Africa has presented exciting moments into my life, both good and bad, scary and comforting. I can’t compare to other continents personally as i’ve never left this one but after hearing the stories of mates who’ve toured Europe and the USA, mine seemed more interesting…or at least more extreme. Part of that experience could relate to me being a white man in black countries. I’m no racist but the sociologically difference and effect exists whether we want it to or not.
Here are some memorable moments listed via country…
Egypt: En route, i thought i’d landed but it turned out to be an emergency stop in desolate Sudan 🙂 When i got to Cairo, i was the only person detained (on suspicion of drug smuggling – trumped up so that a bribe would be paid).Â I knew, for a while, what it was to be not only an alien but extremely alone. I was thankful when my interpreter finally arrived and got the military leader at the airport to free me and escape a third bribe i’d refused to pay.
A few days later i visited the terrorist district in the south of the country. Foreigners had been banned there since a busload of tourists had been machine gunned a few years previous. After a train ride reminiscent of the toilet in Trainspotting, me and my suit were welcomed by the sirens of the general of the police’s car which whisked me away with needless fanfare to an office i was checking up on.
In total contrast to Cairo, where swelling masses diluted religion and culture, where hot Arabian women seemed keen to fuck and marry me, here i never saw complete women (except for one). Furtively, like ninjas, all that would pop around corners would be their curious heads, immediately pulled back as soon as i noticed. Guaranteed that some of the younger women had never seen a white skin before (not to mention the fact that they could be punished for giving me attention).
At the office, the owner’s pretty wife/daughter (?) made me a cup of filter cover (or an approximation of such). This was a glorious moment because for days i’d been drinking foul coffee out of Thumbelina small cups that were half filled with coffee grind (i’d choked when having my first cup, taking the whole lot into my mouth and wondering why the desert was on my tongue and crashing between my teeth). The moment was made most special (and endearing) when she was given permission to speak to me (with help from my translator). She told me that she read in Cosmopolitan (the fact that she had read one proved this young woman was brave indeed and not meant for this restricted life) that Westerners drink it that way. When i expressed my approval and thanks, her smile was like the sun had been turned on in that dingy room. The only times i see that sheer joy nowadays is on the face of playing kids under 12 years of age. I sometimes wonder what happened to her. I’d have given anything to whisk her away and speak to her longer whilst holding her hand. I wish i could have hugged all the ninjas too.
Uganda: I’m torn between 2 moments so i’ll relate both but first let me set the scenario:
Two days before i got there, my work phoned me to rag me over the fact that the Lords Resistance Army had bombed some building in Kampala, the capital. On arrival, there was a power failure (with no back-up) which meant a delay getting my bags. Several kilometers past the airport i saw another airport but without a soul in sight. When querying, my guide (an owner of a local office), told me that that had been closed after been made famous by a plane hijacking that had been sorted by Israeli special troops (yeah, remember Entebbe).
Between there and the office, he paid 4 bribes. My room was small! It’s the only time i’ve ever managed to have a shit on a toilet whilst the shower rained down on me – seriously! The next day i wanted keys to the office and walked into the landlord’s building next door only to have the crowd outside showing great consternation and begging me to return but none stepping through the door to explain. Later i discovered that a prince and princess kept their offices there and owned the building – for entering without permission, i could’ve been shot.
That afternoon, the office manager and some of his staff tell me that they’re taking me to the hottest club in town. Wondering what i’m doing outside an ultimately fucked up, blackened building, they laugh and inform me that it was their original intention to take me there but it had been bombed a week before. So i landed up at an awful place where kwaito music was supposedly old and out of fashion i.e. this musical hybrid was worse than kwaito, grating against my passion for rock and metal music. After a couple of quarts, my good manners were failing and i asked them to take me somewhere else. They did and this became a highlight.
a. It was a rock ‘n roll bar with pool tables and a ‘zillion’ of the darkest prostitutes i’ve ever seen. In the beginning it was annoying the attention i got from these ladies of the night. They were hampering my slightest movements. Then i was informed that i must pay for one and then the rest will leave me alone. It worked like a charm. I bought the company of the prettiest who never understood a word i said. She just stood next to me whilst i played pool and followed me on my trips to the bar. She must’ve been happy to get paid and not have sex – not at all what i’d imagined hiring a prostitute would be like but i was in heaven! In the most unlikely of places, i was listening to bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Doors.
b. Food was the second highlight. Everything got served with a pile of salt on one side of the meal and chilli tomato and onions on the other. Chewing into a goat leg that had been cooked slow over a fire for half the day was absolutely yummy (pre-organized with a phone call to a roadside stall). I was amazed at how delicious and soft it was (even softer than a 1am pigeon snack in Cairo). The next day, i sat next to the lake where i was served a giant, deep fried talapia fish. I couldn’t believe that a ‘ton’ of heated oil would provide the perfect cooking environment for the insides of that fat fish that had me stuffed, and unable to eat more, by the time i was half way through.
3. South Africa (my home):
a. Wondering if i was going to die from exposure when stranded a 100km outside of Knysna during a winter night when a gang of black men on a bridge nearby said they were coming down to kill me. Why was it great? Because after hours of no luck hitchhiking, a small car crammed with a coloured family (dad, mom, granny, baby and two kids) picks me up. Immediately on seeing the state i was in, they pulled out a bottle of whiskey and sherry. I almost “died” downing about 200ml of that whiskey but suddenly i was alive and in the company of some of the friendliest people i’ve ever met. They even drove 20km past their destination in order to drop me off.
b. Swimming with seals in the fucking cold Atlantic Ocean (Hout Bay) during winter.
c. Body surfing a 10 foot wave at South Beach and surviving (with great difficulty).
d. Katlehong in 1996 – spending a night at one of the biggest black townships in South Africa. I was taken to places i was told no white man had ever gone. Despite me having to leave a bar where my hosts told me i was going to be killed if i didn’t, i got to see the other face of South Africa.
e. Another Knysna story but a different year. Again, i was hitchhiking in the middle of winter and freezing after 2 days of no sleep. The petrol pump attendant told me to catch a few hours in the staff change room but if i heard anyone talking nearby, i must be quiet in case his boss was doing a night check. Barely an hour later there are loud voices and i worried that i was about to cost this young lad his job … and, selfishly, be forced into the cold again. But it turned out to be a hippie i’d seen pass by on a motorbike earlier in the evening. He tells me that a year before the same pump dude had done the same for him. By day, he’d fallen in love with the town and was now living in a commune with other “different people”. So i got a place to crash, a braai (barbeque), liquor and very stoned. These many years later, i live there too:)
f. Making love to 3 women i loved; 2, 8 and 16 years ago.
g. Too many moments involving crime, blood and fear. South Africa can be a damn scary place sometimes.
a. Staring into absolute darkness at night. Want to feel small? Head to a desert.
b. A spray of water on a vegetation patch and buck from as far away as 20 kilometres (or so i was told) coming to see it. One moment desolation, the next life. And there were baboons.
Lesotho: Civil war burnt down our office two days before i was suppose to see it. Months later, i returned and sat in a shebeen drinking beer amongst old black strangers who were delighted to see and talk to me whilst the younger ones gave me looks that made me alive with fear and defiance.
Knysna: Yeah, yeah, not a country but as the most beautiful town in South Africa. It’s a kingdom all should see!