Thursday, February 21, 2008

Photo of a Lion

I took a picture of a lion for you, Riva!

So for the last week — from the 10th to the 17th — I took my first week, dubbed "Orientation Week" by my supervisor Lynn, and roadtripped with my team. Mostly we ran around Johannesburg for the first couple of days. Let's see if I can remember what I did; through the haze of jetlag, it's hard to recall everything:

Saturday: 23-hour plane ride,  counting one dazed layover in Washington, D.C. The last stretch, almost 16 hours nonstop, was pure hell. Heather and James, one team member on either side, were all that made it bearable. Heather talked to one of the stewardesses behind the main cabin and managed to get her number and a promise of a braii; we both teased her about her lesbian magnetism. (I'm not sure whether she is, in actuality, a chick magnet.) Otherwise, nothing happened to speak of.

Sunday: Got off the plane at 3:45 PM. (15.45 if you believe what this country's clocks tell you. Resist, my fellow Americans!) Lynn met us past the security checkpoint, which was ridiculously lax. I guess no one has ever wanted to bomb the place? I can see why; the place is no Sea-Tac, there was no over-polished floor and no Starbucks. No real ceiling either; mostly it was just rafters and plastic tarp. We got settled into our hotel, which looks far more expensive than anyone but Lynn would have chosen. Went out to eat at a nice Portuguese restaurant. I had the smoked salmon pasta and the house dry white, for a comfy price of $9 US. Drew some jealous stares. That was the last time I got any pleasure out of them; I've attracted way more than my share since.

Monday: Visited an anthropology museum. Saw zero skulls that were news to me after my phys anth class in sophomore year. Felt like an elitist. We all spent the evening riding shirtless through a popular game park. Saw zebras, rhinos, gazelle and one jackal. I was disappointed in my constant scanning for lions.

Tuesday: Went on a short tour of Soweto, the biggest township this side of South Africa. The tour guide wasted a lot of effort trying to turn aside any questions that strayed from Soweto's admittedly noble history of fighting oppression. We wanted to know about conditions of life there; she didn't want us to know. Kind of hung out the rest of the day. All us guys stayed up late that night, complaining about how much Lynn was babying us with her choice of tours, and how cagy she was being about the money we'd payed her. Small potatoes, compared with what we'd soon be going through. Along the way, we decided to throw a braii (South African slang for a barbecue) the next day.

Wednesday: Went to the mall to stock up on supplies. Somehow, while David and I grocery-shopped for a barbecue that evening, James got himself lost in the very small mall. We spent an hour looking for him. Eventually found him in the security office, arrested by the mall cops. Heather and David, who had found him, decided to stay and help him out. I drove back with Lynn and McCully. The others didn't get back until late. James spent the night in a holding cell.

Thursday: Many efforts to break James from jail ended with him out on bail by midafternoon. We mostly wandered around town; all plans were cancelled because of his situation.

Friday: James had a court date. We visited a pet shelter where David and McCully would later spend their internships, then threw our bags in Lynn's car and headed off to the Berg. Along the way, the friend who drove us to the shelter drove his Landrover under the hotel gate and scraped a few chunks of concrete off its overhang. In retrospect pretty funny. At the time, annoying, then a little shakes-inducing. Later during the cartrip, beautiful sunset in the mountains. Heather and I stayed in the cabin where we'd be spending our internship; the other three stayed in a nice hostel across the valley.

Saturday: Spent the day doing touristy stuff around the Berg. Didn't actually fill up much of the day, although we found the posh bar that has free wireless.

Sunday: Everyone left, leaving me alone in the Berg. Relaxation at last!

After: The start of my internship.

More to come on the arrest of one of our groupmates, and the details of how my internship is shaping up. Catching up on a week and a half of travelling means a lot of writing, so bear with me! Also, I posted a lot today, including one post from before I left that was moldering in my outbox. You should scroll down and read it!

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