ON THE ROAD WITH TOUR CHOIR
Friday, April 29, 2011
Dear families and friends,
It is now Friday and, oh, the adventures we’ve had! We managed to stay awake, following our overnight on the plane and 6:30am arrival time, all day Wednesday. We were greeted at the airport by our ACFEA currier, Peter Myburgh. Born and raised in South Africa, he is full of knowledge, enthusiasm and love for his homeland, and anxious to share it. We loaded the bus and did a morning tour of Johannesburg, basically designed to keep us awake and bide time until we could check in to the hotel! Jo’burg is, unfortunately, a blighted city trying desperately to recover. With the seemingly universal problems of economic depression, a high jobless rate, homelessness and massive illegal immigration, the inner city is not a pretty place and we were a bit relieved to move on.
We made our way to Nelson Mandela Square, which reminded me of a European town square with outside cafes all around. Unlike in Europe, however, the square is attached to a massive, very modern, shopping mall, the likes of which are now found in affluent suburbs. We enjoyed a typical South African lunch, spicy chicken offered in a variety of ways, at Nando’s. The brave among us, and there were many, went for the “hot” version and pronounced it appropriately eye-watering and sinus-clearing. In addition to the usual array of stores found in a large urban mall, there were several shops with traditional South African masks, drums, pottery, etc. We hadn’t changed any money at that point, and it was nice to just look around without the pressure of spending!
Our hotel is north of the city, in a very quiet and pleasant suburban neighborhood. On the way we passed many squatter’s camps (or “informal settlements” as they are now evidently called), another nod to the social problems nagging this country. Peter does an excellent job of explaining the history as well as the current problems here, in a way that keeps the kids engaged and helps them understand, without going into the sometimes agonizing details. Everything here is quite obviously fenced and gated – houses, businesses, our hotel. It feels like we are entering a compound and thus quite secure and comfortable, with beautiful grassy areas surrounding the buildings. We settled into our very nice rooms, and tried to ignore the big, fluffy-comforted beds calling our names! Instead, we hit the grass for an impromptu soccer game. Thanks, Mr. Branam, for having the foresight to purchase a soccer ball at the mall! It was the Proffit/Koriaths against the DeSantis/Criles, tucked shirts vs. untucked shirts. The game was progressing nicely until a fight for the ball popped it up and over the very high, spiky, barbed wire topped fence. Hmmm. All the staring, wishing, planning and frustrated gesticulations in the world were not going to get that ball. Mr. Branam embarked on a quest to go “out and around,” to no avail. It seemed hopeless. Mrs. Crile took over, and it was field day! Kent and Tyler won the leapfrog race, as well as the prize for best form…which was probably why they were the fastest. Lyric and Lizzie proudly proclaimed themselves the worst at leapfrog. The final heat for cartwheels included Melissa, Jayda, Jalena, Kent and, of course, Mrs. Crile. Evan and Jay took the wheelbarrow title. The boys claimed to have won the capture the flag game, just as the girls were claiming to have won the capture the flag game. Sometime it’s better not to question, just accept. Becca and Melissa were the piggyback champs.
The soccer ball was finally rescued when Tyler discovered that he was just the perfect size for squeezing between a fence post and brick column, and the game was on! According to Mr. Branam, “The girls are going to destroy the boys.” Mrs. Crile responded with, “The girls have an advantage because they communicate and strategize, while the boys just yell “shut up” back and forth to one another.” Turns out both methods seem to work, as the score was tied at 2-2. Following the games, everybody headed to their rooms for a power nap and then a shower, looking rested and refreshed when they returned to the bus for the drive to dinner.
Dinner. At the Carnivore Restaurant. After a round of toasts with our very fancy welcome drinks, the meat began to arrive. Some beef, a little chicken, pork, crocodile, springbok, lamb, urdu, and wild boar, to name a few. A waiter appeared every three minutes or so with a hunk of meat or piece of sausage that got dropped right on to the plate. Everyone was very brave, trying lots of different things, and we were stuffed by the time we waddled back to the bus. With very full, happy tummies, we crawled under those comforters and…sleep…finally!!
Peter wakes us every morning with a cheerful “wakey, wakey,” and we’re off, starting with a huge breakfast here at the hotel. Who thought we’d be hungry after last night??!! Unbelievably, it was Thursday already – seems like we’ve been traveling for days and we just got here! We toured Soweto Thursday morning, with Josephine as our guide. “Soweto” is short for South Western Township, and is considered the center of the country’s black urban culture. It grew dramatically in the 1950’s and 60’s, when black people were forced to relocate from central Johannesburg. It is now South Africa’s largest urban community, with over one million people. We learned of the 1976 demonstration, known as the Soweto Uprising, by school children that resulted in the death of 13-year old Hector Pieterson. The conditions really hit home for all of us, as we watched our 13-year olds take in all of this turmoil. This uprising is said to be the turning point in the history of this nation, and it is particularly moving that it started with children.
Our performance Thursday night was at the Holy Cross Anglican Church, in Soweto, next to the Hector Pieterson Memorial. And thus begins the most amazing adventure. You’re going to have to wait, however, to hear about it, as I want to get this letter off to you while we still have internet access.
So, until next week, all is well!