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Monday, November 23, 2015

Not for Sissies

First, I want to apologize for my use of the word sissy. I am sure it is a derogatory word that should not be used. 

The reason I need to use it is that here there is an actual phrase here, "South Africa. Not for sissies." The first time I heard it was when Gavin, our guide at Madikwe said it.  It means just what you think. That in order to live here you need to be patient, you need to be flexible and you need to be strong. 

In some ways living here is ridiculously and almost embarrassingly easy. Especially for me because I don't work. I will quickly, to avoid annoying you, list the ways that living here is easy. First, to us as Americans it is inexpensive. Housing, food, wine, hotels and many other things cost must less than what we are used to. I am careful not to go on and on about this because to many people who live here the devaluation of the rand is making it more and more difficult to make ends meet, but if you are from America and you come visit, you will be shocked when you order a glass of wine and it costs less than $3.00 USD. Second, it's warm and the sky is almost always blue. And there are palm trees. Even in winter when it was chilly it was nothing like the tundra where we used to live. Third, we live in a nice house. In fact, it's the nicest house I have ever lived in. And someone comes to clean it for me twice a week and someone else comes to work in my yard/garden once a week. If we were living in America these luxuries would not be possible.

I realize that paragraph was irritating. And the good news is that's the end of the cushy life talk and I am instead going to instead focus on the ways that living here is not easy. Living here is challenging in ways that I've never experienced before.

I wrote before about load shedding. That's when the electricity is purposely cut off to save the entire grid from going down. That's hard. But the good news is we haven't had load shedding in a while, over three months. The latest problem though is a severe lack of water. For two weeks Mr. Deep and I had no running water in our house. About 75% of the time absolutely no water came out of the tap at all. Sometimes, there was enough to brush your teeth or hand wash dishes or flush the toilet. But in two weeks there was not enough water to take a shower, do laundry, run the dishwasher or water the yard/garden. While we are having a severe drought, the reason for this situation is we have very old infrastructure in the underground pipes around our neighborhood. This scenario might push some sissies over the edge, but we dealt with it o.k. It was not the end of the world. We showered at the gym and we drank bottled water. Not to say we weren't annoyed but we handled it. 

The other thing that is hard is seeing destitute people every where that you go. South Africa is one of the most economically unequal countries in the world. It is not unusual to see a man in tattered clothing, without shoes, with a bucket hand washing a Mercedes or an Audi that is parked in front a large and beautiful home. It is not unusual, when stopped at an intersection to see people begging in the streets, pointing to their mouths to let you know they are hungry. There are also hundreds of thousands of people who work every day and earn a living yet they are still hungry and many of them live in the kind of place that a lot of us wouldn't want our pets to have to sleep. 

But the saddest thing of all is much more personal. I found out last week that the 2 year old granddaughter of Christine, the woman who works for us, might have kidney cancer. That type of devastating news isn't specific to South Africa. Any family anywhere in the world could receive that horrible information. And many have. But the day that I heard it, when I was sitting in my waterless house, having recently returned from a Christmas party where Diepsloot kids in torn uniforms with missing shirt buttons chose to put the Christmas Happy Meals that we handed out into their school bags, because they might need the food more later than now, that was the day when I had to try really, really hard not to be a sissy. 

9 comments:

  1. And on that note, giving thanks. So sorry to hear Christine's news. When my parents lived in Kingston, Jamaica (3 years), they observed and felt some of the same things. They were "the haves" and many Jamaicans were "the have nots". They were obligated (and happy) to employ as many as possible doing odd jobs - cleaning, driving, chasing lizard things out of the plants, whatever... but it seemed it was never enough to go around. I think it's a special mentality to learn to give when you can and live when you can't - not for sissies is apt. Sorry for the hardships you witness. They'll shape your heart. <3

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    1. It sounds so much like the experience your parents had in Jamaica. I would love to hire everyone and help everyone but it is of course not possible. Hopefully the second best thing is just being nice. Saying hello and smiling and treating people the way I want to be treated. I figure that can't hurt. Everyone likes for someone to smile at them. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for being such a loyal reader :)

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  2. Living in Africa can be challenging. If you get the chance you should read When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin. Although it is about Zimbabwe so much can be related to Africa as a whole. One of my favorite passages in the book is "In my part of Africa death is never far away...In Africa you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life is amplified by its constant proximity to death.....People love harder there. love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life's alibi in the face of death."

    I think that we are quite similar and that empathy makes us feel how hard life is for so many in South Africa. Perhaps being kind to everyone we meet and treating others with respect. Yes, today and everyday we should give thanks for the privileges that we have. Happy Thanksgiving!

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    1. Thank you. The book sounds wonderful and I will look for it. Also, I want you to know how glad I am to have met you. You have been so kind and welcoming and helpful to me in my first year here. I am thankful for having you as my friend. Xoxo

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  3. Very nice and thoughtful blog post. I now realize I have never been nearly as conscious as you that when I told people how wonderful life is in South Africa, it is not particularly nice because a) the people back home might be jealous and b) it is disrespectful of the people in SA who don't have it as nice.

    And OMG Jozie Days, I cannot believe you say that is your favorite passage, it is mine too! Particularly this part: "Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life is amplified by its constant proximity to death....."

    Liza, if you do read that book, you should probably start with his first book, Mukiwa: White Boy in Africa. That is also a very good book and starts a little earlier in his life in Rhodesia. All his books are worth reading, though I'd say the last one, The Fear, is the hardest one to stomach.

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    1. I still have not managed to get past the first chapter of The Fear. I was too vivid and painful for me to read. Perhaps one day I will try again.

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    2. Thank you. I will find this series of books.

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  4. Liza, I was really moved by this post. I appreciate your awareness of your responses to living in South Africa (and how they may be perceived by others) and your compassion for the many people who have nothing. It's interesting that Jamaica was mentioned in a comment. Even though I've lived and traveled in other countries, I found Jamaica very difficult to "vacation" in because of the extreme discrepancy between rich and poor. As always, your descriptions of life there are fascinating.

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate the comments and thank you for reading my blog.

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About Me

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have moved from the U.S. to South Africa for three years. We moved due to an exciting opportunity my husband had with his job. Second, I won't be working anymore. I'm actually not allowed to work so that will be different given that for the past twenty years I've been somewhat of a workaholic. I'm excited to share our adventures with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.