Yesterday was Heritage Day here in South Africa, also known as National Braai Day. And yes, it's a public holiday where everyone is encouraged to braai (barbecue). That may sound like a silly holiday to you, but consider the following:
When you look at Africa, country borders were historically drawn according to the colonial powers and often separated tribes, or worse - put two warring tribes together. In South Africa alone there are 11 official languages and 8 additional recognised languages. Our differences often separate us and foster suspicion and mistrust.
Heritage Day is a day to celebrate our individual heritage but also to appreciate the heritage of our neighbour. To that effect citizens are encouraged to braai with a neighbour of a different heritage and get to know them. There's nothing like good food to break down barriers and encourage communication and understanding.
We had a braai the day before with some visiting professors from Florida, then had lunch with an Afrikaans friend, coffee with two immigrants from Kenya, and another braai today. I got to practice four languages - Afrikaans, Swahili, Setswana and English (and no, I'm not fluent in any of them!)
South Africa has its challenges, to be sure, but it is so very rich in its culture and people. Someone once said, "A country's greatest resource is its people," and nowhere is that more apparent than in South Africa. Each culture is like a sparkling jewel in the nation's crown.
Time to shine.