And so the end of an amazing and exhausting adventure and Home beckons
‘Home’ to friends who mean the world to me and know me to my core and still chose me. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
“Home is where the heart is”, is for me, too simplistic.
Perhaps there comes a time when one must just accept – ‘Home’ isn’t always there for everyone. Fate conspires for many, and quite arbitrarily it seems, to confound the idea of ‘Home’ – whether through physical loss or rejection .
When we look at returning to the old ‘Home’ or staying in the new, Lady Macbeth comes to mind : ‘Returning were as tedious as go o’er’; so we end up with a foot in each camp – a wobbly somewhere.
Precious memories and links to our old ‘Home’ that keep us chained by a golden thread and special loving kind friends in our new ‘Home’ where we try to create memories that are spun too of golden thread – all very fragile.
I see it in my girls, in quiet moments when the earth is still – a certain look, a longing to ‘belong’, to be part of the rituals of a ‘Home’ – celebrations, mournings, laughing, weeping. I see it and I know it – it’s been my search too.
The joy of seeing my special ‘old friends’ will always be tempered by the knowledge that I must say good bye to them again
And That sadness will be softened by the knowledge that I will see my daughters and my new dear friends
And still we’re luckier than some – I met some Rwandans who have no threads at all – who got married with strangers celebrating with them – who could not go back to visit old friends and who have to start new traditions – alone
And that’s just for starters ….. Syrians, Somalis, Iraqis, Afghanis, seems
Home is certainly not available to everyone 😥 so perhaps in this life it must be after all wherever the heart is, pending the next place of rest ❤️
Thanks Uganda , Rwanda and Kenya for a great experience
I have found it difficult, this time, to write about this Home. It was easy to write impressions and feelings of the other countries – I had no emotional history with or high hopes of them.
But South Africa – the country of my birth, the place I still think of as home.
This visit is painful –
Of course there is the usual ‘craziness’ of this country- driving off the freeway at Turfontein on a Sunday morning I am confronted by Bakkie (read ute) stopped diagonally across the exit – no wheels ; just sitting there (not sure for how long past or into future 😂) so that if one wasn’t concentrating (well actually if you weren’t concentrating you wouldn’t have made it this far on a Jhb road 😂) you too would find yourself stopped on the exit; with your nose (bonnet) well dented.
The story of trying to leave the airport where lifts fail, ticket machines won’t take your money and at each attempt to pay increases the amount due by R20😜
until my parking ticket was R175 instead of R25 and still it refused my money or card and finding someone interested enough to help!
The garage attendant still offers me a broad grin and happy conversation; the beggars still crowd round my car each time I stop anywhere and now the faces are truly our rainbow nation whereas in the past they were monochromely dark.
Woolworths still tempts the eye as it has always done with an array of food like I have never seen in Oz.
You still have to stand in line at the post office and bank forever and you don’t ever want to have to query a rates or lights and water bill – none of us will live long enough to get it resolved 😜
But now there is something more. As I sat in church today Alan Paton came to mind. I haven’t read that book since I was at school – don’t really recall the details – but again I hear people
‘Crying for their Beloved Country’
This is a country in pain –
a country whose leader will let his people sink, drown ,die; All his people to preserve himself.
A country that seems to be turning on itself – youth destroying universities -their vehicle to economic freedom
Black students attacking the very white students who fought for their equality : the most violent threats that I won’t repeat, made to fellow students.
Respected public figures being muzzled, charged on vague accusations.
There is a groaning and a feeling of ‘end times’ that is immensely sad and frightening.
And then there is the ‘normality’ of life which continues, as it must, I suppose. The conversations around our tables go back and forth, concern, shoulder shrugging, hope, despair.
And, as an ‘outsider’, sitting in on this I remember a very old movie : Ship of Fools (1965) and a line from it ; Rhulman, “There are one million Jews in Germany, are they going to kill us all?”
And I’m not sure why it comes to mind, but like Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country – something in me has shifted being here this time, and I can’t find the optimism and joy I used to see.
Add to that the severe drought –
this country feels like it is in pain –
real gut wrenching pain
A week back ‘Home’ and I’m safely ensconced in ‘the bubble’.
I read the papers daily and make the appropriate sounds of indignation, anger, sadness but the Emotion which is engaged is one of resignation and mild detachment.
I meet my friends, enjoy the exchange rate that makes eating out easy – ( although the cost of living is much higher than previous visits)
We worry about the drought – but as an intellectual observation because ‘we have a borehole for our garden’
I see past the beggars, looking ahead at the robots (lights) as though there was
something very significant about them that demands my total attention.
I drive like a local – aggressively, fast (as opposed to Very fast which is the norm and I am sure my next step) always alert to ‘the possible’ – hi jacking, window smashing theft etc.
I feel the hair rise on my arms and my breathe tighten as someone suddenly stops, swerves in front of me, drops a stone onto my windscreen (and I nearly didn’t pay the extra for insurance 😂), appears unexpectedly alongside my window – and then enjoy that strange sensation as your body realises all is well and slowly reverts to ‘normal’
I’m back, like the proverbial frog and the hot water story, to normal enjoying this still remarkable country
Like ‘Home,’ ‘Normal’ is a question of definition 😜😂
120km/hr here is more an indication than a speed limit – it allows one to work out how long it will take to get, for example from Port Elizabeth to Port Alfred – 170km = 1.5 hours give or take.
It does not mean you don’t exceed 120 – rather if you get to 150/160 you may think of slowing down a little 😳
I am driving a little white car – looks very cute and has a radio, blue tooth and air conditioning but I’m not sure if it has a complete engine😂😂.
At 80km/hr I find myself clutching the steering wheel to hold it in place, at 85km/hr I feel as though the wheels may separate from the chassis and make for a very interesting story. ( as opposed perhaps to the current story )
Feeling a little like those elderly people behind the wheel of their snail paced cars, I crawled up every hill – and there were quite a few, and rolled down the others too. The only time I felt like I could hold my own on the road was when I drove through a klein dorp (small town) where the speed limit dropped to 60km 😂😂
Otherwise I obeyed the unwritten rule (is there such a thing?) of pulling into the left yellow lane; at which point the car behind me – and there always was one, and then another, would pass me with a gracious flash of hazard lights to thank me and I would offer an equally gracious dipping of my headlights to thank them for thanking me!!!
This passing I might add did not take into account any solid white lines – I was in the yellow- they passed, regardless of the road markings 😂😂
And so we navigated our way through the rules of the road to suit ourselves – and today at least – it worked.
With patience and lots of pedalling I made it to Port Alfred, which is at sea level, grateful I didn’t have this car in Johannesburg (6 000 ft above sea level) or I may still be driving back from the airport!
I wait with interest to see how my car and I relate on an equally long drive to Steytlerville
Warning : not for readers without sense of humour 😜😂
Driving a manual car is a little like love making. There is a remarkable degree of sensitivity involved. The left and right feet and indeed legs, need to work in harmony; all senses have to be alert to the slightest change in vibration, sound or heaven forbid shudder. In the case of either of the first two, an immediate response is called for – but not a violent one mind you or you will jerk to an comfortable halt with all sorts of possible unpleasant consequences 😂😂 not the least of which is start again. (See what I mean about the similarity ?😢). No, it requires a subtle but timely back and forth, up and down movement with again all senses involved, hands included to negotiate an onward motion towards one’s destination. So it has been with my little white cars for the last two weeks. Each looks pretty much the same; four wheels, steering wheel, in other words all the working parts look pretty much the same but don’t let that fool you. Just as I imagine 😜 in the case of ‘the lovers’ – all parts look like they should work the same way. But there’s the catch – the subtle variations leave me floundering if, for one moment I ignore This particular car. That one may have responded to a quick sharp change but don’t try that on this one – a slow duet, one foot waiting for the other to engage, and then again a different rhythm for the next white car 😂😂😂 Imagine my language issues with 5 cars in two weeks!!!! No wonder I find myself single 😳 At least though, I find myself still alive – because you see I have discovered I am not the only one with ‘Umweldt’ Luckily it would appear others on the road have been gifted too. So that when my love language fails me and my car lurches violently forward (yup you got the idea) like when you’ve eaten something bad – it just keeps lurching again and again in a forward direction and I can only hang on and wait for it to stop, or when the robot (lights) change and all those behind me are ready to move forward – I find again I used the wrong language : well failed to use any language at all forgetting it wasn’t automatic and not noticing it had retreated into silent protest and I don’t move an inch. So just as I imagine 😜 would be the case with ‘the lover’, there is first confusion, then disbelief that such a stupid thing could sabotage, then irritation, because there is after all only one person to blame (in this case me) and then the the deep breathe Begin again 🤔and give thanks for that Umweldt all around me as others anticipate my gymnastics –
Why Steytlerville ? Why Here? (As opposed to somewhere else)
A dear friend of mine has given up a lucrative, busy medical practice in The City of Gold (Johannesburg ) to throw his lot in with 130 Europeans in this little town at the end of a road in The Karoo ( for my ausie friends – read desert 😳)
And so I came to see why.
I get it – as I sit on a bench on the main road which is wide enough to turn an ox wagon in. Eating a vetkoek ( too difficult to explain to my ausie friends😜) and drinking rooibos tea. And strangely with Hillsong – cornerstone playing in the background .
There is an occasional car that goes back and forth – because back and forth is all one can do since no roads lead anywhere 😜 except to the local township or a private farm.
Two (yes 2) funeral parlours. One of which promises excellent service ( but doesn’t make clear whether in this world or the next) – the other makes no promises in either 😃
Three general handelaars which sell everything from wool ( but no knitting needles) to generators and koeksusters.
Which brings me to language –
Neither English nor Afrikaans are spoken here – but that delicious mix of them both which seems to unite the groups (in an unconscious way) and makes me long to be back living here.
Everyone greets me – not that that means hundreds of greetings, interpret rather tens of greetings. And I am definitely now ”n tannie’ – for my Ozzie friends – a greeting reserved for your elders – a mark of age, respect and implied wisdom!!!!!
Not quite the celestial reverence accorded my ‘Dr Dave’ as we strolled through town yesterday evening though -,”aand Doktor’ was the call from every stoep, evening walker, child playing , teenager loitering – no one can remember when there was a resident doctor in Steytlerville !!!!!!! and without ever having met him or consulted him- he is applauded by then for just being here.
We had a roast leg of lamb for dinner yesterday – the gift of a patient and Dave invited local farmers to join us. Between vast quantities of whiskey and beer we talked in our mutual blend of languages, late into the night before the reality of a pre dawn start forced us all to bed.
A constant struggle to overcome weather and labour issues makes a farmers life here a tough one.
Time moves differently here – could it be :
the light, a bright blue that sparkles , or the stars – millions of them breathtakingly shimmering,
the one long road that leads nowhere,
the river that once washed the bridge
away, not once but three times and hasn’t had a drop of water flow through it for some thirty years
the people who have chosen to move slowly, stopping to talk, taking time to listen, talking to their chickens, thriftily watering precious vegetables, sharing more generously than one is used to in the city?
Or am I romanticising a town on struggle street – time will tell as Dr Dave settles into Steytlerville ……
No sensible person would set off into the Karoo (desert) without checking their fuel would they?
I did 😟😟😟
And here I am – 50km to go to Willowmore – another dot on the map
On a strip road (single lane) on a quarter of a tank of fuel 😢
Needless to say, the air conditioning is off , and it is desert heat ☀️☀️☀️🔥🔥; a rumbling 80 km/hr has been reduced to a trundling 60 and prayer has been introduced
Prayer that I get to Willowmore And
Prayer that there is a functioning petrol pump so I can get back 🚗🔙🔛
And functioning people, petrol and pumps
And what were they singing as I arrived?
“I trust in the Lord to lead me ” 🙏🏻
A surprisingly busy little town – the dot on the map must be bigger than that for Steytlerville : and still you sense that survival is a struggle – every purchase made, however small is received with huge – surprisingly huge appreciation
I used to drive through towns like this in ‘the bad old days’ (read previous regime) while on business; and 26 years on, under the new government (read ANC) – I see no change in the level of poverty, no running water, even Steytlerville only got water two years ago, no refuse systems etc
Begs a question ?
To hot for anything but a liquid lunch 🙂 well and some cake…..and interesting company
Taking last minute of photos of the bridge as I left Steytlerville, I noticed a young ‘coloured’ man on the road waiting for a lift out of what for him, had been a dead end – I mean even more of a dead end that the road was – he had come to look for work.
No way could I drive past him without my conscious being troubled all the way back to PE. There is no train, there are no buses, there will be only me all day …
And I hear my ‘South African family’ gasp at the thought of my picking up a hitchhiker. But how could I not? I trust my instincts and He knows my motives and so far neither have let me down 🙏🏻
And smart blonde that I am👍🏻😜 I made him sit in front so I could ‘keep an eye on him’ 😜😳👀👁
I stopped and asked where he was going – a rather rhetorical question since wherever it was, this was the only road either he or I could take. This was lucky because while I am pretty much bilingual, the cape coloured lingo sometimes leaves me flummoxed.😂😂. And this was one of those sometimes. I had no idea where it was he was going to.
My travelling companion wore the uniform green ABSA Springbok shirt that is almost a uniform in this corner of the world; a single earring, floppy hat, slops and he had with him a kit bag – bulging, split and tied together with rope – containing all his worldly possessions. There was also The Phone in his pocket – I worked that one out cause I could hear music coming from his left leg as he leaned through the window to talk to me.
The difficulty in communicating wasn’t entirely because I couldn’t speak the lingo or understand it. Ja Mevrou, Née Mevrou, Dankie Mevrou were all quite clear. But pretty much anything beyond that was lost through the gap – a large gap in his teeth. Well, the truth is there actually weren’t any teeth that I could see.
There was a time when no front teeth was considered attractive amongst Coloureds, but whether that is still the case, or this was another physical indication of the poverty I saw all around, I cannot say.
Either way, I had my ears and brain very focussed as I tried to chat and then gave up as I drove us to wherever, when, I presumed he would say – let me off here please (or similar 😜)
He is 26 years old and had been looking for work since he was 14. The longest job he had been offered was 6 months – he gushed (or I think he did) about how wonderful that had been – packing lemoene in Kirkwood. Worked for ‘n onderwys’ but only for two weeks cause he left his holiday home to go back to teach and December is too far away to wait for him to come back for two weeks.
Travelling on my own allowed me to ‘sing’ at the top of my voice or talk to myself and even answer myself . This would not work however with a travelling companion, so I tried the radio which could not ‘find a channel’ in the Karoo. I doubted my classical music would be a hit and instead invited him to use his phone. And so we travelled listening to, not rap or heavy metal, which would not have surprised me, but tikkie draai musiek and Afrikaanse liekies – not quite Sarie Maree but close enough.
Contained, each with our own thoughts.
He’s travelling 180km because he heard there is work there – two days work mind you. He had travelled to Steytlerville for the same reason. But if there was work there it had long since been completed by someone else.
I probably should be nervous of him – people always tell me I’m mad, the things I do.
He seems ‘neutral’ enough – was going to say harmless, but that sounds like a word to use for an animal.
A Simple Twist of Fate
– what if I was born Coloured in the Karoo
– would someone give me a lift from nowhere to hopefully somewhere?
His. I can only guess
I’m going 180km because I heard there was work there. Never mind that I travelled to Steytlerville for the same reason. This one may be the one ….. Even if a weeks work.
A Simple Twist of Fate
– what if I was born White, in Uitenhage, Port Elizabeth or even Johannesburg.
– would I have a Chevy spark or a Kia Rio
And I waited for him to say ‘hier Mevrou’
Long after the turn off to Uitenhage – someone’s radar had been switched off – could equally have been mine – so back we went to the turn off and there I left my travelling companion with some Rands and best wishes ….
The future? Itinerant worker chasing rumours of employment, with dreams and prospects fading as more younger people join in the same search for a decreasing job pool. Security- plans-place to call home ( and I thought I had a problem with home😂😂) health, community?
A Simple Twist of Fate
He went his way and I drove on to family, food, drink, phone charger, and a life I can more or less plan.
The PE wind came up and my little white car, with whom I had negotiated a truce – third and fifth gear agreed to a clear separation, so we ambled more happily at 100km/hr now, nothing over though or those wheels again 😂were blown about on the freeway.
The scrub along the way had a less than usually bedraggled appearance :- hundreds of coloured plastic bags were caught in them and filled with the wind so they looked like giant coloured flowers
I so wanted to stop and take a photo but would probably have been blown to Cape Town and without my toothbrush – well that wouldn’t do. 😜