“Travel is transition, and at its best it is a journey from home, a setting forth. I hated parachuting into a place. I needed to be able to link one place to another. One of the problems I had with travel in general was the ease with which a person could be transported so swiftly from the familiar to the strange, the moon-shot whereby the New York office worker, say, is insinuated overnight into the middle of Africa to gape at gorillas. That was just a way of feeling foreign. The other way, going slowly, crossing national frontiers, scuttling past razor wire with my bag and my passport, was the best way of being reminded that there was a relationship between Here and There, and that a travel narrative was the story of There and Back.”

–Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

“What you see is what you see.”

– Frank Stella

______

Travis, whose parents owned the local country club, was a golf course greenkeeper by training but something of a hooligan by trade, with wild hair and a highly refined skill of getting himself into trouble. The day I met him the year before, he had disclosed matter-of-factly, “I like to climb [3,004 meter] Cathedral Peak so that I can run back down as fast as I can and try not to fall.”

Shortly before my arrival this time around, he had applied for a tourist’s visa to visit the United States to see his American girlfriend, who was also a friend of mine. His application was denied…three times. Consequently, he was marrying his girlfriend, a bit sooner than would be desirable under normal circumstances.

“They thought I was planning on overstaying my visa,” he said, and flashed me a broad smile. “I was, hey. I had a job lined up and was making plans to sneak across the border into Canada if I had to.”

Champagne Valley, Drakensberg.

I was about to begin my first job after graduating college, and I thought of my visit with Travis as something of a last hurrah, and a way of easing back into South Africa and all of its socio-cultural quirks. The days were warm and we sat on the patio eating, drinking and talking about Travis’s imminent wedding as we watched the peahens that meandered in and out of the restaurant and past the sign that read “Local is Lekker.” The bored-looking waitress smoked and smirked a few tables down. Travis pondered aloud about the marriage and the ring, and told me noncommittally about someone he had met who smuggled diamonds across the Zimbabwean border and rewarded his cronies by allowing them to keep one of the stones.

*

On Friday afternoon we went to the stables nearby to go horseback riding in the foothills. As we sat beside a cluster of aloe plants, waiting for the guide, a man pulled up in a battered truck, the bed piled with the workings of a handyman – a ladder, toolboxes, cans of paint.  He stepped out of the cab with the scruffy beginnings of a beard, in ripped blue pants splattered with paint and an olive green button-up that was half untucked. Travis began chatting with him and he introduced himself to me as Les.

“Do you like horses?” he asked me dubiously as he glanced at the stables.

“I do,” I replied.

“Good. I like them too. They’re good eating,” he said with a wry smile, “That’s the only thing I like about them.”

Our guide attempting to control his horse, with Drakensberg peak “Monk’s Cowl” looming in the background.

Not long into the ride, which took us high into the golden-green hills above the country club, through wattle-tree plantations and across grassy plateaus (a landscape which reminded me with a pang of homesickness of California’s Central Valley), the guide asked me to dismount. I looked at him blankly as he tried to explain in broken English, and finally I gathered that he wanted to trade horses – his was belligerent and wouldn’t lead. As the most inexperienced rider of the three of us, I was wary about getting on a disobedient horse, but did as I was asked. Predictably, the horse didn’t listen to a single one of my commands – I tightened my legs, nudged him with my heels, pulled back on the reins, all to no avail. With a snort and a violent kick of his thick hind legs, he would refuse and instead do what he wished, whether that was walking at a leisurely pace, leaving us far behind the guide, stopping suddenly to chew on a green shoot or to defecate, or galloping wildly at will, leaving me shrieking and grasping white-knuckled at his neck.

But as we neared the end, Travis – as I had come to call the horse for the capricious personality that mimicked that of my host – proved to be the most level-headed of the three, at least for a critical minute or two. With a flash of dark mane and a wayward hoof, the guide’s horse tripped in a rut and threw him into the long grass beside the trail. Travis’s horse, which had been following closely, stopped short and tossed Travis forward into a dirt-flinging roll. The first horse righted himself more quickly than his rider, and dashed at a full sprint down the trail, reins flailing. My horse simply saw a window of opportunity and stopped to munch on a few leaves of grass, but then, watching his compatriot vanishing into the distance, took off after him. I managed to hold on, despite the laughter that had seized my entire body and left me heaving violently as I watched the guide cut across a meadow, his legs reaching as he ran after his errant steed.

After catching up with the first horse and walking most of the way back to the stables, my legs aching from trying to remain in the saddle and my belly aching from laughter, Travis and I headed to a local bar called Thokozisa. On the way, we passed bicyclists and pedestrians travelling two or three wide on the shoulder; I sucked in a breath and drew in my toes each time, but they neither flinched nor stepped aside as our car raced past them on the narrow road. Travis stopped abruptly only for a herd of cattle plodding across the road through a cloud of dust, a man in a blue jumpsuit and orange skullcap waving his arms and stomping behind them, and we each opened a beer behind the dashboard.

“You couldn’t do this in California,” I observed.

“You can’t do it in South Africa, either,” Travis said, and took a long swig.

He then described one of his favorite ways to imbibe: he and his friends passed around a can of beer, each one hitting it as hard as they could against their foreheads, until it made a hole in the can from which they drank. I decided I’d probably never try it, for fear that the impact might damage my brain more than the alcohol ever would.

We wait for a stream of cattle to pass over the road.

*

At Thokozisa, we ran into a few of Travis’s friends, who we joined for a beer on the patio. Bruce was a tall man with a shaved head and the skin tone of a southern European, wearing a royal blue t-shirt and jeans. He had a wide smile with teeth that jutted in a way that made him look all the more gleeful, and the lined face that suggested he was someone who had smiled copiously in his lifetime. He spoke with a slight lisp and laughed great belly-laughs as he recounted how he had to swim after his peg-leg when it had come loose during a wakeboarding session on the coast.

“So how do you keep from losing it now?” Travis asked him.

“Duct tape,” he answered. “I duct tape it to myself.”

We went inside the bar, and soon after someone produced a vuvuzela – a long plastic horn that produces a single, blaring note, and was soon to cause trouble at the World Cup when some teams found its prominence in the stands distracting.  When Travis blew it in the bar over his Windhoek Draught, a small man in a grey newsboy hat and an argyle sweater-vest smiled and gave him a thumbs-up. The next night, at a bar called Four Rivers, it wasn’t so well received.

Travis and his friend use a vuvuzela as a beer bong at Thokosiza.

“That lady yelled at me for blowing my vuvuzela when her baby was trying to sleep in the stroller,” an incredulous Travis said to me the next morning, “why did she have her baby in a bar?”

He had managed to lose his wallet that night, but not his vuvuzela.

*

The next morning we awoke early to meet a van in Winterton, which would drive us to a town just outside of Pietermaritzburg for Old Boys’ Day – something like a high school reunion – at the secondary school that Travis had attended. As we stood at the sidelines of the rugby pitch watching the kids play, other students, dressed in knitted sweaters emblazoned with a coat of arms over collared shirts, pressed khaki shorts and knee-high socks, walked past, nodding at us and saying cordially, “Good morning ma’am. Good morning sir.”

Bemused, I looked down at my ripped jeans and at the scraggly bunch of middle-twenties guys I was with, with their five-o-clock shadows, hats cocked at odd angles, and hands clutching warm beers, looking more like “dudes” than “sirs.” So I asked about it.

“They have to say it. We had to say it too on Old Boys’ Day. It’s just the way it is, a sign of respect,” explained Matt, “They also have to do everything we tell them to. Watch.” He shouted at a passing boy, who looked over wearily but trotted to Matt’s side obediently.

“Yes, sir?”

“Do ten pushups,” Matt instructed, and glanced mischievously at me. “Ten for Jen.”

The boy got down on the ground and began doing pushups, inhaling and exhaling sharply.

“No,” Matt said, “Count them. One for Jen, two for Jen…”

“One…two…” the boy began.

“I can’t hear the ‘for Jen’!” Matt barked. “Start over.”

The boy sighed and began again. “One for Jen…two for Jen…”

I stood aside, biting my lip and covering my flushed face with one hand.

When the boy had finished, Matt demanded, “Now who do you love most in the world? Don’t get it wrong.”

The boy thought for a moment. “My mother, sir.”

“No, for god’s sake, Jen! Now do another ten for Jen.”

This continued throughout the day, interrupted occasionally for other, more critical demands.

“How fast can Stork run the hundred meter?” the Old Boys asked a pair of students.

The rugby team runs past as they prepare for the Old Boys’ Day game.

They looked at each other blankly. “I don’t know, sir,” one of them responded.

“Oh my God,” the Old Boys huffed, rolling their eyes. “Then where is Luke?”

“Um…I don’t know, sir,” said the other one.

“For god’s sake! Figure it out! You have ten minutes to sort it out.”

“Yes sir. I’ll arrange it.” He scurried off, head down, and never reappeared.

“Get Mrs. Boast’s phone number,” one of the guys demanded to another boy, “tell her Travis wants it.”

The boy’s eyes widened and he grimaced over protruding braces. “Mrs. Boast?” he squeaked, and ran toward the stands.

Travis leaned over to me. “Mrs. Boast was our Afrikaans teacher. We thought she was so fit.”

The boy returned a few minutes later. “She says if you want to talk to her you must phone the front office,” he reported.

“Go ask her if she’ll go on a date with us,” said Travis’s friend.

The boy scuttled away and returned looking sheepish. “She just turned and walked away,” he said nervously.

“Fine, go buy me a Coke,” the Old Boy demanded.

By that evening we had drunk more than just Coke, and I spent the next day’s six-hour bus ride to Johannesburg sprawled across three seats with my head against the window, clutching a bottle of fruit juice and fending off The Spins, as miles of countryside, eucalyptus plantations, and rest stops slid past my window.

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“…every book I had every read about Africa contained long passages and sometimes many pages about enforced delay… It sometimes seems as though Africa is a place you go to wait. Many Africans I met said the same thing, but uncomplainingly, for most lived their lives with a fatalistic patience. Outsiders see Africa as a continent delayed – economies in suspension, societies up in the air, politics and human rights put on hold, communities throttled or stopped. ‘Not yet,’ voices of authority have cautioned Africans throughout the years of colonization and independence. But African time was not the same as American time. One generation in the West was two generations in Africa, where teenagers were parents and thirty-year-olds had one foot in the grave. As African time passed I surmised that the pace of western countries was insane, that the speed of modern technology accomplished nothing, and that because Africa was going its own way at its own pace for its own reasons, it was a refuge and a resting-place, the last territory to light out for…”

–Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

“Humanity acquired the label Homo sapiens in 1735, courtesy of the Swedish naturalist, Carl von Linné. In a work which applied his newly devised binomial system of biological classification to the animal kingdom, von Linné listed all known animals by genus and species according to their perceived relationships and gave a brief description of each. In the scholarly fashion of the time, the work was published in Latin, the author became Carolus Linnaeus and the genus Homo was described with the single Latin phrase: “HOMO nosce te ipsum,” meaning “MAN know thyself.”

–John Reader, Africa: A Biography of the Continent

_______

One thing I’m reminded of each time I return to Africa is how quickly I come to take for granted the conveniences of living in the world’s wealthiest country. I often wonder whether we are overendowed with convenience, expecting ease and perfection from a challenging and flawed world. It is here in Africa that I have seen those challenges and flaws in full light, for it is here in the birthplace of humanity that we are allowed to act our most human. On this continent, I’ve witnessed the most egregious cases of laziness, subversion, boredom, and greed; it is also here in Africa that I’ve seen people endure back-breaking work on a daily basis, give humbly and selflessly to those in need, laugh and smile readily and honestly, and feel content with little, or with nothing. Man, know thyself.

*

The taxi driver was a man past his prime, with grizzled hair shaved close to his head and a spot of grey mustache on the center of his upper lip – a style made infamous by Zimbabwe’s notorious dictator, Robert Mugabe. His dark skin hung loosely, as did his knitted, black and brown Norwegian sweater. His black pants were dusty but his leather shoes gleamed. Beneath soft eyes, he smiled politely as he helped me to load my luggage into the trunk. The most notable part about him, though, is that he arrived five minutes early – unlikely, here.

I chatted with him about his roots, and he explained that he was born in Pietermaritzburg, but later moved to Johannesburg with his wife. Though they lived in Jo’Burg for 18 years, they eventually returned to Maritzburg because living in Johannesburg during “that time” – Apartheid – proved a challenging existence. As a black couple, they couldn’t own a house, only “Rent and rent and rent,” he explained, “never ending – finding work was hard, and when you have no more job, how do you rent?” We then transitioned into talking about the World Cup, and he explained that as much as he loved soccer, he wouldn’t be able to attend a game, because the nearest ones were being played an hour’s drive away. “I work at 6 in the mornings – how could I go to work the next day?”

When we reached my destination, a hostel where I would be picked up by the backpacker’s bus, I offered him a 100 rand bill (about $15) for the 30 rand fare and asked if he had any change. He said no, predictably – many drivers will decline, hoping you’ll leave them with the whole amount. I have twice been insistent enough that a driver with “no change” suddenly, by some miracle, finds some in his car. This driver had been kind, sincere, and early, and I told him to just keep the R100 note. He scoffed and shook his head.

“But you’ve been so helpful,” I insisted, pleading with him to take it.

“No, it is too much,” he responded, frowning. He stepped around to the back of the car and extracted a worn wallet from behind a flap of fabric lining in the trunk – for safekeeping, in case the taxi was robbed, I presumed. He handed me an R50 note from the wallet, and I was happy to leave him the remaining R50 for the R30 fare – still a good 65% tip, but less than $3.

*

I had called the bus company the night before to confirm my seat.

“We’re in the process of moving office,” the lady on the line told me. “I will call you later when the computers are back up.”

“You’ll call today, right? Because my bus is tomorrow and…”

She interrupted with a kindly laugh and said, “Yes, of course.” And then, in the manner of an old friend, “I’ll call you, okay?” She drew out the second syllable of “okay” in the South African way that is meant to reassure.

She never called. After the taxi dropped me off in the morning, I waited for the bus in the courtyard of the Prince Alfred Street Backpacker’s. It was situated on the shady suburban road that lies just off the main Chief Albert Luthuli Drive, between the Shell station and the McDonald’s and just down the road from the KFC. The backpacker’s had the rainbow LGBT flag painted on the gatepost, and I remembered reading that this hostel was advertised as LGBT-friendly – not a common occurrence on this continent, though South Africa is making swift progress in its acceptance of homosexuality.

The bus was half an hour late. I couldn’t reach anyone at Baz, so I just sat, hoping they were really coming to fetch me.

The owner poked his head out the front door. “Still here?” He quipped good-naturedly. He was a tall, kindly man with a long, red face and drooping blue eyes. He was dressed casually in a black skullcap, a blue fleece, white sweatpants, and brown leather sandals.

I laughed.  “Yep. Did Baz change their number?”

“They did,” he replied, “I’ve got it in my email.” He retrieved the number for me, and I called and confirmed that the bus would be picking me up. “It’s already left Durban for Maritzburg,” the representative told me.

I sat back and watched a pair of Indian mynahs, sleek and intelligent (and invasive) city birds that are capable of incredible mimicry, hop across the weathered cement stepstones, They weaved in and out of the withered and stunted fruit trees as they foraged on the lawn inside the 10-foot high, red-brick-and-iron security fence, their sunshine-yellow bills, feet, and eye-rings stark against their smooth brown, black, and white plumage. I was reminded of last year, at the end of my stay in South Africa, when I was standing in the back yard of a beautiful backpacker’s in Nelspruit called Old Vic’s. I had been peering into a spacious aviary, watching the finches flit about and a tortoise amble slowly beneath them. Suddenly I heard a garbled “Hello?” I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. It came again: “Hellooo,” high-pitched and strangled. I fidgeted nervously, glancing around, wondering if someone was playing a trick on me. It came again, this time followed by two clicks and a whistle, and an Indian mynah hopped out from beneath a wooden shelter in the aviary, its head cocked and a mischievous gleam in its eye. “Ohhh, hello,” it said, as though surprised to see me.

My reverie was interrupted when flock of grey pigeons burst from the neighbor’s yard as a heaving and sighing semi passed on the road. Two boys walked by, blaring Justin Bieber from a crackly cell phone; the poppy tune momentarily drowned out the drone of a leaf blower coming from down the road.

Soon the bus arrived. I went out back to say goodbye to the hostel owner. He was sitting on the stoop smoking a cigarette. He waved me off cheerily and continued blowing puffs of smoke into the morning air, a pair of shaggy, cream-colored Afghan hounds sprawled beside him on the dirt, lying beneath cool white linens strung up to dry on a kinked wire.

*

It was about 2 hours to Winterton, a tiny town that was the gateway to the Central Drakensberg. From there, I would head to the valley beneath Cathedral Peak in the Ukhalamba-Drakensberg National Park, to follow up with some old friends of both the two- and four-legged sort.

The smooth highway between Pietermaritzburg and Winterton cuts across a largely open landscape, filled with long yellow grasses and occasionally dotted with stunted, thorny trees – the classic image of the African savanna. At the toll gate at Mooi River, the open grassland is interrupted briefly by another classic African image: a township on the outskirts of the city, cinderblock huts topped with gleaming tin; fires bursting from trash cans; brown dirt yards interlaced with brown dirt roads, throwing their dust into the air in great obscuring clouds; barefoot children; aproned women; and a smoky brown haze lying over it all like an itchy woolen blanket. Just beyond its fenced fringes lay fields with tightly rolled bales of hay, brown cows with sagging ears and great humps for shoulders, leaning posts burdened with low-hanging telephone wires, women laboring in dry, brown fields.

From this angle, a passing snapshot glimpsed from a speeding car, it is just an African cliché.  No assessment that I could make of it would be fair. This is something I realized only recently, as I read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, an account of the author’s overland trek from Cape Town to Cairo. His view of Africa – dim, though not without the occasional truthful sentence – is one of decrepitude and decline, poverty and tatters, a labored existence with no hope for or view of the future. This he weighs all too often from the window of a train or bus, spending mere days in each country. “The visitor usually brings a sharp knife,” a man in Malawi says to Thoreaux, quoting a proverb. Thoreaux takes this to mean that “the stranger was known for having the keenest perceptions.” What he fails to note is that it is possible for even a sharp knife to miss the board entirely; especially when it is moving at the speed of light through this “Dark Star” of a continent. Everything is bound to become a blur, especially in a place where scenery and situation change more quickly than in a flip-book with missing pages, as it would for me over the next few days.

“All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, though not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper; I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again. Feeling that the place was so large it contained many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too… feeling that there was more to Africa than misery and terror …”

–Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

There is something about airports. An airport’s vibrancy is not the chaos of a city center, where any given person could be doing anything, going anywhere, or doing nothing and going nowhere at all. At the airport, we each have a departure point and a fixed destination. We are united in divergence, taking paths that crisscross the globe in predictable ways. This is a steady rhythm, the flow of a river toward the ocean, as people from all walks of life are carried through these narrows and into a broad delta, where they continue to uncharted lengths and depths, to meet unknown creatures and swim unfathomable currents.

Airplanes, too, have a certain charm for me, despite the discomforts: the slow trickle of blood into feet, tightening shoes and numbing toes; the dry, close air which tugs at throats and muddies ears; the way voices carry a bit too far, amplifying the wails of an uncomfortable child or the rhinoceros snores of a hefty man. Or there is the way the toilets suck at the air like goliath leeches when they flush; I don’t think I’ve ever stopped fearing, somewhere in the back of my mind, that they will swallow all of the air in the lavatory and take me along with it.

Perhaps what outweighs these miniature terrors lies just outside of the aircraft windows: the way the sunrise paints a scarlet, rose, gold, and navy backdrop to the South African flag painted on the wing stabilizers, in a palette that somehow only materializes when you’re hanging high in the atmosphere; the tiny crystal cobwebs that trace patterns on the window, melting into dewdrops as the airplane descends; the way the tin-roof glimmers or sodium pinpricks of settlements on the African landscape below seem to pass at a snail’s pace despite the airplane’s incredible speed; the way the clouds below reach toward you like stiffly whipped cream,  ripple like a bowl of hot soup gently blown, or lay smoothly over the brown earth, a salty patina on a cracked mud flat.

As we descended toward Johannesburg, unpaved roads stretched over farmland like pale threads pulled taught. A flock of milk-white sacred ibises floated in formation above a wet, green landscape. Soon freeways appeared; an offramp curled like shaved chocolate from an overpass, only to end in dust and brush before it reached the road below.

A thud, a hop, and my stomach leapt momentarily into my throat as we returned to earth after 14 suspended hours. Then I was passing through customs. A round African woman in a blue uniform approached me.

“What is in that bag?” she asked, pointing to the large, oddly-shaped grey duffel that hung from my shoulder.

“It’s a backpacking backpack.” I responded.

“A what?”

“A backpack,” I said, making a motion like shouldering a bag.

“I don’t understand,” she said in a heavy African accent – Zulu or Xhosa, perhaps.

“It’s um…a bag you carry on your back?” I tried. I set it down and made to open it up and show her.

“Ah…a schoolbag?” She inquired before I could get the zipper open.

“Yes! Exactly. But bigger.”

“Oh okay,” she said, dragging the two words together, and waved me through.

I proceeded to the South African Airways counter to recheck my bags for my short flight to Pietermaritzburg. The nametag of the woman behind the counter indicated that she was called Patience, but she tapped her long fingernails and breathed heavily out of her nose as she waited for me to decide whether to pay the excess baggage fee. I finally relented and set off to find a wireless internet connection.

I started by asking at Mugg & Bean, a South African chain restaurant offering coffee and a wide array of international food. I had gotten wi-fi from there the last time I had passed through the Johannesburg Airport. I asked the host if they had wireless internet.

“What?” he replied. It was becoming the standard response, and I began to wonder whether I was laying on the American accent too thickly.

“Internet…wi-fi? Wireless internet? For my laptop?”

“Oh…no, try Wimpy.” I wandered over to Wimpy, a burgers and fries type of fast-food restaurant. (I can’t imagine how they’ve succeeded with a name like that in a country where masculinity is so highly valued.)

The woman behind the counter looked at me as I approached, and then turned to chat with one of her coworkers. They spoke in an African language and howled with laughter every few seconds. I stood across the counter from her as she leaned in profile, and waited for her to speak to me. Five minutes later, her coworker slipped away and she turned back to the counter, bent over, and began writing in a ledger without glancing in my direction. After a few minutes, I coughed gently, and she rolled her eyes upward.

“Can I help you?” She asked unsmilingly in a bored voice.

“Sorry… do you have wireless internet here?”

“Eh, no. Ask at Mugg & Bean.”

I thanked her and left. I clearly wasn’t going to get any help in the food court, so I began following the arrowed signs overhead that said “Wi-fi Hotspot.” I walked down a long, empty corridor, these signs appearing every 10 meters or so, and found myself standing in a corner at a locked double-door. I turned around and walked the other way, until the signs simply stopped in front of some souvenir shops. Exasperated, I headed downstairs to the information desk.

“All around here is wireless. Everywhere there is wireless,” he told me.

“Even at the restaurants upstairs?”

“Yes, even there,” he said. So I returned to the Mugg & Bean to drink a mocha and write emails until it was time to board my flight to Pietermaritzburg.

Maritzburg, the capital of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, is surrounded by a grid of eucalyptus and pine plantations, sliced neatly into blocks by pin-straight roads. As we flew low over them, I watched the harvest cycle play out below me like a flipbook – bare land, neighbored by a block of saplings, and acres of mature trees undulating with those of a lesser height. Closer to the airport there were red-brick government buildings, tracts of assembly-line suburban homes, tin-roofed shacks, a gaping quarry, a sprawling dump. I stepped off the propeller plane into the tiny, one-room airport, where I collected my bags from a raised platform and embraced an old friend. I glanced back out of the windows overlooking the tarmac and paused for a moment to watch the smoke rise in pillars from the countless controlled burns in the hills around town. During my first days as an exchange student in Maritzburg last year, I remember strolling across campus when pale flecks began to fall from the sky. My first reaction was, “Snow?” though reason quickly led me to abandon that notion. One of the flecks landed on my arm, and I rubbed it into a fine grey powder – ash. A few months later I entered a third-floor dormitory kitchen one morning to find the counters hidden beneath a thick dusting of the grey substance. The frequent burns also contribute to the haze that blankets the town, forced into low inversion layers – and consequently, into unsuspecting lungs – during the winter months.

And then I was back in the city, where it seemed that nothing had changed. I went with a couple of old friends to burger and beer night at Frankie Bananaz, a restaurant and bar whose menus are interspersed with photos straight out of a copy of Maxim magazine – slender girls in bikinis, gazing out from the laminated pages with sultry stares. The waitresses, too, approximate that stereotype. I’ve never been to a Hooter’s, but I imagine that the work uniforms on the girls at Frankie’s aren’t much different. After dinner, I spent some time reminiscing with friends, and then went to sleep, while outside my window the sodium streetlights glowed the neon hue of baked butternut squash.

…to be continued…

Early this morning my United Airlines flight passed low over the steely waters west of Long Island, dotted by the occasional green islet as we came in for a landing at New York’s JFK airport. I am about to board my flight to Johannesburg. At the moment I’m seated beside a group of big game hunters on their way to southern Africa, dressed in khaki and camouflage… “What are you out to hunt?” I asked. “Lions and…whatever else we run into,” a man with a wide-brimmed khaki hat replied with a laugh. “Oh,” I said. I wasn’t sure what else to say.

More to come soon — the boarding call just sounded over the loudspeaker!