LIVING UNSCRIPTED: A Thorny Paradise

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Hock und Sterb (“Hook & Stab,” the nickname of a thorn tree that grows in the Bush)

There are few more striking symbols of Africa than a thorn tree —

its gnarled branches, graceful form, jagged thorns and abundant blooms,

in many ways reflecting the paradoxes of the continent.

— www.wildwatch.com

Picture this: a king size bed under a white tented canopy in a floor-to-ceiling windowed room with a thatched roof, on the edge of a riverbank in the middle of a game reserve in northern South Africa — a hot bath, an hour massage, a glass of champagne and a delicious orgasm…. I may have found Shangri-La in the middle of the dessert, but Bond,James, just found Paradise in the Bush (with a woman who sports a Brazilian).

I think all couples on the brink of making serious commitment decisions should take a 3-week trip to South Africa.  Maybe it’s seeing real live animals walking about au natural or looking north to face the sun that brought out our primal urges but there’s something to be said for living in a glass house with all that visual exposure to Mother Nature. Chita Banana jumped up in the tree and started swinging right outside our window –and there we were, with all of them-there-born-free looking at us while we’ve got our noses up against the glass, staring wide-eyed back at them.

Bond,James, is here on business and prepped, which was fascinating in and of itself, but I too was well prepared for our trip to South Africa… I read Alan Payton’s Cry The Beloved Country when I was a teenager in the 1960s — and I selected Invictus to watch on the plane ride over. What I gleaned from both did actually come in handy — I was a bit more up on my “who’s who” in the good-guy category of what-happened-when politically since forever — and I could follow the Rugby match between Pretoria (the blue Bulls) and Johannesburg (the red Lions) when we were invited guests to the infamous game where the Lions upset a 20-year winning streak against the Bulls at the stadium in Pretoria.

But from the moment we landed in this incredibly beguiling visual of royal blue skies and gold textured earth, I felt la difference between what was and what is. Alan Paton’s beloved country stopped crying in 1994 when Nelson Mandela and F.W. Klerk decided to make this country a rainbow nation –and shared a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts (rightly so — both were good men and visionaries). But it’s going through growing pains 18 years later and, having participated in the Civil Rights movement growing up in our country, I am in absolute awe of the true grit these folks have demonstrated to the world in letting go of the past and moving forward.  At least those are the sound bites.

Johannesburg and Pretoria are struggling between sanity and insanity from within their relatively new democratic government –surrounded as they are by other countries who are more interested in acquiring personal wealth (and wives) than they are in providing basic human necessities (food and jobs) for their people.  The former makes it tough for the spanking new speed train between Johannesburg and Pretoria to get through a week without vandals steeling the copper from the electrical lines, forcing it to constantly shut down; the latter resulted in a recent wave of xenophobia in a nation struggling with their own internal concept of freedom.

You can imagine how my antenna was up in the Bush; we were escorted to and from our bungalow after dark by a guy with a weapon lest we encounter a hungry four-legged roaming beast.  But my street-smart radar was up in the city too; I was told not to venture out on my own — and I didn’t.  Francois started a tour-guide business shortly after 1994, when he lost his job in the early stages of the South African equivalent of our EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) –and it was from him — (and from other guests at our hotel & local colleagues of Bond,James) that we heard real life stories of personal hardship in the transition and redistribution of wealth and power.

All that aside, the landscape is breathtaking . . .  And not just the Bush.  Soweto is the most populous black urban residential area in the country, a “Township” just outside of Johannesburg, that is home to a million people.  With its acres of tin houses, it’s evolved into a showcase of sorts.  A new generation of free men and women who were recently gifted the shanties they were once forced to rent from the white supremacist government, rebuilt their homes along with their lives when it all changed in 1994.  It was a battle ground just before the change (recommended newly released South African film: The Bang Bang Club) — and there is still a sense of danger now, but there is also a very real and visible sense of pride, future and hope for a better life.

We spent just over two weeks in nearby Pretoria and experienced so much of the energy and optimism that’s just beginning to shape their current culture, including a national holiday (Women’s Day) honoring the 20,000 women who bravely marched on the Union Buildings in 1956, protesting against legislation that required native Afrikaans to carry the “pass” — special identification documents (modeled after Hitler’s anti-Semitic campaign) which curtailed their freedom of movement during the apartheid era.

And yet, in a country so richly endowed with gold and diamonds (yes, I bought one girl’s best friend and all . . . okay, so a very small one), and embroiled in cultural economic debate, there is an African beat that overwhelms.  Beaded bangles, earth-colored fabrics, exotic spices, textured landscapes — it’s all multi-dimensional African Art.  And the beautiful and graceful Springbok, their National Symbol, as distinctive in color as they are, with clean striped lines in shades of white, beige & brown — is, indeed, the multi-colors of the people it represents.

So I drift back to Makanyane, our five-star “exclusive” resort in the Madikwe Game Reserve on the border with Botswana.  With only eight bungalows and a maximum of 16 guests, everything about it is gourmet.  And the Safari . . .  where the survival instinct is imperative — and in full view, as we bundle up before dawn, dress in our warmest woolies and are handed a hot water bottle & a blanket to brave the wind chill riding around in an open-air multi-passenger jeep over dirt paths & low water crossings . . . to eye-witness the Circle of Life . . . Pumbaa and his pals tromping around, Mufasa and his brother Scar contently napping in the morning sun, rhinos and hyenas, ostriches and owls –and the most gorgeous and graceful giraffes.  We were Great White Explorers with our very own private guide.  Spoil me Tarzan; I be your Jane.

It doesn’t get better than this.

NOTE TO SELF: Hakuna matata (“No Worries”- -The Lion King)

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.

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