Monday, July 11, 2011
Pastor John – Off I went on a new journey last weekend, this time to South Africa where my classmate Spencer and I would spend 6 days to visit other classmates and to get a break from the Shirati life. As I’ve come to expect, the bus rides here are always an adventure. If not because of the bus itself, then because of the passengers who never fail to disappoint. This trip, Spencer and I decided to sit separately on the bus hoping we’d each get our own row and not be crammed. Of course, what ended up happening within minutes is that we were each sitting next to a stranger. Spencer’s stranger slept the whole way there; mine talked. His name was Pastor John and he was a very friendly and charismatic individual who was in the process of opening his own church and seemed to think that I was the holy grail of Baptist fundraisers. He spent the first 4 hours of the 6-hour journey talking to me about each of the church’s needs and how much they would each cost. While sleep, reading and my ipod had to be put on hold, I had a fun time with Pastor John and appreciated the conversation, even though the topic matter didn’t particularly interest me.
“You Are Blessed” – The last 2-hours of our conversation were different. By this point, I take it that Pastor John realized I would not be the donor he had hoped. So, he changed the topic to world politics and culture. Now this was something I could get into. Pastor John was a really smart man who had a good understanding of the world. It was interesting when he’d ask me about specific things he had heard about and wanted clarification on. Things like hearing that in America people have phones that are also computers. Or that in America, people have so much food that they throw food away every day. After asking me about my travels and being utterly awed at where I’ve been; he looked at me very seriously and told me “You are blessed, Fernando”. He went on to explain how the vast majority of humanity, including his very neighbors in Kenya, are struggling every day to put food on their table. How the majority of humanity will never travel outside of their own district, much less outside of their country. And how the majority of humanity wishes to one day see this great land they hear about called “America”, but never will. He was right. I was very touched and grateful to him for pointing this all out to me. I, and all of you reading this, really am blessed. We shouldn’t have to wait for the Pastor John’s of the world to point this out to us.
Jo’burg – I arrived in South Africa through the Johannesburg airport, which is simply incredible. I’ve been to many airports around the world, but none have blown me away like this one. Granted, the airport is new and was inaugurated just over a year ago for the 2010 World Cup, but they still went above and beyond. It’s a majestic structure that is beautifully designed and has a lot of open space. You can get anywhere via the automatic ramps, the food court is larger and more varied than any I’ve seen, the stores are beautiful, and they not only have a prayer room but they have a separate meditation room! Not that I’d use either one of those, but the fact that they existed and were incredibly nice impressed me even further. In short, if Tom Hanks is ever in need of a new “Terminal” to live in, he should consider Joburg.
Cape Town – Wow. Cape Town is by far one of my favorite cities in the world. I was amazed at how beautiful this city is. No matter where you turn, you encounter natural beauty. Whether it’s the mountains on one side or the ocean on the other, the place is just breath taking. The people are also incredibly friendly and have awesome accents. The weather, which was winter there, was perfect with highs in the upper-60’s and lows in the low-50’s and not a cloud to be seen in the beautiful sky. The beauty of the city reminded me a lot of my native Rio de Janeiro (which is apparently a very popular comparison) but the city’s modern infrastructure, development and cleanliness made it an even more appealing place. It seemed like I was in the middle of a great mixture of Europe and the U.S., with a unique accent to go along with it. I cannot stress enough how great a place this is. For several years I’ve thought of Rome as my favorite world city but now, I must say, Cape Town may have overtaken it.
Staying with our classmates… – Part of the purpose of this trip was to enjoy a week off from Shirati. Another part of the purpose was to visit our classmates who are doing their International Public Service Projects in Cape Town. We were planning on staying with Nicky and Molly, two of our classmates who are living there. We knew that both have eclectic tastes and that living/spending time with them would allow us to see the best that Cape Town had to offer. The day before our arrival, they started telling us that perhaps living with them would not work out. They said that their living space was small and that we wouldn’t fit. Spencer and I were having none of it, knowing the two girls too well to believe that they were living in anything but luxury. We insisted on staying with them. Well, much to our surprise, they were not lying, or even exaggerating. If anything, they were understating it. They indeed were currently living in single rooms that fit nothing more than the bed and luggage they had in them. It’s all that a single person needs, but not what we expected from these two luxurious gals. We spent a night with our classmates, and found we had to go elsewhere for the remaining nights.
Meeting Desmond Tutu – A third, very important purpose of the trip was the incredible opportunity that was offered to us of meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Nicky happens to be close family friends with the Archbishop and was able to set up some time for us to meet him. We were invited both to tea time with him that Wednesday, and to attend church services that he would lead that Friday. We were thrilled. I had heard many stories about “The Arch” (as he’s affectionately called by his staff), but the most touching were the ones I heard from his staff the day we were scheduled to meet him. The staff told me that when The Arch reads about an accident in the newspaper that particularly touches him, he calls the family to wish them well, whether or not he knows them and whatever their religious affiliation may be. When the Arch has important visitors come to town to meet him (for example from the last couple of months: David Beckham, George Clooney, or (during our time there) the Princess of Monaco) he always invites them to take a walk with him and introduces them to each of his staff members before taking them next door to introduce them to the secretaries of a different office, because, as his staff explained to me, he thinks these secretaries are sweet ladies and are always so nice to him that they deserve to meet some celebrities as a thank you. I could not wait to meet this truly special man.
Tea Time – I was not at all disappointed. As soon as Archbishop Tutu walked into the room, I could tell things changed in that room. He has an incredible aura about him, a charisma and charm that is there just from his presence. He greeted me and sat down next to me to enjoy a cup of tea and some cake. He asked about the project Spencer and I were working on in Tanzania and was intrigued. He went on and on discussing the history of Tanzania, Tanzanian politics and his interactions with the first Tanzanian President (who is considered a hero here). Then he stopped suddenly and said to me “but I’ve never spent more than 2 days at a time there, you’ve been there for 8 weeks, you’re the expert. What do you think?” He seemed genuinely interested. I told him that I agreed with everything he had said and that he was right on track with his assertion that the Tanzanians are proud people (the last point he had made). To further prove his point, I told him the “Tanzania is better than America” story from Week 5. He absolutely loved it and was laughing hysterically. He even asked me for permission to share that story with others in the future. After tea he walked up to me and once again asked for my name. “Fernando” I told him, and told him the story of where I came from. When I told him about Brazil, he switched to Portuguese and spoke with me in what he knew of the language while laughing in delight that I had understood him. How down to earth and humble this great man was, was what inspired me and awed me the most about him. He’s truly an incredible person.
Church Time – Early on Friday morning, Spencer and I went to the Anglican Cathedral for a weekly Friday morning prayer service led by Archbishop Tutu. Knowing that this is open to the public every week, I expected a massive crowd gathered to be with the Arch. I was shocked to only find 25 people there. I guess when an opportunity like that is available every single week, the locals don’t appreciate it as much; but I sure appreciated having even more time with the Archbishop in a small group setting. He was serious throughout the service, having a stern look of business about him. Towards the end he all of a sudden completely changed his look to one of happiness and joy. He looked around the room and said that he “noticed we had some visitors join us today”. He asked that all visitors stand up and introduce themselves. Indeed, about half the room were actually tourists who were there to see the Arch. One by one we each said our name and place of origin. Throughout this time Tutu seemed genuinely interested, humbled and grateful that each of those individual people had decided to come from wherever they came from to see him. You’d think that after so many years of fame, he would’ve gotten used to it. When it got to Spencer and mine’s turn, he put a big smile on his face and said “I know them. Those are the Clinton boys!”. After the service ended, he went around and shook hands with everyone who had come. When he got to me he remembered my name and said “Peace be with you Fernando, it was a pleasure to meet you. Be blessed.”
Touristy Stuff – Besides the beautiful location, perfect weather, hanging out with our classmates and meeting Archbishop Tutu, Cape Town was also a great tourist location, filled with attractions. During the course of the week, we visited Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 23 years behind bars), relaxed at the Water Front (a beautiful outdoor/indoor mall on the shores of the Atlantic), hiked Table Mountain (quite a hike, but well worth it for the beautiful view of Cape Town and the surrounding area that you get once up top), visited the famous Cape of Good Hope (the southernmost point of Africa, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean in a beautiful clash), saw African Penguins in their natural habitat, went to the famous “Seal Island” where thousands of seals live and which has one of the most beautiful views of the mountains that I’ve ever seen, and we went to local museums to learn more about apartheid and other issues that South Africa has faced.
Brazilian Superstar – On our way to hike Table Mountain (see above post) I was approached by a friendly worker at the park who wanted to know if he could help. He asked me for my name and when I told him “Fernando” he said with great enthusiasm “from Brazil!?” I told him I was and he got incredibly excited. He hugged me and shook my hand continuously telling me how big a fan of mine he was. He was almost in tears from excitement. He was convinced that I was a member of the Brazilian national soccer team and claimed to be my biggest fan. Personally, I don’t even know of a Fernando on the national team right now, but regardless, I let him think he was right so as not to burst his bubble. It was hard to be able to say goodbye, but I do think I made his day (if not month). His final request was that I dedicate my next gol to him, which I happily agreed to do.
The Cape Town Diet – While Nicky and Molly were working during the days that we were in town, it was a pleasure to meet them at nights to enjoy the city and its amazing culinary options. We went to some fine dining that included delicious pasta, fresh fish and very good steak. One night, Molly joined us for a dinner whose location we decided to choose as we walked down the street. We saw one place that looked really nice but was completely empty. Molly became interested in it and we soon found out that it was “Roberto’s” opening night. We went in and became their very first customers. We went on to become their first wine order, order their first appetizer, first entrées and even first dessert. For each of these firsts we were celebrated with the owner/executive chef who came out and took pictures with us, with our food and with us enjoying our food. Our final night, we went to the biggest wine bar in the world which is also a place that has been voted as home to “South Africa’s Best Fillet” 3-years running. After this trip, I’m pretty sure that the Shirati Diet’s consequences (see Week 5) have become null and void.
Bus Ride Home – After getting back to Nairobi for a night, it was once again time to get on the bus to Shirati. As always, the bus ride didn’t disappoint. I sat in the second to last row and found that the bus was overcrowded today by realizing that there were 7 people sitting in the 4 seats in the very back of the bus. The ride was the bumpiest I have ever taken in my life, with everyone easily bouncing 3 or 4 inches off their seat every time we hit a bump in the road (and you can’t imagine how many of those we hit in a 6-hour bus ride). One of the 7 people behind me was an elderly lady who brought her live chicken with her onto the bus and left it in a box at her feet. At one point (after a particularly big bump) she lost the chicken and we had to search for it around the bus. Another lady behind me had severe motion sickness and puked into a small plastic bag no less than 5 times during the bus ride. Meanwhile a boy sitting opposite from me in the aisle was scared to death of mzungus and couldn’t stop crying, yelling and screaming every time he glanced at me or Spencer. It was another fun 6-hour journey.
The Accident – As the journey drew to a close, just 10 minutes from our final destination with only 6 of us still left in the entire bus, we had some trouble. The driver seemed to be speeding throughout the bus ride and, it seemed, he was again. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes. The bus skidded to the right side of the road. I was convinced the bus was about to flip over as the wheels in the left hand side were no longer touching the road. I braced myself, but fortunately the bus came to a sideways stop off road. In the hustle and bustle of it all, my right arm was slammed and almost immediately started to bruise. Besides cuts and bruises in my arm, I was fine and Spencer was as well. We weren’t sure what had happened, but were honestly grateful to be alive after both of us were convinced that the bus was about to flip over.
The Aftermath – I soon started hearing the people from the village we were in screaming in shock and horror. I realized that we must have hit something or someone. I started glancing out the windows and soon spotted two people who were down on the ground in different spots. One man was behind the bus’s current location off in the bushes where he seemed to have been flung towards. He was conscious but seemed to be in pain. The other was directly in front of the bus and did not seem to be conscious. The whole village gathered around the bus and scene of the accident to see what had happened. There were hundreds of people there starring at us; trying to help those who had been hit; and some who were more angry, started yelling at the bus and even hitting it with rocks and their bare hands. After a while longer, the police arrived and moved people back to start their investigation. At this point, I learned what had happened. The bus apparently hit a pedestrian who had been drinking and had just come out of the local pub (which we were directly in front of). The pedestrian flew into a motorcycle driver who was thrown into the bushes. The motorcycle driver was conscious but couldn’t move; he was carried away and rushed to the closest hospital. The pedestrian died on the spot. After a couple of hours there, we were put on another bus and taken to our destination. It was an incredibly sad, shocking and somber ending to our trip.