Friday, February 22, 2008


And so I was in Johannesburg and wanted to visit this spot, but I chose not to do so due to the distance and my time constraints. Let me tell you how I got to Joburg.

In the US when you fly someone out for a permanent position, you do it one way (you can do a round trip), but if you fly them out for a timed (1 year) fellowship, you purchase it round trip, paying for travel both ways. Here it’s only one way. I didn’t know that, interpreting their words by American culture since this is temporary (at least for now). So when I asked why was the return set for May since the earliest I can use it to go home would be at the 1year mark in September 2008. They said, don’t worry; I can change it (notice this in direct response to my question about how can I use it to get home after 1 year or 2 years—I did add 2 years). So I found out this was untrue. At most I could push it forward one month to June and that was it. Additionally it would cost me. So I decided to use it now in February to make it to Houston for wedding.

If I changed it with the travel agency they charge me extra (here they don’t receive pay from airlines). So I tried to change it directly with SAA. They said no because the original card that purchased it must be the same card used to pay a change fee. It’s a strange policy, but I explained it was a university and it would not reopen until Monday (they can only hold a changed reservation for one day). They said too bad. They need that card to pay it, a faxed copy of the front and back of the card, and the ID of the holder. The guy was nice and held the reservation longer than the 24 hours. On Monday, the UCT woman located the card that paid and said it was not UCT but a contracted travel agency. So I couldn’t avoid going to them and paying extra. I had to use them. So I was sent to a location close to me even though the woman (agent) handling it was at a more distant location.

The guy she sent me to didn’t know what was going on though she told me he would. So it took awhile. I finally paid it. They finally found change, and I was released. I asked what should I do (he wasn’t giving any info). Finally he found out I should call the airline after 1 hour and it would be set. I gave them 24 hours. Tuesday morning I called and the airline said nothing had been confirmed with the money. So I e-mailed the agency again to handle things (I was in a meeting at church about children’s program). Finally, I got back after lunch and they said they had worked it out (the agent e-mailing that she didn’t understand why SAA didn’t see it as changed or confirmed). So I didn’t bother checking with SAA again. I went to the airport on Wednesday after returning the rented VW beetle (for Jeannie, Haley, and Rosa) and at the check-in counter after taking my bag and putting a sticker on it, the guy said I don’t have a ticket and need to go to ticket sales to get the ticket.

There they said the travel agent didn’t “follow through” so it wasn’t revalidated (I think we call this re-issued where your reservation is assigned a ticket number; you can’t fly on just a reservation; you need an actual paper or e-ticket/number). So she was on the phone for about an hour trying to work it out. This is about the entirety of my time before the plane was taking off. The entire time the ticket-sales woman was telling me I’m going to miss my flight so be prepared to fly tomorrow; I got prepared. They started calling me over the loudspeaker “Dr. Udoewa, Dr. Udoewa.” I didn’t know who that was at first. I’m used to people throwing stuff at me saying “hard-headed” and “crazy” (here in SA businesses like to refer to me like doctor for some reason). After finally getting the proper faxes and money sent in a three-way conversation with SAA HQ in Joburg, the travel agency, and the woman at ticket sales, they rushed me through security (though I still had to empty the laptop and all that) and rushed me to the plane. The gate people wouldn’t let me on though.

So the original check-in guy who rushed me down there took me back and booked me on the next flight. I tried to ask if I would fly tomorrow (I didn’t want to rush off just to wait for many hours in an airport because I knew I had at least one leg that was once a day Joburg—DC). Well, he puts me on the next flight. The problem is (I didn’t know this) it gets in at the same time the Joburg—DC flight leaves. And the Joburg airport is a mess so you have to actually walk outside to get from the international to the domestic terminals and vice-versa. By the time I arrived at the international gate, I missed the flight. SAA wouldn’t pay for a hotel or food because they said it’s not their fault as regulations say you can’t put two connecting flights closer together than an hour. They said it was the travel agent. I called two friends in Joburg, and only reached one who was sitting down to a play, so she gave me directions to a good part of town with a cheaper hotel (I inquired at the airport hotel but it was about $500 a night). So I got to town and thought I was good.

I’m skipping lots of difficulties to shorten the story (difficulties finding vacant hotels, being rebooked on the next flight, getting from international gates back to ticket sales [have to pass through customs and immigration and explain to people], etc.).

Well, on Thursday I thought I would fly to DC, but luck was against me. A 30 minute taxi ride took 2 hours (1 hour 50 minutes) due to the time of day. I didn’t have a proper knowledge of Joburg traffic and locations to know now to leave at that time. I missed the flight, again. This time the guy at ticket sales charged me to put me on Friday’s flight. I was not content. Things weren’t working out.

I’m not one to argue, but I went back to ticket sales just to inquire if he would remove the R1 380 charge (like $175 I think) if I flew standby. Well, all the ticket sales agents disappeared except for the same white, uncaring (not related) man, and I thought I would have to see him again (on Thursday a nice black guy (unrelated) helped me out and didn’t mention a word about charging me so I was confused about the policy). Well, some guy was stuck; he was going back to Zambia and he needed help to pay the extra-weight fee and he was short R50. So I helped him which required me to go with him to the window right when another woman appeared (and she was the one that called us). This put me with a black, Zulu woman instead of the same guy. This woman had pity on me after the Zambia guy left (he said so many people have hearts of stone and he was so thankful). This woman and her higher boss (also same ethnicity) really helped me out. They asked who charged me (maybe they needed to know to reverse it) and they took care of everything. The original woman who couldn’t do it just asked that I give them a little something. The older woman who did it (the first one left) didn’t ask but I said I would give something. When I did (R100) she looked at it strangely like I shouldn’t worry about bribing, but she took it. She was super sweet.

The problem is that the trip was unplanned but necessary because they aren’t paying my way back to the US and my sister had booked the new roundtrip leaving the 23rd, and I needed to get to the US to catch the new flight. Anyway, I finally found the other friend, Audri (she hates it when I call her this). I stayed with her and her husband Thursday night and got to see a little more of Joburg, ruin their Valentine’s (not really, they are really caring people), spend time with them and see their missionary work. I admire them.

It was good talking to Brian. I love to see people who are impassioned by something, and he had some great ideas. So it was good to listen and learn and see a piece of their experiences and life. I was thankful for them and their hospitality, their food, and their rides. I also got to meet Brian’s boss the woman organizing the youth rally on HIV/AIDS who asked me to speak on it. At this point I’m in Joburg about to board the plane, wondering where my bag is (I think it went to DC on Wednesday). I was going to

a) dance for the bachelorette pary

b) sing at the rehearsal dinner

c) be a gift-bearer at the Vietnamese morning ceremony

d) usher at the American ceremony in the afternoon

e) surprise at the reception

At this point, I would only make e. I anticipate luggage issues in DC Saturday morning though. We’ll see.

(I got in Saturday night just in time to catch some of the reception; maybe missed an hour. I stopped in Dakar. I missed

a connection in DC, had to locate the luggage (took hours) and my rescheduled flight was delayed in DC as well).

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