For a kid growing up in suburban America in the middle of the last century (that is, me), the continent of Africa held a particular allure. I have loved cats since I was a toddler, and, well, Africa has Really Big Cats, for heaven’s sake. All those exotic animals!
It’s still a place I’d like to go someday. In the meantime, let me introduce you to Natalie. 🙂
The daughter of one of my lifelong and dearest friends, Natalie was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. And her folks did something right, ’cause they raised a gal with some adventure in ’er! I know this because for the last year and a half, she’s been living and teaching in South Korea. I’ll let her tell it:
My first year of teaching I was living in the Gangnam district in Seoul—and yes, it was when Psy’s “Gangnam Style” came out. This song was everywhere! In the shopping district, it was blasting from every store. It was played in all the nightclubs. Seoul loves Psy.
I met my boyfriend, Marais, that first year in Seoul. He is South African, and lives and works in Yeongju, a small Korean town. Once my first contract ended, I got a new job in Yeongju. It was an adjustment moving from the big city of Seoul to a more humble Korean town. But I enjoy the quieter lifestyle, and I have noticed that Koreans are much friendlier in the smaller towns.
A Visit to South Africa
I haven’t traveled as often as I thought I might. Our teaching schedules in the private schools don’t allow for much travel time. But I have managed to go visit friends in Taiwan—and to travel “home” to South Africa with Marais.
I’d heard a lot about SA from Marais and other South Africans who teach here in Yeongju—mostly that it wasn’t much different from my life in America. But it most definitely was.
After twenty hours of flying from Seoul, we landed in Johannesburg. Marais’s parents picked us up. From the moment we’d made our plans, I’d wanted to see the exotic animals—so from the airport we drove three and a half hours east into what South Africans call “the bush,” which is where the animals are, of course. (Wikipedia says, “In South Africa, the term has specific connotations of rural areas which are not open veld. Generally it refers to areas in the north of the country that would be called savanna. ‘Going to The Bush’ often refers to going to a game park or game reserve.”)
First stop: the Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves on the African continent. We spent two or three hours driving around the park and saw baboons, elephants, zebras, giraffes … and they weren’t in a zoo. Wow. It was beautiful!
After those first few days in the bush, we headed northwest to Secunda—Marais’s hometown. We relaxed, visited, and met with friends for drinks in Johannesburg and Pretoria—just what a vacation should be! Marais was glad to be home, if only for awhile.
The next week we flew to Cape Town, a very old city (established by the East India Company in the 1600s) on the west coast, very near the southernmost tip of the continent. It sits on the beautiful bay surrounded by the Cape of Good Hope.
I loved Capetown! I definitely want to go back. (We had quite a bit of rain so we didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do.) One of Marais’s university friends took us wine tasting in Stellenbosch, a suburb of Cape Town.
The next day another of Marais’s friends—a Cape Town native who studies in California—took us around downtown Cape Town. You can really see the Dutch influence in the architecture.
We spent two weeks in South Afraica … and it was wonderful! The only thing I couldn’t get used to was the high security—in every home there were bars on all the windows and a security door in front of the normal door—although I never felt unsafe. I look forward to going back for sure, as I made new friends, and the countryside is beautiful.