When you think of Africa, what do you think of? Is it thatched roofed huts with starving people inside? Is it a vast savanna with lions and zebras? Is it that song from The Lion King? I am here to tell you that everything you thought you knew IS A LIE. Yeah, there are all of these things on this amazing continent. But if I told your previously uninformed self that yesterday I had the opportunity to teach flute to six students at an elite private school, equipped with fountains, AstroTurf fields, and stone, pillared buildings, would you believe me?
Over this past week, I have begun a thrilling journey in White River, South Africa with Performing Arts Abroad at a local arts and development academy.Not only does this organization provide a musical outlet to some of the poorest children in the region, but they also facilitate the musical teachings to some of the richest. In my short time in this beautiful country, I have learned of the true polarity of wealth in South Africa.
One of my colleagues said that there is a maxim that clearly illustrates this bizarre dichotomy, and it is, “Only in Africa!” The idea that you can successfully bribe a police officer after being pulled over because the government doesn’t pay them enough money, while the president just paid over $30 million to remodel his house…only in Africa! The idea that yesterday at noon I was at a school that doesn’t have toilet paper or toilet seats, and then at 12:30 p.m. I was on the lush green grounds of the private school surrounded by clean cut and uniformed prep students…only in Africa! Or how about simply the VAST chasm of educational abilities between the blacks and the whites…I think you get the picture.
I am by no means critiquing either end of this spectrum. Unfortunately, this type of corruption is everywhere. I think my amazement lies more in the fact that while there are two entirely different worlds within a few kilometers of each other, music can be viewed as a common denominator between the two. It is so encouraging that despite the conditions someone is born into, a person can still find the same self-worth and joy through this unifying force. Maybe I won’t see that dichotomy disappear, but without sounding too corny, I’m excited to see how music makes all these borders seem lesser.
Written by Allison Mora
Performing Arts Abroad music intern in South Africa