August 10th, 2013 § § permalink
What is the dove doing at the baptism of Jesus?
Well, probably most of us would say, Noah, dove, covenant— obvious! The dove is a symbol or sign of the covenant.
Ok, but… covenant with… who?— Noah? Israel?
Actually, the dove isn’t a sign of any covenant in the Bible. In the Noah story, God cuts a covenant with Noah, but only after he actually exits the box (‘ark’, in Latin), and a dove isn’t mentioned there. So I still wonder what the dove is.
There are 52 references to a dove (יונה) in the OT. I’m increasingly convinced that the number of occurrences of words in the Bible is significant, because the numbers are meaningful in other contexts, more often than they’d be if they were just random, but i know of no key. So i’ll just note that 52 is the number of weeks in a year, and file that away as a potential clue… to something.
But in these 52 references, the dove is mentioned—
- in the noah story (4 times: Gen 8.8–12);
- in sacrificial material (10 times: Lev 1.14; 5.7, 11; 12.6, 8; 14.22, 30; 15.14, 29; Num 6.10);
- in a reference to famine in 2 Kgs 6.25;
- in material about Israel going into or already in exile in Isaiah (2 times: 38.14— note the reference to resurrection in 38;17; and 59.11); Ezekiel (7.16); and Nahum (2.7);
- in material about Israel returning from exile (Isa 60.8; Ho 11.11);
- in a reference to Moab in flight/exile (Jer 48.28);
- in material about flighty Israel in Hosea (7.11);
- in the book of the prophet Jonah (whose name means ‘dove’) (19 times: 2 Kgs 14.25; Jon 1.1, 3, 5, 7, 15, 17–2.1; 2.10–3.1; 3.3–4; 4.1, 5–6, 8–9— all of them just naming the prophet/protagonist of the book);
- in poetic references in Psalms (55.6 (image of escape); 56.0 (uncertain title); 68.13 (uncertain image of plunder)); and
- in references to the bride in Song of Songs (6 times: 1.15; 2.14; 4.1; 5.2, 12; 6.9).
So, in order of usage: Jonah, sacrifice, Israel, exile, bride, Noah.
The Noah material is actually the least prominent, at least by frequency. We think of it first, mostly (I’m sure) because chapters 6-9 of Genesis are about as far as we ever get with the OT and, after all, the Noah story does come at an important place in the Bible. But Noah is not necessarily the main thing a Hebrew speaker who really knew the Bible might think of, when s/he thought of a dove.
Well, leaving aside the prophet ‘Dove’ (Jonah) for the moment— even though his name accounts for about two fifths (19/52) of all the references to a dove in the Bible— the next most frequent uses of a dove in the Bible have to do with sacrifices, particularly sacrifices of purification.
The semiotics of sacrifice are not well understood, but purification is always the repairing of some breach, which is why it’s required after healing from childbirth, a running issue of blood, or etc. It always takes place on the ‘eighth day’— which is a symbol of new creation (the eighth day is the new first day, after the Sabbath); as such it later emerges as a symbol of the resurrection, since Christ was crucified on the sixth day, spent the Sabbath in the tomb, and arose on the eighth day, the first day of the new creation, the day without evening). For purification, always two doves are required. And the sacrifice is associated in Leviticus and Numbers not only with purification, but also at the same time with atonement (reconciliation), Israel (it is an offering brought by anyone, not priests or kings), and with the poor (who can’t afford bigger sacrifices).
For some reason the dove has become a symbol of peace in our society— possibly because Noah’s dove was a “sign of reconciliation”. I’m not sure that’s quite the point in the Bible, but the dove did bring the olive twig, a sign of new life, to Noah. Even so, though— given that the Noah story is above all a good story— one still wonders why Noah chose a “dove”. But, given the popular symbolism, and because we don’t really know the Bible very well, I think we usually just assume the dove at Jesus’ baptism is “a sign of peace or something”, and don’t look any farther. But one really expects a lot more from a important symbol at a key moment. If you have some insight into this, do let me know!
But as far as i can see from the data i’ve presented, I think on the whole the dove is a symbol of Israel, and we should read the dove in the story of Jesus’ baptism as the vocation to be Israel comes upon him. This, it turns out, is quite consistent with the theology of all four gospels in general, where Jesus is the ‘true Israel’.
Arguably the dove in Noah’s story stands for “Israel” as well, since Israel was to be, precisely, a sign of hope and reconciliation and new life for God’s creation.
All of this leads us to reflect on the entire book of the prophet ‘Dove’, then— Jonah, of course— who spent three days in the belly of the whale, as a reflection on Israel’s vocation among the nations. ‘Dove’ went to Nineveh, in fact; that is, to Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile (and note how Israel goes into exile in Nineveh like a dove in Nahum 2.1-7; but God is against Nineveh and its violence in Nahum 2.8-13.
Dove = Israel, then, and when God asks Dove (Jonah), “Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jon 4.11), he is plying that question not just to Dove/Jonah, but to Dove/Israel.
So at the baptism of Jesus, the dove descends, Jesus becomes the true Israel, and we see that God’s going to get his answer.
Perhaps purification always requires two doves because, as Isaiah 40-55 shows us, there was always Jacob-Israel, who fails, and Servant-Israel, who does God’s will. One of the doves is always sacrificed as an offering for sin, and the other as an offering for atonement. Actually the one Son fulfilled both. Curiously, he is said to have done so at age 33, and 33 is the number of references to a dove in the Bible except for Dove/Jonah.
August 9th, 2012 § § permalink
This video (about 50 minutes) strikes me as really quite good.
I think there’s a lot of need to think deeply about marriage (and divorce and all the rest) in our society. I don’t think it’s quite the same thing in our society as it was in the first century— hardly at all, in fact. These two talks would be a good start, from a couple of angles.
March 24th, 2012 § § permalink
Uganda's 'invisible children' are no longer so invisible.
This article on the Kony2012 campaign is worth reading. It’s good news if the campaign results in renewed resolve to catch the bastard. I hope they do!
But meanwhile, please don’t forget the St Nicholas African Education Fund (see the Paypal or ChipIn link at the right), especially if, as I do, you have a problem with Invisible Children spending only 32% of funds raised on any Uganda children, visible or not. As I’ve mentioned, we send 100% directly to our kids, minus only the bank fees and about $75/month for our hard-working manager in Uganda.
Update: Also have a look at “Guest Post: I’ve met Joseph Kony and Kony 2012 isn’t that bad” by Norbert Mao, a Uganda politico. As he points out, “The sky is overcast with an explosive mix of dubious oil deals, land grabs, arms proliferation, neglected ex-combatants, and a volatile neighborhood full of regimes determined to fish in troubled waters. What we have is a tentative peace.”
March 21st, 2012 § § permalink
Someone just sent me this link about a new disease striking families in Northern Uganda. I’ve heard of it, but haven’t ever seen anything specific about it until now. It’s not known what causes it, or can cure it. Hope they find it soon; over 3000 children have been affected so far.
As I said to him, just imagine if africa had… education, jobs, medicine, food, and peace!
Well, at least please help with the education part of it— click the paypal link to the right.
March 19th, 2012 § § permalink
Moses and Jescah pose for a photo op at Gayaza Secondary. Keeping them in school costs about $100 per month. They and 22 other kids need your help!
A friend on Facebook points out that only 32% of the funds taken in by Invisible Children actually ends up in Uganda— and that a goodly portion ends up in the pockets of the Ugandan military (known exploiters of children themselves). The 32% figure was derived from the group’s own financial statements for FY 2010 and 2011. See this link on reddit
And actually what I’m quite afraid of is this. Altogether too plausible!
If people want to help Uganda kids, one way they can do so is to contribute to the St Nicholas African Education Fund through the link in the right-hand column of this page. Unlike IC’s 32%, almost all the money we receive goes directly to the kids we support; we lose only the bank transfer fees and a very modest stipend of about $75 per month paid to our local manager, who runs around all month to make it happen. He even forgoes pay sometimes if we’re really in a bind, even though loss of that income makes his life a lot harder.
By March 23, we have to come up with about $500 to keep five of our kids in school for their final exams, which begin in April. Help!!
March 16th, 2012 § § permalink
This article in Guernica Magazine is another very good discussion of the Invisible Children organization and its Kony2012 campaign.
You might also read, if you haven’t seen it, today’s news, Uganda screenings of Kony film halted after protests. That’d be because “Joseph Kony No Longer [seen as] a Threat“.
I’m sorta wondering whether IC is starting to regret their rather unconsidered enthusiasm.
The real invisible children are Uganda’s high school kids. There just isn’t much support available for them. Lots o’ people go all mushy over grade school kids— and not unreasonably so— but what about when they actually get old enough to where they might soon begin working for a living, if they just had education and training?
Well, click the paypal link to the right! Kony may be pretty much out of the picture by now, but these kids are very real, and they need your help right now!
March 10th, 2012 § § permalink
Stop this man.
here’s what i posted, with one or two later edits, after sharing that link on facebook:
YES YES YES!! SAY IT BROTHER!!
I was living in Uganda in 2003, when Kony made his LAST major incursion there– he came from the north and got as far as Soroti, but it turned out it was just a raid, and after killing and burning for a few days, his forces melted back into the north, over the border of Sudan, then northeast Congo, now the Central Afr. Rep., and more or less hasn’t been heard of since. THAT WAS 9 YEARS AGO!! Yes, he made a couple of brief raids after that in Uganda and, if memory serves, he stirred up some trouble in Congo around Christmas of 2010, but pretty much hasn’t been heard of, otherwise.
And by ALL accounts, his present forces are estimated at a few hundred at most. He apparently gets his weapons from China, but through what channels I don’t know. Those questions never have clear answers, especially when ‘enemies’ often serve the same masters.
I was in Uganda again from 2005 through 2007, and the kids who were still sleeping in churches and schools in Gulu in early 2005 (only half as many as 2002) were all back in the villages by the end of 2007.
I have remained continuously in touch with many people all over Uganda since then, and I was in Gulu again last year (2011), drinking beer outdoors even until late at night, and even sleeping in grass huts with some of those kids and their wonderful parents in a perfectly peaceful village outside of town. Kony is basically just a bad memory at this point. NO, he’s not dead and he needs to be brought to justice. But he is not an active presence there.
But understand this: Uganda’s President Museveni himself is NOT innocent of wrongdoing in the whole Kony affair from the git-go— he USED Kony to punish the Acholi people because they resist him, and Kony remains a potentially useful destabilizing force that he and the other corrupt dictators of Central/East Africa can call upon at will. One of Museveni’s highest advisors spent years with Kony (sorry, i don’t know the status right now). Do you think he was just enjoying a camping trip?
And the UPDF, by all accounts, is *just* as brutal and corrupt as Kony. Especially since they’re not well paid, and they’re armed, they loot and rape with impunity. So is supporting them such a great idea? They COULD have taken Kony down any number of times, had they been determined. But they don’t like fighting people with with weapons. Better just to live off the locals.
So ALWAYS remember this: there’s OIL in Uganda now, and MINERALS all over the place in that part of Africa, and what has been called “World War III” is happening RIGHT NOW in neighboring eastern Congo. Rwanda is up to its ears in murder. Congolese gold is a major export of Uganda. The uranium that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki came from Congo. Google “conflict minerals” and “coltan”— and you’ll find that estimates of those killed over the past decade in neighboring Congo run as high as ten MILLION so far; one in four women gang-raped, even *men* gang-raped— but all this merits not a whisper in our newspapers because THOSE MINERALS ARE IN YOUR CELL PHONE and every other cellphone in the world— got the picture yet? So what is Kony? Brutal, insane, murderous— and useful.
When all the killing was going on— nothing, not a single tear from the good ol’ USA. But NOW, in a great, magnanimous gesture of *humanitarian concern*, the US has sent 100 military ‘advisors’ to Uganda. Of course, no Kony-related ‘results’ have been reported so far— not least because they’re not even looking for Kony— at all!
But meanwhile the Uganda police are sitting in plenty of shiny new heavy military equipment at all major intersections now, as the people plunge further and further into desperation.
While i was there last summer, the US made a 10-year, $75 billion commitment to providing *fighter jets* to Uganda for “security”. Um, excuse me? *Fighter* jets??— for *Uganda*??? That’s like fighter jets for *Oregon*! (Well, and what it really means is, the criminals who run the US just donated $75B of our tax money to Lockheed, which will give a certain percentage of it to Museveni and his brother the top general; Museveni, who has proven himself ready to do US tricks in any country he can fly to, will spin some more tricks in Somalia, and feel more confident about taking over the new East African Union, that is, president of about 1/6 of the whole continent.
At first I thought this “Invisible Children” group had to be either *sinfully* naive, criminally corrupt, or (what is the same) simply a CIA front aiming to stir up support for a future destabilization program. Or patsies in a game larger than they knew. After further investigation, I wouldn’t say that now— perhaps they’ll do some good. But I just don’t see 100 US advisors in Uganda doing much to arrest Kony in the Central African Republic, nor Museveni’s government interested in the topic at the moment, so I still really wonder what this movement is actually accomplishing.
I feel sooooo bad and sorry for the beautiful, wonderful, innocent people of Uganda, who have done NOTHING to deserve the US’s government’s “humanitarian concern”.
If you want to support kids in Uganda, find the paypal link in the right-hand column of this page— and do some REAL good. I guarantee that EVERYTHING you contribute will go DIRECTLY to helping Uganda high school kids graduate. You know— education… jobs… future…. PEACE…!
That’s what we need. “Invisible Children”? As far as I can tell, they’re “Invisible”, indeed— because *they’re not there!*
Forgive if I’m wrong, and if I see some real action from IC, i’ll recant. And I do hope my mentioning the Education Fund which i direct isn’t self-serving; certainly I don’t mean it so. There are numerous ways to send aid to Uganda, even to Northern Uganda; my program happens to be the one I know best, that’s all— and, well, it is *direct* in a way that no others are, since i personally deal with the kids and their schools themselves. In fact i’m hoping i can find a sponsor for a new Acholi kid right now— but we desperately need better funding for the whole program. That is to say, I’m not criticizing Invisible Children just to raise money for “my” program. You’ll find lots of critical response on the internet if you look around a bit.
Let’s indeed *bring Kony to justice*— and rescue however many kids he still has in his army! But if you’ve been in Africa, you will know how many layers of shifting veils there are; and how, when people (including the US above all) say they’re doing one thing, it’s usually *not* what they’re doing.
So before you send any money, demand more transparency, demand clarity, and keep an eye on the *results*!
July 25th, 2011 § § permalink
This is where my trip starts to get interesting.
First, a couple of pictures of the Selbourne Hotel, a charming relic of old Rhodesia:
The Selbourne even features its own crockery.
Down the hallway and out the door. Isn’t this like the 1950s?
After stashing my bags with the front desk at the Selbourne, and very worried about lodging costs, and wondering and praying about what to do, I went and had breakfast at this place:
Sometimes Zimbabwe reminded me of the 50s, and sometimes of the 70s! But whichever decade, the nicest thing was, they actually had real coffee from a pot in this town, yay!
Then I checked the i-cafe for the first time in a couple of days and after a couple of hours, was ready for a snack at a nearby lunch spot….
The place is crowded and I sit down with this obviously American guy reading a heavily annotated bible with extremely wide margins, great for taking notes. So I ask him what version it is. We get to chatting, and I find out his name’s Brian, and he’s a “pastor and church planter” with “Iris Ministries”, which he claims has 2000 churches (many, admittedly, “in the dirt” or “under a tree”) in Mozambique.
Looking up the site to write this blog, I discover that apparently it’s true, and they do have a lot of nice pictures on that site! You can even find Brian on their Zimbabwe page, which also reads, “Our calling in Zimbabwe is to bring the love of God to the last, the least and the lost by living an Isaiah 58 lifestyle among them. Through demonstrations of God’s love, we desire to win a generation to the Lamb and bring the Kingdom of heaven on earth.”
Isaiah 58, if you recall, is the source of one of the first lessons of our Lenten cycle: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo heavy burdens, and to free the oppressed and to break every yoke? Is it not to deal your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor who are cast out into your house? when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (58.6-7). So if that’s what they’re into, I’m all for it!
Problem is, Iris Ministry isn’t Orthodox. In fact, it”s all about miracles and Holy Ghost Power. And indeed, Brian tells me, “Poverty is a spirit before it’s a physical manifestation”— and man, I can sure see where that’s something people around here might want to hear, because anyone can fight evil spirits by the power of Jesus, but you can’t so readily fight Mugabe and his kleptocrats, or the IMF, who are causing your poverty! So, university-trained Marxist that I am, I can easily see “Holy Ghost power” as a way of avoiding the issues of real power(lessness) in society. Well, but I also can’t deny that the world’s evil is spiritual (because it comes from the hearts of men, and human institutions), or that the Holy Spirit can bring light into all kinds of desperate darkness. After all, isn’t the Bible’s basic metaphor— exodus? Brian even tells me, bragging a bit, “We’ve seen multiplication of food, etc”— hard to argue with it, though I’m ever sceptical of course.
Well, this isn’t the place or time to debate points of religion, even if I could; Brian’s busy and I’m desperate to find a place cheaper than the Selbourne. So I mention my quest and he tells me he knows a place I’d probably like, and kindly offers to take me there: “Burke’s Paradise”, which you can find easily enough by Googling “burke’s paradise bulawayo” even though they don’t seem to have a website of their own. I’d describe it as an obscure backpacker lodge, not far out of town— and as a gorgeous, quiet, almost monastic retreat— for $15 per night, hot water and kitchen included. I feel this is the missing link— from here they can advise me of further backpacker places and hopefully, I can now keep on the backpacker trail all the way to Kampala! Yay! I might be able to afford the rest of this trip after all!
Before they take me to the lodge, Brian wants to pray over me with his crew, so I let them put their hands on me while they “just” thank Jesus and ask for blessings and guidance on my trip, and to use my gifts. May it be blessed. I note, though, that Brian is “davening”— rocking back and forth the way some Jews do when they pray. I really don’t care for the Judaizing that seems to be overtaking what I might refer to, somewhat inaccurately, as the fundamentalist world, but ok, whatever— I see it as fundamentally mistaken. But again, this isn’t the time to say anything. Brian then prophecies that he “sees the Lord using my gifts abundantly”, and makes some noises like shalalalalalala (I mean, that’s literally what he did, “shalalalala”), as if speaking in tongues, but I’m sorry, sincere as he is, this is fake. But I know they’re trying their best and if their sincere prayers help, good; if not, no harm, they tried. They’re already giving me a great gift by taking me to the backpacker lodge. I will certainly be glad for beauty, complete quiet, and privacy, after getting hammered for two days and a night on African buses!
Here’s Burke’s Paradise Backpacker Lodge, where they brought me:
—as I say, a real paradise indeed! I will end up staying here for eight days. It’s good to have a quiet spot to read, study, and pray in solitude and silence after the noise and confusion and chaos and heartbreak of my final days in Johannesburg. And further interesting things will unfold during this time, as we’ll see in subsequent posts.
Some further thoughts about Iris and other such ministries
I’ve always thought pentecostal phenomena come more or less “as the wind blows”, but Brian seems to have organized a regular “Holy Ghost training program” for his disciples, who are mostly teens and younger kids. We pick up a couple of these kids on the way to the lodge, becasue he was actually headed for a meeting with them before he met me, and I envy the obvious rapport he has with them. If you visit the Zimbabwe journal page on the Iris site, you’ll see the only entry there so far refers to an event that took place just after I met them—
“a HIP HOP HOLY GHOST party for different youth in the area. Most were from churches, but 4 gave their lives to JESUS & many got ROCKED by the HOLY GHOST!!! It was so fun!”
— that pretty much gives you the flavor of what it was like being with Brian and his kids.
A phrase Brian keeps repeating, though, is “the last, the least and the lost”. It’s worth visiting that Iris Ministries site, because it really is pretty amazing to see all they’re in fact doing for the last, the least and the lost. It has to be admitted that the Orthodox Church is accomplishing absolutely nothing like that.
“In Mozambique, without exception, we are also committed to offering a home to every child we find who does not have a family.”
I’m pretty sceptical about almost any kind of Christianity in Africa, though, for a number of reasons and from a number of different angles, and I expect I’ll talk about some of that as this blogging project goes on. I’m particularly sceptical about anything that strikes me as having to do with the “prosperity gospel” that’s taking over the Christian world. I voice some of my scepticism, and Brian admits that opportunism is a big reason for the conversions he’s seen. I’m thinking that from an African point of view, Iris Ministries would be as good a “prosperity church” as any and, in any case, its extreme emphasis on Holy Spirit phenomena would accord well with African ideas of power, worldly benefits, and expectations of shamanic or mediumistic contact with God and the spirit world, etc.
In fact it strikes me that there’s very little difference between Pastor Brian’s ministry and sangoma— traditional African shamanism— except that they use the Bible rather than herbs, and call upon the Holy Spirit rather than the spirits of the ancestors. It’s all, “God spoke to me”, “God showed me”, and so forth. In fact, the story of Iris’ founders and main leaders call is similar to those of shamans everwhere— “taken up in a vision for several hours [she] heard Jesus speak audibly to her and tell her to be a minister and a missionary…”. It occurs to me that pentecostalism can perhaps be described as “shamanism Christianized and therefore democratized”. Is that bad? But at least at Iris, it sounds like a lot of people are getting fed, and lives are changed.
But there’s this:
“Teacher, we saw someone who doesn’t follow us casting out demons in your name; and we forbade him, because he doesn’t follow us” (Mk 9.38).
This passage is hard for someone who is committed to a certain position (and organization) as the “True Church”. But in that whole section of Mark’s story (usually referred to as the section on the “way” of the Messiah— 8.22–10.52), Jesus repeatedly warns his disciples against attitudes of superiority— and the disciples repeatedly fail to get it. In fact this is John’s answer to Jesus’ dictum that
“If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all… Whoever receives one of these children in my name, receives me” (Mk 9.35-37).
Isn’t there something about us that doesn’t want others to know or to show God’s power?
“But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for no one will do a miracle in my name, who can lightly speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9.39-40).
I envy Brian’s rapport with the kids. I’m personally amazed and, as an Orthodox Christian, humbled by all the work reported on Iris Ministry’s website. I don’t care for davening and tongues (especially fake ones), or for people being “slain in the Spirit”— and I suspect that, while these kinds of spectacles are exciting— especially for young Africans— they’re ultimately not needed. About miracles and the rest— well, my students used to ask me, “Mr John! Why don’t we have miracles like everyone else”, and my answer always tasted like sour grapes: “Can you really trust those ‚miracles’?” But I’m increasingly convinced that we need to struggle against our instinctual desire to “forbid” those who don’t follow us (and note that John said “he didn’t follow us“, not “he didn’t follow you“. And this is hard, somehow.
In their 8 Sept 2010 newsletter, Iris reports on the riots that broke out in Mozambique because of poverty and corruption and rising food prices, and points out that “this keeps us aware that Mozambique, now the world’s 6th poorest country, is still a land of desperate poverty for most. We have seen a huge number of people come to the Lord, and great blessing come to many, but we must press on until the Gospel covers the land.” I, too, believe that the good news of God’s Messiah is the only thing that will cure the world. And there’s a lot more that we Orthodox could be doing to spread that news.
If you feel this way too— well, one thing you could do is make a contribution to the St Nicholas African Education Fund— send a check, or click on the “Donate” button in the right-hand column of this blog. That will help. But for the rest, I’m sure that “the love of God is impacting Mozambique, and people are responding with a desire to give their lives in ministry”, and that “The people are desperate to encounter God and preach this Gospel that burns like fire.”
Yet I’m heading back to America because the Greekorthodox Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria is closing its seminary and selling the property.
Selling it, in fact, to the Seventh Day Adventists, from what I hear.
In fact, it was my SDA Greek student who first heard it was available, and got his congregation interested in it.
July 22nd, 2011 § § permalink
As I said, Gabarone was so horrendously expensive that I just got up, meditated, ate breakfast, and caught a bus for Francistown, not far from the Zimbabwe border, as soon as I could.
These ladies, who belonged to the African Apostolic Church, worked the foreign exchange market at Gaborone’s bus park. As a security precaution, transactions were very elaborate.
Pulling out the bus station in Gaborone, I was startled to see this. Ikea?? In Botswana??!
The ride to Francistown was some ten hours long, so I was going to call it a day there but, once again, I could not get anyone to admit that there was any lodging in town for less than $40-50; no one seems ever even to have heard of a “backpacker”— no, there are none but upscale hotels in working-class Francistown. Or so they say.
The town reminds me of a medium-sized town somewhere in the Western US, but the people around the station all seem decidedly unhelpful vibe— not hostile; just not particularly helpful or friendly, as far as I can tell. I’m pulling a heavy backpack and wearing a stuffed daypack, and I’m (actually needlessly) just a little nervous or anyway uncertain about wandering around town on foot looking for a cheap hotel I don’t know I’m going to find, so I think, Screw it! and just get on another bus for Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Already I’m beginning to realize that this low-budget trip of mine up the spine of Africa is going to turn out like this a lot more than I anticipated. Unless you know where nice places are (and by nice I don’t necessarily mean upscale, but interesting and probably photogenic; natural, the ‘old Africa’, local and vernacular, etc)— you won’t find them. Instead, you’ll just end up riding Africa’s tiring, but more or less adequate public transit from one population center to another… and about all you’ll see are roads and these dusty, wretched population centers.
Well, just the fact that I’m going through Africa is interesting enough, in a way, but with a little more time and money— and it wouldn’t require that much more time and money— and some more specific knowledge of the terrain— it wouldn’t be that hard to hang out in some out-of-the-way village under some baobab trees for a few days here or a few days there, getting to know the locals. And that would be sweet! But as it is, I have limited funds and time, and don’t know where those places are. So this is just going to be a drive-through.
Well, the bus from Francistown turned out to be decidedly older and more rickety than the one I took from Gabs. It pulled out of the station just as the sun was setting, so I wasn’t going to see much of the scenery into Zim, but from what I could make out, just as I surmised, it looked more or less like the road I’d just traveled all day from Gabarone— flat scrublands, not really many trees but lots of bush; uninhabited. After crossing the border, I can dimly see that there are actual trees instead of just scrub, but they’re not big trees, and otherwise there’s not all that much difference. The bus cost another $30 to the border, which is not far at all, but the bus from the border to Bulawayo was only $5. Did I say Botswana was expensive?
The bus lot in Francistown is very matter-of-fact.
Vendas vending. Well, I don’t actually know they’re Venda, but they could be, and it’s fun to say. Anyway, many, many people make their living vending by the road like this, in Africa.
Zimbabwe is one of the (not so many) countries that require Americans to pay for their visas, in this case $30. But, short on USD’s, I pay in BO pula (‘BOP’s’, in money market jargon; as I’ve mentioned, in Tswana, “pula” means “rain”, but “bop” is a good word for the prices!) The visa fee turned out to be BOP 250. That’s quite a ‘bop’ indeed!— everywhere else they give you 6 pula to the dollar, but immigration charges more than 8 to the dollar!! And the nice lady at the counter asked for 20 bops for herself on top of that, which I declined to give. She grumbles, but pastes the big sticker into my passport anyway.
A helpful guy named Johnny got me on the bus in Francistown, and later helped me get through customs at the border, and onto the bus for Bulawayo.
Johnny is quite an operator. He’s a Zimbabwean, and has to renew his ZW ID card, so he’s taking the 8 hour night bus to the border, and planning immediately to board another 10 hour bus to Harare, where he expects to get his card in a matter of minutes and turn right around and head back to Gaborone. These buses are not exactly comfortable, mind you, and the music is often ear-splittingly loud. I can’t imagine spending 36 consecutive hours on them, but that’s more or less what he’s doing!
Waiting for the bus to fill up at midnight on the BO-ZW border.
Informal shops (mostly “restaurants”) on the Bo-Zim border.
As we wait for the bus to fill up on the Zimbabwe side, Johnny unpacks a pile of coveralls from his bag and takes them out to sell to the border guards and workers in the area. I guess a lot of things are hard to get in Zimbabwe, because people are taking enormous numbers of blankets and other goods across the line. You wouldn’t think coveralls and blankets would be such coveted items even in this economy, but I guess they are, because he sells out within minutes.
“So how much do you pay for them, and what’s your margin?”
“Oh I just get ‘em from work and sell ‘em here for P120.”
Ha!— just “gets them” from work! (he’s got some kind of highway construction job). I guess it’s a way of evening the score with the Chinese, on one level.
Well, a few hours of Zimbabwe’s monotonous and mostly Christian-inspired loud music later, we arrive in Bulawayo. Johnny grabs a taxi driver for me and sends me to the “Sun Hotel”. I thought he understood, after we talked all the way from Francistown, what I really needed, but oh well. I finally manage to convince the taxi guy I just can’t spend $80 a night, so he takes me to his second-best recommendation, the Selbourne. Again, just like in Gaborone, the cost is 280 P, or about $40. Noooooo! I’m here in the middle of Africa all alone and I cannot spend that kind of money every day! So I have to get out of here asap as well!!
But the Selbourne’s a lovely place, a relic of old Rhodesia. My room even has a balcony, and I mean a big one, overlooking a tree-filled boulevard. There’s a doorman to carry my bags up the creaky, carpeted stairs.
As soon as he walks in, he turns on the tv for me.
“No thanks, I don’t do drugs!”
Again, that startled look, like, “What’s wrong??”
It’s such an unconscious, unthinking reflex— the tv automatically has to be on and/or (sometimes at the same time) there has to be an electronic soundtrack. In fact, in the apartment back in Youville with Ntokozo, there were three tv’s on, all at once, two of them in the same room (except for a divider), and both Bethure and Mambofu were often listening to something on their earphones at the same time.
Where does this need for noise come from, and what does it portend? One thing for sure: it’s an American export.
Pictures of the Selbourne and Bulawayo tomorrow.
July 21st, 2011 § § permalink
“Bechuanaland”. That’s what Botswana used to be. Always kind of vague on where it was, when I read those old anthropology reports. Anyway, it’s the one economy in Africa that’s supposed to be strong, and its said to be beautiful, and it’s not too far out of the way, so I’ll pass through it and see what’s there. Did see some nice pictures once.
My transportation choices are “taxi” (i.e., minibus) or bus. People tried to tell me the taxis are not reliable, but I’ve been in Africa long enough to know what to expect. In this case, the taxi ride from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Botswana was perfectly ok, as long as you get a morning start and therefore get one of the newer, bigger minibuses, rather than the old, cramped, rattling panel vans. The cost was R180 ($28) (taxi) as opposed to R255 ($39) (bus), but I did have to pay R30 ($5) more for my big backpack (“buggage”, as the sign in Botswana said). So, the cost was about the same, but I saved a little.
During the first part of the trip I sat next to a lady who belonged to the Zion Christian Church (“Zed CC”, as they say here)— they’re the ones who wear a 5-point silver star with a patch of green cloth; some men wear a green military officer’s cap with the star, or others a khaki uniform, always with that silver star. Africans seem to really like uniforms; the ZCC has a particularly elaborate color code— green, yellow/gold, khakhi, white, blue, maroon, and brown— somewhat explained at the link above. So I finally got to ask a member what they believe.
She showed me a copy of a sermon preached by some bishop on the occasion of Easter— nothing strange at all. So I asked her what makes your church different from all the other churches? She emphatically assured me, We’re the same as all the others! Well, it seems so, although the wikipedia article suggests that the notion of prophecy is a little more institutionalized than in most other pentecostalist sects. Anyway, the bishop’s sermon itself went from general platitudes about the resurrection to a lot of almost political discourse about supporting peace efforts everywhere, without taking sides, including (presently) Libya, etc. I suspect the good Rev Dr actually doesn’t know much theology anyway. Christianity becomes a kind of moralism for upstanding people, now with a “social message”– and prophecy!
Before I left Ntokozo’s place, I did run into a kid dressed in one of their green frocks one sunday morning. I asked him what it meant, and he explained that in his church they had Prophets, and a Prophet could tell you to wear green or whatnot, “for protection”. Like, maybe you were going to have an accident sometime in the next six months, so you should wear the protecting color. I said, well, that’d be sorta hard to prove, wouldn’t it? Like the guy who was snapping his fingers all the time, to keep the pink elephants away: “What pink elephants?” —”You see? It works!”
Must remember to tell Tom I saw plenty of springboks and an eland by the road in the evening. They’re not in this picture, but this is what the road was like:
The former Bechuanaland now seems to be owned by the Koreans and Chinese. Even many small “spaza” (informal) shops are theirs, which can’t be good, because it means a local person doesn’t own it. Anyway, I arrived well after sunset, and the taxi rand seemed well out of town— wherever the “town” is. I didn’t actually see any evidence of an actual “Gaborone” (pronounced Habarón; the ‘e’ is silent), but I think I more or less arrived there. Everyone tells me Gaborone has no real center, no there there, no soul. But it is extremely expensive— American prices for everything. And nothing obviously beautiful.
Cab drivers get konnektsiya for bringing customers to hotels, and no cab driver wants to take a white person to a backpacker hostel or local budget hotel. Won’t even admit they exist! But I finally managed to convince my driver that I couldn’t afford a “luxury hotel”, and he took me to a Chinese place, the something-or-other “Service Hotel”, I guess for transitory construction workers etc. At 65 pula per night, about $10, that would have been tolerable, but single rooms were booked. Wretched, disgusting Chinese piece of shit though. Just as cheap and tawdry as you can imagine. And they wanted to charge me full rate for putting me in one of four beds located in the hallway/vestibule of another private room of eight beds. So here’s the scenario— I’m the only white guy in town and I go to sleep while 12 desperate poor people walk back and forth by my two bags. Not on your life, honey. So I finally ended up at Hotel “Welcome Africa” not far away, for 280 pula = $40/night (ouch!)— another Chinese place where everything is just as absolutely cheap as it could be. The gal at the reception desk was what they call “colored”— but in this case, a black chinese lady! Well, nothing against that, but it’s sort of startling.
Hotel: Tv mounted to wall. When I walked in, the receptionist sprayed the room with some kind of heavy (anti-mosquito?) perfume and turned on the tv. First thing I did as she was explaining how to turn on or off the air conditioning— was to grab the remote and turn off the fucking tv!! “You don’t want??” “No thanks, I don’t do drugs.” She looks at me, startled and *scared*.
The radio in the cab, by the way, was playing the most violent, woman-hating, murderous rap I could imagine. Astonished that they publish such things… “I’ll rip your c….” etc. Not sure the driver understood what the guy was saying, but… America the beautiful, eh? Spreading the finest things corporate capital can produce, the world over.
Main feeling: Get Out Of Gaborone, and Out Of Botswana! There won’t be church tomorrow in any case. Meditate and go!
Anyway, on the lighter side: ya gotta love what happens to English in foreign lands: “Punchas. All tires. Cell 086…”. It takes a moment, but you do figure it out eventually: Punchas. And back at the customs office, at the border: “Declare Buggage Here”.
“Well, Officer, ok, certain things really do sometimes get on my nerves….”