I noticed a few days ago that a girl I went to undergrad with is currently in South Africa, which got me thinking about my first trip out of the states that just so happened to be to the same country.
Traveling to South Africa was something that kind of fell into my lap. My sophomore year of college, I was taking a January-term class, Photography, and one day the teacher asked me if I had received a phone call from a certain journalism professor, who was returning to teach at the university that spring. He asked me the same question for a week until I did finally hear from the professor, who proceeded to tell me he was coordinating a trip to South Africa that summer and was seeking two journalism and two photography students to take with him. The two-week trip c0-aligned with a mission the Social Work Department of our university took every other year to Cape Town, South Africa, and this time the Communications Department wanted to send students as well.
I accepted the offer within the week. I remember right after I said yes, the next song that came on shuffle on my iPod was “Africa” by Toto. I knew that had to be a sign for sure. By March, I had secured my passport, and in May, less than a week after the semester had ended, I was on the plane to South Africa.
I could write, write, write about my time in South Africa, but instead I’ll say this: amazing. That’s the only word that could truly describe the experience. Even though it was my first time traveling out of the country, I was with a great group of people, with whom I developed remarkable friendships. I was able to visit Robben Island, Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, teeny tiny baby lion cubs, and the Big Hole in Kimberly, where the first diamond was found in South Africa. I witnessed the dynamic shift from the luxury of the Cape Town waterfront to the miles of townships that spread out like a never-ending patchwork quilt. And even though the outcome of this trip was something I could witness in print and put on my resume (I wrote a series of articles on poverty and AIDS, which appeared in a few publications), the greatest outcome of this trip was something that cannot be documented completely—the experience.
I’ve always enjoyed traveling; my parents used to take my sister and I on vacations around the states every other year. There’s something almost intoxicating about the whole process of traveling itself, staying in hotels, embarking on a new adventure in an unknown (or sometimes known) place everyday. Traveling overseas provided that and also the deliciousness of being in another country entirely. In South Africa, I learned not only something new about a different culture daily, but something about myself as well. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, and maybe it is. But I came back from South Africa itching to travel again.
Since then I have traveled to Italy (saw the Pope!) and Amsterdam with my family as a combined Senior trip for my sister and I. I’ve already decided the title for the book I write about that trip will be “The Year We Argued Our Way Through Italy,” but I’ll save stories from that for a later time. This summer I embark on another new journey as I will be spending close to three weeks in India. It works out quite nicely because I’ve been wanting to visit India for the past few years (along with seeeeeveral other places) and my boyfriend lives there for medical school. So even though I have to do the flight process on my own (my parents are really excited about this), I will get to spend time learning about another culture while also with my favorite person. I have a feeling it’s going to be amazing and I absolutely cannot wait to leave.
Before I end, I want to include a few quotes Kyle recorded while we were on the trip that we always said we would post on a board when we returned to school but never did. Even though we traveled with a large group of Social Work students, we spent most of the time just the six of us and our awesome driver, so we became really close as a group and spent 75 percent of the trip laughing. The quotes may only be funny to the group of us, but I feel like they should be recorded here anyhow.
The infamous quotes:
Heidi: You use to lick batteries, right? (Totally nonchalant as if this was a normal habit.)
Heidi: I’ve packed light, all I took was 4-5 jackets. (After having to repack her bags at the airport because her bag was over 50 pounds. Her jackets became the fallback for many jokes the rest of the trip, but they also came in handy, as she ended up staying in South Africa for the rest of the summer.)
Kyle: What’s the delay? Is Heidi getting another jacket?
Heidi: What do you call this neighborhood you live in?
Grace (Missionary Kid): The suburbs. (As we’re driving into a Cape Town neighborhood that looks pretty similar to an American neighborhood, save for the bars on the windows.)
Dr. C: We need to have a wall of shame.
Stephanie: It should just be called, “Heidi, Heidi, Heidi.”
Kyle: I’m quite proud of my humility.
Johann: How’s the visibility? Well, it depends if your eyes are opened or closed.
Mr. V: It’s hard to look low maintenance.
Johann: I’ve survived Chinese, I can survive anything. (After we claimed we were probably a hard group of people to deal with).
Katherine: Whoever is honking that horn needs to hurry it up.
Johann: I’m an afro-american.
Heidi: They grow some porcupine thing. What’s it called?……..Cactus!
Katherine: I need a light.
Kyle: It’s indiglow.
Katherine: I get confused when I use indiglow. (While trying to read the time on my watch.)
Kyle: This isn’t a van that says, Johann. This is a van that says, Joanne.
Katherine: Man! That guy in the streetlight is buff!
Dr. C: It took me a while to master, ‘who my baby’s daddy.’ (He also asked us what the term “boo” meant.)
Katherine: Man, I really hope I get felt up again. (I was patted down in awkward places by security in the Amsterdam airport.)
Three more to add:
Principle at an elementary school we visited addressing his students about how they were playing on some farm equipment during recess: “You need to stop this. Do you know why? It is dangerous! You will be killed.” We used this phrase for any reason the rest of the trip. For example, Mr. V asked me several times if I had my ticket when boarding the ferry to Robben Island and when I asked why he said, “It is dangerous! You will be killed.”
Discovering that the TV station aired a British television show, “The Untalkative Bunny.” We spent the whole trip hoping to catch it on TV, or at least figure out what the hell happened on a show where the main character didn’t talk.
At a stop for breakfast early in the morning during our trek to Hartswater (about 10 hours north of Cape Town), deciding to all switch seats while Johann was in the bathroom and then telling him it was an American tradition to do so during any meal where more than two people were present as a way to get a chance to talk to everyone you’re dining with. We continued this for the rest of the trip before deciding to tell him we were lying, which meant we also had to switch seats from then on anytime we went to eat. It was a pretty awesome prank.
Traveling has a way of bringing people together. I still laugh when I think of different adventures during this trip and still consider the people I traveled with close friends. I would go back in a heartbeat.