32. My Merchant Mariner Travels Around The World (Part 5)

My ship then was the SS South African Victory  to Mobile Alabama that didn’t throw up any surprises that time, except  that mobs of angry whites in Alabama, including Ku Klux Klan members, attacked a busload of black and white ‘freedom fighters’ and Martin Luther King. The name Alabama though throws up a bit of interesting history affiliated to the Cape Colony of South Africa. On 29 July 1863, The Alabama, an American raider belonging to the Southern States during the American Civil War, arrived in Saldana Bay on the west coast of South Africa, to resupply. During the course of the American Civil War, the Southern States realized that they could not match the Northern American States with regard to their navy, and instead adopted the strategy of sinking and capturing ships belonging to the Northern Union states. The vessels that preyed on civilian shipping were called raiders and often described as being state sanctioned pirates. By the time the Alabama sailed into Cape Town she had sunk more than fifty Union trading vessels and had built up a reputation for being one of the most famous raiders in history. In August 1863, The Alabama created great excitement as it sank a Union ship, The Sea Bride, within sight of Cape Town harbour.  It then berthed in Cape Town for provisions and repairs again. This gave rise to the song “Daar kom die Alabama” (Here comes the Alabama), a folk song still sung in Cape Town today, and  one of the Alabama’s flags presented to a Capetonian still hangs in the South African Museum,

‘What’s up?’ and ‘Where y’at’ meant that we were back in New Orleans. When all was shipshape, my feet couldn’t carry me fast enough to the Afro-Creole Club that my Creole friend owned. The first thing I received from him after our manly hug and back slapping was a Kentucky Bourbon straight up. Were we ever glad to see each other, and while relating both our past events since last meeting, the bourbon flowed the same as the Bourbon Street jazz around us. He was actually all excited when telling me that I had arrived at an opportune time because of the Mardi Gras that was happening, and of his new mistress that he wanted me to meet. So that night I accompanied him to his second home deep in the swamplands where he had his mistress. I also accompanied both of them to a dance function there of which I was smilingly told had a strange dance custom only in that area, but wasn’t told how strange. The women attending were very attractive and attentive, particularly the ones I was introduced to, and not knowing then why they were smiling and giggling while chatting to my friend, got embarrassingly revealed to me towards the end after their customary eating, singing and dancing. Tables were moved backwards and the chairs were placed forward to form a wide circle on which some sat and others just stood around. Their shuffle dance done then was a combination of flirting and teasing, and it was up to the women to see if she could arouse the man while dancing with him through titillation by using their hands, thighs, buttocks and breast. Although it wasn’t achieved all of the time, the menfolk saw it as a sexual game and tried hard not to get a hard on, and if they did, the obvious bulging pants was taken in hand by the man, and his partner would twirl him around and around with the other hand amidst laughter and applause.

Married, single, elderly and young women all did it, and my constant refusal the first time got me some disdainful looks. My friend’s advice didn’t help matters either because of what he did before joining their dancing escapades, and that was to have sex with his mistress. He also told me that if an unspoken for woman felt or saw that my protrusion was large enough I might get lucky, for it seemed their menfolk were not that well-endowed. I saw no problem with that, the only problem I had was the embarrassment of having to be twirled while having my hand on my tented pants in company, and it was very difficult to come to terms with. Not also having the pleasure or convenience of a mistress as my friend, saw my only hope in trying to rely on my self-control. They changed the rules though at my first attempt so as to get their own back on me for always refusing, and two young women ganged up on me. Self-restraint worked at first, but those women were after my blood, so while sandwiched between them they played dirty by working me over from the front and back. My only thought then was that with two women twirling me around how was I going to hold and hid my then slowly elevating bulge. They solved that for me by doing something either out of consideration for my obvious embarrassment or to keep the jutting out knowledge to themselves. There was another side to their dance if a man didn’t get an erection. The woman would then dance him off the floor, seat him down, sit on his lap, put her arms around his neck and give him a thank you kiss. Those two would have felt what was occurring to me when moving close up against and slowly around me, so they danced my off the floor sandwiched in between them. Seating me down they both took turns to sit directly on my tented trousers that they were very aware of, and kissed me.

So to top that all off, the fantastic floats and parade of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, which was the best seen until experiencing the Carnervala in Rio de Janeiro. As that one also, there was not the slightest distinction between the cultures. It was full-blown lively and spicy and saucy displays when carnival fever made them all kick up their heels and let it all hang out. There wasn’t just one humongous party parade but events of them that included the best of the best in the Rex, Zulu and Mardi Gras Indians who all had different themes. Rex, which was the original Mardi Gras parade, featured the King of Carnival with all his entourage, established ornate floats and elaborately costumed walkers who not only did that but also drunk and danced to bands that accompanied them. Zulu was the liveliest parade with its float riders masquerading in woolly wigs and black-faces to depict the African American’s mockery of racial stereotypes, and they carried and threw to eager onlookers gold and black painted coconuts that was the most prized of Mardi Gras souvenirs in comparison to the bead strands, medallion and painted bangles of others that were thrown too. I too was in the thick of it screaming, jumping and pleading for those souvenirs as the thousands of other seeming crazy onlookers were doing, and there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have the satisfaction of receiving arm loads of bead strands whose colours and glitter swirled through the air around the floats. The Mardi Gras Indians took my thoughts all the way back to Athlone and my childhood days when non-whites masquerading as American Indians paraded through our streets. There was so much similarity, except that their customs were more elaborate in its beading and outrageous in feathered headdress that flowed and trailed. That’s where it ended though because the ‘tribes’ of New Orleans were also ‘Coloureds’ but American ones made up of small communities of African Americans and Creoles who had American Indians as ancestors. What was really thrilling and spectacular was when any of the tribes crossed paths they would stage a mock confrontation with all the whooping, drumming, prancing and brandishing of weapons that was an expected ritual. After all that I found there was nothing more relaxing than to kick back, listen to the jazz that flowed around me in Bourbon Street and indulgently imbibe in that known drink. Having been a jazz fan from way back saw my soul be rekindled with New Orleans Soul and Jazz, live. Fats Domino, singer piano man belting out ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. Little Richard, ‘Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom’ of pseudo-gibberish but what a performer. The essence of New Orleans ‘When the Saints go marching in’ by Satchmo, and his ‘Basin Street Blues’ as the supreme master of his instrument and singing.

Left New Orleans with a heavy heart again but didn’t know what was in store for our ship and its contingent. Havana in Cuba where cargo vessels loaded sugar and iron ore to deliver en route, had just become a Fidel Castro strong hold, and because of the situation there, South Africa that was not pro-communist was held in contempt. The Suppression of Communism Act introduced by the Afrikaner National Party outlawed the Communist Party of South Africa with a maximum ten years imprisonment, which didn’t sit well with Castro, so been in the wrong place at the wrong time meant that ships flying a South African flag were in jeopardy. Kept in Cuba, as a political protest, wasn’t pleasant if you were a white South African because they weren’t allowed shore leave, and Cuban soldiers armed to the hilt saw to that. If you were a dark skinned crew-member you were picked up at the gangway by army jeep and taken into town, but shore leave for the crew was eventually cancelled because of jealous officers. Nevertheless, their lives were almost cancelled when the army stormed the ship with guns bristling, herded them together and demanded our shore leave be restored with threats if it ever occurred again. The Cubans not only fêted the crew but also gave them the opportunity to claim political asylum, of which only two accepted though, one to get married and the other to join the army. Seaman always seemed to attract women in droves, either because of the fascination they found in your traveling around the world to exotic places or the fact that most seamen worth their salt had women in most ports and they want to be added to the list. Havana was no exception to the rule, and the constant hand rolled Cuban cigars supplied to us by the women was to facilitate having a crewman’s cigar in exchange. Those Latin women were lusty, hot, and insatiable and fiery, to the point of younger army women having confrontations with each other over crewman that at times when it got out of hand with cat-fights, they were kept in the army lockup to cool down. We were disappointed when the embargo was lifted and we had to sail from there back to Mobile with a load of sugar because of been under contract by the USA to ship it for them. However, because of our success there, which the American ships were restricted from, we were back in Havana quick smart. There was one time though when we were glad that we weren’t in Cuba. We were at sea in the Caribbean off the south coast of Florida when the ship received a priority message from American naval authorities. It had a warning attached to it to not venture within a certain specified sea area for a given duration or face the consequences. What we learned later was that there was a blockade of United States naval ships due to the ‘Cuban Missile Crises’ to deter the Soviet Union of shipping machinery and materials to Cuba for further installation of nuclear missile bases. One more trip to Mobile, then back to Havana to load iron ore, and with plenty of Cuban rum and cigars on board, which meant party time, we headed for Cape Town.

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Jazz in Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

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