Hello from the airspace above South Africa. It was only a week ago that I was coming into the Cape Town airport on a southbound flight from London. Now I am back in transit headed to the east coast city of Durban. While my intention was to post days ago, it is probably for the best that I am just now revisiting my blog as some truly remarkable things have already begun to take shape.
I want to take a moment to recap the first few days of my journey. Last Tuesday I left the states with a large suitcase, a shared duffle, and a small carry-on in tow. From the moment Ali, my sweet friend and traveling companion, and I stepped up to the American Airlines check-in desk, we were moved with the reality that we are indeed meant to be on this trip. Due to the inclement weather nationwide, flights were being cancelled right and left- our 7:40 p.m. Chicago leg was among these. However, intentional planning got us to the airport early enough to be rebooked on a delayed afternoon flight to Chicago that was now leaving at 6:00 p.m. Bags checked and carry-ons in hand, we breezed through security and landed in Chicago an hour earlier than our original itinerary called for. This unexpected change redeemed what would have been a very tight connection to our London-Heathrow flight.
Eight hours in the air brought us to the other side of the Atlantic. We enjoyed a pleasant breakfast with our new English friend in London-Heathrow. Our Cape Town flight boarded early in the evening. Once airborne, we were introduced to the highly anticipated and celebrated South African wine along with our British Airlines dinner and Man of Steel. For those few moments I reveled in this timely intersection of cultures displayed from my tiny little space on board this Boeing 747, again reminded of the many lessons I expect this trip to unveil.
Let me tell you, South African sunrises are beautiful, especially from the sky! After flying 11 hours down the West coast of the African continent, we were greeted by the early morning sun as we made our descent into Cape Town. From the sky you can see all the things I had heard about- the large coastal mansions, the ships in the harbor, the massive townships, the vineyards, the Great Drakenstein and Stellenbosch Mountain ranges, and the breathtaking sight of Table Mountain at the center of it all.
The only glitch that we faced in our travels happened at baggage claim in CPT. The overhead lockers in our flight from Chicago to London were full before we boarded, leaving us to check our roll aboard carry-ons. Somewhere along the way, our small bags missed their flight. Fortunately for us, our friend and luggage-tracker-extraordinaire Brandon was able to retrieve and hand deliver our bags to us within 24 hours. [[Quick interruption: the world is full of extraordinary people. If you find yourself in Cape Town International Airport, do yourself a favor and loose your baggage so that you can meet this gentleman, he has a lot to offer the world…]]
The oh-so-lovely pair from The A21 Campaign, Johannes and Jo-Dee, greeted us at arrivals. We stuffed our large bags in the “boot” of Johannes’ tiny car (standard here in CT as petrol is outrageously expensive). Our next dilemma was to decide how nicknames would work with three “Jo’s” in the A21 office. I think we have concluded that Johannes will keep “Jo”, Jo-Dee will be called “Jodes” and I will take back my family’s endearing abbreviation as “JB”. I’ll let you know if anything changes
I am staying at a guest lodge in the suburb town of Milnerton. This quaint area sits about 15 minutes north of Cape Town along Lagoon, Sunset, and Bloubergstrand beaches. Within a week, my host family has become like my own. My fiery South African born, Indian bred hostess is among one of the most remarkable women I have had the privilege to meet. She runs this guest lodge and hosts visitors from all over the world, she holds a theology degree, and just started classes in marketing yesterday. She and her Sicilian husband Salvo raised their mixed family of four boys and two girls- a family make-up that ironically resembles the gender counts of my own. If the Italian-Indian influence isn’t telling enough, I will just add that the food in this house is to be envied by all of you reading this post! My goals to come back fit may be re-evaluated by the fact that the authentic fare on my plate every night is near impossible to pass up.
As jetlag would have it, we spent the remainder of Thursday sleeping off our overnight flight. That evening, Ali and I got to know our new friends. The following day we boldly traversed the central business district, waterfront, and Cape Town public transit. The waterfront was a wonderful place to have our first taste of South African’s acclaimed seafood and wine. The next days were spent familiarizing ourselves with the city- from a hike up Table Mountain, to a visit past the township of Kaimundi into the wine country of Stellenbosch, and a sunset dinner on the Western coastline- all the while falling more and more in love with this place.
On Monday I started work with The A21 Campaign. I have worked with this agency for about 18 months now and am still so impressed by the work that they do day in and day out. I am so excited to share with you the stories and impact of my friends here in the days ahead. The first morning was spentreading through training material and familiarizing myself with the research that has been done on the scope of trafficking in this part of Africa. Johannes, Jo-Dee, two other volunteers (Roxy and Brittany), and myself then went on a drive through the city to some of the known trafficking “hot spots”. During the day these areas often take the appearance of low-income neighborhoods or quieted social scenes, but at night it often becomes an entirely different picture as forced prostitution, drug trafficking, and other forms of exploitation fill the sights and sounds of the streets we had just driven through. Knowing this drove home the real reason why I am and reminded me that while I may see paradise, there are many who have found themselves in a nightmare.
The remainder of the week was spent doing additional training and preparation for the months ahead. However, today has brought some different scenery. Early this week I was approached by Angie (my Indian hostess… remember?) ,who is also in relationship with The A21 Campaign, and has a vision to see developments made to housing and refuge facilities for those women and children coming out of trauma. With this in mind, she is navigating a potential project to see some donated land developed for this use. Thus, three days and a few hours later, we are on a plane to Durban to discuss this with a friend of Angie’s who may be just the person we need to see this come to fruition. I am so excited to keep you posted!
Let’s touch base this next week, dear friends! See you back in Cape Town!
As a promised closing for my South African/Sicilian house dad… chow