Now & Then :: I Cannot Do Any Of This

Our first 'home' in South Africa. A guest house about 5 minutes outside of Mamelodi. The taxidermy took some getting used to. Who kills a giraffe? The temperature took more getting used to. We arrived in June - Winter in the southern hemisphere. This is how I wrapped up each day at sundown to keep warm. Alas, South African homes are not heated.

Those first few weeks in a new country were exciting, scary, and oh so frustrating at times. One of my big fears was learning to drive on on the left side of the road (while sitting on the right side of the car no less). I kept avoiding learning and then, Will left town for a few days. We had no food, except breakfast, at the guest house, so, I was forced to face the fear. The first day, I decided the store was close enough to walk, so we struck out.  Me and Carolina trekking up the dusty path alongside the M10, headed to the Spar to get something for dinner. Me and Carolina, all shiny white skinned in a sea of native South Africans headed to or from work. I am not ashamed to admit I was nervous. I had yet to live the reality of being the minority. The one who looks different than most the others. I did not know, given the crime statistics in South Africa, if we were in danger. We were not. But, I did not know that then. So, I was nervous. People stared at us. Some pointed and laughed. One asked me something in Afrikaans, which she assumed I spoke. I did not. I smiled and nodded with a false confidence, trying to convey a message - "we LIKE walking, we belong here". And this from Carolina - "People think we are weird Mom. I don't like this." I stopped, bent down to look her in the eyes. "I want you to try your best to remember how you feel right now. I know this is hard and I am sorry, but this feeling that you are experiencing right now, well, it's just important you remember."

I forced myself behind the wheel the next day. I could not even reverse out of the parking space. I did not know about the secret 'car reverse' button that needed to be pushed. I tried this. I tried that. I gave up. We ate dry cereal for dinner. The next day, I tried again. I could not figure it out. I was going to have to call Will and admit that I was completely incompetent and useless without him, I was exposing our daughter to experiences that frightened and confused her and I was barely keeping her alive on dry cereal. I broke down and cried. "I can't do this" I sobbed. "I can't do ANY of this. It's too hard." Little did I know how many times I would feel this exact way in the coming months (and years). But then, from the backseat, from dear, sweet, resilient Carolina - "You can do it Mom." God bless that brave, beautiful child.

I talked to Will that night and learned about the secret, evil 'car reverse' button. He felt bad for forgetting to tell me. I did not tell him about the rest. He was out in the middle of nowhere trying to help people get their first pair of eyeglasses. I was pretty sure he was dealing with his own fears and doubts. And so the next day, I got back in that damn car and I kept repeating my new mantra, "Look right, stay left. You can do it Mom". And I did. For the next 5 1/2 years I drove on "the wrong side". And, indeed, became so good at it that now I am back in the states I have a new mantra, "Look left, stay right. You can do it Mom."