Thursday, August 23, 2007

Five Minutes of South Africa

I'm sitting in my car at the scruffy petrol station on the corner by the squatter camp, on my way back from dropping the kids at school. The courteous pump attendant is filling the car, washing the windscreen and checking the oil. My mind drifts after my eyes. Various groups of men and women wait patiently and good-humouredly at the roadside, standing waiting for a taxi or a bakkie to pick them up for work, for a lift to town. It seems to me to epitomise the slower pace of life, Africa time, where you can't be in a hurry, because who knows whether you'll have to wait an hour for a lift or a minute. Patience is a survival necessity, patience and acceptance. A good lesson for me, as I always seem to be in a hurry, always two minutes behind time on the school run, too time conscious altogether.

I look above the heads of the people and through a gap in the trees to see a cloudy sky with the sun piercing through to pick out the rocky face of Table Mountain in the distance, its benevolent eternal steady energy embracing us from afar.

Three people stroll into view, two men and a woman. It looks like they're on their way to work in the bottle store, which is still locked up. The tallest man is wearing a black beanie, black top and jeans, on his back he carries a bright pink rucksack, Barbie ingenuously beaming her candyfloss smile to the world. I smiled in return, trying to imagine a big man anywhere else in the world unselfconsciously going to work with Barbie hitching a ride.

The pump attendant takes my card and smilingly says that they're going to have to open a car wash here. I look down at my clay-encrusted car and give the usual answer that there's no point, as we live down three kilometres of dirt road and it'll be just as dirty again by the time I get home. I realise that some of the patience of the people and steadfastness of the mountain has communicated itself to me, at least for the time I've been waiting as he strolls unhurriedly to process my card. I've been reflecting instead of fretting at the delay and taking away a few bright images as souvenirs.


  1. I love the image of the dude wearing the Barbie backpack, and that of Table Mountain peeking through the clouds. Thanks for my little taste of home today.

  2. That was lovely. I can't imagine either really. People actually being patient and good humored while waiting is such a foreign concept here and being content with a Barbie backpack, because that is what you have and it serves it's higher purpose just as well as a manly backpack....well that would never happen either! It sounds like they are a more contented bunch over there..thanks for the insight into life there.

  3. Beautiful writing. I, too, was constantly amazed at the incongruous-to-me use of colour, style, etc by Africans, who had no qualms putting men in Barbie-pink or wearing t-shirts with slogans that they certainly wouldn't have agreed with had they been able to read the English!

  4. What a beautiful post Kit! Your writing and observant eye (and heart) take my breath away. I was there with you in the gas station. The tall man and the Barbie backpack is incredibly sexy. A man so secure in his manhood to utilize this icon of feminity! The mountains in the goes on at it's own pace. I love the juxtaposition of that. Thank you for bringing this world to those of us that will probably never experience it accept through others' excellent writing.... Love, Jenny

  5. Glad to here that mothers like me are a little late all over the world. I am reading your blog from just outside New York City. Its fasinating to glimpse a slice of life on the other side of the earth and see that as people we are all very much the same.
    btw, what is a "bakkie" and a "rucksack"--i gather the later is like a backpack here?
    -Maria in Westchester County, NY, USA

  6. Glad that the images came across to you all as vividly as I saw them.

    Hi Maria, thanks for coming by - 'bakkie' is the South African term for a pick-up (US) or ute (AUS).

  7. What a lovely post Kit - even though you have made me ache with homesickness! I do so miss the Zen-like patience with which Africa faces each day. Time is a very recent construct for such an ancient continent.

    And MAN I miss those eternally cheerful guys at my local petrol station :)


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