The Writer’s Island prompt this week is ‘reunion’. The poetry part of my brain has ceased to function so I thought instead I would tell you about the Hub’s trip to the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. It was about 1993 when he was working as a salesman for Henred Fruehauf, selling articulated trailers.
They didn't look quite like this when he sold them...
When he first got the job I thought he was selling those little Venter trailers that cars pull; he was quite insulted – particularly as he had been there two years before I realised my mistake.
He was on a three-week trip taking in Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion. Before you get all jealous, he had it hard (so he tells me): three weeks away from his wonderful wife and first-born child – and six weeks of me not talking to him because he was away so long. One year he was away for a total of twenty-seven weeks; he wasn’t fighting a war so I didn’t see the need.
Mauritius might be a wonderful holiday destination but it’s not a great place to be on your own, on business: soppy honeymooners do not want a lonely businessman attaching himself to them. He said it was the only place he never enjoyed visiting, apart from the evening he got up on stage and sang Wonderful Tonight with a live Philippino band.
Madagascar was beautiful but incredibly poor. He left his hotel one morning and passed an old lady with a wooden box on which she had three tomatoes to sell. She sat there all day in the heat and when he came back in the evening, she was still there with her three tomatoes; nobody had the money to buy them. The food was so bad in Madagascar that for the only time while away on business he lost weight instead of gaining it; but at least he had the money to buy food: he saw children so hungry they were licking cellophane wrappers from dustbins. He saw many naked children; the lucky ones had old adult shirts and/or pants. He gave away his change every day, which was riches to them, but he came back from that trip and held three-year old Tory Boy and cried for the ones he couldn’t help.
Even so, he says it is the most beautiful country he’s been to and he would love to go back some day.
I put that story into a poem for my South Africa collection:
A Trip To Madagascar
A naked child
sitting atop a
A businessman observes
home to his
There was hunger in South Africa, too:
The man raids my
Nervous, I watch from
behind burglar bars,
locked security gates.
Gold shows in his hands:
a tub of mouldy stew,
more compost than food.
He eats it. I am shamed.
Resolution: no more squandered food.
Dilemma: no waste, no treasure.
Solution: freeze left-overs ‘til bin day;
maybe I could add some buttered bread;
a piece of fruit…wrap it in clean plastic.
Pleased with my charity,
it is fifteen years before
I understand that I
failed him that day:
the starving remained.
I left South Africa;
he raids someone else’s bin.
Of course, not everyone went hungry in those days (a braai is Afrikaans for barbecue):
After the Braai
We supplied the meat and drink,
salads, mash, bread rolls and
desserts, for as many as twenty
guests, and sometimes more.
I never served mealie pap,
though some ex-pats liked it:
I never learned to make it.
The best part of a braai was
next day’s leftovers and chips:
rib-eye, pork chops, t-bones,
sausages, fillet steak, chicken,
porterhouse – diced and
cooked in a red wine sauce;
a portion of slap chips and
salad on the side. These
days, I would add some rice,
but I didn’t like rice back then; pity.
We snacked on cold meat for
several days after a braai.
The children preferred it to
sweets and chips (we say
‘crisps’ now). Food was
inexpensive, plentiful and
of excellent quality. For
some of us, at least. We
never knew we had it so good
until after we gave it up.
His final stop was in the French-speaking island of Réunion. He was a seasoned traveller by the time of this trip so he had checked and knew that he could expect to pay 20 Francs for a trip from the airport to the hotel. He arrived at night and he asked the taxi driver the fare: ‘Twenty Francs’ was the reply. Fine. Halfway up a quiet hill – or possibly a mountain – the taxi driver said, ‘Twenty Francs for you and twenty Francs for your luggage.’ When the Hub protested that he wasn’t paying that, the driver shrugged (so far from France yet still so Gallic) and said, ‘Fine. I’ll drop you off now and you can walk to your hotel.’ Figuring that it was Henred Fruehauf’s money and it wasn’t a battle he could win, the Hub agreed.
He said the part that really made him mad was when he arrived at the hotel and the driver told him he was off shift and suggested they go to a little bar he knew. I can’t print his reply because this is a family blog.
He found theRéunions anti-English – détente has only been around a hundred years or so and it obviously had not reached the colonies* at that point. Whenever he spoke English the Réunions were rude and unhelpful. But he’s bilingual, and cunning: he would first speak in Afrikaans and when they couldn’t understand him, he asked if they spoke English, and they were most accommodating because they thought he wasn’t English. It’s the one country he never wants to go back to.
*I have just discovered it is not a colony at all, but a bit of France. That explains everything….