Have you ever traveled and asked yourself “How do the locals live? What makes this community tick?”. I have – and Jan and I were fortunate to get those questions answered. A Rotary Friendship Exchange is when a group of you visit a district, home-stay, and the local Rotarians show you around. Then they visit your home district. We visited Johannesburg and region for about 3 weeks. Every 3 days we moved to a new community where a new Rotary club hosted our group. In the morning we got up and they showed us their community, their Rotary projects, their events and celebrations. It was exhausting but a rare privilege. We went to Rotary meetings where we spoke about our country. We
learned about their country, their culture, their challenges, their success stories. Our hosts families treated us like next of kin. 11 of us from District 5370 enjoyed laughs and tears. We were entertained royally. We were awed at their Rotary projects. Highlights include the Mandela Apartheid Museum, a few days in neighbouring country Swaziland. (42% of the population HIV positive!) Seeing the wildlife at Kruger Park. And making life long friends in South Africa.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela just days after we left I feel it’s a rare gift to be able to get a taste of what Mandela meant to the South Africans. While there it was as if the spirit of Madiba was everywhere. You cannot explain to those outside of SA how much he meant to the citizens of that country.
Travel is such a gift. To travel to a land like South Africa and stay in the homes of Rotarians is something that’s hard to describe to others. We lived with the South Africans. We danced, we laughed, we cried. We shared in their Rotary projects. We talked about the struggles of apartheid and the progress since. One host is credited with sponsoring the first black into his Rotary Club. It was such an honour to spend time with him.
South Africa has been described as a dangerous country. I imagine it is. We saw a lot of fences and barbed wire. Security gates are the norm. Life is certainly different there. South Africa is a first world country with third world problems. At many events there were two types of people. Blacks serving us, the whites. But at other events and other regions it was much more mixed. South Africa has a long way to go – but they are getting there. There are success stories.
In our final days we visited a township. An area set aside for blacks to live during apartheid. To this day the
townships remain. Thousands and thousands of blacks still live in townships just like Nelson Mandela did. It is a community teaming with life, but teaming with challenges. Segregated from the rest of the cities and towns they are world away from the rest of the country. Such a sobering stroll for Jan and I and yet – how different is that from what we have in Canada – we call them reserves.
Some adventures can change you. I think this did. This was not a vacation – it was an experience, a gift thanks to Rotary International and the Rotary Friendship Exchange program.