Stark Contrasts in South Africa

Submitted by Ellen Barber on the 2016 winter session program in South Africa sponsored by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management…

If I were to speak to my pre-South Africa self, I would have never been able to prepare for the amount my mind would be stretched by this amazing place. Each day here has brought an incredible new experience that again changes my view of the world and forces me into personal reflection. Our experience so far has been one of stark contrasts. One day exploring an amazing hotel, followed by a day walking through the realities of Apartheid at Constitutional Hill.

For example, I’m composing this post next to a beautiful pool, surrounded by a manicured lawn and beautiful flowers. I am steps away from a jug of fruit infused water and a historic air-conditioned building. To say that I’m living in a type of paradise would be an understatement.

Hotel Ellen Barber 16W South Africa HDFS HRIM sm

However, a few days ago we walked through the echo-y concrete blocks of what once was an overcrowded prison during The Apartheid. My skin crawled as I read about the horrors of the past posted on the walls. I could feel myself begin to hyperventilate as I stepped into one of the concrete isolation cells. While there were no signs or people to disturb, we all spoke in whispers adding an extra eeriness to the buildings.

Constitutional Hill Ellen Barber 16W South Africa HDFS HRIM sm

This prison, now on Constitutional Hill, surrounds the courtroom where new South African laws are passed. When walking into the courtroom, a stairwell from the prison is to your right as a reminder of the past when walking in to write the future.

Walking down the steps into what once was the non-white male section of the jail is the following quote by Nelson Mandela: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside of its jails”. So while it is easy to get consumed by the beauty of this incredible place, I have taken so much more out of one week of this program than I have from any other place I have traveled to because I have explored it’s history. I have gained new perspective through excursions like these and discussions from class and I can’t wait to learn more in the upcoming weeks.