Tropical Holidays, part II

Well this is now two week old news and I should have finished writing my thoughts on this trip while they were still fresh in my head but anyway.  A brief recap of my first Christmas away from home:  Woke up really late, spent too much money on good food and mediocre beer, hung out with friends at the local casino even though I don’t gamble, then walked on the beach and amused myself several times with the notion that “hey, it’s Christmas Day!  Merry Christmas!”  Go ahead and call me Scrooge, but I didn’t miss all the glamour and commercialism of a typical American Christmas.  It was kind of surprising to see the nonchalance found in most South Africans at Christmastime; almost everybody’s crazy about Jesus but his birthday doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal.  I guess it’s really more of a western holiday.  I mean there were some festive decorations here and there, but all in all it was pretty low key.  New Years, on the other hand was ridiculous.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in one place.  It’s not like I had no warning though, people say Durban is the place to be on during the holidays.

Durban is a beautiful coastal city, and I certainly enjoyed a fair amount of good food and drink, but my favorite part of this trip had to have been the people I encountered.  I’m probably not supposed to use real names, and in truth I can’t remember one of them, but I’d like to talk about some of the more noteworthy characters I met on this trip.  So here goes; names have been changed to protect the innocent and amuse the guilty.  As per usual, this list is in no particular order.

Jacques Marley, the French Rasta Man:

I must’ve met this dude outside on the balcony at our backpackers.  He was staying in a room adjacent to ours and the balconies were also adjacent.  Definitely a Frenchman, very French accent, elegant gestures, smoking cigarettes, the whole nine yards.  Also very Rastafarian.  “Jacques” has some serious dreadlocks, 20 inches or so, complete with ornamentation, as well as numerous impressive piercings.  He also plays guitar; I’d brought mine along so I asked him to play it.  First time I’d heard reggae with French lyrics!  I’m sorry to report that all I’ve retained from three years of middle school French class is how to say “Hello” and ask what time it is.  Also, I really enjoyed hearing Jacques talk about the amazed reactions some of the Zulus had when they saw his dreads; it’s very unusual to see a white guy with long hair, so decked-out dreadlocks are a real surprise.  Who’s getting culture shock now, South Africa?

Dickie, Your Friendly Neighborhood Herbalist

Another individual I encountered on the balcony, but this guy was a South African.  A Zulu to be specific.  To be even more specific he was an Inyanga.  Inyanga, loosely translated means herbalist, medicine man or witch doctor, if you want to get flavorful and possibly offend someone.  Although honestly I don’t think any stereotype or nickname could phase this guy; he was extremely friendly and personable.  Goes with the line of work I guess, because this modern Inyanga also happened to be a traveling salesman.  Having briefly dabbled in sales myself, I could see that Dickie had a solid pitch: great attitude, very likable, no discernible pressure, good pace and rhythm and of course “the show”.  Every salesman carries a selection of whatever he’s peddling, so I got a full breakdown of some of the more popular Muti (magic) products of South Africa.  It wasn’t just me of course, Dickie gave a great presentation of his wares to several of the travelers who were around.  The products included:

Herbal Detox: Ingest with tea for a complete flush of your system! Feel younger, cure what ails ya, pass drug tests and whatnot!  This was the least magical, and probably most effective of his stuff.

Protective Poultice: Introduce to bloodstream (cut yourself and rub into wound) for a magical aura to protect you from harm!  Feel safe and never fear your enemies threats again!  Blunt knives!  Repel bullets!  Ingest arsenic and laugh!  Except don’t really do that because the magic only works if you’re actually under attack!  I had some obvious doubt about this one, but I can believe the extra confidence would probably help somebody win a fight, so there might be something to be said for it’s effectiveness.

Lucky Leaf: Gobble up these herbs and go hit the blackjack tables!  This one reminded me of the “Felix Felicis” potion in Harry Potter.  You can’t lose!

Rocket Rocks: Bind a small sprinkling of this rock dust to your arm and throw a supernaturally powerful punch!  Or try it on your leg and score a goal from half field!  Dickie said he had a lot of soccer players that used this one.  Technically cheating, but it’s practically undetectable.  I’m inclined to believe the placebo effect is a big part of this one’s magic as well.

Super Sex Solution: Obviously there was a fantastic pitch for this one, but I can’t do it justice and I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat PG.  Out of the whole selection, this was the most highly demanded by far; many South Africans are crazy about sex enhancers.  I’ve got to give Dickie credit for his disclaimer: he said it would not save you from contracting HIV but it’s totally condom-friendly.  Thanks for promoting responsible mind-blowing sex, Dickie.

Since I’m poor and skeptical, I didn’t try any of these magical products, but some of the others who saw the presentation were very interested.  Anyway I always enjoy a good show, and this guy was pretty hilarious.  I asked him if he could give me a Christmas special on the ever-popular ability to smite something with lightning, but he said that one was not for sale and in truth he was still learning how to do it himself.  Oh well.  I’ve got another 20 months to learn, how hard can it be?

Jekyll and Hyde, the Contrasting Caucasians

These two friends were a pair of Afrikaans fellas who, as far as I could tell, couldn’t be more different in terms of personal beliefs and demeanor.  Unfortunately Hyde, the unpleasant one, also happened to be the more vocal of the two.  Late 20s, pretty argumentative and aggressive, and I’ll give him a sliver of credit in that he made a half-assed attempt to hide his deep rooted prejudices.  He liked talking to me and the other Americans, in fact he’d even spent some years in the states.  He had nothing nice to say about South Africa; he began by attacking it’s authenticity as an African nation.  “If you want to see the real Africa, this is not it.  Go to Mozambique.  Go to Namibia.  Go to Botswana.  South Africa is not really Africa”.  Then of course racism reared it’s ugly head: “Black people are lazy, black people are corrupt, black people in power are going to be the death of this country”; he even made a pretty good case for why the country was better off under apartheid.  However, I could see this was a well-practiced and commonly recited rhetoric, plus I’ve heard it before.  The backbone of this argument is that the apartheid system, although unfair, was effective in keeping the country running smoothly because it put the power in the hands of people who have a background of economic and managerial experience.  All of these people being white, according to the argument, was simply a historical trend.  But I digress; the challenges of post-apartheid South Africa deserve their own post.  Actually, they deserve their own book.  Predictably, Hyde had nothing nice to say about America either.  He rambled into the offensive assumption that “Americans think people in South Africa just live with animals and wear loincloths.  How surprised were you when you found out we wear suits, and have TVs and drive cars?”  I’ve heard this one way too many times to take it seriously anymore.  My final thoughts on the subject are that ignorant people like to make incorrect racial assumptions, and the street goes both ways.  Hyde also seemed to think crime was much worse in the US than in SA, and started quoting some totally fabricated statistics which revealed that although he had the gift of gab, he was in fact very ignorant.  Incidentally, that’s exactly what he called me after I failed to differentiate the Illuminati secret handshake from a normal handshake.  South African’s obsessions with global conspiracy theories also deserve their own post.  I think you get the picture, so that’s enough about Mr. Hyde.  Oddly enough, his buddy Dr. Jekyll was a quiet, polite, reasonable guy.  Much more approachable, if you weren’t deterred by his loud and unpleasant counterpart.  I wish more of the volunteers had talked with Jekyll instead of Hyde because there’s definitely a fair bit of animosity towards the Afrikaners, which I really don’t think flows with the Peace Corps standard of being open minded and whatnot.  Or maybe I’m just the Devil’s advocate to the depths of my soul.  I mean, the animosity is not unfounded: I’ve met several others like Hyde, and many volunteers have met Afrikaners who are far worse.  The interesting part was the contrast between these two guys.

Hans, the German Volunteer Who’s Job I Envy

I was talking to Hans about what he’s doing in South Africa, and as luck would have it he’s also a volunteer!  His organization sounds akin to the German version of Peace Corps.  He’s been in country for almost a year now and his contract’s almost finished.  So I asked him what field he was in, and he’s actually been assigned a craft studio of sorts!  Woodworking tools, a welding bay, all the stuff I miss so so much from my time in America!  Super jealous.  I really wish Peace Corps had something like that for me.  Not that there aren’t things I enjoy at my schools, I can get down with computers and I just found some science kits in a dusty storeroom (WIN) but Hans sounds like he landed something I could really sink my teeth into.  Fortunately his site is fairly close to mine, so I’ll definitely be checking it out ASAP.

Well gezz, this post is getting obnoxiously lengthy and there’s still more to tell!  I’m going to have to wrap this one up for now.  To be continued, AGAIN, and I might have to interrupt this tale of travel to talk about some other stuff with the next post.  We’ll see what’s on my mind when the spirit moves me.

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3 Responses to “Tropical Holidays, part II”

  1. Good morning James! My name is Grietjie Thorne and I’ve just read about you on the blog of a friend of your mother’s, Paula Beardell Krieg. Hope you are well and enjoying your time in our beautiful country! I just wanted to connect and say that if you ever make it down to Cape Town while you are here, to please contact us if you need a place to stay, or even if you’d just like to come over for a meal. You can contact me via my blog / email. Have great week!

  2. Oh this one is great. Ive been laughing my butt off because i know those characters you mentioned. Brings back the best bits of vacation in Durban. If you do visit Hans tell him i said hi!

  3. heatherbellart Says:

    A great read – almost like being there. Well, almost almost. Keep your eyes open and those blogs coming!

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