It is a dark rainy Monday morning — my housemate has just left for the airpoort and her flight to Upington from where she will travel to the Orange River. She was wildly excited. I was sick with fear but hid it fairly well. When I was younger I used to wish sometimes I could lock up all those I loved in a cosy safe room where nothing dangerous would ever happen to them. Such thoughts lie at the heart of my more controlling behaviours, the delusions of an older sister wanting to protect the little ones even while knowing it is impossible to keep anyone safe, let alone ourselves.
I’m not that alone of course — my neighbour is watering a large catalpa tree across the road and waving to me to come out and admire the clusters of creamy tulip-like blossoms. The most beautiful tree in summer. And there will be friends popping in, students for French lessons, neighbours coming and going, small dogs to be fed and played with and scolded. But my housemate and myself are very close, family to one another, and I miss her already.
Last night I had supper with friends and talked to a farmer from the Strandveld. He told me that alcoholism is the biggest single cause of death amongst his workers apart from TB/Aids. He said almost casually that he gives an alcoholic farm labourer five years from the onset of binge drinking before he has convulsions or hangs himself or ‘the liver goes’. Five years.
Out on most of those farms there is no money for rehab, no interventions, no detoxing, no Antabuse, no hospitalisation, none of the medical help that prolongs life for alcoholics in the city or overseas. No AA meetings, no transport to get to meetings. But there are always bottles of cheap brandy, barrels of sour wine, 10-litre boxes of wine on sale when the workers have just been paid their pitiful wages. I realised listening to him what a scourge alcoholism muat have been in 1930s America before AA came along. The farmer said to me: ’It is the most horrible thing — they start drinking like crazy and can’t stop until they drop dead.’ Which is the point many of us had to reach before we understood we were powerless to put down the glass of liquor that was poisoning us.
My guests went back to the city all sunburned, their faces and arms swollen with welts from mosquitos (the bug repellents don’t repel our hardy mozzies), jumpy at the memory of large spiders in the bathroom, their ankles blistered by nettles. They kissed me goodbye and said they admired me for living in the peaceful countryside. I stood outside and waved fondly as they backed out of the drive and raced away, no doubt heaving great sighs of relief. The year I moved here, a friend from New York flew in a for a hasty visit and was startled to find a wild boar gouging up the back garden. It had come into the garden to eat lettuces and at the time I had a rescued porcupine in the house smelling rather ripe and bristling quills so I had to keep thetwo wild creatures apart until someone from Nature Conservation arrived to return the porcupine to the wild. My friend from New York went back outside and stayed in her car smoking and spraying herself with an Arpeges fragrance until both the tuskered little boar and the rank-smelling porcupine had been removed. Then she told me she was booking herself into a local hotel while I had the house fumigated.
I thought this very funny but could see that tough New Yorkers find Africa in the raw a little disconcerting – when we were students in Cape Town, there was an oil spill off the coast from a derelict tanker and we took home penguins covered in oil and grime to clean them up even as their razor-sharp bills sliced our forearms to ribbons. After a day or two, the house would be knee-deep in guano which horrified the landlady so much she would arrive and threaten to evict us while we shouted Animal Liberation slogans and bandaged one another’s arms. Such heady days of protest and penguin poo!
Let me see if I can reach 40 000 words on the last day of Nanowrimo. My friend and fellow blogger Annie K is within 5 000 words of the finish count. Way to go, Annie!
Image found here. Go have a look.