Africa Dreams: Traveling Past Fear
by Simone Peterson
When I sent in my deposit for the BlackGirlTravel.com (BGT) 2015 South Africa Tour, ebola was nowhere near my mind.
We as a people should know that the media is not truthful by any means. We as black women know that the American media always puts a spin on news to drive the people to panic or lull them to complacency. So when they blasted over the television stations that ebola is an "epidemic", a "disease to be feared" people got into a whole cancellation tizzy about traveling to South Africa even with it being over 3000 miles away from the affected counties . Due the high demand, two tours to South Africa were scheduled for January 2015. I was originally set to go on the second tour but after fear based cancellations, the two tours were combined and I agreed to move to the first tour date. I was not afraid, my mind was too busy cooking up funny scenarios in the Safari Camp and idea of running away from lions and elephants - not ebola.
As one of the ladies on the tour so eloquently put it, "AIDS is still an "epidemic" a "disease to be feared" but people still humping around without protecting themselves. Get out of here about ebola, because during the current outbreak, the country of South Africa has not had even one case of Ebola. The United States 4! This email sent to us also helped to to bring things into prespective. Tour Update
While I think I would do well at solo travel, I love the aspect of group travel, especially since I'm still a novice traveler. As you would imagine, group travel allows for one to enjoy the destination without thinking about the logistics. Free your time for fun stuff such as pre-trip shopping, composing your address book to send people postcards, and general research.
Another reason why I personally like group travel is with friends starting new jobs or just not having the funds, I end up going by myself. This doesn't pose much of a problem especially since BlackGirlTravel.com allows me to meet and befriend amazing women with even more amazing backgrounds. Most recently on this trip, I met a strong breast cancer survivor, several entrepreneurs, social workers, and project managers. They were all great role models and mentors for me and shined that positive light on Black women that we don't see every day.
I didn't realize I would love group travel via an agency like BGT, but I do. Especially due to their assistance when things go awry. Case in point - when I missed my connecting internatinal flight from New York to Johannesburg. OMG!
When I realized that I was going to be spending the day and night in New York City, Fleace unknown to me put out a S.O.S. (Save Our Sista) to her Bella Network asking New York City Bellas to connect with me and essentially show me a night in the Big Apple. Multiple Bellas on Facebook commented on the post offering suggestions of events or places to go. One of the Bellas had her brother call me to give me a rundown of what was happening that night in town. Another Bellas picked me up from the room I was renting for the night and took me out for dinner and drinks. She even dressed me appropriately for New York weather since I was dressed in "Florida winter clothes" (i.e. sheer tunic tops and jeans). She then took me to Times Square. Despite the bitter cold, I had a fun experience even including riding the New York subway (you really do see some interesting people on the ride around town).
Bottom line, I did not expect: 1) Fleace to put out an S.O.S to help and 2) The response. I was floored. I had legit tears pricking my eyes when I read through the comments. So if anyone finds themselves stranded on the west coast of Florida in the Tampa, Bradenton, or Sarasota area let me know so I can return the favor! The BGT "Bella Network" saved me from a night of isolation in New York and gave me the opportunity to meet people and exchange life stories.
The next day I was South Africa bounded! On arrival I was terribly tired, but I fought the urge to nap. Thankfully, it was a day packed with activities. I went directly from the airport to meet the group at the Apartheid Museum. The day I spent in Johannesburg and Soweto left me feeling conflicted at the beginning. So much despair, so much anger and hatred, and many atrocious acts took place during the apartheid era. But as we toured the Apartheid Museum and became more familiar with Nelson Mandela's history, visited the museum of Hector Pieterson, and saw the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among many other things, my faith in humanity was restored a bit at a time. To occupy the same space, and walk down the same roads as these great leaders fought for the rights of their people and won, sent chills down my spine but it made me proud that they have come so far in such a relatively short time. They too pushed themselves and an entire nation past fear.
Also one tip, before coming over to South Africa get rid of your pre-conceived notions of it being a "poor country". Parts are but, some areas of Johannesburg are the jewels of South Africa and where we were staying was no exception. I would love to go back and explore more of the city.
On my 2nd day, it was time for our next stop. During the group check-in for our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, I learned that while in New York, the South African Airways representative had forced loaded me on to the next day flight to Johannesburg without updating my original reservation. Basely there was not record in the Johannesburg system showing my arrival the day before. How can that be? In New York I had purposely verified if my subsequent flights also were active. The representative even called the ticket sales desk that was less than 30 feet away and they also said that my flight were still active. However, when I tried checking in, the rep in Johannesburg told me that my flight itinerary had been cancelled as a "no show".
I felt the blood drain from my face and the movie reel in my mind immediately began playing the opening scene of the series "Trapped Abroad". I didn't have the airfare for the rest of the trip accessible to me if I have to end up paying for the flights. Additionally, school was resuming and all my original flights were now full. The lady at the ticket counter was saying even with buying new tickets, it still be up to two days before I'm able to fly into Cape Town and it would be a day or two to fly out from Cape Town to the United States.
I was feeling sick and I just wanted to fall out. "I'm really going to be stuck here," I thought to myself. That may have very well been the case if I was traveling solo. A major perk of traveling with BGT is Fleace is always there like a fierce momma bear protecting her cubs. Between Fleace and her air broker, I could stand back and let them handle South African Airways and oh boy DID SHE!
If I was by myself, I don't know what would have happened - I honestly don't. If I was with another tour group, the director or guide, could have just given me their number, gave me a hug, and wished me luck as they proceeded to security. But not with BGT and Fleace. She not only stayed with me until it was resolved, she was a determine mediator between me and the airlines, not taking no for an answer. She did all the negotiating between all the involved parties even though none of this was her fault. At the end of a long stressful two and a half hours, my flight itinerary was reinstated and I was good to go. I could now finally resume the enjoyment of being in South Africa. But I realize when Travel Mayhem (yes think of the man from the Allstate commercials, complete with a suitcase and passport) strikes it's great to travel with an agency who can fight for you when hiccups occurs. I sincerely thank Fleace and her team for going above and beyond even though it was South African Airways' mistake. I'm very grateful! An important lesson learned, always hang on to your boarding passes until you return home.
The trip in itself was inspiring! My roomie was a riot along with the two ladies she brought with her. The weather albeit hot was perfect! The food, the culture, the vibe of Johannesburg and especially those of the townships were invigorating. To see how far the country has come in such a short time was mindboggling. We learned about many of the good things the government was doing to uplift the people. Of course, is it enough? No, but they are slowly getting there. I had two favorite parts of the trip. One has to the safari. It was a different experience in where I was one with nature and I was able to see animals like the lion, elephant, leopard, and rhino up close and personal.
My second favorite would be when we were walking the African marketplace in Cape Town. It was a beautiful morning and as we rounded a corner there was a gentleman walking the opposite way. He took a look at our group, smiled and said "Welcome home sisters!" Wow. It made the headache of getting to South Africa a distant memory. That moment made my heart swell with pride.
This trip to the motherland was definitely one of growth, learning, curiosity, and faith. I'm so fortunate to have experienced it with BlackGirlTravel.com!
View photos of the tour.
Follow Simone on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Simonette.Peterson?fref=ts