Sarah's Gap Year travel blog

My airline

First glimpse of Africa


I'm finally here!! I got to the airport in New York at 8:15 am and was at my gate ready to go by 8:45... but my flight wasn't until 11am. So I sat in the airport, looking at my plane, and getting really excited to leave.

Finally, it was time to board. I was one of the first passengers to board and the woman sitting next to me was very friendly. While everyone boarded we talked all about my trip and her recent travels through the states (she lives in Johannesburg). I felt so lucky that I was seated next to someone so friendly, but then my luck got even better. Once everyone had boarded, she moved to sit next to her friend and I got the row to myself! That was definitely a huge improvement to my 15 hour flight.

I spent the flight reading, writing in my journal, listening to music, and napping. But mostly, I just kept looking out the window and getting SO EXCITED! I looked through my travel journal and realized the four words I used most were some version of excited, adventure, experiences, or giddy... now there's a sign of a good trip. For the first eight hours, the flight seemed to fly by. But the last 7 hours drug on for what felt like forever.

Finally, around quarter to eight, the pilot asked us to prepare for landing. Looking out the window, I caught my first glimpse of South Africa.

I had to contain myself from exploding with excitement. I was finally here and I just wanted to be on African soil and on my way to the adventure of a lifetime!

When we landed I went through customs and baggage claim without a hitch. Of course, within my first ten minutes of being in Africa, I saw someone wearing an Oregon O. Of course, even IN NEW YORK I didn't see a single NYU anything. Congrats Eric, your school is taking over the world.

Then I met Sharon at the exit. Sharon is the cousin of a family friend and has been living in Johannesburg for the past 40 years. She was gracious enough to let me stay in her guest room and to offer to take me around Joburg while I'm here.

Once again, I was in luck, as Sharon is so sweet and I have enjoyed her company so much today. When she picked me up, we drove back to her house and I had my first two "I'm really in Africa" moments. The first was when I almost got into the drivers seat because I forgot that the cars are opposite of America. The second was when we were driving home. We were stuck in terrible traffic because a truck had flipped, blocking all lanes of the freeway. But unlike they would in the United States, they did not close the freeway. They simply had the cars take an off-road detour around the wreckage and back onto the freeway!

After two hours of terrible traffic, we arrived at Sharon's home. It's an adorable one story, two bedroom house decorated with knick knack from Sharon's extensive travels. I was so happy to meet her two Jack Russell Terriers since I'm not going to have a dog for six months, and I was so grateful to have my own room and bathroom for the next three nights.

Once finished unpacking, I had lunch with Sharon and then we left for the Apartheid Museum. The museum was fascinating! I had read a few books about African history - mostly South African history - so I knew a lot about the Apartheid, but it was amazing to actually see the pictures and artifacts. There were parts that were very informative on a political level, but there were parts that had quite an impact as well. Some of the things that had the greatest impact on me were the ropes that had been used to hang those who opposed Apartheid, the replicas of the confinement cells prisoners had been left in as torture, and the actual guns used in the revolts. I’m so glad this was the first thing I did in Joburg as it gave me a better understanding of South Africa’s dark past as well as their current state.

At the museum, a parade of 15 foot high puppets was going on. Today was Heritage Day (also known as Braaiday, “braai” meaning barbeque, because so many people celebrate via barbeques). The puppets were each a different race of people living in South Africa and the parade paid tribute to the many heritages of South Africa.

After the museum I was practically sleep walking, so Sharon and I went back to her house. I met Daisy, Sharon’s housekeeper that lives in a separate home on her property. Then I rolled onto my bed and slept for an hour. When I woke up I took a bath (no showers here!) and got ready for dinner. Around 6 o’clock we left to meet her friend for dinner.

One thing I love about dinners in countries that aren’t America is that they are a multiple hour event. You don’t sit down, order, scarf down your meal, pay, and leave. You sit down. Get a drink. Talk for awhile. Peruse the menu. Order your appetizer. Talk some more. Order your food. Eat your appetizer. Talk some more. Eat your food. Talk some more. Get coffee and cocoa and, of course, talk some more. Then, after a few hours of enjoying each other’s company, you ask the waiter for your bill and say goodnight.

We went to a great Italian restaurant in the mall called Piatto. There I got an Appletizer (the best sparkling apple cider ever) and I tried Halloumi cheese (deep fried goat milk cheese). Not only was the food delicious, but I had a great time with Sharon and her friend, Michelle. We talked all about my trip and Sharon’s many adventures with travel. Sharon spent six months traveling with a group through Africa and has done many other amazing trips.

They also taught me a lot about current South African politics. They told me about their president, Zuma, who has four wives and a fiancée, was charged with rape (but didn’t get convicted), and was charged with corruption (also didn’t get convicted). They also told me about the Malema, the youth leader of the African National Congress and Zuma’s opposition. Apparently he is on trial for hate speeches and is extremely racist towards whites and uses extreme measures to make his visions clear. Sharon said if he is convicted he will be seen as a martyr to many members of the ANC that may try to follow in his footsteps. If not convicted, he will likely be the next president.

We also talked about the immense corruption. For example, 25% of the money earned from selling one’s house is required to be given to the government. They also talked about the fact that they were surprised that a political comedian who mocks corruption in the government has not been arrested.

It was so intriguing to learn about the politics of South Africa and I am so glad that I’ve already learned so much on my first day. Today has been a great introduction to my trip and I already can tell that I will come home with a wealth of knowledge about foreign affairs. Tomorrow we are going to Soweto (the local township) and to a South African play about an Afrikaner man trying to decide what Apartheid means.

I am loving every minute of my first day of my Gap Year. Now it’s off to bed with the hope that my trip will continue to be this great!

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