"South & East Africa 2011" story # 20

Kenton-On-Sea, Eastern Cape, South Africa           July 6, 2011

To my disappointment, I noticed that my present location of St. Lucia, and its hippos, were still 1850 kilometers (1150 miles) away from Cape Town. I began hitchhiking there.
     Zulu drivers seemed to think it was crazy that a white guy would ask them for a ride. And white drivers seemed distrustful of anybody. In late June, the sun lighted my way only nine hours a day. Luckily, I wasn't in a hurry. And nice people did pick me up.
     A rich guy named Steven drove me to his suburb in Durban. His wife had once been robbed at gunpoint and abducted for a few hours, until her robbers could withdraw more money from her account. As poor Steven complained about his country, the exasperation and frustration in his voice left me horrified.
     The following evening, I hid my tent in some mangroves, and I wrote a letter to my Grandma Bott. I drew a picture of a hippo and wrote, smiling:
     "Remember when I could spell 'hippopotamus' when I was only three years old?"
     I'd come a long way since then - but I was still close to my aunts and uncles and grandparents. Far away, Mervin Pillay picked me up next.
     Mervin was a member of his country's third racial group, Indians, who were concentrated near Durban and who'd originally come, generations ago, as indentured laborers. He introduced me to a delicious South African food: bunny chow. Half of a loaf of bread had been hollowed out; it was then filled with a thick beef curry, which I scooped out using pieces of the removed core of bread.
     I sometimes confused Indians with South Africa's fourth racial group, "coloureds". Coloureds were half-black/half-white, and - due to the apartheid-time laws against interracial sex - they'd been breeding amongst each other for years. Everything I knew about them had come from listening to a coloured comedian, who joked that his race loved fighting and, because of this, many coloured women were missing upper teeth. Many of the first coloured woman I'd come across, in fact, were quite toothless.
     Perhaps the Indians were rough, too? Observing the people around Mervin Pillay's business in an industrial area, I saw knife scars on people's faces. Mervin, himself, used to drink four bottles of liquor a day - until his liver failed him. Mervin's future son-in-law, when asked by me what he liked to do for fun, said he used to enjoy drag-racing illegally.
     I moved away from here. Leaving the land of the Zulus and Indians, I passed through the Transkei (pronounced: "Trans-Sky"). This used to be an autonomous area independent of the apartheid regime, governed by black Xhosa people. Nowadays, on rolling land of tall amber grass, villages spread out with houses of sky blue, chlorine green, pink, and light tan. Few whites lived here.
     I was driven here by a calm, well-spoken, and successful man: Mervin's brother, Preggy. He complained about his country's crime, and the blacks' lack of education. He'd unfortunately been shot in the head once by a robber, and he'd lost his right eye.
     Next, I got a ride from a middle-aged Xhosa trucker. He and his white beard and I laughed easily together. It was Father's Day, and all four of his children called or SMSed him. Three of his kids were now in university. I was impressed. My driver (Mqabiseng) went on to say his trucks were often robbed - especially in the Transkei. Years ago, the crime had been less. Mqabiseng claimed this was due to the fact that village chiefs used to discipline and keep their people in line.
     I knew that, historically, the Xhosas were an interesting bunch.
     In 1819, strong Chief Makhanda had led an army of 10,000 against the British. Some historians claimed he could've dealt them a history-altering defeat. But, he followed the Xhosa tradition of alerting one's enemies prior to battle. As a result, 2000 Xhosas died and only three Brits did.
     In 1857, a fourteen-year-old girl Nongkawuse, who was known as a prophet, declared that if her people killed their cattle and destroyed their crops, then the white settlers would leave and be replaced by more crops. Either desperate or full of faith, the Xhosas obeyed her. The prophecy never came true. And most of the Xhosas died in the ensuing famine.
     In recent times, many of the leading anti-apartheid activists had come from the Transkei. Walter Sizulu was from Ngcobo, the same town as my driver. And on this day, we passed a former home of Nelson Mandela.
     We crossed the Kei River and left the Transkei. I got out in small Kenton-On-Sea, to write and relax and sell stories.
     To this point, I felt that one of South Africa's biggest problems was that people didn't care enough for each other, and that the different races didn't sacrifice much for one another. I felt that a lot of good could be done if, for example, successful white professionals went to poor schools and gave motivational speeches.
     In Kenton-On-Sea, I came across a man who'd adopted two coloured babies. A tall white guy with a smily round face, Jake bought my stories then invited me to stay in his simple, messy home. I met: the long-brown-haired wife, Tracy, who home-schooled her kids; their four biological kids, age seven to fifteen, who called me, "Uncle Justin"; and their two adoptees.
     Two-year-old Ruth had thick hair that stood up like the Bride of Frankenstein's.
     Three-year-old Candace had a wavy plump face, rosy cheeks and happy eyes, and two black hair puffballs atop her head. She didn't talk to me the first night.
     In the morning, Ruth came running at me on my mattress on the floor, to wake me up.
     A moment later, Candace came out holding seven-year-old Josh's hand, and she mumbled something in a gerbilly voice. I realized it'd been, "Good morning, Uncle Justin!" We all ate from a big pot of mealy porridge.
     During the daytime, little excited Josh showed me the boats and bows and arrows he'd made from scratch.
     At night, Candace couldn't sleep. So, I took out my ocarena flute and played it softly for her. Lying in bed, she stared at me with silent pure eyes. I left her in the care of Josh.
     Josh, with his shaggy hair and aqua eyes smiling, came back out to me. "She says, (whispering) 'I want to blow it."
     So, I brought my ocarena back for Candace. But, she wouldn't blow it. She just lied there, eyes open, motionless. So, I left her with Josh.
     Josh came back, smiling.
     "She says, (whispering) 'I was shy."

Yep. Jake's family was cute, all right.
     But, there were still 900 kilometers separating me from Cape Town.
     From Kenton-On-Sea, I got a ride in a truck containing two black men and one coloured. They seemed friendly. The coloured guy smiled at me with his lower teeth and upper gums. He said he was like a chicken. "Puck! Puck! Puck!" Except, instead of "pucking" food grains everywhere, he "pucked" prostitutes and women. He didn't use condoms and had no fear of AIDS. He kept smiling.
     One black guy, Casta, spoke a lot like a preacher from a rough background. We discussed everyday things, like their job as alcohol deliverymen. He also talked about dollars from America, asked if I had a cell phone, and wanted to see my camera. I let him know I didn't have much money and couldn't give them anything for the ride. Casta said I must give something. Beginning to feel trapped, I told them to stop and let me out. "You're panicking?" said Casta, amused. They wouldn't stop.
     All three drivers calmed me and assured me, saying they'd deliver me to the city of Port Elizabeth and that I didn't have to worry. Casta, a Christian, next tried to get me (as payment for the ride?) to say I believed in God.
     "I'll think about it," I said. I got out in P.E. without giving them any money. We firmly shook hands, and I took their picture. Walking away from their truck, I thought to myself:
     Man, I love hitchhiking!
     That was a good thing. I still had 761 kilometers to go to get to Cape Town.

Safe Travels,
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Sabelo; Gideon; JJ; Steven; Roger, 3 workers, & Michael; Spapelo & Spamakla; Mervin Pillay; Preggy Pillay; Mqabiseng; and Elliot, Casta, & Terry for rides!
Much thanks to Mervin Pillay; and Jake, Tracy, David, Beth, Johnny, Josh, Candace, & Ruth for places to stay!

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