My journal. Africa Trip, March 9 – April 6, 2016

Africa Trip, March 2016

I’ll start off with the several emails I sent to some friends I called Africa Group from over here (now there) in, of all places, Africa.

Chronological order, first to last. Revisions in hind sight in brackets.

After these, there is a brief summary of the Namibia trip (jump to this) and a link to a detailed treatment, which can also be found at the nav bar to the right.

My First Elephant

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Namely the granddaughter's bedroom at [11 pm] Friday, SA time.

Trip exhausting. 26 hours altogether. 14h26min on the plane from Atlanta to Johannesburg. Didn't get much sleep. Uncomfortable. Huge airport, lots of walking, found luggage easily but couldn't find customs to declare I had nothing to declare. So I just walked out into reception and found my incredibly handsome son. Nice reunion. Trip to family compound marred by the "robots" being off at a critical exit from the freeway. Yes, traffic signals.

But we made it eventually. Warm and happy.

Love, hugs, and hi, b

Servants in Avalon

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Let's start with Avalon. (I'm up at 4 am again, Saturday, day 3.)

Friday, yesterday, was meet the domestic day, Vaida, who came around 8.30. Then belle fille Margaret picks me up to visit a doctor to get a prescription for malaria pills, and visit the school to pick up Eric and Kyle to return to make dinner. Katie at 11 stays to rehearse for the school's production of Seussical -- link but caution, way complicated plot, which I don't have a handle on yet. It's just nice when your granddaughter has a big role. [JoJo]

The school (American International School of Johannesburg) is not to believe perfect in every way. Nicely designed white strands of school rooms wind back and around up a sloping hill to the new arts-theater building and sports fields. Every classroom is on the ground floor. All have windows on green hills of Africa grass and shrubs (nicely landscaped) on both sides. Obvious order and decency and caring. And wealth.

We exit with Kyle and Eric through the gate where two or three guards had inspected us on the way in. They used big mirrors on long handles to check to see there was nothing untoward hanging on underneath our car as we came in, but it's an easy out. Maybe half a mile back to a state road where another guard waves kindly at us and we go back home.

After dinner we are joined by our compound neighbor-kids from "upstairs" (we live in "downstairs"). Rowan, the best buddy of Kyle, and natural son of Ann, whose wife and Rowan's [other mom] is beautiful and lively Kelsey. She writes an occasional column for Huff Post on LGBT issues. Also joined by Lucas and his sister Ziva, who are visiting Ann and Kelsey with their parents from Seattle. So, of course, we play a board game. It's called Avalon, and there are Merlin and Mordred and Perceval while Arthur and Guinevere stay in the background somewhere. Camelot, I suppose.

Because the game had to be explained a couple of ways and times to the visiting kids, I actually began to understand and enjoy it. After some trial and some error. What I want to get at is the caption for my first picture. These are the five good guys who managed to complete their five quests despite us bad Mordred guys (Margaret and Lucas and me) — despite out best efforts to thwart them. We were extremely cagey, but with a little luck they nevertheless won the game on the very last quest.

The general hilarity and warmth of the victory party was so great that I remembered that cell phones have cameras. And someone showed me which button to push and one of my pics has pretty good focus. Here the celebrators are in Avalon:

That's Katie with her knee up, head on Rowan's lap. Eric striking a goofy pose and Ziva a sober one, while Kyle is cheerful in the middle of more knees and feet than I want to count.

I want to tell about Vaida and the servant world next, but it's gotten around towards time for the Camelot group to go running in the parks soon AND this has gotten way long, so ... I'll be back.

:-) b

Back to servants

Monday, March 14, 2016

So it's been a few days, over the weekend. That was Friday, this is Monday. We leave at the end of the week for Namibia and the tent-camping trip as I like to call it (and as it is). Saturday was birds and small wildlife (lemurs loose !) at the nearby Pallazo Montecarlo. (Something like Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Includes a richly interesting bird show (trained falcons do the hawking thing just for food snatches the trainers hold -- rescued birds) and a few nicely maintained animal showcases. The chameleons were even more interesting than the lemurs.)

    Oh, but that was after the 8am 5k run at the park.

    Sunday was first a visit to the Groenkloof Wildlife Reserve in the outskirts of Pretoria, the center of gov not far north of here. The family intended to do a 10k walk-through at 8am and get back to Joburg for lunch with friends at 11am. They ran into my limiting legs as we had first to climb up half a mile of steep and rocky trail. It took overnight for my legs to recover (I'd not been keeping up the walking in Prescott for the last three weeks of busy before this.) If it weren't a somewhat overused phrase, I'd say it liked to kill me. But it was a bit short of that.

    Lunch we made on time at the Leafy Greens Restaurant in a suburb near us in our suburb. Leafy Greens is attached to a farm and serves only vegan food. As good as it gets. A buffet, no seconds. You park and walk an eighth of a mile through the grounds. They do sell eggs etc. and also, oddly, coffee beans on these grounds. There are small villas to rent and set-aside buildings for group dining. This sort of thing:

Meal with tea was about $15. The Rand is way down right now.

    So all the customers are white. OK, maybe one or two exceptions. I hear Afrikaans spoken quite often. But also English. (A neighbor states that he is native SA but only speaks English bc Afrikaans was required in school and his  British-origins family disassociates itself from that component of the white community.}

    And we live in a gated community of whites. High wall, barbed wired on top. Very comfortable, nice.

But unlike in the US, all us white guys (apparently) live in gated communities. Gated and barbed is the new norm. Eric's The Lodge is only one of four in a pod. But that pod is just another place along the road down from the main intersection where the Palazzo Montecasino guards one corner. The VW car dealership not far away has a wall but no barbed wire. The shopping malls are open, but the customers are all white. Waiters and check-out people and re-stockers are all black. Along the way to Pretoria we stopped for gas here:

Interesting convenience store. Black people fill 'er up. Inside, the usual black people behind the cash register. A tidier, cleaner feel to the stuff, which is the usual, but includes more regular food items like milk and bread. Nice little takeout deli and even a sit and sip your coffee spot. But the (few) customers are white. Mostly just whites use this, I'm told.

    Because the blacks travel either by foot or by taxi. But not the taxi, as in Taiwan or Prescott. They are white vans. Here's a bunch parked in the Four Ways (Pallazo Montecasino) area near us. Note wall:

I was told I didn't want to take one of these taxis -- and there are no other kind -- because, you know, a person might get robbed or worse pretty easily. They are packed. With black people. Here are some folks waiting for taxis in the same area:

I know I'm repeating myself, but it hits me pretty hard that there are no other kinds of taxi. (Maybe downtown at the big hotels? And some Uber guys, I was told.)

I don't know how this works for them. Eric says they have a hand signaling system that indicates where they want to go as the taxis come by --

Then there is our domestic, Vaida:

She's from Zimbabwe. Used to have her own farm with her husband and three kids. She showed me pictures of the farm on her cell -- a nice if small brick house and two round, separate kitchens. In an open, desert-like setting. They were mostly independent, having their own animals and growing some food besides, but depended also on the husband's salary as a teacher. Then inflation got to be too much and in 2006 they came here. She showed me her visa -- important because refugees in the millions from Zimbabwe are a huge problem in SA and they are being shipped back and given other grief. I read up a bit on the Mugabe situation. Not nice. Mugabe goes back to the Carter admin.

    Cheerful as she looks, and is, I found out after a bit that she had the flu. Told MnE and she got Friday and the weekend off. Today she's better. She walked in this morning (she takes a taxi to nearby) in a smart outfit that included high heels. Six days a week. Prepares the food for the family so it's ready or ready to cook when they get home. Does all the usual stuff. They are very happy with her and she works regularly in the AISJ world of teachers needing domestics.

    To wrap, this servant situation for the whites has been my strongest impression so far. It is constantly slapping me in the face. There are two worlds here, and the one, white one is huge. At first you think it is just what the country is -- all these gated communities strung together by shopping malls, McDonald'ses and casinos. But there are all the blacks walking the streets and serving the whites and waiting for taxis. Eventually I saw a township or two from the road, but that was just a quick in passing. The blacks appear to make up 70% of the population and the whites 20%. That was 1960. In 1904 it was about the same. But it looks like it's just a wealthy white world with all these black servants popping up somehow.

    Altogether the whole scene draws me inevitable to the lovely concluding verse to Mack the Knife (added later by Brecht) which I give in German first for some of you:

    Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln

    Und die andern sind im Licht

    Und man siehet die im Lichte

    Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht.

My version: For some live in darkness, and some in light. And those in the light we see, but those in darkness, no.


Catching up, no pix

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hello Africa group! I'm now in Swakopmund, Namimbia. It's Thursday, March 24, day 7 of the trip to Namibia, counting the Friday arrival evening at a B&B in Windhoek. This is the day after we pulled in late afternoon yesterday, having driven some 100 kilometers by pumping up the flat and just driving on. Actually that worked fine, but we didn't know it would. Others have had better luck than we, but we pass people changing tires on the road all the time.

    Swakopmund is a sort of Miami Beach for Namibia and really quite nice and modern. It's just getting here !!! Lots of German still here from colonial days. Many German and Afrikaner tourists.

    It was easy in town to get the two flats repaired and to replace the third one with a new one. Yes, the Nissan super car comes with two spares.

    Our CG is a resort. Rooms for some, nice spots for the campers with bathroom, shower, warm water, electrical outlets, sink etc. Palm trees every 30 feet or so that look like giant pineapples. Internet real slow, however. On the other hand there IS a wifi connection. I'll use it to get this out and see later if I can send some pix.

    I'm watching a weaver bird at the camp right now while the incredible family (beautiful, healthy, happy, loving and no longer in Brussels) is off biking in the sand beach. The Weaver is yellow for the male. One sat on my head earlier. They are doing sparrow clean-up duty in camp. Also a couple of other little birds, one the Cape Sparrow. The other some sort of pipit. Driving through Elosha Park to the north of here (malaria country) for two long days (camped two day-nights as well) you see a good number of Weaver bird trees. They may be communal. You see one tree with perhaps 10 to 20 of the woven nests hanging in them.

    OK, you also see the Impalas. Very common. Super beautiful. People take them for granted while they watch for the Big Five, but I'm like the tourists driving US 160 back in Colorado who would stop on the shoulder to take pictures of the mountains we just cruised blandly by on a daily basis. Numerous other Impala-like cool hooved types show up, but the Impala is the common one. Can't get over that. Also a good many of the Wildebeest fellows. Not beautiful, and no vast herds for us.

    I seem to recall getting out an earlier note in which I mentioned the Jackals in the CG. That was back up in Etosha NP. We also see jackals just on the side of the road driving to find the big 5. I think I mentioned that in camp a jackal just walked quickly through us in the early evening, late afternoon. Later, as I was alone for a bit, one came up just as close, maybe 5 feet away, to sniff at the table with trash left on top. I had to whoosh him away. Just turning to face him squarely didn't do the trick.

    Then there are the cute tall-standing animals. Some sort of mongoose and a small, elegant squirrel. And tons of birds with big, thick bills and long wings and tails and bright colors. Plus, so far, the giraffes and elephants. No lions or leopards or rhinos. Yet. But giraffes alone are enough. The Etosha park landscape varies from desert with two or three shrub tree types about all you see, but plenty of them -- like a sparsely planted apple orchard -- to high grass and lusher tree types. All but some of the latter are, if you will, about right for the giraffes. Seeing the giraffes, and stopping to gawk, of course, feels like dropping back into Jurassic Park. Jackals are like foxes, Impala like deer, Wildebeest like oxen, but giraffes... alien. Something other. Unsettling but nice at the same time.

    The elephants came after a long and we-thought futile drive where we saw their droppings on the road and saw little trees just bonked over and expected them any minute, but no luck. Then luck after we gave up. A pretty big herd with bulls, cows and calves, if that's what the young are called. Totally nice. Very large. Crossed the road for us. Rolled in the mud (there's been quite a bit of recent rain). A little trumpeting. The big scene was an approach to the group by a lone bull. Took a long time. He was apart and crossed the road to get near the group. Slowly munched along toward them -- as Eric says, to be an elephant is to eat grass. At some point he gets too close and we notice this really, really big guy come moseying over the lone bull's way. Just eating grass all the time, both of them. But as he gets closer, the lone bull begins to back away, and that continues for a while, two or three minutes, until it becomes clear that the big guy eating grass is plenty intimidating just by... I dunno, by being there.

    My main impression about the animals up in Etosha NP is that they are there. I have driven a lot, a lot through Colorado (and elsewhere) on dirt roads hoping to see a bear or an elk. I know mountain lions are around and bob cats and foxes and nowadays even wolves and moose. In the daytime. Hoping. Seldom seen though. Here it's like bear in Alaska or Yellowstone. They're just there. Along with the great variety of birds. I think of our countryside as depopulated where this one is the way it's supposed to be.

    The drive down Skeleton Coast and first over through the desert, the Namib, to get there was like some parts of Utah and Arizona for strange lonely, landscape. Not as colorful, but just as vast and extensive. And really, really empty. That was the part that caught my attention. No power lines (yes, occasional exceptions) and no advertising and no mile markers and really just no nothing but the open, open land. Also a good deal of it utterly, utterly barren. Just dirt and towards the coast just sand. Mostly, though, the one or two small plants that could survive. Including the Welwitschia mirabilis, a plant of only two big leaves, a flowering plant sometimes called coniferous and sometimes not. The leaves are large and cut up over time by wind and what not, so they seems like a bunch, pretty ratty actually, and spreading into a circle of maybe two to three feet in diameter. I got some pictures of government certified (a park ranger guide) plants from the petrified forest we visited. They are really unmistakable, however. Said to live as much as 2,000 years. Not the ones we saw, we were told. But they sure look old. Check your local Wikipedia on this — link.

    AFter we got to the coast we saw the ocean, of course. That was a big deal for me after many years. The gravel road, said to include salt someway, just follows the coastline for miles and miles and all that becomes pretty dull. Except for the flats. As in, no people. No cell service. Cold wind. Sand and water. I couldn't believe — yes I could — how simply competent, capable and effective Eric and Margaret were as the flats occurred. I haven't changed a flat in years. No AAA to call. Meanwhile the two grandkids, Katie and Kyle, 11 and 9, leap out of the car and go running around in circles for sheer joy of being young and healthy. I watch. Take pictures. Feel old, but feel good.

    Of course when the last good tire started to leak... No spare. And we didn't know whether the pump up and drive option would actually work. It was a little tense. But pumpup and drive DID work, so hey, here we are!

Love, hugs and happiness, b


Namibia trip.

This excursion was something Margaret and Eric had had their eyes on for some time. The beauty of the desolate landscape and the promise of kayaking in waters where you can pet the seals and see the dolphins jump were just two items they mentioned to me. Also walking in the sand dunes. In addition, Etosha Park is found in the north and is an excellent safari place for the big five and many other animals.

Thus we flew into the capital city of Windhoek one Friday evening and drove pretty much all day to get up to Etosha Park, where we camped for one night in the east and another night in the center, driving about to find the more interesting animals. We also kept our eyes out as we exited the park and proceeded south towards the great desert on day 4.

Days 5-10 were desert-dune days spent in interestingly upscale camp grounds in the desolation both on the coast and inland. The kayak trip did not materialize, but the dunes and the interesting (for a short time) landscape did. Animals were scarce. In fact there was often next to no vegetation. Interestingly, though, there were animals from time to time off the road usually a quarter of a mile or more, single Onyx or one or two Ostriches. With only slightly more vegetation the ubiquitous Impala showed up.

On the whole, and apart from the excitement of flat tires and disappearing spares, the driving was just an opportunity for me to read. In this activity I was joined by Katie and Kyle, who also listened to a reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and took turns on an I-pad game. The camp grounds themselves were always interesting and never simple, austere places like we have in the US.

Click here for a day-by-day account along with maps and pictures.

Note to the peruser: home from the 28-day visit and mostly un-jet-lagged on the third day back (Friday, April 8, 2016) I am publishing my journal notes done over there and tidied up over here today to point my friends to. They are complete for the Namibia trip part, but lack as yet at least two parts I have in mind: the trip to Soweto and the 5 km morning runs on Saturdays at 8 am. This was a big community event for the neocolonialists involving hundreds of runners and many volunteers. Very nice.

I have a few other items in mind as well. So come back from time to time if you’re intereted.