Easing in

I spent the morning of my Saturday in Johannesburg working. When I am on a trip some of the other work continues. I wanted to clear my plate and thought I did when I learned there were other files to review though not visible to me in the Google Drive; most of the time I like Google Drive but yesterday I didn’t.

I treated myself to a Lebanese mezze for lunch, a macchiato on a terrace and then a pedicure. I decided that I hadn’t quite earned the massage yet (that’s the Calvinist in me).  For dinner I feasted on softshell crab and a magnificent glass of white wine at the Koi restaurant, a chain I know from my Pretoria stays that has an interesting cuisine. I eat my meals fast as there is no one to converse with. When the tables filled up and people were waiting to be seated I offered the other three chairs at my table, looking forward to some dinner conversation, but the wait staff looked at me as if I was off my rocker. Apparently one doesn’t do that here.

Back at the hotel I found that my suitcase was heavier than the airline allowed. I filled my hand luggage and succeeded to stay under the 20 kg for the flight to Tana. I left my cliff and other bars, that I now know contain a lot of sugar, for the hotel staff. I am holding on to the various packages of chocolates but that is for the teams I will work with. Bringing chocolate to Madagascar is like bringing coal to Newcastle, but I couldn’t think of anything else to bring.  Should I now feel guilty about bringing gifts that I no longer deem edible, at least not for the next 40 days?

And now I am in Tana, not at the usual boutique hotel where I have always stayed as it is full. I am put up at a “you-could-be-anywhere-in-the-world hotel.” It looks just like the one I will be staying in in Abidjan in a few weeks.

I am looking out over leaden skies. Everything is wet – it is the rainy season here, hot and humid. As soon as I got off the plane I started to have watery eyes and sneeze– I am beginning to think that I am allergic to Tana, as this has happened each time I have come here.

And now I am going to have my free welcome cocktail (a beer I think) at the bar downstairs and check out the sauna, hamman and espace sportif – all of which I get to use for free, the boutique hotel doesn’t quite have that. And then I am going to celebrate my last free night trying to finish the book Congo (by David van Reybrouck) that my sister gave me in June.

The period I am reading about now (early 50s) is exactly the time that my father travelled across-Africa (hitting some of the same cities I am doing now) on a brewery trip that took 3 months. Travel is a bit faster these days.  I can’t remember whether he stopped in Congo, but if he did, he may well have met some of the future giants of Congo politics (as they were each associated with a beer company – Lumumba, Congo’s first prime Minister was at Polar beer, and Kasavubu, Congo’s first president was with Primus beer). I have my father’s diary at home and only skimmed through it once. I was embarassed by the racist undertone of his writing about the locals het met (presumably mostly servants and servers) and the luxurious life that the Belgians and French lead: houses at the most beautiful spots, camembert and french wines flown in regularly – they live like kings, my father remarked. The diary sits in a box with postcards from african cities: palms, neatly painted colonial architecture (without the black mildew), an occasional car and bus and here and there a bare-breasted African woman.

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