Ten Time Zones in Twenty-two Hours

Mackenna Mejdell, COS'20

I am a first-year behavioral neuroscience major, originally from Portland, Oregon. I love writing as it gives me an avenue out of my own head, and a door into a more creative and interdisciplinary space. I am most looking forward to experiencing new cultures and challenging myself to grow in an unfamiliar environment!

I would consider myself a fairly adventurous person. I enjoy hiking, skiing, and even the occasional mountaineering expedition in my home region of the Pacific Northwest. In college, I continued this trend by branching out to novel clubs, exploring my new New England environment, and, above all, remaining fearless in the face of finals. None of this, however, could prepare me for my longest journey yet: my eleven-thousand, four-hundred and fifty-six mile journey, to be precise.

The trip began with an aviation route that I have grown quite familiar with, during my time at Northeastern. I said goodbye to the rain-covered region of my home in Portland, Oregon, and embarked for a quick stop through my second-home on the East Coast. Boston at five in the morning, is not the same as Boston during waking hours. Somehow the atmosphere of business and hurry had transformed into one of hostility and irritability. That is, until I connected with my travel companions.

I was immediately enveloped back into the familiar Bostonian personality of intelligence and certitude as I locked eyes with Dr. Liza Weinstein, our Dialogue’s professor. Despite only having met four times during the spring semester, and the abhorrently early hour, my professor and peers looked just as excited as I felt. I was immediately surrounded by a feeling of comfort and raport, which I was equally thrilled to explore by getting to know my group members. Confidence restored, I was ready to embark.

The London leg of the trip passed fairly quickly as I was able to sleep through nearly all of the flight, a decision that quickly proved to be a mistake. I closed my eyes over the Atlantic to a young sun and awakened in England to the quickly approaching gloom of dusk. The next flight, however, was a little more interesting as my circadian rhythm struggled to keep up with the rapidly shifting light inputs it received. We arrived in Johannesburg to another early sunrise and very sore legs.

My first impression as we entered the O.R. Tambo Airport was one of placidity. The airport was empty and customs were serenely smooth; everyone was friendly and seemed approachable. My fatigue and jet lag were kept at bay by the plethora of new stimulant sights and sounds that enveloped me. We took a blurred bus ride to Newtown district where our guides explained the history of the area and the role that graffiti has played in politics and uniting different communities. There are complex rules behind the art form and each artist stitches his or her message onto the world to contribute to the collective, evolving culture of Jozi.

My first impressions of Joberg were those of admiration, shock, and comfort. I felt at ease and excited to discover more and more in this complex city in the rainbow nation. I now also understand, merely from the drive in, the chosen topics in our Dialogue. There were stark divergences in wealth on the short drive in from the airport; the rolling hills in the East were covered in mansions and gates, while the inner city blocks were lined with crumbling, abandoned warehouses and apartment housing. The graffiti also makes its first appearance in the inner blocks, however, it’s role is actually one of unity and not gang activity. The city actually pays famous artists to complete graffiti projects in various locations in Newtown.

Each street embodied a diverse mixing pot of different races, religions, and even climates; with over 10 million trees within the city limits, Johannesburg is the only place that I have ever witnessed a modern city of sparkling skyscrapers combine with a resplendent rainforest. I felt that I was simply in California, and not across the world in a different hemisphere.

My favorite graffiti piece that we encountered was commemorated for an annual festival celebrating Nelson Mandela. It deprived two hands of different races touching and from the contact a white beam of hope rose up the pillar, through different classes and culture. At the top, it was reflected back down through a prism with a rainbow to touch the hands again. This symbolizes that through interracial cooperation, the ideals of the rainbow nation can be achieved. The piece was also adorned with idioms such as “same air” and “colour is fokol” meaning we all breathe the same air and color or race is nothing of importance. This visual medium evoked a real sense of passion and connection that I have felt few times before, and the fact that this could be accomplished with spray paint leaves me wanting the United States to take a similarly liberal stance with the artform.

Our course will be covering topics related to these ideas of special differences, from understanding the stratification in urban space allocation that facilitated apartheid, to identifying conditions that allow for struggles and rebellions against marginalization. I was fortunate to have read over some course readings prior to my newfound state of jet-lag induced delirium, since this process passed by in a fugue state making retention nearly impossible.

If you ever find yourself rapidly shifting between ten different time zones, I can now say with absolute certainty that prolonging sleep in the new location until dark is absolutely the way to go. The millisecond that my head hit the fresh linen pillow, back at the hotel, I entered into a deep sleep for nearly nine full hours. I recall feeling the theta brainwaves take over my consciousness like a warm winter blanket, and I did not dream once.

The next morning, I awoke feeling the refreshed traveler that I always aspired to become, endowed with novel expectations and hopes for this journey. I know that this will not only be the trip of a lifetime through a different country and culture, but also an opportunity for internal growth. Each person we passed on the street seemed approachable and down to earth, they seemed to simultaneously acknowledge the staggering difficulties Johannesburg has faced, and the incredible changes being made to bring the city together. On this trip, I envision myself learning novelties about the world and myself through meeting new people, traveling to new places, and learning throughout all of it.

I am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me and am ecstatically optimistic that I will end up with more knowledge and wisdom than I started with. I will strive each and every day to embody my familiar strengths of courage and adventure, while leaving no regrets at the end of each day in this incredible country.