A Whole New World This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     I’ve grown up hearing stories about my mom’s side of the family. My mom was born and raised in South Africa, the oldest of three. Heather and Ian continue to live there with their families, but Mom married and moved to Canada. From childhood, letters from grandparents, aunts and uncles with pictures of new cousins were part of my life. I only had the chance to meet those grandparents twice, and when I finally met my other relatives, it was the experience of a lifetime.

It was an adventure just getting to South Africa. We had to drive three hours to Halifax where we flew to London (my first flight). We had a ten-hour layover so we did some sightseeing, but before we knew it, we were back on the plane for another eleven hours.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I arrived in Cape Town. People’s accents were surprising, it was like everyone was imitating my mom’s half-Canadian, half-South African accent, and doing a really good job at it, but in reality, it was me and my brothers who had the accents!

I quickly discovered that South Africans drive on the left side of the road, which took some getting used to. They also pile in the back of pickup trucks, and although it’s uncomfortable, it’s legal, and useful for transporting a lot of people.

There were many little differences. After supper, they eat pudding, which is what they call dessert. I thought they actually meant we were going to have chocolate pudding! They don’t have root beer, which was horrifying to my younger brothers. Everyone has tall fences around their houses, complete with a gate at the end of the driveway. And to top it all off, most houses have security systems.

South Africa’s seasons are the opposite of Canada’s. I was there during their winter, and though they don’t usually have snow, it got awfully damp and chilly. The vegetation was very different, as well as the wildlife. Don’t get me wrong, there weren’t giraffes eating from my aunt’s trees or hyenas keeping me awake at night; that stereotype would be like saying there are moose wherever you go in Canada.

I’ve never been the type who could climb a tree, but they had awesome trees with branches that wove around and around each other starting close to the ground. You could climb to the very top if you had the guts, it was great!

I think the most shocking difference was the poverty. Hundreds of thousands of people lived in shack villages in the cities; most houses were made of cardboard or materials that weren’t good at blocking dampness or heat. There was also poverty in the countryside, but a lot of those people had farms and lived in mud huts with thatch roofing.

South Africa’s has three languages: English, Afrikaans (the language white Dutch settlers spoke when they moved there in the 17th century), and Zulu (the language of the native people). The Zulu are very skilled with beadwork and basketry. My two aunts and grandmother employ Zulu women as housekeepers, so I learned a few words in Afrikaans and Zulu. I even had the chance to visit a replica of a village as it would have been centuries ago.

Traditional clothing was very bright, with lots of beadwork. Each color bead means something so women could tell of love, poverty, loss, happiness and more through their beadwork. I took note that in traditional clothing, women often wore large beaded necklaces that covered most of their chest, since they didn’t always wear tops. Even everyday clothes were very colorful and beautiful.

I’m afraid I didn’t learn as much as I could have. If I ever have the chance to return, I know that is one thing I will concentrate on. My time there was quite interesting. My cousins listened to the same American music I did, as well as South African artists. In some ways, it’s not very different, but in other ways, it’s extremely different from what I am accustomed to. Every minute of my six weeks there was worthwhile! I’ll tell you, though, it was great to sleep in my own bed when I got home.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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