Into Johannesburg

Board the plane in Dubai and head back to our seats. Peter is in the row behind me and an older lady is in my seat when I get there. She’s asking around to rearrange seats so she can sit with her husband. She offers me the window. Yeah, of course. She’s so thankful. I am too.

She immediately goes into conversation mode before the plane even moves, asking what we’re doing in Africa and how long we’ll be there. She has a wonderful British-ish accent. I give her the run down on our Self-driving safari from Cape Town to… wherever we end up. “Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And totally the way to do it too.” Well that’s great to hear. “We live on the Zambeze River. When you get to Zambia, if you need a place to crash you can stay with us.” She hands me a card with their coordinates (in lat/long degrees, minutes, and seconds no less) and shakes my hand. Her name is Rosemary. “And this is Mike”, he leans forward to shake my hand with a smile.

Well this is serendipitous. What a lovely couple. Scored a window seat and a place to stay in Zambia.

We circle round the Burj Khalifa as we exit the UAE

Rosemary was born in Zimbabwe but they live in Zambia now. She’s lived there since she was six. Her and Mike have one child in the UK and three in Joburg. She was in the UK sorting out a British passport. The rest of her family is British so she’s eligible for the passport apparently. Sounds like she’s going through a bit of a red tape nightmare but I’m guessing it’ll be worth it in the end, the British passport being far more flexible and valuable to have than Zimbabwean. 

Through the course of the flight we exchange conversation here and there between naps, drinks and in-flight movies. She drops an impossible to keep up with amount of information ranging from travel warnings to impassioned descriptions of various locations and animals throughout the region. She has a deep connection and a lot of earned experience.

Here are some nuggets she fed me:

  • Is it your first trip to Africa? Yes. Don’t tell anyone else that. You’ll get ripped off at every turn. And don’t trust anyone, your own color or otherwise
  • Don’t go into Central Joburg
  • Don’t exchange money on the streets in Zambia. Actually, never show your money anywhere
  • You can’t bring meat and fresh milk across borders so finish it beforehand or they’ll take it
  • Be careful with the vehicle. They’ll smash windows in. People will try to take it. Always leave someone behind to guard it
  • A giant Trump baby is going to fly over London tomorrow. That’s probably the largest insult to a sitting US president I’ve heard. And well deserved. He’s an idiot
  • For animal watching, take the river cruise through Chobe. Also don’t miss Etosha
  • See the falls from Zimbabwe side. Or get a guide from Botswana
  • Buy a malaria test kit from the pharmacy. Not expensive and then you’ll know for sure. Oh, you have pills. That’s good. May not have needed them
  • Bengweulu wetlands in Zambia. A swamp with a good population of shoebills. Massive birds, you’ll be amazed
  • Luderitz fishing village just over the border to Namibia is worth a peak. Kolmanskop ghost town is on the way

I loved this though:

“In Kasanka, on the great north roads, in November, after the first rains, there is a great migration of fruit bats. Thousands of fruit bats. At fourteen passed eight they take off. They break branches on trees when they land on them and there are crocodiles waiting just below.” (Rosemary remembers the moment she witnessed this vividly. She phrases it all so wonderfully that I made a mental note to remember it in full and write it down when there was a break in conversation. Now, go back and read it again, out loud, using your best impression of Gandalf.)

She also laid this little tidbit down (as best as I can remember):

“It’s a shame what’s happening with the Chinese influence in Africa. They come in for the lumber, you see. Rare lumber, useful lumber, expensive lumber. They put in roads since they only need them until the wood is gone. Couple years maybe. But they’re terrible roads. Turn to potholes in that time and then there’s no one there after they leave that knows what to do with it. Would have been better to leave the roads as they were.

What’s worse, they give these small villages money. To people who have never had money. Money to work for them in getting the lumber. Then they put in bars and gambling machines, and those people, who’ve never known anything about money, take all their hard earned money and feed it right back to them. It’s a disgrace.”

Yikes. I like Rosemary, she’s a straight shooter. A verbal painter and just rough enough. Lots of experience, a beautiful love and realistic, resentful understanding for the land she’s from.

I take a break from convo and settle in for a flick. Looks like I, Tonya might be the best option. Decent. Margot Robbie is excellent. The way the story is told is well done. It’s like FMF’s The Good Soldier meets Deadpool in the sense of untrustworthy narrators and lots of 4th wall breaking.

There’s some turbulence. I get up to go to the bathroom when Mike does so I’m not disturbing them as much. Stewardess is strapped in. She tells me to please sit down. It’s not safe. Mike, you sneaky bastard. It’s my last chance before descent and I blew it. Mike comes back to sit and has no idea what my smile is all about.

We hit the tarmac in Joburg and I Project Fi my way right onto the local carrier. Easy peasy. I text Waldo to see what his status is, “Where’s Waldo?”. “I’m here! Be waiting for you at arrivals.” Awesome. 

I thank Rosemary for the astounding conversation. Flight went by in a jiff. She reiterates that we should stay with them if we’re by the Zambeze. Oh, for sure. We part ways with a shake and a smile. Alright, where’s Waldo? 

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