Stumbling off the plane, Ambien hazed, feet swollen from the 15 hour flight. Being hearded onto a 3 hour bus ride, taking us to our temporary living quarters. I climb down the stairs of the bus and take my first real step into South African soil.
A group of smiling faces greet us, singing Sepedi songs- a language I did not yet to understand. Their voices so welcoming & genuine, it brings tears to my eyes. This will be my home now. This is real life.
The 35 of us are divided into 4 dormitory blocks. I enter block A, stunned to see spiders scattering the walls on either side of the narrow hallway. The things I am most afraid of in the world (spiders) are now my best protection from a rampant & fatal infection~ Malaria. The existence of these spiders is meant to work for my benefit- a reality I still struggle to accept. -_-
I cautiously walk down the passageway, and all the way at the end of the hall I find a piece of paper taped to the last door that says my name ‘McGuire, K’. This is my room.
I open the door and see a dorm-sized twin bed, a small desk with a chair, and just barely enough floor space to lay my 2 suitcases down.
Too tired and jet-lagged to do anything productive, while being too stressed & uncomfortable to sleep, we are summoned to the cafeteria for dinner. We form a buffet line and fill our plates with random dishes. None of us really know what we’re eating. I assume there to be a beetroot salad, it looks like diced up cranberry sauce from a can. There’s something that looks like mashed potatoes, but it doesn’t taste the same. Come to find out its maize meal, or ‘pap’, made from crushed dried corn then whipped into a mashed potato-like form. I also took a scoop of a green veggie dish, looks like shredded cabbage with diced onions and carrots- almost like a stirfry, but very oily and salty.
Back in the dorms we decide sleeping in our individual rooms would be way too lonely and scary- especially with this spider infestation. I lead the group in the task of dragging our bed frames and mattresses into the hallway. Now we can all sleep in one big group. Safety in numbers I guess?
I’m in bed hugging my stuffie and clenching a flashlight, with a knife tucked under my pillow. Am I really safe here? At this point I don’t know, and am too tired to care. A night of tossing, turning and spider nightmares ensues. I have survived my first day in South Africa.