Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In the country

We took a trip out to Stellenbosch, leaving some time around 10 am. After a quick, unintentional detour into downtown we were underway on the N2 and it was a lovely day, with plenty to look at as we went. Circled around central Stellenbosch for a time looking for parking before stopping in a shopping center lot. It was a pay lot which only accepted silver coins or cards, so we ended up with an hour and a half of coins. Walked around and looked at buildings, ambled some more, went for coffee and lunch at the Arizona Spur. It was a bit of a joke for us going in there and more so after arriving. Service was amazingly slow and we eventually got our coffee, but left without eating in order to avoid ticketing. Got back to the car & Mick swore after a few, oddly silent turns of the key. He had left the lights on and the battery had died.
Waited around in the lot while he went off in search of a garage. He returned about ten minutes later, with a story of a garage where the ous hadn't had any jumper cables & professed to know not how to use them in any case. They recommended the cafe across the street, the owner of which apparently looked at Mick as if he was an idiot.
In the end a collage kid in an old VW gave us a jump and we, tired, hungry and a bit on edge, rumbled out of Swellendam in search of a farm stall to eat at. Found a charming one called "Mountain Breeze" just a bit south of town on the way to Somerset West and had a delicious, revitalizing lunch. Headed back into town just in time to hit rush hour and spent about 45 minutes in traffic. Arrived home and realized Kirsten had left her coat in the restaurant.

They went back to get it the next day (it was still there). I opted to stay behind.

Saw a better-than-I-expected comedy show Thursday night, and Friday we left for our stay in Bonnievale, in a cottage on the banks of the Breede River. It was a marvelous change. The place felt much more comfortable and home-like than Cape Town has managed to. Beautiful, red and green farmlands set in broad river valleys, with people a noticeable degree more relaxed than in CT. Not once did I feel the need to look over my shoulder, other than to get a better look as we drove by some point of interest. Spent one day in and around Swellendam, the next day lounging happily at the cottage, reading, bird-watching, painting and napping. Much drinking of beer and Amarula by all, eating of delicious braai and frequent tea times. Regretted leaving the banjo at home.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


We caught a taxi -a metered one like in the states- from downtown CT towards home. It was a stout, friendly man who was to drive us home, happy to have a fare after an otherwise no-work day. Especially a fare out into the suburbs. He was from Zimbabwe it turned out and Mick started talking Zimbabwe with the guy, who was more than happy to talk back. Many disparaging things were said about Mugabe: about how he goes about his robberies, about the complete & total short-sightedness of his efforts to secure more money, about the paying of soldiers before everyone else, about how the whole thing is slowly (?) crumbling as even the soldiers aren't getting paid...

I recall, when I was first researching SA in anticipation of coming, running across a few investigative reports on Zimbabwe, made mostly by South African journalists. What struck me most was how 'developed' looking the areas looked: malls, gas stations, box stores, asphalt & streetlights, cars. But none of the cars were moving. None of the stations had petrol anymore. The shelves in the box stores were all empty. A wheelbarrow full of cash couldn't buy a meal.

After some time, during a lag in the conversation, I ventured to ask how difficult it had been to cross the border. I don't think I would have asked a latino in the states this, nor even if they are legal or not - but for some reason I felt it was okay in this situation. He went on at length about the difficulties of crossing. He himself had been a tour guide for foreigners before things went worse and so he had a passport, but his family had to be smuggled across. We all agreed that it was good that at least they are here with him.

A few months before we came there were a series of attacks on foreign refugees, mostly Zimbabweans & Somalis, though a few of the darker skinned locals were caught up in it by mistake. So many are the poor here and so thorough the poverty that somehow it happened - the rage about jobs taken, or perceived to have been taken, by foreign refugees exploding into mob beatings. The taximan was saddened by this. "Even our black brothers!" he lamented, referring to the fact that most of the attacks had been done by local blacks - themselves previously displaced from their traditional homelands in the Eastern Cape and City Bowl. He himself hadn't been caught up in it, living as he does in an actual house in the city.

He had unexpected, for me, views on the inhumanness of Chinese people. The Chinese are almost the only ones dealing with Zimbabwe at this point and over all what he said about them reminded me remarkably of what people used to say (sometimes still do) about blacks here and back in the states. "They're animals. Not human. You can't leave a baby with them!"

All in all he was a friendly enough taximan - certainly the most talkative & informative thus far.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We're the Phone Company

We don't care. We don't have to.

So I called up the other day, using the spiffy Skype phone, to get my t-mobile account deactivated. I kept it on so that we could co-ordinate with folks in Vancouver, and then forgot to get my service disconnected. And then a month or so passed in a blur of new-place exposure. I eventually got through the phone tree to a scripted person and managed to cut through the inevitable, drawn out pitch to keep me with the company by stating that i was on another continent and the service was useless to me now. I was foiled, however, by the assertion that I must pay the ninety-something dollars worth of over due fees before they would end my account. What. The. Fuck!?

In the immortal words of Cartmen: "I hate you guys."

Parts of me want to just not pay them (fuck the phone ransom!). The other parts remember that I live in a "globalized", computer-interconnected reality controlled mostly by corporate plutocrats. Nameless, faceless bureaucracies which would quite willingly make my every effort to live difficult if they could make another dime doing it. Which they do quite well - my account continues to accrue various fees for non-usage even as I type.

"I hate you guys so much..."