Monday, 30 June 2014

Safe and Sound

Somehow, you find your way in a new place. You get lost, often, in the beginning, but after a while you figure out which bus to take, where to buy your groceries, when market day is and which club you should not go to, ever again (I'm looking at you, Phono. That name should have been a hint). You develop a routine with roads walked and people seen on a daily basis, because after all you have chosen to be here for some time so you might as well burrow yourself into a niche and make yourself comfortable. It becomes the home you speak of when you go home after a day at the university or drinks with friends. 

And yet, it is not. This cloudy place is not home. Although beautiful, this city with its harbour and beaches and friendly people does not make me want to stay longer than needed. I miss sunsets where cherries and strawberries blend with peach colours as you drive home. I miss seeing the stars (or just a cloudless sky for that matter). I miss the ladies that pack the grocery bags. I miss fruit that smells like fruit and not simply like nothing. I miss Hunter's Dry. I miss Woolworths. I miss road trips, weekend adventures and dancing to good electronic music. I miss the heat, the food and the people. 

This onslaught of nostalgia and Heimweh has a source: my people came to visit, and with them the language, the habits and the memories of home. My mother and sister were here for only a week but their presence had a lasting effect. Perhaps it is the time of the year, with the semester coming to a close and my plane ticket taking me home being only a month away. I am pretty certain that home will not be home, or not the one I remember. The house we have lived in for the past 20 years has been sold to a young family. My sister lives and works in a different city. My friends have moved to cities far away, have started new jobs and new relationships, everyone has made everyday choices which I have not been privy to but which have marked them ever so slightly. In turn, my choices here have influenced me as well. 

W. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Summing Up that "we are not the same persons this year as last ; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person." (I've quoted this previously). It is this sentiment that I cling to, it is this that I am homesick for: although the cities change, although we choose different paths, although my mother's house is no longer hers it is this environment that formed me. I long for this illusion of 'home', the 'home' of my past because it constitutes my foundation. It is the habits I have assimilated from my family, it is the new friendships I am willing to invest time in because I know what good, old friends are and it is the security of being unguarded in front of people who will not reject you.  

In some way I see this homesickness as the symptom of another little crisis, as one of those things that life throws your way unexpectedly at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday. I am sloth-like here, unhappy with being unproductive for a university that asks nothing of you, and unhappy for then not challenging myself. I could be reading, I could be writing that novel, I could be doing things that other, working people no longer have time for. Instead I languish on my bed, watching mindless series and sinking deeper into to-do lists I don't do. 

This is my fault, naturally. Blogging today is a start. Reading something for classes after this will be another. Getting away from the screen, from the foolish distractions of facebook and 9gag, taking charge of my time again is where I put my faith in. So I'll start. I'll make myself some rooibos tea, dunk one of the rusks my mom baked and brought, and start focusing again. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

My happiness

I tend to add a 'but' to everything I do, always questioning whether whatever it was was good enough, perpetually in search of something just a teeny little bit better, closer to perfection.

Wednesday was just that: perfection. After class a friend and I went to the beach to tan, with the light rays warming up the sweet lingering smell of coconut in my suntan lotion. There was a slight breeze, just enough to keep us cool as we were sautéing ourselves in the sun, and the faint clinginess of salt water on our skin felt like being on vacation without it being holiday time. We were unhurried, unstressed, not worrying about echoes of anxiety that seem to catch me at unguarded moments.

Then four of us roadtripped to Hamburg, as we were attending different concerts there. Nele and I headed to The National playing in the Stadtpark Freilichtbühne, which is an open air stage in an enormous park. Since my last years at school The National have been a musical emotional support system. Whenever not so happy times arose, I'd play Fake Empire, and as they released new albums Runaway and Fireproof joined the top 25 songs that my iPod plays. Their music to me is representative of the melancholy, awkward darkness that we all fall prey to at times and wallow in slightly, but which we then overcome after a glass of wine with friends or a good nights sleep.

It is hard to say why this concert was so wonderful. They are not a band where you dance excessively and they don't have an impressive light show or background visuals. Nonetheless, Nele and I were smiling the whole way through. There is something in the songs that pulls you along, that makes you swing slowly from side to side, that talks to you more than bigger, louder, dancier tracks do. The best moment was the final one: throughout the day the heavens had darkened, with heavy rain clouds rolling in over the venue. Not until the last last song did it start to rain ever so softly though: the band had come to the absolute front of the stage and sung a heartfelt stripped-down rendering of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks as the crown chanted along and the droplets hung as if momentarily frozen in the air.

Absolute perfection.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014


My ma stuur vir my poësie uit die moederland.


My naakte siel wil sonder skrome
in alle eenvoud tot jou gaan,
soos uit diepe slaap ons drome,
soos teen skemerlug die bome
opreik na die bloue maan;

gaan met al sy donker wense,
en die heilige, nooit-gehoorde
dinge sê, waarvoor die mense
huiwer, en wat om die grense
flikker van my duister woorde.

~NP van Wyk Louw

Sunday, 1 June 2014


Yesterday I woke to dozens (hundreds?) of boats leaving the harbour at the same time. At the moment the Rum Regatta is taking place and it is a sea of masts when I look outside. When we were little and living in Geneva, my mother booked a summer sailing course for my sister and me. It was horribly traumatic. I think my sister did everything as I sat somewhere in the little boat praying for us to go slower. Somehow my sister must have been really good at sailing or interpreting the wind or whatever it was that made our boat speed away from the little group of about 10 tiny sailboats. But that is where my sailing experience started and ended.

Now I have the best view in town and can watch what happens on the water without getting out of my pajamas. After having lived far away from any great body of water for most of my life, it is quite a change to have it at my doorstep: when we don't have class and the weather is sunny, we'll head to the beach to tan and swim. When I go for a walk, I walk around the harbour and watch others strolling along the water's edge. Somehow, it is life at a different pace, not measured in kilometers but knots.

Red Bull Student Boat Battle