– I have no idea how this is going to work. My internet connection doesn’t allow photos or pop-ups to load, so I don’t know what customizations I picked or what my blog actually looks like.
– Choosing between identical, white box options is an interesting exercise in austerity.
– First and foremost, or conversely third and third-most, I am alive and whole despite considerable effort on my part to the contrary. But more on that later.
– My arrival into South Africa was smooth and largely painless. I was horrendously sleep deprived but that was business as normal, as the school semester had just ended. The ATM refused to issue me cash, no matter what permutations of cards and on-screen options I went through, and I resigned myself to the money exchange booth, getting just enough Rand to survive.
– Currently 1 US dollar will buy you 10 South Africa Rand, according to the world economy. The exchange rate at the booth was not that generous.
– Never use money exchange booths if you can help it.
– I had to visit two vodocom shops but I managed to unlock my iPhone and insert a South African sim card, buying 150 minutes and sms messages for 150 Rand, along with 2 Gigs of internet use. All things cellphones are cheap in South Africa. I could have bought a phone with a small handful of cash, but I wanted to keep Google maps and all of my apps.
– The first vodocom shop did not have sim cards, but they did provide me with an unbent paperclip with which to ‘unlock’ my phone. I was embarrassed and astounded to realize that sticking an unbent paperclip into the tiny hole in the side of your iPhone was all that was required for unlocking it. I had assumed it was a euphemism for a far more complicated and technical process, possibly requiring circuit boards. “That’s it?” I asked the Afrikaans man behind the counter. He nodded, looking exhausted and unimpressed with my epiphany, and was too polite to wave me away.
– I waited for my hotel to pick me up by the information booth, shaking my head at illicit taxi drivers and telling every man that asked that, yes, I was waiting for someone, no, I wasn’t interested in whatever it was they were making overtures about. I did this by not saying anything and craning my neck, looking busy and taken.
– Blending is an important skill, as is looking like you know exactly what is going on, where you’re going and what you want. Never look like you need someone to provide any of this for you.
– My hotel was close by, in a bad part of town, behind a tall fence and surrounded by a beautiful garden. My room opened with an antique key, I had a master bed, a twin bed, a walk-in bathroom and internet, which after the bed was the most important thing. I called my credit card companies and told them to put a flag on my cards so I could use them. Speaking. One. Word. At. A. Time. So. They. Could. Understand. Me. Over. The. Internet. Connection. I am infinitely grateful that the representative never hung up, but always asked one more time if I could repeat that. My phone was for emergencies only and I was still feeling protective over my minutes. I couldn’t use up 10 listening to bad waiting music.
– Unsure of when my cards would be safe to use, I didn’t want to order a dinner I couldn’t pay for. I bought a salad in their lovely, rustic dining room, sitting by the fire because it is winter here and I was still in rumpled traveling clothes.
– The room was empty except for a young guy sitting across the room with his back to me. I was sure it my prior labmate, Garrett, who was also coming to South Africa, but I didn’t think quite so soon. He looked and moved like him, but didn’t sound like him at all, as I learned when he complimented the older woman who was our chef and server on the food.
– The credit card worked, so I also bought ostrich sausages with a side of buttery mashed potatoes and was exhaustively happy. The fire, food and elegant, empty dining room was lovely, and the cook told me I could take my tea back to my room because a young dear should always be allowed her bedtime tea.
– Hot showers are humankind’s greatest invention. I love them more than almost anything.