Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Pastel Day in Africa

A pastel day in Africa                               Eve Hemming

There’s a stillness hanging over the day. Nature’s way of being in repose and reflecting until spring’s burst of renewed life of blossoms and stormy skies.

Today the sky was a stone-washed hazy translucent blue, with insidious patches of pinky- grey winter smoke. The golden grass basked in the frozen moment; static and brittle. The miasma from burning koppies shrouded the vista from any brilliance. Otherwise nature felt endlessly still.

I soak in the luminescent sunlight, the pastel sky and winter caramel- golds and biscuits. A shockingly red poinsettia, a vibrant amber berry, or the orange on a statuesque aloe in flower, adds depth and contrast to the washed out hues of the hazy day.

It’s a good time to visit Africa; to imbibe the sun’s rays arching across opaque sky, while relishing the winter blandness after the rich greens and azure blues of New Zealand.

Contrast! Ah, we do thrive on it. That’s what is offering me pleasure – the bits of Africa we yearn for when we are so far away – the balmy winter sunshine over dry ancient earth… It is dusk now. The Hadedas bellow as they fly to their nesting grounds. The electricity dances then dies. I find my trusty box of Lion matches next to the waiting candle.

I have just been here a week and the list grows:-
·       Electricity outages = 2
·       Electronic gate defunct = 1
·       Outdoor alarm panels activated in the night = 2
·       Traffic lights broken = 1
·       Car guard irritation = 2
·       Drunk and disorderly shouting down the road after midnight = 1
·       Local murders reported on the front page of the provincial newspaper = 3

But I am in love with Africa’s winter sun and hues, and with my sons and their families, which largely cancels the above out.

I ponder and come to my own conclusions…when here as a tourist or an expat, one can more easily revel in the Africanness of Africa. The messy verges, the broken roads, pavements and shoddy buildings, dangerously bent over electricity poles, broken cars with malfunctioning lights, crowded malls, unsavoury ablutions and traffic light vendors who foist themselves at one, are part of the package of the landscape. One can see past it to newer buildings being erected and positive initiatives like volunteers who pick up the garbage and take on the task to maintain the pavement outside their shop, and many caring organisations who do astounding gestures of tireless and dedicated service to care for abandoned and dying children, the fragile and elderly, as well as animal rescue, notably ‘Save the Rhino.’

Shouting pedestrians sauntering on littered pavements to queue at taxi ranks, high fenced enclosures, unkempt vistas; creates the notion that it all needs to be rescued from precariously being held together by a thin veneer.  Each time I return I see areas of deterioration and decay encroaching like a slowly moving glacier and other areas which signify attempts at salvaging, or which indicate progress. The African women who are empowered are elegant, self-assured and sophisticated. I personally would like to see them playing a pivotal role in the country’s African resurgence; as decision makers and role models to the next generation.

It is a funny thing, Africa. It’s the type of place one cannot make predictions about. It’s a place that has backbone, people of amazing fortitude and a hardy resilience. I, for one, cannot ascertain ‘what will happen next’… much may depend on the control of the Aids virus, how much longer this can be globally financed in terms of ARVs, how many illegal immigrants continue to add to the burden of poverty and unemployment, how the next elections will pan out, how much support Zille will have to secure a robust opposition so as to protect the Constitution, how land distribution, equity, unemployment as well as poor service delivery, amongst others, can be proactively addressed, and if the amelioration can be adequately accelerated to meet the growing populations’ hunger for empowerment.

But knowing it is a brief encounter means that one can cherish the sunshine along with idiosyncrasies, without trying to have a solution; for in my case I will soon be returning to order, functionality, safety and the rainy season. I don’t feel the same visceral fear I encountered living here 4 years ago. In the small area I have frequented to date, all has felt safe, though when I read the newspaper I know that I am wrapped in a delicious illusion; the comfort zone of my mind...

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