The Other Ferry

  Journeys back. And alongside the official ferry, the other ferry. Crudely, yet artfully made and operated. It takes five or six, maybe seven, depending on the sizes and the baggage. It plies its backwards and forwards passage in a steady burble of water and twitter of its occupants. It leaves nothing but its drifting sound and its slow wake and a whiff of mockery at its big brother which, on many days lies moored to the south bank with raggedly-uniformed staff importantly leaning over its bulwarks and oil slicking from its hulk and a chaos of backed-up trans-traffic...

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And So, The Ferry

Journeys back. “At the ferry staging post, Sunday morning, just after sunrise,” the note under the pic read. Even at this hour it was pulsing with carefree idleness. In a thin haze of river fog and blue-grey exhaust fumes, big diesels with commercial loads throbbed at idle, and many smaller trucks and pickups and cars groaned under loads well beyond capacity. People drifted around, some from the waiting vehicles, others just there. There was what could pass as a queue, but some, parked around, also seemed to lay claim to a slot. In Mozambique at the time there were...

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A Poignant Mix

Journeys back. And now, little villages, with shopping malls, strung out on either side of an open area that serves as main thoroughfare – and the “road.” They are what one could call “downtown.” They throb with life for twenty-four hours, every day. People shop, eat, socialise or just lounge here, and they have a lot of time to do that.  Through traffic, which is mostly pedestrian and bicycle, with the occasional motor cycle and rarer motor vehicle, has to weave through the throng. On the left, here, are two restaurants. The one is a more formal one, more...

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The Stone Crusher

Journeys back. A tarred road. The winding tracks and rutted lanes of the Middle World are back there now. This is civilisation. And yet, on the shoulder of a hill, still this splendid enigma. Concrete stone and rock fill, carefully graded to specific sizes, is what he offers, sold by the shovel-full – credit cards not accepted (sorry). He carries the rocks from the slopes. Ten litre-sized. One at a time. He cracks the basalt into half-litre chunks. Then further. From the chips, calloused fingers select the sizes, tosses each onto its pile. His hammer is crudely handled. Just...

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Life in the Middle World

Journeys back A huge stack of grass wobbling along the uneven road surface on impossibly frail wheels? Oh, a thatch grass merchant, happily peddling his wares to his point of sale. Each of the four bundles must weigh at least twenty kilograms, thirty, maybe. The rider would be another seventy or so. Nudging the limits of what the vehicle can bear, yes, but it is the ungainliness of it that leaves one incredulous. Every year, when the sap of the elephant grass had drawn back to the roots for winter and the tall stalks have turned dry and yellow-white,...

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Civilisation’s Rub Against the Wilderness

Journeys back. Another piece of pragmatic bush engineering, this time on a feint track winding its way around elephant-sized anthills and man-thick tree trunks to a little bush village. The turned earth says it was made since the last rains. It won’t survive the first of the new season’s showers, but for now, it eases the way of rare traveling hawkers and the odd family member from back there, in deep “civilisation,” where people wear fancy clothes and sunglasses and wheel and deal in obscure ways and come to own vehicles – that are, to the traditional bush people,...

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A Creation to Remember

Journeys back. Slowly the wilderness is taking on more and more of the hues of civilisation – but still so enchantingly “wilderness.” From an engineering perspective, volumes can be written about this splendid embodiment of bush engineering – from a poetic perspective too, and from a philosophical one, and, well it simply saturates one’s mind with feelings of wonder, sadness, admiration, empathy, irony, to the point where one’s capacity to verbally do justice to it and its context is overcome. Let me try to convey to you the thoughts that stormed my mind as I listened to old Kgalilaga...

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Around the Edges of Civilisation

Journeys back Once the meandering tracks have led one out of the tsetse belt, animal husbandry appears – and ever more advanced infrastructure to support it. Here, a leaking trough, a length of polyethylene piping, probably filched from some installation deeper inside civilisation, a rudimentary pump, protected from its destructive clients by a few twisted stakes held together with bits of wire. The water is strangely amber-tinged, probably from the iron oxides in the soil, and slightly brackish, but clean and cool, and for now, luxuriously abundant. I am now tempted to drop in a story from one of...

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The Occupation of Survival

Journeys back – into the Middle World Here, in the Middle World between hunter-gatherers and civilisaton-supported settlements, mere survival remains a full-time occupation. The dry season has long sucked the last moisture from the source closer to their little village – a few dozen mud huts at the top of a steep rise.  Now, there’s the shallow pit, hollowed out of the unforgiving rocks a kilometre further upstream. The women take turns with a battered enamel bowl to scoop the muddy water into their containers from a plate-sized puddle at the bottom, a few cups-full at a time. To...

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Bush Road Builders

Journeys back. Elephant “road” through a deep a ravine. Having to go down feels daunting; how we got up and through on the way in is a bit of a mystery. I have made remarks on African roads before, but in passing (if you’ll excuse the pun). There are the “official” ones, built with machinery and adamantly inserted into maps as navigable routes, and a lot can be said about that, for sure. But far more interesting and more extensive are the ones made by the inhabitants of the bush – to get to waterholes, salt licks, isolated villages,...

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