22 jul. 2017

kom uit die maanskyn



De jakhals huilt ‘s nachts. Honden blaffen wanneer een groepje apen op ons dak belandt. In de stad liggen verkopers tussen hun koopwaar op het voetpad. Een jongetje speelt met zelfgemaakte modder langs de weg, vrouwen dragen takken op hun hoofd. De was droogt op anderhalf uur in de zon, ook in de winter. Op de voorpagina van de lokale krant staat dat ze deze ochtend op een uur rijden hiervandaan twee bewakers van een geldtransport neergeschoten hebben. Miljoenen rand buit. Goodwill, de boswachter, kruist me op mijn fiets. Hij geeft me een high five. Vijf kleine meisjes slaan met een paar takken op een grote plastic ton. Ze zingen Xhosa liederen en dansen hun rituelen. Elk bankje in de stad zit vol mensen die de tijd gewoon tijd laten zijn. Een zwerver staart naar de ingang van de supermarkt. Af en toe vraagt hij iets. De bananen zijn bijna pikzwart. De bibliothecaresse zet een stempeltje op de kaart die voorin het boek zit dat ik wil lenen. De data gaan terug tot 1981. De electriciteit valt af en toe uit. Kortom. Afrika in al zijn kleuren.

Maar als ik thuis kom, legt Francois deze plaat uit zijn jeugd op, toen de Apartheid nog volop heerste. Ik word terug geslingerd naar de dagen bij mijn mémé. Radio 2. Gunther Neefs. “Ach Margrietje de rozen zullen bloe-oei-ien, ook al zie je mij-ij niet meer.” Al heet het hier “kom uit in die maanskyn”, op precies diezelfde melig-nostaligische melodie.

Nooit gedacht dat ik honderdenduizenden kilometers van huis, zoveel thuis zou vinden. "Sieldondersdodend". Dat Afrikaanse woord leerde ik gisteren. Het tegendeel blijkt deze ochtend ook maar eens waar. 



13 jul. 2017

Abraham Cetywayo, South African blind musician

I was moved by this blind South African performer, Abraham Cetywayo. He gave his whole heart, and more, so it seemed, at a vibrant market not  far away from the official stages at the Grahamstown national arts festival.





writing in Stutterheim (South Africa)

my new favourite writing spot, in the local library of Stutterheim, Eastern Cape (SA)

going there by bike, through the countryside, is a pure joy to  me

8 jul. 2017

Alwodjan.


“Don’t ever talk about me again. Never call me again. Pretend I don’t exist anymore.”
He would marry an Arab girl and disappear into his culture. What we had had, the nights, the short turns, Allah would forgive. So I have remained silent about him. Everywhere where someone could suspect who I was talking about.
I met him in his snack bar. Something in his eyes, body, you know. And the copper bracelet he wore. One of those with an opening through which you can wrench your wrist. On the airport of Johannesburg they sell them with quotes of Nelson Mandela on them. But also without those quotes, men who wear them always look like world travelers. The type that likes to think about everything. The earth from top and then down again, then left and right and above all wanting to carry the world on their shoulders, no matter how much everyone dissuade you from doing so.
He wrote poems in an old notebook. With a blue ballpoint. About the revolution. He avoided love. The book lay in the drawer under the big jars of mayonnaise. The type of huge plastic things that look like cow’s udders with nipples through which the sauce pours.
He always looked around when I opened the door for him. I always had to laugh at this, but knew it was a serious thing for him.
“No one can know I am here.”
“But what about Allah?” so I asked. “He sees everything, right?”
He had challenged me to “fight with him”. I remember it so well. In his tight white t-shirt with his trained upper arms he was standing in front of me. He knocked on his body.
“Fight with me. I know you think things about me and my religion. Fight! I am here.”
One day I asked him why he allowed himself to go to bed with me, knowing his religion didn’t allow him to do so. Our meetings were some sort of state secret, on a micro level.
“Only Allah is perfect” he said “We humans fail.”
“So me and you here, that is a failure?”
“Yes”
He was being so serious that I could hardly blame him.
“Allah will forgive me when I die. He turns a blind eye for these type of things. Because we are not as perfect as him, you understand? All I have to do is do penance.”
I told him I thought this was two-faced. He did not found that a problem, either.
Every now and then he tried to convince me to “wear a head scarf. You’ll look even more beautiful in it.”
But I was not swayed. Obviously. I felt good, not knowing. I have learned to love that insecurity, that black gaping whole of not knowing what is going to happen when we die. He didn’t understand this, at all.
I always had the feeling he was some sort of punching bag. I could tell him anything.
I knew he would disappear from my life one day. Before that would happen, he asked me whether I wanted to have a marriage of convenience with him. Then he wouldn’t have to proceed his six year long cat and mouse game with the police and immigration services anymore. I have considered this. The thought of being able to really help someone. Not just proclaiming empty ideas about integration, appealed to me. His brother had succeeded in getting a passport in Spain, but for some reason he himself didn’t get one.
But then I didn’t do it. I would have had to pretend as if he was really living in my flat. Study the most important details of his young life. I am not good at lying.
“No, rather not.”
He understood. It was a warm summer evening. He sat outside in the garden, smoking a cigarette. His nephew, who ran the snack bar when he was with me, would text him when there were customers. It stayed unusually silent that evening. Longer than ever. He asked me whether I had ever known a love that came over me like big wave.
“A big wave of which you know that you will only experience it once in your life, so intense.”
I told him yes. But doubted this. As I doubted so many things at that stage. It was good like this, I thought. The two of us outside with those intense things between us. He thought about my answer. Told him that people often forget this. To think first. He was not afraid of silence. Me neither.
“I understand.” He said a little while later. “But still I wanted to ask you this. I apologize if I gave you the feeling I abused our friendship.”
Then he told me, that he would look for an Arab girl that had a passport. It wouldn’t really matter whether she was another big wave, or how big her wave was, how she would lay herself over him. He would not choose for love again. He would be faithful to her for the rest of his life. Ignore me. Forget forever or pretend to do so. Disappear into the night, his cigarette, his jars of mayonnaise and what else you have.
First the snack bar disappeared. Then his sms’es.
I tried it three times. Three times, spread over five years, I sent him a happy new year. First with an x at the end because friends do that these days without it means that you really want to kiss the other one. Yet it had made his finance feel jealous. So after that without x’es. Just with a point in the end. But he disappeared, forever. For ever an unfinished story in me that I can and may only tell when I am sure that no one will ever know about who exactly I am talking about.
First it was all with him, in the little that was possible. Then nothing. Nothing is so little.
“That’s life” he told me when we saw each other for the last time. He gave me a kiss on my forehead and told me it had been good to fight with me. “Don’t ever forget to do that. It gives you muscles.”
Of all the Arab words he taught me, I can only remember one. Alwodjan. I have googled it. It is the phonetic transcription because I can’t write in Arab. Google doesn’t give me any links. It is one of these words you cannot translate. It means: when the heart and mind are in balance. Sometimes, a good fight is indeed needed to obtain or be ‘alwodjan’.
Now I imagine a little boy, to whom he also says, while he is throwing kites in the air and kicks off balls. “Don’t ever forget this, son. It gives you muscles.”

1 jul. 2017

oproep: Engelstalige boeken in de bilbiotheek van Stutterheim gezocht












Stutterheim, waar we sinds kort een woning op het Zuid Afrikaanse platteland huren, is een klein stadje met veel bruisend leven op straat. Het heeft 1 verkeerslicht, 1 coffeeshop, 2 supermarkten. Toen ik deze week de voordeur opende van de lokale bibliotheek, had ik dan ook een kleine, donkere plaats verwacht met een tiental boekenrekken. Niets is minder waar. De bib is onverwacht groot, in het midden staan vijf grote tafels met plastic stoelen er rond. Bezoekers worden gevraagd naam, handtekening en reden van bezoek op een lijst te zetten. Die dag, rond twee uur ‘s middags, waren er al een dertigtal mensen geweest. Reden? “Reading”. 

Maar de volwassen fictie collectie maakt mij zo droevig. Alleen maar vergeelde Amerikaanse commerciële romans, zover het oog kan zien. Je weet wel: Danielle Steel, John Grisham enzo. In Zuid Afrikaanse boekwinkels zie je soortgelijke Amerikaanse dominantie, maar in een bib oogt het nog zo veel verdrietiger. Subsidies voor de aankoop van nieuwe boeken lijkt trouwens stil gestaan te hebben sinds eind de jaren tachtig / begin jaren negentig. Dat meen ik toch te kunnen zien aan de foto’s in de talrijke breiboeken. Veel boeken zijn zo vergeeld, zo oud dat De Slegthe ze niet eens zou willen aanvaarden. 

Ze aanvaarden er donaties. Mijn vraag is dan ook eenvoudig. Heb je Engelstalige boeken die op het punt staan te verdwijnen in tweedehandsewinkels of rommelmarktjes, sta je op het punt ze weg te gooien, weet dan dat ik ze in december met veel liefde kan geven aan deze Stutterheim -bibliotheek, waar ik vanaf volgende week trotse lid van ben. Niet alleen de tijd lijkt er stil getsaan te hebben, maar ook het perspectief op literatuur lijkt helmaal vast gevroren in slechts 1 kijkrichting.. De dominantie van Amerikaanse commerciële s*** maakt mij kwaad. Natuurlijk hebben die boeken hun eigen waarde, maar er is zo veel  meer te ontdekken, Afrikaanse auteurs om te beginnen. 

Ik weet zeker dat elk boek met veel liefde ontvangen zal worden.
Dank je,
Joke.