I've decided that talking about my trip is (obviously) too much stuff to sum up in one post, but I have to start somewhere. So here goes...
We flew from Tri-Cities to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Johannesburg. The flight from Atlanta to Jo-burg was 19 hours straight. We landed once at the Isle of Sal to refuel and change crew members. Unfortunately, we passengers weren't allowed off the plane. The only thing that got me through the grueling hours in the air was the really cool video screen thingy. Not only could you watch a new release of your choosing, you could also play a game, tune into music, or check out a little featurette on Africa. I went the educational route and played blackjack. To my mom I introduced the game Shanghaii and she was then quite occupied for the rest of the trip.
Okay, PAUSE for a moment. I really don't want to give a narrative about my trip (on this day we went here, on this day we did this... blah blah blah...) so maybe I'll just share some of my observations and post a few pictures to accompany them.
Johannesburg, South Africa. It was not quite what I expected. It's a big city, quite normal as far as big cities go. There are nice places to eat, shop, visit, and see. There are quite crappy places where no one wants to eat, shop, visit, or see. Like any big city. One thing I wasn't prepared for was all the trash. It's a dirty place. But then it also had its really nice places. For example, there was the Montecasino, a huge casino/shopping mall complex. It could have been on the strip in Vegas and I wouldn't have known the difference.
Someone on the airplane told us that Johannesburg is the most treed city in the world. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but there were a surprising number of trees. They weren't all particularly green, or even sizeable, but they were there. The most unusual tree I saw was the jacaranda, a tree with purple flowers.
Alright, now I'm going to revert to a few observations I made in my journal after being in Jo-burg for a day or so. (Yes, I am a nerd for quoting myself.)
"Johannesburg is a strange mix of European influence and African culture. It's almost like a big city in Europe, but it's completely African at the same time. The effects of European colonization are apparent but not so strong they overshadow what is truly native. I think if I had one word to describe things so far, it would be DUSTY. (The second word being DRY.) Everything is constantly covered with a fine layer of dust. Good thing for those "domestic workers" as they are called. Apparently, it's nearly insulting to not hire household help. Any middle-class South African home has a live-in domestic servant. And security. Security is a HUGE deal around here. I've yet to see a house not surrounded by some sort of fenced enclosure (most often topped with barbed wire.) Private security guards are more plentiful and more effective than actual policemen. All windows have those steel bar things across them because at night people leave their windows open (air-conditioning in homes is pretty much unheard of.) Crime is a big concern. The mentality seems to be a purely selfish one, where people are concerned primarily with their own needs, often sacrificing morals to meet those needs. Life is cheap here, so I've heard, and so someone won't think twice about physically harming you for a few dollars."