Category Archives: Blog EN

Listen carefully

Son B. (6) plays a sailor in “The Little Mermaid” at school and tonight is the first of four performances. We have a ticket, know his song and dance by heart, We are sitting at a table in a dreamy under- the sea setting and we listen to the introductory talk by the Head of the school.
The introduction is interrupted by annoying noises coming from somewhere behind me.

The thing is that I have extremely good hearing. So good in fact that if you were my neighbor and wearing slippers, to me, they would sound much noisier than you can imagine. Put me on a bed with layer upon layer of mattresses and I could hear the proverbial pea moving beneath them. I easily hear a sound no matter how faint.This ability is not a blessing but a burden. Let’s just say that I am the extreme opposite of deaf. I have yet to come across a situation where this auditory talent is essential.

Back to the nautical introduction. The irritating sound continues and I look back, annoyed. Who, oh who in his or her right mind makes all this noise while we are waiting for our children to perform. I seek out the culprit with the “death by glaring” look.

Falling under my scrutiny is a man with a moustache, wearing glasses and a khaki outfit. He looks at me, the corners of his mouth turned downward, the moustache consequently joins the corners and obediently turn downward as well. His khaki clad shoulders however move upward in a shrug as if to say, ‘I have no idea where the noise is coming from either, so sorry.”

This mute excuse does not appear to be totally sincere. He is probably the type of man who professes not to know how to activate a ringtone on his mobile and the next thing you know his phone rings, playing something trendy by Shakira or Madonna.

Then I overhear, not loudly but clearly however: “Smack My Bitch Up.” I have never heard it played so softly. It dawns on me that this little disturbance has more to do with me than I initially thought. How is it that this song (which, by the way, I had on my playlist as the ‘second best category’ as a distraction during my recent marathon) suddenly, as if it has a mind of its own, blares from MY phone?

The ringtone gradually gets louder and I hold my bag to my ear to ensure it is in fact my phone that is causing the commotion. Eventually I open my bag, the sound is now so loud that no-one at our table can hear the Head of the school anymore. In a total panic, I don’t switch the cursed thing off but merely close my bag again which is a futile exercise, everyone within earshot can still hear the words to my (apparently) favorite music. This is hardly the right time to begin explaining that I usually listen to completely different music, how that song came to be my ringtone and so on. I cast furtive glances about me and say, ‘Switch off you fucking stupid phone!” This is however a lost cause because my phone isn’t responsive to voice commands.

Before a repeat performance of ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ at an even greater volume and before the line “All the nice girls love a sailor” is repeated out of the mouths of innocent six year olds, I jump to my feet ducking and bending at the waist whispering the occasional “So sorry” as I try to reach the exit with the least disruption.

To my horror I find myself face to face with twenty small sailors nervously waiting for their cue to step onto the stage. The juxtaposition between them and ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ couldn’t be more pronounced.

After sorting my little mishap out I quickly make my way back into the fantasy world where the little ones put on a spectacular performance.

This performance certainly fulfills any auditory or visual needs in me. I wonder what the superlative of pride is.

At first sight

‘How old are you?’
‘OK,’ I think to myself.

‘What a rude question,’ would be an appropriate answer. Or ‘That’s a rather impertinent question!’ Or, ‘Why don’t you guess?’ But these are not at all suitable at the moment, for the question was asked by my beautician Nox. My face is carefully wrapped in gauze and covered in a very cold cream. I suspect that I resemble a mummified Easter egg, or Hannibal Lector. Maybe I should take a picture. But things that seem funny at first glance, are often not funny at all afterwards. Although, I read that someone in 2002 added (in French) to a handling label of an American-manufactured laptop: ‘We are sorry that our president is an idiot – we did not vote for him.’ It was funny, even after a while.

I keep quiet, because it’s not very easy to talk through gauze and also, imagine that Nox really feels an uncontrollable urge to guess my age. Simply because she’s always very good at it. At guessing I mean. She guesses that I’m five years older than I really am, and that I then have to tell her my true age. After that she might be so disappointed that I’m the one comforting her instead of vice versa. She cradles her snotty face in my lap and sobs ‘I’m always righ-hight, and now I can’t even do this any-mohore.’ And while her braided bouffant stings my nose, we also resume our previously talk. That she originates from a big city where she went to school and that she relocated to this village in the mountains close to work. No, it’s not a nice village at all, but returning to the big city probably won’t be easy. She’s afraid she will be stuck in this desolate village in the mountains forever where she will marry a villager (who wears only sandals and you will be confronted with those calloused heels to for the rest of you life). But I am making this up because that would be a nightmare for me. What she doesn’t want to do is marry this villager and quite frankly she isn’t really sold on this beauty salon idea either.

It’s all very sad and the question always is how to bring the conversation back to a normal, more relaxed level. To interrupt, in the midst of her misery and say, ‘OK, back to treating of my face,’ might be jumping the gun.

So I tell her my age as fast as time flies. Also I’m not all that good with snot when I’m not an arm’s length away from the Wet Wipes.

The dreaded response doesn’t come. Nox laughs very loudly when I tell her my age. She says it’s still very young and that the state of my face in relation to my age is not that bad and then she prescribes a litany of creams on a piece of paper. I do find this most inconsistent, but I keep quiet (again), because why would you ruin the initial message.

Living on the Edge

We went to the cinema and watched the movie ‘The Lorax’. It revolves around a young boy living in a rather grim world surrounded by a huge wall and who falls in love with a slightly older girl.
This girl longs for a real ‘Truffula tree’ in her garden that should still exist somewhere out there. And that’s how the adventure starts, the quest for a place outside of the grim city, with all its rules, to find fresh air and that one tree.

All five of the family dutifully watched the show. The two of those younger than 3½ years old, fell asleep halfway. Two of us tried desperately to fight off sleep for the duration of the movie. However the six-year old was quite entranced and re-enacted some scenes afterwards – telling us that the “best part” was the scene with those dancing zebras. It turns out that this particular scene was actually an advert for a forthcoming release.

And then we came home and found a letter wedged into our front door, which read (and here I summarize):

Your garage door should only be open when you enter or leave. Your garage door is found open too often; it is sometimes even left open at night. This is contrary to Article 17.2 of the Rules…. We have received a complaint about it and have verified this allegation to be true as from the 29th March this year. 

I thought to myself, ‘Seriously?’ Then in Dutch or something very like it I used some words that would be considered, well rude, and they probably lose a lot of their meaning in translation.

After that I looked up the rules governing the Estate.

Or well, I said, ‘Joost where are the rules?’ I need to point out that I am not the one whose job it is to administer, since I am liable to get lost in this two-holed, colored ring binder world.

Anyway, I read the rules which read blah-blah-fish paste, and it appears as if we are indeed contravening the rules of OUR beautiful Estate.
It didn’t cause a nervous breakdown. Being a nervous wreck over the rules of an Estate, where we voted with dead pan faces the evening before on whether to allow dogs larger than 20kg, is subject to inflation.

But still, were we possibly to blame after all?

I suddenly remembered the cultural orientation course that we attended when we had just moved to South Africa. I asked the trainer and myself during the course why it was so difficult to arrange play dates for son B. who was five by then.

The trainer did have a handy reply.

‘You are like the Swedes. The people probably think that you walk around at home naked.’

Then he kept silent and gave us a meaningful look.

OK, maybe it was not so much us, but me. I was after all the one who opted to have an influenza vaccination done in the pharmacy nearby administered by this muscular assistant. Instead of a white lab coat he wore a brown T-shirt with the slogan ‘The girls want me like a monkey wants a banana.’ This was hardly designed to set my mind at rest.

He administered the vaccination and when he was finished he said, ‘I’ve done this one very nicely, nothing spilled!’

I looked and said, ‘I couldn’t have done it better myself!’ I had no better retort and was actually quite happy that he didn’t accidently ink a tattoo on my arm.

Then I read the side effects one could get from the vaccine. “Patients may feel a little heavy-headed from the vaccination as well as fatigue and lethargy.”

Actually I felt all the effects immediately.

In this state of heavy headed lethargy my mind focused on our garage, packed with toys, the closed door, the open door, the fact that we were running around naked behind that revolving door at times when we have other children over for a play date, the fence surrounding the Estate, the guys that trim your hedge, the guys that clean your pool, lapdogs that are apparently appreciated on the estate and the black people that still help the white people for a pittance.

I thought, all of this must be caused by the side effects of the vaccine, because isn’t it fantastic.

The Glass Slipper

‘Um…yes, it just slipped out of its case,’ Joost says.
I stare at him. It’s not as though I hadn’t yet noticed that my phone had just made a free fall from a meter before it eventually crashed to the ground.

I look down and see that my phone is lying in the road, right next to the verge. I snatched at the phone. At first glance, the front glass seems perfectly intact.

Now is the time that someone should take action. Just as presents need to be carefully unpacked (even though I am hoping that he hasn’t bought me ‘something funny’, but a present that I asked for or really need) and I now realize that phones need to be picked up.

It’s my phone, so I do it. I bend down, pick it up with two fingers, count to two and turn it over.

And that’s how I discovered that the iPhone I have been battling to get working for four months has a body made out of glass. Broken glass and in such a way, that I certainly hope to be blessed with lifelong fortune.
‘Maybe your case is too big?’ suggested Joost.

Oh yes of course, he’s still there as well. I take a deep breath and give him my – maybe precisely now is not the right time to discuss the size of of the cover of my phone – look.

So, lifting the phone gingerly, I jog home and consult Google and look under ‘iPhone, back panel crushed.’

What kind of an idiot makes a phone out of glass?

My grandfather has a collection of crystal figurines hidden in a closet which are actually for decoration. Protecting these from inquisitive children is very tricky. The kids always want to play with the chicken, the owl and the rest of the ornamental animals.

This is where your higher education really comes in useful – organizing secure defenses in front of the closet by building castle walls of chairs and sofas. The animals can obey the herd instinct and seek shelter in the safety of the plate glass display cabinet under the down lights. You shouldn’t think this through btw, it isn’t Toy Story.

Even though I am beginning to have serious doubts – a phone is a tool. A tool that I can’t really live without. So I set off to the iStore to see if they can make the repair to the casing.

I enter the store and tell the two male assistants ‘I have dropped my phone!’

‘That’s not so handy’, says the grey-haired older man, while the younger man moves towards me.

‘Why would you make a phone out of glass!’ I yell.

‘Because it’s beautiful of course! And we men don’t drop things once they’re in our hands,’ that grey-haired gentleman again.

I happen to know plenty of men who let nice things slip through their fingers like water or simply drop things, like bad goal keepers. I think to myself.

So I decide to tackle the conversation on two levels – firstly nice gadgets and secondly soccer. Before I even get started I’m quickly interrupted by the older man.

‘Feel this,’ he says.

And what do I do? I feel it. I feel the back of the phone the elderly man proffers me who has attached soft cellophane to the outside of the phone.

After that I listen to the advice of the young man who tells me about a man who lives in Durban. I should give him a call, he says I should make an appointment and then we should meet so that he can repair my phone within 15 minutes. It will be as good as new, but really brand new he assures me. Unfortunately I couldn’t meet him then because he is currently on leave, but he gives me his number… the words turn into small talk and it goes back and forth and is all very entertaining, but I really have to do some shopping. So I say, ‘Guys, it was really nice meeting you, I will definitely give your man a call.’
‘Well, bye for now!’

And I break the Magical Spell with one blow.

I swear it’s true

The day felt like I was driving an automatic car in third gear instead of in
D(rive). It is possible to drive like this; you can easily drive short distances and race on the highway if you so wished without any problem. The engine runs at full speed, you could even keep driving it like this forever, but there is no point in doing it. The feeling that I was operating at less than peak performance, was pervasive.

I had been waiting all morning long to go to a new hairdresser. In fact, I was wracked with doubts the night before. With uncertainty comes nothing but doubt, so I also started wondering if going to the hairdresser was necessary at all. For it was only four months ago that I had my haircut. The reflection in the mirror showed centimeters of outgrowth, so it could definitely use some hydrogen peroxide, the big question was the length. It is always the length. In essence, you know that the hairdresser cuts your hair shorter, well it could never get any longer during a cut, could it?

While waiting, I called Tiny, a seamstress (this is along story, involving launching a business, which is in fact taking even longer than you expected etc. What I can reveal is that Tiny is not as fragile as her name suggests). To my dismay her phone is constantly giving me this electronic voice stating: ‘The subscriber you have dialed is unavailable at the moment.’

And again and again. And again!

Meanwhile, I was trying other number combinations in case I misdialled, but then the voice said,

‘This number doesn’t exist.’

Maybe it was because of my new phone. So I grabbed my old phone out of the same pouch. Nowadays I carry along two phones since some people, agencies, the dentist! only have my old number. Phones, new phone numbers and added to that neither phone is fully charged. You either hate cellphones, or hate them but secretly harbour a deep love for them. But I had luck on my side.

So I texted Tiny using my old phone.

As I waited for a response, my new phone tinkled. A text message!

I thought, ‘Hey that’s a funny coincidence!’, and read:

“Hi Tiny (…)”

And I said ‘Oh, yes of course!’ Then I yelled an unmentionable swear word I also recently used as a password for Gmail when I couldn’t log on for the 888th time because I had forgotten the password and of course, I had not calligraphed it on a piece of folded origami.

Excellent password, “strong” said Gmail and I thought ‘Na na na na na’ for the Federation Against Swearing can’t see everything.

In this great mood I changed into D(rive) and headed to the new hairdresser. But not before taking a picture of the length of my hair with my iPhone in a complicated corner reversed in the mirror.

No, of course this is a joke (haha). I actually could have done it though.

The hairdresser told me she was undergoing her first chemotherapy treatment. She showed me her breasts (not openly, only through her t-shirt) that they had recently removed her breasts. She wanted to start a blog about it, but she was not actually in possession of a computer and it was all very sad and yet I still had presence of mind to think about the length of my hair. So I admonished myself, since it was not at all appropriate to think about my hair at this moment, but on the other hand, the hairdresser had chosen to work inspite of her illness.

It was all rather difficult and caused – perhaps partly due to the highlights – a rather hazy condition in my head, while on top of my head things were actually going pretty well.

And so I promised myself solemnly that I would make sure my password never included any hint of disease. Even though my password does not consist of any disease in any way, shape or form.

Submerged

The weather seemed undecided and Bev, the tennis coach, cancels our lesson.
So I whatsapp ‘Group tennis’ to find out why she was cancelling. After some back and forth we wonder if we shall call her.

B. whatsappt: ‘Sometimes life is unpredictable, so perhaps we should leave it?’

I app: ‘Oh okay’, while I raise my eyebrows and remember that I’m fortunate not to have bought that false hair.

This is an unexpected turn. It’s like you want to leave punctually and one of the kids has a pants full of poop. It’s like you can’t retrieve that one file on your computer because there is someone playing a game. It’s like you spend an hour in the kitchen and the feedback is: ‘Eeugh, yuk, I don’t like this very much.’ 

We grown-ups though abide by rules, norms and always maintain a promise is a promise. So, rain or no rain, I already resemble Steffi Graf in my tennis dress and in my mind I have already carefully targeted landing balls in all corners of the tennis court.

Just as I’m texting and asking why (the fuck) she won’t come, I visualise  her lying in an ambulance with screaming sirens that is transporting her from one hospital to another. Suddenly the ambulance stops, because it has broken down and is caught in a very wild storm. The doctors discuss whether they will operate in the ambulance (…).

Of course this vision could be a result of watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ once too often.

So I text her, albeit sheepishly saying: ‘Hi, how are you’ and ‘Is the weather putting you off?’ and suggesting ‘We will be there, so if you want to, you can come’, adding ‘Otherwise a good weekend!’

It is quite a long text message. I don’t even understand a lot of it myself and I think what a hassle this has become and it’s not even 7 am yet, however I just press send.

A. (She replies after following the discussion amongst us there):

‘Well, what kind of a discussion was that? I always think: either you call or sms or you don’t call or sms!’

And while she says that, she pretends to serve a ball. Some people have this great feel for a ball. Had it been me, my racket would be stuck in a bush, or I would have hit my own head with it.  

Then we go to Wilfred, the guy behind the bar, in order to arrange some balls. Just for fun I ask if he can coach us?

Wilfred says,

‘Yes, good idea, haha, I’ll just get changed. Whose partner will I be?’

We laugh as well and point at each other.

Then we start playing tennis trying our best to keep the balls in the air yelling, ‘Sorry!’ at each other and: ‘Tennis is very difficult if Bev doesn’t hit the balls straight onto your racket don’t you think?!’ And then, all of a sudden Wilfred shows up in his sneakers, wearing a shirt with wide armholes that basketball players normally wear. He enthusiastically, just like a real coach, pushes ahead of himself a basket of tennis balls.

Before we can say anything he positions himself next to B. and also hits a ball over the net.

Okay. Now there are two balls in circulation.

We had just arrived at the conclusion that we already encountered problems with three people and one ball.

We politely keep on hitting balls criss-cross over the net, occasionally using our hands to stop balls. After five minutes we see that this is not going to work and Wilfred says, ‘Let me hand you the balls like Bev does.’ With which we start a physical version of 60 Seconds.

And then I receive a text message from Bev.

Bev didn’t land in some African hospital with quadraplegie, she’s not abandoned by a friend and her house didn’t burn down. She is en route to Mozambique to dive.

So, hope abounds.

Ondergedoken

Het miezert en Bev, de tennislerares, zegt af.
Dus ik whatsapp aan ‘Groep tennis’:

‘Zullen we anders even bellen waarom ze niet komt?’

B. whatsappt terug: ‘Soms lopen dingen in een leven anders dan je verwacht, dus misschien beter van niet.’

Ik app: ‘Oh ok’, terwijl ik mijn wenkbrauwen optrek en het dus maar goed is dat ik dat nephaar niet in heb.

Het is een onverwachte wending. Net zoals stipt op tijd weg willen gaan en dat er dan één een poepbroek heeft. Dat je op je computer dat ene bestand niet terug kunt vinden omdat er één een spelletje moest doen. Of dat je een uur in de keuken hebt gestaan en dat de feedback is: ‘Ik vinne deze nie zo heel lekker’.

Maar, wij volwassenen zijn van regels, mores en afspraak is afspraak. Dus, regen of geen regen, ik heb me al volledig Steffi Grafisch in tennistenue gehesen en in gedachten heb ik ballen zorgvuldig in hoeken gemikt.

Net als ik wil sms’en waarom (the fuck) ze niet komt, zie ik haar in een ambulance liggen die haar met gillende sirenes vervoert van het ene naar het andere ziekenhuis. De ambulance stopt, want hij is kapot en komt terecht in een hele heftige storm. Terwijl de doktoren overleggen of ze in de ambulance zullen opereren (…).

Het kan ook de invloed zijn van Grey’s Anatomy, dit.

Dus ik sms, maar dan wel omfloerst: ‘Hoi, hoe gaat het’ en ‘Als het aan het weer ligt’ en ‘Wij gaan hoor, dus je kunt komen.’ En ‘Anders een fijn weekend hè’.

Het wordt nogal een lange sms. Ik begrijp er zelf niet heel veel meer van en denk sjemig wat een gedoe en het is nog niet eens 7 uur en dan druk ik toch maar op send.

A. (naderhand want ze had discussie op whatsapp gevolgd, maar niet gereageerd):

‘Ja, dus, wat was dat nou weer voor discussie? Ik denk gewoon: bel, sms of bel of sms niet!’

En dat terwijl ze met haar tennisracket soort van serveert in de lucht. Sommige mensen hebben een geweldig balgevoel. Mijn racket was al lang blijven hangen in een struik, of ik had mijn racket op mijn eigen hoofd geslagen.

Dan lopen we naar Wilfred, de jongen achter de bar, om ballen te regelen en ik stel voor de grap voor of hij ons anders niet even les kan geven.

Wilfred zegt:

‘Ja, haha, ik zal me even omkleden. Wiens partner ben ik?’

Wij lachen ook allemaal maar zo’n beetje en wijzen naar elkaar.

En terwijl we op de court met z’n drieën ballen uit de lucht harken en om de haverklap ‘Sorry!’ naar elkaar roepen en ook ‘Tennis is heel lastig als je de ballen niet van Bev gericht op je racket krijgt hè!’, komt daar ineens Wilfred op zijn sportschoenen en in een hemdje met wijde armsgaten zoals vooral basketballers dat dragen, court 1 op gedribbeld. Hij duwt enthousiast en tennisleraarachtig een mand met ballen voor zich uit.

Voordat we iets kunnen zeggen stelt hij zich op naast B. en slaat ook een bal over het net.

Er zijn nu twee ballen in omloop.

En we hadden net geconcludeerd dat we met één bal en drie personen al nauwelijks uit de voeten konden.


We slaan een beleefde minuut of vijf ballen kris kras over het veld waarbij we af en toe ook onze handen inzetten om ballen tegen te houden. Daarna zien we gevieren in dat dit niet werkt en dus geeft Wilfred ons ballen aan. Waarmee we ren je rot live starten.

En dan smst Bev.

Ze ligt niet met een dubbele dwarslaesie in een of ander Afrikaans ziekenhuis, ze is ook niet verlaten door haar vriendin en haar huis is ook niet afgefikt. Ze is onderweg naar Mozambique om te duiken.

Er is nog hoop dus.


Sold

‘Well, you easily attach that fake hair under your own hair.’

By way of illustration C. folds her hands over her head, middle finger pointing at middle finger and thumb pointing at thumb, as you would indicate the receding hairline of any male. We sit in the car and kill time with a conversation about ‘Flip in hair’. What else can you do at a dodgy car park next to the highway. The engine is running, the aircon howls, we occupy Mr. (or Ms.) Mtombo’s parking place and are waiting for the person with the small car.

It could be the scene of some scary movie.

‘And it doesn’t slide out?’ I ask her.

‘No,’ she says.

‘Not even when you do something like this?’ And I move my eyebrows up and down very quickly. I’m not often that surprised, but this ‘eyebrow lifting’ has the potential to develop into a twitch. And that could be confusing to an onlook:

‘Sorry, did I maybe say something funny?’

‘No. Why?’

‘Well, you gave me a somewhat surprised look?’

‘Well, yes in fact now I am!’

But it’s also very silly if your fake hair starts living a life of its own and independently moves it way up through the day. People of course hold their breath, because they find it difficult to mention it, but they secretly do give you a look and when you see your reflection in the mirror at the end of the day you suddenly discover that sixties hairstyle.

‘No, it remains in place very well, and it comes in 80 colors and everyone has it. Celebrities, but also a lot of ordinary people.’

‘OK.’ I say. And I wonder if I could wear false hair in any form to the supermarket and, where I would store it when I was not wearing it? That could be an issue, because what if you can’t find it and you are in a hurry? Now you find you need to attach your false hair quickly and you fit it skew and instead of looking attractive, you resemble a bizarre puppet.

‘And isn’t it hot?’ I ask.

My frame of reference is South Africa. It’s very hot here. I would love to have a trendy haircut with a fringe, but a sweaty strip of hair on my forehead? No way.

The towel I would use to mop my brow would get lost in the labyrinth of my bag.

Besides that: Yuk.

Once, when I was 15, there was this lady travelling with us on the train to France with her daughter and her husband. My mother, my sister and I were stuck together (and with them) all day and night, because we shared a six-person compartment. The daughter was wearing a tight little dress – which is not important for now but I apparently remembered – and the mother had tied her permed and dyed hair together in a kind of bun. It made no difference in the heat.

Every five minutes she took a grubby cloth out of her bag, with which she patted her neck and between her breasts after which she inspected the residue on the cloth.

Anyway, M. with the small car arrives and that car doesn’t start.

So.

We are in a questionable parking lot and this small car will not start.

Suddenly false hair and sweat towels are the last thing on my mind.

And besides that, what are we talking about. Everyone in South Africa – famous or not – has a wig, a hairpiece or interwoven false hair.

Since apparently, us Europeans can’t dance but try it all the time – we must have thought, let us at least have big hair as well.

Well anyway, I do.

And this is how I killed my iPhone

Since my return from the Netherlands, this brand new iPhone was still lying in a drawer in our bar / the toy cupboard/ a wardrobe somewhere – I’m not too sure. (I never set out with the goal in mind of adopting these wonderful habits of being neat and tidy after three years of expat life.)

And it lay there and it lay there, and I was afraid the phone may even have felt offended after being left to lie there for quite some time – it was never designed for that. By all means leave a common Nokia in a drawer for ever – as people can understand that. But the iPhone, with its sleek appearance, numerous features and countless applications does not deserve this neglect. Besides that, before you know it, it will be heartlessly exchanged for an updated version.

Quite frankly I thought he was moaning, especially since he had only been tossed aside for six weeks. And I also thought, how awkward that a man complains about things like this, perhaps it’s a woman after all? Still I found myself secretly apologising to the phone through the cracks in the drawer: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help it, and Joost refuses to trim the SIM card to size.’


I realised how ridiculous this talking at my phone was and realised as well that if I wanted something done I would have to do it myself. I suppose this is similar to being at home on maternity leave and your partner/ spouse/ friend arrives home later than promised. No matter how hard he may try to explain that he was caught in a traffic jam, you are not in the mood for his lame excuses. He should have factored the traffic jam into his travelling time and he should at least have brought flowers. (Never mind that stopping to buy flowers would have completely destroyed his time schedule, because what are five miserable minutes when the *#[email protected]! traffic jam delayed him an hour.) You punctuate your argument with foot stamping and screaming and you know it’s time to get things going yourself.


So, I paid another visit to the MTN retailer in the hope of buying a microsim card for the prepaid contract. This phrase, not surprisingly, becomes easier to say as time goes by.

The first young shop assistant I encounter becomes a target for my frustrations and I carefully repeat my request.

He replies, ‘No, we don’t have the microsim cards for prepaid options but we may get stock in later. Leave me your number and I’ll call you as soon as they’re in.’

I had a growing suspicion that South Africans collect phone number like others collect sugar packets. I can even see organised events where the sole purpose is to exchange collected numbers accompanied by loud cheering and obscene dance moves. Certainly, no-one has ever called me back.

So I change tactics and viciously hiss, 
‘Ok, thanks, I am changing to ANOTHER service provider.’

‘OK’, he says.

Apparently I am more impressed by my new approach than he is.

And so to another service provider.

‘Sorry we don’t have SIM cards in stock, perhaps you could try your luck on the other side of the mall?’

‘Can’t you just check if they have them in stock?’

‘No, you will have to go there yourself, if you know what I mean?’

I understood all too clearly what he meant.

It is as if someone were to cut a bean in half and ask me, ‘Can you see I’ve cut the bean in half?’ Basically there’s nothing to understand. However if you were my Maths teacher and asked me about the root system of the bean, well, that’s different. (I might possibly agree to understanding that the bean had been cut in half just to make him feel better.)

Anyway, Boris and I are drinking a milkshake and we agree that most problems can best be solved by Joost. Boris, because he still believes his dad can solve anything and me because I’m about to kill my phone be it male or female.

(Btw. to conclude the story, I have this tiny sim card now. Unfortunately it came with a new number.)

There’s always a first time

‘Have you ever cycled before?’, asks the man who hires out mountain bikes.
‘No’, I reply.

‘No?!’, the man gives me a startled look.

‘Yes, yes, yes, sorry, yes, however I have never ridden a mountain bike through sugar cane fields or anything like that.’ Sometimes, even though I know the answer, I end up saying something completely different. Very inconvenient, especially when the answer is yes or no.

I must admit, I wasn’t concentrating, as my mind was busy recalling my first ever run.

Prior to starting out on this run I thought: ‘How hard can it be, since it appears everybody goes running?’ That everybody does it, never is incontrovertible evidence that I can do it too, but I pushed that doubt to the back of my mind and had visions of myself running through verdant green valleys and a glorious landscape with unlimited possibilities. Something like I’d remembered seeing on ‘Teletubbies’.

It wasn’t as though Teletubbies have anything to do with running, but while picturing these meadows in my mind suddenly a Teletubby in shorts came running through.

Why it couldn’t have been a muscular good-looking male, I don’t know either. It appears that you can’t always control your thoughts.

I suppose it would look rather ridiculous having a well-toned Teletubby racing up and down hill and doing push ups and sit ups, all accompanied by loud ‘oh oh’ shout-outs. It’s just not very credible.

‘Oh oh’ certainly applied to my running career. It started after a few steps and ended when I reached the end of the street. It was while I was stumbling to a halt that I realized that my dream of being an Olympic athlete were over. I looked back shamefully in case anyone witnessed this fiasco and walked home.

Anyway, the proprietor hands me the bike and I notice that the saddle is set very high. I say nothing because the idea is not to show concern and merely take off as though you are experienced.

I perform a test run as I did as a child when I used to protest: ‘Yes Mom, I can really ride that bike, no it’s not too high. No, it’s NOT!’) and as for memories of my first spinning class (never mind).

‘The bike’s perfect!’ I shout at the proprietor.

‘Uhm, are you sure it’s not too high?’

What kind of a spry proprietor is this? My word! And as for those enviable white teeth.

In the meanwhile his entire family had gathered around a picnic table which was nicely positioned under a tree and observed us while eating chicken and rice. Well at least, I assumed they were his family, they could just as easily have been his colleagues as well. It’s early anyway to eat chicken and rice.

‘Which route are you following?’ A brother / colleague / friend / whatever.

‘The blue route’, I answer. And I think, route, route, what’s with this route idea? All I’m about to do is cycle for a while, which is something we do everyday in the Netherlands. 

‘Aha,’ he says raising a knowing eyebrow and sniggers biting into his chicken.

The man in charge hands me a helmet, which looks absolutely ridiculous in conjunction with the padded cycling pants.

I fit the helmet and proceed to start cycling.

The man in charge quickly corrects me: ‘The helmet goes on the other way madam.’

Now I would like to explain how running is really more my thing than mountain biking and about how in April I will be undertaking a 21 km half-marathon and that mountain biking is really a new discipline for me and that I hadn’t realized he had handed me the helmet incorrectly. So, whose fault is it anyway?!

Where upon I would give the family sitting at the picnic table a look, they would stop eating for the occasion, assisting me by nodding and saying: ‘Yes you always hand people helmets the other way Moron.’

But I leave it with a sum up:

‘Yes, of course, how stupid of me, well bye for now!’

I reposition the helmet and think to myself how much chicken is consumed in South Africa and that a first time never comes around as you expected. Then I set off as quickly as I can, while Joost follows in my slipstream.