While her tired brain tried to adjust to the onslaught of new stimuli, she desperately tried to follow her uncle’s anecdotes. She watched his profile as they zipped along. He had visited Canada when she had been but a very young child. She did not truly remember the visit, or him for that matter, but fairly glowed at the connection that was already there. This man was her uncle. He was her father’s brother; a link to a past that she did not know. She thrilled at his recollections of familiar places and people. She soaked in pictures of the father that had been but a word to her for most of her life. Now fresh images were forming in her consciousness. Her father was filling out in her mind and gaining flesh and blood. It was magical. It was surreal. It was just too much. A quiet tear was brushed away before it sullied her lopsided smile. She was in Africa. It was a dream she had held for more years than she could remember. Right now she was zipping through the Cape Province. She closed her eyes and listened to her uncle prattle, the noise of the car and the whizz of the surrounding traffic. It was real.
When she opened her eyes again the landscape had changed. Table Mountain was still visible in the rear window, but the city had been left behind. The first of the terrain that would become so familiar started to creep in. What was surprising, was the buildings that began to dot the landscape. The red soil gave way to decrepit lean-tos with tin roofs. A few merged into many and then many more. They drove and drove and the shanties took over the world.
“What is this place?” she asked with a wave of her hand.
“Khayelitsche.” Was the curt reply.
It was indeed a shanty town. The kilometers of scabbed together “homes” were made from whatever materials could be salvaged. Barbed wire was liberally scattered everywhere. It was shocking. Poverty was not unknown back home, but not visible on such a level. There were thousands of structures, that all looked like a gust of wind or drop of rain would level them to the ground. These were people’s homes. A clarification from her uncle reminded her of South Africa’s sordid past. This community was home to a black population. Poverty was widespread. Running water was not available to most. Electricity was sketchy. Violence was a given. This was people’s homes. This was their reality. It was shocking.