I’ve been at a loss recently about what to write about on AOTB. Politics and economics hold only avague interest and I know so little about other African countries (which is very regrettable and a fact I hope to change soon). So I decided to keep it real and stick to Rule #1 of good writing: write what you know.
What I know is that I live on a farm in a beautiful citrus valley and wake each morning to the gorgeous African sunrise reflecting its signature palette off the rolling mountains which are so characteristic of this region. On the way to work I dodge and weave through potholes some the size of small craters. The road is finally being patched up though, in preparation for the local-government elections of course.
I pass cows and goats and children and people who raise their arms as I whizz by, hoping for a ride. I feel a pang of guilt every time this happens. Every god-damn time. Why should I be alone in a car that can fit five when others have nothing? The case of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’become more glaringly apparent with every face I pass. I try to steel my heart to it – stone faced. I feel especially rotten when I pass by old men in their overalls, carrying ancient suitcases and the scars of a lifetime of hard work and our not-too-distant oppressive past. I’ve often thought of stopping, but my mother’s words ring out from the back of my mind, telling me to never give in to those thoughts, not a single woman alone, not in this country. Memories of the shock and outrage caused by newspaper articles and stories of people enduring brutalities as a result of offering lifts to strangers come to mind. Stories I wouldn’t repeat. Stories I wish I could forget. Worse than thatis remembering how jaded we became to it, how hazed: the banality that eventually came after hearing too many of those stories…But I hear the stats say its getting better and crime is on the decline. I’ve stopped reading the news.
I’m headed back to Johannesburg today for a week-working out of the office there on an assignment. I remember when I first came out here to ‘the bush’; it was like heading out into the twilight zone. In my ignorant, highly-strung city-girl condescension, I found people so backwards, so simple. It felt surreal like I was a character ina Hollywood flick and I’d just landed in a previous century. Every time I went down to the city I thought, “Thank God! I’m heading back to ‘The Real World’!” Where people talked fast and dressed well and said appropriate things and had an iota of social etiquette! Where roads were good and service was good and you could actually find somewhere decent to have lunch on a Saturday with your girlfriends.
No, no. Now I was in Africa, and now I had to play by her rules. Africa, where people were slow and couldn’t care less how they talked, walked, dressed. Africa, where the uneducated run the show. Africa where the pure lack of housing mean people drive 50km or more to work and back. Africa, where the only fear of leaving your windows and doors open all day was the monkeys! Africa,where the heat bounced off every surface to find you no matter how hard to tried to avoid it…Africa where the smell of clean air and dry earth and grass took you back to pre-historic, untouched simplicity. Africa, where people cared about their neighbours (even though they gossiped about them viciously behind their backs). Africa, where you actually had time; time to think, to love and to understand whereyou came from and where you are going.
In South Africa, its so easy to lose yourself in the hustle and bustle of the city. With money, you can live a first-world life! You can forget that you are in Africa after all…Its a farce. After a while out in the ‘real Africa’, I realised something…It wasn’t exactly cognitive, or even emotional. The closest I can come to describing it would be that it was a spiritual alignment with reality. I became patient, quiet, slow. I could relax for the first time in months, maybe years. I started to appreciate every early morning start, every cow that wouldn’t budge from the road when I was late for work, even the arms that lifted as I passed by.
I came to the understanding that this place is what it is. It is real and as beautifully simple as it appears. And it is not troubled by what it isn’t. There is no farce here, no masks, no ‘cool’. It really hit me when I drove back from JoBurg a few weeks ago. As I came over the pass and saw the Valley of Citrus sprawling out before me in all its glory I thought, “Thank God, I’m back in ‘The Real World’!”