Sunday, 3 May 2015

You are one of us

There is something about pilgrimages, about being on the long road with a certain goal that appeals to my inner wild child. Travelling, moving somewhere out of the ordinary, means breaking away (at least for a while)  from responsibilities. My mother and I have road-tripped together most often, so it is hard for me to hear about her driving alone to fetch my gran in Jeffrey's Bay. It is hard not being there, not helping to pack the car, not taking the longer shifts. I know the road they are taking: Jansenville, Graaff-Reinet, Middelburg, Colesberg, Bloemfontein. When driving down from Pretoria my grandmother would call at intervals, asking where we were, calculating how fast we were reaching each milepost along the road.

The family was trekking into the heart of the country for a reunion of epic proportions. Cousins, great-cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone related in some way, everyone wanting to see how the others had changed. Underneath it all a current of familiar strife, people having fallen out and not spoken to one another in years. This frustrates me extremely. My cousin Emce calls me 'kwaai katjie' and the other day my mother and grandmother laughed as they said I was a 'kwaaitjie kabouter' (it translates into an angry kitten and an angry little gnome). They say this without listening. I am angry, it is true, but at them, for never talking about anything. Avoiding conflict and pretending at everything being a-ok runs in their veins, with the end result being no one talking to one another. If we do not speak about it, it is not happening.

I fully understand that not everyone wants to talk at length about their feelings. We are not on Freud's couch, there is no need for psychoanalysis. But I will insist on honesty. I will insist on making things a-ok, on working at it, instead of feigning ignorance at the problems in our midst. They do not understand this being-far-away-thing. I appreciate the videos, the voice messages, the photographs of togetherness being sent over social media more than they know. I thank the Gods for WhatsApp and FaceTime. Yet the sentence "When are you coming for a visit?" stresses me, because I have no answer. I don't know if or when I'll come back. Personal aspirations clash with familiar desires, wanting to see more with wanting to be there.

It won't be an easy choice, when I eventually make it. It won't be a permanent one, probably. But it will mean more years in far away places, not coming to Sunday lunches, Christmas dinners or helping to drive the long road. It means building a life so apart form them that I fear at some point the voice notes will stop, the photographs won't be shared, and I will no longer be one of them.

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