El Rumbo Perdido

by Desaparecido

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Me dicen el desaparecido
Que cuando llega ya sea ido
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deprisa deprisa a rumbo perdido

-Manu Chao


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A short list

(viewed 901 times)
A short list: peanut butter, tomato, cheese, bread, muesli, yoghurt,
airtime. I rode to the store with the list in my back pocket, right
onto Mariott, left past the construction crew and onto Avondale,
straight for three blocks to the gas station and supermarket on the
left. Watching the gas station from the stop sign across the
intersection I decided to fill up after shopping. Took me ten minutes
to find everything.

You couldn't hear any gunshots from inside but there were four: three
bullets into the young woman and the last into the man who was firing.

Outside I rode to the gas station next door. The paramedics were
already across the intersection and a small crowd had gathered.

"Couldn't have been ten minutes ago this happened," the man at the
station said.
23rd Jul 2008, 21:32   comments (2)

Notebooks

(viewed 1335 times)
Sometimes it seems like I lose or break everything I touch. It's getting serious. The latest loss was my notebook. I have yet to finish one of the four I've had. They're not big things, just pocket moleskines, but have all been my sole companions during my journeys. They record nights in third world townships, an afternoon love affair, days strung together like passing clouds. And each one I lose pushes me farther from wanting to write anything down, but I know I have to, if just for my future self. Without them I am only a passive observer of my own life. They lend me a forum for conversation with my past selves, day to day sometimes.

I flip back to a month before, reading, rewatching a run in with police in Mozambique, hindsight now 20/20, and learn more as my future self than I did when it was all happening. Or I can reacquaint myself with a local matron in a small Afrikaans town in South Africa, I can see through our conversation's transcription what she was really telling me, even though it had missed me completely at the time. These notebooks are my time machine, bringing clarity to a muddled and convoluted life.
23rd Jul 2008, 21:31   comments (4)

So I was at a club

(viewed 705 times)
So I was at a club with a couple of girl friends, and I mean girl
friends the way girls say it and not like I'm an awesome player or
something. Even though I totally am.

The fact is I really find myself hanging out with girls a lot more
than guys. I'm not really sure why that is but I do have some educated
guesses. For the most part guys I meet aren't really worth much in the
way of conversation, then again neither are most of the girls, but
then they have breasts, and that changes everything. I can't think of
anything else.

But anyway I'm at this club busting out my DDR moves on the dance
floor, looking as ridiculous as I want to because I think dancing
should be about having fun more than trying to find chicks to rub
denim cocks on (as DR would say), and also I'm learning how girls
love accents and how this is good for me, when this one girl asks me
if I'm alright. We happened to be leaving at the time so it wasn't
like she'd seen me doing my best epilepsy impression to crappy
neo-disco or anything and I was very confused. The eight soco limes
didn't help either.

So I give her the blank face and she continues. She says that she was
there when the accident happened and asked again if I was alright. The
bulb above my head finally began to flicker. I probably should mention
here that I was hit by a car earlier that afternoon while turning at
an intersection, I can only guess that the car behind me was trying to
pass or something and didn't realize that I was turning. I should
probably also mention here that I bought a moped about a month ago and
that's how I've been getting around Durban. By the way I've been
living in Durban.

I said that I was fine and that I just had a bruised foot and some
roasties on my shoulders and arm. Then she said that she was just
curious and that she kept looking at the bracelet on my right wrist
and how it was awesome. I nodded and said I'd see her around even
though her face was all blurry.

The next day I had an epiphany: mixing whiskey and southern comfort
makes you really, really stiff in the morning.
19th Jul 2008, 00:18   comments (0)

Completely necessary things

(viewed 678 times)
I have always thought that the push stalls in American malls are a
fantastic example of late night infomercial-esque worthless garbage.
As it turns out the same is true for South African ones.

Exhibit A: I think it has something to do with hot dog buns but I have
my doubts. As a bonus there was a TV playing an infomercial of the
product in use. The look of absolute joy on the family's faces as they
impaled buns on the dual phalluses was too much. For some reason no
one else was crippled with laughter though. Beats me.

Exhibit B: For a small fee you can get an artists rendering of your
child with Down's syndrome. Hello Christmas cards.
19th Jul 2008, 00:14   comments (0)

One Night in Lesotho

(viewed 710 times)
The day and evening were good ones. Around lunch we went to the school
where the brunette worked and found that the children were all hams
for the camera, mobbing the Swede when he produced his.

Later we went to their friend's house, a guy named Olaf who was
working for a German NGO (apparently those guys are all over helping
developing nations develop, something to do with WWII I think). At the
get together the Swede got pretty chummy (read: slow grinding to
crappy euro-pop) with a local girl, I was all for this because it
meant I wouldn't have to share the bed that night. Go Swede.

But later I woke to rain on the corrugated steel of our roof and saw
him asleep in a sleeping bag on the floor. I thought at least I didn't
wake to him climbing in next to me; that might have been awkward.
Blanket tents don't always come just in the morning.

At breakfast before we left the questions did come up though. He said
that when they arrived at her place she had told him to be quiet
because she lived with her parents, but not to worry, only her cousins
were there; they just had to mind not to wake her two children. As a
side note we're talking about a two-room block shanty here. This
didn't bode well for the Swede so he decided to walk back to the Peace
Corps girl's house. But I knew better, this guy was shameless and
there had to be more to the story.

Of course there was. In the car as soon as we'd driven off I asked him
about it. He told me they had been hooking up outside when he asked
her what her status was, if she was positive. She said yes but still
expected him to go in with her. There was a bit of awkward silence
before she furtively said she was kidding. More awkward silence.

'So are you positive?' he asked.
'maybe,' she was being coy in a terrible, terrible non-foreplay like
way. So he left.
19th Jul 2008, 00:11   comments (1)

Stunning First Impressions

(viewed 620 times)
We are sitting in the one hotel bar of the one hotel in this small
Lesotho township. The only locals are the bartender and the boyfriend
of one of the Peace Corps girls we have come to meet. The rest seem to
be businesspersons on some extended stay. The room is small, a few
walk in closets max, and there is a makeshift curtain covering the
entrance from the hallway. The smell is only just stale and only for
the first few minutes.

The blonde and her boyfriend are enjoying themselves in their own
world and the Swede is at the bar having found an elderly man who
shares his language. The brunette and I are talking mostly garbage.
Then to sparring about the Peace Corps, I don't have the best opinion
of the Peace Corps. It started as a noble idea but now seems mostly to
just put more chefs in the kitchen, ill-equipped young and idealistic
charlatan chefs. Brilliant.

In response to her head being firmly planted up Peace Corps ass I begin to talk about
corporate vs. bureaucratic financial incentives, so still garbage
basically. I say that in a company a department is rewarded for
spending less money, and that in a governmental department they are
penalized.

Example: corporate department: 'hey, we didn't have to use our whole
budget', boss: 'great, higher retained earnings. You guys like
Christmas bonuses?' Now the governmental department: 'hey we didn't
have to use our whole budget,' boss: 'great, we'll just cut your
budget next year by how much you didn't spend this year.'

Point being that government systems (i.e. Peace Corps) provide
incentive for gross misuse of funding. She counters that it doesn't
work like that because any extra money goes to forming new projects
within bigger ones.

Before I can say anything about the drawbacks of pure philanthropy as
incentive the blonde bounces into the seat next to me.

"You guys want to order a pizza?" she asks.
I say that I have a bit of a cash flow issue.
"No problem, this can be a business lunch. We call it 'spending Bush's
money,' ha ha." Any image of a silly blonde giggling like an idiot
will do here.

I look at the brunette with egg all over her face chomping a crow
sandwich, checkmate.
18th Jul 2008, 22:29   comments (1)

Before Lesotho

(viewed 826 times)
As it turned out the Swede was picking up a rental car that day in
Joburg and was heading to Lesotho to stay with some Peace Corps
volunteer he'd found through couchsurfing.com. He invited and I said
yes.

We stopped at two places before leaving Joburg, his friends' and my
sister's. On the way to his friends' house he told me about how they
had originally gone to Maputo together but that his friends had left
early. After they had dropped him off at his host's flat they
encountered their fourth group of policeman, and having had the same
luck with them as Aussie Tom and I had they turned around to avoid
them. At this point the police opened fire with their AK-47s. The
boyfriend was detained for 24 hours and beaten repeatedly during his
time with them.

During dinner at my sister's she was talking about how Chia, her
daughter, was growing so quickly. She said how Chia used to be at her
waist and now she was almost up to her breasts. The Swede commented
that 'maybe your boobs are getting closer to Chia'. There was a
moment, but the comment proved far too hilarious for anything but
laughter.
18th Jul 2008, 18:25   comments (2)

Back to Maputo

(viewed 556 times)
Because I had planned on going to Swaziland I didn't bring any
surfboards. For this reason when I arrived in Maputo I decided to stay
there. For all my time in Mozambique I had yet to spend any real time
in it's capital city, and this was as good an opportunity as any.

The first four days passed uneventfully. I developed a rhythm, wake up
earlyish and grab breakfast somewhere nearby the hostel, then find a
new caf? to sit in and scribble away in my notebook for a few hours
(unfortunately those most productive of my days were lost when my
notebook fell from my pocket some month or so later). Coffee and pages
later I would wander the city for a bit, just exploring. Around five I
would head to the civic center for the night's film of the film
festival. After that it was back to the hostel and a book. Not much
talking or meeting people, not that I was being particularly
antisocial, I just was finding solitude nice. Sometimes there is great
comfort in knowing no one and real peace in wandering a city where the
people don't speak the language in which you think.

On the fourth night while reading The Charterhouse of Parma (a lucky
find from a street vendor) I looked up and saw someone I really didn't
expect to see again.

I had met Ana when we arrived in Nelspruit on the same bus from
Joburg. She asked me which hostel I was going to stay in as I was
removing my pack from its travel duffel. I thought it was funny at the
time because on the ride to Nelspruit she had entered my notebook. I
had written about how I was going to do the usual backpacker thing and
make conversation as a fellow traveler but her body language was not
inviting, and how in my effort to look like just another South African
on a bus by hiding my pack in a duffel bag, I had succeeded in not
looking like a fellow traveler. Which was probably part of the
problem, but later I witnessed that same wall come up from a different
perspective.

When I had folded the duffel back into my pack I told her about the
hostel I'd been told to wait at until friends picked me up for a
concert and that she was welcome to share the taxi. We had a beer and
a game of chess (which I lost) and talked about where we were headed,
she said she was probably going to Botswana and I said that I planned
to go to Swaziland. Then I took a long nap. And that was that.

Needless to say we were both fairly surprised to see each other in
Maputo at the same hostel. The next day we walked around the city
running pointless errands pretending we weren't completely ok with
spending the day together. In the end we mostly just wandered
aimlessly in comfortable silence.

My plan was to head back to my sister's in Joburg the next day and so
that night before I fell asleep I thought it would be a good idea to
say goodbye. But when I said so she kind of sighed and told me not to
say goodbye, that goodbyes were too complicated. She said to just say
'see you in the morning'. So I did.

And see her in the morning I did. That night turned out to be one of
those nights where sleep doesn't come for me and I missed my bus to
Joburg. Which turned out to be fine, because it's funny how when most
guys find out a girl is single whom they thought previously to be
taken, they become shameless in their advances. So for the next few
days and nights I was able to watch, to my great amusement, a
Portuguese and a Madagashi guy fly into Ana's wall as repeatedly and
as obliviously as moths to a windowpane; and sometimes, to much
greater hilarity, to watch them act as the occasional pigeon flying
headlong into that glass as well. If egos were necks, I'm sure they
would be dead.

Things did turn sour though. I found that I had lost my ATM card and
had no access to cash, and having only drawn enough to pay my last
night's stay and some extra for food I found myself in a situation. I
bought a pizza for the manager so he would let me stay the next night
and relied on my new friends to help me with food (learn to love
banana sandwiches by the way). I began to resent the bracelet and mask
I had reluctantly purchased from Incredibly Persistent Hawkers, one of
whom followed me for six blocks just chatting and occasionally
offering his mask at discounted prices. He was good. The next night we
heard screaming from across the street and when we reached the gate
the gunshots started.

I decided to leave the next day. How, I had no idea.

Ana and the Madagashi guy were on their way to Tofo so I was on my
own. I spent the day trying to draw cash from banks using my credit
card. No luck. You can buy a meal at an expensive restaurant with a
credit card in Maputo and that's about it. So I decided to try my luck
at the bus station, but I still needed money for the hostel. I offered
to buy someone's ticket if they gave me cash. No luck. You cannot buy
a bus ticket from the station (a one room travel agency on the main
drag) with a credit card. I began to walk back to the hostel trying to
figure out a way out of my situation. I realized that the buses are
South African and that they would probably take credit cards on their
web sites. I ran back to the bus station and began asking around with
my deal again. Then a white person showed up, he was Swedish and
willing to help. We missioned to find an open internet caf?. He began
to worry he might not get a ticket by the second closed caf?, and on
top of that I could tell he was having doubts about my story, not to
mention following a complete a stranger around a foreign city. Can't
really fault him for that though.

We did succeed in the end. I bought the tickets online and he gave me
cash and I sprinted to my hostel to get my stuff and make the bus. I
made it with whole minutes to spare. Then the bus broke down for an
hour. Then the bus broke down again and we waited six hours for
another to come get us. Thank god for portable backgammon and chess.
18th Jul 2008, 18:20   comments (0)