Friday, February 08, 2013

A Temporary Inconvenience

Five times in the last eight years, I've woken up one day having lost the hearing in one ear (the ear in question seems to alternate). It's a matter of physiognomy I've been told: the combination of poor drainage of my sinus cavities (their perversely shaped contours apparently don't help things), small ears, and a latter-day propensity for prodigious production of earwax. These episodes of partial deafness have typically lasted from as little as two hours to a few days. The current assault on my middle ear, however, at ten days and counting, is pushing beyond the realm of temporary inconvenience.

It's not just that I haven't been able to listen properly to the new José James album - hearing his golden voice in muffled mono as if coming from a locked trunk packed with ancient manuscripts hurriedly buried in a desert backyard in Timbuktu under Sharia law, is painful enough, it's that, as the days drag on, I'm beginning to contemplate what might happen if modern medicine and my body's defenses don't resolve things successfully. Incidentally, the album is rather ominously titled No Beginning, No End. Perhaps it's in that vein that I listened blithely (with my good ear) to a doctor cheerily informing me today that my hearing will "probably come back", and "most likely after a couple of weeks". Those hedging qualifiers were what I held on to rather than the alarmingly lengthy time horizon she contemplated.

I write, however, not to bemoan my lot because, obviously, things could be worse. The surprising thing also, once you get over the bewilderment of sinusidal oppression and hearing loss, is that one is able to carry on living a quite full life. Moreover, there's nothing like a temporary disability to make you rethink things; people don't think enough these days, they just act. I'm rather inclined to take the glass half full notion to being half deaf, heck, if you choose strategically where to sit in a hypothetical meeting, you'd avoid having to hear much that annoys you - and others would be none the wiser. And ear splitting cries, to take another example of occupational hazards, can easily become mere pantomimes, even hot air. But I digress..

I write, rather, because my aural predicament reminded me of Jonas Gwangwa's song and album aptly titled A Temporary Inconvenience. The great trombonist's fulsome sound materialized in my imagination and got me thinking of a trip I made to South Africa in Christmas 1993, just months before the 1994 elections that marked the notional end of apartheid. Perhaps as I convalesce I'll find time to dig up my dusty notebooks and finally write up an episode that left quite an impression on me.

A South African playlist immediately conjured itself up. Start with the dearly departed Moses Taiwa Molelekwa, a brilliant jazz pianist whose Genes And Spirits captured the pre-transition mood - a mood akin to pre-millenium tension. Follow up with the the broken strings of Allen Kwela, fondly played wherever we went. Add in a touch of Busi Mhlongo's Urban Zulu for some funkified and righteous dance. And then think to Yvonne Chaka Chaka exuberantly singing Bombani invoking the enduring spirits of Mandela, Tambo and Mbeki père among others.

I'd like to think that the song, A Temporary Inconvenience, related to what Jonas Gwangwa and his contemporaries like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba must have thought as they were first heading into exile from the apartheid state. As time passed and the temporary seemed to become permanent I wonder if they ever doubted they would return. For it was a uniquely unseemly state in world history. I'd certainly like to believe that, over the longue durée, apartheid itself will come be seen as a temporary inconvenience. That has been the challenge, I suppose, of the past 19 years, and perhaps that is the story that people were already suggesting even before Mandela was elected and inaugurated. It simply isn't the case, however, and much effort will need to be expended before that day will come. One wonders when the new South Africa will truly become "The New South Africa"...

But enough procrastination, time to summon up the courage to take that horse pill. I know the first thing I'll be listening to if, and when, my receptor cells resume their role as audio interpreters: the mellifluous trombone tones of a master musician.

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