Well, I'm currently in South Africa, aka my home for the longest portion of this trip. Assuming a straight-up 365-day journey, I'll be in this country for 20% of the entire trip, despite being only 5% of the total number of countries currently on my itinerary. So get used to me using the "South Africa" tag on this blog (that is, if you noticed I used tags here at all). By the by, you might have noticed that I've skipped a number on this entry. That brings me to a:
Kilimanjaro Entry Update: So, I'll delve into this shortly, but Internet in SA is frickin' expensive. In order to properly upload my video (and, with the little amount I had left, maybe some of my truant photos), I would have had to purchase a data plan totaling $175. And I wouldn't cover it. Sorry, but I don't love you all that much. Luckily, I can purchase an unlimited plan in Askari, so I'm crossing my fingers that this will fit the bill. In any case, I'll make sure it gets to you one way or another.
In the meantime, I'll briefly go over some of the things that have happened since I got back from the climb. Not much happened on the actual day after we got back. Unfortunately, of our group of 11, only four of us met up for breakfast that morning. Five folks had gone onto a safari trip, and two others were off to the beaches of Zanzibar. Of those remaining, I was staying the longest. Two of them, Lauren and Clay, were leaving that evening, and the other, Steve, was leaving the next day. So, I decided to take them into Arusha-town proper, and show them around. (They had pretty much been shuttled directly from the airport to the lodge, which was a bit north of the main town). And so, I put on my "I've-been-here-awhile" hat, and after getting a taxi ride back to the Arusha Budget Hotel (the driver raised his price from 9,000Tsh to 10,000 "because it was a cold day"), I gave them a grand tour. I had to resist the urge to put grand in quotation marks, as it was really anything but. Arusha, to be honest, is not the most...culturally interesting town, to put it lightly. "Utilitarian" is a more appropriate term, I think. The time was mostly spent trying to find an ATM, with me pointing out a few things here and there, and acting as a wall between potential touts and my companions. (And lemme tell ya, while I could get away with walking alone un-hassled, it was almost impossible to avoid when walking as a group of four mzungu's.) What seemed most impressive (at least, I'm guessing), was the fact that I was walking so smoothly between traffic, especially considering I was wearing flip-flops (my sneakers were wet from having the mud washed off), and that, somehow, I always managed to find my way back to my hotel, like a homing pigeon.
But despite this, I found myself unable to home in on a functioning ATM for Clay, so eventually we found my favorite taxi driver, Dickson (don't worry, this will all make more sense when the last post is retroactively added). We had him take us to an ATM, and then we were feeling ready for lunch. My entire time in Arusha, I had heard about an Indian place called Big Bite, which was apparently one of the best restaurants in the city (both on Trip Advisor, and according to some other travelers I had spoken with). However, when driving past, we saw that it was closed on Tuesdays. Odd luck. So, we asked Dickson to take us to a place he would go for lunch. So, he drove us a bit, past a cemetery (which I was really hoping to return to in order to photograph, but never had a chance) and to what looked like an outdoor food court. I then paid him (he did, in fact, remember that I owed him from nearly two weeks earlier) and we sat down at one of the places to eat.
I'm going to start a new paragraph for that lunch, because it was a very surreal experience. Aside from one Chinese guy across the courtyard from us, we were the only non-locals there. And it was clear they didn't normally cater to tourists, because the menus were 100% in Swahili. As such, our method of choosing food was haphazard at best. I wanted some chicken, so I looked at all the dishes with "kuku" in the name (yes, pronounced like "cuckoo"). I ended up going with "Kuku Kabage" because...cabbage, maybe? I like cabbage, so it's worth a shot. Lauren got a different kuku dish, and Steve went with an even better method, choosing the dish that was halfway between our choices. Clay sidestepped the problem altogether by getting an ugali dish, which ended up containing fish somehow. When serving the food, the waiters didn't know who to give what to, and frankly, neither did we. And then the music. Oh, the music really made this place. When we first arrived, they were playing Phil Collins. In the middle of Tanzania, Phil Collins! Then, as we were sitting, it went into some Boyz2Men, followed by a series of, I dunno, honkey tonk country music, followed by Dolly Parton, followed by Eminem, and on and on. If there was ever an instance of the word "random" being used in its fully original form, it's here.
After lunch, and some additional travel through Arusha (including the main Maasai market), we got back to the hotel, and Dickson eventually came to take the other three folks back to the lodge for their own trips. They were all wonderful people, so I wish them the best. In any case, I went back into my room, and began unpacking. As my Vodacom USB modem was out of its one-month subscription, I decided to check to see if I could get hold of the Wi-Fi signal at the hotel. On my phone, yes. On my laptop, no dice. At that point, I decided it was time to take the plunge.
I've mentioned a few times now how my Internet has been acting all wonky, so I looked at options on how I could clean up my laptop in order to improve things. There were three options - Restore, Refresh, and Reset. The restore option was the most non-invasive of the three, as it just revolved around putting the PC back in the state it was in at a point in time. Unfortunately, the most recent restore point was five days after my troubles had started. Refreshing and Resetting were quite similar to each other - both involved removing installed programs and putting the computer, application-wise, back to its original state. However, refreshing would keep your files, while resetting would delete everything. I think it's clear what the better option was here. Still, I didn't want to take any chances, so I literally copied nearly every file on my laptop in preparation. (Thankfully, I had anticipated this turn of events earlier, so I'd already begun filling flash drives - it would have been a much longer night otherwise.) The next day, as I went to a cafe, had a light lunch, and began the refreshing process. It was simultaneously more and less hassle than I was expecting. Less because I was concerned that a full reset (reinstall) would really be the only way to solve my problem, which would mean the copying and pasting of many files to get me back to square one; and this never happened. Alternatively, it was more because, like it said, it deleted all programs not installed through the Windows 8 App store. This equated to most of the things I use. So, I had to - and still have to - reinstall said programs. However, I am quite thankful for three things:
1. They give you a list of all the programs removed; very useful.
2. For about a quarter of the programs I used regularly - namely, the big ones - I had the foresight to save the installer files on my laptop. This has proven to be the smartest thing I could have done, and so now I am going to keep a copy of every such installer file for any program I have serious intention of using.
3. Google Chrome's Auto-Sync feature is a godsend. When I first reinstalled Chrome, I had lost everything: bookmarks, extensions, etc. But within half an hour, you could hardly tell anything had gone wrong.
And when I got back to the hotel and tried the Wi-Fi, it worked. It wasn't fast, but it worked. So all the hassle was worthwhile. It also seemed to fix another issue my laptop had where it literally could not turn on without giving me a BSOD (after which it would start fine). So, two birds with one stone! Computers...amirite?
The majority of that day was devoted to cleaning up my computer, but I couldn't neglect cleaning up myself. I had already shaved off my mountain/travel/adventure/what-have-you beard, and wanted a haircut. It was hard to believe it had been almost three months since I had one. I had seen barbers and salons all over East Africa. I think I mentioned before that I was considering a second blog devoted to pictures of the off-looking paintings of heads they all seem to have on them. So I knew there were some around. I went to the daytime receptionist at the hotel, and asked if she knew of a good barber in the area. I then spent, no joke, four minutes trying to explain what a barber was, complete with me simulating cutting my hair. I don't begrudge someone for not having a strong grasp of English (though I do think it's beneficial if you're a receptionist at a hotel catering to tourists), but this gal seemed to be a total cuckooclocklander. Even after I showed her the cutting motions a third time and she finally understood, the best she could say was, "There's some." With that advice, I went out, and went to the first salon I could fine, which was literally on the same block. I went in, asked for a cut, and was promptly told that the place was for women only, and I should leave. I asked where to go, and they pointed me to a barbershop across the street...immediately next to the hotel. It was clear why I had missed it all this time, though - it looked nothing like an East African barber shop. There was no painted face, just a glass door with an electronic marquee. It seemed like, oddly enough, one of the most top-of-the-line facilities in all of Arusha. So, I go in, and immediately get stared at by employees, patrons, everyone. Or maybe they were just staring at my poofball hair. One of the barbers asked me to take a seat, and asked what kind of style I wanted. For lack of a better term, I just said "Short," and realizing that this was a terrible description, showed him my driver's license. He then got to work. While I was a little indignant at being the topic of the shop's conversation (I couldn't understand much, but the "mzungu" parts were always clear), I couldn't fault the guy on his work. He spent the better part of a half hour going over my head again and again, making sure it was just right. Seeing other patrons getting in and out of their chairs in five minutes made me genuinely wonder if mzungu hair like mine is considered a tedious hassle or an exciting challenge for folks like my barber. When it was done, he offered a shave, but I declined, as I don't trust anyone around my chin other than myself, and after a good shampoo and rinse, I felt like a new man. One with a lot less hair. Price wasn't bad either - likely more than I'd pay at one of the smaller barbers, but well less than you'd pay for the same thing in the US. And you just spent a long paragraph reading about me getting a haircut. This is rock bottom for both of us.
The remainder of my time in Arusha was spent in the preparation to leave Arusha. For the first time in a while, I had to pack everything efficiently again. My dirty clothes not being neatly rolled up definitely bulked things out a bit, but somehow I got everything in my backpack. The next day, right before leaving for the airport, I finally got to eat at that Big Bite place, and I can agree with everyone else - it's really good. Probably the best Indian food I've had since I was in Berkeley. I then got picked up by Dickson, and we made our way to the airport. Along the one-hour drive, I learned a couple things. First, I had wondered my entire time in East Africa why drivers would only fill up their car to just above empty. Reason: it's apparently to lessen the impact of carjacking. Yeesh. I also got another interrogation about getting married. Apparently, if I were Tanzanian, my parents would have been hounding me for grandchildren at this point. Again, yeesh. Getting through the airport was a pretty painless procedure, as it was small and had surprisingly good Internet access (though it would throttle the hell out of you if you tried to download something). I did have a brief encounter with a Tanzanite sales clerk when I was appreciating some of the stones. ("They're less expensive than you'd imagine." "I'm poorer than you'd imagine.") I also was slightly chided by an old woman at the security check, when she took my bag containing my sun screen (and scissors). I tried to explain to her that there's no consistency between airports, so I figured I'd give them a shot. She told me I should put them in my checked luggage, and didn't seem to understand the concept that I'd rather just lose the items than check my luggage. It was only after I flat out said, "Look, I'm not angry, just take them," that she finally let me pass. While waiting for the plane to arrive, I was called to the desk and was given a hotel voucher. Remember how I had to wait in Addis Ababa for 12 hours because of Ethiopian Airline's flight time change? Well, I was getting a free hotel, with dinner and breakfast, out of the deal. The prospects were definitely looking bright for this flight.
Or so I thought...
To be fair, the flight to Addis Ababa was fine, albeit delayed by an hour. I was able to read, had a nice in-flight meal, and was generally comfortable. Then we got to the airport. All I wanted to do was get to my hotel ASAP, so I could maximize my sleep time before my 5am wake-up. Unfortunately, my hotel voucher didn't mention any names, so I had to ask everyone I met where to go. Eventually, they directed me to a line for hotel transfers. I waited in that line for about half an hour before reaching somebody, who looked at my slip, wrote down a hotel name, and then asked me if I had my boarding pass for the next day. I did not (which I found strange that I wasn't given one in Kilimanjaro). So, she told me to stand in line to pick up a new pass. I stood in front of a window for no less than ten minutes before realizing that the person behind the window wasn't helping anyone (and I wouldn't have known if I didn't flat-out ask her). So I had to get in another line, a fairly lengthy one. Now, I don't mind lengthy lines, so long as they move along. This one didn't. I literally moved about three feet in one hour, and if it continued at that rate, it would be another two-to-three hours before I made it to the window. Also, I was surrounded by people on all sides, and the body heat combined with the lack of air circulation in the area made for a hot, stuffy environment. I was also super thirsty for water, but couldn't go out to find a water bottle without losing my place in line, and had nobody to get one for me. I took off my hat and began fanning myself. Unfortunately, as time went on, it just seemed to get hotter, and I became more tired. I put down my bags and prayed the line to speed up. It did, but not enough. I found my blinks becoming longer. And before I knew it, I fainted.
That's right. Fainted. I was able to successfully summit Mount Kilimanjaro, and yet I fainted while standing in line.
It was an odd sensation, to be sure. I could hardly even tell in was happening. I was just fanning myself, and my vision became dark for just the shortest amount of time. I felt a quick, sharp pain in my butt, and before I knew it, I was standing again, with someone grabbing my arm, leading me to a seat, someone else taking my bag, and a bunch of people murmuring. It didn't even click for a few seconds what had happened. When they got me a seat and gave me my bags, they told me they'd get one of the employees to help me. Before long, a couple of guys from Singapore came to me, and offered me food and water. I very thankfully took their water (the food a bit more hesitantly), and waited. No employees paid me any mind. Let me repeat, not a single employee helped me. This was all done by strangers and fellow passengers. Three times - three! - people went up to employees, explained the situation, and that I needed my boarding pass so that I could leave, but the employees just left and never came back. It was only after someone literally pulled an employee by the arm that I was able to give my passport and get a new boarding pass in return. I then had to make my way downstairs (I grabbed a wheelchair - not for myself, but for my bags) and looked for where to go. Turns out, I had to stand in more lines - one for Customs and one for scanning my bags. Finally, I got to the hotel shuttle waiting area. There I waited for another 45 minutes before it was realized that my hotel was no longer sending shuttles to the airport. So they had to arrange a van to take me there, and I finally arrived at the airport, just minutes before midnight, almost three hours after landing. There apparently was still food available from dinner, which I took, but it was all hours cold and pretty much inedible. It wasn't really my evening, so I set my alarm and went to bed.
I got up the next morning, had a quick breakfast (it had to be quick - service began at 5:45, and the shuttle left at 6am), and got in a van to head to the airport. I actually was pretty lucky; had I arrived three minutes later, the shuttle would have been filled and I would have had to wait. I didn't think much of this at the time, as my plane didn't begin boarding for another two hours. But it turns out, it would have been long enough to be an issue, because I think Addis Ababa Airport has a love affair with having people stand in lines. First, you had to stand in a security line just to get in the front doors. Then there was your typical Immigration line, and, after you'd walked to your gate, there was another security line. It took me an hour and a half of just waiting in lines before I made it to my gate. Had my flight not been late (which is apparently common with Ethiopian Airlines), I would have been boarding within ten minutes of sitting down.
Long story short, I don't like Ethiopian Airlines, and I don't like Addis Ababa Airport.
Once the flight began, things began to get a bit more tolerable. The lunch was fairly good, and I was able to both read and watch a movie (I saw Warm Bodies, which I had only tangentially heard of before, but found to be fully enjoyable, unpretentious for what it was; it also seemed like the leading character was a fun one for the actor). I also saw in their in-flight magazine that late May marked the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the African Union (or as it was originally called, the Organization for African Unity). Remember when that happened? No? Me neither, to be honest, and I was in Tanzania at the time. Most of the magazine was spent in self-congratulatory remarks about how far Africa has come in the last 50 years (which is absolutely true) and how the 21st century is when Africa will emerge as the global superpower (which is delusional, and if you think anything other than Asia will be the superpower in the 21st century, you're delusional as well). And apparently Addis Ababa is the capitol of the African Union, as well as being one of the biggest cities in the continent. Which is weird, because I've never heard about it until this trip, and probably neither have you.
Eventually, I arrived in Johannesburg. While it may sound horrible to say something like this, it was nice to be in a quasi-Western country again. If nothing else, seeing a sign saying that most shops accept credit cards made me confident that I wouldn't need to be carrying around massive quantities of cash everywhere - just moderate amounts. Also, English. English as a de-facto language, if not a first language, for everyone. I'll definitely admit to being a linguistic Anglophile, but like I said before, being able to speak at normal speed and have people understand you - accents aside - is a wonderful feeling.
Anyhoo, I spent a while walking around the airport, looking for a foreign exchange office. I found several, but unfortunately not a single one would exchange Tanzanian Shillings. Thai Bahts, yes, but not Shillings. So I was stuck with 55,500Tsh, for the moment at least. I then walked around, looking at all the different stores, possibly hoping to find a place to buy a quick snack, when I saw a bakery selling little...they called them Portuguese Rolls, but reminded me of a smaller bolillo roll. And they were 1.70 Rand. That's 17 cents! In an airport, you could buy something for 17 cents! So I bought one, and, considering they needed a 10-rand minimum to use a credit card, I bought a small sweet that I ended up giving away. I then found my way to the local Gautrain station happily munching on my roll, when a lady quickly and quietly told me to put it away before the nearby guard saw me. Apparently, the train station had Singaporean laws regarding food, gum, etc. (It looked clean enough for me to believe it.) Had I been caught, it would have been at least 800 Rand and a sore mark on my first hour in the country. I quickly swallowed my food, thanked the lady, and hopped onto the train.
Eventually, I got to the Sandton stop, and made a quick jaunt to the commercial building where Lynn, my Couchsurfing host for this leg of the trip, worked. Imagine you're the security guard working at the base of such a building. A scruffy looking guy, wearing a backpack and an outback hat, walks in and asks, "Excuse me, which floor is Triclinium located on?" I was definitely able to appreciate her skepticism of me, even after I told her who I was looking for. After she finally relented and let me up, I made my way to the office, where I quickly found Lynn, who was expecting me, and planning on heading out once I arrived. Before long, we were in her car, she gave me a quick driving tour of the area, and we were at her place.
Now, if you've never heard of Sandton before - really, I hadn't - it's not the Johannesburg you normally hear about. It's the financial center of the city, and hence, the affluent district. It features one of the largest shopping malls in the whole of Africa (I don't think it really compares to the biggest US ones, but it's still impressive), and it seems like every single house is not a house, it's a house. Not quite mansion level, but each and every one of them, were they to be built in California, would have been listed at no less than $3 million. Lynn's house, in particular, would probably be listed at $5 million. It was incredibly impressive. Huge, spacious, gated, with a pool, tree house, six bedrooms, a lounge rooftop overlooking the Johannesburg skyline - everywhere I looked impressed me. And then there was so much artwork everywhere. Statues, paintings, and these amazing portraits made of nails. Like, hammer and nails. There was one of Nelson Mandela, one of some old man that I didn't recognize, and my favorite, one of a cheetah. It wasn't until I looked closer that I realized that the signature on the nail portraits was "LynnK". I asked Lynn if she made them, and she said all the artwork in the house was done by her (which included at least five different mediums, from paint to pencils to nails), and all the statues were made by her sister. Also, her husband was a baker, and her kids did drama and piano and such. And she was a PhD. I was quite impressed - was an artisanal family! They also were not only hosting me - their guest bedroom was apparently dubbed their "Couchsurfer Room" - they were also hosting an Australian guy named David, who was coaching rowing and rugby at the kids' school.
Overall, I had a great impression from my time at Lynn's place. Not only was the house amazing, but the family was welcoming and gracious, and the neighborhood was almost Stepford-like in the precision of its "perfect family suburb" atmosphere. It seemed like every house there had a family, with kids who went to the nearby school, with dogs (so many dogs), and everyone knew each other. I'll get to it later, but apparently having neighborhood dinners is a very common occurrence. I mean, we got along with a couple of the homes on our street when I was a kid, but it wasn't like we were had such a close circle of friends in such close proximity all the time. It was really cool. And both Lynn and her husband Terry were very warm and generous, and their kids pretty much spanned the range of how kids can be. Their oldest son, who actually just turned 15 today, is your stereotypical teenager, but still quite polite to his elders. The middle son, 13 I think, was the classic "snips, snails, and puppy dog tails" boy, with way too much energy, a penchant for unintentional destruction, and a furious curiosity. Finally, their daughter, 11, was an incredibly precocious child, in the most positive way I can mean that. Very observant, she would constantly make remarks that I'd expect from someone twice her age (albeit with more snark than she does). For example, when David was saying that the common name for the Australian anthem was just how the low-educated people knew it, and then couldn't remember the proper name off the top of his head, she calmly - and perhaps genuinely - asked, "Are you one of the low-educated people?" I found it pretty hilarious. For his part, David was also a great guy to talk to. Just slightly older than me, very relaxed and relatable, handsome (in that way that literally all Australian guys under 30 are handsome), and also having an "outsider" perspective. Overall, a good group to be with.
We had a lovely chicken soup for dinner that night (along with freshly-baked bread, courtesy of Terry's bakery), and had some nice discussions (though a big part of it revolved around my travels). I'll use this opportunity to note some of the verbal tics I noticed in their speech. The two most common ones I heard were both sentence enders: "Eh?" (similar to Canadians) and "Yeah?". Interestingly, I noticed that David did this too, so I'm not sure if this was something he picked up in his months here, or if it's just a common set of tics for common British English speakers. I also noticed a lot of use of the word "sure" as a basic response to a statement, the same way we say "Uh-huh." When I first heard that one, I thought it seemed like they were rudely cutting me off, but I soon realized that wasn't the case at all.
I had a wonderful, hot shower, and then had the best sleep I'd had in about a month - comfy bed, plenty of hours in it, and nothing to wake me up. When everyone else got up, they began making omelets, and made one for me, and I hadn't even asked. They were very keen on being hospitable. We were then thinking of doing a quick cycling trip, but unfortunately, a number of the bikes were unusable without extensive repairs (and after seeing the way some of the kids were riding, I could understand why). I had to do some shopping anyway, to get a couple extra clothes for the Askari trip (with the intention of having them be my "get-messed-up" clothes). I also spent the time walking around, just seeing what was being offered. And so I'll make an observation, one I later discussed with David: everything is cheap here. One of the few things I remember from my time in Jo-burg from my Mozambique trip, aside from razor wire, was the fact that I thought that the place was a rip-off, I think due to the price of water crackers. Well, either things have changed (unlikely), or I just had no concept of money at the time, because even the things that South Africans call "expensive" is cheap compared to American (or Australian) standards. Or even Kenyan and Tanzanian store prices. New, decent t-shirt? $4. Four large heads of broccoli? $1.79. A 2,000-square-meter, multiple story house in an affluent neighborhood? $400K. It's amazingly cheap. Now, there is a darker undertone to all this. Every single employee in that mall? Black. The people shipping that shirt, picking that broccoli? Probably black. The people doing the labor in these houses? All black. It's basically low prices as a side effect of, for lack of a less blunt term, exploitation of the indigenous people. Being a cheapskate, I do enjoy low, low prices, but you definitely feel conflicted when you know why said prices are so low. (There was also a subtle, but very real undertone of latent racism from all the people I met. One not-so-subtle example: an old woman asked me, "How do you like South Africa? It's a very nice country, except...you know...the blacks.") Unfortunately, there's little I could do in my position.
There was one thing, though, which was not cheap - Internet. Almost nowhere in the mall had free Wi-Fi - there were all sorts of hotspots, yes, but every one of them needed an account and money. So I wasn't going to be able to upload all my stuff there (which was one of my plans). Since I had my Vodacom USB modem, I considered getting some credit and just using that. (Although I was quite concerned about the possibility of it messing up my computer again.) But as mentioned at the beginning of this entry, to get 5 gigabytes of data, it would cost me $175. Seriously. For that price, you could get several months of unlimited, high-speed data in the US (or Europe, probably). For being such an economic powerhouse of Africa, the broadband infrastructure is not public friendly. I did a tad bit of research, and apparently a big reason behind this is just the distance between people, and the fact that none of the companies laying lines have gone belly-up in the dot-com bust. A shame for them, really. At least I'll have a (paid) unlimited plan at Askari. No clue as to the speeds, though. I'm not really getting my hopes up in that regard.
Shortly after I returned, there came a bunch of people to the house to have dinner. It included family and friends, including a bunch of kids. They were all very nice, and we had a lovely meal of homemade tomato soup, potatoes, and pork belly. I was telling them about my experiences going up Kilimanjaro, until I got to the part where I mentioned that on the final summit, I was reciting Shakespeare in my head to keep my mind off the trudging. They then asked me to do a performance for them. I honestly was not expecting this, but made the most of it, performing Hamlet's "To be or Not to be" speech. I missed a line near the end, but nobody noticed. They seemed to enjoy it well enough, at least. We then had an early birthday cake for their oldest son, sang, and before we knew it, it was nearly 11pm. Everyone decided to go to bed. I had to download a couple of items, which was a slow process, so I left my PC out in the Wi-Fi-rich living room while I took a shower. This came back to haunt me when I needed to retrieve it at midnight, because I completely forgot that they had a burglar alarm in the house. Needless to say, I tripped it. It started off subtly, but got louder and louder, and soon enough, their main phone was ringing. I didn't know if I should go up to explain, but I was in nothing but my skivvies, so I decided to slink away. Luckily, when I admitted the situation the next day, I was told that the alarm being accidentally tripped is a common occurrence, in the order of multiple times a week, and Lynn didn't even hear it. Whew!
The next morning, I woke up pretty early, and was writing when I heard a knock on the door, and was told that they were going to be walking to breakfast. I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a good walk, so I gladly joined. We walked across the school campus (called "St. Stithians", which apparently was the name of a place with "Saint" tacked on to have it marked as a Christian school). It was a very nice campus, though a very long walk (that said, I was the only one who didn't seem to mind, I think due to recent experience). We ended up at this restaurant which had both a view of the entire Johannesburg skyline, and a soccer field, complete with a game of some old veterans. The restaurant was quite crowded, so we didn't end up eating until 11:30, but it was an enjoyable jaunt nonetheless. I kept on trying to pay (like I've been doing every time I could do something for the family, but was never able to.) We then walked back, and before we knew it, discussions were already being made for supper, because there was supposed to be a small neighborhood lunch, but considering we didn't get back to the house until 1pm, lunch was a bit past due. I saw this as my grand opportunity to help earn my keep, so I offered to prepare my simple broccoli soup (just broccoli, water, salt, and pepper). Lynn accepted, and so I joined her to go to the local supermarket and buy some stuff. While there, I saw an in-store self-service frozen yogurt stand. Hello!! It had none of the glitz and glamor of an actual shop, but it had a couple of flavors, some toppings (which were all candy, so I didn't bother), and a simple price structure: One tub, 10 Rand. That's a buck. A buck for all the yogurt you could fill. I didn't exploit this as much as a could have, mainly because I didn't want to spoil my dinner, but for a buck, it was very decent yogurt.
When we got back, we started preparing: Lynn the main course, I soup, David a Chinese salad. Then some of the neighbors came over. Turns out, they had prepared food as well. Then the other neighbors came by, also with food. Basically, everybody at this gathering over the age of 21 had prepared some part of the meal. It was a pretty cool feeling to see such a closely-knit community. There were some interesting conversations going on, including the completely screwed up public utilities system they have in this country. (Incidentally, I think solar panels would be an amazing investment in South Africa), but I was more just enjoying the ambiance. Remember how I was saying several weeks back that I, oddly, missed barbecues. Well, this was a braai, aka a South African barbecue. Not only did it have good food, it had that sense of community that's key to such a thing. So overall, it was nice. This whole weekend, I've done so much socializing, and it's been a really cool experience. My broccoli soup, while not quite as good as I normally make it (I attribute this to having to use a hand-blender instead of a proper one), people seemed to enjoy it, which was a small source of pride.
Oh, by the way, Obama was in town while I was here, so, I guess I'm kind of a big deal. And also, Nelson Mandela, bless him, is dying, so things were pretty exciting. A lot of people think that he's being held on life support until Obama leave, to prevent his visit from being derailed. I find it kind of sad that people can't even die anymore without all the politicking.
And that's been my Johannesburg experience. I was part of a suburban socialite encounter, the weather was good, and prices were low. Yes, I was pretty well sheltered from the dirty truth of Johannesburg, but really, my mom wouldn't want me wandering around the inner city just to experience the true side. So, maybe it's for the best. And besides, I got to meet a lot of kind people, one of which may even have an apartment in Cape Town I can stay in after my time at Askari.
Now, I should go to bed, because I have my flight up to Hoedspruit at noon tomorrow, and I need to be prepped! Again, I'll see what the Internet situation is like when I get there, and give you the down-low on retroactive entries, and future entries, accordingly. Lates!