The Reggies Rush Of The R26
In the 1990s in South Africa, there was a TV show called Reggie’s Rush, where the luckiest child in the world could run amok in a toy shop and take whatever he or she wanted for 60 glorious seconds, without being arrested or getting a hiding from mom.
The show warped my ten-year-old mind. I frothed with schadenfreude whenever some undeserving punk couldn’t reach a Test Match cricket board game or remote-control helicopter on the top shelf. Worse, Reggie’s Rush cursed me with the hope that I’d one day be summoned to the all-you-can-steal buffet. Surely I would get my chance one day...
Hope eventually turned into bitterness when I realised that nobody in my primary-school-sized universe had ever appeared on Reggie’s Rush, let alone Simba Surprise. This cynicism for freebies stayed with me as a journalist, when I was regularly reminded that if you want a free lunch, you’ve got to listen to a publicist tell you how wonderful a toaster or mouthwash or a government policy is.
After several years of munching canapés that came with terms and conditions, I quit my job and cycled around South Africa for six months.
Four months into the trip, while lying in a bath in a stranger’s house on a farm in the Free State, I had an epiphany: I realised Reggie’s Rush wasn’t just a childhood fantasy. It was real and I had found it on the R26 between Zastron and Wepener.
To explain how I got to my epiphany, I need to start where most stories end: karaoke.
I pedalled into Zastron, pitched my tent in a caravan park and prepared for another evening of pilchards and pasta. Unknowingly, the Reggie’s Rush starting gun had just been fired and the first gift appeared in the form of Arend de Waal, a former kickboxing champion from Witbank, who was holidaying with his family and hoping to make a dent in Zastron’s carp population.
I knew he was a former kick-boxing champion because it was the first thing he told me. When he invited me to his braai I said: “Asseblief, meneer. Baie dankie, meneer.” with the humble formality that I reserve for addressing kickboxers.
I discovered there’s no such thing as a free dinner in Zastron, only a free dinner with unlimited brannewyn and endless after-dinner entertainment. Because when Arend wants to connect with nature, he does it with his fishing rod and an enormous PA system... with a karaoke machine.
He belted out predictions of a bad moon rising, his false teeth glistening in the light of his laptop. He crooned on into the night, clutching the mic in a fist that had solved more arguments than Judge Judy. Occasionally he was interrupted by a cackle of tannies around the braai who yelled “Nie op ’n Sondag nie, Arend!” every time he swore.
I Garfunkeled to his Simon for a few duets, and took over the mic for “Piano Man”, which was much longer than I remembered it being. I was glad I didn’t stick with my original choice of “I’d Do Anything For Love”.
After many self-nominated encores, Arend went to bed. I said good night to the tannies. In the midst of a hug, one of them furtively pressed a R10 note into my hand. A minute later, another tannie slipped me a R20, somewhat less furtively. Then they plied me with a stack of braaibroodjies for padkos.
They all seemed to feel desperately sorry for this soutie who was cycling across the country. Kan jy nou meer?
The next morning, the owner of the campsite refused to let me pay, saying I could go further with the money I would save. Instead, he forced me to have breakfast with him. I’m not talking about Weet-Bix; more like something that Tim Noakes’s wife would make for him on his birthday – basically a braai without karaoke.
An hour later I was freewheeling down the R26 outside Zastron when a farmer who was missing an index finger and wearing a cowboy hat gave me some bottles of ice water from his bakkie.
Several hills later, a truck swerved into my lane. I waved so that the driver could see me, but the truck carried on. I was about to jump off the bike when a forearm with a snake tattoo reached out of the window to pass me a bottle of juice – all without stopping.
Soon, a couple pulled over to give me two cold Energades and an ice cream. They’d seen me earlier, driven all the way to Zastron then backtracked to find me. All in the name of delivering a cold ice cream on a summer’s day in the Free State.
Then, on this Mary Poppins’ bag of a road, a car with a lesser spotted CA number plate stopped in front of me. I hadn’t seen one of these in ages. Imagine if I know this guy, I thought.
It turned out I did. It was travel writer Toast Coetzer, on his way to a wedding. Had he been driving by himself he would have given me pleasantries and well wishes, but fortunately his mom was in the car so I got several apples, two more Energades, sticks of biltong and a loaf of Mrs Coetzer’s home-made banana bread.
As they drove off, I struggled to close my pannier bags to fit in all the day’s gifts. I couldn’t believe how undeservedly lucky I had been. It was as if I had leant on a spade and hit a gold reef.
My plan had been to look for a campsite in Wepener, but I figured I’d ride out this lucky streak. I pedaled until dusk, knocked on the door of a farmhouse and asked if I could pitch my tent on the lawn. Of course, the farmer said.
A loaf of banana bread later, I sat in the bath, feeling full, uncharacteristically clean and teary-eyed with gratefulness.
When you’re travelling on a bicycle, you’re going to get the occasional helping hand from a fellow human. That’s because people are kinder than you think they are.
You’ll discover that these gestures of generosity are all equal – from an encouraging hoot up the Swartberg Pass to a slice of watermelon outside Burgersdorp to a R10 note in Zastron. They’re all equal because all of them vanquish the question that haunts you every day – in homesickness and health, in thunderstorms of doubt and head – winds of regret: Why am I doing this?
You don’t deserve such gifts so you learn not to expect them. However, if you decide to do something as stubbornly silly as travel the country on a bicycle, people will stubbornly insist on helping you.
When I had arrived in the Free State, my morale had been ebbing. I had heard so many crime anecdotes. The ones that affected my route would maybe cause me to decide on a different route, but there were also endless unsubstantiated claims and generalisations.
That’s why the Reggie’s Rush of the R26 was so well timed. A slice of banana bread at the right time can remind you that the state of South Africa can’t be reduced to what you see on the news or read about on Twitter.
I need to remind myself about this because I also forget sometimes. I forget that my doubts are mostly unfounded. I forget that my preconceived ideas are exactly that: preconceived. And I forget that good news isn’t always loud news.
South Africa is perennially surprising. One of these surprises is a cross-cultural tendency to spread peace by sharing padkos with strangers. And while questions about safety are necessary, my answer – that I rode for 4 000km without an incident – carries the same satisfaction as giving an unexpected gift.
In fact, the only crime I encountered was the one I committed when I destroyed “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” in Zastron. Some things are better left to Elton John, or to Witbank’s toughest kickboxer.
This column was published in the February 2018 issue of Go! Magazine.
THE ARCHITECTURE THAT HAS HAD THE MOST PROFOUND EFFECT ON MY WORLD VIEW IS AN OLIVE-GREEN TENT, SPANNING 90CM IN WIDTH AND PEAKING AT AN ALTITUDE OF 75CM.
When its symmetrical polythene walls are stretched taut like animal hide on a djembe drum, they have reverberated the phrase “What am I doing here?” countless times for the past three years.
The previous architectural design that influenced my thinking was a standard open-plan office scheme. These are intended to inspire feelings of community within teams and evoke a sense of transparency between those who don’t have a parking spot and those who start work on time. And since everyone knows when you’re on Facebook, you might as well get some work done.
But there are rare glitches in these productivity-fostering arrangements; sometimes workers are placed too close to a window and may suffer bouts of introspection. This, coupled with incidences of sun’s rays, may result in the discovery of suppressed urges to photograph things. Regrettably, these things are often on the wrong side of the window.
The textbook response is to resign and zigzag across South Africa on a bicycle. Weaving up Africa’s east coast to Ethiopia on public transport traditionally follows this. Then there’s a reflex to hop to Turkey and wind through former Soviet countries in the Caucasus Mountains towards the steppes of Kazakhstan, documenting daily life along the way. From here, the erstwhile employee may feel compelled to meander down the Mekong River in Southeast Asia.
Given the right office layout, it could happen to anyone.
Throughout this tangent-riddled photography quest, I carried my tent. And the further I travelled, the more things it became. It was a mackintosh during storms in the Lowveld. It’s been an inverted hazmat suit when I nursed tropical diseases in Malawi. It became a Christmas stocking aftertannies offered me endless supplies of padkos in the Free State. Had I not been wandering with my camera on the shores of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, it would have been a body-bag after an elephant walked over it. It’s been my confessional – a site of lonely tears and smug grins. It’s where I read at night by the light of my headlamp, falling asleep within minutes.
It might sound like I’m giving a 1.8 kg bundle of plastic too much credit, but trading a fixed address for a foldable one has been a profound lesson in sacrifices – a lesson that I’m repeatedly learning.
Photography hinges on sacrifice: You cannot alter time without negotiating with light. It’s the same with following your creative urges. You cannot do this without feeling alone, straining relationships and drifting from friendships. You’ll compromise on accommodation and you’ll forgo foods that aren’t tinned pilchards.
One of my specific sacrifices was choosing not to carry a laptop. So, in order to keep space free on my memory cards, I’ll go through the day’s photos in my tent every night, deleting my near-misses and far-misses. Within the ribcage of aluminium poles I’ll flick through the frames to find a keeper. And when that happens I become enraptured with the irrationality of creating, and suddenly the enormous failure rate is justified and I find an answer to the question I asked in the tent that morning: "What am I doing here?"
There are places where I’ve decided to stop photography: standing accused in court after being arrested in Kazakhstan, at a hospital in Ethiopia after being bitten by street dogs, sharing a carriage with a drunk policeman trying to sell me diamonds on a four-day train trip to Tanzania. But the place where I decide to start again is in that polythene cocoon – illuminated by the glow of a photo that somehow makes it worth it.
After 20 countries I returned to South Africa with my tent dappled in duct tape patches. I whittled my work down into exhibitions and ferried pictures into a few publications. But until the big assignments come in, I’ve self-assigned a project in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where I live now.
Here, I have a roof that isn’t collapsible and a room that doesn’t turn into a greenhouse half an hour after sunrise. It’s a loft apartment with a ceiling that slants over the bed, creating optimal acoustics to mutter:"What am I doing here?"
And then I’ll wonder what will happen between now and when I find an answer to that question.
This column was originally published in VISI Magazine.
My first impression of Georgia was a lasting one. I arrived two years ago without knowing anything about the place, only to find that its streets were crawling with tigers, wolves, bears and hippos.
These aren’t metaphors I’ll have you know. The animals had literally escaped the zoo on the day I arrived, and the police and the army were having a competition to hunt them in the streets. Or “liquidate” them as the Ministry of Internal Affairs called it.
After a strange sequence of events, I find myself living here. And I can confirm that this former Soviet republic has been consistent in its levels of craziness. Which takes a lot, considering I arrived in a real-life version of Jumanji.
In the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve realised that I like Georgia because of her mysterious beauty, but I love her because of her madness.
I wrote about this for TheDifferent.tv. You can read it here: www.thedifferent.tv/the-tiger-of-tbilisi.
I wrote and photographed a 10-day roadtrip feature exploring South Africa’s Zululand for the September issue of Go! and Weg magazines.
Ramble through the forests of Ithala, catch a tigerfish at Lake Jozini (test drive the 58-metre waterslide), spot a Pel’s fishing owl at Ndumo, snorkel in the estuaries of Kosi Bay, loaf on the beaches at Cape Vidal, hang out the rhinos at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, wander through ancient battlefields at Dundee and go chasing waterfalls in the Drakensberg – all in a Toyota Corolla. On sale now.
A wildfire has been raging for four days in Borjormi Gorge in southern Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
Helicopters from Azerbaijan and Turkey have joined Georgia’s helicopter in dousing the flames from the air.
Reportedly, help was offered from Russia to which the Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili replied, “What we have so far is enough.”
The wildfire began near the village of Daba, close to forests bombed by Russian troops during the 2008 war with Georgia.
Another fire has broken out closer to Borjormi. Neither of these fires has been contained yet. More details here.
Women’s rights groups march through the streets of Tbilisi in a counter-demonstration to a recent far-right march.
The protest was held in response after Tatia Dolidze - who criticised the xenophobic demonstrations - was threatened with sexual violence by the organisers of the nationalists’ march.
Last night, thousands attended an anti-immigration protest march through the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia. The rally was supported by several conservative and nationalistic groups. Reportedly, one of their demands is to close nightclubs "owned by Arabs and Iranians".
Video footage can be seen at Ruptly TV here.
Young men dig holes to plant tobacco near Zomba, Malawi. They start work before sunrise to avoid the heat. Women follow them, carrying pipes of water to irrigate the plants. Planting tobacco is thirsty work; it takes around 20 litres to secure each plant in the soil.
I'm drawn to photographing silhouettes, and the combination of early morning sunlight and the clouds of dust made for a good source of backlighting.
This photograph is currently exhibited at Casa Saraceni Gallery in Bologna, Italy as part of the Syngenta Photography Award international tour.
It was also featured in a column written by Bill Gates for the South African daily newspaper Die Burger about the future of Africa. He probably wrote it pro bono.
Work from my project "I Need You More Than You Need Me" is currently exhibited at Casa Saraceni Gallery in Bologna, Italy as part of the Syngenta Photography Award international tour. The show runs from 21 June to 10 September. Details here.
It's the perfect time to go to Italy - it's summer and you'll get the two-for-one ItalIAN Culture Special: one exhibition in Bologna, one exhibition in Rome! What a deal!
A shepherd stands beneath a sky gestating with a storm in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Cappadocia has the most spectacular scenery I have seen. Sitting on the crunchy white earth, surrounded by bizarre Dr Seuss-esque landscapes – bristling with limestone turrets and peppered with bygone homes of troglodytes – will have you wondering if you’re still on planet Earth.
Few photographs convey how perplexing the terrain is in person (DISCLAIMER: this photo isn’t an attempt to), making it best experienced first-hand with 360 degrees to gawk at.
News updates, back-stories and inner workings of ideas behind my photographs.