Friday, August 12, 2016

Slaying Dragons

The backpacking trail is very well laid out here. Every hostel has a small free book in which tips and hostels are mentioned; superhandy, as I can then call them on my way there. The Bazbus picks up tourists at hostels and delivers them at hostels in other towns. It runs at certain days and times, so one needs to book it a day ahead. I immediately decide to try to avoid this bus as much as possible, as it is almost as if we are not supposed to mix with locals. Also, it is more costly. Drakensberg is hard to reach on public transport, I have little choice. The pick up point is only a 15 mins walk from my host in a quiet neighbourhood in Johannesburg, but he insists I take an uber nonetheless. Safety above everything.
Two daytrips are undertaken here. Daytrip one is an all day hike into the mountains to the 'amphitheater' (natural shape of the mountain range). I can keep up, but struggle, like I always do with having to jump over certain gaps etc. The higher we get, the more snow there is and half the group (4) decides to turn back, because it is getting too dangerous on the slippery path along the steep slope. Four of us continue. The front man literally has to make footsteps in the snow in which we then step. It feels like a very long hike and when I think we are finally there, we still have to cross a snowy plateau, where with every step you don't know how deep your foot will fall. Half the time at least knee deep. I somehow manage to make it to the end, but now we still have to walk all the way back. I tell the guide sternly to stay with me. He and I arrive a good hour after the rest, which gives us time to chat a long time about life etc. and I receive an invitation to hang out together. Still a little naive, it takes me a while to realise it is the 'all night' type of hanging out (He was a lot directer with another girl in the group, he just asks her for a one night stand- so subtle to ask two women simultaneously). The hike was clearly too much for me, as I get sick on he drive back, but my stubbornness is stronger than my fitness!

The next day I take a trip to Lesotho, which is a lot more chilled. A quick visit to an elementary school, drinking locally brewed corn beer (disgusting), staring at vague rock paintings of the San people (first civilisation here), lunch on the top of a mountain, a visit to a traditional healer (sangoma-she does not heal me, but talks about her job and calling). 
Lesotho is poor. Not much electricity (a few solar panels), mostly self sufficient (a relative term) farmers, unpaved roads, high percentages of AIDS/HIV and only a third of the kids will be able to afford secondary school, keeping in mind that this daytrip was only slightly cheaper than one semester of schooling.
Lesotho has stayed independent and not suffered the apartheid regime. However, all the resources (the dam, diamond mine) belong to South Africans and the biggest export product are men who go and work in South Africa.
I would like to stay on in Drakensberg, but the connections are not great, and there is a lot more to see, so moving on. 

Durban is my next stop, but only for the night, last minute, I find a local host.

"Before we go anywhere, I need to stop by a flat to collect rent. Do you mind witnessing it?" asks my hostess. We go into a dump of an apartment block where I then watch her bark and point at a man for not having paid part of the rent. He naturally raises his voice to defend the accusations, to which she sharply comments that he shouldn't disrespect her and she will kick him out.
I don't know the backstory, but I do know this is a very uncomfortable situation. I don't see a landlord and a tenant. I see a white woman putting down a black man because she has power over him.
"Black men don't respect women" she explains in the car, when I say she screamed at him.
She obviously is no racist "but the country is going downhill, blacks think differently, we need to teach them how to deal with things" The phrase " I am no racist, BUT..." is one that I hear more often. Always convincing.
Well, she buys half a loaf of white bread and gives it to a black beggar. When another beggar comes along, she yells he needs to share his bread. He is clearly very hungry and I suspect mentally not together. He doesn't react. She grabs the bread out of his hands and divides it in two and gives both half. Of course, she is doing more than I do, but this is patronising of the worst kind.
Her whole way of talking and approaching things is abrupt, loud, blunt with an attitude as if she cannot be wrong.
E.g. "do you like walking and running?" Me: " I am not into running". "I SAID running AND walking."
"You want to see downtown?" "Sure". "No, you have to say: yes please that would be great, I am doing you a great favour, you are lucky, you know"
This is her nice side. At the house she orders the (obviously black) cleaner, Theresa and handyman Alex around in a way that is too much for me. She criticises Alex for not having worked for her on Tuesday. "You are working for someone else, aren't you?" He went to the hospital with his brother. "that does not take all day." Theresa explains the hospital is far away and waiting for a doctor takes hours. "I did not ask you, I need to hear it from him. And why are you sitting in the front?" She quiets down when I say that I had wanted her to sit in the front of the car.
I burst into tears when I am alone with the cleaner, as I have never experienced anyone talking to their staff like that. She tells most whites are like that- something which is confirmed by other blacks I randomly ask.
I am ashamed of my crying, as I am only witnessing this for a number of hours, these people have to live it.

I know there is no point going against my hostess as this is how she grew up here (I remark occasionally that one cannot generalise) and she won't accept any disagreement. I hate every minute of her, but
don't entirely regret this experience, as this is the face of South Africa that is still very much in existence. I have been able to avoid it, by finding black hosts and overall open-minded people. 
That is also a subjective term, as this lady would certainly count herself as one, as look how good she is to other people.

She is a bit worried about me.
"Do you realise you have a hearing problem? You don't always react when I talk to you."
" I don't think I do", I respond. I suspect that my senses are trying to protect me.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Rosella you are so brave and smart and open to see life!
Through your stories I can imagine and exprience hikes I could no way do in real life!
I read the whole last part about Durben almost out of breath and just when I thought it couldn't get worse, it got worse!
I also would have cried. there is something so wrong in this whole situation.
and this parapgraph:
"Of course, she is doing more than I do, but this is patronising of the worst kind.
Her whole way of talking and approaching things is abrupt, loud, blunt with an attitude as if she cannot be wrong" reminded me of a certain peoplehood we both know...
oh my love!
keep writing!