Living in South Africa: The (1st) Flight

So begins a (weekly, monthly?) blog entry on my journey living in South Africa. When reading the title, feel free to hum the words to the tune, “Living in America,” from Rocky IV.

You may be asking, “Why South Africa?” Perhaps I wanted to literally live as far away as possible from home before swinging back around the planet. Good guess. And there may be some truth to it, but no. I wanted to study great white sharks. Unfortunately, the U.S. government didn’t. There is little to no grant money for that. Thank you treadmill shrimp. Google it. It’s a thing.

I set my Masters sights on the other places great whites were known to frequent, mainly South Africa and Australia. I applied to South Africa first, got in with a scholarship, and packed my bags. Several months later, of course. And when I say pack, I mean, compress everything I owned into two duffel bags and two suit cases. I’d be studying after all, so I definitely needed my undergraduate textbooks. And all four seasons of clothes. Let’s be honest. I packed my whole wardrobe.

After paying the fees for two extra bags on top of the fees for overweight bags, I made my way from Pittsburgh to Atlanta. I had to wait a few hours for my international flight to Cape Town with a layover in Johannesburg. If you’ve never been to the international terminal in Atlanta, you’re missing out on various scents and sounds, a language stew of sorts.

I believe my ticket stated my gate was “the overcrowded nook in terminal E”. It’s amazing how many people can be organized into one airplane, yet those same people need an entire county of room at the gate. Every seat was taken. Families were sprawled out on the floor. In one corner a woman was giving birth. In another, a man set up a camping stove and cooked beans while his children foraged for kindling. It was that insane. The best part is thinking how you’ll be confined in an airplane for 18 hours.

Let me say it again. 18 hours.  A lot can be done in 18 hours. Like muscle atrophy. Testing the limits of your bladder control. Seeing how many excessively edited-for-content movies you can watch before your eyes water too much to focus on the tiny TV screen. Admiring just how much larger the diameter of your ankles can get.

The definite highlight is the food service. I do love me some highly compartmentalized meal trays. Cheeses, crackers, bread with butter or jam options. But then panic strikes. Two options are announced–chicken parmesan, or poop. You can fill in your worst culinary nightmare for poop. But it’s always that. Something good, and poop. The flight attendant rolls the service cart down the aisle, and you think, “Please, please, stop by me. Let me be served early enough.” And he stops right by you. “Yes, victory!” you think. Until he says, “Sorry, could you move your foot?” and rolls on to the row behind you. His half starts behind you, and the other cart starts at the front, leaving you to be…last. Stuck with poop. Honestly, how do they decide how many of each to stock? Either they don’t know what they’re doing, or they are geniuses, able to pick just enough of the good stuff to run out right before my row.

We landed in Joburg (living in RSA for 15 months grants me the rights to call it that), and all passengers continuing on to Cape Town were instructed to remain on the plane. The other passengers exited, leaving one passenger. ONE. PASSENGER. ME. The flight attendants actually laughed at me and asked why I chose this flight over a direct one to Cape Town. Mental note. Direct flight.

And as I collected my baggage in Cape Town, another mental note was made. Cheap duffel bags should not be used for an international flight. Nor should they carry heavy books with clothes squished over them. The handles ripped off is what I’m trying to say. Tore open both bags. The handles flopped on shreds of fabric.

But there I was, red-eyed, oily-faced, ready to start my adventure. And what an adventure it was.


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