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.


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…

Revisiting my Past

I wrote the other day about being “re-born” on the 4th of July. While I pondered over our trip, my daughters and mine, I thought about how eventful the whole thing was. I started with our day of departure and our final packing for the flight and came up with these thoughts.

24 July 2011. We packed our bags (I know, it sounds like a song lyric), not sure of what to bring or to wear on the flight, Then a friend dropped us off at London Heathrow Airport. Midway over the Atlantic ocean, it finally dawns on me that we are going to visit our home for the first time in eleve years. Emotional moment.

The clouds that have been following us from London Heathrow have turned into a storm that the pilot has to avoid. He does a great job as we arrive at Atlanta Airport early. The elation at arriving early soon disappears when we find out that due to lightening striking the runway repeatedly all flights have been delayed.

After an eight hour layover in Atlanta, we finally take off and arrive at Bentonville, Arkansas. It is two in the morning. We disembark to a hot and muggy morning with a temperature of 89 degrees Fahrenheit. It was like walking into a wall of heat. I had forgotten how hot Arkansas can get in the summer.We are both tired, sleepy and sweaty. Welcome home.

Zombie-like we shuffke off the tarmac and enter the terminal. Luckily everything is easy to find and we locate our luggage and head to the car rental desks.

After picking up the car, I have a moment of unease when I realise the car is registered in Ohio. Great, I think, out-of-state plates and it’s from the north. They might as well put a big sign on it saying, Mr Policeman please stop me and give me a ticket.

Driving out of a town, that I’d never really even visited when I lived in Arkansas, and on wrong side of the road and on a road that had not even existed eleven years ago when I had last driven a car state-side and in the wee, very dark, hours of the morning, did not really equate to a calm relaxing drive.

My daughter was so tired that she began to hallucinate and she swore that an English double decker bus had just passed us on the road. I saw police on every corner and by every sign-post. The nice chap I had gotten directions from at the airport had helpfully pointed out that every town between us and our destination (about three in total) was a speed trap.

Miraculously we do not get lost and find our hotel. We had a momentary panic when we decided that the entrance door would be locked.  I had forgotten that hotels in America don’t lock their front doors like the hotels in England do. We pull up in front of the entrance and leaving my half asleep daughter in the car, I check us in. It is about four in the morning and I don’t feel exactly human or like I am tracking anything very well.

Luckily for us the room is right around the corner from the registration desk. My daughter has now gone beyond exhausted so I deposit her in the room, unpack the car and re-park it in the lot and put everything in a big pile in the room. I then turn up the air conditioner and crawl into bed. I am asleep in seconds. I do not even dream.

25 July 2011. We call my parents,grab a few biscuits and some bacon for breakfast and start packing the car up. Even though it is only about eleven in the morning the temperature is already over 104 degrees.

In the daylight, the area now looks more familiar despite the fact that the road has been widened, added to, and built-up with buildings either side of it. We both still feel tired, sleepy and too hot. We also feel very excited. I have not been here in over eleven years. The last time my daughter was here, she was nine months old.

We get in the car and drive to the farm.

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