There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about South Africa or the people who live there. It holds a special place in my heart.
Back in 2015-2017, Johannesburg was my home. I walked among the South African people, ate with them and ultimately grew a love for the people.
In late August I had the privilege to go back for the first time in five years and discover some parts of the country that I hadn’t been to before. Throughout my near two-week trip I reconnected with a place I consider my second home. But this time around, I was impressed with how similar Wyoming and South Africa are.
The History and People
South Africans are a very diverse people. With 11 official languages, and immigrants from all over various African countries, it’s no secret that South Africa is a melting pot for culture.
Much like South Africa, Sweetwater County is filled with diverse people with many backgrounds and cultures. Rock Springs is famously known as the “Home of 56 Nationalities”, and I couldn’t help but make the connection between how similar our small town community is to that of South Africa. We all have differences that we are continuously blending together.
And there are struggles in that process.
We began our trip in Johannesburg, touring a city I was familiar with and visiting the sites of Nelson Mandela’s home and the Apartheid museum. For those who are familiar with the country’s dark history of Apartheid (meaning “apartness”), you’ll recall that the South African people have endured much suffering to get to where they are at today.
Apartheid, in short, was a system of legislation that supported segregationist policies against non-white citizens of South Africa.
As I reflected on what I learned at the Apartheid museum, I couldn’t help but relate back to the Rock Springs Massacre in 1885 and the suffering the Chinese people and others experienced.
While there is obviously differences between those two periods in history, it’s the principle that is the same.
We have each struggled to meld our diverse cultures together at times in our history.
The Great Outdoors and Wildlife
The next few days of our trip consisted of enjoying the Panorama Route and a safari experience on a private game reserve near Kruger National Park.
One of my favorite things about Wyoming is the wonderful outdoors and beautiful scenery. But unfortunately we don’t have elephants or lion cubs in the Wind Rivers.
Spending time in the bush seeking out South Africa’s best wildlife recalled to my mind my trip to Yellowstone and spending time camping with my family. There’s nothing quite like the great outdoors, no matter where you might be.
Recovering from COVID-19
We ended our last few days of the trip in Cape Town — a city I had been dreaming of visiting for quite some time. From the waterfront, to the Cape of Good Hope and even the penguins on the beach, Cape Town did not disappoint.
Cape Town is heavily reliant on the tourism industry. I couldn’t tell you how many people were grateful to have tourists back. South Africa currently has nearly a 50 percent unemployment rate. The ongoing recovery from the pandemic was obvious and a lot of people are suffering. The country closed down during the pandemic and it shattered the economy.
It was also heartbreaking for me to hear stories about some of those I knew who had passed away from COVID-19.
Seeing even more devastating effects from the pandemic in South Africa was quite eye-opening compared to what happened here in Sweetwater County.
But we had all suffered in one way or another during the pandemic that we experienced nearly 10,000 miles apart.
I may be biased, but if you get a chance to visit the Rainbow Nation, please do. You may just end up like me and realize other parts of the world do have similarities to our home here in Sweetwater County.