8/29 Arrival - Michael Dykstra
My new car!

My new car!

Well, I’ve made it. It was a long journey. It started with Delta nearly not letting me board the plane in Grand Rapids. I hadn’t applied for a visa exemption, which is needed for stays longer than 3 months, and my return flight was for 9 months in the future. My mentor has had other students do this and they were fine with a letter stating plans to obtain a visa in-country, but I had some strict rule-following agents who wouldn’t bend that for me. Eventually I negotiated with a red coat (in this case not the British soldier, but the delta manager) to have them just change my return flight to within 90 days and waive the transfer fee. Then they let me check in and I was on my way. If nothing else, I think this encounter heightened my parents’ confidence that I can handle myself in stressful situations!

In Atlanta I enjoyed some truly American Bojangles (fried southern fast food known for chicken and biscuits), then embarked on what was by far the longest flight I’ve ever taken: Atlanta to Johannesburg, roughly 15.5 hours in the air. In my opinion, it could have been much worse. The first meal I had on the plane was chicken with a small salad and some other snacks. Beer and wine were complementary, so I had one of each (this is one of the first times in a while that I didn’t order my go-to cranberry juice on a plane). I was trying to catch up on journaling, but when I ran out of steam around midnight Atlanta time (no idea what time it was in the mid-atlantic), I zonked out hard. An inflatable head-pillow Ruirui gave me from China was very helpful, as was my trusty eye-mask, so I managed to sleep for over 9 hours. I was very grateful for that. I woke up to a chicken salad dish with beets and bleu cheese, which was surprisingly edible. The view of Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa from the plane was gorgeous. Over Namibia I had trouble identifying towns, which I suppose makes sense as it is among the lowest population density countries in the world at 7.5 per square mile. In South Africa, the first difference I noticed were cars going the wrong way on the highways- felt odd to see everyone driving on the left. Otherwise the airport was a huge mall that I avoided, then I hung out by my gate. The airplane to Botswana was a prop plane, which I hadn’t seen for a while, and served beef jerky as the snack. I was both excited and subsequently curious about how many vegetables I would be eating in the next 9 months. The flight ended with this proclamation from the flight attendant: “Welcome to Botswana; our pride, your destination.”

It was fairly simple to get from the airport to my house. After clearing customs I was met by Sampson, my exuberant taxi driver. He is a musician in his spare time- he apparently lived in London for a year doing street performing in the past, and is hoping to go to NYC soon for a similar endeavor. Very nice guy and very welcoming. I couldn’t get the light to turn on in my room so I couldn’t unpack and wanted to keep my circadian rhythm reasonably normal, so I slept around 12:30.

Miraculously I slept 7 more hours and felt fairly functional in the morning. This would fade throughout the day. Someone from the Botswana Harvard Partnership (BHP) gave me a short heads up when he was picking me up from the house, and eventually I managed to make my way outside with important documents in hand. It was then a whirlwind day of introductions, tours of the facilities, and coordinating logistics. Everyone was very kind and welcoming to me- I think this will be a wonderful experience. One thing is that the culture as a whole seems fairly extroverted, which may be a struggle for me. I have shifted much more in that direction in the past few years, but still saying hi to everyone throughout the day may become exhausting.

I also picked up my car today. I bought it while I was still in the US from someone who works for the same organization. A mechanic even went to check it out for me, etc. My friend from BHP and I coordinated with a friend of the guy who had kindly let me park it in his driveway. She gave me the keys then said that she had to be running, so I had to get into the right door and started driving without fully orienting myself to everything being backwards. I turned my windshield wipers on more times than I’ve ever done on a clear day, since the turn signal is now on the right instead of the left. All my intuition about using this machine is backwards. I was surprised to learn it was an automatic, but my initial disappointment was quickly followed by relief; I didn’t want one more complexity in trying to not make a fool of myself on the road. Brutal. Fortunately the pedals are still oriented the same. Then in addition to feeling disoriented about the car itself, I needed to become accustomed to driving on the left side of the road, going against every intuition I have since first starting to drive almost 12 years ago. I missed an entrance Isaac had told me to go in because I saw a car in the place where I would typically have pulled in, despite the open space to the left of that car. Right turns are now trickier, crossing opposing lanes of traffic, while left turns are simple. Fortunately I still have a data-less GPS to guide me (maps.me is amazing), and I haven’t been in any accidents! Many more adventures to come on this front.

Finally came the grocery store. I drove there with Arielle, one of my great housemates who is also a very helpful navigator. We also happened to meet up with Victoria, who is also from Boston and will be working on the lymphoma project with me. Very fun to meet up with someone familiar in a foreign place. There were a few things which were hard to find (non-whole dairy products, bread crumbs, croutons) but overall they had most things. I hadn’t realized that we needed to weigh produce in the produce section before checking out, so I had to run across the store to get that done after the cashier informed me of that fact while others waited in line behind me. I also was thoroughly entertained by a pasta made by the company “No Name™,” so I had to buy it (was also the cheapest).

I’m tired but I still need to organize my bedroom and a few other random tasks- will write more for you all later.

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