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South Africa – Busman’s Holiday?

Dec 8 • 2766 views • 5 Comments on South Africa – Busman’s Holiday? Africa, Cape Town, Johannesburg, safari, South Africa, Travel, Volunteering

The summit of Kilimanjaro pokes through the thick blanket of cloud thousands of feet beneath us – an image I’ll never forget – as we fly south.

The three hour journey to Johannesburg seemed to last an eternity: a week of burning the candle at both ends, a head cold, just 3½ hours sleep in Nairobi, and I’m unable to sleep bolt upright in a seat that refuses to recline.

I’m sat next to a large, thick-set man. There’s barely room for him to move in his seat but he daintily eats his lunch with the tiny plastic cutlery. I casually try to start a conversation; I mistake his shyness for arrogance and it’s only as we prepare to land that he starts chatting. He’s an ex-policeman, returning home from Sudan where he works as a security consultant for the UN. He lives on an enormous military base outside Darfur “the biggest operation the UN has ever undertaken” he says and points proudly to the UN logo on his shirt.

[PHOTO: I can’t get used to the smooooooth Tarmac … leaving the airport at Cape Town]

Despite what I’d heard, I felt safe enough in Jozi (Johannesburg). I’d certainly forgotten about it as I drove my friend’s brand new car around the ‘carjacking capital of the world.’

But there are constant security reminders: high walls, electric security gates, outdoor lighting, security firm plaques, electrified fencing, security beams around the garden, the odd siren. The doors to the house are never left unlocked and we padlock a gate at the top of the stairs before retiring to bed with the dogs.

Life in Uganda has got me used to the security guards in car parks and shopping malls. What surprised me in Jo’burg were the ‘rear view mirrors’ at eyeline on the cashpoint machines / ATM’s. And you can’t ignore the sign at the airport that says “Any person making inappropriate comments about hijackings, bomb warnings, carriage of firearms or weapons will be prosecuted.”

H has a small army of paid workers and I’m soon part of the support team. H and I were flatmates in London many years ago and we joke about how “VSO really doesn’t prepare you for how to manage domestic staff.”

First day of my ‘holiday’ and I’m supervising the four gardeners landscaping her garden. They all wear blue overalls, not a gum boot in sight (unlike Uganda where it’s not a surprise if workers are barefooted – even on a construction site). Next day I’m reading a poem to 50 people at Baby Lizzie’s naming ceremony (thanks for the half hour notice H!)

By the end of the week I’ve cooked dinner, started redecorating the baby’s bedroom and become an au pair! The baby entourage includes ‘Naomi the nanny’ and we all get fast tracked onto the plane, and we all chorus ‘cluck-cluck-cluck’ chicken noises to distract the baby all the way to Cape Town.

We’re quickly processed at the newly refurbished airport then it’s a two hour drive east to Arniston, mountains to our left, the sea to our right. Perfectly round rockpools, jellyfish washed up on the shore, African Black Oystercatchers and a dazzling turquoise sea. We head towards Overberg bypassing the Winelands (temporarily!)

“You’ll notice your eggs boil a lot quicker here than in Jo’burg,” H says and I click: being at sea level, I’m 1000 metres lower than usual. This doesn’t make me feel good as I recall how difficult my early morning run had been (it should’ve been easier)…

[PHOTO: “Express Dairies” and the Midget, overlooking the bay at Arniston]

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5 Responses to South Africa – Busman’s Holiday?

  1. lizziema says:

    Thank you for sending the Xmas message on Kates computer, a lovely surprise. She has hinted there may be other "risky" interesting things you have done that Mumma doesn't know about? Driving around Jo berg sounds quite hairy….

  2. Charlie says:

    Glad you liked Xmas message from the beach 🙂
    Driving round Joburg was fine – it was only when I was late back that Holly started getting worried. I was having a great time drivingher new car! lol lol.
    No idea what Kate's talking about. I've been a good girl Mummy honest. Tee hee hee x x x x

  3. […] a great friend of mine Holly in South Africa, the Rainbow Nation. This time next week, touch down Johannesburg! Three weeks of sun, wine and the sea. […]

  4. […] time last year I was in South Africa visiting Holly, a very good friend and flatmate from London student days. It was quite poignant to be with Holly […]

  5. […] me – and is still there 15 years later. Visits to South Africa ‘close the circle’ for me: stays with Holly in Johannesburg give us a chance to relive our shared memories of Mandela’s release and our experiences as VSO […]

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