I arrived in South Africa with a “to do list”. Go for morning runs in the savanna, hike Table Mountain, brush shoulders with wildlife, and absorb the culture, to name a few. My first lesson in culture came in an unexpected way and has left me yearning to experience more. If you’ve ever spent time with South Africans you’ve been introduced to the concept of a “Sundowner”. If not, now you’re curious.
Sundowners usually take place after a long day of work. Being tired, sweaty, and hungry are practically requirements. Over the past few weeks, my days have been comprised of fieldwork in one hundred degree heat, calculating statistics in an outdoor classroom, and spending quality time with a totally groovy group of people. Our current research is centered on an invasive snail species, called T. granifera, and its impact on various ecosystems. It isn’t the most riveting work, but my team made it enjoyable and I’ve learned a great deal. Entertaining each other with bad jokes and snail puns turned into great bonding experiences. After hours of collecting samples under the African sun and crunching math problems, while swatting away bugs the size of compact cars, the time would come for a change of pace. Coolers packed, our entire team, professors included, boarded the GDVs. Destination, sundowner. The top of an old fire tower with expansive views of the Savanna, a precipice that rises up above land inhabited by lions and elephants or the banks of an old dam. These locations all fit the bill. Requirements include just enough space to gather and a good view of the sky. Can you guess where this is going?
The whole point of a sundowner is to watch the sun disappear over the horizon with friends close by and a chilled beverage even closer. The drink of choice, not surprisingly, is called Savanna. It’s a light amber color and, at one point in the suns descent, that cider matches the pigments that radiate across the changing sky. Going to sundowners is an old tradition here. It’s an aspect of culture that highlights the importance of friends and nature, two of our greatest gifts. Unfortunately, they’re also two things that are often taken for granted. Think about that. When was the last time you stopped to appreciate the beauty of nature or called up an old friend just to catch up? I had hoped that experiencing culture would be enjoyable and maybe I’d learn about local customs or, dare I say it, learn a native dance (correction: try to learn a native dance). Instead, this little bit of culture has helped me to realize the importance of putting a few minutes aside to take in your surroundings. Enjoy what is around you with the most important people in your life. Experiences, like the sundowners here in South Africa, make days longer, richer, and fuller.