A novel by Allyson Olivia
Joy recognized Robben Island as the place where South Africa’s president, Nelson Mandela, was jailed eighteen years for being a political activist, but learned during the visit it was used for many things throughout history including a leper colony, hospital for the mentally and chronically ill, and a training and defense station in World War II. In 1997, the island was turned into a museum. The tour included a round-trip ferry ride to the island from the Nelson Mandela gateway, and an hour-long bus tour of the island followed by a tour of the maximum-security prison.
The group’s tour guide, Patrick Manta, a former inmate, spent twenty years in Robben Island, since age nineteen, for speaking against apartheid. He passionately described the injustices that occurred within the prison, including the mental and physical abuse of the prisoners. He attributed forgiveness as the reason he could now work on the island as a tour guide. When Joy walked in the cell where Nelson Mandela was held, she couldn’t believe how tiny the quarters were for a man who made such a difference in the world. What did he think about being confined to this closet with bars? Joy wondered as she ran her hand along the walls of the cell.
The rest of the afternoon was solemn while Joy and her associates meditated on the island as they journeyed back to their living quarters.
Later that week they traveled to townships on the outskirts of town where black South Africans lived, an area comprised of self-constructed metal houses on dirt roads. Their guide said they had communal outhouses and some running water. Joy never forgot the faces of the people in the townships. She knew the children running after their van would never be afforded the chances children have in the states. Their squalor was inherited by skin color and it was something they could not escape. Seeing the poverty in the townships and meeting the beautiful people warmed and pained Joy’s heart simultaneously.
The final destination of their journey was Deo Gloria, which means God’s country, a game reserve located forty-five minutes from Johannesburg along the Hartbeespoort Dam at the foot of the Magalies Mountains. Joy thought it was adventurous that they bunked in cabins and ate dinner around a large campfire. The most outdoor activity Joy did in life occurred during summer camp as a child, and that was only a short drive from Baltimore City.
Away from the lights and noise of the city it was easy to hear God speak. Joy heard Him say, “Look at my creation and know that I am God.”
At night, Joy and her companions rode along the paths created over time amidst towering trees and high grass. When she listened to the melodious sounds of birds and bugs chirping and buzzing as if they were being led by a symphony director, it prompted Joy to take a deep breath and look up. When she did, Joy was in awe that there were more stars than sky. In that moment, Joy realized she had been deprived of experiencing the beauty of life at its most basic level.
Throughout their travels, Joy began to fall in love with South Africa, but it wasn’t a love she could settle in and call home, it was a love only to be visited, like a distant relative.
Joy knew upon her arrival home she would eventually forget some of the things learned and observed in South Africa, but she would never forget the people. The black South Africans were the warmest people she’d ever embraced. They called her “my sister” and didn’t hold being American against her. When Joy returned from South Africa she was greeted by Angel, Lester, Moses, and their extended family in the Baltimore train station. Joy was shocked that the first person running to greet her was Gran. It looked like she was sprinting. Joy’s family wanted the details of her adventure, so they gathered at a buffet to hear about her experiences during the past two weeks. During dinner, Joy learned everyone was concerned about her safety while away because the news was flooded with fighting and unrest in South Africa.