Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When A Dream Turns Into A Nightmare

It was 1972 and I was given the opportunity to accompany my fiance on one of his many trips to South Africa for business.  I was thrilled.  My brother and his family had been living in South Africa since the early 1950s and I was so excited to be able to see where they lived and to visit my nephews.  

We were planning on doing sight-seeing and had a special photographer's camera that looked more like a rifle than a camera.  As we exited the plane, custom officials pulled us aside and took us into an interrogation room and did a strip search because of the 'weapon' we were carrying.  I was terrified.  My fiance, Paul, finally convinced them it was a camera and we were released.

My brother suggested many places for us to visit and it was a phenomenal experience. Everyday we traveled by train to downtown Johannesburg.  What a beautiful city.  Paul conducted his business and I shopped.  The European designers and unique boutiques seemed endless and the prices were so much less than I had ever seen anywhere else.  I loved every day we spent there.  I imagined what it would be like to live in such a beautiful place and those thoughts seemed so romantic.

We decided to travel to Kruger National Park for a three day safari.  Seeing wildlife in their environment was more awesome than I ever expected.  Lion cubs chased our bus, biting the tires.  Monkeys jumped on top and looked inside.  We saw Elephants, Girafes, Gazelles, Kudu, Lions, Jaguar, Rhinos, Zebras - just to name a few.  We stayed in a grass hut in the middle of the wilderness.  I had never before nor since, seen such darkness. You could not see your hand in front of your face in the blackness.  Our hut did not have electricity and I was hoping I would not have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night or I might have died from fright.  

We were in a secured area about a mile from any dangerous animals but the wart hogs were right outside making disturbing noises. We could hear the lions roar which sounded like they were very close but actually about a mile away.  It was difficult to sleep but I finally dozed off and was shocked awake to my finance screaming and kicking.  I could not see anything and there was no light to turn on.  My heart pounded so hard I could feel it outside my night clothes.  Paul had a dream that large snakes were crawling on him.  I knew there would be zero chance of sleeping the next couple nights.

Occasionally, our tour guide would stop and allow us to take pictures.  I saw an ostrich approaching my window and took a picture.  Fortunately, the camera was in front of my face as the ostrich extended her long neck and pulled the buttons off my shirt.  Without the camera, I may have lost an eye or my nose.  

The three weeks in South Africa ended way too soon and we needed to head home.  Our flight back was a milk run and would take over a day to get back.  The only country where South African Airways was allowed to refuel was in Libreville, in the middle of the Congo.  As we touched down, we could see hundreds of men in uniforms and became quite uneasy.  Refueling would not take long but they demanded we all exit the plane.

The military had taken over the airport searching for rebels and usurped that authority to the fullest extent. All 300 plus passengers were escorted into a small room that could comfortably hold about 100 people and we were held hostage. It was over 110 degrees and we were very tired and nervous.

We could not understand their demands but it was clear that we could not speak to one another and had to stand very still. We knew that it was taking much longer than it should to refuel but no one dare ask why.

Finally, we were escorted back to the plane and realized that all of our personal belongings had been stolen. What we did not realize, until we were airborne, was that they had tampered with the wiring and had to make an emergency landing. The closest place we could safely land was in Rome. Because this was not a scheduled stop, and no one had visas, we were not allowed to leave the plane. It took them three hours to repair the damage and the temperature outside was in the nineties – inside the plane was considerably higher.

At one point, I believed that I was going to die and as I was passing out, told Paul I loved him but knew I was not going to live through this nightmare. Shortly after, we were airborne and I was aroused by a stewardess administering ether. I couldn't believe I was alive.

Our next scheduled stop was Germany with a layover of several hours. We sat on the steps outside the airport terminal and got the giggles. We laughed so hard that we were rolling on the sidewalk. It didn't matter that people were pointing and staring at us, we were almost hysterical.

Finally we were headed to the USA and would arrive in Minneapolis, Minnesota in twelve hours. We fell asleep and woke up in Chicago, Illinois. We slept through our stop and this was in the day when it was up to the passenger to get off the 'bus' at the correct stop.

If you thought we laughed in Germany, it was a repeat performance in Chicago. Although, Paul continued to make regular trips to South Africa, I decided I would hold up the home front and count my blessings I made it back alive. 

I am participating in The Write Tribe Festival of Words and today's subject is travel. 

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