Monday, January 18, 2010

in the johannesburg airport

It is about 2:30 AM South African time, and I have been sitting in the Johannesburg Airport for the past eight hours... and I still have four more hours until my final flight to Cape Town. The airport is pretty empty now, which was scary to me at first, but now seems peaceful. A nice woman sat down next to me, so I don't feel so alone anymore... we watch each others' bags if either of us needs to go to the bathroom, and don't say much else to each other. Just the kind of friend I was looking for right now! I can't wait to be done traveling and get to Cape Town! Mostly, I can't wait to get a full night's sleep.

My flights from Washington D.C. to Senegal and from Senegal to Johannesburg were actually one long flight that just landed for an hour in Dakar, Senegal to drop off some passengers, and pick up some more. Those of us going all the way were not allowed to leave the plane. It was about 16 hours total. Luckily, I was provided with three pretty decent meals, and there were TV screens on the backs of all the seats. I sat in between an elderly, white South African couple and a middle-aged Chinese-American man. The couple was very nice, and had been visiting their children who live in Cincinnati and Toronto. The Chinese-American man went to the University of Florida and was a big Gators fan, so we talked football for a while.

Once I got off the flight here in Johannesburg, I was immediately overwhelmed. A porter helped me get my luggage to the lock-up area, which was actually really helpful and I tipped him. But as I was walking around, people kept approaching me offering to help me get to a taxi, or directions somewhere, or a hotel or hostel, or anything... I just wanted to walk around in peace, and I was afraid that anyone I talked to would expect a tip. Maybe it was just the American in me, but I wanted everyone to just leave me alone to my own business! I got kind of overwhelmed, but I finally found a place to sit down quietly without being disturbed and read. So, over the past 8 or so hours, I have read, taken a couple short naps, eaten, walked around, people-watched, and now paid for some Wi-Fi. Using the Internet is a nice breath of familiarity!

I've been reading more of Kaffir Boy, and have gotten well into the section about Mathabane's education in Alexandria. The government established an education system for the black Africans that taught them only in their tribal languages, and refused to teach them English. They claimed this was so they could learn to live well in their tribal communities and that the black African's brain was too small to learn English... I wonder if anyone ever actually believed that kind of stuff, or if they just said to it justify their actions? Either way, this form of education prevented the black Africans in the townships from any potential for a better life and decent job. It is pretty sad, too, that learning English, the tongue of their oppressors, was the only way these Africans had a shot at getting out of the tyranny of the townships.

I know I didn't say much interesting in this post, but it sure did help pass some time in the airport!

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