Monday, October 11, 2010

Arrived: New Rythms

Today is my first day surviving on my own.  Kate left me in her village unsupervised.  Before you worry:  she explained that if I were to happen across a pack of giraffes  (or other gregarious African pacifist) I was not to shed my clothes and run free through the deep mountain valleys that surround us.  (Packs?  What do giraffes run in anyway? Pods?)

On Tuesdays Kate teaches yoga classes at the gym in the metropolis of Manzini   (metroplis used liberely here – think Hackettstown on a Friday night, only with brighter, whiter smiles).  Manzini is about 3-4 hours away which, by my calculations, translates into about 100km.  For here irregular and pocked dirt roads are traveled by ‘kumbis’: fleets of ailing VW vans stenciled with their assigned routes.  On steep gradients they strain under the weight of crammed passengers and their luggage, the engine lugging and wanting to downshift while pedestrians start to pass.  But no one complains, it beats walking in the heat which can register up to 110F. 

Or does it?  Culteral note:  Swazis can stand having open windows in a moving vehical.  Regardless as to if there are 26 people sitting on 12 seats and you are secured between one man’s armpit and a bag of mangos on a woman’s lap.  There is to be no moving air!  None!  If you have a window seat you will be forced to wage war for a blip of fresh oxygen, every other passenger taking a turn at reaching over you and closing the window you just opened moments before. 

There is no schedule to khumbi travel.  The vehicals depart go whenever they fill up.  So if you are first at the stop for your particular Khumbi, you might have to wait over an hour or three for other passengers to arrive.  Maybe then the driver will relent and forego his cost benefit equations and burn the requisite gas on 75% capacity – instead of the customary 175%.

            There was very little in the way of transition time afforded me from the thriving urban streets of Jo-burg (as Johannesburg is called here) and the concrete, beetle strewn floor of my hut in a remote village.  Two days in fact. But I’m doing pretty well.  I have always felt I’ve done better with less than most, and here there is no shortage of shortage.  We have quite an abundance of it, in fact.

            Wake up time is around 4.30am (though I am not sure, since I’ve already dispensed with clocks or watches).  That is wake up time/get out of bed time, mind you, not your wake up call time.  The roosters here suck at the whole sunrise affair!  Throughout the night you can hear them.  Sometimes a light will reflect off the curragated metal of a hut or shed and trick the loud bastards into doing their yelling thing.  Then a salvo is launched between homesteads.  Another rooster hears the sunrise impaired one and says:  oh snap I must have missed it, better get to cock o doodle doo-ing.  Full throated cock vocalilizing (yes  I just wrote that) reverberate against the your head throughout the night.  Don’t even get me started about the amorous donkeys.  Did you know that they sex while running?

            Getting up so early is certainly no a burden when you were fast asleep at 7 or 8 pm – there is very little to do during daylight and consequently there is nothing doing once it gets dark.  I sleep extremely well here.  And I sleep a great deal.  Yesterday the temperature cracked 111 F, and I slept through three hours of the afternoon’s oppressive heat on the concrete floor of the hut in my underwear.  Thank God I have inherited my Father’s ability to sleep on picnic tables.  I never knew that peculiarty of his would be so useful.

            Today is actually cold, believe it or not.  There is thunder on the horizon and the sun has not broken through.  The weather here is schizophrenic.  A schizophrenic on acid.  I’ve already been made privy to the fierceness of a Swazi storm – if that’s a strong enough of a word, I was waiting for The Four Horsemen to arrive and sow devastation.  Lightening is actually a grave threat here.  Forget the scorpions and Black Mambas. 

My first storm happened while I was staying at a backpackers in Mbabane.  Day two.  After the hail and rain tried to eradicate all forms of life outside one of the hostel’s employees came back to the drinking table with his underwear in hand.  They were struck by lightening while hanging on a clothesline.  The charge burned a hole through the image of Che Chevera printed on the guy’s red boxers. 

            Things are nice and quiet now as the storm is still only on the periphery.  The cattle have been herded down the dirt road and the children have finished their 8-kilometer walk to school.  The goats, chickens, fist sized insects have already faded into invisible background noise. 

            Life is pretty easy when there is not much to choose from or distract you.  Yesterday Katie and I walked the .5km to fetch water with a wheelbarrow and two 25-liter jugs.  That is our drinking and washing water.  It has provided me with a very nourishing breakfast, however – lots of coffee, buttermilk squash soup, and peanut butter sandwiches.  Our main staples here are fresh eggs, porridge, and rice and beans.  And that’s about it.  We can get Coke, Sprite, and Fresh Fruit Juice from the little ‘store’ on the corner.  The treat we eat from there is “Emafatti”.  Think of donuts without the sugar.  They just fry up some flower balls.  They are delicious!  The kids here are actually provided with money to travel by khumbi to school but they’d rather pocket the 1 Rand (20 cents) and walk so that they can buy some Emafatti later during lunch break.

            So it’s maybe 9am now and I’ve been up for hours.  I don’t wear a watch; just watch the sun trying to gauge time.  I will be reading a great deal today and writing some.  I might sit on the stoop under the straw thatching of the hut and watch the goats play.  I could walk a bit in the bush and see some amazing sights of undisturbed wilderness.  It’s strange.  Often I see a crazy insect I could never imagine and then I realize that it may be an ‘undiscovered’ species, undocumented, and I might be the ‘discoverer’.  Yesterday I found this crazy caterpillar that armored itself with pieces of sticks, making a shell that it could retreat into when disturbed.  Lots of lizards too.  They fall from the straw ceiling, which is high, maybe 5 meters, and whack against the ground before they run away dazed.  We call the suicide bombers.  They are cute:  very similar to Thor, my old dear friend, the newt.
            The most obvious lesson I’ve learned so far is that one doesn’t need much ‘stuff’ to be happy.  There are two little girls running back and forth in front of my hut pulling an old plastic tub with a string and having a blast.  Probably more fun than if they had huge doll sets or matchbox cars or whatever new and improved toy is being sold on TV.  People here are mostly concerned with not starving to death and being protected from the elements.  People walk very, very slow.  There is little to do and getting there is part of the thing to be done, so why rush it?  Watching the completely different way that people can live is an amazing experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to experience it in person.  I’m learning valuable life lessons by the minute.
            I’ve enjoyed the idea of not being rushed.  For example, who knows when this email will reach you all?  Could be a week, or maybe more.  But it doesn’t really matter or phase me.  Things get done when they get done, as best as one can do them – that is the philosophy here.  You can’t alter reality or impose your will upon circumstances beyond your control.

            I hope all is well with everyone!  I want no one to worry about me here.  Things are secure and I am safe.  The only thing I ask from you all is you ENJOY your luxuriously huge bathrooms.  Stretch your feet out and relax.  For here I have only what we call ‘the silver bullet’.  A 2-foot by 2-foot latrine made of shiny corrugated metal that goes straight up into the air.  My shoulders are way to broad!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Concourse E

If my suspicions are correct, I just imbibed my final draughts of Guinness for quite some time.  (I labored over that sentence because I didn’t want to have to make ‘Guinness” plural – for what would it be, Guinesses or Guin-eigh?  It surely can’t be Guinness’s because that is just an abomination of correct apostrophe use – thank you Lynne Truss!)

Such consternation is most likely the result of having four beers starting at noon; the consequences of a 7 hour layover.  Ce la vie.  Thankfully there was a fine wine bar in Concourse E that had a reasonable selections of beer on tap, as well as a pair of sweetheart bar tenders to help pass the time.  Mad props to that inherent amiability of Georgia and southern charm.  So what if I keep turning around expecting to see Larry The Cable Guy when a man speaks behind me.

Did I mention that I am in Atlanta?

For that matter, have I mentioned that I’m flying to South Africa?  Johannesburg will be my port of entry to Africa – where I will make my way into Swaziland in an effort to disappear off radar for a while.  (Consequently, who knows when I’ll be able to post a blog again.)?

This race season offered both its share of good and bad.  Most epiphanies are the result of failure and not success, and in that regard this season produced enlightenment.  Not finishing Ironman Kentucky was a difficult pill to swallow. 

I didn’t go down without a fight, at least.  If that’s what you call waking up in the back of an ambulance with an EKG reading that you are having a heart attack.  Going into the race with a hip fracture I knew my run would be limited, so I biked hard.  I mean HARD.  Too hard, obviously.  The day dissolved into discovering myself on the side of the road shivering, unable to sweat, and incoherent.  Wish someone hollered out that the day came with a 105 heat index attacked.  But that’s racing and my naivety.

Did I mention that I have a stress fracture in my hip?

Yes, I really did pound my body into submission this year.  Oh well, nothing time can’t fix.  Let’s hope, anyway.

Hence Swaziland is the perfect opportunity to recuperate; mentally as well as physically.  Twenty five percent of my luggage must be books.  In this part of the year they will be much better use than extra clean clothes.  It’s time to focus on my writing and compiling this year into a comprehensible narrative.

So here I am with the daunting proposition of an 18-hour flight and the even more challenging reality of having to survive the savannahs of southern Africa.  Luckily I fortified myself for both with a bit of Ireland.  (Incidentally, I have it on good authority from an Irishman that they like to drink Budweiser in the land of Leprechauns.  Go figure.)