Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Peace is Broken

We piled into our baby blue, hippie love van and sailed away from Port St Johns. The days could have quite easily flown by into eternity on its shores, but the road called to us. Feet were itchy and adventure awaited around a new bend in the road. The road that we pointed Arnie down followed the same path along the coastline. The destination was nothing like what we had come across thus far though. We left behind a quiet, rustic, caught in time village surrounded by the rural countryside. We entered Durban, said to be the urban capitol of the area. It is the third largest city in South Africa and has the busiest port in Africa. Traffic lights and high rises clogged busy roads with the din of city life. A vibrant Indian population was a new and interesting sight to behold. This part of Africa was a new experience for us all.
Our first stop was of course to the beaches that touted some of the best surfing around. With the competition of several surfers per wave, the experience was more akin to the familiar swells back home in Australia for our man Brett. Gone were the quiet beaches he had surfed alone or with a small handful of others. Here aggression reared its ugly head, as competition for the best curls was fierce. Miki and I walked the Golden Mile and splashed in the warm ocean waters. Brett took a break and came to sit with us for a spell, but soon enough headed back out to the swells. Taro wandered off to explore our new domain in his own way. After peacefully floating along in our idyllic setting in the Transkei, we all felt a bit out of whack in this boisterous city. The tension seemed to be everywhere, including amongst our little band of travelers. We had been in close quarters for long enough that we all needed some space. It was only a matter of time before we were all exploring this new metropolitan city in our own ways, alone.
I headed out from our home at the Banana Backpackers to gather supplies and discover what intrigues Durban held. I marveled at the mixture of mosques, readily apparent Indian heritage sites, the heavy black population, and of course the smattering of whites around. Here they seemed to mix reasonably well, unlike in some of the other  places we had seen. I delighted in my freedom to wander wherever my feet took me. There was a certain underlying tension that seemed to fill the spaces around me, but I drifted along confidant in the peace that I had attained from our last sojourn. That peace was about to hit a jarring halt.
I returned to the hostel from my wanders about the city to relax and catch up on letters and my journal. As I reclined in the airy courtyard, a commotion caught my attention. A man stumbled in breathing heavily and seemingly dazed. He was a guest at the hostel and someone ran over to see what was wrong. He was weaving on his feet and it quickly became apparent that something had happened to him. He was lowered to the floor and that was when I noticed the blood. Another traveler pushed in to the growing circle around the injured man and took charge. An ambulance was called. The shirt that had blood creeping across it was cut open to reveal a stab wound to the man’s shoulder. Cloth materialized that the angel cloaked in a travelling medical aide’s guise, used to try to staunch the wound that threatened to fill the courtyard with the injured  man’s life-force. A friend of the fallen took the man’s camera that still clung around his neck.  A story emerged  of this blithe tourist that had wandered the city in broad daylight taking in all that the city had to offer and being attacked just blocks from our hostel. He was knocked down, kicked about and stabbed in the shoulder, the last unbeknownst to himself at the time. With his camera still intact, it would seem that robbery was not the motive for the attack. What was, no one could say. After an appalling 45 minutes, an ambulance finally arrived to whisk the fallen traveler away for treatment. An air of heavy spirits settled on all those around that lasted through the rest of the day. The space where the man had lain was avoided, as if bad spirits still lingered there. Unease took over our little band of travelers.
As we recounted the events of the afternoon, other stories emerged regarding other’s experiences of the city. Miki had spied two people struggling in an alleyway the day before, one with a gun in hand. Taro had seen two fights involving bloodshed that very day. Even Brett had witnessed a scuffle. Our illusion of peace and security that we had fostered in the Transkei was broken. We were faced with the realities of violence that were commonplace in this struggling country. This gave evidence to all the horror stories that had been droned into us from so many. We could not ignore it or pooh-pooh the tales any more. Unease set in and we listed the last of the tasks we had to accomplish before we could move on. No one felt like staying on in Durban much longer. It was time to go.
Before we could make our plans and set our destinations, another twist was thrown into our travelling midst though. This one came from amongst us. With little surprise, but some regret Taro decided to part ways with us. He had come with us from Cape Town, but had not entirely committed to the journey with us from the get go. He opted not to go in on the purchase of the van with us and now opted not to continue with us. Travelling with his sister had been wonderful, but also difficult. She smothered him, and he worried her over seemingly obtuse decision making. Neither party was unscathed in their criticisms of each other and their relationship had become noticeably strained. Before anger got the best of them, Taro decided to make his way on his own. The decision pained Miki, but we all understood. We went for a last supper together and offered fierce hugs to our erstwhile companion. His big heart would be missed. His space in the van did not remain vacant though. As we pulled away from the waving Taro, a new hand waved farewells in the form of a German traveler by the name of Oliver. We four headed East and looked towards better karma and a new country.

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