Flu-struck and foggy. It is bitterly cold, a bright and chilly winter solstice here in Africa, and I am huddled in rugs and scarves feeling intermittently sorry for myself. My housemate had a dizzy spell this morning and nonchalantly checked her own blood pressure, said she was fine, went off to work. Nurses are prone to self-diagnosis and tend to discount or underplay their own symptoms.
Not sick enough to just get into bed and sleep for hours, but not well enough to work. A slow muffled thinking process and blueness at the edge of moods.
Taught my French student adverbs — spluttering and hoping she does not catch a headcold — and we did a quick skim through the French revolutions of the 19th century. Why did the social revolution of 1848 fail? She regards revolutions with distaste and suspicion, so it is hard for her to grasp that for writers like Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, these social upheavals were beacons of hope. Such misplaced optimism in one way, but that was the bumpy road to democracy and a different world.
Oh and I had a terrifying dream about travelling to a picnic site overlooking gorges and ravines, rocky granite domes and lines of steep rounded hills. I was delighted to be able to walk around under thorn trees and find myself back in Gauteng, feeling like a tourist in Africa as if discovering it. Night began to fall and the two women who had also come along for the outing told me the place was dangerous, unsafe after dark.
Then a pride of lions invaded the picnic site, full-grown male lions with manes and a snarling golden lioness. A male lion lay down on top of the fire on which we were going to cook our meal. I wondered if the lions would leave if I clapped my hands, a noise to scare them off, but didn’t want to provoke an attack. And as always in the presence of wild animals, we all stood very quietly and made no sudden movements, as if paralysed. That was where the dream ended, the lion on top of the smoking fire, lions surrounding us, standing there helpless, frozen, unable to move.
My dreams are often not what I think they are about when I wake: meanings come to me slowly over days or weeks. Over the weekend I talked with two women friends who had been travelling in Mozambique and who slept in doorless huts open to the bush. Because of the World Cup I am seeing Africa through the eyes of foreigners who do not know the country and have romantic or fearful images about it. These associations have been making their way into my dreams. That smouldering fire under the lion’s belly still haunts me. People who have never spent time close to wild lions (not those in zoos or managed reserves with supplemental feeding) have little idea of the wariness we as humans should feel around an animal that is essentially a killing machine. After feeding on kill, a pride of lions are playful and lazy, rolling and patting one another in the long grass, purring loudly. But lions do not care for human interlopers and out in the veld, you are warned never to take your eyes off a lion nearby. To the lion, you will be prey, nothing more.
But as the morning goes on, the dream mercifully fades and as always I am glad to be sober and able to take sensible care of myself. Now I shall go and curl up in bed with a flask of hot tea and a pile of books, small dogs curled at the foot of the bed. The luxury of dozing and reading novels during the working day.