Saturday, June 11, 2011

On being a tourist…

I’m not sure if I’ve posted these photos before or not, so sorry if a repeat: these are of a trip through Namaqualand and a side excursion to Port Nolloth to see the beach. The ocean you see is the Atlantic. And the following is a little blurb about Port Nolloth from Lonely Planet’s South Africa: Lesotho & Swaziland, 6th edition:

“Port Nolloth is a sandy and exposed little place with a certain fascination. Originally developed as he shipping point for the region’s copper, it is now dependent on the small fishing boats that catch diamonds and crayfish. [South African’s call lobsters “crayfish.”] The boats are fitted with pumps, and divers vacuum up the diamond-bearing gravel found on the ocean floor. The town has attracted a multicultural group of fortune-seekers and they give it frontier vitality.” (512)

Quiver trees--my third favorite tree in Africa
 Am switching gears on you abruptly now…

A gentleman I’ve never met in person, although we’ve become “friends” on Facebook, recently waged what felt like a personal attack at my excitement at coming home. To paraphrase his opinion, he seemed to believe that I would miss Africa on my return to the States—as I resumed my boring life of lazy complacency—his words—and admonished to me to see all of the lovely sights of Africa as I could before returning home.

His commentary more than a bit ruffled my feathers and I publicly rebuked him, but then my conscience bothered me enough to pull my comment off of Facebook a half an hour later. The last thing I wanted to do was engage publicly with a man I’ve never met and battle with him about his values and how he was projecting them onto me.


Others have raised this issue as well, although in a kinder, gentler fashion, and certainly not with the accusation that I would resume a life of complacency on my return home. My fellow Peace Corps volunteers have sometimes gently suggested, “I don’t get out enough,” especially when I’m voicing some of the concerns I have about living in my community. What they mean is, in their opinion: I don’t travel enough.

Now I will admit: If I had buckets of money and could travel about with ease (as having buckets of money would allow me), I would see much, much more of Africa than I have. However, I don’t have buckets of money and traveling about Africa is a bit more of an adventure than I care to enjoy on my limited budget. I have made a few small trips and have seen the sights I wish to see; specifically, I’m glad to have traveled north to see Africa’s famous “baobab tree” (Adansonia digitata) and I enjoyed very much traveling south to see Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park.

However, I’m in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, not a tourist and become irritable when people suggest I spend more of my time (and money) being a tourist.

In general, I am happy to stay in my village and enjoy my home and community during school holidays and breaks. Basically, everyone leaves the community to go elsewhere to spend their holidays and the hustle and bustle of my community dies down considerably. I love having this time to walk about my village feeling relaxed and enjoying my neighbors and the beauty of my African “countryside.” I also enjoy the uninterrupted (with work) time to enjoy my home in Africa and in spending time in it.

As my departure date approaches, I have one more opportunity to travel in Africa and see more of its sights. I have a friend who lives near Port Elizabeth, a town on the eastern coast of South Africa. I have not seen the eastern coast of South Africa and would love to see the Indian Ocean while I’m here.

I haven’t decided if I’ll travel or not in the coming weeks. Although the trip sounds appealing, it will also be the last “holiday” in my village I’ll ever enjoy. Perhaps I could do a little of both: take the trip and devote a part of the holiday for being home (in my village).

Either way, I’m happy to know that it will be my decision about how to spend my time in the way I most favor. And I’ll invite the gentleman that challenged me to come to Africa himself to enjoy the beauty of Africa, instead of admonishing me to do it. After all, we are our choices! And I am happy enough with mine!

Soon, very soon,

PS. Since I’ve drafted this blog I’ve learned that I will be coming home much sooner than expected. My last “trip” in South Africa will be an extended stay in Pretoria.

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