Re(d)patriation: March 2006 Archives

I have recently returned to South Africa after almost a decade of living abroad, and since I have family here, I decided to try and become part of the colourful, quilted patchwork of valleys, vineyards, mountainous and sweeping oceanic vistas of the Western Cape. So I came to see if this land would adopt me and allow my vagabond soul to anchor here and find rest.

At first, I was the proverbial prodigal daughter who had returned after a long absence, but after being away for so long, I felt a bit out of sync with the rhythms of sun-drenched South Africa and family life.

And so before the novelty of my homecoming had even begun to wear off, loneliness crept up and enveloped me in its snare like a heavy and unsettling cloak.

I wasn't necessarily bothered by the fact that I was single in a world that suddenly seemed to be teeming with couples. With baggage containing the shards of several shattered relationships trailing in my wake, I was willing to travel emotionally light for a while.

Besides, in attempting to repatriate and reconnect, I had more than enough on my plate to redirect my mind away from my forlorn, tattered heart.

But then…

Shortly after my arrival here in the heart of the South African wine country, I made a rather thrilling acquaintance. Maybe I'm confessing this a bit prematurely, but I would like the world to know that I have been completely swept off my feet.

My family has known him for longer than I have, and I'm afraid that they don't quite share in my adoration. In fact, they have made it clear that they find his presence a bit annoying.

Maybe my former rebellious streak has reappeared in full force after abandoning me in my late teens, because much to my family's dismay, I find him to be a breath of fresh air.

They have warned me of his fickleness; told me that he is notorious for turning on a dime, for blowing hot one minute and cold the next.

I say that he gives me gooseflesh when he does. (Somehow they do not find this amusing.)

They're not even impressed by the fact that he is a rather renowned doctor who is helping me to heal my heart. They still think he is an airhead who talks about nothing.

I surprise them and lead them to believe that they've finally managed to sway my opinion when I answer that they're right, but immediately dash their hopes when I add: "Especially when I consider the sweet nothings he whispers in my ear!"

Alas, some things one just can't explain to one's family.

Like how, whenever I hear him outside, I fling open my bedroom windows, allowing him to slip in and stay the night.

And even if I had wanted to tell them, how could I translate into words how he sometimes gently caresses my skin, without sounding like a love scene from a cheap paperback romance novel? How do I prevent sounding as sappy as a smitten schoolgirl when I describe how he languidly combs his fingers through my hair, leaving me flushed and giving me chills and making me feel reckless, wild and free?

I don't think they'll ever know how he has this disarming way of just sweetly sighing when he looks at me.

Or about the mournful, melancholy melodies he sometimes whistles late at night, when he thinks that I am sleeping.

My mother says he is too petulant and temperamental. She worries about the startling violence with which he slams the doors whenever he gets riled up. She also accepts as fact all those lingering rumours of how he has driven scores of people to insanity.

I don't believe the silly gossip, but like my mom, I'm not particularly fond of his flaring outbursts. I know he isn't destructive at heart, so I really wish he wouldn't slam the doors with such deafening force that they are left rattling and trembling in their hinges.

I also despise the childish way he has of jealously demanding attention by grabbing my writing papers and strewing them about when I'm trying to work.

But no one is perfect, and other than his occasional temper, I really don't have any complaints about him. Besides, in my opinion we have enough in common to make this relationship work.

Like me, he isn't at his best in the mornings, rarely stirring before late morning or noon, and definitely only gaining momentum as the day progresses.

There are days when he just takes off like a whirling dervish. At times like those, he seems utterly boundless: partying until dawn and kicking up dust with the best of them.

I think he is merely energetic and passionate, and therefore often misunderstood.

I wish others wouldn't be so blind to his lighter side. Then they'll see that he is a harmless, if relentless, tease with a wicked sense of humour. I wish they knew how mischievous and playful he gets. How he sometimes sneaks up from behind and like a real devilish flirt, tries to lift up my skirt.

I know that not everyone is immune to his charms. I have seen the visible effect he has on others as well. I know that I'm not the only one who loves him, and that my family isn't the only ones to despise him. It's interesting that I've never encountered anyone familiar with him who is indifferent towards him.

As he has been darting in and out of my days, I have found a solace and peace in his free-spirited presence. He has whipped my blood and stirred up my senses. His contagious vigour has left me breathless, yet he has filled my heart and cleared my head and blown new life into me.

No wonder he's been dubbed the Cape Doctor.

Southeaster wind, whisk me away…

Edited to say: Before I could come to my senses, I decided to use this to participate in this week's Weekly Anamnesis (the brain-child of THIS beloved brainiac). The theme for this week is "waiting." So what are YOU waiting for? Play along, why don't you?

The paved, narrow farm road leads up a subtle slope between tidy rows of grape vines. These rows of vines sit at an angle with the road. This, I’ve since learned, is to help guard against erosion.

At the end of the road, a stern-looking gate and matching electric fence stand on permanent, protective guard along the perimeter of the yard, compelling would-be visitors to linger at the intercom first.

Once permission to enter is granted, the remote controlled electric gate slowly rolls aside in a sweeping welcome gesture. Two grinning dogs, a sweet yellow Labrador Retriever and a spunky Jack Russell terrier, make up an enthusiastic, entire-hind-bodies-wagging, welcome committee.

At the edge of the paved driveway and parking area sits the sprawling sand-coloured ranch house. Flanked by two double-garages on either side, it forms a perfect U-shape.

The inside of the house is even larger than the outside makes it seem, because that’s when one realises that the bottom of the “U” is merely the width of the house and adjacent apartment – almost as if the length of the house had to remain a modestly guarded secret.

Despite the ample width of the house, large windows and sliding glass doors provide plenty of natural light indoors.

Because the house is located on the side of a hill (but very close to the top of it), those large windows and doors frame the most spectacular, picturesque views. I shall try my best to describe it, but even at my best, I’m sure I’ll still do an inadequate job. My limited vocabulary could never do it justice.

The view is a daily gift, because it changes frequently, sometimes hourly. Its fixed features include a lush garden with a sparkling swimming pool immediately in front of the house; the vineyards surrounding the house; the university town of Stellenbosch spread out in the valley below, nestled in and surrounded by the colourful, quilted patchwork of other vineyards sprawled out over more hills, giving it the appearance of a slightly unmade, but wholly comfortable, bed.

Behind the town and those vineyards, more valleys and hills gently slope and roll out to the reason for the name of the farm: the high mountains looming beyond. On sunny days, the mountains and their jagged edges are clearly silhouetted against blue skies. On cloudy days – my favourites - such as today, the top half of the mountains are veiled by the low, drifting grey clouds, giving them a ghostly, mysterious appearance.

In the evenings, there is a temporary hush. It’s as if the entire world quiets down, collectively holding its breath for the most stunning scene of all: the daily grand finale, when the sunset faithfully reflects on the mountains, causing them to light up and glow in varying hues from rosy, pastel pink deepening into fiery reds.

When darkness finally descends, the town lights below flicker on, looking like a string of pearls resting in a shimmering heap on a black velvet cushion.

This is the heart of the South African wine country. Area tables heave and groan under the weight of the bounty, and visitors are treated to bottles of world-class reds and whites and sparkling wines, with bunches of the plumpest, sweetest red and white grapes added to the cheese platters as edible garnish.

For the past few weeks, ever since my return from the States, I have been in the privileged position of being one of those visitors benefiting from this warm hospitality.

The farm and house I’ve mentioned belong to my brother-in-law, my sister and my nephew. Upon my recent return from abroad, they have generously taken me under their roof and into this sanctuary of a home they’ve created.

I have not written too much about it yet, but my homecoming back to South Africa, after my uninterrupted, nearly decade-long reversed exile in the States, has not exactly been what one would call triumphant; and this transition period of repatriating and readjusting has been difficult, to say the least.

But had it not been for this familial kindness, this entire process would have been that much harder.

Every day I get to marvel at this view and derive inspiration from it.

I get to pet the two dogs and feel their velvety soft ears under my fingers. That in itself should be prescribed medication! (“Stroke one dog and I assure you that you won’t call me in the morning!”)

I get to play with my nephew and make faces at him. I wasn’t here for his birth. In fact, I only met him for the first time on the day of my homecoming a few weeks ago on Christmas Day, and he is going to be three years old in July.

Before I came home, I was very scared that my nephews wouldn’t like me; that they would never recognise me as family. (My other sister has a two-year old and a one-month old.)

But much to my joy and relief, I found out - as soon as they threw their plump little arms around my neck, thus initiating me into ‘auntydom’ - that blood is thicker than all the waters of the ocean that has separated me from them until now.

Despite all of this, there are moments when my mind still ventures to the gloomier side. At times I miss the States and my life there (which, trust me, wasn’t much of a life at all) and the people I knew there with such forceful violence that I could weep from it. During those times, I tend to agree with Tom Wolfe who wrote that one can never go home again. Or with John Steinbeck, who wrote in “Travels with Charley” (a magnificent little travelogue about travelling across the United States with his dog Charley): “The place of my origin had changed, and having gone away I had not changed with it. In my memory it stood as it once did and its outward appearance confused and angered me.”

It’s true. Despite my having been stuck in limbo half a world away, time did not stand still in this place that I had left behind. Everyone grew older (including me, of course, even though my life in almost all other aspects remained on the same plateau for a long time). Some of the people I had left behind even died while I was away.

Kids who weren’t even born when I left are now already in school. My sisters and friends were unmarried when I left; now they have husbands and wives and children. My parents have crossed over to a new demographic in which they are now officially classified as ‘senior citizens.’

I feel like someone who has been in a coma and who has now woken up to find that it’s a decade later. And I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do with my regained consciousness.

I’m also still unsure as to why my life has detoured like this: Why did I have to return this way, tail-between-the-legs, sans the Green Card I had waited so many years to receive? Does my purpose and destiny really await me here, in sun-drenched South Africa?

I can only ask you to please bear with me as I fumble my way slowly forward, into this scary unknown, where an answer hopefully awaits to reveal itself to me.

is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
Or you can stalk her send her some love via e-mail at: redsaid[AT]gmail[DOT]com

The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


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