Almost a month ago now, I was blessed to spend time in another part of the continent by visiting some more treasures of this earth in South Africa. I had been invited as part of a birthday celebration and for the opportunity to get to know some wonderful people in person, rather than simply through the form of cyber-space.
Admittedly, the journey began with trepidation on my part, as I had been very ill for the time leading up to it. The flights however were already booked, my health was gradually improving and not only that, when feeling a bit forlorn, what better way to feel significantly better than to go on a holiday and be around loved ones.
As is my apparent standard way of flights, it was dramatically cheaper if I didn’t mind the irrational long-haul of first flying north to Ethiopia then flying back down past Uganda and onto Johannesburg. A direct flight was approx 4 hours, and double the price; this route was through the night and into the afternoon of the next day! The same for the return too. However, I have never yet been happy to waste money when I feel I can make better use of it at the destination than getting to the somewhere quickly. All steps are the journey and the destination to me, and I find different airports intriguing. Of course, the discomfort of sleeping on floors or having to force your eyelids open for 24 hours because of different schedules and needs to be alert for safety and making flight connections, etc – for sure, these are not things that I look forward to necessarily!
Arriving at Entebbe airport, I began my personal tradition of a drink before I board the plane. I don’t recall when I began this, but it is a little thing that I enjoy, that makes me feel like I am marking the occasion somehow. After having eaten very little over the previous week or two, it was a bit of a sad-looking affair but there wasn’t a whole lot of choice!
The first flight was fine, aside from quite a dodgy landing in Ethiopia. And as I walked into the airport, I thought I was dreaming. There before my eyes were beds, ready and waiting for weary passengers, and without charge! This is indeed a rarity in my experience of airports thus far, and I felt a tear of relief come to my eye. I was exhausted. (Although I wasn’t as lucky as the woman next to me, who had a sleeping bag and pillow). I was delighted that I could get some shut-eye for a few hour before my next flight (4am-7am). Turns out the lady had those items because she worked at the kiosk beside us both, and she had turned up to work in the middle of the night, slept, and then began her shift. I never did find out if she actually has a home or not, or why this situation was this way for her. I know in Uganda that many of my colleagues and friends must leave home at 5am if they are to arrive at work at 8am, despite the journey only being 5-10km long, due to traffic.
The airport was standard, and gave me a smile behind my eyes when I noticed the caged window boothes of the smokers – this never ceases to amuse me, to me it just looks utterly bizarre.
When we left Ethiopia, I felt odd indeed, to fly back over Uganda on the journey south. Soon after, my inner wanderer leapt for joy when the pilot announced we were above Kilimanjaro. (Although I then felt a little deflated when I learnt that I was on the wrong side of the plane to see it!) Ah well, perhaps one day I will climb it anyhow, therefore this can simply count as the first step towards reaching the peak of that mountain. We all have to start somewhere, even in each day that we wake.(Some days admittedly feel more like mountains than others, which are mere anthills!). The views from the plane window as we ventured lower down the country thrilled me regardless, and I was fascinated to see different colours, dried out rivers, full rivers, and meticulously carved-out circular areas of the land. My mind was awash with fantasy stories based on what my eyes could see … probably also enhanced by having just watched the most recent Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland film – gosh I adored it. Lots of fabulous puns about time, space and reality; “I used to think time was a thief. But you give before you take.” (I especially loved this one, and recalled my earlier blog all about time as the film went on).
Landing in Johannesburg was strange for me, as I had thought previously that I would be there for other reasons/with other people. But life happens, as it does, to continually remind me that ideas and dreams move with the wind, and this journey was a solo one in its first steps, then filled to the brim with loving memories of a family very special to my heart. I made friends with people in the visa queues (I seem to make friends with someone in almost every movement in Africa and I love it – always another story to soak up! This time, I learnt of a tiny country that is within a country; Lesotho is within South Africa. I have never heard of such a concept before; fascinating).
I followed my written instructions to reach the rather fancy Gautrain (which I will need more practice in pronouncing so I am told – nothing new there apparently, though I will explain this later) and headed off towards Sandton. This was the start of the very huge contrasts I witnessed between Uganda and South Africa. I expected them, but still I felt like a rabbit in headlights as soon as I walked through OR Tambo airport and onto the platform. Most definitely third-world to first-world. What a huge difference, and for me, a big culture shock. (Interesting really, referring back to my dear friend time once more – not so long ago, I was in the thick of the reverse culture confusion: “Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
― Lewis Carroll, )
The beautiful family home where I was staying is far from the main hub of Joh’burg, though honestly I struggled to get my bearings the whole time I was there anyhow. There were huge shopping malls/industrial areas, wide roads flowing wih busy traffic (very different to the daily standstill I observe in Kampala), expansive schools that looked to me like they were out of a movie, and a very very diverse mix of city and country scape.
The three and a half days that I was there went by in a flash and when asked where I wanted to go or what I wanted to see, I again heard words from Alice – “Where should I go?” -Alice. “That depends on where you want to end up.” – The Cheshire Cat.”
― Lewis Carroll,
I didn’t have any destination in mind, I simply wanted to soak up the fabulous company, and to absorb all experiences that this time brought for me. Thus there was a mixture of practicalites (including buying a tent in preparation for a festival back in Uganda), family times, (so nourishing and wonderful to be in the melee of this), some exploration, and some relaxation. As well as some continued illness unfortunately, though I was in a beautifully-held space for this, and it turned out I wasn’t the only one who benefitted from taking it a little slower than originally anticipated. So all in all I can happily say it was a joyful trip.
I went to look for Black Eagles at the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens, (spot their huge nests to the left of the cascading water), and enjoyed a little offroad in-amongst-the-trees scramble with one of the delightful boys that I was blessed to be in the company of. A picnic in the sun and a play on the garden’s open-air gym, all combined to make a beautiful day.
Another experience that brought me much amusement as well as wonder, was time “spent” at the Cradle of Mankind, Maropeng (meaning the return to the source). Here you can learn all about creation and view the oldest human skull apparently ever to be discovered – that of Mrs Ples.
It is an interesting centre and raised intriguing questions about human impact on earth, as well as widely-held beliefs about evolution and creation. Some of the statements made led to jokes amongst my group, such as – “We are all one people because we all come from one people“. Now that in itself is an impossibility, simply by manufacture of the language used, the singular and the plural. More than however, it takes two to tango …
Another was of course the statement that we all derive from parasites – nice reminder – and also my besmusement at apparently not fitting the options of skin colour on offer to categorise me within.
Talks of how united we are as a people are somewhat hot on debate at present, especially in light of the position of the Dakota pipeline and the tribes at Standing Rock, and of course the American presidential election of Donald Trump. Regardless, the fact remains that the earth is the planet on which we all exist, united in our difference as much as our similiarity; may the images from Maropeng bring this back to our thoughts and heart.
The rest of the time at the Cradle of Mankind gave me the chance to step into the footsteps of Desmond Tutu, read some unsettling statistics about education across the world, reflect upon the impact that the human footprint is creating on the divine mother, and ponder a pretty pertinent self-reflection …
After being amongst what felt like masses of concrete jungles, it was glorious to sit with a glass of cool South African white wine after the journey through Maropeng, not only to the see the flora and fauna (and a sign that got me excited yet sadly for me did not come to fruition), but to lap up the salty tastes of fresh biltong and nuts. Yum.
A final adventure of Johannesburg for this time around, was a sumptious morning of soaking up the artisan area of Maboneng, an area thar reminded me greatly of my most recent UK home, Brighton and Hove. There was creative street/graffiti art, a two-tiered bicycle, cafes and offices made from railway carriages, tessalated domes, metal containers and warehouses, and a food hall filled to the brim with a plethora of so many different world-food types I quite simply couldn’t decide what to have and panicked! Sadly my wallet and my rucksack couldn’t fit the piece of wall art that I fell in love with, but it gave me the chance to make even more new friends and agree to meet with the artists next time I’m in town!
(Can you guess which painting I wanted?)
Many messages seemed to pop up around me with all the arts that I saw, especially after the mental stimulation of the Maropeng experience.Time once again popped up, as did sensuality through the sculptures I saw, a reminder to get well, and to enjoy life and just say yes (yebo)! Before you die, what do you want…
The short-hop in South Africa was truly a dip in the biggest of oceans, but it was a wonderful melee of experiences, mixed in with laughter, love, colour, calm and intrigue.I was able to spend my own quiet time sitting under a well-trusted oak tree, enjoy reading childrens’ books over and over again with my newfound friends, and even lap up the company of beautiful cats who snuck their way under my covers at night.Thank you Johannesburg, you have made another home in my heart and I look forward to our reunion.Until then…
Oh, and of course, thank you for the parting laugh that you gave me – it has taken me almost a year to be able to pronounce “shongololo” correctly (meaning an insect akin to a millipede), and so what do I see as I take my departing steps through the airport, nothing other than this signposted above me!