Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Back in Africa

It did not take long to be reintroduced to that phenomenon known as "African Time" when I arrived back in South Africa. It happened at passport control, to be precise. The line moved at a crawl for an hour as it seemed that the scanning mechanism of the computer was down and so everything was done by hand. They finally opened up three more lines, but it worked out so that I remained in my line. It was after 10 at night, and I was exhausted, but it served as a good reminder of one of the attributes one has to develop when travelling in Africa, even in its most developed and westernized nation -- patience.

The trip was uneventful. And long. Midland/Odessa to Houston to Amsterdam to Joburg. Thirty-plus hours of travelling, more than twenty of those hours spent on the planes. And let's just say that KLM-Dutch did not roll out their most spacious and advanced fleet. Then again the service was pretty good and I got a LOT of work done.

I'd never been to Amsterdam before. In fact, for all of the travel I have done, continental Europe is a void. I guess I tend to gravitate toward places where I might get shot, or at least blown to smithereens. I cannot really say that I have been yet -- we touched down, I had two hours, I wandered the sealed off international terminal, I tried to see how well Dutch and Afrikaans compared, and noted again that one of the key differences between Americans and the rest of the world is that apparently in the rest of the world it is ok for men to tuck one's sweater into one's pants. Technically I have been to the Netherlands now. It's lovely his time of year.

I am staying at the Orion Devonshire in Braamfontein, in the shadow of Johannesburg's Central Business District (CBD). Now most of the time, a major city's CBD (and by any stretch, Joburg is major -- it is comparale in scale to Manhattan, or maybe more evocatively, Los Angeles) is the place to be -- midtown Manhattan, the Miracle Mile in Chicago, Copley Center in Boston. But here it is a bit different. During the day the CBD is vibrant, and with each passing year this once most- European feeling of African cities is more African in composition. But then the sun goes down. I am hardly the squeamish sort, and indeed if my past record is any indication, I tend to seek risk. I like being where there might be action. But adventure and foolishness are two different things. It would be unwise for me to spend a whole lot of time exploring this particular neighborhood after dark. Although its reputation is probably overstated, and things have improved in the last decade or so, Joburg still is one of the most violent cities in the world. So I won't be wandering much at night.

And that is actually ok with me. I managed to avoid the biggest pitfall of jet lag -- I did not sleep much, if any, on the trip,and while I was so exhausted and jazzed to be back that I stayed up until 4 watching Casino on M-Net last night, I was up before 10 this morning. But this Joburg time will be good for decompression. I will work at Wits for the rest of today (there is a 7 hiour gap between South Africa and the eastern US) and all of tomorrow. I have three projects on which I am working that will require serious archive time, and I will put that time in at Wits and he National Archives in Pretoria before things shut down for the holidays, and then at Rhodes and at UCT after the New Year. On the National Holiday on Friday I will go into Alexandra Township, as one of the big projects I am beginning involves protest there in the 1940s an 1950s. or all of the time that I have spent in South frica, I have actually logged relatively little time in Gauteng, Joburg and Pretoria's province. I will be here for eight days at the beginning and 2-3 at the end of this trip, still not enough, but it's a start.

I am writing this from an i-cafe around the crner from my hotel. I have no idea how much access I will have to the internet, but I will update as much as possible. Cheers.

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