This morning I walked to school with Alida and Dirk – for fun! This is a giant leap of culture for me. Africans do not think that walking and leisure go together. In the ‘third’ world, walking is a means to an end, and a means of transport only to be used if there is no bicycle, bus or taxi.
I was very civilized when someone asked us exactly what we were going to do in South Africa over Christmas on holiday, for a moment we were non-plussed and he suggested walking, I spluttered and choked and drops of beer flew, imagine, where would i walk, dogs would be baying ferociously, a car might flatten me, where would I walk to, and above all why would I walk when I could swim in a private swimming pool, sit around and talk and eat and drink and talk and eat with people I can’t see every day.
Walking is a strange exercise in Belgium: if you want to be king of the road, get on your feet, cars stop for you anywhere, any time (don’t try this in Italy, especially not at a pedestrian crossing), even bicycles are lower on the pecking order and should make way for you. Plus walking gives you a new perspective, you see stuff! People’s garage floors are clean enough to eat from, my kitchen floor isn’t even that pristine. I wondered about a strange woman holding her cat, intently gazing out the window, at nothing at all, I couldn’t make out if she was young or old, perhaps she’s still there. I must admit, I cheated: I cycled back home, my cultural bridge is not complete yet, and noticed the sudden quiet after 8h25 (when school starts) and the gradual undarkening of the day, tiny drops of water flew from my tyres – I vowed never to cycle if I had to wear gloves, and here we are in mid winter and me cycling with no gloves, hurray for global warming! Oops!