I’m a small town girl

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Or maybe a ‘no town’ girl!

I’m ‘down south’ atm and I can’t wait to go home. I’ve uploaded my book, sorted out the kid’s problems and I wanna go home…

I don’t like visiting South Africa, but Ant managed to total my little car (‘ello ‘ello…, not ‘my lille tank!) and I had to sort out Pee’s new lille car…so I HAD to dash down.

Within a day of arriving I determined I would go out and find some real milk, you know, milk from a cow…So we got in Pee’s (new) car and drove down Malibongwe drive. And we drove and we drove. No cows. So we stopped and asked some guy and he said: “I don’t know, I buy my milk at the pick ‘n pay…” You know, he drives from the east rand everyday and he works in the wilds of Muldersdrift!! Imagine that.

We tracked down a shop, finally and measured it is 14.7km from where the kids live in Randburg…It’s fresh jersey cow milk… ah…from a cow. It hasn’t been denatured in any way. So now, I tell my stomach, you can stop complaining! This doesn’t help me with the plastic covers on everything, but the veggie shop the kids use is great, and luckily Cush can’t eat meat and I brought mine with me…yes. I carried three packets of Richard’s prime ribeye with me, wrapped in a blanket.

Instead of only winging about South Africa this time, I went out and did useful things: I bought a kombucha ‘mother’ for the kids, and both water and milk kefir. I was a little worried about that stuff, until the guy told me to pronounce it kephier. Cool. Cos I don’t want to sound like the guy in the white BMW who yelled out the window at a lady in a red car. Do you know, this is the first time I have EVER heard that word used in a public place? I was shocked! I don’t think she heard though…

In a free moment, I sat down to try to identify when the wheels fell off for me and South Africa. You see, being a Rhodesian, and then later a Zimboe, the first thing we ever saw was a fat, moustached man sitting behind the glass window of the immigration desk asking awkward questions. Then another, fat moustached man, at customs, asking if we had any biltong…as if it were any of his business. Then we were stopped by the police (more fat, moustached, motorbike riding men) at every little dorpie between Mesina and Rustenburg where Gran lived. I did everything wrong in South Africa. I went in to the non-white toilets (I can’t read Afrikaans) I chatted to a black street sweeper, greeted the coloured teller in the supermarket.

But I think the story I added to my Smashwords ‘interview’ cemented my feelings for South Africa:

When I was about eight years old, we spent a school holidays at the coast. Very brown and very lost, I decided to catch a bus in Johannesburg central, with “RUSTENBURG” written on the window.

I climbed up the steps and the conductor barely glanced at me, only pointed with his thumb at the steps leading to the upper floor. Ignorant about the implications of this action I said, “But there is plenty of room down here…” Now he did look at me: with such a look of contempt on his face I was silenced. Upstairs, sitting among the blacks and coloureds, I felt utterly at home. I could easily have been in Bulawayo! When I finally made my way back to my gran’s, my father explained the reason I was sent upstairs.

This single incident had a profound influence on me. It gave me a tiny insight into the lives of the millions of black people in Southern Africa. Everyday, in buses, shops, on the streets, so called white people looked at people of colour like that conductor did me. (Or worse, not notice them at all.)

The conductor knew nothing about me. I could have been a master musician, or a genius mathematician!! He couldn’t know, just by looking at me. All he saw was my dark skin and he didn’t even talk to me. He only pointed with his thumb. This happened to black people every day, all over Southern Africa and they had to just grin and bear it. Although I came from (racist) Rhodesia I had never experienced the open contempt for a person that conductor displayed simply because of my skin colour.

We all slip into speech patterns, use words such as “them” and “these guys,” or simply “blacks” and don’t stop to ask ourselves exactly what we mean. I am blessed with many black friends who don’t mind pulling me up about it, for which I am very grateful.

The new South Africa is better than the old one, but the feelings of inadequacy have been indelibly imprinted on my psyche. (hey, wow, what do you think of that phrase?…maybe I will be a writer one day!!!!!) I do everything wrong. As a child I went into the wrong toilets. Now I go the wrong way down (badly marked) one-ways. I wait for oncoming traffic when an arrow is blinking, or I can’t see the road markings and just bully my way across an intersection.

South Africans change things all the time, especially to trick me. Last year, an orange arrow meant the traffic may come towards me, now a green one means that. They change intersections into circles and then don’t know how to negotiate them! They have stop streets, but don’t stop at them.

It’s all too much for me and I always become very unhappy if I have to spend much time down here. Bulawayo hardly has robots, we know how to use give-way rights. We don’t have little green arrows, lurking in obscurity off the side of the pole. In Bulawayo NOTHING changes. We wouldn’t consider changing a robot intersection to a traffic circle, or, heaven forbid, build a new building, knock it down and rebuild a different one, all in the space of a few years.

And no one, absolutely no one would scream the K word out the window!

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5 responses »

  1. Would have liked to read the original! I find that South Africans use that term far more freely than anyone else I know, always makes me cringe. So ridiculous, if you milk a cow here, you can not even give the milk, legally, to your wife or child to drink. One of my really good memories is of taking a mug to the cow shed at milking time, for lovely creamy milk. Before machine milking, of course!

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