Our childhood experiences shape us much more than we realise.
I’ve been touring the province of KwaZulu-Natal. I took my daughter along to see family and friends there and to show her Ixopo, the rural town where I spent my teenage years. If you’ve read Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, then you might be familiar with the chapter where he describes the surrounding countryside: The Ixopo countryside laid me under a kind of spell, and this was enhanced by the prevalence in summer of the mists that would descend on the village and hide it from the world.
Critics have credited Paton for some of the most vivid landscape imagery in contemporary South African fiction. He wasn’t wrong when he put pen to paper, but the agricultural stopover of his day has changed considerably over the years – even since I was last there a decade ago. Still, there is only one traffic light on the main road, and it’s almost permanently green. Pedestrians never use the buzzer at the crossing because cars and trucks crawl along as their drivers look for familiar faces on the street. The local grocery store is also a meet-and-greet zone – you cannot go in to buy bread and milk without bumping into at least six people you know. It’s a community – and a close one at that.
I have many fond memories of my time in Ixopo. I was blessed with the best teachers any young and impressionable student could ever hope for: men and women who knew how to navigate a path through the hormone-fuelled drama and teenage angst and arrive on the other side unscathed and ready to impart the lessons of life. I cannot thank them enough.
Many of my classmates called me a geek in high school. I kept my skirt at the regulation length when all the other girls were trying to turn theirs into minis; I wore garters to keep my winter socks up; I polished my shoes until I could see my reflection in them; I was a library monitor; a class captain; a prefect; a deputy head girl; a top achiever. My teachers said I was the one to watch.
Where am I now? I am still a bookworm – and proud of it. Reading leads to knowledge; knowledge leads to understanding; understanding makes me a better person. I wear whatever I like, though I’ve never developed a taste for miniskirts. Give me jeans! Give me T-shirts! I only wear garters for my husband. I take care of all my shoes because they protect my feet – and my feet still have many places to go. Libraries and book stores attract me. Libraries and book stores that are close to coffee outlets are even better! I am the captain of my life. I am the prefect of my community. I am the co-pilot of my marriage. I am a dedicated professional. I am watching over the ones I love.
The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Never Bloom Again by The Perishers.
Janine Papendorf likes coffee, chocolate and wine. Not necessarily in that order. She’s married to a nerdy biker and they’re raising Cape Town’s cleverest child. When she’s not building Lego castles or watching old movies, Janine likes to send words into cyberspace. She’s a freelance writer and content strategist based in South Africa’s beautiful Mother City. Witness her obsession with pink flowers on Instagram, or contact her to collaborate on a project.