Exactly 45 days after we left Christmas Island, we arrived to Durban. I crossed the Indian Ocean! If I had someone to brag a little, I would’ve done it. However, since there was no one, I got off the ship, kissed the ground, put my backpack on the back, said good-bye to my American-Belgian-Chinese family and lost myself in the rattle of the streets of a modern South-African town.
I let my parents know that I was safe and sound and on firm ground. They were happy, especially because I would finally be able to contact them every day. As a joke (?) mum told me that I would have to call them twice a day to make up for the past 45 days.
I also sent a message to Dave, a local CouchSurfer, who would be hosting me for the following few days in his small guesthouse for – gay people. We’ll come to that later on.
The streets of Durban reminded me of my dear India. I was yet to find out that it wasn’t a mere coincidence: Durban is a town with the largest population of Indians outside India. There wasn’t a single Caucasian to be seen so people would mostly observe me while I was trying to get a piece of information about where I was supposed to go: people would usually help me, or at least they tried. I ended up in a bus, that was, just like the streets, completely Caucasian-free, but there were some loudspeakers with an obnoxiously loud music which made my ears hurt.
After some driving and some walking I finally found the bar where I was to meet Dave. The bar was the exact opposite of the streets: there wasn’t a single black person. So this was the place where all the Caucasians were hiding! I ordered a big, cold beer and I was truly happy, especially since the prices were no longer the Australian ones. Maybe I could get drunk without bankrupting.
Dave came with his daughter, and I couldn’t possibly understand how a daughter could fit into a life of a gay guy. Soon my confusion was gone: Dave had been married, and he had a son and a daughter, but only after a lot of years he managed to confess not only to the others, but also to himself that, after all, he preferred men. His partner, Llewellyn, had also been married with three children. Since I’d started travelling I had met a lot of people with different preferences than mine so I wasn’t that surprised with his story, but I was curious.
What intrigued me the most was the reaction of their families, wives and children. Dave told me that, at first, everyone was shocked and appalled, however, with time, they accepted them after having realized that their love, just like everyone else’s, can do no harm to anyone.
During the following few days I would spend in Durban I was supposed to meet their families, a bunch of their gay friends and I would once again convince myself that gay people were – cool. Even though I don’t like to generalize I’m making an exception this time.
Since I come from a country where there’s still certain intolerance towards anyone who’s different from the majority, I asked myself a few things. How would my parents react if I told them that I was in a relationship with a man? How would my entire family react? How would my friends accept that very same fact? The same thing applied if my partner were of a different religion, nationality or race.
But, what I wanted to know the most was: all those people that had something against people with different preferences, have they ever tried to know some of those people they didn’t like? Travelling I have met all sorts of different people: white, black, Muslim, Jews, Catholics, Buddhist, Hindu, Orthodox, homosexuals, bisexuals…and even though at first they weren’t much alike, I realized that they had more similarities than differences. The good in people cannot be categorized.
The things change thanks to education: it is much easier to be different in developed countries. In those underdeveloped things get a bit more complicated. In Iran, for an example, it is virtually impossible to be different. One of the main reasons of travelling – education; the practical part of it, not the theoretical.
Honestly, I would like to be gay simply to clean my life of persons who wouldn’t accept me that way. However, I’m not. The only thing I can do is date a Serbian girl who is also black and a Muslim. Let me know if you happen to find one.
I didn’t get to see much of Durban since I kept myself busy barbecuing, drinking and hanging out with some cool people, but I also enjoyed my new room with a bathroom with a shower, a cleaning lady and a free breakfast. Same old, same old. On the fourth morning one of the guests in the hotel was heading towards north, so I decided to join him. I had a date with my father in Kenya in a few months, and Kenya was north ward.
Darren gave me a lift to Richards Bay, and I was back on the road for the first time since I’d left Australia. I missed it. On my way I spotted a few hitchhikers, but they were different from those I’d seen in Europe or Australia. The first difference was the way they were hitchhiking: they didn’t stick out their thumb, but raised their arm in the air with their index finger showing the direction they were headed for. I found it a bit pointless, like the people in the cars couldn’t figure out which way they were going. The second difference was that they had a custom that a passenger paid his or her part of the expenses, approximately the same amount as they would pay if they used the public transportation.
I decided to stick out my thumb and see what would happen. The cars were passing by, the white drivers were turning their heads; the black ones gave me curious looks, some of them even saying hello to me. I thought about a warning that hitchhiking is quite dangerous in South Africa, but I remembered that this warning could be applied to all countries I’d been through.
It took twenty minutes for the first car, that is a van, to pull over. The driver wanted me to pay a lot of money which I simply refused to do. Soon after, a young guy with dreadlocks and a smile on his face pulled over. I got in the car and shortly we became best friends; at least for the following hundred kilometers or so.
He liked the fact that I was travelling and he would have be doing the same thing if he didn’t have ten brothers and sisters to take care of. Mum and dad, thank you! He taught me how in Africa they were greeting with their palms, and he asked me to show him how we shook hands in Croatia. Since I didn’t have either time or any idea, I showed him the way Prince from Bel Air shook hands with his homies. I sincerely hope that in the near future he won’t run into a Croatian because there I might cause some misunderstandings.
When I left his car he helped me make a sign that would make drivers know that I was going to Swaziland; he didn’t charge me anything (he said that if I had any money to pay I would have taken a cab) and even before he started his car and took off, another car pulled over.
Instantly the driver asked me how much did the previous driver charge me and when I said nothing I realized that that one would do that. However, he said that he would give me a discount and that he would give me a lift all the way to the border which was a couple of kilometers off his route. Given the fact that I had a lot of kilometers till my destination and I didn’t feel like bargaining with him, I accepted his offer and threw myself on the back seat. Since that time I really felt as if I were in a cab, I could simply lay back not having to talk to the driver which I normally do when I can actually communicate with him or her. That way I simply observed the nature without saying a word. The nature was green and it was not something one would’ve expected in Africa that is usually shown in numberless documentaries. There were no bumps on the road, probably because Republic of South Africa is the most developed country in Africa. You could still see some remains of the apartheid, but there were no bumps on the road. Priorities, priorities.
I walked into Swaziland since I didn’t need the visa. Some guy I met after I’d crossed the border greeted me with hey, Jesus. Maybe I should really shave. After all, it’d been three months since the last time I shaved: a new personal record.
After another two rides I arrived to a village called Ngomane. It was pitch dark outside, there was no electricity and I had a task: find Danni, an American Peace Corps volunteer. Lucky as I am, the first person I ran into upon leaving a truck that gave me a last ride was – her.
She took me to her little house saying how lucky I was since, as opposed to a bunch of her colleagues form Peace Corps, she did have running water and shower that worked. I readily accepted my new home, already used to the extremes – one day you were on a rocking ship, the other in a gay guesthouse with the most comfortable bed and your own bathroom, and the third day you were sleeping on a floor in a poor village in Swaziland.
Danni had been there for a few months and she was only a year and a half away from completing her shift. She was the only pale one in the village which meant that with my arrival I doubled the number of white people there! Her task was to educate people, particularly the youth, to believe in themselves and in their capabilities, teach them how to be independent, broaden their horizons, to motivate them to take action, encourage them to live their dreams. It was a difficult task because it meant that she had to change their attitudes, traditions, and way of thinking which had deep roots. Still, nobody said it was easy…
Moreover, being the only white woman in the village she was always in the centre of the attention; unless she got a visit by someone like me, and all the attention shifted to that other person. She got proposed to at least ten times a week; people were promising her cows as a gift (it’s the main currency in Swaziland – when arranging a marriage a bride’s father has to give a certain amount of cows to buy his son a wife) or something like that.
She hadn’t accepted a single offer so far, and she told me one of reasons. The night before the wedding the groom invites his wife to be to his home, and when she falls asleep he would sneak out from the house, and his place was filled by the women from his family. They would take her clothes off, put some traditional clothes on her, give her a spear, and paint her face. After that, they would take her to a place where their cattle is fed and then would harass her just to make her cry because once she’s married there could be no more tears. I’m coming out od debt, I’m going into debt. This is the sentence which the future wife has to repeat and it is supposed to symbolize her abandoning her family and entering a new one. In this beautiful way women would wait for the sun to rise, and the wedding could finally take place. Wonderful, don’t you think so?
Another interesting fact related to marriage in Swaziland is an annual parade where of topless virgin-dancers who would dance every year in front of the king who, after the parade was done, would choose one of the girls as his future wife. The king, known as the last absolute monarch in Africa, currently has 14 wives and very often he treats them to nice gifts, expensive trips to abroad and things like that. I’d say it is a bit too extravagant for a country with two thirds of the population is poor and lives in terrible conditions. However, this doesn’t stop children, girls and women from gathering every year in an impressive number (in 2012 there were 80 000 of them) and saying things like: I’m a virgin, come and test my virginity! and We don’t want political parties in Swaziland! Brainwashing on maximum.
Also, HIV/AIDS is a huge problem: Swaziland holds the world record in number of people with infected with HIV: the percentage was astounding 40%! That was, at the same time, the main cause of death, the other two being snake bites and thunderbolts. In the village where Danni was volunteering the percentage of the infected by the HIV virus was 75%, and every second pregnant woman in the country was infected by the virus. Prostitution was also one of the biggest problems.
Danni was, obviously, one brave girl. She was giving lessons in the school, hanging out with the children, organizing football matches for the girls, teaching them English, etc. A praiseworthy job.
One day I hung out with kids a bit – I helped them warm up before the game, we practiced English; they admired my beautiful non-curly hair and my fair hair on my arms which no one between them had seen before. Cool kids.
Danni had an appointment in the capital so after only two days I was back on the road. I drove in a truck to the border with Mozambique, once again crossed the border on foot, paid my visa 82$ and after having explained to the customs officers third times how much money they had to give me a change, I entered Mozambique.
I was fast – in only five days I changed three countries. Since barely anyone spoke English in Mozambique, but Portuguese, I doubted that I would be staying there for long.