Saturday, 26 November 2011

De naakte waarheid

“En nu zal ik je eens iets heel ingewikkelds uitleggen.” 
Sprak ik tot mezelf. 
Zo kende ik mezelf helemaaaal nog niet. Maar ik zit blijkbaar vol verrassingen.
Mijn ene helft zette zich direct vol overtuiging op de plastic bureaustoel achter de computer. Was die helft even benieuwd naar wat komen ging. Mijn andere helft daarentegen, ging heus wel zitten, maar checkte liever even Gmail, Facebook en Twitter. Als ik dan toch achter de computer zit, kan ik net zo goed even alles tegelijk doen, moet die helft hebben gedacht.

Lost in translation

"Did you experience a lengthening of your upper body after your pregnancies?"
I have a glass of wine in my one hand and a plate of curry in the other. These are not exactly the right ingredients for a good conversation about the physical decline that comes with age. But my ├╝ber-slim South African, prospective new friend, asks me very seriously. Honestly, I also do really think my body suffered from my pregnancies, but that elongation aspect of it is something I hadn’t yet worried about.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Of je worst lust

Lucie en ik doen samen boodschappen. We kopen strooigoed.
“Geeft niks mam, dat ze geen pepernoten hebben, Sinterklaas kan hier genoeg ander snoep kopen.” Aldus Boris.
Ik doe goed mijn best, want Sinterklaas heeft vanochtend bij gebrek aan voorraad een circuspaard met een circusdame gehuld in een rose jurk in Boris’ schoen gestopt. Hetgeen resulteerde in een bijzonder verdrietige Boris omdat Sinterklaas denkt dat hij een meisje is.


I carefully ease myself into the car in the parking lot at school. I parked my car near the playground which borders on Lucie’s class and I don’t want her to see me, because then she might cry as school is not yet over.
So I sink into my seat, partly crawling under the steering wheel, to increase my invisibility.
Then I realize that she might recognize the car. I’d better reverse as quickly as possible and then 'swish' away.
So, I start, throttle, think 'swish', hear 'boom' and don’t move.

Friday, 11 November 2011


Op de parkeerplaats van school wurm ik me behoedzaam in de auto. Ik sta vlakbij het schoolplein van Lucie geparkeerd en ik wil niet dat ze me ziet, want dan gaat ze wellicht huilen en school is nog lang niet afgelopen. Dus ik zak weg in mijn stoel en kruip half onder het stuur ter verhoging van mijn onzichtbaarheid.
Dan bedenk ik me dat ze de auto misschien herkent. Ik kan het beste zo snel mogelijk achteruit rijden en dan ‘zoef’ weg.
Dus, ik start, geef gas, denk ‘zoef’, hoor ‘boem’ en sta stil.

Big things

"You can keep on doing this for 20 minutes and we have only done it for 3,5 minutes!" our yoga teacher exclaims cheerfully.

We are busy doing an exercise swinging our arms, while we are doing squats at the same time. It resembles a collective take off. And it’s not only my imagination. I see it proven in the reflection in the mirror next to me.
I don’t make fun of it, and I do not even whisper to my neighbor saying,
"look in the mirror and see how ridiculous we actually look”, because Yoga is a serious activity.
Maybe it’s because of this sombre atmosphere that my friend and I afterwards discuss whether or not we believe in something Bigger than ourselves.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Cosmetic change

At four o’ clock (in the morning), the phone rings. It is not our phone, it is the phone that belongs to one of the maids. She has forgotten to take it with her. The man who employs her on Tuesday and Friday was supposed to come and collect it for her. But he didn’t.
I sigh. Because I knew this would happen. Therefore I wanted to drop the phone off at the other address myself. But I lost the debate with my husband, who gave me concise reason not to.

J: It's an old retired man who has nothing on his hands all day. He will do it.
Me: It's a grumpy old conservative man. He will never collect a cellphone that belongs to his maid.
J: He will.
I: He won’t.
J: He will.
I: He won’t.
J: He will.
I: No, he won’t. And than I sigh followed by: Whatever.

I sigh so much here in South Africa, that I sometimes think that this sighing thing replaces normal breathing. And that others notice this.
‘Why are you sighing all the time’, I imagine they are thinking.
But I can’t help it. I suppose it’s ‘the new way of breathing’.
Firstly the trend was ‘the new herring’.
And then suddenly ‘the new 30’ popped up. According to everyone between 39 and 44 years old, 40 IS the new 30. This  is of course one viewpoint. My Dutch spellchecker constantly changes "kutterdekut” (fuckerdefuck) to literatuur (literature) when I type the word in. I find that funny in a way, but I do not think fuckerdefuck IS the latest literary catch-phrase. Even if my spellchecker keeps on telling me that it is the catch-phrase, I see clearly that it isn’t. You can try all sorts of things to change this. You could apply cosmetic changes, shout out - preferably all together - that this is the new reality (really!), but eventually this will only increase our level of irritation, however not the credibility.
And so the only remedy is: sighing acceptance.
Furthermore, I sigh because it's hot, because the children will insist on fighting till the house seems to small, and I sigh when I stand up. Which in fact has everything to do with the aging proces. Everything is related to everything you know. Soon you start thinking that this is because of mysterious forces.
But that would just be a way to explain it. Hello?! It's just the pull of gravity. And I realise that I can rid myself of the habit of sighing.

Anyway, I say 'Whatever', and I do nothing. Well, I do do one thing and it is: getting angry wit J. Perhaps this is to do with the cellphone issue, perhaps it’s unresolved or ‘in the air’. That you look up at the stars, you see the Southern Cross and you can only think: If you don’t concur with me now, I'll hit you on your head with that damn cross. But it doesn’t make any sense at all, for it is early in the morning and there’s not a single star up in the sky.

So, I say to the maid:
"You know what happened? Your phone rang at about four o’ clock in the morning.”
You try to be calm and collected. Because honestly, who wants to be woken up by a telephone at any time, let alone by someone else’s phone at four o’clock in the morning?!
"No ma'am, that's my alarm."
"That early?"
"Yes, I have to boil water for my bath, prepare lunch bags for the kids, wake the kids up (two of her own, one of her sister’s who passed away a few years ago) and than at five o’clock I leave."
"Aha", I sigh. Because the idea alone tires me out.  

It wasn’t me

At the gym’s website, I booked a place on a bike for the next Spinning class. This is in itself an exercise, needing quite a bit of time; time I can really ill-afford. I don’t mind where I “Spin” als long as it isn’t the very front. Where I hail from pre-determining your exact bike before the lesson begins is not required. The outcome of my ignorance, is that I am forever changing bikes because it is not long after I start that I am interrupted by a: “Sorry ma’am, I think I booked this bike?”
You mumble under your breath “Oh yes, of course, I should actually make a reservation next time.”
Thereafter you try to negotiate yourself through the narrow spaces, looking out for the next available bike, greeting your fellow sufferer and try and get going again.

What a hassle.

Never before I had logged on to the gym’s website and I notice a little thumbnail of a lady who, I presume, is the Manager in charge of spinning. More than likely employed to inform us that the gym is not responsible for any mishap and probably you may be at fault. There is a lot to say about South Africans but they are always blameless. If a problem arises it is never their fault, but someone else, something else or an unforeseen circumstance responsible for this misunderstanding.
It sometimes leads to a bizarre situation.

Me: Do you have tomato juice?
Waiter: Uhmmmm, we do have tomato cocktail?
Me: Is that the same as tomato juice?
Waiter: Well, I have seen them drinking it. They put Maggi in, and stir it. (He looks as if tomato juice is the stalest drink ever.)
Me: Who are 'they'?
Waiter: Customers.

Suppose the drink doesn’t meet my expectations, and I share my point of view with him: "Hey waiter, what kind of oddish tomato juice did you serve me?"
Then he most likely replies: "No no no no, not my fault. THEY liked it, you wanted it. "
In other words: ‘Yo bitch, YOU wanted tomato juice (stale) other people drink it, I have no clue why they drink it, but it is certainly not my fault that YOU don’t like it, because I did not say that it tastes good. Here's the bill!’

The Spinning manager would probably do the same. When I’d ask her why I failed to be allocated a bike, she would state that it’s caused by my computer / login code / password / the weather / this particular time. It certainly is not her or the Gym’s fault. I take a look at the picture of this lady who I just labeled as typically South African. My age, kind face, hair tied in a neat ponytail, not ugly, not pretty, somewhere in between.
And then I take a good look.
It’s me.
Oh no! In the few seconds that I looked at myself as if I was someone else, I described myself as a typically South African lady with an ordinary appearance. What a nonsense!
I should really ask the people at the Gym to take better pictures from now on.

Daily bread

The only good thing about rain is the fact that it’s wonderful that I don’t have 
a dog. Even though I have no intention of getting a dog in any case.
The same occurs just before Christmas, when I always think 
'Oh how wonderful it is that I do not work as a gift wrapper at Toys R Us.’ 
Or occasionally, ‘Oh how wonderful it is that I do not decorate pies.’ 
Which I did when I was 15. You slice open a cake, put whipped cream in between, then put the two halves together and then put whipped cream and fruit on top of it. Colleagues of mine at that time would probably stay there until retirement. We talked about that (and life in general). They said, as an example:
"Oh yes! Today we are baking fruit cakes!"
And then I said something like:
"Oh, I think this is the stupidest job I ever had, I do not think I will even make it through the week, will you?"
Your ability to be sensitive is quite underdeveloped when you're 15.

So, anyway, it rains, in the midst of another holiday. One wonders whether children learn something here in South Africa. Which is actually a fair question when you take into consideration that only 12% of South African children have access to proper education.
That makes us a privileged minority while in this country, but I never consciously applied to become 'Director of Entertainment’. In fact, I would not even consider it, when certain conditions, required to fulfill the function properly (such as a nice indoor swimming pool or playground) are absent. Or, because those two amenities might cause me to put my nose in the air prudishly, the alternative is a museum with ‘fun experiments for kids’.
Believe it or not, I got the job. To my chagrin and after meeting with the CEO, who has bigger fish to fry, I square my shoulders and start tentatively.
I carefully examine my three-man team. They are all quite small, and I do not think they take to my introductory talk very well: "Folks, we're stuck with each other, so let's make something good out of this holiday.” They do not even seem to listen. Every conversation ends in a shouting match and they do everything at hyperspeed. They constantly ask: “What do we do next?” They never say ‘please’, self-reflection is absent and their concentration is inadequate at every level. They fly into each other and irritation becomes the latest pastime. It's not easy to manage, before you know it, you start to scream! Very soon I'm sick of it all.

So what do I do? I first split a wooden spoon in half on the sink and then I call the CEO, stating that I’m taking early retirement starting now.
During this outburst of rage, the maid walks in (it is indeed only 8.00 am).
Oh that’s right! We also have the domestic staff!
"Hello, how are you?!" I roar. You don’t step out of your role immediately
And she says: "Not so good."
Her sister, who has been ill for some time, passed away. She was only 37, has five children, of which the youngest is only three years old. In a split second I see an extension of the team I just set aside. But then she says the children will be cared for between sisters, brothers and the daughter of the maid.
The reality of living in South Africa strikes me forcibly. And besides that, the meaning of "having children" takes on an entirely different meaning.

Welcoming back fat

What am I up to in South Africa? Uhm, well we first have to settle in, and thereafter I might broaden my horizons by studying further. Unfortunately it’s quite complicated getting a work permit. But I would still like to do something meaningful. No, of course I will avoid the “temptation” of resorting to settling for the expat lifestyle.

So, here I find myself eight months later, sitting around a table accompanied by other middle-aged women, enjoying a breakfast while being regaled by a fitness “guru”.
Our first speaker is a professional bra fitter.
Since I have some leisure time on my hands, I feel that studying to be a professional in something could be a worthwhile endeavour. But bra fitting never crossed my mind. I just never have, nor ever had to suppress the intention to ascertain a woman’s bra size but fondling her breasts.
However, there may be a world of difference between professional and apprentice bra fitters. The latter would never pass up an opportunity to master his skill, with a catastrophic Tom and Jerry like chaos as a result.
It’s good that this profession exists. And, satisfied with my own conclusion, I put another biscuit in my mouth, while our expert starts a discussion on back-fat.

My own back-fat never concerned me, but when I go to the toilet I do check, if and if so, how many rolls of back-fat I drag along. You just have to do those things. The same occurs when you read that the distance between your eyebrow and hairline is four fingers wide. I immediately check to ensure that I am normal. What if mine is only three fingers wide? Must be either my fringe leading to a skewed measurement, or I resemble a Neanderthal after all.

Meanwhile our fitness guru is telling us the true life tales of fat celebrities who have gone on to shed buckets full of fat and now represent the epitome of lithe, lean and sexy. What follows is an exhaustive list of do’s and dont’s.
The guru concludes practically every sentence with: Okay?
And then we all nod eagerly. 
Of course we all want that perfect body. And yes, to achieve that we will skate across the living room, using two paper plates. In hotels we will run up and down the stairs and jog through the lobby.
We promptly decide that things must change!
Starting tomorrow.
For now we reach out for another piece of cake and sip delicately on our cappuccino, trying to ignore the fact that we just have been taught how bad coffee, milk, sugar and saturated fats are. And during the break we draw everyone’s attention to how wasteful it would be to throw away cake.

To conclude the morning’s discussion, we are addressed by a woman who is the reincarnation of Michael Jackson. We soon see through her though as she never once “Moonwalks” or sings “Thriller”.
Than again, just how seriously would we take Michael Jackson, when he would tell us about creams that are good for your face. 


Lucie it's half past four, you still need to sleep. No, mom and dad have no clue either why Bobbie is crying. Of course you’re not tired anymore, but we're all going back to bed again.
Hi princess, yes now you can get out of your bed. Since it is already a quarter past five. Yes, it's a schoolday. No, it's not yeeh, yeeh yeeh it's Friday yet. It's Thursday. Thursday, that's the day before Friday.
Unfortunately, daddy is not home, he is flying somewhere. In a plane indeed.
Hey my king, are you also already awake? Oh, the girls screamed and woke you up.
I don’t know if it’s your turn to choose which tv channel to watch. Who chose yesterday? Then Boris can choose today. Guys, guys, it's only 5:30, it is still a little bit early to beat each others brains out.
Yes, Lucie, I’m busy making you porridge, and juice after that. Be a little bit patient though, because Bobbie gets her milk first. And then indeed, you’ll get a sandwich Boris. Two sandwiches. One with Nutella, and one with meat. No ham because you don’t like it. Sure, you have told me that already a million times.
What day is it?! What do you have to bring? Are you sure, because than we have to put a cake in he oven quickly. And please, tell me a little bit earlier next time. Oh, it was written down in your notebook. Yes, I should read it, you're right. Of course, dad bought two plants yesterday to take to school. No, no seeds, just plants.
Lucie please take your bottle to the kitchen yourself. What? Ah, you come just now. Boris, what do you want on your bread to take to school? Peanut butter and cheese? Ok. Because you are not allowed to take Nutella to school? Who in particular told you, you can’t have Nutella on your sandwich? Mrs. Connel? Well, ever since you started eating bread, you get one healthy, and one sweet sandwich, tell your teacher that. And that cake in the oven, apparently you are allowed to eat that? Ah, yes, of course, that's not for lunch. How logical.
Come on guys, get dressed quickly. No, Lucie, you can not wear that. Yes, it's lovely, and yes, I know you like it, but we just don’t. And no, those are your princess shoes, you are not allowed to wear those to school either. And crying? You’d better do that in your room, bye, bye Lucie. Yes indeed, I’m not your friend, I'm your mother.
Boris, your cricket stuff is in your bag. Including your shoes, so please do wear those, ok? Hello, ok? Yes, I put your socks in your bag as well. By the way guys, where is Bobbie? Oh Bobs, don’t climb into the shower, now you’re soaking wet. Lucie, you can come out of your room now.
Oh no, it's almost seven. Look, there's Vivian already. Please say good morning. Yes, we always do that. Good morning Vivian. Very good. Well, what else. We have to brush our teeth. Come on, make it snappy please.
Oh shit Lucie, we haven’t made ponytails yet. Yes, we do make ponytails, or we can pin it up, you may choose. No, not the pins with the cows, those will fall out of your hair.
Because they are too heavy.
Because they are made of heavy material.
Because people haven’t thought it through.
Because thinking is too damn complicated for them.
Lucie, just because.

Friday, 4 November 2011


“Je kunt dit wel 20 minuten volhouden en we doen het nu pas 3,5 minuut!” Declameert de yogadocente opgewekt.
We doen een oefening waarbij we heel snel onze armen heen en weer zwaaien en tegelijk kniebuigingen maken. Het ziet eruit alsof we zo collectief opstijgen. En dat stel ik me niet alleen voor, dat neem ik waar in de spiegel naast me. Ik lach daar niet om en ik zeg ook niet fluisterend tegen mijn buurvrouw, ‘kijk eens hoe debiel we er eigenlijk uitzien’, want Yoga is een serieuze aangelegenheid. Misschien komt het door dat serieuze tintje dat vriendin en ik erna bespreken of we geloven in iets Groters dan wij zelf.