Category Archives: The South African Series

Open Letter to Nelson Mandela

*Disclaimer: One of the possible side effects of meningitis is temporary insanity. And yes, I am aware that Nelson Mandela cannot read this letter on the Internet. Unless… Wait! Is there Internet in the afterlife? I certainly hope so. Wouldn’t it be nice to have Hulu in Heaven?

 

Dear Nelson Mandela,

Molo! I trust the ancestors and the Lord of Hosts have greeted you all properly by now? Good, good. I remember when I heard the news of your passing, and how I felt. It was light off in Adenta, so I didn’t get the full pundit/commentary/analysis of your passing from TV news. All I got was a crude Facebook announcement that “Madiba has died!” What was that? I must confess, I was relieved when I heard the news. You had been sick a long time, and I don’t like it when people suffer for prolonged periods of time. After all, what else was there for you to do on this earth, after all the years of hard work? I hope it was peaceful and that you are resting comfortably on a cloud near you.

Do you remember earlier this year – just before your birthday – when the world was “praying for Madiba”? We were all encouraged to submit supplications to the Most High for your prolonged life. Your 95th birthday came and went and within a week there were no more “pray for Madiba” hashtags on Twitter. You should have seen how they spoiled your name.

#Manriba

#Mariba

#Maniba

Ah! I wanted to scream. What’s all this? Just say #NelsonMandela and be free!

I must apologize to you, Nelson. I have never written to you before, and I know that that is a great shame. A girl my age should have written to at least one of the heroes of her life time at least once, but I never have. I suppose I still have time to pen a greeting to Mugabe in the coming days. I swear that man will never die. And you know what else is strange? The older he gets, the less villainous he appears in my eyes! Imagine that. Robert Mugabe may have been right all along. Considering Bill O’Reilly’s recent tirade on Fox News proclaiming that YOU, Nelson were “A great man…but [he] was a Communist!”, and that American democracy was no real friend to Black Africa for centuries, I understand old Bob a bit better.

danny gloverIs it true what they say, Nelson? (You don’t mind if I call you by your first name, do you? You see, I never knew you as ‘Madiba’ until that movie Invictus came out. And prior to that, I thought you and Danny Glover were the same person.) Is it true that God downloads your transformed spirit with all the mysteries of the universe, unlocks them and instantly releases full wisdom and understanding? If so, there is something I’d like you to do for me, although I know you probably won’t.

Shogun_(TV)There was once a TV miniseries called Shogun that was released while you were still imprisoned. You would not have seen it. Anyway, in one of the opening scenes, the European explorers step off of their vessel and were met by the Japanese army. They were ordered to lay on the ground prostrate before the general. They complied. The Japanese general steps over to the captain of the ship, hovers above him, and promptly proceeds to piss on his head, much to the captain’s ire and dismay. Mr. Mandela, would you kindly ask God for a hall pass into Hell and piss on Hendrick Verwoerd’s head, Shogun style?

I know it’s a long shot, but I thought I’d ask anyway. You’re so down with forgiveness and reconciliation and all. No? Fine then.

Ei. Did you see the antics surrounding your funeral? My word. Over all, it was well organized and nicely done. There was an incident involving Mr. Obama and a cell phone camera that didn’t go over too well. That was contrived controversy, as it turns out. What was NOT contrived was that dolt they had standing behind 80% of the world’s leaders doing fake sign language. Eruade Yesu! I know you saw it. He said he was suffering from schizophrenia, and that’s what made his hands go crazy. I would have rather he told a better lie and said he was signing in Xhosa.

The real reason I’m writing to you is because I’m very upset about one thing in particular, now that you’ve passed. And that thing is the pervasive perception of your personhood. They are doing it again, Nelson, and it is vexing me. They are turning you into a Messiah.

They did the same thing to MLK, you know? Bundled the entire Civil Rights era into one man and buried it with him. It’s become all very mechanized now, this Black Messiah Manufacturing process. That way, they can neatly bring up the struggle on an appropriate/convenient day for celebration. Second Monday in January usually works well for the American government. Civil Rights gets a bank holiday and we are all supposed to eat our government rationed cheese and chicken. Now they are doing the same thing with the apartheid struggle. Western media has dubbed you “The Father of Freedom” or some such nonsense, and now they want to bury the struggle and all the impending issues with your body on a grassy hill in the Eastern Cape. Not so, I say!

Have you ever considered how liberation movements are treated in the West? The French Revolution, as was the American Revolution, was borne of the people.  There is no one individual that has been afforded the crown of singlehandedly bringing about the end of tyrannical bourgeois or colonial rule. It was an effort carried out by the masses, and we have all grown up understanding that. THAT idea unites the masses, and births the belief that change is affected as a collective. But with BLACK liberation and struggle, they want us to believe that we must have ONE leader, ONE head… and when those heroes emerge, our entire struggle must be bound up in their personhood. What happens then when they die?

Yeah. I know. You guessed it.

You as well as I know that YOU alone did not end apartheid in South Africa, but that is what they are selling us. The struggle against White minority rule began as far back as the Anglo-Zulu war. It has been a continuous fight, and you were a cog in the wheel of that machine, not the machine itself. This is what they are doing, Nelson! They have turned you into a tank!

Hei! Now come and see. They are now having stupid debates about “Who was Africa’s greatest liberator: Kwame Nkrumah or Nelson Mandela?” What kind of divisive nonsense is that? As I understand, President Nkrumah wasn’t too keen on the ANC. He considered your organization too “bourgeois”. They say he was more in league with the Pan African Congress , because PAC supported armed resistance. In short, he said you talked too much, your clothes were too nice and you were ineffective.  However I’m certain he changed his tune when you were caught returning into the country carrying weapons of mass destruction in the late 60’s. Perhaps he’d died by then, so maybe not. I’m a little fuzzy on the dates.

I’ve said a lot, and I still have so much more to say. However, my husband has accused me of being pedantic at times, so I don’t want to overburden you with my plenty thoughts. In closing, my hope is that the media will do better honor to you memory by encouraging us to read about and remember the masses who were involved in the liberation movement in South Africa:

The 67 children shot in Sharpesville.

Ahmed Kathrada.

Miriam Makeba.

Walter Sisulu.

Steve Biko.

Oliver Tambo.

Even your own once beloved Winnie.

Don’t let them turn the struggle against injustice into the life of one man, Nelson! I beg, tell God for me.

 

With respect,

Malaka.

“I Spy” on the Garden Route

There are many beautiful places on the earth, but I am convinced that South Africa is the Queen of them all. Considering that I am neither God Almighty nor Dora the Explorer and that I neither created the world nor certainly have not traversed the face of it, I realize that this is certainly a bold statement. However, I have watched countless hours of Nature on PBS as well as The Discovery channel and am completely persuaded that my view is absolutely correct.

I have only visited The Garden Route in South Africa, but the natives tell me that the rest of the country is no less stunning. The Garden Route stretches from Heidelberg in the Western Cape to the Storms River. I’ve written about the drive along the N2, the national highway that takes you along The Garden Route. We took the N2 to Cape Town where we spent 3 nights in the city. The last time we went, the fields were blanketed with a yellow plant that we were told was canola, but it is very similar to the rapeseed we saw in Germany during our 11 hour layover, so I don’t know who to believe. In any event, they were not in bloom on this trip; which was probably just as well. It gave me a chance to pay attention to things I missed during our last trip.

It’s hard to focus on one thing when you have so much beauty assaulting you in the face. Watching the gorgeous Garden Route landscape whiz by while trying to take it all in at the same time was like running face forward into a hail storm. My mind and my eyes were in pain, trying to decide what to pay attention to first.

cloudsRegal mountains lay to north of the shore like an army of ancient giants that laid down for a rest in a time before men and beasts roamed the Earth and refused to awaken from their slumber. Their peaks kissed billowy clouds that hovered over them, and they in return caressed the mountaintops with delicate touches as an attentive lover might do.

sheepFattened, wooly sheep grazed contentedly on an abundance of verdant grass, now dewy with recently fallen rain. Every once in a while, an egret might invite himself for a drink from their watering pans. Never once did I see them bother to drive him away.

Even the desolation is beautiful. Felled trees and scorched earth dotted areas of the terrain where someone may have set a bushfire or cut down too much wood for kindling; but shrouded in a gossamer mist, the lifeless patch of earth looked like a haunting painting that took your breath away.

By chance you might see – as I did that day – a traditional Xhosa man wrapped in a black, red and white blanket sitting comfortably by the side of the road, watching traffic go by. Perhaps he had just gotten off work for a lunch break. Perhaps he had no job at all and was merely wandering about the country. Only he and the road know.

As they were in years past and will be in years to come, the vineyards at this time of year were plucked bare, yielding fruit for unique wine of the most acidic quality.

sunsetFinally, hours later, you arrive in Cape Town via Stellenbosch and all that rural magnificence gives way to urban sprawl. Try as they might, the buildings will never topple the heights of the mountains on which they rest, and the fro-hawked city chick with a pea coat and pierced nose is not quite as interesting as the rural wanderer. Regardless, the city is impressive in its own right, for I have never seen a sunset more beautiful than one that settles over the ocean horizon of Cape Town.

 

Table Mountain In Very Simple Terms

Greetings, members of the MOM Squad and other Random Readers dropping by. You’ll have to forgive me this morning. This post will not be completed with any elaborate eloquence. My body is wracked by pain, but it is my duty to report the events as they unfolded as I made a fatuous attempt to climb Table Mountain yesterday – and drug my poor husband along as I did it. In fact, I’m going to write this post as if I’m talking to my sister. In fact, feel free to stop reading now. It’s going to be ugly.

table mth 

Chaaaley. A-Dub. Why? Who sent me to go there? Eh? Why?!?!

First, let me say that Table Mountain is not the type of place you go in order to get fit. You only venture there if you already are fit. I can admit that now.

When we came to Cape Town last time, at least a handful of people asked if we had ‘done’ Table Mountain. I told them no. I’ve climbed several mountains as you know, and come out tired, sure… so why shouldn’t I climb Table Mountain as well?

Humph.

We made some simple inquiries and some guy told Marshall and me that it was like climbing stairs.

“It should only take an hour and a half,” he said. “It’s like climbing a bunch of stairs.”

Oh fine! I can walk for 90 minutes; no problem.

Then when we arrived in Cape Town, the inn keeper at our B&B said that that was not exactly true. It would take more like two hours. Still; no problem!

Humph.

And then we arrived at this foolish mountain. We had to park 20 minutes from the base of the trail. They told us to look for a brown shack.  The trail begins then. I had romanticized images of our ascent. The mountain looked very green from a distance, and I fabricated images of a wide, green valley leading to the summit. Perhaps I might frolic in wild flowers along the way. Feeling very confident about our impending ascension, we finally reached the bottom of the mountain. That’s when I heard it speak to me. I spoke back in defiance.

lions headHeh. Black Woman. What are you doing here?

What do you mean?! I am Malaka Gyekye and I have to climb you!

Have you seen any other Black Women here?

Mtseewww. Nonsense. Am I every Black Woman? I say I am Malaka Gyekye and I have to climb you!

I’ll punish you ooo.

Shut up! I say, shut up over there! The Bible says if I say to the mountain “be thou removed” I can move it! Do you want me to send you to Singapore?

Then the mountain was silent. I took that as an indication that it acknowledged my superiority.

Up we went, into the mouth and bowels of Table Mountain. It looked as though we were going into a rocky version of Hell.

Forty minutes later, when we had climbed 300m (about 984 feet) we came to a sign that said we had two choices: either go down the ravine to the lower cable card of go up to some guy’s gorge.

“Malaka. This is no longer pleasant,” Marshall breathed.

I know what he meant. He wanted to quit. He wanted to go back like that American woman who admitted she couldn’t finish the climb and had to go back down. I was not having it.

“You can go back if you want to, but I’m getting to the top!”

“But the sign says not to split up.”

“You have the cell phone. You back without me. I’ll be fine.”

Now of course my husband wasn’t leaving his wife to climb some treacherous mountain all alone without a cell phone. How would that look? He took a seat, cleared his head and said he would continue on with me.

I was eager to get a move on, because 3 other couples had passed us by as we were debating our next move.

The sun was very bright, and it reflected off the white and grey rocks. Fortunately I was wearing sunglasses, which I seldom do. Also, and perhaps more fortunately, I had a bottle of water. We were encouraged to take one by the parking attendant. I will be forever in his debt. I was absolutely planning on making this climb with no water. (Remember this part A-Dub. It’s important. Marshall and I had ONE 12 oz bottle of water to share between us.)

There is nothing to report about the beauty of Table Mountain. I couldn’t see it. I saw razor sharp rocks and my impending doom if I took one misstep. Unlike our national parks in the States, there were no guardrails to protect you as you made your climb… only barbed wire fences that stood as a barrier between you and the ravine below.

We climbed and climbed, A-Dub. And when we thought it could get no worse, it only got worse still. To keep my spirits up, I sung spiritual songs and hymnals in my head.

Jesus! Be a fence, all around me e-ver-y day!!

When that didn’t work, I muttered curses under my breath.

This is some f*ckin’ bullsh*t.

In time, we made it to the middle of the mountain… or so we thought. We were informed by an elderly White man making his way down that the middle was still 2 hours way.

“Are you okay?” Marshall asked him with concern.

“Oh, I’m fine,” he replied nonchalantly. “You see when you get old, you skin gets very soft. I cut myself on a branch and these are the results.”

What were these two talking about? I looked in the direction of my husband’s gaze and saw the reason for his concern. The old man’s arm was gushing blood. Dear God!

He left us with some parting words of wisdom: rest when you need to and drink water. I looked at our bottle of water, which was now more than half empty. Two hours in and we had not even cracked half the mountain…

Eventually we go to this enormous rock where there were notes left by climbers of yore.

Just keep walking, one exhorted!

rock encourage

Humph.

By this time, there was no choice. We had to go up. If we chose to go back down, it would have been a disgrace. Marshall later revealed that his pride would not let him go back. Good man. Good, foolish man, following his foolish wife.

What more is there to be said about terror, barbed wires, slippery slopes, spritely blond men and their brunette girlfriends running past you as you make a tortoise pace up to the apex and the theme song from Lord of the Rings and Gollum’s demented cackle playing in your head? Not much. You get the hint by now, I’m sure.

Let me tell you now about hope.

Eventually I had to leave Marshall behind. He was stopping every few feet and frustrating me in the process.

“The longer we stop, the longer it’s going to take us to get to the top!”

“Then you go.”

So I did. I got to the top a full 30 minutes before he did. But before I got there, I was serenaded by the softest, most beautiful music. I was going mad, I thought. Turns out I wasn’t. There was a Xhosa man sitting on a ledge playing a homemade xylophone. He told me the traditional name for it, but of course I’ve forgotten it. I had only had room for two ambitions at that moment: getting to the top and finding more water.  Neither seemed like they were going to be my reality any time soon.

“Eiii. Sistah! Don’t give up,” he said, trying to encourage me. “It’s only 20 more minutes to the top!”

(But because he was Xhosa, he said “*click*wenty”, not “twenty”. God’s honest truth.)

“Really? 20 more minutes?”

I was desperate and so tired. And I needed to pee ever so badly.

“Yesss sisi. At this pace, *click*wenty more minutes.”

“And if I was going faster?”

“Ten,” he said with a genuine laugh.

That gave me all the power I needed. I thanked him and told him my husband was some ways behind me.

“When he comes up, please tell him it’s only a few more minutes to the top!”

He promised he would, and went back to playing his xylophone. That’s when this South African and English couple behind me over took me and stopped to take pictures. As I took the opportunity to rest while they commandeered the path way I looked over the ledge for my poor spouse. I didn’t see him anywhere. I didn’t hear the couple speak to me over the sound of pounding blood in my ears and my worried thoughts. Maybe I never should have left him…

“Will you snap a photo for us?”

“Huh? Oh! Yes! Of course!”

I took a picture of this happy, fit 20-something couple with their tight bodies and grinning faces. We chatted for a bit and then they said they had to dash. They were in a ‘race’ with another couple.

Whores.

“Would you like me to fill your water bottle?” asked the girl with manic blue eyes and a grin to match. “You look a little low.”

“What? Oh no… I couldn’t. I can’t take your water.”

“We have two bottles,” the man assured me. “And they’re both full.”

Look closely on my cheek.

Look closely on my cheek.

I passed them my bottle without another word. You see, by this time I was so dehydrated I was sweating salt. There were actual, literal, granules of SALT coming out of my pores.

I talked to a few more people as I waited for Marshall to show. A gay guy with hipster glasses and perfectly coiffed hair and a married couple from Phoenix who sympathized with Frodo’s trek to Mordor as I did.

“Shoooot. Cast ME and the Ring into the fire,” I snorted.

They laughed and wished me luck. Marshall still had not made it. It was getting cold in that part of the mountain so I needed to move. Finally the end was near. The mountain split at the summit like a giant labial fold, and I emerged dripping wet like a newborn calf. For you see, in its final act of degradation, the mountain dehumanized me by drip-pissing on my head as I struggled up the final 80* incline.

It was now 1:14pm. At 2:05, Marshall appeared. I was elated.

“I saved some water for you babe!”

“Thank you,” he heaved, chugging it down. “Let’s go find some more.”

And so we did. In a bathroom. I drank BATHROOM water. And when I finally did take that piss, it was the color of week old Guinness. Though they rhyme, the two should not look alike.

And that’s it. I climbed Table Mountain, and I sweated salt. I will never do  either again.

The Pursuit of Chocolate is the Pursuit of Happiness

Whenever I feel down, I medicate myself with food. And whenever I feel especially down, chocolate serves as my one true panacea. The range of emotions I’ve felt in my first few days in the country – which included elation, disappointment and despair, all finally culminating in a certain ambivalence – have forced me to seek out culinary and confectionery healing.  Now that I have absolved myself from any duty towards solving any problems, no matter how miniscule, I am finally free to enjoy my vacation and that means eating, and eating in abundance.

There is no better place to feed oneself than in this corner of South Africa.

The portion we stay in is part of the garden route, and that means an abundance of wine, cheese, meats of all kind, fresh vegetables and chocolate of all designs on your plate within mere hours of production. As anyone who has lived close to their food source will tell you, there is absolutely no replacement for fresh fare. It makes eating a delightsome event, rather than an obligatory one.

I personally began my quest for an oral orgasm at Sedgefield Market earlier this week and have not stopped since. My first indulgence was a traditional farm breakfast, which included a rasher of bacon, a side of sausage, scrambled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and nutty toast. I then moved on to freshly squeezed lemonade and samosas prepared right in front of me. Once I had satisfied my savory senses, I moved on to the sweets.

cheesecakeStall after stall, sat all manner of brownies (as big as your head!), fudge of the dark chocolate and caramel varieties, pies, pies, and yet more pies, and cheesecake, each begging to be ravenously devoured. Oh the things I did to that cheese cake. That four inch deep, 3 inch in diameter, topped with strawberry shmear cheesecake…

Of course all this eating has wreaked havoc on my waistline; but I couldn’t care less. I could help my cause by drinking water, but that has proven difficult seeing as there is so much rooibos tea to imbibe. And not that imitation crap we get at Publix either! You can taste the earth in this tea. It’s warm, hearty and filling.

This might look better in Instagram sepia, but trust me, the was the TRUTH.

This might look better in Instagram sepia, but trust me, the was the TRUTH.

Did I mention the ostrich, by any chance? Not only do they make excellent belts and purses, but it turns out ostrich makes a delectable fillet as well. I had mine with some sort of squash pie, chips and cabbage. Everything comes with chips in South Africa. That’s the Dutch influence I suppose.

The face of a woman who's eaten way too much

The face of a woman who’s eaten way too much

Speaking of influence: one of the most positive things to come out of the Indian Ocean and Dutch slave trade (when they brought a few million Asians and Indians to South Africa as slaves and conscripted soldiers) has been the cross-cultural influence on food. You’ll find some of the most authentic Thai food you could ever stuff in your face in this part of Africa, peppers and all. Last night, we ate tapas at a Greek restaurant in Cape Town, and Mexico (strangely) has a pretty substantial influence here as well.

But even better than the eating is the shopping.

South Africa has quickly emerged as one of the finest and most luxe fashion centers in the world. I have the personal belief that there are as many fashion magazines and editorials as there are citizens. One pleasure that I indulged in, and that Marshall financed, was a genuine red ostrich leather handbag. I can’t show it to you yet, because it’s being specially made direct from the factory and will be ready for pick-up this Friday. They’ve even promised to personalize it with the letter ‘M’ somewhere on the bag. *Insert high-pitched, girly squeal here.*

The factory, called Der Lederhandler, was an accidental find. We happened upon it on our way to Oudsthoorn, which exists as both ostrich and ‘Klan’ country. Apparently, it’s one of the oldest and most historically racist cities in the nation. Like George Wallace was an icon in these parts. We didn’t see any racists though. I guess they had shut up shop for Sunday.

Anyway, I met three wonderful colored women at Der Lederhandler: Jocelyn, Ophelia and Anne-Marie who made absolutely sure that I did not walk out of that factory empty handed. In addition to my special order purse, I got some brown leather sandals that fit my foot like… a glove? Do we wear gloves on feet? Whatever the case, my foot slid right in. I felt like Cinderella with size 10 boats.

IMG_3174Later today we are going to attempt to ascend Table Mountain (which is a lot taller and bigger than I remember from last time; But then again I wasn’t considering a climb, was I?) and then taking a tour to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 20 years. Did you know that he spent an additional six years at Pollsmoor Prison after being transferred from Robben Island? Apparently, he and other senior ANC leaders were having too much influence over younger activists who were being ferried into the prison camp. What a crime…

Okay MOM Squad! This post is coming to you early so that you can begin your prayers. Pray that neither the mountain nor the Robben Island tour breaks me. And pray that if either of them do, that I would make it safely to one of the three chocolatiers I saw on Kloof Nek Road last night…

It’s Da Furst o’ Da Month!

You need this song playing in the back of your mind. It makes the storytelling so much more arresting.

South Africans like to think they are immeasurably different from other Africans; when in fact, they are not. There is a wide spread and indoctrinated belief that all Africans north of the Limpopo are savage, ignorant things. It’s what they were taught in school. Even amongst themselves, there are elitist clusters, each declaring superiority over the other. English whites are better than Boers; Cape Coloreds are better than other Coloreds; and ANYONE is better than Blacks. It’s simply modern day tribalism with more tribes, some fancy gadgets and a treaty or two in the mix.

IMG_3146

And like the rest of Africa, life is very (very) good if you’re rich and really (really) sucks if you’re poor.

IMG_3144

What does make South Africa unique is the way it treats its poor, however. There are no safety nets ‘up in Africa’ for the poor, unless you have some benevolent relative who is willing to send money back home until his/her good will runs out. The government does not get into the business of caring for the country’s destitute. It truly is every man for himself. In South Africa, the uneducated, the sick, the poor and the unfortunate in general are eligible for a grant… which is essentially what we call welfare in America.

The process for keeping the poor in a state of deprivation and still content with the deplorable workings of the government work the very same way they do in America: you give them access to minimal education, feed them garbage, keep them in barely sufficient housing and throw a few hundred dollars (or Rand in this instance) at the masses every month, while drilling in that the welfare-facilitating state is not the enemy.

“Those racist conservatives who want to take away your benefits are the enemy,” they proclaim. “They are the ones who deserve neither your trust nor your vote!”

But the people are not satisfied.

“We want jobs!” they cry.

And what does the government do? Send in community leaders to assure them that jobs are coming. Good paying jobs too; as street sweepers! And in their ignorance, the less educated feel it is their mandate to assist in ‘job creation’ by littering their own environs and never thinking twice about picking up rubbish if it blew in their path. At least that’s what they say in the colored townships… that and it’s not their duty to pick up trash in their neighborhood anyway.

And so a sheepish population is created, milling about doing this and that to survive, dependent on a government that has kept them barely literate and semi-skilled. This is where a little boy named Kweikwei and a feeding frenzy at local ATMs that comes every first of the month.

I’ve only heard of the fabled feeding frenzy in snickers and whispers in Atlanta. Every first to third of the month, swarms of people descend upon big box stores – usually Wal*Mart – and attack the bread, milk, cereal, meat and cigarette aisles. This usually happens after midnight, from what I’ve heard. The result is a store wrecked and stripped bare of the essentials that usually sit in plenty.

So this Saturday when we drove through Knysna on the way to Sedgefield market, I was intrigued. By the thronging crowds slowly making their way in one direction. Was it a street fair, I asked.

“No,” replied our host. “This is the first of the month. Everyone with a grant gets their debit cards reloaded and they go to withdraw their money.”

How nice.

Actually, not really.

The grant system is rife with charlatans, scoundrels and thieves. I discovered that the downward spiral into poverty starts with a promise. Men from larger townships will venture into the Transkei with their taxis and lure villagers with the promise of housing and good jobs in the Western Cape. Don’t have a car? Not to worry! For as little as R1000, I will ferry you back to the Western Cape with me. I’ll even allow you to come on credit. Just pay me when you get a job.

Now of course, you city slicker reading this knows there is no job in the big city, and you already know what happens to our hapless villager. He/she is now drowning in debt to the taxi driver, who collects his money in interest. To get the loan shark off his back, the villager seeks out a Big Mama, who advices the villager to seek a grant and again loans him money to pay the taxi driver.

“But I will hold your bank card until I have been paid in full,” she says with finality. And that is that.

And so every month, at an ABSA or StanChart ATM, you will see a Big Mama with five or six ATM cards, withdrawing her portion and giving the remainder of the money to the grantee until next month or whenever her loan has been paid in full.

With no work, a structure that can hardly be called a home, and no purpose in life overall, our villager turns to one of two things: God or drugs.

Unfortunately for him, God wants him to work in some respect, and usually offer his service for free. Paint this building, weed this lawn, and so forth. Also, and even more unfortunately, the church (or God) is destitute, and hardly able to pay for the upkeep of the church. At least with drugs he can create an alter ego and a virtually reality for himself. Fortunately, tik (meth) is plentiful and affordable. A few smashed out car lights and a hand shake later, our villager is hooked… and there are no services – at least for free – to help him successfully break his habit.

This story repeats itself, again and again, like bad rash that won’t heal, no matter what kind of balm you rub on it; and in the midst of this canker sits a frail 6 year old boy named Kweikwei, who suffers daily abuse from his mother’s drug addicted boyfriend and who herself will not allow him to stay with an adoptive mother who genuinely cares for him all because of hopes of collecting a piece of welfare money via his scarred flesh.

The Prodigal Sister

In my bathroom at home we have a three foot tall stack of magazines. Architecture Digest, Essence, Relevant, Time, you name it – it’s in there. And in one of these magazines, it was suggested that readers venture off the beaten vacation path and give a try to ‘serving vacations’ or whatever the term was. The idea was to vacation like a “Hollywood star”, and in doing so, you could spend six weeks of your life pretending to be Angelina Jolie or Madonna by handing out bottled water to orphans or digging trenches for widows in war-torn areas. You could see the world and still “make a difference”.

In a completely different issue of a completely different magazine, I the columnist decried the notion of these ‘serving vacations’ because they did very little to affect lasting change in the area that the vacation-monger found him/herself. To paraphrase: these Westerners, usually green-minded American college grads or backpacking Europeans get the benefit of feeling good, spending a few dollars or Euros here and there, but do not have the necessary (government, corporate, etc.) backing to affect any sort of real change. In some cases, it’s better that they never came to the village at all.

So which is it? Is it a good idea to go on a feel good mission in impoverished areas or eschew the notion altogether, rather spending ones money on liquor and hotel bills in Miami or Ibiza? This is the quandary in which I find myself, now that I’m back in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa after two years. Did I make things worse, better, or have no net affect at all those three months I spent here in 2011 on a short term mission’s trip? (Which is the Christian equivalent of these vacations spent in service.)

When I walked into the church/clubhouse/soup kitchen in Qolweni, many of the people were surprised – and pleased to see Marshall and I again. Mavis, a big woman with an even bigger smile hugged me tightly.

“Ohh sisi, I never expected to see you again!” she giggled.

“Ah. But why not? I told you we would come back!”

“But that’s what many Americans say. They say they will come back, and they never do.”

All of my favorite ladies were there: Thandiswa, Fezi, Mavis and two other women I’d never met. I was eager to pass out gifts that I’d picked for them individually, but as I understood it, I couldn’t do it just then because they were not all the same gift. If I didn’t time it right, it would only serve to breed discontent amongst my friends.

Why did she get a hat and an umbrella, and I only got a pair of shoes?

(If you’re thinking that this line of thinking is juvenile and asinine, you’d be right. But that’s village life for you.)

That’s the point though, isn’t it? The first thing I failed to realize during my initial trip was that I needed to truly understand nature of whom I was working with, and what the mindset of the people was/is. And that’s an endeavor that needs a hefty investment of time. Had I spent more time developing proper relationships instead of busying myself with “work”, perhaps I would have been less crestfallen when I enquired after my favorite kids, most have who had not shown up for the big ‘gala’ (traditional song and dances performed by the kids, and refreshments provided by me.)that the ladies had planned for us.

“Where is Camagu (pronounced ts-a-mah-goo)?” I asked eagerly, peering through the crowds of third graders and younger. He should be in 7th grade by now.

“Ahhh, Camagu? He doesn’t come for after school anymore. His attitude has changed.”

“I think he even stopped going for music lessons,” chimed in someone else. That was a pity. Camagu very truly loved to sing. He had a lovely falsetto.

“And what if Siya?” I asked eagerly. She was 15 last time we were in the country. Beautiful and bright, she talked wistfully of visiting Paris one day and becoming a lawyer, perhaps.

“Ahhhh… Siya? She is now pregnant. She is going to have a baby.”

That was a shame, I said with genuine sadness. The ladies in the circle didn’t seem to share my grief. That was the way life was in the township, after all.

“And she is so skinny, so the pregnancy looks cute with her small body!” one said enthusiastically.

I was scared to ask about my next pet-child, but I did, nonetheless. Kweikwei was the four year old boy that Thandiswa had rescued two years back in a pseudo adoption. This is where Thandiswa’s face finally curled up in a deep frown.

“Kweikwei’s mother came for him last year,” she spat.

“Really? Why?”

I was alarmed. If you recall, her boyfriend was hooked on drugs and would burn then-four year old KweiKwei with cigarettes and glowing metal pokers that he stuck in the fire at night. His mother never bathed him and rarely fed him. Thandiswa huffed in answer to my question.

“Well, she thinks maybe I got a grant, so that’s why she came to take her son away. I told her without his birth certificate and ID card, I can’t do anything with him,” she said, speaking quickly. “She talked and talked until I told my husband to get her away from my house! But I told Kweikwei even if it’s midnight, he is welcome in my house.”

I nodded and told her I was proud of her, and that I hoped God would bless her.

By then I realized that Charlotte had not yet arrived. You may remember Charlotte? She was the prettiest of the bunch, with honey brown eyes and caramel colored skin. Her hair was always crafted in curly braids or some sort of weave. I inquired after her whereabouts. They said she was coming from the Shell station. When she arrived, I was taken aback. She had aged 15 years, if not more. And her two front teeth were missing. Had her husband knocked them out? I dared not ask.

I reached out to embrace her and told her how great it was to see her again. She smiled wearily and replied in kind.

“Here are some things for you and your girls,” I grinned, passing her two big bags.

“Thank you, Malaka.”

“How are the girls anyway?”

“Oh they are fine,” she assured me. “Have you seen my teeth are gone?”

“Yeah. Yeah! I saw that.”

She laughed ruefully and I didn’t press for an answer.

(I later found out that she had lost her teeth to cavities and opted to have them extracted.)

I went home that night with a heavy heart, and those were not the emotions I was expecting to harbor after all this time. I expected to feel elated – at peace, perhaps. But instead, I felt like a failure. Like I had come and preached hope and not followed through to make sure that hope was realized. I had paraded my “perfect” family in front of this lot, and quietly implied that “you could have this too, if you worked hard at it”, and not provided the tools. Sure, I could join some NGO or other organization and slap some contraceptives in the girls’ hands and some tech device in the other and call that “progress” – as many of these groups in their hubris are prone to do – but that still doesn’t cover the real need for a lasting, dedicated relationship with the people. And they know it too.

Besides, the mother in me would never allow myself to go down that path. She knows you need to be there every day with your child, to nurture and watch over them with vigilance.

I never thought I’d see you again, Malaka. I’m so happy to see you again…

That cut me, and it cut me deep.

Of (South) Africans and Entitlement

You don’t come to Africa empty handed. You can try that mess if you want to, but it doesn’t bode well for a good experience. At some point, you will pay for that decision.

It’s one of the themes you’ll often hear foreigners and White folks in South Africa discussing: This damned entitlement culture that grows like a generational cancer amongst the natives.

To my shame, I admit that I willfully participated in such foolish talk during my last visit, decrying the constant requests for this and that and opining – angrily at times – about why these same folks couldn’t employ this or that method to get themselves out of their circumstances. What made them think they were “entitled” to my money, or my shoes, or anything else in my possession?

obI realized as I was sitting at Ocean Basket with my husband and our host that my angst in those moments was most likely borne from the pressure of a sad reality: I am neither God nor Bill Gates, and I was frustrated that I did not (and do not still) have the capacity to solve the problems of the people whom I have since come to call “friends.”

While I have reversed my position on whom is worthy of the negative moniker “entitled”, my husband and my host have not. We discussed the matter over hake and grilled shrimp. Of my two stow away bags, one contained my clothing and the other was dedicated purely for the 8 or so people I had brought gifts for.

“I know that no matter what I bring to the people at Qolweni, it’s not going to be enough,” I said, munching around a piece of fish. “And I’m prepared to receive looks of disappointment.”

“That’s because them folks are entitled,” Marshall said dismissively.

Our host nodded in agreement. He had been working in the SCAB/ASP (After School Program) for the last 2 years, and feeling burnt out, had recently gone on hiatus from the program, leaving Thandiswa and Co to their own devices.

Then there was some talk about poverty in connection to the entitlement culture. This is where I bristled in defense of my southern African kin.

“Okay now wait a minute,” I nearly growled. “There are just as many rich people who feel like they are entitled to one thing or another because their wealth demands it.”

“How so?” the men said in near unison.

Fortunately, I had a recent example at the ready.

Marshall and I were standing in line at the Dollar Tree, buying gift bags for the gifts we wanted to give out. It was the weekend of high school graduation in our county. There was a White woman in a tennis skort, a baseball cap and an expensive looking bag slung over her shoulder was yakking away on the phone, holding up the line and not moving. You know the ones. She probably had a Lexus truck in the parking lot. As I was about to step around her, I thought I should ask her first if she was in line. My tone was direct.

“Yes I AM,” she tossed over her shoulder, not looking at me.

Finally, she moved ahead and told the cashier that she had been their earlier and had left something. The cashier brought it to her and set it down.

“Do you have any shredded paper?” the woman asked, the phone still pressed to her ear.

“In aisle eight,” replied the cashier, who stepped away to retrieve baskets from outside.

The woman stayed in line. When the cashier returned, she asked again about the shredded paper.

“It’s in aisle eight ma’am,” she repeated.

The suburban, be-skorted mom looked frantically at the line forming behind her, obviously not wanting to lose her space in the front of the line. Finally, and much too long a time later, she finally left to go get her own blasted shredded paper.

Marshall and I stepped ahead and checked out our six items. I was congenial with the overweight cashier, who confessed that she was tired of blowing up Congrats Grads balloons, while I confessed to shock and disgust over what had just happened in line.

“But that’s not entitlement,” said Marshall.

“Yeah, I think that’s more of a bad attitude,” agreed our host.

“What?!? How is that not a sense of entitlement? Sure, she wasn’t outright begging for anything, but she was still demanding preferential treatment for whatever reason. She felt entitled enough to think the cashier was going to get her paper, and that WE should wait while she did!”

We debated it a bit more and eventually gave an example from my own childhood, citing times when Americans had come to visit us from the States. I had some expectation that they would leave something behind. After all, they had stayed in our house and gobbled up our food. I had my eye on one girl’s LA Gears, one time.

“Yeah,” Marshall laughed, “that’s because you were a little entitled African kid who figured she could go back to the States and get herself some more LA Gears!”

Finally I decided that it didn’t matter. Things were as they stood, and if one wants to give to the less fortunate, then fine… and if not, that was fine as well. I don’t think you will find a more giving group of people than Africans, west, east or south. After all, the concept of Southern hospitality was brought over by the slaves – this notion that you acknowledge every person’s humanity with simple gestures like looking them in the eye and greet them as they pass you on the road or offer a cold drink when their foot crosses the threshold of your home. How does that compare to offering some trinket in return?

What I realized is that the people in the townships are not just “entitled”. That’s too simple a diagnosis. They work, play, jog, eat and sleep like the rest of us. But what they are is desperate. If you’re drowning in an ocean of poverty and hopelessness, you’re going to grab a hold to whatever lifeline comes floating your way. Whether it’s strong enough to lift you out of your circumstances is not the issue. Desperation will drive you to try the reigns first and see if the results pan out later. The task of the giver (in my case at least), is to know your limitations so that you don’t get frustrated and get sucked into the despair that surrounds you as well.

I think if I had not gone home and come back, that would be the trap I would find myself ensnared in. It may possibly be why so many well-meaning people leave and never come back. They get overwhelmed by despair. I’ll get to that in tomorrow’s post MOM Squad!

So, It Took Five Days to Get to South Africa…

Greetings from windy South Africa! I’ve been on the road and in the air since May 25th and I’m ever so grateful to have my feet on the ground.

The last time the family went to South Africa I believed it was the most grueling experience I would ever endure. Seventeen hours in the air with four listless kids in economy class was the worst form of agony I had ever suffered through in my adult life. That time I had a 3 day bout of diarrhea when I was 25 is a close second.   But they say if you think life is hard now, live a little more.

globeAs bad as traveling with the kids was that year, this trip was incredulously arduous. Every, including myself, keeps saying we need to be grateful that at least we didn’t have to haul 4 children across 4 time zones for 5 days, but that was little comfort for my aching brain and sore back. We began our vacation by driving 8 hours to Ohio to drop the kids off, then 8 hours back to Atlanta the next morning. I went to work on Monday morning put in 4 hours because I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make some extra money. Then we got on a plane at 3:30 and flew to Houston. 4 hours later we flew out of Houston and took a ten and a half hour flight to Germany, where we had an eleven hour layover. That night, we took yet another ten hour flight to Johannesburg where we hung around the airport for 2 hours before we took an hour and a half flight to George and then an hour drive to Plett where I hopped into the shower and went dead to the world. Do you follow?

How did I get through this ordeal, you ask? To divert my thoughts form the physical pain I found myself in, I focused on the supporting cast and extras milling and running about in the airport and on country highways instead of how long it was going to take us to get where we were going. I made a number of profound discoveries through my observations.

The first of these was that it is perfectly alright NOT to talk to your seat mate.  

I heard people say incredibly stupid things to perfect strangers in the airplane. I wish people understood that even though they guy or the gal sitting next to you may care how recently you were divorced and what your ex-husband is doing with the 22 year old tramp he left you for in Amsterdam, the rest of us on the flight don’t really care! To boot, it may behoove you to notice that the hot guy that you’re whining about your failed marriage (and by extension your whole life) is smiling tolerantly and not encouragingly. Know the difference!

The second was that airlines have discovered a new and devious way of extracting money from would-be travelers through the coveted exit aisle.

Once upon a time, you could request a seat in the exit row from your travel agent or the airline on a first come, first served basis and still pay regular economy fare with the benefit of extra leg room. Now, the airlines charge you an extra $30 – 100 per ticket to sit in the exit row by labeling it “economy plus”. I will never pay extra money for economy plus. The exit seat is not a luxury seat. It’s wide for a reason. If that plane goes down, I’m responsible for getting that door open on time and helping other passengers escape peril, which may include laceration, evisceration and incineration. That’s a lot of pressure. Why should I pay extra to be under pressure?

The third thing I discovered is that airlines treat passengers differently based on their destination, not necessarily based on race.

IMG_3039When Lufthansa called our flight to South Africa, I was appalled by the boarding process. This was no way to treat perfectly good White folk! Flying to Ghana, which is the only other African nation I’ve been to, I assumed that the boarding process they employed had everything to do with the fact that the passengers were, in large part, Black. It was carelessly done, merely separating priority passengers from economy passengers in two lines and having them board the plane by tapping their own tickets on an electronic surface and walking to the plane. There is very little interaction with or customer service from the airline representatives. Imagine my shock when all these Afrikaans and German speaking were divided into two lines, crowded into the terminal space and dismissively left to their own devices!

Finally, and most importantly, I discovered that I need to make major changes with my finances.            

I had an epiphany during this trip. Apparently, there is a negative relationship between my age and my tolerance for flying economy class. In my 20’s, I could walk by first and business class on my way to my seat in the back of the plane which was ALWAYS over the engine and next to toilet. Not only would I take that walk with pride, but with a hint of smugness too.

Stupid first class passengers, I’d think to myself, we’re ALL gonna get there at the same time, but I’M going to get there cheaper!

I took great pleasure in the fact that my seat was (relatively) comfortable and that my flight attendants offered the same congenial service in economy as those in first and business class did. And then technology shattered that entire paradigm.

first classWhile service and comfort levels in economy class haven’t changed since the 70’s there have been exponential improvements in first class. I mean flat screen TVs, glass goblets, real silverware, chairs that do a full recline, tons of overhead space and at least 3 square feet of leg room per passenger. And then there’s that curtain. Once we were airborne, the flight attendant snapped the heavy, navy pleated cloth shut with a snap, quarantining the rest of chattel class from their premier customers. With every cramp and battle for leg room I waged with my husband, I felt more and more like a failure.

I decided I would dedicate to spending the rest of my life fighting against the plague of flying economy class. It just has to be that way!

Now that we’re here, I’m looking forward to experiencing new adventures. There is a familiarity being back in South Africa that is troubling me, however. I want to be wowed and astonished! But the truth is I feel like I’m back at home… and home doesn’t tend to “wow”, does it?

 

You Know What I Did Last Summer…

Note: To my knowledge, there are no South Africans in the MOM Squad. For those SA readers who specifically drop by the blog and leave me nasty Twitter messages or comments that I never approve, I know that South Africa is not one big township. The following post is merely a summary of part of an extraordinary summer I spent in the country. If you’re going to say something negative after watching/reading this, save your energy. I’ll just trash it and it will never see the light of day – at least not here. I’m even annoyed that I have to begin my post in this manner. Tschewww….!!!

 

It’s hard to believe that it’s coming up on two years since my family and I traveled to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. I still remember the nervousness I felt visiting a country I had only seen in documentaries and the fatigue I felt after spending 17 hours in the air with four kids. However, the three months we spent in the country was well worth all the pain leading up to the trip, and I’d gladly do it all again.

As anyone who knows me – and I mean truly knows me – can attest to, I have a big, soft, bleeding heart despite the callous exterior I present to the world. In this culture that celebrates Cristal, Kanye and Kim Kardashian, I have discovered my own personal truth that leaves me convinced that although the likes of these people will be remembered, possibly even immortalized by popular culture, they will never be appreciated  in the same manner that hundreds of nameless and faceless people who serve humanity will be. Proverbs 11:25 says:

The generous soul will be made rich,

And he who waters will also be watered himself.

I’ve tried it, and it’s true. There is nothing more fulfilling (or addictive in my case) than giving what you have, and watching the fruit of that generosity manifest in returns you never anticipated. It might be in the form of money, sure…or it could be in something far more valuable, like a new friendship or knowing that someone in another part of the world is thinking of you with kind thoughts. Whenever I think of my ASP kids that live in Qolweni, an involuntary grin soon follows those resurfaced memories.

I turned 35 this year and am determined to use this year in the service of others, as much as I can, no matter where in the world I find myself. After months of threatening, my husband made this short video to document our trip which I had to share it with you guys! I hope it inspires you to do something you’ve had on the back burner or that you thought was too far out of grasp to achieve.  Go ahead and go for it. :)

Hi! My Name’s Satan. Welcome to Your Flight Home.

Dear Merciful Father in Heaven. I knew the flight home was going to be bad; I just had no idea HOW bad it was going to be. Like I said, we rushed out of the house early Monday morning with towels still in the dryer and no time to really clean. (And were scolded for it via email – with an accompanying  cleaning bill.) As we ‘sped’ along the N2 in our microbus, which heaved and groaned with every tire rotation, panic overtook the adults in the car. We had cut our departure time way too close.

Are we going to make it? What time was check in? Are we there yet?!?

Our fears were only compounded when a large Black woman in a reflective green vest with the word ‘POLICE’ emblazoned across the front stepped in front of our speeding vehicle. She hailed our car and 3 others in front of us.

“Any medical reason why you are not wearing your seat belt?” she asked harshly in Afrikaans before switching to English when we stared blankly at her without reply.

“Uh…no?”

She motioned for us to see another pack of officers on the left side of the road, who told us eagerly that they were going to bill us R200 for the seatbelt violation. What a rip off! That was thirty bucks! My seatbelt on cost me $15 in the States…

This pack of jackals had the audacity to turn indignant when Marshall remarked that they ‘had to get that money for the municipality, huh?’

“Sir! We are merely carrying out our duties!” the brown one said in a voice that was a cross between imploring and a sneer.

After the darker officer took his sweet time filling out our fine form, Marshall and I buckled up and cautiously sped off. We arrived at the George airport with 10 minutes to boarding time. Whew!

With little time to lament our leaving to Michael –who was returning our rental for us – the six Grants hopped onto the plane to Jo’burg and settled in for a one and a half hour flight. It should have been as simple as that.

“It’s going to be a good morning,” Marshall chanted, trying to draw positive vibes to his brood. I, of course, knew better. Nothing positive can come with this many kids on a plane.

The moment we were seated, Liya began to wail and screech. As soon as she would quiet down, Stone would take up the mantle and yell at the passengers closest to him, kicking their chairs or pulling their hair. It was pure hell. The other passengers refrained from looking at us, but their silent vitriol was so palatable I could translate their very thoughts. When the plane finally landed, they rushed away from us, as if we were a pack of lepers.

We landed in Jo’burg a little after noon. Our flight to Atlanta did not leave until 8 pm. I had been advocating for us to get a hotel room for a few hours so the kids could sleep, but poverty and fully booked facilities worked against us.

“It’s gonna be a great flight!” said Marshall, again trying to speak things ‘that were not as though they were/should be.’

Shut up, I wanted to blurt. I opted to glare at him with steely silence instead.

He walked ahead of me with one of the big girls when he sensed I was in no mood for hopeless positive affirmations and useless platitudes. Suddenly, he turned around, muttering about having seen something ‘long’.

“Huh? What’s long?” I asked.

“No, no! Eddie Long! Over there in the Springbok t-shirt!” he grinned.

Well I’ll be; so it was! ‘Bishop’ Long, sitting right across the KFC with a pack of people (mostly men) in South Africa! He was wearing (as usual) a t-shirt that was 4 sizes too small. It clung to his bulky chest, the seams straining with every breath he took. What the heck was Eddie Long doing in South Africa? Was he here to rape little boys? I hadn’t heard of a major conference going on. Daggum shame…coming to Africa to pack his nasty New Birth fudge. Ugh.

We milled around O.R. Tumbo airport for 6 hours, watching people and pausing to get lunch and change diapers. I reeked of gloom, sweat and despondency. There was a little bit of baby snot on my pink blouse as well, courtesy of Liya’s freshly caught cold. As I looked over the filth that covered my breast and belly, a stunning young woman in a white halter dress walked towards us as we were about to enter the security check point. Wait – I knew her. Surely that couldn’t be…

“Malaka!” Sefa gushed in surprise.

“Oh wow!” I returned in equal surprise. “What are you doing in South Africa?”

She proceeded to tell me that she was in transit back to Accra after visiting some other exotic nation which escapes me now.  I stared at her, drinking in her beauty. Why couldn’t I look like that?? She looked and smelled amazing, like a freshly cut long stem rose. I would have told her as much, but I was afraid that I would reveal my thoughts so earnestly that they would come out sounding totally gay. I settled on something noncommittal like ‘you haven’t changed a bit’ or something equally lame/cliché. Sefa and I went to school together at GIS and had always carried out her successes with quiet dignity. We weren’t friends ourselves, but we shared friends.

She greeted the kids and Marshall, bending elegantly to address each of them. They were impressed when they found out she owned the café where we used to eat in Accra.

“We like the café!” they squealed.

Eventually, she apologized, saying she had to leave and get onto her flight which was departing in less than an hour.

“No, no! Go. I totally understand.”

She blew us kisses  and floated off. I would have blown her kisses too, but my chapped lips were ashy and I was afraid I would cover her in dust. Now that, I did tell her. Her tinkling laugh was the last thing I heard. Was that was single and successful at 30 looked like? Forget the fortune, I just want to walk into public adorned in clean clothes and smelling like a spring rain – or anything other than this morning’s meal.

Finally, 7:30 pm rolled around and they called our flight. As we were about to board, Delta separated us, males from females, and began a pat down search. Eddie Long disappeared at that moment. I saw him retreat to the other end of the airport. Huh. It’s not so hot when another adult male in power is doing the touching, is it Eddie?

I should have spoken less condemning thoughts, for surely I was rewarded for my judgmental words by the Devil himself. After the flight attendants seated ‘people with children and cripples’ first and we were airborne, Stone and Liya went at it again. For almost 16 hours they kicked, writhed and howled in the coffin like coach. My only reprieve came when they were sleeping, and they did not sleep long at all. Ironically, as I was battling the storms of tears and potato salad that were being hurled at me by my two youngest, there was another tempest raging beneath us. Hurricane Irene was making its way to the East Coast at the same time that we were. The turbulence was nothing like I’d ever felt.

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this point we are experiencing turbulence and advise you to take your seats,” the stewardess said professionally over the intercom.  Suddenly, there was the sound of her headset dropping as the plane dipped and bucked. She picked up the piece and growled into it.

“Everybody get back into your seats NOW!”

All the passengers waiting to use the toilet at that moment either pissed themselves or mustered the bladder control to hold on their bowels for the next 10 minutes while our plane yo-yoed 14000 feet in the air.

“Oh Jesus,” I thought, “we’re going to die.”

I looked at my slumbering children, wondering what it would feel like when we all hit the ocean. At least we were all together. I wanted to tell my husband that I loved him. If we all died in a fiery inferno, that should be the last thing he should hear. I wanted to tell him – but he snored throughout the entire episode.

Thankfully, it all ended. There were only 4 more hours left in the flight, and in those mere 4 hours, Stone wandered up to business class (twice) and came back with spoils of his adventure: a Kitkat and a bag of Lays potato chips. The stewardess who brought him back to my seat said he fished them out of a bowl she had sitting out for the ‘elite fliers’. ‘Atta boy, Stone!  Liya did some more screaming and the two of them mashed bananas, muffins and napkins into the floor around us. Yes folks: we WERE that family on the flight. The one everybody hopes will not be flying with them. I felt nothing but shame and contempt for my condition.

Once we landed, I quickly changed shirts, hoping that that would erase the evidence and emotion of the 22 hour hell I had endured.  It didn’t. Liya was holding onto a bit of food in a tightly balled fist and smeared it into my shoulder, looking me in the eye as she did so.

Take that, you persnickety pretentious whore.

I was aghast.

And then it was over. We went through security, my friend Algi greeted us at the arrival hall, and we were back in Atlanta. I stared around the familiar skyline. It was as if the whole 3 months had just been a dream and had never happened. I threw my purse into the front left side of the car and went to help Algi pack the remaining bags into her trunk.

“What are you doing?” she asked expectantly.

“Waiting for you so we can go…” I countered.

“Yeah, but your purse is in the driver’s seat honey.”  She looked at me with amusement.

Oh dag. So it was!

I moved it over to the right side seat and said a last goodbye to any habits I had picked up in South Africa.