South Africa Journal #2: The Long Journey Over

July 14, 2011

Addington Beach, Durban, SOUTH AFRICA

I am finally here. After siz long months of dreaming, contemplating, plotting, giving up then going for it – I have set foot on South African ground. I now am a temporary resident of a hotel room with a balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean. Everything is starting to hit me – the reality of being here, the jetlag, cultural immersion, and the weather. Mind you, it’s winter here but it actually feels like Fall in Canada – warm, toasty sun in the day and a perfect cool factor in the evenings.

I spent 18 hours on a plane from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg without ever setting out for some fresh air, so you can imagine the effects of jetlag – not only the time difference – but being cooped up in an Airbus 380 jet with 200 people. I didn’t mind my row company – I was sandwiched between two fine-looking men, a white South African rugby player who was going back home with his equally fine-looking team from a game in the United States; and a sweet-mannered Senegali with gorgeous black skin who constantly smiled his pearly whites. He hopped on the plane in Dakar, Senegal during our 1 hour refueling stop, and took over the seat from a Senegali woman who visited the States.

The food was terrible. I am Gluten-free, so they served me the exact same dinner and lunch, and a bland breakfast – the other passengers didn’t seem to enjoy their meals as well. The seats were rock-hard, it didn’t make the 18 hour flight any comfortable. But I popped some natural relaxants and slept 10 hours, which surely helped the time pass.

I set foot in Johannesburg, South Africa in the afternoon of July 13, and was greeted by an assistant with an overt bubbly personality – I couldn’t help but smile every time she did. The painted murals of Africans and the nation’s colors covered every inch of the airport walls. I was truly here. Commercials for Durban 2011 Olympics were all over as well, which puzzled me. I wasn’t aware there would be any Olympics here this year?

I saw something particularly interesting. An act of apartheid. I probably would raise a few eyebrows, or saying it out loud. At the airport, all the blue-collar workers, including assistants, cleaning personnel, air controllers, cart=pushers, and so on, were black. In suits, walking around, barking orders, seemingly self-important, were white people assuming the roles of managers, upper-ups, Presidents, and basically, the show-runners. The movie Invictus came to mind – if the South Africans fought apartheid and seemingly won the war, then why was it still practiced? To reinforce my observations, once I landed in Durban, my black assistant – guide took me to the Bank inside the airport to exchange my money. White people were working at the bank, the manager was white, while the small currency exchange office next door had a black cashier. The phone store in which I bought my phone card, had a black sales rep, and her manager was white.  The hotel where I’m currently at – all the workers are black, but the night manager was white. And this morning, when I asked for an extension on my room, the manager – half black and half white, took over. I cannot take the image of Nelson Mandela and apartheid out of my mind as I go on a journey throughout this whole experience in South Africa, but of course, it’s not going to manifest my entire thought process. I just found it rather fascinating and a little depressing. Surely, black people here should be granted the same opportunities as white people.

Apartheid aside, I’m still reeling from my jetlag-hangover, so I’ll go grab a quick nap before heading out to the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters Conference opening ceremony and surely I’ll see a few familiar faces, namely a few interpreters from Nigeria!

Ubuntu is a word South Africans use to describe TEAMWORK. I like that. So instead of Tactile Love, or Namaste, I will use Ubuntu to end my journals.

With love and Ubuntu,

Coco

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