Monday, June 29, 2009

The fall of apartheid & the new south africa

Wonderfully relaxed morning. Woke up in good cheer (which has been most mornings lately) but not with so much spunk as to get out the door with Mick as he set off to confront DOT bureaucracy, so he set off alone. Ended up reading out loud to Kirsten from a book I found in a Vancouver used-book store: "South of the Limpopo." It's a travel account of an Irish woman, quite elderly at the time, who took it upon herself to bike south into SA from Zimbabwe in 1993, just after apartheid was officially ended, but before the first elections installed Mandela as president - and from there to pedal her way across the length & breadth of the country. She has a perspective in many ways in line with those of my mother & I, and soon the occasional quote became me reading the text continuously.

It was quite fun. I really enjoy reading aloud, and the glimpse of SA afforded by a like-minded foreigner, especially at such a pivotal point in the nation's history, is very interesting. Drank tea, ate rusks, read until my voice could read no more at sometime around three p.m. Kicked around the house a bit at that point before deciding to go to the beach with the banjo.

Sat out in the beach scrub, on a rise overlooking the liminal zone of crashing waves. Played and played, working through new rhythms and patterns, learning where the harmonious & dissonant sounds reside, rebruising my already abused fingertips. I'll be glad when the pain gives way to callous.

There were huge storms last week, and the previously clear beach has been covered with broken bit of kelp and sponge, dead sea cucumbers, little red worm things, plastic bottles, doll heads, lost shoes, & all the other things the ocean relinquished for a time. A large group of ladies where combing through the debris and playing in the waves, looking to be having a great time. Moved by their example, I zipped up the banjo & walking along the beach for a time.

I didn't get far before I sat down to play again, just behind the kelp line. After a while, the drifting group of combers drifted close to me, intent to explore the banjo-picking white boy, I suspect. Thrumming heart and shaky hands - performance anxiety! So rather than continue flubbing my sounds I turned to them and ventured an,"ugumnxhosa?"

They laughed and said,"no, no, we're not xhosa - except for you," only then remembering that one of their friends was, in fact, xhosa. She hung around for a little bit & I tried to talk to her, resorting mostly to english. Turns out they were a group of agricultural students from the interior on field trip to local farms. And to the beach. Some of them had never seen the ocean before. The one xhosa girl, whose name escaped me, had already found one matched pair of shoes and was looking for more - and pretty stones. After a bit of awkward conversation she resumed her search & I my banjo picking & people watching.

The other girls were having a great time pulling one another into the breakers, falling down, shrieking, smiling. Inspired by the playfulness I zipped up the banjo and commenced with the cartwheeling. I had discovered, on a previous walk with Mick, how fun cartwheels, handstands and flips are on the beach. Hell of a good workout if you keep at it continuously. By the time I leave here my wrists will be stronger & I will be able to do a controlled roll-over. Eventually I wound down & the xhosa girl came back & we talked a bit more. She was avoiding the revelry in the breakers, sensibly enough - I bet the wet ones had a cold ride back in the bus. Once again awkward language situations prevailed - it reminded me very much of the interaction I had in pdx with a guatemalan woman I'd met who was interested enough, but something just couldn't quite click. Oh well. She wandered off again & I went down to the very edge of the water to play cartwheels some more, all along the foamy sea edge.

Some of the girls in the breakers ventured that I should join them in complete soakage, but I smiled & shook my head,"Nooo." I was quite content to continue cartwheeling while (mostly) dry. A bunch of the boys came down after a while, screaming at the chill on their feet, but eventually stripping down to their underwear and jumping in. Much fun was had by all, me cartwheeling in the center of their fun - like some strange mascot or party trick. Eventually one of the boys cartwheeled over to me and we started talking. He was a shiney fellow by the name of Yeshwa or Themba, depending.
"Jeshua?" I asked.
"Yes! Do you know hebrew?"
"No," I smiled, going on to explain that I too had two sets of names.
He & I talked for quite a long time, it being a much more enthusiastic, congenial interaction. He had no idea where pdx was, but he does have kin in atlanta. Asked about their school, if he had heard of permaculture (no), mentioned that I too want to be a farmer, to which he seemed both surprised & delighted. I got the impression that their agricultural education is heavily leaned towards the industrial variety.

He asked about my guitar, & when it was clear that he'd never heard of a banjo I decided it would be easier to show than to explain. "Does it come from (i forget where)?"
"No," I smiled back over my shoulder,"from africa!" That surprised him.
I showed him the banjo and then sat down to play - *that* got all the boys over & many photos were had by all. One of them reminded me all the world of a oaxacan friend of mine (si estas leyendo este kobe: me espera tu energia amigo!) & i consented to give him my thumb pick later in large part because of that resemblance. Good thing i bought two ^_^
Themba asked at one point why i played. "For my heart," i replied, tapping my chest,"because it makes me happy." This answer seemed to meet with approval.

Much fun was had, many more tunes were played, many bodily inversions performed, & then it was time for them to leave. Many goodbyes were said, two of the boys told me we'd meet again, & I learned three new local ways of touching hands in friendship. All in all a very heart-warming. It would be nice to run into them again.

When I got home Kirsten had made delicious dinner and I went to sleep soon after, quite exhausted by the revelry. And then up again @ midnight, wide awake, writing a blog. :-p

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Earth, Wind & Water

The earth here is red, orange and black. I didn't see it at the time, but the hanging I found for my door is the same. Originally I'd been looking for something to cover the window: the venetian blinds don't quite close all the way, and in addition the rising sun and the street light both shine down in. I've become a fan of nice designs on doors since my last home. I foresee that I will have great fun making murals on every surface if I ever own a home.



I'm quite happy about the one I did use to cover the blindsl. It was a bit of a trick though - all the walls and doors are covered with some sort of super-drywall that blunts thumb tacks rather than admitting them (only on the top-most edge of the door was i able to pin the other hanging). I didn't even notice that it was an eight pointed design until I got it home! It does a great deal to make sleep easier. The light coming in through the window completely obscures the image though.

There were a few days of amazing storm around the winter solstice, with thick, dark clouds, fat raindrops & wind that was hard to walk through. It was quite impressive & invigorating. Except for when the sand got picked up off the beach and thrown at you - that stung. There were even two kite surfers out the night before last, playing with the fierce wind & breakers.

The waves themselves were amazing: heaving hills of brownish-green water that rushed & carved at the shore, leaving intricate web-like patterns of jiggling foam behind on the beach.

The weather here seems very much in the pdx fashion of "if you don't like it, wait five minutes." Even amongst the torrents I've described there were beautiful moments like the picture above. Especially on towards sunset.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Day The Rain Returned

I spent the morning inside, drinking tea and wandering through computer land while the sea reflected the grey clouds which have been hiding the sun all day. There was a family brai(bbq) last night and i ate so much that i felt no hunger until around 1:30pm, at which point I had some cheese, salad greens & avocado.

After that I decided to get out into the fresh air. I walked over to the beach & did standing meditation at the surf-line for a good long while. The sea is an amazingly large thing, yeah? After settling down I did some circle walking & palm changes. It's interesting doing it on the sand - a lot easier to see how the balance & force of my steps touches the earth. After I was done practicing I retraced my steps, reading the tracks of my movement like a book. Turns out I walk in spirals, not circles proper...

I walked south along the beach, watching how the winds blew strong enough to change the angle that the waves came in at, and singing. I found the top of a crab, broken off from the rest of it's skeleton & placed it in a breast pocket. A little ways on I picked up three feathers. Then, after singing a number of songs, I came across an almost complete crab exoskeleton!

I'd never been able to hold a crab before, i think. Spent a while playing with the way it's remaining limbs could move, admiring the pattern on it's back, and, finally, with a edge of trepidation, as if it might come alive in my hands from the intrusion, i began gently, layer by layer, opening up it's mouth complex. How strangely intimate the moment felt.

Then the rain came back. Soft and first, then in torrents. It was not rain like winters in pdx - those over-heavy clouds that settle onto you - but rather fat, numerous drops that had soaked through my pants on the windward side long before I returned home.

All dried off now, cup of tea once again nearby. Warm.


== == ==

The day before yesterday we went into downtown again with a mind to get out to Robin Island, where the prison Mandela (& many others) were kept in. Also there are penguins there. Or so I'm told, we never found the bus to the water front & ended up going to what was, back in the days of the Dutch East India Co., the large building where the slave where kept, called the Slave Lodge by the locals. Saw a lot of info about the slave trade & the keeping of slaves in the lodge. A lot about about rebellions, deaths, injustices and (partial) emancipations. There was, upstairs, an exhibit about some german fellow who was traveling in the interior, taking face molds of the local khoi (once & sometimes still called hottentots) in effort to expand the burgeoning theory of phrenology. It was interesting in part because the team also recorded many dialogues & monologues of the locals along with their faces & those where partially represented too. Very much a peak into different worldviews, both historical german and khoi both.

There was an amazing exhibit about the life, work & political murder of Steven Biko. Very informative, very powerful. At the end there was a number of quotes by various famous people, local folks & students too. Of all of them the one from Nelson Mandela resonated most strongly with me:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Local Flora

It started with the wine, I think. Oranjerivier Ruby Cabernet to be exact, from up near the Namibian border. Took one sip and was slightly revolted, took two sips and decided to pass it on to Mick. But the damage had been done. True, maybe it wasn't the wine - but in thinking back over the day, the wine was the only thing to that gave me that primal message of DO NOT EAT. Very much like how the tuna from Sushi Takahashi tasted like food poisoning & turned out to be just that. Luckily this wasn't food poisoning, I think, just some new intestinal flora. Woke up in the middle of the night with a nasty belly-ache and every joint up my spine throbbing. Runny bowels in the morning & then I felt much better. No problem eating since then.

Ventured into downtown Cape Town proper for the first time. Took a taxi - which are actually little mini-buses, usually white colored, which will pick you up from bus stops or even from the sides of the road. They're cheaper & faster than the buses, though they are a bit more chaotic. Like when the taxi stopped behind another taxi & the driver jumped out and started haggling with the other taxi's caller (it's usually a two man operation - one to drive and another to call in new fares & make change). After a few minutes the original driver came back, followed by a few passengers from the second taxi, & told all the CT-bound folk to head up to the second taxi. Odd to me at the time, but we got there just fine.

Downtown CT was fun. Apparently there used to be many more street vendors, but the authorities have cleared them out in an attempt to "clean up" the city in preparation for the 2010 world cup, which will be hosted here. It was like a reverse pdx in many ways - in that you can, on most days, count how many black folks you see on your original digits, while here I could do the same with the white folks. I exaggerate, of course, but the point remains. Not minding being a minority so far - though I haven't run into any overt discrimination yet.

Stopped by the tobacconist to get cloves for Kirsten, then by a pan-african emporium where I found a beautiful door hanging and another beautiful hanging to cover the parking-lot side window in my bedroom. There was a little rasta shop in the emporium too and we all spent some time hanging out with the two guys in there, immediately getting into back-&-forth with the younger fellow about inner divinity & how the people in the states tend to keep god outside - about those forces in the world looking to kill culture and replace it with money. I think I've made my first friends ^_^
They told me there's a sizable rastafarian community here in CT, which surprised & delighted me. Not sure if they're of the more conservative branch thereof though.... time will tell.

Had some delicious simosas for lunch & then hit the two bookstores on Long Street (which has a few AMAZING murals!). Got a thick hardbound about the rise of early Indian civilization & religion, from the comings of the Aryan tribes until Asoka, titled "The Jewel in the Lotus". At the second one I found a tri-lingual english/xhosa/afrikaans dictionary & a xhosa grammar book. Very excited about that last - learning an african language from a british-made phrasebook (trying to learn is more realistic, actually) has got to be the most convoluted, enigmatic way to try to learn a language. Especially one with no relations to any of the european or asian languages I've studied.

Took the official bus back out of town - much more expensive & slower than the taxis. Good to know the way to do that though, should I need to. Stopped by to see Mick's mum & had dinner there, then back to the flat & a hot bath. I love this tub. Thought I'd read a bit afterwards, but it was straight to bed after all.

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Today was very nice. Had tea & rusks to start with. Took a long walk with Mick along the beach & then had brunch at some seaside cafe. Walked back home along the beach - beautiful sunny weather. Must remember to get sunscreen. Chatted with Kirsten after returning home & then grabbed the banjo & headed back to the beach. Played for an hour or more while children played, dogs wandered & pretty girls lounged. Watched the waves crash in & out & messed around with finding new chords & picking rhythms. One guy even came over & wordlessly listened to me play for about ten minutes. Clouds rolled in as I sat & I got stiff from playing, so i did some cartwheels (& thus inspiring some boy who apparently had never seen such a thing) & played in the water before getting cold & going back inside to brush the sand off.

Tonight is the weekly collective crossword night that Mick's family does, which we'll be attending. Sounds like fun.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

FIrst four days in CT

Been meeting Mick's relatives here - my family too, I suppose. Good folks it seems, the lot of them. They are a rowdy bunch when you get them together - especially his two sisters. They do bicker and posture like siblings, though they be 50 & 60 years old. His sister M. is a very high-energy lady who once organized trips for travelers & tourists, & is very knowledgeable about many local sights & histories from that. She has been showing us some great things. The family all pitched in monies & we had a stocked house when we arrived: meats, eggs, fruits, booze, toiletries, cleaning supplies, teas, billtong & plenty of other uniquely local foodstuffs. Quite nice to not have to go shopping for much after traveling so much. The two beds in my room are about 2/3s as wide as I'm used to, which is fine, though that the comforters are equally narrow is a bit of a bummer. I think I'm going to push the beds together some day soon.

Our flat is right on the ocean - the view from the living room windows is amazing. Sea & beach (& a highway) are immediately outside, & beyond them to the south, across the water, is Table Mountain, with Capt Town proper around it like a skirt - though we didn't see the mountain in it's entirety until the Monday morning after arriving. My sleep schedule keeps happening in spurts & shifts, so I've had looks out at various times of the day/night cycle - it's exquisite, living by the ocean.

My room's nice - smaller than Mick & Kirsten's, with a window that nicely frames the rising sun during this portion of the year. There's an excellent bath & a separate shower, which seems to be the norm here - the relatives were surprised to hear that the states are full of lame baths with showers attached.

Internet cafes abound, though since leaving pdx I seem to have lost my coffee tolerance - been drinking so much tea that the latte I had this morning, delicious as it was, threw my system way out of wack. Panicking kidneys and thumping heart required that I nap shortly while my body processed all that stuff. Woke up very dehydrated. On the up side my lower back hasn't felt this open in... I can't remember how long.

"Winter" here is so kind. The first day was rainy, but since then it's been partially cloudy or cloudless, with a bright warm sun and a cool breeze. The locals keep complaining of cold, but we're loving it. Shorts & t-shirt weather for sure. Not that I brought any shorts.... been rolling up my pants. Business as usual, in other words ^_^
Summer must be hellish.

Mick & I are the only white guys I've seen with long hair. Have seen some black guys with beautiful dreads, but that's it. Guess even my danish/irish/german heritage can only do so much to make me look like I belong ;-p Not to mention my ... unusual mode of attire.
Mick's side of the family, on the plus side, were asking why I didn't have an american accent & I had to pause for a few moments & re-assume it to prove that I could. I suspect it's closer to british than the local english though - the afrikaaners have a very distinct tongue/mouth shape which I haven't been around much yet.

Have been feeling a bit of isolation in the public places, not interacting much with non-family. Had to remind myself this morning that we've only been here a few days & are still settling in. There are still friends here - I just haven't met them yet. Started studying isiXhosa in earnest again now that it's not being a distraction from the practical parts of preparing to leave pdx. It's actually something I hear every day about town - so very real. Been reading a lot, writing more, playing banjo, doing kung fu, napping, drinking copious amounts of tea, & taking in the new visions.

Miss you all.

Happily there are crows here, despite what Mick had told me. They have bright white breasts, but in shape, flight and sound are unmistakably crows. The seagulls have - & I didn't think it this was possible - calls even more annoying than those in the states. Many plants I don't know, some that are half familiar, others like old friends. Went to Butterfly World with Mick, Kirsten & M. the other day. It's a series of greenhouses a bit into the nearby winelands (the land's remarkably like many places I've lived before - Montana & Oregon all mixed together and covered with red african earth) filled with an abundance of greenery & flowers, with koi ponds, two small deer/antelope (called boks or bokkies here), parrots, marmosets &, of course, butterflies. Simply amazing. I'll try to get some of the pictures uploaded. The marmosets were so cute! One of them hopped on to Mick - it's been my experience that he seems to attract small climbing mammals - and it proceeded to, in a butterfly-to-flower fashion, lick out the insides of his nostrils. I can only imagine that it was like a delicious salt lick for the little guy. Mick was an amazingly good sport, not deterring the fellow at all! Eventually the monkey jumped on to me (I covered my nose), then onto M. (she wanted it off quickly), back to me, & finally back to Mick. More nostril licking followed - apparently it tickles quite a bit - & then the little thing stuck it's entire head into Mick's mouth & started cleaning around in there! Once again, Mick let it. Amazingly I managed to unfold from my doubled-over-in-laughter position to snap some pics of the event, which I won't post out of respect for Mick's wishes not to be e-famous. It was fucking hilarious though. If you know him you might ask to see some.
There was a room with hissing cockroaches, tarantulas & snakes too. Kirsten & I got to hold some corn snakes - good fun.

Stopped briefly by a vinyard near Butterfly World where there was a tower built for the resident goats. Very archetypal fellows with long beards and spirally horns. One of them poked it's dick out &, to the surprise of us all, pissed a stream forward , drinking as much of the stream as possible - delight in the senses indeed!

Finally got my room sorted and the dishes in order today. Picked up the things from the store that M., bless her, hadn't thought ahead for, not knowing our habits. Went to a mall & found them to be the same the world over. Watching my the sunset for the first time over this ocean as I type this out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Arriving in CT

We arrived in Cape Town International around 10am local time, having spent the last twelve hours on the flight. It was raining in a way that hearkened back to pdx winters at their wettest. Happily I was able to store my banjo atop someone's violin case & thus avoid having it crushed under some heavy piece of carry-on. Disembarking was as usual - waiting for the impatient ones to shove and sigh their way forward until there was room enough for us to walk freely out.

We heaved our way to the immigration lines & it was Mick's turn to use the shorter line for nationals, while Kirsten & I went into the "all others" line. As we approached the rear of the line K started to rustle through her things hurriedly and then stopped entirely, kneeling to rummage in her luggage. Couldn't find her passport. I tried to get her to turn around right then and head back to the plane, thinking the chances of us making our way back on lessened with each passing second, but never have I ever had much success getting her to move fast, especially when she's flustered. As we finally did walk back someone stopped her and, finding out what the issue was, prevented her from going back. She told me to go on ahead, to at least tell M about what was up.

The lady checking my passport - happy-faced, slightly thick black woman with a similarly thick local accent - asked what I was doing in SA. "Holiday," I replied.
"Are you traveling alone?"
"No, with my mother & her husband."
"Can I see your return ticket?"
"Uh... no, it's with my mother's husband - he's been carrying all that information in a folder."
A pause, with a hint of a smile or twinkle,"Your mother's husband isn't your father?"
"No," I replied, shaking my head and smiling wider back at her. I made some stumbling attempt to explain, but I was not with my words what I might have been had I had some restful sleep behind me.
"You should call him Father," she said to me. "He's assumed that position in your life."
My turn to pause, like a smack from tradition at the gate it was. "Well.... they married when I was about sixteen... & I've just never had that sort of relationship with him..."
She didn't argue the point, but I could see that she wasn't convinced. Nor was I, for that matter. She let it go at that & I was stamped & let through.

I got to drop the news on Mick then, who didn't take it very well - neither of them are as used to functioning with weird, flexible sleep cycles as I have been made by my last two jobs - & it was that proverbial straw which destroy those hardy pack camels. He ended panic mode then, though I was unaware of it's extent until afterwards. Kirsten ended up sitting on some benches to the side of the large room where the passports are checked, while Mick & I were on the other side of a dinky metal fence with no gate. We convinced the fellows in charge that it should be on the plane - she had to have it to get on the plane, right? They weren't allowed on the plane & whoever did make what I can only assume to be a half-hearted, cursory search found nothing. Mick was increasingly tense looking and agitated. On the plus side all of our luggage made it.

Mick began talking to the immigration folks, who said they'd talked to someone from South African Airlines & that they'd be sending someone over shortly. He went off to find a pay phone, call home & get in touch with the family to let them know what was up & to get the number for the american consulate. Had a hard time reaching anyone. I, meanwhile, was parked on the other side of the metal fence with the cart of luggage & an eye on Kirsten, who emptied out everything she had several times & found no passport.

Somehow I wasn't particularly worried by any of this. Not even when they told us that they were going to deport her back to Heathrow on the the evening flight. I suppose I knew it was on the plane & was merely a bit miffed about this final, unexpected extension of the traveling stress. Eventually Mick got through to his family & was able to spread the panic to them, & also he got ahold of the americans, who said they could issue an emergency passport if she came to the embassy & couldn't they make an exception. Obviously not..... & the americans, we were told, wouldn't be let into do such business in the airport because it was "south african soil". Load of bullocks, the lot of it.

About then is when I started to get restless & I chose to sit down to tune up the banjo & pick around rather than do some kung fu practice in the airport. In retrospect it was only a slightly less odd & eye catching thing to do. The next plane full to come through immigration - 99% of them being chinese - & the airport staff alike all were giving me some odd looks, sitting cross legged, dressed like I do, & playing my banjo next to a stack of luggage. I'm probably lucky that no one took exception to it...

The immigration folks, who were quite friendly, even if they couldn't really change anything, started to become rather cross about the SAA people, who still hadn't sent anyone around to deal with things. Mick, meanwhile, had begun to spin off into worst-case scenarios about Kirsten returning to the states, getting an emergency passport & another ticket. I doubted, quietly, that the brits would be any more inclined to let her in without a passport - but such is the idiocy of bureaucracy.

It's worth noting that no one told Kirsten directly that they were planning on deporting her that night - they told Mick instead.

Eventually the immigration folks went around to the SAA desk and got two folks to come over. Those two found out Kirsten's seat number and went to look at the plane again. By that time Mick & I gave up on formality and crossed back over the line to sit together with Kirsten. No one even tried to stop us, thankfully.

As the two from SAA returned, waving the passport as they stood their way down the escalator, there was much rejoicing. They told us that the cleaning crew was unsure as to what the little book was & were about to throw it away - though I have been since told that american passports can fetch good prices in some circles. I'm torn between being cynical about the stupidity or greed of the people involved...

Mick's sister gave him some... lorazapam? when we finally met up & he was happily, chemically chilled. Then we all went & got good & drunk & decompressed at Mick's sister's house with his mother and nephews. Then off to our new flat to sleep like the dead. For a few hours at least. We all woke up around 11 pm local time and had some tea & watched some simpsons before going back to sleep until the next morning.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

From London to CT

We left Heathrow at 8pm & began our twelve hour flight through the night. Dinner was delicious - much better than Air Canada, which made me horribly gassy for the entire day afterwards. Too much processing of the foods methinks - and once again there were touchscreen video screens installed in the seat ahead of me. Watched "The Reader" & enjoyed it muchly, though it was, like the movie I watched on the previous flight (Gran Turino), a bit of a heart-breaker. Caught some Zs afterwards, but was awake again after an hour or so.

Not wanting to turn on an overhead light for reading during the sleep cycle of my fellow passengers, I turned to my laptop and listened to music until the battery was low, low, low. SAA didn't have electric outlets like CA did... So the video screen served again after the laptop died & I ended up watching some episodes of House cause I'd had enough tear-jerking for a while. After that I started another movie -"Blood Diamond"- which proved to be interesting & also another heart-wrencher.

At some time many hours later an other passenger had opened a window & I spied the thin red line of sunrise beyond. So after using the toilet again I went & asked if she didn't mind joining her (the seat next to her was empty) & watching the sunrise with her. She didn't & we watched, chatting about South Africa, Cape Town and the differences between there & the States.

It was dark blue at the bottom, lighting to red, orange, yellow & then there, between the yellow glow & the blue sky, for the first time in my life, I saw a green sunrise. After a time there was the large reddish half-circle of the sun within the blue, rising with speed. Then, beyond that, smaller & crisply brilliant was the real sun & I realized that the red had been the light bent through the sea itself, or perhaps the clouds, and the two suns rose together, joining together in a few eternal minutes into a single sun, too illuminated to look at directly.

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In other news, I dreamed about twins again last night - though different ones than my ex. que extranjo.....