I’ve come a long way since I was 14, when my interest in South Africa was first piqued by a boy (naturally) that I met in England who had moved from Cape Town. 11 years later and I’ve settled in as a resident of Johannesburg for 4 months, studying about International Affairs in Africa from people who have actually lived it. This blog is pretty much intended to be informational for friends and family who are interested, but I’ll try to keep it fun.
I’m at the end of my first full day here, so I’ll give some details of my last 48 hours. At 11:15 on Monday morning, I boarded a giant plane at JFK for my nonstop flight to Johannesburg. That, my friends, is a 16 hour flight. I had done 11 hours before, but for some reason, that extra 5 hours seemed very daunting. It turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about. I flew South African Airlines, which is a lovely carrier. They provided me with complimentary dinner and wine, as well as on demand entertainment from a personal TV. And yes, I was most certainly flying economy. Flights to Africa don’t come cheap. In order to combat jet lag, halfway through the flight I took a sleeping pill and slept (albeit restlessly) for the next 7 hours. After breakfast and a tooth brushing, I was ready to go when we landed in Jo’burg at 8:30 Tuesday morning. I did not have much time to rest, however.
OR Tambo airport is lovely and the layout is easy to navigate, so although our bags took almost an hour to get off the plane, I was able to easily find an ATM and the driver that the University sent to pick me up. He was also kind enough to wait for me while I got a cell phone from the provider in the airport, so I could be easily contacted locally. The drive to campus was about 20 minutes, so I got a good view of the city as we were riding in. I don’t know how to describe the looks of Johannesburg. When I was flying in, the outskirts looked a little New Mexican; red and brown with small bushes and rolling hills breaking up the terrain. However, once you drive into the city it’s quite different, with American looking suburbs dotted by lots of green including a decent amount of palm trees. And yet there is still an arid, desert feel to it. Johannesburg itself is pretty high altitude, at 5750 feet above sea level, so it’s cool and dry right now being that we’re in the Southern Hemisphere, which means winter. It never gets too cold though; the high has been around 19-21 Celsius (high 60’s-low 70’s, still trying to get used to the conversion) during the day.
I was dropped at my new residence, the International House on campus. I’m incredibly fortunate to have secured a spot here. The residence caters to those coming from abroad, so I have my own room and bathroom, as well as self-catering amenities such as a mini-fridge, microwave and hot plate. Linens are also provided so I didn’t have to burden myself with that. I’m on the top floor as well, and I’ve got about 20 foot vaulted ceilings with giant windows. Not too shabby. My computer does not want to load photos to this site right now, but I’m going to start a Flickr account and I’ll post the link here.
After I dropped off my bags, the international student coordinator, Ismail, met me and took me to get all of my administration stuff done including getting a student ID, registering for classes and paying for accommodations for the semester. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my accommodation is costing about a third what it would in DC or NYC for the semester. Of course I made up for that with the plane ticket and all of the costs incurred when applying for a visa.
Once that was done it was still only about 1:30, and I needed to figure out some way to stay awake until the evening in order to get my schedule aligned. Easiest way to do that? Eat. I didn’t have any food of my own yet, but the student union, “The Matrix,” is next door to my dorm. There are a good variety of take away options there, all delicious but not so healthy. First of all, all eateries tend heavily towards meat, (there is one entitled “Sausage Saloon”) which isn’t a problem for me but can get tiresome, and almost everything is fried. Fried chicken, fried Indian food, fried Chinese food. The food I’ve tried is quite tasty. I had a chicken pita which was smothered in a pink sauce that is vaguely reminiscent of Russian dressing…but not quite. I don’t know what it is, but I get why it’s on everything. Sadly, there were few vegetables in sight, so grocery shopping was going to be in order eventually.
The rest of my day was spent unpacking, setting up the internet, and contacting Husband and Dad. I made it until 8, but couldn’t stay awake anymore and slept for a solid 13 hours. I’m hoping that that was enough to keep my jet lag under control, but I have no doubt that I’ll be sorted by the time classes start next week.
In an effort to battle reader fatigue I’ll leave the details of my first full day in South Africa for the next post.