Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Bottomless pit

Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon

So, I have just had the most wonderful holiday. This makes a change in itself – because usually, I find holidays deeply stressful. Lying on the beach has never presented itself to me as something a sane person would want to do. You either get burnt to a cinder – or the wind blows the sand-dunes into your eyes – or both at the same time.

Similarly, staying in a hotel makes me long for home. I get irritated with the service, the room the lift, the other holiday-makers. I get irritated with being irritated quite soon and make everyone around me miserable. So it is better, I have found, not to go on holiday.

Well, you can imagine, I went, this time, with a tremendous sense of resignation and it did not take very long for me to confirm my worst fears. The 12 hour flight was hell on wings. A baby some four rows from where we were seated, screamed and howled at intervals, throughout the entire night. No amount of volume on the headphones on my part, and seemingly, no amount of attention from its parents would help the matter. She simply screamed on, and on and on. The wailing continued in the immigration queue. She was relentless and determined.

But the holiday, I am very pleased to say, turned out to be a challenge to my many preconceptions. We stayed with friends in the tiny village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon. I use the word “village” somewhat judiciously, because it is a village with what cannot be more than fifty people living in it. The Old Rectory, where our friend lives, is precisely that. It is a gracious building, with an Aga in the kitchen which never goes off, spacious rooms looking on to a perfect English garden, with ponds and a steam running through it. The landscape is a tapestry of greens and yellows. It is achingly beautiful countryside.

There are scores of wild ponies on the Moor. Our boys fished with nets in the streams and rivers, chased the sheep in the pasture and caught crabs off the pier, in nearby Teignmouth. We were asked to come to talk to a class in a school in another nearby tiny village, called Berry Pomeroy. We had apparently been advertised to the class we were going to address as a “family from Africa” - which is, of course, not incorrect. The thought did cross my mind through, that the class may well end up with a slightly strange idea of what families in Africa looked like, when they met our two black children with their two white dads. But no-one mentioned it on the day, so neither did we!

After our idyllic stay in Devon, we did some of the tourism necessities in London, before returning home. And it was on our return that my partner, Leon, made an observation which seems to me to be so astute, that I would love it to have been mine. He said that what he noticed most about returning to South Africa is that “everyone is so angry”.

Now there is a thing. And I think he is right. Listen to the political debate going on. Read the newspapers. Drive in the traffic. Shop in the Mall. And you will see this thing – it is anger. It is seldom directed at anyone in particular. It is written on the faces of people. It is etched on their foreheads. And it is caused by a truckload of factors. It is caused by our history – of separation, of hatred, of suspicion, of exploitation. It is caused by opportunities, or lack of them. It is caused by crime and recession. It is caused by lack of respect and lack of hope. It is caused by the way we have learned to treat people, whether because of colour, or because of nationality, or because of gender, or because of age.

Anger has been somehow scorched onto our national soul. It is as much part of our identity as is Nelson Mandela or boerewors. And it is a really debilitating thing, because it becomes the way we act, the way we speak, the way we think, the way we behave towards each other on a daily basis.

And the really sinister thing about it is that it has seemingly become normal for us to be angry. That is just the way we are. The question I have to ask – and I ask this of myself – is this: Will we forever remain that way? And what is the damage we are doing, to ourselves and to our children? Because while it remains within us and amongst is, our peace is paper-thin. And what the consequences will be, we can only guess at.

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