And just like that, I am back in Pretoria, sitting in a cafe, utilizing free wifi, drinking a double espresso that I can not afford and listening to my sisters favorite band. I am so incredibly grateful for the time that I had with her, but also disappointed that it is over so quickly! Originally, we thought it may be fun to have her guest write in my blog post, with her reflections of various activities, but then were too busy enjoying her last day in country to sit down and write. So, I will go forward and try to add color to things that surprised her/her reflections as we continue.
I have said each time I communicate with people back home how difficult it is to try and effectively portray some of the social and economic complexities (that I myself and still trying to sort through) that make this country such a unique place to serve. Even though my sisters trip was short, she was able to get a first glimpse at some those different factors at work, and I encourage any of you who can to reach out to her for her impressions of her trip!
The trip kicked off with me taking the train from Pretoria to Joburg airport to pick up Sissy on Thursday. I arrived a few hours early and anxiously awaited her to deplane and make her way through customs. I tried to distract myself with my three hours of free time, so I went and sat in a cafe, drank a Castle Light and read my book. Once her flight had officially touched down, I moved and sat out in the waiting area for International Arrivals, even though I knew full well it would be another hour or so for her to actually go through customs, get her bag and exit. But, there I sat. Twitchy hands. Restless legs. Anxious eyes quickly surveying the gap between the automatic doors each time they opened. Each time, my heart sank a little as the anticipation continued to grow. For those of you who don’t know, this is at least double the longest period of time my sister and I had gone without seeing each other in my lifetime.
Finally, the automatic doors opened to reveal a small old couple walking gingerly, and a blonde haired, blue, floral yoga-pant-wearing American, Longchamp bag & backpack in tote behind them, scanning the crowd. I hopped up from my seat and walked (okay, it was more like a run) over to the side of the gate to engulf her in a big hug! I didn’t realize the true extent of my excitement for my very first visitor until I felt the tears wetting my cheeks and realized that they were not only hers.
After our brief yet embarrassing reunion, we shuffled out of the way from the walkway we were rudely blocking and I jumped into my typical travel rant about what was coming up, and what was the plans are, how much time we had before we had to leave, what our options were and so on and so on. We had not even crossed the airport to the dining areas before I had her practicing the greetings of three of South Africa’s official languages. On this three hundred yard stroll I also stopped to hug her more times than I could count because the reality that my sister had just flown 25 hours to come see me had not exactly set in yet 100%.
Rather than plunge my sister right into the typical SA transportation (aka public taxi) that I normally take, I booked us each a seat on a shuttle that would take us from Johannesburg to Nelspruit, the capitol of Mpumalanga (the province I live in). For those of you who know my sister Jacqueline well know that she has a “tiny bladder” which is not great for long trips, or trips without stops frequently. To her much needed mercy we had an unplanned stop along, or the trip could have been much worse! Thus began the first in a series of many lucky transport opportunities.
The next came quickly as we arrived in Nelspruit, much later than I had anticipated, and the long walk to the backpackers from where we were dropped off crossed through a number of areas that are best traveled only during the day. While attempting to make a plan, a friendly woman from our bus who we had not spoken to came over to offer us a lift to our place! Thank you friendly shuttle stranger 🙂
We unpacked, changed and headed out to a small Portuguese place for dinner where we met good-luck transport number three. A local who’s mother had a doctors appointment the next morning in Bushbackridge offered us a lift, which saved us two taxis, three hours and a lot of knee cramps.
And like that, we were back in Tsonga land, traveling through the places that now bring me a home-like calm, excited to show off my smily blonde American to all my new friends 🙂 Having Jackie in my village was great! Seeing my sister and Ma Cintia interact, sit together and enjoy each others company even though they don’t share a common tongue is a really wonderful thing to experience. Jackie also got a small taste of what my life is like in the village. We purposely planned her trip here to be short, as she was not eager to embrace some of the more challenging aspects of rural living (who can blame her) but it was enough for her to see the realities of how some rural communities live.
The next morning we hopped on a 5:30am, 9 hour ride over to Durban since my sister loves the beach. However, we were greeted in Durban by what could only be described as wind storms. This was a funny flip for us. My sister loves the beach, where I prefer a city with a view of the beach. The first night, as the storms rolled in, my sister and I shared a bottle of wine on a covered patio right on the ocean, listened to the raindrops drum on the roof and hear the thunder call in the background of the evening as lightning lit up the sky for us. There we sat, each reading our book and taking in the calm that the crazy storm brought to us.
The next few days were filed with wind storm madness as well, as well traveled around Durban reading our books from place to place. My favorite day was when we went exploring some of the traditional and underground markets in the area, and had a feast of Indian food that was beyond delicious. We met some amazing travelers along the way, and had some really wonderful experiences, all of which I will continue to detail!! Side note, from when I began writing this post and finished it now has been over a month, but I wanted to post at least part of the trip! Another blog to follow, sorry for the delays!