Early on —when I knew no better and when things still seemed possible— Piet once said; ‘This place is like Paradise. But only for those who know what real paradise is.’
And I think he was right. But what he failed to tell me was that paradise is rarely what we expect it to be.
But my story didn’t begin there. It didn’t even begin with my booking a one-way ticket to South Africa. In fact, I don’t even know if there ever was a clear beginning to it at all. I guess the idea of going to Africa had always just kind of been there —in my head— brewing, dissolving and taking shape again as my imagination made me see myself in a lodge somewhere deep in the African bush —acacia trees and rolling hills extending to infinity— before my fears would sweep in and pull me back to reality. I spent hours at work scouring the net, looking for places in Africa I could work at and fantasize about taking off.
Then one day, I received an Email. Piet wrote he owned a small lodge in the middle of nowhere and needed someone to help run the place. It sounded amazing, I replied, then handed in my resignation letter and booked myself a flight around half the planet.
* * *
And paradise it was. Compared to the crammed, sweaty buses I had endured to get there, the lodge, which sat on a gentle hill, overlooking an expansive, undulating landscape of thorn bush and date-palm trees, seemed, well, like everything I had imagined. It was the text-book Africa of my dreams.
Every morning, I made us two freshly pressed mugs of coffee. Piet and I sat opposite one another, and as the African sun slowly ballooned up to her full size, planned our conquests. Except that our conquests all took place on a chessboard and that game, often times, was as far as our planning for the day went.
You see, it wasn’t a busy lodge —presumably because of the Herculean task of getting there— by any means. It wasn’t unusual for a few days to pass without any new guests arriving. I kept myself busy as best I could; I showed the occasional guests around, planted seeds at the veggie garden, and spent hours poring at the guidebooks I found on the bookshelf —trying to teach myself how to track the animals and read the bush— then walked to the lake and watched the hippos yawn and the fish eagles scream.
But mostly, there was nothing to do except read and talk and occasionally —when the mood struck and the weather was foul and my thoughts scattered— smoke.
Mornings turned into afternoons and days into weeks. The passage of time washed over the land, eroding its exotic features one after another. The hills began to all look alike. The sunrises morphed into mere warnings of the intense heat that was to follow. And the hippos, regardless of how long I waited by the lake, barely ever left the water.
We were becoming too familiar with each other, and as it is the way with familiarity, it began to lead to boredom.
* * *
The rain had poured onto the land since the night before and as we sat beneath the veranda’s thatched roof that afternoon, I wondered if there would be a flood. I had been there for almost ten weeks by then and the grey skies reflected my mood.
Piet breathed out a lungful of smoke, flicked his joint’s butt toward a nearby ashtray and sighed. ‘Do you know why I smoke so much?’
‘Because you are a stoner.’ I offered.
He gave a small, bitter laugh.‘Because it helps me cope.’
The way he said it, he made it seem as if he was talking as much to himself as to me. ‘I’ve been running this place for five years now, and I’m bored. I want to get back out on the road, but I can’t just board this place up and leave.’
Neither of us said anything for a while. I closed the book I was reading and looked over at paradise, just beyond the wooden fence, where a flock of cattle egrets, suddenly took to the air.
I wished I could offer him the freedom he was after. But I knew something had changed over the past ten weeks. It was as if living in the isolation of the bush had shown me that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for the bush after all. I would always love Africa, her colours and sharp odours, her acacias and starry nights, but I also missed the world beyond and her bush ticks were becoming too much for me to bear.
‘This joint was so delicious I might roll another one.’ I thought I heard him say. He had been right; I had found paradise—at least for a while. But the simple truth that neither of us had known or wanted to admit to, was that even paradise sometimes holds boredom.
Note from the author:
Due to our recent erratic travels in Africa, I have not had consistent access to the net and as such was rendered unable to post as many articles and stories as I usually do.
But such is the harsh charm of Africa.
Thank for being patient and keep an eye out for more new exciting content.