It seems like ages since I sat at this desk and fired off a quick post about this or that. The this of today is my Upington trip, which I alluded to above in the post about flirting and playing truant.
Perhaps the easiest way to do this would be the 5Ws and an H method we learned in Journalism school.
Who? Me and my colleague, H (an Afrikaans, conservative Christian type)
What? Drove to Upington to test the troops
Why? Because we were told to.
When? Last week
Where? That would be Upington in the hot Northern Cape
How? In a car.
Hmmm. I guess this method isn’t working as well as I hoped. Switch to Q&A.
What were the best and worst aspects of your trip?
Good question. There were a few good points. The first was having my misperceptions of Upington corrected. I’d always assumed that Upington was a hot, boring town in the middle of a hot, boring province and that it would be hell on earth to visit there. Wrong. Upington is an oasis of green in a hot, dry desert and the B&B we stayed in was, if not quite a home away from home, pleasant and hospitable and a mile better than its counterparts in Bloemfontein.
The second plus was meeting some fine (pleasant, kind, polite, interesting) colleagues from the Northern Cape. The woman in charge was a little older than me and she drove her team around in a minibus taxi which was just like a mom’s taxi and she was just like a mom. A fun, spunky-type mom. The psychologist who tested with us had recently climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and was an adventurous sort. And no, I didn’t flirt with either of those two women but I did let the spunky, mom-type have my extra ice-cream (which I got through being politely assertive).
The worst part, apart from the 9-hour car journeys there and back, was having to make small talk in Afrikaans with H, my conservative Christian Afrikaans colleague. On the plus side, I have made a new friend who I can go diving / taking pictures/ hiking with. But on the minus side, I had to listen to stories about his ex-girlfriends for five days. I know that many of you will wonder why I chose my current profession if I don’t like listening to people talk about their exes for long periods of time. And we are talking loooong periods of time. But allow me to point a small difference. In the therapy room I can call time after 50 minutes. “I’m sorry but we’re out of time.” On a long car journey with no CDs along for the ride (what was I thinking?) I was forced to listen, nod, listen some more, make appreciative noises (in Afrikaans) and then form an opinion and have a discussion.
“Yes, she does appear to have borderline tendencies but, you know, borderlines can also be very loving when they feel they’re understood.”
“No, I’m not very religious and I don’t go to church more than perhaps, once a year.”
“Hmm, that’s an interesting [conservative, religious] expression. I hadn’t heard that one before. How does it go? He is no fool who gives up what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose? Yes, I see. Giving up your earhtly life for eternal life. Right.”
(Sorry, I am being a passive-aggressive nasty person here but it’s quite therapeutic so feel free to skip off to the next post if this grates you.)
I knew I was in for trouble when 10 minutes into the journey he apologised for bringing a sackload of potatoes along for the ride. That’s an Afrikaans expression in case you didn’t know, which refers to bringing a whole sackload of problems into a discussion. You start off with a little potato and, before you know it, you have a whole table full of them and you’re being asked to give your considered opinion on each one.
One little extract from my journal might be helpful:
“I like H but I also find him quite boring and I get tired speaking Afrikaans all the time (or most of the time). He tires me out – the chronic fatigue, the negativity re L and the other girlfriend (the one with the beach phobia), the limited interests, the conservative outlook about absolutely everything except diving, the lack of empathy with others, the child-like need for approval and encouragement …”
Reading this again, I realise a few things.
i) I’m judgmental.
ii) I’m able to be empathic but I resent being put in a situation where I have little choice but to be empathic for long stretches of time
iii) I get uncomfortable with people who are conservative without any idea of how their conservatism impacts the people around them.
I’m also aware of something else. My own anxieties about my job and everything else that I have on the go this year makes me less tolerant of people such as H. I start to worry that I’m going to have to be friends with him for life. Would that be such a bad thing? Maybe I need to lighten up a little, or to shoulder those potatoes with a small shrug and a little smile. Hmm, potatoes did you say? Let’s roast a few over the fire and see how they taste.