The Privilege of Experience

It is the Easter holidays and, to mark my one year anniversary in the UK,  I happily boarded a plane headed back to sunny South Africa! It is quite difficult to capture the happiness I have felt at seeing family and loved ones, donning my sunglasses whilst basking in 28°C heat and indulging in small pleasures such as Creme Soda, NikNaks, Biltong and Ocean Basket! As a special treat, my family and I have enjoyed an incredible 3 and a half days under the African sun at Madikwe Game Reserve bordering Botswana.

Our holiday consisted of a cyclical routine of seeing game, eating and sleeping – what a treat! During our short stay we managed to see an assortment of antelope including wildebeest, impala, springbok, kudu, eland, grey duiker and red hartebeest; we saw zebra galore and families of giraffe munching on those out-of-reach leaves; we saw rhino clashing horns at dawn; we saw elephants big and small; we saw a pride of lion stretching their limbs and setting off into the sunset; we saw all manor of birdies and beasties and we saw four cheetah brothers attempt to catch their dinner! Almost everything was close enough to touch and, for a moment, it was hard to remember that we were strangers in somebody else’s territory…

A common misconception is that South Africans live with lions for pets or have antelope grazing on the lawns instead of lawnmowers. But the truth is, the majority of my countrymen have seen nothing more than cows, goats and sheep. Perhaps those living out in the rural countryside of the Eastern Cape have seen the occasional antelope, but the famous ‘Big 5′ are reserved for those with big pockets.

As a child, I was privileged enough to have picture and story books telling tales of wildlife so by the time I first visited a zoo – at the brink of teen hood – I already knew what most of the animals looked like. As my brother and I got older, our parents’ treated us to trips to game reserves to see these beautiful creatures in the natural habitat and my knowledge of Africa’s natural inhabitants grew to greater levels. I refer to this as a privilege because not all children are as lucky; for his 8th birthday last year, I took our housekeeper’s son to the local zoo. The camels, buffalo, flamingoes, tigers and other assorted creatures were overwhelming to him and he could only name 1 in every 6 animals without help. This little boy has access to few books, let alone encyclopedias detailing those who once freely roamed the land; he will, in all likelihood, never see any wildlife outside of the zoo and even this is more than his parents have seen. He is young and he lives in Africa, and yet his European counterpart will probably see more African wildlife than him.

Whilst this may seem like a trivial example, it is still rings true. Every experience we are exposed to is an experience that somebody else is missing out on. Every experience that we have is an experience which shapes us, our knowledge and our learning. And that means, somewhere out there is a little boy or girl who will never get to have their learning shaped or challenged by that experience they never have.