October 14 – 15:
Today has been a whirlwind of emotions. It started with the nerve wracking drive to the airport. Over the past 10 months I’ve dreamed of this momentous occasion when I would watch him walk through the airport gate, heavy with anticipation of his facial expression when he recognized me holding a sign with his name on it. I thought my dream was going to be shattered when I got on the interstate and two lanes were shut down causing traffic to be completely stopped. I went from being a happy ball of nervous energy to irrationally sobbing in the car, cursing the world for ruining what was going to be the perfect end/beginning to so many months of paperwork and waiting.
Well after being a complete emotional wreck for about 10 minutes, traffic finally pushed through. I sped like a maniac to the airport, parked, and ran to the terminal—mostly for nothing. He didn’t actually come through the gate until almost midnight, but hey, I got to hold my sign up. It was a lot more embarrassing than I thought it’d be. Because there were so few people in the airport, we were very exposed and both of us were feeling a bit shy after not seeing each other in person for over a year. We had a pretty mild reunion in that part of the airport, both of us fearing that if we said/did what we really felt, we’d get all emotional. So we hugged and went down to baggage claim and waited until we got to the parking lot.
The whole experience was rather surreal. I thought maybe I was dreaming that whole night and most of the next day–I’ve imagined his coming so many times, how it would feel to have him sitting next to me while I drove (which is very different to the many car rides we’ve taken where he’s exclusively been the one driving), that this just felt like a very vivid daydream.
We got home, where I had planned a night of eating our favorite junk food and catching up, but we had to pause to address a casualty of long travel: one of the bottles of wine he brought for me, red wine, had exploded. Even worse, it had been packed near a bunch of light colored and white clothing items. But after that hiccup, I got to open all the rest of my gifts from his friends and family—namely a mountain of Ethiopian coffee *swoon*.
Neither of us got much sleep between his jet lag and my excitement, but the next morning, before the sun rose, we had our first New Orleans experience. We drove to the french quarter and watched the sunrise over the Mississippi while sitting on the levy, and we followed it up with some Café au lait and beignets from Café du Monde.
Later that day he experienced his first culture shock—Whole Foods (which to be fair, is pretty shocking even if you’re from the US and have just never been inside).
First, it was the rows upon rows of perfectly neat and pretty produce.Then came the surprise that you could actually sample some of the fruit before you bought it (if they had the sampler trays out). What was also weird for him was picking out your produce and just putting it in the cart until checkout. In most Cape Town grocery stores, you have to have your produce weighed in the produce section to get a price sticker, as opposed to doing it during checkout where the scanner is also a scale. He also had a lot of fun with the ‘build your own six-pack’ beer section; except he isn’t much of a beer drinker and there wasn’t but one cider (which he subsequently didn’t even end up liking).
During checkout we had USA/SA Differences, Lesson #1: How to pay with a credit card in a store. In Cape Town, you either give the card to the cashier, or you have to stick it in the machine and leave it for awhile, which I used to think was incredibly strange when I was there. So he learned how to “swipe” after a couple of tries, figuring out the right orientation and speed.
After eating, shopping, and more eating, the jet lag finally caught up and he passed out—he was basically a corpse. I couldn’t even wake him up to get him to say more than one word before his eyes rolled to the back of his head and his head rolled backwards and he was gone again.
We finished this overwhelming first day with dinner at Slice. I figured it was fast and simple given how sleepy he was. Other than him looking like he was going to fall face first into his pizza, he enjoyed the food. Then we had US/SA Differences, Lesson #2: How to pay a restaurant bill with a credit card and tip. The first issue that gave him pause came from the timing of when you add the tip–i.e., after they’ve run your card and returned the card and the receipt for you to sign. Logically that should be the end of the transaction, but we’re so used to adding the tip, giving the receipt back to them and trusting them to enter in the correct tip amount. He was concerned that they would put more on your card than what you wrote. Understandable. But that’s just how we do it here. The second issue was the act of tipping itself, more so the standard 20%. So I tried to explain why we tip like this, but even I think this practice is ridiculous–restaurants should just pay their servers! But this issue is something people from other countries always find perplexing so I expected that to come up.
I’m realizing how interesting it is going to be for both of us as I see the US and New Orleans through fresh eyes, observing things that I take for granted as novelties for him, but I’m just so happy that we finally have this chance. This day felt exceedingly long, probably because it began at 11 PM/midnight. But it was the day I had been waiting for for so long.