Adrift and Airborne and Arrived!
As I write, well-fed and rested, I have finally experienced my first day at the University of Botswana. The journey was hectic to say the least!
I began my adventure on Friday morning, when my family drove the 7 hours to Chicago, in order to catch my first plane. We arrived in the middle of a massive storm, and by 4 the next morning (2 hours before my flight), there was flooding and high wind across the area. As we waited in line, I quickly tried to remove all liquids and sharp objects from what would have been my checked luggage, for we had come to the conclusion that because of the delays I would experience, and the short time I had to make my connection flight in New York, I should carry on all my luggage. Finally getting on the airplane, I sat in horror as the delay became 30 minutes, then an hour, then an hour and a half. When we finally did take off, I lapsed into an exhaustion-and-frustration-induced slumber.
When the plane arrived at JFK, I launched myself from the plane in a desperate attempt to make my connection, but all in vain. By the time I reached the international gate two terminals away, the South African Airways attendant told me politely that the doors had closed.
Furious and worried, I retreated to a phonebooth to plan my next move. After 6 hours, during which my parents helped to sort out purchasing two new nights and determined that there was no one in the vicinity that I could stay with, I took an hotel shuttle to a quiet hotel outside New York. I dropped off to sleep as soon as I arrived, stopping only to set as many alarms as possible to wake up the next morning.
When Sunday dawned, I once again found myself at JFK waiting for SAA flight 204, though in highly different circumstances. This time, I boarded the plane without trouble, and sank into my window seat to vegetate for the next 15 and a half hours.
The ride was excruciating, tedious, and exhausting. A nice typical transatlantic flight. When I arrived in Johannesburg, now going on three days with minimal sleep, I faced my greatest challenge yet: my checked bag, finally checked, had been left in New York, along with half the baggage on the flight. As I waited in the endless line to fill out my claims number, I struggled with how I was to reclaim it. As I had not yet reached my final destination of Gaborone, I had no telephone, no address, and no accessible contact in Botswana, and thus could only give the helpful deskwoman the address of the international student office at UB. She gave me a claim number and told me to call and inform the airline as soon as I had a telephone. So away I went to sit in another airport for 7 hours.
At 15:25, I boarded the plane for Gaborone, and one hour, my journey was finally at an end. With only the clothes on my back and my trusty backpack, I staggered out of passport control to meet Ouma and my student mentor Boitumelo. What a relief it was to finally see friendly faces and be around people who knew what was going on! Though tired, I eagerly drank in the landscape as we drove from the airport to UB. And what a landscape! The endless plains of bush soon gave way to warm stone houses and dirt roads stretching down through the neighborhoods. At UB, we dropped off my baggage, turned on my phone, and then immediately headed for Debonairs Pizza for my first ever triple-decker pizza. After dinner, I returned to the dorm, where I concluded my very, very long day by falling asleep to the distant sound of a vuvuzela.
The second day was superior in every way. Boitumelo and Ouma arrived at my door just before 8, and we began getting everything in order for the coming semesters. From clothing to groceries to classes to laptop registration, we spent the day journeying around the campus. The campus itself is full of lovely brick buildings, and has such a friendly character that I was smiling the whole day. I met with the staff of the international student office, and discovered that most of my class selections were approved, and that they wouldn’t conflict!
Best of all, late in the day we received news that my luggage from New York was on the next flight to Gaborone, and that I could pick it up in the airport! I was delighted to have everything in order, and got my room nicely set up.
All in all, it was an exciting and wonderful two days. I can’t wait to start classes, study Setswana, and make friends. Of course, a man in a taxi in traffic gave me the “hang loose” sign, so I guess I’m already making friends!