Getting There

Well, we are now broadcasting live from South Africa.

As you can see we have internet access, we hired a mobile broadband modem at the airport in Johannesberg. I was hoping that I would be able to provide people with a phone number, we got a SIM card for our phone at the airport as well. Unfortunately, I managed to lock up the SIM card by entering the wrong pin too many times, so we’ll need to get it replaced.

The flight from Australia wasn’t as bad as I expected. We left at 11am from Sydney and the flight took 14hrs. The movies on demand make the time pass pretty well. I made the mistake of listening to Con Campbell (who is famous for never needing to sleep) and stayed awake nearly all night before we left. The idea was to try and get into South African time early by staying up late and sleeping as soon as we got on the plane. What actually happened was I went for 36 hours virtually without sleeping. When we arrived in Pietermaritzberg my eyes were so bloodshot they were glowing in the dark.

Because we left Australia in the morning and were flying with the sun, the entire 14hr flight only took 5 hours of ground time. Essentially, that means we were flying through endless daytime, it’s very disconcerting and makes it hard to sleep at all. We arrived at around 4 o’clock in the afternoon in Johannesberg which was 1 o’clock in the morning Sydney time. By the time we arrive in Pietermaritzberg at 9:30pm it was 6:30 am Sydney time which meant that it was about 24hrs since we’d left home to get to the airport.

Emma got a little bit sick on the plane – she developed a severe headache. The flight attendant gave her some medication, but that didn’t seem to help. And then they put her on the oxygen and everything got a whole lot happier.

The most direct route from Australia to South Africa isn’t due West, it’s actually quicker to fly over the edge of Antartica. Look at a globe and it’ll make sense. One of the girls on the team got some pretty good photos of ice bergs but most of the time it was cloudy.

Johannesberg airport is hard to describe. It’s undergoing building work at the moment, in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. Part of the complex is pretty dingy. Most of it is fine. We were a little shocked when we went to the domestic terminal and found a separate queue for checking in weapons. I thought you’d just be allowed to bring them in your hand luggage.
Our plane to Pietermaritzberg was delayed for about an hour – that’s what they told us. But when we all climbed onto the little bus that takes you out to the plane we ended up sitting there for at least another 30mins.

While we waited Em and I went and found the place to rent our modem and SIM. It was our first adventure away from the team. It was pretty tame really, but we have heard nothing but horror stories about violent crime here. You can’t help expecting people with AK47’s to jump out at you around every corner. The reality is that people are friendly, although the Black South Africans take longer to check you out. It is a seriously emotionally scarred and politically sensitive country. But as I’m discovering, the business of living rightly, in a moral, political, and religious sense, is taken seriously. Australia is a frivolous, silly place in comparison.

We killed some more time having a beer in an airport hotel. South Africa has some really good beers, must be the Dutch and German background.

The plane to Pietermaritzberg was a little turboprop like you’d see flying between regional towns in Australia. The Moore team made up almost the entire passenger list. We talked to a man on the flight who works in Jo’berg and lives in Pietermaritzberg. He said the Friday night flight is nearly always delayed.

South Africa is struggling with problems like this. The country has very good infrastructure but it isn’t all being managed well. There are rolling power cuts at the moment due to a lack of power generating capacity.

Eventually we arrived at the airport in Pietermaritzberg. It look very much like a regional airport in Australia, think Dubbo or Bathurst.

Sam Groves, the minister at Church on the Ridge was waiting to meet us along with a number of other people from the Church.

We piled ourselves and our stuff into the cars and set off for our billets houses. Sam took Emma and I to our hosts, Deane and Polly Baker. On the way we needed to drop off a couple of other team members at house belonging to a student at the University who had volunteered to have them to stay. Unfortunately she was away, but she had given Sam keys and instructions on how to make the Moore students feel welcome. Sam had never been to her house before, so we drove along her street pressing the button to operate her front gate. Every house in South Africa that looks like it might even have the faintest possibility of having something in it is surrounded by a serious fence. This is not just wealthy people with flash houses. There are 28000 murders every year in South Africa. They take fencing seriously.
When we found the gate to Claudine’s house, we realised that there was someone already inside. This wasn’t unexpected, Claudine has housemates, but Sam didn’t know whether they knew he was coming, with some random strangers, into the house. He walked into the yard and called out, but they turned the lights off and didn’t answer. He then went up to the front door and was fiddling around with the key to open it. As he walked into the yard he said under his breath, ‘I’m going to get shot’. And he sounded like he believed it.
Not an encouraging thing to hear on your first night in SA.
When the house mates heard him speaking English and worked out that he had a key, they turned the lights on and were happy to meet the College students staying there. It all ended happily, but it was something of an introduction to life here.

Our hosts are a delightful couple. Deane is a lecturer in philosophy here at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. They have 3 little daughters, the eldest is about 7-8 and I can’t remember the rest. We are staying in a flat out the back of their house. In the Apartheid days it was were the domestic help would have stayed during the week before having to return to the township on the weekend. It means we have a bit of independence from their family. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know them, but that’s for later. On the night we arrived, we drank a cup of Rooibos tea, made some preliminary introductions, and went to bed.
It was absolutely delicious.

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