The most significant Culture Bump I experienced during my trip to South Africa was with our bus driver, Anthony. It was our final night in Johannesburg and I wanted to personally thank him for his hospitality and some world class driving (Although the bus was full-size he was able to take it into locations that were obviously designed for small SUVs and below. On several occasions we had mere inches of clearance but always came through without a scratch.). After exiting the bus I cornered him and extended my hand to offer a warm handshake, praise and well wishes. Although he responded by extending his hand and giving a quiet thank you, he never looked me in the eye and his shoulders slumped as if he was sad. The encounter left me slightly confused but I did not give it much thought. That is until after speaking with our resident Culture Bump expert, Dr. Stacey Nickson. She explained that many of the older generation still bear the emotional scars of apartheid. Eye contact and speaking up could be considered disrespectful and although I too am black he considered his response respectful. At 35 I was the oldest student on the trip but I feel a sense of sadness at the thought that after 20 years there are individuals that don’t feel comfortable conversing with or looking someone many years their junior in the eye. In what should have been a moment for him to feel and express his pride in a job well done he was unable to. I imagine there are millions more from his generation, the ones who should most enjoy the end of Apartheid, who cannot. This Culture Bump is by far the most significant for me as I too feel a sense of helplessness, sadness and a little shame as I realize that my intent to show sincere gratitude and praise to someone truly deserving was a failure. After looking at the pictures and videos in the Apartheid Museum, listening to stories and reading about it over the years, this encounter is the one that really made the effect of Apartheid hit home.
(April 5, 2012)