Tag Archive: sun

Learning to swim

My chubby little toes burnt slightly on the slasto, the elastic of my bikini riding up over one buttock, showing pink skin next to brown. My mother and grandmother sat under umbrellas, watch us as we jumped and splashed and screamed. The sun on my back felt warm and familiar, the water splashes on my face cool and refreshing.

Beneath the sparkling, undulating water lay my fascination. A dolphin, as big as a car, made up of tiny blue squares, little tiles embedded on the bottom of the pool, beckoning me. My brother jumping into the water caused the dolphin to flick its tail as though saying ‘Come on’.

So I did.

I leapt into the water, my three year old body spread and splashing. My head went below the surface of the water, cool on my face. My little arms and legs pumped like mad when I suddenly realised that missing were my bright orange arm bands. My head surfaced as my mother and grandmother turned to see what the splashing was all about. Standing up, but not leaping to my rescue was my mother.


“You got in,’ she said, “you can get out’. My grandmother’s face was aghast as I sank below the water once more, kicking and flailing. This time as my head surfaced my mother was standing closer to where I was glugging and spluttering but still telling me to swim out.

She knew I could. And I did.

With great pride I swam to the steps and got out of the pool. Before an adult could get near me, I leapt in again, proud of my new ability to swim.


Water and I had made friends.

mulberries and ketties

I am busy reading a South African novel, Choke Chain, which i will review once i have completed it. But in the meantime, i have been having some thoughts about it and the idea of South African writing.


I love South African writing and African writing. I love stories set on this continent and particularly in this country. I love it when authors speak of places i know; of emotions i have felt; of experiences i have had.


In Choke Chain the boys pick mulberries and ride their bicycles to the cafe to play arcade games; they leave for holiday at 4am and wake up in the middle of the ‘Berg; they sweat on Durban beaches and compete to see who sees the sea first. These things i have done and i relate to what they felt like. I am transported to the back of the panelvan my mom drove hen we were kids; i am naked, picking mulberries in the garden; i am pushing my toes into the beach sand trying to find the cool dampness under the hot surface. I am there with the kids in the books; alongside the mother shopping for Christmas gifts in the stifling heat of December. I know that Afrikaans teacher and i feel the pain of palms smacked for poor spelling test results.


It is all of this that makes novels like this wonderful for me to read. But i wonder if perhaps it is exactly these things that prevent these novels from every being anything more than just South African. Is the very localness of these stories not hobbling them? Will tales of hot slasto and warm stolen mangoes, fresh from the neighbours’ tree ever make it in the rest of the world?


I fear not. The emotional moment which South African readers understand when we read about the race to see the sea for the first time from the back of the volksie or about the soggy jam sandwiches eaten on school trips is unique to us i think.


The South African, and African, experience is not international enough for it to be understood and appreciated. Books which talk about our political experience are more likely to be popular because everyone wants to have read those kinds of books. But books which simply tell the ordinary stories of ordinary people – these i think are too alien for the mass American and European market. Our experience is too different from that of ‘first world’ readers; we are too unknown. This is both our strength and weakness as a source of stories.


So by writing truly South African stories, these authors are pretty much guaranteeing themselves a small audience. And it is for this reason that i think South African readers have some kind of duty to support these authors. Very few local authors will ever be Mark Behr, Andre Brink, Dalene Mathee, Zakes Mda or John van der Ruit. Most will simply be true to their country of origin and write little books which few people will ever read. What a pity. Some of them are really really good!


Mulberries and ketties forever!!!!!