Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Today I’m sitting on the sunny porch of a Johannesburg house, feeling completely at home.  This house is the warm heart of a very unique couple – Jans, who’s lecturing habits don’t end when he walks out of his Mukhanyo position but merely moves to fascinating facts about South African politics, ibis habits and tales from remote lands – and his wife Anneka, special-needs teacher and hostess extraordinaire, with a story about every curio and person we meet.  They love to travel and have explored Abbu Dabi, Rome, Mikanos, Malawi (Nkhoma even!), Zimbabwe, the list goes on...  and they love wildlife and adventure.  What a perfect combination :)

Also in the house are three canine children and one Kidane, an Eritrean friend from the seminary and a sort of adopted son of this lovely couple.

We just came back from a tea party and after a parade of sweet delicacies, I am as replete and energetic as the hippo statue yawning in front of me.

Sorry, there are few exotic stories to tell you...  But today especially, life is good :)

Friday, May 04, 2012

First Impressions

I’m writing this by the light of a flickering candle on old-school notepaper to conserve laptop battery – ever so appropriate, since here also two realms collide.  There is a light here, but insufficient to see by and this emergency candle has to do.  My room is beautiful: all brick and stone and thatch, with a gorgeous be-mirrored bathroom big enough to waltz in.  Our little farm-compound lies in the midst of a shanty-town thudding with rave music, spiritist rites and barking dogs – and the night’s more peaceful chorus of crickets.  Here, I’m told, the village’s youth dance and carouse into the wee hours, drinking to forget that their chances of success are low in a micro-economy where 85% are unemployed.  “The jobs go to the whites,” they say, yet a friend’s 20-something year old son who’s white as any malungu recently committed suicide over the reverse plea.
Jesus offers hope: you see it plastered about, yet when hard times come, I’m told it’s back to the old ancestor worship.

I’ve met some lovely people: Jane, who always has a joke and story; Prity, who’s name describes her person and personality; Peter, a video-editor dating her; Harry & Joke, my Dutch hosts who are so warm and welcoming; “Jukes” who tells me he chases away ghosts and ancestral spirits with his hammer (I showed him a picture of Dad building our igloo home to pay back that yarn,) and little Anna who took my hand and pulled me to the table.

Yet the dangers one can’t see are spoken of and people do not leave their homes at night.  And here, in the midst of a community-smothering village, I feel a little isolated within this electric-fenced compound.  In this land of contrasts and fiercely national pride, first meets third world, progress leaves poverty, and it’s not all black and white.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Enroute: Hello Amsterdam!

So here I am, only five hours left of this comatose state we call “travelling.”  But where the body sits bound by inertia, at least the mind soars. 

Between the ongoing debate “do I or do I not have that delicious snack KLM offers on the hour,” I’ve trebled my pop culture knowledge by watching more movies in 20 hours than I typically see in four months.  Lovely.  I can see Dad’s brow rising at this dubious achievement.
And with it comes an education of a different sort, on the life and times of Joan Barberry.  See, if you want to get to know someone, miss a plane together.  But if you really want to get to know someone, share a Queen-size bed together.  

It began in the Delft-blue airport.  Admittedly my brain was not firing on all four cylinders as I dragged body and possessions snail-like across Amsterdam’s massive airport.  Arriving at the G7 gate (as my ticket specified), I checked with the nice-looking lady across from me if this was indeed the flight to Johannesburg.  Yes it was, and I pulled out my laptop to Blurb.  I was still Blurbing away when I heard across the intercom, “Barberry, VanDyken, Smith, you are delaying your...”  Ah, I laughed, some nit-witted relative is missing his...  “flight to Johannesburg.”
I looked up, right into the face of that nice woman and the realization smacked me between the eyes: the only other passenger I’d confirmed with was as woefully confused as I was! 

Then began an all-out sprint through 2 kilometers of airport, luggage flying and me spiralling around the slow-moving vehicles that filled my path.  That nice old lady in her seventies packed some serious speed, but I was to run ahead and “stop the plane.”
10 minutes later I arrived at the dead-end of a terminal, gasped the story out to the officials.  No no, you’re at the wrong terminal – you missed a turn.  Inconceivable. 

So I turned and once again burned past the travellers waiting sanely for their flights.  Another kilometre (I resolved I would hitherto go jogging while towing 20 lbs of luggage) and I arrived to find the lady looking deflated.  That airplane was there, calling – but sealed up like a tank.

Joan and I introduced ourselves, rebooked our flights (no charge thanks to KLM!) and booked a hotel room together.  The “Yotel” was space-age: purple light bounced off shiny white PVC furniture, all contained in about 12 square feet.   The “Queen-sized” bed extended from the wall, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if sleepers were strapped in and stored vertically, like dishes on a rack.

Ah well, it was a bonding experience.  And to our mutual relief, we both presented rather sane, normal characters to each other (Joan has not confirmed this, though she has invited me to her Yukon home.)
The rest of the day had been spent touring/ falling asleep on the bus and a lovely canal tour of Amsterdam.

We reflected that night -- with me wearing Joan’s extra pyjamas and she falling under the influence of my sleeping pills – just how quirky providence can be.  And that was confirmed in 10 minutes, as I once again found myself sprinting through an empty airport in desperate search of anti-histamines.  Joan was having an allergic reaction to those sleeping pills, and “anaphylactic” lent wings to my feet.
But here we are, just crossed the macro sandbox of the Sahara and above Africa’s greener climes – and what’s travelling without a little adventure?