The first day here, Malebye takes me on a tour of his township. Ga-Rankuwa was built under apartheid as a forced resettlement location (more on this later). Now it has a population of several hundred thousand. Malebye’s area is one of the nicer sections. Most families here are part of the growing black middle class. There is electricity and running water in the houses, which are built of brick. As we walk I am struck by the dry veldt in the distance, dotted with thorny acacia trees. Seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, so it is autumn now. The exposed earth is red, and in the distance are the Magaliesberg Mountains. The sky is clear and the sun feels close (it is in fact more directly overhead, even in autumn, than it ever gets in Ithaca). With my eyes closed I could locate the sun in the sky just by the weight of the heat. Malebye reminds me to walk slowly, “not like an American”, so as not to get over-heated.
As we follow winding paths through the township we greet and are greeted by everyone we meet. It is customary to say “Dumela” (hello) to every person you pass. Everyone is friendly and curious. South Africa is 20% white, but a white person in the township is uncommon. Malebye keeps asking me, “Could you find your way back from here?” The answer is generally, no. He tells me that in the township there is always a path wherever you want to go. He does not indicate how to recognize it, however.
We return to the house at dusk, just before a brief, but violent, thunderstorm. The power goes out across the township. Afterwards the birds start chirping; they all sound different and exotic to me. Later the stars come out. They are all different as well. Orion appears in the northern sky and there is no Big Dipper. Instead I see the Southern Cross and am reminded how far I have traveled.