There is a feeling of detachment here. I am living a life, but I stand in the corner and watch it happen, and later I write about it. I think that I will travel as an author of my life and the lives of others. But I will always have a home base, where I can come back to and remember that I am incorporated in the weave of involvement. I have friends at home. I know the laws. I know the roads. I have family at home. I know where to find things in the grocery store. I know the food, and where to go out on a date.

There are two things that are fundamental to development: familiarity and discovery. Abroad, I am an explorer; but at home, I am an expert. I love both.

I’ve reached the stage in this journey where it has hit me that I’ll be here for the four month duration. I left when it was the peak of summer, and I’ll return when Christmas is right around the corner. It scares me to come home to lives that have been living without me in them. But there are things I can’t wait to come home to because they’ll be different.  Only here do I sit in a mellow wait, anticipating from a far-off distance the new beginnings and finished ends.

So this is the way life goes. Here, I am a scientist and I can see the maze from some higher point of view. I am 10,000 miles away from my life. I can see how its undulations evolve. Pictures scroll on my computer’s sidebar, and at the same time I come to terms with those images being only memories of lived times. Is it scary, is it relieving or is it exciting to know that life is passing on into new stages and new seasons?

I’m happy that I was the only one laughing and waving at my family from on stage at my high school graduation.

Where are you taking me now?


August 9, 2010  National Women’s Day


I learned one thing from this trip: Men always have ulterior motives, no matter how nice and sweet and innocent you may think they are. Of course, I already knew all that, it was just displayed blatantly as a kind reminder over the weekend.

It’s always good to be woken up every once in a while.

It was seven in the evening before we made our way out to find a mini-bus to take us to the big bus station. Nighttime had fallen as it is wont to do at such early hours.

We were American tourists – it would have been fitting had that label been written on our shirts and on our foreheads and on the butts of our shorts just in case someone missed the front. We walked along the road with huge backpacks and other carry-on bags. Perfect targets.

But we were going to Durban so it was funny. And we laughed at how stupid and confused we looked. We laughed and we laughed, all the way down the road outside our residence. No mini-buses were driving past the corner, so we trekked down to the other end – the sketchier end. Our laughter dissolved the closer we got until a more potent reality stopped our laughing at our vulnerability completely. Fear made us short-tempered with one another when we couldn’t find a bus and we were forced to walk up and down the dark road.

We packed into one, eventually, with ten other people. Our successful last-hope effort. A group of young boys traveled with us, holding small duffel bags. I asked the one next to me, who looked no older than 16, where he was going. Far away, he told me and said nothing more to me after that.

Pretoria Station is ghetto. It took us nearly an hour to check in and get our tickets printed. And then we stood around for another 30 minutes, waiting in a line without first-come-first-serve rules. Finally, we found our seats on the second story.

I rather enjoyed the bus ride there – for the most part. For the other part, I sat in an agonizing terror at the thought of the man next to me taking one final lurch of a lean in my direction. I thought of all the different things I might do if he decided to plant his head on my shoulder. It wouldn’t fly. And for a couple hours I was in misery over his proximity to me.

I was sure from the onset that the bus ride would be pleasant. I had a window seat right next to a fresh, clean woman. Before the bus began to roll toward our destination, however, she traded places with a he. A big black young man who had neglected his duty has a human in the twenty-first century to take a bath (if not for his sake, then at least for the sake of others). Immediately the odor found somewhere to cling to inside my nose so that the whole time I was either on the verge of barfing or holing my Pantene Pro-V’d hair up to my nose.  He fell asleep almost instantly, and that’s when he began to lean. My arms were almost jumping inside my torso, and I too began to lean in the same direction he was leaning. My face was screwed up in fierce animosity and frustration.

I swear if he touches me I will freak out. I will shove him, and I will yell at him to get the hell off me. Matters of proximity are never made better when you are trapped inside a bus for the whole entire night and into the early morning.

Ever closer he came to me and ever madder I was. He was an inch away from plopping onto me like a heavy, smelly, hairy rock, when he as if by magic snorted and popped up. My heart twirled in my chest, and I heaved a sigh of utmost relief. Thank God. Things were about to get ugly.

Beyond that episode, I slept soundly, listening to Damien cake my ears with gentle music so the rest of the snorts and baby cries were inexistent to me. I was woken every now and then by the lights and the sound of people rummaging through their bags so they could get off the bus. But instantly, I fell soundly back asleep. And, eventually, Bubba moved to another seat, so it was me and my very own for the rest of the trip.


“I will be dirty until Monday. Even though I just showered, washed my hair and everything. It smells like something dirty is hanging onto me. It could be the bathroom, which is right in front of my bed. The German took a dump about ten minutes ago, I’m pretty sure. That’s alright because I don’t mind being dirty for the next few days.

We’re all tired like children who spent a long day at the zoo. We got to Durban at 4:30 this morning by bus, and we waited for Ruben’s bus to bring him until about half past five. We managed to find a taxi to deliver the six of us to our hostel. Our driver was an absolute madman, but I found his negligence of red lights to be thrilling – even at six in the morning.

Of course, we came with absolutely no plan. We figured out transportation and we figured out accommodation, but beyond that it was to be free sailing. That’s what Africa demands, anyway: nothing but for you to sail along through the current – no matter how fast (but it’s never fast), so no matter how slow.   So when we arrived at the gate of our hostel with the comedic realization that there would be no one at this hour to let us in, we were left only to laugh. And shivering in the windy morning chill, we did. And we waited for any sign of life to greet us.

Life indeed came, in the form of a shocked British woman with ringletted black hair and a motherly concern.

‘Well what are you doing here?!’ she asked, her mouth agape and her neck twisting in every direction as if looking for whatever brought us there.   We explained. And she explained that she was just staying here and had no idea how to let us in. She told us to wait and she went away in search of someone who could help us.

Help came in the form of a long-haired man with an earthy essence. He, too, was only a resident – but at least one with keys.”


Inside, the British woman showed us the lounge area where we could wait until the owner of Hippo Hide came. She sat at the dining table, sipping coffee and asking us about ourselves. She told us that she’s lived on a farm all her life, so she’s always the first one up. She’s been around the world and back, with property in Europe and in South Africa. She farms sugar among other things.

She looked like a mother or an aunt or something. But she was the cool kind of aunt who travels the world just because she’s a farmer and she can or should. She loves to travel, she tells us.

Hippo Hide is like a jungle house. We walk down big rock steps to get to our lodge, inside which 11 beds wait for new bodies to crawl into them. People inside are sleeping when we enter, so we quietly tip-toe around them and find our own beds to crash into.

My eyes are shut and my conscious is closed within less than five minutes of lying down.


We wake up that same morning to a gray and windy day.

Our new characters deserve an introduction.

There is Ruben, who I’ve already told you about. He’s been to two or three Olympic games as a middle-distance runner. He’s from South Africa, so he is our tour guide. He brings with him two backpacks full and one massive suitcase for a three day trip. He is sponsored by Nike, so everything he wears is Nike. He dresses better than any of us, without a doubt.

Ruben is kind and thoughtful, loves people and wants to know more. He’s driven, determined. He likes to have a plan – even on vacation.

And then there’s Ferdie, real name Ferdinand, from Germany. Ferdie has baby skin on his face, with little black whiskers under his chin that I’m not sure he knows are there. He has Aryan features to the T – authentic blond hair and blue, blue eyes.

He has an oval face, and a rounded belly. He wears drab, winter colors – neutrals. Ferdie trails behind us as we trek all across town, holding up the rear. He doesn’t talk often, but when he talks he keeps going. And when he laughs, his head bobs as if on a stick. If you make a joke with him, he won’t laugh. He’ll stand stoically as if you have said nothing. He gets riled up easily – over small things – because he likes things to go accordingly. His temper is quick, but harmless as a punching teddy bear.

You never know what Ferdie’s thinking. Could be anything, could be nothing. He’s a literature and history major.

For the most part, he’s silent. But if he’s feeling something, he’ll tell you.

He orders a Coke first without ice. And then he orders sparkling water, also without ice. Never fails.

His German accent dressed in his higher-pitched voice gets me every time. Sometimes I love the kid because he’s so quirky, and other times he drives me insane.


We walked no less than ten miles on the first day. We walked around and around in every wrong direction until we finally stepped into sand. I didn’t care about walking – I was on vacation, and I had nowhere to go. If anyone asked me what I wanted to do, I stepped away shaking my hands and head and point to someone else. I wanted no part in decision-making.

The boys (Matt, Ruben and Ferdie) were uptight the entire time. They wanted plans, they wanted transportation, they wanted time to stop, they wanted us to walk faster, they wanted to know what time we wanted to do whatever, they wanted to do this, they wanted to do that, they wanted to know what time to wake up tomorrow, they wanted to know if there was a way they could stop the hands on their clocks from turning.   Madison, Jamie and I walked along slowly; we shook our heads at their agitation with time. We were on nobody’s watch, we had no schedule, and we certainly didn’t want either.

We were content on the beach, the beautiful Indian Ocean beach, where we stayed for the duration of our trip. The palm trees twisted in the wind and waves crashed one on top of the other. We walked up and down the shoreline, taking pictures and loving the ocean breeze knotting up our hair. We frequented a pub/club/restaurant each day and then got ice cream dipped in chocolate from downstairs.

Durban feels like another world – a fantasy away from Pretoria. It’s beautiful, it’s sunny, the people are sweet. It’s a big city, with people walking down every street, vendors selling fruit and other products, and mini-buses and other cars whizzing by without heed.

I felt like I was in Africa.

And the whole time I wanted Reston there.   On the last night, in our pub/club/restaurant, I sat across from a couple madly in love with each other. I watched them like I was watching a sappy romance, and I wanted to cry. His hand around her waist, their lips finding every chance to come together, her whispering in his ear…  I hated them.

“I hate every couple I see here. Like that one,” I told Matt. He looked across at them, looked at me and said, “Me too, sister. Me too.”


Our second day on the beach was divinely FREEZING. Freezing in my terms. We woke up to beautiful, sun-shining weather. We got to wear shorts, and I wore a tank top. It was like a bit of home on our bodies. We walked all the way to the beach again, through the winding streets of the old city.

When we got to the beach, we stopped at our pub/club/restaurant for some lunch on the second-story balcony. We took entirely too long to eat lunch – because African food service is slow – because African mentality is slow paced and relaxed. I didn’t mind a bit. I’ve learned to enjoy the time as it passes slowly. I know that when I go back home, it will whizz past my face again. So I like to sit, doing nothing but waiting and enjoying the view.

We watched some human acrobats do some street performance, clad in nothing special at all. A man had apparently been training his children since they were tiny toddlers to do these stunts and whatnot so that they could make a buck. He had a crowd around him and his children as they climbed upon one another and writhed in abnormal ways. Spectators dropped change into his can. And after the show he let his two kids get an ice cream.   After lunch, we stripped down to our swimming gear on the beach. The wind was roaring around us. And I was absolutely freezing. Me in a bathing suit didn’t last long. I even ensconced myself into the sand while the others (minus Ferdie who sat in the shade) went and frolicked in the waves. That little guide book that told me Durban had year-round warm water was lying. Because the Indian Ocean is frigid. I only let it touch my toes. The others were all up in it – at least, as much as they could be in it. A lifeguard passed by and told them the waters were closed because they had spotted sharks that day.


As I stood watching the crazies play in the water, some men came and took pictures with me. Awkward. They wanted to take me to “Zzzzaaambia!!” where they were from. But I was firmly planted in the sand.

We walked all across the shoreline and stopped to get some coffee. When we got home that night we went to a real Indian restaurant close by (Durban has tons of Indians and, not to mention, the world’s largest mosque). I had the spiciest meal I’ve ever eaten in my life. I stupidly asked the waiter for something really spicy, forgetting that just plain old Indian food is spicy enough.

It was amazing though, despite the fact that tears were streaming out of my eyes and I had to gulp down water between bites. We all feared, however, the after-effects of spicy Indian food. I assured everyone that they would not be using the bathroom in front of my bed at the hostel.


Transportation in South Africa is…different. It’s fun if you ride the way black people ride – mini-bus style. You will never see a white person in a mini-bus. But that’s the way we travel. Mini-buses are made to fit about 10 people, but they inevitably transport about 15-20. It costs absolutely nothing (at least not in Durban), and it’s the thrill of a lifetime.   But sometimes it’s unsure if you’re going to get where you need to go…

On the third day we hopped on a mini-bus after asking if it would take us back to Ridge Road.

Ridge Road?

Yeah, Ridge Road.

Can you take us there?

Ridge Road?

Ridge Road.

Yeah, come on.

That was basically a verbatim dialogue between the “bus assistant” and Ruben. Evening is falling quickly on us, which means that night is following closely on its tail. We pile into the bus – all six of us. And ten more people pile in, too. We start driving toward the highway.

I’m squished in the back corner seat and they’re speaking another language as well as English, so I don’t really know how it came to happen – but the bus driver and assistant didn’t know of any “Ridge Road.” Ruben says that he asked the man if it could take us to Ridge Road and he said yes. So a little skirmish starts up and everyone is talking over everyone – all in different languages and English and whatever else.

And then Ferdie chimes in…

Ferdie, already an uptight character, does not do well under pressure – even mild pressure. Let it be known, that we could easily have stopped on the side of any road and picked up another three rand mini-bus to take us where we needed to go. But Ferdie is up in arms.


Madison and I are hiding our faces in shame. This is what happens when men handle things.

Ferdie does not stop at that, he proceeds to tell the bus people that he will pay a “special price” if they just take us back to Workshop (the bus stop) or to Ridge Road.


Madison and I are mortified.

But Ferdie has, of course, picked up the attention of the bus driver people. Okay, okay, okay, they say, we’ll take you where you need to go.

Let’s make a long story short and just learn from the moral of this story. Yes, the bus driver got us to Ridge Road somehow. And yes, Ferdie had to pay roughly fifteen dollars for a bus ride that should have cost 30 CENTS. The lesson: You do not ever, ever tell African people – or any people not in your own country – that you will pay a “special price.” You will be taken advantage of. Simple as that.

Needless to say, Ferdie learned his lesson and continued to drive me nutso from then on. Madison, Matt and Jamie had to stop at a pub before we got home. So Ruben and I sat drinking tea and coffee talking about our future plans, while the three amigos had some drinks to perpetuate their buzz from the previous restaurant. Ferdie sat drinking a Coke looking utterly miserable and pissed off.


Now I’m back in Pretoria. Today’s National Women’s Day, so we had no school. Why don’t we have National Women’s Day? I don’t know, but we should.

For more on my previous days in South Africa, check out my other blog at


2 Responses to “Day 25-30: We learn the ways eventually..”

  1. nathan on August 23rd, 2010 2:37 pm

    I want Reston here with me too.

  2. Shelby Stillwell on May 24th, 2013 3:05 pm

    I doubt you still get notified when someone comments on these, but your writing is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I’m looking into the Pretoria program, and I will be sure to read more of your thoughts on it.

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