour of Soweto, a Johannesburg township. The townships were where black south africans were forced to live during the apartheid years. It is still an entirely black African neighborhood but it is so sprawling it feels like a whole different town / world on it's own . We learned about the significance of Soweto at the Hector Pietersen museum. Apparently, the students of the area started a peaceful march against apartheid laws that required schools to teach in the ruling/colonizing party's language. Police proceeded to gas and shoot a number of the students. Over the course of the fallout the police apparently shot any student aged child they saw in the streets (even 6 year olds). The whole thing was the beginning of resistance marches all across the country. I'm sure some of this is coming out a bit incorrectly but overall we couldn't believe that we didn't know more about the entire road to the end of apartheid. Apparently it still wasn't being taught in history classes while we were in school.

Anyways we did see the Johannesburg world cup stadium on our way to Soweto as well as Mandela's current home in joburg and old home in Soweto. We also saw the current home of Desmond tutu, another nobel peace prize winner. The street where Tutu's and Mandela's homes were located in Soweto is the only street in the world with two Nobel prize winners' homes on it.
 
We saw the South African Constitutional Court ( equivalent of our supreme court). And one of my (Pam's) favorite things , a traditional medicine shop. There were bones and skulls and furs and spices and herbs all over! Apparently locals who believe in the tribal religions go there to receive cures for bodily ailments, herbs to connect them to ancestors, receive advice/"fortunes" etc etc. The guide, a Zuluman, seemed to understand that most Americans and europeans would probably find it all bogus so he explained ways in which it was all true. Kinda out of the normal way Americans think about medicine and spirituality but definitely the type of stuff that is right up my alley ;)

We also met a British family on the tour who was visiting friends in the area as well as an American guy from Arizona. We found it entertaining that the British family watches the tv show, House, on a regular basis. And had seen My Sweet Sixteen before. We made sure they knew that not all American teens behaved like those sixteen year olds!

After the tour we grabbed lunch in Nelson Mandela square and looked around Johannesburg's biggest mall. All the stores were pretty expensive so we just window shopped. Now back at the hotel before dinner and drinks with some Accenture friends. Tomorrow it is off to cape town! Not too excited to hop on another plane but excited to get to the city!

Overall the area we are in seems very similar to home. Even the clothes people wear are not that different than our own. We are thinking this is because Sandton, where we are staying is a pretty new area. Nevertheless it is kind of funny because I told Ben that this area as well as the freeways seem more like home than any other place I've been abroad. I have a feeling Cape Town will feel different as it is a bit older than this area!

Pam :)


Additional comments from Ben:

Pam is definitely right about Joburg, and more specifically the Sandton area, being very similar to home. It feels very similar to an affluent American suburb (complete with an Aston Martin dealership down the road). One difficult thing about Joburg is that it is very much not a walking city. Not having a car makes it very difficult to get around. We considered getting a car at one point, but didn't want to deal with driving on the left side of the road. I'm very glad we decided to do a tour yesterday, since it allowed us to see much more of the city.

I also have to admit that I never really realized how long Apartheid lasted (1948-1994). Hector Pieterson was shot in 1976 -- long before the end of Apartheid. Mandela spent 27 years in prison. I guess that most of the history I've learned in school was before 1900. The only modern history class I can really remember taking was focused on American history.

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