Monday, 7 March 2011

Snakes on wheels

There is an extraordinarily light, dewy quality to the morning here if you can beat the sun. At 5.30am there is just enough light to cast shadows beneath the banana trees and across the the amber road. And there is the wonder of sliding rather than steeping out of your front door, wheels gliding silently across the concrete and then grinding a little as they force the gritty dirt to give way.
Setting off when you imagine all the world's asleep is like sneaking down to the Christmas tree in the run-up to December 25th when all the presents are still hidden but the anticipation of what is to come is at its peak and you are gazing upon a future event which you know is just a few sleeps away and no-one else can see what you can.
Pink breasted woodpigeons, bright yellow weavers and elegant white egrets strut and sing in the dewy light. Wooden shacks selling cream crackers from China and sardines from Thailand are creaking open. Men and women are shuffling through the muffled streets. Suddenly there is a crescendo of drumming and high-pitched shrieks and singing as we pass the Pentecostal church.
The wheels glide smoother as the road becomes tarmac - slick and grey in the brightening dawn. More taxis appear - some veering too close, most beeping their horns encouraging a racing heart and tight clammy grip on the handlebars. The simple movement - the knowledge you are both leaving and going somewhere and that you have a specific destination in mind - quells the other niggling questions about where to go in life and how to get there.
You can't beat the sun. By 7.30am it is beating us; warming the haphazard green fields of maize and cassava, turning the road pale, heating us from heel to heart, heel to heart.

I am intolerant of food tolerances and feel phoney about phobias but it seems to me that a preternatural fear of snakes makes a great deal of sense. They offer us nothing but fables and fall guys and master a texture, shape and movement so alien to humans and other mammals and so repulsive to me, that even a flash of their shape on television leaves me weak and nauseous. Having momentarily forgotten my fear of falling, being run over by a tro tro (the local minibuses packed with people, goats, chickens and merchandise driven like track cars), smashed up by a 4x4, or toppled by a rampaging goat, (remarkable how many fears can whizz through one's mind while my husband swears he's been thinking of Scotland's chances of qualifying for the World Cup) I begin to relax and actually enjoy the smooth sensation of rolling quietly alongside lush green views. Realising this momentary pleasure I look down briefly and see an enormous dark grey snake sleeping on the road. My front wheel skims its lustrous shiny sides and I start screaming (for those who've read earlier blogs from the husband this might explain claims of a mad woman shouting Rake!) and shouting SNAKE repeatedly - as if that might provide some kind of protection from fangs filled with deadly venom. By the time the husband has caught up, I've burst into tears. The reaction is part outrage that a creature I have done so well to avoid while walking in the bush (by clapping my hands loudly - a not altogether foolproof method) has dared to leave its natural habitat. The husband seems quite confused but simultaneously impressed by the turn of speed I'm capable of (something which could easily be used against me on later rides when I claim I can't go fast). He explains very calmly that it would have been "just warming itself on the road because that's what they do". Thinking, wrongly, that if its explained as an everyday occurence that the wife will not then spend every minute of every cycle in Africa, expecting another snake to be lying in wait on the road. Great.