The title of this blog has more than one significance for me. For one thing, I've been away from my blog and blogland too long (why is life so busy?). For another, I've been away to a country and a friend I've missed sorely over the years and in that sense, I have probably grown even fonder of it than before.
For those I haven't seen on Facebook, I've just spent ten days in my beloved South Africa with my dearest and best friend, Moira (I wrote about our friendship back in 2007 here). It seems almost daft to talk about 'best friends' at my age, but Moi is one of those for whom time apart makes no difference. Within seconds of my arrival, we were giggling over absurdities just as we've always done.
We drove from Johannesburg to the midlands of Kwazulu Natal, a hauntingly beautiful part of the country, where we stayed in a self-catering 'chalet' (although what it had to do with quaint wooden houses and decks remained a mystery to me as in reality it was a full-sized house). Every morning of our stay, we got up, wrapped blankets around us and went onto the veranda overlooking the magnificent foothills of the Drakensberg. The early part of each day was chilly, but the sun shone in cloudless blue skies as we sat there talking, laughing and drinking coffee (or tea in Moi's case) accompanied from day one by the stable cat. She in fact moved in and never left, so Moi took her home to Jo'burg at the end of our stay with the blessing of the stables' owners.
|We sat here every morning wrapped in blankets|
|View from our veranda|
We did a few trips out, and a good deal of walking, but mostly we were there to relax and catch up. I wrote a diary during the week, and reading it back, I chuckle anew over the daft things we did: trying to reach the chalet car port by driving over the garden instead of the road (a rather bumpier ride than intended) and attempting to open up the house with the car keys (it was more like forcing an entry) were just two of them. We got the giggles like school girls, and one evening we were laughing so much over my cavalier attitude to cooking dinner, I had to dash to the loo before I had an embarrassing accident.
|We had some lovely walks. This retreat was on one route|
|A trip out to Giants Castle in the Drakensberg|
|Giants Castle reserve|
|The mighty Drakensberg|
|Trains - always a draw card for me|
But then there were the incredible stars - the Milky Way seemed so close you felt could touch it, and the Southern Cross was like a vivid beacon, a true guiding light in the sky. There were the fire-breaks and controlled burn-offs (plus some that were uncontrolled and scary) that I remember from living there myself. And there was the beauty of the scenery to make us stop in awe. Even more impressive was the Mandela Monument near Howick to remind us of what the country has been through. There were also the observations I made: for instance, people are so very open, helpful and friendly that for me, coming from this northern, more reticent culture, it was a wonderful reminder of SA's great (and justified) reputation for hospitality. Another observation was how things have changed to meet the new market demands there. I was highly entertained to notice that the clothes mannequins in the shop windows all had very pert, well rounded behinds - no longer the skinny European style models! As I said, local market demands…
|An out of control burn off - scary!|
|The amazing sculpture of Mandela by Marco Cianfanelli|
|Lions River. This old house now houses |
a sort of antique shop
Lastly there was the clear indication that while the affluence in SA is now much more evenly spread in terms of racial mix, there is sadly no real diminution of the numbers of desperately poor people. Many of these have come from neighboring countries - from economies crippled by conflict, drought and mismanagement - and are seeking a better life. Nevertheless, South Africa is not yet economically strong enough to cope and the pressure on its own infra-structures is showing. Power cuts are a regular occurrence with scheduled 'outages' of several hours several times a month. More and more, people are talking about 'going off the grid' and making their own electricity with solar power.
To add to the problems, a failure in water management planning means that in some places 50% of the drinking water is lost 'in the pipeline' due to lack of maintenance and even theft. This, in a country prone to drought as well. These are challenges South Africa is facing. They are serious, and they will need to be addressed if the people are to move forward.
|Water is often wasted in the (broken) pipelines|