Wednesday, May 02, 2012

hyena tale

Miriam, Jennifer’s carer, periodically widens her eyes to emphasise each dramatic point, like a car going from dip to full beam and back again. A short, dark-haired woman, she is economical with her movements. Once she’s done exactly what she needs to do to help us make Jennifer comfortable on the ambulance trolley, she settles herself into her own chair with a minimal wiggle, clutching Jennifer’s bag of clothes and meds securely on her lap.

‘This is my second home now,’ she says as we move off towards the hospital. ‘I’ve only been here five years but I love it. The freedom! You can step outside your front door without looking over your shoulder first. Believe me, South Africa’s finished. A nightmare. I had a comfortable life, there you wouldn’t believe. I was in computers. I could work when I wanted, how I wanted. I had a beautiful apartment on the twentieth floor overlooking the harbour, a beach house – and I mean a beach house – right there on the beach, with bullet-proof glass to cut out the sound of the sea. They don’t sell double-glazing in South Africa. It doesn’t exist. But bullet-proof glass – well, it’s a good insulator, it protects you from noise. And bullets too, of course.
‘I was attacked three – no, four times. Look at these marks. Know what they are? Teeth. I was going to my car and this guy attacked me. He grabbed my right hand because he knew I carried a pistol in a holster on my right hip. But I still had my left hand free so I whacked him straight in the mouth – like this! Because I’m a brown belt Karate and I will always fight back. So he falls back and lets me go, yah? But just before he runs away to find an easier target he swipes me with his knife – here! Not a deep wound, but what I didn’t realise then was they use poison on their weapons. Herbal magic. Muti, a Zulu thing. All kinds of strange preparations from the bush. Wild garlic and other stuff. So he’d smeared that on the blade. I only found out a couple of days later when I was out with friends and suddenly collapsed in the restaurant. I came round in the ER later that night and the doctors told me all about it.
‘It’s a tribal thing, of course. They migrate down to where the money is, the coastal resorts, and take what they can. It’s understandable really, because there’s such dreadful poverty. I suppose they’re only trying to feed their families, and who wouldn’t? But it’s dreadful, all the same.
‘I thought I was safe up on the twentieth floor. Gated entrance. I even had a police chief living in the flat above me, so I felt pretty secure. Secure enough to sleep with the balcony door open. But one night they abseiled down from the roof, going from balcony to balcony, burning hyena’s tail and other stuff to put us all to sleep. Even the dog went out. Then they were free to take what they wanted. They took the keys to my Audi, but luckily the fuel light was on so they left it and took the police chief’s Mercedes instead. Unluckily for them it had tracking, so a couple of helicopters picked them up down the road.
‘I never wore jewellery. I had a friend who was attacked and they just went kerchup! with the blade when the ring wouldn’t come off first time. I’ve had friends shot in the head, abducted, ransomed, dumped in the bush, stabbed. Ach – it’s not good. Not good at all. The last straw was the beach house getting ransacked. I barely escaped with my life. So next thing you know I’m standing at Heathrow with one suitcase and one dog. It was like getting mugged all over again, the exchange rate was so bad, but what can you do? You can’t put too high a price on security, yah?’

4 comments:

jacksofbuxton said...

I was half expecting Daniel Craig to turn up in that to rescue her.

Beautiful Things said...

Sadly I can relate to this post. I grew up in Africa & sadly about 75% of people I knew had suffered from extremely violent crime. Horrible place. I'll never go back.

Lilandi said...

Hi there! First time I'm commenting, tho I check your blog daily! I'm South African, still living in S.A, so I guess it's not quite "finished" yet! Thanx for a great blog - your vivd descriptions puts one right there in the moment.

Spence said...

Jacks - I expect being a 007-type, he'd have something to counteract the burning hyena's tail. Something that pulled out of the heel of his shoe, maybe. A clothes peg he could clip on his nose.

BT - I can't imagine what it must be like to live in a place with such high levels of violent crime.

It's hard to balance this with the incredibly positive story of Mandela and the breaking up of Apartheid. But I suppose it's because the inequalities and injustices were so deeply run it was never going to be an easy ride to find balance. It's difficult to form a proper impression of life there because you tend only to hear of the bad things - like the guy who hired people to fake a car jacking so he could murder his wife &c &c.

Lilandi - Having said all that, I'd still love to see SA. The films and pictures look fantastic. My Mother in Law went to Cape Town Uni just after the war and I know she has fond memories of the country.

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Thanks for all your comments! :)