Friday, January 29, 2010

Once in a Blue Moon and Eclipses

It's 2010, and like someone said, it sounds so 'Star Trekkish'. But here we are in the Langkloof, if anything far less 'advanced' than we were a few years ago. We live in a very old peasant house, use gas to cook on, bath by paraffin lamp often and live off an endless supply of marrows and pumpkins from our garden.

We saw the New Year in on the balcony of a smallholding in Krakeel, to the sound of discordant drumming from some friends who had been making merry.
There was a blue moon and an eclipse happening at the same time. Our daughter was valiantly trying to understand and to speak Afrikaans with new friends and Lex and I were looking up and out and wandering where God was taking us this year. We meant to go and listen to Dominee as he preached in the New Year, but weariness and darn right laziness prevented us.

It would have been in the NG Kerk of cause, and in Afrikaans. Which brings me to a very definite factor that we will be contending with this New year - Afrikaans.
Thinking back, I do not know how I ever passed matric Afrikaans. I had no interest in learning, enscanced as I was in my English world. We laughed out loud when we watched 'Nommer Asseblief' - and that was about it.

It seems that me and Afrikaans and that blue moon being eclipsed have a lot in common. Afrikaans crossed my path very occasionally after school, but when it did it was usually part of some of my most intense experiences.

There was that crazy trip in the eighties into the Free State with two 'Alternatiewe Afrikaners' who decided that the very random me ( at that time) needed some 'perspektief'. It was a road trip never forgotten. Times in huge open spaces, big meals around farm tables - with even bigger glasses of brandy and coke!- crazy bakkie rides, even crazier Bloemfontein art students, and a startled me being introduced as someone from ' die Kolonie'.

I remember reading some very beautiful Afrikaans poetry (Yolanda, Yolanda ek vou jou in my hande...) and struggling through Afrikaans literature because I wanted too, and liking the sound of it very much, and feeling disappointed because I knew I was missing something pretty special.

There was that Afrikaans boyfriend who took me backstage during the 'Voelvry' tour to meet a drug saturated Koos Kombuis and Johannes Kerkorrel, and it was all pretty weird and I could hardly understand the big 'Struggle' in those days, never mind that lesser (but pretty serious) 'struggle' of those Afrikaners. They were as high as kites, massively talented, lost and lonely, and I, from my English world, could hardly reach them.

There were my years in Arcadia Port Elizabeth when I learnt to speak very good 'Tsotsi" taal , working with the 'coloured gangs' and sweet little children. Later, living overseas, Afrikaans was useful for gossip, not now of cause, London being so awash with South Africans.

More recently I had heavenly holidays in the Karoo, with Lex's divinely beautiful relative, and I learned to chat one sentence at a time, slipping from English to Afrikaans, and enjoying it.

And now here we are, in the Kloof, trying our best with this lovely language again. Because lovely it is. Oh, ' language of the oppressor' it's been called, but as Zakes Mda points out, it was also the slaves who took Dutch and helped to transform it, mixing in Khoi words and other sounds, helping to bring it to the place where it sprang forth, like it does, from the very soil of this land.

It can be scary, this language, huge fun, and massively expressive, vilely crude too. It is clever, academic, intellectual and as we often say ' there is just no English word for this'.
Thats all I know right now, but I am learning.

I have had stunning conversations on a stoep with a wonderful woman who speaks her language with a voice like a lullaby. It lulls me, lilts and sways. Spoken by her it is a volumptous, big Mama language.

A man in exile, during those years, said once that he needed to return, simply to roll his language round in his mouth. I am trying to do that myself, and finding it tastes good.
Koffie and Beskuit. Melktert. Braaivleis. Boerewors. And so much more.

An English lad, friend of my son, stated the other day that he hates the language, and thinks it stupid. His comment saddened me. It is arrogant and foolish at best, deeply rascist at worst. I guess he is young, and has, as we say, been 'picking up stompies' in a thoughtlessly superior English world.

Sure, its challenging, but here, under my Syringa tree voices carry to me. Some are drunken, some are children. Some are farmers gathering in orchards. Some are singing. All are Afrikaans.

Much more than once in a blue moon then, me and this 'taal' tangle together now, not so eclipsed any more, by my own huge language and culture. A new landscape to explore in 2010.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Knights on Harleys

I stated right from the beginning that I would not be taking part. Riding pillion,that is, on Harley Davidsons. My days of riding on motorbikes are over, having done my time clinging to the backs of an assortment of young men riding an assortment of bikes ....

Harleys, I am told, are different.

There are two wonderful people who live in Twee Riviere who have a clutch of sons (and a daughter in law) who came riding into town, bringing with them a few of these gleaming silver speed machines.
They kindly offered to give all the children in Twee Riviere a spin. It kept them busy for a couple of hours!

We all gathered outside Mannies (the local Portuguese cafe) and they rode up. They were like three Knights, with a cross on a shield emblazoned on the back of their leather waistcoats.They were like Crusaders of old on silver steeds, leather tassles like manes streaming out as they cruised by.
We gathered under a windswept tree and the children took turns. Jethro decided he was not going to ride, being too cool, at fifteen, to clutch onto the back of anyone, whilst all and sundry looked on. But even he could not resist the allure of the Harleys, swopping his bowler hat ( the latest thing) for a 'piss pot' helmet and roaring off, clinging, despite himself. He came back with red stinging eyes, heart racing. I guess that man showed him a thing or two about mothers heart didn't really want to know.

Georgia wanted only to ride on the red one, and I was glad, eyeing the extra safe helmet that went with that ride, and she too whizzed off, white teeth gleaming. Some of the fathers went as well. One farmer friend was unforgettable, with helmet perched, shorts riding high and gum boots! Lex chose not to, remembering instead his days of cruising boulevards on a Harley, racing motorbikes, and could not bring himself to cling on this time. He stood and admired the sleek machines,talking wheels and spokes and other Harley details.

Some teenage girls rode again and again, my heart beating for them as they arrived back exihilarated each time, emotional even, hugging one other with the pure joy, the bliss of experiencing speed. It brought back a time, long ago when I experienced the Cape Peninsula for the first time, riding on the back of a Kawasaki 1000, swooping through passes and clifftops with the big, wide ,thousand stars sea stretching out alongside us. I spread my arms wide as we sailed though yellow wheatfields, me laughing because it was warm, and my t-shirt was billowing and I felt free. I was young and I felt free.

That's what motorbikes do, isn't it? They do that feeling free thing.
I am afraid now, because I am older, and wiser and I had some close calls on bikes, and even had some wild and free friends who didn't quite make it . But, I keep those thoughts to myself here, outside Mannies, because these Harleys sound like nothing else, don't they?

Standing there, Lex says its like the Wendy House in Joburg on a Saturday night, because all this power and speed is becoming infectious. Cars are coming from everywhere, and as they pass our gathering they are picking up speed, revving even.One young man cruises past in his left hand drive V8, and excelerates as he passes. The same man goes home and brings out his motorbike, nearly popping a wheelie for our excited throng. We are surrounded by sound, speed and power. Its addictive. Even Mannie abandons his till to ride, to ride, to ride.

As true Knights, towards the end the riders bring out bags of sweets and sugar is added to the adrenalin all round . Grins are wide on all faces. Another car, yellow, sporty swings around the corner, wheels spinning and squealing. One Knight, astride his steed, pointed boots on tar says 'Ons het rerig nou Twee Riviere ge - kick start!'
Hey, how cool is that?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Three days in

We have been in school for three days and I felt I wanted to add an addendum to my previous blog.

Lex and I have been surprised, and overjoyed by how well things have gone. Georgia and Jethro are simply loving school, and to be honest we don't really know why. Sure, the teachers are kind and helpful. The school atmosphere is intimate and friendly. But they are also dealing with huge challenges. Georgia hardly understands a word spoken to her ( although the rate with which she is learning is astounding!). They are in a school where the racial divide is almost insurmountable, without being actually rascist, its just that the children come from radically different worlds and there is no middle ground.

Taking all these factors into account we can only thank God that they are striking out and finding their place. We have no illusions that challenges might still come, but these ones are being taken in their stride. Appropriately enough, considering that the school is intensely athletic, and Jethro has quickly become friends with a javelin, high jump and long jump. He has a great sense of humour and entertains us with very funny school stories every day. Georgia has rapidly become pretty popular and can be found at the centre of a giggling group of blond 'boeremeisies' at break.

We are still reeling - how did all this happen - but I am having such fun building a name for myself as a pretty nutty drama teacher that I am glad it did.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to School

We have mostly been a home school family. I say mostly because we have also done school. We have been in farm type schools (Greyton- where we were promised 'a childhood to remember', and chose to school in a classroom of 12, three grades, three languages, many races, one teacher), sea side schools (Kalk Bay - where you can see the sea from the classroom windows and the sea breezes whip at the short skirts of the school uniforms, and you meet on the beach to surf, directly after the bell rings).

We have schooled in a little school in a church (seven in a class, Georgia the only girl, where she was better than them all at jay boarding, jungle gym climbing and they were all - except her - on Ritolin!) We have schooled at a private Christian college (where all wore civvies, and assorted body piercings, tattoos (mostly hidden) and dyed hair, lank over one eye.) We have done the cottage school in the sea side suburb, with pentagram graffiti, foul mouthed lounging teenagers.... And inbetween we have homeschooled.

I would like to say we have done it all well. But we haven't. We have done well sometimes, often even, but not always. Homeschooling is like a club, even a sect, sometimes a religion. Those within it know what I mean. Its hard to be in it, hard to get out of it, and very hard to change your own mindset to believe that God is in fact in and out of every and any situation.

There are some homeschoolers like us, who also have gone in and out of school. Some who have never set foot in school (and say they never will!). Some who are depressed, struggling, despairing and yet determined to continue - and others who simply opt out and don't really school at all, at home or in an institution.

I have friends who are awesome homeschoolers, bordering on perfect, they are inspirational, exciting, have exacting academic standards and their children flourish and succeed. I know others who flounder, wander aimlessly, know a lot about a little and a little about a lot.

We have been all of these at times, and when I look at my two children I often feel pretty guilty, certainly never smug (some homeschoolers are smug?), and mostly I have fallen face down on the mercy of God. We have been more nomadic than the Tsuareg, more random than any city teenager, had more wanderlust than the Khoi and San put together and have been just as inconsistent as the Langkloof weather (we are discovering).

And now, in 2010, we find ourselves at the beginning of another season. Yes, you guessed it - institution school again. We are about to enter, yet again ,through the wrought iron gates and (this time) pink walls of a school building, braving the system again, risking life and limb as we pit ourselves against the brainwashing, the sinfulness, the Godlessness supposedly found within those hallowed halls.

I have had these comments and many more said to me at times when we have left the safe havern of homeschooling before, and wandered like so many sheep to the slaughter, into the realms of institutionalized schooling.

Ho hum..... Its not that we do not have these fears ourselves. I have sat up straight in bed in the darkness of the night WORRIED about decisions made. I have never been sure, never known for sure that a decision is a right one.

But Thank You God. At the moment the school is an Afrikaans one - in a farming community, a conservative one, 300 children - where the white boere children now go to school with the children of the labourers. They rub each other raw sometimes, but still manage to be rated 12th best school in the Eastern Cape. I have anxiety about it all, even though it seems we are being pioneers, English speakers, 'inkomers' who are getting special treatment, english text books and exams, because, as it goes -'the times they are a changing'.
And anyway Lex and I will be teaching Drama and Computers to Grade 10,11 and 12.

How all that happened can only be a God thing and you will have to trust me on that, without getting all the details. In to it all we jump, like we do very often into the Kouga these days, to escape the blistering heat. And the water flows on, and takes its twists and turns and goes where it wills.Us, in God are like that, seems to me.

Its all about trust, at the end of the day, and not about the details. The children are strangely excited - Georgia begged to be allowed to go. Jethro simply wants to get his matric. It all takes faith, in or out, in my experience.

But I like this river, and swimming in it. Maybe there are some rapids round the corner, some high cliffs. Maybe a sandy cove, a sheltered beach of white pebbles to rest in and soak up the sun. We'll see, we'll see....

Friday, January 08, 2010

Ode to a Capuccino

Capuccinos are what we miss most. About Cape Town.

No one serves a capuccino in Joubertina. There is only really one restaurant here anyway - a smashing burger,yes, the best slap chips ever and a darn good coffee - but no capuccino.

In Kareedouw there are capuccinos to be found - but they are really coffees with froth on top (I have high standards I'm afraid!). And Kareedouw is a sort of neither here nor there place, although we are very fond of the restaurant and the 'from somewhere else' owner. And so Lex and I found ourselves travelling a good hour to Jeffreys Bay in search of THAT capuccino.

We found it in a fab restaurant, with a wrap around stoep and a chef (who worked with Jamie and holds to his 'keep it simple , happy" philosophy). The menu looks stunning- sushi, mezze - drool! But on our (very) limited budget we stuck to a couple of capuccinos.

And they were enough.

They arrived complete with a white frothy leaf pattern on top. I was hopeful. I dipped my lip in, and sipped. Yes. Its been months since we had one of these!

And then we started chatting - Lex and me. And while we chatted my eyes moved, from the Australian couple, her Chinese and beautiful, who were talking about primates and clams and he was older and smitten...

And then we paused to eavesdrop on the hostess chatting about her trip to Thailand and visits to forests and temples and.....I watched the man clip the hedge wearing his 'I love Jesus hat'...

And all the while we sipped and chatted. Immediately we wanted to stay for hours - we noted it was a wireless hotspot. We felt inspired. We wanted to open our laptop and start working out scripts. Ideas abounded and hope floated like the smells of food and coffee around us.

It was then we realized that it was not really only the capuccinos we miss so much. It's that certain kind of restaurant. The ones where you can sit and work, and eat sushi. Where there is a bakery and fresh breads and pies and croissants and platters of olives,cheeses and meats. A place with friendly waitrons in extra long aprons, well trained and accented - young and American, Spanish, English - seeing the world.

I miss being anonymous. I miss just catching the tail ends of the conversations of other people, reading into smiles the characters, the details of their lives. Imagining. And somehow being there just gets me and Lex going. A whole lot of things - dreams - suddenly seem possible again.

So, we have to do it more. Get out. I saw in the leafy cloud floating on top of my capuccino a whole lot of dreamy dreams.We have made a date with ourselves to do it more often - maybe once a month.

To find that part of ourselves that wakes up when we sip a real capuccino.