We began our holiday with a three day train ride from Cape Town to Pretoria.
Since we confiscated electronics, we also began with some rage. Fortunately that turned into a lot of card playing. Each night we got dressed up to go to the dining car– a novelty that was super fun for a few nights. The train stopped for three hours every morning between two and five am. The theory was that this was just enough time for anyone perturbed by the clanging of wheels, to doze. We liked the sound. The constant and reassuring clackety clack clack clanking of wheels on steel was hypnotic. We would lie in bed right next to the open window and listen. The sky twinkled. It was easy to lose yourself. I was reminded of the Waterboys song, Fisherman’s Blues.
“I wish I was the brakeman/ On a hurtling fevered train/ Crashing head long into the heartland/ Like a canon in the rain/ With the beating of the sleepers/ And the burning of the coal/ Counting the towns flashing by me/ And a night that’s full of soul/ With light in my hair/ And you in my arms/ Woohooo.”
Coco says she loves Africa because it is so dangerous. It’s true – one push and splat. You are out the window and dead on the tracks. Fortunately we all loved one another for most of the first three days so we were ok.
Onto Johannesburg for not enough time. I love this city. It is electric – creativity runs rampant here. The second gallery that we walked into had a bronze sculpture of a dead song bird. It was called, “The Best Politician is a Dead Politician.” I loved the piece and the place. Sean captured the kids loving it too.
Then it was a flight and a short drive to Vilanculus– a small Mozambican village north of Maputo on the coast. From here we boat journeyed to luxo land aka Bazaruto Island. Thank you to the O’Sullivan and Greene Families for recommending this place. It was spectacular.
If you can believe it, there were times the sea was too hot to swim in. Seriously. It was too hot. I had to walk way way way WAY out just to reach water that was cool enough to swim in. I am not kidding you. I’m surprised the crabs that I was constantly trying to avoid weren’t poached. Luckily, there were other things to do in the blazing heat besides swim in the Indian Ocean.
We rode horses through the countryside and past several villages. The homes here were round with thatched roofs. There were usually three or four homes in a cluster and sometimes there would be a rectangular tin shelter that resembled a train car. They looked so hot in the burning sun – like cookers. I thought about the air conditioned train cars that we journeyed in.
We looked for crocodiles, played tag in a three level infiniti pool with water falls, caves and lots of hiding spots, hiked, water skied and went on a sunset cruise in a traditional Mozambican sail boat called a dhow.
And we sand boarded down giant dunes…
Brothers At Sunset
Sean Bum Boards
Wipe Out Again
We decided to do a day trip to another island for some snorkelling.
There was also a once famous hotel on the island where Bob Dylan wrote the song Mozambique. We thought we could entice the kids with the prospect of dilapidated danger. We thought we could have fun exploring the abandoned hotel. Not. The idea was met with resounding rejection. So, Sean and I explored while we abandoned the kids.
But the coolest thing we saw was on the way to snorkelling when we came across this …
and if you freeze frame at the right spot you see this …
Ok, so we are malaria free. It turns out I was grossly misinformed (by my late night malaria hysteria searching) and seriously skilled at getting the entire family to buy into my malevolent anxiety. You can in fact have a simple blood test that will indicate whether or not you have malaria. We called the doctor in. He took our blood. We organized a doubles tennis game for later in the month. (He is also a pro). And two days later the results came in negative. Great news. Onward we go …
My Dad came. His day drinking and chain cigar smoking with Sean left me speechless. He got Oscar surfing, taught Leo magic tricks and played gin rummy, backgammon and chess with Coco almost every day. I miss our quiet morning coffees and everything else. Mr. Goody Two Shoes Son In Law sends him pictures every day leaving me stranded in the space of Deficient Daughter. In an effort to begin down the path of redemption:
We managed to escape Zimbabwe on the day Mugabe was placed under house arrest which would have been great in and of itself except that we came back to research where we had been and it was indeed a high risk malaria zone for which we had NO PILLS. Now I am pretty sure we all have malaria but what can you do? When in Africa …
Other than that small detail which we are trying to resolve – oh wait – we can’t resolve it because the symptoms don’t present themselves for a minimum of a week but it could be as much as a few years – yeah, a few fucking years — so – where was I ? Oh yeah, NO resolution because we can’t test to see if we have the parasite in our blood until the symptoms present themselves but the deal is that we have to test for it the second the symptoms show up because the kind of malaria in this area (the one we recklessly went to, and took our children to without any shots or pills, because we were relishing the idea that we were awesome parents for remembering to bring their long form birth certificates. Long form birth certificates? Why is that important you ask? Oh, just because the child trafficking in this neck of the woods is SO HIGH that its required at EVERY border crossing – that and the fact that little children body parts make for good witch doctor potions – but apart from that – we definitely ROCK as parents. And where was I? Oh yeah, so for the next few years, every time someone has: a headache, a body ache, a runny freaking nose, whatever — we have to get tested for cerebral malaria – a fast killer. I promise you, Sean and I were celebrating the fact that we remembered the birth certificates and had enough US dollars on us to pay for VISA’s at the border crossing. Why just barely enough? We thought it would be cool to buy a thirty trillion dollar Zimbabwean note because that was funny.
Honestly, this shit is too much – I can’t even keep up in my blog. It’s every day.
The location was spectacular. It was our favourite breakfast place. The back yard of our next door wine estate is surrounded by mountains and is a tranquil spot when the wind is howling. Another side overlooks 200 degrees of vineyards, and just beyond that lies the valley, and then just past that lies the South Atlantic. I like this side because I like the view and there are often black bunnies bouncing around in between the irregular wooden and iron tables. I often scan the pristine rows of grapes hoping to catch a renegade baboon disrupting the order. On the other sides of the building there are covered porches and patios partially shaded by lattice and leaves, and the smoke from the wood burning stove warms you even when you are outside in the cold. We were always somewhere outside, in the cold, because we always brought the dogs.
On this particular day I let Coco and her friend walk them and they got away.
We knew instantly even before we could see where they were that this was a going to be a bad end to a relaxing breakfast. We followed a vineyard path down, down, down and just beyond sight of the restaurant, we found the dogs. They were in a small enclosure surrounded by barbed wire. I knew the animals in here were not pets because of their invisibility. Their life and likely death were hidden from the view. The pigs had gathered clustered together like a pack of hyenas grunting and snorting at the dogs. The dogs were focussed on the specialty ducks with the clipped wings. The ducks were frantic– flailing in a pig poo cesspool about the size of two SUV’s. Even if the edge of it wasn’t a three foot sheer cliff drop, Sean and I would have been quickly engulfed and in peril had we entered the cesspool. And we wouldn’t have been able to grab them if they were in a chlorinated shallow pool. They were in a frenzy. Instead we tried to cajole them. We screamed at them. We offered false promises of treats. Applesauce got hold of a wing and tugged. Rocco bounded toward the captured duck, flailing and splashing. Let me tell you Rocco is no bird dog with a gentle mouth. He is a vicious frothing killer. We know this to be true. He killed a fancy chicken in Collingwood. Luckily for the one in Applesauce’s mouth Rocco got distracted by a duck who appeared right in front of him gasping for air. The duck dove into the darkness. I made eye contact as it swam toward me looking for help. I know it was. It’s eyeballs pleaded with me. It knew humanity but I was too far out of reach. I couldn’t get the dog or duck. It was absolute mayhem. Rocco and Applesauce were maniacal. They were unreachable. It was awful. Death waited.
When a rock finally landed on Applesauce’s shoulder he dropped the wing and came running to me. Sean seized the moment. “This is our chance Sara!” He waved his arms, yelled, used terrorizing gestures and stone throwing to steer Rocco toward me and it worked. His killing spell seemed to be broken, at least for the moment. He came to me. Now I had both dogs. I was covered from head to toe in pig shit. I looked at my beautiful Italian shoes. Ruined. One duck was on its back with its black duck feet flailing in the air, its beak just above the water level. One duck was stunned on the shore with an extended wing. And if that wasn’t awful enough, now the pigs – not the dozen squealing piglets but the Big Pigs started coming toward me– grunting menacingly. “HELP! HELP ME!!!” I screamed. I had both dogs by the collar. We were trapped. There was nowhere to run– nowhere to escape. On one side was a razor wire fence. The other side was the edge of the cesspool. There was no sign of the tranquil rows of grapes, and the people perfecting the art of leisure as they sipped lattes and gobbled up bacon and eggs. The Head Pig lead the way. It moved slowly with deliberation and there was no question he was leading the pig group to come and kill the dogs. “HELP!!!!” I screamed again. Sean managed to get out of his end of the enclosure and ran to me. He reached over the barbed wire fencing to take hold of the dogs’ collars. “Watch out for that pig!” Here is where my skill as a self proclaimed animal expert came to bear. I raised my arms and started waving them. I made stabbing motions toward the Head Pig. To my own great horror my body acted independently and took a few steps toward the pig army. Then, again without any conscious control, a sound erupted from somewhere deep inside me. I roared. “HA! HA! GET AWAY!” I screamed at it. I half charged. The piglets scattered. The Pig Army were distracted by the squealing piglets. Seizing the moment, Sean reached over and grabbed the skinny dog and hauled him over the fence. Then, with one hand holding Applesauce he reached over to grab hold of Rocco and with all of our collective might I hurled and Sean pulled his hundred pounds over.
There is more but I can’t even say it. It’s too depressing. Sean’s beautiful white straw hat was poo speckled now. We told the restaurant manager that the dogs escaped and got in there. He said as long as the ducks were ok. We said he had better check.
I am NEVER taking the red savages with me to a restaurant again. NEVER EVER. What a disaster. Those poor ducks. Terrible. Vicious frothing beasts. I am going to buy shock collars and electrocute them into submission tomorrow.
Ok, I’m back. That last post – a pocket post I think – was a symbol for me. It’s time to get writing again.
Let me begin by saying I am in a foul mood. Everything I say now will be tainted by this. My kids were awful today from beginning to end. It began with incessant complaining about their weekly chores. Not one of them has to spend more than fifteen minutes a day doing them. Ah forget it. It only went down hill from there. I wanted to throttle them. They wanted to throttle me. It was mutual malevolence.
Tennis in Constantia.
I played my first tennis match. It began on a hard court which ravaged my dilapidated body. (More on that later). Then there was the raging wind. I watched a ball blow almost across the width of the entire court. It made me mad. But the real difference between Toronto and Cape Town tennis came at the end of the match when I tried to leave. There is no skipping out on the end part of tennis here. Why can’t I just play a game and leave? Strangers busted me trying to sneak out and herded me back. Outrageous. The home team is expected to buy drinks for the visiting team which I was happy to do. I left my money on the table. But then you are required to sit with the guests and drink it with them. The nerve. Honestly. The last thing I wanted to do was sit around sipping sparkling water. But here is where the real difference comes in.
First of all, its tequila and beer. There is absolutely no water to be had. I warmed up to the idea and then became everyone’s best friend when I ordered a beer and a cider and mixed the two. Go big or go home. I called it a Canadian Snake Bite (and enjoyed the geographic and ethological irony). Then I poured some out for everyone and repeated the name a few times so that it would sink in and other people would use it. Canadian Snake Bite. I had blown an opportunity for a really fun name that I could have totally made up. Then the group fragmented into mini groups. That’s when it got stressful. Janey (in her seventies) is out for the first time and is relieved just to be out because remember Georgie? You know, Georgie from the news? Georgie was her husband. He was murdered at the house a few months earlier. Then there is Frannie. Her’s is a tantalizing tale of affluence to poverty, drugs, alcohol, sociopathic father, incest, bodyguards, kidnapping threats, and the long crawl back to the tennis team. It was quite a bit for me to take in. I left speechless. Really. I couldn’t fully accept everything that was coming at me. Then I started thinking about how strong these women were. Then I started thinking about violence again. My favourite topic to dwell on especially when I am in a pissy mood.
ATM Robbery in Nairobi.
I found this a fascinating tale of a well travelled woman who had a problem at an ATM machine in Nairobi. Now if you travel to Nairobi, or to South Africa and you have done any amount of research you know to be careful at the ATM machines. She knew this which is why this robbery was more interesting. I could easily imagine it having happened to me. I am trying to put specifics to an otherwise amorphous general blob that “we” in Toronto understand “African” violence to be.
She was in a line to get to an ATM machine. It was the middle of the day and it was an ATM machine associated with a bank, and on the outside of an actual bank. (Three check marks for responsible money withdrawl). The young man in front of her, a hipster of sorts, began chatting and found out she was from elsewhere, and doing this and that, etc. (I’m chatty too – I can totally relate). The man goes to the machine and my friend continues chatting with her friend who is with her. It is her turn. She goes to the machine, puts her card in and all of a sudden the young man reappears. “Do you need any help?” My friend is immediately on high alert. “No thanks.” “You need to enter your pin. It’s different here.” The young man insists. My friend cancels the transaction, takes her card and the young man disappeared. It was a close call but the red flags were flying and she saw them and avoided getting robbed at the ATM today. So, back into the line up she went. She still needed money after all. This time, as she puts her card into the machine, another man appears. “Do you need any help? The machines are different here.” “No she says.” “Was that other man bothering you? I think he was trying to rob you.” Relieved that there was a sane person who witnessed the ordeal, she concurred. “You need to put your pin in.” “But it is the home page of the bank just asking me what language I want to do the transaction in.” “You need to put your pin in. The machines are different here.” My friend cups her hand over the key pad and punches in her code – EVEN THOUGH SHE FEELS SOMETHING IS WRONG. “No, no. You have to do it again. Put your pin code in!” My friend gathers her wits and pushes cancel to get her card back. Alas, the card is gone and so is the guy – presumably with the card and an idea of what her pin code is. And that is what a robbery at an ATM in the middle of the day at a well respected busy bank looks like. Luckily, she was able to immediately cancel the card and carry on. It’s not generic. It’s specific.
Team Joy in Cape Town.
Tiger’s Milk Restaurant
(The Director) and Bailey (The Choreographer/ Right Hand Woman) came and rescued me from the depths of Andrea bureaucracy. I thought I was “over it” when I went to get them at the airport. I had told Sean that I was [over it] just the night before. He said he wasn’t over it and neither was I. Ha. I love it when Sean tells me how I am feeling. I am a Daughter of Darwin. Life and Death. I understand it. Life keeps going. I’m over it.
I was elated on my way to pick them up. I smiled and joked with the coffee man. I was twirling around in the airport acting foolish, drunk with joy – maniacally happy. I found a perch where I would record their arrival from the perfect angle. Then I saw a Vodacom store and suddenly I began to weep. In public. Seriously. How dare Sean be right about how I was feeling. I wiped the tears away and scowled at onlookers. And then I saw them– two of my friends from Toronto–from conflict free, violence free, death free, happy Toronto. We hugged. Team Joy had arrived. We ate and walked and had wine and played games and chatted and I felt extremely grateful to have them with me for a few days. Hell, to have them in my life in general.
Now they are gone and I realize that my kids have really handled this tragedy amazingly well. It’s not ok to whine about chores but they have been through a lot in the last little while and are doing so so well. Coco won “student of the week” again. She continues to work ahead independently in grade five math and her drama teacher and her cheer teacher have asked me if she can join the “elite squads.” Leo got “player of the game” at his hockey game, and got an A+ on his English assignment about bullying where my brave boy identified times when he acted as a bully. Oscar scored a goal at his hockey game and was pleased (even though it was against his brother) and is cruising into mid term reports with a solid A average. All three of them are working really hard at school, are adjusting to life far away from their friends, and then to have to have their joyous, superfriend Andrea die. Jeesh. I need to lighten up and cut them some slack.
Tomorrow – I am posting some pictures of the absolutely super fun stuff we have been doing and of the rocking stuff coming up: the Cedarberg Mountain Range; Namibia; The Garden Route; the Iron Woman; and too many hikes and restaurants to detail so I will post just the highlights. I am feeling better just thinking about it.
So the days go on. I’m afraid the chronology of this tragedy will be as discombobulated as me right now.
We are relishing the memories. I tried to make an Andrea meal tonight which was instantly recognized as such because there was cutlery on the table and enough cups for everyone to have some water. It would appear I have a long way to go. 🙂
Sean and I have been spending our days trying to navigate the bureaucracy of a non resident death in a foreign country, consulates in Rome and Cape Town, and of course a confused and grieving family in Scicli, Sicily. All of this is compounded by the fact that such a young man dying unexpectedly warrants an autopsy and investigation. Somehow between the forms and google translate, the long walks, waits, and drives with Sean, I am comforted. I think this phase is nearing completion and it has been a relatively efficient process and the long and arduous process of repatriation is underway.
The family might come to stay with us in Cape Town which we are hoping for.
We have had to explain this tragedy to many many people that Andrea has touched in the short time he has been here, from parking attendants to the veterinarian, to special friends and I fear this phase is only just beginning. He was magnificent.
The setters are lethargic and depressed.
I thank you all for the outpouring of sympathy. It is especially comforting when we are otherwise so far away.
At some point I will tell the story of what happened.
I am excited and happy to say that research on the PhD. is moving along. I have found and confirmed the three reserves where I will be audio and video recording lions (two in South Africa and one in Kenya). I went to the first of the three and scouted my first location within. I have had my first “lesson” on sound recording; Next Saturday I am flying north to meet with a woman who owns the largest cage-free primate sanctuary in the world to discuss a television series.
I wrote this six days ago.
Three days ago something happened that has left me, us, my family devastated. I have decided to continue to write. I hope it will help me to bring some order to the chaos.
Today, I will be brief. Our dear, sweet, joyous friend from Scicli, Andrea, died in our home very early Saturday morning. I will post more. Now I must sleep.