Frostbite

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South Africans make me laugh. Every conversation today will be dominated by how cold it is and how none of us can deal with this hardship…

For the most part we are bundled up like we are about to embark on an assault of the Annapurna Massif, only sans ropes and crampons. Struggling to check our blind-spot when we drive due to sheer volume of layers, every AC cranked up to the maximum setting and cradling hot coffee to ward off the frost bite that we KNOW is imminent. (as Joey pokes his extremities for the tell-tale signs of blackening… or is it reddening… or perhaps the more revealing indicator of an errant toe left behind in his thermal socks)

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I mean we will probably survive. Albeit not an assured outcome if based purely on the national mood and the general frigidity of the narrative around the peculator.

Burn, burn

Disclaimer. Contains a picture that some people might find disturbing. Forewarned is forearmed!

One of my workers comes into the sales office this morning. I’m sitting with my feet up staring into space waiting for the caffeine to start infusing itself into my system and halfheartedly stuffing a second ‘Vetkoek*’ into my mouth. He has this dirty bandage on his wrist. It briefly reminds me of a dressing one might find in a zombie apocalypse movie. I give him an arched eyebrow. ‘Bra Jo’ he says in greeting. He seems quite cheerful. ‘I wanted to ask you, do you think I need to go to the hospital?’

*a Vetkoek… is a South Africa institution. Its… well… its basically a big lump of dough that has been fried in oil (of questionable hygienic quality with a carcinogenic factor of 10x) in our case bought from a vendor at the side of the road. These are probably twice the size of a krispy kreme doughnut…  and cost a whopping R2 each. Which at the current exchange rate is about $0.13 per serving of happiness. Friday is usually Vetkoek-friday and I sponsor breakfast for everyone…

I take another sip of coffee. ‘Why whats wrong with you I say?’ He unfurls the bandage and I suck air through clenched teeth. Ahhhh…

Continue reading “Burn, burn”

Thrillin’ heroics

Thrillin’ heroics. Firefly-ism. Sardonic humor. Usually uttered by someone heavily armed and wearing a funny hat. Unlikely to be either particularly thrilling or heroic. 

Throw back Thursday. May 2008 was a tough time to be a foreigner in South Africa. Some might argue it’s still tough. But May 2008 was when things got really out of hand….

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Not my picture. My pictures were likely shot with a blackberry and aren’t the greatest. But this is quite typical of the mobs from that time period.

My memories of these events are full of gaps now, since I have been the recipient of quite a lot of blunt force trauma in my life and my aptitude for retention resembles a rusted out Buick in a scrapyard more than anything grey and spongey.

I do remember driving into work in the morning (probably around 6am) and… thinking how misty is was (it was actually from all the fires) and I remember seeing two groups of people one on each side of the dual carriage way throwing rocks at each other. They paused so that I could drive through unhindered and then started pelting each other with rocks and bottles again. (this must have been quite early on in the troubles because the foreigners were still resisting and fighting back, as opposed to fleeing for their lives)

In any event, things got really bad over the next couple of days especially in the area where I had my warehouse because it was an industrial area with lots of… what is the right word for this… informal housing opportunities in the general area that were well populated with people from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

I’m not sure exactly what set the whole thing off it off, but once it got going it really got going. Wikipedia article here. People got chased out of their homes which were then torched. If you resisted, or seemed somehow particularly odious to the mob, your life was likely in real jeopardy and you may have been ended by the sharp end of a machete, pick-ax or hatchet.

In total I think 60-something people were killed. And hundreds (if not thousands) of people were injured and/or displaced.

One of my workers (who was born in Malawi but was naturalized) phoned me to tell me there was a crowd coming down his street, house by house looking for foreigners. While he could easily pass off as a local, his neighbors knew his ancestry… and when you want to protect yourself from the mob… you’ll offer up any scapegoat to save yourself.

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Me, in my body armor, ready to rumble. Took a selfie before heading out… as one does. Look how young I am!!! 

I distinctly remember sitting in my office (listening to Rain from the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack* on my headphones) and loading shells into my shotgun.

*I mean if you’re going to go out in a blaze of glory… THAT’s the song you want to have playing during your preparation montage. Preferably shot in a tight Noir style.

Anyways, the first two were rock-salt rounds… which… I am led to believe would hurt like hell, but be non-lethal. Everything else after that was 00 buck, with a sling full of slugs for good measure, plus my Glock .40S&W. But I figured if I needed to resort to that it would likely be game over anyway by then. But you know… go down swinging.

Took my Company’s most busted up truck, in case we lost it and headed out to go rescue Ronny.

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This is Ronny. Post event. With all his worldly possessions stuffed into two bags. They burnt his house to the ground probably an hour after I got to him. I don’t know if you can tell but he’s smiling for the camera. Maybe because his boss is a douche bag and made him pose with his all possessions for posterity. 

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This was typical of the aftermath once the mob had come for your shack. After evicting you they would burn it down or disassemble it and sell your corrugated walls and roof for scrap metal.

The nights were the most scary for these guys because the police would melt away, and under the cover of darkness you can really get your evil on.

One guy was necklaced outside my warehouse during the night. Necklacing is a South African… hmm… colloquialism, which I think gained popularity in the 80’s[?] and was used for executing (perceived) traitors within the ANC during apartheid. A gasoline filled rubber tire would be placed around the neck/and or body of the recipient and set on fire.

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This isn’t my picture. But same time period… about three miles from where I was. 

Anyway, the guys fat melted into the tar and for days afterward the crows risked vehicular death to try and pick the bits of meat out of the road.

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This is one of the other Zimbabwean guys I rescued. 

I can’t remember his name. Or even how he managed to come to live in the back of my warehouse. But he lost everything… all his possessions, money and travel documents. His accent would give him away immediately as a Johnny-foreigner so he couldn’t go outside. He’s wearing my green hoodie that I bequeathed to him, it already gets quite chilly here in May. How did I ever think green was my color? Also smiling. Doubt I would be, if I were in his situation. But anyway…

In true Anne Frank style, he lived behind my warehouse for about two months in one of the store rooms, sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag and subsisting off canned food I bought for him. It’s a very weird feeling having a grownup completely dependent on you for survival. I don’t remember it being a particular pleasant experience, I’ll give it two stars on the life experience scale.

I also can’t remember what happened to him. I think, after things eventually calmed down I probably gave him money for a bus ticket back to the border. But… I’m assuming this is what happened. ‘Good luck. Don’t die’. Never heard from him again.

Like I said, not particularly thrillin’ or heroic. But I wanted to document it for my  progeny as something I experienced.

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This is awesome…

This is the private (I want to say Anglican… but they may be Methodist… (y’all deserters from the ‘original’ dogma start to blur together for me… ha ha) school near my house. We sometimes walk our dogs there since their grounds are more Hogwartian/palace of Versailles than what my experience of a ‘normal’ school was.

Anyways, I feel cool by… geographic association. Which, I know, is basically nationalism… but I don’t often get to do the ‘cool by association’ thing.

Holiday-ness

In an act of supreme bourgeoisie fuckery I am blogging from the poolside on my iPad. It’s harder to type like this than I anticipated… so the act itself is quite willful. Truth be told I’m bored. (And getting fidgety) I’m also not entirely sure what I’d rather be doing… but baking my dermis to resemble either a jacket potato or lobster thermidor (basically the only two skin tones in my current field of vision) seems like conceding to peer pressure. And so I’m blogging.

I’ve been up since about 5am. Been for a run along the beach every morning. A couple of kilometers in either direction before eating my body weight in bacon and sunny side up. I’m trying to zero out the effect of being a glutton, with, if the bathroom scale in the hotel room can be believed, less than stellar results. Will have to take on more substantial measures when I get back home with some heavy lifting and not eating for a week.

Done some obligatory touristy stuff. Took my daughters to the aquarium. (Feels weird using plurality since the other one is only ten weeks old and generally not really appreciative of anything except the boob… but singularity also doesn’t sit well with me)

The older one loved it. Had to drag her out by her ankles eventually while she left claw marks on any available surface area that provided grip. I’d love to be able to experience that sense of wonder again. But alas, at this point in my tenure on planet earth, I am mostly just jaded.

Echoing this sentiment is my selection of pool side reading. Ha ha.

I’ve noticed some disapproving looks. I’m one of the few people with a paperback. And people are nosy to see what you’re reading. There’s a guy three loungers down from me reading ‘the subtle art of not giving a fuck’, with its garish orange cover. He occasionally pauses to recite a particular profound passage to his significant other… I resist the urge to walk over there, take his book away, smack him across the face with it and then drown him in the swimming pool. This is for your own good I will shout (and maybe for the good of all humanity).

So far I find myself mostly agreeing with ‘Against Empathy’… although, as usual I’ve found myself thinking ‘this could have been half this size’ and still conveyed all the critical concepts adequately. Publishers don’t like 125 page works though (neither do we) and so writers are forced to waffle, equivocate and add fifty page apologetic prologues and forewords. Ergh!

The time has come the walrus said…

I haven’t been on holiday in what feels like forever. Work and breeding have really cut deep into any vacation respite that might have been on the cards. Pre-progeny you are inclined to imagine that the little sperm-ovum combo will simply merge seamlessly into your existing life with scarcely a ripple. Post-progeny you know better (and have become an expert in all things tsunami)

Don’t feel too sorry for me though. This is my digs for the next couple of days.

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Courtesy of my wife, who likes me. (Its part of my birthday present)

We used to come to this part of the world quite often when I was a kid. The surroundings have unfortunately become somewhat gentrified (in a gross commercial sense) over the intervening decades and the charm of the small town is gone. (look at me, recollecting the times of yore when everything was better) The hotel is still really nice though. I think it won best hotel in South Africa on Trip Adviser last year.

In any event I plan on doing as little as humanly possible (in between bouts of toddler wrangling) Except maybe read. And achieve some semblance of beach running (with which I may cause a fair number of fellow holidaymakers to amble towards me in a concerned manner, wet towels at the ready. Eventually, despite my protestations, they will push me ‘back’ into the ocean). ‘Go home Shamu, you’re free now’.

Ignominious end doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Sadly I had to take my laptop. Because well… I can’t really afford to take a holiday (in terms of responsibility that stems from this entrepreneurship hell I have created for myself) Joey teeters back into self pity and general whine for the briefest of moments. I’ll probably be okay though *slurping his pink umbrella drink* I’ve endured worse.

Vaguely he wonders if this all sounds pompous and self involved enough. (not being much of a travel blogger and therefore having limited experience in the prerequisites) After brief consideration and a failed attempt to guide a piece of pineapple into his mouth using only a straw, he decides its a good first attempt. As usual, since no one else will congratulate him, he congratulates himself. Well done Joey. Well done!