“Going back to the villiage”
Johannesburg is famously easy to navigate this time of year because people have traveled home for the extended holidays. The Northern Virginia and D.C. metro areas experience this as well because so many people have moved there for work but are not from that area. One of the Instgram accounts I follow posted a picture from Accra showing a taxi rank from before the holidays and during the holidays with a dramatic difference between the two photos. While this story is known and the proverb is widely accepted, there are other people who travel back to their country in this same spirit.
The first person I met was on the flight from D.C. to Atlanta. We didn’t speak at first because he was busy texting before we took off. I figured He just wasn’t chatty and believe it or not I do try not to chat with people who aren’t interested in chatting. But then he saw me sorting through my boarding passes and showed me his phone where he’d typed out his question for me asking me if I was going to Johannesburg. I pulled my phone out and we had a little chat. He told me that he was going back to South Africa for his brother’s birthday. His brother is turning 50 and wanted to go back to South Africa, where they were born to celebrate. He told me they left South Africa in 1989, but he didn’t elaborate from there and I didn’t ask. When we boarded the plane in Atalanta I was sitting close to his brother and the rest of his family. I think all of the men in the family were deaf. I eventually caught his brother’s attention and wished him a happy birthday before we de-planed. I saw his brother from the back of the plane letting him know how I knew!
My seat mates from Atlanta to Johannesburg was a South African couple who had left the country in 1988 because they were classified as Indian during the Apartheid government and did not have full opportunities and freedom. They have dual citizenship as Canadians and South Africans and have been traveling back to South Africa since they left. They still have family here and now that they are both retired they can escape the unfogiving Canadian winter by traveling here during January and Febuary, which they told me they do every year. Toward the end of our flight we started a conversation about South Africa and why we were all going. They were facinated that I was bringing students from the United States to study social movements in South Africa. Our conversation wound around various topics from Robert Kennedy’s 1966 visit to South Africa to Cyril Ramaphosa and the complications (baggage) that come with him, and his respect for Thabo Mbeki and regret that he was pushed out of the presidency by Zuma. He told me that he still has hope for South Africa, but that he doesn’t expect South Africa will reach its potential for 30 or more years.
These brief encounters gave me a different framing for travel at this time of year and for the type of travel my students are about to embark upon.