Flying over Ireland. From the Journal of Miss Blaire. March 19, 2018
Still here. Just sitting in Lufthansa seat 23D with a busy head. But my thoughts are upgrading – strangely – the further away from Los Angeles I get. Latest thought:
Do people who have everything (i.e. the Haves) have ANY reason to get out of bed? While people who have nothing (i.e. Have Nots) have no choice BUT to get out of bed…
Would you like a beverage?
Glad for that interruption. Coffee. I’m on the second leg of after a long layover in Frankfurt. Germans around me all going To J-burg. They like nature…they like to walk…they “enjoy the heat.” Frankfurt is snowing. I grabbed a train to Old Town and walked for an hour and wrote in a coffee house. My cousins live not far, but not enough time to ask them to zip over. I am heartened by the fact that people still talk in coffee houses! And for once – I love the sound of loud voices around me.
It means revolutions can still be plotted. It means not everyone is more interested in their phone than a live person. Tradition was are alive and well at 4:00pm in Europe. I admit I did go on my phone here, only to fine I can’t “check in” online to my Air Botswana flight. This is valuable information for anyone traveling this airline. The booking agent did not inform me. Wow. I have half an hour to transfer in J-Burg. Thats not good. If I sleep, maybe when I wake up this will be solved.
March 20, 2018. Johannesburg
Stepping off the plane, I get a blast of hot air – Africa. I can’t believe it. This is like nothing else. But exhilaration soon turns to terror when the last suitcase tumbles onto the carousel and it’s not mine. Then I am told my bag is on a plane to Maun. The airport worker says shyly, “You are very late. We need to run.” We run so fast I get a side-ache and have to stop, but we make it to Air Botswana. Relief. Gratitude – I could never have found this on my own. She was the only way. I’m at the check in counter – the final leg of this 26 hour trek will fly by. Then it goes bad. I can tell from their faces. “You are too late. The flight is closed. Come back tomorrow.”
Tomorrow? There is no tomorrow.
I broke down. I can barely explain, “there’s a man waiting at Maun, and it’s my only chance. There’s a school waiting and children… and I’ve been traveling 26 hours…” The gatekeeper shrugged. “Okay.” She can single-handedly decide based on her…heartstrings? The woman who ran with me now brings me down the escalator to a van! Now I start laughing. I’m being gaslit by the universe and it’s funny to me. Shakespeare line of the moment: “My drops of tears, I’ll turn into sparks of fire.” And I will.
I hug the airport worker, tears rolling down my face. My first half hour on the continent has included a sprinting marathon and a nervous breakdown and two plot twists. I am feeling quite alive. In the tram to the plane, I meet my fellow passengers. Australian and British tourists, poised in crisp, beige Safari outfits – we have little in common. Here are The Haves. Most of them loud, bossy, confident… and comical in their beige costumes. We board the plane and I am next to a British couple, bickering. “This is the tiniest plane on the planet.” When the Attendant announces that an insecticide – ‘with no adverse side effects’ – will now be sprayed all over the plane, the women duck, freaking out. I did hear about this, so now I am enjoying my non-reaction to it. My bionic ear records more conversation from the Beige People. They are excited. They get to go on safari and they paid a lot more so that they can be here – in the more exclusive Okavango Delta, versus the “tourist mecca of Kenya.” I update my idea. The Haves DO have a reason to get up in the morning. They will go on games drives. That is not in my agenda here. But I am just grateful there is no hunting allowed in this country. We take off and I look down the entire time.
Africa from the air. It’s flat here, with green and long, long, needle-thin roads and a windy river….I feel peaceful now. I drift to sleep in this tiny plane. We land on the tarmac and are guided to Customs where more things go WILDLY HAYWIRE! Forms filled wrong, check. Glasses lost, check. Luggage missing, check. Passport snagged…check. Until I “give an address of where I’m staying”! Then it occurred to me, I have no idea where I’m staying. It’s all up to a man named Brooks Kamanakao. The “two email” man. But they won’t let me go out there to find him. I’m officially in a Shakespeare comedy: epic problems that are hilarious only to spectators. So it’s one more rule they have to enforce. Until they change their minds and let me go look for Brooks. He’s standing right there holding a sign with my name, perfectly spelled. We get right into action. One: Brooks puts a search in with his friend for my lost luggage, Two: tells me in the village of Motopi … there are no addresses. So we make one up. I think to myself no addresses in Motopi but if all goes well, the address of the youngest Shakespeare troupe in Africa.
Before taking off for Motopi, we settle down at an open air place called Tandurei, near Maun Airport, for Indian pizza. Instantly cousins, nephews, brothers of Brooks…pass by or sit down. In fact, the brother of Brooks, “Machine” tells me he is a teacher and he is curious about his students learning some acting exercises and Shakespeare. English is a good thing, they tell me, they want their kids to be fluent. It gives them an edge. Swana is only spoken in Botswana, so if they want to leave, they better know English. More loud voices, more talking...I realize what’s happened to me. Maybe to everyone at home. Talking with each other has been reduced to maybe…8 minutes a day? It’s all texting and my head is left to its own devices on how to hear the words. Does this explain why the voices in my head are so loud?!
After dinner we hit the grocery store. I’m curious about it. I see most items are imported from South Africa. Nothing local. I buy food for the week. Granola, milk in a box, potatoes, carrots, bottled water and tea biscuits. Brooks looks skeptical. “It’s not enough. There is nothing where you are going.”
We get out of town when Brooks cuts into a small road and weaves through some sporadic homes. It’s a pit-stop. We are checking on a house Brooks is building so he can rent it out and retire as a tour guide. This is where I first encounter the Botswana House Spider: the size of my hand. My eyes are bugging. This is going to be a challenge. He lets me know, get ready. They are in all the houses. They are like part of the walls… He tells me about this American teenager whining, “OMG, Mom, I wanna go home, like right now!” I vow to face my arachnophobia and overcome it. I have no choice.
We go pick up a woman called “Chicken” who owns the house where I will stay. Chicken explains that she is a widow and she left her home back the village and moved to Maun. She is riding along to let me in the house.
The road to Motopi is filled with potholes: the cars swerve along the road, a very funny sight. We stop at a Checkpoint where we all get out of the car and step into a wet box of dirty water and bicarbonate of soda which – apparently – magically wards off Hoof & Mouth disease at this county border. The virus wiped out Botswana’s beef industry years back.
Dense trees along the road and a sky filled with animated clouds, all telling stories. Magic is not hard to find in this sky.
Why Brooks Kamanakao? Because this is the school of his childhood. These are the kids he wants to help. He wants to teach them conservation and he supports anyone who shows up for them. So he supports me. I am told I will have to be very loud if we work in the yard; the kids are loud and I might have to scream Shakespeare. We pull up to Chicken’s house. This is now very real. I think, this is about everything I’ve done in my life up to this point – coming together in order so I can be here. I am in this rural African village where I will live by myself and work in the local school as a theatre artist. I’ve done many daring and rash things in my life. And a lot of very strange and difficult things have happened to me. So I can deal with crisis like no one I know. I survived my childhood and “adulthood” and it wasn’t easy. Never was it easy.
And this? Going alone to Africa is something I initiated – it’s not something “to survive.”
This is the Pulitzer, the Tony, the Oscar, the Nobel Peace Prize of my life, and what does it look like?
Me screaming Shakespeare in a dirt yard while shaking off spiders.
Tomorrow is school time! To be continued …