Langu was a black woman my age from South Africa who I worked and lived with for three months on a campsite in the U.S., then we separately went back home and I didn’t see her again.
I’ve had people in my life who I’ve liked, and people I’ve felt comfortable around, but very few people with whom I’ve felt welcomed on every level and understood on every level, that there was no judgement floating below the surface and never would be. I ended up feeling love for these people, and afterwards never felt the strange bitterness when they got ‘lost’ from my life that I residually felt with everyone else whose bad memories overtook the good ones once they went missing.
There was Langu from Johannesburg in 2003, and there was Clint from Cape Town in 2004 who both (but separately) worked with me at St Mary’s children’s summer camp in Wisconsin. The two greatest people I ever met, but they would probably not figure on a list of influential people in my life because I just didn’t know them long enough – three intense months each one. Throw in Lizeth the Bolivian goddess for the perfect understanding we had although my association with her did not give me any peace – there, I said her name, strike me down – and a Swede named Elin who I knew in Bolivia and those are the four people I’ve felt a perfect connection with. Langu and Clint were the ones I felt the most joy around, the people I would most give a shit about losing, yet the only ones who I felt no animosity towards when I did lose them, as I said.
After a few years apart, they stopped answering letters and emails, disappeared into the heart of South Africa and became untraceable. It’s a strange thought in the google/facebook age that people can still vanish into the ether, but neither of them has a facebook or answer the few hopeless emails sent so that’s the end. (My facebook is now deactivated too, as an aside.)
Langu was one of the very few women with whom there was never any sexual tension in my mind. I just cruised with her, laughed all the time, discussed things, intellectually thought she looked kind of decent but instinctively knew that it was about something else with her, and simply lived it. I lived it once more in Bolivia in 2005-6, with a very cute Swedish/Iranian girl named Talajeh. We lived in the same house in Bolivia and she became my sister. I watched both of them hook up with other guys with amusement and warmth. But they were the only women my age with whom I felt this way; all the others could g.f.themselves cause they didn’t want to sleep with me, etc, you know, the macho shit lives inside me too. I wonder if a massive difference was needed to allow me to feel that way with the two of them, a huge racial difference that just instinctively put the sexual side out of the question.
I have all of these great memories of Langu, a catalogue. She referred to a song we sang together onstage as “A Langu and Marty moment” and I suppressed my laughter to cooly reply, “One of many.” She used to wander around, aware of everything but at the same time in her world, never lost but never succumbing to the day-to-day bullshit that everyone else did, or at least never showing it with me. She told me about her life, her extended family, her schooling. She never begrudged me my slightly upper-middle class background, my naïveté.
I was with her for a week in New York and was just overjoyed by my company, that I had those two people all to myself (it was her and another fantastic dude from Jo’burg named Jono. I’ve met so many great South African people that if I could turn back the clock I would give them the 1999 World Cup semi-final as gratitude, to ease their pain). She was running low on money so we did simple things. We stayed in Spanish Harlem and decided that New York was not exactly overrated but neither was it the glamorous Sex and the City world that everyone writes about and is shown on TV. New York City was Third World in its gritty struggle to survive, its utter lack of forgiveness. Its ragged squalor and sometimes filthy surroundings, its hustle- and urgency-based economy pointed not to the richness of Wall Street and the rest of North America but back to the poverty of Africa, from where huge numbers of African immigrants had rolled the dice and come to try their luck in NYC. Langu and I ended up with mixed feelings about the place. We said goodbye to each other on a NY street corner and when I was there for a few days the next year I thought of her constantly.
The last time I heard from her was September 2006, when I had just returned from the Bolivian year and was an emotional wreck, although an emotionally drowning man cannot see himself drowning until he has safely emerged afterwards. Then I lost her, she stopped writing to my letters and emails (I sent actual, physical letters to her: she was special), but that’s how it goes, I don’t feel any “You’re too good to write to me anymore?” nonsense. She might have lost interest, she might be married, she might be ashes for all I know. Oh well, you can’t hold a rainbow, but I wish I was still in touch with her.
Langutelani Rikhotso, Langu Rikhotso, if you ever google your name, maybe you’ll come across this site and know that I still think of you, and maybe you can get in touch if you’re still a living, breathing person at this point. I say this, even if it’s a terrible emotional cliché: Langu, I love you, or at least did when I knew you, and the memory of you warms my heart still. I felt perfect contentment whenever I spent any time with you, and that is an exceedingly rare feeling. While I’m at it: Clint Hendricks from Cape Town who worked in Wisconsin in 2004: google yourself and find my site if you still exist, as I’m sure you do. You are the most insightful, kindest, funkiest person I ever met. I love you as well, you are the only guy I could probably say that to, and I never forgot about you.