I’m reading Joanne Fedler’s book When Hungry, Eat at the moment, and it’s like reading parts of my own life. Except for the being Jewish bit, although some of that, especially the food, is familiar, since I had Jewish family by marriage, and have been to a good few Shabbas dinners and High Holy Day celebrations. She talks about loss, the loss of leaving the country of your birth, and how it’s tempting to fill an emptiness we can’t quite name with food. I did that in my 20′s. It didn’t work out incredibly well for me…
I was born in Zimbabwe when it was still Rhodesia, and before my fifth birthday my family had left with not much more than a few suitcases, bound for Namibia (when it was still South West Africa). Less than a year later, we fetched up in South Africa.
Now I live in Australia, and the marriage I thought would provide continuity through that move is long over. I totally understand what Joanne means by emptiness. It’s the hole that is usually filled by family. By old friends. By people who can say: I knew you when you were a baby.
I knew you when you were just a little girl, playing in an African river in an old tyre inner tube (thanks Jen for this pic).
I knew you when you were a gauche teenager, and when you were a young woman, discovering Europe for the first time (thanks Ryan for this pic). Notice the countdown on the Eiffel Tower? 402 days till the Millenium!
I knew you when you lived in England, I knew you when you returned to South Africa. I knew you when you got engaged, and when you got married.
I knew you when you started practicing yoga, and when you went to India the first time, and the second:
I knew you when you first moved to Melbourne and you had nothing familiar with you because everything you owned was on a ship in the middle of the ocean.
I knew you as you were then, and I know you as you are now. I know you as you will probably become, because I see every version of you.
The people who can say this of me exist, but they are in South Africa. They are not here, now, with me.
Sometimes, I think of all that has been lost: the stability of a life lived near my extended family, the financial security I enjoyed in South Africa, the comfort and happiness of all those old friendships, the hopes I held for my future, and I wonder. Was it worth it? Sometimes, I am not sure.
But this I know: at home here in Melbourne, I feel safe. I feel free. And, for the first time in my life, I don’t feel guilty for having white skin. If you are African you will understand what I mean. If you don’t, it’s probably worth reading Joanne’s book: she expresses it very well.
I have a very wise friend, another member of the African diaspora. And make no mistake, it IS a diaspora. She compares change to brewing coffee (this was in an email, she is awfully complimentary on how I’ve dealt with the last few years):
Change brings either the best or the worst out in people. For you, it brought out the best, like a good coffee, it matured you and made your soul well rounded and a heady concoction to be enjoyed at leisure and with care. You needed that boiling water (emigration, questioning of oneself, losing home and friends etc) to emerge a top quality fresh brewed coffee on the other side.Some people let the boiling water stagnate and sit and burn and the result is acidic, distateful and bitter…..happens when you do not dance and swirl with the change. Yet both start in the same state: a good ground coffee.