It's interesting to me to see the reasons why people want to go abroad. I remember when I first thought to go abroad and I completed the application and everything I went to the office to get a form signed by the study abroad counselor. She told me to approach the situation with little or no expectations. She talked about how she had often heard of black students in particular going to Africa with the expectation to be embraced. Sort of a cosmic, diasporic homecoming of sorts. I understood her point then and still do but I took exception to the way it was presented. Perhaps I'm just overly sensitive but the whole thing smacked of paternalism to me in the way she spoke. Not malicious paternalism, but so many things aren't malicious and yet still suck.
In any case, I was excited to come to Africa in order to interact with and learn about the people. For all the students here who had read up on the geographic and natural wonders of the land and were excited to go backpacking and stay in hostels I shared none of that knowledge or excitement. In truth, the only thing I've ever read about South Africa was about apartheid and its aftermath. So my primary interest was in talking to the people and seeing what the deal is on the ground now. Perhaps it makes me someone who misses a lot of beauty but I never get too bogged down in the beauty of nature. I think that people constitute so much of what is important to me. Maybe it's the byproduct of growing up in a city gentrifying but for me the place is paramount but the people give it the things that really make it important (I don't mean this is an anti-environmentalist way but everybody on State Street who stops me for "a moment for the environment" while people are dying everyday mere blocks from there kinda lose me).
So all of this put me in an interesting place to when I visited Stellenbosch today. Stellenbosch is a little bit out from Cape Town and its some very beautiful wine country. As we drove in we saw ostriches and zebras and cattle and horses of all kinds. We were out there for a tour of a wine farm and a wine tasting. Almost the entirety of my study abroad program (over 100 students) was there for this. Which doesn't seem strange because of course a wine tasting is both a cool cultural activity and free alcohol for college students. However, what struck me was the disparity in numbers between the roughly 120 of us at wine tasting and the 10 or so of us who took the township tour the week before. It just seems like a big drop off and while I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of a township tour to begin with, it seems weird that people seem so much more interested in gleaning the perks from the land and its attractions and not meeting, learning about, and trying to understand the people (seems like a parallel to imperialism). Now I am not at all suggesting that my fellow students are colonizers or that people should feel bad for being tourists or wanting to enjoy their privilege and experience cool stuff. I just think that wherever we exist in the world we should enjoy the beautiful things but also appreciate the ugliness that might've had a role in creating it. The planter who hates handling manure will have an awful garden.
"isn't it strange how we estrange ourselves from our neighbors?"