’Tis the season of kumbaya and cheese

2013-12-22 06:00

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It’s that time of the year. The time when exhaustive commercial campaigns tell us to be happy, to feel loved, to buy tacky Christmas-hued undies and to listen to Boney M.

It’s the season of kumbaya and cheese. My colleague’s computer is wrapped in silver tinsel and even the resident Green Point bergie has a spring in his step.

In the spirit of this festive barrage (cunningly cultivated, yet perhaps fractionally sincere) I would like to point out how a nation-sized sense of kumbaya has krept-up and settled over South Africa like a Christmas wreath of late. In case you didn’t notice: it’s hanging there, a bright glimmer of hope like Venus at dusk.

For all our differences and quabbles, we’ve been unified in our outcry over Nkandla, a communal enemy that represents all things deplorable and unjust.

We’ve even relieved our anger directing shared laughs at the absurdity of it all. Backyard amphitheatres, chicken runs and fire pools have starred in a morbidly fascinating unfolding tragi-comedy – a strange confluence of barely discernable satire, fiction and fact – well within the oeuvre of, say, the Coen brothers?

“Dear God, what do these people smoke?” a comrade asks, shaking her head on Friday. “Who knows, but nationalise that stuff,” I say.

As a nation, we felt a bouquet of emotions, a heady mix of celebratory retrospect and abject loss in finally saying goodbye to Madiba.

In the past month, South Africa has been united in loathing, bemused astonishment and mourning.

My train of thought will take a brief detour across time and space. It was the holy month of September, 2010, and balmy in the Turkish capital of Istanbul. I was travelling by myself, expanding horizons geographically and in my head.

After a long day spent tripping over cobblestones in Sultanahmet, the historic centre of the city, I settled on the lawn in front of the Blue Mosque for a solitary picnic of foodstuffs collected over the course of the day.

Spread around me were dolmades wrapped in paper, nougat, sticky baklava, and pieces of flat bread drizzled in garlic and oil.

It was twilight and between the mosque’s lit turrets were suspended a banner with the words “Bayraminiz mübarek olsun” spelled in fairy lights. It means “May your holiday be blessed”.

Picnic in front of the Blue Mosque with a nameless friend. “May your holiday be blessed,” reads the message.

For reasons unclear in hindsight, a girl came to sit down next to me. She was from a small town in Turkey and it was her first visit to Istanbul, too. She spoke barely a word of English, me hardly any Turkish, and our conversation consisted mostly of hand gestures and facial expressions.

She wore a blue headscarf and a smile; me a smile and a bad hair day. We exchanged biscuits and dolmades; she gave me a Gallipoli keyring, I gave her a bangle from my wrist. We had very little in common, yet so much.

We sat on the grass for hours, laughing and quietly watching the moon rise over the mosque. We ate chocolate and took equally long to find stuff in our handbags, as women do.

I don’t recall her name but her face remains etched in my mind.

Back to present-day South Africa: While deep-seated differences should not and cannot be glossed over, isn’t it time that we focused more on that which we share?

May we take this nation-sized kumbaya moment, this glimmer of hope in unity following Madiba’s death and the raging Nkandla storm, and make it grow.

May your holiday be blessed.

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