Well, my trip to Africa didn't get off to an auspicious start: as I
was climbing into the bus to take me to Dulles Airport, my watch band broke! What a way to
start the trip. As it turned out though, that was to be one of the few glitches in an
otherwise spectacular trip.
After catching an early flight to Atlanta, I was off to Johannesburg via South African
Airways (or "Springbok" as it is called by some: I would learn the significance
of the name later). Fortunately the 15-hour trip was eased by the couple sitting next to
me, who had many interesting tales to tell. They were going on a hunting safari further
north (I think either in Zambia or Tanzania). Apparently anything they catch is
shared with the local families, who also help in the hunt and the butchering of the meat.
Endangered animals (such as elephants and rhinos) you can hunt, but only to
tranquilize: they take a cast of the horn or tusk for you to take as a souvenir (as well
as a picture). I hope none of the animals woke up before that was finished: I'm sure
they'd be plenty pissed!!!
I also learned a couple of things as we neared the airport: A) a lot of people call the
city "Jo'burg" (presumably because that's easier to say than
"Johannesburg"!) and B) Jo'burg is *very* polluted: it reminded me of L.A. on a
bad day a decade or so back: there was a brown haze over most of the city!
When I got to Johannesburg International, I caught a cab to my hotel. My cabby
and I almost didn't find it, though: the "Cullinan Inn" I was supposed to go to
had been converted into a Holiday Inn a few weeks before my trip! Fortunately we did find the right place!
When you arrive in Lesedi (which means "light" in the Sotho tongue), you are greeted by a group of singers welcoming you to the
village. There were some groups of villagers there (they actually live in Lesedi,
it's a bit more than a tourist attraction), some were playing
games, others were sort of hanging around, waiting
for the main show to begin. You are also given a ceremonial drink of a mango/fruit
punch (which was quite good!) Then the tour begins
First up was a multimedia presentation of the different tribes represented: the Xhosa
(to which Nelson Mandela belongs), the Zulu,
the Ndebele (who wear rings around their necks), the Pedi, and the Sotho tribes (who wear special hats)! Of course, this was only a small
sample of the different South African tribes: there are 11 official languages in South
Africa, and dozens of different groups of people! I could certainly believe it,
since our guide was a little hard to understand at times: but hey, he spoke at least three
languages, where I can manage about one and a half. Draw what conclusions you like.
Our guide told several tales about the African
tribes: one of the most interesting was about the Pedi, who wear Scottish kilts.
Apparently, when they were fighting the British, they saw the British infantry in back,
and a regiment of Scotsman in kilts in front, and laughed: they thought the British were
sending women to fight them! Well, after they were defeated, they decided to wear kilts as well (since it obviously
was good luck!)
He told some tales of Zulu tribe as well: I had heard of the movie "Shaka
Zulu" (which I haven't seen, but I will one of these days). Shaka Zulu was a
warrior who led the Zulu tribe to Britain's biggest defeat by an ungunned (but not
unarmed!) group ever. (Clearly they were not as worried about men in dresses).
After the presentation, we walked through the different villages: there were many different construction styles, and many ways of keeping cattle, which were clearly very important (cattle
were practically money: one could by women with cattle, although the price apparently
varied: some would buy a woman with 11 cattle, others with 18). Sometimes the cattle
pens (called kraal) were in the middle of the village!
Before dinner, we were treated to a dance, with
different tribes performing different dances. There was stick fighting, war
dances, and one audience participation dance!
Dinner was a variety of game foods (including ostrich and crocodile) and included lots
of "popo" (or "pap??" gotta look that one up), which is a staple diet
in South Africa: it's very cheap and can be flavored in many different ways (I thought it
tasted sort of like grits, but a bit smoother). During dinner I spoke to our driver
about travel, computers, and other topics of mutual interest (he was amazed that I own
four computers: the Internet is only now starting to penetrate beyond the larger cities in
South Africa, and because most people use satellite dishes there is no infrastructure for