StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Greenhorn of Africa (Part Four)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on October 20, 2009

A New York Navel-Gazer Looks at Botswana, South Africa

and Mozambique by Way of London

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Part Four

August 26, 2009 – Tubu Tree, Botswana; Savuti, Botswana

Pt 4 Lioness on Prowl

Morning/Afternoon

Julius goes on morning safari.  I stay in, read, write.  All come back w/ news that, ~ 1 mile from camp, carcass of impala hung from tree.  Lioness hunted it, tore out jugular, dragged it to tree & hung it up for stripping.  Also, saw rhino, which we saw yesterday.

Amsterdam Prostitute

Graham discusses how mating season w/ lions goes.  Lion mounts lioness, she allows sperm deposit but then whips him to ground.  2 mins later, he’s on another lioness and, 2 mins after that, another.  Sounds like trip to Amsterdam to me.

Garry Fisher Blood Moon

Graham gives me copy of mystery he’s finished reading, Blood Moon by Garry Disher.  Says it’s set near Melbourne.  No contender for Booker Prize.  Just good holiday read.  Also mentions liking work of Australian crime fiction writer Peter Temple.  Never heard of either.  Want to read more crime fiction, again, to learn plots.  Want to learn how to write better fiction.  Julia mentions book group favorite, The Slap by Greek writer named Christos Tsiolkas.  Coming away from Tubu Tree w/ extensive reading list that includes Booker Prize winner whom Graham regrets telling she couldn’t write.

Christmas in Australia

Lunch is on.  Buffet-style again: beef stew, rice, beans=basic.  Spend last few minutes @ camp observing Giles.  He talks about how Australia commemorates wintry aspect of Xmas with July 25 celebration, which coincides w/ subequitorial winter.  Hope he had happy Xmas last month and will have another in December.  Newlyweds from England (guy) & Australia (woman), both living in Singapore, sit on own side of table.  We don’t interfere w/ honeymoon – those always end too soon.

tubu tree outside jpg

Julius & I say goodbye to Jacky, Justin, Giles, Graham & Julia.  Julius has Graham & Julia’s email.  Both want us to keep them apprized of when my book will be in print.  Well, gotta get a publisher first, but Tubu Tree was enough to take my mind off anxiety around that.  W/ 6” of sunscreen on skin, clap safari hat on head, climb in jeep, where bags already waiting, & drive off to Okavango Delta airstrip w/ Johnny.

Okavanga Delta Airstrip

Once there, we wait for plane to Savuti Camp.  Plane is late.

Waiting around in shade but hot out.  Julius takes out iPhone, clicks on iPod, turns on Exile on Main Street, my favorite album, which he downloaded.  Asks Johnny if he likes this kind of music.  W/ most pleasant smile he can muster, Johnny says, “I like softer music.”

La Boheme

Julius puts on La Boheme. Johnny likes it.  I say La Boheme = one of stupidest plots in opera – Rodolfo confesses everlasting love for Mimi (chick he met 10 mins ago), she leaves him next day & comes back to his garret dying of tuberculosis many mos later & Rodolfo says he’ll never love again.  Julius insinuates that I’m a churl/cad for thinking this.

Charter flight arrival

Charter Flight arrives.  Say goodbye to Johnny; show our appreciation for his stellar hospitality & savoir-faire around game parks.  Don’t know how any camp will measure up to Tubu Tree.  Board plane, bracing myself slightly but not so scared of flight after chat w/ Alan.  12 passengers going to/from various camps on board.  Pilot gives pre-flight instrucs.  Mentions “comfort bag” in front of each seat.  Euphemisms never cease, do they?

Plane over Okavanga

Doing pretty well on way to Linyanti Marsh.  Only close eyes through ~ ½ trip as plane sways aboveground.  But woman next to me reaches for “comfort bag,” sticks head in.  Fear chain reaction, praying plane lands soon.  Prayer answered & turns out woman never needed to puke in comfort bag.

Savuti Jeep

S. African guide named Ant picks us up on way to Savuti Camp, located @ confluence of Savuti Channel & Linyanti River.  B/f leaving Linyanti Marsh airstrip, Ant mentions has surprise for us.  Says we’ll be meeting special guest.  Gets on CB, asks colleague, “Is she still there?”  Colleague says, yes.  Ant says, “Can you tell us who we’re going to see?”

Madonna in Africa

Julius and others answer, “Madonna?”  Even Ant says = reasonable guess in this phase of pop singer’s life but, “No,” he says, “Better than Madonna.”

lioness with cubs

Jeep pulls out, travels ~ 1 mi. over to brush, where lioness sleeps w/ her cub.  Snapping pix all around her, she doesn’t flinch.  Amazing how animals not in least intimidated by jeeps.

No natives greet us w/ song upon arrival @ camp, except for non-singing woman named Carrie, native Botswanan who’s whiter than I am.  Don’t know her story, except she says Afrikaans parents settled in Botswana ~ time of her birth & she’s never lived anywhere else.  Camp appears to be 3 Xs size Tubu Tree w/ log ramps gliding for city block in network of deluxe cabins.

Savuti Common Area

Staff takes us to common area, overlooking Savuti channel, where few dozen guests from America & Europe congregate, drinking Iced Tea, munching on lemon cookies & baklava.  We sign indemnity form like we did @ Tubu Tree, tho don’t fear mortal injury since having experienced no incidents when driving right up to wild animals.  Woman who was about to use comfort bag has just arrived, finds me, introduces herself as Jane from Seattle; says I looked ready to grab my comfort bag too.  I deny it.

Linyanti River

Savuti Cabin

Our cabin looks out on to Linyanti River, which reflects moss-green marshes & weeping willows.  2 Xs big as Tubu Tree cabin.  Canopied bed w/ mosquito netting, looks like accessory in sultry moment in old French-Indochina, tho danger of mosquitoes this time of year = minimal.  (Mosquitoes = annoying in America but often disease-ridden in Africa.)  Open shower on concrete floor.  Must keep valuables in safe, tho.  No danger of thieves, but squirrels get in through slats & gnaw thru bags.

Afternoon Safari

Before embarking on afternoon safari, I have a chat w/ guide-trainee from neighboring village named Tony.  Says being accepted to guide program = competitive.  Out of the 4 applicants, only 2 made it.  Tony obviously hasn’t experienced NYC-style competitive.  He must be ~ 19 yrs old.  Farthest outside Botswana he’s been = Zimbabwe.  Wants so much to go to America.

botswana money

Says will lose most of $ to $-changers when comes to exchanging Botswanan pula for US dollars.

In jeep w/ 3 people from D.C. – Frank, Ann, Mike.  Frank = lawyer, Mike’s friend.  Mike = lawyer, Ann’s husband.  Ann = lawyer-cum-executive coach.  Ask re: her practice.  Says focuses heavily on Myers-Brigg.  I’m an INFJ.  She’s the opposite – an ESTP.  We spend rest of ride discussing theories of personality.

Savuti Leopard

savuti singular elephant

Savuti jackal

Savuti Wildebeest

See leopard, rhinos, jackals, elephants, wildebeest (stay hunched all day long).  Most engaging of all, tho, our jeep & 2 other jeeps pull up to lions feasting on buffalo:

Savuti Lion Feasting

Savuti Lion Feasting 1

Pix snapping all around them & couldn’t care less.

Savuti Lion Feasting 3

Savuti Lion Feasting 4

Then there were the hippos.  They can dunk their heads under water for 8 to 10 minutes at a time:

Savuti Hippo

Savuti Hippo 2

And the Savuti sunset:

Savuti Sunset

Dinner

Buffet-style dinner @ Savuti.  Hummus w/ pita, beef stew, chicken, pork dishes (latter I ignore).  Drinking hulking glass of Merlot.  Sit w/ Ann & husband Mike.

Bernie Madoff

Discuss Bernie Madoff.  How could he get away w/ it for so long?  His sons turned him in.  Why?  Was it family arrangement?  Madoff taking whole sentence to clear rest of family?  Another Botswanan guide named Chet hasn’t heard news.  Wants to know who Madoff is & what he did.

Seems shocked that one can make so much $ in America like America.  Talks about how he wants to come to America, just like Tony.  Some former guests from LA invited Chet.  He’s saving up.

Fleet Street London

Meet Loku, a camp employee from just outside Sheffield, England (birth name: Nick).  Comes up in conversation he doesn’t understand American obsession w/ always having to get more degrees/letters after one’s name.  Turns out, tho, he graduated from Oxford.  After college, went to work in mktng dept of London Times.  Couldn’t’ve been more miserable, so logged on to Internet to look up jobs in Africa.  Found NGO that worked to preserve rhino population of Africa.  After lil back-&-forth, found himself on plane bound for Botswana & got job.  In course of working there, he met people @ various camps, who asked him to help out w/ some work here & there.  Work accumulated to the point where Savuti asked him to come on staff.  Been in Botswana 13 yrs, doesn’t know what’s next & doesn’t care too much.

Savuti Fire

So nice to meet successful rat-race refugee.  Julius & I drink champagne w/ him till about midnight, talking about favorite areas of London & naughty things that naughty Brits get up to.  Too stunned by Botswana’s beauty to discuss it right now.

August 27, 2009 – Savuti Camp, Botswana

Savuti elphants watering hole

Lunch

Let Julius go ahead w/o me on morning safari.  Wrote journals, read Elegance of Hedgehog instead.  Saw squirrel in cabin.  Don’t mind.  Just want make sure it has way out, don’t want going crazy & tearing things up w/ sharp lil claws.  @ lunch, jump in jeep w/ Loku.  Driving out to lunch site miles away.  Had to change lunch site @ last minute.; herd of elephants showed up & might upset balance b/t man & nature if we sat @ tables & ate w/ them.

China Flag

Loku says China ~ dominant in world economy.  Chinese taking over Africa.  Telling local governments they’ll build hospitals, schools & highways in exchange for land.  Many questions if they’re making good on their part of the bargain.  America’s economy still in recession, tho.  Is America a crumbling empire?  We discuss, don’t know, maybe.  Whatever happens, our old way of doing business = untenable.  Both applaud ourselves for eschewing corporate culture.

elephant with kid

As we speak, herd of elephants marches into a gigantic mud puddle to our left.  2 are young & injured.  Both have severed trunks & bandied legs.  Hyenas probably got them.  Loku has seen them out here before, didn’t think they’d last this long.  Older elephants form circle around them, feed them branches & leaves from trees, ensure safety in herd.

Elephant Mudhole

Several elephants roll around in mud, let it bake on to their hides in sun.

savuti picnic

Loku & I drive to new picnic site.  Others pull up in jeeps, including Julius.  Lunch buffet much same as yesterday, except for addition of beef kebabs, chickpeas, & omelet option.  Again, I opt for St. Louis Lager.  Julius & I sit @ end of table.  As we eat & talk to many of the other 20 or so guests, the elephant herd from mud puddle crosses over hills & marches w/i only a dozen or so yards of us.

elephant and baby

The matriarch sounds her trunk-horn.  Trees shake.  Sensing we’re just picnickers, not hunters, she gives signal to our guide Ant that we’ll get along fine as long as we stay on our side of the mud lake next to us.  10 or so elephants tumble into mud, roll around, frolic, stand in sun.  Avoiding incident, we clear away from table, give them space.  No incident.  Herd goes about its business, takes last stand in sun, & walk over to other hill, injured young in tow.

Series continues with Part Five: Johannesburg

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Sinbad, The Glittery Silver Jumpsuit and The Glittery Silver Service Car (Last Night’s Dream)

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 31, 2008

Last night’s dream was even stranger than the one about the serial killer in the hanging-file folder.

In it, the comedian Sinbad’s wife had kicked him out of their house, so he took a room at the Y. At a press conference on this scandal, the melanin in Sinbad’s face faded out, making him look as white as Michael Jackson but with more meat on the bones. (Actually, at the press conference, Sinbad looked more like Bernie Mac, but I still knew him to be Sinbad.) I went to go visit him at the YMCA.

When I went to the check-in desk at his floor, I saw that the people working behind it were part of that breed of post-grads, who defer the “real” world by working in video stores and other low-impact jobs. They were playing Gameboys and had their feet up on the desk as they listened to Modest Mouse or whatever. They asked me to have a seat in the waiting room while they called Sinbad’s room.

The waiting-room area was a self-service Barnes & Noble. On the teak-wood coffee table, there was a stack of comic books. As I picked each one up, I scanned them in on a hand-held bar-code scanner. I had no intention of buying them, though. When the Asian-American chick behind the counter told me that Sinbad had asked her to send me in, she also presented me with a bill for the comic books. I told her that I’d left them on the table and didn’t want to buy them. With a let-down look, she said, “Oh, and I’ve been wanting to see those comic books too.” (Why she couldn’t just walk over to the table herself and see them, I don’t know. Then again, my dreams tend to not make any sense.) With that, I walked through the YMCA doors to go see Sinbad.

In the next segment of the dream, Julius and I were arguing over whether or not Bob Dylan is a genius. In waking life, I would find that contention indisputable, but, in the dream, I was on the other side of the debate. Julius said, “How could you not call it genius when someone writes…?” And he went on to recite two lines from a song that I’ve never heard and whose words I don’t remember.

As he recited those words, though, he held up a leaf from a morning-glory vine that was split down the middle and he let the leaf fly in the breeze to a field that looked like the ones near the Brideshead estate in Brideshead Revisited.

I then switched sides and started giving this oration on how Dylan’s John Wesley Harding was a masterpiece, how it changed the face of music. Then, I picked that CD out of my collection and walked out the door to bring it to my friend Mike’s house, so that he could tape it.

In the next segment, I was walking through the wintertime set in the penultimate scene of La Boheme, where Rodolfo finds Mimi just before she dies of consumption. As I trudged through the snow, I was wearing an overcoat and a saturnine face like a character in a Chekhov story or a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky novel.

All of a sudden, who is the only person coming my way on the road but Justin Timberlake. (I seem to be alone in loathing Justin Timberlake. I think he’s a spoiled, overpraised brat whose music sucks. But if I state my opinion of him to anyone, even people twice his age who otherwise have good music taste, they act like they want to send me to my room without supper.) He had a Richard Simmons’ afro and was wearing a pink tie-died sweatsuit. He was singing some pop song, but then busted into a rap that was an all-out jam. As Justin Timberlake passed me, for the first time ever, I looked at him with admiration. (Again, let me qualify, this was a dream, not real life.)

Then I found myself in a silver glittery jumpsuit, complete with a glittery silver headband. I looked like a Solid Gold Dancer (embarrassing factoid: when I was seven-years-old, I wanted to be a Solid Gold Dancer with all my heart; that phase only lasted a year, the statute of limitations has run out, so don’t mock me!). I saw myself in the mirror. I said, “I gotta get a new look,” so I changed back into my usual clothes.

Then I saw sunlight pouring in through some prison bars. The lyrics to that song by The Flaming Lips started up: “Do you realize – that everyone you know someday will die?”

7th Avenue and 9th Street, Brooklyn

7th Avenue and 9th Street, Brooklyn (site of Uncle Moe's)

Then I wound up at my parents’ house. Their garage was the same, but the kitchen table was on an upper landing like the tables at Uncle Moe’s (the gay symbolism is killing me) at 7th Avenue and 9th Street. Father Mahon was over for dinner. Now, Father Mahon is not long for this world, but, in the dream, he was looking a lot better than when I saw him at my parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary.

(In real life, the moment I introduced Father Mahon to Julius at the Anniversary party, he asked us point-blank, “Are you living together?” I smiled and said, “Why, yes, we are, Father.” He nodded and said, “Well, I wish you both all the best.” I was going to ask if I could take that as an endorsement but stopped short.)

In the dream, Father Mahon asked me if I enjoy being a sodomite. I lit up, “Yeah, it’s great!”

As if to draw me back into the Catholic fold, he proclaimed that the Buddhist Sutras were inspired by the Bible. I responded, “That’s bullshit! Buddha delivered the Sutras about 500 years before Jesus was born. As for the Old Testament, well, that was still in the hands of a small tribe of Israelites and there’s no way it could have made its way over to India. Besides, the Buddhist and Christian holy books are completely different in philosophy and precepts. Sorry, Father, Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on Buddhism.” Oddly, Mom nodded her approval at my denunciation (again, this was a dream) and Father Mahon went back to eating his sweet potato.

In the final segment of last night’s dream, I was waiting on the Northbound platform of the Red Line L at Fullerton in Chicago. I was thinking about how Chicago isn’t as cosmopolitan as New York. Right behind me, though, these Arab guys were speaking French. They were all discussing which parts of the city they live in. I thought, “Well, they’re Arab and they’re speaking French. Isn’t that pretty cosmopolitan too?”

Then, an Arab girl wedged her way into the conversation. She was wearing white face-paint and black makeup like I had to wear when I played Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland in my sophomore year of high school. She had pockmarks all up and down her face like this one goth guy whom I used to see at this one cafe on Belmont in Chicago. (Come to think of it, he also wore white face-paint and black makeup.) The Arab girl was talking about how her rabbi (?) told her that she should move to another part of the city.

Then, a glittery silver service car, which looked like the old edition Rolls Royce that was in Brideshead Revisited (except glittery and silver like the jumpsuit I broke out of in an earlier segment), pulled up on the tracks to take me for a ride. I didn’t know where we were headed but I got in.

Weird, huh? What do you think that dream means? (Besides that I’m a big Uncle Moe who sins bad?)