Out of Africa

We arrived home in Cambridge, Mass., yesterday afternoon to find a diorama of lions and giraffes arranged around a geranium plant on our kitchen table, compliments of my playful and creative mother. It was perfect.  We still don’t know what time it is, after going to bed at 7 p.m. and waking up at 2 a.m., thinking it must be time to head out on the Land Cruiser with Morah in search of the real thing.

Before we pulled away from the gate at London’s Heathrow airport yesterday morning, I downloaded a copy of The Telegraph to my Kindle.  It reported that a wife on her honeymoon from England had been murdered Saturday night in Cape Town, apparently in the same township that we had visited two weeks ago.  She and her husband were ambushed at night by gunmen as their taxi headed for a nightspot. The assailants dumped the man out of the taxi unharmed, and his wife’s body was discovered in the vehicle the next morning.

A followup article in The Telegraph reports that the murder rate in Cape Town is 42.4 per 100,000 population, down from 44.6 last year.  By comparison, the murder rate in the U.S. last year was 5.4 per 100,000.  As I look out at the calm and leaf-strewn sidewalks of Cambridge, Mass., I realize what a relief it is to return to a place that feels so much safer than South Africa and even Botswana, where the murder rate in 2004 was 21.5 per 100,000. You don’t realize how much this means until you’ve spent three weeks at some level holding your breath, worrying about what might befall you at a moment’s notice.

The husband’s heart-breaking account of the crime included this explanation as to why they had diverted their taxi toward a nightspot in the township after dinner:  “She had never been to Africa before, so she suggested that we should have a look at the ‘real Africa’.”  I remember feeling the same impulse in South Africa, where we stayed in safe hotels in safe areas, mainly under the direction of vigilant tour guides.  Our brief visit to the township on November 31st took place in daylight, with a man who knew the area intimately. But it’s not difficult for me to imagine a scenario in which we might have made a similar decision to see the “real Africa” that could have turned out poorly.

Not that Cambridge never knows trouble.  In the same session of Kindle newspaper downloads at Heathrow, I found news of an armed robbery of three Harvard freshmen early Saturday morning about three blocks from here, in Harvard Square.

My impressions of our trip are a jumble this morning. I am incredibly grateful that we had the chance to spend time in South Africa and Botswana, thanks to the hospitality and guidance of our friends Jim and Linda.  I’m going to ask Darlene to write a guest blog post about her impressions of the trip sometime during the next few days, while her memory is fresh.

A wild wind was blowing as we departed Gaborone Sunday via South African Airways to Johannesburg.

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