Monday, March 23, 2009

Hanging on in a strange land



Impossible art by Li Wei: http://images.google.co.za/images?q=li+wei&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=9VDHSbDSBuDDjAfT_N2CCw&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&resnum=4&ct=title


A few months ago, the kids and I went into town for library, shopping, fish hook removal from arm, that kind of usual town visit.
Now the nearest town is extremely beautiful with a lot of original cape dutch houses and beautiful gardens, as well as the modern ugh. It is predominately Afrikaans and thus deeply conservative. The population here is extremely xenophobic, homophobic, dopophobic but apparently has a huge population of swingers. This has been confirmed to me by several sources. But I guess you can swing all you want as long as you head to church on Sunday for absolution.

So we are driving along, relief that the fish hook is no longer embedded in Sage's arm. No idea how many times I have told him in that sort of maternal whine not to leave hooks in clothing or wrapped in towels. This was the second barbed hook removal.
There is a light hardheartedness in the car for the simple reason that someone we love is no longer in pain and everyone is buoyant and harmony prevails. And it is with this outer harmony that my vision is drawn to a light in a shop that for many years had been empty. So attention goes towards this light and immediately (astonishing the brain) comes up with Chinese Take Away. And it does this effortlessly. Now living where we do, there are no distractions. And I mean no distractions. No malls, no movies. nada. Just ourselves. So here is a novelty. This is almost like Christmas. Next thing the car stops and we tumble out to have a look.

It is very simply done. Everything is basic and clean. The fridges have a few drinks but even being an optimist, these are more empty than full and the shelves have a few packets of white rabbits spread along sparsely. (Hey ma, we survived melamine). The couple in their early thirties are standing there with much pride. I try to strike up conversation, but neither speak English and I am no linguist so it ends there. We continue by facial and hand expressions. We look at the menu and decide that we will support them with a basic meal, which we eat on the pavement over the formica tables. They offer sushi but that would have to be for another time. It is mid month after all. The food is okay, not great, but okay and in my heart I wish them well.

Now for the next few weeks this couple appear in this thinking, even when their shop is not visible. They have found a way into my memory and something about them activates this data flow a lot of the time. I tell everyone I know to try it out and even go so far as to tell them the food is brilliant. I am willing to lie for them. I don't know why. These people have moved so far from home. They have not to gone to Australia where they would be amidst their clan, they have come to Africa and a part of it where they are the only people of this culture. Pik snot aleen is how we would describe it here.
I would wonder what they do with their evenings, how they managed to get permanent residence here (virtually impossible), what made them choose here etc etc.

And whenever we went there for a few months we would eat something on the tables and head off again to the library. But we were the only people that we ever saw there and slowly this feint waft of grief permeated the place so deeply that I was loathe to revisit it.
One so often reads about moving to new lands, but this was the first context in which I felt the full pain of leaving one's mother land.

Last week we drove in, again to the library and shopping and again first call to the doctor. The boys were building a tree house and had a chain line of throwing bamboo sticks along. Cian got one just above the eye. He ran towards me crying with blood pouring. My heart stopped and I was sure it was his eye. Fortunately it was just above his eye and after stitches there was that same relief that everything had been sorted and that the emergency was over. And it was on this note that my eyes were caught by the lack of light shining from the Chinese Take Away. All there was left was a legal notice on the door and the formica tables still on the pavement.

I don't know where they went or how they survived the loss of what must have been a great dream.
And of course the wish that I could have done more to make them feel at home in this strange land....

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Su,
If it’s what we call the “pioneer spirit”, I don’t have it. We have a Chinese place in our dinky little rural town too. It started out great, they were busy—then the economy started making that giant sucking sound and people stopped going I guess. They used to have an all you can eat buffet on Friday and Saturday nights but I guess it wasn’t a money maker, or people just stopped going—don’t know. Their business is way down and they work their butts off—most of the cooks don’t speak English but the women running the phones and running them do—We still get food from there at times, but not very often—

Like you said, how do you pull up and move to what is more alien to them than Mars?
I never see them around town, I think they just work and sleep—

Most places around here rely on the tourist traffic because the people want to come down here and stare at the cows and Amish—but that has really fallen off too. People still come, but they aren’t buying anything—or at least not much-- The “touristy” town about 5 miles down the road has a lot of for rent signs in the windows—one guy bought a restaurant, redid the outside and inside, and was closed in about 8 months—just the way it is—So much of the workers around here relied on the building trades too—plus sawmills, and no one is building anything—lot’s of farmland auctions and farming equipment for sale too.

I can see people moving in with family members and trying to pool resources but there will only be so many minimum wage jobs to go around—

Went over to the organic farm where we get our milk today, and they were talking about milk going from $22.00 per hundred weight down to $8.00—that’s what the buyers will pay the farmers—farmers are tough but a lot of them are just liquidating and getting what they can—no big time developers to buy up that land for high prices any more either—our friends are still doing OK because they get quite a higher price for their organic milk—and people laughed at them years ago when they turned organic—these folks know about 911, etc and will ALWAYS talk to you for as long as you want—wonderful people—

Started some seeds today—maybe take a chance on the weather and plant some of the cold weather stuff in the next few days—feeling energetic about getting more self-reliant—hope it lasts—Juli was just saying the other day as she was opening a jar of beets she canned a couple years ago that she intends on buying everything we can’t grow and just spending a week in the kitchen canning and jarring stuff up—also going to order in a bunch of canned veggies from an organic co-op we belong to along with rice, oats, etc. I like the feeling of having the storage rooms full—with a long winter here, we can’t rely on moderate weather to grow year round or even close—wow, this is a long one—better sign off—

Jim (Jj)

susana said...

Hi Jim,

Whew the economy does not look that rough here. I guess we have been riding hard times for a while, but no one I know has yet lost a job. Thnakfully. But then coming to think of it, everyone I know is self employed anyway.
The other day when I purchased the kids some basic clothing I was blown away to see how it was cheaper than our weekly food bill. Everything is cheaper than food nowadays. Kind of scary.
And funny you should be talking about sustainability I was reading John Seymour last night in bed. I Too hoped that the bug would bite more deeply than the usual superficial whim and actually take hold this time.
He says he wishes his family had done it differently. That it was a full time slog the way they pioneered. He said family a produces the chickens, family b, the corn and the flour, family c, the vegetables and family d the milk and milk products. He says forget doing it all by yourself, you simply lose the life quality that makes it worthwhile.

Summer is still holding out, and today the early morning sky is the brightest blue imaginable.
On that note - have a good one.

nobody said...

Hey Susana,

Perhaps this is a variety of reverse parochialism, but my idea of hell is a place where no one knows how to use chopsticks.

Which is to say, this story broke my heart.

Um... apologies to people who fit the above category. If it's any consolation people in China don't know how to use knives and forks.

Anonymous said...

It's not us
It's not them

It's you
And me
And each one of them
And each one of us

Jim (Jj)

susana said...

Well I could have got more adept with chopsticks had the couple remained.
If knives and forks are not an option I go for eating with the right hand each and every time.

Jj,
When I move beyond this belief in separation than my life will have been worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

We are under the illusion that there is separateness in individuality--
It's what gives life sparkle--

Jim (Jj)

Anonymous said...

Just re-read your post--funny about the swingers thing--here we are in the Ohio bible belt and I guess, from what we have heard, that it's popular here too--or was--some people got divorced and married someone else's wife-no "key party" invites for us--I'm crushed--lol
Might go have some Chinese food over the weekend--
I remember when they first started and the one cook couldn't get his car started--through hand gestures and laughs, I went around back and helped him get it going--amazing people--

Jim (Jj)

susana said...

Now Jj, what I really want to know is what must you exude to get invited to an orgy or swingers thing. Not that I have a desire to go, but what is it about me, that has made me immune to any offers in the course of this life.
Is it perhaps because I am always at home with children swarming around me? Big fat grin.

Anonymous said...

kids have a way of doing that--juli and I would bolt but that would mean leaving the kids with the spouse who stayed behind, and that would just be a nasty thing to do to another human being--lol

Jj

susana said...

Jj,
I recall some years ago, Pieter and I were living on a farm with three boys under the age of 4. It was hectic and super demanding. One went from one need or emergency to the next. Feeling particularly frazzled one night as I was stepping outside for some Mary Jane I mentioned to Pieter that I was going out to be picked up by some beings from another sphere. He came running out after me and said he was coming with, he was staying there alone.
You had to have been there, it was very funny.

Anonymous said...

Interesting how 2 people, or a family so quickly becomes "us"--nice to be able to be just "me" at times--together, yet with some breathing space--we lose our individuality until we take it back--we can still be spouse, partner, mom, dad, friend-but those are just labels-yet it is so important to be "I"--it's the foundation--the other "names" are just labels and if we take on those labels, we are living by someone else's definition of who we "are", or a self-imposed definition of same--
I am so much more than what I do, who's father I am, who's husband I am--
So many neat little labels to pigeon-hole us--
This is it--me, today--not sure about tom'w, but then again, I don't have to be "sure"--
I'll be scanning the skies for UFO's--I'll probably get trampled by the boys and Juli trying to get to them first--be sure to put the ladder down for us--

Jj

susana said...

I am feeling a very strong need to drop the mother label for a few weeks.
9 years ago I headed off to India alone for a few weeks.
I have never been so totally alive.
Craving that space right now where there is the freedom to simply be with what arises.
Was playing with ideas where I would like to go, but it really doesn't matter.
Just some me time. Come back fresh with something new to give.
Lets hope it can manifest.
And of course I will drop down the ladder.

psychegram said...

No Chinese food in my local towns, though the gas station's run by a Korean family ... who're widely hated by the local rednecks, though to be fair I think the disdain is based more on personality than race or culture, but still ... my heart goes out to the father. Living in a small town in the middle of nowhere, no one with whom he can speak plain besides his wife and kids ... that sort of loneliness must be crushing. Maybe that's the vibe you were picking up on? A cocktail of homesickness and culture shock, with business failure added for taste.

It's always after the opportunity has passed that one wonders, what more could I have done?

Well, maybe it all turned out for the best for them. Maybe they're back in China, now, back with whatever family and friends they left behind ... or maybe they've simply packed up and headed elsewhere....? At any rate, it's very difficult to transcend the customer-proprieter barrier, isn't it? Economically mediated relationships are a bitch that way. Especially through the language barrier.

susana said...

Matthew,
Actually I am finding a lot of relationships difficult nowadays.
My bovinity has gone awol and chewing the same old cud is just not satisfying anymore.
Honesty is supposedly much desired, but actually it is the least favourite attribute in humans. We all want honest politicians and yet when friends happen to offer a valid insight, whow - don't go there, I thought you loved me, etc.

As far as realising something after the fact, that is life entirely. I guess when something is past, possibility dies - but when its present there is no shortage of choices, so why take any.
And I have decided today once and for all that astrology is a retrospective science. Futuristic -ally it can't predict at all but looking back in can place everything in line perfectly (of course with the help of the astrologer).
Word verfication - spinatio - how cool is tha word. Can you weave it into a theorem?

psychegram said...

The ratio of spin? That or Horatio's natural philosopher cousin....

It's a rare person indeed who can take honest insights into their own lives. Most people spend a great deal of time trying to avoid thinking about exactly that, and react ... predictably when others offer something uncomfortably close to a deeply known but unacknowledged truth. I'm not saying I'm better ... there are things I know about myself, at some level, that I would be (to put it mildly) uncomfortable with others looking at. Still, all that stuff will come out, for me and for everyone, because that's the age we live in ... and if it causes rifts within our relationships, well, that's unavoidable. The ones worth keeping will reknit along stronger lines, and the ones that don't, well ... they were based on lies anyways.

That's easy for me to say. I have so very few close and real friends left ... the inevitable hangover from a decade of drinking buddies, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

"Spinatio"--a spinach flavored potato chip
I thought everyone knew that!!!!
I have no friends because I'm an evil bastard--tee hee. Most people simply bore me-I can be very sociable and am at times-I don't mean that from a superiority standpoint--there's just not much to them other than the pre-programmed nice-ities and mundane conversation(s)--then again, maybe they feel that way about me--
I have to say, it does seem quite natural for me to live the way I do, and think the way I think, etc.--no putting on airs (sp?), why bother--you get me, or you don't and vice-versa--It IS, all about relationships though--with each other, ourselves, and all that is--

Jj

Anonymous said...

Would we have had the same compassion if a person from the next town over opened a restaurant and it failed?
I used to ask the question in churches we used to go to about why they didn't send money, or feed the hungry kids in the trailer parks and ramshackle houses around here but they would send money off to HAITI or somewhere else "more romantic"---
It bids some reflection--

Jj

psychegram said...

"Most people simply bore me-I can be very sociable and am at times-I don't mean that from a superiority standpoint--there's just not much to them other than the pre-programmed nice-ities and mundane conversation(s)--then again, maybe they feel that way about me--"

Yeah, sometimes I wonder ... you meet people that you're just convinced are little better than chatbots, just a big collection of canned dialogue and received wisdom, nice enough maybe but not a lot to sink your teeth into ... but are they really like that? Is it all just an elaborate mask, meant to hide the Weird so as to maintain their cover as a Normal? And of course, when in the presence of such a person, one's own mask inevitably slips into place....

I figure it's about 50/50 ... and lately I've just been forgetting the words and looking for the light. It's there or it isn't, and if it is, well, the mask comes away right quick, because you both realize, instinctively, that it's pointless.

"Would we have had the same compassion if a person from the next town over opened a restaurant and it failed?
I used to ask the question in churches we used to go to about why they didn't send money, or feed the hungry kids in the trailer parks and ramshackle houses around here but they would send money off to HAITI or somewhere else "more romantic"---
It bids some reflection--"

That's a really good point. Gets into the whole personal responsibility (the gateway to freedom), 'think global but act local' way of being. If we could convince ourself of that, that alone would suffice to change the world....

"draze": the dazed look on the faces of the sleepwalking multitude as it razes the earth of the last vestiges of green wilderness.

susana said...

Psychegram,
Oh yes of course Horatio's cousin.
There must be masochistic tendencies here, I expect honesty. I want friends to show me my blind spots. Don't want to do another million blind rebirths at the ego's mercy.
And the strangest thing of all is I will take these truths from everyone in the most calm detached manner, but god forbid my mother..........ha ha ha.
Where exactly are you situated?

Jj, of course and no I did not know. We sound like we popped from the same pod. Can be the life and soul of the party but will move mountains to avoid going there. One woman once asked me why I did not embrace her efforts at friendship and I had to tell her that it was a bodily reaction. I saw her and my skin ran cold. And that it was probably nothing about her and everything about me but that I had no way of overriding this body's signals. Especially when they can be so strongly polaric.


When meeting people my sincerity barometer clicks into place straight away. I trust it implicitly. I guess not being a particularly 'nice' person leaves me unawed by the 'niceness or sweetness of their projections. I want to see realness in its totality no matter how it looks.

I guess I would have compassion if I saw them, but maybe not in the abstract.

Off to play volleyball.
Love to you.

psychegram said...

I'm pretty much with you on that. Seeing one's own blind spots is pretty well impossible; we all have an incredible capacity for wishful thinking, for seeing the world and ourselves as we wish them to be rather than as they are. And under those conditions growth is very difficult. Of course that's a painful process, so a certain degree of masochism is necessary in order to fight down the pain and deal with the honest criticism in a mature fashion. I'm only partway there myself, and if you're able to do that, well, you're standing quite a few steps higher on the spiral staircase than I.

The parent-child relationship is a particularly thorny one, though. It's one thing to accept criticism from friends or siblings, or from one's own parent for that matter, but parents never want to take advice from their children. Which makes my relationship with my father particularly difficult, because I can see very clearly all the things he has to work on in order to continue his own growth, and unfortunately I'm the only one he's going to hear it from, but.... Well, you know how that goes.

the Silverfish said...

Going to the Dr.'s I', ammazed that you have any Dr's left in South Africa as I thought that they had all moved to Canada.

Speaking of resterants some years ago I toyed with the idea of opening a Chinese/German resterant but then thought better of it as I felt that a half hour after leaving my customers would be hungry for power, sad I know But.

Anonymous said...

"Love is a rose but you better not pick it
Only grows when it's on the vine
Handful of thorns and you'll know you missed it
Lose your love when you say the word mine"
Neil Young

A rose by any other name--
Saw your post over at nobodys and couldn't resist--

Jim (Jj)