Part of me will always belong in South Africa.
I’m in my tenth year away, but the smell of a steaming pot of rooibos tea can cross those ten thousand miles in an instant. To the land of charm and Mrs Balls chutney and street vendors selling “peeeeechez, just five rrend-a-beg”. To howzits and hauw’s and hala kahles. To now nows and just nows.
I love my life in California, but when we step off the plane and begin our drive on the left hand side of the road, remembering again to keep an eye out for careening mini-bus taxis, there’s a sense of belonging that comes rushing back as quickly as my original South African accent.
I take in the shanty houses: corrugated iron roofs held down with rocks, yet sporting satellite dishes. I watch for cows and teenagers on the side of the highway, knowing that either of those might venture across at any moment. I know these things without having to think. Like rusty fingers pressed into the service of Chopin after a decade away from classical piano, my mental muscle-memory is called into service along the Cape Town freeway, if not a little slowly.
I buy government loaf white bread hot from the neighborhood Spar. I count out the change without worrying that I will get the combination of coins wrong to make the right amount. In ten years, I still can’t count nickels and dimes properly, but rands and cents make sense to me.
I hear birds. Oh, the birds!
I hear languages: eleven official and funagalo to boot.
I smell trees and cars and poverty and fear and joy.
I don’t live in South Africa anymore. When people abroad ask “what’s South Africa like?” I have to say that I don’t know. Ten years is a long time to be gone. Things change. I know who the president is (more’s the pity), but not much else. My fingers have been taking pulses elsewhere for some time now.
But despite the gap of 3670 days and 16,994 kilometers between my Californian present and my Capetonian past, when I look up at Devil’s Peak and feel the South-Easter stir,
I still feel I belong.
That there is Devil’s peak, the western peak of Table Mountain. My alma mater is the rose-colored building on its slopes. This picture does not do it justice… Especially at sunset. This schmaltzy post is day 24 of 31 days of belonging a writing challenge for the month of October. For a complete list of posts, click here.