When I was 11 . . . .


As I read various people’s blogs I wonder what it is about me and my life that makes it so absent of stories.  Like there’s someting that’s repressed or missing.  But then as I considered it further, I realized that my life is as full of stories as anyones.  It’s just so close to who I am – to my reality – that I don’t see it as "a story."  It just is.  So here I am – sharing.  Tentatively.  Madge wrote a beautiful post about when she was 11, and she was inspired by someone else . . . so I’ll keep the theme going.

You must know that I don’t specifically remember myself at 11.  I actually had to do the "in which year was I 11?" math and then sort of remember details based on the year.  It was the year 1978 (there – now you all can do the math).  This story actually starts when I was still 10.  My family (2 parents, 2 brothers and me) were living in Somerset West (near Cape Town), South Africa.  My dad had been the business manager of a small college there, but for some reason was working for. . .a company that also employed a lot of Koreans.  I can’t remember the name of the company, I just remember him getting impressive presents from Korea from some very gracious people.  It was the only time that I can remember my dad not having denominational employment.  

We were getting ready to move to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe on this map).  My dad had been called to be the auditor for our church’s division office in Salisbury (Harare).  I wasn’t part of the discussion referring to the timeline of our move, I just knew that I was going to start the school year in Somerset West, but would not be finishing school there.  The school year in South Africa goes with the calendar year.  Being in the southern hemisphere summer break is in December.  So in January (or whenever school started back) I got SOME school books – not all of the "writing in" books because they’d probably be different at the next school, and it was too expensive to buy stuff I wasn’t going to completely use.  Also, because we knew that we’d be moving, my oldest brother was sent to boarding school near Johannesburg, because that was closer to relatives, and to where my parents would be living.  They didn’t want him to have to move schools part way through the year – with starting high school and all.  It was a very sad time.  I remember my mom sobbing for a week after dropping him off at the airport.  She said she felt like an arm had been pulled out of her body.  I remember feeling completely inadequate because I couldn’t help her to feel better.  

I can’t exactly recall when we left Somerset West, or what event took place to make it the time to leave – I just remember living with my grandparents in Pretoria.  Sort of a "stop over" on our way to Rhodesia.  But then something in the political scene in Rhodesia made it too dangerous to proceed, so we stayed in Pretoria for a while longer.  And my brother and I were enrolled in a small school there.  I believe it’s the same school my mom might have attended as a child.  To get to this school we had to take a city bus to the center of town, and then another city bus to a bus stop near the school.  Then we’d walk the rest of the way.  My mom took the bus with us several times, and met us on our way back several times, to make sure we’d know which buses to catch.  It must have been very difficult for her to let her little kids out that way.  If I were to make a comparison, it would be like me dropping my kids off at the DC Metro to get to school.  I’m sure lots of people do it, but considering our current lifestyle, it just seems like I’d have a hard time doing it.  But that was how it was at the time.  I’m glad my brother was there – he always watched out for me – and carried my backpack if it was too heavy for me to run when we were late for a bus.  That school does not have a pleasant spot in my memory.  I remember some kids from there, but only because we met up again when I went to highschool.  I only vaguely remember names from that time.  My non-memory might also be because we were there so briefly (again, I don’t recall the time period).  It was hard because in our home we spoke English.  I could understand some Afrikaans – the other "national language" in South Africa at the time, but it was not comfortable for me.  I couldn’t hold a regular conversation in Afrikaans.  But this school was an Afrikaans one.  That meant all the kids there were fluent in the language, and the classes were taught in Afrikaans, with English being offered as a "second language."  I remember having to give two speeches in Afrikaans.  I was completely out of my element.  And I did NOT prepare as I should have.  And I was so embarrassed by my performance, I could hardly stand to be there.  I also remember the teacher trying to get us to memorize poems in Afrikaans.  I can still recite one of poems.  There was another poem she tried to get us to learn.  I remember her trying to teach us intonation and expression.  She wanted us to say a phrase in a certain way, and the entire class did not get it.  We just sat there and listened to how she wanted it said, and we did our best to imitate her, and we failed miserably every time.  She’d get SO frustrated.   I remember that phrase, and how we WEREN’T supposed to say it, very well too.  I also remember music class, for some reason.  It seems a different person taught us music.  And all the songs were in Afrikaans.  It was just like a sing-along.  No instruction, as I recall.  Just singing.  For fun, it seemed.  Which was fine for me.  And gym.  We had sort of a tumbling/gymnastics class, the idea of which I LOVED, but the actual doing of which I hated because people were watching me when I failed my tumble pass.  The part about living with my grandparents was cool.  I shared a bedroom with my grandmother.  My brother and I would talk about which TV shows would be on in the evening on the way back from the bus stop. (TV only started at 6pm – that with a sort of short devotional).  It was the only time we’d ever had a TV in our lives (till we moved to America).  Monday and Wednesday started out in English, then switched to Afrikaans at 8pm.  Tuesdays and Thursday started out with Afrikaans and switched to English with the 8pm news.  We never watched TV on Friday nights, and the weekends alternated between languages – with lots of American shows dubbed over to Afrikaans.  We watched CHiPs in English though.  I had to go to bed half way through it (because the clock, and my mom, said so).

We were there for enough time to realize that the current way of living was too unsettled.  My dad was able to do his auditing job from South Africa, because to go anywhere from Rhodesia for his job would require him to fly through South Africa anyway (geographically that doesn’t make sense, but South Africa was the hub through which most people went to any southern or central African country at the time).  My dad’s job required quite a lot of travelling.  So we moved out of my grandparents’ house and into a rented house in Johannesburg.  Right next door to the school where my aunt (my mom’s sister) taught.  This was a cool thing because my aunt became my teacher.   I don’t know why time, or the passage of  time, is so hard for me to remember at this stage.  I don’t remember much about school during this time.  But I remember odd bits about church life and time outside of school.  I don’t remember any specific friends.  I was in a class with a first cousin and a couple of 2nd or shoestring cousins.  So we played together.  But I don’t remember having a "best friend."  The school (and our house) was right next to a city park – that’s where we had recess.  I vaguely remember walking there and having a feeling of being completely disconnected.  Like I didn’t belong.  Not in Johannesburg.  Not in Pretoria.  Not in Somerset West, because my friends there had gone on without me in their lives.  And not in Rhodesia, because we hadn’t gotten there yet.  I don’t remember school ending.  I don’t remember good-byes.  I do remember not going back to that school the next year.  Somewhere during that summer break we made the move to Rhodesia.


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13 Responses to “When I was 11 . . . .”

  1. Becky Says:

    I don’t know why you don’t think you have “stories”?
    What you wrote is so much different than anything I have experienced.
    So, yes, your stories are very interesting. Atleast, to me!
    Tell me more!!!

  2. Jeannelle Says:

    My goodness, girl……you certainly do have stories in your background! This is amazing to read, and you must have many more experiences to tell about. What denomination was your family connected with? I recall seeing news reports about the unrest in South Africa back then….wasn’t it in the early 80′s? You surely witnessed some interesting history there. Yes, do write more about it sometime.

  3. Max-e Says:

    1978 in Rhodesia was a bad year, I am surprised that anyone went to live there, by choice. I returned to South Africa at the end of 1977, after spending 8 years there. By then the war was really beginning to hot up and I had been living in the operational area. What made me and my wife leave was the fact that we had no future to offer our newly born daughter. I have written a few posts on the war years – no glory just sadness.

  4. Reamus Says:

    What a wonderful, yet somhow sad story. It seems it would be a wonderful thing to remember more about that time…

  5. Pat - An Arkansas Stamper Says:

    I’m here from a link at Jeannelle’s Midlife by Farmlight, and glad I came. You definitely have stories to tell!!

  6. Jennifer H Says:

    I’m not sure how you could think you don’t have stories…keep digging for them. Can’t wait to hear more.

    This is rich material here!

  7. Lady Fi Says:

    It’s interesting that your memories are very disjointed – a sign of how unsettling life was for you back then. I can relate as my parents moved around a lot too…

  8. Madge Says:

    it seems like that is the time in our life 11/12, right around there, where things start to feel disjointed and we start to see things with more of a worldview and we start to feel alone.

    i’m cheery today aren’t i?

  9. Louise Says:

    Holy cow! That is a lot for an “11ish”-year-old to deal with! Not the time to feel disconnected from everything and like you don’t belong.

    I thought about doing my own 11-year-old post, but it would be too cheerful for you and Madge! I hated my school teacher, but it wasn’t even my worst year with him. The rest is all good stuff.

    What hit me the hardest is your mom sobbing for a week about your brother going away to school and you feeling like you couldn’t help. It hurts me that you even felt like you SHOULD. That was not your job at that age. It makes me very sad.

  10. Bob Brague Says:

    Dear Ms. ReluctantFarmChick,

    I came to your blog from Jeannelle of Iowa’s blog (Midlife by Farmlight); we go way back in blogdom (she was one of the first commenters on my blog).

    I love this post about your childhood in South Africa. I have known several people from Durban, but I see it is quite a way from Capetown.

    The part about the dubbed television programs reminded me of when I was on a business trip to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1969. I saw the American western series, High Chapperal on Swedish TV. It was broadcast in English with Swedish subtitles, which proved to be a rather unsettling experience. For example, when the little Mexican sidekick character said, “Si, SeƱor” the captioning would say, “Jah, mein herren” or whatever the phrase was in Swedish. A strange experience, indeed! I also saw Franco Zefferelli’s movie “Romeo and Juliet” in a theater there, in English with Swedish subtitles. Most disorienting. Shakespeare in Swedish is a strange bird indeed.

  11. Bob Brague Says:

    Oops, I meant Chaparral (not Chapperal). I’m usually such a good speller, too….

  12. don Says:

    I love the comment ‘the clock and my mum said so’ I have just found you site from my blog ‘promotethanet.blogspot.com’ it sounds swell in South Africa. I am glad I never had that journey to school at 11. keep up the work a farm always has something to do.

  13. don Says:

    Just gone back to the end and I feel sorry for you I know how dissconcerting all that is I lost my parents when I was ten and the moving round messed with me I never really got right till I had been married theree or four years so I sort of feel for you. shame what is going on in Zimbabwe

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