Friday, May 21, 2010

Solitude, Dagga & Daffodils

On my varied travels I have often found myself in need of that very un-social human condition, solitude.

I attribute this uncharacteristic trait of mine to study, in my youth, of Francis Bacon’s writing. He penned these words, “Whoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a God.” in his essay entitled “Of Friendship”.

I quickly assessed that at that particular time in my life I was not the wild beast of my latter years, and I was forced by my over-inflated ego to make the assumption that I must be a God.

This was a major decision in my life possibly taken after I had observed my mother’s Kama-sutra performance with Reverend Groper O’ Casey over the font at my belated christening.

The hypocrisy of the clergy on both sides of the great religious divide; I’m referring here to the division in the ranks of Catholics and Protestants, has always astonished me. I had not yet dabbled in the Middle-Eastern and Far-Eastern religions of Islam and Buddhism. That’s another story. So the hypocrisy of the guardians of Christianity never passed me by unobserved. Therefore I hope you’ll understand that for me to take this mighty leap of faith, and assume the mantle of a God was not too far-fetched.

I was at this time heavily involved in the mini film boom of the mid-eighties in South Africa and was working with the young Kung-fu-jujitsu-ko-karate-kick-boxers of the era.

Messers Bradley and Dudikof of the American Ninja series fame.

Fine young lads they were. They could both fly through the air with the greatest of ease and chop a polystyrene block in half with their little fingers. Somersaults, handsprings, double cart-wheels and demonic starring eyes were all part of their athletic repertoire. Unfortunately acting was not. Not that many acting skills were required in those all-action packed adventures set in the exotic jungles of the Philippines or the ravines of the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho in Southern Africa.

It was great fun to watch the Yankie-lads, David and Michael, rehearsing their fight routines. I had discovered a small hill-top sun trap and equipped myself, with a camping chair, a pair of binoculars, a full Toddie, my cross-word book, my Francis Bacon book and a condensed volume of William Wordsworth’s finest poems.

I was, as I’ve explained earlier, “Hurrying up and Waiting” and seeing as I hadn’t been allotted a caravan I decided to set up my own base-camp, and was issued with a walkie-talkie should the 2nd assistant director want me on the set. My view was magnificent. I could see all the comings and goings from the set and the fight rehearsal area, and was surrounded by some of the most breath taking scenery that Lesotho had to offer.

It was the end of my third day of “Hurrying up and Waiting” that I was informed that the character I was playing would now not be required for another week.

The producers of the epic, two members of the Israeli Mafia , affectionately known as Globus & Gobshite, informed me that I could be either, housed at the five star hotel in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Or I could be flown back to Johannesburg in South Africa were I had temporary accommodation with an estranged widow.

Neither of these options appealed to me.

The prices charged at the hotel bar were so exorbitant that they could not be covered by my per diems and the widow in Johannesburg although sprightly-lass in her mid-seventies owned six dogs. It was my duty when in residence, apart from servicing the widow, to pick up and dispose of the daily dog droppings. “No”. I thought re-reading Bacon’s famous quote I need to be a God once more.

Acquiring the services of a production driver I had myself dropped at the top of the “God-Help-Me” pass about seventy kilometres outside Maseru. That is its actual name by the way.

It was here at the Basuto Pony Trekking centre I hired the use of a Basotho pony, a pack mule and a young African guide, Johann, for a five-day tour into the Lesotho Mountains. We loaded up our provisions, which consisted mostly of cans of the local beer, army-style Tak-biscuits, tins of sardines, and tins of corned beef onto the back of the pack mule, and off we headed into the realms of pure solitude.

I can highly recommend the trip.

Balanced securely on the sturdy pony I traveled along metre-wide ledges. Looking down one thousand metre cliff faces, bathed under crystal clear waterfalls and meandered through verdant valley floors. It was on these winding river basins that I began to understand the minds of my pony, aptly named Sure-foot, and all the inhabitants of this magnificently beautiful country.

The locals had an excellent understanding of the economics of subsistence farming.

The crops were grown in long well-tilled furrows, and I soon grasped why Sure-foot and my guide constantly changed lanes. We would amble along; mealie-corn on one-side, and garden peas on the other. After ten or so minutes Johann, the guide would lead us through the peas so we now had “dagga” (marijuana) on one side and peas on the other. Ten minutes later we would slip through the marijuana and end up with mealie-corn on our left and the dagga on our right. At each crossover the ponies, the mule, and Johann would pause, and help themselves to produce from the Garden of Eden.

This gave me a new appreciation of the Afrikaner expression, “Pad-kos” – “On the road food”.

On my third night, reclining on the front seat of a 1964 Mercedes Benz in the Chief Markoba’s hut the intricacies of the farming system were explained to me. While we partook of boiled fresh mealies, cooked in sawn-off beer cans, I introduced the chief to Polish vodka from my Toddie.

“E-mealies is for the energy,” he said. “E- peas, she is for the roughage, the making of the wind.”

“And the dagga?” I asked.

“She is for the making of the money, so we is then can buy e-everything else.”

Chief Markoba was the perfect host, and he suggested that the following day we should pay a call on his sister who only lived thirty-five k’s away. He told me that the sister’s daughter was a schoolteacher and had the “Good-English” and was in charge of the factory.

“It beautiful trek. Johann she know it. Up e-valley over e-hill.” he said as we saddled up in the four-am dawn light.

The hill at which he was pointing had a resemblance, to my untrained eye, of the North Slope of Mount Everest.

The climb was easy. Sure-foot did his duty. The descent however into the sister’s valley was slightly more hair raising. It reminded me of my childhood excursions to the Pleasure Beach in Blackpool. Try to imagine that you are you are on the “Big-Dipper”. The engines have stalled, and you descend from the highest point controlled only by the rachetted braking system. In my case Sure-foot’s front knees were the rachets.

On arriving at the sister’s kraal my first need was a cold compress for my bruised privates that had been hammered against the pommel of my cowboy style saddle. After a short lie in the fading afternoon sun, I was given a guided tour of the factory that Cheif Markoba had told me about. The factory was a small rondavel attached to the Mission school were the sister’s daughter taught.

I was expecting to be shown the inside of a storeroom where they would keep their text-books and other commodities associated with the art of learning. As Maria, the daughter opened the door I caught the soft entrancing smell of drying herbs. The interior of the rondavel was full of brilliantly constructed hessian shelves laden with drying dagga.

During the course of our evening meal of peas, mealies and canned corned beef I enquired of Maria as to where she stored her text-books.

“No text-books”, she said, “till we is being sell the dagga.”

As we enjoyed a communal pipe in the quietness of the evening, I concluded that these gentle-folk were already Gods in their own right. So I decided instead of baffling them with the philosophical writings of Mr. Bacon I would read them a short extract from my “Works of Wordsworth”, who I consider to be another environmentally friendly teacher and poet.

“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye,
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.”

1 comment:

Adrian Galley said...

A beautiful story, well told