South Africa is an impressive string of contrasts, spectacular scenery, light, space and colours. It vibrates with the energy of its inner struggle to build strong bridges that can hold both past and present while reaching towards the future. It’s a place of almost tangible transformation with a gripping power: the passage leaves durable emotional imprints, whether you witness it from behind the window of a truck in motion, or you taste its great outdoors and boundlessness.
But South Africa is first and foremost about the people. Children rocked to sleep by different stories, songs and heroes. Women who carry huge loads on their heads with enviable balance. People with generous smiles that do not remind of the conformity to social expectations. Incredibly poor people whose single luxury is the freedom to wear their authenticity on their sleeves. People whose encounter impacts and shapes our lives. Yes, the people of South Africa have put a magic spell on me.
And that was before we even met the sangomas in Zululand. They had us make a circle in their hut, threw dice and seashells and coins and whatever else material enables the connection between our souls and the future for them. I must have blurred it with my feeble conviction in their efforts, since their predictions came out somehow improbable. We are however still waiting for the fulfilment of some others, since they have not been nailed to a specific moment in time. Janos, for instance is expected to have a wife and two daughters sometime in the future. Out, out of the hut before they turn me into a frog!
Having definitely crossed off the idea of knowing my future, we leave the sangomas to brush their belongings away and prepare the same performance for the next group, praying they do not curse us for not leaving enough tip. We continue to star in our “tourist in Africa” movie: this time we visit a school, which specifically opened for us on a Sunday, adding up to the genuineness of the decorum.
Until reality hits hard and fast: bare feet, no wooden floor, no computers, no…I would like to believe that the chairs have been left aside to make room for us. No school benches, though. Two blackboards – the inventory is closed. A large group of mixed-age children who hide behind one another, intimidated by our presence, seemingly unbothered by the void that surrounds them. Half of them are orphans but which ones we cannot tell from their warm embraces. Of course they put on a show for us. And of course we give them sweets and leave a small, doubtfully relevant contribution for their uncertain future.
When they start to sing, I get knocked down. Some have voices that would make great number of participants in the X Factor pale. I see that we have unconsciously created two separate camps, the one lined up to face the other, as if mixing were not necessary. We have cameras and tickets back to our comfy lives, with plenty of possibilities waiting on our long lists. They have…beautiful songs for us that day. Making comparisons is a big mistake in such circumstances so I focus on the present and the movements they do with their feet, lifting one high up and dropping it dramatically at once on the floor as if smashing something. “Great bug-killing technique,” says Janos. I give in and show a smile.
We part: two soap bubbles that intersected for a very short while and separated again to float opposite ways. There’s meaningful silence in the truck. We all need a moment of introspection. But then we see the waves on the Indian Ocean and all else fades away in distant memory. We have now reached Dolphin Coast north of Durban, possibly KwaZulu Natal’s finest coastline, a memorable place bearing the euphoric quality of a dream. How I came to finally be a part of this postcard landscape that I had been longing for, I do not know. I bet no sangoma would have ever predicted that. I look around – another setting, so contrastively different from what we left behind only few hours ago. For a second, I think I see someone I know. I turn my eyes towards the ocean, though, too incredulous as to the fairy-tale that was featuring me.
A bit dirty and uncombed for having spent two nights camping in the bush, we face one of the most beautiful views there is: glimmering sand bordered by the warm waves of the Indian Ocean on the background of an infinitely blue horizon – what wizard could have possibly drawn that? We strike a new pose: open-mouthed savages deployed to Paradise.
Durban was short lived. Some privileged moments: a short ride to Umhlanga, a glimpse at the Golden Mile, a tour at the uShaka Marine World, delicious lunch at the Moyo overlooking the Durban stadium. This is it for now. Carefully packing my fragile memories, I know I must come back. But for the moment, the Drifters keep us on the move. Next come the Drakensberg!