Sunday, June 04, 2006

June 4, 2006


OUR FIRST WEEKEND IN AFRICA

The flight from London to Johannesburg divided the great continent of Africa neatly into two halves. When we first approached the coast from the north, I was astounded to see an enormous, brightly-lit city gleaming below. It was Tripoli. And the lights were the last I would see until day began to break somewhere over the Congo.

After Tripoli, Africa slid by underneath, vast, silent, and shrouded in blackness. After day broke, we could barely make out the blue ribbons of rivers, and the vast undulating plains first of jungle and then savannah.

At one point during the long night Mandy nudged me and pointed. But I had removed my contact lenses for sleeping. "What is it?" I asked. "That light," she said. "I think it's a star -- but so bright." Even without my contacts I could see the gleam, low on the western horizon. Following the path of the sun. Probably a planet like Venus.

But near the far end of the continent, Johannesburg arrives like a return to civilization. The city has more than 15 million people, our driver told us. The streets seemed saner than London, and in most ways it reminded me of my old hometown of Los Angeles.

The B&B we checked into was fantastic, its bungalo-style rooms spacious and well appointed. It sits on a main road in Roodeport, a suburb of Johannesburg where World Vision has its Southern Africa regional offices.

Saturday was filled with napping and trying unsuccessfully to stave off the travel fatigue. A rental agency delivered a car with a manual transmission. I don't mind driving manual, but having to manipulate the shifter with my left hand while seeking to navigate down the left side of the road has me thinking in reverse and feeling tied up in knots. I was able to do a few blocks without killing us on Saturday afternoon, to pick up a pizza, then Sunday ventured out to church and, starting to feel more comfortable, halfway across town to a large park where we practiced photography. Then out again for shopping and dinner. I now feel I am starting to somewhat get the hang of it, though I'm not sure if I'm feeling so exhausted now from the concentration or the jetlag. Probably both.

I think our main challenge at the moment is just the sense of isolation. I expected more from church -- to find a friend or someone we could share our long journey with, but none showed up. Made me wonder how often strangers far from home may feel the same way about my church. We must recommit ourselves to take that risk and talk to people we don't recognize.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed spending time with my daughter. She is brave, and daring, and a worthy companion for such an adventure as this.

Well, it's evening and after chatting with my wife (who is just waking up on a Sunday morning) by instant messaging, I feel better and think I will sleep well tonight. I managed all day without a nap and so I think that means I must be getting back into a "normal" rhythm. Tomorrow morning we meet up with colleagues at the office and our assignment should begin to take shape.

Right now, I miss home something fierce. But we'll see what tomorrow brings.

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