I spent my first few days back in the United States sick. After 24 hours or so of flying, I guess that was to be expected. A bunch of the other students that I spoke to were also sick post South Africa. The last days spent in South Africa were at an upscale resort which made me feel especially spoiled having just come from living in a village without running water and sleeping on an especially hard floor. All the beds I have slept in since the sleeping-bag-on-concrete-nights have felt like heaven and I am vastly more grateful for something that I have taken for granted my entire life.
The last few nights in South Africa were fantastic. We had beautiful feasts and were audience to more exquisite animals. To our great joy and fortune we finally saw a rhino, which was another surreal experience as our guides informed us that our children may never know rhinos as they are being slaughtered so quickly that they may be extinct in a few decades. That seemed to be the theme here in South Africa, that life is hard and fragile. The lions, for example, do not live usually past twelve years of age since the bush is so rough on them that they eventually lose the strength to fight back.
Both of our research projects really focused on this idea of making life better for the animals and people of South Africa, both of which are impossible tasks, in my opinion, to assign to college students who have spent two weeks in the country. My task, to improve the water situation, has been grueling these past few days as we submitted our final paper. I mean sure we came up with good ideas, but in reality, how can we solve something as complex as a horrible economy that is lacking jobs and lacking money to keep things moving. Money is desperately needed to create the much-needed infrastructure to deliver enough safe and reliable water. For the other team’s project, money is the key driver to poaching as so much money can be earned on the black market for something like a rhino horn. If it was between killing a rhino or making sure your family wouldn’t starve, which would you choose?
During the trip I made a point of purchasing fundraising bracelets where proceeds go toward a worthy cause such as protecting wildlife or helping prevent malaria. I purchased about 10 bracelets for myself and brought back some for gifts. Africa has given humanity so much in terms of culture, biodiversity, arts, minerals and adventure, it just seems so wrong that the money is not there to get important things done.
I made it back home with a suitcase full of gifts for friends and family. I wanted to support the local economy as best I could as I saw how important it was for money to be spent in South Africa. To my relief, I didn’t lose anything on the trip, which was a constant worry as we were always on the move and I feared I would leave something important behind on a jeep or under the bed. In the beginning, I had been nervous about possible violence since the embassy had warned us about the possibility of terrorism given the Islamic holiday. Sadly, I was greeted at home with the news that while I was gone the deadliest mass shooting occurred in a night club in Florida.
Though the trip went by fast, I am happy to be home and feel a sense of independence return as I am not constantly living with a group of people. I have my own schedule back and can have some moments alone to reflect on the trip. This experience was not my first traveling abroad with college students, but it certainly was more enjoyable. We became a rather tight knit group. It was a different experience for me as a whole now as a married woman, because I missed the daily companionship of my husband though I enjoyed the feeling of missing someone and having something to look forward to on my trip back to the States. I do miss South Africa now. I miss the animals and our long GDV rides through the vast Savannah. I miss learning about the sustainability challenges and thinking about the solutions. David Bunn said that he hoped that we would all come back one day. I hope I do too. South Africa has indeed gotten under my skin.