When you’re preparing to study abroad you are told many times to let yourself feel the emotions. That you will have waves of emotions and you don’t always know what will trip your triggers, as you go into a new culture. I had a bit of a moment as we traveled from Joburg to Port Elizabeth.
First we had to get our luggage up to the departure level of the airport…
It was easier said than done. We were all worried about our safety using the luggage carts on the escalators like this, but I felt more comfortable using the luggage carts than trying to hang onto all of it by hand like at MSP.
Then when we got to the ticket counter there were guys being loud and talking to us rather loudly, not in English at first, trying to take our bags to be wrapped. All of us resisted this because normally passengers are charged for having their bags wrapped and none of us wanted to pay for this service. When the porters realized how confused we were they started telling us in English that we came to understand that getting our luggage wrapped was complimentary (compulsary) service of South African Airways.
Once I had my bags wrapped I could see why the airlines would want to do this to their customer’s luggage. It makes the luggage more compact, easier to handle, and protects the luggage itself from damage while being handled.
However, this was still confusing because we are a large group traveling and we were all trying to stay together and get checked in. When I got up to the ticket counter the agent quickly let me know there was a problem. I stood there as the rest of my group members got their boarding passes and filed to the other side of the counter. Meanwhile, my ticket agent was informing me that the flight was overbooked (even business-class) and I was going to take another flight. OK. No big deal. I’ve done this plenty of times. I have even volunteered to get bumped from a flight so I could get a voucher for a free flight. I was also not surprised that this was going to happen because nothing had gone even slightly wrong thus far on our trip.
I was told to go over to another counter and get my voucher. As this point I was slightly unsure if the ticket agent just meant a voucher for the flight I was on or if it was going to be for another flight I could book later. As I’m standing in the incredibly slow line, Shahzad takes the rest of the group to the security gate so they could go on and catch their flight to Port Elizabeth. I waved bye to everyone and continued to stand in line. When Shahzad returned I told him I was getting a voucher, but that I did, in fact, have a boarding pass for the next flight. At that point he left to go catch his flight to Port Elizabeth and there I was. Still I was feeling ok, there was plenty of time to catch the next flight; I would even be able to chill next to the gate for awhile before I had to board the plane.
Finally, I got my voucher (free domestic flight!) and my boarding pass and headed through security. It is much easier than in the US and I went through quickly. My corkscrew that passed through the check-point in our airport didn’t make it through the Joburg airport and I had to give it up. Honestly, I’d forgotten that I even had it in my carry-on. No, big loss though. I’d brought it with me so it would be one less thing I had to buy here. I was trying to minimize my shopping when I first got to town just because I knew it would be hectic enough.
Then I hoofed it all the way down to the other end of the airport where my gate was, dropped my bags, and flopped down in the chair to try and relax. I had “30 min” of complimentary wifi service. I had already learned at the hotel that time goes by in about 90 seconds. So, the only hope I had was to download and updated version of the NY Times, which I successfully did before my time ran out. I really miss my American wifi.
I read the NYTimes and waited to board. They finally started boarding the plane, but only 30 min ahead of time instead of the 60 min early they did when it was an international flight. Thankfully, I had an isle seat and was able to settle in comfortably. Got my book out and started reading. After we took off, the noise level on the plane got loud. Everyone on the plane was just chatting away. There was a group of travelers behind me from China and a group in front of me who were speaking Afrikaans. I didn’t hear any English and it was in that moment when I had some of my first anxious feelings about studying abroad for the entire semester. My group was already in Port Elizabeth and I was flying alone in another country. I did what I have done so many other times when I am anxious and feeling out of sorts, found my iPod and played some Buffett. In this case I was listening even more for his soft Alabama accent, than finding comfort in any particular song. And it worked like a charm, settling down my psyche for the rest of the flight.
When I landed in Port Elizabeth, there was a greeter from NMMU waiting for us. He let us know that a shuttle would be there shortly to take us to our accomodations. It was at this point that I found out I would be with the rest of the SCSU group. I was so glad to get there and unpack my bags into my new home..