The young man who sat beside us on the river bank paused, and in a moment of clarity, he uttered the words “I am just so bored” on the breath of a heavy sigh. Earlier in the day we had met the man that he now claimed was his father: a well-articulated elder, who drove a large four-wheel drive vehicle, spoke perfect English and seemed happily at peace that he lived in the mountainous valley in which he was born.
His son was restless, drunk, and not at peace with his valley. He had some theories, which he expounded there beside the river. They were complex ideas, leaving the Viking and I a little uncertain, notwithstanding the fact that we too had partaken of some local Zamalek. There was something about the imminent establishment of a bed-and-breakfast at the deserted fisherman’s cottage on the river bank facing us. We asked some questions about its ownership, and the complicated answer indicated a combination of a loose understanding of the notion of land ownership and a wandering logic. Our friend indicated that he had suddenly developed a nasty thirst. I handed over what was left of my quart.
Ours was a celebratory drink; Our new-found friend’s was not. Our beer had been purchased to the cheers of locals in the shebeen down the road. Rather than drink them there, we had chosen to cap off our day with the sound of the river. That product came with a view of shafts of heavenly light from above the Drakensberg, that pierced black clouds in the west, to ignite the edges of a band of mist hanging below. The Viking flicked a dry fly with one hand, his eyes tracking the hopper imitation through the riffled water just a few last times. Earlier we had been on the tributary where some of the smallest fish imaginable had struggled repeatedly to drown and consume our flies, but without success. It occurred to me that these tiny fish lived in a nursery that serves the main stem of the river, and replenishes the stocks. Stocks that continue to feed locals, and keep the kids busy when they are out of school. Our companion had come wandering down the road and found us there. He was a number of years out of school now, and catching little Brown Trout down at the river no longer held his attention. He was restless, and the consumerist trappings he saw in our clothes, our phones, and our vehicle were so frustratingly beyond his hungry grasp.
His father had worked in the big city and tasted those things. He brought some of that back to his family’s valley but he was happy to let the rest go, and relax his soul in the place of his birth. Our visit frustrated us because the day involved nearly five hours of driving. It frustrated us because the invasive wattles grew thick on the banks of the tributary and threatened its extinction. It frustrated us because anywhere else this river would be revered as a hallowed Trout water; but here on the African continent it is a throwaway patch, relegated to the unemployed and blinkered out by tourists en route to the pristine catchment above. In the morning I had had two Browns from an unlikely back eddy on the main stem of the river. I also had an interaction with a comical goat and a deep discussion with local landowners.
The Viking took an unplanned swim; met a young lad who ties his own flies with chicken feathers; and found shelter from a storm by joining the landowner’s discussion in the ramshackle hall above the river.
Now the evening hung in the humidity of the slowly cooling valley. The clouds hung a beautiful picture off to the west. Our companion finished the last of his drink of despair and hung his head. We needed to get going. We had a long way to go and we had heard the road out was risky. Our friend needed a lift back to the shebeen. He was dry here and had no money, but there was the prospect that he may be able to hustle something if he could get away from these two sunset-gazing fishermen. As we paused at the shebeen our erstwhile companion did a semi-controlled tumble from the vehicle and disappeared towards the half-built establishment beside the road. The space beside the open car windows was simultaneously taken by other locals: one who professed that his tipple of choice was Smirnoff vodka, and one who wanted to tell me that he knew all about the morning’s meeting despite the fact that he had not been there. He had developed an unexpected stutter and a slur which seemed to amuse Mr Smirnoff. This departure was losing its shape, so we hastily abandoned our earlier patient etiquette and beat a rude retreat. We paused along the road only to ask the young chicken-feather-tying boy how he had done. He was shy, but we managed to establish that he had also landed two Browns, apparently on The Viking’s fly, which had taken the place of his own creation on the end of his line. We wished him well and headed out on the northerly route to do battle with the potholed road and its washaways.
It had been a day of Africa. A day of beautiful Brown Trout and beautiful mountains. It had been a day of expectancy and exploration. It had also been a day of consultation and deepening understanding. Perhaps most significantly, It had been a day of frustration and possibility in equal measure; the two so thoroughly mixed as to engender total resignation to the whims of fortune.