“Ughhh Wole, why do we have to go so early”, I grumbled as I rolled over in bed and covered my head with a fluffy white pillow.
The year was 2015, and the place was Cape Town, South Africa. I was on holiday with a friend of mine, Wole, who at the time lived in Malaysia where he worked as an engineer. We’d been friends for about 3 years, but anyone seeing us would’ve thought we were either married, or childhood friends. In fact, our mutual friends had ‘secretly’ placed bets that we were either secretly dating, or would end up together. It didn’t help that we were populating our social media pages with picturesque honeymoon-ey type pictures of ourselves in Cape Town.
We couldn’t help it though; Cape Town was/is beautiful. Few things are better than waking up in the morning to the view of Table Mountain partially clothed in clouds that feel as soft as fur when your eyes touch them. One of such things, is actually going up said mountain, and Wole and I had spent the previous day atop it. We’d gone in the morning and spent a half day up there as was in our itinerary, but it was such an amazing experience that we went back up in the evening to watch the sun set.
Listen; bucket list/heaven type experience, I promise.
Asides us looking good together though, Wole and I were different types of holiday people. You see, I am a ‘wing it’ typa gal. Sleep in, drink wine, go out, drink wine, roam around the city, drink some more wine, and just see where the day goes. Wole, on the other hand is an entirely different animal. He had sent me an itinerary a week to our trip, and as I was only beginning to realise, he meant to follow it to the T [insert temple rub emoji]. Anyway, it was Wine/Cheese Tasting day at Stellenbosch, and I like wine (in case you didn’t notice) so I grudgingly got out of bed. Looking back, I’m grateful for Wole and his task-like, OCD approach to fun, because if not for him I wouldn’t have met Lotje (pronounced Lo-ki or Low key. I know; he was either a comic god in a past life, or a shady Nigerian business man). I also wouldn’t have had some of the best Pinotage of my life, but I digress. Lotje was our guide for the day, and we were his first pickup of the seven would be partners in wine that day. This gave us adequate time to gist with him, one African to another. We even got him to sneak in a coffee shop stop, as clearly, mornings are not my strong point and I needed the pick (perk) up. It was during this 20 minute drive when it was just Lotje, Wole and I, that we really got to know the man.
Lotje is one of those people that know everything and I loved him for it. He looked like Obama, his angular face riddled with lines that told his life stories so clearly and vividly, as if there was text between them. His thick Afrikaans accent somehow lent more credence to his very many stories. He was definitely the most authentic of our different guides during the trip, and I was sad that we only got to be with him for one day.
When we asked about apartheid and it’s still apparent effects re colourism, he didn’t paste on that plastic smile like the other guides did, and tell us it was all in the past. He was candid in his speech and owned his opinions- not like a sword, but more like a cloak; he didn’t fight with them, they instead protected him. It was Lotje that made me first understand just how deeply conflicted human emotions can get; that one person can hold two opposing thoughts so wholly and completely;
You see, me and my generation don’t agree with most of Mr. Zuma's leadership and we think he’s making a mess of things, Lotje said in his passionate way as our conversation drifted into politics as it is won’t to do in these kinds of situations, but we may never vote a white man into power. There is too much distrust. I am, however, very happy that by the next elections, my daughter will be old enough to vote, and she will be able to objectively vote for the best candidate, because I have taught her that it is not about the colour of a persons skin, but about their competence and ability to perform. [Paraphrased].
I was, and still am, entirely fascinated by this. He knew that his political views were sentimental, tinted by past experiences, and he’d made his peace with that. He couldn’t ‘save' himself but instead focused on teaching his daughter differently. His personal experiences with apartheid were too great, and too fresh for him to vote different. This, however, did not make him argue his case any less passionately. It reminded me about my dad, who’d fought on the Biafran side in Nigeria’s civil war. Made me understand a little bit better why our politics were so different; made me see and understand the proud glint in his eye when I argued vigorously against the concept of ‘Federal Character’ over performance and qualifications.
The conversation shifted markedly to more mundane things, like how great the weather was (It was, it was. Sunny enough so my snug denim shorts worked, but also cold/windy enough so I felt like I was ‘abroad’) when we picked up our other guests who all turned out to be non-African (an Australian man and his wife who’d just had a breast cancer-induced mastectomy, a Canadian couple, and an African American man whose real name was probably Steve, but asked Wole and I to call him Kofi. As if my eye-rolling was not severe enough, he spoke in a strange accent he must have considered African, and only when he spoke to us. It was funny and sad, and I felt a little story for him). Lotje later told us- Wole and I- that he never had many Africans on the Wine Tasting route.
I don't think I will ever forget Lotje. I scribbled down his phone number on the back of a carton of Chardonnay I had picked up at one of the vineyards, just to make sure.