February 2002, setting the scene
I used to work in a farm in Africa. I don’t want to do a Baroness von Blixen-Finecke impersonation here but I don’t know how to tell this story without telling you about where it all started.
Zebediela is a citrus plantation in the Limpopo about 400 kilometres north of Johannesburg. Unlike the city of gold, though, Zebediela looks as if apartheid is not yet over even when the whole world celebrated its demise more than 10 years ago. While it used to be a booming citrus plantation boasting to be the biggest in the whole world, the whole community seems to be living in the quagmire of poverty, ignorance, disease and disempowerment.
To be truly accurate, there have been some changes. Black civil servants have replaced the white management a few months before I arrived. Still, the life of plantation workers seems to be in a time warp. The workers receive the same wages they used to receive in 1994 before the democratic elections. Extended families averaging in 7 people have to live in small dilapidated mud rondavels about 3 meters in diameter. TB, HIV&AIDS and skin diseases plague the community. They still address white people “Morena” – meaning Lord. Unfortunately that includes me. They talk to me in hushed scared tones refusing eye contact.
Having spent a good part of my youth as a student activist, the plantation should be ripe for what we used to call a revolutionary situation. It’s jarring to realize that sadly, for the people of Zebediela, the revolution passed them by.
I went to Zebediela as a volunteer to help uplift the lives of the people in the plantation. For somebody who has worked in the non-government sector demonstrating rural development models for more than a decade I believed no community should be too wretched as to not benefit from organized efforts.
I was naïve.
This shouldn’t be so bad. The opportunity of working in Africa alone is a chance of a lifetime. There were times that I still held my breath at the view of the majestic expanse of the Limpopo mountain ranges as I walk on my way to work. The myriad songs of birds wake me up every morning as sunlight pierces through the curtains of my bedroom window. Monkeys, snakes and other forms of exotic wildlife nonchalantly cross the street almost oblivious of my presence. And yes, the beauty of the sheltering African sky at sunset cannot be captured in words.
After six months of failed attempts to get the management and the workers interested in organizing efforts, the mountains started to look like prison walls. The sunlight is scorching. The birds emit cacophonic mockery of heralding another futile day. The wildlife once enchanting seems ominous, deadly. And the sunset is just another reminder of the days still to end without the comfort of home. I wanted to make friends, but nobody would even look me in the eye.
A fat, utterly disgusting Afrikaner told me once over dinner in a rare moment of social life that Africa was not for sissies. I was dumbfounded with outrage the first time I heard it. After 6 months in the plantation though I’m thinking - fuck, yeah, maybe he’s right.
I was feeling this way when this story started.
February 2002, the morning after
I woke up with a start feeling something has definitely gone wrong. A hairy muscular arm was resting comfortably around my waist. Slowly, I turned around and watched the man sleeping peacefully beside me. I smiled to myself remembering our frantic and sweaty fucking last night. I search for a sense of guilt about having cheated on E to whom I swore fidelity. My smile broadened when I found none.
I looked around and looked in amazement at our clothes strewn all over the bedroom. So uncharacteristic of the usual order and bareness. Our pants looked good together entwined on the floor.
My eyes were drawn back by his gruff handsome face trying to figure out how I got into this situation when he shifted, eyelids fluttering as if sensing and being brought back to wakeful consciousness by my wonder.
"What time is it?" he asked with a smile, his voice thick from sleep. His eyelids still heavy.
"It's 7 o'clock. Almost time for you to go," I whispered softly.
"Hmm." he moaned snuggling closer. I felt his hardness against my stomach. I was still looking at him when he suddenly opened his eyes wide, smiled and kissed me on the mouth. "Good morning."
I mumbled a similar greeting. I wriggled out of his embrace, stood up, reached for and started putting on my pants. All the while I was uneasily aware of being watched by a pair of sleepy eyes. I was never the one to know what to say the morning after. The harsh daylight seems to banish all the intimacies forged in the dark.
"Would you like to have breakfast before you go?" I asked before leaving the room on my way to the toilet.
"Nah. Tea will be nice, though." He said, looking around the room for his clothes. He found his gray boxers, reached for it and put it on while still in bed.
"How do you take your tea?" I asked, my legs shifting. I really need to go to the toilet.
"No sugar with a little milk. Just a little," I vaguely saw him making a gesture with his thumb and forefinger as I hurried to the toilet. There, I thought as I watched the golden arch of my piss making its way to the toilet bowl noisily, I now know how he takes his tea in the morning. I can claim I did not sleep with a person I hardly know. Somehow that gave me a deep sense of satisfaction.