I'm writing this on Saturday night, though it won't post until Sunday. In less than 24 hours we'll hopefully be up in the air, a few hours into our flight back to the snowstorms of the United States. By the time we land, Washington, D.C., might have been wiped out by snow, panic and bad drivers, but there will be a new Super Bowl champion. Barring a passenger breaking the no BlackBerry rule on SAA, I won't know if that's the Saints or Colts until I pick up a paper at JFK.
I'm not sure when I'll be back to Cape Town. Hopefully, it's sometime within the next 18 months. Some final observations from South Africa.
* Last night I experienced what it's like to ride in a true South African jalopy, which is the word they use here to describe a clunker or a lemon or any other type of car that falls into the "piece of crap" category. I thought my first car, an old Mercury Zephyr that didn't run if the temperature went above 70 degrees or below 30, was the worst car to ever wobble off an assembly line, but I have to reconsider that notion. Louise's cousin and her boyfriend took us out for drinks. We piled into the backseat through the one door that works. Mysteriously, her cousin didn't get into the passenger seat in the front. Instead, she stayed outside and moved to the back of the car, where - with the help of a couple of neighbors - she pushed the vehicle while her boyfriend started the car. This wasn't a one-time thing. Every time they get into the car, this is the complicated procedure they complete. Both members of this cute couple are good sports and have an affectionate feeling toward the car, an attitude they maintained even as the not-so-mighty beast wheezed and whined its way down the street.
They originally planned on taking us to a place that would involve a trip up and over a bridge. Unfortunately, the car sputtered to a stop on two occasions, denting their confidence in the vehicle. While they push it each time they start the car, it usually runs once it gets going. Having the car die every minute was a new tragedy, an unexpected one. So we stayed close to home. On the way back, Louise joined Crystal in the back as they acted like a pit crew shoving off a racecar on the final lap of action. We made it back home, though if the house had been three minutes away instead of two, that might not have happened.
* I'm not going to miss drinking milk from a bag. I trust a container more than a bag. It seems colder when it comes in a plastic carton. The carton seems sturdier than a plastic bag, though both will pollute the environment for the next 200 years. This is a sentence on Wikipedia about milk bags:
"Milk bags are common in several countries and regions of the world, including Argentina, Nicaragua, Eastern Canada, China, Colombia, Hungary, India, Israel, Montenegro, Poland, South Africa, Uruguay and Wisconsin."
One of those doesn't belong on the list. But I don't know if Wisoncsin's inclusion is the result of a Wikipedia prankster - or, perhaps, an inebriated Wisconsinite who gained access to a keyboard - or is really true. A lot of strange things have come out of Wisconsin, from Jeffrey Dahmer to women who take revenge by gluing men's genitalia. Milk bags might be the oddest.
EDIT: I've seen a note online that says "some parts of Minnesota" sell milk in bags. A vague geographical description. I don't know what parts of Minnesota that could be. Probably northern. Strange parts.
* During my short time here, a man died after being shoved down by a baboon, a tourist got blown off of Chapman's Peak by strong winds and plummeted to his death, and a shark ate someone. These aren't normal occurrences. For visitors thinking of coming to Cape Town, those incidents shouldn't dissuade them. But as Louise always says, they should also treat nature with respect. And don't go too deep into the ocean.
* Cricket, for the most part, still baffles me. Whenever I think I've picked up a rudimentary understanding of the game, an announcer or a relative will say a term or describe a play in a way that leaves me slack-jawed and confused. Yet I enjoy watching it on TV, because while I don't understand the intricacies of the game, I do know a great catch when I see one and appreciate when a hitter - er, batsman - takes a pitcher (bowler) deep.
* I earlier wrote about how expensive books are, but for visitors from America, movies are incredibly cheap. We went to Invictus and paid 18 rand each, or a little more than two dollars apeice. The respective prices for each form of entertainment mean that very few South Africans know when a book is much better than the movie version.
* As difficult as it is for me to leave my in-laws, it pales in comparison to how tough it is for Louise to leave her family behind as we return to her adopted city, New York. She returns more than I do; while it'd been three years since my last trip here, she came for five weeks in the summer of 2008 and we're hoping she can return in December. But she goes a year and sometimes more without seeing her mom, whom she worships. She might go 18 months without seeing her stepfather, who's been in the family's life for more than 20 years and is as delightful a person as anyone would ever want to meet. Living in New York means she leaves her two brothers, a pair of younger siblings who were teens when she left Cape Town but are now successful men. Life in America means leaving all her aunts and uncles and cousins and her grandma. Being in the United States means she's not around her 20-month-old niece, Madison, a little girl with a cherubic face and an adventurous spirit who gave Louise 17 heart attacks with her advanced climbing skills. We're in New York and not South Africa and that means Louise has left behind her hometown of Cape Town. She went to school here, attended university, made friends, had boyfriends. She lost her father blocks from the family home. Twenty-one years of history, left behind.
She chose to leave and I'm grateful she did, because if she had never made that extremely difficult choice, I never would have met her. So I'm glad she made that decision back in 1999. But that doesn't mean it's easy for me to leave this city and my in-laws, who make me feel like I'm as much a part of the family as anyone related by blood.
More importantly, just because she left the country a decade ago doesn't mean it will be easy heading back to New York tomorrow. It will be a long trip home. That has nothing to do with how long it will take to reach our destination, but everything to do with what we're leaving behind.