Straddling the Line

Last week I spent my first few days in Pretoria. It was a strange experience to be in a modern city after four months of village life. Towering buildings, lights, sounds, people everywhere and seemingly limitless choices--where to eat, what to eat, what store to shop at, what taxi service to use...

Pretoria has nothing that would distinguish it from most other modern cities with the exception of the high walls, razor wire and electric fencing that surround every home and many businesses. Unfortunately this level of security is necessary due to the high level of crime in the city. Walking in pairs during the day is highly recommended, and at night don't walk anywhere without a group of at least five--even in the nicer areas.

I stayed at one of the local backpackers that caters to Peace Corps volunteers. I found it to be a nice little haven in the midst of the busy city around me. In addition to the few volunteers, there was also a group of students from the UK, a traveling musician from Spain, a couple form Australia and another American who was in Pretoria doing free-lance writing for ESPN (the FIFA Confederation Cup began last week). Each had equally fascinating stories for how they ended up in South Africa, and I enjoyed conversing with the diverse group of travelers.

On Friday evening, our new free-lance journalist friend invited us to go with him to the Italy national team practice. When we arrived, the practice turned out to be a scrimmage against a team of South African All-Stars. So we found ourselves in the press box with free buffet and open bar watching the reigning World Cup Champions soundly thrash the competition. Two nights before I was in my village listening to the drumming of the rain on the tin roof and praying for the electricity to come back on. The juxtaposition was almost too much for me.

After a few interviews with the players, we jumped back into the rental car and headed back to the other side of Pretoria. Here I was in the city that my host brother commutes to on a daily basis for school. The city where probably about 90% of the employed in my village commute to work--what can be a three to four hour taxi ride despite its proximity to our village. And here I was living the high life. It was a lesson in opportunity--a lesson that I'm still trying to choke down. How do you move gracefully and easily from a "developing world" setting to a "developed world" setting? And how do you fit comfortably into either when you live above the standard of the first and below the standard of the second? I'm afraid there is no answer to these questions.