Thursday, June 6, 2013

South Africa Travel Diary 5 - Johannesburg: The Conclusion

(So, I have this idea that healthcare isn't screwed up because we lack qualified doctors, it's because the infrastructure is messed up, and needs to be revamped. Although to be fair, I'm just a teenager, and while I've worked in the government hospital in Mbabane, I would love the chance to see how it works around the world. Watch this video to help me go to India to work on this? Thanks!)

By this point, I was quite familiar with buses. I boarded my third overnight bus in a row, from Durban to Johannesburg. It left at what normal humans consider an acceptable hour, but was to arrive at Johannesburg's Park Station at three in the morning. I was to catch another bus at noon, and wasn't exactly looking forward to spending nine hours in a place that is known for its muggings.

She got on the bus at the third stop, and promptly asked me, “What is a white person like yourself doing on this bus?” I hadn't noticed, but I guess I was the only one. I'd stopped thinking about things like that a long time ago, but I was well aware that most of the people around me hadn't.

“Why are you not taking the fancy coach bus?” she demanded.

“Well ma'am, I'm just going to Johannesburg. Both of the buses leave from the same place and go to the same place. Why would I pay more for the in between?”

Well, that sent her into a fit of uproarious laughter, which got both of us a Sesotho scolding from a very tired, crabby man. There's nothing to make you bond with a stranger faster than somebody yelling at you both in a language neither of you understand. She sat down next to me and we started talking. I listened to her stories of being a Zulu during Apartheid, of how she had grown up in Bantu education, but was thrown into an English university after Apartheid ended. While it was too dark to see her face, I could her the pride in her voice as she described how she was the first black student to graduate from her university after Apartheid.

Now, I'm a teenage girl, and I probably should be more careful. I should probably be more wary of strangers, and decline their invitations, but I can't help but see them as just people. So, when the bus pulled into Park Station at three in the morning, instead of settling onto a bench to wait out my day, I accepted this woman's invitation to come to her house for a warm breakfast, a clean bathroom, and a safe place to spend the morning. She had two daughters about my age, and we could hang out, and then her husband would drive me back to catch my second bus. My alternative was nine hours in a bus station, so I said yes.

It was a simple house, with just three rooms. She described it as “third or fourth class down, nothing fancy, but not too bad.” A warm breakfast meant Wheet-Bix with hot water instead of the usual milk,
but it was warm, and you can serve worms to a weary traveller and it'll still taste good. Her daughters were amazingly welcoming, considering that their mother had brought a complete stranger into the house at four in the morning. They just kind of rolled over on the couch and gave me a spot, as if it was an everyday occurrence. I was shown how to flush the broken toilet by hand and told where the cups were in the kitchen. Within five minutes, I felt like I was already a part of some this family, who had so suddenly welcomed me into their home.

At nine in the morning, the house went into a flurry, as it was time to go to the Kingdom Authority Bible Church, and so I went. Not a religious person, I was a little bit wary, but you could hear the singing from a block away, and it was such a joyful noise that I couldn't help but smile.

We ducked inside during a song, but the moment the song was over, they asked all the new people to stand. I would have liked to hide, but being the only white person there, and having gotten the feeling that I was the only person who had been there in a long time, that was hard to do. With all eyes on me, I stood, and then promptly sat. Then, they asked us to come to the front and introduce ourselves, and after much nudging from my new friends, I walked up.

"I'm Diana, I'm from Chicago. Thanks for having me." My greeting was met with a round of emphatic "HALLELUJAHS" from the old ladies in the back. About a million people came up to shake my hand, and then I went to sit back down, a bit shaken myself.

Now, I'm not a religious person, and when the whole church went into prayer, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. Compared to every single church I'd ever been to in America, where you pray in your head, here, the preacher starts screaming, and people are praying out loud. Not together or anything, they're all just yelling to God, however they're feeling it. Some people are on the ground, some are kneeling, and this one woman is standing on her seat, reaching for the heavens.

Now, this had no signs of stopping, and I'm just kind of awkwardly standing there when I glance at my watch and realize it's 11:45. I have a bus that leaves from the airport to Swaziland, leaving at noon. The family had told me that their house was about half an hour away from the airport.

Oh my.

I elbow the sister of the family, and tell her I need to go. She says that I'll make the bus, but I insist on going, seeing as how the school bus is kind of a "you-need-to-catch-this" kind of bus. Eventually, she understands my urgency, and goes to get her father, who is at the front.

So, we slip out of the church amidst the prayers, and their dad goes to get the car, while the sister and I run through the neighborhood to get my bag from the house. I grab the bag, hug the mother, the woman from the bus, goodbye, trying to thank her for everything they'd given me, while not taking too much time, and then we dashed out the door for the car.

I've never seen somebody drive so fast. Correction: I've never held onto the edge of the seat so hard while someone drove me so fast. Not even in a taxi in Amman, or a kombi in Swaziland - this was much faster.

We pulled into the airport, and I jumped out of the car. Another woefully inadequate, rushed thank you, and I was running through the airport. I get to the bus rank, jump onto the school bus, and not thirty seconds later, the bus pulls away.

That's a narrow escape if I ever had one.

And, I suppose that ended my adventures in South Africa. The school bus back to Swaziland was normal, and I got back to school safe and sound. Waking up the next morning was bizarre though, thinking, "Twenty-four hours ago, I was at some random family's house in Johannesburg, going to some random church, and now I'm back at school. Darn."


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