Sunday, August 30, 2009

Being an Afrikaner on the first day of September

The first day of September used to hold great memories for me growing up as a child. When I was in primary school (age 7-13) it was the one day we were allowed to wear "siwwies" otherwise known as casual clothes freeing us from our hideous, warm and contraceptive uniform (no one would touch you when you were wearing that thing). We would all go to the school hall where we would sing songs in Afrikaans and about being an Afrikaner and we would lock arms and sway to the rhythm of the old piano on the left side of the stage. Good times.

When I went to high school that was the one day I was really looking forward to (my birthday and Christmas were during the holidays so they don't count), but to my utter dismay the first day of spring came and gone as unnoticed as a streaker at a nudist camp.
When I asked my mom about it that day she just gave me her usual children should be seen and not heard response which meant I'd either have to wait and ask her about it when I was considered an adult (I'm still waiting for that day to come) or I could go ask Pule our gardener that had been mowing our lawn with me holding the electric chord behind him all the way and teaching me how to trim roses since I could remember.

I could never tell how old Pule actually was. He had too many wrinkles to determine an accurate age.

It's suffice to say that he wasn't 21 anymore.

To me he was the wisest man on this side of the world because obviously Einstein or Goethe already claimed that role in the northern hemisphere. Pule had little posessions, but it never seemed to bother him. Nothing could break his slow, steady stride and come to think of it: I had never seen that man run. Ever. Not even the time when he found a beehive in the wall below the bathroom window. I, on the other hand, would've given Forest a bloody run for his money that day, so to speak.

Now, Pule was black. With post-apartheid or post-segregation still in diapers people felt the way someone feels when he spots a spider (that he is weary and kinda afraid of) in the bathroom while taking a wee and he watches the spider not knowing what to expect: is the spider going to jump him and bite his weener leading to infection and having to get it amputated? Or is the spider going to move retreat down the basin into the drain and allow the man to run to his phone and call Pest Control? You get the picture.

But I didn't really know all about these things. All that mattered to me at fourteen were shoes called Jelly Babies, the latest Roxette cassette (or what we used to call "tapes") and trying not to push the pimples on my face whilst strapping my emerging boobs down with bandages. I had early onset cupsize-syndrome: when my friends were still as flat as an ironing board, my chest area looked like molehills.

The infamous Jelly Babies. They may not seem that fabulous NOW, but ten years ago they were like Jimmy Choos to teenagers here. Upon finding an image of these shoes, they called them "vintage." I am oficially old. Shit.

I asked Pule if he knew why we never sang our traditional Afrikaner songs at school that day.

Pule took a puff from his pipe, tucked on his old Northern Transvaal cap(these days know as the Blue Bulls rugbyside: the best in the country by far and even winning the Super 16 twice now thus being the only South African side able to accomplish that) and then he said:

"If you came to my house and we only spoke Sesotho (which I didn't understand back then), would you feel comfortable?"

What was he going on about? Of course not. The only thing I could say in Sesotho back then was what way is the police station? and I doubt that phrase would have been appreciated at Pule's place.

I just shook my head.

"How many black children are there in your school now?" Pule asked.

An image of me and my brother playing that video game Othello came to mind.

I was always white (repeat after me class: white equals good) which meant my brother had to be the black side (repeat after me class: black equals bad). I kicked his lily ass in that game time after time; I could always feel victory approach as my white dots slowly but surely turned his black dots over to my color until the board looked like evenly spread out snowflakes followed by me rubbing salt in his wounds and then having to run as fast as I could from objects coming my way at amazing speeds. His aim was usually fairly true.

Schools during the nineties seemed a lot like that Othello board with about 90 percent white kids and the rest consisting of black, brown or Indian children.

"The black kids in your school grew up hating Afrikaans. Some of their brothers and sisters died for standing up against that language. Do you think they would be happy if they had to sing songs about spring and the Afrikaner in that language with those memories in their hearts?"

The famous picture of the dying Hector Peterson in the arms of a friend with his sister running beside them.

I remember that conversation to this day. Especially after the whole District 9 movie that'd been released worldwide recently. The movie is set in that very place where Hector Peterson lost his life in 1976 when a nervous, young white policeman accidentally pulled off a shot when the children came too close. The children were toi toing (protesting) against the fact that their primary language in school would be Afrikaans which they couldn't even understand, let alone speak.

District 9 is about the recent Xenophobia-episode we had here in South Africa and it's about apartheid (segregation) and how the oppressed eventually had enough and rebelled against the government. I have mixed feelings about this film because it brings back those old grudges and the bitterness and the unforgiving hatred of losing a child, a husband, a mother, a loved one.

I have mixed feelings because I'm tired of saying I'm sorry for something I had no part in.
I'm tired of feeling guilty for something I didn't do, but which the color of my skin ties me to.

I'm tired of feeling angry because the language I dream in, the language I pray in, the language of my soul must now be taken away and killed like a rabid dog.
This country drenched in blood is the only home I know; where would I go if I had to leave? Where could I feel the sun on my skin every day even when it's winter, where I can see the Big Five wander about their daily routine less than ten metres away from where I'm sitting (in a Land Rover with a guy holding a f*cking HUGE gun), where I could eat biltong (almost like beef jerky), pap en vleis (porridge and meat from a BBQ), drink mampoer (think the strongest drink you've ever had and multiply it by 400: hello hangover my old friend) and tell a joke about Koos van der Merwe in Afrikaans? I have been abroad and I just never had the same feeling than when I'm here in the land of the sun. Times are uncertain and they're are pretty tough now in South Africa, but this place is under our skin and in our hearts. Maybe it's the contaminated water we drink that make us this crazy by wanting to stay here.

So happy first of September wherever you are: be it the beginning of autumn with the promise of cooler days and fireplace-nights, or the beginning of spring with the promise of new blossoms and sweaty sheets. At least now people can have sex again on top of the covers without freezing the passion off ' their arses.


Sami said...

I love your stories, especially the ones about South Africa. :) Please keep telling them!

It's so great to have somewhere awesome to call home, but also not so great that it has to be tainted with that kind of frustration. As long as the good times outweigh the bad.

Mr. Condescending said...

Wow what a powerful post ladytruth!

I thought It was a big deal speaking like a yankee when in the deep south in the states, but apparently no where near as serious as you have it!

Its amazing that under such incredible uneasiness, you want to stay in your home country. I'm not quite sure I would, but I think its super honorable for you. By the way I don't think I will ever tire of hearing you talk about s africa!

Tennyson ee Hemingway said...

I don't know, I don't think Afrikaans will ever die if people are willing to keep it alive. It seems to me to be a little similar to Ireland and Wales trying to keep their Celtic languages alive. If enough people keep talking and teaching their children (regardless of whatever narrow minded govt happens to be in power at the time), then it shouldn't pass away.

Anonymous said...

Happy first day of September indeed.

I don't have answers for you - just a great deal of admiration for what you've just written.

Proud Maisie said...

Happy first day of September. For me, the onset of Autumn. Aumtumn evenings always smell wonderful to me, of smoke and bonfires as people burn old leaves, or celebrate Guy Fawkes Night.
I cannot imagine what it must be like in your country, sometimes the passage of time seems to move very slowly. Things change with the passing of each generation, and I am sure this will be the case in South Africa.

Judearoo said...

My, that was excellent.

Jellies - check, Roxette tapes - check, pimples - check (sigh) and ok not the early puberty thing, I looked like a child till I was nearly 15 but so much of this post that I can relate to.

My cousins grew up in SA, Cape town and I never saw them. Now they're all back in either the UK or Ireland and Ive asked them about growing up in SA and all that entailed. They're never terribly keen to talk about it; almost like there's a defensiveness and an underlying guilt that they cannot place and don't want to discuss.

Here in Ireland we've had our own issues and no more than with you things happened and situations occurred that we simply never questioned. But all this mish mosh of history - incredibly painful as it often is - makes us the nation we are. And no doubt its the same with you. Sometimes right and wrong, black and white is neighter accurate nor necessary.

Heres a little Irish september curtesy of one of our best; Thomas Kinsella, with love:

Organic Meatbag said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, LadyTruth... you are a fascinating person and writer... you should be writing novels about your passion for your homeland...funny enough, when I saw District 9, I thought of you and wondered how you would react to how parts of South Africa were are one of only a couple of South Africans I know!
A big kudos to you for this great post!

Mega8815 said...

Wow LadyRuth... I'm a South African myself and can totally relate to this post. Why do we have to suffer because of something that happened over 10 years ago? It saddens me to think that our children won't have what we had... and learn what we learnt.

Sien uit daarna om meer van jou te hoor!

Eric said...

Happy September 1st to you Ladytruth!

And this is what I'm talking about... Great post! To me, it's interesting that in some ways small town Texas where I grew up is like South Africa. We have a similar climate (but no big five, lucky you).
Also in my school before college there were only three people that were not white out of about 350, so there was very much a 'quiet segregation' as I was growing up, although we didn't think about it as kids.
There wasn't as much violence, but that's probably because we all carry guns which tends to make everyone especially respectful of your neighbor.
Your post reminds me that I refuse to feel guilty for a history I took no part in. If someone ever forces that guilt on you, I'd say they are acting as a racist.

Mr. Condescending said...

These are all such good comments!

f8hasit said...

Really great post.
Powerful and well written.

I think I still have a pair of those Jellies around somewhere.

otherworldlyone said...

That was such an amazing post.

I completely understand where you are coming from about being tired of apologizing for something you had no part in. Truly.

Happy first day of September, lovely lady.

erin said...

Wow. Thanks. I thought I wrote a great post today and you kicked my freaking ass all over the place!

I guess we're on the different seasonal schedule here in the US cause the first of Sept. meant dragging out the hoodies and socks for school to start.

The Caped Tirader said... usual, you've given us an honest and vivid post. There is a similar feeling in the US with regard to people having to apologize or feel 'guilty' for the racist actions of people from deacdes (and even centuries) past, who they more than likely have no relation to. I'm not saying that racism doesn't exist in the US because it certainly does, but there are a lot of false accusations of racism here as well. There is a lot of erroneously thrown about, 'Your people enslaved my people. So you are a racist by proxy' which is ridiculous and ignorant. Especially when I'm pretty sure more black people in the US can trace their ancestry further back in the US than most white people. When will we all recognize the fact that we all came from the same place?

ladytruth said...

Sami: everyone feels frustrated every now and again, right? So celebrate good times, come on ;)

Mr.C: we're pretty much like Pit Bulls over here in the sense that we have bitten down on Mother Africa's arm and refuse to let go :)

Tennyson: agreed. It's as tough as hammering in a nail with a shoe. "They" are trying to abolish Afrikaans from our schools, but the keyword here is, of course, 'trying.' ;)

Matthew: it's alright, that's what friends are for :)

Proud Maisie: autumn is my favorite season by far. And yes, a change is gonna come. Let's hope it be a good one.

Judearoo: you got lucky on the late puberty. I just hope one day my menopause period will be later than my time of getting boobs ;) And many thanks for the link to that amazing poem! The last line made me smile with the "Moving like women : Justice, Truth, such figures" making me think of my 'blogname.' This poem will be written down along with other favorites I keep in a book :)

Organic M: thanks for the praise and about D9? One, very subjective word: UGH! ;)

Mega8815: welcome my fellow country(wo)man :) And isn't that true about the next generation not having what we had. Are there still children playing in parks where you live? Ours are only good for weeding now. Lekker daggie vir jou :)

Eric: I knew you would be able to relate to this being a southern boy :) I think if we were to be permitted to carry a gun now, we would go as bonkers as a child getting a lazer gun for Christmas: shooting at any and every moving target. Maybe Texas is the next best thing to home if we had to leave South Africa? Don't worry about the Big 5: we'll ship them over like in Noah's ark :)

Mr. C: I know! You all made my day, you wonderful people :)

f8hasit: then I am proud to announce that you have a pair of vintage shoes in a box somewhere that might just be worth millions some day. "Some day" probably being in fifty five years or so!

Otherwordlyone: Us people from "the South" should stick together and take over the bloody world living out Michael Jackson's dream of 'healing the world' and 'making it a better place.' Okay, maybe I've had too much sun today wearing no sunscreen and Michael touching my blog is making me a bit delusional. I'll just think of Michael Scofield and got take a nice, hot bath ... Hmmmmm ... Here's to Michaels ...

erin: nothing beats Eliot and Hemingway. Thank you for those kind words and also for bringing back such great memories with your post; memories I have long forgotten about. You have such an easy way of writing which I envy. Add those adorable kids and a handsome partner and you are in the running for miss Perfect ;)

Caped Tirader: I agree. We all come from a womb. We may have different hair, backgrounds, languages, but we still have one thing in common: being human which equals doing some pretty stupid things sometimes. Why can't we share those stories instead of the boring ones about killing each other's ancestors? More power to stupidity!

Gorilla Bananas said...

Well you're right to cherish your mother tongue, but isn't it very similar to Dutch? That's what Jungle Jane told me, anyway.

Constructive Attitude said...

I remember jelly bellies, they were fun!

Jeve (aka John and Steve) said...

You have a way with words Ladytruth. I especially enjoyed the second to last paragraph. Poetic.

Mega8815 said...

The parks I know of are now only good for hobo's (swart natuurlik) and are way too scary to go to. Or too disgusting. God reriphelp us huh?

rubbish said...

Great read. My mate has filmed at Ellis Island for a Welsh documentary and met Nelson Mandela. He has some great stories about that and some pretty scary ones regarding Soweto and other places.
All the best and where's my award??????

ladytruth said...

Gorilla B: Afrikaans has Dutch roots amongst other things, but that's about as far as it goes. Having studied it for 5 years now, Afrikaans is a complicated language and if you'd like to know more about it and its connection to Dutch, mail me ;)

Constructive A: I wouldn't know as my mom never actually bought me a pair. Can you belive that?! Maybe that's where my shoe-addiction comes from.

Jeve: thank you; sometimes I surprise myself :)

Mega8815: amen to that, sista! Dieselfde probleem hier.

rubbish: Madiba is the best ambassador South Africa ever had. A remarkable person and your friend should consider himself lucky to have met such a great man. These days tourists can take a guided tour to Soweto. I don't think I'd go there if my life depended on it ;) Award? After that last episode, there are sanctions on award ceremonies until further notice!!!!!!!!!!!

otherworldlyone said...

You know what though?

As much as I loved the MJ award...I think the next time I make my own, I'll have to either make two - one for the fellas and one for the ladies, or one that the guys will put up. Because they are NOT lovin' gettin' fingered by MJ.

Well, except for Mr. C, but he's going through a dry spell right now.

Mr. Condescending said...

Owo, I heard that!

Anonymous said...

Wow! the post was had a mix of everything in it.

..enjoy the lovely september :)

ladytruth said...

OWO: or maybe they're just to ashamed to admit publically how they dance in the shower to "Billy Jean" with the whole ouhw!-crotch-touching-move. Maybe we should hook Mr. C up on a blind date? It's not healthy being sexually frustrated.

Mr. C: what do you say?

kasabiangirl: why, thank you. You make it seem like a good cocktail :) Likewise!

Lola Lakely said...

Wow, this was a truly amazing post Ladytruth. you will hear no snide, sarcastic remarks from me because I am truly impressed with how you have written this. You are certainly someone who may have just reached admiration status in my book. Being so far separated from your country, it is easy to forget just how many things are different so it is very nice to reminded that the world is a much, bigger place than my infinitely small playground.
Very powerful stuff, lady.

ladytruth said...

Lola: high praise indeed! Thank you for that :)

One Sassy Girl said...

Well hot damn that was a fab post. I haven't seen that movie yet but definitely will now. Bad things happen and society carriers that burden generations. It's not fair, in any way, but it is the way of the world. Or has been. Maybe someday it won't.

ladytruth said...

OSG: if you do go and see the movie, try not to make too much fun of the South African accent ;)

Artistic Logic said...

very good post, taught me a lot about south africa! i want to learn about all parts of the world

and i understand where you come from when you say... you can't go on apologizing for something that isn't even your fault

very big in my life and the lives of Muslims, especially in the West.

Kristin said...

For us here in the sunshine state, it's still so wicked hot people don't even THINK about gettin' busy without the AC running nice and strong!

ladytruth said...

Artistic L: glad you could relate to this post; I thought you might :)

Kristin: I actually never had an AC until last year. I don't know how I survived without it!