Category Archives: Things without a category

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.

 

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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?

 

Leaving

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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.

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“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?”

Anywhere but here

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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.

One of my greatest fears

This is the Writers’ Bootcamp Day Three topic. I’m not a fan, I’ve got to say.

The temptation is just to write

SHARKS

And be done with it. But that defeats the point of the bootcamp, which is to spend 60 minutes writing. Unless I typed one letter every 10 minutes,

SHARKS

is not going to cut it.

There’s no way this is going to be an interesting post, to write or to read, if I just go on about the things I’m scared of. I fear what I imagine most happy, comfortable, middle-class people fear: loss (of love, money, security, a parent, a child, my home, a pet, respect); pain; being a victim of violence; failure; growing old without dignity, alone and forgotten; car accidents; plane crashes; cancer; heights; people not liking you; dying.

And my fears as a parent are fairly pedestrian: choking-drowning-suffocating-notbeinghappy-drugs-eatingdisorders-lowselfesteem-ridingintheopenbackofabakkieonOuKaapseWeg-drunkdriving-rape-emigrating-beingbullied-hatingherbody-beingstuckinaburningbuilding-notlikingme-strugglingatschool-neverfindinglove.

Nope, nothing much of interest there.

No matter how terrified I am of things going wrong, I am privileged enough to feel pretty secure almost all of the time. My husband and I are in a marriage of equals. I am university qualified and have a job I enjoy and am reasonably good at (though obviously, for financial reasons, I wish someone had steered me away from Journalism and pointed me in the direction of the BCom section of the university flyer before I enrolled). I am healthy, and my child is of robust health and developing completely normally. And even if she weren’t healthy, our private medical aid would take care of the financial side of things if there was a problem. We own our house and aren’t overwhelmed by the bond repayments. We have private security, live in a very low-crime area, and have airbags in our cars.

I am as safe in my happiness and comfort as I think it is possible to be. I am a middle-class white South African, with all the support that that entails. Through nothing more than an accident of birth, I belong to one of the luckiest groups of people alive today. (Caveat: I will continue to try to atone for the lucky breaks that people like me get for the rest of my life and that is exactly as it should be.)

My fears are vague. Occasionally, they nag, but they’re not all-consuming.

Our nanny, though.

She spent the first two years of her daughter’s life living in a wendy house that leaked constantly for five months of the year. Even though she can now afford to live in a flat, her daughter’s cough and rattling chest will never go away. When she takes her to the clinic, the nurses tell her that because she’s not South African, she shouldn’t be there, that she should pay for private medical care because her daughter is taking the place of South African children in the queue. Her daughter’s father drinks too much and doesn’t work. She has to go to Home Affairs every three months to renew her asylum seeker’s permit, every time knowing that there’s a possibility it could get revoked and that she’d end up back home, with no job and no prospects. She left her son there because couldn’t afford for him to live with her when she first arrived in Cape Town. Now she’s thinking of bringing him to live with her, but he’s just started doing well in school after recovering from breaking his leg in three places – he had to miss six months of school while he recovered because there was no way for him to get there if he couldn’t walk. She’s got a good salary but work as a nanny can’t go on forever because the child she loves (mine) is almost old enough to go to full-time preschool and then what if she doesn’t find another job, or what if she does, and it’s with a family that doesn’t respect her and kids who don’t love her like mine does? Or what if she can only find a job that pays less, which means she won’t be able to feed her daughter the preservative-free food she needs because of her allergies, and she ends up in ER again and again, and won’t be able to keep sending her son to private physios for his leg, and he ends up with a permanent limp that will mean he is overlooked for certain jobs as he gets older? Then what?

I reckon if I asked our nanny, who is about as vulnerable as it is possible to be, to write about her greatest fear, this post might be worth something, because I don’t really know what it is to be afraid.