The Shape of My Heart

It is early morning in a smallish European capital that is laden with history, both for me and my family and for humanity. I am trying to make this city my home for the second time. Although the person who walked here over 30 years ago could have been a stranger, someone I heard about or imagined. My half-formed self has changed profoundly since then. And even the city whose existence is counted in millennia changed a lot in three decades.

I am not yet sure whether I will befriend my new place of dwelling or loathe it. I have had both good and bad times here, and I fear what the northern cold would do to me. After six years of living in temperate climate, I find this European summer a bit cooler than the tropical winters of Nairobi. I am now wearing the same light jacket that I wore there when it got cold. The rain and thunderstorms arrive with the same frequency. But Africa’s weather, just like its people’s temperament, changes quickly from dark to light, and from cold to warm. Here, it takes longer for the air to warm from a cold spell, as it takes time for people to thaw from partially frosty and stand-offish attitudes.

I admit that I what I am saying is just my heart missing the warm embrace of Africa. With the exception of one glum taxi driver, who was not even local, I have seen nothing but warm welcome from colleagues and from the city itself. I look forward to exploring it on foot and enjoying, for once, the pleasure of being a flaneur in a well-organized walkable city. Because while African populations largely prefer walking, most of their cities and towns are anything but walkable. People still walk everywhere, among fields, on dirt roads and even on city highways. There are no rules nor paths for walking, the people just make them by the tread of their feet.

Europeans only walk for pleasure, not to commute or to get themselves from point A to point B. My current city is spoiled for choice when it comes to means of commute, as it has Subways, buses and street cars. And it is a fraction of the size of Nairobi, both in terms of space and population.

My current apartment is tiny in comparison to my place in Nairobi, but is well-designed and organised in a manner that makes its size irrelevant in comparison to its convenience. But there are still things to learn. How to sort waste, in the absence of informal recyclers who would make use of all discarded items of plastic and glass. And how to choose healthy foods from supermarkets bursting with choices and temptations.

It is relatively easy to replace mangos and avocados with apples and pears, even when your preference runs to the former rather than the latter. But it is much harder to go back from coffee capsules to regular ground coffee from a pour-on filter. My preference for plain water is already challenged by a myriad of fizzy drinks that offer low sugar content but god knows how many additives and sugar substitutes. And the African definition of fresh vegetables will surely be challenged by agricultural productions practices in Europe. My next learning tasks will be how to eat clean, when I am tempted by discount grocers and fast food outlets on a daily basis. How to maintain a frugal existence when I am surrounded by elegance and style. I am now an unwilling participant in the machine of capitalism, but I am powerless to resits it. The first thing I bought when I landed here was a fancy, and expensive, new smart phone. My African sensibilities cringed at this decadence, but I still produced my credit card and swiped it, confident in my financial and professional security. I made many excuses about this, but I know it is an unnecessary luxury. There are many cheaper phones that could do the job, but it is so easy to follow the temptations of luxury and convenience here.

I will watch carefully how this move will change me, to the better or worse, and I will learn more in the process about myself and my evolution as a human. The first lesson I am working on is how to let go of people, places and things that I loved deeply, and how to love new people, places and things. I will try to adapt and keep my humanity, and stay fair to those I interact with.

And while I am here, I will acknowledge that mother Africa and its people still have a big hold on my soul. Europe has the bling, the prosperity, and the convenience, but Africa has the shape of my heart.

Sala Kahle Mzansi – Stay Well South Africa

Today we leave South Africa on our very long flight to New York. I spent my last night in SA at my friend’s house. She is also the new adoptive mom of my cat Pete.

The day before that has been hectic with moving stuff and vacating the flight. At least I have 18 hours of doing nothing while en-route to JFK.

I am sending a shout-out and a heartfelt farewell to my beloved home country. Robert and I will come back, in two years. Stay well. Sala kahle my Mzansi.  Thank you for giving me a place to love and be proud of. Thank you for helping me grow up and find my patch on the rainbow. I will always think of the road leading to you as Paradise Road.

The Saga Continues.. Repeat EVERYTHING

I bought bags and bags of things for the flat yesterday, but I am still missing everything…

Where do you start ? I need a curtain, every possible kitchen utensil and crockery, in addition to cleaning supplies and tool, and I haven’t even started yet on furniture and storage units. My ex gave me back my pots and pans and a few other things that were good enough for him to take into our new home when we got back together in 2006, but there are no cutlery, baking stuff or non-stick frying pan among those. My one dinner set is conspicuously missing its dinner plates, and I must have got rid of them to please him when we moved from my former flat, because he thought they were too heavy and ugly.. Many things I bought for that flat I gave away or recycled for what is now his rental apartment, and I try not to think how much they would have come in handy today where I have absolutely nothing. My ex, perhaps feeling some guilt at this, contributed some cutlery.. two of each (why be too generous and break the bank).

I cannot complain about his generosity too much, though, not where Robert is concerned, because he finally bought him a car seat, appropriate for his age. It was one useful birthday present.

My ex made himself useful today by picking up Robert and looking after him while I took more trips to the shops. I bought curtains and more kitchen utensils. I do not know why I bought baking trays, muffin tins and cake molds. These felt suddenly very vital to my home-making process. I carried tons of stuff over to his place where he was kind enough to give me and Robert a lift back. Britt, who lives around the corner from the place saw me and I think I was a very sorry sight.

Later in the afternoon I left Robert in Lucy’s care and went to work. Late in the evening I returned to my happy little child, already at home in the new environment. I felt I was coming home, especially that Lucy did her magic and put things in order – as much as possible under the circumstances of clutter and boxes.

I thought that my life had started its steady progress towards normal. Last night I set up my computer and used the internet over my cell phone. My connectivity was vital during the next few days because I was going to work on a new translation assignment with an agency in Pretoria. I tried to start up my computer for my nightly dose of work, but it was as dead as a brick. This crash was so ill timed I could have cried. The agency was using me for the very first time, and I already haggled with them about deadlines due to moving and then my planned leave at the end of the month. More excuses will sound unprofessional and untruthful, and so my worries and problems are bound to continue, and repeat themselves.

Starting Over Again

Setting up a home from scratch is not an easy feat, and I should know because I have done it before in November 2005.  Back then I had a car, the support of my friend Jackie, and the distant support of my then husband, who wanted me to succeed so that I can provide him with an escape from the drudgery of working a petrol station – I did not know this at the time but back reflection tells me now this was the case.

Today I am traveling the same road with a greater level of difficulty. Now I have a small toddler, no car, a precarious relationship with Jackie and little or no support from my ex, who for some reason resents me, when it should be me who hates his very existence.  I am very aware of the difficulty of my situation, and that is why I try not to arouse antagonistic feelings from my ex or Jackie, and although I know that in the end I will not bend to the unreasonable requirements of either of them I try to avoid confrontation until such a time when I am not so needy of help.

So that is why today I called on both my ex and Jackie. Late last night I discovered that I forgot the keyboard of my computer as well as my desk lamp in the boot of Jackie’s car, so I had to call and ask her if she can get them for me. I also asked her to get me some of the kitty litter because I still haven’t set up Petey’s toilet and I was so afraid that he will start using any convenient cluttered corner, especially since it is still pouring outside.

Jackie promised to get them for me during the afternoon, because she was out for the day.  The matter with the kitty litter was most pressing, and since I failed to get a prompt response from Jackie I had to get Mr. Negativity to help and asked him to buy me a bag.  Soon he came with the smallest package possible, but what can I expect from a man who actually made me pay for the cat food for as long as he kept Petey. I even paid him back the R10 this package cost.

During the remainder of this day I tried to put the place in some semblance of order.  I put together Robert’s crib, and organized the boxes in one corner. Later I went to the shops and started populating the fridge.  The stuff that Jackie gave me went all into the garbage,  that was a final insult from her thinking that I would eat cottage cheese that had gone off. But it seems that whenever one looses something, one gets another helping hand. Lucy came to me today and helped me out a little bit, she even stayed with Robert while I went shopping and as luck would have it I ran into her daughter at one of the shops and she gave me a lift back and this enabled me to buy a little oven / cooking hub unit which would have been too heavy for me to cart back.

I am going to start working tomorrow. I have not written about this before but I am working more afternoon shifts during August and September to bring down the minus hours I accumulated since returning to work last March.  Lucy will continue to help me out on her free afternoons. My fears about losing Lucy proved groundless as she did not allow Mrs L to intimidate her, and as we expected Mrs. L could not put her money where he mouth is.  But little changes the fact that these people expected me to stay there for a year,  and felt utterly betrayed by the fact that I was not prepared to lie down and let them take advantage of me. One of the bitter things Jackie told me during our fight, was that if I could not afford her place (Buckingham Palace that it is) – I should have sued my ex for better settlement, so there you have the logic of the greedy.  And I thought that I would be fighting to get a better settlement for my son, not to pad the pockets of Mrs. L and her daughter, but please that is just my stupid presumptuous reasoning.

I haven’t moved into a great place. Last night Robert and I slept on a lumpy hard futon, and today I feel bruised all over, but no matter what hell hole I live in,  at least it is mine and I do not have to live according to other people’s  rules. I have done enough of that over the past years, I am going to enjoy my freedome at last.

Moving under the Storm

I have been packing my things slowly, obtaining boxes from work and cramming my things in them. The bulk of my things are books, and they fit very well in the A4 paper boxes.

On the 28th I got the key to the new place and in theory I could have moved in right then but I needed help and I already established from Khayyam that he was only available on the weekend. Initially we arranged for Sunday morning but the plans were changed to Saturday right after I finish work.

I picked up the rainiest weekend of the year to move, there was a steady downpour all morning and things did not look like they would be improving the next day and that what made me and Khayyam decide to get the matter over with as soon as possible. He picked me up from work and then we went to Ron’s place (which used to be my place too) and picked up some pieces of furniture that belonged to me – stuff that he couldn’t deny, wrangle out of, or dispute.  I asked him for a duvet cover – I know he has two- and he obliged by giving me one, better than nothing in this cold.

Khayyam tied everything down in an old pick up truck (bakkie). As my luck would have it he had an accident a few days back with his new bakkie, so we had to deal with the old creaky one, perhaps just as good given the ramshackle stuff we were transporting. The next stop was at Jackie’s place where we picked up a few things. Lucy was there today so she packed up the rest of my things in bags and so on,  and cleaned up our room completely.  Jackie was also there and helped pack out all my food things. As a final gesture she cleaned up her fridge and packed for me some stuff that she would not eat – most of it was only fit for the garbage can, a gesture reminiscent of my ex’s generosity.
Sometimes I used to tell Jackie half jokingly that she had more in common with my ex than she cared to know,  I was not aware how inspired the comment was until today.

Next the pick up truck was loaded with boxes and boxes of books and we made a run for it to the new place.  It was great to have Khayyam’s big shoulder to carry these heavy boxes.  We ran up and down the steps under a drizzle that soon turned to torrential rain. Soon the effect was compounded with overflowing gutters, water was pouring over us, but we managed to get things in safely.

After a little rest we hurried back for the second -and last- trip. By then the door to the flatlet had swollen from the rain and we had to use a rock to hold it shut.  We filled up the last truckload of stuff and proceeded to unload it at the flat in a similar fashion then Khayyam returned me to Jackie’s place. I asked Jackie to take me, Robert, and the computer in the last trip.  I thought this would be one of the last times that Robert will sit in his baby chair, he has outgrown it almost. Jackie also found a bag and packed Petey in it, so that we take him along.

Before we left Jackie’s place for the last time, Jackie told me that she paid the utilities and the phone, and according to her reckoning I owed her R400. I managed to wrangle out of paying by saying that I had to pay everything I had on me to Khayyam and did not have money. She did not like it but did not want to push it.  It was nighttime by the time I climbed up the steps to our new place with Robert. I had to run up and down four times transporting Petey, the components of my computer and my reading lamp.

I was dead beat after all that and lay next to Robert on the old futon, part of the furniture that was already in the unit. We made it, we have our own place everything else can be solved tomorrow.

Good Omens

I probably met my new lanlords today. I finally got hold of the person who posted the ad for the flatlet on Gumtree and made an appointment to see him this morning.

The flatlet was annexed to the back of the building,  overlooking the back garden and a pool that has been out of order for very long time, by the look of the green sumpy water under the netting. This was an immediate source of worry for me, but the man vaguely commented that it will be covered up in the future.  The flatlet itself was one large rectangular room that ran over 10 meters deep with the french doors to the garden its only source of light. I registered that it had a small bar fridge, and a bathtub in the tiny bathroom, and both were definite advantages for my situation.  I saw the potential of the garden for Petey and Robert, and the other problems I thought I would be able to deal with in time. My expectations were so low that neither the dirty carpeting nor the non-standard layout bothered me much. I just told the man that I will take it, starting next month. I asked him what he required to guarantee me the flat for the coming month and he asked for a one month deposit.

I left him with my email and he promised to email me the banking details, and I was so anxious to close the deal that I texted him after a few hours asking for them again, and I paid the deposit immediately.  Perhaps the place is not perfect but I accepted several good omens : There were many cats, and a woman carrying a toddler welcomed us into the complex (later I learned that she is actually the landlady), so I am happy that it is the right place for all three of us. I cannot believe that Robert, Petey and I will soon have our own place, but I will believe it when we sign on the dotted line.

Looking for a New Home

Living at Jackie’s is starting to get on my nerves. For one I think I am paying too much in rent and other expenses, and for the other I am starting to get fed up with her lifestyle and the people whom she chooses to invite into her (our) home.

I was speaking to Britt today on the phone and lamenting my situation when she said that perhaps I should look for a garden cottage in  our area. This possibility never occurred to me because I always thought there aren’t many houses in Sea Point and only very few have separate granny flats. However on my break from work today I went into and looked around a bit for things that are within my price range on this side of the mountain.  Imagine my surprise when I found what looked just like the right place : Pet friendly flatlet in a secure block, and the rent is only R500 more than what I pay at Jackie’s. Immediately I emailed the poster of the ad and noted his cell number.

I was too impatient to wait for an email response, I phoned a few hours later.  The good news was that the flat was still avialable, the bad news was that I will only be able to view it on Monday.  I hope it is the right place, and I hope to be able to take it starting next month.

Moving Out

I am writing this long after the actual events, so the intensity of my feelings have cooled down considerably. Robert and I moved out today, after a few days of extensive ugliness, which I do not want to dwell upon much. I will just recall however that Ron wanted us out sooner rather than later.
During those final days I tried to steer clear of Ron. I spent lots of my time with Robert in the park enjoying the sunny days of autumn. Most of the time, however, I had my hands full, trying to get retrained at work, tying up loose ends here, transferring phone and fax accounts, getting dental checkups, and packing boxes of books. While I still had a proof of address at our flat, I opened a bank account for Robert and made out a cheque for his Canadian citizenship application. I also managed to convince Ron to take us to the hospital to get Robert’s immunization for this month. I wasn’t sure if he would agree to take us a second time because the nurse was on holiday when we went there last week, and I got into deep trouble for not phoning in advance.

In the end Ron helped us move, but there are still a few items of mine he still holds in his possession, and I trust that he will hand over in time. Among those are my computer and scanner, but there is also my psychologically disturbed cat. Ron wanted Petey out of there as soon as possible as well, but I was hesitant to displace him into a strange environment especially that Jackie’s house is the territory of her female cat Spliff. Ron has grudgingly agreed to give the cat food and board until a better solution comes up, and I am grateful.

In retrospect perhaps it was a bad idea to give Robert his immunization in the middle of all this chaos, but I had no other option since Ron is keeping our car, and I don’t have another mode of transport. Robert was terribly cranky, with the combined effect of moving and the injection. I could not cope with his consistent crying, at the same time, I could not control my own feelings of displacement and loss. Whenever I set down something I ended up losing it, and it drove me crazy. By late evening I was a complete zombie and went into a complete breakdown. My baby and I were both howling uncontrollably.

Robert’s changing table found a home in Jackie’s bathroom but he cried bitterly every time I carried him to it. I hung up his music mobile over it, which helped somewhat. But he still cried bitterly every time I wanted to change him. Later I figured out that his upper leg was sore from the injection, but on the first day I was beyond reason and help. We both crashed into bed late and exhausted.

Blogged with the Flock Browser


Well, the day has come and I am moving out. I am taking my baby, and my cat but the computer will be staying here for a little while until I sort out my connectivity at the new premises.

We are moving in with a friend, who has a sunny house in a quiet street of Sea Point. One part of me is perversely joyous, another is infinitely sad. I am closing a chapter of my life that has gone on for the last ten years. This is the tenth time I moved in this last decade, and I am not even done yet. Who knows where my son and I will end up.

Mr. Negativity will not take pity on my cat. He will not allow it to stay on in this (HIS) apartment until he moves out. He wants all of us OUT, out of his hair. Now I have to take my poor abused cat into the territory of another female cat, who is the favourite little girl of my landlady. My cat is worried and knows there is something afoot. Boxes and bags are moved about. Cupboards and drawers are being emptied. He is old enough not to trust such developments, but he has no idea what is coming. My landlady already told me, that if her cat gets upset, then my scrawny one has to go. I can’t blame her, we are moving into her territory and have to respect the rules.

So, the next few days will be full of challenges. I might be unable to update this blog for a week or so, but I will try to be back online as soon as possible.

Hit Me Where it Hurts

I think my brother-in-law is an idiot. But then again there are so many of his kind in my old country.

Recently, I lamented in this post the plight of women in my country of origin. The piece was brought about by what I think of as my sister’s digression into blind submission to the dictates of society. This submission is well-disguised as Islamic morals, values, and mostly dress code (wearing the headscarf or Hijab).

Today my good sister’s husband came up with another gem from my erstwhile people who have been dozing for the last thousand years. He splashed a “funny” post all over Facebook’s “Funwall” and forwarded it to his numerous friends – most of whom are WOMEN if I may add.

I am translating it from the original Arabic:

Behind every great man .. a woman

Behind every prisoner.. a woman

Behind every problem.. a woman

Behind every war.. a woman

Behind every traffic accident.. a woman

Behind every fight between neighbours … a woman

Behind the demographic imbalance… a woman

Behind the corruption of young men and their depravity.. a woman

Behind every mother and father who were thrown into an old age home… a woman

I want to know who was the stupid ox who called them the fairer sex.

End of gem.

Given my current situation, I am not very good friends with the male fraternity at the moment. But this particular post would enrage me even on a good day, and I do not think it is funny at all. It simply illustrates the male (and especially the Middle Eastern male’s) attitude of passing the responsibility of EVERYTHING onto a woman’s shoulders. Men get away with this because we women have broad shoulders, and can carry everything the guys throw at us: The groceries, the kids, and a good portion of the home-loan to boot. We do it with love, then we smile and ask for more of the load.

Yesterday I drew up a list of items I bought in the last two years and gave it to Mr. Negativity. I did that because in the settlement he stated that I will be getting X thousand Rand’s worth of household effects. I annotated the items I would like to have and added them up to come up with the amount HE said I would get. His response: “I don’t want to go into nit-picking”. Of course, it is nit picking, because I am the one who is asking for stuff. In contrast it is not nit-picking when he demands that I throw petrol in the car on the rare occasions I dare to use it, or when he makes me pay for his son’s passport applications.

His latest antic: I am not allowed to use the car for moving my few belongings to my friend’s house down the road, no more than two kilometers away. And of course it is too much “effort and expense” for him to drive me there. Yet, he wants me “out of his hair” sooner rather than later. Perhaps I should do a sit-in protest on top of my boxes, and wait to see who will break first. Believe me, I want out as well, but I have put up with this crap for nine years, what is a few days more?