Monthly Archives: July 2010

rising every time we fall

The Apartheid Museum is well worth your afternoon if you are within a hundred miles or so, but the most moving part of the day was our Zulu cab driver who took us there and broke down crying in the car telling me about the Sharpeville massacre which he was 8 years old for and had been sent to Botswana for safety. He said that the pool at the entrance to the museum represented all the children’s blood spilled when people protested being taught in Afrikaans and got shot. For the internal part you start by getting handed a card saying “white” “black” or “colored” and then you have to enter through your door to a separated tunnel where you learn about pass laws, segregation, and homelands. As you progress you learn about resistance and removals, the ANC, and some nice side stuff about Nelson Mandela and women dissidents.

The South African Bill of Rights is an exquisite legal document written by people with long memories and clear English so it cannot be misinterpreted, ever. It has normal rights as in the USA Constitution: assembly and association, fair trial, religion. It has rights that all Americans ostensibly get from the Clean Air Act and the ADA, and rights that only Californians and Vermonters get like freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation. All children have the right to a name, freedom from hunger, education, health, and welfare. What it also has that I love is an explicit right to privacy, and a right to recreation and sporting activities–this is obviously written by people that hadn’t been allowed on the Whites Only beaches on the coast their whole lives and wanted a holiday.

In summary, my initial fears about South Africa were: bandits, lions, Argentinians, and the angry llama kazoo. At no point did I feel physically unsafe (although my belongings felt eternally vulnerable, guns fight lions, Argentinians are just annoying and not a real hazard, and next time there won’t be vuvuzelas. Going back, my fears will be: pickpockets, heat, and wanting to stay forever. I like the big headlines they post on the trees lining an avenue for people too poor to buy a newspaper, I like Yeoville because it is just like Manila, and I could eat KFC and peanut butter if I got homesick.

I packed my carryons, did my Travel Hair and waited at O.R. Tambo airport, flew to Franz Josef Strauss on a German plane after Germany destroyed Argentina in the semifinals, and paused in Munich for a happy Bavarian breakfast of muesli and beer. I read lots of books: The Dreaming Void, …And Another Thing, Beautiful Maria of My Soul, and Disgrace. When I got home my cats were well cared for and Danny was waiting with Berkeley-brand safari as amazing inflatable closure to a great trip.

See you in Brazil in 2014.

Yep, it’s wood.

Kate-tourism for the last few days! We saw a lot more of Johannesburg neighborhoods than just the malls and chain restaurants of soccer adventure time, specifically Rosebank, Braamfontein, and Newtown, but not Soweto (next time). Rosebank was for masks and souvenirs and a failed attempt at the post office, Braamfontein for the University of Witwatersrand campus, and the goal in Newtown was art museums and street markets. I spent a while looking for the Arts on Main complex, supposed to be a hip mixed-use industrial space type thing, with studios and living spaces and cafes, but nobody had heard of it so I gave up. Wits campus is a stony, desolate place except for the Phytotron, a big round building apparently and mysteriously dedicated to nutrient cycling research.

Crossing the Nelson Mandela Bridge between Braamfontein and Newtown is a little sketchy, going from one wrong side of the railroad tracks to what is evidently also the wrong side, passing dull-eyed hair braiders and telephone poles with flyers about “Quick same-day abortion: 100% guarantee” for less than $40 USD. The Anglican Cathedral in Newtown is barred shut from all sides, and one corner is inexplicably forested with little stacks of potatoes, three high and tended by a very loud man with a plastic plate.

Museum Africa had a whole thoughtful and educational floor dedicated to local LGBT (not so much L, lots of T) stories without once blaming them for teh AIDS. One of its lower floor collections was almost exclusively wheelbarrow people and beaded bones by Pitika Ntuli, and they had a lot to say about geology and contemporary South African art, even though it was a little sparsely curated overall. We also found the Standard Bank art gallery with its special Bafana Bafana exhibits, and went for long harried walks through the street sellers without being pickpocketed.

More or less the entire African continent was rooting for Ghana by the quarterfinals, but they nonetheless lost to Uruguay on a missed penalty after an unconscionable Suárez handball. Since the Serbians had already gone home, our hotel housed the Uruguayan team for their bid against the karmically successful Netherlands. I waited outside the lobby for an hour and a half to get five minutes of video of the team leaving for their game, but in the process I made friends with some exceedingly well-armed policemen on team guard duty and got to play with the ammo suitcases in their car trunk, so it wasn’t time wasted. The little superfan Citroën here has literally gone almost round the world following the team, with a world map and flag bumper stickers from a route originating in Montevideo, crossing Central America through to Canada, dashed lines showing the ferry to Portugal, across Europe and down Turkey, to Pakistan, Indonesia, and then a long dashed line to South Africa.

you boat like a maniac

To romanticize overmuch, we lived amongst the lions for the four days. First thing when you wake up you listen for roaring, because then you know the direction you will go first that morning. The first day, we saw just the boy lions napping. The second, we moved silently with the megapride as they sought water. The morning of the third, all the game cleared out ahead of prowling bachelor lions and we saw giraffes running for their lives, and in the afternoon we saw everybody from the matriarch on down napping, so I could get a lot of the juveniles being adorable on video.

In total in one day other than lions I saw a hippo, a crocodile, a breeding herd of elephants, and I missed some warthogs during my nap but no matter, not to even mention the dizzy herds of steinbok and wildebeest that you just ignore and the lodge dogs Pluto and Sheba. I went hunting for Mozambican cobras because our guide used to keep them, but it was winter, so no luck on them or lizards. We did see a dwarf mongoose, actually several, which are cute and glossy brown. Another day we saw half a dozen white rhinos (so called because of their square lips and nothing to do with their color, thanks, Brits) and an embarassment of Zazus, actually yellow-beaked hornbills but for the benefit of our Portugese lodgemate all animals were identified with their Lion King equivalent.

South African languages I knew existed: !Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, miscellaneous Sothos and Tswanas. South African languages apparently critical to know on the Eastern Cape and into Mozambique that I have never heard of: Tsonga (Shangaan). Well all righty then. But since a lion is a ngala and a baby lion is shingalana, I reasoned that since a hippo is imvubu then a baby hippo was a shimvubana and I was right! Eavesdropping on your tracker pays off and everyone looked all surprised. The exercise to the reader is that if a leopard is ingwe, what is a baby leopard?

Things I haven’t said yet: I intended to sketch this trip but didn’t in favor of hours of HD video, but I did get recommendations for horseback safaris in the Okavango delta and a houseboat in Botswana with my name on it. I need a new camera if I am ever going to do this again, and Sundowners is the ultimate in civilized traditions: amarula cocktails as the sun sets over the national park and you are snug in the jeep with a hot water bottle. Horns, unlike antlers, are not shed yearly. Afrikaans has stupid words like “Uidvlugt” and nice words like “Olifants” for Elephants. Naledi means Stars in Shangaan and the night sky over Kruger explains the reference in a heart’s breath.