“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”
If there was anyone adverse to change, I have become the champion of it. The master of moving on, of packing up and packing out … of saying goodbye and saying ‘Hello’ and in the muddle of it, when all have experienced change and the hardship of it, I have learnt, that for me, change has been the breaking of me, the making of me and I know, and I know, that change has now become addictive.
It has been a lesson.
Ten years ago, I was thrust, reluctantly into a new world. It did not suit me. After all I was fifty, I was settled, I was living the life I knew and the comfort of it was, comforting. I hated the extreme circumstances, cried and fell into a deep depression in a new country, in a small flat, having to do everything myself and live with the noise of human existence at every turn. Gone was the luxury of life, of place, of community. I felt reduced and unfairly treated. I had to lose everything to realise how selfish I had been.
The last of the decade I received British citizenship, the ability to appreciate a gifted city, learnt to be humble and receive, from strangers, and make new friends. Made a new life, working seven days a week and loving the empowerment. Learned how to change a car battery, sit in a bus on the worst of the rainy November days, be part of immigrant stories and lug the groceries from road to flat. If this was as far from what I knew, it is true. The princess did not fall, she tumbled, ungraciously, into reality. And it was bad. And it was good. And change, changed me.
The tide came again. My flat was sold – I tried so hard to stay, and change was thrust upon me once again. It was back to my homeland for a time, I have a little house here, and also back to the ghosts and lovely memories. Reluctant but accepting, I have landed back in the middle of my past life. In the leaving I realised that the horror of change and moving to England, was now the sadness of leaving her for a while. Suddenly, as we all do, we want what we can no longer have. All things taken for granted become golden moments, places take on more reverence, experiences manifold into exceptional tales you wish for again. I cried at the walking on the South Bank, the signs of Spring after a long winter survived, the lamenting of winter and darkness, the silence of snow falling in the night. I cried at the thought of the gardens in the country, the sweet coffee and walking into a warm place. Scarves, gloves and Covent Garden. History and a country that took me in, held me close when others left and leaving my children behind in a land that I encouraged them to love as I did … only I was the one leaving.
So, landing with the proverbial crash two weeks ago was not that serious. I was already numb from the leaving. Change does that, when you know it is going to happen, you just go numb and walk to war, alternative pages, to a different situation. I was up for it, for I was numb.
Two weeks into life in Cape Town. I say Cape Town but my home is a little further out, in the wine lands, the beautiful wine lands and I could not have asked for a more welcoming time. The weather is sublime in late Autumn, yes, I am from winter to winter to winter this year. Returning to London in September, but for the time being … what is to happen?
I have to get a car and broadband. Empty the boxes and in doing so, the ghosts swept up – confined for so long. My grandmother’s treasures, my mother’s ‘guard these forever’, my children’s past and or course, the life with my darling ex, whose ghost is the most profound. I had forgotten in boxing up our lives, that so much of him was present still. I wonder if it matters to him? Some will say ‘Burn!’, only this is the journey of my life and love still lives there, so out of the boxes he comes. I thought in coming back for a while, it was the next project: to keep me busy. It took less than two weeks. The house is set up, revealed, and for the first time in ten years, all our things are in one place. Done and lovely.
The country has taken me by surprise. What I took for granted, or simply chose not to address now confronts me at every turn. Her natural beauty remains, as always. Change here has happened and some good, some not so good. The most amazing people, smiling and helpful but sorrowfully, separate still.
As an immigrant in England, I was part of a collective of tolerance and acceptance.
The haves are skyward to the have nots. After the bump back, I was determined to do all myself, as I did in England. Sipho needed work – so many have no income, no access to benefits. Hungry and desperate. Sipho and Dosha help me now, with ironing every second week and Dosha to help me create a garden – I thought, oh this is easy, striding out with fork and will of Anne Shirley. The soil turned out to be concrete and clay, and all efforts were painful. Dosha is a Malawian, with a bicycle and little else, but a disposition of love and eagerness to work. To provide for his family, as is Sipho, who has children she wants to educate. I find myself now trying to be useful and harass with constant offers of tea. I need to learn the thin layers of it all again and even as I write, I somehow feel unworthy of employing others to do what I could (not so sure about digging in a drought stricken strata of clay). Enjoy the company though, someone else’s noise in my house. After living in the flat, the house is a little too quiet.
My new little community. In the need to toss generations of holding on, am giving them as much as I can. I have little need for it anymore. And then I learn. The gratefulness of receiving hand outs is humbling, especially when you have a bicycle, or a taxi to try and get it home. Taking a bag at a time. When I offered a lift both thanked and said no, we do not live in a place you can come to.
When the boxes arrived, the packers were surprised that I offered them coffee and cake.
People still talk of having servants.
The car guards greet me everyday with wishes of having a good day, even in the rain. We talk in French, as for many of these immigrants, this is their first language.
The security estate I live in protects me, but I have to accept everyone who comes here, with forms and identity checks. This sort of freaks me out.
Always offering to pack my own groceries at the till and talk like a silly woman whilst another does it for me. Very consciously bringing my own bag – and I know that ‘Ham House’ Bayley and Sage’ and the National Trust carry bags are a snobbish touch: snobbish or feeling a little displaced right now?
I am listening to my mother’s radio for I have not connected to the local television, I cannot relate just yet. There is lovely Afrikaans and African music.
Everything is different. It may be my homeland but we need to get reacquainted..
And, in the end, at the moment, it feels like a lobotomy of sorts. Life is slower, the pace of London missed and even though the house is sorted, the coming together of young me, married me, older me, and now Silver Street me, I have an acute case of FOMO. London does that to you, there is so much on offer, my work there fulfilling and now I am a lady of … what? Change all at the station.
No problem at all. We all have these chapters and we must embrace them. I am here for a little bit and loving the slow pace, hating the slow pace and thinking – all the changes, the multitude of changes of which I was not really comfortable with, have become the very changes I have embraced and in that, become the person I am today. We do not always ask for it, we cannot always cope with it, wish it were different, still the same, but when we have these changes hit with the furies in a bad mood, we deal. And we can deal, if we have lived this long we have had plenty of experience.
I am in another place, another change … and the experience is momentous.
Sixty this year. Nothing is as planned and nothing is more about losing, the past, the gathering of threads and embracing all that we have lived, loved and learnt, and saying … it over yet! Not by a long shot. I am here and loving it, biding my time and then … this lady is not for settling anymore. Have created the home, done the work and paid the dues.
London beckons. South Africa is the most amazing place to be … and where will she go next?
France seems tempting …
Closer to my children. Family.
Write your own story. And not do to be afraid of change. She could just be your best friend.
Where ever you are … make a difference, and call yourself … something and next …