Tagged: Memoir

Speed-Dating Life

[A post I wrote for SoulSeekers]

In the last moments before our annual sunset, I can’t help myself but sit in the warm glow of dusk and reflect on what’s been. Numerologically, 2017 was the first year of a new cycle. It broke anew from the rough — and for many, painful, torturous — end-of-cycle that was 2016. It was like that for me; a rebirth on so many fronts and in a lot of wonderful ways.

2018 is going to be the year of living each day for that day’s sake. This is not necessarily in the numbers, but it is in my heart and in my resolve. That means I’m going to untether myself from all of the lovely things I’ve just finished gathering, raise my eyes to the horizon and walk, as bold-footed as I’m able, towards the next thing.

I feel like I’ve always speed-dated my way through life’s archetypal adventures. Continue reading

Becoming a Man

[Personal essay]

My mom is a person of perfection. She is elegant and tall and made from obedience. She is also made to be obeyed. Throughout my primary school-years she insisted on piano lessons, extra-mural activities and academic achievement. In the shadow of her pointed finger and clanking gold bangles I spent half-an-hour before school practicing my scales and every weekday afternoon struggling to perfect things like chess and hurdles and my twelve times table. Then things shifted: One ordinary afternoon her car revved up our farm’s driveway and brought with it its usual fume of panic and “have-I-done-all-my-chores?” But when she pulled open the glass sliding door and stepped into the kitchen, Continue reading

South African Brown

[Chapter 1 of my memoir]

It is always brown somewhere in South Africa.

During the frostbitten winter, it’s the flat Highveld that cracks and curls up in chocolate squares of parched soil. These gold- and diamond- and crop-littered plains get their rain in the summer, sometimes in abundance, sometimes not. In the winter that wetness becomes a forgotten fantasy that is swept away in howling dust storms and hearsay. The June air fills with static, the tall grasses splinter, the sky becomes a lighter blue and sunlight is thinner. Dryness envelops the meadows and fields. The earth below loses all its moisture. The land above cracks and curls and parches. In the Highveld winters, the deepest hardness of Africa is seen and felt in its brittle brown ground.

In the searing summer months, it is the fringe of land along the coast—the southern curve of Africa—that tans a deep cocoa in its endless sunshine and on its blonde beaches. These provinces lie south of the Highveld and get fed on an opposite schedule to their upcountry neighbours, when winter fronts arc up from Antarctica with rain and melancholy. In summer, sunburn makes everything tawny, thirsty. Life, previously green, shrinks and shrivels in the hot, deep, dry days of December. The navy of the distant mountains turns deep purple in the bake and the rare flora, found on them and nowehere else in the world, becomes brittle and brown in this cycle of dryness that they know very well. In the Cape summers, a paradox of Africa is felt in the joy of the arid heat and the life it sucks out of the soil.

Continue reading

His Opus

[I get my story-telling from my dad. These are his words, my interviewing]

I was sitting at home one night and a friend of ours—a Pom, working at Blue Circle cement factory—phoned me and said “Dorrian, I’m in big trouble. This dog arrived on our doorstep in town and we made the huge mistake of giving him some food. Now the dog refuses to leave. My wife’s gone to Johannesburg and she said that if the dog’s still here when she gets back, she’s moving into the hotel.”  And he asked “Can’t you take the dog. He is a St Bernard, but he must be a brak because he has short hair.”

So I said “Ja, bring him. We need a big dog.” Continue reading

Thula Baba

[Personal Essay]

I am stuck in the birth canal, inside my mother. All that Doctor Kaizer can see is a tiny patch of my head; pink and blonde. Everything else is swollen folds of red skin stretched into circles and covered in blood, mucus, discharge, remnants of broken water.

My tiny eyes are still shut. Forced shut by being pressed up against the walls of the tunnel everyone is trying to get me out of. So I don’t see the “vanity screens” wheeled around my mother in the labor room, with faded lime cloth scrunched onto the upper and lower rods of a shiny silver frame. Or the hospital-issue, light blue sheet tented over her lower body, her legs stirruped in icy metal holds. Don’t see the white-uniformed nurse handing polished steel tools to the doctor. Or the steel kidney bowl that holds these scalpels, surgical scissors and the glossy new clamp that will grip my umbilical chord when I am finally born. Don’t see my dad holding my mom’s hand but unable to look anywhere near me, or where I’m coming from. Continue reading

Making Chicken and Children

[Personal Story]

Tina Turner blasts through speakers that aren’t supposed to be played at their maximum. The deejay sips a fresh, satisfying brandy and coke. He surveys the crowd, smiling, ignoring the cracks and tears pounding out of his tripodded black boxes.

You’re simply the best.

Better than a–ll the rest.

The song is rolling down from one of its crescendos. Many of the folks on the dance floor are howling along with the lyrics, some half a note behind but not caring to catch up. Mom and Dad are facing each other, slightly apart from the cacophony. Every now and again, though, they’ll look over at the mass of arms and legs and bobbing heads, and smile. She’s dancing the way she always dances: shoulders straight, body moving side-to-side, feet taking turns tapping neatly behind the heel of the other. Her arms swing gently to the beat, elbows stiff and wrists limp. The gold bangles from three special Christmases and two birthdays clink against each other and her auburn hair, blown dry in one slow inward curl, sways from shoulder to shoulder. Dad is pretending to be Bruce Springsteen: one leg in front of the other, body open, fingers snapping in a big half-circle, hips following the lead of his clicking fingers, back knee too. That’s exactly how the arm-jabbing rock star does it when he’s beamed onto our curved TV screen from concert stages far away from here. Continue reading

The Start of a Story

[Personal Essay]

Once upon a time there was a farm in the southern round of Africa. This farm lay in a dusty stretch that became known as the Platteland because of its flat horizon. At first this region was overlooked by settlers and pioneers—Voortrekkers—because it didn’t have a bustling port or a roaring river or the promise of gold. It was inland, plain, boring. Eventually, though, government officials of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek drew lines across hand-sketched maps and sliced the land into sellable pieces. Then weary representatives reluctantly traveled from Pretoria and spiked a number of sharp metal stakes into the soil. It took them five days on horseback to get there. They carved out farms from the endless savannah and christened them with names like Graslaagte and Zoetmelkvallei and Rietfontein¹. During the frequent droughts that swept the region, these names became airless jokes. During wet years, however, the farms bloomed into their namesakes and were attractive alternatives to the fevered and overpopulated Witwatersrand, where Johannesburg was being built with bricks of newly-discovered gold and mortar made from the rot of chewing tobacco.  Continue reading

Once More To The Chapel

But last week was so pretty, so warm, so sunny, I think to myself as I look around with despair at the tar-bottomed rivers that follow cars to intersections and flow over each other to swirl and twirl through the bars of the storm drains. My umbrella is shredded by the wind and my shoes are squeakingly acknowledging that they are waterlogged, as I miss busses and dodge cars to get to a certain room, in a specific hall, by a fixed time. Today is the first day of classes and, partly due to the relentless rainstorm, it feels like a world away from the sunny shining of campus during the post-Irene bliss of registration week. Continue reading

A Life Cycle

There are drums. In the distance. The beats join the music in a happy union. I can sense smiling. And a twirl of tulle-ed skirts and can-can costumes. I walk closer, unable to keep myself away. Someone takes my bicycle from me. “Don’t worry, it’s safe here.” The tarred road quickly becomes gravel as I walk further off today’s route. That’s okay. It is safe here. The music gets louder and as I round a corner; a red flash. Then more red, and a torso. First just smiling and shaking and rhythmically undulating. Then a louder flash of music. And the drums again. Always the drums as I walk into what feels like an African tribal ritual of stomps and starts. I walk through the beat. People start writhing around me. More red. Beautiful red that makes me smile. Smile because everything red is a dress and only some of the dresses are women. That feels strange out here in the raw country, where cows stare and butter is churned instead of manufactured. But it feels like home. I walk in deeper. Continue reading