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Deurmekaar Taal

August 14th, 2009 49 comments

Afrikaans, that mainstay of “can like to” jokes, and also my home language. There’s a certain dichotomy in my mind about it: At it’s best, one of the most beautiful languages around. At it’s worst, the language of the oppressor.

The thing about writing this, is that in a perfect world, I’d address the language in isolation, as just a means of expression. But it’s almost impossible without invoking the association with the white nation in South Africa that call themselves “Afrikaners”. We’re made up of all kinds of european and (although few will admit) some eastern and african DNA, put into a melting pot, adding some kitchen dutch.

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Categories: Afrikaans Tags: , ,

Awakening

July 21st, 2009 8 comments

whitesonlyA distant hum was approaching him from the land beyond dreams. He started feeling the gentle bumps of the road being transmitted to his body, and opened his eyes, looking around half-confused at the carpeted inside of the station wagon: luggage, food, and beddings tightly packed round him haphazardly. He felt a shiver of cold run through his body and once again pulled the duvet tight around himself, now sitting up on the folded seat backs.

“Mommy, are we in Cape Town yet?”

“Oh look who’s awake! No dear, we’re almost there. Will we see who can
spot the sea first?”

“Yes! I will!…. Which way is it?”

Mom threw her head back as she laughed and looked over at dad sitting in the driving seat, head still cocked back..

“We’re not there yet, you’ll have to wait a bit.”

He sat silently, observing for the first time how the world outside the car had changed. He saw lush greenery, they were on a mountain pass of some kind, looking down on farmlands as far as the eye could see. Suddenly the world seemed more vast than he had taken in previously. He’d never been to Cape Town, he wondered what it must be like… the other side of this immense country. The other side of the world. A fresh, unknown smell was perceptible.

A long time passed, he spent it playing games with mom and dad, singing, at times being bored and just staring out the window daydreaming. Eventually they did reach the sea, and mom had beaten him to seeing it, but it seemed not to matter, or dampen his enthusiasm for the vast blueish black expanse he saw now for the first time.

“Are we going to the beach now?”
“No honey, we’re going to grandpa’s flat…”
“Oh please! I want to play in the sand!”

He looked at the bright red sandcastle bucket he had received as a gift just the previous day. The yellow handle of a plastic spade sticking out from the top.

“Okay, we’ll stop on the way, but only for a short while, we should be there soon”.

What seemed like an eternity passed until they finally pulled over into a parking lot, the fresh smell of sea salt hanging in the air and the sound of waves…… Oh! What a marvelous new sound!

However, a new apprehension struck him as mom picked him up and placed him outside car. These new surroundings were rough, and bulky. The space around him, beyond the sound and sight of the breaking waves, was immense. Only broken by rough stone-laden pavement pressing into his soft soles. Steel bars suspended in air by concrete pillars, acting as a low fencing to the beach beyond….. and huge inhospitable rocks laying to the sides of the beach. It was cloudy. Another shiver ran through his spine, it hadn’t really warmed up yet, suddenly he wasn’t so sure the beach was a good idea. But dad was already removing his new found toys from the car, and a yellow-brown striped camping chair.

Mom had been applying judicious amounts of sun cream to his face. Not that this stopped him from gaping at the wonders around him. His gaze stopped for a moment on a set of signs just inside the beach area. He squinted against the sun and tried to decipher their meaning…. One stood out from the rest, it wasn’t pictorial, but large. An ominous green sign with bold white lettering…

“Mommy?”
“Yes?”
“What does that sign say mommy?”

She looked around, he now held a hand up to shield his eyes, frowning, lifting the corners of his mouth… as if this gesture would increase his concentration and help him tease some meaning from the bold white lettering…

“Oh, that just means black people can’t come here.”
“Mommy? What happens if the black people come to the beach?”
“The policeman comes and takes them away…”
“Are the police going to come take us away mommy?”

A slight tone of fear had entered his voice. Dad let out a chuckle, but mom came closer with a amused smile and a reassuring touch…

“Oh no honey, the beaches are for white people, the police aren’t going to take you away…”

He didn’t feel so sure about that. The railing between him and the beach suddenly looked even more ominous. The beyond was sacred, and he would have to tread on it. Could he get in trouble for it?

Mom and dad walked first, boldly stepping onto the sand, not looking fearful. They had his toys. This is what he’d been waiting for, after all. The sudden safety of the parking lot had to be left.

“Come on!” dad egged him on.

He walked up to the opening in the railings, stopped for a slight moment, then stepped out onto the sand, looking around to see if any police were in the vicinity….. he walked forward. A new sense of belonging was filling up inside of him. He had never felt it before. He’d never known police could take people away from the beach. That simple railing was so powerful, but he could beat it.

The pride swelled inside him: “I’m one of the good people. Not one of the bad people who could get in trouble…”. No, he was special, he belonged here….he could face this obstacle, fear was for the other people, not him.

Now he was walking on air. He didn’t need to worry, He was white, this is what it felt like to be South African…. He ran to catch up with his parents…….

Categories: Realisation Tags: , ,
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