Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From South Africa to America via England


Friday, June 22nd 
luggage, check in, carry on
My baggage. It's bigger than it looks

I stalked the Embassy’s website tracking my visa until it was time to pick it  up. It was ready for collection on Wednesday, June 13th. I got my flight ticket confirmation that same day as well. I got the actual ticket on Thursday. I also did some finishing touches before my departure for The States Friday evening. 
My departure day, Friday the 22nd of June 2012, I donated some clothes to the Catholic church in Bryanston, posted some to my mom, she sells clothes, I also sent some that I wasn’t ready to part with, for her to keep for me. I didn’t realise that in the 4 months Id been in Johannesburg, I had accumulated so much stuff! Especially shoes! I think the fact that I got 6 pairs of shoes at, once at some point, from Cape Town didn’t help my situation. Unfortunately, the shoes were all heavy wedges that I couldn’t take with me, as I was trying to stick to my 22kg limit.
My friend in the US, let’s call her T she wanted biltong, and some stuff for hear dreads. I got that, her brother dropped some of stuff for her over as well. Her Roommate, let’s call her N, wanted Umthombo, (King Corn); I drove around looking for King Corn in Fourways. Not easy to find! Try it sometimeJ.  I was craving KFC for days; I thought that was the perfect moment to indulge! I got really big thighs and side breasts! It was DELICIOUS! I took some home for everybody else. ZS called, offering to take me to the Airport. I’d planned to take the Gautrain, but with all that luggage, she saved me time and trouble with her offer. I was on the phone for the last time with T and it was all so surreal! My flight was at 5/5:30pm CAT. We made it in time! As we arrived at O.R. Tambo airport, we saw the time changes, noooooo! My sister, nephew and niece were also meeting me at the airport, one last time. 
family, sisters, airport pics
Left to Right: My niece, Sis and I at Mugg and Bean in O.R. Tambo Airport

I checked in, they told me that there was a delay and that my flight would leave in 3 hours, at 8:30pm which sucked. The bright side was that I could spend more time with my favourite people. We sat and talked and talked and talked until ZS had to leave. She had her daughter with her and the daughter was expecting friends for a sleep over. We let them go; I spent the rest of the time there with the fam.  An hour before boarding, we approached the desk and were greeted by a notice that the flight was delayed by 2 more hours. NOOOOOO!  We were to leave at 10pm. The family couldn’t wait with me any longer, my sister, bless her soul, was dozing off and she was the designated driver.  My niece is not that experienced to be driving that late. I let them go and took a nap in the waiting room.
If we had left on schedule, I would have arrived in the US at midnight, which would’ve been great! I could get to see New York!  The changes were messing up my schedule! Just before ten, my alarm went off..... Just as it did, I heard an announcement, there was another delay! This time it was INDEFINITE! WOW! Just what I needed! I was so frustrated, I could cry! I fought and paid so much money for an early ticket only to get stuck at the airport and end up leaving the next day! What the heck was going on? People were frustrated, I called and updated family. Of course my mom talked until I had only R10 ($1.20) left in my account. I had called my cell phone service provider earlier in the day, and they told me not to worry about running out of network, I’d be able to top up and send and receive sms-es  (texts) abroad.  My cell phone battery was dying. I didn’t worry much about that because my laptop was fully charged and I had the USB charger with my for my blackberry. My friend had offered me her laptop charger from the UK in case that would be easier to find an adapter for that than my South African. I called T, and she told me I didn’t have to worry about any of that. This is the US , they have adapters for different chargers from all over the world.
nephew, lil bro, brother, OR Tambo
My very funny Nephew

As the night progressed, I kept looking at an aeroplane that was right in front of our gate, I couldn’t help but wonder if that wasn’t the plane we were waiting for all night. IT WAS! It had been there the entire time! At midnight, they announced that we could board. Apparently there had been some technical problem with their GPS or whatever and without that, they couldn’t fly. Virgin Airline flights were delayed. We got on and fell asleep as we got on the plane. It was around 1:20am on Saturday the 23rd when we finally left. Shocking!
Remember, we now have no idea what time we were going to catch our connecting flights! I was going to connect in Heathrow, London. Originally, I only had a 2 hour delay. Which would’ve been perfect. We arrived in London at midday UK time. I think they’re behind us by an hour, making it 11am CAT (South African time). People shot out of the plane like you won’t believe! My connecting flight, after the first delay, in Johannesburg was shifted to 12:30pm in London. I had 30 minutes to get to my plane. It was also Virgin Atlantic, we hoped that they had communicated with our connecting flights and advised them we’d be late. We ran and ran and ran. Not everybody was going to The US, some were going to Canada, etc. Somewhere in the midst of checking in and out, we had to queue, the machine chose me for a random check up, I had to strip and be searched. Great! There goes my flight! As soon as they were done, I sped off following the signage to my gate. You know how big Heathrow is, I think it’s the largest in the world. As I got closer to my terminal, the lights flashed in red – CLOSED! CLOSED! CLOSED! What now!
I had to find someone who could tell me what to do with myself. I didn’t even know which way I came from as I was so all over the place when I arrived. I still had to rush because I didn’t know if there was another flight that was going to depart soon, that I could get on. You never know! I fumbled and fumbled until I saw the lady that was sitting next to me on the flight from South Africa, Wendy Knowler, the consumer watch Journalist from East Coast Radio, KZN. They called me over and filled me in on what was happening. Everybody from all the different Virgin Atlantic flights who had been delayed (that includes everybody who flew Virgin that day) had to queue up and have the guys at the desk book us new seats. I was in the line for a little more than 5 hours and in Heathrow for 9. NINE HOURS!  There were times when I wondered if I would make it to my final destination.
shoes, shoefie, family
Left to Right: Nephew, Me, Sister and Niece

Some people couldn’t get flights that night, Virgin booked them hotel rooms, got them temp passes to London for the duration they were there etc. I just wanted to leave! I had always hoped to have a layover in Heathrow so I could explore, but  not like that! It was so hot in the queue, people were tired and miserable and and and. Mind you some people were on 3day vacations, they had to spend their first day stuck in an airport somewhere. As soon as I got my ticket, I went searching for wi-fi, I got nothing! The largest airport in the world and there was no free wi-fi! I went to an ATM to buy airtime as Vodacom (my service provider) had promised I could – nope! I couldn’t buy airtime! The stress was building up! I wasn’t able to tell what time I’d be at JFK Airport. Great, she had offered to pick me up, I told her, I would manage, but she insisted, which was nice of her especially because my arrival time had moved from midday to midnight. I asked my sister to add T on BBM, I sent text to my sister and asked her to pass the messages over to T. That worked, thank goodness.  Bear in mind, I only had R10 airtime on my phone! I was only able to send a few texts and I had to save 2 for when I arrived in the US.
A very kind English gentleman offered me 3 pounds to use the internet cafe. Just as I was about to take it, some strange, very forward French girl said, oh no, 2 pounds will be more than enough. He took one pound back. And he had just told me he needed to get rid of his pounds. Great! When I got to the internet cafe, the key boards were like 6 inches (15cm) wide or something, I couldn’t find the keys, I don’t know what they’d done with them and trust me, I’m computer literate! But I battled with those. You got 10 minutes per pound however the minutes ran so fast, I’m sure they meant seconds. I quickly logged onto Facebook to leave a message for T, when I was about to hit SEND, Facebook froze and the computer shut down. I thought I was dreaming. I waited for it to get back on, by then my time had run out. I topped up with my 2nd pound, quickly logged onto my email and sent my sister a long email and asked her to relay a message to T. She did so. My time ran out. I felt slightly relieved. I tried to book transport from the Airport but that proved impossible with the given circumstances.
The French chick was also flying to New York, She told me to ask the guys on iPads if they could let me use their internet. I told her I wasn’t sure that was such a grand idea. I thought I’d be a great spot and do it! The two guys I asked, freaked out and were literally shaking when they told me they were not on the internet. They were on Facebook. They just didn’t want to let me use it. I went back to my seat glad to have been right J
Before 7, we headed towards our gate for checking. The French girl wouldn’t stop talking about how she got to America, lived there illegally, and married a businessman to get his citizenship. The husband’s also French, his citizenship is on condition he still ran the business, which he no longer was, therefore they were both living there under false pretence. I was like, dear Lord make her shut up! People are going to think we’re together in this. I don’t know this woman!
Lo and behold, she was going to sit right next to mine. I must’ve been more tired than I thought because before the plane took off, I was fast asleep and snoring. So embarrassing because there was a really cute guy sitting between Miss Crazy and I. He had a nice smile too! Score! Not! I slept all the way to New York! I woke up when the flight attendants made the landing announcements. I hadn’t filled in the i94 form and the whatever else form I was supposed to hand to the flight attendants. My other option was to do it quickly and take it with me to the Port of Entry. I was dying to use the bathroom, great! If I didn’t know better I’d say French snuck out of me. I blinked and she was goooonnneee!
I couldn’t believe that I had arrived in The US, finally! We landed at 11pm. It was a 7 hour flight from London. Of course, we had to queue at immigration/s. A rather hot, bald headed immigration officer interviewed me. I couldn’t help but smile my way throughout the entire interview J J J . Thereafter, I got my luggage, heaviest suitcase EVER! Still not as bad as when I went to Georgia though, I learnt my lesson – ish. As soon as I turned my phone on, I got a text from T asking where I was. I texted back that I’d just landed. According to the message I sent her via my sister, I was going to arrive at 10 but of course that flight was delayed too, so we got here an hour late. I was freaking out that she’d been waiting for me an entire hour after driving 2hours to pick me up at the airport at that hour of the night. I went through the same thing with internet and wi-fi as I did in London. The computers freeze when one’s on FB. I did manage to send my message through for T though, it shut down just before I sent my sister one. I couldn’t be bothered anymore. It was late and I was frustrated and tired, and sticky.
sad goodbye
Last goodbye to ZS and her daughter.

I have to mention that I’d always told myself that when I arrived in New York, I’d do it in style. I slapped on some   red lipstick on, my fancy hat that I was complimented on at OR Tambo, Heathrow as well as JFK airports. I had to make a statement: Brook has arrived B!tches, I hope you’re ready for thisJ. I looked around for T, there was this random, almost scary looking man following me around. I called T from a public phone – voicemail. Great! Scary dude offered me the use of his mobile phone for a dollar. I took him up on it, called T again, she didn’t pick up. I gave the guy his phone back and headed for the ATM to see if I could by airtime – nope, couldn’t! All in All Vodacom misled me L .
While I was at the ATM that scary guy followed me and was whispering that my friend was on the phone. I was like, how do you know it’s her? He said give me a dollar and I will let you talk to your friend. I grabbed his phone and lo and behold T was on the other side. She was in Connecticut! Never went to the airport, she wanted to tell me she wouldn’t be able to pick me up!  I gave the guy his dollar and went to information desk. It was approaching midnight by then and by the looks of things I was going to end up sleeping at the airport. They showed me over to some type of switchboard/vending machine  - machine where I could speed dial shuttle services. The first one I dialled was the one that ended up taking picking me up 10 minutes after I called them. I remember wanting a drink of water so badly, I had to let the driver keep an eye on my luggage while I went to the tap, that wasn’t too far from my luggage. I was panicking that even though I could see him, if he decided to grab something and run, I still couldn’t catch him. Dear Lord!
Fortunately, the guy dropped me home safely. We did pick up two or 3 people on our way. I was the last one to get off. The driver was a nice guy from Morocco. When we got to the apartment, I had to find the key which was under a rock somewhere. Seriously! I ran to where I’d been told I’d find the rock, flipped it over and found the key wrapped up in toilet paper which had got wet and dry from the rain a few days prior. I was so happy to find that key! You have no idea! I ran back to the shuttle with a huge smile on my face, “I found it!” I paid and gave him a tip, not knowing how much was acceptable and how much was considered an insult tip-wise made it slightly awkward for me. He seemed to appreciate it a lot though. I got in, looked around for the apartment. Apparently, I had used a different entrance to the one in the directions. Fortunately, it’s a small apartment block; it wasn’t hard to find the unit.
I tell you when I got in, I was like, Am I really here? Whew! It was 2am American and 8am (Sunday) South African Time, I was scheduled to leave South Africa Friday afternoon at 4 and arrive in the US Saturday 6pm South African time. You do the math, don’t forget the time difference) I wanted to tell my sis, I’d arrived safely, but didn’t have airtime or anything. I tried sending her a call back, thankfully, it went through. She was so surprised to get a Please Call Arived In Bed. Pleasantly so. I couldn’t do the same for T; she’s on an American Network. I don’t know if sis told her. I didn’t know if roommate was in or not, but her door was left ajar. I took a shower and went straight to sleep.