The Beatles were right: all you need is love

2008-12-11 00:00

Mónica Villalobos

Peter-mary-what…? My friend and I stared at each other. At first we thought that the three hot guys we had met in Cusco came from the Middle East but their perfect English confused us. Oh, South Africa! The same images crossed both our minds: Nelson Mandela, apartheid, Charlize Theron … But our modest knowledge of the country didn’t give us a clue: how were we to insert these faces into the African picture?

“We are Indians.”

“Oh, I see…”

***

Before the Spanish conquerors arrived in Peru, Cusco was the glorious capital of the Inca Empire. Five hundred years later it’s a unique blend of magnificent ruins, colonial buildings, ancient traditions and cosmopolitan atmosphere.

It’s the Babylon of Latin America, a traveller’s paradise. If you want to meet people from all over the world, Cusco is the place. And if you wish for a memorable holiday affair, New Year’s Eve is the time.

***

Later, at the hotel, Google managed to find the complicated name of the province where their complicatedly named city was located.

“Look, there’s a big Indian community there.”

“Oh, that’s interesting. But do you remember their real names?”

“No way, they are so strange. Luckily they use their nicknames. But aren’t they lovely?”

“Absolutely! They are nothing like our macho men, arrogant and naughty. They’re kind of gentle — a friend told me that Indian men are very romantic.”

“Oh really? Has she met one?”

“Well, no, but she’s watched several Bollywood movies…”

***

A few hours and many beers after their first encounter, two inhabitants, both of the warm southern hemisphere, brought their lips together. It didn’t take long for the rest of the skin to follow.

Happy new year.

***

Another year started, he went back home and life went back to normal. But nothing was normal anymore. I was restless.

“So, are you really thinking of flying to South Africa? It’s so far away. You only knew that guy for three days and you know that on holidays everything is wonderful. The real thing may be very different.”

“I know, but what if he really is just like that?”

“That would be a lucky strike.”

***

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to land at Durban International Airport. Local temperature is 38 degrees.” Oh God, the moment of truth. But wait, did she say 38 degrees? Wow, this is Africa! Hard to believe I’m here … I always wanted to see this mysterious continent and what better way to arrive than with a cute guy waiting for me? Well, I hope he is there …

“Welcome to Africa, gorgeous!”

Not only on time but with flowers in his hand. So sweet.

***

“Be prepared, my friend: cultural differences will be an issue between you two.”

“I know. It’s not only the language, it’s a way of living, a point of view, habits, tastes, food, music, relationships, fashion, manners, sense of humour, ways to express feelings … As if the difference between Venus and Mars isn’t enough.”

“You’ll need tons of patience.”

I hang up after a R200 long-distance call that was meant to calm me down. After a big-fat-Indian-wedding (his sister’s), during which saris were my daily costume and curry my sole diet, I suddenly found myself in the middle of an identity crisis. I wanted my jeans. And Latin music. I needed a steak. I needed to swear in Spanish.

***

I still need all that but I’ll survive. I know that finding a man you can communicate with — even if sometimes he drives you crazy — is a rare experience in the dating universe. What were the chances that he and I would meet, living 10 000 kilometres apart? The universe conspired in our favour and you can’t fight that. So here I am, many months later, still trying to adapt to this world. I still struggle with the language and we still deal with our intercultural clash. But Pietermaritzburg is not only an easy word now, it’s a place full of familiar sights, sounds and smells.

***

Leaving your country, your city, your home town, is like breaking a long marriage while still in love. It’s exchanging the place where every corner is full of lively images for a lonely and unfamiliar environment, where your senses can’t distinguish any embracing memory. The mourning is unavoidable. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night feeling sad, nostalgic, painfully homesick. But then you think about what it was that pushed you to break that marriage you miss so much. Me? I just turn my head and look at his gentle face. The Beatles were right: love is all you need.

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