The Quail Trail

Wia Kotzé
Copyright 2001

I call my story the "Quail Trail". For those of you who don't know the story of the Quails... I call my CI buddies the Quails or Kwartels (Afrikaans for Quail) because we have an Afrikaans saying that goes (literally translated) "As deaf as a quail"...

Part One

I think it's time to start telling you a little about my experiences. It will for sure also help me to keep the lovely memories fresh and alive.

Before my departure everything went wrong and I had such a lot of problems to attend to that there was hardly time to get excited. But from the moment I started packing the excitement began. I arrived at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg completely exhausted and just a little concerned about the connecting flight in Zurich the next day. I met my friend Ruth at the airport and although we were departing at the same time she was flying first class via London with BA and I was booked on a flight with Swissair via Zurich to Newark.

Upon arriving at the Swissair desk I asked for assistance and the next moment a young lady arrived with a wheel chair!! I told her that although I was dead tired I could still manage to walk to the departure gate... In the meantime Ruth had taken matters in hand and with a little encouragement convinced the guy who was waiting to take her to the VIP departure lounge that she could not possibly wait for her flight to depart without me at her side LOL. He whisked us past the customs desk and we walked past the metal detectors to be wanded because neither of us was prepared to take off our CI's and scared to mess up our maps walking through the detectors.

Shortly after that we settled into comfy chairs in the VIP lounge, poured a Scotch to drink a toast on the problems we were leaving behind... Our adventure had begun and we were ready to have fun. About an hour before departure time I said goodbye to Ruth and walked to the Swissair departure gate. On my way the friendly lady that offered the wheel chair walked past me and I then joined the long queue at the gate. The next moment the little lady came back and gestured to me to come with her and whisked me past all the other waiting passengers. Made me really feel like a VIP and she made sure that the airhostesses knew that I wanted assistance in Zurich the next day.

The flight was not too bad but uncomfortable although I sat almost at the back on the aisle side to have room for my legs (those of you who've met me know I am tall). The bad part of this particular arrangement was that everyone wanting to use the plane toilet lined up in the passage next to my seat and that carried on for most of the night because the only toilets on the plane were at the back! I hardly slept at all but the food was GOOD!! The Swiss are known for the best hotel/chef's schools in the world. The lady next to me seemed to be more interested in the booze than in the food and drank about four beers before I managed to finish my meal and she again ordered some more later during the night and at breakfast the next morning. Truly amazing because SHE never visited the toilet HAHAHA

Upon arrival in Zurich all I wanted was to get to a bathroom to freshen up and to sleep!! It was just after 8 in the morning and my connecting flight was due at 16:00 in the afternoon which meant I had a few hours to kill. After getting off the plane I was told to get on to one of those jeep-like vehicles. Since there were quite a few passengers also waiting to be escorted that obviously needed the ride more than me I offered to walk but the lady would not hear about it and sort of told me to get onto the darn cart and shut up. Eventually we were taken almost to the other side of the airport and I then realised why she insisted that I get on the little cart. We were taken to the transit lounge and told to wait and make sure that we were there one hour before our connecting flights were departing. There were a lot of people in the transit lounge and almost all the chairs were occupied so I looked for a bathroom and took a walk through the duty free shops. That was nice and before I really knew what I was doing I bought a nice wristwatch!! All the Swiss chocolates in the shops were of course also very inviting but I decided NOT to buy some because Ruth had told me that her daughters specifically said NO Chocolates; I gathered they were perhaps dieting or at least very health conscious. Being a dietitian I decided I must at least make a good impression upon arrival in Newark - sort of showing that I practice what I preach although I was dying to buy loads of those chocolates. I thought that I had to go via Zurich a few more times I would buy the chocolates the next time I got to Zurich...never got the opportunity but did buy a very expensive tin of chocolates on the plane on my way back!

I went back to the transit lounge and by that time there were more empty seats and a number of people was stretched out on them sleeping Opposite me were a young very friendly Lebanese girl and her parents. She started talking to me and I immediately had to explain to her about my CI and the fact that I still had to lip-read. Then of course they all became very interested in my CI and it triggered off a nice conversation with me ending up telling them just how exhausted I was. Then the girl walked up to the desk and came back with two of those little cushions and blankets that one gets on the plane for her mother and me. Without a care in the world I then stretched out on the chairs and was lost to the world for a few hours. The Lebanese people also had to wait for a connecting flight in the afternoon and the girl made sure that the Swissair people knew that we were sleeping and had to be alerted when it was time to get to the plane again. Afterwards I could not help smiling at how easily one does things like this when you know there is no one around that knows you!! In South Africa I would never dream of just lying down on a few seats at an airport!!

By 3 o clock the afternoon I was ready to leave and a little less tired. Again the Swissair people assisted me very nicely and about eight hours after departing from Zurich I was welcomed in Newark by Ruth and her daughter and the kidlets. Ruth had arrived about three hours before me and had already dished out all the goodies that she bought from South Africa for the kids. By that time it was about 26 hours since I left South Africa! All I wanted was a nice hot bath and a bed!! Jet lag had set in with a vengeance and I could not be bothered about anything but to fall asleep!! America did not seem half as inviting as I expected it to be.

Fortunately I had experienced this with my previous trip and I knew that it would take a day or two before I would be ready to really start enjoying myself, getting interested in my surroundings...


Part Two

Images of America and contrasts

Colours!! Shades of the softest green Everything was just almost a little too green!! Coming from South Africa where the leaves were just starting to drop and nature was preparing for a winter sleep it was as if I looked through a piece of green Cathedral glass in the stained glass panel next to my front doorI simply could not get enough of the soft green of the woods that we drove through to Merle's (My friends Ruth's daughter in New Jersey) houseand so many shades of green too. The colours were beautiful even that first evening when we drove to Randolph from the airport in the twilight but it was even better the next morning when the sun was out. On the very first morning I walked out on the deck and simply could not get enough of the lush green of the woods bordering the houses ­ later on I loved going for a walk on a nature trail through the woods accompanying the children on their bikes and just drinking in the beauty of this particular soft green shades of sunlight.

Beautiful homes with Star Spangled Banners on their front porches and wreaths at the front doors and NO fences, barbed wire or high walls around the housesOf course I was privileged to visit friends in what must be one of the most beautiful areas of New Jersey

Water lakes and streams on their doorstep and even a private beach where the children could play and enjoy the long hot summer in safety. So much water was really something to behold coming from a country where water is a scarce commodity in many regions and water restrictions are often part of our lives. Especially where some people don't even have the luxury of water on tap in their homes

The contrast to what we got used to in South Africa over the past few years was almost too much to beholdAgain ­ houses without high walls, barbed wire and Spanish bars in front of all the windows and no security gates and intercoms to announce visitors open doors and cars parked in the driveway without fear of not finding them there tomorrow. I was sad to realise that we had become so used to locking ourselves in in our own homes in South Africa that we did not even notice it anymore

And everything was clean and tidy and no Squatter towns as one approached the citiesSuch a difference to be transported from a Third World country to a highly sophisticated affluent First World environment. Of course I realised this may not be true about all parts of America but the sheer beauty of the area that I first came to filled me with a feeling of freedom and tranquillity.

These first images accompanied me wherever I went on this trip throughout America, Canada and Britain. Everywhere I went I was surrounded with so much beauty!

Then we went shopping!! I remembered being impressed by American supermarkets and the overwhelming variety of goods in the stores during my first trip years ago but walking into the first supermarket was almost too much to take in. I got lost between the shelves and could simply not stop believing my eyes!! My curiosity ran rampant and being a dietitian I could forever scrutinize the various products that are not available in South Africa. It was fun to look out for certain items that we have in South Africa to see if they were included in the huge variety and funnily enough when we started shopping to do some traditional home cooking for Ruth's children some basic items that we wanted were nowhere to be foundJ!!

Then there was captioned TV!! "Lekkerrrrrrr!!" Something that we don't have in South Africa!! I was looking forward to this because at home I did not even bother to watch TV anymore unless it was a very visual programme where I could understand something by merely looking at visual images. At first I could not read fast enough and yes the spelling and typing errors were annoying!! LOL I concentrated so hard on reading the captions that I missed the visual images but I was getting better with it every day!! I also watched some old movies and was amazed that I had some of the stories all wrong !

These first impressions made me realise I was in for some very nice surprises and that every day would be filled with more discoveries. It was a going to be a journey where each day would be filled with contrasts and comparisons of the familiar visions and emotions that are part of living in a vastly different country across the ocean. This was a new world indeed and it was enfolding before my very eyes with each new dawn ­ an adventure of a lifetime was in store for meA pilgrimage that would take me into the hearts an homes of strangers who would become the dearest friends in a mere two months but THAT I did not know on that first morning when a squirrel came to greet this strange creature from AfricaJ

Continued next month ...


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