Friday, April 28, 2006

Chapter the last

As reads the title of the last chapter of Huck Finn, my faithful reading companion. Back to "sivilization" as Huck so eloquently puts it.

Blessedly, after an arduous twenty hour trek back, I have returned to Texas. To quote a country song by Sugarland, "In the moment that one thing ends, is the same time that one begins. And return as we must, we are ashes to dust. Amen."

Of course, the first thing I did upon my return was head straight to Whattaburger. When I told the manager how much I had missed Whattaburger, how I had dreamed of it during my long flight, and how I headed right there, he gave me a free apple pie. He also liked my story so much, that he gave me the phone number to the corporate office for them to send me a free hat. As they say, "y'all go to hell, I'm going back to Texas!"

My next adventure is far more dangerous than any I encountered in Africa; I am going to New York City. Off for a camp reunion, then I am thankfully going home to DC. Time to gear up for the next adventure. I will be working this summer at Seeds of Peace in Maine. It is the camp that gets Israeli, Palestinian, Indian, Pakistani and other assorted hot-spot kids together for the summer. My rule will be "No Jihad in the bunk."

After that, god only knows what I will do next. I am kicking around a few ideas. Perhaps try to do a Cape-to-Cairo trek ala Cecil Rhodes. I call it, "In the footsteps of the British Empire." Or maybe get a round-the-world ticket, and circumnavigate the globe. We shall see.

In any case, thanks to all of you who have been tuning in to my misadventures. I hope you have enjoyed reading about them as much as I have been doing them. Please be sure to check back because I am now going to illustrate my misadventures with the 2000 pictures I took. I am also going to set up a website to view the multitude of images.

Until the next adventure, sala hantle (stay well), as I will samaya hantle (go well)!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

So it ends

As all good things must, so too does my journey to South Africa. So it goes. It has been a journey of a lifetime, packed into six long amazing weeks. So many unforgettable moments, it feels almost like a dream. Yet I must wake up from my peaceful slumber on the sandy beach of the river of dreams.

It must end, as I am tired. My eyes have seen too much hope, and too much misery to comprehend. I leave here a changed person. My eyes are wide open, and filled with childlike amazement. It happens as it must. As Milan Kundera wrote, "Eis muss seine," it must be.

I have met so many wonderful people along the way, who have shaped my African experience. My group, oh lordy. There was Jerry the 40-year-old diva. Carol who collects skunk figurines and loves to dress up in medieval garb (This weekend, we are all going to Scarborough Fair, a renaissance fair in Texas- off to find a maiden wench). Dr. Sandy the sailor-vixen librarian (she will love that I called her that:). And out team leader Barb, who is a Harvard-div ordained minister who does computer science and worked with NASA. After more than a month together, we couldn't establish who was the most normal, and who was the most abnormal.

Also the Rotarians along the way. Families opened their homes and their hearts to me. Suzette of Grahamstown cried when I left, and as she said she does whenever one of her children leave. Childless Elsie in Welkom told me she wished she had a son like me.

I came to South Africa trying to find direction for my vast imagination. I have, in spades. I have found new purpose, new answers and so many new questions. It is that same spark I felt a decade ago, riding in buses across Israel as a flame came alive in me. I feel it inside me, and I am rejuvenated. I am leaving here trying to figure out how to help Africa help Africa.

I leave South Africa with so many memories that I will cherish forever. Under the sheltering African skies, i have seen so much fear, hatred and loathing. Under the sheltering African skies, i have seen so much progress, promise and peace. Mama Africa, how you are so wise.

So it ends, although I know that it is really just beginning. So it ends, as all good things do. So as I cast my stones and my sorrows for leaving into the Cape of Good Hope, I offer only the prayer that my father blesses upon all his children every Sabbath. "May the lord bless us, and keep us. May the lord shine his countenance upon us. May the lord be gracious onto us, and grant my family and friends, the Rotarians, South Africa, and this whole continent, peace." Shalom.

Cape of Good Hope

I had the most fantastic last day in South Africa. I went on a tour of the Cape of Good Hope. It started with a boat ride to an island of seals. I have to preface this by saying that when i was 3 or 4 years old, my parents and I were at the aquirium. Sitting in the stroller at the barking seals, I turned back to them and exclaimed, "I don't like seals." They were in shock because this was my first sentence. Twenty-some odd years later, I am retracting that statement, because I love those strange creatures.

After that, we went to see jackass penguins. I can only imagine that they are called that because what else would you call penguins in Africa. They were sooooo cute. I wanted to stuff them in my bag, along with the three other African babies I am trying to smuggle through customs.

Along the way, we ran into a bunch of baboons. They were cute, until the big momma jumped up on the windshield of a tour bus. Baboons are surprisingly dangerous, I am glad it wasn't on my tour bus.

We arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, and did a little bike tour around. Then we had lunch on the beach, until a bunch of baboons stormed our picknic grounds. They were literally hunting us. One ran out as a diversion, and as we were fighting him off, another came running out of the bushes to grab our food. Then they all came over. I got a great pic of a baby baboon hanging onto his mother.

After that, we passed the crosses put up by Diaz and De Gama, the first two to round the cape. Then a tour up to the mountain where there is a lighthouse. I got up to the top, and promptly hopped the wall to climb out on some rocks. When I got back the Chinese tourists were laughing. They asked where I was from, and when I replied Texas, they all said, "Oh, cowboy."

To finish the trip, we hiked out onto the actual Cape of Good Hope. It was amazing, with the waves crashing against the rocks. It was an amazing way to spend a last day in Africa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Free-wheelin in the Cape

Ah, the talking skills come in handy. First, being a white guy can get you anywhere here. It started raining when I was at the waterfront, so I climbed into a posh hotel shuttle and got a free dry ride back to town (which I did again today 4/25).

What was supposed to be a quiet night has been anything but. I managed to find a bartender on his last night, and he kept feeding me single-malt's for free. Then the ride back was basically free because I spoke more arabic than the muslim cab driver.

It continued today as I snuc my way into a Turner Corporation party at the top of Table Mountain. I got free cocktails and an amazing drum show. Then to top it off, I finagled a ticket back down the mountain on Ted Turner's expense. Ah, the free life, I never get tired of it. It's amazing what your mouth can pull off.

Word of the Day 4/22- So apt

Word of the Day for Saturday, April 22, 2006

itinerant \eye-TIN-uhr-uhnt\, adjective:

1. Passing or traveling from place to place; wandering.
2. One who travels from place to place.

Like many itinerant vendors in rural places, he was a smooth-talking purveyor of dreams along with tawdry trinkets, and Eliza responded to this romantic wanderer.
-- Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller

Molds were therefore used only for small amounts of fat, shared with neighbors at cooperative candle dippings or supplied by itinerant candlemakers who went from house to house, helping with the task.
-- Susan Strasser, Waste and Want

Even the itinerant street-vendors cease bustling about and stand still with their mobile stalls, their straps, their samples of merchandise, their mouths wide open and their heads in the air.
-- Dacia Maraini, The Silent Duchess

Their characters are itinerants, voyagers between lands, languages and religions.
-- Maya Jaggi, "A son of the road", The Guardian, November 16, 2002

Cape Francisco

This place is San Fran, down to the horrific weather. Grey and miserable. At least San Fran has Oz to make it warmer (shout out). In any case, I am loving it. That says something about the city, if I am not miserable amid the grey.

I went today to the Jewish museum, it was fantastic. Very interactive, split into three sections. "Memories" was about the hopes of the immigrants who came here and how they helped build this land. "Reality" was about their integration into society, and the way the Jews stood up to Apartheid, complete with Mandela speaking about his relations with the Jewish community. It was a Jewish lawyer who gave him his start as his assistant. "Dreams" was about the diversity of the Jewish people and their focus on Israel. It also had a fantastic museum on the Holocaust. I am playing bridge-builder with the museum and their counterparts in America, as well as with the Boer Genocide museum in Bloomfontein.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Cape Town

So Jo-Burg was like New York, Pretoria like Washington and the Orange Free State like Texas (with its pickup trucks, bbq and good ol'boys), the Cape Town is absolutely San Fran. I am staying at a backpackers hostel on Long Street, which is the Haight-Ashbury of the city. There is a huge gay community here, although nowhere as flamboyent as San Fran, or at least I havent seen it (can't really say I was looking). The weather is like San Fran. One minute sunny, the next grey and rainy. Probably the same reason why I couldn'

Like San Fran, it has an island prison. I visited Robben Island today. I took a high-speed ferry over, it was awesome. The tour was fascinating, it was led by a person who had been incarcerated there. I saw Mandela's cell and toured around the island. I also saw the cutest little African penguins!

My friend Bill told me the old saying, "once you drink the waters of the Cape, you will always return." Maybe so, but it kinds of looks a little too polluted to sip.

Friday, April 21, 2006

African Kingdom of the Muse

If none of this makes sense, please refer back to my blog called "Kingdom of the Muse."

The plague of ideas is heavy in Africa. I never thought the Muse's kingdom would be found here. Now I realize that the Muse's sceptor was made here from porcupine quills. She hunts with a QuaQua bow and arrows, fashioned from pens. Her black ink cover the inhabitants of this continent. They don't know it, but I can see it. Their blood is my ink. Their faces are lined with both joy and pain. I see her work on the cave walls. She came to them in their dreams and visions.

The Queen of the Muse kept Mandela alive in his solitary cell. She filled his lonely wallls with words of hope. She did the same for Gandhi, feeding him with diction as he carried on his hunger strikes. She whispered her sweet dulcet words in Dr. King's ear.

Her evil twin sister, the Princess of Fear is rife here. She filled the minds and hearts of Mandela's captors. She is strong here. Yet our beloved sovereign, the Queen of the Muse is also the empress of ideas amd she reins high over the lucid rivers of ink; her kingdom is stronger.

Pablo in Africa

"Everything you can imagine is real"
-Pablo Picasso
At the South African National Gallery of Art in Cape Town, there is the most fascinating exhibit called "Picasso and Africa." Picasso lived for a period of his life in Africa, and seeing the exhibit, you begin to understand his world. Picasso once said, "lesser artists borrow, greater artists steal." Picasso stole very much from Africa. Seeing the faces and images of Picasso's world, the African presence reigns heavily. The faces of his paintings are African masks. The eyes, the shapes and the mouths are very similar to the masks he saw. In African beliefs, there is such thing as the "fetish." The fetish is a character with a nail driven through it. The nail is a symbol that represents power. You can find many instances of nails in his paintings. He stole the power of the nails, just as he stole the imagery.

I first saw his sketches of a bull in Paris at the Musee Picasso. They were descending in order from real imagery to Picasso's visions of the bull. At the time, I thought it was a descent into madness. Now I realize that it was a descent into Africa. The final form is very much a QuoQuo cave painting of a bull.

Picasso was a revolutionary. He said himself that he hated everything that existed. He sought to breakdown the art world by changing it from a picture of reality to that of reality created on a canvass. And he did this with African spirits and imagery.

He also liked to laugh at us. There was one of his wors called, "Bachenelle with owl." The picture is like a two-sided woodcut. In it, he puts his name in one direction, and the date in reverse form. His collectors didn't know which way to hang it. The picture is complete with an owl in it. In most western cultures, we associate an owl with wisdom. In Spain, they associate an owl with ignorance.

Picasso once remarked, "My mother told me that if I became a soldier, I would be a general. If I became a priest, I would be Pope. But I became an artist, so I became Picasso." Picasso came to Africa to discover himself, and he he found his work. I thin I have done the same.

Jo-Burg

Back in civilization again! I just spent a few days in Jo-Burg. It is New York of Africa. All hustle and bustle. I stayed at a hostel that was the former mansion to a drug barron. It was a cool place, and like all hostels, cheap and interesting. A whole mix of Israelis, Basques, Japanese and other assorted travelers.

While in Jo-Burg, I went to the Apartheid museum. It was a fascinating, scary place. When you enter the museum, they give you a card that says "White" or "Black." Your entrance is different depending, and what you initially see and do is far different. I was white, while my friends were black. On the tour, we were initially separated. My path was an easy ramp, with benches. Theirs was a tough climb up a long flight of stairs. The museum was complete with movies, videos, and clips. You can hear the architects of apartheid "explaining" their system as one of "good neighborliness." Also you can see Mandela as a young man, in his oratory grace. Plus live footage of the uprisings, from the police perspective, and the demonstrators. The whole thing was powerful. I bought a t-shirt that says, "Apartheid is in a museum," with a beautiful quote from Mandela on back.

I also did a tour of the Soweto township. No worries, I did an organized tour, and didn't just show up. There were lots of other tourists there too, I didn't like it so much. I stopped at Mandela's house, Archbishop Tutu's house and the Hector Pieterson museum. Hector Pieterson was the young boy who was killed in the Soweto uprising in 1976. His picture is iconic, he is being carried off by a man in overalls, as his sister weeps next to his limp body. The uprising started because the Apartheid government tried to implement a forced teaching of Afrikaans in the schools, and the students fought back.

In addition, I went to Pretoria. For all you geographically challenged, Pretoria is SA's capital. It is being renamed at the moment to "Tshwanee." I visited the Paul Kruger Museum, the president of the Republic of the Transvaal. Also went to the legislative building, it was rather nice. Sort of reminded me of Washington, it was a welcome break from the hectic Jo-Burg life.

Kruger Rocked!

Back in Jo-burg after a stunning few days in the Kruger National Park. The park is roughly the size of Connecticut. The place was sick. When we first arrived, we would stop every five minutes for a kudu or impala, and then we started seeing the big stuff. We saw families of giraffes, eating and crossing the road. We saw elephants eating breakfast from 10 feet away. I did a river walk, and I was 15 feet from a bunch of hippos (whatever a group of hippos are called?). They are so cute, they are like large water sausages. They were snorting and laughing. So cute. Also lots of zebras. The males are white with black stripes, and the females are black with white stripes. Just kidding. We saw a leopard briefly, but he was too quick to catch on film.

And the African night sky was amazing!! Stars, upon stars. Orion is on his head down here. There is no big dipper, but they have the southern cross.

Kruger was an amazing place; I loved every minute of it. Not sure how a city boy from Washington gets himself to the middle of the bush.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Other takes

My friend Sandi, who has also been on the program, has her own blog: http://exitingamerica.blogspot.com

The route




I always imagine my travels like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, when the dots appear on the map as he travels. This map was done by Carol's friend Naqi.

Ending with a bang

So the program ended yesterday, sniff sniff. We spent our last day on a South African artillery base. I got to check out tanks, SAMS, command centers and howitzers. I also got to take a spin on the top of a G6 Rhino tank. It was freakin huge. I got to climb around on the top, while we drove around the base. Rode on the barrel like Dr. Strangelove.

After that, we went to the largest, oldest meteor crater in the world. It was created some 3000 million years ago. When it struck, it was like a rock falling into water. It sent mountains rippling up, and the "rock splash" upwards of 40 km.

We had our last presentation for our last club, and partied all night. Dancing on the club's bar, lotsa fun.

Today, I went to the Cradle of Civilization. It is the location of one of the oldest homonids ever found. This poor schmo fell down a hole, 4.17 million years ago.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Kruger park!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Passover in South Africa

Passover took on very special meaning for me here in South Africa. Last night, I had my seder with the entire Jewish community of Klerksdorf. There were once 130 families there, now there are 30 people. Yet the entire community came together for a seder at the synagogue. One woman asked me if we do the same prayers in America. To this I explained that Jews do the same thing all over the world. This small remainder of a once-thriving community still carries on the same traditions and rituals, and recite the same prayers that unite us all.

I had a seder in Rabat, Morocco when i was studying there, and it was exactly the same, just in Hebrew and French. It is always fascinating celebrating Jewish holidays in foreign places. It always leaves a smile on my face to see prayer books in Hebrew and Czech or Portuguese. We are the same, the world over.

So as I eat my matzah in Kruger park, I think back to hiking around the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco with 2 kilos of matzah on my back. I reminisce of eating matzah with my year course friends, as we hiked Israel from sea to sea. It was so easy to keep pessach in Israel, with the delicious dark chocolate-coved macaroons of Machane Yehuda, and the McDonald's Big Macs with potato rolls. I have learned to love the holidays like I love birthdays, because it allows me to take stock of where I have been and where I am.

More importantly, celebrating the holiday of our liberation from tyranny took on special significance in post-apartheid South Africa. They are barely a decade out of their exodus from oppression. Once they were slaves in their own land; now they are free. Mandela has served as a Moses for black South Africa, guiding it through the wilderness that followed the liberation from the pharonic apartheid regime. I pray that next year, and in the coming years, they will build South Africa to be its own Jerusalem of tolerance and diversity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Potch-Moi

Sadly, I am at the end of my Rotary road. I am in the last place of my whirlwind tour. Don't cry for me (Argentina) too much because I still have the Kruger park, Jo-burg and Cape Town. The wandering Jew will be trekking through Kruger park with kilos of matzah on my back. We shall see if elephants and hippos like matzah.

I am currently in Potchestrum-Moi. We have been warned all along our journey that this club is the party bunch. That scares me because all of the other clubs threw down pretty well, and left me withe plenty of babalass (hangover in Afrikaans).

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Boer Genocide 1899-1902

The word "concentration camp" was not given to us by the Germans, but rather the British. I was in Bloemfoentain, the once capital of the Orange Free State, where there is a monument to the 26,000 women and children killed by the British during the Boer War. Without getting too much into the history, the Orange Free State and Republic of the Transvaal were two independent Boer republics that the British had their colonial sights on for the gold, diamonds, land and other resources available. Basically, the British went to war on the two Boer Republics to steal them away, and thought it would be a cakewalk. However, the Boers were fighting for their lives and land, and put up a hell of a fight. They battled the British Empire to a standstill for two long years with both conventional and guerilla tactics. The fighting was so intense, that a young medic for the British later said that it was what he saw during this war that was the catalyst for his belief in non-violence. His name was Mohandis Ghandi.

Then, the British decided to carry out a "scorched-earth" campaign. They realized that the Boers received their strength and supplies from their farms and families, so they tried to end this. The British went from farm to farm, giving families 15 minutes to pack up before they torched their homes, farms, crops and livestock. They then went on to intern the women and children in tent camps under the most deplorable conditions. As I previously noted, more than 26,000 women and children were killed or died of disease and starvation. I saw pictures of children so malnourished, they resemble photos from Auschwitz. Eventually, the scorched-earth policy worked, insofar as the Boer leaders sued for peace rather than see their families further decimated.

Too many learned from what was done to the Boers. When Herman Goring was at the Nuremberg trials, a British magistrate asked him where the Nazis learned to do what they did. He shook his finger back at the judge, and replied that they learned it from the British tactics against the Boers.

I visited another concentration camp near Kroonstad, where there is a memorial. On the memorial, there was a list of names and ages of the victims. Nearly all were just children. As I left rocks on the memorials, I decided that it is paramount for more to see and learn about this forgotten genocide. "Who Remembers the Armenians?" was Adolph Hitler's justification of why the Final Solution would work: because too many people forget or just never learn. I will be working with the Boer war memorial center to try to bring some of their exhibits to Holocaust museums in America, because we must never forget what befalls any nation.

An African Ghost story:The Living Dead

My friend Carol told me this story; she heard it from her host in Ficksburg. Apparently, there is a problem in rural Africa with the dead waking up. Many Africans are very superstitious, and this is a story that helps explain.

Many people that work in the morgues tend to drink heavily, because they occasionally hear the dead trying to get out of the casket. In cases where people are in a comatose state, whether from a concussion or a brief coma, they often get buried alive. The reason this happens is because it is difficult to tell the difference between someone who has died, and someone who is in a coma, especially with no doctors around. When they begin to awake, they move around in the coffin. When this happens, the frightened morgue attendants don’t open the casket, but rather add extra locks to the caskets to ensure the dead don’t escape. The scary thing is that when you attend a funeral, you can tell who was buried alive because of the scratches that line their faces. The people literally mutilate themselves, while they gasp for air. Sweet dreams…

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It never ends

So yesterday I was in a cheetah cage, petting well-fed cheetahs and listening to them purr. One cheetah was sucking on the finger of the owner of the farm. I also got to play with baby cheetahs, they were adorable. There was a puppy in with them, and the puppy thought he was a cheetah. After we went on a game park tour, and saw zebras, buffalo (with cool horns) and a beautiful sunset.

Today, I went on a brunch cruise on the vaal river. We had a proper SA brunch, and cruised. Too bad it really is ending soon.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Flying High

Of all the amazing, wonderful days I am having like going 21 stories down in a gold mine and all the other misadventures that I haven't had a chance to write about, today might have taken the cake. I'm in the city of Kroonstad. I got to take flight on the wings of a white bird called a glider. Actually, really on the wings of angels.

Before we took off, my pilot (a rotarian) and president of the gliders club offered a beautiful prayer about god above preserving us. I was bowed, listening intently, until he finished it "in Jesus Christ, our lord's name, amen." I waited a few seconds, and said, in "god's name, amen." Then, we got into the glider. After they gave me instructions, and closed the hatch, I said to him. "Listen, I'm a Jew." To which he replied, "great, so was my grandfather." I then said that I needed to say and prayer, and I asked him to repeat after me. I then recited the shema, to which he followed very gladly. Then we were off, carried on the wings of a prayer.

We were quickly pulled by a chord, the takeoff was smoother than a plane flight. It was like being carried in the mouth of an albatross. Once you are up, you are flying high. Like Icarus. Like Wilbur and Orville. Like a bird. No fear, only ecstasy.

We got as high as 12,000 feet. We rolled, flipped and dived. And the flips! Stomach-rolling flips! Pointing nose to the earth like a missile. Then you pull up and around. It's like the amusement park ride "the battering ram" on steroids.

We got close to the ground and came down on the soft green grass. The whole thing was rather orgasmic, with a huge grin on my face when I was done. On the ground, to the wafting smell of the brai (bbq). Steaks and lamb chops. Absolutely lekka (wonderful).

I'm more impressed that my team member Carol did it. She has vertigo, and is afraid of heights. As she went right after me, so she couldn't chicken out. When she was done, she could barely stand. I was helping support her walk away, and I could feel her heart beating out of her chest. It's one thing for me to do it, with no fear. It's another thing entirely, and far more impressive that she faced her fears.

The day continued...

Onto the game park, playing with baby bengal tigers and baby lion cubs. Absolutely adorable! There were three baby bengals that were cuter than baby kittens. I got to feed them with bottles. I also saw the big lions. One big lion had a shag. It lasted 2 minutes, then he rolled over and went to bed. Nice to see we mammals are all alike. In any case, the day was absolutely sublime.