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African Renaissance


Abigail George



“As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.” – Virginia Woolf

When I was a teenager my dream holidays were always spent in Johannesburg. My Swaziland-cousins would come and visit. My mother’s brother and wife had three sons, a swimming pool (we swum until our eyes were the colour of paprika), and a peach tree that bloomed ripe fruit in December. At that time of year we’d also gorge ourselves on watermelon and jaffles (a kind of mince sandwich). Sunday lunch at my Aunty Babs’ (my mother’s oldest sister) house was always roast-something. Roast leg of lamb or roast chicken with potatoes, with a green salad and pudding like trifle or custard and jelly.

Her mother taught her everything that she knew about comfort food. So, Jozi became my hunting ground. I never thought of New York. It just seemed too busy for me, as did the beaches of Bali and Phuket, Thailand. I’m not really a beach person. I couldn’t fit travelling to India, learning about the meaning of nirvana, enlightenment and meditation into my bucket list. Prague was where my sister wanted to be, teaching English. I still remember the crazy days of the summer of the year 2012. Somehow I survived (I didn’t think I would survive) those heady first months of living in Jozi.

The people seemed carefree even though they lived in dire straits. Back to reality, I didn’t see myself anywhere. There was no one else who looked like me. There were few Coloured people in the city early in the morning at the taxi rank. I was just a slip of a girl then, a girl of mixed race descent struggling to find myself, my life’s purpose and meaning in my life. Jozi, the city would come to life in the mornings. There was a lot of buying and selling. Vegetables were dirt cheap, could get them for next to nothing.

You could buy popcorn, a hot meal, magazines, chocolate, books, phones, cheap jewellery, and pornographic material. There were pirate DVDS on sale, fruit, for example, like apples, candy, homeware and the vegetables were dirt cheap, you could get them almost for next to nothing. People, mostly Black mamas with expert cooking skills, but there were also men frying meat in the centre of town plying their trade, would be found preparing, and braai-ing meat. The women would prepare food, mostly vetkoek on the side of the road. 

People bought and moved on, going off to their destination, eating on the go, stuffing their mouths or keeping the precious parcel of food for lunch. That year I learnt that I was a tough cookie. I didn’t suffer fools gladly. Back to reality, a boyfriend (now ex) took me for ice cream one Sunday at a Wimpie at the Carlton Centre. This boyfriend was a decade older than me, of another race. I am thankful to him because he taught me much about my own sexuality, spontaneity and how to let go, not be so serious all the time and to have fun while living.

“Abigail, you need to relax into the moment, we’re meant to be happy,” my sister is always telling me. The Carlton Centre is no more and so is the boyfriend. In those days, I had a lot of boyfriends from different cultural backgrounds, Afrikaans, Black and Indian. Night-time in Jozi and the people move like ghosts on the streets. I soon discovered that I had a talent for talking, finding out of the way cafes to buy slap chips, a 2 litre Coke and rolls. I met warriors in Johannesburg; the other film school students, lecturers.

I even found God at the Salvation Army. On Sundays we would have a church service in the canteen. The chairs would be moved around. We’d even sing a few hymns. I fell in love in Jozi for the very first there with a brave, young and handsome Afrikaner. In 2012, that year I had taken a room at the Salvation Army in Simmonds Street. I traipsed up streets and down streets discovering charity shops, Hillbrow’s Windybrow Theatre, Yeoville, flea markets, cafes, slap chips, Pakistanis and  COSAW’S (Congress of South African Writers’) office.

I discovered the Zoo Lake, shortcuts to film school, Jan Smuts Avenue and Rosebank’s Public Library and so much more. I loved discovering libraries. I loved that time, my time in the ‘country’ of Johannesburg. It was simply put, a charmed life living on next to nothing. Eating, surviving on takeaways. Johannesburg the city was big, a rumpus, a holy, living, breathing thing, a soft animal, or a ferocious, hungry lion that could eat you up and spit you out again and her people were . I remembered I was full of brio.

I would step out on my own in the mornings with confidence; assured that I could study anything my heart desired, become anyone I wanted to (in other words become cooler, more popular than the high school version of me). Poof! Abracadabra. I only had to believe in myself. I soon learnt to travel around by your self was a privilege, a luxury. I learnt that strangers could be kinder to you than your own family. I remembered school holidays travelling with the Translux from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg to Park Station where my Uncle Ernest or Aunty Babs would come to fetch me, precious time spent with maternal family that seemed to slip away all too soon.

Aunts and uncles full of family meetings, energy, lectures on why I wanted to study film. All I wanted was to keep the peace. I knew in my heart of hearts that they wouldn’t really understand my reasons for wanting to forge my way ahead in that direction. I wanted to be my own person. I wanted to answer to no one. Only my father understood me. I was a film and media studies student at Newtown Film and Television School opposite the Market Theatre in the hubbub of the city. The year I turned 22 Johannesburg was my stomping ground, my playing field.

My mother was my moral compass. It was my father, the intellectual in the family, who encouraged my creativity, my sensitivity, my artistic temperament and the pursuit of filmmaking. I first had to make up my mind what I was going to be. Producer, writer, director, cinematographer (I knew then of no female cinematographers). I could wrap my brain around any of them. I had fond memories of summer holidays spent in Johannesburg with my cousins and me swimming at the local swimming pool in Coronationville, eating peaches, roasting marshmallows, reading my brooding and romantic cousin Vincent’s books.

Raiding his bookshelf for treasures like  Gary Zukav’s The Seat of the Soul (discovering truisms as young adult searching for the purpose and meaning in my life via self help books), Wuthering Heights (as a pensive and moody teenager). I ate, and ate, and ate up the few copies that Vince had of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five (as a pre-teen). Over the years I found appropriate reading material on his bookshelfat different stages of my life’s development, from my teens to passing out of youth into young adulthood.

Solo, I had to learn quickly to fly by the seat of my pants, rely and take responsibility for myself. I was on my own in a big city. I could do anything I wanted; stay up as late as I wanted, had to answer to no one. I was never one for following the crowd anyway. I made connections with strangers. Lecturers became mentors and then friends. Soon it was the end of another summer; and another family holiday behind me. I was leaving behind joy and returning home and I felt grateful for time spent away from the mess of sibling life.

Grateful for the time spent away from a tired mother and harassed father. My time spent in Johannesburg had also given me a wealth of ideas for short stories that would in years to come in my late twenties and thirties be published online in e-zines from Australia to Finland, the United Kingdom, the States, and closer to home countries like Nigeria and Malawi. And then I remembered. It was my family that motivated me to write in the first place. And in the ‘lovely bones’ of writing I was always somehow dedicating language to them.

I became devout, devoted in writing about my family’s adventures, and my family at their very best served as source material for my future writing.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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African Renaissance

Alcoholism: Cloud Briefly Visible For A Moment Above Zelda Fitzgerald’s Head

Abigail George



I think of total exhaustion and being. How it takes me from winter to summer. Then I think of you and the space, the gap you in-habit for me.

The thing is I don’t distrust you, or pain. I think of you unburdened.

I think of you but you’re light years away from me now. Once I called you home. Once you called me sanctuary. Your hands were like a hat full of leaves, a porcelain teacup full of blue sky. Now all I know is betrayal, ghost protocol, the estrangement of the heart, the page, the frozen sea. I am the surgeon. You are the vibes in my fingers at the operating table. You are the phases of a Saturday morning, the leveling out of daylight. There’s nothing common about you. About your system of arrows, your symphony of sorrows. You’re light, I’m a bird found with an olive branch in it’s mouth. The notes found here in this world’s paradise are tentative. I’m thinking of you again. Now what is so wrong about that. You were romance, and I was homelessness. Now all that I know of love is extinct for me.

Zelda is waiting for the light. We’re all waiting on the museum. She’s waiting for the light. I’m waiting for the light. The world is full of stories for us to sup on. Even you must have one. The text sparkles.

It stretches out into the widening silence. Zelda is fathoming. The old girl has hit her head. She is bleeding from the wound. Her heart over the years has been faithful. Zelda is young and smart and no-nonsense. The priest must come over the vastness of desert and city jungle. The priest must come to pray for me. Zelda is not holy like the tubers and fossils found underground are. I’m left to clutch at the bird in my hand.

Zelda is eating sunflower seeds and honey. The old girl pours milk into her tea. I’m falling in love with Tarzan. Me Jane. Let’s give thanks. Let’s celebrate the galaxies. New and old.

I fear photographs and the cold sea’s philosophy. Now we all grow like wildflowers. Anywhere that we please. Like the seed of a mustard tree.

There’s nothing as beautiful as the newspaper man eating fresh plums.

The woods, mushrooms, potatoes. The vibrations of foliage. Daylight.

Glory. A tender swarm. The triumph of an athlete. The redemption of a sinner. Spring found in the desert. A Saturday morning. Leaf! Oh, sacred leaf! Universal winter. Cat. The action of rope found in blood.

The shadow of a woman found in the venerable wild. There’s nothing as beautiful as deep-blue love. The echo of a bird. An icy wind that freezes everything green but the gap of time. A page in a book. Golden people. Fire. Bright places. Novel places. Iron faces. The out-lines of a lonely season and hills. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph. The bride of high summer days. The confession of a sinner. The perfumed juice of a pear. Bird. Field.

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African Renaissance

The Renal Unit: Paper Towns Of A Borderless Woman

Abigail George



The hospital is a lovesick climate. The blessing of an emerald day.

Kite-flying. The fabric of a stream. The hidden wings of a child. The swell of a rosebud’s mute-bloom.

Thread of an owl through the air. The lengthened passage north.

Sinking-gathering-maturing cells of sunburnt flesh and bone. The Mediterranean-blue sky. The tarnished transaction of vital star meeting black hole. No, there’s nothing as beautiful. I come to life in my sister’s Cape Town flat. It is raining men and women and when the radiant sun comes out it rains golden. I think of people that only say things to be polite or diplomatic. I think of how before I do things now, I have to wait for the tiredness to lift. I think of my flesh and blood. And how everything around me is fragile and connected to God. Sometime I think of the hospital room I found myself in when I was barely 20-years old at Tara, then at Golden City Clinic, then at Hunterscraig Private Clinic. That was before the renal unit at the hospital where I was born. Now, I eat for three and four and five. I have to find my own way to be cheerful, and it feels like the day after Christmas in my hands.

The sun was unusually strong today. The waves seemed as angry as I was, and fury was like ice warmed up. He has a bear of a man for a step-father. I think of his sticky fingers on the counter-top. I think of the shape of autumn near my fingertips. The weather changing. Is it more climate than God? Whenever I wear a dress I think of Paris. I think of wearing Parisian-made dresses. I think of the love of my life and his daughter now. Of how he never saved me. I think of eating and drinking. I think of grief. I think of loss. I think of emptiness, futility, loneliness and silence. All harmless like vessels. I think of the country where I live. How heavenly it is. How metaphysical.

There’s a chill in the air as I eat alone in my room, and I think to myself that I am oceans away from the sun. I wonder if he told his wife what I said. That I was afraid of him. Making love to him. I was young. I was afraid. I thought of never going back. Never going home to the dysfunctionality I was brought up in. A sister, a daughter.

Siblings fighting. Competition and rivalry. I think of the desert. It offers freedom. I think of how vulnerable I felt in the hospital. I think of my sorrows. My so-called nuclear family. My poverty. My weaknesses. I think of freely-given bread. I am always looking for people to read my poetry and tell me what it is they think of it or rather me. As if it will add to my happiness. To my future. As if it will fix me or love me or mark me in letters ‘Return to sender’. I think of my house on fire. Pale fire. Milk in my hands washing away all my sins but it is never ever quite enough. I am never ever quite enough. I am not loved. I am unloved. I dream of digital copies of my books. The world is cold and made of gnarled oak, exoduses, and indigo children. People who are dumped on the ash heap of life. And for all of my life I have been one of them. No winter-husband. No autumn-children to rain on me. No blue river. There is no one to bring me flowers or to cook me a champagne breakfast.

Only the souls of bad men and good men.

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African Renaissance

Mystical George

Abigail George



The sun’s disappeared again. I think of my mother waving me goodbye with a doek around her head covering her hennaed hair. I’m crushing on the scenery out the bus’s window-seat. Thinking of how every portrait in nature and urban sprawl is sensual. I’ve quickly become a hunter for snapshots that light a brief flame inside of me, longing for a different South African culture, or delicious food. I’ve learnt to cultivate a passion for the people I meet wherever the mood or holiday takes me. I go. This, this is the awareness of another world’s earth and sky is not lost on me. When I was younger I lived to explore the rough and tough terrain of the open road. I would hop on the Translux by myself and travel to Johannesburg to visit maternal family. I’d climb into a taxi and visit Swaziland.

There are several ways to enjoy travelling. You can explore with your eyes, your taste buds, listening to birdsong and music, watching foot-traffic, watching the bright lights of the big city. I have packed a dress that goes anywhere (a church dress). The dress touches my ankles. The George-family (here I mean ‘George’ the town) attend services regularly. Pleading that you’re an atheist or not a regular churchgoer because you’ve somehow been hurt by the church won’t fly with these lamb curry, golden-roast potatoes Sunday eaters. On the bus I listen to a cassette tape on my walkman. A pale girl on the bus shares jellybeans with me. The Coloured aunty next to me has a Tupperware with her filled with vetkoek and mince that makes my mouth water.

The aunty and I make small talk about family and the weather and say nothing for the rest of the journey. I feel like a seasoned traveller at 16 years of age, even though I have only been to Johannesburg on my own and Wilderness, George and the Garden Route and Grahamstown. Snapshot. I can see into the backyards on this stretch of road that we turn into. I see tiny gardens and swimming pools. Snapshot. Trees and sky and blue hills escape into the periphery of a dense forest. Snapshot. I spy monkeys on the side of the road. Snapshot. Cars pull, snake, zigzag away from the bus. Families stop at the side of the road for a bite to eat. Those people looked like they lived to travel, living out of a suitcase, putting up a tent, eating sardines and baked beans out of a can. Snapshot. The open road is never-ending. Snapshot.  I tried to read the sky. Forecast. Overcast.

Rainclouds were gathering up ahead. The weather was dismal, miserable, mocking. I was in another time and place. Snapshot. Cities and towns have personalities and characters too. I want mystical George to love all of me. The one true thing that is immortal is the journey you find yourself on. It goes on forever and forever. Snapshot. I loved discovering people. Whether it was someone who looked like a character on the bus, or a tourist with a foreign accent and backpack, people travelling on the road with their families, small children and then there was someone like me, someone who looked every inch the outsider. Snapshot. I glance at hitchhikers with their meagre possessions next to them at the side of the road, feeling sorry for them. In a split second they’re gone.

Soon the rain pours down. Gravid and swirling, spitting, then vicious rain covers everything on the way to mystical George. It is wet and cold when I arrive. My uncle is waiting for me. I am the only person who gets off here. I wave goodbye to the pale girl who is going to Cape Town. That Coloured aunty is sleeping. It’s the nineties and I’m taking the Translux to George to visit a cousin who is the same age as me. We’re both still in high school. I’m still in that awkward phase of erupting into nervous, girlish laughter when spoken to by a boy. I have skinny legs and wear glasses. I end up visiting family in George for a long weekend. This was way before the Knysna fire. It is a lovely road that we travel from PE to George. Voldi is a distant cousin who plays the piano by ear and sings opera. He strikes a romantic intellectual, brooding figure. He’s popular. He has green eyes and is devilishly handsome.

It was Voldi who taught me that you will discover all sorts of teachers on your sojourn in this life. Unforgettable teachers, who will for the most part shower you with advice and wisdom when you need it the most, treat you with kindness, a modicum of understanding and tolerance whenever the need arose. When I think back to that holiday, I think of how much we’ve changed as a generation. Of how now every millennial is interested in a digital reality, the advances in technology, social media handles. Now we’re so into discovering the mechanics of entrepreneurship, the dimensions of browsing and exploring the web. Travel is one of nature’s complexities. You either love to travel or hate it. We visit his friends.

It’s easy to fall in love with them, the clipped tones of their Afrikaans, their blonde hair bleached white by the sun. I had never been around boys like this before. They’re all Afrikaans, good-looking, earthy-farm types. I don’t fit in. There’s a sleepover at his friend’s house. We binge watch videos. I eat a fried egg while watching Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger play a husband and wife whose marriage is falling apart. I have this ability now to see where I belong, where I fit in and where I don’t. It was easy to feel their effortless confidence crowding me out from across the room, feel their physicality, their beauty transformed me, held me at arm’s length, made me feel brave enough to speak Afrikaans, find the words. They left me feeling jaded and insecure.

But this is a George I love, a mystical George, where George-rain shattered the edges of small-town life. This was a George of quiet suburban life, roast leg of lamb on Sundays, watched over by a hovering aunt making fudge on the stove top, me patiently stirring caramel goo until it changed consistency with an aunt’s educated guesswork. This was the George where my parents’ had their second honeymoon without us kids. One Sunday after the church service we visit Voldi’s Grade 11 Mathematics teacher. He has a lovely wife, a kind, interesting and sensitive face. He is English, white, I guess a liberal. He makes jokes. I’m shy.                                                                                                                                                                   

This life, Voldi’s life, his joie de vivre did not mirror my own life. He was an extrovert, a social animal, the life and soul of the party. I was introverted and preferred to shy away from people keeping them at a distance. Instead of partying and drinking champagne I preferred to read a good book that was usually something interminably long and boring. 

George still is a love letter to my soul. It wasn’t always adventure stomping ground or adventure country like Cape Town or Johannesburg but nonetheless I fell in love with the place repeatedly for many reasons. It was quiet (the people who lived there were a quiet kind of people), the town itself was unique, an undiscovered paradise and inspiration for the future-poet in me. For the rest of my life I would carry the memory of that holiday that I spent with my cousin Voldi from dream holiday to family road trips to visiting museums. I loved the quiet, simple life in George. I loved the open road that spelled freedom from my siblings and parents for two blissful weeks. As if in a dream I can see the woman, the poet, the writer I wanted to be.

I had explored the cities and towns of South Africa, never had the experience of backpacking throughout Europe. I only know this, that I cannot leave South Africa behind and explore the United Kingdom, the States, Canada and Ireland. This is how it ends. I am not yet a poet in search of identity. I am not yet a writer in search of identity, the writer always writing that novel. I’m chasing the sun while life flows around me. And the world seems to say, every road, I am your peace, your deliverer, your keeper and your caretaker, your sanctuary and home.

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