Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Month: July 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

The Subtle rules of Class

Class is a whole other story. Race is big, and bold and in your face, but class is subtle and hard to understand and more difficult to negotiate. I am seeing the world more intimately from this perspective since Clementine came to work for me once a week.

She and her husband are Rwandan. Her husband came here 13 years ago, and it was a political decision. He went back home to fetch a wife over two years ago and came back with Clementine. She is well educated, has had a few excellent and well paid jobs before, and was even studying IT before she followed her heart and came here. And none of it makes any sense to her at all.

Her first exposure to Cape Town and South Africa was life in an informal settlement in Capricorn. She was totally shocked and horrified. Finally they moved into a room in a shared house in Retreat. Clementine cannot believe her circumstances. The room they have for two adults and a one year old child can only accommodate a bed. There is no space around it for Moses to learn to walk. Her life is ridiculously challenging compared to the safe, middle class life she had back home. Yesterday she said with amazement, “I had my own bedroom back home. All of us did.”

What is a huge challenge for Clementine is that she does not see herself as a refugee, even though, because she is Rwandan she has a kind of refugee status. This drives her wild. And yet, she can’t get proper work, or papers, or a bank account, and her husband spent 4 days at home affairs trying to sort out his work permit.

Clementine could be considered a bit of a snob. She is horrified by how the majority of poor black people live in this city. She is uncomprehending of the level of violence (her chief pastor was shot in the hips during a shop heist) and more and more, as she opens up, she tells me of her homesickness, the cheapness of fruit and veg back home, the friendliness of the Rwandan people, and the total lack of understanding of her situation by her friends and family in Rwanda. What’s more, she also has to take the whole xenophobia thing terribly seriously. She is challenged to speak isiXhosa at the train station, and has a generalised anxiety around being foreign.

I have been trying to keep an eye out on a house or flat share for her and her tiny family in Woodstock. The usual; on Gumtree and Facebook and things. And therein lies a very particular tale. Even though there are places they could (just barely) afford, they are aimed at a different sort of person. A perceived different class of people. Let me explain what I mean. There is cheap student accommodation next door to me. It is multi-racial, and some of the students are foreign. But Clementine and her husband (who has a good, secure, if not well paid, permanent job) are not the right class for this type of accommodation. None of the house to share accommodation is aimed at them. Even though, back home in Rwanda they would be perfectly middle class. Here they are poor Rwandan refugees, who must settle for the worst, and pay the most.

I don’t get it. At all. If any of you have suggestions, or can explain that I am looking at this wrong, I would love so much to hear from you. Maybe I am just barking up my own, wrong, class tree.

 

Dani And The Lion – why I breathe

11015775_10155874538220525_4684693933954421769_nSometimes a show comes along that makes me feel everything. Sometimes a show comes along that I see more than once and want to see again. This time it is Dani And the Lion, on at The Alexander Bar until the end of the week.

I don’t know why this is the show that touches me in all the right places, the laughing place and crying place and sharing place and amazement place. Maybe because it is so deeply original. Maybe because it is silly and painful and hilarious and quirky. Maybe it is because Daneel van der Walt (and Roelof Coelyn also) is one of my favourite performers ever.

Daneel’s original songs are so beautiful and strange. A bit like Tom Waits lyrics crossed with Joe Jackson melodies and Eartha Kitt vocals. Not like that, but reminding me of that. Daneel’s stories would be heartbreaking if they weren’t so touchingly funny. She makes me love her and want to be her, and she inspires me, and I want to see this show again and again. You should see it. You have 4 more chances. Go tomorrow.

PS. I don’t ‘review’ shows anymore, but this is an exceptional exception.

37 Million Light Years

imagesThe distance between desire and swallow

The space between frightened heartbeats

The wait for the unwanted answer

The way to describe an inconceivable

I sat on the plane, waiting for the usual ritual of things before we would take off and head home. The flight had been delayed, so the whole trip would happen in darkness. The air hostess went through the emergency exit rules with us in her sing song, ‘this will never happen in 37 million light years’ voice. I imagined the feeling of the red rubber handle, and how heavy 20 kilos would be as I pulled the door out and turned it on its side. I also thought how glad I was that people with compulsions don’t sit in the exit rows.

The air outside, through the double plastic windows, was frosty, and so crystal clear that the lights on the runway were bold and had no halos. The engines started up and the plane crawled to the runway. The notion of flight for this giant metal tube with wings, and all the passengers, with their bags and suitcases, and telephones and laptops, and 300 jackets, and toiletry bags filled with more stuff, seemed as unlikely as another earth 37 million light years away. I knew that this was nothing short of a science miracle, and yet, I was irritated that we would be 45 minutes later than expected; our dogs were waiting. People are funny and strange. We had stood in the boarding queue and tapped our heels and checked our phones and glared at the people in their winter airport coats behind their little ticket desks, urging them to hurry it all up. Like hurrying up a cake that is baking. Nobody says, “We are going to be flying in the air. Let’s make sure this is all safe, and can happen.”

The lights dimmed in the cabin, for take-off. It was magical and beautiful and very sad. We had gone up country to say final goodbyes to one family member and to spend time with others, especially our freshly growing little niece. Now we were going in the opposite direction. I know Cape Town is only 1 264km away from Johannesburg, but when there is a niece that distance away it feels like 37 million light years.

The giant bird tilted in the low sky and started to climb. The lights. 37 million light years of lights below us, like a mirror to the unseen sky above. The two hour stretch of time pulled out in front of us; a rubbery string of endlessness made worse by cramped seats and totally taken for granted expectation. The pilot announced that he would take short cuts, and get us there 20 minutes early, only a half an hour later than scheduled. The distance between irritation and relief. I imagined a mouth, just a mouth on its own, chewing patiently at the rubber string, bite by bite, bringing us home.

Then, like a quantum leap, black hole warp drive, an eternity was suddenly reduced and the plane was readying for descent. Tray tables were put away and the last few bits were thrown into the moving trash bin. Humans are experts at creating waste. Physical, emotional, spiritual. Then, 10 minutes to landing. Then landing.

My heart was split into 37 million light years of pieces. A joyous reunion with home – 10 million. A pulsing longing for what we had left – 10 million, a what if 7 million, and another lost 10 million, lost to how easily we take things for granted.

We’re doing this post as part of a weekly tandem blog post. There are three of us this time, writing on the same topic, 37 Million Light Years. Please check out Dave and Brett’s take by following their links.

 

 

That Nagging Feeling…

I hang up. “What? What has she done now?” I have been talking to my sister, and Charlie, my husband, recognises the sister tone in my voice. We are walking the dogs in the park when she calls. “Oh the usual. She needs me to just, blah, blah, blah…” I trail off and watch Herman stand under a tree in the hope that a squirrel will fall out of it. “Why do you let her have that kind of control over you? I don’t understand why you don’t just tell her to take a hike.”

How do I explain? It’s always been that way with the two of us. Even though I am older she always tells me what to do, and makes her requests for help sound like she is doing me a favour and teaching me a lesson. We tramp on in silence; the post rain wetness seeping into the cracks of my shoes and through my socks. Charlie is a few steps ahead of me, as usual, so I can’t see his default to determination face. Herman sees us moving away from him up the path and begins his solemn one noted bark. First he barks up the tree, then turns his head to us and barks, then back up the tree.

This time my sister needs me to fetch our mother and take her for her checkup. It is the third time she has bailed on our mother and made me do it. And it really hurts, because my mother adores her and always compares us, and I always come off second best. Story of my life. According to my mother, Dana is beautiful and intelligent, and I should make more of an effort to be like her. According to my mother Dana is successful and brilliant and sorted out and she lives in the right suburb. I, on the other hand, have made choices that have disappointed her. She hates my clothes, my house, my career that focusses on people and not money, my husband, my childlessness, my animals. Dana has a child, a divorce and a social life that I should aspire to.

At least Charlie is my defender, my go to guy, when the female triangle of sister, mother, sister gets too complicated. “Oh Charlie,” I say to the back of his raincoat, “Don’t hate her.”

Herman bounds towards us with a stolen ball in his mouth. It’s one of those red rubber balls with teeth painted on it. He looks like a crazed cartoon drawing of a dog. He has pine needles in his fur. He looks demented. Charlie bends to wrestle the ball from him and his phone falls from his jacket pocket. It bangs hard on the ground and Whatsapp opens up. And, for a moment, literally a split second, I think I see a picture of my sister on his phone. Does he blush slightly before reaching too quickly to retrieve it?

A cute and puffing red faced man comes our way, to fetch the ball and scold Herman. He asks if I have a spare plastic bag for him; his dog surprised him by doing an extra poo. We laugh and share dog poo stories and he leaves.

Eventually I look at Charlie. He holds my gaze and then he can’t anymore. “Herman, let’s go boy,” he says. We walk on but my world has tilted on its axis. I am falling off the planet. I have that nagging feeling…

We’re doing this post (and hopefully more of them) as part of a weekly tandem blog post. There are three of us this time, writing on the same topic, That Nagging Feeling. Please check out Dave and Brett’s take by following their links.

Harper Lee and the modern world

to-kill-a-mockingbirdIt is a strange and nasty world we live in. There has been world wide hysteria and anticipation for the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, hailed, for some (including me) as one of the greatest books ever written. I read it pretty much once a year. I think I have read it at least 20 times.

There has always been the Harper Lee mythology. She is a hermit. She felt she had said everything she wanted to say in TKAM. She was disillusioned with the way the world turned out. She did not do interviews. She is not a public figure.

Then there was the total excitement of hearing about Go Set A Watchman. The sequel. People have been pre-ordering it online for months now. There has been total hype and frenzy. And nobody listened to the rumbles. The little stories.

It has been reported that Harper Lee never ever wanted Go Set A Watchman published. It has been said that she was never, ever happy with it. It has been rumoured that she is going senile and her sister wanted the money and released the book. (I have no idea about the truth of any of these, but it is possible there is a shred of truth in them.) What is true is that she wrote Go Set A Watchman first, and then wrote its characters into a previous time. To Kill a Mockingbird was published first but written later. It was the one she wanted to publish.

I was curious, hopeful and a little bit afraid to read Go Set a Watchman. I read the first chapter, published by The Guardian as a teaser (with awful and distracting moving graphic images of cartoon trains) and I was heartbroken. It was horrible, and I am clear that I won’t read the rest.

In the meantime, the scandal has started. Atticus Finch is now a racist. Atticus Finch, who burst out of his character on the page (and on screen) and became a real human hero for many of us, has now grown up, and into a racist who believes in segregation. Why couldn’t we listen to Harper Lee, and believe her when she said she didn’t want to publish this book? Why did our curiosity win? Why is she going to be punished for something she didn’t want to happen in the first place? Why, like Boo Radley, is she going to be forced into the light, but with no Atticus left to defend and protect her?

This makes me so, so sad. And I can’t help feeling that in this time and place the world wanted her to fail.

Workshopping

I haven’t workshopped a piece of theatre in a few years. It’s not my default when it comes to making theatre; I think it’s because I am strong and loud and opinionated. I like to do the talking, writing, directing; basically, I am very good at telling everyone  what to do. But there is a group of us (4) who are getting together to make a new work, and we are talking and telling stories and finding out who we are and what we think about things. We are talking about race, and language, and politics, and culture, and sex, and power. We are talking about age, and generational differences, and urban myths, and childhood fantasies. We are talking and sharing some things that go beyond what we know and assume about each other.

I have no idea how this is going to become something, or even what it is going to become, but I am so excited to be at that moment of trust and terror; the desire to be heard, and the fear that what I am is close to what I am most afraid of being.

Also, I am thinking again about what theatre is. I don’t have clear answers, but I am getting ideas, feelings and images. All these, I know, will turn into something else when they are made.

I will keep you posted.

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