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Breakfast and gravity

By: Gerhard Oosthuizen 2014-07-30 18:00

Breakfast and Gravity

We eat in silence. Mostly because some are hungry but also because we cannot understand each other. At least some of us. I am amazed that the guys are eating in such a controlled manner. If I did not eat or drink for almost 15 hours I would attack the food with much more enthusiasm.

They all sit flat on the floor. My rugby knees make it difficult so I sit on a small cushion. Five Arabs, one Pakistani, one Bangladeshi and a Boer. We are breaking the fast. Breakfast. I still struggle to associate the term with eating at night but breakfast is breakfast. The food is put on a plastic sheet on the floor. Vegetable soup in bowls, samosas in small plates. Different varieties of bread and things resembling meat pies. Custard and jelly. Sweet artificial juice and dates complete the display.

Majid invited me in the morning to come to breakfast. His English consists of “Good morning sir, how are you sir, fine sir, welcome sir.” My Arabic is a bit more advanced but still don’t allow a conversation, so Shahab, the tea boy is invited to translate in the unlikely event of us not understanding each other. Tea boy, but officially the office assistant, Shahab is a sweet and tragic figure, like most of the Asians working here to scrape together some money to hopefully retire one day. Majid invites me from time to time and then his father, who mostly stays in the desert with the camels, insists I tell stories about Africa. Mohammed, the Pakistani accountant also joined the party but his Arabic is also thinly spread. He is however the one that explains the significance of the whole ritual to me. I have a fair understanding of what is going on but I always try to stay clear of any discussion about religion. Try to keep me head on.

So when I asked why I am invited to the breakfast Mohammed explains to me that the person who invites me gets more points. More points? Yes. For every prayer, for every good deed and all the rest you score points. You have to tick the boxes. As you go on, you determine your destiny. Some prayers are worth more than others and in some places like in Makkah even more. Being an accountant Mohammed makes sense of this balance sheet. For me it is very difficult. What I do know is that it puts me in a powerful position. By inviting me people can score points.

One by one they finish the meal and leave without a word. They go to the mosque opposite the house. The pray session is like a marathon during Ramadan.

Later we move to the room next door and I can hear the women and children coming into the dining room to finish what we have left. We drink Arabic coffee and sweet tea. The room is sparsely furnished, with the usual autumn colored carpet and wall cushions. A lot of red and even more gold. Yellow painted walls decorated with figures that resemble female genitalia. To each his own. The Al Dosary family is very fond of having me over even though we cannot speak to each other. Outside the call to prayer echoes through the street. A lively debate started in Arabic about my beard. Long and grey it sometimes caused hilarious misunderstandings, provoked by mischievous hints. I don’t know how much, but a lot of credits are on offer for converting me. Since I look halve the thing, it is probably an entertaining prospect.

A couple of years ago for no particular reason, or for a very particular reason, an infinitely small, infinitely heavy and infinitely dense piece of nothing exploded. A couple of years later a planet formed and here we are. Contemplating religion, Gods and ticking the boxes.

Let me first state for the record that I am a simple person, uneducated and probably biased. However, I sometimes wonder about things.

For reasons I don’t understand, particles attract each other. For the same reason there is something called electromagnetism. These two things apparently make everything possible. It makes it possible to talk, to think and to enjoy our food and beer. Without these two things nothing would exist. I once asked a well-educated person how these things work and how we actually know it is really true. The answer was more confusing than the question. The answer lies in mathematics and science. Since you cannot throw the whole book at somebody, you just have to believe it. It is just not practical to start by proofing that zero is actually a number even though it has no value and then work all the way through the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics to understanding this small piece of nothing. Very confusing. Just believe. I heard that before.

So if particles attract to form matter and if electromagnetism provides energy it leads to the idea that if you leave this cauldron brew for a while, anything is possible. Leave it alone for a couple of years and you have intelligent creatures. Now I always struggle to understand a million. It is a lot. If you come from the Bushmanland and you get overwhelmed by 45 000 people at Newlands, a million is difficult to understand. However, if a tiny change happens every few years and you let it go on for a couple of million years or even billions of years, anything is probably possible to come from that. You just have to believe it. And be patient. Don’t try to understand everything and don’t try to have answers to questions you don’t understand.

On our way back home Mohammed asked me about Christianity. Not being a good campaigner, it is difficult but I tried to give generic answers. I asked about Islam and peace. Now, this is a difficult one for me. Who knows the truth? Each and every person claims that he or she has the truth and the only truth. This is a popular line when I ask about peace and Jihad. Because I am not educated it is difficult to understand that Mohammed’s version is the right one. Maybe you just have to believe it. Anyway, I suppose I am not destined to understand these things. Like gravity. Why? Why do particles attract? Like why is there a God or not? Believe? Difficult.

Apparently the universe is big. I remember that I once heard that any fraction of infinity is also infinite. It makes sense to me. Now I don’t know how big exactly, but I understand that light travels fast and if I can believe that one plus one is two, the universe is close to infinite. So it leads me to believe that there is other intelligence elsewhere. If they started a few years before us, say a hundred years, or even a thousand years, they may know a few things we don’t. For arguments sake, let us give them a million more years of contemplating, pondering and development. They may just know why particles attract. Without having to simply believe everything started in a bang. Knowing.

At the gate the security guard summons me to the gate-house. His English consists of “yes, no and Coke.” That is enough to meet the purpose. More minimalistic than Majid’s, but breakfast is breakfast. Dates, juice and yogurt. Good enough to fill the body and to tick the boxes. Since I realize now how powerful I am and how much points inviting me scores, I ate the dates with new insight. Yogurt and dates actually go together quite well. Coffee in a small cup and sweet tea send me on my merry way of thinking about Rosemary and thinking about the Law. I wish I was Bob Dylan. It may help to sing a song about these things. “Sad eyed lady of the lowlands” or something like that. “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.” Something sad and provocative. Something that can just blow away in the wind. Something that can liberate the mind.

If, just if, we can spend some more time thinking about these things we may come up with an answer that leads us to have a better idea about God than what we have now. What we have now sounds a bit stupid. Just believe? Maybe because I’m not educated, but it is difficult to understand how people can say with conviction there is a god or not. Just maybe we don’t understand why particles attract. Maybe, just maybe we don’t understand a billion years. I am just wondering. I listened to people who fiercely believe and not believe. They use the same techniques to convince you of the stupidity of the other. They all use extreme examples to point out how stupid other people are. Stereotype the other as belonging to a certain type of stupidity. At the same time we all lack empathy. Just eat the flippen food and let them score the points.

At home I wonder about my newly found status. I also regret the times I turned down invitations to breakfast, not realizing what I stole from the gracious person who invited me. Somehow I have to figure out how gravity pushes and pulls to position you just about right to tick the box.

I also wonder if we will ever be able to know if there is a God or not. Even though I don’t understand why we have gravity it makes it possible to exist. Maybe God is more complex that the prisoner of religion. Maybe something more scientific and less mythical. Or not.

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