Friday, December 14, 2007

The Trip Thus Far - South Africa and Lesotho

I've been terrible with the blog so far. It's been harder than I thought getting on the internet and it will only get worse as we get into Namibia and Botswana. Only one hour from the border as I type, so I'll get this up quickly. Be forgiving of any typos and terrible grammar. I'm trying. Photos with some blurbs and description of the trip thus far...


Before leaving Kigali, one of Pedro's friends Dirk and I at "Planet". Based on stories I've heard from the Expats in Rwanda Planet always seems to turn into a ridiculous evening whenever you go. No change that night.

Later that week, I headed out solo on the bus to... Butare to see the Murabi Memorial. After a 45 minute moto ride through the spectacular mountainous terrain, I arrived as the first and only guest so far that day. The caretaker in fact unlocked the main building and led me to the 6 large buildings which were once classrooms to show me the memorial. Room after room of bodies. The remains of the mass graves exhumed from nearby. The bones, semi-preserved with plaster, still had pieces of clothes and hair peaking through. The experience was not conventional, like so many western memorials. Western memorial seem to focus your experience personally yet through a public lense. The other's in attendance and the gravitas of the moment and the crowd are as important as the personal reflections of the momoent. This memorial was quite different. I had a completely solitary experience despite the caretaker waiting just outside. Just myself and the bodies in each room. So raw and real, the experience almost crossed into the surreal. Both moving and alienating at the same time. The immediate tangible closeness of the corpses made the narrative somehow recede to the background. It seems to me, westerners process things through a narrative, through storytelling. This is something entirely unnecessary it seems to Rwandans, a people so aware and steeped in its recent histories, that it would be redundant to force a narrative that is already seared into their mind and everyday existence. This history while shared as a history of a nation is much more than that. More complicated. It's a collection of histories, all immensely personal and immediate for those who lived it, for those continuing to live it.

I returned to Butare and visited the National Museum before my bus returned to Kigali. I met two young high school kids. We traded stories and they asked me about cities in the US. This is the picture of us. I have to dig up their email addresses, which I forgot in Kigali and send them the photo. An odd cultural disconnect occurred when they first requested I take a photo of us all; a female worker at the museum told me I couldn't take photos. Both the boys and myself were confused. Then she explained that if I took a photo of them, I should pay them. She didn't understand that they wanted the photo as much as me, a memory of a short friendship and an afternoon of conversation. In East Africa, I've never been more aware of my whiteness. The word for White, "Mazungu" echos in every locale. In passing conversation, in shouts, my whiteness is who I am. I am the symbolic Mazungu before I'm anything else. The invisibility of blackness in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, was finally palpable and tangible rather than purely intellectual. It pales in comparison to the African American experience in Ellison's book. It's much simpler, with more positive than negative connotations, but it scratches at the edge of the high visibility of Ellison's invisibility. The more you are physically seen or noticed, the more you as a person recede into obscurity, into invisibility.


I spent several days in Kampala Uganda visiting a friend and having Thanksgiving dinner in Africa with her, her boyfriend and their friends. They were amazing hosts. Late nights and long days exploring the city. I met a boxer/electronics shop owner, who showed me around the market, who talked openly about African Politics and his sometimes paradoxical points of view. The city was hosting CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Goverment Meeting) which had 53 heads of state in attendance, including the Queen of England. Military police were everywhere. Listening to a Ugandan Political Radio show, while having a customary Ugandan steam bath and massage (not to be missed), one broadcaster recounted a story in which a head of state asked sincerely whether Uganda was a military state or a free state, due to the insane military presence.

The following day, I headed out first thing in the morning to go whitewater rafting on the Nile. Class 4, 5 and 6 rapids during the trip. We walked around the class 6, but saw several of our safety kayakers surf through the insanity. Unfortunately in a couple years, most of the rapids will be gone, due to a hydro-electric dam project that is in the works. Hopefully the dam brings the electricity they need to the country. Electricity is more important than tourism, but its sad the rapids will be going. As a demonstration of Uganda's electricitu woes, newly installed street light (for CHOGM) were no longer being turned on at night on Sunday, when the heads of state had left; too expensive and too much of a "waste" to keep them running.
That night I hopped on an all night bus ride back to Kigali. With music blaring the whole way back, I barely slept. So sleep, packing bags and the following day flew to Joberg.


Our maps of Joberg were terrible, but we eventually found our way to the hostel and then headed to the new China Town for some food. P, as always found someone to converse with in Chinese despite the fact that we ended up eating Thai. In the morning we did some shopping, to grab the handful of things we forgot to pack, and then headed off to Pretoria, the admistrative capitol of South Africa. I snapped a photo of P, using the color accent function of my digital camera. Gives it a kind of dreamlike quality. Good people and good food at the hostel. Once again, P found a chinese speaker. This time a Hungarian girl, that had lived in Hong Kong for the last couple years with her boyfriend who also spoke some Mandarin.


Off to Lesotho the next day. We stayed in Maseru the first night. A dirty derelict shell of a city, but the place wet settled on for for supper in an upstairs stripmall seemed to be pulsing with a vibe completely opposite the oppression of the street. It was definitely the "cool" place to be and the DJ spun a mix of African, European and American music that would have made any DJ in the States jealous. We got lost looking for the hostel, which was the Anglican Church in the area. We arrived extremely late and eventually found Father Adam, who let us set up our tent in the courtyard, since the rooms were full, due to a convention of priests from all over Lesotho. The Basotho priests were the nicest people I'd met, although, I don't think whispering is in their arsenal. Always full volume despite people sleeping everywhere. The same full volume fun started at 4:45 the next morning. I guess, early risers, have early prayers and don't whisper their thoughts to God.

We drove into the countryside in search of some cave painting. On the way, we asked directions and ended up picking up a young man and a women who were walking in that direction. She got out half way, but the young man, who was a big fan of 50 cent and other US rappers, decided he'd show us the way to the cave painting. We parked the car and headed down the gorge. We ran into a cow-herder, who our "guide" knew from his childhood since our "guide" was only back visiting family. We shared some peaches and a couple beers I brought as we admired the old cave painting.

Later that afternoon, we drove to the Semonkong Lodge to spend the night. There had been a lot of flooding the night before and the road was being cleared of boulders. A local couple had in fact been washed away when they attempted to ford the river the night before with their car. Fortunately, we made it and decided to hike to the waterfall the next morning. Here are some of the sights from that day. P decided to run there and back, so unfortunately we didn't see eachother at all during that trek, but we each had our own mini-adventure.

When I got back to the lodge, P was on his computer uploading some photos and pre-writing some emails for when we were on the grid once again.


We headed toward East London that day/night and made it befoe midnight. Not much of a town, but P was able to finish up some work at an internet cafe the following morning.

Leaving East London, we got stopped at a police checkpoint, a relatively common experience we've soon realized. Our car's registration was out of date. After about an hour on the phone with Thrify/Dollar Rent a Car we sorted out what we're going to do. Off to Port Elizabeth to exchange the car. Before leaving we met, Gary, a "Coloured" police officer who shared his views on South Africa's various populations and the problems they are still having today. His own Coloured population, which he feels has no real place in SA society, the Zulu, the Khosa, the White (British) and the White (Africaans). He also went to school in New Haven like P and I. So we shared some stories of New Haven Pizza and dancing at Toads and other local watering holes. Pretty ridiculous how small the world is. He was quite enthusiastic to meet New Yorkers and then more so when he realized we also lived in New Haven.

The next day, we headed to Jeffrey's Bay. A quiet hostel near some beautiful beaches. We went to an Africaan's bar for some Africaan's dancing and some quality SA beer. The next morning, we signed up for a surf lesson. A great easy break in J-Bay led to some nice rides. I felt like a real surfer for the first time in my life, although my arms were so out of shape I nearly died of exhaustion.

That night, we shared the first night of Hannukah with the family that ran the hostel. A few prayers and a photo to commemorate.

The next day, we drove to Buffaal's Bay. We partied late into the night with some South Africans on Holiday from Joberg, played poker, and P learned some more Africaan's dancing from a local guy and girl. The next morning, I followed through with my plan to shave my head. It's been a long time in the making. I've been slowly thinning in the back and figured I should see how I'd look with nothing. If Bruce Willis can do it, why not me. We shot some video of it out on the rocks overlooking the ocean, but haven't had time to upload and edit it down to a minute or so. It took nearly an hour, since originally I didn't have any scissors and was only using my razor. Defitely not the recommended way to do it. This is my white bald head. I'm still trying to get used to it. I kind of scare myself.

The next stop was a B&B on a beautiful farm in Robertson, a town in the winelands, not to far from Stellenbosch. This place was recommended to us from one of P's roommates in Rwanda. The owner, Carl and his wife, Elsa were amazing. Carl sat down with us and helped rewrite our itinerary since he and his family have travelled extensively through Namibia and Botswana. We went wine tasting and bought a bunch of wine for the remaining trip.

One the ride to Capetown, we stopped at butterfly world. Mostly for kids, but I liked it. Butterflies, Spiders, Marmosets, Iguanas and Snakes. Always a good time.

In Capetown, we hung out on Long Street for a lively Saturday night. Early in the night we met an up and coming South African band, "Love Jones". After many beers and a lot of conversation, we decided we'd shoot their concert for them the following day. Later that night on the way home, we were pulled into another club for some dancing and some cherry tobacco out of hookah. The night wouldn't end, but eventually we got to bed.

Hopefully the grammar hasn't been too bad, but I'm nearly caught up on the trip. Yesterday, we checked out the National Art Museume and attended the Love Jones concert. About 2-3 thousand people at an outdoor venue in the Kirstebosch Gardens. P was up on stage with the band filming, and I was shooting from the crowd getting the long shots and two shots. Hopefully they'll be able to do something with the footage. I think with the two cameras, they'll always have a decent shot to cut to whether its for simple live concert video for youtube or some stock footage for posterities sake. They're heading to the US on a tour in February. They're definitely worth checking out. Great live, and amazingly cool people. Check out their myspace lovejonesband if you want to hear some of the music.

If the link doesn't work copy paste this into your browser

That's it for the last month. Apologies ahead of time for not updating regularly and any thing confusing or lacking in the blog post... but I need to just press publish. I'm only an hour from the Namibian border. Yesterday we were lost trekking through the rock formations of The Cedarberg, and today we're speeding toward the Kalahari. Until the next time. Hopefully it won't be a month.


smelly said...

mutchie - sounds like a great trip so far and that you're really seeing a lot of cool stuff and meeting great people. i'm so jealous that you went surfing in the warm waters of j-bay. and i can't believe you cut your hair off finally! need to see more pictures! also great waterfall hike.
glad you're still alive - i was just wondering how you were doing the other day!

Anonymous said...

That Dirk guy is creepy. Good to know you didn't spend a lot of time with him.

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about your relationship with Dirk. Come home Adam.

Anonymous said...

Dirk sends his best.

Anonymous said...

Dirk's last name isn't Diggler is it?

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