Friday, July 30, 2010

South Africa FOREVER! (last days in the UK, and first days back *home*)

Below lies the depths and shallows of the few thoughts I've managed to find time to scrawl down... If ONLY I had managed to write every day... (*sigh*) Oh well. The writing that follows is quite incomplete - but I'm desperate to let you all know how my first 4 weeks in SA have unfolded! More to follow as and when my dear little pudding Layla allows! (*wink*)

"After I lost my last post to the Web-Gremlins, it was kindly suggested I use Notepad -- and what I love about this app is that it feels like I'm typing on my very own personal typewriter! Granted, it ain't a real vintage one that clack-clacks away with satisfying realness, but it's better than nothing - and at least this one won't run out of ribbon!

Anyway, today represents our 7th last day in England – and I can’t help but think that we will never again set foot on this muddy isle that has been my home for 6 years in an 8 year period. But… that’s what I thought the first time I left the UK for home, so perhaps I should not be so hasty with my wild supposings! Admittedly, my reason for returning to the UK was to study for a very concise two year period, and then take my newly acquired knowledge and skills back to South Africa (where this particular Masters degree is not offered.) But, a number of factors conspired to abbreviate this dream, and it was replaced by an even greater dream: we became parents to the most phenomenally delightful and inspiring little soul who taught me everything I needed to know about creating the fulfilment that evaded me for 31 quite tedious and searching years! Never before have I loved, laughed and cried with such ferocity as I do now that I am Layla’s mother. What a joy, what a miracle! Anyway, I am blabbing about something else entirely now – a topic for the book I am going to write about the Soutpiel experience --- so save up your pennies and look out for it on Amazon! (*wink*)
Last night, in a bid to squeeze in as much time with my friends as possible, I conjured up a feast from the dregs in our freezer – texting Anne and Lorraine: “I’ll supply the supper, you guys supply the plonk!” And what fine plonk they supplied – and in such fabulous abundance! Two bottles of Australian red, and one French white (which is still in my fridge, awaiting its role as gift for our dinner hosts tomorrow night: the neighbours we’ve been meaning to do dinner/braai with for 2 years running, and it took us leaving the country to spur us all into action and make a date! Crazy.) Anyway, I was bitterly disappointed when Anne sms’d me to say they’d be late: I was in an inconsolable state of dire craving for the promised vino after a day of such aggravated stress that, when Craig asked me how my day was, I venomously spat out the following maxim: “I would rather have my most stressful university exam over than relive today.” (And that’s being pretty damn brave – because the exam in question was an English exam I was devastatingly unprepared for – and was so excruciatingly nervous that I ended up dry-retching in the loos at least 3 times during the 3 hour paper! That’s one of the problems with being a perfectionist; I ended up with a 90% average for that paper, so the moral of the story is … oh dear, I’m getting side-tracked again!) Supper was: four decadently huge cloves of fresh, crushed garlic gently warmed in lashings and lashings of butter, lightly salted and scented delicately with ground black pepper and just a hint of chilli. On the stove, I threw two packs of capalleti (Microsoft Word is trying to tell me capalleti should be ‘cataleptic’ though it’s the perfect word to describe my state of mind earlier that day trying to make those blasted phone-calls, but more about that later!) filled with prosciutto di Parma and mozzarella, which I boiled to soft, melting perfection, drained and then tossed in the butter and garlic. Our aunt, who is taking over our lease and moved in last night with her husband and two teenage boys, brought all her herbs and lettuces to transplant into the garden here, and her selection of mint, chives and parsley was just perfect for my spontaneous night of cooking – and after plucking a very generous handful of the freshest parsley from outside the kitchen door, I snipped it all up with my trusty kitchen scissors, missing my mezza luna in storage in Cape Town but with so much less angst than normal, with only 7 days to go… Although I’ve never been a big parsely fan, making me automatically think of that verlep piece of parsely they used to stick on top of the packs of raw mince in Pick ‘n Pay, it was the most surprisingly perfect herb to accessorise the pasta with!
When Anne and Lorraine eventually did arrive, Layla was blessedly asleep and we sat outside in what can only be described as an evening so quintessentially English in its birdsong, bleating sheep in the nearby field, the soft warmth of lilac night, and all perfumed by sun-kissed roses and orange blossoms, that I suffered what can only be called pangs of nostalgia at the thought of leaving this English idyll.

Monday. 6 days to go. CRISIS – acceptance and strength that can be developed? One-room living ; no internet.

The lack of initiative of call-centre staff… Tesco car insurance etc. EXCEPT: Allfreight. 5 days to go, and I am incredibly frazzled, frustrated and exhausted – at the end of my tether. Layla… No cell reception in house – have to ask neighbour to use her landline. E-on overcharged despite my call on Friday. On the verge of tears. Brittle.

Tuesday. 4 days to go. Yesterday, my friend Jodie whisked me off to Kettering so I could cash a cheque – and all on a very tight schedule what with us closing our account on Thursday. (Layla is asleep still – and not surprising after heading to bed at 11pm last night! Goodbye drinks with Laura, Jules and Wends: Old’s pub The White Horse, and then pub-hopped to our ‘local’ for food. The barmen – the one sitting outside in the front saying we must have a safe journey. And then the broken-armed one and his bizarre surliness/friendliness: ‘curt’. The old man next to us rolling his eyes and listening in to our conversation. Must again attempt to tie up the loose ends after I gave up yesterday with Tesco Car Insurance: the call-centre chick told me to I should have hung on longer until someone answered the phone on Friday – after I ranted at her about the fact that they have now charged us another month when I didn’t want them to but couldn’t get through to them on Friday…. I was so angry I was shaking and LIVID. Whatever happened to that thing called ‘service’ by employees who were hired for their initiative? And then Craig comes home and doesn’t understand quite why making these phonecalls is such an incredibly difficult thing. I was hurt that he didn’t give me the support I needed but merely threw solution after solution at me, when all I needed was for him to hug me close and ask me to tell him, in all its gory, anguished detail, about how bloody stupid the people on the other end of the phone are, how nerve-wrackingly trying Layla was, how upset I was… Today I will try again – at Maggie’s house.
Lay awake till past 1am. The oppressive heat, and being trapped in our little room. Listening to the soft whispering of Maggie’s water feature, and further in the distance, the church bells tolling midnight. Mentally mapping out my day, I remembered I needed my list back from Dinee, and in case I missed her in the morning, I clambered out of bed, fumbled for a pen in the dark, and not finding one, went to the bathroom with my eyeliner – but it was too blunt to write more than the D of Dinee, so out came Craig’s shaving foam which I smeared across the mirror, and inscribed my very uncryptic message with a piece of Layla’s foam toy seaweed – and was intercepted by a venomous looking spider which I promptly dispatched with a blast of furniture polish, drowned in liquid handsoap and then swooshed down the basin drain!
Thursday. 1 July 2010. Just two sleeps until the day we fly, and then that night of semi-slumber on the plane. Last time, Layla slept on my chest, breastfeeding often due to the bizarrely different circumstances and the dry, dry air. This time, she’ll probably want to play,…………………Moms and Tots party.

20 July 2010, Tuesday. I am desperately sorry I didn’t steal the time from who-knows-where to jot down the facts and feelings in those last days in Walgrave. It was a manic, manic time – and my first week back home in Cape Town pretty much matched its level of frustration, exhaustion, emotion and constant activity (mostly in the forms of organising and looking after Layla.)

I sent my mom an sms yesterday saying, “I’ve had more fun in one day here in the middle of winter than in 6 years in the UK!” At 27deg, who would have thought it was winter?! Layla asked after her daddy all day long. And this morning, woke up asking for him, and we managed to at least catch him as he was was locking himself out the door – but Layla was inconsolable in having to say goodbye. If there was one thing I would re-do about that first week in SA, it would be sticking close to Craig’s side: Layla struggled terribly with missing him. (I’ve managed to find Finlay the Fire Engine on SABC3, and she’s plonksed down in a chair watching in televised bliss – one of her few constants that remind her of her first..)
Library/ pep and jet.

Much later, sipping a glass of vino and scoffing the last of Layla’s leftover French toast to the magnificent cacophony of Radio Algoa and Layla’s bathtime screeches. (How did I manage to convince Craig to give me some much needed (understatement) time-out by bathing Layla? Hmmm… I didn’t employ any of the usual female wiles, e.g. lustrously batted eyelashes etc. so perhaps it was the stain of unhinged mania colouring my voice and eyes that did the trick?

22 July 2010, Thursday – and I see the clock on my laptop is still set to English time… Somehow I quite like this little connection to my former life in Walgrave, Northamptonshire so for the meantime, I’ll leave my clock set an hour late. Layla’s having a zizz after a long night spent soothing her through her teething: this time, it’s her eye teeth. And after these are through, I think all that’s left for us to endure are her second set of molars! Spur has a special for Monday evenings here: buy one, get one free (how very English!) so, with Layla in tow, we reacquainted ourselves with the delights of beef burgers and the world’s greasiestly delicious onion rings – and, new to the Spur recipe of success: wireless! My ageing laptop died a number of times during start-up and for no apparent reason I could fathom, until it made its final irritating exit just as I managed to log onto my Facebook. Grrrrrr! Oh, for a snazzy, new notebook (*sigh*)! There is just so much I need to have documented in the way of facts and feelings in terms of this move back home – but it was such an intense period of time, jampacked with organising, (un)packing and hellos and goodbyes that there was, excrutiatingly, no time to even jot down a line or two in my journal. Were it not for the Layla, the move would have been infinitely easier, so if you’re contemplating a Groot Trek of your own, do it before the bambinos arrive on the scene!

Looking back to more than a month ago when our boxes arrived from Allfreight, I realise I’m going to have to tackle writing about it all in an ‘organic’ sort of way, instead of systematically and chronologically, because if I start at the very beginning, I will never get to today! And so, let me tell you about how today started:
After Layla’s sizzling temperature and teething pain had me (and her) up in the earliest hours of this morning, I finally managed to give her something to bring her temperature down and soothe her back to sleep, and we lay cuddled together till nearly 10am when a sharp rat-tat-tat at the door woke us. Decidedly unglam in my jarmies and non-salon bed-head, a smiling middle-aged woman introduced herself to me in a gush of welcoming – and invited Layla and I to lunch with her and our other older lady neighbours at the French Quarter. And as temptingly divine as that sounded to someone so detrimentally deprived of luxury, I refrained on various accounts too boring to mention here. But said middle-aged neighbour didn’t merely arrive to a)introduce herself and b)invite me to lunch, but also to c)tell me about the near-burglary that happened last night to our neighbours just across the road from us – a married couple our age with no kids but a noisy hamster! Louise and Brad had been watching a DVD on their laptop in bed, the random noises Louise heard being casually blamed on the hamster and their washing machine – until the outside motion-sensor light slammed on and voila, there was an unwelcome interloper, knife blindingly shiny against his hat-to-shoes blackness. (Now, I use that word ‘blackness’ with deliberate caution – but I’ll get back to this later.) Rugby-induced foot blister and all, Brad (limping today) in all his shouting glory, charged after the man down the road, while his wife got the apparently breathtakingly efficient local security company, Hi-Tech, to haul their asses down to the crime scene! The sweet ol’ duck warned me to keep my security gates locked at all times and to keep the panic-button on hand (i.e. around my neck). Awful. Admittedly, in my accentuated state of homecoming bliss, I’ve overlooked being as security-conscious as I maybe should be – so maybe this was a timely little wake-up call for me. One of my biggest bugbears about this whole ‘The Crime’ vibe is that so often the fear that so many of us allow ourselves to succumb to is just as destructive to ourselves as individuals/a collective as an actual mugging or burglary. And please, I’m most definitely not underplaying the trauma violent crime exacts upon us, but the daily, unconscious fear that robs us of our present joy is so devastating that it has the power to destroy our future as a nation. One of short stories for Matric English was called ‘Once Upon a Time’ by Nadine Gordimer – and it describes a young (white) family who, in an attempt to protect themselves from violent intruders, crown their walls with coils upon coils of barbed wire, alarming their house with a wailing siren should anyone arrive uninvited. Their little boy, chasing the family cat, ends up getting himself caught in the very barbed wire that was intended to protect him, and each wrench and twist to escape wraps him up tighter in its bloody embrace. His tortured screams are confused with the house alarm by his parents – a sick, sad irony but which rings with a poignantly South African truth: “*********quote about fear************”. And so much about the fear we cultivate as South Africans is intrinsically wrapped up in our apprehension of blackness as whites. And hoo boy, don’t the media just abuse this notion to sell more papers and advertising?! Using the word, ‘cultivate’, in relation to fear describes how fear is something that is a) growing and b) needs feeding and tending/attention for it to thrive. And it is more like a weed than a rare orchid in that it runs destructively out of control in the blink of an eye, is ugly to behold and painfully riddled with spiky thorns; and once in the garden of your heart, almost impossible to get rid of. But, as any seasoned gardener can profess, once you recognise and then accept there is a problem (not pretending, through denial, that the weeds are a delightful fynbos hybrid to be prized), diligent and daily weeding is the simple remedy that requires only commitment and love. “Love casts out all fear,” is something I’ve been trying my whole life to completely grasp in my relationship with God, but only right now, this warm winter’s Grahamstown morning while my daughter sleeps and my jasmine green tea cools, as I wrote those words about how fear is like weeds, do I so fully understand, in my heart and in my head, how true love banishes fear.
Because so many people have accused me of rose-tinted idealism in my understanding of the South African condition, I’ve wrestled with their accusing questions of, “Let’s see what you have to say when you’re robbed/raped/hijacked!” And honestly, I can only say that I will be angry, terrified, traumatised, bleeding/..."

(and, I am SO sorry that there is nothing more, but more WILL be posted up here as soon as I possibly can! COMMENTS PLEASE!!! They make each word worthwhile!)

Below is a pic of Layla and I mere minutes before our departure for Heathrow!