Three meals, two movies, four chapters and five albums later they arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was 5 o’clock in the evening local time. Customs and baggage claim were uneventful although they probably wouldn’t have noticed, being deliriously numb from the long flight and no sleep. A bed and a place to drop all their luggage was all they wanted. Jumbo and Elliot, part of the team on the ground, ushered them to the bus and it was one more mode of transportation for the day. They squeezed into the seats and waited. Fortunately, it wasn’t very far.
The teenager looked around oddly as they drove to the hotel, “This looks like home, not Africa.” She was taken aback by the completely modern city, expecting to walk off the airplane into an open savannah with lions and cheetahs roaming freely. Johannesburg is like any other big city, full of traffic, bad drivers, malls and tourists.
After dropping off their personal belongings at the hotel, they were treated to an African inspired restaurant – Tribes African Grill Steakhouse. There were large wooden tables, masks, drums and spears, all adding to the modern tribal decor. A seasonal variety of African game was on the menu, including ostrich, kudu and impala. The two looked at each other and “chickened out”, ordering vegetable lasagna and a chicken burger. No, no African game for dinner tonight, although others in the group did enjoy the kudu steak and game kabobs.
The rest of the evening appeared to be quite normal, returning to the hotel and off to sleep, but there was nothing normal about it. They were in Africa: a far off mystical land of intrigue! How could they just feel normal there? Impossible. Every action, no matter how mundane, seemed to be elevated to a new level.
“I’m brushing my teeth, and I’m in Africa!” the woman exclaimed through the odd sliding-glass bathroom door.
“I know, it’s just better, right?”
“Look, I’m brushing my hair…in Africa!”
“I’m watching television…in Africa!”
They made each other laugh as they took in their surroundings and the reality of where they were began to settle in. They had waited for so long and they were finally, really there. They both fell asleep smiling, thinking about the adventure that was underway. They had no idea of what was to come.
It was an early morning rise, quick breakfast at the hotel, and they were loading the bus for the drive to Swaziland. The city stretched for miles but soon the familiar modern buildings gave way to the small cinder-block housing that is very common in more rural areas of South Africa and then, shanty-towns. The teenager stared out the window, unfamiliar with the rows upon rows of single rooms held together by cardboard, corrugated tin, mud and maybe some cinderblocks. It is a sight to see, especially for an American, who may have seen poverty stateside, but nothing like this. The woman and teenager settled in as the countryside took over. There were rolling golden hills that went on for miles and in the distance, pillars of smoke from small grass fires that were allowed to burn themselves out.
The woman was engaged in a delightful conversation with a young lady on the bus about art and the challenges of being an artist of God. What did it mean to be an artist driven by God’s word? How challenging it is to stay true to His work when it is so easy, and acceptable in this world, to indulge your pride with personal work instead. The common ground was so refreshing for the woman. The two shared stories for what may have been hours before the woman realized that they were pulling over for a much needed break.
“Coffee!!!” The woman exclaimed as she politely pushed aside others and headed for the front of the line. She fondly remembered Mugg and Bean, a coffee shop similar to Starbucks in the West, but with an expanded food menu. She had been waiting for this stop. After purchasing two drinks and then one for the teenager, they were back on the bus and headed to the border of South Africa and Swaziland.