SOWETO- upon arrival, Lebo’s Backpackers was not what I was expecting when initially told we were staying in the largest township in Johannesburg. After 38+ hours of travelling, the party lights, bonfire, tree house lofts and bar scene at Lebo’s created the perfect oasis for our group of tired American students in what seemed to be an unbounded land of third world living.
Our time at Lebo’s was well spent getting to know each other (in close quarters, might I add), the locals of Orlando West, and the neighborhood vibe of Soweto. In Soweto, we experienced our first true South African meal of pap (a grits-like cornmeal pronounced “pop,” which we would eventually be having far too much of), cow cheek and tongue, and the iconic Black Label brew.
|Pre-lunch snack of unidentifiable cow head pieces|
Culture was everywhere. Every detail had a story and every local knew the story. Something as unobvious, as say, a wall outside of a house, symbolically harbors enough history to be the subject of a textbook (during the apartheid, they used these walls to hide from the cops when they were out past curfew). These fences now represent the community’s transition into the middle class and symbolize prosperity. Ironically, we caught sight of a man walking out of one of these fences who happened to be a living textbook himself. This man was a student in the 1976 revolutions; he not only lived through the apartheid, but also was a part of the movement that helped bring it to an end. It is the presence of people like him that keep the spirit of action alive in Soweto.
|Tasting the traditional brew|
|Tyler busting a move|
In Soweto, stories like this man’s were created and are kept alive through song and dance. Our guide taught us dances and chants performed by the masses during the uprisings to help unite the people. Although I can’t say all of us had the best rhythm, we all had fun reliving Soweto’s revolutionary history. We visited the former house of Nelson Mandela and one of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s houses, both of which are centrally located in the heart of Soweto.
In a sense, Soweto is the ideal embodiment of living history. It tells a story that can only be fully captured through the people and their culture. This kind of knowledge is not found in any textbook; it is constantly changing, forming and growing, just like the history of South Africa as a whole that we are on a journey to discover. In all, Soweto gave us an introduction to this country’s raw power, kinship, and unyielding strive for progression. No one can wait to see what else South Africa has in store for us, but we all agree we are off to a fantastic start.
Peace, Love, and Happiness (in true Sowetan fashion),
Audrey Leasure and The Orlando West Crew.