I did some exploring last weekend in the mountains around me.

First, I decided to take a run up one of the mountains. A road winds up it, providing access to water company facilities and a private lodge. I discovered that a few more kilometers down the road, I run smack into a giant game reserve.

It’s hard to believe that just a few kilometers away is a game reserve that supposedly connects to Kruger National Park. I heard wailing baboons in the reserve, and even saw a few heavily armed individuals patrolling the border. When I questioned them about their very large guns, they looked at me like I was crazy.

“We’re patrolling for poachers”.

Hell yes.

After my run, I went to visit a colleague of mine who had promised to take me hiking up one of the mountains. It was a tough, steep climb along rocks and through thorns. Just as I was questioning my judgment for hiking and running on the same day, we made it to the top and I saw down onto my home.

Getting down was easier.

My colleague and his family were cooking an ox head. It is a tradition to cook an ox head following a passing on. We sat and talked while the ox head stewed on the fire for 3 hours.

My colleague and his family were wonderful to spend time with. We spoke about the history of South Africa, neo-Nazis, the blessings of God on South Africa, Judge Joe Brown, life before the end of Apartheid, Dr. Phil, and many other things. I even got to see some family photos. My colleague’s younger father (meaning uncle, but here your father’s brother is also your father, and your mother’s sister is also your mother) was particularly fun to spend time with. It seems many older individuals here are not comfortable speaking English (they were all taught Afrikaans in school), so I’m especially grateful when I meet an older person so eager to speak English with me and tell me about their life.

It’s very obvious the power the color of one’s skin has. In America, we try to pretend color difference doesn’t exist in our quest to be “post-racial”. In South Africa, color keeps being a cornerstone of interactions I have. In some ways, it makes South Africa feel more post-racial, since everyone is very aware of the different lives they have led based on their racial appearance. And at least with me, they are not afraid to talk about these differences. Indeed, they really want to talk about them. The township is not a place one runs into a lot of white people.

But the integration is happening, obviously. At the screwing a few weeks ago, I met a few white South Africans who had come here. There are a few whites interspersed among the 300+ people working at the nearby Department of Education office. And there is supposedly also a white South African working as an administrator in one of the schools near me. While this is hardly revolution, it’s movement towards a more integrated society. Apartheid ended in 1994. In the US, Brown vs. Board of Ed was 1954. So when I think about how South Africa in 2010 compares to the US in 1970…well I wasn’t alive in 1970. But the US has come a long way since 1970, and I’m sure South Africa will have come a long way in 2050.

And while I sometimes wish the color of my skin was not such a big deal, another part of me always feels warmed when people appreciate that a white foreigner wants to come spend time with them and talk with them. I have incredible conversations here that start simply because I’m white and from a different place. I’d like to think that South Africans of different colors can have these kinds of interactions, but sadly I doubt it. I’ve decided one of my goals here will be to seek out white South Africans and get them to visit me in the township. We’ll see if I can pull that one off.

Right. Ox head.

It was tasty, but tough, and left some weird residue in my mouth. Still, it was satisfying, and it was worth the effort of navigating the bone fragments and other inedible parts.

It was an incredible weekend, which unfortunately kept me from some work. But such is life.

I live here. I’m lucky:

By the way, that white paint on the rock near the right side of the photo…that’s part of a giant cross and Jesus shout-out on the side of the mountain, for everyone below to see.