Durbs (Durban to the uninitiated) is big. Coming in through the extensive industrial sections of town, I realised it was much larger than the sleepy beachside city I had imagined. Sam was happy. Big city equals fast internet, which indeed proved to be the case. We spent a fairly relaxed couple of days recharging, reorganising packs and shopping, as well as biking down the magnificent beachfront boulevard filled with skateboarders, tut-tut drivers, buskers and surf-wetted bodies, black, brown and white. A marching band went by, with dancing teenage Zulu warriors following them. Noise and colour split the high rise from the sand and surf.click tab to read further

Sam and I visited an impressive aquarium and some great Indian markets and shopping districts. Durbs has the largest Indian population outside of India, with 1.5 million people of Indian descent in and around the city. This used to include Sam’s teacher at De La Salle College, Mr Ramdutt, before he emigrated to Australia years ago.

Fittingly, at the hostel, a white South African man who provided meals for the backpackers, Etienne, was offering an Indian feast for dinner, so I decided to sign Sam and me up. When I spoke to him, he asked what was the story with Sam, having seen him bounce and flap around the lounge room earlier.

‘He’s on the autism spectrum,’ I said.

‘Oh, I love autistic people!’

That’s not a reaction you normally get. I liked Etienne.

‘Really? Why?’ I asked.

‘They think outside of the square. They are the ones that think of things other people don’t think of. The person who invented fire, or whoever invented the wheel, they could well have been autistic.’

At the excellent dinner, Sam was pushed for the first time into eating Indian food. This was a big leap for him, given the aromatic nature of the cuisine. Etienne gently encouraged and supported him through that first taste of a beef curry. He conceded to Sam that using your fingers was OK when eating Indian, as long as you ate with your right hand and you did it in a certain way. He showed him how; on the end of the middle fingers and push forward with the back of the thumb. I was stunned and proud Sam was able to do this.

Thank you Etienne.