South Africa My Personal Journey: Day One

johannesburg-airport

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 (Continued)

English: South Africa (orthographic projection)
English: South Africa (orthographic projection) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was asked to make my personal journey to  South Africa by my employer in mid conversation while we had been speaking of our News Editor’s preparations to fly to the country from America. I had sent my boss, DiMarkco Chandler (co-owner and founder of the Las Vegas Guardian Express newspaper) an email a day or so earlier stating that despite my recent heart attack, that I would be happy to fly over and assist the editor if needed.

While we were discussing the exorbitant air fare, DiMarkco stopped and asked me, “How much would it cost for you to fly over to Johannesburg?”

“Probably about what it costs to send Graham,” I said. There was a short pause, and then DiMarkco said, “Find out for me how much it will cost and get back to me. I may send you instead.” I told him that I was on it and we ended the conversation.

I called one of the “cheaper” flights websites. Amazingly, it was half the cost of the American flight.

I rang DiMarkco back and passed the information over to him. He said, “That’s settled. You’re going…if you want to, that is.”

Before I could answer enthusiastically that I would go, he interjected, “Is there any reason why you can’t go?”

I assured him that I had nothing to prevent me from just packing a suitcase and jetting anywhere in the world.

That settled it. I was told to purchase the tickets while he acquired the funds and began transferring money into my account. I rang to book the flight and was immediately told that the first flight would include an 11 hour lay-over. This meant that I would lose an entire day. I had interviews starting the next day, so that flight would not do.

The entire time spent in South Africa was only to be four days. The article that we’re writing is time crucial so I could not afford to lose an entire day. I asked for another flight and, thankfully, the booking agent found one. An almost straight shot via Paris, with an hour and a half layover at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. The flight was booked and paid for.

In just 12 short hours, I would be on my way to South Africa in my first “live” assignment as a proper news journalist doing the “groundwork” for an investigative piece for my newspaper. In that short time, I needed to arrange to get inoculations for the trip and quickly gather together my laptop and iPad; clothes and passports; collect my “walking around” money and get to London Heathrow from the wilds of East Anglia.

Not too difficult, I thought, but it actually turned out to be much harder a task than I could have ever imagined.  In fact, my own personal journey to South Africa started with one obstacle after another being thrown up by fate, or whatever you want to call it, that seemed determined to halt my trip before if ever got started.

London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London, England
London Heathrow, Terminal 5, London, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The problems started with the one injection I required to visit the suburban and more urban areas that I would be visiting. Hepatitis A was the only shot I really needed and after hearing that I would be leaving that evening, the nurse “fit me in” and gave me the required injection.

I have had these type’s of injections before and never had any sort of “severe” reactions.

Not this time. The “Hep A” shot kicked my rear-end and the rest of me with big hob-nailed boots and it took me ages to finish packing and I ended up ringing the doctor’s office when I got “light-headed” and started feeling a bit disoriented.

The doctor could see me at five o’clock, I was informed.  I explained that by that time, I would be on my way to London to fly out. Their concession was to change the appointment to four o’clock. Accepting that time, which was still cutting things too fine, I finished packing.

Then, as suddenly as they’d arrived, the symptoms disappeared and I jumped into high gear to finish packing. I rang for a taxi to the train station and purchased my ticket to London Heathrow. The travel time was expected to be a staggering two hours and 39 minutes to the airport and it was going to be very close; but it could be done.

So I thought.

I hadn’t allowed for “Sod’s Law” or Murphy’s Law.” On the way to London, an announcement over the train’s PA system informed  passengers that some poor unfortunate person had fallen under one of the trains in London’s underground system (subway) and that apparently, British Rail was working on every underground train line in London.

I knew that I was  in trouble when I boarded the tube train at Liverpool Street Station in London for the transfer to Paddington Station for the Heathrow Express Train. The underground trains were moving at a snail’s pace as time sped by, seemingly aided by anabolic steroids or speed.

English: The concourse of Liverpool Street sta...
English: The concourse of Liverpool Street station, London, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got on the wrong train at Paddington, although it was going in the right direction. A very helpful fellow passenger, explained that the train following was the right one. If I got off at the next station, I could catch that one and get to Heathrow.

I had “checked-in” on-line at home before I left that afternoon. My luggage check in time was to stop at 1930 (or seven-thirty p.m.) and when I checked the time after catching the right train, it was 1922. There was no way that I was going to get my luggage checked in.

Once I got to Heathrow, another helpful chap told me to put my “work” gear in my small suitcase and take it on board with me. I quickly combined the contents of the two bags and started running for the lift (elevator) that would allow me to check in. After the lift stopped at each of the four floors to the sign-in desk, I leapt out  and, again, ran for the desk.

Two ladies stood talking to each other at the sign-in area. KLM employees who were relaxing after getting all the passengers on board the flight to Paris.

All the passengers, bar one.

Me.

They looked at my boarding pass and sadly shook their heads.

“No sir,” they said, “the plane is already closed for boarding and about to get into position for taxiing down the runway.

I’d missed my flight by mere minutes, despite my desperate running and sweating. Seeing my obvious dismay, one lovely lady said, “There is our ticket desk, they’ll be able to help you. You need to hurry though as they are about to close for the evening.”

I ran like the devil was chasing me and stood in front of a frosty looking older lady who was working busily on her computer terminal. I explained my situation and she made an immediate transformation from a slightly severe looking older woman, into an angel.

I had another flight with the same final destination that would begin loading in 15 minutes. She began the process of getting me set up on the only other flight heading out for South Africa that day. I paid the extra funds to secure my place and she told me that I would be flying into Holland’s Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. I would have a layover of 11 hours.

My personal journey to South Africa had made a complete circle. I was right back to where I’d started. Ending up on the first flight I had been offered by the booking agent, and rejected,  and losing an entire interview filled  day in my short fact-finding mission in South Africa.

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To be continued…

Blogging for Dough, Does it pay?

Writing something!
Hard at work at my new job!

I first started blogging back in 2010. One tiny blogpost and then nothing for an entire year. I restarted in ernest in 2011 but never got any colossal views on the Blogger site. I added Tumblr to my little blog verse and, again, didn’t really set the world on fire. It wasn’t until I made the move in April last year to WordPress.com  that my views, readership (aka followers) and interest picked up.

I have been doing this for roughly a year and three months and I’m only now getting a solid blog set up, with a lot of help from my “real job” working for the Las Vegas Guardian Express.

I had written an earlier blog about the likelihood of gaining employment from writing your blog. It is possible to make money from it. If you’re an author, it is an excellent springboard for advertising your wares and increasing your fan base, which in turn, will increase book sales.  There are ways to advertise on your blog, but my trips down that particular avenue have not been very profitable.

In truth, they’ve been practically non-existent.

I was approached by a company when my views started going up. I was pleased to think that my ramblings could earn me cash. Then reality hit. The money that they offered me was laughably low. It amounted to around $100 for a year of letting them advertise on my blog.  I also took so long to respond that I missed that particular window of, limited, opportunity.

I then tried the “Adsense” route, or the WordPress version of it anyway. I never heard back. Presumably my little blog is too little to count. I then attempted to branch out and go the freelance route. While my first attempt got positive feedback, the finished product didn’t meet their “expectations” and I was left penniless at the end of the day.

The only income from my writing has been as an entertainment journalist/editor for the Guardian.

I would like to say that my blog was instrumental in getting me this nicely paid job.

It wasn’t.

I got the job almost by accident. I had gone to another newspaper, owned by the same organisation, with the idea of posting some of my short stories on the site. While I busily built my profile, I noticed another advert on the site that was looking for writers. It was the Guardian Express.

I applied.Thumbs up!

To cut a long story short, I received training and tips from the owner/founder of the paper, DiMarkco Chandler. I already knew how to write, so that part was easy. What I didn’t know was how to write for the internet world of news. I’d had journalism a million years ago and remembered all the things you must do in an article.

What I didn’t know was how to utilise those rules in an internet format to ensure that people read my articles.

But it was more than the training that got me swept up in the excitement of writing for a newspaper at my advanced age. It was the chance to work for an organisation  that, not only paid handsomely for my work, but one that believed in dreams. Everyones dreams. That, plus a group of likeminded folks, make this a “dream” job!

So, if I was asked by anyone, does blogging for money, pay? I’d have to answer, “Yes and no.” I’ve not earned one red cent from my blog. But writing it and posting several articles a day, brushed the cobwebs out of my very rusty writing skills and helped me to start to develop a singular style.

It was blogging for fun that got me started on this venture and while it never reached the “blogging for dough” stage (well not very much dough was offered at any rate) it hasn’t paid me one thin dime.

But it was blogging that inadvertently and in a very roundabout way led me to my current position. I still think that blogging is an excellent way to polish your writing and a great way to meet likeminded folks who also enjoy writing their creative, and sometimes personal, thoughts and sharing them with the amazing blogging community.

I’ve made some real friends via WordPress and at least one helped realise that I could still act and was instrumental in making me realise that no dream, even one that had been given up on years ago, was beyond my reach.

So blogging for dough, does it pay? Not really. Not for me, at least. But the recompense in making friends, building a following, and interacting with a wonderful community is much more satisfying than making money. Although you can’t pay bills with that sort of recompense.  But I’ve only been doing this for a short time, I may yet make some “real dough” for my labours!

Michael SmithIMG_0229

United Kingdom

23 July 2013