Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Don't worry yourself

It snowed. 31 of March and it snowed.
The crocuses had bloomed. I had gone to sunnier places with just a thin leather jacket.
It had become seasonally warm (or what goes for warm in this cold place).
Now this. Still wearing your wintercoat in April is not ok. Really, I cannot handle this drabness much longer. Before, I had complained about the weather being too hot, about the sweat underneath my legs making them stick to leathery surfaces when sitting down, about fearing sunburn and being swallowed by the heat at all times. Now I long for any true heat, not this manufactured air coming from the heater under my window. I want to swelter.

In the meantime, a little Fink goes a long way.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


What a lovely day spent walking around the harbour and discussing life.
As I was heading home I noticed everyone walking their dogs, and it made me really miss mine. He has been dead for 3 years already, and yet sometimes I miss his extreme affability and good-naturedness. I miss the thick white hair, the cold black nose and black eyes. I miss the hard skin of his feet and the too-long nails scratching on the wooden floors.

A few years back I impulsively took out Animal Poems (edited by John Hollander), and in it found a poem about an old Cocker Spaniel by Robert Penn Warren that was poignantly beautiful:

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


One day last week was filled with my people. My far-away people. Somehow it lined up wonderfully and I caught up with various friends and family, hearing about their everyday, chatting about silly and not-so-silly things. These are the moments where I think: hmm, maybe, when the end of this M comes, you should go back. They are all there. You could make something of yourself there.

I should probably get rid of the binary oppositions that I see as 'here' and 'there', as being 'far' or 'near', since they aim at differentiating emotions into clear, definable sets of rules. But this situation is not so clear. It is not so easy. Everything changes, evolves, into a different beast, but the same heart beats at the centre of it all. 

I read Why I’m Moving Back To South Africa by Jonny Steinberg, and could relate very well to some of his reasons for returning to the motherland. South Africa is hands coming from the earth and grounding you, keeping you, irrespective of where you might go. Despite the violence, the corruption, the load shedding, despite everything that is bad and that makes you want to love it less, it always pulls you back in. We leave to build lives in other places, safer places, and yet I feel as though elsewhere it is precisely this safety that frustrates me. 

Of course it is wonderful to walk home by myself at 4 in the morning. Public transport is a blessing. The currency having value equally so. But nothing is risked. Life consists of insuring yourself against the possibility of something bad happening. Everyone has their own hardships to deal with, and I realise that here all I see is the exterior of a house that I did not build, but it seems that people live such comfortable lives. They are afforded the luxury of not having to worry about survival since all the insurances are a bubble wrap for bad times. And yet they still worry, still bicker, still constantly criticize a system that to a foreign eye seems to work despite it being a bureaucratic nightmare. 

Steinberg writes: 
I can take in the washed-out light and the expanse of green and I can feel melancholy or light or get lost in private thoughts. But the people who pass are wafer thin. I cannot imagine who they are. It doesn’t matter enough. There is too little at stake. I am in essence alone.

This is complaining at a higher level, I know this. I know that I am privileged to be able to study here, to receive support from the government, to live unafraid and not be as suspicious of strangers. I know that my friends here are good people; I know that this is a good life. And yet there is an undercurrent of not risking anything. I need risk to know that what I am doing is worth doing. If there is no chance of failure, how will you know to work as hard as possible at something? It is asking "what sort of life is worth living".

 Steinberg concludes:
That is what going home means for me. It is to stand outside myself and watch my bourgeois life prodded and pushed and buffeted around by lives quite unlike my own. It is to surrender myself to a world so much bigger than I am and to the destiny of a nation I cannot control. In this surrender is an expansion, a flowering, of what it means to be alive.
At this moment, I am not returning home. In 6 months, perhaps. Or in 4 years. But at this moment, I also know that not going home is not an option in the search for a life worth living.

(The irony of me posting an ad by an insurance company that exemplifies SA when I complain about Germany being over insured)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Trusty and True

When the tears come I reach out to my mother.
No matter how far away she is, I have never doubted her, never felt alone, never felt like there was an obstacle that I could not face. She is the one to talk me down from the metaphorical ledge.
My mother is magnificent.

Since today is International Women's Day, I thought a bit about practically having been raised solely by impressive women, all with hardships of their own, and all with infinite capacities to love, to share and to support one another.

My Afrikaans grandmother is a very tough nut to crack. She is unyielding, unaffectionate and at times annoyingly unwilling to accept other worldviews beside her own. Then again, she is 86 now, and despite all her flaws she came back when others left. My ouma might fail when it comes to expressing love directly, and yet she tries, in her own way. She multitasks when reading books, she knows how to preserve any kind of fruit, and she can garden like no other. Although I have felt her to be disappointing in her persistence on old ways of thought, it must be crippling to be slipping constantly nearer to dementia. Perhaps when you can't remember if you have eaten it is comforting to remember your own childhood, your deceased husband, the better times of past memories relived in this unmemorable present. As much as her cracks have started showing ever clearer, she has been there, and her tiny, shrunken body crumbles even further when the time for departure arrives. And despite all her mistakes I have no other ouma.

When my ouma went home after a few months of staying with us, our cleaning lady Rosina stepped in. She was a lady in her late 50s/early 60s with patches of white skin that appeared in between the brown. Rosina always arrived dressed very smartly (after having taken the bus and taxi from Shoshanguve for what amounts to two hours if I remember correctly) and she came by twice a week. The highlight was coming home to her mashed potatoes and green beans. When I was still prepubescent she would meet me at the robot and we would walk home together. Rosina must have seen so much of the tiny intricacies and difficulties in our household, and yet I know nothing really of hers. I seem to remember a husband that was no longer present, and her sister's kids playing a role. When I was done with school she retired, and I have not seen her since. Strange (and worthy of closer investigation) how many white children have been raised (in part) by black (or coloured or Indian) women, and then how the children distanced themselves from their caretaker (their surrogate mother even) as soon as they would reach an age where racial division would appear to be socially imperative.

My sister is the fourth impressive woman, even though I think she does not trust her own capabilities at times. Over the years we have had epic fights and disagreements. We have lived separate lives while living in the same house. But she is also the one who drove me around before I had a licence, who let me borrow her ID before I was 18 to get into clubs, who has shared uncomfortable single beds with me whilst travelling, and who has offered advice I actually took. Whereas I will feel brazenly, openly (and often stupidly), my sister has a calmer, more rational demeanor that is hard to shake (although at times I would very much like to shake her until she actually tells me how she feels).

Besides these four admirable women there have been wonderful female friends whose influence I am very grateful for. They are all passionate, intelligent, embracing and I have a great respect for how each of them has faced /is facing the big, unplanned events that make life just a bit harder than it needs to be.

In that spirit, to all the women that have raised me and all the ones that keep enriching my life, I thank you for being phenomenal.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.