For my oldest friend

IMG-20170320-WA0001My best friend growing up was a total nutcase, well truth be told, she still is a nutcase. We met in the year we turned six, and today some twenty-seven years later, she turns 33. It’s odd to believe that a lifetime has passed since we first met, that we have somehow grown up along the way. I think back to the things we had in common, to the things that cemented our friendship at the tender age of five and half and can’t help but smile. For starters, both our mothers taught at the same school (and both were disciplinarians), we both had the same initial and surname (surely that meant we were sisters) and most importantly, we were both convinced that there was buried treasure hidden in her back yard.

A lot has changed in the last twenty-seven years, we’ve both seen heartache and loss. Our friendship has seen it’s share of strain and ugliness, but the one thing that has not changed (apart from the fact that I am still convinced of the treasure in her backyard), is the bond we share. It is a bond that we will always share. I had always been convinced that since I was a good three weeks older than her, that I was automatically her protector. I would fight with anyone who made her upset (and since she is a bit of cry baby, you can imagine I had my work cut out for me), I was, by default, her older sister. Of course, she did her fair share of protecting me as well. As a child, I was very literal, so when my mother told me that I could not come home unless I finished all the lunch that was packed for me, you best believe that I knew that my options were clearly defined. Either I find another place to live (I had checked around and none of my other friends were receptive to my plea for refugee status) or I somehow manage to eat all of my lunch. On a side note that is critical to the story, it is important to bear in mind that my mother thought it best to feed me like teenage rugby player, on most days I was sent to school with a lunchbox that could easily feed four. So, my best friend, always the sensitive one between the two of us, decided to help me out. We would sit under the shade of a tree after school and talk of the important things like what we would wear to the Brownies costume party while she bravely munched on my sandwiches, saving me from a fate no five-year-old wants to face.

Perhaps in the telling of this story, you would have come to realise more about my friend than the fact that I shared my lunch with her. Perhaps you will see that she loves easily, that she cares deeply, that really, with a friend like her by your side, even the scary things seem manageable. There are so many things that I will always admire about her- her ability to love, her strength, her sense of humour, how she has the ability to tell a cashier her entire life story. I know that she will always be my sister, this bond was forged too strong, no matter what comes our way. She will always be the one I hug too tightly, the one I laugh too loudly with. She will always be the one that understands me and the one that stood by me when I needed a friend. And today, on this day, I want to celebrate her birth, I want to celebrate having her and her special brand of nonsense in my life. I want to celebrate the joy, the happiness, the sadness that we’ve shared because this is just the beginning. I love you my friend, I love you for all that you are and for all that you aren’t.

Lean in…for a conversation


Okay, so I’m pre-empting a book club conversation here (I think half the fun of book club is telling people you belong to one), but as usual my mind is running a mile a minute and I need a moment with my musings. When the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg was suggested as our book of the month, apart from hearing a Destiny’s Child song play in my mind (something about paying my telephone bills), I was sceptical. I mean, did I really need to read another book telling me to break the glass ceiling? I stared at Sheryl’s smiling face on the front cover and told myself that I didn’t really want to hear about this privileged, white woman’s view about gender bias. And this, apart from the wine, is one of the greatest things about book club; getting to read outside of my comfort zone. Honestly, now that the book is done and dusted, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly agree with everything that Sheryl Sandberg’s writes about, but I’m certain glad that I read it. I am certainly glad about the conversations the book has provoked, both with myself and with others, because although I don’t have the answers, I know that these are conversations we need to have.

I can remember telling a story about how I, a young, non-white female, was treated when I first started working in a predominantly white, male dominated environment. Amongst other things, the expectations placed on me where due to my race and my gender; I was the girl who would probably take minutes and make coffee. Forget my achievements or qualifications, these men knew what they were doing, so I best listen closely and remember my manners. My first disagreement with an older male colleague was met with such vehemence that I was literally stunned into silence. I was too aggressive, too pushy, how dare I follow up when someone hadn’t given me something they promised? Part of this, no doubt, is because of my personality, not my gender. I can be harsh and driven at times and there is no mistaking that. But more and more it is becoming evident to me that when men behave in the way that I do it is considered the norm, no one gets angry with the man being assertive because that is what men are supposed to do. When a woman does it, she’s a bitch and she’s bossy. When a man does it, he is applauded for taking the initiative and being direct. No, it is not always as I have stated, I know. But we cannot dispute that there is a truth in this that should not be ignored. It also surprises me how sometimes gender even changes the meaning of words. I think back to many years ago when my boss called me “ambitious”, I knew what the word meant but his tone and the hardness in his eyes made me feel that I should look up the word once more. I did a quick Google search now and the description “having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed” hardly seemed like the insult I heard in my boss’s voice those years ago.

I am not writing this to tell a sad story about gender bias and how I rose above it, I am writing of my own bias as much as of the men I have remembered here. Because if I am being honest, the preconceptions of gender does colour my view. Men should be men, right? Big, strong, assertive. And women should be nurturing and caring, right? Oscar Wilde wrote “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his“ and when I read that, such a large part of it resonated with me. What a tragedy it would be indeed if no man became his mother and no woman became her father. We’ve all heard those comments that slip so freely from our mouths when a man is vindictive, jealous and spiteful “He’s behaving like a woman”, or when a woman is outspoken, assertive and direct “She’s trying to behave like a man”. We judge people based on preconceived notions of what a man should be and what a woman shouldn’t be. I know I do. Realising and admitting that bias is huge for me, because if we ever are to talk about equal access to opportunity, we have to be honest with ourselves first. And sometimes that honesty is not very pretty. I guess it’s great that I’m more aware now, but what on God’s green earth does that mean? What does it fix? Maybe it means that in my awareness and through my reflection, I can rewrite the scripts that I rely on, I can rewrite my thinking. Maybe it means that I can now have more intelligent discussions with either gender, maybe it means that I can also create awareness? Maybe it means that even though it is not a big step, it is still a step forward.

Tomorrow is all we have


Lutchmee Varma is 86. In short, she is a crazy woman, but crazy in the way all the best people are. She has known hardship and joy, and has seen a life that nothing I ever write would adequately describe. She fills my heart with her laughter and I wish I had the power to make all her days happy ones. She is my grandmother, the matriarch of our family and hands down one of my favourite people in the world. As I write this she is in hospital awaiting the surgery that will remove her inflamed gall bladder tomorrow.

I’m not sure why I am writing this, perhaps I am seeking a release in the only way I know how. I am terrified, beyond terrified actually. Almost paralysed with fear. We all know the risks associated with surgery at an advanced age, there are no guarantees. I want so badly to remain positive, to think only of a tomorrow when I will hear her voice, hear a silly joke and make plans with her for the future. The alternative is too much to think of. I called her today, she was in such good spirits, telling me that she’ll call me after the operation to tell me she’s okay. She joked in her typical fashion that she was getting dressed up so she could find a nice doctor. It’s been explained to me that the procedure is fairly routine but I cannot keep the emotion out of my voice I cannot stop the tremble in my hands. I can’t shake the thought that no amount of time would ever feel like enough with her. That I haven’t yet listened to all of her stories. That I have not hugged her enough or thanked her enough for everything she’s ever done for me.

I’m not particularly religious but I find myself conversing with what I hope to be a higher power, bargaining, desperately pleading for more time. It is selfish I know, but I have spent my whole life thinking my granny was invincible. She has been ridiculously strong and healthy and I find it hard to remember that she has aged, as we all do. To me she is the fiercely independent woman who raised her children the best she knew how. She is the woman who ran away to marry the man she loved, the woman who loves to dance, the woman who looked after herself for most of her life. She is the one who makes me special treats that no one else can, who sits and talks to me about her life, who laughs at my silly jokes and who tries to cure any aliment she may think I have. She is my granny and my life is made better by having her in it. Quite simply there will never be anyone else like her and I am not ready to give her up just yet. Varma women are made strong and stubborn and I am counting on that resilience tomorrow, on that stubbornness to pull her through. She is not yet done, her story not yet finished.

Confessions of a diving virgin

“You’ll never forget your first breath under water”, that’s what an American voice in a SCUBA video tells me. The video is great, complete with happy faces, women with miraculously neatly plaited hair and a gentle tranquil soundtrack, I’m sold. Obviously my first experience with SCUBA diving was going to be a walk in the park-bad choice of words, maybe a walk in the ocean, okay even worse choice of words. But you get my point, this was going to be great!

Fast forward to my first pool session, our dive instructor tells us to get into the pool swim a couple of laps and then tread water for 10 minutes. I show off, I’m not a bad swimmer and I’m natural in the water. Confidence unnecessarily and uselessly boosted, I gear up (there is no grace in getting into a wetsuit, I finally understand how sausages must feel) and ready myself for the first lesson. I would call what happened next a slap in the face but it really was an assault on the lungs as my “first breath under water” was one laden with water. I panic and pop my head out of the water, what the hell was I thinking? Humans are not meant to breathe under water! Maybe my breathing apparatus isn’t working? Maybe I’m not getting enough air, I do have Asthma, is this a sign of imminent doom? I look to the rest of the group, their heads just below the surface and panic even further when I realise that I’m the only idiot above the surface. Five seconds into diving and I’ve already convinced myself that I’m going to die and I haven’t even left the shallow end of the pool yet! The instructor appears, mildly irate at having to deal with his problem student and tell me to bite onto the mouth piece, that way I’ll stop sucking in water. I do as he says, biting so hard that my jaw hurts. I’m terrified but too stubborn to admit defeat and I agree to give it another go although everything in my body seems to fight the very concept of breathing under water.

The pool session is long, the group of us emerge wrinkled and tired but most importantly alive and with a great sense of pride. I can’t say that I enjoyed the session, what with being so afraid of dying all the time but I agree to do some skills dives the next day. I am proud of my stubbornness and at my success at saying alive and I am convinced that I have the basic knowledge to successfully complete the dives the following day. If you think I’m setting this up for one of those “oh boy was I wrong” moments, you’re quite right as the next day diving at Miracle Waters, I seemed to spontaneously forget all of my instruction the moment I head dipped below the surface. My mask was foggy, I kept forgetting to breathe, choosing instead to hold my breath defying the first rule of SCUBA diving and I almost fell off the diving platform. Couple my lack of composure with the fact that we were diving with two children a third of my age who seemed to have no issues at all and I felt like a complete idiot. I want to say that I survived not only that dive but two successive dives thereafter and that I displayed the correct skills but I’m pretty sure that survival during a dive is not really the reason one dives.

So here I am a few days post losing my diving virginity with a case of “severe bilateral otitis media” and I’m really not sure how I feel about diving. As for the pain in my ear and in face, I’m pretty sure I hate that but I’m not convinced that I’m a diver. I have one last dive to qualify for my open water certificate and perhaps the beautiful upside is that I can qualify in the Red Sea during our upcoming trip to Egypt. But I constantly wonder if, like how I deal with emotions, I am only meant to skim the surface and not really probe into great depths. Perhaps time will tell.

Dear husband

Dear husband, there are times when I think that I’m capable of killing you but then my senses kick in and I realise that I don’t have a pretty black dress to wear to your funeral and I stop short. Of course, only I would start a love letter overflowing with murder and violence but perhaps it should be testament to the kind of wonderful human being you are for loving me and my madness. It should also be a testament to your madness that we are still together almost 15 years later, so perhaps your madness is of a higher order than mine but hey, this isn’t a competition. Just for the record if it was a competition, I would win but probably only because you let me. After all this time, you’re still the man who drives me insane, the nutcase who hates reading and the grouch who fills my heart with a single sleepy smile in the morning.

Many years ago, when the first spring rains brought new life to what winter had laid to rest, you placed your head on my lap and we laughed in field of green. Obvious to all except us, there was a tangible chemistry that mingled with the smell of rain and freshly cut grass, it was a chemistry we would soon discover after our first Vodka soaked kiss. I’m not quite sure why you needed the Vodka for courage, but I will never forget the slight movement of my hair as you brushed it away from my shoulder or the feel of your lips on my skin. Drunk on more than the Vodka, I knew that whatever happened from that day on, I would never regret a single moment of it.

Now we find ourselves, so many years later, married with two barbaric dogs who have a penchant for dispensing farts that rival nuclear bombs before they leave the room. I have fought with you, I have fought with myself; I have hated you and I loved you more than I ever realised I was capable of. I have felt your sorrow and you have held me through mine. No one on earth has understood me and misunderstood me as much as you do, I’m just glad we agree on the big things like what cheese is the tastiest and which setting works best for our dishwasher. I have fought with you in public, we’ve gone to bed angry and we’ve both hurt each through angry words, regretted the moment they were formed. It’s a good thing you barely pay attention to what I say, else you may not be so forgiving to my defensive sarcastic barbs. We’ve punctuated our sentences with kisses, we’ve annoyed everyone around us by being stupidly happy and I’ve fallen in love with you more times than I can remember. I know you as if you are a part of me, perhaps the best part and there is no one in this world that I’d rather be with (even if a shirtless Mark Walberg asked nicely).

I love you dear husband, more than ice cream and more than our dogs (but please don’t tell the older one, he’s sensitive). It sounds selfish but I love who I am with you, in loving you, I’ve learnt to love myself and bloody hell I’m awesome (there is no place for modesty in a love letter). I don’t know how the future will take shape but I know that with you, my future is going to be an adventure and that there is nothing we can’t do. Okay, I think I’ve been mushy enough for a lifetime now, please don’t quote anything I’ve written in our next fight, there is a chance it will be met with violence.


Apathy at a traffic light

I wonder if I am the only one who momentarily forgets how to drive when I set foot into a rental car. It is almost as if years of doing the same thing daily are completely offset by the fact that my indicators are now on a different side of the steering wheel. Each time I accidentally turn on my wipers I also automatically forget how to drive. This spontaneous forgetfulness (I wonder if it’s a disease) results in a mad fumbling and a sheepish smile before I realise that no one has any interest in me and that I have missed my turn. The GPS lady ignores me in an angry silence as if every time she reroutes me it is a personal insult, I tell her I am sorry but she is resolute and unforgiving. Great, now the rental car, GPS voice lady as well as 90% of the other drivers on the road hate me. Just great.

In any case, I had just stopped at a traffic light and still glowing with the monumental pride of correctly identifying my indicators, a young boy wearing a baggy grey t-shirt appears at my window. One upturned palm almost completely overlaps the other and outstretched arms are answered by the shake of my head and me mouthing the word “sorry”. There is no thinking in this action, it is bland and without emotion. Years of driving through our beautiful country and one violent “smash and grab” later and I am indifferent to the sunken eyes, to the torn clothes and the thin limbs. I barely even look him in the eye. He too is used to this dance, to the callous shake of my head, the emptiness in his palm and he walks on, hopeful that someone will see him, hear his plight. As I watch his retreating frame fade into the distance in my rear-view mirror, I see his skinny shoulders lift slightly as his clasped hands reach up to brush something from the top of his ear.

The spark of recognition is instant, in that moment I know exactly who is he, I know his name, I know how much his mother loves him. I feel the sun, hot and dry on his skin, I feel his hunger growing an emptiness in his belly. I feel the ache in his feet, the defeat pulling at his shoulders. At that moment, he is my nephew. My wonderful, insane, eight-and-a-half-year-old nephew whose skinny frame is much like this boy’s on the street. I have listened to his laughter, I have soothed his tears and I have heard his dreams. And yet I have turned my back to him here on the street, I have betrayed him. I have said to him “You are not my problem, go find someone else who will care”. It was in my power to help him and yet I did nothing, his needs could have been answered but I did nothing. Since when do the needs of our children not matter? OUR children, Africa’s children, the world’s children. Having no blood tie to the boy on the street kept my window unopened, kept my emotions at bay. He was not my problem. Neither was he the problem of the two cars behind me, or many others that will pass him by. But whose problem was he then? Is this my moral code; love those closest to me, help those closest to me and no one else matters? I would never allow this to happen to my nephew, not only because he is my sister’s son, not only because I love him, but because, fundamentally, it is wrong. But without thinking, this sense of right and wrong did not apply to the boy at my window. Should I take solace in the fact that no one else opened their windows, that everyone else behaved as callously as I did so that I know I am not alone in my apathy? Should I reason my way out of this and write of how it’s not safe to just hand out money or of how there is a possibility that the money I give him will go to “no good”? Maybe if I write about how my attempts would be insignificant in the greater scheme of things it would quiet my guilty conscience? None of it is enough, none of it matters or makes sense because I could have easily helped him without really sacrificing anything of consequence to me. Nothing I tell myself alleviates the guilt because I know I should be doing all I can, I know we should.

Why I’m scared of success and fish moths

Okay first thing first, fish moths have to be one of the most disgusting creatures in existence and to make matters worse they’re always showing up unannounced which to be honest, is just pain down rude. I found one staring at me in a rather creepy fashion while I brushed my teeth this morning (well I don’t know where it’s eyes are but I distinctly felt as though I was being watched). I flashed it my toothpaste covered teeth hoping that the sight of my pale blue frothy grin would scare it away but it was oblivious to my efforts. That creature had nerves of steel, I mean I often scare myself when I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror after I’ve just woken up (picture a love child between Freddy Krueger and the girl from The Ring – I’d be her ugly sister). But this blog post isn’t really about fish moths or how disastrous I look as the soft light of day breaks, it is, no doubt, just my way of not so cleverly avoiding the real thing I want to write about.

It amazes me how many blog posts I start and never finish, how many bright ideas I have that never turn out to be anything and worse so, how scared I am sometimes just to try. It is as if I do not deem myself worthy of the very thing that I want, so I start to convince myself that whatever I desire is not really a possibility, that my hopes and dreams belong to someone else. I can almost imagine her, this woman who owns my dreams. Maybe she started working on her dreams earlier, maybe she had more than I did growing up, maybe she had more supportive friends, maybe her hair did look like the shampoo commercials. The more real she becomes the less I believe in my own story. I pull at this thought piece by piece until all that is left of me is something insignificant, ordinary, mundane. Stories that began in my mind start to unwrite themselves, achievements are tainted with the thought of blind luck. I become my worst enemy endlessly criticising myself until I am left with nothing but self-loathing. Time and time again, I wonder why it is that I do this to myself. Why it is that the things that I want the most are the things that paralyse me with fear? I want to say that I am scared of failure but somehow that does not ring true.  I know failure and I know that failure is a necessary, but temporary part of life. I have never faced anything that I thought I would flat out fail at (of course this was before I failed engineering in glorious technicolour – I always say if you’re going to do something, do it well). No, I am not scared of failure. I am scared of something more threatening, I am scared of success. I am scared of doing something well and then never being able to replicate it, I am scared that people will come to expect something of me that I cannot deliver. Someone once told me “If someone pays you a compliment, it is not your job to prove them wrong. All you have to do is say ‘Thank you’.”

How silly to be caught up in this tidal wave of emotions because I am scared to actually succeed. How silly to think that I am unworthy of the success that I have or could have. How silly indeed. I think of the silly puppy who lies snoring contently beside me as I type, I think of how his mixture of stupidity and bravery landed him in a dark, deep pond and of how he did not know that he could not swim. He was not scared that he may become the doggy swimming champion of the world, no, he saw an opportunity and decided to run head first into it. Of course, he needed to be rescued, and as I clutched his wet body to my chest, he licked my face as if to let me know this would not be the last time he would make my heart stop. He is a silly dog but perhaps he has a lesson to teach me. Perhaps his silliness is one that I should adopt, maybe I should get over my inexplicable inertia and learn to dive headfirst into opportunities? Succeed or fail, maybe someone will be there to pull me out of the deep dark pond, maybe it will be a wiser, stronger version myself.  Maybe I will look myself in the eye and know that it would not be last time I tried to succeed. Perhaps, at least for today, I should go find that dark pond, chase my dreams, start writing my great book, and of course,try to rid my bathroom of those god-awful fish moths.