Saturday, November 6, 2010

Leaving, and understanding 'TIA'



This Is Africa.

This is a saying that must fully be adopted by even the transient such as myself.  Things NEVER go according to plan.  You wait.  You wait for everything from electricity to transport to arrive.  You think you will be somewhere at 2...well, better not expect to be there by 7.


You thought this...and that happened.

Americans need to find patience.  Before leaving I was even aware of that.  From my home in Stanhope NJ I have four 24-hour Dunkin Donuts within five square miles.  You must also add in three CVS's, a Walgreen, a 24-hour Shoprite, and a Super Walmart.  Not to mention the internet gives me movies, music, and communication on demand.  There is NOTHING to wait for in NJ.

Hense you see people freak out day in and day out of the stupidest shit ever.  It makes you wonder what exactly burrowed into our asses to make a 2 minute cue at a check-out counter absolutely intolerable.  I'm as culpable as the next.  More than 1 minute line at an ATM and we are off running to another.  God forbid there is an old lady at the Supermarket checkout struggling to write out a check (that vestige of the ice age) Americans might just beat her down.  It's terrible.

But, TIA as taught me a great deal.

It involves removing yourself from the center of the universe.  Things like the elements, sickness, and death get in the way of expediacy every day.

Where are we going anyway?  I don't know where I'm going so, cheers, and thank you Africa for making that ok, because if that's the case I won't be such a jerk in getting there.  I'll just have to kick back and relax and let things happen as best as they are capable of unfolding.  Can't alter reality to suit you.  Just enjoy it as best as you can.


Highveld vs Lowveld

I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my mind around certain numbers and the corresponding relationships. 

For example, there are 1 millions Swazi’s total.  Last I heard we had over 20 million New Yorkers alone.  Swaziland is an independent nation, yet it’s square mileage is approximately the same as New Jersey. 

But this doesn’t make it any less diverse.  (And, similarly, I believe it’s time to acknowledge how diverse just New Jersey is, not to mention the other 49 states.  After all, in terms of size NJ is, what, 6th smallest?)

And I guess just as we have the Appalachians of High Point we also have the low laying Pine Barrens of all those Southern Counties of Western NJ.  (The whole Jersey shore, though being a North to South completion, is it’s own entity together, we all know)

I’ve spent most of my time in the Lowveld of Swaziland, watching the sun pound the clay dirt so hard dust rises. 

Here there is a rolling, lulling landscape punctuated by compact homesteads boosting between 3-6 huts in the closest proximity.  The property consists of some poor quality farmland that as been turned over to chickens, goats, and cattle, for the most part.  It is not the most fertile place on the planet.  Rusting tractors from the 30’s and 40’s disintegrate into nothingness in the most conspicuous of spaces.  As if after the colonial powers packed up they just left their agriculture there, it too costly to move.  And without overhead capital, farming is a demanding and terribly unproductive enterprise here in Swaziland. 

Gnarled trees dot the landscape, somehow getting past the stage of being mere bushes, the far more prominent of vegetation.  There light purples and azure blue flowerings erupt before you as the eye is only accustomed to different shades of clay, bark, and the green of aloe trees after awhile. 

Dirt roads hardly make their presence known amidst the dirt savannah.  What might at first seem a road on the horizon just might be a dried streambed.  Near my home there was a damn constructed as a means of modernization.  As far as I could gather, it’s been an absolute failure.  Now cattle are now just walked farther and farther to be watered.     

Shade is always sought in summer.  A dozen men will stay stationed all day at pool tables position under the corrugated awnings next to bottle shop.  The scores of vendors (all selling same thing) hold umbrellas for the day’s entirety.  (Anecdotally, I’ve been told that Swazis don’t possess a word for ‘imagination’ in their vocabulary.  It is not just being mean.  It speaks to how 10 vendors will line a street all selling only mangos, the same mangos, in the same size bag.  The logic being that if one person can make a living doing it, and I have mangos, I better copy them.  It will take only one brilliant Swazi to open a burrito stand and the history of the country will forever be different.)


My last days were spend in what I feel is the most scenic part of Swaziland.  As you drive in from South Africa there are suddenly pine (or at least some similar coniferous tree) forests that are logged into oblivion.  Luckily there is still enough there to proffer up a monkey sitting at the roadside and to give the rising mountains a texture not unlike The Northeast, only slightly less fierce in gradient.  I sometimes I felt like I was in a rolling, rural Virginia or even some of the hilly country I cycled outside Tampa.

After crossing the boarder there is an explosion beneath you and you climb winding roads of steep grade that make most cars wheeze and sputtered as drivers scramble for the right gearing.  Little adobe-esque houses and huts are built into the side of mountains.  Not mountains like we think of them on the East Coast but that undulating, curvature of elevated Earth that composes so much of California around San Francisco.  Here the rainy season brings about one million shades of green, all of which we have at home, but each hue as a different character…something, well, African. 

Huge amalgamations of granite boulders dot all the hills.  I was unable to garner from locals if these were remains of passed glaciers.  Whatever the case they stack upon each other to great heights on top and from the sides of mountains.  Here rivers will see flowing over hard rock beds, slowly bring valleys into existence.  It’s just as hot here but people seem to have a bit more energy.  They seem to complain about the heat and battle through while Lowvelders just understand it and surrender to it.

Some of these pictures were taken at a private residence that boasted amazing views and caves in the granite.  I’m very grateful to Jason at Bombaso’s for taking me there along with the Finnish constituency that was currently in residence.

As you leave this area, most notable for the capital Mbabane, and start moving towards Manzini, you plummet down hills and watch the temperature rise.

A Pain in the Ass

Watch where you sit in Swaziland. 

I don’t know who, but someone walking by must have been treated to the sight me with my pants down and Kate utilizing her tweezers to remove a half inch thorn that was burrowed deep in my ass cheek.

Hope they’ve recovered themselves by now.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Portrait of a Gogo

A Gogo is an old woman.  But not just any ordinary elderly lady.  To be a Gogo you must be over 1,000 years old.  950 won’t cut it.  At least 1,000 and you must look every day of it.  (The ability to be 1000 is easier than you think, there being virtually know records of birth in Swaziland.  Everyone’s birthday, officially, is January 1st because that’s what he or she filled out on the forms on the rare chance that they sought documentation of any kind).

I spotted my first Gogo on the roadside as our khumbi pulled up.  She had two backs, one on her head, of course.  And she finished a conversation with someone and hustled to the car.  She almost ran.  Well, it looked like she was running, for at 1000 if you are not going backwards, you are flying ahead.  She popped into the khumbi and immediately started cracking jokes (I’m sure they were dirty too) with everyone.  She pinched Kate a bunch of times and I’m sure would have done something suggestive to me if I wasn’t crammed in the back with three especially voluptuous and fertile women with there children.  (Note:  my only proposal for marriage came from a near Gogo, but not Gogo proper.)

Gogo’s continually pop up in the paper.  (No, not in the obituaries.)

I got The Times of Swaziland everyday I could to see what was happening.  There was some seriously big deal politics going down. 

For example, there was a e5000 lawsuit (maybe $900) regarding a failed exorcism of demons from a hut by a reputable witchdoctor.  Litigation is still be processed, but, hell, if those people still have demons haunting their hut, that is surely a case of doctor mal practice if I’ve ever seen one!

And Swazis sometimes get rowdy.  Usually involving alcohol.  Unfortunately, large bush knifes are in great abundance.  No one is shot (unless by a police officer).  But there are stabbings daily.  For example a girlfriend went all Bobbitt on a fellow for some infidelities.  And fights over money are common enough. 

It is when these conflicts occur on the homestead is when Gogo plays a part.  Once or twice a week a bush knife wield Gogo chases someone off or shuts up a belligerent family member by offering to filet them.

So let this be a lesson to American, pushing aside our aged parents.  I say all senior citizens should get their pensions, social security, and machetes to enforce their wisdom.


It is an chicken and egg situation:  do great people become apparent because of their great names, or are certain people given names because they are sensed to be great. 

For example, I’m going to write a young adult book entitled The Amazing Adventures of October and Jason in Swaziland:  Tales of a Khumbi Driver and His Conductor. 

After standing in the dark with only a headlamp for 20 minutes, the darkness of Africa complete, you hear the rumbling of a VW 15 passenger bus maneuver its way around and often through deep crevasse in the dirt road.  Somehow they can do it at 60 km/h too.  And there from the driver seen flashes the broadest smile rich with enthusiasm I’ve ever encountered.  He jokes constantly as you rubble to town at break neck speed.  (I got out of the khumbi once expecting to see high performance tires with thick tread – possibly like a dirt bike.  I found only bald rubber).  When he laughs it is a full body movement:  he leans forward and strikes the dashboard, he bends in half and erupts to full posture unleashing howls and exasperated disbelieve. 

If there is a bodhisattva still roaming, if Buddha as been reincarnated, he is driving a Khumbi in the distant bush of Swaziland and his name is October.  And in fiction I will be the conductor:  they guy collecting money from the people piled in the back of the khumbi.  And we will have many adventures helping people while we find ourselves in dire danger and hilarious situations.

I’ve met other characters notable names.  Doctor was an inquisitive taxi driver who would reciprocate his inquisitiveness with answer any question you can answer.  Like, his favorite sport was Karate.  Go figure.

Mad props go out to G.E.R. (Genetically Engineered Rapper) who explained to me how the Freemasons run the whole world, and all it’s monetary, political, sporting, artistic, and religious institutions.  Whatever your beliefs, story telling is wonderful we should all listen attentively and not dismissively despite our ‘erudition’. 

From him I learned that theories persist about World here that I’ve never even heard of.  The best thing to do is to listen with open mind and heart.  That’s what I’ve decided.  I mean, how crazy do you think people felt certain story tellers were as they told a story of a virgin in the Middle East giving birth to the Lord of the Whole Universe (well, Son…but the same, but somehow different, but the same as the Holy Ghost, which is like the Son, too, and Father, but different, but the same, but though omnipotent, still died…) 

We need narratives in which to understand life.  And narratives have characters and I feel blessed by all the characters I’ve met as of late.