If you ask anyone from South Africa to name their country’s first president, they will name Nelson Mandela. While South Africa has been a republic since the 1960s, and Mandela was not elected until the 90s, his was the first democratic election after the fall of apartheid. Therefore, anyone before him, they will tell you, simply doesn’t count.
I have the good fortune of being in Johannesburg for Nelson Mandela’s birthday, which is a national holiday in South Africa. I am here with my friend and colleague, Dr. Bennett, on a grant from Fund for Teachers. We have come here on safari, to study the conservation practices in place in the national parks and private game reserves of South Africa, Zambia, and Botswana. The word safari means journey in Swahili, and we’ve already been on quite a long journey to get here, spending more than 20 hours in the air.
While exhausted from our travels, upon getting settled we decide to take a walk to a local bird sanctuary that isn’t far from our bed and breakfast. The neighborhood we are in almost looks like it belongs back home in Southern California – with a similar climate the vegetation here is adapted to their dry winters, and the homes in the suburb of Benoni are big and beautiful, surrounding the wetlands within the sanctuary. We see ducks with colorful faces, flamingos feeding in the mud, and some birds we don’t recognize with iridescent wings and long, hooked beaks.
It is winter here, and the air has a cool, crisp feel before the sun sets around 6:30. Homes in South Africa typically do not have central heating, and as the temperatures quickly drop we are grateful for the space heater in our room. The manager of our B&B likes to joke, and we aren’t sure if he is serious when he tells us they will be serving ostrich for dinner. There are only two other people staying on the property, and we all sit down for dinner once the last person has arrived from the airport. Kim, from Catalonia, Spain, is a teacher as well, on holiday in South Africa for the next month. Laura, a writer from Boston, has come to visit her daughter in Cape Town, but first has scheduled a safari in The Kruger, as they call it here. No sooner than we decide Francois was joking about the ostrich, four steaming plates of ostrich kebabs are carried out of the kitchen. Served with a hollowed out gourd filled with creamed corn and topped with cheese, the meal is delicious. I expected the ostrich to taste like chicken, but it is actually a darker meat with more of a steak texture.
We head to bed early to catch up on some sleep. We have one more day in Johannesburg before leaving for our safari.