Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

January 6, 2004. Nelspruit, South Africa.

Well, I guess weíre not in Kansas any more. Or New Jersey, for that matter.

This evening I was minding my own business in my lovely room at Chez Vincent, the bed and breakfast in Nelspruit. So what do I see gliding at my feet but a small creature the likes of which Iíve never seen before. Five or six inches long, half an inch thick, made of a hundred or so white rings separated by narrow black rings, a pair of legs on each ring. Little antenna wriggling at his front end, legs waving in lovely rhythmic movements as he used them in perfect patterns.

Well, I can call them lovely and rhythmic now, I didnít like him in my room not one bit! And I have NO idea what he was! Or she? She really was quite amazing, in retrospect. Notwithstanding which I carefully tricked her onto a sheet of paper Ė and I could feel her weight on it as I lifted it, slid her into the trash pail, and tossed her out the window. Iím sure sheíll be happier out in the bushes below my window than on my tile floor anyway. Maybe itís too bad she gave me such a shock? Outside on the terrace I would have been happy to inspect her for quite a while, though she moved rather quickly and probably wouldnít have stayed for me to watch her. But in my room? NO!

Ooooh, but I wish Iíd thought to take a photo of her. Drat. Next time someone invades my space in that elegant and disturbing way Iíll remember the camera.

I got out of New Brunswick in one piece, though after an argument with Suzanne, some more car trouble, and a long and frustrating drive that including slamming the van door on my hand and a few other nasty things. Arrived in Arlington at ten minutes to midnight, the town was dead quiet, and youíd never have known it was New Yearís eve. On balance I had a pretty nice few days in Arlington Ė got some great swimming in, had a nice bike ride on Sunday when it was ridiculously warm, didnít get enough work done but did take care of most of what I had to.

And now here I am. My flight was long and tedious, but thatís to be expected. Todd met me at the airport in Johannesburg, which was lovely. He's delightful, so driving to Nelspruit was great fun. At least I thought so, I hope he did too. Heís funny and cynical and we talked about work and AID and AIDS and South Africa and racism and schools and all sorts of things.

I donít really understand this place. Well, of course that goes without saying, what do I know about South Africa that I should think I understand it? I spent nineteen months in New Jersey and I donít understand it. I spent years in Arlington and probably I donít understand that very well either. But what Iím aware of not understanding here is that there are white people who are South African. Iím used to an Africa that is black, where all of the whites are outsiders and foreigners. Whereas here there are two quite different cultures and societies, the rich white one and the relatively poor black one. Itís hard for me not to think of them as Africans and whites - rather than blacks and whites, all of whom are African. But the whites consider themselves Africans too. Itís like any other place, once people have grown up there and donít know another place, itís their home too. So if these are the offspring of people who came here generations ago, they couldnít return to where their ancestors came from any more than I could return to Poland or Russia. But in the US weíre a much more integrated society, here it feels like thereís the little piece of the west glommed onto what I would think of as actually African.

Todd says he lives in an integrated neighborhood. I wonder what that is like. Is it a middle-class suburban western type neighborhood where a few blacks have moved in? Or is it a black neighborhood where whites have moved in? Or something else? There have always been mixed race people here, and Indians, so perhaps they form the core of what are now more broadly integrated neighborhoods? Itís hard to understand the magnitude of the differences here among people. A bit like the reunification of Germany, but much, much more so.

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