Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Journal of a Nomad through Vasteland (4)

August 11  

We packed our bags and went to an Ostrich Farm to have a tour. We had to wait for 11 o’clock, and perused the shop. They had simple eggs, decorated, painted, sculpted, transformed in lamp shades. Beside this, feathered dusters, feathered snakes and all sorts of things made from the ostrich skin (it looks geometrically bumpy). Needless to say everything was so expensive. On the grounds there was an old round school that housed the names of people who donated for the new school. We found three Romanians and one guy who was from the country Texas (sic!).

What we learned about ostrich farms: they started in 1800’s because the fashion of that time required fluffy feathers. At some point they sold one ostrich feather for its weight in gold. The “feather barons” built themselves beautiful houses, including a pool for 15 people, but that was never used (it would require the water supply for a year). When the fashion changed there was a slum, but they changed too—now they are growing them for meat. Ostriches are not bright, they have only 40 grams of brain, so any enriching program failed. They go for their fellows’ backs, pecking their feathers off. 

The highlight of the visit was riding ostriches (same as Moco in "Two Years of Vacation" by Jules Verne). Mihai and myself got to mount one (we’re overweight by ostrich-riding rules). The bird had its chest in a V-stall, and a man was holding it in there from behind. The back was wide, and warm. I petted its neck, it had a warm snake feeling, it was awesome. The children had a blast! It was very close to rain, and there were other people with children, but for some reason the guide took a like to us and invited our children first, before rain started. They were supposed to climb on the bird’s back, hold onto the wings, cross their ankles at the front. A guy would take off the bag that covered the ostrich’s head and start yelling, and another one would hold my child from behind so s/he would not fall. The bird would start running around and all the others, slowing themselves down. Ileana was laughing, happy, no constraints. Ioan too. Maria was still waiting for the exciting part to start, she felt comfortable as on a horse.

Rain pelting on us we drove South, toward Garden Route. It is a scenic drive, between rolling hills, cliffs and ocean. This is an area were one is supposed to take a vacation, have a stroll here, eat there and so on. We didn’t have the time. We stopped in Knysna, that looked so much like our home town. We were laughing that we travel the world, only to discover that we already live in the most beautiful part of it!

We're crossing small mountains to get to the sea.

August 12

Today is Mihai’s birthday! Today we did what he wanted. Drove. First in the area. 

When he figured out that what they had to offer required time, he moved on. We drove. It was a one lane road, with a wide shoulder, on which people drove, to let us pass. As a thank you, we learned to blink a few times the emergency lights.

We stopped in Mossel Bay where the first Europeans anchored their vessels. The name of the courageous captain was Bartholomeu Diaz and the year was 1488. Beside artifacts and history stuff, they had a full size replica of the caravel (designed after incomplete archival documents). It was built in 1987 and it took 3 month from Lisbon, Portugal to here (instead of 6, like the original voyage).

Each peg on the circle marks half an hour and the compass point on which the ship run. The horizontal pegs mark the speed. 

 It seemed really small from the outside, but when we stepped on it, it was big. It had a rudder till, the wheel was a later improvement.

They also had an exhibition “Separate is not equal” the struggle against segregated schooling system in America (I love it, how outside people, including myself, refer to USA as America, like Canada and Mexico are not part of the continent). The children were glued to the panels, read every word of them and wouldn’t pay attention to the other things. Ioan told me that he was interested; he read part of these in his history book and he wanted to know more. Watching short movies about Ku Klux Klan or politicians promising that they will not accept black people in their white schools made me sick. How does my skin color make me better than another fellow? I remember reading this, sculpted in rock, in a park in Sydney: “No man is better than me. I am better than no man.”


We went to visit the shell museum that was right there. It would have been interesting if I could have torn myself from the TV screen, where they where showing the last minutes of the marathon race. The guy kept turning back, to see if they were catching up to him. I would have liked to finish in the stadium, keeping up tradition and also, there is a different cheer sound in a huge bowl than in an open street. After all, the guy ran for 42 km and was ending an olympiad.

Again Mihai drove, racing against time to reach the most southern point of Africa. Rolling hills: yellow with mustard flowers, green with alfalfa, dark brown with fresh tiled soil. I couldn’t take a picture with my camera, but I have a memory drawer for the image. It superimposes with the South African flag.

And we arrived. Cape Agulhas, the Needles. People were taking pictures with the setting sun, with the waves, with the sign. Theoretically this is the point where two oceans meet, but for sure is a moving point somewhere between this one and the Cape of Good Hope, depending on the season and the currents. There we would see the water coming from two sides. Here is just a froth over seething rocks.

It is called Cape Agulhas because the needle of the compass pointed North.

We sang Mihai "Happy Birthday" and gave him the gift: a twenty billion-dollar bill. A Zimbabwean one. It has no value now, just for us, to say that we are billionaires.

I asked him if he liked his birthday, after all, he drove almost all day long, for just a few minutes on a windy shore. YES, he liked it very much, seeing so many things and feeling the spring in the air.

August 13

We started our day by visiting the light house, climbed to the top of it, took lots of pictures and then back to the car.

Typical Dutch house.

We stopped in Hermanus, a quaint city on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, with parks on the cliffs from where we could watch whales. I think sperm whales. It doesn’t matter. There were several water spouts from time to time, the whales bobbing with the waves, turning themselves with one flipper up. We would watch them through the binoculars and our imagination would fill in what happened underwater. 

A little bit to the left of the middle of the picture there is a black and white dot. That's the flipper of a whale.

Rock dassies, warming themselves on the rocks.

Eventually we reached Cape Town, with Table Mountain against a golden red sky. We got lost on the highway, and I had to be, again, the copilot, looking on the iPad’s GPS, telling Mihai which way to go (I really don’t like it). After the highway, we arrived on said street, only to find out that is very steep and has tall speed bumps that scratch the car’s belly. We found the house and the keeper took an hour to explain things that didn’t need to be explained. Aaargh.

August 14-17

We wanted to do so many things: visit Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned), go on top of Table Mountain, see the city, visit some museums. In the beginning we couldn’t find tickets. Then when we found them, the weather had different ideas, with winds of gale force, that canceled everything. Even the coast road was closed.

View of Cape Town from the level of the funicular.

Table Mountain covered by clouds.

Table Mountain on a windy day.

But we could visit the Cape of Good Hope.

And in Afrikaans: Kaap die Goeie Hoop, die mees suidvestelike punt van die Vasteland van Africa.
I liked the sound of Vasteland. South Africa is huge indeed.

 I am happy that I touched this point, all those Jules Verne and other adventures books that I read as a child. The park in itself was frustrating: we would see a beautiful vista and wanted to stop, but there was no shoulder and no spot to park. Where they had the parking areas, there was nothing to see. And we met a pack of baboons and a youngster climbed on the car and pulled at the antenna. I don’t like monkeys anymore!

The wind is blowing so forcefully that it takes the foam backwards.

The rest of the time we rested in the apartment. The girls worked so hard to finish the movie. They are leaving for 10 days at the camp in US where they would present “Noi6 Around the World; Ten months in” and I am proud to say that they did a very good job. I hope they have a good reception. We watched several times in a row. About their leaving by themselves I am and I am not concerned. They know all they need to know, we’re just a phone call away, and I am sure they can manage everything. It’s just that they are not going to be with me.

One afternoon we went for a haircut and we talked with the hairdressers, one of Indian descent, one I wasn’t sure, she could have been simply white. In the beginning they were very quiet, not saying a thing. Curios! Then one of them asked Ioan how old he is, and she said she has a son of the same age, twelve. We started talking about school, how now is integrated, how they mingle black, white, colored (of Indian, Asian or other descent), visit each other’s houses, work on projects together. They were proud of their new found freedom. I asked about holidays, I do this in every country. Six weeks in the winter (summer for us), two over Christmas, two more for Easter. I hit the can of worms when I asked what about other religions. It is unfair to have vacations Christian related. What about Devali, the festival of lights for Hindu populations, or Chinese New Year, celebrated by many asians, regardless of being Chinese or not. And even Easter is not the same day, for Jews, Catholics and Orthodox Christians. As a government, what do you do? Do you give all of them day off? That could bring the country to poverty. Do you give day off only to the people who celebrate that day? In India they do that, at least in some parts of the country. That would bring mayhem, which institution function in which days, or with how many people. It seems simpler to take away all these religious holidays, and give back people invented ones, that have resonance with the people who live in that country, like Columbus’ Day. But I think this would be sad, it doesn’t deal with the diversity of that country and brings a false sameness. I am not a governor and no one asked my opinion, but I need to do something about that, to make people aware that we are the same, only from different backgrounds.

It’s time to leave Africa. It doesn’t feel the same as in Madagascar, when I was happy to leave, to protect myself from that painful feeling of inability. It feels good to leave it, new horizons, etc, etc. I had a good time, I’ve seen so many things, good ones, beautiful ones. I am not afraid anymore of being white in a black country. I was prejudiced by others’ words and my imagination. I am so glad that we decided to know at least in parts South Africa.

PS. The day we left, the televisions around the world showed footage of unrest in South Africa, miners militating for their rights and then the news that 34 people were shot dead. We didn’t know, people around us were calm, there was no excess of military or police. This is television, its role is to relate the news. Not all of them, just some, the majority bad ones, presented in a truncated way.  A girl in Japan told me she doesn’t want to come in “America” because she is afraid, there is so much violence and gunfighting. She watches her news. If the TV had its way, I wouldn’t leave my house, fearful for my life. 

I don’t watch TV.

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