Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Punch in the gut

It hits you like a punch in the stomach. It comes out of nowhere. You're going along fine, living a perfectly ordinary life - waking up, going to work, doing the job, complaining about the job. And then one morning you wake up and all you want, with all your heart, is home. Suddenly all the on-top-of-each-other skyscrapers, all the people crowded into a city too small, the cars and buses, and the noise and strange smells, are unbearably overwhelming. Out of nowhere, the little things - the fact that you can't find flour in a foreign alphabet, the fact that no-one sells South African wines, bureaucratic delays - are huge and debilitating.

Yesterday, I was fine. I was annoyed about disorganisation and a little nervous to teach low-level kids. Today I don't want to leave the house. I don't want to step outside into this world. As long as I stay here, with English music and English TV shows, with some of my own things, I can pretend I'm somewhere else. If I step outside, I have to be here. I can no longer pretend that I'm not all alone, completely alone, in a foreign country. More alone than I've ever been because aloneness is compounded by linguistic and cultural barriers. Facial expressions, gestures, nods are a minefield of lost-in-translation.

I'm surrounded by, immersed in foreign. The occasional flash of something in English, like a hamburger place, is American. And all I want is home. It's September. The Jasmine is in flower and the whisteria is on the way. The weather is getting warmer. The trees are starting to get new leaves. Every day is filled with the first stirrings of spring. And the skies are blue. So blue. So big and wide open and blue. Everywhere there are wide open spaces. I miss it.

I miss taxis that play their music so loudly that the whole street feels like it's vibrating. I miss vuvuzelas and controversy. I miss people speaking Afrikaans and the first conversation of the week always being about the rugby. I miss the ANC YL's crazy utterances. I miss the real problems and the real attempts to deal with the problems, however amateurish and inept. I miss satire and a nation that can laugh at itself. I miss people who talk about things, who complain about things, who are aware of things. I miss the food and the drinks. I miss Steers and Castle and all the ingredients that are always there in every South African kitchen. I miss not having to drink bottled water and milk tasting like milk. I miss being able to get proper meat everywhere and supermarkets that are clean and professional and sophisticated. I miss rands and cents and South African banks. I miss Pep Stores and Checkers and Mamas who carry their money next to their breasts. I miss African music. I miss the music everywhere. Rhythm and melody. And everyone being able to sing. Everyone singing all the time. I miss intelligent advertising and Afrikaans soapies. I miss the news and 50/50. I miss the ordinariness. I'm so tired of everything being different and new and exciting. I miss things just being normal.

More than anything, I miss the freshness of the air, the crispness, the smell of woodsmoke, and the people. All the people I don't see that often when I'm there but I always know are just a plane-ride or a bus-trip or just-down-the-road away. I miss Friday afternoon quiet drinks at the club. I crave a gentle evening out with a stunning dinner and some wine at SoulSA. I am stuck in memories of evenings at Five Flies and Hussars and Grahamstown Festival and the Rat. I can picture, so clearly, the sparkle of light on water sitting at a table outside at Quay Four and the occasional tea at Rhodes Mem, on days when you can see all the way to forever. I miss hung-over wine-tasting and Nelson Mandela Square. I miss the people who shared those moments. I spend my days tiptoeing around because no-one knows me, no-one has the history, the context. When I say something, I have to consider how they might react because their contexts are so different. Their stereotypes are different. When someone mentions racism, they mean the way Koreans treat Americans and Canadians and other white foreigners. Discussions about home make me want to cry because they show nothing except how little anyone I meet, Korean or American/Canadian has any idea of anything about Africa.

Most days it's really not too bad. I live here, I get on with it. Days pass. Months pass. Today it's not okay. Today, with an ache I can't put into words, a deep longing that brings tears to my eyes, I want to go home.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Hawk. I know exactly what you mean. :(
    It probably doesn't help right now, but it will pass... Promise.