Saturday, November 17, 2007

Falling down

Did you ever see that movie “Falling down” with Michael Douglas? It's one of my favorite movies. He is stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in burning heat, very much ala Joburg, with a packed up aircon. He freaks out and leaves the car in the middle of traffic… and on his way he turns all his anger and frustrations against annoying stubborn people, narcotic dealers, a serial killer and his soon to be ex wife to mention a few. Things are basically going down down down…

I could always relate to this movie, although Norway seldom get blistering hot like that. Christmas shopping though comes very close. December is a cold month where you need to dress up with thick warm clothes. Shops are not in malls like here in South Africa… you walk on the streets and go in and out of the shops. The shops are of course packed with people who are desperate to find that last minute gift, like me. Out on the street you are dressed to cope with the 20 degrees below zero (Celsius), and then you enter the warm and overcrowded shop that easily holds 30 degrees. Often times I’ve thought about that movie in such situation when the sweat is running, and the panic attack is lurking seconds away. Then you get a sharp elbow from another desperate guy, and that’s when you wish that you had that gun (like Douglas in that fast food joint) to fire up in the air to get some attention and advance in the queue. Christmas shopping in Norway is risky!!

Except from the regular Christmas shopping experiences, I have only experienced such a rise (or drop) in temperature except for one year that we went to South Africa on vacation. From a nail biting dry 30 degrees below in Norway we arrived in Durban with 35 degrees and humidity that can be bottled. 65 degrees difference! We collapsed and stayed horizontal for two whole days before we could start our relaxing and soothing holiday.

Our mindset was of course set on holiday and relaxation, whilst Christmas shopping makes you determined and desperate to get that gift come hell or high water! You are focused on one thing only. Your increased blood pressure, irritation and any energy building up inside, caused by the sudden heat, will be directed at your fellow shoppers around and towards your goal. A sharp elbow to the ribs on the left and some foul words to the guy on your right… it will of course make your advance quicker so that you can get that damn gift! You are rewarded with a happy ending/merry Christmas… and you’re not falling down! It teaches you that next year; you can even put in a rugby tackle to plow your way through the crowd, and still make merry toasts in eggnog and cognac!

I did however have a close to falling down experience lately. I had taken the whole day off to clean out of our old apartment, and my father in law was helping. Two guys cleaning… or two cocks in the henhouse. Martha, our maid, had cleaned everything. Even the kitchen cupboards on regular occasions, but that’s blog material for later. Indians use a lot of oil in their cooking… and with my critical eye upon moving out I found where the evaporated oil ends up… under the kitchen cupboards!! Eventually I had to go to builder’s warehouse and buy one of these scrapes that you put poly filler with. Amount wise I scraped off enough oil for a few curries… but thoroughly vaccinated against curry for months! Bloody tripe and trotters&beans or whatnot!! Bent backwards on the kitchen bench, scraping and scrubbing and cleaning, I was working up a good sweat!

By the time we had finished I was tired, stinking of sweat… my back was aching, hungry and starting to get short tempered. Then my wife calls to tell me that I have to go and pick up my brother in law at the airport. It’s about 5 o’clock and the worst Joburg traffic has already set in. Bumper to bumper we are hardly moving… and my tummy is growling. In normal speed I can do that stretch blindfolded… but now we are barely moving forward and not paying much attention to my navigational landmarks and signs. Suddenly the off ramp is there, so we change lane in a hurry. We force our way through only to realize that this is unfamiliar territory. It was one off ramp too early, and this is when my father in law takes charge.
He knew Joburg inside out at one time… but a lot has happened since those days. For some reason if one of us wants to go in one direction, it’s a constitution of nature that the other one wants to go opposite or somewhere else. We simply cannot agree on the shortest or the best way to Rome. If I’m taking one way, then it must be a better way to get there. Although questioning some of his orders, I obey… Some times he is in familiar territory and spot on, whilst other times I should have followed my own instincts. I have yet to figure out when to trust his or my own instincts as he is always equally certain and convincing. All of this is subject to some friction, but not a huge deal since it is short trips for most of the time. In the rush traffic though, it is apparent that a wrong turnoff now can cause hours of detour. I am really not in the mood for this!

Driving and arguing now, we miss a couple of opportunities to get back on track… and lost. I am boiling inside now and ignoring a stop sign. It’s at a bend, not a junction even, so it’s a stupid f**king sign. Then the cops pull me over… &#%@! I harness my temper enough to smile and talk politely to the policeman. “License and registration please”; he demands, just like in the movies. “Oh… you’re a foreigner?”; he says. “Big problem!”. I’m laughing inside myself now… problems can “go away” in Africa I’ve been told, but restrain myself from making any suggestions.

It is procedure that foreigners have to be brought in to the station… The “problem” grows even bigger in my mind, as the police station is not the right place for my planned bribe. The fine is R500. Well and good, just write me the ticket I’m thinking… then I’ll pay the damn thing… one of the days and at my convenience. “On the spot, right now”; he demands! I’m taking out my Visa card ready to swipe... “Cash only”! “How the bloody hell can you expect me to have cash in my pocket”; I’m thinking for myself! What if I started swearing at him there earlier and accumulated a few more fines whilst I was at it? R2.000 cash on the spot also, how likely is it that you got that in your pocket?! My face is answer enough for the guy. “I have to lock you up then. It’s procedure!”. I’m sick and tired of general procedures by now… Although in a more civilized African country, prison does not tempt me very much! I bet they pack up that Stop-sign when they’ve collected enough money for the day anyway… This is the moment when Michael Douglas would fire that shotgun and demand a bit of flexibility! I’m unarmed though, thank god! Mom taught me to count to 10 as a toddler when my lego building f**ked up, then try again with a fresh mind. 1, 2, 3… then another cop joins in a very authoritative manner, like a reinforcement it appears. "Are they mind readers or what?"

Out of desperation I manage to reason with the guys though… and they allow me to send the credit card with my father in law so that he can draw cash to bail me out! As I’m waiting for him to return with my bail, I’m wondering whether I should be happy to have him there now… or angry about the initial detour?! The first detour was honestly my own fault… and besides, I would be behind bars now if it wasn’t for him. I love my father in law! Sanity is coming back to me in a brief moment of forced meditation.

It’s very quiet in the car on the last leg to the airport, and no more detours. A 40 minutes trip took us 2,5 hours. As we enter the arrivals terminal, my brother in law comes walking out casually. His plane was delayed, and just landed, but he was luxuriously pampered in the executive lounge in DRC. No need to worry! 1, 2, 3…. 41, 42, 43! Christmas is just around the corner now...


Inu said...

Ha ha....I love u Jon!

hello, my name is danny. said...

hey jonny,

we just have to remember why we put ourselves in these situations. it's to show how much we appreciate our loved ones. at least that's how i try to convince myself whenever i find myself hustling through crowds and traffic during the holidays. sometimes it works. LOL

p.s. does your indian family make veggie and fish pakora? i would love a good recipe for the batter.