I was 9 years old.

I have read countless blog posts and news articles reminiscing about Nelson Mandela these last few weeks. So many of them begin “I was 9/10/21 etc when Mandela was released from jail”. It is as if we are all compelled to put down our memories of the historical moments involving this man, even those of us (especially us white people) who were completely removed from the strife of Apartheid and what was really going on in the country. Those of us who lived in a safe, ignorant bubble and knew nothing of tanks and police states and, like me, had not even heard the name Mandela.

No matter how tedious and self-indulgent these memories may sound to an outsider, I think we feel compelled to write them because Mandela truly moved so many of us, in a deep and personal way. He inspired many of us to see a rare but remarkable side to human nature, one rarely seen but made manifest by him. And because of that, we want to lock ourselves into this history, so that we never forget what he made us feel and what he did. It as if we are all just grateful that he existed, and are really moved to become better people in the brief moments when we think about him. And then we forget and go on to be mostly mediocre again. Most of us.

So here are my utterly self-indulgent memories of the historical moments surrounding Madiba, that I cling to fiercely in order to remember the rare and remarkable way in which he walked through this world.

I was 9 years old when Mandela was released from prison. There, I said it.  I had spent 6 of the first 7 years of my life in Botswana, where black and white kids went to the same schools. When we came back to South Africa, my dad told me in passing that in the past black people would have not been allowed to walk on the same pavement as us and that everything from benches to beaches were segregated. We lived such a sheltered life in our white suburb, I had no idea of the violence our country was experiencing. I had no idea that Apartheid was still going strong.

Mandela’s release did have an impact on me, but not one of any political inspiration or personal reflection. We had gathered on the day of his release at the house of family friends in a kind of getting out of jail lunch party, and we clustered around the tv for what seemed an agonisingly long wait, and for what? To see a man walk out of jail? It befuddled me. Why would the world stop to watch a man walking out of jail? We did not regularly convene to watch people get out of jail, and I was sure it happened every day. I could not understand the fuss at all. I do not remember if we stayed to watch his speech, I doubt it because it was hours later and went on for a long time. My overall impression of Mandela’s speeches was that they were terribly boring. That makes me laugh now, because what he was saying was not boring at all, but he did follow that old-fashioned politician style of speaking forever. I remember feeling challenged by his accent, and proud that I could understand him. I was also not entirely sure that he was a black man – his skin seemed paler than I expected.

I remember at that age joining Brownies and being taught to draw the old South African flag. It seemed an entirely impossible task. I am very relieved that it was replaced and I did not ever have to remember how to draw it.

I also remember the year schools opened to people of all races. I was 10. Things moved quickly once Mandela was out of jail. Not that they changed overnight. But people always wanted to photograph us kids – white and Indian hanging out together – even today kids of different races playing together is a big deal in this country. We just wanted to be left alone, it seemed fake to make a big deal about it. It made something big and self-conscious out of something we were still sounding out ourselves.

I remember the election in 1994. I have written about this before. I was 13. What a disappointing cadre I was. We had been given a week off school, because ever since Mandela put a toe out of prison, certain white people have been convinced that the country will go up in flames at any time. Our school could not just give us a freebie, so they loaded us with work to complete by the end of the week. In my terrible anxiety to get it all done, I remained fairly oblivious to the fact that history was being made, that the majority of South Africans were voting for the very first time in history. My father worked for the IEC and helped people to understand how to vote. I could have gone and watched  my parents vote and be part of this historical occasion, but instead I think I remember being involved in trying to construct an insect trap for Biology class. I still regret that. I don’t think I trapped a single insect anyway. I am glad about that.

I do remember Mandela’s inauguration and speech. I think this was the first time I felt any kind of emotion while watching him on TV. It was truly exciting and even I could appreciate that. I could even enjoy most of his incredibly long speech, just because I was happy that he had the opportunity to say it.

I remember learning the new national anthem. I loved it and I still do. Our school took it very seriously and made a big effort to teach us how to sing it correctly, recruiting one of the Zulu girls to make sure our pronunciation was acceptable. It’s funny because I think at that stage none of us knew who we were or what we were, but my school was 100% committed to doing a good job of being whatever it was we suddenly were. I also remember, that our history syllabus was in constant turmoil as it was adjusted and readjusted. Each year, new requirements were brought in, or so it seemed. We were in transition in every way.

I write these memories merely to say that I was there. I was unremarkable. A privileged white girl, so privileged that she had no clue about the reality of her own country. I have nothing to be proud of or to boast about. But I was there. I remember. I will never forget him. He moved something deep within me and I cannot remember when or how I realised that this was not just another boring politician, but when it happened it changed me and now I can never look back on these banal personal memories of our history without intense emotions. I am so grateful to have seen Mandela walk free, even if I did not feel that way at the time.

Thank you Madiba.

I have not blogged for so long that this is not even a blog any more. I have wanted to, but life gets in the way. However, I just had to take note of Nelson Mandela’s death last night. I have made mention of my admiration for him many times over the years on this blog. He gave us a nation that ALL of us could finally be proud of, that we could finally call free. I want to acknowledge and thank him for being one of the rare human beings who could be locked away for 27 years and not be bitter, and forgive. If he did have anger in his heart, he did not speak it. He rose above the anger and hate, something that so few of us are able to do. He lost 27 years of his life. That is terrible. That is something that is hard to comprehend. But he moved on and forgave and that was a big deal. So thank you Madiba. You were rare amongst men. The rest of us can only muddle along and hope to approximate your humanity.

This is something I wrote years ago, I think I posted it before. I never finished editing it. It is not perfect, but it is truly from the heart.

Sentence

 

Life is a sentence.

Can a sentence contain a small man

bent over a hammer

crushing stones?

A sentence cannot bind a man

whose roughened hands remould

the dust and gravel and blood and bones

of a wasted,  sentenced place,

a man whose tongue digs past words

in men whose words are shackles.

 

Asimbonanga. (we have not seen him)

 

He whose tongue plants hope in stony ground

cannot be stopped or forced to pause by loaded terms

that conjugate divisions and subjugation

into the revisions of the times.

 

Asimbonanga. (we have not seen him)

 

There are no words

he needs no words

his face is our face

he is engraved in our hearts,

a man, an old man bent over a hammer

crushing stones.

Asimbonang’ uMandela thina (we have not seen Mandela)

 

A sentence can be very long

A sentence can last 27 years

But no sentence can withstand

your hammer – Amandla!

You who dared to pull

a branch of the tree.

nKosi utata Mandela.

Simbonile. (we have seen him)

In the name of the father… or the mother?

*

Rebecca at Girl’s Gone Child (love this blog!) wrote a post about whether or not to take your husband’s surname, and whose name the kids will get.

I often think about this as a kind of amusing thought experiment, even though I won’t be getting married, and BFG told me recently that he does not want kids, possibly ever. Which was a surprise, not that I even know what I think or want regarding kids. I could write a book about having or not having kids. But anyway. It still amuses me to think about the hypothetical naming crisis.

Imagine we had some kids. Not just one because multiple spawn make the name game more interesting, and actually less complicated.

The surnames that we have to work with are Brown and Fish. I don’t plan on changing my name because I am not married. But. What about these hypothetical groblets?

I have considered many of the alternatives people mention on Rebecca’s blog, and some others:

  1. Hyphenate our names. Brown-Fish or Fish-Brown. That is just too cruel. We must abstain for humanitarian purposes.
  2. Just give them all his name or all my name. But this is not fair. I think it makes sense that the one who gave birth and went through a near-death experience to produce the kids should get to pass on the name but that is not what history felt. On the other hand, the man did contribute his share too, albeit in a very lazy manner.
  3. Each time a child is born, put the two names in a hat and pick. Each child gets whatever comes out of the hat each time. This seems the most fair?
  4. Let the kid pick when it is old enough?
  5. Alternate names?
  6. Make a combination name. Bish/Brish or Frown? These are even worse than the hypen options.
  7. The BFG suggested just picking a brand new surname for all of us. So far his only suggestion has been Guppy. Which would be fiiiiine (I mean, it is so much better than Frown???) except that guppies are fish but they don’t come in brown. So it wouldn’t work.
  8. This is my favourite idea. Choose the first name that you really like and then choose which of the two surnames fits best with that name.  Like, for instance, I really like the name Finn (true story). But Finn Fish may cause some issues, just maybe.

Holy cow. This list is enough to make any conservative traditional person scream in horror. But it is a legitimate problem.

Or it would be if we were going to have kids. Which apparently we are not (but then that is another blog post, or a hundred).

My to-do list…

for today went something like this:

 

  • convert British driving licence to South African one (achieved with alarming ease and lack of confusion, contrary to what online forums had me believe. Hoorah! Only 4 hours of queues. I say this with no irony because I was expecting this procedure to take months.)
  • Buy food to cook for dinner
  • pass out in the Pick n’ Pay checkout queue.

All three were achieved. A good day?

I have been having issues with Getting Stuff Done, so I have been trying hard to make lists and be proactive. However, I finished today lying in bed with the BFG bringing me food and water. Getting Stuff Done is clearly too much for me!

I have never ever EVER fainted before. I have suffered from low blood pressure over the years and have come close. Occasionally I have dizzy spells but if I breathe deeply and try to remain calm or sit, or squat, or whatever, it usually passes. But I have never actually keeled over before.

 

Until today. I was fine and then all of a sudden in the queue I was struggling to breathe and seeing stars. I put down my basket. I clutched to the magazine stand. I assumed that with a few deep puffs of breathe I would be fine and it would go away because it has always been so, my whole life, dammit! I have never been lame enough to faint and am very proud of that fact.

 

I woke up on the floor apparently after 30 seconds, after bumping my head and elbow on a trolley. So many sweet people helped me. One person got me a chair, a lady bought me a coke, another kept checking on me, two or three shop staff came and chatted to me, and when I finally got the strength to check out my shopping, another family gave me a lift home.

 

Thank you, kind people in Pick n’ Pay. It was a humiliating experience, but I truly needed and appreciated your kindness.

 

I think I know what caused it (hangs head in shame). Basically I OD’d on painkillers. OOPS. Was having period pains but did not have any Ibuprofen. I did however have some Cocodamol which are strong and which were given to me when I had an operation. I have used them for period pain in the past but probably was smart enough to eat something first.

So basically I poisoned myself by having two (too many!) Cocodamol pills on an empty stomach. And passed out in front of hundreds of people. Well done, Po, well done.

My to-do list for tomorrow:

  • stay in bed. It is safer there.

 

 

 

Mayan renewal?

Er… where did the time go?

I did a duck and booked myself on a last minute overland tour to Namibia – I know, what South African would do that? You can just drive there. Well, it was awesome and I had a blast and it was affordable too. I am thinking about doing similar things to Botswana and behond in the future, if I can afford it.

I highly recommend Acacia Africa for any overland tour you want to do in Africa. Our guides were beyond awesome. It does involve daily camping and chores, so be warned. For me, travelling with people from all over the world who were excited to be in Africa and keen and eager to see everything, and above all, happy to rough it, was the best part. I don’t think I will forget the crazy New Yorker who kept me howling with laughter and made us play flip cup with champagne, of which he bought 5 bottles, or the quiet Brit, who after a few beers ended up wheeling 3 Namibian girls to his hostel room in a trolley…  It was my first time at a game reserve ever, and my first time seeing lions and elephants and giraffes and RHINOS in the wild. So a pretty big deal. There was a dead body incident in the Orange River. It gives me shivers to think about that, what a way to end a year for the poor guy.

I was suffering, and still am, from that unemployment depression that gets me every time. I think it has been worse this time than ever before, probably because of my age and despair over my lack of employability. So when you are feeling blue about not working, I think the sensible decision is to blow your savings on travelling, right? Right.

So yeah, New Year’s eve. What a crazy year. I could scroll through each year I have written on this blog, and each entry would be about how little happened, about life just sort of happening and flowing on. Last year on New Year’s eve I was at work, and went to bed at 10.30pm!

I cannot claim that this year. It was a different one, and hard one, the hardest in a while. Never underestimate the stress and turmoil that emigrating entails.

This year I travelled to seven new countries:

  • Berlin and Frankfurt, Germany
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Drove Italy from North to South
  • Mexico, Belize and Guatemala
  • my last minute trip to Namibia

We also went to Dubai but that is like our second home as it is where the BFG’s parents live.

The reason I travelled so much was because I realise that travelling from South Africa is more difficult and more expensive than from the UK, so I planned to get it all out of my system and then be able to focus on travelling around Southern Africa.

Well, I failed. As of right now I am checking out flights to Asia, to South America. I really thought I was ready to grow up and settle down, but something about this last spate of depression, I am finding it harder than ever to do anything but be on the road. One problem: money?

We moved country, after 9 years in the UK. IT was hard, the leaving. I don’t think I have had the time to cultivate connections with people like that for a while, so breaking the bonds was tough. It sucked so much and it still does.  Not working sucks too, and the realisation that my nearly 6 years of professional experience are seen in SA as prolonged studying, after all working in a University means you can do what you want and work when you want, right? Hmmm. Or not.

I think I need some time to recover from the rollercoaster that was this year. I should add that a day before I left for Namibia I got a last minute acceptance to a Masters course, so I will be a student for the next two years – me, at age 32. Not someone who even thinks of themselves as a scientist. Well, we will see how it goes. My travelling fund will be severely restricted, that is for sure.

Peace out, world, til 2013.

Racism ranks

I have been hiding from my blog for a while, and there are good reasons for that! I am planning to expound soon. Let’s just say unemployment does not agree with me.

I just wanted to rant briefly about something that is driving me nuts. This idea that Cape Town is more racist than other cities in South Africa. I see it ALL the time. People who have never even visited say it. It is a prevalent belief that is sad because it encourages prejudice and preconceived ideas and just plain ugliness. Do we ever get to stop tearing eachother down?

So the DA runs the Western Cape, and we know all the white people vote DA and things run a little differently here to the rest of the country. But I am sure that everyone knows that the largest race group in CT are the Cape Coloureds and that on the whole they are the ones responsible for the DA’s majority here. So that is one thing.

Another thing, there is a group of Capetonians, white usually, who are insufferably pretentious about where they are from and about mixing with non-Capetonians. I don’t know if this rather annoying attribute of Capetonians is adding fuel to the racism accusation, but sadly it is true that some, of course only some, Capetonians are madly cliquey and snobbish and will not mix with anyone other than born and bred fellow Capetonians schooled at certain schools. Race is not the factor here.

Apart from that, I have heard that some restaurants in Cape Town have refused black people entrance. That sucks and is shocking and heinous. No excuse for that.

But. I am from Durban and I visit often. Every time I go out with my aunt there are only white people in the restaurants. Now obviously black people eat out too, but in many of the more snobby restaurants I have been to the clientele have been 100% white. So who knows what will happen if and when the race “ratios” start to make people feel uncomfortable at those establishments too?

I am not defending Cape Town because I live here now. I am just pissed off because the racism claims are lazy and just plain bullshit.

The real facts are, and I am thinking of white racism only here, there is a sector of South African white people, usually middle aged and older, although unfortunately sometimes younger, who are racist, but don’t think they are. They are very prejudiced and constantly expound on the differences between black and white people as if they are fact. They don’t hate black people and treat people with respect face to face, but they are dripping with dumb prejudice that they were taught back in the day.

Sadly, every time I visit Durban I am slapped in the face with this prejudice. I am usually mixing with people my parents’ age, but also my peers, people I went to school with. Every day I will hear multiple comments about how “they want our education now” and “they just want everything for nothing” and “this place is starting to look like a little Soweto”. Then there are the school ratio conversations.

It makes me sick. And yet I know that in every other city in South Africa these conversations are happening in a certain sector of white society, be it Durban, P.E, Cape Town, Joburg, wherever.

Do not try to tell me this is a Cape Town thing and other cities are so “diverse”. Or choose to be blind if you will. Obviously if you were to ask me in my experience, what is the most racist city in South Africa, I would say Durban, based on what I have seen. But I know it is not true. It is just that in Durban I am exposed to more of the prejudiced sector of society than in Cape Town.

Luckily for me, in Cape Town I happen to hang out with people who are not of the prejudiced variety and so when I am here those disgusting little conversations don’t happen. Which is why my trips to Durbs are a bit of a shock.

But I am not claiming those conversations don’t happen here. Of course they do.

Just don’t put Cape Town higher on the ranks. Ugliness is not a competition. Our cities are all plagued by this bullshit.

EDITED: since I wrote this post in a fit of annoyance last night I have seen multiple posts on Thoughtleader that echo or relate to what I am saying! Weird zeitgeist.

TO Molefe thinks that Cape Town is indeed more racist.

Brendan Henry Shields shows the exact prejudice and lazy attitude as the people I mention, and until South Africans are prepared to do just a little more work at being tolerant we will always have race problems in South Africa. Many people approve of his honesty, but where is that honesty going to get anyone unless he is willing to work on being less prejudiced?

 

Gillian Schutte writes a rebuttal of Brendan’s post. She is accused by many men of being hysterical and over the top. Here we are delving into to many levels of judgement based on prejudice that it is hard to keep up.

 

Finally my favourite post. Miranda Mkhumbuzi writes that because of experiences she has had she tends to be afraid of white men. She acknowledges that this is prejudice based upon stereotype and calls on all of us to work on analysing our own stereotypical judgements.

 

Say no to lazy thinking!

Learning to read.

Do you remember learning to read? It’s weird but I don’t.

When I was small, kids in South Africa started school really late. I started big school the year I turned 7. I don’t know what it is like now, but I know that kids in England start formal education when they are 4. When do kids start school in SA now?

I learned to read at home with my dad before I hit big school, so I guess I can’t remember it because I never had any formal learning to read lessons. Perhaps starting school at age four is a bit young for some kids, but I think it would have suited me perfectly. I loved school and learning. 7 was way too late.

In my first year of big school I was so bored I was actually driven to delinquency, which is so unlike me, but there was not a thing for me to learn or do. I had already learned to read and write. I was in Botswana in my first year, and all races were allowed at school together, so many kids did not really speak English and the first year of school was about getting those kids up to speed in English, and teaching the rest how to read, write and add.

So my friend and I who could already do those things dreamed up ways to run away and even attempted a break-out once, and carried it through all the way to the playground, where we got caught.

I remember so well a typical day in my first year of school. The other kids would learn their letters and put them together on a board. Then the teacher would write them a sentence on a piece of paper and the kids would draw a picture about the sentence. We who could read were excused from all this, but we did not have alternative activities so we would help the other kids. My only concession to learning differently was that my teacher prescribed long reading books for me to finish at home each day, which the other kids did not get.

Then we moved to South Africa and things were very different. Only white kids at school until I was 11 (so no Sotho lessons, no Sotho singing concerts, no intercultural interactions at all). Class two brought maths cards and tons of reading homework and I was kept out of trouble.

Some kids benefit from waiting until they go to school, but I would have been better off at school at age four. Thankfully school picked up the pace otherwise I imagine I would still be a little hooligan plotting my escape.

Do you think kids should start school earlier or later? I think it depends on the kid, but I think age 6 going on 7 is a bit too old.

The art of the struggle.

I went for an interview last week, and suddenly it hit me – work. Yuck! I don’t want that!

All this time I have been struggling with unemployment, the guilt, the anxiety over not knowing what is in my future, feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, surely no one would hire me, I can’t do anything…

Now that I am entering the interview fray, I’m like, hang on, I want to lie around all day in my pajamas reading a book or surfing the net and doing some very half-hearted cleaning now and then. I want to be a bum!

I struggled with not working, I know I will struggle with working. The human condition is to struggle with everything, or at least that seems to be my condition.

Suddenly I really don’t want to work. Interestingly my interviewer told me how stressful and demanding the job I was applying for was. Hmmmm, sounds great. I am not sure that I am cut out for stressful and demanding. In fact I am sure I am not. But it would be nuts to not take a job and not know if I could do it or not. Argh. Also there are not many jobs around.

I am very aware that I may not get this job and may have to attend many more interviews and yuck again! Interviews suck!

Lying in bed sounds so much better.

Myers schmyers.

Have you ever done one of those Myers-Briggs type personality tests?

In my current state of mid-life crisis, unemployed and trawling for jobs, thinking, do I really actually want to do these things they advertise? Do I even want to continue in Science? And if not Science, then WHAT? I have been reading a lot of advice along the lines of: find the things you love, your passion, what you enjoy doing and blah.

Also a lot of advice to know your personality, to know who you are and how you work so you can find the work that suits you.

Over the years I have done the free Myers-Briggs tests on the internet dozens of times, and every time, I come up with a different result. It drives me nuts. But it does not really surprise me. I do not fit into any of the categories! This is why I have never known what I am good at, what I want and who I am! I am an in-betweener.

I did some kind of personality test at school that I think must have been a proper Myers-Briggs because we paid and were given a tiny analysis at the end.

Mine said “no clear results”. The report also suggested that, based on my lack of clear results, I could be a photographer? I had never even touched a camera at that point in my life.

Erm, no big surprise, nothing has changed. Interestingly though, I have come to know myself a hell of a lot better than I did then. Then I didn’t even know I was an introvert. I have a strong feeling that the overwhelming bias towards being an extrovert actually made me believe that I was a people person, a group-loving person, and I would have answered some of the questions, not dishonestly, but just not self-awarely, if that makes sense.

Now I have the opposite problem when I take the tests. Out of the four letters that represent four different aspects of a personality, the only one I am sure of is that I am an I(ntrovert) and not an E(xtrovert). So when they ask if I like working in groups I say no way jose because I know I am an introvert and I know that this is a question to fish if I am an introvert, even though, group work does not really bother me. I prefer to work alone, but I don’t hate group work, persay.

As to the other three letter options (T or F, J or P and something or something else). I come out about 50%-50% for all of them. I am on the border of everything. At least in my own awareness. It could just be that I don’t know myself well enough to answer the questions.

Like the one if you are more of a thinker or a feeler. Instinctively I would say I am a thinker, an analyser. I think and I analyse but in the end I often make a decision based on how I am feeling, even after all the analysis, because the analysis makes it even harder to make a decision, right? After you have seen things from every angle it is almost impossible to make a decision because every angle seems right, so I use feelings anyway. I guess it is an information overload that makes choices impossible for me.

So does that make me a T or an F? I am definitely a T. No doubt about that. But I am also an F. ARGHHHHH! Let’s not even bother with the other letters. There are two possible explanations here. Either I truly am so balanced on the other three letters that there is no clear result in my personality, or I really just do not know myself and cannot answer these questions.

I just have to accept that I do not fit into the Myers-Briggs test, not the free ones anyway, and if my high school result is anything to go by, not the paid ones either. I will always be a profoundly dazed and confused seamonkey who has no idea what her passion, her thing is. Always doomed to being off the page, in the cracks and shadows, and if all else fails I guess I can be a photographer?

Untangle this mess if you can.

I’ve never been good with tension and drama, my immediate reaction is to ostrich myself away from those kinds of situations.

However BFG has arranged to meet up with some kind-of family this weekend, and no matter what we do, the situation is going to be awkward.

BFG’s sister got divorced a few years ago and it was pretty messy. One of her daughters, BFG’s (and my) niece is in Cape Town at school, and is staying with BFG’s sister’s ex-husband’s brother, ie. the niece’s uncle. Are you following, here? I barely am.

Right so this is a bit tricky. BFG wants to see the niece, who we haven’t seen in 5 years due to general messiness and conflicts. The ex-husband’s brother is obviously “on the other side”, but is looking after the niece so has to be seen.

What makes it even more awkward is that recently one of BFG’s cousins had a major altercation with this brother, relating to work. Now the BFG’s Cape Town family wants nothing to do with him, although they are all fond of the niece, and the feeling is probably mutual on the other side. We are the divorced bit of family anyway, and this fight just made it worse.

So this is what we are entering into, just going for a pleasant, not-awkward visit. Filled with potential minefields.

What is a safe topic? Are there any? I am pretty damn terrified about this, never mind the fact that the niece is a teenager and what do I say to a teenager?

I need brandy.

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