Monday, March 8, 2010

Still a little salty

This morning I went to pick my husband Gavin up from Cape Town airport. He’d been back to Scotland to say a final goodbye to our old dog Patch who departed for Elysian Fields on Friday. We’ll miss you so much old friend.

I got there just in time to see the British Airways plane touch down, its wheels smoking on the runway, and as I smiled at the safe landing, it was as if all those thoughts that have been spinning around in my head for the last few months also bumped gently to earth.

I’ve been back in South Africa for 3 months, partly to work, partly to interrogate my mind and my senses about where I belong. Do I belong in the shadow of the Magic Mountain? Do I belong in Britain? Am I South African? Can I be South African when I wasn’t even born here but feel so alive here? Is there a warm patch of earth for these roots that I’ve been so cavalierly carrying over my arm?

Seeing that big blue bird arrive with the other half of my heart and life made it all seem so clear. Yes, I am British. I am one of them. After all, I was born in Yorkshire and raised by two Yorkshire folk. But I was raised in the veld, next to a mielie field, and speak fluent Afrikaans and a smattering of Xhosa, and that makes me South African too.

Back in the colonial days, someone with one foot in Africa and one foot in the UK was called a Soutpiel - a Salty Dick because as your legs stretched across the world, your dick (if you were a man, and weren't we all back then?) would trail in the Atlantic.

My double-identity might still make me a Soutpiel, but I'm not a colonialist, and I never was. My parents arrived here as economic refugees escaping Thatcher's crushing blows to the hard industry of the North of England when I was just 5.

I'm a modern child of Africa, an immigrant, another happenstance player in an incredible, evolving tale of which I’m proud to have a bit-part.

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