A small landmark. On Friday it was five months since I last had a drink. Feelings of gratitude and a great sweeping calm. It was never really about the alcohol. It had to do with the pain of not knowing how to live with myself or others, and how to deal with, face/embrace/escape the hungry ghost within. That is the place of growth.
A tree on the street bursting with purple-maroon horse magnolias, that raw energy of spring. Not a sweet daffodils and scented freesias prettiness with bloom on the fields, but a raucous sexual riot looming, the rainy damp and the scorching heat of the African summer coming up too fast for any kind of spring. We really only have two seasons on this continent and a multitude of oscillating climates and intemperate challenging and magnificent moods. Drives me crazy sometimes.
When I first came down to the Cape from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe 30 years ago, I missed the electric thunderstorms and smell of the bush twisting and feverish, twigs and leaves rattling just before rain. The dank dark winters were unfamiliar and the colours weren’t fierce enough, fynbos seemed an impoverished kind of magic after savannah or rainforest. I wanted flamelilies and Sabi stars, not the confetti bush or a dried-up woody protea or brown restios. Slowly I came to understand that the fynbos was a phoenix and as the Cape mountains burned after runaway fires or arson, I watched the renewal and the beauty return each season, saw how the low grey-green bushes and grasses thrived on the inhospitable rocky slopes in drought. Now I understand what I am seeing and feel for it.
And I’m rereading a novel on the Kenyatta years and the old Kenya just post-Uhuru, Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye’s Coming to Birth. Despite everything I’ve written in the above paragraph and the fact that Cape Town has been my home for three decades, I have a homesickness for Nairobi, Mombasa and Harare that never quite lets up. Like Dakar or Cairo, there are cities that creep right under your skin and you feel restless until you get back there again. Smelly chaotic noisy amazing cities where human nature is in upheaval and nothing can be taken for granted. Yet oddly there is time to do everything important, African time swelling and loosening and expanding all about you in the sunshine like a vivid printed cloth rippling from a defunct telegraph wire over the market stalls.
From Coming to Birth
‘Paulina had spent years enough alone not to be worried by silence. She hugged her thoughts to herself. She was at home now. And at home, though news comes to you of meetings and proclamations, of trials and conflict and achievement, home does not change for that, Nairobi does not change for that, whisper, whisper, whisper, the hum of traffic and the undertones of bargaining, the quick breath of pushing carts and the slow breath of sleep, the unbroken round of terms, of seasons, of fashions, of celebrations. There is always something to do, always something to talk about, if you gave yourself time to learn, always something to depend on too and to live by.’