Saturday, 13 July 2013

First Impressions

The flight from London to Johannesburg is long. Eleven hours or thereabouts. But it's actually much faster than your brain adjusts to the adventure of it all.

My first glimpse of Johannesburg from the air was of a sprawling city - pretty typical, tall buildings in a downtown core, neat rows of streets, houses, malls, industrial core. And the airport is clean, modern, and a no-man's land. You don't believe you're anywhere other than Heathrow or Toronto or Barcelona.

The first indication you're somewhere else is when you're accosted by shoe-shine lads who won't take no for an answer.

"I"m going into the bush," I say, when a young man urgently presses the need to shine my boots.

"The animals will like them better if they're shiny," he says. "Please, only 20 Rand."

He seems so desperate, but I pass him by. I've been to Morocco and Mexico. It feels the same.

My next flight is a quick commuter, low-flying so you can really see the countryside. And Joburg's neat streets soon give way to disordered jumbles of tin, and you start to see the problems.

But once the ramshackle townships are past, you see the unmistakeable signs of European inhabitance. Straight roads, patchwork fields, neat farms, hedgerows and borders of trees. It could be Canada. And the dirt is so red, it could be Prince Edward Island.

From the air, the European influence on the land is strong. The African presence is more subtle, pretty much non-existent, from the air anyway. Perhaps, like with our own First Nations communities, that's partly the point. Perhaps Africans don't need to make their mark the way individualistic Europeans do. Or perhaps they haven't been given the opportunity.

Finally on the ground at Kruger International Airport in Nelspruit,  I meet Jen who drives me to the Hands at Work village, just outside of White River. Originally from the UK, she and her husband have been living here for four years, and she loves it. "So much room for my three boys to run around. They are more South African now. It's a good life for them," she says.

First look on the ground at the extremely cute Kruger Airport - perfectly geared to safari tourists.

The area is lush, pretty, with red rutted roads and tall trees and hills. Jen shows me to my room, where I'll be bunking in with Daphne, the Australian lady who later tells me she's 73. I don't believe her. She looks 50.

I meet Erin and Judy and Michelle, the other Canadians, and Kayley who is 18 and from England. Tomorrow we'll meet our last team member, Jaclyn, who has been working in the area for some time.

I still don't have a clear sense of what we'll be doing. It all remains to be seen. All I can do now is sleep. I've been mostly awake for more than 30 hours, and I will sleep like the dead.

Me, after 30 hours of travel.

The work starts on Monday.

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