Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back to Seattle, takes time

Be chilled dude
On the eve of our departure to Jbg and home, I have been digging into lunch at Beanbag Bohemia and into boxes of family heirlooms and artifacts Dad had stored in the attic / roof.

I am in a bit of a panic about the artifacts, although the lunch was great. Dad and Ingrid have a rather frantic and chaotic life. They manage their work and interests very well, but there is so much going on that other stuff is delegated to housekeepers, cleaners, handymen and others. Its hard to keep track of some things.

In the box of artifacts I found birth and death certificates of ancestors whose names I had never heard. I learned my Dads family came from Scotland, Glasgow.

I learned what my grandmother died of and found that the family antique toys have been badly damaged in the years since I was a child. Sigh.

Its hard being far away. I want to fix things that are really outside my control.

Anyway, here is Wren at lunch and a family picture from this afternoon. Hope to be home on Thursday afternoon Seattle time.

Family 'portrait' on the lawn

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Road Home

Today we returned to Durban from Hluhluwe, 3 hours up the North Coast into Zululand. Like our earlier trip to Leisure Bay (down the South Coast)we took the N2 and enjoyed a bit of highway tourism.

Driving on freeways in South Africa is unlike the typical US experience. The roads are great - often two lane each way and well surfaced and marked. However, while cars are traveling at 120km/hr in a typical fashion, the highways are also used by people on foot or bicycle and the verges are used by cows and goats for grazing, occasionally spilling onto the edges of the road.

Driving down the South Coast we noticed that near rural settlements, the roads were used by men pushing supermarket carts filled with bits of scrap metal collected along the highway. Women sitting up upturned milk crates sold piles of avocados, paw-paw (papaya) and even crayfish. Ingrid told me that the fine for buying poached crayfish (like local lobster) is high and includes impounding any car used in illegal purchase. She also said that there is a story going around that locals store crayfish in their long-drop toilets to hide them and keep them fresh, which acts as a disincentive to commerce. The cynics claim this story was started by the Parks Board, tasked with enforcing the laws around poaching.

Pineapples vs Bananas
Up the North Coast, from Hluhluwe South of Richards Bay, stalls were erected from lashed twigs making high platforms where bowls of small pineapples enticed us alongside racks of carved wooden bowls and trays. From time to time we saw carvers working under trees near the highway, sitting on mounds of wood chips from their work. Other stalls sold woven grass mats and baskets and the occasional hand of bananas. The North Coast has huge fields of pineapples interspersed with sugar cane while the South Coast has similar fields of bananas, wrapped in blue plastic to prevent ripening on the tree.

Taxi Lanes
Highways also serve as public transport corridors. People walk along them between towns and settlements, hitch rides and cross lanes. Even children dash across four lane highways, hanging onto bags and packets as they do so. There are no official bus-stops on the highway itself, but the private minibus taxis run routes up and down the highways, stopping for passengers who gesture their destinations with hand signals, a sideways wave, a wrist flap or a thumb jerked backwards. Taxi pickups occur along the verge, a risky business because on single lane highways the emergency lane is used by slow vehicles and trucks to allow others to pass. When they are available, SOS highway telephones are used as taxi stops because they provide a small gravel pull-out where the taxi can avoid the high speed flow of traffic. [This is an issue for boys with a small bladder. There are almost no highway 'rest stops's so people stop and pee within clear view of traffic BUT its not safe to pull over where the verge is used by traffic.]

Flashing at Me
When you see a car coming up behind you, you pull to the side and continue at 100km/hr. The faster car passes to the right even when double white lines prevent conventional overtaking. When you have been passed in this manner, the faster car will often show their thanks by a quick flash of their hazard lights, acknowledged by a flash of headlights.

After a while I became quite paranoid about all the non-verbal communication going on. People routinely flash headlights to warn of police roadblocks, speed traps or hazards. They also flash to thank other cars for easy overtaking. Josh took over some of the non-verbal cues, always giving a hazard light flash of appreciation when we overtook, but half the time I wasn't sure what people were flashing about.

Aside: Dad's spot fine
Heading home from Lake Eland Reserve last week after dark, Dad was pulled over by a policeman waving a sparkling baton at a spot check road stop. The traffic policeman approached the car and asked for Dad's license. Dad explained he had left it in his jacket when he went out cycling for the day.

"Please get out of your car and come with me" said the policeman and Dad and he went off into the dark where the squad car was parked near some bushes.

We watched out the back window as Dad and the policeman talked at the open trunk of his squad car. Meanwhile, another policemen waved down and inspected a truck and a taxi.

A few minutes later Dad came back, muttering about them being "twits." He said he had been fined for not having his license on him. He said "I got a ticket."

When I asked how much the fine was, he said "He asked for R200 but I told him I would give him R120."

Josh and I were puzzled. It seems that police here don't have fixed numbers for "spot fines." The policeman told Dad that the fine was R1,000 if he didn't have a license but R200 if he had one but didn't carry it. Dad had the money out but he said that they were just looking for an excuse to fine him and it "was nonsense."

David tells me these "spot fines" are well known. The trick is to ask to pay the fine now, and the cost - in cash - is usually substantially less than any official fine. These spot fines are revenue raising ventures, but it is unclear how official they are or who they are raising fund for.

Fire Burning
It is customary to burn the canefields before harvest so there is often a lot of smoke around the coastal farmlands. The cane trucks, loaded with blackened cane which splays out between the triangular frames of their girders, are a constant reminder of the sugar industry, but even beyond the cane roadside fires are very common. Driving past, small fires often smolder along the verge and looking down from the road into an informal settlement it is common to see a fire burning in the reeds without any apparent concern from residents.

Although I have seen more fires in this visit than in my entire 10 years in the US, I have not seen a single fire truck or even official workers 'managing' a fire. A week before we went away, a large house in Dad
s neighborhood burned down and we have passed the double story brick house with its exposed and blackened beams sticking up like whale ribs into the sky. Even then, we didn't hear a fire truck coming to fight the fire (although one must have, eventually).

It took much of the day to leave Mtwazi and get home. First, Dad and I did a guided game walk which will be the subject of another post. We departed Hilltop around 10am but had to return to search for Soft Shirt which had been left behind under a bed [Josh felt that we should just drive off and let it be a natural ending to the soft shirt but I could not do it] and then we had various detours such as a crocodile farm and lunch in a Richards Bay mall. We got home at 4.30pm and have been unpacking and eating ever since :)

I have downloaded some pictures from David's camera to a memory stick. I hope to have pictures within the next few days or when we get back at the end of the week.