How is it possible for a 16-hour flight to be more comfortable and less boring than a 5-hour flight to Vegas? My mother and I chalked it up to the days of mental preparation we’d put ourselves through for the non-stop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa’s international airport.
As my family and I got comfortable in our seats, I struck up a conversation with a lovely Afrikaan family from Durbin, SA who told us about their trip with their grandchildren to Disney World. They asked us about our trip and gave us tips and pointers about traveling in Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls. We talked with people who were natives of the US East Coast who had simply packed up everything and moved the whole family to suburbs around Johannesburg. The diversity and pleasant lifestyle were reasons they gave for the move. I couldn’t help but wonder about the possibilities of relocating my family here. What would schools be like? Would there be opportunities for Maurice and me in our chosen industries? What about the post-apartheid relations among the various South African races? I can’t wait to explore and find out more.
3 good meals, 2 deep sleeps, 4 movies and 16 hours later, we were coming into view of the southern tip of Africa. As we began our decent over the edges of the continent, the sun was beginning to go down, even though it was only 11:00am back home in Atlanta. Vibrant golds, fuchsias, oranges and pinks fused together over the outlines of mountains, ocean and grassy flat lands. I don’t know what I expected the city to look like as we descended closer to the airport in Johannesburg, but looking at the city below looked just like flying over central Florida – homes evenly spaced on flat land with tiled roofs and blue pools enclosed in back yards. Busy highways showed traffic slowly crawling through rush hour traffic. A van had flipped over and smoke was swirling into the sky as cars piled up behind it and snaked into the single lane left open.
Tears came to my eyes as we landed on the runway in Johannesburg. I don’t really know why – I can’t explain the feeling that came over me, but it was definitely palpable.
In the Johannesburg airport, a lively group from Germany drunkenly hugged each other’s necks as they sang the German Futbol fight song. South African porters and airport staff joined in. It was one big party of different languages and ethnicities united by the sport of futbol.
We’re currently on a South African Airways flight to Port Elizabeth along with several people from Uruguay, some Americans that now live here, and native Afrikaans and Africans. I’ve used more Spanish here already than I've used in the past 3 years.
I couldn’t help but have a flashback to pre-9/11. It was a breeze getting through security (I got to keep all my clothes on!). And they still serve full meals on all of the flights – whether your flight is 16 hours or 1.6 hours. And the food was actually good (or maybe I was just hungry?). In fact, my mother and I enjoyed delicious complimentary South African wine during our short cross-country flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth.
I can’t wait to experience life outside the airport and on the ground. Stay tuned for my updates and some photos...