Something about east london

Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
Trip End Oct 25, 2010

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Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Monday, March 12, 2012

East London.
What is it about this place that I like so much? I mean, come on, it's not that much of a town, kind of big, plenty of little and larger shops, restaurants, though mostly fast food, schools, offices - just an ordinary South African town, nothing special.
 There's the beach, of course, nice enough, but I've seen better. 
So, what is it? It has to be the backpackers, the Sugar Shack, where to my pleasant surprise, Stera, the manager opened his arms in welcome and still knew my name after almost a year and a half. It's the easy way you get drawn in to the banter at the bar, it's the deck and 'watch tower' that gives great views over the ocean.
Is it? I don't know, it's something.
Anyway, I made it to East London from Joburg, went for a walk on the beach, bought some food and that was it really. Oh, and I met my room mate, young guy, just the two of us sharing a cabin, I hoped he wouldn't be stumbling in at all hours.
Later, it was getting dark, even though it was only 7 pm, I went up to the room, wanting to get some work done.
After fumbling with my key and firmly kicking the door that jars, I switched on the light to find the man lying on the top bed. Fuck, he's already asleep, or was, before I made my inelegant entrance.
What to do? I felt so bad for making such a racket I just quietly undressed and slipped into bed as if that might make up for something. Now what? I hadn't intended to sleep yet and couldn't even read without the lamp. God, I hadn't brushed my teeth. The one rule in my life, never go to sleep without at least brushing my teeth - sorry mate, tonight would be no exception. 
As quietly as I could I crept out of bed - toothbrush, where was it? 
 Here began a panicky rummaging around in the dark. Seemed to take forever, sorry, sorry, but I found it. Now two steps to the door. It's stuck. I pulled, I tugged, it wouldn't budge. Right, I'd had enough of this game, I yanked it open and heard the top bed groan accusingly as my room mate turned to face the wall.
In a rush of relief I toppled down the wet grass slope to the bathroom, chanting every bad wordI knew, as if that would break this strange spell that had somehow landed on me. 
I listened to the purr of the toothbrush, I listened to the laughter at the bar - what the hell was I doing here, shivering  in my flimsy night shirt in a bathroom at 7.15 pm?
Cleverly I'd left the cabin door ajar - but it still had to be pulled shut of course. One last intrusion on the long suffering traveler. Groan. Now I knew for sure my fate was sealed and my punishment was to lie still and pray sleep would come fast.
It didn't. For neither of us. Had he been peacefully asleep before, now he lay tossing and turning, the bunk bed lurching this way and that, I didn't know what he was up to but it didn't sound good. An eternity later he was still at it, I even wondered if he was alone up there, or should I call a doctor? Now I did want to sleep, what time was it? My hand felt around my stuff on the floor, somewhere there must be an alarm clock. I was amazed to see it is just 11 pm, the night still young, anything could happen.....I sighed and took a sleeping pill.
 6 am I woke to see he was gone. He must have left real quiet. Such a considerate man.
Still groggy and dying for coffee I made my way up to the deck where the kitchen is too. And there he was lying in a hammock, innocent big brown eyes observing my ascent. He smiled. Without even thinking I turned round and tiptoed back down again - coffee would have to wait.
 A big sacrifice, I need coffee soon as I open my eyes.
  I want my life back. 

Yesterday I went to a shopping mall, just for something to do, but the coffee and blueberry cheesecake alone were well worth the trip. Back 'home' a paddle in the sea and then a quick drink with the guys here, which turned into a few -  was fun though. Suddenly an imposing, windswept man tumbles in, boisterously requesting spirits, but they simply aren't any in stock. The girl at the bar was confused as he was charmingly adamant, and not put out at all, obviously confident something would somehow appear. 
 As chance will have it, I had a drop of whiskey in my room, so he was right, there it was. We shared a friendly drink, me and this intriguing man from Angola, Jake was his name, and I'd have loved to have heard his story but he disappeared as fast as he came - oh well, maybe that is his story... 
Today another long walk to the train station. It is time to start thinking of returning home and I wondered if going by train from East London to Johannesburg, from where I fly back, would be an interesting option. It wasn't but walking back I heard singing and stopped at what looked like a shop, the doors were wide open. There was a religious service going on and a polite young man steered me inside. That wasn't really my intention but, ja, I am curious.
The pastor was very colourfully dressed, holding a microphone even though there were 35 people there at the most. 'Sit down, sister,' he commanded and everyone clapped and smiled at me. I sat. It was not that easy for me to understand what he was saying but the word 'offering' was used frequently and a gold wrapped box was placed in front of the stage. People had been singing and clapping and dancing all along, there was a bass guitar and drums and a lot of distortion accompanying the sermon. Some of the ladies were beautifully dressed in traditional clothing, some looked as if they are going to a party or the disco. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.
 Now people started moving forward, swaying, smiling, touching each other. Happy. They brought their offerings, I stood back, having no change, not sure I wanted to offer anyway, when a gentleman tapped me on the arm and then discretely handed me a 2 rand coin and gave me  gentle push towards the box. His kindness was touching.
All of a sudden there was a downpour, it rained so hard the pastor had trouble making himself heard. 'The lord has sent us rain,' he said, 'let us be thankful. He will wash away our sins, our enemies will fear us, we will be saved from the demons.'
 Amen, amen.
We must sit again and then newcomers were invited to stand up. Embarrassed I remained seated but several others stood and now standing or sitting felt equally uncomfortable. Everyone knew I was new, so reluctantly I stood, twisting my skirt nervously.  A short prayer was said for us followed by a very enthusiastic 'amen' from the congregation and suddenly I was surrounded by them, hugging me and shaking my hands,speaking words of welcome.
Then it was over, the room emptied and I left in a daze, the rain hiding possible tears, though I had no idea why I was feeling so sad.

PS  I am not converted or anything, just a cynical part of me caught off guard :)
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