Grey lumpy stodge. She stared at in despair. How could she force herself to even allow the spoon to touch this evil mess? It looked like something that might have already visited several stomachs in succession, but without the standard peas and carrots. She picked at one of the crevices in the wooden table, wondering what she had done to deserve this.
There she sat in full school uniform; black v-neck pinafore dress with red piping, white long-sleeved shirt, red and black striped tie, red and black striped blazer with silver buttons, lace up shoes and black knee high socks with red stripes on the fold over. Brown suitcase next to the table holding the usual ghastly brown bread peanut butter sandwiches, another culinary treat to look forward to at break. She waved the spoon feebly towards the bowl, hoping it would voluntarily dip itself into the porridge, thus allowing her to abdicate the responsibility of contaminating its silvery pureness. But no, the spoon wafted past the bowl without making contact.
The voice startled her from her reverie. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SCHOOL UNTIL YOU’VE EATEN YOUR JUNGLE OATS. She lowered her eyelids and rolled her eyes upwards, smouldering but too apprehensive to direct the full force of her most intimidating glare at her mother.
Said mother left with the other children in tow with I MEAN IT, PENNY! in the most cutting tone as her parting shot.
She waited until the noise of the car had receded into the distance. What to do; what to do! She was now very late for school.
It dawned on her that there was no longer anyone around to police her. She could dispense of the now cement-like porridge, but where? Not the dustbin – that would be too much of a waste. She looked around the kitchen, scheming frantically. The cat was curling itself onto the counter next to the kitchen sink through the window. The diamond mesh burglar bars had a small gap at the bottom through which the window could be latched closed. Amazing that the cat could jump up there from the compost heap and…the compost heap! That was it!
She jumped up knocking over the cat’s blue plastic milk bowl that luckily was empty, scuttled down the back steps and around to the side of the house, breakfast brick in hand and disposed of the offending mass most satisfactorily.
Half an hour later she arrived at school. The playgrounds were deserted, the bell must have rung ages ago and everybody was already in class. Her heart plummeted into her very empty Jungle Oats free stomach. She pushed the school pedestrian gate open and walked gingerly alongside the tarred netball field, hoping no teacher or prefect chose this moment to visit the toilet. The red brick of the school buildings offered no solace as she crept along. She walked down the passage, placing each foot carefully and slowly, then tiptoed down the steps towards the Standard Three classroom.
Mrs Owen stood in front of the blackboard while all the girls sat bolt upright at their desks. Mrs Owen! oh no, she could not face this. This teacher had the most sarcastic tongue of all the teachers and nine year old Penny was convinced that Mrs Owen hated her more than any other girl in the entire school.
She turned around and headed back to the bus stop intent only on getting out of there as soon as possible. She caught the Number 22 Cyrildene bus, disembarked at the usual bus stop near her house and sat down on the bench. What could she do now? This whole thing had somehow escalated out of control. She was usually a very well-behaved obedient little girl and now she had broken so many rules she didn’t think there was any way back to her old self. All these many years of trying to do the right thing, always, wiped out by one bowl of Jungle Oats. She bit her lip and tried not to cry.
A car pulled up. Oh no! Her mother had found her. She was bundled into the car. YOU ARE GOING STRAIGHT TO SCHOOL, NOW! WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF? WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE UP TO?
But, Mum, Mrs Owen will kill me!
WELL, YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT EARLIER!
She was frog-marched into the classroom and humiliated in front of everyone. It was awful. A terrible, terrible day. But the funny thing was, Mrs Owen was never sarcastic towards her, ever again.
Forty years later Penny stands at her gleaming glass topped stove with the overhead extractor fan. The kitchen has granite counters and cherry wood cupboards with delightful little corner shelves for display purposes, lovely big pot drawers and a cupboard specially built to conceal the dustbin. A far cry from that grubby cluttered kitchen with its dirt engrained wooden table, mine field of pet bowls and green peeling novilon counters.
She stirs continuously to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot on the stove and, most importantly, to ensure no lumps form. Once it starts boiling, she turns the heat down to let it simmer for a few minutes. She
takes all the trimmings out of the cupboard; cinnamon, honey, milk and her favourite bowl with the orange and blue stripes.
Mmm, her favourite breakfast. She smiles to herself as she spoons the Jungle Oats into her bowl then laughs out loud at the thought of another day, another bowl, another house – so long ago! Imagine if Mom could see her now, voluntarily making herself Jungle Oats!
Older white people who live in Durban are still finding it difficult to accept the street name changes. The other day, I was told that, because Shaka ceded the land to white settlers, Durban is therefore a colonial city and is entitled to reflect colonial names. The other argument is that the current government wants to deny history.
* wanting names to change is an identity/self esteem thing
* it reflects there has been a change from colonial/apartheid governance to democratic governance
* our city now reflects a more diverse population; it now represents more of the people who live here
* it also reflects more recent history such as those who contributed towards the struggle and those who identified with the struggle; not changing some names would reflect only ancient history. History is constantly on the move
* did Shaka ceding land to white settlers and allowing them a settlement mean he could foresee a future where whites dominated to the extent that they did? Where they disenfranchised everyone else the way they did? Even if he could have foreseen this, does that make it acceptable?
* changing names is not about who does or did own the land but about finally being able to have a say
* changing a name does not change history but it does reflect more recent history
* the very fact that white people are so attached to the names of the past underlines the emotional significance that names hold for people
* surely white people, who still have so much, can give something up? Why can they not, with humility and grace, grant this small victory to the government of the day without kicking and screaming? Can we not see that we, who have taken so much, should not resist change so ungraciously? We, who destroyed so much; who treated so many as if they were not human; robbing them of dignity, family life, permission to participate in the economy, live where they want, marry who they want, be schooled where they want, we still hanker after symbols of this past?
* is putting up with 100 name changes so much to ask
Squash it down
Push it away
and slap a smile on your silly face
Let it all gather
that gravelly grief
and form one hard stone in your silly heart
Net all those butterflies
Flitting around, beating their wings
and banish them permanently from your silly gut
Ignore the blood flowing,
pulsing and pumping
It won’t burst from your silly veins
Become a lake
Do people really not realise that our lens on the world is informed by our conditioning; by the segment of society in which we spend most of our time? Do they really think the satirical art produced by the Westville Boys High art class emerged from a vacuum? I hope that in the aftermath of the furore initiated by this exhibition, their teachers are using this wonderful opportunity to interrogate the reasons for this reaction. While I agree that the ANC over-reacted, is it not important to understand the reasons behind this over-reaction? Remember, they represent the vast majority of people in our country. In understanding these reasons, we would understand more about our society.
I would also hope that the boys are encouraged to self-reflect and ask themselves why they chose to satirise politicians? Is there not sufficient material in their immediate surroundings that would say more about our society? For example, the family braai would no doubt yield some wonderful material. I find it interesting to listen to the clamour of those supporting the right of these boys to freedom of speech and claiming that the ANC’s cry of racism is just another example of playing the race card. I am often shocked to hear the statements made by many white, Indian and Coloured people in the greater Durban area about black people. Racism is endemic in our society and it is disingenuous of them to pretend otherwise. Furthermore, with regard to Freedom of Speech, perhaps we could all ask ourselves whether we should not exercise this freedom with discretion? If I exercise my freedom of speech and in so doing, hurt another and there is no benefit for either party, perhaps I should rather exercise self-restraint. Conciliation requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and ask ourselves how they may interpret our words and actions. This is not to say we should pussy foot around without speaking our minds, but rather that we should exercise discretion. If I see an old friend that has put on a lot of weight, would I say, “Good to see you but my, my there is a lot more of you to see!”
Another aspect I would hope these boys are interrogating about their own art is this; what is implied by their work? Mandela and KFC? Black people love chicken? if that, certainly it is stereotyping; if not, their message is unclear. What is implied by Fakers? Est 1994? apartheid was better? That is what comes across.
And lastly, perhaps they would ask themselves if they could not have been more original. Justin Nurse of Laugh it Off fame was doing this in 2003, if not before, except his work was wittier. He had to go to court to defend his right to freedom of speech when the mega-corporation, SA Breweries took exception to his Black Labour, White Guilt slogan which played the same game with the Black Label brand.
What we say about others often says more about ourselves than it does about them.
I’m far better at keeping doors closed than I used to be. When I was younger every scab was picked, every skein was unravelled, every grenade unpinned. Now I convince myself that I am untouchable, invincible, impossible to penetrate, disinterested in matters of the heart. I am Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and Marie Curie all rolled into one. Mentally if not physically. I have yearnings, yes, but they are subjugated to my higher self. This higher un-Pennyish self rides on a plain of self-sufficiency, uncluttered by emotional needs. The problem arises when the door is opened. First, just a little crack. Hold the handle, softly and slowly push it down and then, very slowly, gently, ease it open. A glimmer of light shows through, gently push the door closed again, listen for the click that let’s you know all is safe. Then continue as before. But you feel restless. Something is calling, something wants to pull you out if the stupor. You refuse. You say, I am fine this way. Behind the closed door. But you do not exist in a vacuum. Others prod and poke at you. Someone else opens the door. I am living behind this door, happy in my bubble of constructed purpose. A head peers around the door. I should tell it to leave. But I don’t.
This feeling all over my body. Especially in my chest and stomach. As if something is pressing down on my chest. Making breathing difficult, laboured. Butterflies in my stomach. The blood in my veins pulsing. I am aware of the blood. I can feel it in my arms, burning a trail from shoulder to elbow. I am under threat.
I remember that day. It was 15 years ago. I sat in the chair opposite the doctor. Deurmekaar. Befuddled. Feeling woozy. The night before I’d had a meltdown. In despair, I foresaw a loveless future. A treadmill of chores with no relief. Living on the margins. Alone.
Who is this man to judge me now? This doctor in his chair of churlishness. Looking down on me with his curled lip. At the time, I did not care. But now I think, who were you to criticise me for my actions? You did not utter one word of kindness; did not even think to ask why I did it? Ironically, I had abandoned my actions halfway. Deliberately.
So he was wrong anyway.
First off, let me say that this Danish movie directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is worth seeing. I did, however, have mixed feelings about it. For several reasons.
The premise is that a little girl of about 6 accuses her father’s best friend of sexual abuse. The best friend, Lucas ( a great performance by Mads Mikkelson) also happens to work at the kindergarten this child attends. The child felt upset with him and accused him so that he would be in trouble. I find it hard to believe that a child of this age could be that aware of the consequences of this accusation as this child is. Despite that, the havoc this creates in Lucas’s life is horrendous and the various relationships he has with different people are all affected in one way or another. This is brilliantly depicted and I was torn up (and teared up) at witnessing this. The culture of this small village is interesting and contributes to the outcomes. These men drink and hunt and are prone to flares of anger that lead to violence.
Spoiler alert – the uneasy reconciliation that occurs seems a little too facile and then the movie jumps to a year ahead. It is almost as if the movie had to be wrapped up so let’s get on with it. The end is mysterious but this I did enjoy. I am not a fan of easy resolution.
Lastly, I am often uneasy when the focus of this sort of situation is on the wrongly accused man. I have no doubt that this occurs but if one had to compare the incidences of the wrongly accused man with those of the ‘never accused when they should be’ men, the weight will fall on the latter. Nevertheless, it does highlight this injustice which can partly be attributed to the hype around abuse. Having said that, again, I wonder can there be too much hype around abuse? Given its prevalence? A difficult question.
I can only leave when enough issues have been resolved.
I cannot leave when crisis has precipitated the leaving.
I am mired in quicksand.
I am sucked in
I rebel against this unfairness
I have to fight it,
prove the rectitude of my actions,
gnaw away at that bone until I’m convinced there is not even a shred of meat left
not a shred!
It is as if I cannot face the inevitable unless it is shoved in my face
Every stone must first be unturned.
Even if I know what lies beneath the stone
I have to lift it, look closely, dig around in the murk
emotion disguises itself as logic.
Inspector Clousseau is on the scene
investigates the situation
collates the evidence and then,
after sifting and considering it, processes this and provides a report.
This despite the smoking gun held in the hand of the accused as he crouches over his victim, triumphant yet defeated.