There is a strange, almost meditative (zen-like?) state that can only be reached by the unique combination of extreme travel, extreme jetlag, and extreme emotional distress.
I'm on a flight from Chicago to Portland with my wife. We have been the road for the better part of the last month. First, the NDC in Morocco, then a few weeks in South Africa.
However, the vacation took a turn. We received a 3am call that Mollar's dad had another stroke (he had one 8 months ago) in Lower Gweru, Zimbabwe. We struggled with flights, rentals, borrowed cars, car repairs, and packing. We set off but he died suddenly, exactly one day before we arrived. He was 59, and is survived by 9 children. We arrived in Bulawayo and immediately got off the plane and started driving in brother Vusimuzi's Mazda 323 the three hours from !Bulawayo to Gweru (he drove up twelve hours from Joburg, while we used air tickets for Bulawayo). We worked all day and all night to find a coffin and prepare the body. We looked at every coffin in that tiny town and ended up having one driven in late at night from another town for about 2 million (!) Zim Dollars. I carried the Z$2M in a series of hidden pouches filled with 10- and 20-thousand dollar bearer cheques; the largest denomination bill is only Z$1000. The rate money is exchanged on the “parallel” market is now 1:5200. It was 1:305 when we were in Zim two years ago. They have the highest inflation in the world at about 600% per year. We secured the coffin at about 8pm and continued driving east four more hours to Harare to get older sister Felicia, whow flew in from Arusha via Dar Es Salaam and Nairobi. Then we slept from midnight to 4am at a friend's in the high density cluster homes of Harare's suburbs and set off before dawn to drive back to Gweru for the 10am funeral in the bush, on Mo's father's “homestead” in Lower Gweru. Lower Gweru is about 100km outside the small town of Gweru, which itself is between Bulawayo and Harare (which is kind of the “Aberdeen, Washington” that splits Portland and Seattle” if you get my drift). We drive on tar for a while then it's all dirt, then potholes and rocks. The rocks shred the cars exhaust and underbody and we'll deal with that later.
We get out to “ekaya” - home - and see th small hut that he lived in. He raised cows, had a Maize field until his stroke. There's no power, water, or cell phone coverage. (There's also not a white guy for a few hundred miles, save me.) But, my little bit of Ndebele and Mollar's family's kindness put me at ease. I'm “mkwenyanna” - the son-in-law - and I'm interloping here. There is a heated debate with the family and the “headman” and “chief” about where to bury the body. It's entirely in Ndebele and I get every 3rd or 4th word, so I hear “blah blah we will go blah blah white man blah blah then we eat.”
This lasts about 4 hours before a decision is made. People from all over the countryside have gathered, as he was a very kind and well-loved man. The headman's count was 753 people. Then we buried him.
We drove 4 hours back to Bulawayo, which was hosting the Zimababwe International Trade Fair, and as we arrived at the airport we heard drumming and singing as a throng (literally a throng) of people tried to push through that airport's single metal detector. Turns out President Rober Mugabe (number 4 on Time Magazine's dictactor list after Quadafi, Saddam and the president of Equatorial Guinea. Why we invaded Iraq but allow Fidel, Bob, Momar and these other guy's is beyond me) was arriving. We jetted away literally as Bob's (Mugabe) private plane was being escorted in by a miltary escort.
After the drive, we flew 2 hours to Joburg - 4 hour layover - then 11 hours to Madrid - 5 hour layover - then 10.5 hours to Chicago - 2 hour layover and 2 hours in immigration anbd customs - and now a final 4 hour Chicago to Portland flight that is one hour late, before we drive the final hour to home in NW Portland.
I'm so tired I'm on autopilot. I'm literally subsisting on pure momentum (and presumably stored glucagon). I'm healthy though; lost about 10-15 pounds eating and living as one does when one's income (avg. per capita) is US$100-US$300 a month. Americans have no idea how “good” they have it. We paid about US$5 a gallon for gas while we were there - remeber the per capita...that's not exageration. Walking, car sharing, emergency taxis (VW buses filled with 15+ people) are the mode of transport. Queuing for petrol for hours.
I'll post pics of the trip as well as some interesting linguistic observations on the differences between isiZulu and isiNdebele, as well as our experiences as an interracial couple in South Africa on the 10 year anniversarry of their free elections.
Then we'll return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming.
...and miles to go before I sleep.
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