Midnight Train


Have you ever had an expectation that was not met?  If you say no, you are lying.  We all have.  Our family just returned from visiting South Africa, reconnecting and relaxing before tackling the next school year that is just around the corner, beginning mid-August.

As many of you know, we like to be good stewards of resources, whether that be using 4 squares of toilet paper per wipe, (# 1 only), using chicken bones to make stock, (I almost enjoy this now) or salvaging bottles from dumpsters to adopt a little girl from Rwanda.  (If you don’t know that story, please ask, we have photos of dumpster diving)  We could probably write a book on how to be frugal without being cheap.  Anyhow, I share all this so that I can tell you about the beginning of our journey to South Africa, an adventure we will not forget and may possibly still be trying to bring feeling back into our numb bums.

We flew into Johannesburg and loaded our family onto a train the next morning to make our way down to Cape Town.  Originally, we thought that this would be one of those once in a lifetime experiences where we would get to see the beautiful South African countryside from aboard a train, one luscious landscape at a time.  Not so much.  The train was to depart at noon.  It broke down before we even left the station, not a promising sign.  We sat for 4.5 hours before the engine was tinkered to life and our journey began.  Just before dinner, the ticket master came and informed us that we were in the wrong train car and advised us that we would need to move all of our things for the people that would be boarding soon.

We said, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to give them the clean berths rather than our 8 hour, crumb-filled, kid-loved car?”  He said no, so we moved our things down a car and attempted to hunker down for the night.

This may have been a blessing, but I am still trying to determine if this is so.  At around two in the morning, there was a child sitting right outside my door, possibly on the threshold, reading a-loud to her mama.   A little later, I believe this same child was running races with her sibling up and down the aisle, shrieking with joy for many minutes before her mama gently said, “Shhhh, you are going to wake someone up.”  (I was already up from your earlier read a-loud episode, but who’s keeping track.)  Throughout the night, I was delighted to play in a game of musical toilets with each of the girls.  I did not see them drink exuberant amounts of liquid before bed, but I am sure it must have happened because we visited the toilet at least two times a piece before 5:00 am.  On one such visit, we had to make our way to our original train car we had earlier been booted from, as our toilet was out of order. (Something that happened multiple times throughout our expedition)  This is where the blessing comes into play.  There was a man that I had noticed was taking smoke breaks every ten minutes, pressed up against the hallway window, blowing rings into the wind of this smoke-free environment.  He was still very much engaged with this pattern during this toilet safari, but I also made the observation upon walking past his room that he had brought with him his own boom box, which was rhythmically pumping out some bass filled tunes.  He also took it upon himself to bring his entire home bar, a little pub on wheels, which proved to have no last call the entire trip.

The next morning was a little more tense.  The landscape was a picturesque parched desert speckled every now and then with little villages clothed in desperate poverty.  Each time the train would stop, children would run to the train, begging for scraps or anything that could be scraped together by the passengers aboard.  This was hard to digest, as it always is when the hand is being held out to you and the decision must be made in an instant of whether or not to take care of “the least of these.”

Later in the day, after hours of coffee disguised as tea, 45 rounds of Monopoly deal, and glazed over eyes from intense movie watching, we were informed that we were behind schedule, (really, I had no idea) and that we would arrive at 11:30pm instead of the promised time of 3:30 that was engraved on our tickets.  But, they did promise us a free dinner of beef-bone curry stew and undercooked crusty rice for our troubles.

For those of you that like a happy ending, the plane we caught for the return trip was a quick 2 hour jaunt.  In hindsight, the frugal girl in me might make a little more room in the budget to avoid contact with the padded moving jail cell, called the Shosholoza Railways.