The flight into Botswana was punishingly long. Thanks to the distortions of the Mercator projection, we in the west tend to think of Africa as a mid-sized continent hanging by a thread from the bottom of Europe — but this is wrong. Africa? Just enormous: 20% of the land-mass on Earth, enormous. (By comparison our continent, including that vast tundra of ours, is approximately 16%.) Suffice it to say that flying over almost all of it, to reach Johannesburg from London, took a very, very, very long time. Also, the lady in the seat next to me had more than eleven hours worth of elbows to spare, so it felt even longer.
The actual mechanics of the trip are sort of hazy, and can only be recalled as a dreamlike state full of long hallways, uncomfortable seats, and sore shoulders. I contracted a hangnail as soon as I left the house for the airport, which meant that I had five hangnails when we finally deplaned, 31 hours later — airports being, of course, the only places in the world where by law not a single person has a pair of nail clippers.
Then there was Heathrow. Heathrow was terrible. I mean, everybody knows that Heathrow is terrible. When you say “Heathrow” people nod sagely and go “Aaah. Heathrow.” And you think that it can’t be that bad, because after all, at its core it’s just an airport and if you’ve seen one, well.
But let me tell you. Heathrow is hot. Heathrow is loud. Heathrow is confusing, and Heathrow is full of twisty lines and arbitrary directions and long escalators leading to lineups leading to security checks. Heathrow
is bright lights and flashing signs and miles of stinky perfume counters. Heathrow is like being stuck in the gaudiest, most crowded mall on the planet, with ten thousand other people who also can’t leave and also don’t know where they’re supposed to go next. None of you has had a shower in ages.
I now measure bad things in units of Heathrow. One Heathrow: Terrible. Two Heathrows? Unbearable. Three Heathrows? Sartre wants your number, because he thinks he might like to write a play about it.
But Heathrow finally ended, and I found myself in the spacious, sunny airport in Johannesburg, waiting to be bussed out to our little Dash 8 to fly the remaining 100kms to Gaborone, where the first thing I saw as we pulled out of the parking lot was two monkeys gleefully ripping apart a watermelon under a hibiscus tree bursting with blooms.
Welcome to Botswana.