Monday, September 30, 2013

Little Ms. Brain Learns a Thing or Two

Little Miss Brainy
This is Little Miss Brainy,
credit Roger Hargreaves.
When I was about 12 years old, my uncle came out to me as gay. We were out rollerblading, and I nodded, knowingly. He asked me if I knew what that meant. Being a Little Ms. Brain, I said yes. I'm sure he smiled, skeptically. Nevertheless, growing up "my gay uncle" wasn't a hypothetical. It was my--quiet, otherwise undiscussed--normal.

Once, early in grad school, I had a heated conversation with a student from another university. It was lunchtime during a conference, and somehow we found ourselves talking about queer issues and teaching. I think we were discussing Jack Halberstam's In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, in which she argues that the primacy of lived, embodied experience is why we need more diversity in academia. I was insisting that despite being a heterosexual, married woman, I was open and welcoming of any of my future students who might identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. The other grad student--who outed herself in the course of the conversation (Me: "Okay.")--strongly denied that there was any way I could ever make my classroom "safe." Why not, I asked? I believed in the possibilities of a liberal arts education, meaning personal experience is not necessary to know something; rather, it is possible to learn things from books--even or especially if the author had a different embodied experience. We didn't resolve the issue of the classroom, but I tucked it away in the back of my brain.

I came out as a GLBT* ally sometime later in graduate school. I can't remember if it was because my immediate circumstances changed (I learned about queer theory, among other things) or if it was because national conversations about sexuality in politics and religion became that much more prominent. Most of my "activism" consisted of facebook posts and signing online petitions, but I also mentored a high schooler with an uncertain home situation and went to the local Pride Fest. As a medical student I attended a seminar on campus about queer issues in medicine and started wearing a rainbow flag button on my white jacket. (I wear a cross label pin, too, and figure patients will notice one or the other if they're looking for them.)

This past week I decided to "level up" by getting some formal training from the GLBT Resource Center on campus. Actually, this was the second time I had signed up for the ally training; the first time it had filled up super fast. The newly revamped training consisted of 3 hours jam-packed with definitions, testimonials, scenarios, and questions. One part of the training involved a panel of students who identify as gay. They told us their coming-out stories (two happy, one not) and shared some of their experiences on campus. When it was time for Q&A, my hand shot up: "As a classroom instructor, I already lay down ground rules at the beginning of the semester about appropriate language and things discussed in class not leaving the room. In your opinion, could I do anything else to make my classroom a safe space, or was that even a possibility?"

The general consensus was yes, this is possible. Instructors can design activities that are gender- and sexuality-neutral. To practice the future-probable tense in a foreign language class, for instance, students don't need to be broken up into boys and girls to discuss their ideal girl/boyfriend; let them talk about their ideal partner, job, house, or vacation instead. In addition, we should assign readings that include a variety of characters and family situations (i.e. two lesbian moms with kids).

And then there was what the one graduate-student panel member had described: in his first semester on campus, he felt uncomfortable submitting a paper to peer review that would likely out him to his classmates. The TA was very understanding, excused the student from class on those days, and did the review himself. Being open to my students' varying comfort levels--including the need to skip class sometimes--was held up as an example of how to make my classroom a safe space.

I didn't press the issue at the time, since there was so much more material to cover in the training, but upon later reflection, I realized that my original question had in fact been answered in the negative. The TA had removed the student from the situation precisely because he could not ensure that a room filled with other persons who think, talk, and act independently would be a safe space. While I should declare and police such boundaries, I have to realize that I lead the class, but I am not in control of the class.

This was a minor epiphany that my friends and family whose embodied "normals" include such uncertainties will probably laugh and roll their eyes at. Little Ms. Brain often thinks she knows what you mean, but she doesn't always, so she's trying to be a good ally by listening, reading, and watching all the time. After all, I still believe in the possibility of a classical liberal arts education, beginning with myself.

* GLBT = Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender. In college I remember a banner that was a veritable alphabet soup of an acronym: GLBTQQIA: Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex Ally. There may also have been another A for Asexual. You can see why GLBT or "queer" is simpler to use; but please do not forget the diversity that hides behind those 4-5 letters.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fast da! / Almost there!

Am Eingang zum Campus steht die von berühmten Plastiker Lorado Taft entworfen bronze Figur, die "Alma Mater." Sie steht vor ihrem Stuhl, ihre Arme ausgestreckt, um die StudentInnen wilkommen zu heissen. Hinter ihr stehen "Studium" (eine Frau) und "Arbeit" (ein Mann), die einander ihre Hände geben.

Die alte Mutter steht im Zentrum von Campus Town, und die Studenten machen Photos vor und auf ihr wann sie graduieren. Leider ist ihr Podest seit anderthalb Jahre leer, während die Figuren repariert werden. Hoffentlich kehren sie vor Mai zurück, wenn ich meine Doktorehre bekommen!

Bis dann habe ich meine "kleine" Verteidigung mit dieser Pose auf einem Dampfraster(?) gefeiert. 20. Spetember habe ich "das grüne Licht" bekommen, meine Doktorarbeit fertigzustellen!

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

At the entrance to the campus stands the "Alma Mater," a bronze statue designed by famous sculptor Lorado Taft. She stands in front of her chair with her arms stretched out  to welcome the students. Behind her stand "Learning" (a woman) and "Labor" (a man), who are reaching their hands out to each other.

The old mother stands in the heart of Campus Town, and the students take pictures in front of and on her when they graduate. Unfortunately, her platform has been empty for a year and a half, while the figures are being repaired. Hopefully they will return before May, when I receive my doctorate!

Until then I celebrated my "little" defense with this pose on a steam grate (?). On Spetember 20th I got the "green light" to finish my dissertation!

Friday, September 13, 2013

SA: Two Parables

Being a good aunt, I dutifully made one last stop before leaving Johannesburg, for souvenirs at the African Craft Market at Rosebank Mall. It consists of two levels of small stalls in a primitive-looking "wooden" building sandwiched between the old mall (built in the 1990s) and the new mall that will be finished this year. Outside, young people in "traditional" costumes dance for tips from white tourists. I skipped the display of "authentic" African culture and made a beeline for the two stalls I had determined had the gifts I wanted to get.

I had cased the joint the previous weekend, on my first day in Jo-burg, wandering up and down the rows. The sellers cajoled and sweet talked me, offering special deals "just today" and "just for you, Sissy." I demurred, repeating over and and over again that I was just looking. There was a lot to look at: stone and wood carvings of animals and and people, masks, jewelry of various kinds, batik fabrics, and beaded doohickeys. Lots of elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, hippopotamuses, and zebras. It turns out not everything it made by the sellers; sometimes they source things from neighboring countries. One seller insisted I take a heart-shaped keychain of red beads, in the expectation that I would come back and buy something.

I liked the little wooden frog noise-makers, but I was afraid I didn't have any room in my luggage, as I had picked up a memoir during the conference. As it was, I had my eye on some little stone figurines for my niece and nephew, and a batik table runner for myself. Hopefully I didn't botch the haggling over the prices too badly.

After I got home, I made up little gift packages for the kids. Each one had a figurine, a few coins (Rand), and a short story I adapted from South-African Folk-Tales, collected and published by James A. Honeÿ, MD, in 1910. I want to share the parables with you:

There was just one "string" attached to the gifts: that they call
and tell me what they thought after opening their gifts, which they did.
The Man and the Snake
A Dutchman saw Snake lying under a large stone. Snake asked for his help, but once she was free, she said, "Now I shall eat you." The Man answered, "That is not right. Let us hear what Hare says." But Hare agreed with Snake.
So the Man asked Hyena, who also agreed with Snake.
In despair, the Man went to Jackal.
Now Jackal was very wise. He acted as if he did not believe the story and wanted to see whether the Man could really lift the stone. Snake lay down, and the Man put the stone again over her.
"Now leave her there," said Jackal.

Rooster and Jackal

It is said Jackal once chased Rooster and caught him. Rooster said, "Please, pray first before you kill me, as the missionaries do."

Jackal asked, "How do they pray? Tell me."

"They fold their hands when praying," said Rooster. Jackal folded his hands and prayed. But Rooster said, "You shouldn’t look around like that. You should close your eyes." So Jackal did; and Rooster flew away, laughing, "You rogue! Are you sure you know how to pray? "

There sat Jackal, speechless, because he had been outdone.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

SA: Touring the Neighborhood, 1 of 3

After my conference ended, I stayed in the neighborhood of Parktown. September 24 is Heritage Day in South Africa. A little bit ahead of schedule, a local heritage group was giving tours around Joburg one weekend. I figured this would be a cheap way to pack in a lot of sight-seeing. When the (black) hotel-shuttle bus driver dropped me off at the church-school complex (gated, of course) on Saturday morning, I almost said to him, "I know we're in the right spot: look at all those white people!"

Indeed, the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust is a nucleus of not just white but English-speaking South Africans of mostly English descent with a particular interest in the historical buildings of Parktown. These interesting old Victorian and Edwardian mansions also symbolise a time when whites ruled the area, and the few people who sweltered in period costumes made me wonder about what exactly they were trying to save from the much-needed highway expansion that is slated to run through some of the properties.

Saturday morning I joined a 3-hour walking tour that began at Emoyeni Estate, built by Rand Lord and Finance Minister Henry Hull in 1905 on top of the highest ridge above Joburg. The name means "Place in the Air" in Nguni, and the view really is spectacular. These days it is rented out for wedding receptions and the like (the chair in the parking lot above was part of preparations underway for a party later that day).

~ * ~ * ~

Next stop was a dilapidated house with a small garden that is surely impressive in the summer. Hazeldene Hall was built in 1902 for a coal magnate with "brookie lace" ironwork along the balcony imported from New Orleans. It was undergoing extensive renovation at the time, but the stained-glass windows had been preserved.

~ * ~ * ~

Last stop was The View, a big old mansion built in 1897 for Sir Thomas Cullinan, owner of the mine in which the world's largest diamond was found in 1905. Naturally he named it after himself: the Cullinan diamond was about 4 inches large and 3106.75 carats raw. It was cut into 9 diamonds (the Great Star of Africa, the Second Star of Africa, and the Lesser Stars of Africa) that have been incorporated into the Crown Jewels of England. Today The View houses the headquarters and memorabilia of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, which explains the kilts and bagpipes. The plumbing still works, btw.

Editor's note: coming soon! Parts 2 and 3 of this series.

Friday, September 6, 2013

SA: The Fossil Caves

After all the conference shenanigans were over, it was time for some sight-seeing. I had asked round to see if anyone wanted to come with me--I was hoping a local would volunteer and drive--but the forensic anthropologist who offered backed out at the last minute. However, he set me up with a very nice post-doc out at Sterkfontein Caves, part of the World Heritage Site Cradle of Humankind, the world's richest deposit of hominid remains.

The next morning I rented a car and GPS unit and set out. This was not without the hassle of having to go back to the hotel to get my original passport out of the safe box, since they wouldn't accept an uncertified copy; however, by that time they had located a car with an automatic transmission for me. I thought having to figure out how to drive on the left would be a challenge enough without also having to remember how to drive a stick shift! Driving on the "wrong" side of the road turned out to be easier than I had anticipated, because the streets are set up for two-way traffic: you just have to put your car where someone else's isn't. (It's harder to be a pedestrian.) It probably helped that there were lots of signs warning that cameras were checking our speed, so I closely monitored my lead-foot tendencies.

It was a beautiful if very warm day. I got a personal tour of the dig site, both the outside pits and the indoor areas, where highly trained workers painstakingly remove fossils from the rock in which they are embedded. While we were there, one of the diggers pointed out a tooth he had uncovered, probably from a jackal or hyena. Someone else's *entire* job is to break up the stones the miners left.

Dem bones
The area was once a great inland lake whose bottom filled with dolomite. Slightly acidic water seeped into the dolomite and created underwater caves. As the water level dropped, these filled with air--and then debris. It was mostly dirt, vegetation, and bones broken by predators eating in the trees above, but sometimes a whole body would fall down the vertical shafts that opened in weak spots. Calcium carbonate was laid down very slowly, fossilizing everything. Over time, the ceilings collapsed, and earthquakes raised other parts, so deeper does not necessarily mean older. Miners in the 1890s looking for limestone to aid in purification of gold ore discovered the first fossils. Systematic excavation began in 1936, halted temporarily during WWII, and continues to this day.

The rocks range from 4.2 million years old to 200,000 years old. The fossils are up to 3 million years old; there are also stone tools 2 million years old. This is where the hominid genus Australopithecus was first discovered (yes, before "Lucy"!). The two most famous finds are "Mrs. Ples," a 2.1-million-year-old Australopithecus skull found in 1947, and "Little Foot," an almost complete child skeleton that is 2-3 million years old and was painstakingly uncovered in 1994-1998. A paleoanthropologist noticed some of his foot bones first, then he sent workers in with flashlights to search the caves for the matching bit of stone where it broke off. Amazingly, they found it in just two days! If I had had a light, we could have seen that part of the caves (Silberberg Grotto), which is not open to the public.

For lunch, the post doc recommended "not the salad" from the little eatery in the visitors' center, so I ordered a cheap but tasty grilled ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich. Then it was time for the guided tour. The post doc let me into the mini-museum for free: sweet. I was soon joined by a class of hospitality students and a few elderly Italian tourists. The exhibits chronicle the geological history of the Sterkfontein caves, how prospecting for minerals led to the discovery of the first fossils, and the evolution of Homo sapiens. The displays are quite nicely done, as you can see.

Then it was time to enter the caves. The outside path had all kinds of interesting factoids scattered along it. For instance, "Mrs. Ples" is actually a male skull, which is why the name always appears in quotation marks. Our guide showed us how to work a clever sundial. Finally, we tramped down the stairs into the cool dark.

There were stalactites and stalagmites, oh my! Walking wasn't too difficult, as most of the path is on rubber grids. There is also a large underground lake. Once three divers tried to figure out how deep it is, but one became lost when his rope snagged and cut on a rock. He scrawled a message for his mother and his new wife on the rock before he died when his oxygen tank ran out. No one has been allowed to dive in the lake since then. Our tour ended with the ascent, part of which required some creativity to fit through a narrow passage: crab-walk, duck-walk, or bear-walk for the older gentleman whose knees didn't bend so well.

Either the continent of Africa or an elephant. Which do you see?
A statuette of paleontologist Dr. Robert Broom (1866-1951) holding a replica of "Mrs Ples" guards the exit to the caves. You can either rub his nose for luck or his left hand for wisdom. (Which do you think I chose?) Although I had the rental car for several more hours, I decided I had had enough adventure for one day. I skipped the main fossil museum at Maropeng as well as a nearby lion preserve to return to my hotel and finish an abstract that was due for another conference at midnight.
Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

SA: My Digs (the Princess)

I could not stay in the dorm for the duration of my stay in Johannesburg, so after the conference ended, I moved around the corner to a fancy-schmancy hotel. With a currency exchange rate of 1 dollar to 10 Rand, it was actually affordable on my student budget. Plus, I had not been able to find anything else in the neighborhood of Parktown, dominated as it is by Wits University, and I had not trusted the public transit options to move to a different part of the city. The breakfast buffet was not too expensive, and I learned only after my arrival that the hotel’s shuttle bus wasn’t included, as one expects in North
American hotels. Lunch and dinner I scrounged from various places.

My room was in the pool house. Unfortunately, I was visiting during Johannesburg's one week of spring, so the weather really wasn’t warm enough for swimming until my very last day. The chic digs didn't keep me from washing my laundry in the sick and hanging in on the railing, though! Built in 1896, the main house was at one time the home of Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1925), Governor of the Cape Colony. Parts of the mansion have been renovated, but others are under protection for their historic architecture. The grounds are beautifully decorated with fountains and sculpture.

Like yesterday's post, the food photo for this post is also from breakfast. I had something different every morning, beginning with a German repast of yogurt, muesli, fruit, and bread with toppings. One day, I tried a traditional British meal: baked beans, grilled tomatoes, creamed spinach, and kippers (smoked salmon). I skipped the fried egg and sausage, but it was still too savory a morning meal for my tastes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

SA: My Digs (the Pauper)

I stayed in two very different places during my Johannesburg trip, which I've designated "pauper" and "princess." Here is the first of the two. For the conference, I rented an efficiency dorm room in a gated university compound. My building was named “Stimela” for the train that brought blue-collar workers from around southern Africa to work in the diamond and coal mines. It was a short walk from the conference venue, and several of us graduate-student types trekked over together morning and night.

The kitchen came stocked with pots, dishes, and utensils (mostly one of each). On the counter you can see my new blue gel heat/cold pack, which I was able to boil on the stove and re-use on my aching back. The bed had wool blankets on it, which I needed the first couple of nights, because I couldn’t figure out how to work the room heater under the window.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you are probably familiar with my fascination with everyday technology. This is what a wall outlet and plug look like. I had done a little research before my trip and learned that South Africa uses M-type plugs. At the airport in New York, I tried to purchase an adapter but was told my “universal” adapter would work. It didn’t. So on my shopping excursion the first day I made sure to find one at a convenience store.

This was breakfast every morning: mango juice, yogurt with strawberries, a hard-boiled egg, and a wheaty roll. I had bought a small jar of Marmite to wet the roll, figuring it was an authentic local food. Spreading it before I tasted it was, as a friend would say, a poor life choice. What a vile, wretched, smelly “food” product! It was so gross that I had to scrape it off the roll in the picture and dunk the bread in the yogurt the other mornings. I don’t know how anybody can stand the stuff. I left the jar in the cupboard, hoping the cleaning lady would want it. Blech!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

SA: The Conference

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of posts about my trip to South Africa. You can find the first one here.

The organizers of the conference I attended at Wits University are trying to develop infrastructure for the field of history of medicine in southern Africa. The conference drew an international group of participants, most of whom work on African topics, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, cancer, hospitals, and traditional healers. The keynotes were outstanding and many of the papers excellent. My favorite was from an American graduate student in public health, who pointed out that epidemiologists studying HIV in South Africa tended to import population categories from North America and Europe, namely “men who have sex with men” (MSM). However, that label is not used among the general population there and does not fit their actual behavioral patterns, so he was urging the epidemiology community to re-examine its terminology. I thought it was a great example of the practical usefulness of the humanities to the medical sciences.

“Wits” is the recently shortened moniker for Witwatersrand University, the most prestigious institute of higher education in South Africa. Its original Afrikaans name reveals that it was once a university for whites. Today its student body is racially mixed, the professoriate less so, reflecting a generational gap in the training of non-white scholars and a distrust of historically white institutions. Indeed, at the planning meeting the day after the conference, there were no black Africans and only a single Indian, a genial psychiatrist who sat next to me. He and I talked about integrating more exposure to medical humanities at all stages of medical training and practice. In South Africa, they have a universal curriculum, so this group just needs to find a way to made it on the schedule. Unfortunately, there is talk of decreasing the course length from 5 to 4 years. In the US, every medical humanities program must be tailored to each medical school, so there is more academic freedom but less transferability.

Exploring the campus on my first day; Hillbrow Tower in the background.
Since food and nutrition are hot topics, my panel was scheduled for the main conference room and was video taped. A third panelist had had to give her paper early and leave for the States again, so our panel of two started a half hour later than advertised. That was good, because by the third day of the conference, people were straggling in on the mornings. Nevertheless, we had a good crowd. I thought it went quite well, although most of the questions were directed to the other speaker, an anthropologist working through a new way of thinking about food and digestion.

Gorgeous view, back-lit photo
One particularly nice feature of this conference was the organizers’ efforts to expose us to local culture. One night we attended the close of an exhibition at the Origins Centre of art by Colin Richards (1954-2012). Richard's unwitting participation (as an anatomical illustrator) in the cover-up of the highly suspicious death of Steve Biko in 1977 while in police custody profoundly changed him, really opened his eyes to the politics of art under apartheid. He did beautiful and sometimes quite critical work until a fall cut short his prolific life. The conference attendees had fancy hors d’ourves while the director of the institute interviewed his wife, Penny Siopis, who had put together the exhibition and is herself an accomplished artist.

The next night dinner was held in the Adler Museum of Medicine at the medical school. It had a thorough exhibition on the history of HIV/AIDS as well as artwork inspired by the epidemic. There were also more traditional objects, like a doctor’s kit, scalpels, and an iron lung. Most of that was cleared away for all our tables—and a Japanese xylophone player.* Above on the left you can see some of the display cases, in the background the musician, and to the right the tables filling the museum. They fed us well in general, but the formal dinner was particularly excellent: in addition to salad and dessert, the main course was salmon and asparagus on mashed potatoes. Unfortunately, on account of me cooking for myself and eating the rest of my meals at the conference, I didn’t get to experience much quintessential South African cuisine the first few days.

Several of us went out for drinks after the conference ended; I finished off someone’s thin-crust pizza (lead photo). Dear Husband wants to know why I won’t eat pizza in the Northern Hemisphere. Maybe he has to get me drunk first? Ha--good luck with that!

* If anyone could tell me the correct name for this musical instrument, I'd be much obliged.

Monday, September 2, 2013

SA: To South Africa and Back

Editor’s Note: The fall semester really got away from me this year. Between traveling, writing deadlines, committee work, auditing an East Asian history of science course, and recovering from all those things, I never found the time to write about my week-long conference and sightseeing trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, in early September. Finding some time over the holidays (between editing Chapters 2 and 3 of my dissertation) I have finally composed a series of posts designated SA in the title. They are back-dated to appear on the blog when they “should” have been published, but I will still receive any comments you leave.

One of the more sensational details about my trip to South Africa was my travel schedule. On the hottest day of the summer, we drove four hours to the airport--without air conditioning. The ride was made marginally more tolerable with a Sherlock Holmes story or two. Having dropped off a friend to help his brother move, and unable to tolerate the thought of more traffic, Dear Husband and I left the car and took the lightrail the rest of the way to the airport. We had hoped to eat dinner together, but there was nothing on the near side of security, so we said our good-byes. On the other side I bought dinner (and helped a German-speaking traveler!)…and talked to my father on the phone for an hour while rain delayed our departure. Three hours later, the plane finally took off. I got to New York at midnight, took a cab over to Queens, and crashed for the night. There was evening and there was morning, the first travel day.

Young and Old Nelson Mandela
Mural at Freedom Square, Soweto
The next morning, after breakfast and on my way to the hotel shuttle, I pulled a muscle in my back. It was so bad that I could hardly stand at first. I swallowed some pain killers and with the help of the shuttle driver made it to the airport, where I was handed over to the wheelchair brigade. I just didn’t think I could handle a suitcase, my heavy backpack, and taking off my shoes. And yet, when we arrived at security and they found out I was (technically) ambulatory, the TSA officers asked me to stand in one of those scanners! I always opt-out on principle, but even if I didn’t, I do not think I could have gotten my arms over my head.

Past security, I asked the the guy pushing me to stop so I could purchase a heating pad from a massage stand. It was one of those snap-activated gel packs that I could wear under my shirt once I boarded. I was the first one on the airplane, got help stowing my bags, and then settled in for a looong flight with my new heating pad. You see, there are two options for getting to Johannesburg: one is a “direct” flight from Washington DC through Dakar, Senegal, the other a 15-hour flight direct from NYC. Other graduate students warned me away from the former, however, since something could always go wrong once on the ground, so I opted for the former. The ticket even turned out to be slightly cheaper.

You might think a 15-hour flight would be intolerable, but I did not find it so. When flying to Europe, it always seems that by the time the plane has ascended, the stewards have served dinner, and you’ve finished your movie and are ready to sleep, there are only a few short hours until they wake everyone up for “breakfast” at 4-fricking-30 in the morning. I’m forever sleeping through breakfast and having to ask for a cup of orange juice while I inhale my yogurt and croissant during descent.

With such a long flight, there was plenty of time for watching a couple of movies, doing some work on my laptop, and getting a good night’s sleep. Well, it would have been a good sleep if my back hadn’t seized up when I changed position every couple of hours. The greater danger than lack of sleep though was dehydration. That’s a long time to be breathing filtered air and to have one’s skin exposed to it. So the stewardesses came by twice with bottled water. I took but didn’t drink it, not wanting to have to get up to pee on account of my back. I stayed in my seat the whole time, and my back felt better for the rest, but I was dry as a leaf and had to drink extra water once on the ground again. There was evening and there was morning, the second travel day.

At O.R. Tampo International Airport*, wheelchair services dropped me off at the Gautrain station. The Gautrain (pronounced “How-Train”)--named for the province of Gauteng ("How-teng")--is the “lightrail” that runs from the airport to Johannesburg and the capital of Praetoria. From the picture you can see why it reminded me of the newer German S-Bahn trains. Because the trains to other parts of the country, like Cape Town, have a reputation for not being safe, I stayed close to Jo-burg.

* Oliver Tambo was Nelson Mandela’s law partner, a fellow freedom fighter, and long-time president of the African National Congress.

I had planned to take a Gautrain Bus to my dorm, but it turned out those don’t run on weekends. Not entirely sure where I was going, I asked a tourist bus operator for instructions. He pointed me in the direction of the main campus, suggested I ask again at a shop or restaurant, and cautioned me not to talk to men on the streets at all. I asked at several different places, finally coming across a security guard who was also a student, who used his badge to let me onto the campus.** I asked around again to find the campus shuttle that would take me to the dorms. It worked like a charm, depositing me in front of another gated compound. Once I had gotten settled in, I took another shuttle to a local mall for groceries and other things. There was evening and there was morning, the third travel day.

** Most properties in Johannesburg are enclosed with fences. This is a relic of the crime wave in the 1980s and 1990s. Locals assure me it has abated, but nevertheless I had been warned to leave my best jewelry (i.e. diamond engagement ring) at home. Fences are not common in other parts of the country.

I’ll tell you about flying back in this post, too, since there only thing to say is that the return trip was less comfortable, since it required a red-eye flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt am Main. The flipping airline never turned the lights out, so it was difficult to sleep, even with a sleeping mask. I generally don’t have too many problems with jetlag going from Europe to North America, but that is because I am used to waking up from a good night’s sleep in Germany and then flying all day. Not so much this time. However, I did manage to watch both of the new Star Trek movies and an original Star Trek episode, so at least I was in a good mood for all my tiredness. DH met me at the airport, and we drove home to conclude another two-day travel adventure.