Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jump Over The Robot!

Um, cough. I am really struggling with how to write the following post. I mean, you try creating a patchwork of a story from a dinner of smoked crocodile and honeyed vodka, a gyrating midget, and threatening taxi drivers, and if successful, you can take over this blog.

After an eight-hour drive across the South African border from Botswana, our international overland group of 16 people parted ways. Most of us said our pleasant goodbyes (a few grumps were not so charitable); three of us made plans to meet later for dinner.

Anna and Jean, American sisters, met me at my hotel. We were carefully instructed by the hotel concierge staff to make certain we dined in the nearest mall, and that we took a taxi to the mall, which was only a short walking distance from the hotel. Johannesburg is supposedly the murder capital of the world, and we'd been warned repeatedly to refrain from walking alone at night, walking at night, and just walking in general. Ditto talking.

After perusing the menus of several perfectly satisfactory establishments, we took a chance on "Lekgotla", an African bistro. Although we hadn't seen the menu of Lekgotla, we immediately were drawn to the restaurant's ambience: soft lighting, cozy, slightly moody. It looked like a quiet-conversation sort of place, a place where one could relive the moments of the last three weeks of driving from east Africa to southern Africa. However, this restaurant was not such a place.

We were seated at the back of the restaurant with a few local African families, a few couples, and a large table of what appeared to be local whites. No one looked surprised that a midget wearing ripped jeans and "Calvin Coin" boxer briefs was gyrating suggestively on stage. Nor did anyone seem anything but nonplussed that the midget timed the sway of his tiny hips and the bob of his head tightly wrapped in do-rag pantyhose with a lead singer that looked more like Ray Charles than Ray looks like Ray Charles. Both Ray and the midget sang and danced in unison to a selection of Bob Marley and Gypsy King songs.

"I feel like I'm on a bad malaria trip," Jean said of the surroundings. Malaria pills are notorious for causing wildly vivid dreams, and occasionally, insanity.

The menu offered a selection of game meats, which I'd been looking forward to trying. We chose carpaccio of springbok and crocodile, and ostrich spring rolls. Both the springbok and crocodile were extremely smoky and salty; the croc meat looked like shaved ginger, the springbok like raw tongue. Neither was particularly appealing. Our main courses of very western steak and fish were a source of relief.

"Would you like a Dawa?" asked the waiter. Not at all sure what it was, we agreed. A "colored" man appeared, which is, uncomfortably, what South Africans call non-white, non-black, people of mixed race. He was carrying an unwieldy large wooden box, balanced by a strap around his neck. He juggled ice, honey, limes, and vodka until we had our "dawas", which turned out to be the most delicious version of a mojito that I've ever had.

"But," I asked, confused, "why is this drink called a dawa?"

The traveling bartender smiled, and put thick wooden rods in our drinks. "Because," he explained, "this is a dowel rod." We used the "dawa" to scrape the chewy bits of cold viscous honey from the bottoms of our glasses and agreed we'd take this recipe home with us.

Sated and tired, we abandoned plans to hear more local live music at a jazz hall. We instead opted to buy gelato and find a taxi to take us home. We spent the next hour and a half looking for the elusive taxi. Oddly, finding a metered taxi in Joburg is more difficult than finding, say, the Shroud of Turin. Finally, the familiar site of a placard on a car that said "Johannesburg Metered Taxi". It seemed pretty clear that we'd found what we were looking for. Until the driver took off his magnetized metered sign and hid it in the front seat. "This is not a metered cab," he said, as we watched him remove the sign. "But," we began to protest, "your sign says 'metered'?"

"Not anymore," he said unsympathetically. "I can take you to your hotel for 200 rand," which was four times the price for the same distance we'd traveled just a few hours earlier.

Frustrated, we began to walk. Not sure where we were going and deeply cognizant of the Lonely Planet warning that "You'd have to be crazy to walk in Joburg at night," we asked directions from someone who looked official and less menacing than the men who'd approached us asking to party.

"Jump over the robot," said the woman from whom I'd asked directions. She pointed in the direction of my hotel, and repeated, perhaps to benefit my blank stare: "Jump over the robot."

"Umm," I inquired, "what is a robot and how do I jump it?" She looked at me like the men with dilated eyes looking to party had just looked at me. She repeated again, at which point I thanked her and made way for the "robot". As I began to cross the intersection, cars slowed down and passengers stared. Perhaps I am imagining this, but I took their slow-to-a-crawl-and-staring to mean that I was doing something unusual. Like walking at night, which I've mentioned I was told to never, never do.

To be continued...have a visitor here from New York!!


Danny said...

you STOPPED in the MIDDLE of a SENTENCE. not cool! I want to hear the rest of this!

Danny said...

stay safe in johannesburg btw

MET said...

YO- I second Danny's protest - how could you possibly stop the story there??? And who visited? Come on - back to your writing... some of us have the flu and can't do anything more active than scroll up your blog!

kchatz13 said...

Hey CrackerJack, Danny is right.. you can't stop in the midst of a story.. more importantly a sentance..


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