I could tell you about how when you walk into the international terminal at D/FW, the windows are suddenly tall and glassy and slanted, the floors shiny, the art modern, the accents over the loudspeakers crisp and smooth and thoroughly foreign.
But you’ve been in an airport before.
I could tell you about the Scottish flight attendant, and my mild shock at finding that people other than Mel Gibson speak that way in real life, and moreover they are under the impression it’s normal. I could tell you about the plane or the airports or the jet lag or, upon arrival, the hours of repetitive orientation lectures regarding culture shock and registration and dorms and details. I could tell you about the unacknowledged terror of being alone in an utterly unfamiliar country, about the attempt to rationalize the fear away, about the subsequent comfort at easily forging relationships with a gamut of people.
But you’ve moved before.
I’ll tell you something you don’t know.
I will tell you that when you fly over the coast of the UK before sunrise, the water glows ethereally with underneath tunnels. I will tell you that my first view of Cape Town was just after a hot sunrise, and as we landed I stared numbly below before I realized that what I was looking at was not a yard of junk metal, but was arranged symmetrically into tiny mismatched squares covered alternatively in tin or wood or black plastic.
A township. I’d heard about these. They are the incredibly poor neighborhoods on the edge of the city into which blacks were sent to live during Apartheid with very little or no help from the government, and in which the majority of Capetonians still live. Education opportunities, good health care, and solid infrastructure are nonexistent, while crime and HIV/AIDS abound. (Over 20% of South Africans are infected with HIV, more per capita than any other country in the world.) In a first world/third world nation, South African townships are the hot fetid sticky aching heart of the third world.
But there is more.
I will tell you about the baobab trees and the mountains and the sea, the unbelievable beauty, the open spaces that remind me of the best parts of the United States with an additional exotic allure. I will tell you that the accent is Australian, is Dutch, is British, is something else I don’t recognize but which I suspect is wholly African. I will tell you about the 11 official languages of this country, and that on the street and in my dorm and aboard the bus I hear sharp syllables and rolling r’s and clicks and long prickly words I can’t break down to pronounce. I will tell you about the minibuses which honk as they careen by, the man in the front passenger seat leaning far out the window to holler an incomprehensible destination while passersby fear he will tumble out. I will tell you about my daily decreasing confusion regarding which way to look before crossing the street (right, then left).
I could tell you every detail.
But I won’t.
I will tell you that I am venturing into the precarious vulnerability of falling hard in love with this country and maybe this continent and all the people in it.