In 2009, I took a year long sabbatical and moved to the West Coast of Africa. I rented my apartment in NYC and moved to Libreville, Gabon, 20 miles north of the equator. This blog is about my travel adventures in a country I never heard of before, my experiences living on the U.S. Embassy compound, and my participation with varied people and cultures.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
South Africa - Pretoria
I met my girlfriend in South Africa on the way back from NYC. We are spending time and touring around with a friend who works at the US Embassy in Pretoria.
Initially, it felt more like a suburb, maybe in NJ, rather than a country in Africa. Very clean with street lights, paved highways with signs and exits, nice homes, shopping malls, restaurants…lots of infrastructure.
After I rest up from 20 hours in the air, I start to realize where I am.
Pretoria is an upper middle class neighborhood north of Johannesburg. It is very nice, but you have to realize that residents essentially live in minimum-security prisons. Every home or apartment complex is surrounded by walls, most also have high voltage wire. Every window is barred on the outside and sometimes also on the inside. Many homes have security gates inside the home to cordon off the living area. Every room is locked, just in case someone breaks in on a quiet side of the house. People lock the bathroom from the outside when they’re finished using it.
Unfortunately, poverty is widespread and crime is rampant (and particularly vicious, its not about just getting robbed, its about having your eyes gouged out in the process).
On the positive side, it is a very beautiful country, you just have to be very aware of your surroundings. The US dollar goes a long way, the beef is fantastic, and overall, the people are quite nice – unusually polite. When driving on a two-lane road and someone passes you, they flip on their hazards for a few blinks; this is their way of saying thank you for letting me pass. They certainly don’t do that in the suburbs of NJ.
An interesting fact is that South Africa is very much into natural supplements and organics. The Pharmacies usually have two pharmacists one traditional pharmacists and one who specializes in natural medicines.