I am so grateful and privileged to have friends who live all over the world. This not only grants me the opportunity to stay with these friends and minimize travel costs. It also grants me a built in buddy with whom I can spend time and explore a new place.
Puleng, my friend from graduate school, is South African. She was generous enough to show me around her town, which also happens to be the capitol city of South Africa.
I spent two nights with Puleng in which she gave me a specialized, personalized tour. We went to her friend's book reading at African Flavour in Johannesburg. We attended a rare Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert at the South African State Theatre. And we discussed politics and learned about apartheid at the Union Buildings and Freedom Park. Read about these highlights and more in this post!
Puleng and Peace
Puleng was a part of my 6-person graduate cohort at the City University of New York. She graduated a year or so before I did, returning to South Africa to make her mark back home. The last time I had seen Puleng was when she visited New York right after I graduated in 2014.
Puleng and Peace are partners who knew each other from long before Puleng came to New York. Both psychologists, Puleng and Peace work at separate universities in the Johannesburg area. Puleng is at the University of South Africa, Pretoria. Peace is at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
They were wonderful hosts and all around amazing people to spend 2 days with!
O.R. Tambo Airport to Pretoria
I arrived in the evening on my flight from Namibia and hopped on the Gautrain to Hatfield. Puleng picked me up in her car with Peace from Hatfield station.
As we entered Puleng's home, I could smell dinner simmering on the stove. Let me tell you, a home-cooked meal was the best thing ever after restaurants and camp food for 7 days!
We ate and caught up and then turned in for the night. We had lots planned for the next day.
Book Reading at African Flavour
The next morning we ate breakfast at Cafe 41 in Pretoria. Some of the food in South Africa is very British-European since that is the primary colonial influence.
After breakfast, we drove the highway to Johannesburg. There, we parked the car on Melle Street. Simply parking the car was a lesson in Johannesburg culture and dangers. Men stand out on the road and watch your car for you in these neighborhoods. You're expected to pay them something in return. Peace handed one of them her leftovers from breakfast.
African Flavour had food and drink and lots of people inside waiting for the event to start.
Puleng and Peace's friend, Danai Mupatsa, was releasing her poetry book Feeling and Ugly. She and another poet, Vangile Gantsho, took turns reading from both of their books.
Their writings included timely themes around what it's like growing up as a woman and specifically a black African woman. Their words were brave, raw, and resonated with me. It was beautiful! And I'm so glad Puleng and Peace took me to see this wonderful slice of modern African culture.
After the book reading, we found bathrooms in a hostel across from the book store. Upon entering, I realized it was the very hostel I was planning to stay in the next night! They said I had picked a great place to stay and would have access to a fun venue in the area.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Before I left the USA, Puleng asked me if I would like to go to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo during my visit. She said they happened to be performing in her town on the weekend I was visiting. It was the first time they were back in their home country to perform in many, many years. Of course, I had to go! There was no hesitation on my part even if tickets were costly, but they were not, at only about $20 USD.
This was Ladysmith's Mandela Celebration Show and it was live broadcasted to the nation. So it was really special to be there and we had front row seats!
The energy in the crowd was amazing. During the entire show, people were up dancing in their seats, laughing, singing along, and cheering. These guys are incredibly talented and entertaining. I had so much fun at this concert and I am super grateful to Puleng for suggesting we go!
Here's a video of highlights—there's more to come in my next post!
Union Buildings & Gardens
The next morning, we visited the Union Buildings in Pretoria. These buildings house the executive branch of government in South Africa including the president.
The two wings and twin towers represent the Afrikaans and English languages.
The gardens out front include indigenous plants and a 9000 seat amphitheatre. I loved the huge Nelson Mandela statue here. It's enormous! I couldn't help but think how weird it would be to have a replica of yourself that large. He was like Stay Puft!
As our last stop, we drove to the other side of Pretoria to visit Freedom Park. Freedom Park is part indoor museum, part outdoor monument. It depicts and memorializes the events and people from the apartheid era.
The museum was gorgeous and modern as it was informative and real. No sugar coating what happened—apartheid was fucking awful. And the effects of it remain in South Africa (and Namibia) today.
Some of my favorite parts of the museum exhibit was the reminder about where humanity comes from: Africa. It’s such a beautiful understanding, to know we are all connected on this Earth. When we forget that, that is when we are capable of horrible atrocities against each other. Remember who you are, humanity! We are all family!
Here are some more of my favorite exhibits and scenes at Freedom Park:
Puleng and Peace showed me some wonderful African culture, from literature to music to politics and apartheid. Sometimes, seeing a new place from the eyes of a local who is also your friend adds a special kind of experience.
I am so grateful to them for hosting me and showing me around!