We were awoke this morning just before Mandla came into Elna’s room to tell us goodbye before he went to school. He had been peppering us “Are you leaving now?” all last night, and now that the time had finally come, he seemed very nonchalant about saying goodbye. He came in to tells us that his mother was letting him take his soccer ball to school and that they had to write his name on it. This seemed to be the drama of the moment, and either covered up his feelings about goodbye, or he’s just too young to have them anyways. He didn’t even give a hug while we sat in bed listening to him, he just promptly walked out at the end of the telling of the story.
It will be quite interesting to see where Mandla is when we do return to South Africa in the future. Elna fears that his parents may take him back to Zimbabwe, where he’ll herd cattle, or that because of his education and life in South Africa (where he was born), his older brother and sister will come to resent him for being the ‘spoiled’ child while they remain in Zimbabwe.
With his father holding a South African passport, and his mother on refugee status, there’s probably no reason that Mandla would have to return, but with Elna footing the bill for his current education, if they would leave her ‘patronage’ it would be interesting to see where Mandla ends up. He’s quite a happy and playful child, but as South Africa, like most countries, does not automatically give citizenship to those born inside its borders (like the United States), when it comes to get Mandla formal papers, he might not have a choice in where he ends up…
We spent the rest of the morning slowly packing, trying to savor our last African morning together. Alisa had started to become anxious about her trip, which I knew she would as she had been very calm up until this point. Going from two months in South Africa to three months in Kenya is definitely a challenge both physically and mentally, but in terms of prepping for Kenya or any part of Africa, South Africa is definitely a good bridge to get through the culture shock and be ready for the rough part that will surely come.
With the last pack complete, I asked Alisa to be able to pick up her bag to at least work out the best strategy for getting it off the ground and on her back with the least amount of difficulty. When none of my suggestions seemed to work for her, we decided she would just have to find a small ledge where she could lift it up to and then strap in the backpack.
Being 20 kg, I was the one responsible for getting to the airport so that Alisa didn’t wear herself out before the important leg of the trip came in Nairobi. We piled into Elna’s red bakkie, and she quickly took us to the Gautrain Station in Sandton. We boarded and got to OR Tambo in the much advertised ~15 minutes. The train was fairly full for a midday train to the airport, perhaps a sure sign that the Gautrain is a booming success so far (who knows if that means financially sustainable due to all the public debt). Thankfully there were complimentary trollies right at the entrance to the Gautrain Station at the airport, and we were able to pile on and make our way to check Alisa in for her flight. My flight wouldn’t open for another 80 minutes, so we went to take care of our VAT at a kiosk near the SAA check in. The official, seemed fairly unconcerned about matching the receipts to the items in my bag.
Alisa went off to her gate, because by the time I checked in, she wouldn’t have an hour to get through security to get to her gate. I hung around, then checked my bags and was fortunate to have the same terminal as Alisa (though perhaps all SAA are in A?). We said our goodbyes as her flight was called for boarding and I stood to make sure her blue Bidvest Wits bus departed. For the first time in two months she would be not coming straight back. For as much as the two months have driven us to conflict more than the first three years we have known each other, I would not want to travel Southern Africa with anyone else. But now she was going into the great unknown… at least from the perspective of knowing what to expect. Even though we did firsts in Mozambique, Botswana, and staying in Zimbabwe for the first time, we had such a depth and range of experiences in other parts of Southern Africa that we had a reasonable expectation of what to expect and what to do in certain situations. I tried to reassure her that her nerves would help, and that the butterflys she had were a positive thing as they would keep her on her toes, but also let her know that she was doing something really exciting. I think we’ll see a different Alisa Albee emerge from Eastern Africa than the one that went in. Can’t wait!
I had five hours to kill in Duty Free and mad the rounds of all the sports shops seeing if any ‘deals’ were to be had. Even with the VAT taken off, nothing was better than getting it in the US, and so I made sure I could g
et the 2010 World Cup Amarula bottle, and went in search of Alisa’s World Cup charm bracelet. We had found it in Cape Town, and asked the store to hold it, but completely forgot to swing back
before it closed. Alisa said she had seen it for 50% off but hadn’t enquired if they had it in silver. I went to check it out, but when I learned that the gold karat was the only one they had left, I figured it was too high of a cost to get it in a color that she really dislikes. Having taken care of the VAT and gotten 75 USD back (put onto a debit card that will become active in two days), I wandered to see if there was anything else worth getting, but ended up heading to the gate, and using up some of the rest of my AlwaysOn time. Everyone in the waiting area is then asked to leave and go through the screening that is being set up for just our gate. I decide this is a good time to go back and get the Amarula, and also some flavoured setzler water. However on my return to the screening area, I’m told that the water in my Klean Kanteen is a no-go and must dump it, I decide to just go wander some more to drink my water as I’d rather be hydrated. I
finally make my way in the secure seating area and we’re boarded soon after. I sit to wait till most of the passengers are onboard, and while sitting next to the line,I hear one American comment how Kahlua must have paid big money to sponsor the big green plane…. I don’t look up, but roll my eyes, as I know he’s referring to the no-frills South African airline Kulula.
I wonder if it’s more ‘typical-American’ that he doesn’t realize that Kulula is an airline, or that he doesn’t realize that besides some common letters, the spelling is completely different…. it’s at this point I know that I’m returning ‘home’.
The flight is nothing special. 7 hours to Dakar, 3 on the ground in Dakar, then another 7 to Dulles. I keep the silver ware served, mostly because Alisa lost the set that I took before, even though she denies it strenously. They came in handy in Mozambique, but yet mysteriously dissappeared one day after she asked me where they in my backpack. They’ll add to the collection my mother has built for our cat Euro, our way of showing we were thinking of here, but I’m sure she cares little about how fancy or exotic the silverware we use to feed her.
The CBP line is short, but time consuming. I see a black South African play matriach for a group of young kids, who look to not have Visas, but the older South African moves them through Customs as if they are all one big family. They also had tons of luggage. After I’m finally through, I find both of my bags just sitting on the floor next to the conveyor belt. I would’ve thought they might delay bringing the bags out till the majority of people are through customs, as I could have easily picked up another bag, or two and walked on through with them. Perhaps having on 4 CBP officers was just an unusual staffing at 6 am. One thing to look into though is this Global Entry program, even if it was only every year or so, having an expedited route through customs, without having to fill out any forms. It’s 100 bucks, but could be worth it over a lifetime!
Finally through, and finding my parents. I set off to drop my father and work and head home. Had little difficult returning to driving on the right hand side of the road, though when I made saw a car coming up the road in my neighborhood that I was making a turn on, I had to think twice about which side I was supposed to turn on to. Virginia seemed so Euro, wasn’t wait for me, but she seemed content nonetheless that I was home. Virignia seemed so much greener than I remembered, perhaps part due to that I left in late spring, and the other part due to the red, gold, and brown that make up most of Southern Africa’s terrain.
Euro welcomed me home, but it was odd being back in the house. I don’t think I have ever had such a full and rich two month period in my life. I feel like both Alisa and I made the most of our time and tried to ‘feel it’ as SABC demanded, but the end still brings sorrow. I definitely could not have returned if I did not have school to return to attend. However, I think no matter where Alisa and I end up in the years to come, we’ll both be able to look back on these two months as some of the best our lives.