Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Snakes in the Garden of Eden

And since then, I’ve been back here in Jo'burg, readjusting yet again, and anticipating my next escape from this beautiful, deadly country. I tell you, every day, every time I meet someone here, it’s just another crime story. Every single day. It’s quite tiring in a way. You don’t even ask, the stories just come out.

Apparently, as I had begun to suspect, the crime stats and stories in the papers are censored, and alarming things don’t often come out in print. At a lunch the other day a woman said, “They don’t print anything at all. It would cause mass panic. The government does its best to keep it all under wraps.” Hmmm. That’s reassuring! A case of what you don’t know, probably WILL hurt you. If not today, then tomorrow or the next day?

So you read about the random event, like a toddler falling down a manhole, or a woman getting her nose bitten by a seal, but a police blotter like the one in Waynesboro, PA? Uh uh.

“On 5th Street, a woman reported that 6 pairs of underpants were stolen from her clothesline. No suspects have been apprehended.”

“On Main Street, a pear was thrown through an open car window at a pedestrian. No one was injured. The pear was recovered at the scene and retained as evidence.”

Yeah right. You got all the details in Waynesboro, and they weren’t so alarming after all. You learned to keep an eye on your “smalls” on the clothesline, and to watch out for flying fruits. Just like here.

“In Craighall, a woman was shot in a car hijacking. The car was not recovered and the suspects are still at large.” (Past board member of the International Women’s Club).

“A man was shot after investigating a disturbance in the drive outside his home. Police were alerted by the man’s son.” (SABC tv director)

“Two men killed in Capetown in a possible carjacking.” (A fashion designer and a movie director)

All this in the last month. And those are the “high profile” people. A helluva lot of ordinary (read: black) people end up dead every day, and we’ll never know. What a sick place.

Ahhh, man. Do you want to know? Probably not. I don’t want to know, and I live here. A South African friend said, “Maybe you’d better not talk about these things anymore. It just gets you down.”

When I apologized, and said I wouldn’t bring it up ever again, the response was, “But no, you must keep talking. When you stop telling me is when you can’t tell me anymore. It’s okay.”

Hey, what are friends for? Listening. So yeah, thanks for that.

I do appreciate it.

Am I normal now?

A little bit writer’s block, a little bit rock and roll, but at least it wasn’t blunt trauma to the head.

Yeah, everyone’s been asking about me. I know I’ve been missed.

Just like that pathetic Sally Field quote from the Oscars. “You LIKE me! You really really LIKE me!” We’ll skip being THAT much of a saddo, but it’s nice to know you care!

Ana M: “How the h£££ are ya?”

Al K : “It’s like my favorite TV show’s been canceled!! What’s happened to you??”

Sue H: “Helloooooooooooo, anybody home?”

Kelly C: “Talk to me, girlfriend!!”

CvD: “Why u still there? Come study here in UK!”

Jim W: “Apologies. My broadband is finally connected. Hope to hear from you!

Teri H: “Come visit us at book group!”

Sally S: “I haven’t heard from you for so long! Are you ok?”

Emma H: “What’s going on, E-bear?

Fiona: ”Are you coming back to Glen Ellyn this summer? We miss you...”

Mary O (ever the optimist!): “I assume since you haven’t been writing that you’re settling in and feeling better.”

my dad: “Get back to your writing, young lady!”

Ag, so much to tell you about. But I’ll give you the short version.

I spent the couple of weeks after the robbery in January frantically trying to effect some changes. We decided to send Miss T back to England to study with Aphrodite at the school they’d been at since we moved to England in 2002. Had to retrieve Miss T's passport from the US Embassy (we’d just sent it off to be renewed, three days before the hold-up), and then we rushed up to Pretoria to the UK Embassy to get T a student visa. Once we did that, we booked flights to England, and T and I flew up to London at the very end of January. Miss T was immediately back in school, missing only 1 week of second semester, and I was having a mental therapy break for three weeks, staying at Mary’s cottage apartment.

For three weeks, I got to pretend I was living my old life. Back to tennis, with Ronalee and Jim so kindly giving me rides to and fro from the club. Back to ogling my favorite tennis pro’s gorgeous calves. Back to a Pilates studio without any gunmen lurking in the back room. Back to seeing great friends and generally just trying to forget that I’d moved to another country. Of course, because of my little run-in with the traffic cops last fall, I wasn’t able to drive anywhere, but I put on miles and miles of walking, to and from all the train stations. And that’s so VERY slimming. Actually, as a weight loss regime, I highly recommend losing your driving license. Forces you to get off your a---- and expend some energy!

Naturally, for the first week when I walked, I carried an expandible baton. A flick of your wrist, and you have a 18” long steel baton, perfect for beating a robber or whatever to death with. The fact that I almost “offed” a three year old kid in the club cafe while demonstrating the weapon’s capabilities, we won’t go into. All I can say is, the kid was being naughty and should have stayed farther away. No harm done, and the mom didn’t see her child’s near miss, but the look of horror in Jim’s eyes was quite daunting. I’m afraid I may have given him another white hair, which in fact will actually only add to his elegantly handsome good looks. And Colin did mention that I’d probably flown into England with it illegally. Hmmm. Great to have lawyers and immigration officers for good friends. At least you know IMMEDIATELY when you’ve eff’ed up! I told Colin it was in my checked baggage, so there!

So, three weeks in England, and I think I was finally mostly calmed down by the end of it. I used the time to finish my application for a Master’s Degree programme in Museum Studies, from the University of Leicester, UK, and I enjoyed Mary’s fabulous cooking. Now there’s a woman who does everything -- like 50 thousand things -- beautifully, and doesn’t feed her kids noodles every night either. No, it was meat and 2 veg (no snickering, Brits!), bread, and pudding. Couldn’t be nicer. I barely managed to not get fat. It was the 10 miles a day of walking that kept everything in balance.

And then back to Johannesburg. Two weeks there, paying bills and sorting out Oscar, chatting a bit with Mr D. A whirl.

Then another return to England in early March, staying with Emma and then Sooz. This was in order to take the long-awaited “drink/drive” course. That will be the next installment. Too much to go into here, and too fascinating, but I tell you briefly: I’ve freakin’ learnt my lesson!

So, mid-March. Back to Johannesburg AGAIN. Another few weeks, and then it was Spring break for the girls in mid-April. Mr D and I met them in Vienna for a lovely week of museums and weiner schnitzel and walking and shops and European civilization. Thank God for all that.