Trip Start Feb 28, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Ghandi Backpackers

Flag of South Africa  ,
Saturday, April 23, 2011

I got to Johannesburg at 9am on a red eye from a connection in Qatar. I spent my first day at the Bruma lake market, which is full of African goods.  From there I walked over to Eastgate mall, the biggest mall in Johannesburg.  I bought a few groceries since this stop I am staying in a hostel.  It is actually the house Gandhi lived in during his time in South Africa.  The house itself is over 100-years-old and newly remolded and the nicest hostel I have ever seen.  At one point that night there were a few people in the kitchen cooking dinner at the same time. The stove had four burners. One for one man from Sierra Leone, a women from Reunion Island, on the third a man from South Africa and I was on the fourth.  Everyone was cooking something different and the smells were incredible as the water boiled over in my pot.  What a great experience. 

The second day I went to Constitution Hill, which was Old Fort Prison Complex until 1983.  Number Four was the part of the prison that was only for black men.  It is the only jail in the world to ever hold two noble peace prize winners.  Gandhi and Nelson Mandela where incarcerated there -- both for peaceful protests.  Mandela spent most of his time in a prison on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town but he was at Number Four two different times.  The conditions in the prison may have been the worst of any prison in the world.  The prison was segregated and one for black men who were in there just because of the color of their skin.  They had different conditions than the white men.  I was able to walk into one of the old overcrowded communal cells , which black men had to share with each other.  Peaceful protesters were put in the same cell as murders and rapists.  Often they refused to eat because the food was served on dirty tin plates that had rusted over and caused the rust mixed in with the food.  The black men were fed energy drinks so they could work harder in the fields doing manual labor.  The prison had a flogging frame on display that was used for punishment.  Black men got in trouble for simple things like looking in the wrong direction.  The amazing part is that the prison was open until 1983.  The tour took us to the solitary confinement part of the jail where each cell was about 6 feet by 2 feet.  I was able to go and visit the Nelson Mandela cell as well.  Next to the prison is the new Constitution Court that was built with the bricks that once made up the Number Four prison and inaugurated in 2004.  The pathway from the old prison to the court is "a bridge from the oppression of the past to the hope of the future and is meant to never forget the struggle fought for the dignity, equality and freedom of all South Africans."

That night I went to Ellis Park Stadium where the 1995 South African rugby team beat the favorites New Zealand to win the World Cup in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.  Rugby was a traditional white man sport and was seen as a game of privilege.  Before the game in 1995, Nelson Mandela who was recently elected President, came out in the Springbok's jersey which was until then a symbol of the Apartheid and shook all players' hands. For the first time he was cheered by the all white spectators.  This moment helped bring the new nation together for the first time.  It is what the movie Invictus is based on.  It was great feeling to be in that stadium for a Super Rugby match.  Super Rugby is a league that has five teams from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.  The match was the Lions from South Africa vs. the Chiefs from New Zealand.

The next day I went to the Apartheid museum, which is close to Soccer City where they held the 2010 FIFA World Cup final.  The museum itself is just amazing and holds so much recent history.  The thing that I didn't realize is just how recent Apartheid was and the museum definetly gave me a deeper understanding of this.  There is a special Mandela exhibition and my favorite part is the Springbok's jersey that he wore to the 1995 World Cup final.

That night was Easter Sunday and I came home and started cooking some noodles on the stove.  There was a woman cooking a big dinner for her son and his friend who she is visiting.  She is from Reunion Island, which is off the coast of Madagascar, and her son is 17 years old playing at a special rugby school while living in South Africa.  His mother is here for the long weekend because he is playing in a rugby tournament.  Before each game I would see her in the kitchen cooking him pasta and it reminded me off all those times my mom was doing the same for me before hundreds of basketball game.  They invited me to eat Easter dinner with them.  I looked at my cup of noodles and made the easy choice.  They were just the kindest people and offered me all of there food.  They have a kindness that you can just feel without even speaking to them.  There was something special about being with them while they cooked dinner.  We ate a wonderful Easter dinner together while they told me about the island where they are from and how he plans to go to France next year to play professional Rugby.  It was Easter Sunday and I'm in a kitchen where Gandhi use to live, there were pots and pans cooking everywhere with just wonderful people-- it was perfect.  That night when I got back to my room I turned on the TV and the movie Invictus started. I had been thinking when I get home I want to watch that movie. 

The next morning I went for a jog through the Johannesburg suburb of Kensington.  It is probably not the safest place to jog through, but it didn't matter to me.  During the jog, I was running through some pretty rough streets and everyone just stopped and stared.  I would love to know what they were thinking see me run through their neighborhood.  Even though it’s not a great neighborhood it felt great to be there and I could see the Johannesburg skyline in the background.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." Nelson Mandela
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