Tag Archives: remembering

A year ago

I woke up this morning thinking about Fort Portal. Uganda and the DRC have been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t believe it’s been a year. Not that Fort Portal was exactly a year ago. Exactly a year would have been, let’s see, I think Kampala? Wow, early morning Kampala, trudging through the still-sleeping streets with too much luggage to catch the Post Bus.

But Fort Portal, perhaps more than any other place I can remember, represents the edge of adventure. That night, the first night in Fort Portal, when we all gathered around a little table, over a beer, and had The Conversation about medical conditions and next of kin and emergency insurance information. On the edge of venturing into the unknown of the eastern DRC. That tension, than intensity. A plan finally coming together. The introspection. No-one really mentioning the emotions just below the surface, but all the senses heightened. The incredible awareness of anticipation.

The moments, the images of Fort Portal are particularly clear to me. Perhaps because it was a place I truly fell in love with. Perhaps precisely because of that anticipation. The brightly coloured selection of fruit at the little market. The honey shop. The cranes by the river. The goats on what looked like a sports field. The men with their bicycles selling huge bunches of green bananas. The aid-agency land-cruisers – a different selection to Gulu or Bunia. The bank, looking just like a small-town, farming-centre South African bank. The crazy statue of Sir Gerald Portal. The round building on the hill, the purpose of which was never discovered. The food – some of the best in Uganda. The cold beer. The cool evening.

The Rwenzoris in the distance a path not taken. Early in the trip planning, we had been considering hiking in the Rwenzoris. I’m glad we didn’t because the path we chose was incredible, but the road not take always remains. One day I would like to go back and explore the “mountains of the moon”. One day.

It’s been a year since an incredible trip with incredible people into the heart of a place so often maligned, ignored and misunderstood. SADC has agreed to send troops into the DRC to enforce whatever peace is agreed upon. Rumours continue to surface of Rwandan and Ugandan involvement. Perhaps one day it will all be over and the eastern DRC will claim its position as a truly magical place to visit.

Perhaps I’ll go back. Perhaps I’ll go somewhere else. Waking up in the early hours of this morning, I could taste, again, the cool, just-rained air, the hotel sheets, the mosquito net, the excitement of that morning in Fort Portal. The edge of adventure. The anticipation of wonder.

Window shopping

In my first year of university, I used to go to town each Friday morning. My only lecture was later in the day but I knew if I skipped breakfast I’d be starving later and I couldn’t really afford to buy extra food. So I’d get up and have breakfast in the res dining hall and then walk down the hill.

Through campus, under the arch, down high street and into the town. I’d wander in and out of shops and occasionally buy something I needed – although usually only after careful consideration and a thorough search for a better deal. I’ve always been a window shopper. The shops were empty. There was space and time for me to consider and look and wander.

Once I’d visited all the shops (Grahamstown does not have that many shops), I’d sit in a cafe and sip delicious cappuccino or hot filter coffee. Sometimes I’d read but mostly I’d sit there writing. I wrote so much that year. These days I seldom write anything that’s not for work or studies. Then, I wrote for pleasure.

After my coffee, the morning now half gone, I’d wander back onto campus. The campus was quiet on a Friday morning. The occasional sleep-deprived undergrad tearing off to hand in a late assignment – often still in pyjamas (or yesterday’s clothes) – but otherwise quiet. I’d find a spot in the half shade near the library and read and write and people-watch.

Those were quiet times. Later in my varsity years the pressure and the parties would pick up, but those first-year Fridays were so very quiet. I think that was the first time I learnt to be alone. Of course, I’d been a normal teenager with ordinary angst but the lonesomeness of adolescence was tempered but a busy family and a home with a heart far bigger than just the five of us.

That first year at varsity was different. I learnt to enjoy the silence and introspection of alone. I learnt to be alone in public. I am always a little sorry for people who can’t go to movies or eat out or to a show on their own. Years later, it would chafe terribly that Korean restaurants wouldn’t serve a solo diner. That same year I would discover, alone, the incomparable joy of the opera. And later, learn to travel alone. How much you can see and learn in solitude in motion.

I still associate the joy of alone with shopping. Whether it’s a market in Maputo or a cafe in Korea, I’m one of those annoying customers that don’t want help. I don’t want someone to find things for me. For me, the joy is in the wandering, on my own, and looking at everything. Shop assistants annoy me. To be fair, the fact that I seldom buy anything probably annoys them, too. But I don’t care. It’s my space, my time, my alone.

I feel the same joy in a mall or a street of shops on a quiet morning. I lived in Johannesburg for a few years and there was a special magic to Rosebank in the early mornings. Shops just beginning to open. Umbrellas being put up. Menus being prepared. The newspaper seller rushing to keep up with the demand. The taste of strong coffee in the quiet morning cool over a copy of my favourite daily paper. On my way to work or meetings or brunch with friends. I’ve lived in small towns and subdued suburbia and far-flung places in more than one country. If you ask me what I love about cities, that’s it. The quiet of a coffee shop with a newspaper or a note-pad first thing in the morning. The joy of a quiet mall. That and public transport.

There are things I love about living in the middle of nowhere. The monkeys and the cows and the long, daily trek to work, to mention just a few. But I find myself longing for civilisation again. A trip to the local mall is a tantalising taste of what I long for but just a little too small, a little too unsophisticated to fill the gap. A new year creeps towards the horizon and I begin to wonder if it’s time to move on.

The Valley of a Thousand Hills

The Valley of a Thousand Hills is a tourist destination. Thousands of people come here to look at the view. It’s also where I happen to live. The Valley of a Thousand Hills is almost ridiculously beautiful this morning. I tried to take a picture but I couldn’t capture it. Couldn’t capture the splendour, the expanse, the hill-on-hill stretching to blue. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the day is warm and the breeze is cool.

The sunshine makes the morning seem brighter – grass is greener, bunnies are cuter. There are bunnies at my office. No-one seems to know where they came from but there they are, happily hopping around. Birds flutter from tree to tree with flashes of red wings. It is peaceful and pretty and all against the background of the Valley. I turn a corner and the view from the end of the road or the window of the boardroom takes my breath away.

The pretty morning makes me think of other times. I find myself thinking so often these day about Korea s – this time two years ago. This time two years ago, I was struggling through the deepest, coldest, most miserable part of a Korean winter. The run-up to Christmas and New Years had been beguiled by the novelty of a few days off, several operas and anticipation of the epic ski-trip. January was hard. In my mind, the winter’s back should have been broken and the seasons should have been starting to change. Months later, I finally understood what it is like to live through 8  months of winter every year.

January is always a restless season. That January in Korea was one of trying to adjust back to mundane low-grade misery after the first real trip out of Daegu. Return can be hard . This year, it’s about finding perspective. I am restless, unsettled. In the midst of it, though, I know one thing: this beauty, this sunshine, this morning, is the context in which I want to find the perspective I need. Some people can live anywhere; they want to travel the world and see everything and live other cultures. I want to know my own continent. All of it. Or at least the bit south of the Sahara. I want my Januaries – my seasons of restlessness – to have sunshine and pretty mornings and views as beautiful as the Valley of a Thousand Hills.