Sunday, August 12, 2007

Going to Gabs with the Senegalese President

I didn’t sleep too well in Jo’burg – must have been the time change. I think I slept only about 2 hours in all. Maybe 3. I definitely kept waking up every hour because I think I was worried that I would miss the pickup to the airport the next morning. The owner of the transport company was the one that came and picked me up! We had a pretty interesting conversation about Johannesburg, and he showed me the Chinatown on the way to the airport.

At the U.S. airport, they had told me to get to the Jo’burg airport 3 hours ahead of time. I was doubtful, but I got there about 2.5 hours ahead of time… nobody was even at the South African Airways desk! They didn’t even open until about 6:30am. And it was a little annoying – I had to wait in line to weigh my bag, and they gave me a little slip of paper with the weight. Then I had to wait in line for the agent to give me a boarding pass. But apparently they can’t do everything, and since my ticket had a different date on it, I had to go to a ticketing agent who put a sticker on my old ticket saying I was traveling on a different date. Then I went back to the first agent to get my boarding pass. I guess it was good that I had a few hours to kill.

Something interesting that happened was that I was trying to figure out how to get to my gate, and the signs weren’t very clear, so I asked a random security guard how to get there. He says “come with me” and I follow him. He took me through all the security checkpoints, bypassing the lines that the normal people had to wait in. And of course, as we were walking to my gate, he was walking with me, and I was sort of trying to figure out how to get rid of him, and he asks for my phone number and to be taken to the United States. I eventually got rid of him by asking for his phone number and saying that I didn’t have a phone number yet. It was sorta funny. :)

My flight was the first flight of the day out of Jo’burg to Gaborone, so I wasn’t too worried about delays and things like that. We were waiting, and nothing was happening when we were supposed to be boarding, and then they kept delaying the take-off of the flight 15 minutes. In the end, we were delayed about 45 minutes, which I thought was pretty odd, given that this was the first flight of the day. It turns out the president of Senegal was on the plane! We didn’t know though, until the end of the 1-hour plane ride. They just called them VIPs. And they made a few people move so that the VIPs could move up front and disembark first. But they did not make me move, so one of the people in the delegation sat right next to me. He knew no English and I knew none of his language (Senegalese). The only thing we had in common at all was French, and my French is really really bad since it’s been about 12 years since I learned it. But he got it across to me that the guy sitting at the very front was very important. So we start to land, and I see one military guy standing alone in a field – I thought that was pretty odd. Then I see a row of 5 cannons (which apparently fired as we were landing), and military people! Then the guy sitting next to me says that all of this is for the guy at the front, and we roll to stop in front of a red carpet that leads to a raised platform. And there are people standing with umbrellas on the platform, and all these soldiers and a military band in front of it. Behind the platform are all these people watching, and press I believe. The guy gets off with all these cheers and the music going, and they proceed to the raised platform to meet the Botswana president, and the Botswana military puts on a whole show with music and marching and everything! It lasted for about 15 minutes, and we watched on the plane. I took a few pictures of it, but had to stop when the flight attendants told me I wasn’t supposed to. :) Dr. Gluckman picked me up, along with the resident, Sarah.

By the time I got to the ICC flats, I was super tired. I think I’d really only slept 4 or 5 hours in 2 days. I had to stay awake for about 2 more hours for this orientation meeting Dr. Gluckman gave us, but once that was over, I took a 3 hour nap while most of the others went hiking up some hill where you have a good view of all of Gaborone, and ended up going to one of the three malls, Game City, where they saw baboons running around!

I eventually woke up, and everyone was still gone. I went to local grocery store, Choppies, which is about a 10-15 minute walk on dirt sidewalks, and bought a few things, came back, and Lisa and Phil were making a yummy vegetarian dinner. Which reminds me, I had bought some beef jerky at the Jo’burg airport – it was so good! And I hung out for a bit after dinner with Lisa, Phil, Josh, and Mike. Tim was there for a bit too but he was leaving the next day. Then I sort of got ready for work as best as I could and went to bed. I slept pretty badly though. I went to bed at 10pm, woke up at 12am, and couldn’t sleep again until 4am. So I didn’t start off my week so well, but I guess I have to expect some of that jet lag.

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