MEET: Uri Haishkarem // Mullumbimby, New South Wales
June 4, 2014
An open letter to self and children:
Back in Harare after two weeks travelling and hanging out in Mozambique, the contrast between the almost hallucinogenic beauty of the land/seascape and the stark poverty of the human environment made the kind of profound impact that shakes up complacency and poses old questions in new lights.
Everywhere people walk on the side of a dusty highway with no sign of how far they have come or how far they have to go. You will see women swathed in traditional African colours carrying with them a grace learned from infancy, twenty litres of water on their heads and a baby strapped to their backs with a shawl, school kids of all ages in neatly pressed uniforms, the younger ones barefoot, some of the older girls in heels and makeup, a line of scrawny children with piles of firewood longer than they are tall loaded on their heads, or one time a girl perhaps fourteen or fifteen running literally in the middle of nowhere with no signs of human habitation in any direction, and you realize this is daily life in so much of the world and feel that particular sense of unease that comes with unmerited privilege.
Sitting in a cafe in Vilanculos with some other travellers, drinking coffee and discussing tomorrow's plans, across the street a beggar woman with a hunchback and withered legs lies on a dirty cloth spread on the pavement with a bowl in hand soliciting loose change from passers by. As we leave the cafe one of the other travellers, a young hippyish European guy, crosses the street and gives the woman his bottle of water, a bag of fruit he has bought to take back to his lodgings and a twenty dollar bill, pressing both of his hands into hers. The woman looks up startled, and then a look of confusion and then distaste crosses her face; finally she pushes his hands away with vehemence and turns her face to the street obviously distressed, her dignity tarnished by unthinking paternalism. The traveller walks away, unheeding.
Sailing in a traditional dhow across a sea so intensely blue that you wonder if you have been partially blind until this day to an island that the author of a Thousand and One Nights must have known, a long ribbon of dazzling sand lined with coconut palms and thatched dwellings, brightly painted boats with fishermen burnt so dark by a lifetime of exposure that they appear almost as negative spaces against the glare of a tropical sun, as if the contrast is beyond the scope of the human eye to contain.
The crew of our boat prepare lunch, freshly caught fish grilled over charcoal in the boat, a curry of potatoes, tomato, onion and capsicum and fresh coconut rice, and again you wonder if your sense of taste has been somehow defective until this very day, and marvel how something so simple can engrave an impression that you know will remain for the rest of your days.
Sitting in a backpackers accommodation in Tofo listening to some African music on my iPad, trying to untangle the complex rhythmic structure and realizing that music began here, is still evolving and spreading its influence to the West where it is often adulterated for a less sophisticated palate. An Israeli girl approaches and asks what I'm listening to, music, I reply, I looove music, I wish I had brought my iPod with me, here I say, have a lend of this, she takes the proffered device, flips through my iTunes, Latin, Cuban, African, gypsy, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, French, to name a few playlists, and then squeals with delight, Israeli! You have Israeli music! I don't believe it! Plugs in the earplugs with a a huge grin and commences to grooves away, eyes closed, oblivious to the world, and I wonder why you would travel half way round the world to find the familiar.
I have found out that a twelve seat Toyota minibus can, if forced to, accommodate twenty six people, about a dozen chickens, a few sacks of rice and various household implements.
I have found out that a journey of three hundred odd kilometres can take eighteen hours and what it feels like to be accompanied by an armed escort sporting rocket propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, how it feels to arrive at a bus stop crossroads after midnight and find yourself the only white face amongst hundreds of black ones as you listen to 1970s pop played at hellish volume on very large and very cheap speakers positioned in front of every food stall and how it feels to be one of the twenty six people in the aforementioned minivan.