Hello World. I'm back, didja miss me? I've been in and around Cape Town
, visiting my in-laws and looking for charismatic megafauna
. The trip was wonderful, gave me a lot of stuff to write about and opened my eyes to a whole new way of life. I'm sure i'm going to end up noding a lot about the place, but before i fall asleep i'll just post one of my lists - i've got to get some of this stuff off my chest:
My Best Experiences in South Africa:
- Driving through the Cape Point nature reserve and seeing a big brown ostrich ambling along the side of the road, with her spiny little baby leading a few feet ahead of her.
- Getting to the top of Table Mountain and looking around at a view much like the Sinai Desert, only with more clouds. Meeting up with the guys that couldn't take the climb and had to ride the cable car instead, and watching clouds pour over Devil's Peak. Feeling exhilarated at having finished that killer climb, and stupidly vowing that next time i will climb Devil's Peak.
- Driving over Swartberg Pass, watching dizzying scenery pass by (a drop of a few hundred feet without even a guard rail to make us feel safe - now THAT'S scenery). Shortly afterwards, seeing the most amazing cloud ever - a massive, multi-layered castle of a cloud with a giant's face stuck in it - and being totally blown away by an idea that could turn into the best story i've ever written. No, i'm not telling. You're just going to have to read the book.
- Watching my wife jazz with her brother. For those who don't know about jazzing, it's a form of dancing that seems to be exclusively Capetonian. I don't know enough about ballroom dancing to say what it's based on, but it involves a lot of twirling both partners and light sort of cha-cha stepping. You can do it to just about any kind of music. I can't jazz to save my own life, but she does it so gracefully and joyously that it reminds me of the very first day i met her. This is not just my own opinion, either. After she dances, other girls actually come over to tell her how fine she jazzes.
- Nightfall outside of Knysna, standing outside our lodge with a cigarette, looking at the multitude of stars overhead and the utter blackness of the jungled hills around us, and listening to about four million kinds of birds calling out all around. Unavoidably thinking of Tarzan and the Swiss Family Robinson. I wish we had a big treehouse instead of a touristy lodge.
- Sitting through an impromptu party that starts in the afternoon with a couple of neighbors dropping in with beers and blackcurrant Hooch. The door stays open, and by the time i go to sleep (around 1 AM, 'cos i'm wussy) about 12-15 people have passed through, with a steady core of about nine good friends. Drinks, smokes, and food are all shared out in a marvelously communist manner. Music plays, but the main event is a steady flow of friendly conversation and raucous laughter. Everything is in Afrikaans, which i can only catch scattered phrases of, but once in a while i will get enough of it to throw in a joke of my own in English. (They all speak flawless English, Afrikaans is simply the language of choice). At around nine o-clock, i begin to feel like part of the family.
- Being let into the cheetah cage at a touristy wildlife ranch for a mere 30 Rand, part of which is supposedly going to help rebuild cheetah populations - a hopeless goal, i know, but a nice idea - and getting to pet the big kitties and hear them actually purring when we pet them. I'll be damned it they aren't just great big kittens with nasty sharp claws and great ferocious teeth. I love it!
Worst Moments in South Africa:
Going with S. and K. to the Town Centre in the middle of the night, on only my second night in Cape Town. I have not been so scared since my worst days in the army - i've only been this scared three or four times in my life. At first, i was just nervous about my companions, even though they are friends of my wife's - because i had just met them, i had been warned by my wife not to trust anyone including her friends, i believed that all these people liked her old boyfriend more than me, and was getting paranoid about being the only squid-coloured, blue-haired, non-Afrikaans-speaker in Mitchell's Plain at the time. Although he had been fairly polite towards me before this little ride, S.'s gruff manner was now really beginning to freak me out. And when they led me into the Town Centre i was thinking what a stupid idiot i had been for ever coming with them on this little excursion.
Into the building with not a soul in sight, around the corner, up an escalator... i know that i am a dead man. Suddenly i see a pair of seriously unfriendly gangster faces looking down at us, and i know that i'm not only dead but i am going to suffer a great deal before oblivion releases me. I don't make eye contact, i don't make any sudden moves. There is a whole squad of gangsters sitting on the floor near the "down" escalator. Shit.
And we get to the ATM, and K. goes up to it, and S. stands nearby trying to look alert but casual, thumbs in his pockets for extra toughness, and he motions for me to do the same, and i finally realise why they wanted me to come with them. They need a third man. They are as scared as i am. These guys, who are pretty tough hombres themselves, are just worried shitless about getting jumped or shot. A teeny-tiny part of me feels better, because at least now i know the guys actually like me. The rest of me understands that this is worse than any of my stupid paranoid fantasies, and is ready to pee in my pants if anybody so much as says "boo".
S. lights up a cigarette while we wait, and K. turns around saying loudly that his pay didn't come through yet. As we leave, one of the gangsters gets up and asks S. for a cigarette. Without a word, carefully avoiding eye contact and sudden motions, S. hands him the one he just lit, and we all practically run down the escalator.
(A few days later, K. will tell me that they do this almost every week, and that it is actually worse during daylight hours. The gangsters practically own the Town Centre, the largest building in Mitchell's Plain. One unlucky payday around a year ago, they started an actual war in the building - aside from shooting each other, they began shooting other people at random and looting the bodies. The police ran away, and the army had to be brought in to stop them.)
But our ride into gangland isn't over yet. After some nice calming herb, we enter a neighborhood that looks like a little corner of hell. Corrugated aluminum shacks here, no electricity, no glass in the windows, car doors used to build shack walls - the Mad Max school of architecture. And we're actually stopping in front of a shack guarded by two gangsters wearing thick track jackets. There are more of them inside, gathered around a fire that throws gargoylic shadows against the irregular walls. The only cars in the neighborhood are all lined up outside this shack, and they all seem to be almost new cars.
S. and K. both tell me to wait in the car, and they enter the shack. The guards are watching the car. They are suspicious. Maybe they've seen my face and didn't like it, or maybe they just don't like the idea of someone waiting in the car. I try to keep a low profile by looking carefully the other way, and i end up flinching pathetically when S. opens the door. We get back to the party at home, safe and sound and bearing illegal rotgut. I'm not even sure that's what they bought from the gangsters, but i don't ask.
Sure, i'm just a meek geek from a kibbutz. I ain't tough and i rarely pretend to be. Maybe i'm just over-reacting. Right? Wrong, wrong wrong. There is some seriously scary crime running rampant in Mitchell's Plain and other places just like it in South Africa. My father-in-law's house was broken into three times last year, in broad daylight. If he didn't work for an insurance company, he would never have been able to afford to replace the stuff that got stolen the second and third times. Here are the natives' basic rules of the road in their area, a reaction to muggings and hijackings far too numerous to count:
- First of all, you don't walk anywhere outside of your block after dark. You drive. When driving, all doors must be locked at all times, even during the day.
- At night, the windows must be closed whenever the speed goes below 50 KPH.
- At night, you do not stop at a red light unless there is cross traffic that is about to hit you.
- You do not stop to help stranded motorists at night. There is nothing more suspicious than a stranded motorist. If your car breaks down after dark, start praying, and don't bother to call the police, because as soon as the sun went down they headed for the nice, safe, white neighborhoods. Did i mention that there aren't any streetlights except on the major arteries?
Oh yes, colour is still a major problem around these parts. This is something that most white South Africans i've known don't seem to understand, or at least pretend not to understand. Sure, the racial categories have been erased from the laws and my grandmother-in-law has a new ID that doesn't say "Other-Coloured" on it, but blacks and coloureds still don't have any property worth mentioning and they still don't get management jobs. It's a self-perpetuating system that is only going to improve with some heavy Affirmative Action, and that simply isn't happening. Look behind every mop you can find, and you'll see only black men. Your tour guide? A coloured woman. Sales assistants? Even odds for all races. But managers? I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count.
Some things are changing, albeit at a painfully slow pace. People are mingling a bit more, and the attitudes are changing little by little. Not too fast, mind you - i heard my new friends slinging racist epithets every which way during my stay, including the "K" word and my personal favourite, "You lie like a white lady!" Honest, it makes me smile when a friend says it - but if that's not a symptom of a greater problem, i don't know what is.
When D. saw me reading a history book, recommended to me at every single bookshop as the best introduction to South African history, he laughed and said, "let me tell you the real history of South Africa. Before the elections, they fucked us. Now, they ask us our name, and then they fuck us."
I have no more to say. I feel like i should stamp one of those -30- marks here, like SharQ does. But i'm not a journalist. I'm just trying to sort out my own feelings about the whole business. Believe it or not, i loved SA and am seriously considering moving there. But i have the same mixed feelings about it that i have for my own fucked-up mother country, Israel. I just don't know yet. Good night.