7) To Seize and Besiege. (on visiting the Kruger, October 18 to 21st, 2010)
They are extremely wary. They may look casual, used to our passage, our staring, our taking from them, of them, and our clucking and clapping and clicking, but in an all too brief moment they snort, stomp, and are gone. So are the animals of the Kruger Park. So is the animal in us all. We live in a constant state of being besieged.
Yes, but they don’t seize until they have to, they don’t intend harm, says Bert. Not like us. They don’t rob and steal and brutalize and rape and…
South Africa, with its barred windows and bolted gates and sharp palisades and spikes and barbed wire and eyes that perpetually search for safety, with its hiding things of value and stopping only where it’s safe and its warning signs of high-jack areas and its horrors of tourist traps in which an innocent looking way-side stall of curios hides a gang of thugs waiting like vultures to rip you out of your car, seethes. And in the heat of the day or the dark of the night one comes alert to sounds, to movement, to the out of the ordinary; it makes for spotting the strange, the unexpected, the far-distant, the slightest of disturbed rhythms very well indeed.
Some of us are crocodiles. Some are hippos, buffaloes, elephants, egrets, guinea-fowl, kudu, klipspringers, kingfishers, chameleons, snakes, kite-hawks, bataleur-eagles, hyenas and wolfs. Yes, it’s not only in Africa, I’m thinking. We each are somewhat given to the rhythms of our species, our group, our regular routes of habituation, and we graze and fodder and claim our territorial imperative and raise our ire at those who stomp, trod, or question our physical, intellectual, or spiritual property. It is difficult for us to be universal, integrative. Look how different we are! Even as individuals. No two zebra are alike. No two giraffe. Even in our collective distinctiveness we are, like fingerprints, as differentiated as the very concept of an ‘I’ would have us believe. And inasmuch as we have all these hierarchies of needs, it is only when we are feeling safe that we can afford to lay back, close our eyes, and be at peace.
South Africa is not safe. It writhes under distrust. The bills for food and gas are checked, the accommodations secured, the valuables taken with you instead of entrusted to the car or the room or the closet or the suitcase. We do not get petrol-juice there. We do not sleep here. We do not eat there. Our house has six sets of locks to get inside. We have alarms and dogs and guns. We are the people. We are the fearful. We are the desperate. We are the irate, the dissatisfied, the distrustful. And yet…
Faces screwed up into belligerence at the heat, pierced by an eye to an eye, open like flowers to thirst for love and care and interest and friendliness. The smallest token, like a Canadian lapel pin, is received with great joy, great humility. The petrol attend removes his cap, dips with a little bow, and beams at the gift. One being to another, brief and tiny as the gesture is, lifts the barricade of siege and besiege. Oh Africa, wither wilst thou go?