Last winter I had an amazing experience in Johannesburg, South Africa. My father and I traveled with a group called Swamp Corps to help set up a church camp. Swamp Corps is a group from my church, the International Church of Christ. During that trip I gained so many invaluable experiences and had the opportunity to see things that are very different from where I live.
Going to South Africa and seeing the immense poverty and differences in our cultures changed my life. I realized that I take many things for granted, and that a lot of things I valued were not that important. Many people get by without air conditioner, electronics, and other everyday “needs”. Living in America is a blessing because we have so many laws enforced to protect our safety. Clean water and free educations are everywhere. I was humbled as I realized that the way Americans do things may not necessarily be better. We could easily live life more simply. For example, many people do not even have or use a dryer for their clothes because they can be hung to dry. Walking places is more common. The poverty in South Africa made the excess in my own life obvious. I am now more aware of how I can waste my resources and try harder to avoid that, especially when using water and eating food.
I spent a majority of my time at a camp in Johannesburg, in the region called Gauteng. It was what they consider to be “the country” and the area resembled the plains in The Lion King. We hosted the camp at a retreat center called Ebenezer Farm, although it was a lot different from counterparts in the states. I also spent a great deal of time at the Johannesburg Church of Christ, where we had a New Year’s Party, church service, and held meetings. While camp wasn’t in session, I stayed with a host family from the church. They took me to the African Craft Market of Rosebank, which sold typical African items such as beaded jewelry, clothing, etc. We also went to The Lion and Rhino Nature Reserve and got to pet young lions.
One necessity for traveling in South Africa is taking safety precautions. Some people there will go to any means to make money. It is important to always lock your doors and to stay somewhere with a good security system. Commonly, homes also have a tall, electric fence around them. Also, watch out for police officers. They will take advantage of people by ways such as accusing one of speeding and then offering to forget the incident for money. They are not always the most reliable source for help in an emergency because sometimes they are not stronger than the criminals. Another practical is to get the proper immunizations to ensure that you will be allowed to enter the country. Not many are needed for this trip anyways. Strong bug spray is unnecessary (at least at this time of the year). I’m not even sure that I saw enough mosquitoes to count on one hand, simply because they aren’t an issue in this area. You do, however, need more sunscreen and to drink more water. The elevation is higher, which makes the sun closer. In turn, you get dehydrated and sunburned more easily.
Traveling to South Africa is an amazing opportunity that I would recommend to anyone. The beautiful land, wondrous animals, and brilliant culture create the trip of a lifetime. I hope you will feel the same way.
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