Reflecting and deflecting

8 May

After a brief retreat to Terrigal we have returned to the grind of everyday life.

As an aside let me say; what a place. Why the Yidden in Australia chose to set up camp elsewhere is beyond me. It is serene and beautiful and reasonably priced with everything you could want from a coastal town. Absolutely spectacular. You could pick up a beachfront home for reasonably less than what a teeny apartment would cost you here. But alas. The need for kehillah means we stick together (whether in Glenhazel or St Ives you pay a premium to live in the hood).

But time away gave me time to think and thinking is not always good for me. (As a chronic over thinker it is really just best for all involved when I tune out and watch TV)

I can’t help hoisting up my pantihose with a new level of self respect. I survived the first term in a new school in a new country on another continent. With no family around and zippidy do dah domestic help, I have managed to achieve some unimaginable things.

1. It is an anomaly (and an absurd joke of the universe and perhaps the school) that I spent 10 consecutive Friday mornings refereeing a game I know absolutely nothing about. Yes. That’s right. I, the sportiest girl on the planet, was sent to not just watch, but referee “touch footie”. For those of you who don’t know (cos I sure as hell don’t) this is a totally uniquely Australian game. So of course the new immigrant is the ideal candidate to ref. So there I stood. In the shmoiling sun. Long black skirt. Shwitz oozing. Sheitel shining. Blowing a filthy whistle and chasing a bunch of 10 year old boys while they touched each other. ‘Struse bob. You can’t make this stuff up. I was given a YouTube video to initiate me into the intricacies of the game. I watched it twice. I will never regain that hour of my life and nor will I ever understand what shepherding is.

So there is that.

2. I also managed to keep two children alive and fed over the last few weeks. Admittedly the definition of “nutrition” has been a bit loose, but no one went (too) hungry. And through several dinners of pasta and sauce / toasted sarmies we somehow made it to the holidays.

3. I unpacked almost every single box and even went as far as putting pictures up. This is simultaneously impressive and depressing. In this regard, I have also been forced to acknowledge that I am a shocking immigrator and it is probably best for anyone looking to move to ask someone else for advice. I clearly do even worse packing for cross continental moves than I do for holidays and suffice to say that I once spent an entire holiday in two T-shirts but with more than 9 pairs of shoes.

4. We have a pet. He is also alive and fed. And, unusually for Australia, tick free (it’s a hideous local thing one of the less advertised sales pitches of the place). Even though he is a bit deranged he is very sweet and somehow having him around to rub his bum in my face makes it feel a bit more homey.

5. I have some friends. For those who have ever immigrated will know; the struggle is real. No need to say more because let’s be honest, girl friendships have been tricky to navigate since age 2 . So having some chums around is nothing short of miraculous.

There are surely going to be plenty more bumps in the road. This last week was indeed rough. Not being with my family for my beloved gran’s unveiling had me absolutely broken. The loss is excruciating and the inability to be with them broke my already fragile state. Both because I needed them and because I wanted to comfort them. It’s selfish neediness I suppose but it’s also laced with guilt and anguish. This coming week should be a superb one too. It remains the challenge to try to stay stable and grateful; to focus on what I do have, rather than what I’ve lost. And maybe everyone faces that challenge at some point or other, maybe not. Some do seem to have it easier than others, and when I get to olam habah, you can be sure I’ll be asking the Great Master of our universe about that inequity. But for now I don’t know. None of us does.

So with equal doses of gin and tonic, tears, tea bags and carbohydrates I find myself quite shocked that the time has actually moved. And here we are in May approaching Shavuos with both delight (cheesecake ahem) and dread (effing Yizkor).

PS. I have finally discovered why so many ex pats are so aggressively anti South African. It’s because they have to convince themselves that they don’t miss home by only exposing themselves to horror stories and politics. It’s much easier to adopt that approach for them, than to see the trillion shades of grey that South Africa is. It’s hard to be painfully aware of what you’re missing. So it’s easier to shut it down. So now you know.

It’s been a while…

16 Apr

So in my eagerness to settle and exorcise all my demons I was blogging maniacally: the need for communication and catharsis pervading my daily life.

And then. I had a realization. In order to actually begin to settle here I needed to stop being reflective. I need to stop being introspective. And I definitely needed to stop thinking. Just for a while. Tune out and run with it. (Totally against my anxiety ridden nature). And so I have.

I can’t say it feels like home. Home is still South Africa for me. I can’t even say I’m settled. But I can say this: I am able to see the positive. A month ago I would’ve boarded the first flight back to Jozi and refused to return. I could see no real good valid reason for being here other than that of “experimenting with a new place.” I mean, yes I could see the value of freedom, but the price is so steep.

Fast forward a few weeks and I find myself enjoying things here. Of course it helps that I have made some real connections with people. (A good laugh with genuine people eases pain so very well) And it helps that I’ve gotten into the pace of things. (That of a speeding Bogan on a dirt track) What helps the most is that the Little People are so unbelievably happy. They’re thriving. (Fake accents and all) The hubs thinks he has landed in gan eyden.

I drove through the city last week and was mesmerized by how absolutely first world it is – structurally, socially and in every other way. It’s a place that movies could be set in. It’s a place where you could get lost and be totally anonymous. Or you could find your spot and your people and feel totally secure.

The universities are pristine and motley crowds of all sorts wander the surrounding areas with fresh fruit and kale smoothies, hipster tweed coats, beach wear and books. It’s what the university experience should be – diverse, mind altering, refreshing and completely immersive.

Sydney is a fascinating place in many ways: I can’t help finding it wonderful how little stores survive in nooks and crannies – second hand book stores-cum-coffee-shops, privately owned chemists, tobacconists and hardware stores. Hordes of second hand goods. A few good chain stores thrown in between. Every wall and window has a little business attached to it. Go get petrol? Get your shirts ironed too. Need groceries? There’s an alteration spot in store. It’s eclectic and I like that.

The libraries are just, well, libraries. With books. In good condition. Published after the world wars. There are also DVDs, CDs and audiobooks you can take out and renewing can be done online. Fancy that!

I’ve noticed that we seem to argue a lot less here – maybe because we were so highly strung at home – always in panic. Always in fight or flight mode. It could be. It could also be, simply that there really isn’t time to bicker here – the minutes you get together are few and far between and there are toilets to be cleaned and dishes to be done and 4 hands are better than 2.

So perhaps there is no magic trick to finding the light. Maybe it’s just keep strong, face forward and plonk one leg in front of another until you can’t go anymore. And then somewhere far in the distance there is a speck. A little glimmer of hope that forces you to sigh. To say “I am here now.”

Call me old fashioned

12 Mar

Why, oh why, are old people in Australia so bleeding miserable?

Perhaps it’s just the fact of having survived into old age that makes South African geriatrics relatively merry and pleasant. (I never really noticed when I lived there, but by contrast to here I can see the magnitudes of joy in the over 75 crowd in good ole Jozi). The local golden oldies are a downright morbid lot. I’m not sure why? You would think living in one of the most beautiful cities, with lovely attractions, great retirement homes, excess public transport and lots of fascinating things to do, one could only be delighted with the approach of the sexy 70’s. But alas. I have yet to see a smiling face. (Apparently a cute baby does engender a slight nod at least) Nope. The elders I’ve encountered have faces like the cat’s bum. Every. Single. One. And they’re desperate for an issue – anything will do. Turn down a one way in the car park by mistake? May the force be with you. Park your trolley to peruse the pasta shelf? Damn biyatch you better move it. Okes are gunning for a go and you don’t have to even make eye contact to find one.

It is this that leads me to believe (as I always have) that South Africa is a unique place. I’ve never come into contact with this sort of gnarly behaviour before. Certainly not in older people. Maybe it’s the survival instinct that gives Saffers a joie de vivre. Maybe it’s just my experiences and in actually fact it’s just perception. (I do know you better not take Maureen’s babka erev shabbos at Checkers sea point if you want to see shacharit in one piece). But on the whole, there is a significant difference between what I’ve seen in Jozi and what I see in Sydney.

And this filters right on through. The whistle blowers and the snot throwers are a dime a dozen – everyone is looking to police everyone else. And the best part is this is chalked up to being a Good Samaritan. It’s an odd sense of collective responsibility which borders on neuroses. (Hence the riots about trolley locations as per previous blog).

I shudder to think that I may become of this sort – so busy worrying about what everyone else is doing that I fail to notice the good and the beautiful around me. Certainly my mother would have detested that. Her notorious gap arein attitude is the antithesis of this. Every moment is glorious. Every opportunity valuable. Life is for living. That’s what my momma told me.

So perhaps I won’t be well liked in this place. Popularity in latter years would require that I join in the masses of smugness. Indeed many expats do. They claim they’d never return or that South Africa is a war zone – this partly is a defense mechanism justifying their losses, and partly is the adopted stance of sanctimonious self satisfaction. I’m not cut of this cloth. I am proud of my heritage.

Either way I can’t and I won’t. Life is so hard. Here. At home. Everywhere. It is full of loss. Agonizing loss. And pain. And enormous and unthinkable suffering. And there are many, many days where I wish I didn’t have to wake up- that I could live in the ethereal and sublime world of my dreamscape. But wake up I do. And I think of my mom. And how she would’ve given anything for more time. More time in this harrowing and hard life. And I try to find it in myself to have gratitude for that which I do have. And for the things I cannot buy not replace. The love of family. The good counsel of real friends. The partnership of a man who is one in a zillion. Two children who think I am quite alright. It’s a lot. And I am thankful.

So take that you fat old cows and shove that in your pipe and smoke it.

The space between

5 Mar

The intensity of every day is that uncomfortable dichotomy between wanting desperately to go home and, simultaneously, passionately focusing on making life happy and successful here.

It’s a hard thing to live in this space between. It’s damaging to the self, to the psyche and most definitely to the heart.

You see Australia is good to us. The kids are thriving (to be fair they thrive in Jhb too) but it’s more than that. In every bit of logic I know that they will have opportunities here they couldn’t dream of in South Africa. So then why does my inside turn wobbly when I hear their accents start to take on the subtle twang of the ex pat community?

Perhaps the difficulty is that while I know that Oz offers us incredible security, beautiful scenery, an extraordinary community and a fully functional first world existence with all the bells and whistles; I also see what it lacks.

The warmth of home is undeniable. Not just because it’s home; but because the world over people will tell you that South Africans are friendly, open minded and good natured. Add to that the allure of familiarity and a strong amount of romanticizing the imperfect life we had there and you get a bit of a mess.

SA is a country of only shades of grey – there is no black and white on any level whatsoever – this isn’t a political witty pun: it’s truth. The lines in our home are blurred and crisscrossing – right and wrong, good and bad, poor and rich, helper and helped. It’s no good trying to exclusively define anyone or anything – the same cop that tried to get a bribe out of you has also treated rape victims with care that morning, the very person who cold calls you for insurance may be the same one to help you pay for parking when you run out of change.

The distinctions are so much more evident in a country so highly regulated. There is a sense of truth with a capital T. And it isn’t always appealing.

Fortunately, I’ve had the visit of my bigger baby brother to settle my unease. He is notoriously capable of seeing the wood for the trees and his insight has placed me into a space of relative content over it all.

You see I have to try to take things one day at a time and Heaven knows this is not my nature. And perhaps that’s why Hashem has sent me into such a space. To test me. To force me to grow. Because I am a planner, a doer, and a very big worrier. Anxiety grips me in its icy arms more often than not and a need to organize and plan soothes the fear. Perhaps this is my training to become a warrior instead. A fighter for a life that is good and fulfilling and still meaningful and enjoyable.

Or maybe it’s just gonna be as hard as they all said it would be.

Saying goodbye to the brother was a disgraceful display of classic snot en trane. Arriving at Shul thereafter was humbling indeed when I crumbled on the bench in a flood of tears. But here’s the thing; everyone got it. They knew. They understand. They had been there (perhaps not so publicly as I was but still). The outpouring of nodding heads and tacit agreement to the pain of bidding loved ones farewell is still relevant to those who have done it – even if for he zillionth time. Which gives me a sense of hope that while it won’t get easier I may just learn to survive the wholes between visits and those huge stretches of time may feel slightly more malleable with practice.

Although a bit belated I wish you a chag Purim sameach (really it is one of the truly fun chagim – even if loads of people died in the story and so on). As we prepare the high speed race to Pesach I always think it’s so difficult to try to carry, what is an easily achieved notion of ivdu es hashem b’simcha, through to Pesach. So that’s what I want to try do. Fulfill the missions and trials of Pesach with happiness in my heart. Or, if not, then at least wine in my bloodstream ‘cos let’s face it – who wants to clean the house again???

Sunday night rhythm and blues

19 Feb

Lazy days don’t exist in Sydney. Although the rat race in Joburg is far worse and life here has a somewhat relaxed pace to it, there is always always something to be done.

Yesterday we had a rather fabulous day. We had a kiddie party and then set off for the East. We spent lunch with my family and the minis were sooooooo happy. That void of family is not ever going to be fillable, but just discovering they had some connection here made them feel secure. Then we set off for an arvi at the beach. We were promised a “secret” beach where we’d know no one. We were beyond thrilled at this thought. We found parking (a miracle in modern day Vaucluse) and unpacked a picnic blanket and some towels. It’s a steep but short staircase that reaches down into a privateish area of beach. It’s only access points are the houses surrounding it and this rickety old staircase. Within 2.5 seconds of plopping down I recognized not just someone I know, but someone I’d taught. Life is so odd. The world is so small.

We chatted a bit and I discovered he’s moved here and is even fresher off the boat than we are. (When you’re an immigrant you get to claim massive superiority when you’re here a few weeks/days/months ahead of someone else – it’s quite inspiring).

We headed back to family for a pizza take-out early dinner and upon returning to the North, I speedily sprayed my pits and departed for a night of drinks with a girlfriend.

I paid more for a bleeding G&T than I’ve paid for indulgent four course meals in Joburg – but the delight of being out without the kids outweighed the financial implications and I had a glorious time there until our designated driver collected our inebriated persons and returned us to our homes.

Sounds like a busy day for a Sunday?

Now factor in that in between all this we did two loads of washing (washed, hung, folded and dried), cooked two chickens and four portions of bolognaise, prepped lunches for three days of school, made the beds, cleared the house up, washed up, and unpacked four large boxes.

And this is why I say this is not a lazy lifestyle. It’s busy and bustling and manic and mad and hectic and challenging. But it’s also rewarding and fun, engaging and delicious and the intensity applies in both directions. As I’ve said before – up is very much uppy but down is oh-so-downsy.

Sunday night, even without Derek Watts’s smug mug, is morbid. Monday signals the onset of another frantic week – the days between Monday and Friday are just manky – but then you finish reffing a game you know nothing about, arrive back at class and realize that it’s nearly the weekend again baby!

PS: for those that have asked; the big ants do bite. Hard.

Footnote: the Magpies are scarier than the spiders. By far.

Culture vulture

13 Feb

I think that Hashem heard my pleas of homesickness and answered me: on Sunday the power went out in St Ives. A monumental event I’m told. Unusual and rare. Felt just like home to me. I still thought to myself “see I knew I should’ve bought that torch at Bunnings!” (Bunnings is an entire blog on its own FYI it’s CTM and Builders Warehouse and more combined!).

To put you in the loop of what “news” here is like, we received the local news magazine. It must be a pleasure to work for such an innocuous publication. They have had a “serious” investigation into the trolleys being left outside of woolworths. This has, in fact, sparked such public outcry that according to the Facebook posts, a protest is to be held in regards to the unsightly trolleys and their emergence in and around the parking lots. If you ask me, the real problem here is that all of the bleeding trolleys are wonky AF and need a good working over with a screw driver (or alternatively a sledgehammer).

Speaking of shopping, I had a most unfortunate incident this week. I went to get my groceries (no joking matter with two kids on hand – this is a real thing to miss about South Africa – A) I could to almost everything online and B) I didn’t have to as my kids had someone to care for them if I needed to go to the shops). I was exhausted and glowing with the glitter only 66% humidity can create. I walked up to the till and proceeded to unload a few items. The cashier stared at me. Stared. Hard. Did not say a word. Just reached down and pulled something out and slammed it on the conveyor belt. It was one of those gorgeous “this till is closed” signs. I was so shocked I was silent. She continued to stare. I started to reverse. She stared more. I went to another till. Now I was fuming and ashamed. (No idea why? I did nothing wrong). She was still staring. So I casually muttered to myself “you could’ve just told me you were closing”. She watched me mumbling with a look of smug delight on her face. This is something I will never get used to. It is truly not an attitude I’ve ever seen before in my life and sadly it isn’t the first time I’m seeing it here. There seems to be an utter gloating delight in this sort of banal inconveniencing of people. It’s as though the limited authority offered to some people encourages them to go full throttle at imposing themselves at any and every opportunity. Because the line is so clear between who is a chief and who isn’t, the regular Bruce likes to show you who is boss at any given chance he has. Because even if he isn’t a chief, at that moment, in that till queue, he is boss and he will make sure you know it.

I know people claim the culture is so similar here to South Africa but I don’t see it much. Yes there’s a passionate love for vleis and beer. Sure we both do cricket, beaches, sunny climates and braais (here known as barbecues). Okay, both nations are predominantly English speaking and post colonial in the commonwealth sense. But that’s about it. The Ozzie culture which I’ve been exposed to is admittedly a limited view, and in a very expat South African context. But what I see is people who respect the law. Who loves rules. Because rules work and the law serves them. And this is refreshing indeed. But it is also unfamiliar and somewhat limiting; the rigidity of the lines is clear and there are simply no shades of grey. I come from a world where black and white are swear words and we strive to live in only the grey. South Africa is creative and diverse and changing and these things are unstable and chaotic but they’re also exciting and open. What I’ve seen of Australia is that is works, everything flows and goes, people obey the letter of the law and this means a really blatant sense of justice and a total respect for authority. It’s amazing. But it’s vastly different and I am struggling to allow myself to be “nannied”, even if it is for my own benefit. (Which it inevitably is).

In other updates we got a little feline. His name is Olly and he isn’t great on personal space. People have been telling me in insane (yes, this I know already) but he is a little rescue bundle of grey fur and we needed a bit of “homeliness” in this house. He has a taste for soft drinks and spends a large amount of his day staring out the screen door at the magpies longingly. Whether he longs for their freedom, or for their feathers, I am yet to know.

Mini people are mad about him and in fact spend a lot of time doing unrecommended things like rubbing their faces in his fur, pushing him in a stroller and generally harassing him Almira style.

And so continues another week in the land of yellow brick roads and smelly green swimming pools. Oh whoops. That’s only our house 🙄.

The learning curve

6 Feb

Last week was absolutely mentally, physically and emotionally exhaustipating. Thus the delay in reporting on it.

School began for my little year 1 who merrily trotted off to class with nothing but a hug and a gentle coaxing.

School became full on for mini man who just smiles as he hops in there and yawns as he leaves. (The change from a 3/4 hour school day to a 8/9 hour is no small matter)

I began my new job at a new school in a new city and a new country. And, stupidly, didn’t anticipate this would be confusing, challenging and overwhelming all in one breath.

So I cried. A lot. And then I pulled it together. And put on my big girl panties. And then I cried some more. Because you can still cry in big girl panties. And homesick is a real emotion. It’s raw and uncomfortable and nudges you into moments of uncertainty at every turn. Have I don’t the right thing? Why did I leave a place of comfort and (emotional if not physical) security? Why am I voluntarily pulling myself away from my entire support system? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But after many hours of prolific and ugly crying I realized a very important factor in this equation that I had overlooked a teeny bit before the epiphany hit. I was also crying from sheer and utter exhaustion.

Our shipping container arrived last week and I manhandled boxes with a blade until my hands were raw. I unpacked my kitchen (milk, meat and parev) in two hours. My garden looked like (and still does look like to be honest) a dumping site. Somehow changing the plug points on my urn made reality slap me hard in the face. This isn’t holidays anymore. This is real life.

Add that to the first few weeks of school and well, its a recipe for tears.

Perhaps you don’t already know, so let me share with you a universal fact that is truly very well hidden: there is no tired like teacher tired. You can refute it all you like and I’ve heard every crumby comment in the book, but unless you yourself are a teacher, you may never understand the depletion of being back-to-school-teacher-tired.

Actually, I think there’s a lot people don’t know about teaching as a profession. So I’ve decided to rebut some of the ingenious comments I myself have tolerated over the years.

  1. “Agh you are so lucky to work a half day job”. This one is a fairly common pearl of wisdom. But come people, do the math. You work a 9-5? Maybe if you’re job is really brown 9-6? Teachers start school at 7:30 and end at 3:30. That is just contact time. That doesn’t include marking, planning, preparing and worrying. No; those are all just bonus.
  2. “Ya but teachers get amazing holidays! I wish I had so much leave in a year”. Another pearler this one is. Do you know why teacher’s get lots of leave? Because we would die. Simple as that. By the end of term most teachers are so burnt out that they would absolutely and certainly collapse with even two more school days.
  3. “At least your work is rewarding”. This is, at least, true. Working with and engaging the mind of a changing and unique human being is an opportunity that I accept with great humility. I am honored that I am trusted with such a task. And I take is seriously and to heart. Which leads me to the next one:
  4. “When you leave work you don’t have to worry if the business is closing or about paying salaries – working with kids is so much easier”. Yes you’re spot on darling with those wise words. I trot home after school footloose and fancy-free. (Said no teacher ever!) I go home and worry about every single child in my classroom. In fact, every single child I encounter. I cross question myself. Should I have encouraged him more? Do I need to push her harder? Maybe he needs a bit of extra time? Maybe she needs extension? Perhaps somethings going on at home? With Friends? At break? Every single kid in my care – aged 5 or 18 – is my kid. You will see me refer to them as such well into their adult lives. I consider myself to be influential in their worlds as someone they see more intensely and more consistently than any other adult in their lives. It’s not a “worry” at all. It’s an all consuming care for a human life. But, let me state, for the record, that working with kids is easier indeed. But that is because, for the most part, adults are super kak.
  5. “It’s stimulating, not like having all my paper work and boring filing to do”. It is stimulating. Very much so. But no paper work? 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

So yes. I think it’s fairly understandable that by Friday I was a hot mess. TG for shabbos. TG for friends. TG for family time and FaceTime and WhatsApp calls and beautiful books and endless cups of tea. Because this week I’m feeling a lot more like me.