Friday, July 5, 2013

I wake up at 5:30. It’s all Keri’s fault.

When we were up on Signal Hill watching the sunset the other night, we saw some paragliders flying off the hill and landing on the beach at Signal Point a couple of miles away. (A matter of definition: hang-gliders are suspended in a sling from a wing-like contraption; paragliders sit in a harness below a wing-shaped parachute.) These are tandem paragliders, strapping paying passengers to themselves for a fee.

Well, several of us talked to them, and Keri got contact information in case we want to try it later. We called them yesterday to see when we could fly today; they said 7:30 am. Ouch. We have to drive an hour in, so we need to leave at 6; any later than that and the morning rush-hour traffic will make us late.

So I’m up at 5:30. And that’s OK; I’m a morning person. But here, it’s a lot colder before sunup, and it’s plenty cold after.

Six of us are going: Keri, Joslyn, Auria, Joy, Robert, and me. I assume they’ve talked with their parents; I’m not making any judgment calls about what risks they can take. We’re ready to leave at 6, and away we go.

We’re on the hill around 6:45. Our contact says he’ll check wind conditions at 7. It’s still dark, and we sit overlooking the city lights and watch the sun rise in the northeast. Well, 4 of us do; 2 of us, who are clearly not morning people, and whose names are Joy and Joslyn, stay in the car and sleep.

Bill Knipe texts to say he and Jason are coming to watch. They’ll wait down at Sea Point and see us land.

At 7 our guy says the winds are in the wrong direction; we need a headwind for a safe takeoff, and the wind is from the east, over the city. They’re not allowed to take off in that direction because Parliament meets down there, and they’re skittish about people flying over the Parliament building. Especially people with beards. So we wait to see if the wind will shift to westerly; our guy says it often does in the early morning.

He’s from Bulgaria and has been paragliding since he was 15, and he’s over 30 now. And alive. Which says something about his professionalism and care.

We wait. Around 8:30 a bunch of cars drive up and park, and 6 or 8 guys in dark suits and sunglasses and matching ties jump out, apparently acting as bodyguards. Out of one of the cars step two African-American females, dressed to kill, an older female, and a man dressed very casually. They come over next to us at the overlook and gaze at the harbor for a few minutes. They say something about getting to the casino to rehearse at 2; then they take some pictures, jump in their cars, and tear off down the mountain.

We figure they’re a vocal duo, accompanied by their manager (the man) and their something-or-other (the woman). I ask the team kids what Beyonce looks like, and they laugh and say it’s not her. So we don’t know who they were. Pretty sure they weren’t Elvis.

[News flash: with diligent research I have learned that several female African-American soul singers performed at the Grand West Casino in Cape Town on Saturday, July 6. They included Cece Peniston, Sybil, and Robin S. I believe the first two were the ones we saw. I never heard of any oof ’em, but that doesn’t surprise me.]

By this time the pilots—all 3 of them—say the wind is unlikely to shift. We’re not flying today. OK. We thank them and wish them well and head down the mountain to meet Bill and grab some breakfast. We end up at the Waterfront, right next to the joint where Jordan and I got the raw oysters the other night. This place is a fancy little café with artisan bread and a great menu. We all get something exotic; I get a poached egg, brie, ham, and fresh basil leaves on a bruschetta, and it’s really good. We sit and talk for a while, until the people at the next table start having a business meeting of some kind.

Keri and Auria decide they don’t want to drive all the way back to the house just to pick up the rest of the team and return to Table Mountain and the Waterfront, so they stay while we drive back. I learn later that they take a helicopter ride. Those kids.

When we get back to the house, Jon is working on a large batch of Jon’s Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese, and it’s going to take a while, so we chill until about 1. Then eat (it’s very good, Jon’s Mom) and jump in both vans for the day’s planned excursion to the aforementioned sites.

When we arrive at the waterfront, Table Mountain is socked in by clouds. They won’t open it to tourists when it’s like that, so we’ll have to see if it clears. (It is fairly fickle.) There’s plenty to do at the Waterfront. We were planning to ride the Ferris wheel, but it’s 8 bucks a pop, and after the high scenic views of the area we’ve had lately, the wheel doesn’t look all that impressive, frankly. A few of us consider hiking from Signal Hill to Lion’s Head, but Jason doesn’t think we can complete it before dark, and the clouds look like they might involve rain. But Keri and Auria have made friends with an operator of harbour cruises (it just seems right to spell it with the extra u), and he gives us a deal for the group, so we climb on board.

We cruise the entire harbor, with our narrator describing the buildings, the commercial ships, the private yachts, even the fancy apartments owned by Oprah and David Beckham and the grand hotel where President Obama stayed just a few days ago. This narrator is quite a storyteller, with a personality that makes you like him even when all you know of him is the sound of his voice.

Back on land, it’s obvious that Table Mountain is not going to clear today. We have an hour or two to shop and get some supper; then it’s dark and time to head home for the final time.

At home we have our last team meeting. We’ve had a bunch of these, and it seems odd that they won’t happen anymore. We sing and share testimonies of things learned along the way, and we focus our prayers on thanksgiving for God’s goodness and faithfulness through the 8+ weeks. I thank the team for their hard work and professionalism, then give special thanks to Jon, our music director, and to Joy, the leader of the Cameroon squad, medical advisor, and girls’ counselor. Her work has been extraordinary. She’s going to be home for just 10 days before leaving for Israel to begin 4 years of medical school at Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheba. We have a special time of prayer for her.

Then it’s time to pack. Over the course of the next couple of hours, the chaos gradually reduces into a few tightly packed pieces of luggage. We’ll have quite a bit of food left over, and we’ll give that to the Knipes. The kids are leaving a number of articles of clothing behind for anyone who wants them, to make room for the souvenirs they’ve bought. We have a hanging scale to make sure our luggage doesn’t end up costing us a fortune.

For the paragliders it’s been a long day, and for all of us it’s been a good and full one. Tomorrow we start the trek home.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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