When I told family and friends I was moving to South Africa, I received a mixed bag of reactions.
*Gasp* “Why? That’s so far away!”
One high school friend who had lived there said she couldn’t believe I was going and implied I wasn’t cut out for it. In hindsight, I understand her reaction.
People have a picture in their minds what it’s like over there. Serengeti. Giraffes. Tribes in tents. HIV/AIDS. One piece of advice given to me was, “Don’t share anything. You don’t know what people may have.” Wow. First, isn’t that true anywhere? Seems like sound advice in general. Second, don’t you have to share needles to get the sort of thing they’re crudely referring to? Unless they implied I’m a floosy. Which is insulting to me and to anyone who actually has HIV/AIDS because you don’t have to be a floosy to get it. Any way you look at it, somebody is insulted by that comment.
After arriving at the airport, I shared a Zola Budd (taxi; more on those in a future post). The airport one was special,* though. *special = 10 times the price of a real Zola Budd because tourists are dumb
I shared the taxi with another American woman, who raved about living here, and, “Look at the trees on that ridge, that’s such an iconic scene of Africa.” Thanks for the narrative Sir David Attenborough. I swear American tourists are truly the most annoying. Don’t kid yourselves. With your shorts and big socks with sandals and giant camera around your neck while holding a map. All right, so I’m describing my dad on vacation. But it’s true.
I was dropped off at the campus dorm, my temporary 3 week home before I was scheduled to move into my permanent dorm for the school year. The building was a round tower, and when I still think about it today, one adjective comes to mind. Brown. The rooms scattered the perimeter, each fitting 2 people. Bed, sink. I can’t remember if I even had a desk. The bathrooms were in the inner circle. They were…brown.
I arrived, making 2 trips from the curb to carry my bags inside. A woman at the front desk took my name, then asked, “Are you American?”
“You know what? Let me phone.” She dialed and I waited. A few minutes later 2 girls came down. The woman introduced us and the college girls smiled at hearing where I came from. Their white teeth starkly contrasted with their smooth dark complexions. They led me up to my room, and asked me a ton of questions. We talked for a while until I said I needed to go to a bank (I was carrying a good portion of my savings in Travelers’ Cheques). They offered to take me to Rondebosch, the town at the bottom of the hill below campus. I said I just need directions, but they insisted on “coming with.” They grabbed 2 more of their girlfriends, and the 5 of us walked and talked.
The four strangers waited while I opened an account. They were so friendly and genuinely happy to get to know me, and I them (found out they were all from different countries). They showed me a few shops, and then insisted we stop for ice cream. We each got our scoops on cones, everyone a different flavor. It was such a nice welcome. And the ice cream was technically frozen custard, and awesome. Day one was working out.
“Here, try mine.”
Record screech. “Excuse me, what? Try your ice cream?” I couldn’t help it. The advice popped in my head. Don’t share anything! Sirens went off. Red lights swirled on either side of my head. Memories of my dad ‘starting’ my ice cream cone for me when I was five so it wouldn’t drip (but really for his benefit to try all of our flavors) haunted my imagination.
“Come on, try it, it’s really good.”
All four girls were sharing their scoops. Complete disregard for germs. No cootie boundaries.
Somehow through the din of my mental alarms, I saw the gesture for what it was. These young ladies were close friends, and they openly accepted me into their group as if they had known me for years. It was an initiation of friendship (believe me, I’m rolling my eyes at myself for writing that).
I couldn’t NOT try it. So I did.
And I didn’t catch anything, of course. But I did gain my first friends of the trip. For those three weeks, they checked on me nonstop, inviting me to the cafeteria, campus movie, for walks. They didn’t want me to feel lonely or homesick. They made those feelings nearly impossible, and I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through those early days without them.