The COVID19 Diaries: Kickin’ it old school

Something happens to me the moment I think about high school, suddenly there are 90’s R&B songs playing in the background and I feel the need to put on a pair of baggy jeans and crouch low for the camera while moving my hands in front of my face with a menacing look in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a G. Wait no, actually I’m not even sure what a “G” is, or that I have the clothing or co-ordination to pull off those moves. “G” or not though, there is something fun about remembering high school- the angst, the drama, the hairbrained things you got up to with your friends. I’d be lying if I said I remembered all of it, it was almost two decades ago and most days I can’t even remember how many Easter eggs I’ve eaten (don’t judge- we’re in an apocalypse and I need Easter eggs as a matter of survival). In fact, I’d be lying if I said I thought about high school that often, but recently a Facebook friend started gathering the troops for a reunion and it has got me thinking about those awkward, strange and stupidly fun years. Will you stay with me a while for a trip down memory lane?

When people start a conversation with me about children, which happens at an alarming frequency, I am prone to ask, “Have you met a 13-year-old girl? Is there anything more terrifying?”. There isn’t enough wine in the world for me to find out, trust me. But of course, there is something more terrifying, it’s many 13-year-old girls grouped together. Throw in a roughly equal number of boys, struggling to find the right way to be cool, or how to style their hair and you’ll have the disastrous mix of teenage angst that usually kick starts high school. Part of me wants to say that I started high school like a new born deer, all gangly, with limbs that never seemed to be co-ordinated with each other, but that would only be true if you could also imagine that deer with something that could be an afro, but never quite lived up to it’s potential. My goodness, it’s almost embarrassing to think about what a weirdo I was at that age, luckily I’ve now grown up and had many years to cultivate and encourage that oddity so that I am now a fully-fledged, card carrying member of the weirdo club, but back then I was just a young girl who thought she could change the world by having her ears pierced twice (can someone say super cool rebel?). Things I did know at that age were my times tables and that I would never drink alcohol (EVER), sadly neither of those proclamations hold true today, although those times tables did come in handy for many a drinking game, so I’m convinced not all hope is lost.

Now my school was nothing like the American movies had promised it would be, there were no jocks, cheerleaders, nerds or drama geeks. The only stereotype that did fit where the token representation of black people at my school. That there were no jocks or cheerleaders is hardly surprising, schools such as mine, which even post-apartheid, were termed “Indian Schools”, usually placed little or no emphasis on sports or athletics. Nope, schools were there to push us towards becoming doctors, engineers or lawyers and wilfully shame those who didn’t. I actually remember two classes, Guidance and PE, being cancelled in lieu of more maths lessons, because what young minds and bodies needed was evidently less guidance and physical activity, and more maths. No wonder so many Indian men in their 30s have a specific body type that’s sort of between, “I’ve just had a baby and I’m trying to lose the weight” and “Will you come to my baby shower next weekend?”. I can’t blame my school or teachers though, education has always been considered the great leveller, the one thing to right many wrongs of our past, anything extra curricular was for you to find out about when you finally start hanging out with white people. I almost fell out of my chair when someone told me rowing was a sport at university, white people were funny like that. I get the focus in those “Indian schools” and while I’m grateful for my education, I wonder if perhaps there wasn’t another way to nourish the potential within us apart from rote learning and the encouragement into cookie cutter jobs. But what do I know, I cant even raise my tomato plants right.

I suppose even though the American movie stereotypes didn’t fit, it didn’t exactly stop us from creating our own groups and dysfunctional units. There probably were nerds, but I don’t feel like any of them were shamed for being academically inclined, in fact they were probably put on a pedestal, and walked around haloed and revered. Doing well academically was also almost always a marker for who would be head boy or head girl, the king and queen of all the prefects in the land, but sometimes even this norm was challenged and few who didn’t top the grade would be selected. Of course, there were the prefects, that subset of our group there to preserve law and order and to keep the rest of us unruly beasts in line. That I wasn’t elected a prefect crushed my vulnerable teenage spirit in a way that I can’t fully explain- my loud mouthed, bossiness made me believe I was meant for leadership (or at the very least shouting at people). So, I ditched my school tie (talk about rage against the machine) and decided on a course of action that hurt me more than it did my school. Blinded with the arrogance of youth, I didn’t understand that then. Let’s see, who else can I lump together to form a disastrously inaccurate single story? Oh, I know, there were the quiet girls. I must tell you, I so wanted into this group, but they seemed to only exist in pairs, and they were painfully shy, always hiding behind beautiful hankies and giggling to themselves at jokes I’d never know. I guess I always wanted to be a quiet girl, the girl who never made trouble, the girl who knew how to plait her hair, the girl who did the right thing. But I just couldn’t fit all of my stupid opinions into the mould, I could never be the quiet girl, not then or now.

Come to think of it, I don’t think I knew who I was in high school. I barely know who I am now, but there are parts of me that haven’t changed much from that annoying, loudmouth girl always asking questions and getting herself in trouble. I want to say that I’m a bit softer around the edges (and while that’s certainly true physically) my thoughts, beliefs and ideals have become sharper and more focused with time. In other words, I still pick fights, but just not with everyone. Funny how people go out into the world to “find” themselves, when sometimes all you need to do is to remember who you are. If I think about it, parts of me that I love were shaped during those crazy high school years, some parts I’d rather not remember but we don’t get to cherry-pick the lessons life hands us. What we do get to chose is what we do with those lessons.

For the LPGs (Lotus Park Gangsters)

Trust the LPG’s (Lotus Park Gangsters) to get upset about me excluding them from my ‘Spingo blog.  Well, I hope this makes up for it. For you, Desan, thanks for setting me straight and reminding me to write about Lotus Park as well.

When I think about Lotus Park, I immediately want to tell the story about how a dead body was found in our school’s swimming pool. There’s so many juicy bits in that one sentence alone, I’m not sure what’s more shocking – that my school had a swimming pool or that there was a dead body in it. That I can’t remember whether the story about the dead body is true or not does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm about the story either. But I guess that would be far from starting the story at the beginning, so perhaps some context would go a long way here.

While it wasn’t often that the pool contained a dead body, just the fact that my primary school, Kamalinee Primary, had a swimming pool was something to behold. For a substantial part of my primary school years, the apartheid was well and truly underway, and although me schooling in an Indian area would mean that we had access to basics like furniture and toilets, it was something else that we had both an impressive library and a swimming pool. Now a charou that can, and likes to read is not uncommon, but a charou that swims, well let’s just say that’s an exception. Sure, we’d lug a pot of breyani to the beach and walk on the sand wearing our jeans, a few daring ones might brave the shallows but by and large, swimmers we were not. Please read that last bit with an undertone of smugness, my family is a family of very proud swimmers. The idea of pool in an Indian school was both mesmerising and impossibly posh, I felt posh going to Kamalinee because of that pool alone. Of course, what wasn’t that posh was that many of the students who came to my school faced the dehumanising effects of poverty daily and as much as I loved that pool, I always thought it was a bit unnecessary in the great scheme of things. Something that the teachers organised at the school that I loved though, was a feeding scheme of sorts where potato sandwiches would be made and wrapped in paper and placed outside the library for anyone to collect so they could have something for lunch. Now, being a kid, there was nothing worse than a potato sandwich for lunch and my mother somehow thought that I had the appetite of a rugby player so my lunch pack consisted of four slices of bread, chips, a chocolate and a juice box (yes for a six year old). Needless to say there was absolutely no reason for me to take one of those wrapped potato sandwiches when they presented themselves. And of course, that’s exactly why I did. Flip, that sandwich was probably the best potato sandwich I’ve ever eaten, nothing like an illicit meal to make you appreciate the simple things in life. It probably was not worth the lashing I got from my mother afterwards and the years of guilt I’ve carried with me but, no one said I was a smart child (although it does seem apparent that I was a hungry one).

I suppose there were loads of things we weren’t good at at Kamalinee Primary, but it amused me to no end that our school did not churn out an abundance strong swimmers. Wait, scratch that, some of the “swimmers” we churned out where the kind that needed to be rescued whenever they ventured into the deep end of the pool. Our pool was only a meter deep so that meant one could easily get away with being a “swimmer” by walking through the water and throwing your arms about. You weren’t fast but you sure didn’t drown. I wonder if that’s why the pool was prime ground for the storage of a dead body. It’s quite clever really, it sort of reminds me of all the Indian aunties who never turn on their ovens, choosing instead to use it as cupboard space. I mean whoever chucked that body in the pool probably thought “this is a good use for this space” and did it to save us the embarrassment of having to be rescued during inter-school swimming galas. It is also possible that the dead body in the pool story was made up one winter when the pool turned a decidedly unappealing shade of pond scum green, and if it is, well that just goes to show that we could use a pool to spark our imaginations if not better our swimming abilities. Kudos to the Kamalinee Primary students on that one, perhaps we were better than we realised at certain things.

It’s hard for me to think of Lotus Park and not think of my school, a school that I’m convinced was one of the best in that area. I loved that school. Sure it was the place where my sister started to disown me (imagine being violently shook by the shoulders and a threatening voice saying “Don’t call me Akka”) but at least I would be able to convince my mother to buy Asterix comics for the school library, something I’m convinced is one of the biggest accomplishments in my life. I am biased to say that we had incredible teachers (my mother was one of them, and yes, I’m still working through it with my therapist) and that they always seemed to want the best for us, they pushed us, they shouted at us but most importantly, they created a foundation like no other. You’ll also understand that I say, with complete love in my heart, that I think they were a bunch of sadists. Hear me out, here. I mean I just took a look at my primary school concert pictures and remembered the sheer horror of those strangely choreographed dances, the costumes that didn’t fit the way they were supposed to, and worse still, the ones that fell apart in public. Why was it that most of our pageant/concert clothes were put together by nothing more than safety pins and hope? Remember the duck dance of ’90? Of course, we were cute in our yellow crepe paper outfits and we had a little hip shaking dance to go with it, but let’s just take a step back and examine the mechanics of the thing. Crepe paper on a good day is only slightly more substantial than a politician’s promise in election year, but couple that with a windy day, squirming children and you’ve got outfits that are able to spontaneously destruct. Thank goodness none of us had boobies then, and that that number saw the great crepe paper ban.  I honestly think that whenever there was an opportunity to dress us up oddly, the teachers would jump to it, be it at concerts, school sports or at the min debs ball. Okay, that last one was totally on my mother, apparently she thought it was in fashion to dress your kid like the bride of Frankenstein.

Dead bodies in swimming pools, stolen potato sandwiches and clothing malfunctions aside, Lotus Park is also a place that reminds me of my late uncle, Juggie. It’s where he lived the last few years of his short life and when I think that I am older now than he ever was, it’s hard not to get emotional. Both Juggie and Lotus Park were a huge part of my childhood and sometimes when I think of my uncle, I’d like to think he would have grown old in that house in Lotus Park. That house where we would run around the living room singing “Beans kota sapa dingo”, where I learnt the reason why “stinkbombs” where named as such, and where I have the dent in my right shin from. My uncle wasn’t the youngest of his siblings but his crazy personality, his enthusiasm for life and that he could always get others (read his nieces and nephews) to do his chores for him, made me feel like he was. Maybe a part of my uncle will always be in Lotus Park, maybe it’s with that small part of me that was a child there.

This is ‘Spingo, Marms

I can’t quite recall what I was saying but the person I was talking to said, “That’s because you’re a ‘Spingo stekkie,” and strangely enough, instead of me thinking he had had a stroke, hearing him say those words cemented our friendship. There’s something to be said about shared meaning, about the ease of which that is known to both parties that makes for easy dialogue and communication but, of course, I can’t start a blog about ’Spingo and ramble on to deeper things and musings about how shared meaning comes about. No, no, I must, as with all stories, start at the beginning.

That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo

First some clarification for the uneducated reader. ‘Spingo is actually a town called Isipingo found in Kwa-Zulu Natal, but the only time you’d refer to it as such is if you were taking to a white person, or if you grew up somewhere fancier and were trying to act like a white person (and no, growing up in Umhlatuzana does not make you fancy). I’m pretty sure I’m making it too fancy by my reckless apostrophe before the “s” and that I’m going to lose street cred by constantly referring to it as Isipingo, but you’ll forgive me.  Right, where was I? Yes, the great town of Isipingo.  That the Durban International Airport was housed in Isipingo sort of made me feel like all roads lead to Isipingo, you could always find a road sign pointing you home. Man, were we proud of our proximity to the airport. Not only could anyone coming to Isipingo easily find us (all roads lead to ‘spingo remember?), but we also had a restaurant in the airport. Yes, one entire restaurant. Hey, don’t judge, we only went to that airport restaurant for the non-important occasions, for birthdays and dates we’d usually brave the drive to Toti to marvel at the white people. It was only testament to our wiliness and ingenuity that we used the airport not only as a means of travel, but also as a way to give direction, provide entertainment and sustenance.

According to me, there were three parts to Isipingo- they were easy to identify because they started with the word “Isipingo”- Isipingo Beach, Isipingo Rail and Isipingo Hills.  Isipingo Rail was named as such because to live there meant you “lived on the wrong side of the tracks”, trust me I spent a good few years learning how to make mud cakes and ride my pink BMX there, it was rough, proper ghetto. Not only was “The Rails” a buzzing commercial hub that warranted a KFC and later a Chicken Licken, it was also home to The Isipingo Temple. I’ve seen many temples around the world, and I can say with all honesty, that none compare to the Isipingo Temple. Every year, around Easter, Hindus from all parts of Durban would make a pilgrimage to the temple. I was always a bit of strange child with an overactive imagination, and my relationship with organised religion, is and always has been, complicated. Despite that, I enjoyed my first experience at this temple. Well at least I did, at first. It was an unusual treat to walk beside my grandfather; the ground was warm beneath my bare feet and I had the special honour of carrying the camphor, which we would pause to throw into the flames as we circled the temple. The smell of camphor in my hands and the pleasure of having my grandfather all to myself seemed too good to be true. And it was, because as we completed the last circle around the temple it would seem as though we descended into the last circle of hell. I want to say that I saw a chicken flying over the temple roof in a graceful arc, but there was nothing graceful about the mad squawking and the hysteria that ensued and that’s saying nothing about how the chicken reacted. I also want to say that I was upset because this constituted violence towards animals, but in truth, I was more savage then, and I was more concerned about a wasted opportunity to eat that chicken.  I became convinced that the “Chicken Temple” was a satanic temple and that one day I too would be captured for Voodoo magic rituals (do Satanists do Voodoo rituals?). To make it worse, everyone from all over Durban came to this temple and this is how they saw the ‘Spingo members, no wonder everyone thought we were shambies.

Isipingo Beach was a place where you could lose your life, quite literally. Being an “Indian area” during the time of The Group Areas Act, the government decided that if the brown people wanted to get in the water, then we could also brave the sharks (do sharks like spicy food?). And, if the sharks didn’t get you, there was always the notorious “Beach Boys” to deal with. To be clear, I have no idea what it meant to be a “Beach Boy”, who these boys were or how the title was even bestowed upon a worthy subject, but I was told that they were fierce and fearsome. These guys were sort of like the Loch Ness of ‘Spingo for me, there would always be claims of sightings, some people would even have grainy photographic evidence, but they would always remain elusive, creatures never to be caught in broad daylight.  Isipingo Beach was also home to “Daddy’s” Supermarket and the most epic bakery next door, many a birthday would be graced by a cake from there. It was Isipingo Beach where I first ventured into the water, where I caught my first fish (a stick floating in a polystyrene cup) and where as children, the only thing wilder than our imaginations were ourselves.

Man, did I think I was fancy living in Isipingo Hills. I grew up watching Beverly Hills 90210, and even though I didn’t understand any of it- it was screened in Afrikaans and we could get the English version if we switched on the radio while turning down the volume of our TV- I knew that those rich people lived the life. I believe it was the apartheid government’s way of making us believe Afrikaans was cool, so advanced were their methods of brainwashing that I was actually surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out Kelly, Brandon and the gang were actually Americans who spoke English. I was convinced that Isipingo Hills would be similar to Beverly Hills 90210 and the fact that our telephone numbers all started with the numbers “902” added to my confidence. When we moved to “The Hills”, I imagined that our lives would be drastically different and even though high school was sort of like a soap opera, Isipingo Hills was more Little House on the Prairie than Beverly Hills 90210. Seriously, you’d easily find a herd of cattle crossing the road or a random goat meandering around. The Hills would be the place that shaped my high school years, from walking down the street to house parties, to swimming at the public pool all year long (and trying to avoid the lifeguard’s office adorned with nudie pics), to being entertained after school at Jeena’s. Jeena’s, if it still exists, should be a historical landmark. That so many high school students met there while waiting to be fetched by their parents meant that on any given day something would happen worth talking about the next day. The remark “meet you after school at Jeena’s” could be taken in one of two ways depending on the tone. If said in anger, it’s a challenge to a fight, and probably not one you can easily escape or win. Once these words are said, in that particular way, it is usually a witness or two who will turn to their friends and say in a non-threating manner, “meet you after school at Jeena’s” as an invitation to get a ringside view of the flight. I know it sounds simple enough, but I once confused the two versions and found myself slap bang in the middle of a fight, luckily, I escaped with neither a slap nor a bang, but it was a close call.

I can hardly believe that all I’ve done is scratch the surface here. Maybe there’s a great book to be written about ‘Spingo and the members, the marms, ‘Spingo Dingos but for now, this will have to do. ‘Spingo Dingo out