I takes a while for your body to unwind and relax after a passage like the last one, and for me, all I could eventually accomplish was an hour or two of sleep mid-morning. It’s probably a good thing, too.  While I was trying to sleep, I started hearing loud straining sounds from the docklines and went outside to have a look  The dock here is fixed, not floating, and I’d come in at 5am at right around high tide and tied up pretty tight.  If I’d taken off right away to check in and get something to eat, the cleats that the docklines were tied to may well have been pulled out of the deck as the tide dropped.

DSC_0622 Lost a fender grinding on the dock, but otherwise safe in port

DSC_0615 Looking up the river into drizzly weather at sunset

During the afternoon, I managed to turn what is one of the easiest check-in/out processes in the world into something that’s best described with a bit of Australian slang – a mission. I asked a couple of uniformed marine police where to go, and they motioned that I should walk up the hill and into town, then toward the bluff overlooking the harbor entrance.  No worries.  I started off, but couldn’t find the place, and couldn’t find anyone who did until I asked at another police station and eventually the 3rd or 4th person said that I needed to go the mile or more back down the hill and to the port area, which was right beside where I’d tied up.  No problem.  I backtracked, got to the port gate, and after several attempts was able to communicate to the guard that I was the captain of a yacht that had just arrived and needed to check in.  He made a phone call and after a chat one the local language he let me talk to someone who was also a little confused about things, but told me to go to Port Control.  The guard managed to give me what seemed like a decent set of directions and I headed back up the hill and into town.  There was one key error in the directions – how many robots (or as we’d call them, stoplights) to walk by.  But, eventually I found the place.  The security guard and receptionist there also had no idea what to tell me, and I was about to just say stuff it, when a guy walking by overheard and took charge.  He works in sales and marketing for the port, but knew exactly what I needed to do and who I needed to see.  He had me jump in his car and took me, guess where?  Right back to the dock I was tied up to, driving right through a direct shortcut that runs through the port but that the first security guard had failed to mention.  All I had to do was fill out one form and return it to the proprietor of a tiny marine store right across the dock from where I was tied up.  They fax it to port control and I just have to radio on the way out.  They even gave me one night on the dock free for Christmas. This is how days in the far reaches of the world get whiled away when you travel by boat.  Here I’m going to make a comment about race because everyone is so conscious of it here and you hear quite a few comments from whites about black incompetence and ignorance, although in general, there’s a lot less tension here than still exists in parts of the South in the US.  The people who knew what I needed to do even though it wasn’t their job were white, and all the ones who didn’t know or had the wrong answer were black.  I’m also just adding this in because of a story below.

The one thing everyone in South Africa will tell you about East London is that there’s a Mercedes factory here.  Some of the cars are sold here and the rest are shipped to the US (evidently the factory is set up for both right and left hand drive).  Virtually the entire south side of the harbor is taken up by the factory and a huge concrete dock where thousands of Mercedes sedans sit waiting for the next car carrier ship to come in.  A car carrier has a pretty distinctive appearance, and I got to see one come in this morning with the help of tugs it met at the harbor entrance while I was eating breakfast at the beach.

DSC_0620 This might be where your neighbor’s Mercedes came from

On the way back from breakfast I stopped to pick up a few groceries and had a good experience.  Lines in South Africa seem to be longer, slower, and more prevalent than anyplace else we’ve been.  I was standing in the back of the line to check out at the grocery store, lost in thought, when I suddenly noticed that a woman (a black woman, as I was one of only three white faces in the busy store) and her small cart were standing inches way, directly beside me, instead of behind me, and although it wouldn’t really have bothered me, I thought to myself, “Is this woman really going to try to cut in front of me?”  A few seconds later, she said “Would you please assist me, I need to go get some drinks.”  So, I watched her cart until she got back.  She hadn’t been back 5 seconds when she said, “I get so frustrated waiting in lines.  I’m going to go again.”  Ok.  Just she had returned the second time when the lane next to us, which had been closed, opened.  With a speed befitting a woman with a much smaller frame, she was instantly out of our line and first in line next to us.  Then, while another woman was squeezing around her to take her position and while goods were being handed over her to the other woman, she motioned to me and said, “Come on, you go first”, letting me into the new lane ahead of her.  I thanked her, we had a nice chat, and when I put my groceries on the counter she pointed to my 3 frozen pizzas, and said, “I see you’re staying alone.  Uh Hmm.  Pizzas.”  I had to smile.

Not all of South Africa’s race problems are as simple finding someone who knows where port control is or being the recipient of an act of kindness in the grocery store.  There’s an interesting one making the news lately that we learned about while visiting Brian and Monica and that was interesting to talk about with them about because Brian’s business (well, one of them at least) is English literacy.  If I asked you what language was spoken in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, or French Polynesia, you would probably say English, English, English, and French.  You’d be correct about the official language, but the reality is that only the (white) people that have been there for a the last few hundred years are native English (or French) speakers.  The natives generally speak and learn their native tongue as a first language at home and use it when speaking with fellow native friends. The native language is often not taught in school or hasn’t been taught in school until recently (I think NZ may be a bit of an exception in its treatment of the Maori language).  The native language of NZ is Maori.  French Polynesia has numerous but related Polynesian dialects.  Fiji has over 100 dialects, including a “national” native dialect, so English is the 3rd language for an English-speaking local.  Australia has many, many Aboriginal languages which, like Aboriginal culture, are among the oldest in the world.  While Nelson Mandela was president, South Africa formally adopted 11 official languages.  They are English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and other native languages, some of which use clicks in addition to vowel and consonant sounds.  When we were in the Pacific Islands, I gained a real appreciation for native people, their cultures, and their languages.  It was fun to learn a small bit of the language and to see it preserved and practiced as a part of the culture.  Most jobs in the islands are in tourism, and fluency in English isn’t really too big of a deal for those types of jobs.  It was a little different when we got to Australia.  While we were in Darwin, we watched a documentary about Aboriginal issues (Australia had just been reprimanded by the UN for racist policies toward the indigenous population, so it was a topic of discussion even more so than usual) that was followed by a short talk and Q&A session moderated by a white Australian, but featuring two key leaders of the tribe that had been the subject of the documentary.  The documentary had been pretty moving, but my first impression of the tribe’s leaders was that they could barely speak English.  As they got over their nervousness, their English improved, but it was still at a level that really made their fluency stand out and often left them struggling to express their ideas.  It was a stark reminder that not only are there still huge cultural difference between indigenous peoples and the descendants of colonists cultures that have come to dominate, there are tremendous challenges facing indigenous people solely due to a lack of English (or French) fluency, not the least of which is advocating for themselves to an English-speaking ruling population, dealing with the legal system, etc.

This language issue has an interesting twist here in South Africa, with its 11 official languages.  The news story that I referred to above is that a teacher’s union has just come out in support of “biased markings”.  That means giving non-native English speakers higher-than-earned grades in school to account for their language difficulties.  It’s a pretty controversial idea among all South Africans, regardless of color.  The problem, obviously, is that South Africa has a first-world economy that requires skilled and educated workers fluent in English.  Inflated grades in middle or high school do nothing to deal with the problem that university students, which are desperately needed as capable graduates, are suffering from a high drop-out rate due to failure to succeed in an environment where topics are difficult and all instruction is in English.  Many South Africans are angry with the education system for “failing to teach them” and then offering to just change the grades to passing.  There are no easy answers.  History has left much of the world with a local population that must either give up their native language or become bi or tri-lingual in order to have access to anything but the most basic economic opportunities.  It’s definitely a situation we take for granted in the US.