LST-Part five: Onward for now

In Port Edward, I was a guest of a delightful couple - friends of a friend of a friend. I was spoiled for a week with good food, and warm hospitality from them and their houseguest, who apparently never realized that he wasn't actually welcome. When I arrived, the entire household was sick, and it was a matter of a couple of days before I caught a miserable cold. I did have the attentions of Boomer, who quite quickly ruined his reputation as a big, bad, vicious guard dog who, when I left to go for a walk one day, stood by the gate and howled like a baby.

My original plan was to hop from Port Edward to Port St Johns, then to Hogsback. Since I had three articles about the Wild Coast David & Goliath battle going into the publication, an invitation by the photographer deeply involved in that community to spend a few days at his farm in Kokstad, and once he returned from assignment, he would take me to the area impacted, and I could see and speak to the people myself, was irresistible. So, scrap Port St Johns, and head instead to Kokstad. I arrived on Friday, hung out with his friends for the weekend, and met Max on his return on Monday. On Wednesday, after some lovely days writing and teaching his dogs to fetch sticks, he came to break the news that he wouldn’t be able to get away. It had been a very long way out of my way to train someone else’s dogs to do something completely futile, but I was on vacation, after all, so not all was lost.

Not getting things done, or places visited, along the way was turning into an ongoing trend of this trip. The problem comes down to driving very long distances alone – as much as I tried to limit my driving time to less than 4 hours a day so I could have time to explore wherever I was resting my head that night, between Google’s occasional miscalculations of time/distance, getting lost, and selecting paths well off the beaten track, driving took up far too much time and energy, and I felt myself getting exhausted again.  

So, off I drove, this time back to the plan: Hogsback. Birthplace of the great JRR Tolkien, the folk in the village have taken that to heart and have adopted everything from Middle Earth to fairies.

a room with a view, granny mouse house, hogsback

a room with a view, granny mouse house, hogsback

a bath with a view, hogsback

a bath with a view, hogsback

I’ve never been to Hogsback. I would also be reluctant to return until they fix the freaking roads. Boy, am I sick of potholes! It is a lovely place, filled with magical corners, and touristy attractions that depend on people’s fascination with fairies and Hobbits, although the reliability of them actually opening when they aren’t in the mood is what separates them from the usual tourist traps.

Also, road signs. I went for a walk, as the thunder rolled over my head (no driving my car over unknown roads in case I couldn’t get out of a hole), I planned on making my way to “The Edge” and its famous labyrinth. There is a road that turns off to the right, where some place signs are marked, but the sign to The Edge is a large arrow that points straight ahead.

So, straight ahead I walked. I tried to pace my steps to the rhythm of the thunder, but even the cows languishing along the roadside started looking at me funny, so I just hummed a tune to it, instead. Seems they were as tone deaf as I am, and ignored my song.

I stopped in at the beautiful Eco-Shrine, an artistic representation of the spiritual and physical world through the artists’ eyes – with a magnificent view of the three mountains that give the town its name. I chatted to a couple about going to The Edge, and they laughed: they had also followed the “straight ahead” sign, in the rain, long enough to discover they were going the wrong way, and that the actual way to the place is at that right turn, and about 20 minutes from there. I was grateful I hadn’t continued walking, so returned to Granny Mouse – whereupon the storm started as I reached my room. Disaster averted, so thank you to the couple at the Eco-Shrine, whoever you were.

Three days at Granny Mouse House with a lovely host, Ingrid Luyt and her sweet Ridgeback pups. Despite Friday being largely spent indoors, building my Perspective website, it has been a lovely break in a very magical place that I really would love to hike around (without the thunderstorms) and if I get a chance to do this road trip again, with a friend and a 4x4 next time, it will be on the agenda.

Of course, the morning I left, the sun was out and the weather was absolutely perfect.

main road, hogsback

main road, hogsback

hobbits that-a-way

hobbits that-a-way

Time again to hit the road – this time a long leg to Port Elizabeth via Grahamstown. The entire way, my car’s GPS showed me as “off road”. I flew through Alice, then Fort Beaufort, where the turn-off to Grahamstown was supposed to be. Driving through the little town, I filled up with gas, as a local who worked at the hospital approached me about buying my car. He was interested in everything about it – except how I would get the hell out of Fort Beaufort. I wished him well, and headed towards the Grahamstown signs. I had learned not to rely on my phone’s battery, or my car GPS, so I had drawn a map, with directions.

And then I ignored my own map.

And kept driving.

I can only claim tiredness, but that’s really no excuse. I just did not see the sign to Grahamstown.

Through Adelaide, and there was a mighty big green sign: Grahamstown that way.

“That way” led to a T-junction in suburbia.

U-turn, head back to the petrol station – petrol station have people who know where everything is, I’ve learned.

“Oh no, that’s an old road. It’s all changed. Go back to Fort Beaufort, and take that route.”

 I don’t like going back. So, I checked my phone GPS, and saw a different route, but I had to make it to Alice.

I made it to Alice. And then, I saw the road to Grahamstown.

I went back to Fort Beaufort – 60km back “that way”.

Thankfully, the road is excellent, and I covered the distance quickly. Just before the town, I saw the sign I had missed earlier.

This time, it was a good road for a “Route” as opposed to a “National” road, and a long winding drive through mountain passes and typical Eastern Cape scenery, which is a little moonscape-ish – light, dry earth, rocky, sparse shrubs –always on a road with hardly any traffic.

I stopped in Grahamstown, on the main street where some beautiful old churches stand watch, and headed to explore – and find lunch. The ubiquitous car guards in their yellow jackets stood around, waiting for the pittance in coins for the privilege of them making sure nobody breaks into your car. I tried to imagine what it was like during the arts festival. It seems an odd place to hold a massive festival, but no doubt the revenue it creates keeps retailers and car guards in rent money for some time.

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I found a Spur – that oddity of all South African chain restaurants.

Why a SA restaurant would choose an American Indian theme remains beyond me. I sat and pondered on that, while trying to surreptitiously take pictures of what appeared to be quite absurd décor surrounding me. Perhaps the founders had spent time in the USA, because the portions are certainly American-sized. I had half boxed up, and walked back to my guarded car – it was the only one in the parking lot, with the very old man standing over it, protectively. The four young men with him looked just as poor, so I handed over the remains of my lunch, R10, and immediately the guilt that I had so much for myself, and the 5 of them were so obviously grateful, made me wish I’d been more financially generous.

Poverty is a scourge, and a person’s ability to rise out of it is almost impossible. It becomes a generational issue, as parents who live in poverty struggle to raise a family. The cruel would suggest they don’t have families – but for most humans, a family is something that is desired. One cannot judge people for wanting that. But, when it truly isn’t complicated to end poverty, the question must be asked, why is there still so much of it around? A lack of desire on the part of the “haves” to share?

How different the world would look if all of us who were fortunate to be born into families that could provide an education, a decent home, the stability of a life that allowed us to find a good job, could share that good fortune, or privilege, a little. Look around you right now: how much of the stuff you see is stuff you could live without? What do you need versus what do you want?

As many balk against the term “white privilege”, believing that their middle class life was not somehow privileged, perhaps the term Warren Buffett likes to use could be used: the “ovarian lottery”. The gift of being born into a home that allowed you to make something of your life. Now, imagine being born into a home that is a shack in some distant village where simply getting clean water is a chore that takes hours. Getting to school is a virtual impossibility. The desire to grow your own food is shattered with the knowledge the ground you live on is not fertile enough to do so.

Along this journey, I hear white people talking, sometimes bitterly and often resentful, that their previous benefits are being chipped away as those who were disadvantaged by apartheid now try to move forward. And they try to move forward without that inherited knowledge and wisdom of previous generations.

To make a simple argument: if you are the first person to ever see or use a flushing toilet, what would you do? Would you not need someone to show you how it works? Would you not need someone with the wisdom and knowledge learned from others before them, to show you the handle, the button, the motion sensor that flushes the waste away? That knowledge is not intuitive, it is inherited, and if you are trying to leave your history of generational poverty behind you, would you not need someone to show you how?

Generations of oppression, disadvantage, poverty cannot suddenly be expected to resolve itself, people cannot simply “know” how to behave or adapt to a new lifestyle, to an economy suddenly opened up to them, and all in the face of a continuing shoddy education system and faulty infrastructure inherited from those who designed it to only benefit a handful of “their own”.

America has had many more decades to fix the issues created by slavery and Jim Crow laws, and yet still, in this 21st century, it still struggles with many of the same issues the current activists’ grandparents had to fight. Will South Africa’s story be any different? Will South Africa, in this still new and exciting struggle towards democracy, learn from the experiences of others and get it right?

I am optimistic.

The anti-apartheid generation of fighters appear to have taught their children how to be activists for the work they need to do now – from land rights to education to politics and beyond. Repairing history can take generations, but I’m finding an awareness and an energy that tells me many of these issues won’t have the opportunity to become entrenched.

Is there corruption? Has there ever not been corruption? Is the ANC corrupt? Yep. From local chieftains to municipalities to the highest levels of government. Is this a different kind of corruption from what was practiced under the National Party-apartheid government? Not at all. Perhaps the difference is that the media is doing a better job at shining a spotlight on it, and making sure the country’s people stand up and do something about it. Not everyone, which is what should happen. There will always be a segment of the population that watches TV news, whines about the government, forgets their history, refuses to understand that history and its repercussions, and turns the channel. I call those the Kardashian South Africans.  Thinking, acting, being accountable for one’s own country and future, becomes too hard.

But, there is a loud and growing segment of the population, across all colour and political lines, who are standing up to be counted. Some of these actions have been tainted by property destruction and that is never helpful to any cause since it makes many turn away in disgust, and weakens the message. I suspect those who are leading the activism efforts understand that.

The media is doing its job. And that truly is the yardstick by which we can measure a democracy: as long as the media can represent the people, and not be cowed by government, it can shine a white-hot spotlight on issues like poverty and corruption, and nobody involved in those activities want to do it in the light. They can only exist if nobody is watching them. That spotlight shortens careers, disgraces politicians and their civilian cronies, and can move a country towards a better future, represented by those who are determined to do the right thing. It should be remembered, however, that politicians are rarely within that group. People “doing the right thing” are most often civilian groups, media outlets, non-profits, who can stand up to the government.

Public shaming is effective, so I send kudos to those who report it, and those who fight against it. Far too many countries (not only in Africa, but the continent surely has its fair share) have been allowed to turn corrupt, largely due to a citizenry prepared to look the other way, as the media falls into the pockets of the corrupt through either financial gain or favor or fear, and the people slowly become voiceless.

I hope SA learns from those examples. I hope everyone becomes an activist in some way, shape, or form, because only then can we beat back the corrupt.

But, I digress.

I have a vacation to continue, and many more miles to drive.