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Somewhere along the line I learned that it’s beginnings and endings that count. You can sag around the middle, but first impressions and closure are important. If you’re going to get me, it’ll be within the first three entries. Am I bored, depressed, intrigued or touched by your writing? Will I read through to the end? At the very least I want to feel that I count, and you’re writing to share with, inspire or entertain me. Not that you’re just using this as a place to moan. Not for 31 days, at any rate.
How’m I doing so far?
“What are you studying?” I ask.
He’s spread himself out across the table, with photocopies, and neatly organised index cards.
He looks up distractedly, a slight frown of concentration on his face.
“I’m writing” he says. “A film script.”
I recall Robert Pirsig’s description in
, his long awaited sort-of-sequel to
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
, of how he organised his thoughts into a little box of index cards.
Playwright David Mamet wrote a book called
Writing in Restaurants
… I drink very little coffee these days, but I find it hard to give up the coffee shop culture.
I guess to write about life, you have to have some life experience. But does it have to be big and grand? Must you have been skydiving to have a story to tell? Or will the small details -- denied to those whose fast paced jet setting full lives do not allow them time for such observations -- suffice? Sometimes the more, and bigger, and “as much as you can eat” can get a bit much. Slow, as well as small, can be beautiful. Today I am meditating on Kabir’s “tinkling of the anklets on an insect as it walks”.
Reading back over my writing of the past few months, I notice that I have quoted exactly the same statements from two very different people. Thinking back, the essence of what they said is still correct (as much as my elephant-like memory can recall), but of course it is still through my particular filters. And then, is there really any such thing as fact or fiction? If I am to err, I think I’d rather it be on the side of slightly and unwittingly misrepresenting what you
said, rather than manipulating your experiences as fodder for my creative fantasy.
“You need to stop sending yourself up” she said. It’s true… but it’s hard to find the balance. I think one of my strongest points is my sense of humour… about myself as well as others. But at what point does that sense of humour, veer away from simple light heartedness, and become self-ridicule? Often as a sort of buffer against being seen as ridiculous by others, I get in there first. I criticise the male voice, and at the same time adopt the male voice, in essence dissing ‘women’s intuition’. But my intuition is powerful. I should trust it.
I hope she didn’t think it glib when I said I wasn’t surprised to hear that he had died suddenly. I didn’t mean to be. It’s just that his constant intensity gave me the feeling that he might burn out at some stage. And maybe it’s also that -- while most of the time I feel as though I will live until I’m old -- I’ve begun to feel the reality that we can any of us (myself included) go at any moment. The sword hanging over our heads, of life threatening disease is real, but so is unpredictable mortality.
I’m taken aback by her letter, but in hindsight, not surprised. There always seems to have been a measure of guardedness around our interactions with each other. She rarely seems to say what she really thinks. I’ve always assumed this is just the way she is, but perhaps it is specifically with me. “I just didn't feel that I could sit silently and let you assume that I am thinking the same things as you any longer.” Funny, I never assumed she was thinking the same things as me. But I didn’t assume that as a prerequisite to friendship either.
I receive a note out of the blue from Margie, almost as confirmation. As prodigal son travels go, I seem to be the last to return to the homeland. I look forward now to returning, and being near people who have known me half my life, and see me as having become
of who I used to be, rather than people who have known me only through my “political phase”. Of course, that’s become part of me now, and adds to my value. But if that’s all you expect from me, you’ll never really get to know me. Pity.
Of course it is no surprise to me that these things are coming up now just before I go to Cape Town today. Each trip now seems to bring me closer to exploring my identity and where/how I feel ‘at home’. It’s extraordinary to me the way that we can take a slight detour in the road, and end up years later in a completely different place. The proverbial “stepped out for air/a pack of cigarettes, and never came back”. After a twenty year detour, I’m almost ready to go back now. I think I’m growing up. I like it.
I am sitting watching and listening to the sea while I eat. I can hardly believe my good fortune. I want to say out loud (so to speak) that I am resolved to give up feeling
about those less fortunate than me -- “a useless emotion” as Steven once put it. I must remind myself of that over and over -- and replace it with gratitude for all that I have right now.
Read today: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller
“The average age on this tour” he says “is 24.7”. We are at a pre-departure briefing. I guess my 41, Kate’s 33 and the “Spanish woman with an unpronounceable name” must have raised the average considerably, of what looks like a predominance of 16 year-old boys! (Shouldn’t they be in school?!)
“No drugs” he says, “not because we have a value judgment about it, but because you don’t want to end up in an African prison. The Embassy will say ‘not another one’ and they will lock you up and throw away the key. If I’m scaring you, that’s good!”
The “16-year-olds” (more like 18, actually) are fascinating. Turns out they’re Brits, just returned from teaching in Botswana for three months, while taking a year off after completing A Levels. One of them is reading Karl Marx. I’m impressed! I know many people who spout Marx, but have never seen anyone actually reading him! Another is reading a VERY thick book. I imagine perhaps
The Lord of the Rings
trilogy. No, turns out it’s
War and Peace
. Kate says when she was backpacking around Europe they used to tear the pages out of their books as they went along. Horrors!
He shows us the stars. “No light pollution here” he says.
I don’t sleep a wink. It’s colder here than I’ve ever experienced. I wonder if the body temperature drops as you’re dropping off to sleep? A couple of times I feel myself falling, but then a shiver wakes me again. Strange almost-dreams.
He’s finished the Marx, and the War and Peace boy has inherited it, so now he can stop playing chess. It’s not just that I’m obsessed with people watching, the landscape at this point is pretty barren and relentless. And I can’t read in a moving vehicle.
Today we paddled 30 km down the Orange River in canoes through
Dead Man’s Rapids
, with just what we could fit in a plastic sealable bucket, to spend the night sleeping on the bank under the stars.
Kate and I discover that if we avoid the rocky bits, and just allow the water to carry us along, we’re fine. A bit like life I guess. Sayings like “pull your weight”; “keep both oars in the water” and “don’t rock the boat” keep coming to mind…
At first, sleeping without any boundaries worries me, but then I see the
We take a dusty ride -- on top of the truck this time -- to see the
Fish River Canyon
. Apparently the second largest canyon in the world, and a sight that has to be seen to be believed. I’m told it’s 2 600 million years old.
Jan tells us that they used to walk down there, a five-hour walk, but they cut that from the programme, as some people couldn’t make it. I can’t say I’m sorry. I can walk for miles, but that gradient would wreak havoc with my vertigo. I get the impression he’s not sorry either.
The question arises as to whether we should give anything to the people we encounter along the road. The travellers think not, that we will just make things difficult for the next truck that comes along. I agree that it’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish, but if I only have time to give, and I have it within my power, then that’s what I need to do.
And I think if you’re going to
someone’s photo, you should be willing to give something in return. That’s how I see it anyway.
I dream that I am climbing up a steep staircase without any banisters, and afraid that I will fall. I
fall, but realise that if I somersault backwards -- in slow motion -- I will be able to catch hold of something, and will be fine.
In preparation I guess for our walk up the 150m
. I discover it is easier when you follow in someone else’s footsteps. This event is truly a challenge to my vertigo, and quite the most magnificent sight I have ever seen. I am last coming down, and the stillness is magical.
It seems it really shouldn’t be so, but the desert flows right into the sea here in Swakopmund. What a relief to walk with my sore feet in the icy water.
For two days we are staying in A-frame houses (with beds!) in the municipal ‘resthome’ as I call it. (Rest
The travellers have gone to check their e-mail and do their laundry. Kate and I are hopping off in a couple of days, so we take the time to drink tea and watch the sea.
Strange that we are the only South Africans, apart from one other.
We awake to the most incredible change-of-season sandstorm, and my sore throat. Everyone else is still asleep after a hard night’s drinking. But perhaps it’s better to go skydiving with a hangover!
Kate and I have decided to give the “optional extras” a miss. Apart from the cost (all in US dollars) we’d rather take the time to see the town. We head off in search of an old-fashioned English breakfast, and find refuge in the museum, which turns out to be the best I’ve seen since Bristol.
Ziortza, Kate and I watch the most beautiful sunset on the beach.
I’m struck by how hardly anyone speaks English here. It’s been such a pleasure on this tour having the opportunity to speak Afrikaans again.
We catch a bus from Swakopmund to Windhoek, capital of Namibia -- four more hours of uninhabitable semi-desert -- from where we’ll fly home tomorrow.
Everyone we’ve asked what we should do in Windhoek says we “must go to
Joe’s Beer House
”, so we do. This 450-seater-Texas-style-outdoor-steak-ranch-type-place has a great ambience, but probably should be avoided by vegetarians!
It’s such a pleasure to be able to walk home after dark, as two women alone, quite safely.
We photograph ourselves on the corner of Nelson Mandela and Robert Mugabe Avenues (Windhoek’s yinyang symbol I guess!) where “Joe’s” is situated. There’s also a Fidel Castro Strasse, reflecting both Cuba’s role in Namibia’s liberation, and the German colonial influence.
The museum is quite unlike the one in Swakopmund. It’s downmarket (everything laminated), but filled with information about Namibian transformation, and rock art. It’s free.
En-route to the airport, I see a sign: “Joe’s Beer House – 16 km”.
There’s a bunch of happily-rowdy Cubans on the plane.
Dust aside, I found the lack of excessive-consumerism in this country so refreshing.
I return to
, with a newfound respect -- a million dollars and tv cameras notwithstanding -- for these adventurous, take-a-risk people. We slept on the ground in tents for ten days, and complained about the cold, and the snoring of those around us. Big deal! But we were cooked for and well fed, albeit “cowboy cooking”, as Kate put it. I wouldn’t last more than a day I suspect, having to find my own food. And as for the smelly fish eating competition, I can’t even bear to think about it… No, I don’t have what
I ask Jan our guide if the “reality tv” shows have increased business for
Nomad Adventure Tours
. He looks at me blankly at first, then there’s a flash of recognition. “Oh, you mean Ferdi?” he says, referring to the winner of
. “Not as far as the travellers go, but when people ask me what job I do, they say ‘like…’”
Of course Jan does not watch tv. He is only home for three days of the month. For the rest he on the road, sans tv, computer, cell phone, newspaper, consumerism... I admire this ability to unplug completely.
The backpack is a truly miraculous thing! At first it seems to be very small, but it’s remarkable how people keep pulling things out of there… nail-file, facial-wipes, nail polish remover (yes!), cleaning cloths, washing powder, washing line… and of course that copy of
War and Peace
! Interesting to see what people’s priorities are. Mine is definitely warmth. I have thermal underwear, a wool jersey and a blanket. Amazing how glamorous some people still manage to look for a night on the town. I always look like I’m going hiking, but it’s remarkable what a bit of lipstick can do!
Sad but true, I f****** up my photographs. It seemed to be jammed as I was winding them off, so I opened the camera (yes,
you’re not meant to do that!) Thought I’d lose a few, but not the majority of them. Should have listened to my intuition and left it for the girl at the photo shop to do in the first place. That’ll teach me to be impatient!
Thought it was a sign when I took the first pic with no film in the camera (well hey, even professional photographers have been known to do that!)
I think I was ambivalent about taking photos of the trip from the start. I had been thinking about Marion Woodman’s observations about our need to “concretise things”, and in the process missing the moment. I was very aware that I didn’t want to do that. But it would have been nice to ‘capture’ Jan’s smile (if not his laugh), the gorgeous French gal with the leopard atop the truck, and eating bacon and eggs for breakfast at the foot of dune 45. Ah well, I have my memories, and my words. The desert itself really has to be experienced.
Someone asks where they should visit if they come to Johannesburg. I am hesitant to suggest anything, not because there is nothing to see, but because safety precautions make it difficult to suggest how to get around easily if you don’t know anyone living there.
Someone else suggests that many people might like to visit Sandton, the new central business district, “to shop”. Is it just me, or is there something decidedly wrong with our society if we visit a city specifically with shopping in mind? I know people go to Dubai for this purpose… What happened to visiting
The young English couple express frustration at -- when asking taxi drivers where they should go in the evenings in Cape Town -- being directed to “The Waterfront”, “filled with expensive shops of stuff that we have no room to carry”. I admire these travellers-as-opposed-to-tourists (what was the difference described by Debra Winger in
The Sheltering Sky
?) taking the time to really see the world. Bali, Thailand and “Aus” seem to be favourites in our group. “Africa seems great so far”, says Ross. It seems as though Richard has been everywhere you can stick a pin, but “London is home”.
I’m thinking about other places that have impressed me. Sure, Glastonbury is commercialised, but there’s something else about it. The Tor would stand on it’s own, without all the shops in the High Street. This I think is the difference between all the
Festivals of Body, Mind and Spirit
-- often no more than a place to buy so-called ‘New Age’ toys -- and places imbued with Spirit. Similar experiences for me I guess would be climbing the Dune in the Namibian Desert, and climbing the Tor in Green ol’ England. I love places that can stand on their own.
Perhaps I give the impression that I am anti-money. I’m really not. I believe that money, like media, is a means rather than an end in itself. As Kate put it, when comparing our ability to travel now, as opposed to post-student days when every train or taxi-ride had to be considered and budgeted for. Now if the worst comes to the worst, we can slap it on our credit card (literally or metaphorically – I don’t have one). It’s the mall frequenting, label-conscious mentality that gets me down. Apart from anything else, I find people with those
“Travel broadens the mind” they say. It’s true. But I wonder how much is about different places and people, and how much comes simply from the act of moving – slowly. I err on the side of Robert Fulghum, who says: “Choose time over money”. Of course if you have enough money, you can go anywhere. But at high speed, I suspect the Hilton Hotel anywhere can come to look like any other. Rather I want time, and to try -- like the San/Bushmen -- to travel with just what I can carry on my back, and in my two hands.
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