A trip with no story


I haven’t been able to blog since I came back from Kathu and I’m trying to understand why. Perhaps I’ve been too worn out by the trip. All the driving and the not sleeping very well and the disruption to my routine. Eating not terribly good food and just feeling unsettled for a week. This trip has also made me duller, more stupid and more of a blunt instrument. I’ve become a sluggish foot-soldier.

The purpose of the trip was to do a psychological risk inventory on the troops as part of their annual health assessment. The test itself is quite a blunt instrument. If you have any intelligence you can guess the correct answers but that’s not the point. You need to answer according to how you feel at the time. We interviewed the ones that ‘failed’ and then decided on their colour status (green or yellow) and how to proceed from there. The interviews amounted to mini mental status examinations where we were looking for pathology but also signs of coping and resilience and emotional stability.

I was quite anxious about the amount of driving that was required on the trip and I feared having an accident in the military car. Would my concentration hold up, would we be able to get petrol, would the car break down and would my cold deteriorate into swine flu? In the end, nothing bad happened. The car drove well and the journey there and back proceeded without incident.

So rather than posting a story about my trip, I’ll provide some fairly random thoughts instead.

The symbol of the battle school where we were is a red knight (the chess-piece kind) with a sword coming out of its head. Perhaps this is an appropriate symbol of madness. A disembodied horse’s head which is also an instrument of war.

Part of me remains the journalist. I go on a trip to an unusual destination and I’m looking for the story, the angle and wondering what I can deliver before deadline. But this is different. There’s no deadline, or rather the work deadline is completely different. We have to assess 250 people in 4 days. Sign the files. Write the referrals.

One of the best things about Kathu is its golf course. In the dry Northern Cape the golf course is watered from the iron ore mine. What this means is that the greens are green and the trees (mostly camel thorn trees) are flourishing. When my drive went astray (which it mostly did) and I couldn’t be bothered to go and find it in the long rough, I would take out my camera instead and try and capture a good picture of one of the trees.

I was interested in my fellow guests at the lodge, particularly the two guests who looked like they were high-ups or middle management from Kumba (the highly profitable iron ore mine which is part-owned by Anglo American). He was tall and black and well-dressed and looked the picture of the new mining executive. BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) to a tee. She was white and intelligent and less flashy although she still dressed in a corporate way. I noticed that they stayed in the Boutique Hotel side of the Lodge rather than the more plebby lodge side but they still joined us for meals. I wondered if they were a couple or just business colleagues. There was little to indicate that they were romantically involved but my thoughts ran to one of the local soapies and I thought that they would make a perfect new South African corporate couple. She was more aware of her fellow diners while he seemed quite wrapped up in himself. Perhaps he was thinking about the next board meeting and how to continue to maximise the profit from the mine. If he was visiting from Johannesburg there would be a certain seriousness attached to the visit. Goals, objectives, targets and so on.

Sitting at one of the breakfast tables, I was thinking of my last work trip in which I stayed at a decent hotel. Mauritius. We were there to do a short study of the country’s political, economic, social and corporate governance. We put in 12-hour work days for a week and then we took a day off to visit one of the island’s many holiday resorts. Sparling blue pools, lazy views of the bay, comfortable loungers, lots of light and healthy, suntanned Americans and Brits in abundance. The books on the loungers were bestsellers, thrillers largely. Nothing too challenging.

The food in Kathu was largely forgettable. As I sipped my small glass of orange juice and regretted the oil-rich food of fried eggs, fried bacon, fried sausage and some potato mixture (hash browns perhaps), I remembered my team in Mauritius. Those were good times. And now? A different career and working largely on my own (even though I’m part of an organisation).

My colleague on the trip was a young Afrikaans guy in his early thirties. Unmarried and with a distinct eye for pretty women. Not very broad-minded perhaps (although he’d worked in London for two years) but a really decent guy and someone who works hard and plays hard. A good golfer. The night we arrived he was soon chatting away to one of the waitresses, who was called Elandi and who called us “Meneer”. She told us that the local bar where we intended to play pool was pretty rough and that she never drank without her “verliefde” (her sweetheart). As she told us this, she touched the chain around her neck anxiously. On it there was a medallion of a saint.


5 Responses to A trip with no story

  1. natalian says:

    I too have been having a bloggers drought – but there are a whole host of reasons for my absence from the keyboard. Welcome back from a place, I must honestly admit, I never knew existed, although the trees look nice enough! 😉

  2. litlove says:

    I like the image of the waitress and her saint. Trips can easily make a person feel dull, after all that upheaval and driving and anxiety it takes a while for things to settle down again. And the assessments sound like the kind of amoeba activity that you need to tune your brain down for, rather than crank it up. I rather wish I could give the students risk assessments, though – they need them! Glad you’re home safe, anyway, Pete.

  3. doctordi says:

    Pete, it all sounds so incredibly emblematic: the saint, the knight, the horse’s head, the corporate couple, the strapping ladies man… It sounds like a short story waiting to happen. You sound reflective; part exhaustion, part quiet dissatisfaction. Your Mauritius memories seem to capture this, I think. I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to ask yourself about the path you’re on, and perhaps the trip has been a literal measure in this regard. Glad you’re home safe!

  4. Pete says:

    Natalian – Thanks and I hope to see you back on your blog soon. Things are quite busy here in terms of moving etc. but I keep thinking of interesting things I would like to blog about.

    Litlove – You’re so right about the upheaval and the anxiety. Moving angst this week so maybe I should blog about that! Change is probably good though.

    DoctorDi – Thanks for the encouragement. I really need to get moving in terms of writing again. A short story, an article, even a blog post would be good right now. It’s just hard to settle with all the upheaval.

  5. doctordi says:

    Well, it’ll keep… good stories tend to. Maybe take a look at it all again once things have settled down.

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