Reflections on Soweto and Kliptown

The following post is by 3L Corrigan Clouston:

A very wise woman, Jordan Homer, once told me “travel is one of those things that leaves you speechless, but turns you into a storyteller.” Wiser words have seldom been spoken as the experience I had in South Africa/Botswana had left me breathless, yes has provided me enough stories to go on for days and drive my close family to insanity stemming from jealousy. I believe this experience, and the two weeks I had in Africa, has changed my perspective on what life can be and how it should be appreciated. It is hard to narrow down what I loved most about Africa (because I loved all of it), but I can narrow down the experiences that I have learned the most from.

Welcome to Soweto

The day where I learned the most about South Africa, and myself, was our day in Soweto. Our first stop in Soweto was at a plaza entitled “Freedom Square”, which hosted both a beautiful memorial dedicated to the ten pillars of the Freedom Charter and a five-star hotel that has served presidents, diplomats and celebrities. We had the opportunity to venture around the plaza and interact with the local community. Alas, after shopping local vendors and spending more rand than anticipated, it was time to move to our next destination.

We casually strolled across the plaza and crossed the street to traverse a well-beaten path leading across a pair of railroad tracks. In all honesty, nothing could have prepared by for what lay beyond the tracks – it was, at least to me, an entirely different world. As we watched the train zip by, and crossed the tracks our nostrils were suddenly full of a sour smell rising from burning piles of trash and plastic. In my entire life, I will never forget that smell. It has permeated my brain to where I can recall the slight nausea that accompanied the smell. As we continued to cross the tracks, it became apparent where we were – a slum.

Railroad track dividing Soweto from the shantytown of Kliptown.
Railroad track dividing Soweto from the shantytown of Kliptown.

I had never been to a slum, so to fill in the gaps in understanding I used preconceived stereotypes I had been told. Physically, it surpassed my expectations of what a slum was. There were rows of houses piecemealed together with tin and other scraps of metal of plastic. All of the houses were small, damp and dark. Our guide told us within each of these homes there were up to four family generations in each house, usually between 20-30 people. We were given the opportunity to enter in to the home of a resident, which absolutely surprised me. Inside the house made of tin and leaking from the walls were spotless pots and pans, with a little dinner table. The floor was made of dirt, but it was obvious the home had been meticulously cleaned.

It amazed me of the sense of pride the homeowner had for the very little they possessed. It made me think long and hard about some of priorities I have. In thinking about it since I have been home, I have realized it is always easier to complain about what you do not have rather than appreciate what you have. The people of Soweto have taught me to appreciate the people and experiences I have had. I am extremely fortunate to have had this experience and it has opened my eyes not only to other cultures, but to myself as well. I recommend everyone take the time to step out of your comfort zone and travel to Africa!

Soweto Academy

Corrigan Clouston

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