The Long Walk to Freedom

Posted by stephanie on May 16th, 2009
May 16

After leaving Lesotho, I headed to the Wild Coast of South Africa for 10 days of rugged beauty and adventure.  This area is also known as the Transkei, which means “the area beyond the Kei River.”  This was one of the apartheid-era homelands for the black people of South Africa.  Nelson Mandela was born in the Transkei in 1918, and still has a home in Qunu, which I was able to see on my bus ride up the coast!  In 1959, the National Party government introduced legislation to create 10 homelands, divided along ethnic and linguistic lines, for black South Africans so that the government could pursue a policy of “Separate Development.”  The Transkei was one of the areas set aside of the Xhosa-speaking people.  Over the years, the area has become more of a tourist destination, drawing groups of people looking for a “real” African experience within South Africa, which is harder to find if you stick to the Garden Route and Cape Town.  My trip through the Transkei started in East London, then to Chinsta, Coffee Bay, and Port St. Johns.

I choose to travel through the part of South Africa because I wanted to see the homeland of Nelson Mandela.  I believe that so much of who we are is tied to where we came from, and in order to understand the life and legacy of Mandela better, I wanted to see for myself where he grew up.  I started The Long Walk to Freedom while in Uganda, getting about a third of the way through before having to return it to the person I borrowed it from.  I tried again while in South Africa, but if you’ve seen Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, it is huge!  I didn’t have enough space in my bag to carry it around!  Even without having read the book through completion yet, I have learned a lot about the life of Mandela simply by traveling through South Africa, and it is clear how much he means to the people of this country, not to mention the world.  From seeing Robben Island to visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and seeing Mandela’s home in Soweto, I have seen many of the stops on Mandela’s long walk to freedom, and it was certainly a journey.

What struck me most about the Transkei was the blending of the past with the present.  Most of the people are still living in rondevals (the round huts) without electricity or water, building bricks from mud and dung to make their homes.  At the same time, though, you see everyone with cell phones, many of who are wearing western style clothing, talking about US politics in nearly flawless English.  There is so much tradition and culture in this area, but it is an area that is slowly changing, incorporating the new with the old.  It is not always an easy thing to do, being true to a past that is slowly fading.

Traveling has made me acutely aware of how much of who I am is shaped by where I came from.  No matter how much I see and how much I learn, that will always be a part of me.  Like the Transkei, I think I am in the process of incorporating the old with the new.  Reconciling new ideas, philosophies, information, and insights with past beliefs, former prejudices, and previous inaccuracies.  That is the benefit of travel, and I’ve been on my own “long walk” (and long flights and drives) to freedom.  Traveling by myself has been one of the most liberating and empowering experiences of my life.  As I’m nearing the end of my trip, I’ve been thinking back to all the experiences I’ve had, amazing people I’ve met, and unbelievable places I’ve seen and am amazed at how 9 months of travel has taught me and shaped me.  I look forward to the adventures of the next month ahead, the knowledge I will gain, and the ultimate freeing experience of it all.

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