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-Manu Chao

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One Night in Nelspruit

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The venue was like nothing I had seen before. For one it was very
difficult to find, set an hour out in the bush from Nelspruit. The
stage was placed amphitheatre style facing an exposed section of
hillside and was framed by boulders and bush and the kind of sky one
lies under in search of falling stars. Photogenic is how I would put
it. Pity I didn't have a camera, save the attempt at one on my cell

"What happens if it rains?" I asked once we had found a place to sit
and I could appreciate the whole scene.
"You get wet," she shrugged.
It made sense so I left it at that, sitting, silent and content.

I had had doubts about coming. I didn't know the bands or the couple
we were to go with. As for her, we had only met once in Jeffrey's Bay
a few months earlier. I remembered her as cute and congenial and so
had agreed to meet for the evening on my way out of South Africa on
another visa run. But even if my memory had not been so favorable I
think I still would have gone. I find it good to say yes as often as
possible, it keeps things moving and real decisions down to a minimum.

We sat and listened to the music and talked about nothing in
particular while her friend went to get some drinks, and when he
returned and we each had ours and our foursome was again, she leaned
over and told me she didn't think she wanted to finish school.

"I just want to keep traveling and never to finish," she said. "Home
is too much the same and I don't want to get stuck there. If I finish
I'll have to work and to specialize. If I don't work when I finish
then no one will want to hire me later. But I don't want to get stuck
in Holland."
"You could be a GP," I said ignorantly.
"I would still have to specialize. I never want to specialize."

I thought it odd for her to say that because earlier she had told me
that she was in Nelspruit to work with a friend with whom she could
practice 'catching babies.' She had said she thought she wanted to be
a gynecologist. Instead of mentioning it though I let the conversation
end there and relaxed into my drink and the music and my good fortune
that had brought me to this place.

I enjoyed the music as much as the scenery even though the sound had
been poorly handled. Upon questioning I admitted I really did like the
headlining band, the Parlatones, even though I'd never heard them
before. Afterward we drove for what seemed like a very long time to
where she and her friends were staying, which was a very Afrikaans
looking, smallish but well manicured, series of thatch roofed block
rooms - two twin beds and a bathroom each - set off from a main house.
It was peaceful there and when we were alone in her room on our beds,
she sitting on hers and I lying on mine, I told her I thought it was
cute how she had said 'catching babies' and that it made it sound as
though they were tossing them about back there.

"They practically are." She said, "Everything is so sloppy there,
people coming in and out of the delivery rooms. And the women are
naked and sweaty and have to lean against each others' backs, and they
have to go to the bathroom in a bucket by themselves! in labor!" And
she looked at me and then told me that it was also the only place she
could get any real experience. "Back home they don't let interns do
anything, but here I can check whatever I want."

She told me about a baby that she had caught. It had gone for some
minutes without breathing after delivery and no one would help her.
When they finally got it breathing and the overseeing nurse returned
she was told to write less time. She had pleaded the truth but the
nurse said that it would get her in trouble if she wrote the real
number and to just put what she told her. She said that those few
minutes would affect the rest of that child's life.

We sat in silence for a time after that and I watched her profile
while she stared at the wall. I was reminded of a friend who was told,
while interning in Ghana, not to try and bring his white man's
medicine there, along with everything that that meant.

She broke the silence and we talked about the show and her friends for
a bit before climbing into our beds. The air was cool and I could just
see the thatched ceiling through the moonlight from the window above
the nightstand. My eyes adjusting I thought about what she had said
about not specializing and being the perpetual student, forever
postponing graduation, traveling and avoiding home. Even though I am
no longer a student - rather between studies ostensibly - I knew that
feeling. That desire to put an ocean or a continent between you and
everything you know, for as long and as often as possible, for fear of
what future that physical stasis could bring, for fear of? something
real, I'm not sure exactly, stability maybe, or a career. Normalcy
even. Those answers make it seem like an irrational fear though. Maybe
it is. Those are goals not pitfalls.

"My feet are cold," her voice drew me from my thoughts.
"My bed is warm, you're welcome to come over here if you'd like."
"Why don't you come over here?"
I raised my head to try and see her through the darkness. "I don't
have a problem with that."
"Then come."

As I crawled out of my bed I didn't know that I was not only not going
to make it to Swaziland the next day, as I had hoped, but that I was
also going to meet a young Zimbabwean entrepreneur on the bus to
Mozambique who was going to show me what we were running from.
Settling into sleep on a small bed in Africa I had no idea he was
going to tell me he was twenty-seven, had a wife and was starting a
satellite college in Nelspruit; And that in life, as one gets older,
what one does becomes ten percent of what one wanted to do, that when
one enters the world of compromise - which is a career and a family -
one trades their freedom of youth.

I didn't know any of this, but I was content to be next to someone
confused as I was, someone running just as fast.
18th Jul 2008, 18:12  

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