Hut With a View – 9/29/11 – “The rooster and the pigeon”, “What I have not done”, “Nkukhu”
The rooster and the pigeon
The rooster and pigeon are competing for dominance. It’s early enough that the rooster still has a fighting chance, but the conclusion of this battle is foretold. The rooster will fade. It’s call will become a lonely echo, bouncing between hills and finding quiet comfort in the coolness of morning valleys. The temperature gradients here in predawn hours are dramatic. A slight dip between two hills is a plunge into colder temperatures. The evening chill clings to these geologic depressions like frightened children to a bed post. They won’t to let go. The short walk from here to main camp at this hour is a stroll, practically, through winter and summer. Anyway, back to the pigeon. It sounds to me like traffic – hustle and bustle – the drone of vehicles on their way to Gotham. Compared to them, the rooster is a wayward voice, seeking bearing in a world without a compass.
What I have not done
I have come to realize that what I have not done since coming to Africa is as promising as what I have. In the three plus weeks that I’ve been here, I have not watched, seen, nor herd a television, except for two trips to the ranch manager’s house where we took in a game of the rugby world cup – which is big business out here – seeing South Africa versus Whales and the favorites, New Zealand versus France. These games were both about 90 minutes on two separate Sundays. During half time I saw adds from South Africa. These were mostly for deodorant, with a line that said, strong men need strong deodorant. Additionally, I’ve not heard radio, except for a few brief stints of Zimbabwean dance music while in the car, and two BBC broadcasts that Allan played at his camp. That is his ritual – one five minute broadcast in the morning, and one at night – the umbilical cord to “News of the World”, always greatly summarized in the King’s English.
Now, let’s put it into categories. Things I have not done regarding food: I have not had a donut, seen a donut, nor smelt sugary grease which is the hallmark odor of Western civilization. I have not had fresh brewed coffee except for once, while spending the night at Astrid’s house before an early morning community visit, and Kent – who is a rare coffee man in Zimbabwe – made me a batch with beans from somewhere in Africa, maybe Zim, I have not had nor smelt pizza, although one day while driving through Victoria Falls we did a pass a pizza parlor, no doubt only one of a handful in country. I have not had a bagel, nor cream cheese, nor any reference to either. Nor have I had, nor scene danish of any kind, except for sweets that were provided at the Boma Dinner at the Victoria Falls Safari Lounge, which we went to out of tourist necessity. The chocolate mouse cake there was the best I’ve had in my life, and you would think that Zimbabwe was colonized by the French, not the English. I’ve not had ice cream except for once, as they sometimes serve it for desert here – believe that or not – but I wasn’t impressed, and, in general, I’ve stayed away from dairy products, although they have a strawberry yogurt that’s locally made and delicious. I’ve not had snacks. There are no snacks. There are three meals a day with meat, starch and veggies, except for breakfast, which will have eggs with bacon, ham, or beans and toast with jam. Of course tea is always present. Between meals, you can eat an orange. The best grapefruit I’ve ever had was also from here, but I only had that once. I would kill to have another.
What else have I not done? Regarding modern culture: I’ve not been to the movies, seen an add for a movie, nor have any idea about any movie or tv culture since I left. I’ve not sent anything to the printer. I’ve not downloaded software or apps. I’ve not had a cell connection and have no idea what sorts of voice mail messages await me. I’ve not worried about my car nor been to a gas station. I’ve not smelt gas, although I did see the technicians siphon diesel with their mouth for our backup generator after the power died for the second time. I’ve not stood on line, except for buffet lunch a few times, and the line was only three people long, and our cook, Mtha or his assistant, Temba, was on the other side of the counter, greeting me in Ndebele – Livukule njani, Seth?. Sivukile. Livukule njani? I reply. Yebo, sivukule. He answers. Yebo, I say, and we both laugh at my horrible accent and meager attempt to utter basic pleasantries. Of course, it wasn’t called a line, it was called a queue. I have no idea what is happening politically, in the US, nor anywhere else. I have not been on Facebook, nor Yahoo, nor Redsox.com, although, I did find out that Wakefield got his 200th win and that the Red Sox got eliminated from the playoffs in the last inning of the last game. At least two friends sent me news of that.
What else? I haven’t been to a store, although I have visited the curios and got gifts after long bargaining. I’ve not heard traffic, nor been on a train. I’ve not heard a loud speaker, nor had to worry about what was being said over the cracky speaker. I’ve not heard an “important message”, nor rushed to make a deadline.
Of course, I don’t miss what I’ve gone without. Slowly the soot of modernity is shedding. The daily media violence that wounds us like a million paper cuts, is fading like dry grass. What I have done is fair compensation. I have been to remote places and heard the songs and discourse of village life. I’ve stood with sable, and hooked gazes with hornbill. I’ve trampled through cow dung, and fed an elephant. I’ve shared my bungalow with fleet footed spiders who scurry the walls as if it were a soccer field. I’ve gawked, with ears only, at what we now assume to have been a gathering of buffalo meters from my cabin, grunting and prancing as if debating which country to next conquer. I’ve seen a night sky that is still a mystery, with all the stars in the wrong place, as if God had gone tipsy and knocked over his treasure chest of evening gems. I’ve heard the lion’s roar, and the hyena’s yelp. I’ve felt the sister displeasures of heat and dust, and loved the taste and comfort of bore well water. I’ve plucked and ate a chicken, less than two hours after seeing it slaughtered and kicking. The opportunity to slaughter a chicken was presented to me, but I went only so far as holding the bloody knife while the butcher – just another young hand at the center – reached inside the back of the truck to grab his next squawking victim. I was slightly nauseous at the scene and thought I wouldn’t have an appetite for it come lunch time, but, of course, I did. Nkukhu is the word for chicken. Nkukhu.