Tourists have taste of Africa

SYRIAN immigrant Wassim Malas says he is taking in the South African experience "one day at a time".

Malas, who lives in England, will be in SA until July 18. His maiden journey to the country took an interesting turn after he landed on Sunday, just in time to catch the Mexico vs Argentina match.

"When we left the airport (OR Tambo) I took the wrong exit and landed up in the middle of nowhere," he said.

Malas eventually found his way to his destination - in Diepkloof Zone 1, Soweto - but not without some difficulties.

"The house numbers are not always in the correct order," he said.

"Sometimes the numbers left me confused. I found it difficult to locate Dippenaar Street (where his host's house is)."

Malas and his son Omar are being hosted by Tshepo Montshiwa as part of Cedric de la Harpe's "A Taste of Africa" home stay experience.

Malas said of his experience at Montshiwa's house: "Our original host passed away before we arrived in the country so we are grateful that Tshepo took us in.

"Life has been interesting. I'm getting used to the outside toilet. Even though it does not have a door that closes properly, it still works. Sometimes I have to sing or whistle to warn people that I'm still inside."

The two have struck up friendships with a number of the locals after frequenting shebeens and "chisa nyamas".

Malas still finds it amusing when he is referred to as "umlungu" by shebeen patrons.

Tour organiser De la Harpe believes this is what "responsible tourism" is all about.

De la Harpe frowned on the idea of shuttling tourists around in buses without them interacting with locals.

Makeko Rasuge, also of Diepkloof, agrees with De la Harpe.

"My guests walked around the township with notepads because they wanted to know what African names meant," she said.

International visitors are charged between R250 and R375 per night's stay at a host's house.

Malas said his experience has been "excellent" so far and he plans to return as a backpacker for a longer period.