A southerner in South Africa
Athena the cheetah would roll over for me, but no one else. We had a bond.
In July, I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a few weeks in Bloemfontein, South Africa, with some of my friends from Appalachian State University: Madisson, Jerrin, Jordan, and Jim. Jordan and Jim served as our advisors. Our reason for travel was to participate in a leadership conference that was sponsored by their local university, University of the Free State. I wish I could write a book about my whole experience, but, sadly, I can't. With that said, here are a few of my favorite moments.
As soon as I walked through Johannesburg's Airport Security, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The gentleman working security simply asked me to place my bags on the X-ray belt and walk through. I looked at him and waited for him to ask me to take my shoes off and take the items out of my pockets. He never said anything, so I initiated the conversation for us, "Do I need to take my shoes off?"
The man looked confused and said, "No."
"Do I need to take my coat off?"
"No, leave it on, sir. Just walk through."
I was bewildered. Airport security in the U.S. might have body-slammed me and taken my shoes off for me. I looked at him and asked, "What about my belt?"
He smiled and said, "Just come on through, sir."
I walked through security with my shoes, belt and coat on, and I still had my wallet and phone in my pockets. The guard on the other side waved me through and wished me a nice day. I went through the security checkpoint thinking I had just committed a crime. I was anticipating someone to come out from behind a corner and tackle me; it never happened.
Throughout my time there, I did not adjust to South Africans driving on the left side of the road. Every time I called "shotgun," I would walk to the front right side of the car to find my seat. I was always surprised to find that I was looking at the steering wheel. When crossing the road, I couldn't figure out which way to turn my head. My Americanized reflexes had me looking left when I should have been looking right. You can imagine my surprise when I stepped out in front of a car. After that incident, I started scanning both lanes as I crossed the road, just in case.
Madisson's, Jerrin's and my southern drawl attracted the attention of many of our international colleagues. My new friends would often ask me to say words like "right" and "light." Anything that had a little southern charm to it was what they wanted to hear. Sadly, after first impressions, everyone assumed that I was from Texas. Thanks to the imbeciles in Hollywood with their ridiculous characterizations in movies and shows, I spent two weeks being thought of as a Texan. Not that there is anything wrong with being a Texan — some of my closest friends are from Texas — but it's simply not as good as being a North Carolinian.
One of the highlights of my trip came when we decided to skip out on a seminar and go to a local cheetah farm. We went to a privately-owned zoo that raises African cats and puts them up for adoption. Part of the experience is that guests can interact with the younger animals. I like to think that the cheetah I hung out with, Athena, shared a special bond with me. I was the only person she rolled on her belly for. She had me at hello.