South Africa My Personal Journey: Day One

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I arrived at Johannesburg International Airport roughly between 21:15 and 22 :10 (9 p.m. and 10 p.m. respectively); the large gap  in time is due to my lack of sleep and forgetting to double check it. Arriving at the airport, I was pleased to find that the staff were welcoming and friendly and not above having a joke with you. British and American customs take note.

I meet my contacts D and L.  Before they came to meet and collect me at the airport, D’s shed was set alight by someone. The car they used to transport me had  a broken window; crime is so rampant that they had to hire an airport car park chap to watch the car. If they had not done this it would have been stolen.

*Note: Because of the nature of my trip, I will refer to my contacts by initials only.  Reprisals against any who have helped me to uncover information are a very real threat.

I was taken to where I would be staying for the next four days via the scenic route.  L was the driver and took us along the back streets to show what the area looked like and past a local “government” hospital. I was told that if you go there to be treated, you’ll probably get worse or die.  Everyone has to go private for their treatment and not use the government hospitals

We drove through a section of town where some  drug dealers and prostitutes live.  All the houses  have bars over the window’s and doors and are behind gates and fences with sharp spikes on the top of the fences or razor (concertina) wire strung across the top.

While we drove through the neighbourhood, we reached a couple of blocks where there were prostitutes hanging around on the sidewalks. Some were in pairs, but most stood alone.  One young girl was standing by herself on the corner of a sidewalk and she looked about twelve. All of the young woman, and at least one obvious young man, were black.  I was told that as it was almost eleven o’clock at night, it was too late for the while prostitutes to be out. Apparently the white ones get picked first.

The house where I am staying is right next door to a drug dealer and prostitute “den.” The drug dealer is Nigerian and the Nigerians are not well liked in the Johannesburg area. They are the new “crime lords” of the area. In a short time they’ve taken over as leaders in the drugs trade. C and L have no problems with the neighbour. L is a huge intimidating sized chap and the drug dealer is actually afraid of him.

Like most of the houses in this area, the one I will be staying at is a bungalow style house (single level) and it is surrounded by a high fence with sharp implements on the top to discourage thieves. All the houses have this type of wall topped with razor wire, electrical fencing or sharp metal stakes, et al.  They have also put bars over every window and door.

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All houses have high fences except for those who don’t worry about theft. Author Photo.

The more “expensive” homes have electric all round and D’s house is a combination of electric and wire topped fence as well as the bars over the windows and doors.

The only houses that do not have the high fences and bars are the ones belonging to the drug lords.

Just before you drive onto the block to get to the where I stayed during my short trip, there is a fairly big house that has been vandalised and burnt. It is full of squatters and nothing can or will be done about it.

On the drive from the airport to the area that I will be staying in, D and L tell me the rules for driving in Johannesburg. These are especially important if you are a female driving or you have females in the car with you.

The rules for driving in Johannesburg: 

Lock all your car doors.

Keep all your windows rolled up.

Do not slow down or stop if a car (or two, or more) are stopped by the side of the road and people are standing by them.

If you are a woman, you never drive down the road with your purse or handbag in plain sight most will put them on the floorboards out of sight to stop smash and grab theft.

If you look ahead and see rocks stuck in the road, do not approach them, as it is a trap. If you stop or attempt to drive around the rocks you’ll become the victim of a smash and grab or car theft…or worse.

Remember to check.

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Pictures through rolled up windows is the order of the day. Author photo.

We finally arrive to our destination. The bungalow style house I am staying in is lovely. It has huge rooms and high ceilings. The bathroom is actually bigger than my kitchen back home in England, and I have a good sized kitchen. My bedroom is also quite large and ready for me to occupy.

C and L are lovely people who immediately make me feel like a long lost relative. Like everyone, it seems, they have dogs. One is the size of a small shetland pony, or at least in my tired state he seemed that big, and all the dogs take to me instantly. The couple were afraid that the dogs might overwhelm me. But they weren’t a problem.

It is winter in South Africa. Their winters make me think of Southern California winters; warm, sunny days and chilly nights. I am glad I packed a short, light jacket along with my short-sleeved shirts and trousers. The daytime temperatures get up to around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but drop down quite low once the sun goes down; around an average of 41 degrees. As typical in winter, the days are shorter and the nights longer.

I have a cup of coffee with my hosts and soon amble off to bed. I am too excited and tired to sleep so I start making notes on my Macbook about the first leg of my journey. After an hour and a half, I finally drop off to sleep.

My first day in Johannesburg has been electric, edifying, and enjoyably adrenaline filled.  My first impressions are of a people who are friendly, welcoming and adaptable. I will meet my first “interview” the next day and I’m anxious that all goes well.  As I was a “last minute” substitution for our World Editor (his flight cost was extortionate) I am concerned that I get all the information I came for.

I’ve been told to take lots of pictures so that our paper’s critics realise that I am really there. As I lay in bed still feeling ill from my Hepatitis A injection I’d had the day before, I sunk slowly into a deep dreamless sleep that ended as the rest of the house woke up at seven in the morning. Looking at my iPad, when I opened my eyes, I saw that I’d had just over four hours of sleep.

My first “full” day in Johannesburg as an investigative journalist had just begun.

(To be continued)

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Author Photo.

South Africa: My Personal Journey Schiphol and Beyond

KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam
KLM mock-up at Schiphol Amsterdam. Photo by author.

During my 11 hour lay-over in Schiphol,  thoughts of South Africa trudged through my mind like a tired Army marching resolutely towards the battle line. My personal journey was taking a very long time. While I was there, my boss contacted me on the intermittent “free” broadband via Skype and asked  me to take pictures. That was easy and you can see them on my previous post. I wandered the airport and attempted to sleep in-between pictures while I waited to go beyond the airport’s restraints and fly out to South Africa.

The Dutch are a very friendly nation, the airport’s employees in each of the shops and restaurants (that were open at that un-Godly hour) were helpful and easy to speak to. In the Netherlands English is taught from grade school and their versatility in the language still impresses me. When I lived in Holland, I would be asked if I spoke Dutch. My answer, in their language, was “Een klein beetje.” Which means, “a little bit.”

And I meant that literally.

If you asked them about speaking English, they would respond in kind. But their version of “a little bit” was vastly better than my poor efforts. The only difference being that they spoke the Queen’s English instead of the garbled “bastardised” version that we American’s usually speak. I could speak both versions of English having lived and worked in both the US and the UK. There is a difference between the two countries in the area of English language!

When it was time to board my flight to South Africa, I left almost reluctantly. I’d not been back to Holland since I left it in 1990 and I was reluctant to leave. I have many fond memories of the place and its people. I will go back one day and walk the streets of the places I lived and worked. And visit the hospital where my daughter was born.

On the last flight, I managed to find sleep at last. I fell into a fitful dozing state that eventually led me into a deeper sleep that lasted roughly an hour and a half. My mind would not stop long enough for more rest than that. I was excited to be travelling the world again after such a long break.

When I was much younger, my plan was to visit many countries and learn about the people who lived in each one. I got off to a good start, but getting married the second time made me sedentary. Having a wife and child makes the aspect of travel an unlikely option. Too many responsibilities and bills to pay.

After the plane had landed at the Johannesburg Airport and taxied up to our disembarkation area, I walked slowly towards the passport control area. I silently thanked whoever had put in the moving sidewalks, or paths, as I could stand there immobile; clutching my now overly heavy backpack that was full of laptop, iPad; various work tools and my heart medication.

Finally I joined the line of international and local passengers waiting to get permission to enter the country. Luckily, the staff that manned the control area, never trained in the UK or the USA. They were friendly, welcoming and ready to smile or joke with you. Perhaps the best advertisement for the country of South Africa “man” those passport control kiosks.

Life saving moving sidewalk
Life saving moving sidewalk at Johannesburg Airport. Photo by author.

After chatting with my passport chap, I made my way to the luggage collection point and was delighted to find my bag already going around the carousel. I grabbed it and went to find my local contacts. The paper’s local correspondent had said that her son would meet me at the airport. I started looking for signs with my name on.

As I moved around the throng of people waiting for loved ones to greet, or business contacts to pick-up, I heard my name called and as I glanced over I saw our correspondent.  I’d arrived at last.  Safe, exhausted and jet lagged, but so excited that I could hardly stand it.

My personal journey was about to begin, while I investigated and learned about a country that has fascinated me since learning of the Livingstone expedition as a boy in school.  My latest job had taken me to Schiphol, in Amsterdam, and beyond. I was now in South Africa, a country often depicted in films as dangerous and deadly.

I was there to learn what I could about a specific news event, but before my short four-day jaunt had finished, I learned much more and made a number of new friends and contacts.  I forgot all about Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber and slogged through the world of investigative journalism.

I am now addicted to this world. My boss declared me an adventurer by nature and I have to admit being hooked on the adrenaline surge and I’m constantly looking for ways to replicate it. With all my senses cranked up to the uppermost level on the dials, I left the airport with two people who would become fast friends and comrades in our search for the truth.

To be continued…

Gold Mine Dump
Gold Mine Dump Johannesburg, ZA. Photo by author.

South Africa a Short Life Changing Journey Off the Beaten Path

South Africa: stamps and temporary residence p...
South Africa: stamps and temporary residence permit (Photo credit: Sem Paradeiro)

I sit here amidst the jumble of a partially cleared suitcase, with the the contents scattered across the entire living room couch, an empty backpack;  trip laundry (waiting patiently to be washed) and assorted clutter from my four day fact finding mission to South Africa. As short frenetic life changing journey’s go, this one has been startling, eye-opening and mesmerising.  I did not go to the usual tourist destinations, my journey was off the beaten path. A path that is now followed by the world’s journalists who, like myself, are looking for information.

Since Friday, when I first started on this fascinating and first of many trips to the country that of South Africa, I have been conspicuously absent from the world. No posts, not even sporadic ones, on my little blog. No tweets on Twitter or Friday shout outs;  no Facebook updates. I was invisible for the entire period of my travel and return. I did post two tweets saying that all would be revealed upon my return, but that was at the end of my journey.

This is the first of a series of posts that I will be doing that are apart from my work for the Guardian Express and not of a film nature.  These will be my own personal observations and what happened (again, on a more personal level) on my journey.  I’ve already written one post and it will follow this one shortly.

I am tired and I’m still suffering the effects of an inoculation I required for my lightening visit to South Africa. I haven’t washed in two days and I’m putting it off until my second cup of coffee and second blog post of the day have been completed. One of the benefits of living alone is that I am the only one who could be offended by the odour of travel dirt and sweat and the remnants of the South African country that still cling to my clothes and body.

Hastily and only partially unpacked suitcase.
Hastily and only partially unpacked suitcase.

I stayed with our local correspondent’s friends and both sets of folks treated me instantly like a long lost relative. At all times in this off the beaten tourist path I had to take, my safety and comfort were the top concerns of my hosts. My short life changing journey was one filled with information on how to survive this dangerous part of the world. South Africa’s crime rate is staggeringly high and it affects everyone, regardless of colour. Outsiders are especially at risk.

I am deeply grateful that I had the support of these “local’s” who knew which sections to steer clear of and how to “travel” from one area to the other in relative safety.

Although I am now back home, I’ve already been told to set the groundwork for another trip to this fascinating country. I still have much to do from the first trip. As it was primarily a fact-finding mission, I have to collate all the pictures I took (over 1,500) copy recordings from an interview, transfer my notes from the visit (slowly and painstakingly from a small “reporter’s” notebook to printed page) and start work on editing the articles written by our talented staff that will be based on my informations. I will have my own articles to write as well.

I am now trying to get my things, and me, organised. Getting ready to have  a nice soaking bath. My entire body aches, I feel like I’ve gone a round with Mike Tyson. I am bruised, battered, sore, dirty, and at the same time, excited, deeply satisfied, and changed.

I have somehow stumbled into a job that I never saw myself doing. I had only started working for the Guardian Express in April this year. I was made Deputy Managing Editor/Senior Entertainment Editor and I was very, very happy. Now through the paper and fate, I’m working in a slightly more serious capacity than reporting what Miley Cyrus‘ latest tattoo is.

I am now doing things that a year ago would have induced gales of laughter from me, as I have  never dreamed of doing anything like this. My last few years of change are now cranking up yet another notch as my newly exciting life changes yet again. God must be chuckling to himself at my bewilderment.  Last year, I pretty much felt that my life was over; at least the interesting and challenging part of it. And like many other mortals, God (or whoever is in charge of our fate) has set out to prove just how wrong I was.

My short life changing journey to South Africa that strayed far from the tourist’s beaten path  has been yet another sudden change in my perspective and vision of life and where I seemingly fit into it. My own personal journey has thrown me into an international arena with professionals who deal with the type of news that I will be reporting on  a daily basis. I am now a “proper” journalist. It excites and terrifies me at the same time.  A lot like South Africa itself.

To be continued…

My work desk.
My work desk.

60,000 and Rising

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It was with great joy this morning as I squinted with sleep filled eyes at my stats page and saw I’d finally crossed the 60k mark. With one hand on my ubiquitous coffee mug and the other on my Macbook mousepad, I scrolled down and also saw that my following list had increased.

All was right in the world; God was in his heaven and my blog was continuing to grow.

On a more serious note, I’ve got to say that I am really overjoyed with how things are going with my blog and my writing. On the topic of my blog, I can only say thank you from the deepest part of my repaired heart to all the folks who keep reading and commenting and following my site. You guys really make my day. Nothing is better than waking up in the morning and seeing that my site is continuing to grow while I sip my first of many cups of coffee of the day.

While I still don’t have a huge grasp on what my particular “niche” is, I’m happy with continuing with what I am doing. It seems to be working and I don’t want to rock the boat too much!

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I do need to say that my input will be slowing down. Instead of the 3 to 4 blog posts per day, I will be dropping down to 1 or 2. I will also be using some blog space to promote upcoming Tomorrow Comes Media (TCM) hosting events, which I have just started doing and the first one up will be Michael West’s brilliant anthology Vampires don’t Sparkle on May the 16th.

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I’ll be featuring a guest post from one of the contributors to this brilliant anthology and I’ll have another event on the 19th of May.

I am currently spending a lot of time writing articles for the web magazines Guardian Express and What Culture! Added to that is the review work and interviews for Rogue Cinema and the research I’ve been doing for my book, so my attention is spread pretty thin at the moment.

I am getting requests from new authors to review their newest work and if you know of anyone who exchange a copy of the latest and greatest book for a review let me know!

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So, intense (for me anyway) workload aside, things are going well (knock on wood) and the film Once Bitten, Twice Shy is still on for filming on the 6th of July this year and if you want to know more about this click on the link above and you’ll be redirected to the film’s website.

So before I sign off here today, I will reiterate how pleased and  grateful I am for the time that you lovely folks in the WordPress community spend supporting my blog. While I am not very good at visiting other sites as much as I should, I continue to try to repay the kindness that you’ve shown me.

Photo on 27-03-2013 at 09.03
I know, I need to update this picture, the chin scruff is gone!

Skoal!