Mama Maldives & Woman's Day
In July Jason and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.
And I needed to get out....
After lockdown upon lockdown we found ourselves in the midst of the crisis of the Third Wave of the COVID Pandemic in South Africa. There's no real end in sight to this New Normal that totally stinks when all you wanna do is toss some stuff in your backpack and globe trot. Just another year of curtailed everything.
While watching the daily highlights of the Olympics in Tokyo these past couple of weeks, one of the most impressive and transgressive things I noticed were the public displays of affection -- people touching one another...full out hugging! We really live in strained times.
The little girl who went viral because she was inspired by the female weight lifters was deeply moving and made the Games seem possibly relevant, even now.
African athletes, who come from so little it's probably nigh impossible for their competitors to even comprehend their daily lived experience let alone the lack of infrastructure for training, somehow win. Surely this, more than national pride, is what it's about -- the triumph of the human spirit despite unbearable and totally unfair odds.
How delightful it was when the Botswana relay team won bronze, the second ever Olympic medal for our dear neighbours, and did a dance of joy on the podium. These are the moments that hit me right in the feels.
Homegirl Tatjana Schoenmaker broke a world record and brought home our beleaguered beautiful country's only gold medal, but how utterly lovely to see her supposed competitors embrace her with unbridled joy. Avid knitter and proudly gay gold medalist Tom Daley rightly won the internet.
Once upon a time, when we were young and the world was a very different place, and my brother was alive, he told me, "The Maldives...now THAT is paradise." And it is. A paradise in jeopardy - most of it a mere metre or so above rapidly rising sea level. The fist time I snorkeled on our house reef my heart hurt to see the decimated coral thanks to those deliciously too warm waters. It reminded me of the New Yorker cartoon of a guy calling to his friend on the shore: "Come on in! The water's a grim reminder of climate change."
It also reminds me of another quip I came across at the beginning of all this, that Climate Change needs Covid's publicity manager.
When I made the mistake of checking my phone in paradise, the news from home was dismal -- riots had broken out in response to our ex President Zuma's imprisonment. My son was throwing up. A dear friend's husband had died from COVID. And once again it was clear that there's no escape.
We had to test for COVID pre-flights and were fortunate to be in the clear despite the risky business of travel and the police affidavits required to get us through Gauteng during a level 4 lockdown that forbade travel in or out of the province. OR Tambo airport in Joburg was in full Zombie Apocalypse mode with hardly a soul in sight except for a strong police presence. I felt so guilty about traveling when obviously the sane thing was to shelter in place. I kept it quiet. Well aware of how many were deeply suffering -- bereaved, unemployed, anxious and depressed.
Spending about six hours a day floating above the magical Maldivian reefs teaming with tropical fish of every imaginable hue definitely made all the hoo-ha and extra stress of traveling during the apocalypse, including cancelled flights and terribly long layovers, feel completely worthwhile. It felt good to be alive again. Like maybe living could actually be enjoyable.
I got to know the inhabitants of our reef intimately and made friends with a curious juvenile turtle, as well as getting a little freaked out by the large but harmless reef sharks. The baby sharks would come and walk with me every evening.
Hovering above the deep blue off the edge of the coral, these miraculous ancient submerged volcanoes, with manta rays and light rays creating mandalas exerted a profound pull on my soul.
It felt very much like the hold a mother has on her child.
A powerful umbilical chord calling me home to our essence.
On shore it was meditation at dawn (a very civilised 7am...we had our own time zone on Sandies Bathala...so why not? Sunrise and sunset at 7 year round), plenty of yoga, qi gong, I read two fab books -- both outstanding feminist texts reclaiming history -- Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, the untold tale of a gloriously witchy Anne Hathaway and How Much of These Hills are Gold is C Pam Zhang's utterly brilliant retelling of how the West was won from a female/trans Asian perspective. In my dream scenario Kelly Reichardt (incredible female auteur) and Chloé Zhao (who rightly took the Oscar for Nomadland) would co-direct the filmic adaptation.
The food was great, the island was only at 30% occupancy -- mostly South Africans and Eastern Europeans, a whole new market at half price since their usual Western European tourists haven't come back since COVID, but the staff were just 100% lovely and we befriended a darling couple on honeymoon. All in all it was splendid.
A dream come true.
The veld fires burned over the dried out wintery highveld and Joburg's mine dumps and polluted skies were a world away from the turquoise atolls we had left that same morning.
But it was special spending time with my mom in her beautiful new home in Plett. My folks had taken care of our teens while we spoiled ourselves for the first time since our 10th anniversary jaunt around the Med and now my dad was off to move his mom, my Granny Lola, to live on the Garden Route with them.
Step-by-step, person-by-person, all ties except the powerful memories of my formative years are being severed from the heart of our country.
We drove home to the Mother City surrounded by snow-capped mountains
and canola fields in bloom. Radiohead reminding me of a beloved memory
of seeing Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet for the first time in Utah with
my BFF Natalie a lifetime ago.
I want to be someone else or I'll explode
Floating upon the surface for the birds
Coming home is never easy.
Not for my gypsy soul that feels far more at home wandering than belonging. But my darling cats are always comforting. As I type now I have our elegant tuxedo Rex to the left of me who has only of late become uber affectionate, demanding scritches, after spending many years resenting us after his doting first parents emigrated to Australia.
Snuggled against my right hip is flopsy mopsy cuddliest calico kitty TEARS rescue Tortilla who walks around the house yelling for Thandi when she's out.
And standing sentinel at my feet is my familiar, the pitch black lil beauty with an overbite, Sootica.
Our pets have been one of few comforts during these isolating times. Something to love, to touch, to feel connected to when all else has felt fraught and divisive.
It's Woman's Day today, a remembrance of the strength of our country's women who stood up to the brutality of Apartheid. A reminder of the women who made me, who live in my eyes, voice, ridiculously high cholesterol count, and unfortunate turns of thought. But they also handed down resilience and, thank God, a sense of humour.
Of my daughter who needs to make her own way in this world.
This week I start teaching an Honours Film Course at the University of Stellenbosch, so I have been watching a lot of Feminist films, both old and new.
Yesterday it was Chantal Akerman's brutally realist 3 1/2 hour Jeanne Dielman which, if you've never had the unmitigated joy of being burdened with domesticity, will quickly enlighten you as to how fulfilling it is. As Betty Friedan put it: "No woman gets an orgasm from polishing the kitchen floor."
As a palate cleanser the wholly delightful Daisies (1966) reminds us that girls just wanna have fun...while smashing the patriarchy.
Akerman's 1976 News From Home is one in a series of remarkable documentaries that I've dubbed Mommy & Me about women trying to understand their mothers.
Fresh from Cannes starring the captivating Jane Birkin through the lens of her incredible daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Sarah Polley's mystery Stories We Tell (2013)
This is midlife, realising you are your ancestors, there is no escaping it. Making peace with them as they wrestle inside you moment to moment is the real deal. Trying to be kinder to them-in-you as you take your place in the family of things.
May we all find the strength moment to moment to meet the challenges of being here now.
And take care of our Mama the Sea and the mothers that we have and are.
The world needs TLC.
And it starts within.