Updated: Jul 30, 2020
I thought I won. I was mentally ready to return to Israel only to find myself facing the fifth email proclaiming a cancelled flight. What else could undermine my tiny trust in the airline industry?
T and I couldn't continue taking advantage of Neuron's generous hospitality. Since he too was sure that this time our flight would take place, he invited his grandmother to stay with him. She is lonely in the nursing home without visitors.
We didn't have many options left.
One was to stay with T's friend and his wife. It was a nearly unthinkable option. His wife has a food delivery business. She rented a kitchen unit and started renovating, but had to stop operations because of Coronavirus. The business was flourishing, and she had no choice but to keep running the show from their home kitchen. Masked kitchen workers were walking back and forth all over the house. T doesn't have health insurance in SA, and mine expired at the end of May. We didn't believe it was worth the risk. With the recent easing of regulations and the drop to lockdown level 3, they could continue renovating the unit with an expected date of completion being the end of the month. This would allow us to move in by July, which was too late for us as we had to move sooner than later; Neuron's grandmother was waiting for us to leave.
Another option was to rent a sublet in Cape Town until the next available flight, with an option to extend in case of a sixth cancellation. While prices plummeted, it was still an expensive and unsettling option. Living in constant uncertainty has its ups and downs, and rollercoastering through life is exciting, but sometimes you need to rest and puke. Get your strength back for the next ride.
So we went for the third and most attractive option.
We refuelled, checked the tires and oil, and drove off.
We set off at noon. Unfortunately, we couldn't leave sooner due to car issues. We raced against the clock, as we didn't want to arrive after sunset when it gets dark. We were counting the kilometres. En route, we got lunch at a fast food outlet at a petrol station, called Wimpy; the name says it all. Everyone knows you don't have to ask a customer. Of course he wants five litres of ketchup on his sandwich, he just doesn't know it yet. We ate on the road, munching, complaining and counting kilometres. Overtaking trucks as we went. We stopped to buy pipe tobacco. I don't smoke pipes, but because of the prohibition on trading tobacco, the only rollable thing on the market is tobacco for pipes. I have to grind it, take its dignity away and roll it into cigarettes. It's important to be handy when forced to break the law.
We got back to the car and continued the final countdown until the desert, sheep and writing on a mountain saying "Prince Albert", descended upon us.
Prince Albert in the Klein Karoo is a small town at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, in the Western Cape of South Africa. It's surrounded by fields, olive trees and farms. It has everything one needs; restaurants and pubs, a hospital, a police station, shops, pharmacies, a supermarket, a museum and even a moonshine distillery. At the moment, for an apparent reason, the restaurants and pubs are closed. Tourism is dead, and most guest houses are vacant.
When we arrived, we met a kind, peaceful man. An artist and workman, let us call him Dutchman. Dutchman is a carpenter, a mechanic, an artist and in his spare time, is building a house of mud. His walk, the way he communicates and his smile are contagious. You can say that in almost every one of the 7,000 residents of Prince Albert, a piece of Dutchman can be found. Lighthearted, not intimidated by hard work and the quiet of nature. He showed us three farmhouses and offered a ridiculously reasonable price.
Another house we viewed belonged to a French couple who didn't agree to the price we offered, even though it was a little over our budget. They wanted a lot more and provided a lot less. On our way back to Dutchman's, T and I tried to understand how anyone could rent their Airbnb house at such an exorbitant rate, at times when tourism is outlawed and with so little to offer. How can anyone, even the privileged, decide between something and nothing, and choose the nothing? Especially this week, it's expected to be very cold in Prince Albert. There have been talks amongst the locals about severe temperature drops, maybe even snow on the mountains near us. Yet, the French house doesn't offer even basic heating.
So we went back to Dutchman, to his modest, character-filled house, to the squeaky furniture and the wide fireplace. He over and above provided us with an old rusty coffee grinder, extra blankets, an easel for T and a wardrobe. He suggested sending his cleaner to us once a week, which we were happy to pay for out of our pockets. The pandemic hit Prince Albert particularly hard, Dutchman told us that unemployment here is now peaking at around 60%, so we were happy to give work to the townspeople. He also said that one who makes a living feeds another ten, so when one loses his job, he falls - like the first domino in the line - bringing down at least ten more blocks.
But with all the trouble, Prince Albert has such magic. When you lift your head at night and look up to the sky, it's star-studded. I found an owl on the roof of the house, scratching his head and enjoying the view. The mountains around are breathtaking. The silence, cleverly, delivering the sounds of birds harmonising with each other. When it's hushed about, you can hear sounds you forgot that are always around you. The refrigerator hums during the day, a bug clings to a lamp, the wind pushes tree branches against a window, the end of a burnt cigarette that makes a gentle Pssss.
The abrupt transition from a large beach house in the city, where you can hear the ocean from every room of the house to a farmhouse in the heart of a small, sleepy town in the desert, can overwhelm the mind and body. Not every jolt is a bad thing, of course. We needed this change, and we're happy with our decision to move here, but my body definitely responded to it. I woke up Wednesday morning with a headache, toothache and dizziness.
I'm not a sickly person. I believe that even if I were to catch COVID, I wouldn't notice. I have a robust immune system, and I smoke, drink and don't listen to my body.
I'm not a sentimental person either. I have moved through many apartments in my life, I have hardly any photos from significant moments, and I never remember to keep phone numbers.
Still, every time I go through a raw change, my body responds with headaches, muscle pains or a fraction of depression.
Something inside me screams "Help!" Maybe a little piece of me is still influenced by the way I was brought up. Travel around is useless, I'd be told, stop moving about and settle down. But then, after a day or two, the body loosens, and the mind stretches and dives into the pleasant change. A few weeks will go by, maybe months, and I know I'll be packing my bags again. Make my body go through the whole thing once over.