The Moment Begins Now.

Friday, December 24, 2010

South Apricot

"Let's go to Antarctica," she said, opening the only New York times article that caught her eye. The discount was enormous, she explained, and we could fly directly to Buenos Aires from South Africa. Now, when most people say, "Let's go to Antarctica," it's more of a pipe dream, one that gets lost behind sobriety and some rationality. She was serious, I realized, with a start. I'm not one to be out-randomned often (both a blessing and a curse), so I gently encouraged her, prodded to see if she was serious and before long we had compromised on a direct sale flight, not to Antartica, but to Johannesburg, South Africa.

In Jo'Burg, we were abrasive about the inflated prices of the taxi cabs, and only realized much later that they were so expensive because they were the only safe way to get around. South Africa's violence was not to be underestimated. A taxi driver allowed us to hire him for the day as we spread out time from the Apartheid Museum to the Sushi Bar to a tour of the downtown core, and ending up in a casino, where we left far too late to catch our train which was far too early the next morning.

Our goal was to ride trains across the country, traversing the mosaic of landscapes from inside a speeding box car, escaping to our cabins to watch the world pass us by and reversing to the meal car for wine and laughter. The trains became a fixture, using fourty eight hours to disappear from the world; the tracks as our road, and the sky as our watch. We followed the light as it disappeared under a crimson and puple hue of mystery only to pop up on the other side in golden brilliance.

In Cape-Town, we joined a wine tour and traversed to little towns with unpronouncable names to be sheparded from wine farm to another, tasting their finest reds and nibbling on cheese. Before high-noon, we were feeling lighter with every stop, giggling and using the washroom ad nauseum. After the tour, we were deposited on top of a mountain overlooking the city, where we spotted the "Wheel of Excellence" and took a turn spinning round as the night grew darker. Most nights were spent lounging on delicious food and drink we couldn't find in Rwanda. At  Fork, a Tapas restaurant, the waitress continued bringing us plates of her favorite dishes until hours later, we finally submitted. There was no time limits on our meals, no structure but the ones we created in our adventure. In Tamberskloof, we drank delicious sangria and then another one after the issue of race raised it's ugly head.

On Long Street in Cape Town, I stood outside the barred gate of a music store. I orginally thought it was closed, and then caught the gate-keeper who eyed me with the practiced stare of hatred, a white-haired man glaring at me through the haze of his cancer-stick dangling in his mouth. "You going to let me in?" I asked the question, then regretted it as he hesitantly pushed the bell to allow entrance. I felt like an animal, degraded and forced to beg to enter. I took one step, and we shared a dark look at each other before I turned around and left, leaving the door open, forcing him to get up to lock himself back in his cage. My own form of silent protest had me shaking and choked at such an oddly telling moment, one that has replayed itself in far worse ways in South Africa.

"I'm sorry," the Zimbabwean bartender explained as he sadly shook his head. "They don't like you here." The "you" refers to a racism that divided a country, a people, a world. Apartheid. The "you" in this case, was us. He saw us both lost in thought and tried to brighten our moods. "Let me buy you a drink," he said, ducking behind the bar to grab more glasses.
In Robben Island, we were shown the cell where Nelson Mandela spent so many of his years incarcerated. His struggle, South's Africa's struggle, humanities struggle, of dealing with generations of racism and hatred has come so far, erasing the segregation and divide by law that had been imposed for so many years. However, there was still so much more work, so much time needed to heal over the scars that had been inflicted on a people raised to be divided.
Nelson Mandela summed it up in a simple phrase, "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

I had known Elizabeth for 11 days before we embarked on an impromptu cross continent journey for the same amount of time. An incomprehensible and incredulous number of circumstances had to occur for the trip to happen, and we succeeded. She smiled as she chewed into the already broken sunny side up egg as our car shuddered and sped along the four lane highway to the airport, where we were excited to return home, to Rwanda.

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