Synopsis—A prequel to this posting:
In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.
This posting is intended to discuss other facets of that many-faceted trip. It is one of a series of discussions covering my travel to Botswana via New York City, England and South Africa, and my return therefrom via South Africa, Germany and New York City, and discussions on everything that occurred in between. For related postings, click on I married my barber, Sojourn to Botswana and Botswana’s urinals. My intentions are to narrate some of the details of my trip in the hope of entertaining visitors to my blogs, and perhaps even, to some small degree, educate visitors with those details. And now, on to the posting!
I downed a lion in South Africa . . .
After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa I spent several hours in the company of two agents of that nation Secret Service unit, an organization similar to our Central Intelligence Agency. I surrendered my U.S. State Department passport to an immigration officer at Johannesburg’s municipal airport. It would be returned to me on my return to Johannesburg from Botswana. I did not ask why my passport was held, nor was any reason given.
I would learn later that it was held to ensure that I came back through Johannesburg, rather than leaving Botswana for a different country. The two agents questioned me on the purpose of the conference and which countries would be represented, and questioned me on my return. I answered all their questions freely to the best of my ability, although my knowledge was rather limited. They seemed satisfied with my answers in the prebriefing as well as the debriefing following my return to Johannesburg after the conference.
We stopped at their office and I was asked to wait while they reported my arrival to their superiors, a report that was made behind closed doors and obviously without my presence. Left to my own devices I toured the hallways of the building, taking in views of the city through the windows and views of offices through open doors. In my wanderings I found restroom doors and drinking water fountains marked Whites only and Coloreds only. I also noted that in the wide hallways of the building, colored maintenance and cleaning people stepped well to one side as I neared, and made no direct eye contact, looking away or down as we met and passed.
Those obvious signs of the apartheid rule that still existed in South Africa—a system that would endure until 1994—turned my thoughts back 24 years, back from 1985 to 1961, to a time when racial segregation—our nation’s apartheid—ruled the South. In 1961 I left my assignment at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-year tour at Bitburg Air Base in Bitburg, Germany, a small town in Germany’s Eifel mountains (a definite subject for future postings!).
My tour of duty at Craig had been pleasant in every respect, both for me and for my family. That tour had lasted more than five years, and I was extremely reluctant to end it. However, my transfer was not an object for negotiation, not even for discussion, so I grudgingly and unwillingly accepted the new assignment. Bummer!
My newfound friends from South Africa’s Secret Service treated me with a tour of Pretoria, the capital city of the nation. Our tour of the city included a marketplace, monuments and various civic buildings. The most impressive part of the tour was the Voortrekker Monument, a massive granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers, pioneers that left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854 to explore and establish settlements. Click here for a digital tour of the monument.
We returned to Johannesburg shortly before my flight was scheduled for departure, and a suggestion was made to have a beer before the flight. I declined because the cuisine at the Holiday Inn had not been kind to my digestive system, particularly to the elimination apparatus of that system. However, under duress inflicted by their urging me to have a beer, I accepted a cold beer, attractively packaged in a can. Oddly, however, neither of my friends ordered a beer, explaining that they could not drink while on duty.
I noticed that they watched me intently while I downed the beer, rather quickly because boarding time was near. When I finished the beer, they both smiled broadly and told me that on my return to the States I could truthfully claim that I downed a lion in Africa. A quick glance at the can’s label confirmed the fact that I had indeed accomplished such an unlikely feat—pictured on the can’s label was a male lion with a huge mane and an open mouth featuring large fangs, obviously a roaring lion.
I made it safely home with the empty Lion beer can, and it became the nucleus for a rather extensive collection of beer cans. Several years later while converting our garage into a rec room, I bagged the cans into several black plastic trash bags, set them into a corner. The bags occupied that space for a considerable length of time, right up to the time my wife tossed them out with the other trash. She apologized profusely and claims to this day that it was an accident, absolutely unintentional, but I have some doubts. The cans must have clanged and rattled a bit en route to the trash, a sign that the bags contained something other than routine trash. Oh, well, easy come, easy go, right? Bummer!
I downed a lion in South Africa—I no longer have the evidence to prove it but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!