Writing the last blog entry is no easy task. I am charged with tying 10 days of intense content into a nice, neat bow. However, despite trying, I cannot bring myself to do so because it would mean oversimplifying an experience that has been so nuanced, so messy, so complex. For this reason, I dreaded the walk to the room in which we would conduct our final reflection on the morning of May 27th. I was not yet prepared to speak on my experience in South Africa. I knew that I would need so much more time to sit down and unpack all of the information I had acquired on this journey. Fortunately, the almost 16 hour-long plane ride back to the United States gave me the chance to start this process.
I watched through the airplane window as we parted with South African soil and soared into the sky. I had an incredible view of the awe-inspiring South African landscape. I was completely overwhelmed by the reflection of the sun on the deep blue waters, the diverse array of birds speckling the horizon, and the lush plant life clothing the bare mountains. The scene was nothing short of paradisaical. However, as I moved my gaze towards the cities I could see the geography of Apartheid. I observed the distinct separation between homes in historically black townships, many of which lacked electricity, and homes in historically white suburbs, which boasted property values of millions of rands. I was confronted yet again with this juxtaposition that seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the trip. On one day, I would be inconsolably forlorn by the images of children being shot in the streets by police officers at the Hector Pieterson Museum. On another day, those images would be overshadowed by the excitement of watching two elephants caressing during our safari at the Aquila Reserve. These varying experiences make it incredibly difficult to say with simplicity how this journey to South Africa has been for me. As we drew closer to our destination, I wondered what I would say to my family and friends who would ask the inevitable question, How was your trip?
In this age of social media, one often feels pressured to share only the beautiful and the perfect. However, my experience in South Africa has taught me that we must, too, come to terms with the ugly and the imperfect if positive change is to be effected. As I share my experience in South Africa with my family and friends I will be sure to tell not only of the magnificence of Table Mountain, one of the 7 wonders of nature, but also of the injustices that South Africans of color continue to face post-Apartheid. Frankly, the horrors of Apartheid are just as much a part of the story of South Africa as is the glory of its natural beauty. To exaggerate the positives would be as great an injustice as to exaggerate the negatives. In life, we can choose to emphasize the details we like and downplay the details that we do not, but I have learned that this only breeds more of the prejudice and bias that separates us. In order for true reconciliation to occur we must first acknowledge the whole truth, and the truth is, this trip to South Africa has been both amazing and horrifying—and that is okay.
Mariah Dozé is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University. She is double-majoring in sociology and African American studies. Her passions include social justice, staying active, singing, and spending time with her family.