Leaving South Africa on a jet plane

2008-05-12 00:00

The world’s a strange place; a bit like a merry-go-round. People migrate from one land mass to another. It’s connected to humanity’s free will and desire to conquer or explore new territory. My ancestors landed on this continent from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and a few missionaries from Prussia. And the merry-go-round continues to rotate, as sure as the Earth rotates around the sun.

I’m heading off on that jet plane. And no — it won’t be easy.

I love the sensory evocation of Africa — the smell of rain on dusty earth and the piercing prehistoric timbre of those sycophantic hadedas. I love the bold autumn hues and crunching on frosty dry veld grass. I love waiting for a purple Jacaranda flower to drop on my windscreen while I’m driving and slowing down for cows in the road.

I love buying Wilson’s toffees in a trading store and smelling the African-print fabric, the aromas of incense and pungent Durban curries, and the ornate oriental artifacts in the Indian markets. I love the thumping sound of African music emanating from that car parked down the road and the prayer chants wafting across from a mosque. I love the banter of indigenous languages that flows like a song that I can’t quite understand after all these years, yet that sound as familiar to me as a mother’s bedtime lullaby.

I love the smell of a veld fire, of sizzling chops on a braai, the salty after- taste of biltong when my body has shouted for salt and the Sharks. I love the sounds of yacht stays tinkling in the wind along Midmar Dam’s shore and the crack of melodramatic thunder after a humid day.

I love our memorable family holidays — watching a golden orb setting across a gorge of silhouetted thorn trees, gathering handfuls of pebbles and shells on a south coast beach, the sounds of the Indian Ocean singing in my head, camping and picnics, and wide-open spaces.

I love the sounds and vistas from my childhood — the soothing coos of a rock pigeon, the sandstone farmhouse architecture, my Free State clouds, windmills and koppies. It’s strangely comforting to think that if other things change, they’ll remain constant for billions of years.

Loving so much has enriched my life beyond measure. The staff and children I work with are embedded in my soul. And I love my own precious children and grandchildren; even those chaotically noisy family suppers at Spur with that rather dire Happy Birthday song.

Where I’m going there won’t be any of this. Instead, there are volcanic craters, magnificent, but alien vistas, geological delights and long winters. There’s the Treaty of Waitanga and a whole different political arena. And there’s the All Black’s haka.

Why am I going if there’s so much I love here? Because, that’s why. I love so many things from my rich life here, that I want to cherish them in my mind before they metamorph into something that’s no longer precious or familiar to me. I want to explore a new chapter because life’s transient and unpredictable. I can live with periods of no lights, with exasperating delays and even some disorder. But I can never condone the prevalent, heinous and inhumane criminality and


People like me may be searching for a Nirvana that’s non-existent. We’re all born with free will, but not necessarily all with the opportunity to create change. I have the choice. It may lead to material impoverishment, but then some of us are dreamers.

Nothing will be able quite to replace the passions which are at the core of my psyche. No new acquaintances will be able to reminisce about the “remember whens”. But there will be enticing new chapters. And despite currently waking up each morning feeling gutted, I’m enormously optimistic. I feel a profundity of abundance in what I’ve tasted in South Africa and absolutely no one can ever take that away from me.

• Eve Hemming is a local educationist.

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