Our short time in Bethulie was definitely a time of transition as we adjust from village life in Lesotho to things we are more familiar with, like electricity, toilets, and food that is not pap or meroho. Bethulie is a small farming town, and in the first few days we visited a lot of different places around town, like the police station, health clinic, old age home, high school, and prison. We talked to people and heard some of their stories, and when we sang in Sesotho they really enjoyed it- I don’t think many white people speak Sesotho. It is interesting to see white people living here, because in Lesotho and Soweto we were pretty much the only white people around. Bethulie seemed like a pretty racially mixed town, and it was interesting as an outsider to observe the different dynamics at play.
After a few days we moved into our homestays, mine being on a farm about 30 km outside of Bethulie. I, and three other students, lived with a very sweet Afrikaner farming couple who were extremely hospitable and kind to us. We helped them out on the farm, hiked to a cave, and even rode on a tractor. It was a jam-packed few days, but it was a blast. It was really great talking to our family about how they viewed issues in South Africa too, and I feel like I gained a whole new perspective on white people in South Africa. I think because we stayed with black families and learned about all of the injustices they suffered under the cruel restrictions of apartheid, I had a really negative view of Afrikaners because historically they were the ones who implemented and sustained apartheid, and even benefit from its effects today. So, even though it still seems from my outsider’s perspective that South Africa is far from being equal and just for all people, and that there is huge stratification of wealth, I have a better understanding of Afrikaners, and an appreciation born through the relationship with my host family, the questions we asked, and the stories they told. We left Bethulie with a few questions, but even though it was a short stay it was a good time to process and transition from Lesotho, and to get another perspective on South African life.
-Maria Driediger (Sesotho name, Dintle)
David Foster Wallace said, “The only thing that is absolutely true, is that we get to decide how we perceive the world.”
Bethulie has been a lovely town to stay in, and the diversity we experienced through our homestays was unfathomable. Some students stayed in town and had more relaxing stays, while others of us were in groups of four on farms, helping with various chores and enjoying the freedom in the evenings. My particular experience included sheep vaccination, sheep shearing, farm visits, horse riding and countless other things. While these experiences were all very exciting and we were shown the best hospitality possible, there were other experiences that left me with more questions than answers. It was through these experiences that I had to pause and think about how everyone perceives a different world from my own.
For many of us, this homestay was the first encounter with a white Afrikaner family that had house help or workers that lived on their farm as well. This was a difficult adjustment, being served by black families here, in contrast to living with black families in Lesotho and helping with their everyday chores. Though my family related in positive ways with the workers, equality was still lacking.
Later, on a farm visit, the owner defensively explained the conditions of the workers on his farm. “You must keep a constant eye on them, they can’t always be trusted.” and “I treat them well, because if I didn’t, they would kill me.” From my own perspective, there are many things wrong with these two statements. The farmer’s perspective was completely different however. In the past year, over 400 murders of farmers have occurred in the free state. Children from black families working on farms are more inclined to drop out of school at a young age. Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs consume hard earned money and influence poor decisions.
So how does South Africa work towards equality and healthy relationships when barriers such as race, wealth, minority groups and 11 different languages are still getting in the way? There isn’t a concrete answer for that yet, but maybe the secret lies with understanding each other’s perceptions and knowing that we have the ability to change our own.
- Kevin Leaman (Thabo)
It’s the end of October. We’ve been in Africa for just over two months.
We’re in Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape. And 16 of us just leaped from the highest bungee-jumping location in the entire world. Four seconds and 216 meters of complete free fall. If you’ve ever done anything like this, you know that people respond to excitement, adrenaline, and sheer terror in very different ways. Some people had been nervous for days; some didn’t feel anything until they saw the bridge. Personally I felt two emotions as our bus got closer – excitement and nervousness – so I latched onto the excitement and didn’t even allow myself to feel anything else.
Which only got easier and easier, as everyone was filled with enough anticipation and energy to keep us jumping in a flurry of high fives, dumb pump-up cheers, and warm-up boxing moves. Once we were all actually standing on the bridge, the guys running the bungee jump turned on loud dance music, and one by one we got our harnesses, hobble-stepped up to the very very edge, and fell off into the hazy green-and-blue unknown. Until the moment i actually jumped off, I had been feeling mainly excitement and adrenaline, channeling my inner Pocahontas jumping off a cliff. But in a surprisingly quick 4 seconds, my mind went through the following stages:
Stage 1 – instant panic: Oh my gosh oh my gosh NOOO…
Stage 2 – acceptance: Well, here I am, falling – might as well relax and enjoy it.
Stage 3 – euphoria: I’M BUNGEE JUMPING!!
Again, people experienced this very differently. Not everyone felt a moment of complete terror; some people said their mind went totally blank. But no matter what, each person who was pulled up on the other side of the bridge was received with hugs and cheers. We had all overcome fear in a triumph of adventurous spirit over rational thinking. For the rest of our lives, we will always know that we DID this.
- Meg Smeltzer (Atang)