Going Ape

I was invited to spend a week in the mountains with family. Without thinking, I accepted the offer. More decisions should be made this way.

Once we had packed the car and were on the road, I decided that now would be a great time to ask where we were headed. “Mpumalanga”, came the answer from the driver’s seat. Excellent! That narrowed it down.

Arriving at our destination I assessed the surroundings and immediately started planning how to survive the coming week while exposed to the African elements. We’d be roughing it, camping at the foot of the mountain, under the stars, in a five-bedroom chalet. Armed with nothing but a fully equipped kitchen, three bathrooms, two weeks worth of food and a wi-fi connection, we were helpless.

Navigating through the vast expanses between the kitchen and scullery was excruciating. Praise Santa for the cleaning staff who came by twice a day. That dishwasher was a minefield.

Mother Nature is as beautiful as she is dangerous. The old lady did not allow me to forget this when, on the first morning, a beast of the forest entered our dwelling. In the early hours of dawn, the birds began announcing the start of a fresh day. It was 09:45 and I lay asleep with the window open. The sound of an intruder triggered my cat-like reflexes – I screamed as though someone stood on my tail. That’s when I saw him. A 5000 gram vervet gorilla, seated on the nightstand. Foolishly, I had left a packet of mixed nuts in the open. A potentially fatal error. As a shark senses injured prey, the vervet sniffed out my nut sack.

The predator noticed immediately that I had awoken. With lightning reflexes, perfected over millions of years of evolution, the hunter snatched its prize, mosquito repellent, and escaped back through the window. Clearly they have developed a desire for certain comforts and are brand-loyal to Peaceful Sleep. Soon they will be leaving comments on social media, using catch phrases like yolo, wearing Monster apparel, subscribing to Breitbart and listening to Die Antwoord.

 

Cattle class

I recently flew from Sweden to South Africa. When booking flight tickets, I usually check what it would cost to get out of the sardine tin and save my knees from fourteen hours of economy. You know, in case the managing director of Lufthansa wasn’t a reptile and suddenly took pity on just me. “Hey, here’s a seat that isn’t designed by a Nazi matchbox company and you won’t have to sell your organs in exchange for personal space.” It could happen.

This time, much to my surprise, the MD didn’t call and I had to accept my working-class fate. The engineers at Boeing obviously have a twisted sense of humour and designed the planes accordingly. As common cattle, we were herded to the front of the aircraft and marched through business class, showing us what we’re not entitled to. And as entertainment for upper-class citizens to gawk at while they sip champagne and pretend to check their counterfeit Breitlings.

But the engineers didn’t stop there. They were having far too much fun to stop there. In their brilliance, they invented premium economy. Why pay less and fly economy, when you can pay more and fly economy! Genius! I located my seat amongst the other livestock, took a deep breath and mentally prepared myself for the coming night. My arse slotted into its seat like a Tetris brick. No space wasted.

When the air hostess asked “Chicken or pasta?” I’m not sure she was prepared to hear me request if I could get off the plane.

“Sir, we are at 39 000 feet.” Confusion in her no-nonsense, no-sense-of-humour German accent.   

“That’s ok, I’ll take the pasta to go.” A long fall to a sudden death sounded rather appealing. With any luck, I would pass out or freeze before even seeing the ground. The thought was bliss.

The cunning engineers have designed the seats to recline to the exact angle which allows your body to lean back while your head falls forward. These guys must have been wetting themselves with laughter while drawing this up. During the night I managed to doze off for 23 seconds and was woken by a warm, damp sensation on my nose. I had slid down my seat and planted my face into my neighbour’s sweaty side.

With approximately two hours remaining, the cabin lights came on and I was gently awoken by the plastic thud of a tray across my forehead. “Breakfast!”

Not that I was sleeping, but I closed my eyes and pretended that slumber was possible. Breakfast consisted of urine-coloured bits of goo, known to Lufthansa as scrambled eggs. The bread rolls were freshly baked, in 1984. Now they could be used to build another Berlin wall, or break one down.

The best thing about flying economy is getting off the plane and being grateful for not being on a plane anymore. I can sit on a pavement and it feels like the Radison. I can stir manure into luke warm water, call it coffee, and it’s delicious. The shower cleanses my body with unicorn tears and a clean towel is the soft embrace of exotic, illegally imported, near-extinct bunny fur.

Eggball

Walk into a sports bar in Sweden and ask if they have rugby. The barman will tell you to wait a minute while he checks with the chef.

The Uppsala Rugby Football Club showed the final at their clubhouse come English pub. I made the effort to wake up at 8am, feed myself, put on a green jersey and walk the 700m to their premises. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch any of the previous matches, as I was just too preoccupied with not giving a shit. Thirty grown men chasing an ostrich egg around a football pitch has never evoked emotions or caused me to groan like a sexually frustrated water buffalo, dragging its member through a thorn bush. Experts on the topic have informed me that only real men watch rugby.

However, the antelope made it to the finals against a team of south-Pacific islanders wearing white. So I went, because that’s what real men do, and I feel a desperate need to be accepted into this culture of real-mannery. I sat on my arse for eighty minutes, staring at a projector screen, while men in Japan had an aggressive orgy in an open field. I could feel the testosterone flowing through my veins!

The game is easy to follow and the rules are simple. The man who catches the egg, gets cuddles. These poor chaps have been away from home for so long that they put life and limb on the line, for the sake of some masculine affection.

Amongst the audience in the clubhouse were people from all over the world. Their origins often identifiable by jerseys, accents or choice of shitty English ale. One flamboyant spectator could obviously sense that the entire room was curious as to his heritage. After banging on the ceiling beams and shouting “Die Bokke gaan julle naai!” for the fourteenth time, we still were not quite certain which team he was supporting. Sensing our confusion and common need for an answer to the burning question of his birthplace, the gentleman was considerate enough to drop subtle hints, “Suid Afrika!” Allowing us to figure it out ourselves, saving us the embarrassment of having to ask and ensuring a good night’s sleep.

Café Hippy

I spend much of my time studying at home, pretending to be productive. I justify it by telling myself that I save money by being a hermit.

Eventually, I admit I’m not learning anything about wind power by playing guitar and fluffing the couch cushions. My flat is a breeding ground for procrastination. So I venture out into town, where homely distractions don’t drag me from my desk.

Cafés are my preferred workplace, but I brace myself every time I pay for a cappuccino in Sweden. Those coffee beans had better damn be fair trade. At that price, the whole Ugandan village should be brushing their teeth with caviar.

My favourite Café is a spot called Los Vegos. Everything they serve is plant-based. It’s one of those places that really tries to look shabby in order to charge more. Patrons may opt to sit in an old, tattered couch which was obviously bought second hand to, like, save the planet, man. If you find used furniture too luxurious and wasteful, then seat your bottom on their plastic crates, turned on their side. Such spaces are reserved for VIPs.

One could also sit at a normal table, like a conformist swine. This is what makes me stand out as a counter revolutionary in a sea of enlightened indigo children. That and my lack of dreadlocks. The hairstyle seems to be a way for hippies to identify each other. As though the smell wasn’t enough. Tattered, loose-fitting garments, somewhere between pants and a poncho, sewn together by Cambodian child labourers. Clothing allows the hippy to be unique, like every other hippy.

Lunch hour is not a good time to be at Los Vegos. It’s when all the hippies take a break from playing bongo drums at the train station or begging on behalf of Amnesty International. They flock to Los Vegos, but in a totally unique way. With their identically unique garments flowing around them, wafting their unique scent – unwashed – in their wake.

They speak all at once and at the top of their voices, like hundreds of weaver birds in a single tree, competing for attention. “I’m going to Ghana to volunteer in the Planting Trees for Peace project.” “We’re going to fly over town in a hot-air ballon and drop marijuana seeds to combat global warming and end wars.” “Capitalism is suffocating my spirit animal.”

Hippy parents bring their indigo offspring into the café, carrying babies in cotton slings – handmade by destitute Colombians. The parents let the entire establishment know that Moonbeam was born vegan, can’t drink breast milk and shits world peace.

Dental anxiety

An appointment with the dentist is right up there with final exams, the headmaster’s office and plane crashes. Maybe I’m being too harsh there. I shouldn’t compare my dentist to a cunt like a headmaster.

Visiting the dentist as a child in South Africa was viewed as a death sentence. The appointment would consume my thoughts for weeks. Nothing existed after that date. Everything leading up to D-day was just slow, torturous preparation for the afterlife.

Dentists were highly educated, old, grumpy white men with pubic hair sprouting from their eye sockets. They had made their fortunes, overcharging for their services, and realised money brought them no joy. Acceptance of a wasted youth, staring into people’s mouths, holidaying five times a year in Mauritius with hookers and cocaine, driving the latest BMW, sent them into crises and insanity. Should have gone with the Porsche. Having failed to find meaning in their lives or a cure for herpes, they vowed to torment every little shit that sat in their chair.

Meanwhile, on the dark side of this planet, Swedes also require dental care. One would expect a Swedish dentist to be suicidal. Working without sunlight, examining people’s pie-holes is bad enough. But a nation which considers rotten fish a delicacy must be a nightmare. Unless your toothpaste contains hydrochloric acid, nothing removes the smell of decaying, tinned herring.

However, my Swedish dentist seems to be a regular homo sapien with nerve endings, human emotions and comprehension of pain. The kind of guy I’d invite over for a barbecue. That’s if he wasn’t so horribly good-looking. My guy friends would dream up ways to dump my corpse in the Baltic for inviting Orlando Bloom, while their wives sweat, nowhere near the fire. In his contract with Satan, Orlando definitely swapped the hookers and narcotics for a granite jaw-line and panty-dissolving smile.

Choosing a dentist is one of the most important decisions we make in our lives. It’s worth waiting for the right dentist. A man with his tool in your mouth is not to be taken lightly. If you’d prefer a woman’s tool poking your gums, I hear Thailand is the place to be.

 

Swedish Autumn

Summer is a vague memory, as though it happened years ago in another country. Cafés have removed their outdoor furniture. No one wants to lick an ice-block cappuccino in a mug. Watching the leaves turn various shades of orange, yellow and red is beautiful. It’s the closest I hope I ever come to seeing fire fall from the sky. The burning colours signal that it’s time to rummage through the attic and find my gloves, beanie, reflectors, vitamin-D and enormous jacket. Apparently there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Bullshit. Eight months of winter is a human rights violation.

It only takes a single gale to remove all the magnificent leaves from their perch. Their departing performance is spectacular. A final wave good-bye before millions exit stage towards the earth. Branches stripped bare, mounds of gold coat the ground and quickly begin to decay. Town resembles a wasteland. None of the greenery, warmth or cheer of summer seems to survive the onslaught of autumn.

Morning frost on the roofs lets us know that the air is dry and our nose hairs will freeze while cycling. In town the buildings and streets have scaffolding all around, but not for construction works. The festival of lights is approaching. In order to distract the population from the plummeting temperatures and soul-crushing darkness, the city of Uppsala creates artistic light shows around the cathedral, bridges and buildings. A great initiative with good intentions. If my mindset were better I would appreciate the moment and be mindful during the festival of lights for its beauty. Instead, the festival just serves as a reminder that we’re locked inside a deepfreeze in someone’s basement. And over the next few months the owner lowers the temperature and removes all the light bulbs. Sick bastard. Strap in, put Sinatra on repeat, keep your nuts toasty by an open fire or book a one-way to Portugal. The sun is out of office until March.

Say My Name.

When moving to another country one can expect to hear their name pronounced differently. Maybe a syllable gets tweaked by the local accent or they yawl the vowels like a redneck choking on his sister’s g-string. Sometimes they just recycle your name into something that resembles lyrics from the Haka.

I always thought that Shaun was pretty universal thanks to western television. Its not that difficult to pronounce either, is it?

The Swedes have a tendency to pronounce every letter in a word. That kind of makes sense and is just so Scandinavianly efficient. This causes my language teachers to read out my name as “Sah-hoon”. That’s just the Swedes. I study with Greeks, Syrians, Ukrainians and other nationalities which most Americans would never find on a map.

I now answer to names such as John, Juan, Jeanne, Jewan and Sorn. Apparently the “sh” sound from English is unpopular on the Arabic and Greek side of the planet. The mere thought of attempting to pronounce “sh” causes them to restructure their entire sentence in order to avoid it.

I can imagine this concept of pronouncing every letter would drive the French insane. Those lazy, baguette-munching Francophones neglect every third letter in a sentence, yet they manage to sound sexy and intelligent no matter what they’re babbling about. Damnit.

“Bonjour ma petite aubergine. Tes yeux sont comme des blocs de béton et les vers de terre ont de la barbe.”

“Oh my god, Jeanne-Pierre! You’re so romantic and sophisticated. I want your bilingual babies!”

Having a single-syllable, European name in Sweden is far from the worst that could happen. Whenever I meet a Xhosa person back home I grit my teeth and pray that their name doesn’t contain a click. Those clicks are the bane of my attempts at the majority language of the Eastern Cape which, ironically, we don’t learn at school.  Don’t ask me to click a “q”. I can handle a “c” or maybe a “x” on a good day, but for the love of Ubuntu spare my whiteness the embarrassment of failing to pronounce “Ntombokuqala”.

My palms sweat with anticipation as I shake their hand and hope for something like Sandile or Jeremy. The latter is unlikely, but I’m desperate to save face on home ground.

Show respect by trying and most people will appreciate the effort. Reciprocate by not laughing at the attempt and we’re off to a good start.