I left Zimbabwe, Africa, the place of my birth in 2000. Seventeen years later I’ve returned to Africa for family reasons. Early one morning, just two days after a long plane journey, I stood on a South African beach. Access to this was down some steep steps every two-hundred metres along the high concrete wall of the promenade. One of the things I love about many African beaches is the treasure trove of marooned sea shells. It was a pity though that amongst these and the groupings of inky black, seaweed strands, the natural beauty was littered by discarded empty plastic bottles and chip packets.
South African beaches
I took a deep breath of the salty damp ocean spray, and resignedly turned around to make my way back up. That’s when I became aware of three sets of eyes watching me. Spaced out at the base of the concrete wall, half prone bedraggled figures who appeared to have spent the night, were as still as the target of their interest. I felt unnerved by the intensity of the moment and the foolishness of my behaviour. I had been so engrossed in looking at the ocean as I bumbled down the steps that I hadn’t been aware - an absolute necessity in Africa. I escaped unscathed, and I don’t know if I was just exaggerating the danger. Still, I had been instantly reminded that my mum and sister had been mugged the year before not far from this site albeit late at night.
A couple of days later, as light rain fell, the dry African earth emitted an enticing earthy and primal scent. Sadly though, a lot of the time, in city centres and even little towns that we passed along the way, rank odours of human excretion and decaying fried food has started to compete with the clean African air. I’d also forgotten about the unpleasantness of the paper money in South Africa and Zimbabwe. I was brought up used to seeing an African woman reach unashamedly down the front of her bra/top to reclaim a wad of paper notes to pay for something.
The dried-sweat smell of much handled tacky dollar notes is a familiar scent, and ironically stirred up some weirdly comforting memories. As transactions took place, this was normally accompanied by flashing white teeth in many a dark face. I was reminded again of the accepting and come-what-may attitude, one might call it the Hakuna Mutata (Don’t Worry) approach. For many of the lower socio-economic population, their smile is their calling card. Whilst in South Africa, handouts are commonplace. Keeping a stack of dollar coins in the centre console of your vehicle is a requirement. You need it to pay the fuel/gas station attendant, the supermarket trolley man, the parking attendants, etc, etc. I’d forgotten about this. My senses were constantly bombarded with the reminder that: TIA - This is Africa!
Marisa Parker - Author www.marisaparkerauthor.com