The South African Series

Hi! My Name’s Satan. Welcome to Your Flight Home.

Dear Merciful Father in Heaven. I knew the flight home was going to be bad; I just had no idea HOW bad it was going to be. Like I said, we rushed out of the house early Monday morning with towels still in the dryer and no time to really clean. (And were scolded for it via email – with an accompanying  cleaning bill.) As we ‘sped’ along the N2 in our microbus, which heaved and groaned with every tire rotation, panic overtook the adults in the car. We had cut our departure time way too close.

Are we going to make it? What time was check in? Are we there yet?!?

Our fears were only compounded when a large Black woman in a reflective green vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned across the front stepped in front of our speeding vehicle. She hailed our car and 3 others in front of us.

“Any medical reason why you are not wearing your seat belt?” she asked harshly in Afrikaans before switching to English when we stared blankly at her without reply.


She motioned for us to see another pack of officers on the left side of the road, who told us eagerly that they were going to bill us R200 for the seatbelt violation. What a rip off! That was thirty bucks! My seatbelt on cost me $15 in the States…

This pack of jackals had the audacity to turn indignant when Marshall remarked that they ‘had to get that money for the municipality, huh?’

“Sir! We are merely carrying out our duties!” the brown one said in a voice that was a cross between imploring and a sneer.

After the darker officer took his sweet time filling out our fine form, Marshall and I buckled up and cautiously sped off. We arrived at the George airport with 10 minutes to boarding time. Whew!

With little time to lament our leaving to Michael –who was returning our rental for us – the six Grants hopped onto the plane to Jo’burg and settled in for a one and a half hour flight. It should have been as simple as that.

“It’s going to be a good morning,” Marshall chanted, trying to draw positive vibes to his brood. I, of course, knew better. Nothing positive can come with this many kids on a plane.

The moment we were seated, Liya began to wail and screech. As soon as she would quiet down, Stone would take up the mantle and yell at the passengers closest to him, kicking their chairs or pulling their hair. It was pure hell. The other passengers refrained from looking at us, but their silent vitriol was so palatable I could translate their very thoughts. When the plane finally landed, they rushed away from us, as if we were a pack of lepers.

We landed in Jo’burg a little after noon. Our flight to Atlanta did not leave until 8 pm. I had been advocating for us to get a hotel room for a few hours so the kids could sleep, but poverty and fully booked facilities worked against us.

“It’s gonna be a great flight!” said Marshall, again trying to speak things ‘that were not as though they were/should be.’

Shut up, I wanted to blurt. I opted to glare at him with steely silence instead.

He walked ahead of me with one of the big girls when he sensed I was in no mood for hopeless positive affirmations and useless platitudes. Suddenly, he turned around, muttering about having seen something ‘long’.

“Huh? What’s long?” I asked.

“No, no! Eddie Long! Over there in the Springbok t-shirt!” he grinned.

Well I’ll be; so it was! ‘Bishop’ Long, sitting right across the KFC with a pack of people (mostly men) in South Africa! He was wearing (as usual) a t-shirt that was 4 sizes too small. It clung to his bulky chest, the seams straining with every breath he took. What the heck was Eddie Long doing in South Africa? Was he here to rape little boys? I hadn’t heard of a major conference going on. Daggum shame…coming to Africa to pack his nasty New Birth fudge. Ugh.

We milled around O.R. Tumbo airport for 6 hours, watching people and pausing to get lunch and change diapers. I reeked of gloom, sweat and despondency. There was a little bit of baby snot on my pink blouse as well, courtesy of Liya’s freshly caught cold. As I looked over the filth that covered my breast and belly, a stunning young woman in a white halter dress walked towards us as we were about to enter the security check point. Wait – I knew her. Surely that couldn’t be…

“Malaka!” Sefa gushed in surprise.

“Oh wow!” I returned in equal surprise. “What are you doing in South Africa?”

She proceeded to tell me that she was in transit back to Accra after visiting some other exotic nation which escapes me now.  I stared at her, drinking in her beauty. Why couldn’t I look like that?? She looked and smelled amazing, like a freshly cut long stem rose. I would have told her as much, but I was afraid that I would reveal my thoughts so earnestly that they would come out sounding totally gay. I settled on something noncommittal like ‘you haven’t changed a bit’ or something equally lame/cliché. Sefa and I went to school together at GIS and had always carried out her successes with quiet dignity. We weren’t friends ourselves, but we shared friends.

She greeted the kids and Marshall, bending elegantly to address each of them. They were impressed when they found out she owned the café where we used to eat in Accra.

“We like the café!” they squealed.

Eventually, she apologized, saying she had to leave and get onto her flight which was departing in less than an hour.

“No, no! Go. I totally understand.”

She blew us kisses  and floated off. I would have blown her kisses too, but my chapped lips were ashy and I was afraid I would cover her in dust. Now that, I did tell her. Her tinkling laugh was the last thing I heard. Was that was single and successful at 30 looked like? Forget the fortune, I just want to walk into public adorned in clean clothes and smelling like a spring rain – or anything other than this morning’s meal.

Finally, 7:30 pm rolled around and they called our flight. As we were about to board, Delta separated us, males from females, and began a pat down search. Eddie Long disappeared at that moment. I saw him retreat to the other end of the airport. Huh. It’s not so hot when another adult male in power is doing the touching, is it Eddie?

I should have spoken less condemning thoughts, for surely I was rewarded for my judgmental words by the Devil himself. After the flight attendants seated ‘people with children and cripples’ first and we were airborne, Stone and Liya went at it again. For almost 16 hours they kicked, writhed and howled in the coffin like coach. My only reprieve came when they were sleeping, and they did not sleep long at all. Ironically, as I was battling the storms of tears and potato salad that were being hurled at me by my two youngest, there was another tempest raging beneath us. Hurricane Irene was making its way to the East Coast at the same time that we were. The turbulence was nothing like I’d ever felt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this point we are experiencing turbulence and advise you to take your seats,” the stewardess said professionally over the intercom.  Suddenly, there was the sound of her headset dropping as the plane dipped and bucked. She picked up the piece and growled into it.

“Everybody get back into your seats NOW!”

All the passengers waiting to use the toilet at that moment either pissed themselves or mustered the bladder control to hold on their bowels for the next 10 minutes while our plane yo-yoed 14000 feet in the air.

“Oh Jesus,” I thought, “we’re going to die.”

I looked at my slumbering children, wondering what it would feel like when we all hit the ocean. At least we were all together. I wanted to tell my husband that I loved him. If we all died in a fiery inferno, that should be the last thing he should hear. I wanted to tell him – but he snored throughout the entire episode.

Thankfully, it all ended. There were only 4 more hours left in the flight, and in those mere 4 hours, Stone wandered up to business class (twice) and came back with spoils of his adventure: a Kitkat and a bag of Lays potato chips. The stewardess who brought him back to my seat said he fished them out of a bowl she had sitting out for the ‘elite fliers’. ‘Atta boy, Stone!  Liya did some more screaming and the two of them mashed bananas, muffins and napkins into the floor around us. Yes folks: we WERE that family on the flight. The one everybody hopes will not be flying with them. I felt nothing but shame and contempt for my condition.

Once we landed, I quickly changed shirts, hoping that that would erase the evidence and emotion of the 22 hour hell I had endured.  It didn’t. Liya was holding onto a bit of food in a tightly balled fist and smeared it into my shoulder, looking me in the eye as she did so.

Take that, you persnickety pretentious whore.

I was aghast.

And then it was over. We went through security, my friend Algi greeted us at the arrival hall, and we were back in Atlanta. I stared around the familiar skyline. It was as if the whole 3 months had just been a dream and had never happened. I threw my purse into the front left side of the car and went to help Algi pack the remaining bags into her trunk.

“What are you doing?” she asked expectantly.

“Waiting for you so we can go…” I countered.

“Yeah, but your purse is in the driver’s seat honey.”  She looked at me with amusement.

Oh dag. So it was!

I moved it over to the right side seat and said a last goodbye to any habits I had picked up in South Africa.