Perth to Johannesburg is a direct 10 hour flight. For most people, that is. For me, it was an 11 hour flight to Dubai, a two hour stopover, followed by another 8 hours stuck in a cabin. As painful as this was (do not doubt the pain!), it did give me a chance to take in an aerial view of a continent that I have never seen before.
Firstly, Dubai. I didn’t get it. With its well-known island in the shape of a palm tree there was no-one outside, enjoying the barren, fabricated coastline. Outside of the city, there would be 5 kilometres of desert, and then a random high-rise pop up out of nowhere, all on its own. The high rises weren’t even near the four-lane highways that crisscrossed the barren landscape on their way to seemingly nowhere. It confused me.
My confusion quickly changed to awe when we came to the mountains, just outside Dubai. I’m not sure what these mountains look like from the ground –perhaps just a series of sandunes – but from the air, the sandy, rocky, grey mountains, and their sandy, grey gullies, were sandwiched against each other and occupying the entire landscape. It reminded me of the grey matter of a brain with the occasional river stretching through it like veins. Even more amazing was how far they stretched – across the horn of Africa and all the way down the coastline of Somalia.
What also shocked me was the nothingness of it. Western Australia is full of nothing, or so I thought. However, that nothing is nothing compared with the nothingness of Africa’s nothing. The mountains gave no room for trees or farmland or roads or houses or people. Every thousand kilometres or so I glimpsed a village of about 20 houses propped up by the side of a river, with nothing connecting it to the outside world. Even Mogadishu was nothing more than a few squares of farmland and tiny smattering of rooftops. Where is everyone?
And then, finally, you see it………. Johannesburg, at night. Lights so bright and so far-stretching it looked like a sparkling diamond in a sea of darkness. Or maybe I just saw it in such a romantic hue because it signalled the end of 19 hours on a plane, four failed attempts to sleep, and five movies. Welcome to Africa.