Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tales from Exile – I’ve been Everywhere

map from

It is the season of farewells here in Exile-land.  The schools all follow the northern hemisphere curricula, so end-of-school-year brings end of assignment to lots of folk, not limited to the Education Sector.  Marius and I attended farewell parties on Thursday and Friday nights, and have two more scheduled for early next week.  

 On Thursday night I met an interesting woman who I had nothing in common with.  I am not sure if she noticed or just decided that I was pathetic in general.  She has led an interesting life, full of travel and experiences in exotic places, and had lots of stories to tell.  She wore large pieces of yellow gold jewellery jangling and flashing as she smoked.  Her gestures were sweeping and frequent; her voice large too.  I kept thinking I’d stepped back in time and met an old colonial – she had grown up on a property in Africa, had shot beasts attacking the cattle from a young age and didn’t flinch at the sight of a green mamba above her on the verandah.  She’d also run an ostrich farm and taught the farm hands how to slaughter the birds for market.  (None of which I believe I am capable of.)

 It reminded me somehow of that chap in the Flanders and Swann song (Driven to it – by the Spider in the Bath):  
I have fought a grizzly bear,

Tracked a cobra to its lair,

Killed a crocodile who dared to cross my path;

I almost expected a pith-helmet.

 She’s dined with princes and thieves on five continents and smoked sheesha with sheiks and oilmen.  She has lived in Syria, Brunei, Africa, Venezuela and southern Europe, as well as the Middle East.  She loves it here, not that she stays, mind you.  I wondered if all the other places she claimed she’d lived in she also didn’t stay in. 

I felt quite frustrated with myself.  On the one hand I felt somewhat in awe of her skills, her evident physical power and her confidence to engage in the world in such a forthright manner, and on the other hand I was repelled by something.  

Maybe I was looking for some sense of reflection or awareness of the inner life of some of the people she had encountered along the way.  Perhaps I was picking up something of the colonial attitude (if that is what is?) of the world being there for the picking and hang the consequences.  I hope I am not being a snob:  I have nothing to be snobbish about. 

The writer in me was thinking what a great source of story ideas while the poet in me was thinking there is no emotional life being offered, there is no one at home.  And now that I have got here, I think I understand what my difficulty was:  the role of superwoman was so ingrained I had no sense of the true person out of costume.

When I put aside my own sense of inadequacy I feel compassion wondering what could have made her so apparently tough and resilient, and what pain is she burying in herself?  Then again, perhaps I am wrong and she is superwoman all the way through to her spine.



jabblog said...

People like that make me curl up in my shell and feel completely worthless. I like Eleanor Roosevelt's advice - 'No one can make you feel inferior without your consent' - I commend that sentiment but cannot follow it.
I think you are compassionate to look for some evidence of soul in such people. Of course, it must be there, but it's not much fun being talked AT . . .

ds said...

Wow. Are you sure she wasn't channeling Isak Dinesen? The voice of Empire wouldn't pause for reflection, but I admire your efforts to give her a soul; I'm sure that at some point she had one...

Stafford Ray said...

A mate once remarked of a person such as that: "If he has done everything he says he's done, he must be a thousand years old!"

Willow said...

I love your travel though your impressions of this highly impressionable woman...your surface views and your deeper delve as to what is behind who she is, your final compassion and yet wonder.