Friday, 9 December 2011

Conversation With An 8 Year Old/ What A Cave Can Teach You

Girl - Do you have a wife?

Me – No

Girl – So you sleep on your own?

Me – Yes.

Girl – I don’t like to sleep on my own, it makes me think of snakes.

Me – Why?

Girl – Because I’m scared of them.

Me – … So are you scared of snakes or loneliness?

Girl – Snakes because loneliness doesn’t have a head with those big teeth in it.

Me – hmm… I’m going to write that down.

Girl – Why?

Me – Because I like what you said.

Girl – Why?

Me – (Ignores question and gets notebook out of bag)

Girl – You know what I like?

Me – What?

Girl – Balloons.

Me – OK, what else do you like?

Girl – Dogs, dogs that can dance. I want Balloons, a dog that can dance and a gun.

Me – What? Why a gun?

Her – in case I see snakes... snakes that can dance.

What A Cave Can Teach You

It’s a one hour hike up the mountain at Kalk Bay. I went with an international hiking group (mainly Germans). I’d made new friends and got invited along, not quite knowing what I’d agreed to. The mountains got steep near the top so we were literally rock climbing. 

Looking outward from the mountain you see all the ocean beyond you, all the yellow, the green and earth, its an incredibly overwhelming display of beauty.

When I got near the top there was a cave. I’m told the cave was discovered by the Dutch when they arrived in the 1600’s. We took out torches and crawled on our stomachs through the black miniature corridors. They get narrower the further you go in. 

After an hour of worming through the tunnels, my shoulders were too wide to fit into the holes ahead of me. There were five of us that made it this far, a Dutch guy, an American and two German girls. I turned back alone as they tried to push deeper into the caves.

Now is when my mind turned against me...

It was so beautiful outside, why are you doing this? Why would anyone do this? You’ve buried yourself alive. You’re an idiot. Didn’t you hear something about Scorpions on the way here? Big shiny black scorpions, fuckers with venom shots loaded in their tail? You’ll be dead, killed, alone in this cave. Why? Why? Why?

My knees got sore and I’d cut my elbow on some sharp rocks. I started to feel a slight panic. It started in my intestines, I thought of them as electric eels, voltage increasing by the minute, opening sparks and then fire trails though the central wires of my nervous system.

Its ok, its ok, I’m fine I’m fine I’m going to get out, yes. Oh’ why? Don’t black stand up comedians joke about stupid situations white people put themselves in? This is one of them right? Suffocating to death in a cave I willingly crawled into? No its fine, Mustafa and Trevor are black… no wait, they didn’t come this far! Fuck! 

When I saw my hope, the streaming light through a tiny crack, my stomach turned on a different kind of electricity – one that heats Jacuzzis.

Yes, yes, yes. Oh’ the light, the relief.. yes.

There were ten other hikers outside. One man was sitting on a rock smiling to himself. I caught his eye as I stumbled towards him. “howzit?” (He’s South African) he waves me over, “sit here and watch the faces as they come out the cave”. I sit with him and after a few minutes one of the German girls appears from the cave, her face installing new colour, her head in the sky, her heavy breath winding down. The man I was next to turns to me and says “That’s exactly what relief looks like”

I then made sense of this cave crawling insanity as a kind of 'appreciation for life' exercise.
Last week I took a Grade six class (11-12 year olds) at the Primary School. I asked the class (thirty five boys and girls) to write about their nightmares, I wanted to see how ugly their minds can get. I asked for details, the breathing under the bed, the blood on the walls, the funeral in the rain. 

I noticed after ten minutes there was a boy (let’s call him Nathan) who hadn’t written anything. I approached him and tried to help but he sat there silent. Suddenly he scrunched up the paper on his desk and threw it on the floor, storming out the classroom. I was stunned, unsure if I should leave the rest of the class to go after him. Later I told the Principal about Nathan, I could tell by the pause before she spoke she was about to tell me something heavy.

“Nathan lives in a home” she said “his parents drank themselves to death. You’ve asked a twelve year old to write about a nightmare he is essentially living"

See, I can crawl into some cave and be lost and full of panic, I can think about my intestines as electric eels, I can cut my elbows on rocks and bleed a little but what do I really know about caves and how to survive in them?


  1. It's not just the sun that's stronger there, is it. I love this.

  2. Your words fill me with love for Nathan.

  3. Hi Raymond, I just stumbled across your blog by accident after I googled "old smiling african man" for a graphics assignment. Really lovely, insightful writing. I enjoy cave spelunking so as I read your cave experience I thought something like 'I should be more anxious for him but I just wish I'd been there for the spelunking... I hope he relaxes and begins to enjoy it more'. Pulled in by your writing I continued on to your school assignment, and now I really am quite anxious. I am at a loss, wishing I had Nathan, and so very thankful for caring, giving people like you. Sweet Nathan, always living with snakes that no gun could ever rid him of. Thank you for sharing, Raymond. <3 Gigi