Some weeks ago, on a cold, wet, February morning, I crossed London by bus and tube to meet a total stranger for lunch. In these days of internet dating, I suppose this is not an unusual occurrence, but this was not an internet date in the typical sense of the word. This was a a ‘blogosphere’ meeting and something I had looked forward to for quite a while. I had told my children about this arrangement the night before and as I made my way towards the Thames, I did wonder whether they sometimes wish that their mother played bridge and golf in her spare time rather than doing the things she does.
You see, I have a secret life. I’m a blogger. Not all my friends and hardly any acquaintances know that I blog. If it does happen to come up, I get a mixed response; sometimes interest, sometimes curiosity and sometimes something I can’t quite identify; a sort of shying away as if afraid I’ll suddenly start to read aloud, something utterly cringe-worthy.
I resisted blogging for years. I neither read nor wrote blogs. I didn’t really ‘get’ the concept and, to put it bluntly, I found the word ‘blog’ so unappealing that I simply didn’t want to be connected to it in any way.
And then a friend, perhaps more computer literate and adventurous than I am, started talking about a blog she was following called ‘Sunshine in London’ (sunshineinlondon.wordpress.com) and because my children live there, she thought I’d find it interesting and would often share nuggets of information she had gleaned from ‘Sunshine’. My curiosity piqued, I eventually sought out ‘Sunshine in London’ myself and after reading only one or two of her posts, I was hooked. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Here was someone who sounded just like me, who wrote in much the way I wrote and expressed similar sentiments and so I thought, ‘why not?’ and Africadayz was born.
I reached the tiny, tucked-away coffee shop where ‘Sunshine’ had suggested we meet, somewhere between London Bridge and Waterloo and waited. I had no doubt I’d recognise her immediately – even though I’d never seen anything other than a profile picture no bigger than a postage stamp – and of course, I did. She was very much as I expected her to be,just younger and prettier, and over lunch, I came to think that had we lived near each other and met somehow, we would have been good friends.
One of the questions I wanted to ask her was how and why she’d started blogging and her answer resonated with me. She told me that newly arrived in England, unemployed and initially a a little lonely, she would write long letters to family and friends about her experiences until someone suggested that rather than writing separate missives, she record everything on a blog that could be shared among many and so ‘Sunshine’ took off. I understood this completely. Since I was little more than a child, I have written letters, some so long I suspect the recipients made themselves pots of tea (or something stronger) and took several deep breaths before starting to read them. And some, I have no doubt, never reached the end. Writing like that is a compulsion of sorts. It is not, as someone once suggested to me, based on ‘good’ behaviour or some sort of sense of duty, it just happens. Words pour onto paper, faster, sometimes than the thoughts that propel them are even fully formed.
Sunshine and I were still talking when we stood up to leave. She needed to get back to work and I had to negotiate my way back to Hampstead. Saying goodbye, she mentioned that she has some family in Cape Town; a brother-in-law who is an architect. My brother is an architect in C T, I said, and so she told me where her brother-in law-works. I stopped in my tracks; momentarily silenced for the first time that day as he works, it turned out, in my daughter-in-law’s father’s architectural practice in Cape Town. ‘Sunshine’ had actually met Dennis and his wife in London on one of their visits to London.
When I told her of my connection to the family, I thought that for a split second, a look of disbelief crossed her face. Maybe in that instant she did wonder if I was some sort of crazy blog-stalking person although I know she’d never admit it… But there it was, an astonishing co-incidence across continents and cyberspace. I still find it quite difficult to comprehend.
In the case of Africadayz, I had found myself frequently writing emails and letters to friends abroad, often ex-South Africans, who had misguided ideas about our lives in post-apartheid South Africa. I was often asked if it was ‘safe’ to walk the dogs around my neighbourhood and whether we were still able to enjoy our parks and natural resources without fearing for our safety – or maybe even our lives – at every turn. I got tired of that. I wanted to share the the good things that have survived, the thrill it still gives me to see mixed groups of school children supporting their teams and excelling in a myriad different ways. All sorts of things might be wrong with our government but all sorts of other things are so much more right than they ever were before.
So instead of getting rambling, introspective emails, my family and friends can now choose whether or not to read Africadayz if they wish know my state of mind. And over the years, to my surprise, many people I don’t know at all from all over the world, have also chosen to dip into posts here and there and in turn I have ‘met’ and got to know many strangers and have learned about their lives and countries. Long ago, some of us had ‘pen friends’. As a school girl I corresponded for a years with a German friend and I can still remember her postal address by heart. My sister and I finally met her in Bavaria in the 1970ties and were served the strongest, cream-laced coffee and richest Black Forest cake either of us have ever tasted, either before or since. In fact, I have thought sometimes that if there were a word to describe the opposite of ‘xenophobic’, it would suit me. I am fascinated by foreigners and find it hard to resist talking to them. In Grade 1, at all of 6 years of age, when a new girl appeared in the classroom, her navy blue school uniform an inkblot among our bottle green, I made an absolute beeline for her. We became firm friends and were both very sad when her father was transferred back to Britain. From there, a pattern was set. I am drawn, it seems, to ‘otherness’.
And so it came to be that on Friday night I picked up two complete strangers from the reception area of the Rosebank Courtyard Hotel. Cathy and Peter are from Seattle and are good friends of one of my Africadayz followers, D’Arcy. D’Arcy started following Africadayz after discovering my second blog, Home-in-the-Making, a product of my experience of building a new house. D’Arcy keeps a blog recording the ongoing renovations and improvements she and her husband are doing to their house, just outside of Seattle. (You can share D’Arcy’s experiences by visiting ourbungalows2ndcentury.wordpress.com) I love her blog and eventually we exchanged email addresses. When she mentioned that her good friend Cathy was going to be visiting Zimbabwe in search of some family history and was going to be passing through Johannesburg, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to invite her around for supper. Until I reached the Courtyard Hotel, I had no idea with whom Cathy was traveling and other than thinking if she was D’Arcy’s friend she must be ok, I really didn’t know if I was going to be bringing home a gun-toting, Trump-supporting hillbilly. Whatever the outcome, I believed the evening would be interesting. And of course, it was. We had other friends over too – moral support in case our unknown guests were indeed scary – and we had a great evening. So much so that I picked them up again yesterday after they’d had to check out of their hotel and brought them home for the afternoon. First we went to 4th Avenue, Parkhurst so they could get a feel for things in our lovely new neighbourhood and then we came home for tea and conversation. They were great guests and full of enthusiasm for their recent, quite intrepid, travels around Zimbabwe. (cathysadventures.com) When the time came, we dropped them off at O R Tambo and waved them on their way. We’ve learned a lot about Seattle and we hope they’ll persuade D’Arcy to visit South Africa too.
So for me, blogging has turned out to be a multi-faceted experience and perhaps one day I’ll do a round-the-world trip meeting some of my favourite fellow-bloggers along the way.