Island Blog 129 Out of Africa

African woman

 

 

In Africa I was more likely to find wildlife than wifi.   Of course, there were odd times, in a bar perhaps in town or in a friend’s spanking new office block, but mostly, the only form of contact with anyone at all, was with a handshake, a wide smile and an exchange of words, a state of being I rather like, even if I did, out of habit, reach for my phone if ever we stopped for coffee.

This new office block, with its wide light rooms and wrap around views across Capetown, is already a business hub.  Inventive and creative thinking, interior design and spatial understanding brings together anyone with a business to run and no desk to run it from.  Hot Desks are affordable and genius, because, not only do you get your own space, wifi connection, etc, but you also get to work in a bustling energetic atmosphere among other creators, all of whom are more than happy to network over coffee or a beer.

At every robot (traffic lights) there may be 3 lanes of vehicles.  I look across at those parked beside us in our little silver car (Maggie) and can hardly see the tops of the buckies (four-wheel drives) without craning. Inside these sit the well-upholstered Africaaners, their windows tight shut for the aircon to work.   On the other side, a people carrier taxi, all windows open, pumps out music, the black passengers grinning and bopping on their way to or from work.  The second we stop, the street sellers move in, weaving their way among the cars, holding their merchandise, such as beaded animals, children’s wooden puzzles, mobiles, jewelery, long-legged birds fashioned from plastic bags, woven sunhats and the Big Issue. The sellers are clean and proud, in the main, the turbanned women flashing sparkly smiles, the men making eye contact.  Not begging but business.  We don’t buy because we can find exactly what they are selling on the high street or at the market, even though they did assure us it was all their own work. It could also cause a cafuffle if the lights changed in the middle of negotiations, for there are always negotiations.  The asking price is set high, the rest is barter.

I found the beggars, when we did meet them in town, and you always meet them in town, most distressing to observe.  I always wanted to give something, but, had I done so, I would still be there in Market Square with not a penny left to my name.  Once you give to one, others move in, many of them children, and all of them thin as rakes.  Those who live in Capetown are not cold hearted, but they have grown a thicker skin.  They will consider employing anyone who turns up, who cleans up, who decides to move up in life, but they will not easily support those who choose doorways to sleep in and some lethal coctail as nourishment.

I thought much about that.  If someone has lost whatever they had, which may not have been much, it might not take long for that loss to turn into an acceptable way to live.  I imagine self-confidence and respect dissolve pretty quickquick when your only chance of food is by raiding bins on collection day.  I watched a man walk down the street doing just that and talking away to himself. He was oblivious to me, beyond stepping off the pavement to avoid a collision, and his eyes were bloodshot and empty.  I pulled my bag closer and felt vulnerable and overdressed and frightfully well spoken and, well, guilty.  We were heading out of town for a few nights on the coast, with food and wine and a rented beach hut to wrap around us and all he had to look forward to was another long street of wheelie bins and the possibility of Thai curry leftovers in polystyrene. And a doorway to sleep in.

Then (for life always sends a balance to help out) I met young black people with a zeal in their bellies. Not priveleged and living in one of the townships –  mile upon mile of tin roofs and dust floors, but still determined to find new quality for their lives, waiting at tables, working on the dustcart, cleaning, odd-jobbing, and so much more.  ‘If anyone wants it, the work is here’, I was told more than once.  This is a country where labour is abundant and cheap.  Wages are low, work is hard, but these people have a joy about them, a laughter that may well not come from a place of comfort.  It’s more an attitude than a result of how life treats them.  In other words, it comes first, that smile, that easy laugh.

We saw the maids arriving at the big smart Africaaner homes every morning around 7am.  Dressed in black with brilliant white aprons, they trudged up the hills from the noisy taxi that brought them out of the townships, talking and laughing together.  They always looked up for a greeting and always responded with friendship.  Their hours, from 7.30 to whenever they were done cleaning, looking after children and cooking, might earn them £8 at the far end of a day that expects a woman to do every domestic job required.  Then they walked back to the taxi rank, back to the townships to their own families to begin all over again, every single day.  When I talked with one maid, she told me she was happy to work.  Work, she said, is important.  No work, no importance. She look at me, astonished when I told her I had worked as a maid for a time.  Why?  she asked me.  ‘You don’t have maids in Scotland?’  As if cleaning was not for my shiny white hands. I fumbled about for an answer that didn’t sound like ‘well, I needed the money.’  She would have fainted clean away, had she known the wage I was paid for doing far less than is expected of her. And then she smiled the widest smile and then she laughed a laugh that made her bangles jingle and shook her head in amazement and amusement at the very thought of the ‘Ma’ cleaning a house, even her own.  Then she gathered up a huge pile of washing and left me wondering at my priveleged life and how often I forget to remember that it is just that.

Island Blog 71 – Letting Go

Island Blog 71

 

Yesterday I took some washing up to the line like a good island wife, in a stout breeze.

That is not an article of island clothing, by the way, but, instead, a good wind for drying things.

As I climbed up the little mosaic-ed garden steps, a bush erupted beside me.  I knew from the sound effects that this was a Blackbird Hoo-ha, at which Blackbirds are pretty good.  They can make one out of nothing with their alarm calls, causing an island wife to drop her laundry basket, tipping her husband’s undergarments into a flowerbed and requiring her to wash them all over again.

I stood still, my back against the wall, my husband’s undergarments safely within the confines of the basket, and waited for the drama to unfold.  For a few seconds, I and the blackbird family listened for each other, neither of us daring to make a sound.  I knew they would give in first, through their natural curiosity and also because time is of the essence for them.  Not so for me.  I could linger here all morning without a shred of embarrassment or guilt, but, then, I don’t have to learn to fly in order to keep a hold of my life.

Or do I?

Anyway, the male jumped out of the bush first, which is quite proper for a Father Protector, and he locked eyeballs with me and said something rather sharp and double syllabled.  I looked away, knowing that this removed me as a confrontational threat, and waited some more.  He chirruped at the bush and out bounced three youngsters – all bigger than their dad, followed by a rather ruffled mother

After a few aviation tips, he told them to get on with it, and led the way, landing on the apex of the roof.  Eventually they followed, but not without giving dad a whole load of lip about this flying thing and his overly high expectations of them.

This morning I noticed them all around the compost bin, which has overflowed with an excitement of worms, thus providing the family with three good meals a day plus healthy snacks.  How wonderful it is, I thought to myself, that this adult pair are likely to have pitched their nest around this very spot precisely because of the overflowing compost bin and the excitement of worms.  I wonder if we are clever with our own nest pitching – considering what is best for the family, and, then, moving if we find a danger too close at hand.  I doubt it somehow, not with all that mortgage angst and debts and work commitments, although none of that makes it right to be living in the wrong place.

At my little grand-daughter’s naming ceremony, the words for her, in poetry, promises and songs, offered gifts and wisdom and freedom.  She must learn from her parents, her guides and then be free to take that learning and shape it her own way.  We all want this and yet few of us get it or give it, not really.  Through our own fear, we try to keep hold, of our children, our friends.  How many of us ever listen to someone, anyone, announce their new plan, a completely bonkers and impossible one, in our opinion and make no comment whatsoever?  No word of caution, no opinion, saying something like this:-

Wow!  That sounds incredible?  How will you achieve that do you think?

And then listen and learn and encourage and only ever give opinion if asked.

Bet you can’t do it.  We are all jailors of someone in order to feel free.