Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Words from a Self-Confessed Nostalgist

Living in a country that is so fiercely patriotic about every aspect of their way of life, it does do much to remind outsiders of how far we still have to fit in. When I’m watching dazzlingly firework displays in New York City for July 4th celebrations, I’m not reminded of the day Americans finally declared themselves an independent country a couple centuries ago, rather I’m reminded of vibrant times in my own history of gaining independence and overcoming obstacles to stand as the country we are today. When I taste the first earth shattering bites of apple pie, I long back to the times when melktert was readily available because the kerk Tannies had decided to hold a bake sale at the local Spar for no other reason then to remind the people of this world that there is heaven on earth. And add pannekoek to that mix and I’d be a regular in church on a Sunday thanking God for this wonderful miracle.

Yet I’ve always found myself wondering if I were to go home one day would I jump right back into the swing of things, or would I sit back pondering of a time that use to be? Will I lock my door at night in fear and remember all the millions of times in another land I’d walked out the house leaving it completely open to friends and thieves alike and coming back a few days later to a fully furnished house and neighbours kind enough to water the plants? When watching our land’s heroes on the rugby field bringing us victories by the boatload, will I be reminded of the times people have tried but failed to teach me of the intricacies that are American football only to give up, hand me a beer and let me live my life in oblivion regarding this matter? When sitting amongst the people of my home, hesitant to speak for fear of how my words will be interpreted, will I long back to the days I sat in a classroom studying African American literature with a group of people so culturally diverse they heralded from almost every nook and cranny of this earth and debate with them about issues of racism and equality and know that it is my voice that matters and not my skin colour?

When we choose the life of the homeless we choose to give up roots that ground us and decide instead to find comforts and commonalities amidst the unknown. Being a South African in America is what sets me apart from the crowd. My difference is not only glaringly obvious the moment I open my mouth and speak with an accent that sounds (according to almost every American) light-years away from many people here, but for me it’s most obvious when we sit around the table at dinner time and I’m the only one who uses a knife whilst everyone makes do with just a fork. It’s obvious when I’m eating huge turkeys and roasts during Christmas time when what I’m use to is lighting up the braai on Christmas day and spending the time doing what we South Africans do best; cooking meat to perfection on an open fire. Yet despite the open differences there are many things that unite us, and in a country as diverse as America these similarities are not hard to come by. I may not find South Africans on every street, but I do find people who have travelled from countries I’m just coming to learn of, who have left families and friends behind to start life alone in the wilderness. The girl from Georgia (the country) who sat with me in a sauna describing life in her wonderful country and what things she hoped to achieve in her lifetime, didn’t make us strangers because of a language and cultural barrier but kindred spirits in this foreign land. Meeting a girl in a parking lot who happened to share the same language and continent but not the same country fastened us rather as sisters and not just casual acquaintances. Being away from all you know gives you the wonderful ability to wax nostalgic of days gone by and at the very same time to appreciate the beauty of where you’ve ended up. You become one of the elite on this planet that is truly able to experience both sides of the coin, to know what it means to live and work to create your own dreams in the land of opportunities that is America, and to understand a country in distress at the same time. Your life becomes a shining example for what people are capable of achieving and not just showcasing some Hollywood movie of insurmountable impossibilities because to someone out there you’re living, breathing proof and not a mythological creature.

I’ve lived in this country for just over 3 years now and instead of embracing the place I’m in, I’ve longed for all I’ve left behind. Yet it took meeting fellow South Africans at a braai in a foreign land to make me realize how lucky I am, and to snap me out of living in an era of wistfulness. By longing for what was I forget to appreciate what is. I got so caught up in existing just for that moment when I could finally put my feet back on to African soil that I ceased to embrace the joy of living in the land fortune had granted me the wondrous chance of beholding. When meeting those South Africans I came to see that home isn’t just the physical aspects that make up the rainbow nation of South Africa. Home is the people that share the same traditions as me, it’s talking in a voice that has people asking instead, “Do you come from the same part of the world as me?” and not, “Is that British (you could replace that with Australian if you so chose as well)?” Home is knowing that there’s always a place to go back to but in the end having the freedom to embark on exploring new frontiers and creating grand adventures in foreign places. And at the end of the day when all is said and done, home will be a place of magnificent people and glorious moments unconfined by the boundaries of land.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Return of Shana

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last posted anything on here. I keep meaning to write and tell of the glorious adventures I’ve been on and some interesting and quirky places I’ve seen, but then life gets in the way, things get crazily insane, and every good intention flies out the window along with my very rare thread of sanity. But I have finally resolved to stop meaning to do things and actually start doing them. I am going to become a woman of action.

Since I last wrote I’ve begun an adventure of a whole different kind, some regard it as a willing form of prison meant to inflict untold amounts of torture upon young minds. To other unknowing mortals this institution is known as college.

My life at college began during a time of great change last summer. I was finally moving away from being just an au pair and evolving into a creature that roams the halls and courtyards of a college campus. That first summer as a student was thrilling and, as all things in life should be, something that wowed my mind with enticing new facts. As a class we spent hours debating the hidden symbols in movies such as Silence of the Lambs, seeking out mirror scenes in Forest Gump and admiring the use of camera angles in age old classics like Notorious. It was during that time that I eagerly began to anticipate the start of the coming school year, of opening text books and learning even more of the grand secrets this world held about all kinds of weird and wacky things.

But a class held in the summer months during the relaxed days of warm weather, burdenless workloads, and an entire culture of fun is universally different from fall and spring sessions. And boy have I come to realize that surprising fact.

Today I have finally finished my first year as a full time American college student and it’s been one rollercoaster ride of a journey. I’ve met people that inspire me to do wondrous things with their buck loads of passion for things as simple as food, to greater realms of making changes in the lives of those less fortunate then themselves. I’ve bumped into old and young alike on this college campus that foregoes the discrimination of age and welcomes with open arms anyone with a mind open to learning and a heart willing to achieve. And then I’ve met those unusual characters that make me wonder if eccentricity should be a class group all its own. But then again they probably think the same of me.

Sitting outside in the sunshine now after what seems like a long and almost never-ending road, I’m glad I found my light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve enjoyed debating about the philosophies of Socrates and Plato with a professor sporting the coolest head of hair I’ve ever been fortunate to behold. Learning of the intricacies of the computing world put my head in a spin, but thankfully I had my psychology lessons all geared up to inform me of the exact state my mind was in, and how to go about being somewhat less crazy. I held a spot in an English class with a professor that, to say the least, was one I will never hold similar views on regarding anything and that’s okay. But thank goodness I was learning some terrific moral lessons in ethics because my attitude in that class could have been very immoral indeed.

And so as I sit here contemplating my journey I would like to share with you three of the most important lessons I’ve learnt throughout this year:

1.     1. Daily planners were created for more than just creative ways to use trees and kill the forests. It is in actual fact a very necessary tool needed to ensure your imminent success as a student. Because trying to remember the million things you need and the gazillion places you need to be cannot all be crammed within a head that is being used to store an infinite amount of new facts. And when you’ve finally decided to dust it off, doodling is an extra benefit but not the main purpose of this useful tool. Hint: try writing down the necessities of what needs to be done.

2.    2.  Remember those times you thought those monsters known as adults had forced you to shut your eyes and catch a few winks, and you’d obsessively sworn they were evil aliens out to eliminate all the goodness in your life? Well I’ll let you into a secret here. These alien adults knew that in a few short years they’d be ushering you off to college and your days of sleep would be a thing of the past. Come to think of it, sleep will be something only defined in a dictionary and seldom, if ever, practiced in the regions of real life. Welcome to the world of the walking dead fellow zombie, I am pleased to be meeting your unsleepful acquaintance.

3.     3. Just because you may be living in the comforts of home with mom and dad still hovering about to take care of your every need (if you’re that lucky), college is a time when you have the very rude awakening that you’re now all grown up. Be ready to welcome in grown up responsibilities like work and paying for stuff (like wine because mommy and daddy don’t think this juice does much for the revitalizing of your brain cells, and you’re going to need it). You now have to juggle responsibilities and, I say this as tears stream down my face, forego those parties with the uber hot swimsuit models in favour of maintaining the grades that keep you in good graces with wiser folks of humanity. It’s almost like being a parent with the amount of juggling you’ll be doing thankfully minus the tiny, screaming humans that are the hardest creatures on earth to attempt pleasing for more then 2 mere minutes at a time.

And so I am closing off this chapter as a first year, full time college student and ecstatically rushing out to greet the much-anticipated return of summer. The winter was grueling, the snow frostbitingly atrocious, and the cold utterly heartbreaking. But better things await us all when the sun comes out to play and the professors take a break from the institution of torture for young minds.

Have a great week and I look forward to telling you more great tales soon.
Safe travels!