Convenience is about as far from my world’s vocabulary as fresh sushi and pedicures. Phone service goes down on a weekly basis, which doesn’t matter much to me since I usually don’t have reception anyway. This is the first place I’ve ever been where you can literally stand still and go from full signal to none without doing so much as emitting a breath. Even in the cities, signal just plain sucks. Not surprisingly, internet access is even worse. Hence why I don’t update this blog as much as I’d like.
Depending on who you ask, there are either eleven or twelve official languages in South Africa. Luckily for me, English is one of them. However, the majority of the local people around me speak Zulu or Shangaan, languages I cannot hope to comprehend in the near future, if at all. They click when they speak, something my tongue simply refuses to do. It isn’t nearly as difficult as Xhosa, another South African language, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. Attempting to wrap my tongue around their pronunciations is akin to me doing the vocal equivalent of Rachmaninov. I speak English and Spanish (poorly), with a smattering of French (even more poorly). My languages pretty much all stem from the same source. Zulu does not, nor does Afrikaans, another major language here.
Afrikaans is very similar to Dutch and German (neither language of which I comprehend, so it doesn’t matter anyway), and to me, it sounds and looks like a language I made up as a child. No offense, Afrikaaners, but it does. For example, ‘please’ in Afrikaans is ‘asseblief,’ pronounced hassa bleef. Readers, you draw your own conclusions.
At any rate, unless people speak English, I am screwed in the communications department here unless I gesticulate wildly and/or learn mime.
Things break on a daily, if not hourly, basis where I live. Take the bathroom situation in one of the camps at which I worked. The bathroom sink drained into the shower, which was supposed to then drain into the septic tank, ‘supposed’ being the operative word here. That’s how it’s ‘supposed’ to work, anyway. It didn’t. Instead, the shower didn’t drain at all because the piping hadn’t been cleared since the Nixon Administration, and instead it filled up backwards with water from the septic tank, which also hadn’t been cleaned or cleared since around the same time. You showered in sludge and toothpaste scum and who the hell knows what else. For the first few visits to this camp, I opted to shower with the hose outside while wearing flip flops and a bathing suit. But I love me a shower, so I knew I was eventually going to have to take matters into my own hands.
I’m fine with a lot of things most people would cringe at – sleeping in rooms (or tents) where geckos often fall on my head and snakes often sleep in the dark corners; going for days sweating in temperatures topping 40 celsius without being able to shower (of course, people here also don’t care if you smell a bit because so do they); constantly slathering myself in a barrage of bug repellants (of which the chemical component has probably shortened my lifespan by ten years); cooking and eating in kitchens that look like a cockroach convention when you turn on the light at night; the list goes on and on. But this shower managed to test my patience and my ability to roll with it in a way nothing else has. Because I work in conservation, I am not allowed to pour Drano or its South African equivalent down any drains, nor am I allowed to drop a nuclear bug-killing bomb on the kitchen or bathroom in an attempt to rid it of my nighttime multi-legged army. I’m stuck with hand-to-hand combat, which has already landed me in the doctor’s office once for an allergic reaction to the potion I had to concoct. It isn’t pretty.
Not one to be deterred by small trifles like ambulance visits, I finally decided one day to take the garden hose and snake it down the shower drain in an attempt to dislodge the mass tangle of hair and other crap that had taken residency in the drainpipe. What came out looked like something from Swamp Thing, and smelled worse. I scrubbed my hands for almost an hour with bleach afterward. To this day, I am convinced some parasite managed to lodge itself in my skin during the battle, and my intestines are probably a host to the Aztec empire of nasties. I have to deworm here on a bi-yearly basis. I’m not kidding.
I knew moving here wouldn’t be easy. I knew there would be adjustments and differences, some subtle and some apparent. Most of this has been fine. But being cut off from everything is hard in so many ways. I cannot speak to my friends and family whenever I want. In fact, I can barely speak to them at all. I’m lucky if I get in a phone call a week to someone outside this country. I cannot reach them online because most of the time I have zero access to the internet. I can’t even mail them a letter because I’m nowhere near a post office. There is one in town, but that presents a whole slew of other problems, like adding driving and the local population of people and farm animals into the mix.
I’m still learning how to drive my manual diesel with the steering wheel on the other side of the car, so I don’t always feel comfortable going out on my own to town, and I often need to drive another 20k or so on dirt roads littered with roaming agriculture and potholes the size of a small country before reaching tarred roads. Those tarred roads have equally massive potholes and roaming livestock. And then there’s town.
If I were to make an assumption about people’s regard for life here, and had to base that assumption on how said people interact with traffic, I could easily assume the locals all have a death wish and aren’t interested in living til tomorrow. Everyone ducks and dodges within a hair’s breath of you and your very heavy vehicle. They don’t bother moving out of the road for oncoming traffic. They don’t move out of the way for anything. You can literally hit them with your car and PUSH them and they still don’t move out of the way. It stretches all the boundaries of patience, not to mention hand-eye coordination. I’m getting there, though.
I haven’t hit any trees or animals yet, though I did take out a few millipedes, which is understandable since they are only about 6 inches long. Luckily, nature seems to understand these types of things, making allowances for idiots behind the wheel by ensuring that creatures like millipedes reproduce in vast numbers, so a few run over here and there don’t make much of a dent in their population. As usual, nature is always one step ahead.
Driving poorly becomes an issue when the larger animals, particularly the endangered ones like wild dogs, are getting run over due to reckless driving – going too fast, texting while driving, or performing some other distracting task that shouldn’t be done while behind the wheel of a car at any point EVER. Unfortunately, I imagine nature assumed we all had brains and would use them whilst handling a vehicle. Sadly, in this case, nature is one step behind technology and underestimates mankind’s overall level of unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions. Like everywhere else in the world these days, South Africans are more interested in playing with their gadgets while driving irresponsibly than avoiding killing the local wildlife, which is interesting, since it’s that same wildlife which fuels a significant portion of the economy here. Yet another reason I cannot quite wrap my head around something like poaching. But that’s another post for another day.
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