How I Faced Fear

Fear can be defined as an unpleasant feeling emotion caused by the conviction that someone or something is going to cause you harm or pain. The following incident took place when I was quite a few years younger but is one that still resonates with me today.

The Palmiet Nature Reserve is located in Westville, Durban.

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The Professional Student

“Why spend the best three years of your life here when you can spend six?” Ben Coetzee* runs a hand through his dishevelled blonde hair. His enigmatic blue eyes stare intently into space as he recalls the negative impact marijuana has had on his academic career. His arms flex, the muscles rippling slightly as he stretches on the couch in his brand new flat. There are intricate scars embedded on the inside of his left arm but it is obvious they are self-created. Everything about him screams “messed up” but his courtesy and intellectual speak contrast this stunningly. The rolling paper, nail scissors, tobacco and other bits of his equipment lie scattered on the battered suitcase that serves as his coffee table.

 

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Ben Coetzee* deftly and skillfully rolls a joint

 

 

The Grahamstown-dweller has a gentle yet simultaneously rough demeanour. Coetzee has lived here for years. “It can get boring. I have to leave at least once a year otherwise it becomes insidious,” he concedes. His pale hands seem red and bruised at the knuckles but as he calmly begins the rolling process, they are steady and sure. His dress oozes casualness. The faded black jeans and beat-up boots are almost emblematic of his rough past. “I was being bullied all the time at school so when someone offered to sell me weed, I bought it. I was having a weird experience with pain and pleasure at the time and the drug seemed to take away that pain, temporarily,” he said.

 

Coetzee recalls how hectic the drug abuse got when he came to Rhodes, how he continuously skipped lectures just to sit alone in his residence room getting high, as an act of escapism. “I wouldn’t accept that I was having an identity crisis,” he said. “The weed became my medicine but I began to get bad grades. I lost a lot of friends and hurt many people. I guess I just got very lazy and stopped working.”

 

The twenty-three year old humanities student has failed at least one subject every year he has been at Rhodes University. Studies have shown that persistent use of the drug cannabis has adverse effects on the brain’s memory, learning and impulse control. Other results include mild euphoria, pain relief and in rare instances, delusions or hallucinations. Coetzee is aware of these consequences but admits he has become reliant on the drug. “If I had worked harder, I’d be out of here by now but then I would have never met the love of my life. I don’t think I was ready to go out into the world,” he said without a trace of regret on his serene face.

 

The “professional student”, as he jokingly refers to himself, confesses that his other extramural activities include hiking, rock climbing, writing and spending time with his friends. Despite his addiction to weed and the surface association this has with raves and clubbing, Coetzee says he doesn’t really go out much. “The partying is a bit much here. I prefer to talk to people, to listen to good music, drink wine and get stoned,” he explains.

 

Coetzee is currently making up a few credits and will hopefully complete his undergraduate degree at the end of this year. He used to dream of joining the military or police force but he realised that he would rather become an academic. He has vague plans of travelling to Korea to teach English in the next few years but other than that seems content with the life he leads. “I’m loved and I’m free. Everything has worked out well for me. I feel positive,” he says.

 

The snipping of weed seeds and stalks in a small shot glass echoes loudly in the quiet room. He deftly measures out some of the tobacco onto the pre-prepared rolling paper. His fingers gracefully smooth it out evenly and he carefully rolls it, the art so familiar to him, it has become a ritual. His tongue sweeps across the edge of the joint and seals it as though it were a kiss to a lover. The flicker of the lighter burns hauntingly in the dimly lit space. Coetzee takes a pull like he’s breathing in a breath from depths the sober cannot comprehend and exhales. The pungent smoke curves in curlicues of relief.

 

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Two rolled joints lie waiting to be smoked among the debris of their conception

Sensations

 

The heat was a tangible force in the surrounding air. Insects hummed busily and the oppressive sun beat down on my bare arms and legs. The faded grass seemed to be gradually wilting in the sweltering air. I brushed sweaty strands of frizzy hair from my eyes as I trekked into the abandoned ruins of what was once someone’s home.

 

The stark, white walls contrasted the savage tone of the graffiti that was haphazardly strewn on the inside of the little building. None of the artistry seemed to be related suggesting that it had been done by different people. I found the images of two shadowy people to be the most striking. Everywhere was quiet but even silence has a sound of its own. In the near distance Grahamstown lay sprawled like a lazy, outstretched dog.

 

I stared up at the sky through the roofless house and watched the expanse of endless blue. A strange feeling encompassed me, I felt peaceful. I knew that just a few roads away, people were carrying on with their daily routines and bustling about (or rather slogging damply through the heat).

 

It was isolated in this windowless and open room. My eyes squinted in the intense light of a 9am morning and my feet already felt claustrophobic in my sneakers. I had dressed coolly but that didn’t seem to make any difference.

 

This is what it would feel like to be lost in the desert somewhere without water, your tongue sticking to the roof of your mouth and inhaling dry, searing breaths of air. I could envisage it so clearly, stumbling in the sand, delirious with thirst under the unrelenting pulsing of the African sun.

 

Snapping out of my reverie, I gave the desolate building one last glance and then walked down the hill, reluctant to re-enter reality.