Looking over the Grahamstown valley after nightfall and the moon is as yellow as the street lights. It's full in the black sky, accompanied by the neighbor's barking dogs and the flicker of houselights on the ridge line to the East. The wind is gusty as ever, typical of spring I'm told when the Antarctic fronts and Northern desert winds take turns to cool and heat the valley's dry air. It's not a subtle change, as sun-filled laundry days often change by late afternoon into gusts of wind and rain that rattle the roof and the window panes and filter through the palm leaves, sending pigeons and doves, those clumsy flyers, racing across the sky at some astonishing speeds.
Our time here has been spent at ease, basking in gardens, talking to friends in warm kitchens with delightful glasses of wine, taking trips to the coast to walk along the edge of rivers and cliffs and swimming coves. Some days in the archive have been cold, legs numb from those library chairs, typing and checking and floundering from a maze of data that still has yet to be sorted. Two months of this and I dread the thought of wearing those stretched-out cotton gloves again, the ones that droop from my cold hands as I gracelessly turn each thin leaf of tissue paper to reveal the next one or two small old photographs within stacks of hundreds. My body dislikes the frozen posture of searching through these bits of information, but after years of being weathered down by desk work I've learned like most grad students that perseverance often equals snacks. And there are really good snacks. I hate to admit that the cappuccinos from across the street are better than anything I've had in Ballard and my world is forever changed since discovering those rich and fatty sticks of kudu droewors.
Some mornings we learn from Andrew Tracey. These sessions wipe the slate clean of all those snack cravings and fill my head with serious joy. Our spare moments throughout the day are spent running through patterns of this song or that song, eyes wrenched upward in concentration. Tea time is all about "ya-fu"ing the nyanga panpipe vocables or playing air-amadinda. The silence of combing through boxes of little papers is relieved by the bright sound of gummy mallets on the sneezewood bars of the timbila.
Late September, lunch time at the Latin American-inspired restaurant in town, we sip our afternoon drinks on the patio and hear two loud shots in the intersection nearby. A bossa nova version of "Besame Mucho" is playing just loud enough to muffle the screams of students who run from the police officer's rubber bullets that were fired into the crowd. We freeze, look at one another with distorted faces, and listen to a woman on the street say, "they're shooting at the kids." We can feel the hot sun streaming through the see-through patio cover, unsettled by the violent bursts of wind that tear at the zippered flaps of plastic. The song switches to salsa music, a man singing the words "yo tengo la rumba" as the crowd disperses and the streets sounds fade away. Later that week we hear of an officer at Wits that was nearly killed by the protesters using bricks. The tension at Rhodes is less violent, less destructive than other universities taking part in the uprisings.
Wednesday we drive through a tattered barricade of broken glass and palates and desks that were set on fire by the crowd and extinguished by police before we arrived. Some say its not just students but members of the political opposition that are escalating the protests. We reflect on this tense situation as we walk down the long driveway, pass through the coded gate, through the latched metal bars on the front door and into ILAM for the day where the loudest sounds are red-winged starlings and their mellow whistle. We think about the protesters who burn libraries and buildings at night. Yesterday it was an attempt to demolish our neighbor, the new School of Languages. "Heatbreaking" she says.