On Monday, I returned from 12 glorious days to South Africa. It was, without a doubt, a dream come true. You see, in my “other” life (my professional one, that is), I study conflict. Class conflict, racial/ethnic conflict…if there is inequality present, it’s on my research radar. So you can imagine my fascination with a country as complex and diverse as South Africa. The history of that country is intense. It’s raw. It’s as varied as the beautiful landscape.
When I was offered the chance to plan a travel course for my students, it’s obvious what was on the top of my list. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – being a professor is the best job in the world. Thankfully, I found 10 students crazy and adventurous enough to trust me and follow me halfway around the world. Over the next week or so, I’m going to share those adventures with you. So grab a coffee and settle in because I have some stories to tell.
We departed the Atlanta airport at 7:30pm. My students were already groaning about the 15 hour flight, but you could tell that it was just a mask for their bubbling excitement. And me? Well, a 15 hour plane ride without children was the closest thing to a true vacation I’ve had in years! I settled into my seat and started planning the movies I was going to watch, the book I was going to read and the snacks I was going to eat. Seriously, I was in heaven.
With the exception of some crazy turbulence, the flight was great. I watched 4 (!!) movies, took a couple of 2 hour naps and read about 200 pages of a book that I’d been saving just for that occasion. Considering that I normally have a child or two that I’m trying to balance in my lap on the flight, I landed feeling rested and refreshed. Crazy, right?
We flew into O.R. Tambo International airport and breezed through passport control. The airport reminded me very much of the Miami airport – big, modern, busy. At the airport, students exchanged money, we dealt with a lost piece of luggage (no biggie as it was resolved the next day) and we went looking for our driver.
I am not going to lie – this was my biggest concern of the entire trip. Since it was a university planned event, I had to pay for everything in advance and it was a nerve wracking experience to book someone based solely on online reviews and a couple of email exchanges. I went on faith that he would actually show up and I am thrilled to say that booking Jimmy Vlachos of DGV Transport was the absolute best decision of our trip. He not only exceeded our expectations, but he spoiled the kids rotten – more on that later.
After we met up with Jimmy, we loaded into the minibus (with an attached trailer for our luggage) and we drove the 40 minutes to Pretoria so that we could check into our guest house – the Brooklyn Guest House. The guest house was recommended to us by our friends at UNISA (The University of South Africa) and the accommodations were fabulous. The guest house was actually a series of small interconnected buildings surrounding a lush courtyard. The students were floored by how lovely and quaint it was and it definitely felt like a good omen for our trip. As a bonus, my friend Melanie (from UNISA) had left all of us an individualized welcome gift. The students were very impressed and loved the thoughtfulness of the gifts.
Here are some pictures from the Brooklyn Guest House.
We piled back in the minibus and we went to a nearby shopping mall to grab some dinner. After we had eaten, we returned to the guest house to get a much needed rest. Our schedule was a busy one and the following morning, we were scheduled to tour some of Pretoria’s sites.
To be continued…