"South & East Africa 2011" story # 37

Johannesburg, South Africa           October 20, 2011

September 17 - A dumb truck runs over my backpack.
     I remember there's an undeveloped roll of film in my backpack. It contains twenty-one photos from Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia - the only photos which remain from my last four months in Africa. I search for it.
     I find it. Its small, hard container has been compressed and is bent in such a way that there's a tiny opening. A small amount of light enters it.
     I quickly store it again in its dark pocket.

After my things got run over, I would trudge to the nearby small town of Lindley. I was distraught, energy-less.
     A white South African man would allow me to sleep in an extra, old dillapidated house he owned. A Seventh Day Adventist Christian (black) man would let me stay in a guesthouse cottage he looked after. So, I had two big houses to cry in! (Just kidding. I didn't cry; I sat and listened to colorful-sounding birds filling the trees.)
     One day, I would hitchhike (and get to practice speaking Sotho to the driver!) to a bigger town. There, I would use my parents' credit card to buy myself a flight out of Africa. And I sold stories for the last time, so I'd have more than $5 in my pocket.
     The Seventh Day Adventist man - well-dressed and smily - would even give me a ride to the Johannesburg airport. In the airport, I spent my last money on a Brenda Fassie CD, postcards of animals, rusks, and peanut butter. But, the stout white man working airport security wouldn't let me take my peanut butter on the plane, because it was "spreadable". What did he think I was going to do with it? Spread the stuardesses eyes shut and hijack the plane?
     I told him I needed that peanut butter; I might starve to death.
     "I'd prefer you to than me." (He claimed he could lose his job if he let it through.)
     "That's the problem with Africa," I said.
     "Don't you start on Africa ..."
     I would leave the security area and put my peanut butter in a bag by itself and check this on the plane.
     And then I was gone ...

     In hindsight, there were some good things about it:
     1. THE WOMEN
     African women welcomed and enjoyed new romance as eagerly as men. They were full of energy. I described one girl in my journal, after a loving date in Cape Town, as "a guy's dream-come-true". (In my case: a celibate guy.)
     Of course, not every guy was celibate (I use the past tense, because I'm sure one day everyone WILL BE celibate, ha ha), and unfortunately this led to many women having children out of wedlock and raising them on their own. In addition, it was very common for men here to beat their women. Africa wasn't as good to its women as its women were to us.
     Many of my readers might say: "Yes, but love MUSN'T be given so freely!" But, I believed that if people lived in strong communities that appreciated and cared for even their weakest members, then love would be able to open and flourish. And I suspected the Africans had lived like this, before Western privatization and selfishness invaded them.
     2. MUSIC
     3. DANCING
     Lucky, a black child with pinkish-tan skin, lived with the Seventh Day Adventists in Lindley. "I like your hair," I told her. Her head looked striped, with black knuckly braids swooping backwards. The tiny girl responded shyly, "You must be strong. Your knees look strong!" (I figured my knees just looked knuckly.) After that, she wasn't shy; she blabbered to me in Sotho and English, and acted out her words. When she acted out a blood-sucking tick, by putting the palms of her hands together over her head to form a beak, and diving head-first into the table where she sat, I laughed for a long time.
     The men - as long as they remained thin and poor - spoke excitedly and dreamed optimistically.
     ... GOING ON SAFARI AND SEEING ANIMALS also was spectacular. But, doing this was expensive, and it didn't seem like it was a part of the life for most Africans.
     I liked to judge places based on how well the locals living there lived. These were my five favorite places (not all liveable) I visited in Africa:
     1. Semonkong Village and Maletsunyane Falls, Lesotho
     2. Ruth's village in northern Zambia
     3. Table Mountain, Cape Town
     4. Namib Desert
     5. Joseph's "compound" (poor neighborhood) in Lusaka, Zambia
     In the eight countries I visited, there were about five groups of people who I'd say were preserving their traditions. These were:
     The Basotho (of Lesotho's mountains)
     Bushmen (of Namibia and Botswana)
     Himbas (Namibia)
     The Masai (Tanzania)
     "Songoma" was the Zulu word for "traditional-healer/herbalist/witch-doctor/bone-thrower". But, they existed everywhere, by different names. They were sometimes very rich - even in small villages.
     I wished I would've spent more time with these peoples - to see if I'd been right when I said Africans would be better-off living traditionally.
     Would I ever return to Africa? Probably.
     For the adventure.
     For the magic that still existed, in places.
     For the wo ...

(African Camera Debacle conclusion)
Oct. 4 - Home in America, my mom and I drop off my once-damaged roll of film to be developed.
     I went, on my third-to-last day in Africa, to get these pictures developed. I was worried that, because the container had a small opening, the photos would be ruined when they went through the x-rays of airport security. A Western-looking Chinese man helped me transfer my film to an intact container, in his photo studio. He was then supposed to develop them, and I went away.
     But when I returned, he handed me back the still-undeveloped film and said: "The machine's not working."
     This day in America, however, the machine is working. Will I finally have some more photos from Africa?
     Oh, the drama!
     To my surprise, all twenty-one pictures turn out spotlessly. (Except for the one of me entering Bachstion the Lion's cage and wrestling him, blind-folded.)
     Yay! I'll have visual memories ...
     The best one is of small children running from Teacher Ruth's school down a village pathway. The four children in front are all wearing orange: orange dresses, orange shirts, orange "chitengi" skirts. All this orange makes everything in the picture - the bare dirt ground, the yellow school, the sky - orange. The clothing of these shaven-headed girls is in motion, floating. They're looking towards me and my soon-to-be-broken camera.
     And everyone is smiling.

Bye, guys.
Modern Oddyseus

Kea leboha, John Maluna, for the ride!
Much thanks to Gordon, Sandra, Gordon Jr., & Karen for the place to stay!
Much gratitude to Kabelo, France, Matapelo, & the SDA Church of Lindley for everything!
And thank YOU for reading. See you next year ...

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