The dust and me


Now that everything has settled after the move (the dust … and me), I want to quickly jot down an update of our new Johannesburg lives.

I am sitting at my desk in my office, wrapping up work for the day and listening to the August winds rattling the leaves on the many trees in our garden. The only one I can identify is a massive avocado, with its beautiful bounty of fruit far too high to be reached by anyone on any kind of ladder. It’s no good to me, basically, but I like the sound its leaves make. The dogs are lying in a patch of sun in the dining room and the gas heater next to me hasn’t been switched on in a week. My office is usually the coldest room in the house but I’ve bene feeling Spring in the air the last few days. The sky is a bright pastel blue, as it has been every single day in the seven weeks since we moved here.

Our cleaner is here today (praise be!) but most days, I finish work at around 3 and do some housework before going to fetch the boy from his daycare in Rosebank, which is about a seven-minute drive, then we come home and I stick him in the pram and we walk around the block to fetch his sister from her school. It’s Monday today, so we’ll do some baking when we get home so that she’s got muffins or biscuits or something to put in her lunchbox for school. Dylan will get home at about 10 past five, because it takes him about 10 minutes to get home from the office in rush-hour traffic, and then we’ll feed and bath the kids and put them to bed, and then we’ll watch at least five episodes of Community before we turn in. (Somehow I am convinced that Community is the coolest, cleverest TV comedy ever, though don’t really remember why until I watch five episodes back to back.)

That’s what life has been like pretty much since we got here for me – very routine, with a lot more time with the kids than before, and substantially more housework than I ever did when we had a full-time nanny.

I’ve also got back into running properly – I’ve got a couple of races coming up, and do a Park Run nearby every Saturday morning – and have started doing a gym class once a week as well, even though the gym is a full 10 minutes away, which is about the furthest I drive during the week. We go for long walks on Sunday mornings to the epic playground at the park, with the dogs, who swim in the streams and run through the dry, yellow veld and everyone you pass with their dogs and their kids and on their bikes just looks so happy – I had no idea how well utilised parks like these are in Joburg, or how active people are here.

I’m interviewing au pairs this week to try to find a babysitter so that Dylan and I can go out for dinner or to the theatre or to friends’ houses one evening every week. There’s a cute little spot down the road with a jumping castle and tiny pizzas for kids where we go for a drink on a Friday, so it’s not like we’re not getting out, and we’ve had family and friends over to ours for braais and drinks every weekend, plus we’re working our way through the (not terribly long) list of kid-friendly decent Joburg restaurants for Sunday lunches (we went to Mezepoli at Melrose Arch yesterday, and basically Melrose Arch is the V&A Waterfront with more Ferraris and fewer boats), but working from home means I start feeling a little cabin-fevery by the time Wednesday comes around, and there are so many really great restaurants nearby that I’m desperate to try. So please keep your fingers crossed that we find the right person soon, so that Date Night can start becoming A Thing. We are really missing the grannies, who always made it so easy for us to make evening plans.

We have weekends away booked for every month until December, when the plan is for the kids and I to be in Cape Town for the whole

month, and I’m really excited to go back and reconnect with everyone we love who’s there, but I’m also a little terrified that it will be really hard to come back. Right now, I’m happy here – way happier than I thought possible, probably because we live in such a fantastic area in a really nice house, how lucky are we – but I think once I’ve had a reminder of how wonderful life in Noordhoek was and can be, it will take another two months for me to feel at home here again.

When I see people posting pictures of Cape Town, and Noordhoek especially, on social media, I feel a little wounded, and flinch, and look away, feeling like someone who’s recently been jilted and sees a photo of their ex on Facebook looking happier and more beautiful than they remember. I feel like I’m keeping it together here, and coping, and living a pretty happy life, but somewhere deep down I know that that’s only because I’m not comparing this place to the one we left.



Being in-between

It’s something I’m no good at, being in-between things. I have no zen. I rush to finish things, and can’t wait to start the next thing; my eye always on the horizon, scanning it for rainclouds, packing an extra umbrella just in case, because I am really good at planning for the future, always expecting the worst. And I am really bad at living in the moment.

It might come across as efficiency, but it’s actually neuroses. Actually, it probably does come across as neuroses. And somehow people love (and employ) me anyway.

I was reminded of this zero-zen quality of mine this morning when I had an almost-freak-out in the toilet paper aisle of Dis-Chem. Because I always buy loo roll in bulk, a pack of 18, every time. But this time I couldn’t. Because we’re not going to be in our house long enough to use up 18 loo rolls. And I’m very cheap in a lot of ways, so I didn’t want to spend R89 (if you don’t already shop for your 2-ply loo roll at Dis-Chem, btw, you’re paying too much) on loo roll if we weren’t going to use it all. So I bought a four-pack and nearly burst into tears.

We are less than a month away from our move to Johannesburg. We have signed a lease on a house that ticked absolutely every one of our boxes (don’t ask me how – it is a mystery); we have kids enrolled at schools nearby; we are about to book the removals company to come pack up and transport our couches and beds and books and so many things that we didn’t even know we owned until we had to give it an estimate value for insurance purposes (worst. job. ever); and plans for our It’s-Not-A-Farewell parties are afoot.

But we’re not gone yet. We’re still living in our house, which is where Ava took her first steps and Aidan took his first crawl and where we fell in love with the shadow of the mountain that slips over our garden at sunset and the briny sea air that flows into the house when the wind is blowing the right way and became a family of three, then four. Ava is still at her school with the friends she’s known since before she could talk, still going for sleepovers at grannies’ houses, still walking to the beach with us and the dogs, still riding her bike to the chickens down the block to feed them long blades of grass through the fence, still seeing her nanny every day (“I wish Naume could stay at our house forever because I love her”), still climbing her jungle gym in the afternoons, still living her best life.

But now me and my zero-zen side are impatient to get going. To start our new life. To unpack boxes on the other side and make a new home. Because this living in-between deal doesn’t suit me at all. And also because – wow – Joburg people are REALLY friendly. We have had so many offers of help and company and dinner parties and just an outpouring of happy vibes about our move there on the part of our Joburg-based friends that I can barely believe it (living in Cape Town for 7 and a half years will do that to you) and I am so, so grateful.

So sad that I nearly weep over a four-pack of loo roll, but also grateful. Excited, even?




There’s this walk I like to do from my house, when I’ve only got about forty or forty-five minutes free. I do it alone, sometimes with our dogs.

We walk the two blocks to the beach parking lot, and then head down the boardwalk to the sand. I walk around the lagoon and the dogs crash through it, then we clamber over rocks, over dunes, to the far right-hand side of the beach, directly underneath Chapman’s Peak.

There’s a hidden pathway through the rocks that leads to a beautifully maintained wooden walkway, which winds up the mountain through the milkwood forest. The dogs’ feet clatter over the planks, which creak under their weight. The sharp, hot stink of milkwood obscures the salty air, and the sound of the waves is muffled by the shrill cicadas. The branches of the trees tangle together overhead, and even on the brightest day, it’s cool and dim on the path.

The pathway ends, and then three sets of stairs take you up the steep incline of the mountain. The dogs bound up over them, taking the occasional leap into the high grass on either side. There aren’t many steps – about 100, I think – and before long, you’re at the top of the stairs, a few feet away from the Chapman’s Peak road.

And from up here you can see everything.

I look down to the left, leaning forward to get a view around the bushes, and can see the top story of our house. I can see the roof of the house of my daughter’s best friend, a block away, and the roofs of the houses of three other children in her class at school, whose birthday parties she’s been going to since they all turned 1. I see the tops of the oak trees on the Common, where we’ve been taking her for walks since she was born – first in a carrier, then in a backpack, and then on her own two feet.

Further to the left, I have a view over the whole valley, and can see the Indian Ocean at the beachside town where my Dad and my aunt live. It’s a 10-minute drive from home – lucky, since my aunt is one of my daughter’s favourite people.

Directly in front and below is the suburb where my mother has lived for the last two years, since she moved from her home in Mpumalanga to be closer to our family. My daughter often goes to her house for sleepovers and playdates. My mother taught her to swim in our pool.

I can see the informal settlement, a city in its own right, where our nanny lives. She looked after my daughter from the age of three months and has looked after our son since he was four months. We’ve watched her kids grow up, and she showers ours with love.

I can’t see the security village where my mother-in-law lives, but I can see the lakes that the estate is built around. She also hosts our daughter for regular sleepovers, and she’s given her her own room in her house. She brings us ice cream and loaves of ciabatta and her homemade carrot cake and books when she comes to visit, which is every few days.

The suburb where some of our closest friends live is nearby. We met at university over a decade ago. We lived in England together after we graduated, and now they’re a short drive from our house. We see them for braais almost every weekend. Our daughter loves their one-year-old son and still calls him “Baby”.

I can see the lighthouse at the beachside village where my husband’s cousins live. They have children the same age as ours, and though we don’t see them much outside of birthday parties, it’s a constant comfort to me to know that our daughter knows who her cousins are.

I turn around, and behind me is the mountain that my daughter calls her own – she’s got a sweeping view of it from her bedroom window, and so is as much entitled to ownership of it as anyone, I suppose. It’s lusciously green now, but nine months ago, rows of flames snaked down slowly and then suddenly roared their way to within 100 metres of our house. I’ll never forget the terror of waking up to the sound of fire and having to bundle our daughter into the car at midnight; driving down the road out of our neighbourhood and barely being able to see for smoke; all the while chatting lightly to her and saying, ‘Look at the firefighters! Look at that big hose!’ so that she wouldn’t know how terrified I was; wondering if my husband was following behind me in his car with the dogs and the cat, looking for him in rearview mirror and seeing nothing but smoke.

This place is my home. This is where we’ve built our family. We have everything anyone could want, and not a single day has passed in the four years we’ve lived here that I haven’t felt absurdly lucky.

And now we’re leaving it and all these people we love to move to a city that’s over 1 000 kilometres away, for my husband’s job. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him, and it’s the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. But it’s so difficult. Even with some distance. Especially from up here.



Tiny story: Sugar

A post based on today’s prompt for The Short Story Club – Sugar.


“Grandpa, I can’t eat that yoghurt. Mom says it’s full of sugar.” Georgia has snuck upon me unpacking the groceries. In the week since she’s been staying with us, I’ve been amazed how quiet she is, for a three-year-old. Her mother was never quiet. I am suddenly dizzy and have to turn away from her serious, beautiful face. Her mother’s face. “That’s okay though, sweetie. It’s just a treat.” I snap one of the Barbie-branded plastic pots off the six-pack and dig in the drawer for a spoon. Georgia eyes me suspiciously. “Mom says sugar makes your teeth fall out.” My legs can’t hold me anymore. All of this morning’s restless energy, the need to keep moving that drove me out the house and to the shops while she and Maggie slept – has fizzled out. I slump at the kitchen table. “When will Granny wake up?” Maggie hasn’t left the bed since we got the call two nights ago. Eons ago. Georgia climbs into my lap and reaches for the pot of yoghurt. “When she does, she can help me phone Mom in Paris and I can tell her I had it just for a treat.” I squeeze my gritty eyes tightly closed. I have literally no idea how I will be able to move from this moment to the next and the next and the next until I have to tell Georgia what’s happened. When I open my eyes again, they won’t stop streaming, but my granddaughter doesn’t notice. She is busy licking the silver lid of the yoghurt tub in the deliberate way she does everything. She turns to me, eyes wide with delight. “Yum!” she says. “Isn’t sugar lovely, Grandpa?”

123 days

EF  CD B 20150902_160716 20150827_084230 20150821_095320 20150815_112018 H20150805_164500 20150721_143652

On the 15th of May, I met my baby boy.

My doctor lifted him out of my womb and held him up over the curtain, crying, for me to see. He was immediately different to his sister, who’d taken her sweet time in exhaling her first breath. “Hold his hand,” my doctor said, and I hesitated because he was still covered in that white waxy stuff, and bits of blood. But then I did, and said “Hello!” and he stopped crying and looked like he was listening. “Hi. Hi there, little guy,” I said. “He recognises your voice,” my doctor said, “That’s why he’s stopped.” Then they took him to be weighed, with his father in tow. He cried some more. The anaesthetist wiped the goo off my fingers.

At my daughter’s birth, I saw her scrunched up little firsts next to her scrunched up little face, and there was instant recognition. “Yes, that’s her. That’s my baby,” went my mind. With him, there was just awe. It’s like I hadn’t believed he’d been growing inside me, not really, and so when I beheld the living fact of him, I was flattened. Astonished.

He was supposed to be a small baby. He was almost taken out a week early because it looked like he’d stopped growing. We were expecting him to be around two-and-a-half kilos – almost a kilogram smaller than his sister had been. But he wasn’t. He weighed more than she did and was longer that she was. After two months of worry, it felt like a miracle.

We gave him a name. We changed it 24 hours later. Now he’s got three of them – the first one means “little fire”, fitting, since we were evacuated in the middle of the night on a Tuesday when I was seven months pregnant, with runaway blazes sweeping over the mountain towards our home. The second name was my great-grandfather’s, and the third was my maiden name. He’s the last child that’s going to come of out of my womb, so he’s got to carry a lot of family names with him through his life.

He’s unendingly sweet. After his first hour of life, he’s barely cried at all. He has fed reliably greedily since day one, which is probably why he’s now as long as the average 6-month-old, with chubby cheeks and thigh rolls to die for. He feeds and sleeps like clockwork. He loves his bath. He laughs at his sister, and it’s her voice he listens for when she’s in another room. (She adores him, when she remembers he’s there – and even though she whispers to him “I love you” and calls him “Aidan Bear” and says he’s her little buddy, his arrival put her back in nappies for a month or two. She was disturbed by the change, but didn’t even know it.)

Now that he’s four months old, and I’m going to work in an office for the next few months (as a freelancer on contract), he’s going to start having his feeds supplemented with formula. I’ve loved feeding him so much that this feels a lot like failure. I want to keep him on me and with me for longer, I’m not ready for him to be taking little steps into independence. But I know that no matter how long I waited, I wouldn’t ever be ready. I couldn’t wait to get his sister onto the bottle, and I celebrated everything she did that would make her less reliant on me, but this one – this one, I want to keep close.

I had read, long before I had children, that there is something very special about having your first baby; but that there’s something special, too, about having your last – a different something. He’s my last baby, and he’s like a treat. He’s like my prize. He’s like a treasure I’ve earned.

(I haven’t been ready to write about him until now because it’s only in the last few days that I’ve started feeling normal again after his birth. Like myself. Even though I’m still feeding him, things are more routine now. I feel like I am coping, finally. The first few months with two children – not. a. joke.)

“You’ll never have to worry about her”

20150120_180242 Lil A started at a new school two weeks ago. It’s a big pre-primary. She’ll be there until she goes to Grade R. It’s a much more structured place than where she was last year, and I worried that she’d struggle to adjust to the stricter routine and the focus on actual skills (her previous school was very sweet, and small, but as far as I could tell, all she did there was sing songs and run around in the playground, chasing the chickens). I wasn’t sure she’d be too happy to stay at school until 3pm either – eating lunch at school, sleeping at school, being away from home for such a long stretch.

But every day when I pick her up, she’s got paint under her fingernails, bed hair and a huge grin on her face. “I sleeped at school!” she tells me. She shows me to her bag, gets her shoes from her locker (they are big believers in Bare Feet at this school), kisses her aftercare teacher goodbye and jumps her way to the car with me. And it’s been like that from day one.

Pick-up time is, as any parent of a preschooler knows, absolute chaos, so I didn’t get to speak to her teacher at length until the parents’ evening a week after school had started. I figured that if they weren’t having to peel her off her father in the mornings (he’s got the short end of the stick, having to do the drop-off), and if he could see that she wasn’t crying when he left her there, it must all be okay. But still. I worried. It was a new place and a new kind of place – a structured classroom, with things like a reading corner, a puzzles table and a separate art room. And she’s only two – how much newness could she handle at once?

At the parents’ evening, I waited for a chance to ask her teacher how she was doing, to get more than “she was fine today!”. Of course, everyone else wanted the same thing. “Is he using the potty or the toilet when he’s here?”; “Is she eating at lunchtime?”; “How do you get her to sleep in the afternoon because we never manage at home!” – I found out a lot about the kids in my daughter’s class that night. There was so much I wanted to know about how Lil A behaves when she’s at school – is she as chatty as she is at home? Does she make up songs and play elaborate games of make-believe with the dolls and tease the teachers by calling them by other people’s names? But there was no time, and part of me didn’t want to be That Parent. So as we were leaving, I asked her teacher quickly, “Is she really okay? She always seems fine and happy, but what is she like during the day?”

Her teacher looked at me and blinked. “Ava’s fine!” She said. “She’s a very calm, easy-going child. You’ll never have to worry about her. She does what she’s supposed to do, and just gets on with things. You’re lucky.”

And I am.

But her brave face, her poise, her eagerness to please and her confidence in doing what she knows will help her to fit in and not be any trouble – it kills me. I crumble in the face of it. My child will never be the one who is noticed first in a class, I’m starting to realise. She’ll be the one that is so calm and easy-going that it will take a while for her teachers and maybe even her peers to notice her, to know her. And I’m thinking, maybe, sometimes, it must be nice to have the child who kicks up a fuss, makes himself known, even if it is as the class hooligan. And then I see her from behind when I pick her up – she’s sitting alone at a little table, playing with her hat, watching the more boisterous kids in the sandpit, twirling her hair, and oh, how I love her.

Learning to eat … as a family


This week, we started eating all together, at the dining room table, like decent human beings.

It’s something I’ve wanted to start for a while. I’ve read so much about the importance of shared mealtimes away from the TV – what it does for family cohesion and establishing eating patterns and healthy habits in small children – but it’s just never really come together. Lil A has been eating supper at 6, usually haphazard meals thrown together. Scrambled egg sandwiches with raw carrots has been a favourite, and baked frozen fish with leftover sweet potatoes. She’s been eating her main meal at lunchtime and so supper’s always been low-key for her, in her highchair, while her dad or I cook our dinner, or send work emails, or feed the dogs, or exercise. Then once Lil A was in bed, my hub and I would scoff our food down in front of the TV.

But no. This was the week that that was going to change, hopefully forever.

I knew this would change what and when we ate, but I didn’t foresee how difficult the change would be. Firstly, getting a meal from scratch on the table by 7pm means starting at 5, especially because Lil A wants nothing more than to “help me cook” – in other words, putting her step stool in front of the counter and using her tiny whisk to stir sugar into water and then eating bits of everything I’ve chopped up. And then, once we’re all finally sitting and ready to eat, she doesn’t really know what to do with herself. Having been left to feed herself and get on with it, she’s suddenly confronted with both of us willing and able to give her attention while she eats, which, of course, means she just doesn’t eat. And after five minutes of picking, she hops off her chair – because she can.

We’ve not found the answer yet. We’ve just decided to only attempt this family-at-the-table thing three times a week, and have had to accept that, at first, she’s only going to be able to sit with us to eat for a few minutes at a time, and hopefully she’ll be able to tolerate it for longer and longer as she gets older. Whatever she doesn’t finish on her plate, she gets for lunch the next day and, left to her own devices, she’s been polishing it off. I suppose we should give her smaller portions for supper, too, seeing as she’s still getting a cooked meal at lunchtime.

But the main thing I’m struggling with is not commenting on what or how much she eats. I’ve read that this is the best (possibly only) way to keep food from being a source of guilt or reward for your kids. I don’t want her to attach as much guilt to food as I did as a teenager and young adult, and I also don’t want to use it as a reward or punishment for her. I don’t want her to attach emotion to it. I don’t want her to become an emotional eater as an adult. i want her to enjoy food and to respect it. So once she’s said she’s had enough at the dinner table, I have to bite down hard on my tongue and quash my instinct to say “No, you haven’t. Just one more bite”, or “How about you just finish your carrots, then you can watch TV?”. I’m trying to get better at simply making sure that everything on her plate is healthy, so that no matter what or how much she eats, she’ll be getting something good. Toddlers are really good at knowing when they’ve had enough to eat and eating only when they’re hungry, and I really don’t want to mess with that. When we leave her to eat by herself and get on with it, I’m confident that she eats as much as she needs, but with eating at the table, I’m worried that she’s just saying she’s had enough because she’s got bored with sitting still. So I need to keep reminding myself that she’ll eat if she’s hungry, and that she will probably finish her food the next day when she gets her leftovers for lunch. It’s hard, though! So many of us were raised under the “you can’t leave the table until you finish your food” philosophy that it just comes naturally to try to encourage your kid to eat more than they would otherwise.

As far as what we eat goes, so far, we haven’t had to change very much, actually.

If you’re curious or want some inspiration for what to feed your tot (especially if you eat the same food, don’t want to eat too much meat, and don’t want to overload on carbs at night), have a look at the dishes we’ve made so far – they’ve all got Lil A’s approval. And that’s not easily won – she’s two-and-a-half and very particular about what she eats!

Spinach, mushroom and feta crustless quiche

Quinoa taco bowl

Jack Monroe’s spaghetti puttanesca

Greek fish tacos

Italian Chicken Caprese

And here are the resources I like to use to find tot-friendly family food:

Dinner vs Child on the Food52 blog (makes for pretty hysterical reading and has great ways to introduce complex flavours and “exotic” dishes to kids)

Jack Monroe in the Guardian (a bonus is that her recipes are also really budget-friendly)

Feel free to follow my yummysuppers board on Pinterest for some free inspiration – I cook 80% of the dishes I Pin onto it, and lately they’ve all been appropriate for family dinners. I’m not ever going to be dedicated enough to be a food blogger, but I think I’m getting to grips with the (relative) “art” of knowing which blogs to visit and which recipes to recreate.

Anywhere but here


I haven’t blogged for months and months, mostly because of some Interesting Life Developments that diverted my attention. I’ve had so much going on in my brain, so many thoughts about Living, and none of them have been coherent enough to shape into a single post.

But the only thing worse than a shitty blog is a neglected blog, so today I’m going to try to write about one of the issues I’ve been absent-mindedly dwelling on in the last few months. Not the quandaries of a second pregnancy (I’m halfway into mine, despite believing I’d not be able to get pregnant again, and not knowing if I even wanted to), about which I could wax lyrical; not about an imminent change in the texture of my workdays (after the baby, I’m resigning from work, and starting as a freelancer, so for the first time in my adult life, I won’t be on anybody’s full-time payroll); and not about my husband’s abrupt about-turn into taking leadership of a start-up and what that will mean for our family of three-nearly-four.

It’s about something a lot more general, but it’s also something I’ve got more questions than definitive thoughts about: staying in South Africa. (Edit: It irritates me when bloggers preface posts containing their personal opinion in this way, but I can see why they do. Reader, please know that if you are thinking of emigrating, or have emigrated, and I know you as a friend or family member, this is not a post criticising you or your motivations to leave. It’s more a statement on my experience of the politics of what it means to be a white middle-class South African in this day and age, using as a launchpad the instance of recently hearing that a friend – who is not a social media connection, so it’s probably not you – and her family are in the process of emigrating, and my feelings when she told me. It’s not about you, or anyone in particular. Thank you.)

I had to ask myself this question a few months ago: Why is it that when friends tell me they’re emigrating, the first thing I feel is betrayed? I wouldn’t feel that way if they were moving to a different city, so it’s not because they’re leaving Cape Town to live somewhere else and thus denying me their company.

And then: Do people in other countries feel this way when their friends emigrate?

Or do I feel betrayed at news of friends leaving South Africa because of where we’ve been in the last 20 years, the narrative of the Rainbow Nation – the idea that we’ve built this amazing, brand-new, free and open and wonderful society together since ’94, and you don’t get to just opt out of that? Even though we all know by now that the Rainbow Nation narrative was just that – a tall tale, a yarn – and that the majority of South Africans are poor, and desperate, and dismayed with all the things that haven’t happened in 20 years … Or is it because it makes me question my own choices, because it casts aspersions on my own satisfaction with our life here, because it makes me feel inferior for thinking that this is an incredible place to live?

It could be a little bit of all of those things. But after a while, I started to realise that the reason I feel betrayed is this: I feel like my friends, middle-class white people who leave South Africa because they’re dissatisfied with the way they live here, are just being ungrateful.

Because as a middle-class white South African, I know that we live a charmed life. We must be the most privileged group of people anywhere in the world. The end of apartheid did not mean that our lives changed – we never needed the stockpiles of bread my mother kept in the freezer, or the tins of beans she collected in case of war; we kept our sturdy homes and our schools and our private healthcare and our beach houses and our dignity and the respect of others, at least overtly, and hell, even our cars and books and electronics and TVs; we got to keep all the things we’d denied so many people. One of the only ways our lives changed was that now we could feel better about ourselves; our white guilt could start to be erased. We’re all equal now under law, right? If I succeed, it’s because of the work I’ve put in myself. I’ve worked hard every single day of my  life, and so I deserve everything I’ve got. The poor are the way they are because of bad decisions they’ve made. It’s basically their own fault. This kind of thing is easier to say now than it was for our parents. Of course, it’s all utter bullshit, but it’s so easy to adopt this attitude these days. If anything, since the end of apartheid, I feel like white middle-class South Africans have actually become more privileged.

So I look at my friends who have big houses and comfortable suburban lives and medical aid and every convenience they’d have in more developed countries (and, in many cases, more than they’d have overseas) and listen to them say that they’re leaving “because of the crime” (never mind that they’re safer in their suburbs than 99% of their fellow South Africans, and that the reason they feel so vulnerable is because so many people have so much less than they do, and maybe the best way to address this would be to start trying to solve it, like making monthly donations to organisations that give people a head-start in getting an education, finding work, learning skills) and “for their children”, and I just think – how can you be so ungrateful? What kind of life will you live in the UK, in the States, in Australia or New Zealand, that would be better than living here, right now? Tell me – what tangible or intangible privileges will your children have there that they’re not getting here?

And I’m coming up blank.

I love it here. I hope to never leave. I feel lucky and privileged and guilty every day, and in my own ways I’m going to keep trying to correct the terrible things that have happened and keep happening to put me and other people like me in this position of privilege.

But I can’t say any of this to people like me who are desperate to leave. The irony is that the reason they can choose to leave is their privilege – their other passports, their education, their resources, all the things that being white and middle-class in South Africa has allowed them. But the poor, the ones whose lives are really rotten? They’ve got nowhere to go.

Things I don’t want to forget about you


  • Last night, you wanted to read a “magazazine” instead of a storybook at bedtime. The only one we have is a freebie from the pharmacy and it’s very boring, but you turn every page carefully and look up and say “what’s that.” and then I have to try to explain the sparse pictures and ads: “The man is sick.” “Shame, poor man,” you say.
  • Hot days have “big sunshine”.
  • You tell me when your food is “too spicy”.
  • You know that you have hazel eyes and red hair, and that I have grey-green eyes and brown hair. And that your Daddy’s hair is too short for a bun, and you ask me to put your hair in a bun, or a “pewtail” or “two pewtails”.
  • You know your left from your right, and can direct me to and from school – “turn left!”, “go straight!”, “turn right!” – and you know what red and green traffic lights mean.
  • You call spiders “crabs” but then correct yourself and say “it’s a crab no maybe it’s a spider”, every time.
  • You’re convinced your full name is “Ava Schell” because our cat’s full name is “Oskar Schell”.
  • When you’re feeling sick, I ask if you’re okay, and you shake your head and say “Ava’s not okay.”
  • Right now, at nearly two-and-a-half, I am your favourite person. When you’re with me, you don’t want anybody else. “No, Daddy, go’way!” and “No Naume today!”. I’m trying to stop you from being so mean but I want you to be allowed to feel what you feel.
  • When we tell you to smile for photos, you say “Show me your teeth!” and then you hold your mouth open like you do for when we brush your teeth. It is not an attractive look.
  • You are obsessed with your shadow. “Come shadow, go get dressed now,” you say when it’s time to get ready for school.
  • You are completely potty-trained except when you sleep, but you refuse to use any toilets other than the ones at home – and you haven’t had an “accident” yet. You are clearly very determined.
  • Restaurants are your favourite places. Every evening you say hopefully, “Go restaurant?” You love sitting at the table with us, colouring in, and talking to the waitresses. (Garage petrol attendants are another favourite of yours. “Bye, man!” you say as we drive away.)
  • You also like to run through the shops (“sops”). It is not my favourite habit of yours.
  • Clothes don’t bother you too much – you don’t really care what you wear. But you have strong opinions on shoes and hats. I usually dress you according to the hat you’ve chosen.
  • Your favourite colour to name is beige, but, somehow, when given a choice, you will always choose the thing that is pink. (Painting your room blue and refusing to dress you in anything pink might have had the opposite effect to what I was hoping for.)