On Sunday, after the ‘Desvio’, we got back on the highway and hit our first police roadblock. Hugo from PUMANGOL had told us exactly what to do. We flourished loads of photocopies in response to various demands and absolutely positively refused to hand over our passports. The officers got very indignant. Second-in-command Mr Biceps came round to the passenger side (where Ruby was sitting), climbed up and leaned in the window very aggressively. Perhaps I should have been more smiley, to diffuse the tension, but I really didn’t like his attitude. He even gave Sampson a little push when he got out. The third one was very friendly and apologetic and, bizarrely, the spitting image of Julius Malema. When deadlock was reached, we phoned Hugo ‘our man at the SA embassy’ and he gave them heaps, before giving us the go ahead to let them see the passports. Meekly they handed them back, and with a ‘No problemo, no problemo’ waved us on.
I loved Lubango. It was cool in all senses, with a faded-Portuguese-colonial-grandeur-mixed-with-modern-mopeds vibe. Candy-coloured houses, piles of fruit for sale on the pavements and fresh rolls. We pulled over and had boiled eggs while watching groups of giggling young people in smart jackets and shiny shoes carrying bibles on their way back from church. This charming little city felt a million miles from the abject poverty of the bush, where I hadn’t taken any pictures of the people we passed because I felt like I was adding to their abuse.
I would’ve liked to hang out there a bit longer, but Sampson was on a mission to get to the sea. He needed to get in the water and surf. He’s always does, but now in his grief he was needing that salt water therapy more than ever. Sampson has the soul of a dolphin – chatters like one too, when he’s feeling happy. So even though he wasn’t feeling very well we pushed on for the coast. All these pictures were taken on the move, so forgive me if they’re a bit blurry.
It was a gentle balm to be high in the mountains, with a refreshing breeze blowing in through the window. My favourite spot so far was Humpata, a tiny place on the top of the plateau, surrounded by deep green coniferous forests looking like Canada. The climate contrast reminded me of Darjeeling after the heat and dust of Kolkata.
For 300 Kwanza ($3 or R30) the famous Leba Mountain Road pass was the best value rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on. Dropping from just under 2000m to 400m in about 40 mins of hairpin bends, it beats the Slingshot at Ratanga Junction for sheer sphincter-clenching thrills. I had to squeeze my eyes shut a couple of times as the front of the truck seemed to swing out over the void. Sampson was loving it: “It’s like Sir Lowry’s Pass and Chapman’s Peak had a baby and it grew up with an attitude problem.” Check this out:
Less than an hour the other side, and we were back on the hot barren dusty plains on our way to the coast.
On arrival, Namibe wasn’t quite the beach paradise we were hoping for. A rather Capetonian cold winter wind was howling in from the sea so we spent the night on the PUMANGOL forecourt – thanks Osvaldo – before missioning to the beach in the morning. That 2km drive was a heartbreaking mixture of 1st and 3rd world. We should be used to it, coming from South Africa, but even though there is a huge gulf between, say, the mansions of Sandton and the subsistence existence of the rural Eastern Cape, you rarely see it on the same street. Here there was a townhouse with several gleaming SUVs outside, complete with indoor gym equipment behind tinted upstairs windows, just down the road from sewage-surrounded slums crammed into derelict buildings around the harbor, with toddlers sat playing on piles of litter. More surreal was what seemed to be an assortment of missiles left perched on a hill pointing out to sea. Sorry I didn’t get photos – I was still feeling discombobulated with grief. It was bleak and Sampson was also feeling wretched. The children, bless them, always find something to play with, and I sat and wrote, thankful for the good internet connection.
The next day was the one we’d been longing for. Sunny skies and Sampson had dreamt he’d had a hug with his Mum and felt loads lighter. The kids spent the entire day playing and splashing in the water, behind the sign that said swimming forbidden. There was no surf but we lay imbibing the sea air and soaking up the solar energy and began to feel vaguely human again, regaining a little equilibrium after the disorientating effect of a close death. It felt very healing and necessary. I was reminded of what our dear friend and carnival king Emmanuel always says: ‘Just breathe, just be’. I even sent an email to that effect to my right-hand woman at the office, Cindy, because I knew the eMzantsi schools programme was starting the next day and they would all be stressing.
Wednesday was booked for filtering the final few containers before pushing on. I did the equivalent of 3 loads of handwashing in our plastic drum while Sampson and Zola filtered oil using the JoJo tank (which had previously been carrying the biodiesel with which we use to flush the engine on starting up and stopping). It’s interesting how this trip has thrown us into uncharacteristically gendered roles: He ‘drive and fix’, me ‘teach and cook’. I’ve never cooked supper every night for a month straight in our entire relationship. Not sure how long I’ll keep it up…
In the afternoon, I checked email and found a worrying one from Cindy ahead of our booked Skype catch-up call. The connection was not strong enough for an audio link, but we connected to chat and she prepared me as best she could before she told me: our eMzantsi brother Emmanuel died yesterday.
If the shocking news of the death of Mark’s Mom a week ago was like a slap round the face, word of this second death struck me like a body blow. A punch to the guts that left me literally gasping. I howled in disbelief. For an atheist, I felt extremely angry with God. Joy was 78 and had had a happy and fulfilled life. Emmanuel was only 39 and had so much more to live and to give. If you’d like to know more about this amazing soul, see the eMzantsi Carnival page on Facebook.
So, Groundhog Days of grief, but me worse this time, crying randomly and uncontrollably at all times of the day and night. The kids are having a crash course in mourning. Ruby is being immensely comforting, giving lots of hugs. Zola spontaneously does the washing up without being asked. Bless ’em. It’s tough to see your Mom in an emotional bucket.
Grief puts a kind of barrier between you and the world. I haven’t been able to see properly, to connect, to take pictures or feel properly present. We were kindly taken round a market in Namibe by superefficient PUMANGOL employee Mayara Silva who helped us bargain for veggies and the biggest papaya I’ve ever seen, and I felt I was hardly there, despite the gorgeous whirl of people and colour, flies and food. It was like there was a haze hanging between me and reality, making it filmic. I couldn’t even feel concerned when Sampson discovered that somehow he’d lost all the Garmin records of the week since his Mom died, so our Guinness World Record log was incomplete. Then he found them. Seems the GPS got reset by that bumpy road and automatically archived them… Just breathe, just be.
Today, the spirits who watch over us came together and gave us what we needed. Two hundred kilometres north of Namibe, Sampson spotted a wave and we turned off the highway and arrived here in surfer’s paradise. A windswept handful of huts over a left point break, with waves pealing constantly in perfect lines. Sampson was whooping before he even got his wetsuit on. The locals had never seen a surfboard before and were bemused at the entire process. The intrepid three paddled out and Sampson had the surf of his life. He said it’s like a cross between Gonubie and Eland’s Bay – and so long and flowing and forgiving, it gives you lots of time to make you feel like you’re a better surfer than you are. He’s named it Joy’s Gift.
Written on 2nd August 2013.