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....