Sawubona! Welcome to South Africa

Embarking from New York City with a stopover in Dakar, Senegal, my fellow travellers and I logged almost 30 hours of travel time to get to Africa’s largest and busiest airport, Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg. I, your (almost) fearless host Ilana, welcome you to South Africa!

En route, I crossed over seven time zones, which is why I felt the grueling effects of jetlag. With my previous international travel experience consisting solely of trips to Canada, this is the furthest I have been from home.

After passing through immigration and passport control and collecting my bags, I find my guide, Cromwell. I have been studying some basic words and phrases in two of the national languages – Afrikaans and Xhosa – and excitedly practice them with Cromwell.

A nation that takes great pride in its diversity, South Africa has eleven official languages: English, Ndebele, Zulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, and the two I’ve been practicing. While appreciative of my efforts to converse with him in his native tongue, Cromwell kindly informed me that my pronunciation is way off. He immediately begins to help me perfect the ‘click’ sound, which is key to mastering the Xhosa language.

Driving through Johannesburg en route to the hotel, I notice the city’s massive size. Though Johannesburg has a population of three million, the surrounding suburbs and neighborhoods blend into a ‘unicity’ that totals almost nine million people. That’s about equal size to America’s most populous city, New York City!

My evening arrival prevents me from getting a good first look at Johannesburg, but aggressive home security measures are clearly visible even in the darkness. High, razor-wired walls surround houses emblazoned with security signs. Johannesburg has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I’m curious to learn if this is fact or merely media frenzy.