Nothing to fear but three big rottweilers

I want to write a bit about fear, because I have been experiencing quite a lot of it recently. For three nights after I first booked this trip I would suddenly wake in the wee hours to sit and ponder the Great Unknown (always scarier in the wee hours than over coffee and a banana smoothie with Noodle exuberantly announcing the dawn of another miraculous day). In these long, quiet moments I lay in the blackness of my bedroom, eyes flung open like shutters during spring cleaning, and witnessed the unfolding of my deepest fears. The Unknown became a collage of paranoid certainties: when I go to Africa I will become a victim of violence; I will be robbed of my possessions; I will not understand the place sufficiently and I will make a fool of myself; I will fail to help anybody in any way; I will fail myself.

Observant readers will notice that the first two fears have to do with my uncertainty about the place; the rest have to do with my uncertainty about myself. And I realize that that is exactly what a trip like this is about. I am challenging myself to be fearless about the world and about myself, so I have been resisting all this terror with deep breathing, positive thinking and humour – and I have been sleeping through the night.

Yesterday, though, a story hit the news about Canada granting a white South African man refugee status “citing claimant’s ‘convincing proof’ that he was beaten and unable to find work because of his race” (Globe and Mail). Also reported on Bloomberg.com and Yahoo News. In response, the ANC is calling Canada racist and people are righteously pissed off. As a white Canadian who is about to visit South Africa, I have to admit this story scared the bejesus out of me. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that each of these news stories reported the ghastly statistic of 50 murders/day in the country. Cue the cold sweats and rabbiting heart beat.

But in the day since I read this story several things have happened to make me feel safe and eager to begin my adventure. Craig wrote me a lovely note talking about how excited he is to share a braai with me. A braai, according to Craig, is “a b-b-q which… happens every night practically… you bring booze and meat and then get drunk and eat lots of protein.” He also recommended biltong, a kind of jerky. When I mentioned this to my father today over lunch, we nearly shot pho out of our noses at his suggestion that it might be hyena jerky: who’s laughing NOW?!? Craig’s message concluded with, “This is the land of meat on sticks… you’re not vegan, are you?” Next, I got in touch with Karin from Joburg, who graciously offered to put me up and show me around for a few days. Super fun! Finally, I had coffee with Callie, a friend and colleague whose family lives in South Africa. I sheepishly admitted to all this fear, she said “pfft”, and told me not to get in anyone’s face and I should be fine. (Ed. note: In response to Callie’s offline rebuttal, I would like to clarify that her mouth said “Don’t worry” but her eyes said “pffft”.) As well, it turns out, she has a friend in Johannesburg who she wants to connect me with for a visit. Spirits lifted by the discovery that I actually have social engagements (plural) in Joburg, I rode home smiling in anticipation.

I had to laugh when I opened my email to find a message from Karin stating that I could not go from the airport to her house without her because of the three BIG rottweilers she lives with.

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