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The Spirit and Pain of Africa

The Differences Are Amazing

So here I am visiting family in Johannesburg, South Africa.  The contrast between Dallas, Texas, where I now live, and Johannesburg as it is today, is incredible.   Let’s start with the way people live.  People in Johannesburg are prisoners in their own homes. High brick walls surround every home and on the top of these walls there is electrified wiring.   In addition to the regular burglar alarm system in each home, every community hires a security company that uses armed mercenaries, wearing bullet proof vests, to patrol the community, for which the home-owners pay a monthly fee.  It is inadvisable to rely in the police for any help because they are inept and corrupt.

A large number of the millions of unemployed have turned to crime in order to feed themselves and their families, so this means that you have to be very vigilant at all times.  The first thing you do when you get into your car is lock all the doors, close the windows and be sure to hide your purse from view because this would be inviting a possible attack.  Returning home and driving into the garage requires special vigilance. Criminals often watch and wait for people to drive up to their garages and then sneak in as the garage door opens.  So before you open the garage you look to the left and the right checking for possible hidden attackers; and then you close the garage door behind you as quickly as possible.

The roads here are not maintained.  There are potholes everywhere.  It is very easy to puncture your tire if you are not quick enough to avoid the gashes in the road.  Then there are beggars literally at every light, each flaunting some terrible physical deformity.  After watching Slumdog Millionaire, I wonder how many of those with blind holes on their faces and deformed limbs were deliberately mutilated so that they could earn more as beggars?

The average life expectancy is 50 years because of Aids and there are thousands upon thousands of orphaned children whose parents have died of Aids related diseases.  In the past year alone, 750,000 people died of Aids.

The Spirit in Johannesburg

This having been said, Johannesburg has a spirit and a magic all its own.  Those who do not do crime are involved in entrepreneurial street activities, selling all kinds of goods hoping to eke out enough money to put food on the table that evening.  And despite their terrible hardships they are cheerful and interactive, laughing and singing.  One sign held by a beggar caught my eye.  It said, ‘I do not want to do crime.  Please help me feed my family.’

Being in Johannesburg and visiting with friends and family is like living in two worlds.  There are the scary scenes you see when you go out of the high walls into the city and then there is life going on in a totally normal way, with people going to work, fetching the kids from school, visiting with friends, sitting at sidewalk cafes, working and playing, seemingly immune to this scary other world, accepting it as the way things are.

So when you read this, think about how blessed you are being able to live a life without having to look over your shoulder every moment of every day, fearful of the high possibility of becoming yet another  victim of crime.

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