Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So, what do you think about America?

They said that it would be about 3 years before we felt at home, before things would start to feel normal again.  I thought it would not be that long, we are, well, good at taking things in our stride.  They were right.  The move derailed me completely, and I try to avoid even thinking about the first year we spent here.  It was gut wrenching.

A week or two ago I met someone who lived in South Africa for three years.  Just a normal person, who lived in a normally abnormal suburb (Midstream), and drove on the same roads and went to the same shopping malls than we did.  We left in December 2008, they returned to the US in 2010.  Her husband started a business there, and is still there.  She decided to come back, for many understandable and complicated reasons.

She described my people and my country to me in a way that sent me into a momentary tailspin. " I tell my children", she said, "to put on shoes, this is not South Africa." 

(My kids never wear shoes, and I guess I make it a bit difficult for friends who visit - they always have to explain to their kids that they have to wear shoes, even though we do not.  When I put on shoes, the twins ask where we are going.)

She told me about visiting, how they would be hungry, but arrive only to find that the food is still being prepared, that mealtime is at least 2 hours away.  That a visit with anyone would start at 4 and end late, later than 10pm.

She also told me about the bad stuff, the things that make me cry, that I want to forget but feel a responsibility to remember. 

She had a very realistic opinion of South Africa, although I think she only met people in the upper middle classes.  I am reminded that I have only met Americans who live in Austin, Texas.  She had some blind spots, that I did not challenge because it was not really necessary.  I hope that my blind spots will decrease, although it is a bit hard to get to know people outside of your circle - in my case, I know about homeschooling families in Austin (a very "diverse" group, to use the clichè), and I know people from our church.

She missed South Africa, and had a very positive opinion of Afrikaners (although she did say that they tended to drink too much and that grown men would go to the store without shoes, and that we take "Potjiekos" competitions a bit too far).  I told her that we would miss America, if we had to leave.  And that we would not leave if it is left up to us.

She then asked that very dangerous question:  So what do you think about America?  I have answered the question so many times, and it is very hard not to offend, even if you point out the positives.  Because people are touchy, and Americans love America, as they should.

I think at first I loved feeling safe.  I loved driving, checking my blind spots at intersections, just to be sure.  Because if being vigilant meant that you were safer in South Africa, imangine how safe you would be in America if you're vigilant. I loved seeing old people walk in the streets after dark.  You did not see people walk in the streets after dark where we lived.

Now, I love the "can do" attitude.  It rubs off.  I love that my children are with me all day, that I clean the house, sew a bit of their clothes, prepare their meals. (I even bake bread sometimes!)  Back home we employed a nanny, a "domestic worker", and a gardener.  I know, what did I do?  I still did a lot, I worked part time, and I guess the house was cleaner that this one. (Although, not on a Monday morning after a long weekend!)  We visited and played more.  And that was good, but doing so much on my own gives me far more satisfaction that my real work (Occupationa Therapy) ever did.  And that was a pretty rewarding profession.  But I never felt as if I did anything at home. 

This reflects on me, not on all South Africans.  I remember the neighbours laughing when Melva asked my friend what she was doing when she was shortening the kids' trousers (i.e. using scissors and a sewing machine.)  After the explanation, Melva, then about 6, asked - "Wow, can you do that?"

But now, take Saturday morning:  Having been here for long enough, I cut the comforter that was too big for the childrens' beds in half and simply stitched two rows of zig-zag stiches to close it up again.  Ta dah, two comforters.  And I did the same with the cover,  added some buttonholes and buttons, and now they each have a managable bed cover that fits perfectly onto their beds.  I would not have tried that in South Africa.  I would have payed someone.

While I was busy, I decided to add buttons and butotnholes to the ends of the pillowcases, since Americans do not have envelope style pillowcases, and I hate the gaping end at the side of the pillow.
And I added vintage, mother of pearl buttons, because I bought some on Etsy and it was delivered to my door. We never had that in South Africa.

I cut the boys' hair.  I watched a ton of you tube videos (I could not do that in South Africa, the connection was too slow and data was too expensive), bought scissors, and snipped away.  I did that because a decent haircut in America is between $15 and $20, and then you have to add a tip.  It is not even always a great cut, and it is still stressful to take the boys to the salon.  In South Africa I never paid more than 40 Rand.  (The exchange rate is about R8 to $1).


 It is not perfect, but it is good enough.

The lady I talked to asked me if I kept a "South African" house - meaning, is it very clean?
Well, no.  Especially not the windows.

But it is good enough, and being the only person who puts stuff away, means that I know where all my stuff is.  So I focus on the flowers and ignore the windows.  On the other hand - they may be dirty, but there are no bars in front of them, nor do I ever wonder if we should get some.

And of course, I discovered Knitting.

Baby bonnet
And I learned to sew a bit too:

Melva's peasant blouse - I whipped it up yesterday.  No big deal. (Feel free to compliment me anyway.)
I guess there is always going to be something missing.  I will always cry after I spent time with someone who misses South Africa too.  But I am getting much better at not crying in front of them.  And I will always feel guilty for loving America too.  But Texas is really growing on me.

1 comment:

  1. Here you are talking about how safe you feel, and I feel that it is getting more and more unsafe. I guess it is all a matter of perspective.