Monday, Nov. 3
Johannesburg, South Africa

I stood in the arrival gate of the Johannesburg airport feeling a bit sheepish.

A friend of a friend had offered to pick me up, but I had no idea what she looked like. I had told her how to find me: I’d have my light brown hair in a ponytail, I had written in an e-mail, and I’d be wearing a large blue backpack and carrying a small red one.

But no one approached me after I passed into the waiting area, and I realized as I rummaged through my bags that I didn’t even have her number. What were you thinking? I mumbled to myself.

That’s when I heard it: “Lexi?” A woman with large blond hair — she could have been Texan — came toward me.

“Marilyn?” I asked.

“Oh, no, I’m her mother,” the woman replied. “Marilyn is over there, looking for you.”

Lexi and the kids!

Lexi and the kids!

So I united with my escorts, natives of Jo-Burg. I had just one evening in the city while I waited for an early morning flight to Madagascar, and Marilyn and her husband Julian helped me see it from the perspective of a local. After lunch with their three kids and Marilyn’s parents, the couple gave me a driving tour of the city, including a quick stop in Soweto, a former African township.

The parts of Jo-Burg I saw were spread out like a suburb, and trees with beautiful purple flowers lined many of the streets. It was modern and westernized, certainly not the Africa most Americans imagine.

What struck me most was the security. Everyone says Jo-Burg is unsafe, which is partly why, as a solo female traveler, I spent most of my time in Cape Town instead. But I didn’t expect the presence of crime — or, more accurately, the effort to stop it — to be so visible.