Since the last time I wrote, my life has changed completely. In my last chapter I kept saying to people, “I just want this to be over, I’m tired of it and I want new problems” – by this I meant that problems are unavoidable and if you cant escape them then I at least want new ones. Never has ‘Careful what you wish for’ been more apt.
The last post was about working towards finishing my graduation project. It was every bit as tough as I thought it would be and I was granted just about enough time to finish it. After I passed the final exam I got two days. Two days of grace, in which to feel the lifting of the old weight. Two days in which to revel in a new dawn and ponder possibility. And then I got the news – my mother in South Africa has been diagnosed with stage four cancer and we need to return home indefinitely to be there for her, of course.
My world crumbled and my very earth shook. It was like the biblical trumpets in the book of Revelations sounded through my existence, heralding the end of an era or the start of a gruelling journey with no light at it’s end. The clock suddenly seemed to tick louder and be only for her and everything else which had seemed so important receded way into the background and utterly paled in comparison to the existential tragedy washing over my remote family. My sister called from Berlin, we cried on the phone. I called my other sister who in Kimberly, we cried. Our scattered family united, for once, but in anguish as is sadly often the case with families who only squirm in each other’s presence. The broken pieces of this dysfunctional unit would have to come together for the first time in many years to usher not only my mother but each other through this pivotal time. We all knew it would be a tall order.
Three weeks later I was on a plane homeward bound. I thought I would still take part in the final exhibition at school, but I didn’t have the energy nor the finances for it – what with buying a plane ticket and all. Those last weeks were filled goodbyes to my friends and new found family. In the 6 years there I’d really become a part of it and had a lot to pack in, literally and figuratively. I’d been blessed beyond measure but I was uneasy there. I knew I was needed somewhere else and didn’t want to miss my mother’s journey.
I’ve been back in South Africa for a month and a half. It feels like so much longer. Things are hard. My mama is ill. My family is broke and broken and to be honest so is the entire country. Dan is here now, being the best husband he can be, and we’re definitely not on holiday like last time. He describes the difference as last time being an outsider looking in and this time being and insider desperately looking out. This is how I’ve been describing it to my friends:
It’s strange to be back in SA hey. Lovely as well because of all the familiar foods, faces, foute grappige cultuur dingen – like how ‘are you married and do you have children’ replaces ‘what do you do’ as the first thing people ask. There are so many more dance shows on TV and even in the supermarket, the music is kinda banging. I’ve noticed it’s not unusual to see people ‘dancing on the job’ whatever that may be – cashier, road worker, etc slows things the hell down but wel gezellig. People are generally kinda gezellig at heart.
On the flip side it’s struck me as never before how alive apartheid still is – not as prolifically by law, but in how people live day to day. For example, Dan is doing a house sitting in a predominantly white neighbourhood, and I’m taking care of my mother in a totally coloured neighborhood. So we go from one to the other and as we leave the coloured neighborhood the very air gets fresher, the access to nature and parks increases, supermarkets are better stocked, with healthier things because people can afford healthier lifestyles, healthcare and to pay fees for superior education. I feel blacker and Dan feels whiter, whereas in the relative utopia of Holland, we have more of a semblance of equality. Because of the major economic imbalance there’s crime. And we’re getting used to security gates, multiple alarms, liaising with the local security company and locks and things – in the white neighbourhood these measures are more sophisticated, sigh…
As for the current status of my mom. She has colon cancer, which has spread to both sides of her liver, her lymph nodes as well as her lungs. The part they’re most worried about is the liver – if it fails, you die. So what they’re suggesting is chemo therapy to shrink the large tumour to a point where it’s small enough to be operable. What’s nerve wracking about this is that chemo is quite aggressive and she needs a lot of it. In the end she might die of organ failure instead of cancer, officially. She’s lost an incredible amount of weight and at the moment is the picture of cancer. What further exacerbates matters is the fact that the state hospitals which my mom is subject to, are in the habit of treating their patients somewhat like un-autonomous cattle. So every time I ask them a question on behalf of my mother I’m seen as annoying for daring to challenge or ask for more information so that we can come to our own conclusions as to whether we want to put my mom through this in the first place. Making this worse is the fact that my aunt, who was diagnosed around the same time as my mom, has just passed away after a vigorous course of chemo. She died cancer free but with a weakened body. So when I ask them details about the kind of chemo they want to use its only to find out what the honest risks are and not to undermine anyone. This all depends on what kind of doctor you’re getting. And sadly in SOuth Afriica, with its thick racial tensions, sometimes it even rears its ugly head in the attitude of the doctor. Which is a whole other blog post. I’m going to log my observations here from now on, so that I can keep track of myself and hopefully process some of what is happening to us in this whirlpool of circumstance and consequence.
On Wednesday we have an appointment at Groote Schuur hospital. They want to start chemo that day without having given us any information about it all, even though we did ask. My mother has flu at the moment though – on top of everything else – so we’re hoping that this buys us some time until they actually start and that we can use this appointment to ask them our questions instead.