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This Blog used to be about the question: What is Science?
Now, it asks: What is Happiness?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lord of The Flies

Yessis!!!! I have been finally reading my large and thick book I bought over a year ago about the SA boytjie who gave up his job in CA and headed off to ride his bicycle around the coast of Africa.

(Around Africa on My Bicycle - Riaan Manser)

When I started reading I found it difficult as his writing is quite linear....this happened and then that happened....but as I got deeper into the book (and the journey) I became more and more transfixed as writer, reader and bicycle tumbled into an increasing 'hut of duckness'. This is no gruelled old traveller, gnarled novelist on a local bus tour or politically sussed 'socialist/sociologist', but just a conservative Afrikaans boy who grew up on a farm somewhere and had some of the best times of his life in the army in the 80s. His observations and interactions are about as real as can be, no CPL (Commie/Pinko/Liberal) fluff attached. So he likes the good guys and moralizes about the bad guys but is inexorably drawn to places where the latter proliferate. Despite dire warnings of certain death, he pedals off into Equatorial Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
At the end of the book there are a list of journey stats. One is of particular interest to me.

viz: Number of bribes paid: zero

To get a grip on my fascination for this story, apart from the bicycle link, put this one in your plate - The writer/rider, Riaan Manser, describes Senegal in the following dulcet terms....'I was impressed by Senegal and particularly Dakar. For various reasons Africa as a whole is not a particlularly efficient continent, but Senegal seemed to be a gear-notch or two above the rest...'

My experience of Dakar, is 'the one place I will never go back to'. It pales in comparison to some of Riaan's experiences...


'Within seconds they were all around me, glaring at me with glazed eyes while they screamed more racist insults...they grabbed the bike and threw it to one side, then tossed me in the opposite direction...they threw me into a damp, musty, gloomy cell. One of the taller, older boys took to jabbing his knife into the wall within centimetres of my head...heavily doped like the rest of them, he was swaying on his feet....One boy expressed loud discontent with the way things were going and made a suggestion that , I need hardly say, filled me with foreboding; 'Let's gut him, we're wasting our time, let's kill him.'
This was the ultimate reality check. He and his mates were clearly not interested in what I was doing in Liberia...Control of my life had completely passed from my hands...'

and not quite as deadly, but with equally real effects...


'The 'feroe' flies swarmed over every piece of exposed skin they had gnawed on earlier, while the sqaudrons of mosquitoes in the room joined hands with the bed bugs to well and truly finish off the back of my legs...I pulled out my leatherman survival knife, flicked open the 7 cm long saw blade with its razor sharp saw teeth and went at the bites with it. I started with restrained, carefully calculated sweeping motions, but this didn't last long and eventually I was literally scraping away the itching, the blood dripping off my toes to the floor.'

Just when I am feeling locked into a Conradian nightmare, Riaan crosses a border and lands in paradise....Benin, Cameroun, friendly border officials, gentle though the world across the river never existed. So much for Africa being one big dark morass....
Sadly, these very same contradictions of dark and light exist here in my and your world of the suburbs of South Africa. I have to consider what it means when my nephew, a pale art student at a local teknikon, has been mugged 3 times on his way to 'school'. The last time, he, a gentle boy, stabbed his attacker, a youth, no more than 14 years old, with his art knife. As he said, "If it had just been my cell phone I would have given it and run, but nobody must try to take my portfolio from me."
Yesterday he arrived home, blood on his torn hands and knees from a failed pursuit of another mugger in another suburban street on another day.

I wonder if they still prescribe, 'Lord of the Flies', in junior high schools?

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