Monthly Archives: February 2016

When things go pear-shaped

“So I suppose it went pear-shaped,” I said. The officer laughed. We were standing in the middle of Michell’s Pass between Tulbagh and Ceres, watching an accident scene that had closed off the road. A long line of vehicles, led by a Fortuner towing a horsebox (complete with horse) had ground to a halt. We were going nowhere.

You can see the horsebox at the front of the queue

You can see the horsebox at the front of the queue

None of this was planned. Earlier that afternoon, after lunch in Tulbagh, we  had headed toward the Bainskloof Pass, a national monument. The route would take us to Ceres, and because I’d never been to the town I associate with the fruit juice, I suggested we pass the turnoff to Wolseley and continue winding along Michell’s Pass, which had also been designed by the remarkable Andrew Geddes Bain.

Heading to the town – which turned out to have none of the charm  of Tulbagh or Riebeeck Kasteel – we passed an accident scene. A truck appeared to have careered off the road onto the tracks below. Judging by the state of the cab, the driver couldn’t have survived.

Truck on Michell Pass

On the way back, we found the pass completely closed to recover the truck. Drivers, realising that this was going to take a while, turned off the ignition and clambered out to see what was going on. My husband and I chatted to a police officer on the scene. The accident had happened at 9 that morning, he explained. Broad daylight, clear skies. The container the truck was transporting was full of pears for export. Now it lay some 5 metres below on the railway tracks. You can see a part of it just beneath the photo of the truck below:

ichell Pass truck accident

I asked about the driver. Oh, said the officer, he was fine. He walked away from the accident with a hurt shoulder. Mechanical failure, they thought. (As for the pears, they’d probably have to be used for juicing – said the fruit farming lecturer we met over lunch the next day.)

At the Bainskloof Pass. It was a wonderful drive.

At the Bainskloof Pass. It was a wonderful drive. My boobs look huge.

Things go pear-shaped so quickly, don’t they? (On that note, why pear-shaped? What did pears ever do to offend anyone, besides some of the women who inhabit a figure named for them? I am an apple.)

There my husband and I were in a Storks Nest consultation room this morning, all excited about seeing the baby properly for the first time thanks to a 4D scan. She was very active, moving around a lot and smiling mysteriously every now and then. She looks like a little elf right now; I wonder what she will be like when eventually she emerges.

Eventually being the operative word, because after my husband left for a meeting, I dropped by my gynae one floor below to ask about something that was worrying me. The problem probably wasn’t serious, but I was around so it made sense to find out sooner rather than later.

I wasn’t expecting to be told that I have to be admitted to the maternity ward for blood tests and blood pressure monitoring, or to get a steroid shot to prepare the baby’s lungs for possible early delivery. 12 weeks early, which translates 3 months in NICU. She weighs 1,2kg right now, and the best place for her to be is inside the original packaging (as a creative director I work with put it) for at least another two months. Last night my husband and I broke the wishbone of a chicken cooked by my mother-in-law. I got the bigger piece and my wish, instantly, reflexively was: healthy baby.

I thought of that moment as I sat on the loo in my semi-private ward, trying to get a urine sample, thinking about how put out Discovery must be (you’re supposed to ask for permission before being admitted to the maternity ward). I sobbed. I’d been so lucky so far: no morning sickness, no indication of chromosomal abnormality, no gestational diabetes or high blood pressure.

Now this.

The good news is that my blood pressure is responding well to the medication. Tomorrow morning my doctor will check up on me again, and let me know what my options are. I’m hoping that one of them will be “go home, take your blood pressure pills and don’t overdo things”.

Hospital food

Hospital food

So here I am, in a hospital bed, marveling at the magnificently bad cheese sandwiches that arrived with my rooibos tea and wondering if I should try and squeeze in a bath before the next blood pressure measurement.  The nurses have all been lovely. My husband has brought me clean underwear and toiletries and strawberry and banana juice. I’ve cursed the foetal heart rate monitor for beeping like a car seatbelt alert (it beeps if the heartbeat fluctuates, and the elf has been very very busy; at times her heart sounds like a racehorse on a morning gallop). It’s been hours since a ridiculously early supper and now I’m writing this, in between going through mails and catching up on work.

(People keep sending me WhatsApps telling me to rest but there’s nothing worth watching on TV. Seriously.)

Today was a reminder that things can go pear-shaped so quickly. I won’t take any of this experience, which has mostly been trouble-free, for granted. All I hope is that if things go wrong, there will be rescuers to pull me up from below, that I will walk away with the baby and we will both be fine. A little shaken, but none the worse for wear.

My view right now. Nope, nothing on TV.

My view right now. Nope, nothing on TV.



Curry and casual bigotry

Two weeks ago, a journalist sent me a list of questions about racism and parenting. “Do you often think about how to protect your child from racism?” was one of them. “Is it important in your parenting approach?” This is still a theoretical question for me right now, though in years to come I will certainly confront it. My unborn daughter is not white. Depending on what shade her skin takes on in the great Dulux colour chart of life, she will be viewed through the prism of a particular racial identity. Her surname will certainly be a clue.

So the stakes have changed for me, and certain things that once I might have dismissed with a shrug now become triggers. Usually, I’m on the sidelines watching others get their knickers knotted. It’s rare that I’ll express obvious irritation over something I encounter in the news, let alone get caught up in a minor twar. This time was different.

“We are not going to allow SA to be sold over a plate of curry,” Julius Malema said at a press conference today. It was one of his typically quotable soundbites, the ones he’s producing with admirable regularity for the past decade.

It was a literal curry, in one interpretation, what many assumed to be a reference to a comment by Helen Zille. But is a plate of curry ever just a plate of curry? In South Africa? From the mouth of the smartest, most practiced purveyor of the political insult ever to walk the local stage?

No, it is not.

And so this afternoon, I found myself in the rare and unexpected situation of a prickly Twitter exchange with two very well-known journalists. Both questioned my interpretation, as they have every right to do. I stand by my view: that this was no ordinary curry. The power of the truly brilliant insult is that it looks so innocent on the surface, while delivering the sucker punch to the solar plexus. Having published three collections of South African insults, I’m very aware of our recent history of anti-Indian slurs. Coming from such a powerful figure, someone who is set to influence South African politics for many years to come, this is not an anodyne comment about catering. “Curry” is a metonym for an entire set of cultural practices, associations, assumptions and prejudices. What Julius Malema says matters. And what he gets away with saying matters even more.

Letting his comments slide is a signal that certain types of prejudice are fine – depending on who expresses them. This is the world we create, tacitly, every day, and the world we end up despairing over because we paid no attention at the time.

The questions the journalist sent me were focused on the fallout from Penny Sparrow. “Have you spoken to your children about apartheid and racism?” she asked. “Have you spoken to them about the incidents of the past few weeks?” I have no doubt that at some point I will talk to my daughter about her roots in Huguenots, Dutch settlers, British imperialists, and indentured labourers from Tamil Nadu, and how chance brought her parents together despite the awful messiness and injustice of the past. I have already had conversations with my eight-year-old stepdaughter about my horrible ancestors (and the guilt I feel when talking to my parents-in-law about the past is sometimes so intense that I want to weep in shame). I’m sure these exchanges will get more challenging as she gets older and her little sister starts asking questions too.

This is something I know for sure: I do not want racism to shape the world our daughter grows up in. I also don’t want casual bigotry to be acceptable – amusing even – as long as it’s politically expedient. I don’t want hypocrisy and double standards to determine the way the world sees her, her family, or any of her friends.

If #racismmustfall, then all racism must fall.

“Do you think you can “racism-proof” your children?” was another question I was asked, and to that I would say: I hope I can. Calling out curry jokes for what they are is one way to start. No matter who they come from.