Halfway there

I’m in a hotel in Johannesburg and my body isn’t sure what time it is. It’s 6:30 AM here on Thursday morning, which means it’s 11:30 PM in Iowa, but I’ve just slept for eight-or-so hours.
The journey so far has been relatively uneventful, if you call 10,000 miles and 20 hours in airplanes uneventful.

I left for the Kansas City airport at 6 AM Monday morning. I thought this was rather early to leave for my 10:45 flight, but it turned out that it was a good idea because check in at the airport took me over an hour. Some computer system that Delta uses to check the validity of long-term travel plans (or something) was down, which meant I couldn’t check in, which meant I spent quite a while agonizing about poor beginnings in the waiting area in Terminal B, right outside the men’s bathroom. Eventually a Delta employee found some code that allowed her to bypass the system (or something – none of this was very clear to me) and checked me in. Though my travel agent had indicated that I would have to collect my bags in Johannesburg, they were checked through to Lilongwe, so I am hoping they arrive there in one piece. (More updates on that to follow, particularly if my baggage was pilfered in transit.)

After a teary parental goodbye in Kansas City’s security line, an older gentlemen behind me who tried to calm me down by showing me all of HIS passport stamps, which made me simultaneously feel a little better and three. I cleared security as the plane was boarding and read most of the way to Atlanta. I had a couple hours between planes in Atlanta, which gave me plenty of time to wonder if this was actually a good idea and snuffle my way through a few last phone calls. The plane was late because of a mechanical problem – exactly what you want to hear when you’re about to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

We boarded eventually, and I got acquainted with my seatmate and the very small space I would be occupying for the next 20 hours. Despite first appearances (he was dressed in a combo of West West and Safari Hunter), my seatmate turned out to be delightful. He was the sort of larger than life character that makes for good stories, and he was quite a talker. Fortunately, all this required on my part was attentive listening and the occasional comment. Over the course of the flight, I heard all about (in no particular order): his childhood, his time in Vietnam and the shrapnel in his knee, his cabin in Wyoming, all the drugs he has done, his two marriages (both failed), fishing and hunting in Alaska, his drinking habits, his plans for this South African hunt, his political leanings (though I tried valiantly to avoid this) and his opinions on community organizers, his book collection (30,000 and counting), his lady friends, his truck, river running in Colorado, his guns, and his puppy. In a twist of fate that would have delighted my professor who taught the class about the West, my seatmate was a rough and tumble frontiersman – who made his fortune in an office building in Denver as a regional director for the USPS and retired at 55. Though his chatter may have annoyed me in another situation, I was really grateful for the entertainment. True to the frontiersman myth, he was the consummate gentleman to me, called me dear and darling, invited me to stop by his place if I’m ever in eastern Wyoming, and generally rescued this damsel in distress.

After take-off, the plane ride was marked only by mediocre food and our landing in Dakar. We were flying too high to be able to see anything by clouds (when it was light), and landed in Dakar in the dark. We weren’t allowed to deplane in Dakar, but Senagalese security came on board, matched carry-ons to passengers, and, in a time-consuming but sort of pointless exercise, checked under all the seat cushions (for contraband, I suppose). After Dakar, all the packaging on the food was in French, but that didn’t make the reconstituted eggs taste any better. This was the first time I had ever been fed on a plane, though, so I suppose I should be grateful for what I could get. I slept a little on the plane – for a few solid hours between Atlanta and Dakar, and then some dozing between Dakar and Johannesburg.

We landed in Johannesburg about 4:30 PM local time. By the time I went through immigration, double checked with the Delta baggage people to make sure my luggage really was checked through to Lilongwe, found my hotel shuttle, and checked in, it was 6:30 or so, and getting dark. After getting to my hotel room (which looks like pretty much any other hotel room in the industrialized world, except it has no clock,) I caught up on the financial crisis (which dominated the South Africa TV news that I saw), checked email, talked to my mom online, and went to bed.

Today, I fly from Joburg to Lilongwe – only about 2.5 hours of flying time, though international passengers are supposed to be 3 hours early to the airport. I am supposed to be met at the airport by someone from the Embassy, who will take me to the guest house where I’ll spend the night. Tomorrow morning I have some meetings with Embassy officials and then will be driven to Bunda College of Agriculture, my temporary home. Fortunately, my contact at Bunda did finally get back to me, so it appears I may have a place to sleep beyond tonight.

Thanks to everyone who has commented, emailed, and sent good thoughts/prayers/vibes my way. So far, so good, but the adventure has just begun!

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One Response to “Halfway there”

  1. Kaitlin Says:

    Seriously your seat mate sounds awesome (though I, too, would’ve been annoyed with him in probably 50% of normal situations).

    I’m glad he made your flight more enjoyable (and hopefully made it go faster, too).

    🙂

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