My Dilemma

‘Dilemma’ song – sung to the tune of Camila Cabello’s ‘Havanna’:

Dilemma, ooh na-na (ay)
Half of my head has a dilemma, ooh-na-na (ay, ay)
Do I keep eating avocada, na-na-na
When all I want is a banana (ay)
There’s somethin’ that feels wronga (uh huh)
Dilemma, ooh na-na (uh)

So, I tried banting. Being the all or nothing person that I am, I didn’t start with an ‘ease into it’ week. I cut out all cereal, rice, flour, potato, pasta, bread and (apart from a few strawberries) fruit. I started each day with breakfast fried in butter. I had salmon and avo for lunch. I ate more vegetables than I had for about three years. The result? I lost three kilos in two weeks. ‘That’s awesome!’ I hear you say. And it is.

What’s not so awesome is the dilemma of having to live in the world. If I carry on with this way of eating, I will never again experience the sheer delight of watermelon juice running down my chin, or biting into a peach and having the juice dribble down my arm, or tearing the peel off a mandarin and squirting myself in the eye. On second thoughts, maybe I should be banned from eating fruit! I won’t be able to meet a friend for coffee, or enjoy a glass of wine on a Friday afternoon, or pop down to Mission Bay for a Movenpick ice cream on a sunny Sunday morning. I definitely won’t be able to smother a fresh croissant in homemade berry jam.

I want these things. I like food. I love the variety of food we have in the world. I like the freedom to choose to have fruit salad for breakfast. I don’t want to live on fats and meat. I guess it isn’t for me. 20171212_133537

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Eating fat to make myself thin

Me: Banting. Know what it is?
You: Isn’t it the form of sewing where you quilt two pieces of fabric together with fluffy stuff in the middle?
Me: I don’t even know what you’re talking about.
You: Oh. I thought we were playing Balderdash.
Me: (opens mouth but nothing comes out)

Banting is way of eating where you eat lots of fat, while avoiding bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and sugar. That means you can have the breakfasts you dream of on normal diets. Imagine a pan with sizzling butter. The golden aroma fills the kitchen. You reverently place two rashers of streaky bacon into the pan, along with a tomato and some chopped mushrooms. Finally you add two eggs. In a separate pot you steam a bunch of spinach in cream. You sit down with your knife and fork and can’t believe how food this good is actually part of a diet designed to make you lose weight.bacon-and-egg.jpg

The next morning, you go through the same process and it’s still great. On the third morning you find you’re not looking forward to it as much. By the fourth morning, all you want is a fruit smoothie.

You know, I’ve spent most of my life being careful with food. I’ve tried not to overindulge. I hardly ever have pudding when I go out to eat. Actually, I hardly ever go out to eat, so maybe that’s not a dependable yardstick. I bake all the time and eat hardly any of it. I don’t deep fry – I’ve always been light on any form of fat in my cooking. Have you any idea how hard it is to deliberately eat butter, cream, cheese, seeds, nuts…

Yesterday I had a meeting at which pizza was being served for dinner. I took my own. No, not my own pizza! My own dinner. I had salmon, avo and a salad with almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds thrown in. It was actually delicious and quite a few people were envious when they had eaten one slice too much of pizza or an extra piece of garlic bread and were feeling bloated. I felt great. I can do that kind of thing as a one-off, but how can I sustain it? I’m so used to grabbing a packet of mince and making meatballs with rice or spaghetti bolognese. For this evening’s meal I have selected a packet of chicken tenderloins. Already I am agonising over how I’m going to cook them to make sure there is enough fat in the meal.

My concern is that this will all become too hard and that you’ll find me quivering in the corner, nibbling on a pork chop.

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The Great Trek

19 November 1997. We arrive at the airport with two suitcases, two carry-on bags, a portable cot and a fold-up pram. I am nervous and excited. Nervous to be going to a country I have never visited and am about to make my home. And excited for the same reason. My baby girl is just two and is unsure about what is happening. All she knows is that she will see her dad tomorrow. At the check-in our luggage weighs 73kg. The airline staff member takes one look at my red, puffy face, and at the large crowd amassed behind me, and gives us boarding passes.

I have been teaching at a small Catholic school and half the school has pitched up at the airport. They stand in a group, blocking the path for other travelers who know better than to object. Someone starts clicking his fingers and the singing starts. ‘Some time in our life, we all have pain, we all have sorrow… Lean on me…’ They sing in the harmony that springs from African soil. I stand and watch and listen and cry. I know how special these people are. I know how blessed I am to have had them as part of my life for five years. ‘Take this box of chocolates, Mrs White. I’m sure you can find space in your carry-on bag.’ I fit it in.

I hug them all and promise to stay in touch. The mother of one of my girls gives me a card and a gold charm. It is a heart-anchor-cross combination. She has written that this is what I mean to her daughter – love, security and faith. I cry some more. (This picture is the replacement charm a lovely man bought me when mine was stolen, because he knew how much it meant to me.)20171119_154045

My family is there to say goodbye. We don’t know when we’ll see each other again. New Zealand is a long way from South Africa. We sit in one of the coffee shops, unsure of what to say. We try and joke, but we are all just thinking of the distance that is about to open up between us. My sister gives me a top and pants. ‘I’m sure you can find space.’ I fit it in.

The plane ride seems to take forever and the realisation of the giant leap of faith we are taking dawns on me. Still, time only marches forward and I have committed myself to this new life. What is in store for me, no one knows. I close my eyes as acres of ocean speed past underneath and my old life is left further and further behind.

Twenty years later, so much has happened. In a nutshell: I had a baby, got divorced, got married, got divorced, and have just finished writing my first novel. Everything else is just details. At times I wonder how I coped through everything I’ve been through, and I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time what was in store. I know I’ve changed through my experiences and I rather like the person these twenty years have made me.

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When I was young…

I’ve been feeling really old this week. More than usual. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the realisation of being well and truly in middle age has dawned. It also has nothing to do with the fact that the ‘kids’ I taught in South Africa now have their own kids going to high school. Although, it does have something to do with high school kids.

Last week was, for many schools, the final week for the senior students. The time, one would think, where they were eager to glean some final pearls of wisdom from their sages. The time when they would spend moments in quiet contemplation, reminiscing about the thirteen years of schooling that were coming to an end, the beginning of a new chapter. The time where they might present the school with a token of their appreciation and the school feels emptier for the loss of the richness they brought.contemplation

What really happens is a far cry from that. The legacy many Year 13 students want to leave is one of outrage and destruction. They do ‘pranks’. This in itself is nothing new. The scent of freedom after thirteen years in a regimented system has often resulted in water being sprayed, eggs being thrown, a teacher’s Mini being lifted up by four burly students and placed in an impossible location. The only people who knew about it were those involved and perhaps a few who saw the sneaky pictures that were circulated two weeks later after the spool had been developed.

The difference this year is the degree to which students are prepared to degrade themselves, with the sure and certain knowledge that whatever they do will be shared on social media. One group of girls who unwittingly threw down the gauntlet, stripped off and drove around naked.

And so, of course, some of our students had to strip off and run around the school. And now I’m really going to sound like a granny – don’t they have any self-respect? Don’t they realise that the pictures posted online will never go away?

I think I’m just too old for this shit.

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The purpose of teaching

I was walking up Queen Street in Auckland city yesterday, having just been stood up for lunch, when I noticed an increased number of homeless people shaking cups or holding signs. I am used to seeing some when I catch the train into the city for lectures, but there are not that many on weekdays.

What? Was I surprised that he stood me up? Not really. It isn’t the first time. Maybe the fact that he made the date in a drunk phone call following a number of drunk texts should have made it clear that he would not show. But this blog is not about being stood up. It’s not even about the fact that I had to make my own lunch when I got home. Which was delicious, by the way. One of the silver linings. And the sun was shining for the first time in forever, which made waiting for sixteen and a half minutes at the Waterfront quite delightful.

What I was thinking about was how the cup-shaking, cardboard-waving citizens had nowhere to go. They were just sitting around, waiting for night to fall, so that the crowds would leave their bedroom and they could curl up in a doorway. They seemed to have no purpose in life other than trying to get a few coins. I walked past them thinking about the novel I have just finished, the writing group I had just left, the car I was going to get into, the home it would take me to, the lunch I would have, the uni work I would do when I had eaten. Purpose.20171030_203614

What is life without a purpose? I’ve been thinking about that this year. I was wondering what life would be like if I could sit at home and write. Like, if I won Lotto. Would that make me happy? Or is there some deep-seated need in me to help others? I don’t mean the doorway-sleepers on Queen Street. I’m not about to rush off and become a social worker. I mean school. And teaching.

I am pushing so hard against the wall of education that seems to be encircling me. The wall I have built over more than twenty years. I am screaming in a voiceless voice that I want to get out. But maybe teaching gives me that purpose. Not just passing on knowledge to teenagers, but to other teachers as well. I’m applying for management jobs in schools for next year. Hopefully, when the sun shines into my carefully constructed silo, it will find me sunbathing. And not pressed up against the wall, desperately trying to find the exit.

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Waiting for a train

It is 1917. A young woman stands on the platform. Her well-worn brown lace-ups have travelled endless paths to and from the gate. Now they do not move. They simply wait.

A train approaches. She feels her heart beat faster, her gloves clench and unclench. Her eyes watch the smoke growing until it is full-size. And next to her. Others bustle around her, reaching for arms through windows. She doesn’t feel them bump into her. The carriage doors open and spill their cargo of broken men. Still, her eyes search. She looks past crying faces and tight embraces. She hears nothing but her shallow breathing.

The crowd thins. He is not there. Her feet do not move until the train has pulled away and she knows there in no one else getting off. Like a ghost in the mists of a Gothic horror, she stands in the steam, head bowed.

She turns and leaves the station, sidestepping an old man of twenty-three who seems lost. She knows she will come back tomorrow. She knows that the right train will come.destination

It is 2017. A woman sits on the platform. The suitcase tries to bruise her thighs through the thin fabric of her summer trousers. She shifts to ease the numbness. In her hand she holds no ticket. She has no idea where she is going.

Trains come and go. Everybody is too busy with their own lives to notice her sitting there. It is better not to notice strangers doing strange things. Crowds build and thin as they are swallowed by and belched out of electric carriages. Each time a train appears she reads the glowing orange destination and decides it is not for her.

She knows the right train will come. And the wait will have been worth it. Although, in some small part of her mind, she wonders if she has already missed it.

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There are ducks on my lawn

It’s Friday afternoon and there are ducks on my front lawn. They have taken to coming around every day in the hope of getting something to eat. They don’t look underfed. They must live around the corner at the duck pond. That would be my guess. Those ducks get fed all the time. Families stop there with bread. They obviously think the ducks are cute.

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We have decided to name these ducks Doris and Nigel. (Daisy and Donald were already taken.) Doris is very annoying. She is like the energiser duck. She quacks non-stop and you can hear her from far off. Nigel follows quietly, but he does follow. Everywhere she goes.

They remind me of my dating experiences. Not because Doris is loud and bossy, while Nigel follows behind her and allows her to eat all the food. Or because, of the two, she is more alive and a bigger presence in the world. Or because he seems to have no direction or thoughts of his own. Hmm, no. Definitely not because of that. It’s because they keep coming back. I’ve given them a few crumbs and they see that as enough encouragement to hang around. Maybe they feed off discontent. I think I’ll try rushing up to them and stroking them (the ducks). Maybe smothering them with affection will have them waddling off in trepidation.

Alternatively, I could keep fattening them up and then eat them for dinner. This is why I’m not dating this year. There is only so much lame duck I can handle.

 

 

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