Friday, July 06, 2012

There and back again – how to go back to where we come from

by Nick van der Leek

We are not alone. For some this is a good thing. For others, it’s sheer terror. In line with the latter the recent Nando’s Diversity ad shows all of South Africa’s foreigners disappearing in puffs of what looks like pastry flour. There’s another way to send foreigners home. Just turn back time. I’m not talking about flowers folding up, curling into green tendrils and sinking into the Earth. No, faster than that! Imagine if you could get the clocks whirring backwards like propellers, so that for a few seconds we can see tar roads curling back on themselves (wait, they’re already doing that), or South Africans flooding back into London (oh no, we’ve been seeing that too) ... If we rewind even faster – think 4 seasons in 4 seconds, perhaps we’ll see some real results.

Right, ignore the flicker of a thousand sunrises and sets, there’s Johannesburg, shrinking like so many mustard colored mushrooms, growing backwards into the ground. Concrete structures fumbling inwards, bricks unmaking houses. That black strip of tar with so many moving dots gets fewer and fewer dots until there’s no longer a black ribbon but a brown one. And then it’s gone. Now wagons are racing around backwards with so many backwards galloping oxen. Zulus are running amok, their spears zapping backwards from foes back into their hands. Ships are sailing to and froe but mostly back to Europe. Now even the Zulus are running backwards through Africa towards the equator. Stars and clouds spin, the summer and winter fabric around the world dances between green and grey. A blanket of ice jumps back and forth.

Speed up time even more, and the continents themselves seem to become unstuck and start shifting around. North and South America, holding hands, surfs across the Atlantic, the Antarctic swivels off its southerly perch and grows progressively dark and green and my, my, it’s quite a rich, mountainous continent. Australia starts staggering towards us too, and India races south. Here’s the weird thing. A lot of these continents seem to be heading to Africa. The only continent that seems more or less locked in place is Africa. Let’s stop here.

A closer look, between the herds of Bison and an island covered in Dodo’s, reveals a few people slowly but surely finding their way back into Africa. The swarms of the 21st century though have dwindled to a mere trickle of hunter gatherers eeking it out in vast mantle of sand; an African desert. There’s something faintly familiar about them – the trace of Asian eyes, the sparkle of ironic humour in their smile, their oh so African penchant for music and dance. There’s hardly anyone left when we find the lot of us whittled down to ten thousand, heading to present day Johannesburg, but obviously not a Montecasino, a minedump or metal of any kind in sight. Most of these few members of the human race clinging to life are living inside and around a series of caves in a place known today as Maropeng. It’s also called the Cradle of Mankind. It looks pretty cold out there, but I suppose those caves provide decent protection. But damn, if we all go back to where we come from we end up where we started, together. In a cave. Going stir crazy.

Now imagine if inside those caves we happened to find our great, great, great (multiplied by the unknown ‘x’) grandfather, who is painting a rather peculiar image. It looks like an alien pointing to the stars. One person might say the alien’s saying, “Come and check this out once you’ve learned math and graduated fossil fuels.” Another interpretation might be, “Shit happens everywhere. Stay where you are and grow chickens.”

If we leap backwards from here it gets even worse. We start to see the continents congeal and birds and mammals change into lizards, then crawl back into the sea (although tortoises can’t seem to make up their minds where to come out or go back) and eventually every living thing reduced to what looks like large turds (also known as stromatolites) growing in seawater. For 3 billion years nothing goes on anywhere. Oh wait, stop, what’s that? It’s fuzzy but it looks like it could be an alien – who seems to consider himself a galactic gardener – and has come down to our God-forsaken planet and tossed some DNA fertiliser into a waterfall. And then, going forward, the stromatolites have started shapeshifting into amoebas, brachiopods, trilobites, worms, and - you get the picture.

It feels like, from here, the answer is to go forwards, so we’ll use hyperspace to get back to the world as it is, and then hit fast forward. Seems like a lot of spaceships built by a South African chap, Elon Musk, are flying off to Mars, and checking the topsoil...and before you know it a Bloemfontein-sized city has formed in Gale Crater on the red planet. More ships are whizzing to various moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Finally one errant rocket ship (looks like it’s called Pretorius, but it could also be Polokwane) has landed on a rock somewhere further out in space.

The astronauts seem to think they’ll find the answers here to where we all came from. And they do. They find their way into an underground chamber and wake up a large gentlemen(he’s white, very white), and their humanoid robot introduces them. “Hi, these bozos reckon you’re God, and they’ve come to say nice to meet you and want some answers, and whatever else you can give them. “ The still half asleep and obviously grumpy alien, (who might also be God), rips off the humanoids head, smashes around the earthlings and yells (I think): “Go back to where you came from.” So there you have it. Forwards, backwards – you can’t keep anyone happy. Maybe those stromatolites were onto something after all.

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