Returning as Aliens

We often feel very foreign here. The time my hairdresser was stressing out because her husband had been hunting and there wasn’t enough room in the freezer for all the meat he’d brought home. Then she noticed her laundry rack was missing, and realised he had hung a dead buck from it, with blood dripping down onto the floor. “My washing smells of meeeat!” she whined to me. (I have no idea what that feels like – to come home and find dead animals hanging in my house, making my clothes smell… ??) Then he got cross with her for throwing out his ‘favourite horn’, and rummaged through the bins until he retrieved it. Times like that, I just try and pull my ‘everything is normal’ face.

Stories like this don’t shock me quite so much any more, which means I’ve changed. That’s a big subject so we’ll come back to it another day. For now, more stories. The time when we were at a garden centre and ‘My heart must go on’ was being blasted out over the intercom on the panpipes. The time we were at a rugby match and a guy in spray-tan-tight jeans got up and sung ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in Afrikaans afterwards and everyone went crazy. The time I entered the school raffle and saw that the third prize winner would be the lucky recipient of ‘2 buck carcasses’. The time I lay in bed and realised that our bedroom walls were so thin, I swore I could hear the birds chewing things outside. The time I realised a lot of my friends had had botox, tummy tucks, all sorts, and I wasn’t in fact seeing the ‘real them’! The time a rat mocked me at 3am up in the corner of the ceiling, then when I told someone the next day they just laughed…  (IT WAS A LIVE, RED-EYED RAT!! WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE??)

But here’s the thing – we’re coming back to the UK for the first time next week and we’re probably going to feel like aliens there too. My friends here were roaring with laughter about all the Brits moaning on Facebook this week about the unbearable heat. Apparently there had been a health warning from GB about the danger of standing on a patio door threshold and burning your feet if the sun’s hot. “What’s WRONG with your skin that it’s so soft?? they asked me (these people let their kids wander round barefoot in town even). I told them Peter Kay’s comedy about being “sticky hot” and we laughed ourselves silly. “Ooo, there’s warm and there’s warm….”

For one thing, I’ll find the UK unfriendly. I’m used to the traffic warden at school giving us a wave and doing spins in the streets, a bit like the ones you see on movies in NYC. Just the other day I was in ‘Builders Warehouse’ (like B&Q) and Brittany Spears was on the radio, singing ‘I must confess, I still belie-eve’. The cashier echoed, in full gospel voice, ‘STILL BE-LIEVE!!’ So funny! It’s rare that such girls don’t chat or have a laugh while I’m waiting at their till. (Maybe it’s because of all the waiting that they have to chat or have a laugh otherwise they’d go mad….. ? Just a thought.) My friend Lynne calls the phenomenon “Hurry up and wait”.

I’ll write about the first hour of my morning today, just to give you a snapshot. Bloemfontein City Hall was burning down in a protest and people on social media said “South Africa is burning” with frustration and hatred. People here love to protest – love to burn stuff. I’ll never understand it. Meanwhile I went to the police station to get a gazillion forms signed so that Colin can travel with the kids without me (to try and prevent child trafficking). PAPERWORK!! I mean, it’s a passion here, like English people love washing their cars and tending their lawns. As I left, I was chuckling about how foreign I am, then the door handle came off in my hand!! Next I bought a warm pepper steak pie and ate it in the car, realising I was having a very South African Hour. (Mmmmmmm, my last pepper steak pie for a while, there’s nothing like it.) A flock of birds swooped around in the vast blue skies and I loved South Africa…. Then I went to the bank, for opening time. This was the queue.

IMG_0853I loved South Africa a little less at this point. When I got in (9.05) I was told that the person who helps me was “on lunch”.

(?? happy thoughts, happy thoughts…. !!)

I was getting contradictory information about documentation for travelling and it was getting tiring. Then I looked at the news on my phone and read this story on the BBC. These are the exact words, about another attempt to get rid of Zuma. “South Africa’s highest court has ruled that a vote of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma can be held in secret…” (In secret?? Like, send him out to the car park to buy biltong, then shout ’Quick everyone, come and hide in the cupboard and sign your name…!!) “…The constitutional court said that the Speaker of Parliament had the right to order such a move. She has previously said she does not have the power.” (Bold print added by me.)

I thought to myself ‘Wow. No wonder my tiny bit of paperwork is causing confusion if they’re confused too’. When we went to see if our British drivers licenses were valid, we spent a day going to different offices only to come away with the conclusion: ‘not….totally…sure’.

But that’s all part of the experience. Evie summed it up when she said that she doesn’t know what to say when people ask if she prefers England or South Africa, because there’s good/ bad bits in both. She doesn’t want to ‘hurt South Africa’s feelings or England’s feelings’. Wise girl.

Eg. This morning, warm pie, beautiful birds = good bits. Queueing, then got home and nobody seems to be collecting rubbish anymore, no idea why = bad bits.

While we’re on the subject, our worst question coming back to the UK is “So. How’s South Africa..?” What can you say….? It’s…BIG.

South Africa – yes, it’s BIG. It’s BONKERS. It’s WONDERFUL and TRAGIC and HILARIOUS and BEAUTIFUL and COMPLETELY MESSED UP. It’s beyond confusing and there are no easy answers.

And how’s England?! From what I’m reading on the news, it’s not that dis-similar!!

We will soon see for ourselves.