Saturday, December 19, 2009

I like to go a-wandering

Not content to wait until late January to begin the foray into the former Transkei, I’ve managed to convince my husband Gavin to do the 5-day coastal hike from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay over New Year. Admittedly this is one of the more touristed parts of the Eastern Cape, but in this part of the world, that doesn’t translate into glitzy resorts and unpotholed roads. The hike covers 61km over five days, you sleep in traditional thatched, round Xhosa huts, and eat local food: samp, beans, pap, chicken... The tour companies that sell it stress that it’s a challenge for the body and the mind – but one you’ll never forget. We start hiking on New Year’s eve which means we’ll be seeing in 2010 in a village shebeen. It’s a far cry from his original plan of a 5-star hotel under Table Mountain. Let's hope he doesn't trade me in for a less active model.
PS. This is probably the last time I'll have internet access for a while. Will return with gusto in 2010.

Friday, December 18, 2009

You've got to have Faith

I was chatting with Gerard, the lovely Zimbabwean guy who works as a security guard in our building. We met the last time I was visiting South Africa, and became friendly chatting about books. He's also a writer, and I always lend him whatever I've brought out with me. The price of books in South Africa is astronomical. That’s one of the things that delighted me when I went to the UK. There you can buy a book for the same price as a sandwich. Here in South Africa, new books cost as much as/more than a day’s wage for many South Africans.

I told Gerard about my project and my hope to find families that I can stay with and encounter real rural South African life and opinions. He said his pastor was from the Eastern Cape and he would mention my project to him. The next day he came back and said that the pastor’s wife, the pastrice as they call her, was fascinated by what I wanted to do, and that she wanted to invite me to her home in Khayelitsha to talk it over.

So early yesterday morning, just after Gerard had finished his nightshift, we drove out to Khayelitsha and were welcomed into the home of the pastor and his wife - Faith. It turns out that the pastor is related to one of the greats of the apartheid struggle, Walter Sisulu, and Faith wants to take me to their home in Ngcobo and to her family's home in Tsolo.

We've set a date for our road trip for the third week of January. I feel better now that I have Faith.

Another white girl in Africa

A few days ago I woke up to a fat case of self-doubt. What am I doing here and how’s my being here going to benefit anybody or anything – least of all me? My stomach has bound itself up in a warren of worry, and I’ve started waking myself up in the middle of the night to chastise myself that I am not simply satisfied with having a nice roof over my head. That nagging voice in the back of my head wants to know why I can’t just get on with the business of making babies and bouncing off the walls of my own little world? The last thing Africa needs is another white girl.
It takes a lot of strength to stand up to this tiresome voice. It’s even worse than a nagging mother because it doesn’t stop even when you lock yourself in your bedroom.
I try and give it a fair hearing, just in case it has some reasonable points to make, but it’s hardly the voice of reason. The voice of reason is even-handed and listens to what you have to say first. This one just talks over everything.
I’ve started talking back to it. Telling it that to walk through the world with blinkers who be to not walk through the world at all.
And then I console myself with the fact that the stars have lined up to get me this far.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Doctor, doctor

This is the second night we're being kept from sleep by howls, screams and eerie melodies played out on our apartment building’s plumbing. The Cape Doctor, the infamous south-easterly wind that rages in from the Atlantic, hasn’t shown any sign of dying. Our car sashayed all the way home from the cinema and the palm trees bowed to no applause.

Saw a film called Fahrenheit 2010, a documentary debating the wisdom of building new stadia for the football world cup while the country still lacks hospitals, schools and crucial services. My favourite quote had to be from Dr Danny Jordaan, CEO of the South African 2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee: "Our children can aspire to want to play in one of these football stadiums. No child aspires to go to hospital.

You've got to hand it to him. It's a little bit true. Wonder what he's a doctor of? My rands are on Spin.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big girl, little girl

Four days here and my mind is fizzing from sensory overload. Yesterday I went for a swim and my 8-year-old self clambered out the other side. I lay there soaking up the hot smell of baked paving stones, the put-put-putting of the kreepy krawly nosing its way around the pool, feeling the skin on my back start to cook. My grown-up self has some big ideas about wanting to understand this country politically, economically, socially, culturally... but the wee kid inside me just wants to “bomb” my brother.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Home again, home again

I’ve been away ten years. First mesmerised by the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus, latterly maudlin from the dark skies of the Scottish winter. As I packed up my little office overlooking the Glasgow alley where the city’s junkies huddle out of the incessant rain and bone-chilling winds, I felt like my prison sentence was up. I could finally, finally go home.

What kept me away so long? Well, when you grow up in Benoni (along with Charlize Theron) where the only mountain you can aspire to climb is a mine dump and the only wild animals are the ankle nipping beasts of the Bunny Park, you end up a little thirsty for experience. For too many years the world was something that happened to other people on television. I desperately wanted it to happen to me. And it did. I rode horses across Iceland and danced flamenco with a gypsy boy in the south of Spain. I fell in love with 006½ and got married under a tree in a fine mist. And then one day, I got this gurning in my gut, this ache for something I’d never hankered after before. I wanted to go home. But more than that, I wanted to know home.

There’s a Scottish folk song that I love to belt out when I’m alone in the car. It goes like this:
I don’t know if you can see the changes that have come over me,
In these last few days, I’ve been afraid, that I might drift away.
So I’ve been telling old stories and singing songs,
That made me think about where I came from
And that’s the reason, why I feel so far away, today.
And let me tell you that I love you, that I think about you all the time, Caledonia’s (insert relevant country/person/food) been calling me, now I’m going home.
And if I should become a stranger, you know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything, I’ve ever had
Caledonia’s been everything, I’ve ever had.

(Cue bagpipes)

Sometimes I feel like I’ve always been a stranger to South Africa. A wee white girl who grew up in a neat house in a neat row in a neat white suburb, miles and lives away from the rural homelands and heartlands.
The only time I ever got close to this world was driving the N2 through what was then the Transkei and Ciskei, avoiding goats and dogs as we ploughed our way at 120km/hr towards Grahamstown and Rhodes University.
But I hope things are about to change.

A few months ago I was awarded a media fellowship from the Open Society Foundation for South Africa. They fund journalists to spend three months researching into a topic of their choice related to the modern South African democracy. What I wanted to find out was this: what’s life like now in the rural Eastern Cape and KwaZulu? So much of this democracy – its successes and its problems – seems to take place on an urban stage. How has democracy changed the lives of people in those rural places that I only ever saw through a car window?

I’ll be getting my boots muddy from January through March. My hope is that I can arrange to stay with families in rural villages and learn about life there first-hand. Right now it’s early December, I’ve just arrived in Cape Town and I’m soaking up the buzz, gazing at the Atlantic, meeting old friends and family, and looking for ways in to the story.

Rainbow’s End will be the first home for all the sights, sounds and feelings of home that are already dancing and drumming in my head.