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03/10/2013

Making new memories in Joburg

IMG_0340Post by Beata Fogarasi from Georgetown University

Studying abroad is all about new experiences, and travelling is, I think, the best way to make new memories.

Leaving Gabs isn’t that hard, and going on a quick weekend trip to Johannesburg was just a question of making reservations. We left at dawn on Friday, arriving in Joburg in the early afternoon. Seeing the “real” city after a few weeks of Gabs was surprising and so exciting- Joburg has a little New York-y vibe, with tall buildings and busy streets, but it’s thoroughly its own city. The history of the country and the city itself seeps into everything you see and do- even the hills are man made remnants of the mining industry that put Joburg on the map.

IMG_0373 IMG_0367We stayed in a wonderful, homey hostel almost too good to leave, but we took advantage of their touring service and spent Saturday in Soweto, a giant section of Joburg. I’ve never done sightseeing with a private guide before, but it was a great arrangement, we asked Chris all the questions we wanted and he took us to the tallest building in Africa as well as sights around Soweto.

IMG_0408We even visited an informal settlement named Motsoaledi, where a guide took us around to see a really poor neighborhood. It felt pretty awkward, a group of tourists gawking at poverty, but I think it was an important balance to all the amazing things we saw that day. I think problems in the US are often hidden away- looking at my neighborhood in DC, you’d never dream of the ‘worse’ areas of the city, just a few miles away. You don’t go there: it’s dangerous, it’s not good. That separation exists here too, but in Soweto, for example, rich and poor neighborhoods are just a fence apart.

IMG_0395Case in point: five minutes down the road we drove by Desmond Tutu’s house and visited Nelson Mandela’s former home, currently a museum. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, we happened to be there just as George Bizos, Mandela’s attorney during the Rivonia trial that began his long imprisonment, was there filming an interview. We tried to stay out of the shot (lies), but it was really cool to see a man of historical significance in person. IMG_0432It really hit home just how recently apartheid and the struggle against it took place. It’s hard to imagine Botswana has been independent for less than fifty years too! Traveling here is really just moving through living history. Our weekend in Joburg was terrific, and a beautiful sunset escorted us home- home!- to Gabs at the end of our adventure.

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