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milky way

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I don't travel often to the Southern Hemisphere anymore - this was my second trip to South Africa, and I visited Mozambique twice - and I'd forgotten that on the way to North America one gets a gorgeous view of a sweep of stars against an inky sky on the plane ride back.

MoBob and Baby Z managed to survive without me. MB told me that for the first couple of days Baby Z seemed grumpier than usual. We did video calls several times during my week away and Baby Z sweetly tried to kiss me through the screen.

MB loooooves South Africa and would jump at a chance to move there. I liked it well enough, though he knows the country much better than I do. I would be a little sad to think that if we were to live in SA we would probably be obliged to stay in an expat enclave because of security concerns. I'd stayed at the Sheraton Pretoria on a previous visit but this time all the visiting staff were placed in guest houses. The one I was in was run by a pair of energetic young men, and I enjoyed for the first time a heating pad on the bed (as opposed to an electric blanket) and I sort of felt like I was on a frying pan for the first couple of nights. The guest house used to be the owner's family house, and, across the way was the Philippine Embassy. I hadn't heard of SA as a particular destination for overseas workers or for trade but the young men told me that there was quite a lot of traffic in and out.

Philippine Embassy Pretoria

The last time I'd visited Pretoria was in December 2010 when the country was still in the post-World Cup euphoria, so I hadn't noticed that (1) shoes were sold separately instead of pairs and (2) every time we would go somewhere for a meeting the driver was asked to complete and then return a receipt detailing our visit.

All of the clients at the guest house were USG employees, and as a treat the owner took us to a dinner show, which definitely demonstrated that gay iconography was alive and well in South Africa. That was probably the only place where the demographics of Pretoria really hit me; there was only one black performer on stage, and out of the 300-400 attendees only myself and a new colleague who just moved from Lesotho were not white. Anyway, the performers did a very cool jazz arrangement of the Beatles' "Money," and in the elevator exiting the show the Afrikaaner grandmas all tittered when I said the performance was "very sexy." Then on the Saturday of my departure I met MB's friend (with whom he'd hitched a ride from Maseru to Jo'burg in March by accident) and his son and partner for breakfast. He is Cameroonian (from a region with great food) and his partner is white South African - as in the dinner theater, we were the only non-white customers in the restaurant. I know I'm really harping on the race issue but given SA's recent history and after leaving Washington DC it just seemed *so strange.* I was grateful for the beautiful diversity at IHOP when we went for our usual post-arrival meal.

On my return to the US I managed to finagle early boarding from the Delta staff. I was seated next to a father and son pair from TN who finished up a hunting trip in SA. We chatted for a few minutes, then the dad mentioned that he had heard me talking to the gate agent about my diplomatic passport. He then asked me "which country?" He did have the grace to look a little abashed when I said, "Uh, the U.S."
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