What we mean when we say landbase

Hadedas, the African ibis, screaming hoarsely as they fly over the fields of genetically modified rapeseed, grown for export. The air smells of snow, a dusty wind silts up the wooden flooring of the house, planks of yellow wood or Oregon pine  laid in  late 1928. Out on the veld there are breeze blocks of concrete and taps  in communal places, another makeshift housing project. No running water as yet, no ablution blocks, no electricity, but the homeless  have moved in and  are cooking over fires lit inside unpainted rooms. The steel-frame windows blacken with smoke and soot, holes are made in the corrugated roofing so that the inhabitants  sleeping around the embers do not smother and choke to death on carbon monoxide.

My land base, degraded and disregarded. When tourists come out here, they want a more sanitised and exotic Africa,  tarred routes through the scenic mountains and along the coast, they want organic show farms, vineyards and  ravines of virgin forest, streams that bubble and froth under overhanging willows. No unsightly rubbish dumps, no medical waste scattered in riverbeds (that detritus of bloodstained bandages, used syringes, broken morphine bottles — such a familiar sight for  those of us out walking in the bushveld). No expanses of veld given over to crude pine  crosses and hastily dug graves, the lingering stench of overflowing  graveyards, reminders of the epidemic. The harsher landscapes, the ugly informal communities (once called squatter camps) and the steaming garbage disposal sites, the dead dog at the roadside, the  protruding ribs of sick cattle, the brutishness of poverty repels. But this is the reality, the isness of  rural Africa.The raw truth of where we begin.

There are women laughing as they queue for the solitary water truck bringing in not-enough water for  washing clothes and dirty pots, cooking over the fire, cleaning the sick,  for boiling  to sterilise the baby’s bottle, for quenching thirst at the end of  the long hot day. Women laughing and telling stories, even though the well has run dry.

The raw truth of where we begin.

And where the picturesque ends, where the dreams of travel founder.  Let us go elsewhere, escape the West, reconnect with  this vast unknown  over-imagined continent, this fantasy of giraffe and rhinos on a golden plain. Let us connect with ancient Africa, have some mystical concocted moment, some  experience we can consume and  polish as an anecdote for  when we return. How the real unspoilt Africa  got under my skin, how Africa broke my heart, how Africa illumined something or other, that glittering epiphany of  a vanished Africa.


And all that  can be heard are the hadedas screaming overhead and the women laughing, making a plan for sharing not-enough water.



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4 thoughts on “What we mean when we say landbase

  1. these people have a life i can only imagine, the life of less, the life of insecurity. they have no control. i am sad for these people.

  2. Louisey, I found you here through Dishwasher’s Tears, and glad to read “another” side. After all, we all have another side.

    I subscribe to the photo blog of the Boston Globe (the Big Picture) because they regularly publish the real living conditions of Africa, Iran, Pakistan, the slums of South America, the orphans sleeping in the garbage dumps of New Delhi and Mumbai….and so many other places the tour buses don’t go.


    • Hi Lou, good to hear from you, you’re very welcome here. This is a grab-bag of a blog, I use it to explore more controversial or political or spiritual issues or ideas or experiences. Part of my life has to do with alternative spiritualities, a sense of place, eco-awareness and political change. I wish I had more time to post here and the posts are often fragmentary or just snatches of thought.

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