When you get that feeling in your tummy and hear a voice announce you are descending into the town and the movie you are watching in the plane has 30 more minutes to go, then, I guess, you know it’s not really a dream.
At least that’s how I felt when the plane descended into OR Tambo airport.
I am not sure if I was to expect anything different though. Maybe the look of organization about the lives of the people I could see through the windows, or the feeling I was no longer in my home country, Ghana, or something! Whatever It was that I felt, I knew this was for real.
I speak to Bisi Olaleye of ‘The Sun’ newspaper in Nigeria. She does not talk much but then when she does (and lays on you the full arsenal of her Nigerian accent), you realize it does pay to know people from other cultures.
How they speak of their mother continent, the corruption, the roads, their children (I know I also realize she was getting personal) and so many others; makes you realize just how much we as Africans have in common.
BUT, there is always one thing that captures my imagination above all else as i arrive in this country called South Africa (and no, it’s not the flag).
There is a warm breeze of ‘welcome home’ that fills the air I suck into my body. There is a ‘welcome home’ smile that greets me when I hand over my passport to the man at the immigration who usually says something along the lines of “Black Stars!”
There is a ‘welcome home’ atmosphere in the arrival lounge where despite the diversity of the cultures staring at you and hoping you will be the one they have to meet, there is a feeling of safety in the knowledge that all is well.
From an advantaged position in in the plane as the descent begins, I see a country well organised, well thought through, mostly green and ready to accommodate. With an impressive edifice of an airport to boast of as the first point of contact with South Africa, it is not rocket science why ‘Madiba land’ fills the hearts of the Africans with pride.
I am not sure which comes first for South Africans when making a choice on what to consume but if my first meal at the airport is anything to go by, then survival in this beautiful country for a West African 27 year old man is very limited.
Either too much spice (as with the hotdog at the airport), or as I found out at a dinner on Monday night, plain rice without gravy; maybe, just maybe, the food in the town could be different but with the places I have been exposed to, it will be a struggle.
However the spice that the scenery offers, as I discovered on our drive from Port Elizabeth to Grahamstown, completely changes the favour.
It was the most difficult duty keeping up with the landscape, the wildlife and the diversity. At every turn, the team in the bus I was travelling in had to adjust to take pictures. The experience bordered on limits of childhood fantasy and unreserved admiration.
In Ghana, the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ would most likely be interrupted by an occasional bump in the road or a wild swerve and maneuvering by the driver. Our journey to Grahamstown however had more and more ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ than the backing vocals from a ballad by Nat King Cole.
The Telkom Highway Africa Conference, for which reason I find myself in South Africa was a true opener. A humbling experience like none I had felt before. The passion of broadcasters from across the world, the urgency with which journalists want to transform a continent rising, the inspiration I gather from the youth of the Rhodes University and the hospitality of the people of Grahamstown. In life I believe there is little that compares to such a cornucopia of emotion.
From issues of corruption, covering conflict situations, ethics in the internet era to the revelations into how much of our information we ‘share’ unknowingly with the world and on the future on journalism on the African continent, humbling is the best way to describe it.
For three days I network, talk, adjust, shiver, over sleep, eat, drink, party, cry, and feel virtually every human emotion there is to be felt in this country of contrasts. The diversity and contracts however blend and adjust to accommodate my shocks and surprises as I move through the town of Grahamstown.
Though it feels strange that the world outside the walls of the 9th best school in Africa is in sharp contrasts with the life on the campus, one gets a sense things could be changing for the people of Grahamstown.
And maybe it is because of the conference that the people I interact with seem so nice, or maybe it’s because of Rand I paid for the conference that I am offered assistance everywhere I go, or better still maybe it is because I am a nice guy; whichever! But nothing beats the warmth I feel inside when I hear the words of Nicky Hlanze saying, ‘welcome home’.