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Posts Tagged ‘south africa’

One of Jenty’s recent posts inspired me to pay attention to my blog again. She is sad one of her really good friends is emigrating to New Zealand very soon.

I’ve emigrated twice, first from South Africa to the UK and then from the UK to the USA. Ten years ago last month, Jenty said goodbye to me too. It’s taken me years to fully understand what that leaving did to the friends and family I left behind.

I very nearly lost a dear friend forever (not Jenty) because of the resulting sadness and anger. We fixed it though and reached a new level of understanding between us and our relationship has grown because of it, but it was scary for a while.

I bitterly disappointed my Dad and Step-Mom when I left the UK – they were in the process of emigrating from South Africa to the UK to be with their newly born grandkids and all us kids who had made our way to the UK – and then I left to go to the USA. Of course they “understood”, but the feelings were raw and I think still are to a degree.

In many ways, it’s easier to be the one leaving. You have so much to look forward to, so much to think about, you don’t have time to really dwell on anything. It’s sad for the person leaving, but even sadder for the people left behind.

But it changes.

The people left behind get drawn back into their regular lives and although they miss the person, their lives are pretty much “normal”.  Slowly, the resulting gap is filled back in, albeit with tiny air holes.  Because, let’s face it, that’s life.  People may not leave an area, but interests change and friendship dwindle and new friendships start.  It’s a natural process, but generally a slow and relatively easy progression.  The hurt may always be there, but it gets mixed in with normal life.

For the person who left though, those gaps are never filled in.  Because it’s not just one gap, left by one person.  It’s a whole family gap, a whole friends gap, a whole time gap, a whole history gap, a whole philosophical gap, a whole culture gap, sometimes even a whole language gap.  You no longer have the attitudes, beliefs and norms, which you pretty much absorbed as an infant, as your security of being and assurance of your place in the world.  You have to learn all that again, as a conscious adult.  You likely sound different from the people around you.  Your difference is always noted.  Your loss is always there, just under the surface, waiting to have its scab picked at by people around you who are excited by your different-ness.  You try to fit in and do fit in – mostly.  But there is always a difference and beneath the difference lies the pain of homesickness.

Of course, I speak from my own experience.  Others may not have experienced emigration this way, but I have also observed it time and time again with other expats.

I never expected this.  Ten years after leaving my homeland, the pain is more bitter, more intense.  I regularly break down in tears because of it — like now.

So why, you ask don’t I just go back?  Because I can’t.  Physically, I am safer here than in SA.  My kids will have a safer and happier existence here than in SA.  I have made a life here – I have fought for a life here.  By the time I realised this pain would intensify and not diminish over time, it was too late.  I was too deeply entrenched in life here with my american husband, step-kids and wonderful soul-sister friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the US – for so many reasons that will fill a few posts one day.  But my heart aches and yearns for stark, raw Africa, the land of my birth, childhood, teenage-hood and early adulthood.   And even though I only lived in the UK for 5 years, I miss that precise shade of green that I’ve only ever encountered in rainy England and the ancient European history that just oozes from every town and village.  But mostly, my heart justs aches to be with my immediate family who all live in the UK now and my friends who are now scattered around the globe (OZ, NZ, SA).

Jenty, I am so sorry for your pain.  I know that every friend or family member who leaves just adds to the hurt and amplifies the old hurt again.   As someone who commented on your blog said, at least we have the internet.  It doesn’t make it all the way better, but it does help some.

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Today is a day that will go down in history across the world. In case you missed it (as if!), today is the US Election Day, a culmination of an historic electoral process, and possibly the day the US gets their first black president.

Wow! I feel truly privileged to be alive in these times and even more privileged to be witnessing this process first hand, here in Maryland, USA.

And yet, it is strange for me. I am resident here, married to a wonderful American man, step-mother to 2 American kids, had property on US soil, hopefully soon-to-be mom to an American baby – and yet I cannot vote. Massive decisions are being made about my life today – and I do not have a voice.

Oh, please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t expect to have a voice – yet. I understand why foreigners should not have a voice. It’s just disconcerting. Wanting to have a say in what will affect my life and yet not being allowed to. Shades of how it might have felt for woman all those years ago? And black people, not too long ago? Obviously it’s not quite the same. But still, it’s really got me thinking.

With a strange sense of disbelief, I’ve been reading the pleading blog posts, begging people to vote. Apparently there are some who think it is cool not to vote. Huh? How is it cool not to have a voice? It is only through the privilege of knowing you can vote if you want to, that you have the luxury of not voting in the first place. How do people not see this? How do people not see that could be ripped away at ANY MOMENT?

As my husband went off to vote this morning and I stayed behind, I couldn’t help but think about the last time I voted.

It was 1994 in South Africa and I was 23 years old.  It was to be my first vote (I was old enough to vote in the previous elections, but I really had not become involved and it all seemed pretty  meaningless to me, and eventually I didn’t bother voting). Apartheid had been abolished, Nelson Mandela had been released from prision and was then the head of one of the major running parties, the ANC. It was also the first time blacks were able to vote. As whites, we knew that we would probably go from our all white, mainly Afrikaans government to a black government. The non-white population outnumbered the white population by 10 to 1 and of course the blacks would vote ANC (and who would not vote for Mandela, the hero and legend?). So we knew our lives were going to change dramatically. We just didn’t know how. And we were very, very scared.

The whole country had voting day off work, school etc as it was declared a national holiday. The powers that be were making damn sure there would be no reason people couldn’t vote if they wanted to. Logistically speaking they were managing a process the magnitude of which had never before been seen in South Africa. They were expecting people to have to queue all day long to vote. They were expecting violence and intimidation. It was a dramatic and energy-filled time and place to be alive in (as today in the US is).

The day dawned and it was a beautiful sun-filled April day, unlike today which is grey and overcast (in MD anyway). I knew what I was voting. For me, wrapped up in fear, there was only one choice really. I would vote for the National Party, the traditionalist white party. I was so scared of the unknown; I just could not vote ANC. I was aware that my vote, in the vast sea of expected ANC votes, would not matter, would not tip the scales. But I wanted to have that tiny voice anyway, even if it was to be drowned out. There was also a tiny flicker of hope that a miracle would happen and we would stay the same and not head into unknown oceans.

I remember being so scared that day. What would happen at the polls? Would we be attacked? Would the police and army be able to keep any unrest at bay?

So my friend, her husband and I queued at the local primary (elementary) school to vote. It wasn’t too bad. If memory serves correctly, I think we only queued for about 2 or 3 hours, which was great considering the predictions. We debated amongst ourselves…would we bother voting if the queue was really long…would we bother standing the whole day? I was so grateful to not have to make that choice, because I really wanted to vote, but couldn’t fathom standing a whole day to do so. There was no violence or intimidation (where we were anyway) and everyone was quite jovial. I don’t recall seeing many blacks though, but assumed they would be queuing nearer their homes (we still had segregated living then). I don’t recall the actual vote itself, but I remember feeling awesome after the fact. I had voiced my opinion in government matters, first time ever!

In retrospect, I am ashamed that my vote was governed by fear and color, not the actual issues at hand. My only excuse is that I was young, and brainwashed, and very, very afraid.

When we returned home we spent the rest of the day watching the television coverage of the elections. That day I gained a new respect for my fellow black country men and woman. They stood for hours and hours and hours to vote. They stood during violence and intimidation. They stood on dirt roads with children on their backs, with little or no water, under the baking African sun. They stood till the sun went down. And they stood some more. And still it wasn’t enough time.

They were a determined people. They would be heard. No matter what it took.

The powers that be decided that the next day would be a national holiday as well, to allow those that had stood the whole day, another opportunity to cast their vote.

So they stood again, after standing the entire previous day. And as they cast their votes, we watched on TV. It was a humbling experience. Voting had to be extended to a third day, but that day was not declared a national holiday.

I will never forget the lessons I learned on those historic days. How very important it is to have a voice and then to voice it, even if you think it won’t make a difference.

Of course the ANC won the election, as we knew it would. And we had our first black president, the great man Nelson Mandela. It was not an out-and-out win though (2/3 majority). A tripartite government was formed, of which the National Party was one. So my vote DID count. And in a good way. We now had a more balanced government.

Nelson Mandela will always hold a special place in my heart, but not for the usual folk legend activist reasons. But because he took our country in his hands and held it gently. He could have massacred us whites, us who had imprisoned him and terrorized and murdered his people for so many years. He could have taken away our voice. But he didn’t. Instead, he fostered the Rainbow Nation. For that he will always be the greatest hero our generation has ever seen, in my eyes anyway.

So today, sitting here in the US, as I ponder on how yet again I may witness a first black president, think about what it might be like to not be heard. And know that as much as it might not seem possible in this day and age, that right could be ripped from you at ANY TIME. So use it, damnit! And be grateful.

As an aside, it is gratifying for me to see that out of all the many blogs I follow, the people (that I know of) who are monitoring the voting locations, ensuring safety and fairness for all and not just talking about it or blogging about it, are my pagan friends. Yay for pagans!

For the record, if I could vote, I would vote for Obama. The reasons are long and convoluted and not really interesting reading. But I just thought I’d mention it, because it’s just so interesting for me to see where I came from and where I’m at now.

I might also add that because of this election I have decided to become a US citizen as soon as I am able to. I want a voice where I live.

Happy voting, my US friends!

(If you’re up for it, here is some further reading: 1994 SA Elections, SA Voting System and History, Mandela )

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Today my heart is sore.

Last night South African crime claimed it’s first victim from my family.

Many of my close friends and family members have been victimized by criminals in South Africa over the last few years:

  • My mom was car-jacked and held at gun point. Luckily she escaped with her life, purse-less and car-less, but unharmed. At her pleading, the villains were kind enough to at least leave her very expensive medications.
  • My dad was car-jacked and held at gun point and lost his personal belongings and his car. He was also lucky enough to escape unharmed and alive.
  • My brother-in-law was car-jacked and held at gun point with an AK47. He also escaped with his life, banged up some, but alive.
  • A good friend was held at gun point in his factory and robbed.
  • Another friend and her family (incl. 2 small children) were attacked in their home, bound and robbed. They too escaped with their lives, but not before some serious threats were made towards their lives and insinuations of rape made towards my friend and her little girl.

(These are just some of the violent and ugly crimes I can think of right now).

But last night was the first time someone close to me actually lost their life to South African crime…my uncle. I don’t know the full details yet, but he was murdered in his home in the early hours of the morning.

I feel sick. And so very grateful that I no longer live in South Africa and that most of my friends and immediate family live in more peaceful countries. It is hard being so far from home. But oh-my-gosh, the pain of separation is far better than the constant living in fear and wondering when it’s going to happen to me or my husband or my kids.

May you rest in peace Uncle Allan.

It has been a strange time…with death surrounding me this whole month.

18th August – My birthday. A few days before, I was clearing out some paperwork and found a old birthday card. It was the very last birthday card my mother ever sent me before she died in December 2006. I hardly ever keep cards, so it’s a miracle I still had it. It felt like a gift from her, sent down from heaven just for my birthday this year.

20th August – My uncle Brian and uncle Ian’s birthday.  Except Brian is no longer with us as he choose to barricade himself in his apartment, set it on fire and then jump out of the window when someone tried to bash his door down to save him.  He never knew my mom had died as he had disappeared from the family and no one knew where he was. He died as a pauper without his next of kin being notified. My uncle Ian went on a countrywide search looking for him and found out his fate about 2 months after he died.

26th August – My friend Nicole’s grandmother passed away. Nicole was very close to her grandmother and is feeling the loss acutely. My heart goes out to her.

27th August – The 1st anniversary of my cousin Clint’s untimely death. He was 39 and left behind his wife and small son. The doctors still don’t understand what went wrong exactly, so there is a lot of unresolved pain around his death. Clint and I had lost touch over the years, but we spent many childhood vacations together. We had just become reacquainted via Facebook in June 2007 and then he died in August 2007. I cannot bring myself to delete him from my Facebook friend list. So there he still stays, like he is still alive and never left. Strangely, I dreamt of him during this past week. He appeared to me as a spirit protector. How wonderfully comforting that was.

29th August – The anniversary of my grandfather’s death. He was a lovely, gentle, peaceful man. This day is also my brother’s birthday. He turned 30 this year.

30th August – The day of Nicole’s grandmother’s funeral. This day is also Kat’s, another good friend, wedding.

3rd Sept – Today my uncle Allan is murdered in his home. Out of 4 siblings, only one remains. My mother passed away in December 2006, prematurely, through smoking complications. My uncle Brian committed suicide December 2007.  And now my uncle Allan – gone. My heart goes out to my uncle Ian. Loosing all his siblings in an 18 month period. Today is also the day of my father’s birthday.

What a month of bitter sweetness….of endings and beginnings…of joy and sadness. The wheel of life really does continue turning.

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Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Once again I found myself emotional when watching a movie about South Africa. And the above quote? I happened to be quietly teary just before that, but when James Earl Jones quoted that piece in the movie, I could not contain myself any longer and just broke down sobbing. My dear husband is so sweet and patient with me when I become overcome like that. I just could not get over how apt that quote is for me…”For fear will rob him of all“…and indeed it has. It was fear which drove me away from South Africa, which is still driving my friends and family away.  Will it ever stop?

The book was originally written in 1946, 2 years before apartheid became official, and already fear was shaping the nation.  I was born into that fear, nursed on it.  No wonder fear wracks through me still, even 10 years after being away from it.  It was almost as if Alan Paton could see into the future when he wrote that he wonders if love will be transformed into hatred.  I wonder what he would think if he were to see what South Africa is today.

I just have to read the book now.  The movie was powerful, but books are always better at capturing the nuances.

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Africa Weeps

Sue’s Arty Farty Musings is a blog I follow on my RSS reader and although I don’t always have time to delve into it, I found I had some time this peaceful Sunday morning.

Her latest work, ‘Africa Weeping‘ is AWESOME!  Check it out.  I want me some 🙂  If I could afford it, that is.

These paintings so totally speak to my soul…tugging at my African Heritage heartstrings.

I don’t know if I’ve blogged about this before, but I feel guilty for leaving South Africa (I’ve been away for nearly 10 years now – wow!).  I feel that I profited growing up white in an apartheid South Africa, had privileges my fellow countryman did not, and all because my skin was white and not black.  And when it became tough to live in SA, when it became a struggle of life and death, I left.  Make no mistake, I still think it was the smartest move for me and my family.  Yet I feel guilty.  Like I should be giving back, putting back into the country I freely fed upon growing up, joining the struggle to make it a growing, prospering country again.  Sometimes I think about going back and my blood runs cold and fear for my life stops me.  Is that smart or selfish?  I oscillate between the two and haven’t yet found the happy medium.

This is what makes my current job the sweetest of ironies…I work for a historically black university here on the Eastern US seaboard.  This was purely unintentional of course, it just happened to be the job which fitted in my current lifestyle the best.  So now I find myself working back my karma, on US soil, in relatve safety, for a people who were historially disadvantaged not only here in the US but who were also violently and butally uprooted from their African homeland.  And I find that my guilt is slowing dissolving and the wounds healing.

Aint life strange sometimes.  And of course, even though it may appear otherwise, nothing is ‘just co-incidence’ 😉

No matter how many years I spend away from South Africa, I will always be African at heart and the African lanscape will always call to me.  I hope I’ll be able to have some of that landscape, so poignantly captured, in my home, bringing it just a tiny bit closer.

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The State of South African Politics

… is crazy and very sad right now.  This is an awesome account of the current craziness.

I worry about my friends and family left behind.

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