The first thing I noticed when we crossed the border into South Africa was how green it was. Not green like parts of Mozambique where there is an abundance of coconut palms and wild tropical plants, but vast, sprawling fields of green. Well-cultivated green. On the Mozambican side between Maputo and the border, the emptiness on either side of the road was brown, spiky, dry. Just across the border, enormous sprinklers were watering bright green fields. I’ve never seen such sprinklers in Mozambique. Farms in Mozambique rely on rain and are cultivated by women with babies on their backs and hoes in their hands.
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We drove through a slum area between Kruger Park and Nelspruit. Had I come from the States, I would have been struck by The Poverty. Coming from Mozambique, I was impressed that all the houses, although small and unpainted, were made of brick and had glass in the windows. Hillsides filled with glass-paned houses. It seemed almost luxurious.
Then just over a hill we drove into a suburb of California. Neat, well-kept homes surrounded by equally well-kept gardens greeted us. Soccer moms in SUVs drove into parking lots of strip malls. People in cars were white. People walking were black. At the Applebee’s/Chili’s/Bennigan’s-type restaurant in the shopping mall, diners, like us, were white while servers were all black. Cigarette smoke and the heavily-rolled ‘r’ of Afrikaans wafted around us.
An hour earlier I was taking pictures of a hyena running alongside the car. Now I was looking out over a parking structure, thankful that at least the management tried to block the cement view slightly with flowering plants.
In the well-stocked supermarket, I bought risotto rice, Indian chai, varieties of chocolate I can’t get in Beira, and a decent toothbrush. I didn’t even look at anything else. The variety was too overwhelming.
We passed orchards and orchards of neatly planted orange trees on our way back to the border. Again, the green!
At the border, the sound of Portuguese, the feel of pushing in line, and stepping on a discarded chicken bone in front of the immigration officer’s desk reminded me where I was. On the other side, I would be greeted by the brown of the dry season again. Strangely, it was a welcome sight.