Not much human contact during this first week in Africa, but here are some of the people I’ve interacted with (unofficially – i.e., not including people I had arranged to meet with; these folks will be discussed later, as relevant)
- a series of Delta baggage assistants, including one lady with very short black hair and purple lipstick who was the one who found my bag and called me
- the young man who drove me from the airport to my JoBurg hotel and who did not complain (openly) about having waited for two hours at the international arrivals for me
- Thomas, the bellman at my JoBurg hotel who, in the space of 4 minutes, had planned my entire 5 month itinerary
- the ladies at the Vodacom shop (mobile phone) who I waded into an odd misunderstanding with, concluding with a suggestion from one that I return on Monday to take her shopping under the guise of a story to the airline that my girlfriend’s clothes were lost also
- the nurse at the Dis-Chem (pharmacy) who assured me I didn’t have an infection or need antibiotics and that although stuffy, my body temperature was a healthy 37.2 degrees; she did, however, give me a shot for my sinuses – I asked if I needed to remove a sleeve and she replied, “No, it’s going in your bum.”
- an employee at yet another Dis-Chem who helped me find the bottled water and then was amazed at himself that he could tell I was not from SA; I’m not positive, but I think he said I was the first person he had ever met from the United States
- the checkout person at a bookstore who asked me where I was from; when I told her Memphis, she said, “Oh, the home of —“ (and I braced myself for the first in an endless series of Elvis references) “— Justin Timberlake.” A new generation.
- Niso, an Israeli who moved to Bloemfontein for a job 30 years ago and has been here ever since.
- Christian, a potential landlord, former rugby player (and the father of a rugby player), and booster of all things having to do with sports in Bloem and at UFS and really in the whole country who confided that South Africa is “a wonderful country that’s just a little f’d up; though not nearly as f’d up as it could be if we hadn’t changed when we did, which is nice.”
- various car guards, who have helped me find parking spots and say something like “Ship Ship” at the end of each of our conversations
- Phillipe, a UFS economics professor who stuck around and drove me back to my car, and who delivered on the “home of Elvis” comment (as others have)
- the most earnest and eager to please waiter I have ever encountered, a man who I felt like I was disappointing when I only ordered a water to drink; he carried himself with the uncertainty of someone who wasn’t quite sure what the right thing to do was but who was entirely sure that he wanted to do the right thing the best he could (fidgety hands, starting and stopping, clutching his waiter’s pad like a treasure)
- a man at the full service petrol (gas) station who fumbled along with me as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to be doing