My flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg was over 15 hours. Plus, we were delayed on the runway with some technological issues. So really, the flight was around 16 hours. It was definitely, by far, the longest flight I have ever been on.
I had a window seat – I generally love window seats on long flights. I take that cheapo airline pillow, fold it in half into my neck, and rest myself up against that in-between-windows spot that is jut the perfect depth to lean against without feeling like my side is collapsing in on itself. I also snagged a spot only one row back from the galley/bathroom area. Far enough away from the smells, but close enough to try to leap out for a bathroom break when nobody else is around. And, amazingly, the flight wasn’t freezing. I was actually comfortable in my sweatshirt and jeans, and didn’t once feel like my fingers were going to fall off from the over-air conditioning.
All in all, the flight looked like it was going to be pretty smooth. That is until the gentleman sitting in the aisle seat took a sedative for his motion sickness…and completely passed out. Now I’m stuck, with only one bathroom break thus far and it turns out that oh-so-comfy window spot I was looking forward to was not positioned next to my seat. Can’t get up. Can’t sleep. Can’t go to the bathroom. Brilliant.
Five hours into the flight, after one meal, one cup of tomato juice, and about half a dozen sitcoms, I finally fell asleep. A few hours later I woke up completely curled over on my right side, with my left side so stiff I actually thought for a moment I might break a muscle (if it were actually possible to break muscles) if I tried to move. Sore, tired, bloated from all the salt in that airplane food, I stumbled off of the plane and miraculously answered coherently when the immigration agent asked why I was in South Africa.
Once in the car, I cracked open the window and relaxed while the driver took me to the B&B. Johannesburg looked like any city at night – skyscrapers all lit up, modern cars on the freeway, billboards advertising cell phones and perfume and the newest South African movie. But it smelled like Liberia – a mix of smoke, urine, cooking meat, and this sweet calming smell underneath it all. I was completely surprised at how familiar the smell is here, given how far away geographically South African and Liberia are.
Sore, tired, completely confused by the familiarity and the absolutely newness of Johannesburg, I was extremely grateful to be locked (literally) into my room at the B&B. It is winter in South Africa and very chilly at night, even for Midwestern US standards, and my sweatshirt wasn’t keeping me as warm as I’d hoped. But underneath the blanket on my bed, I made the best discovery – flannel sheets! There is nothing that heals all ails better than a good night’s sleep between a set of flannel sheets. And so I ended my first “day” in South Africa with a satisfied smile on my face…