I wrote half of this post on my phone but lost it all because I forgot to save before resetting, but I’ve told this story so often that writing it again doesn’t faze me much. That’s actually how the story ends, with me stuck in Pretoria telling my story to wide-eyed new(er) volunteers who had just completed their In-Service Training. Now that you know the ending, I could try telling this backwards like Memento, but that only works if something unpredictable happened at the beginning. I’ll just tell you now: this story started with me getting pretty sick.
The setting is that school was on break and I was out traveling around the area with some friends. What happened during our travels is also worth telling and equally likely to scare my mother, but this is my part to tell.
We were staying at a pleasant cabin in the mountains, and after spending some time there, four of us decided we’d go on to see Kruger National Park. This place was far out, so we had to wait for the owner to give us a ride to town after noon. By then we were all pretty hungry. “Let’s eat at the taxi rank,” I suggested. “I know a place there where you can get lots of food for cheap.” That was my undoing.
This place that I “knew” was a dingy tin shack, indistinguishable from the others next to it in a line between the taxis and the buses. You wouldn’t even know they served food if not for the people eating at a table in front of it. I almost didn’t recognize the place, but the owners remembered me and waved to me. I had only eaten there once before, but I imagine they don’t have a white person order food from them every day. They sat us down in the shade and before long we all had enormous plates of pap in front of us, and a bowl of shishebo (which is a word that means stuff you eat with pap.) I didn’t think I would manage but I finished the whole thing.
After we were done eating, we called to make reservations for a place to stay by a gate to Kruger. I had never been to Kruger, and I still haven’t, so I didn’t realize that we made arrangements by a gate that’s far away and out of the province instead of the one by Thohoyandou. This might have been my undoing too.
I asked where I could find a taxi to Thohoyandou, and as luck would have it, there was one right behind the restaurant, almost full and ready to go. We squeezed into the remaining seats and set off. We and the taxi were all very full.
Once there, I realized how far we still had to travel when the driver told us we needed to take three more taxis to get to our destination. Now, these taxis have three seats in a row except they always expect four people to sit in the back, even when the alley is only a few inches wide. So naturally, that’s where we sat. Squeezed in the middle, I began to feel motion sick about halfway through the trip. When someone got off and a seat freed up, I took that seat and stared out the window intently. It didn’t help that my companions were talking about rotten food, and egging the driver to shake the taxi in order to fit more gas in the tank.
When we arrived, I got out and sat on the curb. I really wasn’t feeling ready to go, but the sun was setting and I didn’t want to be stuck there, so we got on the next taxi. The thing was full but a lady told me to sit next to her, so I did, only fitting on the seat halfway. I thought she was being nice and squeezing in to make space for me, but no, it was just her and her equally fat companion sitting in the aisle for three. Before we got out of the town, I had thrown up in my towel and it spilled all over my shirt. (Tip: Don’t throw up in towels. It won’t work.) I rode on in grim silence, no longer feeling sick, but resentful of my companions, who didn’t offer to help me and instead we complaining about their own seating arrangements behind me.
It was quite dark by the time we arrived in Giyani. As soon as I got off, I changed my shirt and sulked off to let them figure out where we were going next. It was too late to get to the town by the Kruger gate. The only thing to do was to find a place to stay. A guy who worked at a hotel helped us find a place. The place where he worked was actually full, but he took us to another hotel, urging us not to tell his manager. But that hotel was full too. I’m not sure how, but we were able to contact a place with vacancies, and someone came to fetch us and take us there.
At this place, The Kremetart Guesthouse, the other three went in to book a room while I stayed outside and emptied the contents of my stomach on the ground. Which was a lot, because I had eaten a lot. I recovered to find that these well-intentioned boneheads had booked one room for all four of us, with two beds and one mattress on the floor. I took the mattress, and a few times an hour for the next several hours, I crawled to toilet to offer it what I had in my stomach, which was usually nothing unless I had tried drinking the oral rehydration salts that one of my friends gave me. That was unpleasant.
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