About 32 hours of traveling later, we have arrived at Maru-a-Pula! If Jazil (another Harvard intern) and my journey here is at all representative of our future MaP adventures, we’re in for an exciting summer.
I’ll leave out all the details of my frantic last-minute packing panic, and instead say that it all started at Logan Airport. I had just checked my gigantic suitcase in when I turned around, caught sight of Jazil, and quickly realized that we were wearing the same exact shirt. Is it embarrassing for travel buddies to wear matching outfits? Who knows? Regardless, as someone who’s completely clueless about customs, security, currency exchange, etc., I was extra happy to have Jazil along with me for the trip. Though we couldn’t sit even remotely close to each other on our first two planes, we navigated the airports—as well as a spontaneous trip into Dubai!—with the motto “no comrade left behind” (except one time when I accidentally left him behind because I thought he had left me behind).
Anyways, after boarding in Boston, I was immediately overwhelmed in the face of the six billion movies that Emirates offers. There were countless films I always feel like I should see for my cultural/cinematic education (and to say in good faith that I’m a film major)…but how can anyone say no to a category entitled “Disney classics”? So I ended up watching “Frozen,” which I super randomly associate with stress and SATs and exams since I actually saw it for the first time on the day my college admissions decisions came out. It felt quite fitting to return to that mindspace as I traveled to an internship where I’d be teaching about the college application process.
That being said, even with the movies as distractions and a shameful (or impressive) number of mini naps, the flight was LONG! We finally touched down in Dubai just over twelve hours after take-off.
Now was adventure time: Jazil and I had a short layover, and while I never would have done it alone, we spontaneously decided to exchange some USD for UAE dirham and caught a cab to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. This excursion perfectly broke up a long, long trip, and we caught two iterations of a spectacular fountain show (at the world’s largest choreographed fountain system) and explored the massive Dubai Mall. I don’t think I really breathed as we raced back to arrive at our gate with ten minutes to spare, but I was so ready to nap through the next flight.
One thing that I found SUPER disorienting was how we flew pretty much entirely at night. We left Boston at 11:15pm on Friday evening, and existed in utter darkness until our arrival in Johannesburg on Sunday morning at 6:00am—I’ve never not seen the sun for so long in my life. I’m not sure if this messed up or helped my sleep schedule (I’ll find out when I wake up at 5:30am tomorrow morning…) but I’m really hoping that jet lag doesn’t affect me too badly since it sounds like we have a packed day ahead of us.
But I’m already getting ahead of myself. Flying from Dubai to Johannesburg, where we met up with Harsh, another intern, took a bit over eight hours. I was anxious throughout the flight knowing that I would have to claim and re-check my ridiculously overweight suitcase in Joberg, but the people at the Air Botswana counters were incredibly kind and friendly and let me go right through. In fact, the trend of the day was airport employees asking me how to pronounce my last name and then laughing when I told them. I later found out from a student that the sound “ing” in Setswana means “what,” so maybe that was why??
By the time we settled into our dinky Joberg-Gaborone plane (which we noticed had a flat tire while boarding) with the fifteen or so other passengers, our previous lengthy flights made this final one-hour leg from feel like nothing. I sat glued to my window overlooking a landscape I’d never seen before: all clay-colored land below, with some scrubby bushes scattered here and there. There were also a few sprinklings of houses, mostly walled in and with metal roofs, and connected by dirt roads. While completely entranced and in awe of the land, I definitely had to pause for a minute and let it sink in that I was really here.
Upon arriving at the Gaborone airport, we encountered the most stressful situation we’d been in so far. A terrifying customs lady was making every passenger open up every single piece of their luggage for inspection as they declared certain items to be in their possession. If they didn’t declare specific things before she began the search, the items would be confiscated. We stood in the line for about half an hour panicking about whether or not M&Ms and cookies had to be declared, until it was our turn…and miraculously, we were suddenly SAVED by another lady who opened up a second line.
After literally smiling and waving at that woman as we walked on through (while the first scary lady continued to interrogate a confused traveler with at least five huge suitcases), we had made it. Seabelo picked us up from the airport and gave us a quick tour of campus; and following a fast lunch of beans, fried chicken, and some salad, three interns (Jack, Austin, and Donald) who had been at MaP for a while asked us new interns if we wanted to see the new X-Men movie! Which obviously we did, even though Jazil and Harsh slept through 90% of it. I felt bad because we totally complicated their outing x1000 with our need to exchange currency and lack of knowledge about combies (a type of public transportation), Botswana cabs, or the city, but it was really kind of them to reach out to us right off the bat, and I feel good seeing more friendly faces around. We made it back in time for a dinner of some kind of fried bread, a minced chicken stew, and salad. I also got to meet a few students today, mostly during mealtimes, all of whom seem friendly and whom I’m excited to get to know better.
Following a quick check-in with Seabelo concerning questions about drinking water and obtaining phones, Heba and I are now all settled into our bedroom in the girls’ annex (a small building off of the girls’ boarding building), which I hope will be nice and cozy! There unfortunately is a HUGE spider (like three times bigger than whatever you’re imagining) in my closet, but I’ve decided to ignore it forever and hope it disappears. Neither of us seems to have forgotten anything too important, which is a relief, and we’re just about to turn in for the night, since breakfast begins at 6am tomorrow morning.
I can tell it’s going to take time for me to get used to the shifted schedule, for sure, seeing as my sleep schedule in college can be as late as ~4am-12pm. I’m also a bit nervous about being able to remember everyone’s names (I’m setting a goal for myself to get comfortable sitting with new people in the dining hall as a way to get to know more students), feeling mediocre about the food, and that stupid spider in my closet. I think ultimately, however, I just want to be able to contribute here in a way that’s productive for the school, helpful for students, and fulfilling for me—and this week is really about feeling out what goes on at MaP and finding my niche to make that happen.
And that just about wraps up the tale of our journey! Good night for now!