January 27, 2005

Foreign Relations

More blogging. Vinod used to enjoy going “mud bogging”. Not the same.

I was saluted with an puzzling gesture this afternoon. I was standing on the sidewalk, waiting for Neway, when I guy walking passed me asked the time. I pretended like I didn’t understand, as I figured this might be the start of what one tour guide author named “plonking” – unwanted offers of assistance. So I ignored, but I guess he genuinely wanted the time, because he asked the next person he met, who gave him the time.

As he continued, the guy had what I assume were a few unkind gestures made on my behalf. The first was rubbing the bottom of his shoes with his hand. In mid-stride, he bent his leg up, reached down and rubbed it a few times. Perhaps this signaled that I was under his shoe or something like that (I asked my wife and brother-in-law later about the gesture, and they didn’t recognize it – possibly a localized signal of disdain). He also spit in my direction, while looking at me, something I was able to piece together on my own.

I did have my cowboy hat on, so that might have changed the dynamic. Part of me wanted to call out at him and ask him to come back and explain himself to my face. But what was I really going to do – fight him right there in the street? All in all, it was a no winner exchange.

After that brief interaction, Neway and I picked up a scraggly looking foreigner on the side of the road. He was standing at an intersection, trying to flag down a taxi, and we decided to offer him a ride. Turns out he was an Italian on a three month overland journey from Cape Town to Egypt. He was traveling alone, and seemed to be feeling it emotionally. The loneliness, etc. He explained to us that not 30 minutes before we met him, he’d seen one of the young street beggars hit by a car. He wasn’t sure how badly she was hurt, but he was clearly shaken (as any of us would have been).

He also told us an amusing/tragic account from his travels. I asked if he was lonely traveling alone and he said, “yes”. He continued to tell us that the lowest point in his trip came on Christmas Day in Mozambique when he found himself alone in a hotel restaurant, eating a gross pizza. And he was from Napoli, the birthplace of pizza (seems every town in Italy is the birthplace of pizza).

I could sympathize with what he was feeling, having been on my own in Africa two times previously. But, it’s self-inflicted, like a test of your endurance. Traveling alone in Africa will lead you to feel incredible loneliness and incredible connections, incredible frustration – at any given time. Your emotions rarely seem to be consistent.


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