For the love of hiking

It’s a weekend morning, probably a Sunday. I’m with my mother and my sister. I’m about seven years old, and we’re going for a walk up Lion’s Head. I complain incessantly, my exhaustion turning into grumpiness very quickly. I want my mother to carry me but I’m obviously too old for that. My sister and I whine. I plop down onto a rock, arms folded across my chest, glaring at the flora and fauna. Somehow my mother refrains from throwing us off the mountain. As I remember, we don’t make it to the top.


We’re in Nature’s Valley, the place I love the most. It could be any year, from 2002 to 2013. We’ve camped there every December holiday since I was tiny. We leave the campsite and drive to the trail that leads to Salt River. The trail begins not far from the beach. We enter a dark forest, which quickly muffles the sound of the tourist-filled stress that we’ve left behind. The trees are gnarled; they curl and twist along the path, and the thick green leaves overhead protect us from the sun.


[Image: sourced]

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A lot to chew on

On body image and restrictive eating.

Spring is here. Grahamstown, with its erratic weather, decided to head straight into summer, and the beginning Term 4 at UCKAR has been a sweltering hell. And along with the heat comes something far more unbearable: bad body image. Continue reading

Keeping count: secret complexities of a monolingual

On my relationship with English, my mother tongue, in South Africa.


I have always loved to count. When I was little, I counted my steps. At age ten, I counted the lamp posts on the drive to school, or cars that sped past. Around age twelve, I began counting letters and syllables in groups of seven. I loved the rhythm of a count of seven; it sounded self-assured, complete. Simultaneously, my eyes spied out seven-letter words, which I’d then tap out onto my lap as if typing on a keyboard.

In retrospect, this behaviour was compulsive, and it certainly slackened the pace of my reading. Often, I was so engrossed in counting and listening to the words in my head that I missed what they were trying to tell me, but I learnt to appreciate words in a new way. I valued the sounds – the taps and hums and ticks – of the English language. I still search for seven-letter words in books, sprayed onto walls, carved into desks. There is solace in these sevens; my mind tenses and then relaxes with each search and discovery. It is a comfort, just as it is a comfort to speak in the language that one knows and loves the most. Continue reading

The tiny dots of the universe

It is comforting to know how small we are.

Over the winter holiday, we took a trip to the town of Sutherland, in the Northern Cape. Sutherland is the coldest town in South Africa, with a tiny population* and a single main road. It’s the home of the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), which pretty much controls the population and economy of the dorpie. The restaurants and B&B’s keep their lights dim to avoid light pollution during night-time, and by the time the sun has set, the town is still.

Those are Sutherland’s main attractions: snow and stargazing. We missed out on the snow, but my disappointment faded the moment we arrived and I emerged from the car only to be hit by a ferociously cold wind. A maximum of five degrees Celsius was cold enough – the snow could stay away. The stargazing, however, could not be missed. Continue reading

The anxiety of truth-telling

When I try to think of a way to describe depression, the first word that comes to mind is gravity. Gravity becomes stronger; it moves beyond the point of keeping me grounded. Now it’s trying to push me into the ground, a great big hand reaching down from the sky and forcing me down. Suddenly, I am lying down, an unresponsive lump on the bed, a few dribbled sentences sitting before me, waiting in vain to be refurbished.

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Out of order

This morning, the washing machine overflowed.

Since moving out of campus residence and into a flat with my friend, I’ve encountered most of what I’d heard about from other students. I’ve dealt with raucous neighbours, wobbly internet connection, lousy half-arsed meals, water shortage, and units on the electricity metre fading so fast you’d think we owned a jumping castle. On the bright side, I told myself, we’ve never had a problem with the washing machine.

By the end of this week, our flat was a disaster. My roommate and I had pushed through a pile of deadlines, and our poor living quarters had suffered the consequences of this. When under pressure, we do not clean*. The monsters loved the mess; they gained courage, climbing in through the window, smashing a wine glass, stealing our food and spilling crumbs all over the floor.  Continue reading

Booze and boundaries

I picture it: the sting of the liquid, clear as water, as it fills my glass. I top it with something sweet and fizzy, spinning my straw around to stifle its unforgiving burn. The crowd rumbles on, a slurry of mismatched.conversations, gestures, and hot air. My chest feels tight and I lean in closer towards my friends, clutching my drink, fingers icy. Within minutes my glass is empty and I sit back, awaiting the calm that follows the burn. It feels like nothing is happening; then suddenly the words are streaming from my mouth like glitter, and my smile becomes laughter. I shrug my anxiety off and turn my back as it slinks off to a corner.

I have used alcohol to rid myself of a prominent aspect of my identity. Be it one drink or three, I’d usually feel lousy in the morning after having returned to myself. Continue reading

The quiet kid finds her voice

During my childhood and in the early stages of my adolescence, my mother recalled a phrase that will never leave my mind. Whenever I felt lost or frustrated, she would bring forth these words, her voice firm with conviction: Put the drama on the page. I swear by it now, though at the time it left me scowling. How could my vexation be softened simply by setting pen to paper?

In grade one, I wrote my first proper story, one with a plot, a host of characters, and a climax. On the top shelf of my cupboard at home, that story sits, accompanied by two crayoned witches on broomsticks. When I realised what I could do with a pen, I was delighted. I devoured books; with my newfound ability, books let me in on their secrets, and I learned that I too could create stories. I could share experiences and thoughts and question the world, all without saying a word. For the first year or so, my hand refused to stick to the margin as I wrote. The words edged a little closer to the right side of the page with each new line, transforming each story into a tornado of grey lead and thought.

Writing is my secret weapon. At school, each new year welcomed a fresh wave of anxiety; I mumbled and stammered my way through presentations and class discussions. Yet once finding the opportunity to place pen to paper, letters joined forces to create pieces that lit up my teachers’ eyes, which then fixed on me with approving curiosity. The more I read, the more ways I learnt to put the drama on the page. I heard writers’ voices in their characters – I laughed out loud at Holden Caulfield‘s cynicism, explored the mathematical mind of Christopher Boone, cried for Lennie Walker. Books assured me that being silent doesn’t mean you can’t be heard.

Speech is intimidating. You cannot approach a person the way you would a page. There is little time to gaze at them, head cocked to one side as you arrange your ideas, trace and retrace your verbal steps. You cannot hammer your finger onto the backspace key, moulding and packaging sentences until they’re ready for sharing. Shyness hides in my throat. It clings to my voice with cold, clammy hands and my words tumble out as they fight against it, an internal battle that chooses Um as the leader and allows I don’t know to end the procession.

Nearing the end of grade one, I told my teacher that when I grew up I wanted to be an author. I still marvel at the confidence that coursed through me as I shared my vision with her. At age seven I only knew and loved children’s fiction, and the term writer seemed far flimsier than the established title of author. I now know that I do not have to publish a book to satisfy the dreams of that quiet kid. Simply, I must write.

Header image: Guinevere Shapiro