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capsule – Poems, Pictures & Prose by Saaleha Idrees Bamjee

Capsule Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I knew that Journalist is a dirty word in Bob’stan.
But surreal, in all the ragged over-use of that word, is the only one that can describe the furtive act of scrawling “Graphic Designer” in the occupation field on the immigration card.

There are other things I learnt in Zim.

  • I found that I could call on the power of GraySkull and prise a lift-door open with my bare hands after a power-cut had me stuck somewhere between the third floor of the hotel and oblivion.
  • You will not find a single coin-operated vending machine anywhere in the country. The Zim$100 000 note is the smallest denomination accepted by Zimbabweans (correct at time of blog). It’s also the first currency I’ve ever seen with an expiry date. The stupid tourist in me was overtaken by the novelty of being given Zim$3.5 million in lieu of ZAR30. But you spend millions in seconds, and all you have to show for it is the corny photograph you took of the notes spilling across your palms.
  • I ate what looked like fish fillets and tomato chutney. I now know that crocodile tastes something like chicken, but not quite.
  • Mosi oa tunya. Indeed it does. And it’s the smoke that leaves you soaked and in awe of the sheer tenacity of water that cleaves through the earth to assert its path.
  • The sunset over the Zambezi is perfect. That’s it. Perfect. Not even a bunch of Indian guys yelling Hindi across international borders to their Babhis over their cellphones could mar the incredible all-encompassing ‘Perfect’ of the moment. And after over-hearing the ‘baw majaa’ comment to Bhabi, I know they thought so too.

Some visuals here.

capsule mthatha (a really little pill)

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O.R Tambo International Airport – 6.15am.
Take-off for Mthatha in a Jetstream 4100, one of those R/C looking propeller planes.
(Blah photograph but I do like the Munsch-colours. We all begin in blood.)
DSC00099The tallest building in town.
Mthatha
smells like: damp wood.
tastes like: sweet veld grass.
sounds like: unhurried deliberation.
feels like: the place you would go, to listen to the wind.

capsule roadtrip (mafikeng)

There’s something about a 300km stretch of tar.

Something about the road that pulls at you to start pulling together.

And that’s what happens on the N14 from Krugersdorp, all the way through to Ventersdorp and the R503 pass Coligny and Lichtenburg on the route to Mafikeng.

You pull together.

Just me, Duritz and De La Rocha (who screams in an oracle of irony “Fuck the police” just as I drive pass a hoot of speed cops on the roadside.)

Just me and a long way ahead

The Aveo chews kilometres at a rate she never dreamt when her rubber smacked the streets of the city. But out here, her voice breaks, and she croons like a lounge singer to her audience of enquiring sunflowers who could not tear their faces away.

And while Aveo is seduced by the way she’s been allowed to stretch out on this country route, the mind of a lone driver charts its own course, looking forward, back and where I’m at.

And on that road to Mafikeng, one realises that there’s lots to pull together.

So between the RATM and Counting Crows, old risks are weighed up against each other, their consequences lined up like dominoes arranged to form the face of Elvis.
A finger nudge, tik tik tik tik.
I count the number of times on one hand. I will nudge again.

The edges of some parts of the road looked like they’d been masticated by a tar-monster on a bulimic binge. It was only suddenly, when static washed out Duritz telling me that Richard Manuel is dead, and the rooibos-bred voice on the traffic station floods out my speakers, that I wonder if I entered an alternate dimension when I passed that roadside stall selling “Tamaties!!!”
I drive on with my fingers melted securely to the steering wheel, generating reservations about the innocence of the seed bars I ate earlier. The traffic voice stops its loop about the backup on the N1 and the trouble with the traffic lights near Booysens. Duritz displaces the weird energy left behind by the strange intrusion, “And what brings me down now is love, Cause I can never get enough”. Sing on man. I pull together.

Priced to go…

I park at a garage rest stop where the signs proclaim the toilets to be clean. I order a cup of coffee at the take-away. “Percolated?” they ask which confirm my suspicions that I’d entered into the bizzarro space-time continuum at the padstaal* with the histrionic tomatoes.
“Yah, that’s fine,” I say, hearing the crackly jingle, “Ricoffy, fresh percolated taste” ricochet in my head disturbingly. I wonder when they’ll start calling it filter coffee in these parts.
What I receive tastes like ditchwater that’s been strained through two layers of dirty dishcloths and nuked for good measure.
So much for percolated I think as I empty the blasphemous abomination out onto the lawn. It’s so vile, I forget about any ants encountering the liquid and mutating.

And I’m on the road again, carding my thoughts, making neat piles of things as I pass a small dam, its water reflecting scatters of the sun, so pretty and sparkly.

The drive is longer still and I start thinking about the people in my life especially the one whose eyes crinkle up at the corners when they smile and the thought of whom leaves me with a warmth and tenderness I can not title.

I pull together until the sign ahead reads Mafikeng.
The woman at the guest house offers to take me to the halaal steers. Those questionable seed bars ingested earlier were about as substantial as eating clouds.
She can see I’m hungry enough to devour anything in an unladylike manner.

Every sentence out of her fastens to a close with a ribbon of “mm” or “aah”. The next day I find this to be a general idiosyncrasy of towns inhabitants. It’s such a distinctive “mm” conveying agreement and consideration in just that one sound, Mmabatho*.

In the afternoon I pensivate my route back to the city.

There’s just something about a 300km stretch of tar.
It pulls at you to pull together.

*tomatoes
*roadside stall
*an area part of Mafikeng.

capsule bloemfontein


The coffee cup placed in front of me has an authentic granny-crocheted doily beneath it. This is Bloemfontein.
I’m sharing a tuna tramezzini at De Rebus in the city centre with Sally and Anina, tannies* who are the encyclopedic reference to the concept. Anina reminds me of a tropical bird, brightly feathered in a blue suit, ornamented with chunky baubles and the most elaborate eye makeup I’ve ever seen; stripes of bronze and azure with shadings of a lilac-marine accenting the outer corners of her lids. Sally is simpler and wholesome, like a bowl of oats.
“Are you married Saaleha,” they ask in that concerned inquiring inflection. While their questions are warmed by their Afrikaans intonations, the tone could belong to Aunty Khadijah in Lenasia or Sandringham’s Beryl Rabinowitz.
I reply in the negative and steer the conversation towards Anina’s weekend church camp and Sally’s teenage son who gets irritated when she asks him technology related questions.
We speak about traditional Afrikaans upbringing, and I draw parallels with my own small-town Muslim-Indian molding. Discussing the death of conservatism is inevitable, and I’m somewhat saddened that while we stride positively forward, we tend to leave behind the modesties of the old-fashioned.

My return flight to Johannesburg is delayed by two hours because of inclement weather. I bemoan my fate to anyone who’ll listen on mxit, “Pansy pilots scared of a little drizzle. What happened to gung-ho bravado?”.

I bought From My Sister’s Lips by Na’ima Robert earlier that morning before departure, and to file down time, I lose myself in the sincere testimonies of these women and their heartfelt and soul-driven submission to the Will of God. I’m suddenly ashamed of my own stubbornness and begin to strike off what were in fact pyrrhic victories gained in my jihadunnafs. Aluta Continua.

Eating eats time, and carrot cake seems like the best way to move along the process. I think of diets and gym routines and then I realise, we all want to lose in order to gain societal approval. What kind of world do we live in, when we have to be less in order for people to like us more? That was my in-transit musing of the day.

It feels like I’ve been born in this airport, time is so still and vacuumed. I want Home.
But the rain smells earthier in Bloem, like Gaia spilled over her bottle of eau de toilette and a rainbow on the runway reminds me that patience is still very much a virtue in a drive-thru world.

*tannies: afrikaans word for Aunts

capsule kimberley

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Kimberley. Hot. Flat. Sparse.

You walk into the airport to walk out of the airport.

“Everything’s five minutes away,” I’m told.

This is a full-on work trip and time is not lenient, so I don’t get to see the big hole or the diamonds this unassuming dorpie is claim-famed to. I spend the day in a building with inactive airconditioning, compensated only by the friendly willingness of the people I have to interview, the real diamonds in the dust.

It looked like rain in Johannesburg when I left in the a.m, but here it’s 29 celcius, and the sky is a stubborn blue.

Duties discharged and it’s back to the corridor through which I catch the return flight. It’s 4.30pm and the curio shop is closed. The waiting area is too small to people-watch, and I don’t want to come across as a loon. It’s a small town, you know how people talk. I wittle away time on
Mxit and Opera mini (glory, glory).

It begins to drizzle as I step onto the little plane. My window seat is seated right next to the propellor, and I found myself slipping hypnotic as i watch it pick up momentum until the edge of the blades disappear. That’s the super power I want, being able to move so fast, no one sees me. The buzz from the propellors is so loud, I stop hearing it, and I’m looking over the landscape, an abstract carpet. This is farming country; a Mondrian of reds, greens, yellows and browns, circles and geometrics.

Flying through the clouds, I indulge in pareidolia, seeing monsters and gods in the cumulus. I’m looking at the spires of a castle on a mountain with a mermaid in the moat, when I realise it’s sunset, time to break fast. A mid-air iftaar; I’ve packed dates and open SAA’s offering – salmon and cream cheese roulade and some fishy-lookin snoek (obvious pun intended). The salmon’s edible and I smile at the packet of Tumbles. Mmmm…. chocolate. In-flight catering finally gets something right.

Touch down Jhb straight into a traffic freeze. Scattered accidents and breakdowns convert the 20 minute commute to an hour and a half belly-crawl.

If I were in Kimberely, I’d be five minutes away.

Capsule Cape Town

The last time the Mother City welcomed me was December of ’94. The family holiday, I was eleven years old. Took a walk on the mountain, and returned to find them spinning in hysterics. They thought I’d fallen over the edge or been eaten by a mutant dassie.

Something of an adult now, I maintain that lofty edges offer the best views and I never miss the opportunity to push a tongue out at chipmunks.

So back to the “return to Cape Town”; a fly-in-fly-out-overnighter for work. Sat between two largish women on the plane, the cheer of economy class. The one who usurped my window seat was overheating. She may have been pregnant (I didn’t dare confirm) and decorum overrode the bitchmode induced by the discomfort of having the cooling fan deepfreeze my eyeballs, while she called for the airsteward to haul an iceberg or two.

The drive to the hotel, and I’m reminded just how much the mountain dominates, it’s hulk dictating the spread of the city and perhaps the laid-back temperament of its people (I was told it’s the mineral ore in Table Mountain that contributes to the trademark Capetonion disposition)

I spend the night at The Metropole on Long street. Luxury boutique hotel, I read off the website. The copy doesn’t do it justice. They’ve left little sugarcoated jujubes wrapped in clear cellophane as my sleep-treat. I’m swallowed by the plush of the pillows and swim in the cool of the linen. I want to live here forever and ever, in this soft-towelled gentle-hummed climate controlled pill.

Supper is kurdish; guvech at Mesopotamia. Heavy tapestry, dim lighting and the air thickly weaved with the redolence of Shisha. Eating dolmades off of low copper trays, I don’t feel like a solo diner. The other patrons are seated on cushions next to me, and their conversations fall like condiments into my food with the spice of some turkish pop played on the restaurant’s soundsystem.

I meet up with webaddiCT and we talk google and geek over caffeine at Lola’s. The decor is something we christen nouveau-retro. During the stream of conversation, the internet slights our geography. I discover he’s the legend responsible for an erstwhile net-haunt from my days at RAU, the only fish in the thinktank behind the now defunct www.plaasjaapie.com.
Long street sleeps when it’s fans do, and we leave the ardent aherents behind in Lola’s and Fiction and I’m back at the hotel, preparing for the 6.30am wake up call. My pores absorb the tenderness of the sheets. On cue, my eyes staple shut to welcome nothing-dreams.

Waking up at 6.30 was something of a foolish optimism. Those pillows, those sheets, I simply couldn’t detach. The trauma of separation anxiety dimmed when I finally made it down to a breakfast of standard lux hotel fare; coffee, croissant and muesli-fruitsalad-swimming-in-pristine-yoghurt. My inner gourmand called for crumpet-like hotcakes streaked with cream and a beautifully-prepared berry sauce.

Baseness appeased, I set off to my gig, I’ve almost forgotten that I’m in Cape Town for work and not to eat and inhale the city.

After the bookreading at the children’s library, I walk back to the hotel. I’m given directions but I let them lose their rigidity. I don’t mind getting lost, there’ll always be someone to help you find yourself.

I find a bench on Government Avenue and watch; tourists, school children on an excursion to parliament, bergies, municipal workers, people on early lunch breaks. It’s one of those days when you blink, warm from the sun and the world is perfect and complete in that second when eyelash kisses eyelash. A stroll through the gardens and I find my way back into Long Street. I’m checking email at the Metropole after I buy books outside the Afrocafe and sift through vintage skirts at a stall.

My press-release and pics sent and delivered, I have two and a half hours to bead before my airport transfer. And because Cape Town is a city for walking, I make my way to the Waterfront. I underestimate the distance, but I don’t mind it. I’m wearing flats and i’m in the mood to eat kilometres.

I settle on a lunch of calamari and onion rings at Fisherman’s Choice. My meal companions are the seagulls who are adept at picking fries off people’s plates. I wonder what these fat flying chickens have as cholesterol levels.

After these ruminations, I follow the “Pedestrian route to the city” signs back to the hotel, grateful to the city council for thinking of tourists and jozi-girls, in time for my transfer.

Bag in hand, in the cab, my back is to the mountain, but I don’t feel as if I’ve left Mother behind.