welcome to the ‘k-zed-n’
durban. a city much like baltimore in many ways; it just has our charm (it also has the largest indian population outside of india, which means that durban indian restaurants are the best i’ve ever had). there is a busy downtown/waterfront area, but stray from it, and you land in the worse area of the city (this reputation is known all over south africa). when we were visiting durban, we stopped at a project called ‘umontombo‘, a street children’s center in the heart of the city downtown area. rachel did her doctorate on street children in nepal and knew a researcher involved with this center, so we had a great excuse to stop by. while there, we talked to the director of the program, and listen to him tell stories of children be rounded up, abused in many ways of the word, and then left at homeless shelters with adults (illegal in south africa) miles away from where they were picked up. he has been instrumental in causing a backlash against the police action, but it still continues to happen as the fifa 2010 soccer cup approaches. read more about this here. as we talked, the director was busy with interviews with press (continuing the buzz about the child ’round-ups’ and about the street childrens’ world cup) and trying to help out one reporter who literally walked half a block from the shelter to find kids and got mugged at knife point. he didn’t understand the whole reputation of the area…
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another stop while we were in durban was at the tape aids for the blind headquarters. they have hundreds of readers from all over south africa read books and magazines into a mic and then distribute the books and magazines via cassette tapes for tree to anyone that is a visual/print-handicapped citizen of south africa. roddy recorded five books for them years ago, and is having all of our great guides content free for the tape aids program. this means that they will distribute recordings for us to the blind and print-handicapped all over south africa. i am really happy that we are able to do this, and had fun taking a complete tour of their headquarters, following a journey of a book ‘from silent page to spoken word’.
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our stay at durban was short-lived, and after a day we headed to spioenkop game reserve. it couldn’t have been more of an african landscape, unless you took out the boat club right next to the reserve blaring bad european pop. the park sits right on a dam and has so many zebra that you can’t sneeze without scaring one. during the middle of the night, around three am, i was woken up by the sound of something like a burglar going through our campsite, to realize that in fact it was just an entire heard of zebra passing to the water in front of our site. in the morning, it wasn’t zebra i found surrounding the lake, but giraffe. this park was an amazing stay, but only a temporary home before we bunked up with our great guide to the anglo-boer war, raymond heron.
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raymond heron owns a lodge and runs historical battlefield tours around the spioenkop area. the battle of spioenkop is a story of poorly informed decisions, faulted generals, and countless lives lost for no gain. after a blody battle that was waged over the course of a day, both sides (british and boer) retreated, not realizing the other was doing the same. the trenches that the british soldiers dug in the middle of the night turned out to be their graves that day, and the bodies still rest there. out of the battle, three people that shaped history walked away; winston churchill, louis botha, and mohandas gandhi . it was a sad and nasty story, but worth visiting in attempt that we may be able to learn something from it.
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our other guide that wasn’t far away was rob caskie. he also leads historical battlefield tours, but over at rorke’s drift and isandlwana. my day with rob was by far one of the most intense great guide days; not only did we have to do about four hours of audio recordings in the morning (after driving out for an hour and a half to meet him) but the story he told was incredible. the battle at rorke’s drift is a story of true heros (somehow refreshing after spieonkop) and of insurmountable odds that were somehow defeated by the british. in a battle area smaller than five tennis courts, thousands of zulu warriors attacked 135 british soldiers, with over thirty of those soldiers sick in the makeshift hospital (sixteen so-much-so that they couldn’t move). the soldiers made themselves a 4ft wall out of corn-meal bags and biscuit boxes that surrounded their three buildings, offering their only protection against the charges of the zulus. this battle was fought in the night, with the only light for much of it coming from the hospital roof, which was burning down on the people inside. after the fire burned itself out, the british couldn’t see their attackers and the only warning they had was from a little dog that was left inside the compound that would bark at the wall where the zulus were coming. eleven victoria crosses were handed out after this, the most for any single military action in british history, including both world wars. recording the audio story was chilling enough, but walking around the grounds of the battlefield was a surreal experience. For extra chilling effect, a zulu church service was going on while we were there, filling the area with the slow church songs of sorrow (listen below). Download.
the drive home from rorke’s drift to spioenkop took roddy and i on back roads deep into rural areas. we are now in the kwazulu natal province of south africa, kwa meaning place or home of, zulu being the name of the people who live here (zulu also translates to heaven, making it ‘place of heaven’). way before apartheid this was the zulu nation, ruled by powerful kings and known for their warriors ability to crush their enemies. this is very clear at the battle at isandlwana, but the british were able to work their way to defeating the zulus, first at rorke’s drift and then again at the battle of ulundi, and by the end of the ango-zulu war, the fierce nations of zulus were divided up and left completely conquered…
zulu’s are the largest ethnic group in south africa, and have been very heavily hit by hiv and poverty. there are vast rural areas where there is little other than self-sustaining families and dense urban areas that breed disease and crime. if nothing else, this trip has only furthered my belief that education is one of the most essential things to build a person and a nation. the schools in both rural and urban areas struggle, each with their own problems and creative and ingenious solutions. the teen pregnancy rate is still very high (this is not unique to the zulus) and many women will have a child at sixteen to almost show that they are capable of raising a child to their partners (the next child would likely come when they are in their early/mid twenties). many of the traditional beliefs and customs continue, but i will get into that in the next blog post.
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our next destination was the drakensberg mountains; in afrikaans it means the dragon’s back, in zulu, the ukhahlamba means barrier of spears. these are the tallest mountains in south africa, pushing up above the relatively flat land around it and forming the land barrier for the nation of lesotho. after following the coast for so long, with only rolling hills and not much more, i was eager to get to the mountains.
i hope all is well and cheers to the spread of indian food around the world; may more people realize the beauty of well spiced foods.