November 21, 2005

it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that spin

So there1 I stood, clutching my bared Swiss Army knife2 in my trembling fist3, alone4 and otherwise unarmed, surrounded by a thousand5 bloodthirsty6 Zulus7. The witch doctor8 fixed me with a baleful glare9. I knew there was no escape10.

No word of it a lie!

1The Warwick Triangle region of Durban, which my Rough Guide calls, not without reason, "an Africanized Blade Runner cityscape": a gargantuan agglomeration of mercantile humanity that clogs several massive warehouse-sized market buildings and taxi parks, connected by equally thronging covered walkways, and then spills out into the streets around it for several blocks in every directions, a riot of noise and colour and crowd and goods for sale that makes Las Vegas seem a bit like a sensory deprivation tank.

2Bared to initiate the peeling of an orange I had just purchased.

3I mean, not like "but I shoot with this hand" trembling, but my hands aren't rock-steady, so I imagine I twitched once or twice in mid-peel.

4"We live as we dream -- alone." - Joseph Conrad. Also, I was, in fact, on my own, and also the only white person in sight, which is probably why three white South Africans independently warned me not to go to the Warwick Triangle. To generalize, white people here who were over 25 when apartheid ended seem to treat "all-black area" and "high-crime area" as perfect synonyms. Black South Africans, meanwhile, blame the country's crime rate on Nigerians and other immigrants from the rest of Africa, although this is no more convincing than the white prejudice.

5Well, tens of thousands, really, but only about a thousand of them could reasonably described as bloodthirsty -

6- those clustered around the nyama choma (grilled meat) stands, in whose vicinity I happened to be standing. Hey, I never said they were thirsting for my blood.

7It's not like I had them fill out ethnicity questionnaires, but, I mean, I am in kwaZulu-Natal, so it does seem likely.

8Across the street, an old dude was selling wares identified by his cardboard sign as "traditional native medicines", which seemed to consist largely of animal skins, bones, and skulls. In Africa there's a fair amount of overlap between traditional healing and muti, black magic, which very many Africans take very seriously indeed, sometimes dying from sheer fear when afflicted by a curse. (And you got occasional newspaper stories about goblins or tokoloshis.)

9OK, there may be a little poetic license here, but who am I to measure balefulness? He did give me something of a look. Although the meaning behind it may have been more along the lines of "I wish you would come over here and overpay me for this dried duiker fetus" than "no one here gets out alive."

10The situation being entirely innocent, there was nothing to escape from; hence, logically, there was no escape. Also by this point I'm just kinda makin' shit up.


Durban is a hot, crowded tropical city, with a busy industrial harbour, a pretty-but-scuzzy beachfront, and a seamy downtown overlooked by hilly, very pleasant suburbs. Lines of beach hotels and white-flight suburban shopping malls sprawl down the Indian Ocean coast in either direction. It reminds me a bit of Florida.

The ocean here is warm enough to swim year-round, but the waves are so rough that getting past the breakers is actually something of a physical challenge. And the jagged Drakensberg mountains are just a couple hours to the north. (I meant to stop off there for a couple days of hiking, but all the lodges I called were fully booked for the weekend. I've now just accepted that I'm not meant to do any real hiking/trekking this trip, and I'll make up for it nest year.)

I'm staying a little ways down the coast from the city proper, in a region called the Bluff, at a beachfront backpacker lodge which would be the greatest place in the world if I were a surfer, or a doctor, or better yet a surfer doctor. As is it's merely splendid. (I tried surfing once. I might eventually be able to learn the requisite balance, but my high centre of gravity and low flexibility mean it's not for me.)

South Africa is stunningly beautiful, full of all manner of diversions - Big Five wildlife parks! surfing/sailing/swimming/scuba diving! exotic culture! wineries and galleries and posh boutiques! deserts, jungle, mountains, oceans, cities! Charlize Theron lookalikes everywhere! - and ridiculously easy to travel through. I'm surprised it doesn't get more tourists than Australia. Give it another decade, though, and it probably will.

2 Comments:

Blogger he who seeks knowledge said...

this: is rad.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Thanks for a brilliant write up on the best country in the world! Those white South Africans who resent living here need to get their heads read.
Bloody funny opening sentence. The blaming of foreigners for crime is an over-simplification, but unfortunately has a good deal of truth to it... The bulk of Nigerians in SA are definitely up to no good, for example - but locals of all colours pitch in too.

5:11 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home