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It's a long climb, to get to the bottom of things

heaven and somewhere else.

SOUTH AFRICA | Wednesday, 20 October 2004 | Views [464]

so at the start of this branch of adventure, the official announcement is that we have extended our travels together until Nov. 15th. the two extra weeks hopefully sunning the the wild adventureland that is madagscar.

south africa.

so i am going to go out of chronological order here, and start with heaven. i am in transkei, the wild coast, breathing in the beauty of the ocean every minute of the day.There is a certain magic about the sea. Even those who fear it with all of their hearts are drawn into to return its endless gaze from the safety of the shore. I have been afraid; those awkward years when the thought of so many uncontrollable living things staking out the sand beneath your feet and waiting to fill you with the sting of their venom makes even a stroll in the shallow waves a heart pounding thriller. i stare because the vastness of the sea reflects the energy that is trapped inside of my body. that energy yearns to glide upon the water like the flying fish, turning fins into wings that take me as far from myself and my limitations as the wind will let me go. but i forget, the gills will not turn into lungs, and even the fish that can fly must return to the sea with a splash of finality. but this is not a story of coming home. and so i will tell you the moments of flight, the exhilaration of being myself without the harness of myself holding me back. the emily of the surf.

i started out with a lesson, surf school. there were two guys and me, we had to wait a couple of hours (watching a gruesome national geographic video of how people drown in the ocean) as the fog slowly retreated back into the sea and showed us our quarry, the pounding surf. once out there, i attacked the waves with as much strength as i could muster, but the sea was not willing to submit under my feet without a fight. i feel like i need to go to bootcamp for a few weeks then come back and show the ocean what i am REALLY made of!

in the afternoon, a few whales started jumping their support on the horizon.

i remember in hawaii a surfer telling my dad and i that he was surfing with whales jumping behind him at sunset, i could never imagine being in the magic of that moment, but there i was, well, not quite surfing yet, but flopping my tail back at them in a kind of primortal communicative rite that said "i am here. in paradise. the whales believe in me. i believe in me and the ocean is my home too." the other dudes laughed at me for saying the whales were offering a high five, a hang ten. well, i didn't get standing until the next day, with my usual stubborn determination i was smacked in the head by thousands of waves, slam both my knees bloody raw upon the surf, pulled every muscle in my arms and back- but never gave up, not until i stood for a full three seconds before bailing off into the sand. i plan to try again tomorrow- my last day for a really successful mastery of the board- a ride that lasts the entire length of the wave. at night, after leaving a legacy of irish car bombs in south africa (no one here has ever heard of putting a shot in a cup of beer, and they are mostly europeans, so it is really fun watching their confusion as i teach them how to spend a friday night american style)- i sit out on the porch of my dorm, watching the stars and tuning in to the symphony of the crashing surf echoing through the darkness. it is a peaceful life, one i wish could go one forever in warmth and salty perfection. but alas, a group of 20 americans has landed today. anywhere 20 americans arrive on a bus together, i know i don't care to stay.

but back in johannesburg where this all began, i am met with psychological complexities very triumphing to understand. the atmosphere of fear here is comparable to the week after sept. 11th 2001 in america. only the apartheid has been finished for over fourteen years now. first of all, no one actually seems to set foot in the city limits of jo'burg. when i mentioned wanting to go downtown at my hostel, i was met with shocking disapproval, snarky contempt, and warnings of grave danger. but when i asked the few africans that i have found to talk to, they said that there are plenty of safe neighborhoods downtown, just not to go too late in the afternoon and be sure to stick to asking only the tourist police in yellow vests for directions.

so i am staying in an affluent white suburb-a walled community in which every house has its own separate wall complete with signs of alarm systems, security guards, and gates that have speakers and codes in order to open them. i went for a walk down the street and everyone was marveling about how adventurous i was, and how finding a grocery store on foot was a feat of courage. this is like visiting orland park on vacation-or lincolnshire and saying you visited chicago. the big draw of the hostel is a free shuttle to the mall, and yes, bored on a sun. afternoon, even i went to the mall on an outing. and there is such a strange disjointed equality here. ALL of the patrons were white, ALL of the workers, save a few sparing managers or front desk employees, were black. even in senegal, at the most fancy of bars, there would be a few black patrons. there were NONE here. and there was a great parking lot in the mall dedicated to the minibuses that shuttle the workers back to their homes- i guess closer to downtown. it reminded me of a michael moore movie. i think it was 9/11, where the african mother was bused hours to work in a fast food joint in the white affluent suburb a couple of towns away. i went to the apartheid museum which was possibly one of the most well thought out museums i have ever been to. The end of the story is something i can claim to have lived through, though the only recollections i have are the occasional mention on the cosby show. I toured through soweto afterwards- a strange concept, touring both ghetto and affluent black neighborhoods. i tried to imagine a tour bus going through cabrini green, with its new million dollar development next to the projects. but it was only me and my guide, so we talked very political and philosphical discussions about race relations in both america and south africa and we got braai on the street- yes, i ate cow heart-ewwwww. and some shebeegan beers. one of the fellows was talking underneath his breath about wanting to take me out and show me south africa, so my guide told me to go flirt a bit.

i was met with complete shock and wonder. then he wanted to follow us on our tour, which my guide stopped for me. but evidently such humor does not happen here. my guide told me that most people are surprised by even a hello from a white person. if they are not engaged in business, a black person never really expects to meet a white person in any social form or function. i told him i wanted to speed things up a bit- i know that in twenty years or so perhaps jo'burg will fix itself, but i really wish i could create a colony of cool white people in soweto, and seed some non-shit-taking blacks into the white suburbs, though i have less hope for that working. white flight, you know. same everywhere. they all understand my political fascination and craving for american news on the election, they have a very complex election system that is still fragile and very heated in discussion.

so that was about it for jo'burg. mindless fear and suburbia, yeah. but fascinating history.

Tags: aparteid museum, benoni, emily predny, johannesburg, predny, south africa, soweto, surfing, transkei

 

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