Mar 8, 2010


Back to the long neglected narrative.

The next morning the fog that marks the contrast between the Atlantic and the land was there to greet us. Slowly lifting, the sky remained grey all the way to Paternoster. I had been there only once before, years ago, on a road trip of which I can only remember the lime kilns near Jakkalsfontein, similar fog and kippers for breakfast. I had heard the rumours though - that it is pretty, very white, cottagey. And that Gauteng is investing heavily in accommodation. Living the West Coast dream.

The town is indeed very villagey. It nestles against a brilliant white beach on a small bay. The seafront area has been redeveloped to accommodate people with shiny oversized vehicles, with properties selling for millions. Do not believe the nonsense about "unspoilt, traditional fisherman's architecture". These are houses built vaguely in the lines of what was there before, but they are pretentious, Colgate white, with satellite dishes: they do not convey even the slightest hint of a down-to-earth existence. This posh zone is slowly usurping the significantly poorer areas behind it. The wealth disparity and large number of tourists (just like us) leads to a lively trade in rock lobster. Driving past I can almost sense the unemployment and frustration and tik (crystal meth) and gangs and alcohol abuse that's all too prevalent in these struggling communities.

Before coming we had extensively discussed the possibility of being offered lobster, similar to the way you'll probably come across dagga by going to the right parts of town. I had imagined a dodgy man trying to get my attention somewhere during our visit. Wiggling his fingers, or asking whether I'm looking for anything in particular. To be completely honest, I knew I would be tempted. But I didn't think it would be as blatantly obvious. As soon as we entered town someone shook, yes, shook a lobster at the car. Fist in the air, feet flapping like a gigantic scorpion. I slowed down, for a speed bump of course, while trying to come to terms with the situation. Someone else lifted a bulging plastic bag of tails in our direction, while his neighbour was reaching into a bucket to extract a bigger one.

We parked. Walked through a tourist shop, then the other two. All basically the same. Shells, flotsam and jetsam, bits of seaweed, salt and curios. Bokkems hidden in the back somewhere, because the customers can't handle the smell. Generally expensive, in West Coast terms, but matching the cars parked around. Beer is widely sold, because you'll need it. There's much more to do in Paternoster.

Graffiti caught my eye. When last did you hear anyone use "boef"? Saam met skobbejak seker...

Then down to the beach, still waving away enthusiastic dealers. It takes a while to make sense of it all. Boats come in with lobster, the first line of sale is on the beach, directly from the boat. These are commercial fisherman, selling their catch to whoever, mostly tourists. The unsold portion is undoubtedly absorbed by people further from the beach, closer to the road. Unsold lobster is de-headed and the tails frozen and, I suspect, stored in almost every freezer in town. Occasionally you see someone race off into the run down parts to return with a bulging plastic bag of something, which is then disseminated according to demand. I suspect the whole community is involved, but more on that next time.

At the boat a rabid Spaniard had just bought 16, and is asking for another silly number of tails. I wonder whether he's part of the overland group we had seen a bit before. Cooler boxes appear, more tails are phoned in, bags of money exchanged. We walked away with two, R80 later, thoroughly confused by issues of ethics, legality and exactly how they are best prepared.

To calm our nerves and better understand it all, we dropped in at the hotel/restaurant before we leave. It seems to be the most bustling place in town, if you ignore the scramble around the boats. People eat here, drink here, get drunk and leave their underwear behind. Matriekvakansie is verkeerd.

We sat at a table with a red platic Castle tablecloth, drinking Castle and nibbling at an average sandwich. Then home to a refreshingly honest Laaiplek, our crustaceans huddled in a dirty plastic bag.


Marie said...

Huh. Eenteresteen'.

Ja, well, I've never been as shit- scared as I was that one night of camping. I was thinking of our big 4 x 4, the rich, the poor, the (imagined?) anger. The tent without tralies.

Marie said...

..and the boef.

Marie said...

Boef boerginon?

[I'll go away now...]

jvdh said...

Boef boerejongens?

I think it illustrates so perfectly how high speed development can disrupt a community, how man can adapt to maximise (short term) gain, and how well we've been trained to overlook abject poverty, as long as we can have a huisie by die see. It's complicated, on so many many layers.

Marie said...

The only thing that comforted me about P'noster was that the poverty lived in the same street as the affluence in the old part of the town. They were neighbours.

What sickend me about our recent trip was the poverty segregated into old townships, which have new names, and appear on maps, as they never did. The 'real' town, then outside, and far, far bigger, the blikkieshuise, the hot boxes sweating in the sun.

The divide seems insurmountable.