A sackload of potatoes to Upington

Down by the (Orange) riverside

Down by the (Orange) riverside

the long road to U-town

the long road to U-town

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.

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11 Responses to A sackload of potatoes to Upington

  1. That’s a beautiful photo (the first one!)

  2. Effendi says:

    That journal of yours. Hmmm. It’s making me worried. What did I say, what did I say over our cups of tea?

    I had a similar, although thankfully much shorter, experience about 20 years ago. I was hitching home to Cape Town from Grahamstown and accepted a lift from an Afrikaans man in a bakkie. You’ve got to make polite conversation and you’re a captive audience – in this case to his far-right political views. My main problem was that shortly after he’d picked me up and before he’d revealed his true colours, he said he needed to pop in to visit Tannie Sannie or some relative of his and would I mind a short detour. Lifts are hard to come by, so I said not a problem.

    So off we went along a long dirt road to Tannie Sannie whose sole redeeming feature was her heavenly melktert. En route we passed three women sitting by the side of the road eating. The driver slowed (I thought ‘how considerate’) and then as we drew level with them, revved the car and raced off, leaving them enveloped in a cloud of dust.

    What was I to do? Being even further from Cape Town than when I started off and far less likely to get a lift, I did the cowardly but pragmatic thing and shut up and continued to listen to his crude racist rantings. And I didn’t hesitate to eat a huge slice of Sannie’s melktert. The guilt is still gnawing at me.

  3. Effendi says:

    I mean, dammit, I should at least have asked for a second slice.

  4. I start to worry that I’m going to have to be friends with him for life.

    That’s not an unreasonable concern. I have one such friend. The Albatross Friend, I call him, as he is heavy ’round my neck.

  5. doctordi says:

    Re. top photo: who the hell would give up earthly life when the views are this good??

    And what’s with crazy mad keen divers? Why do they all have to be such rabid joiners? Carting around their log books like bibles, always trying to convert the uninitiated, smugly superior about their guaranteed berth on the boat… hey, wait a second…

  6. Natalian says:

    Roadtrips should never be undertaken – especially 9hr ones – without music! I can identify with not being able to tolerate certain people or situations when dealing with my own internal stresses. However, any reasonable person could not be expected to hear 9hrs of your collegues ‘cathartic potato offloading’ without experiencing some form of annoyance! Your pic of the Orange River is gorgeous. The second pic leaves me with unpleasent memories of hot,long, holiday road trips which felt like we were on the road to nowhere fast as everything looked the same!

  7. Pete says:

    Lilian – Thanks. I think that view was actually the highlight of my trip.

    Effendi – LOL re the cups of tea and your hitch-hiking experience. This guy wasn’t racist (not overtly so anyway) but I was definitely the captive audience to his long story. As for the tea, I enjoyed ours and it’s always good to hear your stories 😉

    David – Your friend makes me think of the Ancient Mariner. Is there a wedding involved?

    Di – This guy is so ripe for plucking as a character. He freely admits that he likes diving because it allows him to escape from the real world (a bit like sticking his head in the sand) and the slow pace of diving totally suits his slow-brewing personality. But he’s got me thinking I should give it a try. That way I could even dive at the Great Barrier Reef some time.

    Natalian – The sad part is that our musical tastes are almost totally different. He likes Afrikaans folk singers and I like rock (amongst other genres). I guess we could have settled on classical. I liked the “cathartic potato offloading” expression. And the second photo shows the lack of road shoulder, which makes passing trucks a bit of a nightmare.

  8. doctordi says:

    Don’t do it, Pete. Don’t. Do. It. Learn from the albatross. And if you MUST learn how to dive, just remember I warned you that they’re ALL MAD.

  9. Litlove says:

    I think anyone who helps people for a living has to take extra special care about protecting their personal life from the needy. You have enough of them on a daily basis to exhaust your supply of empathy and generally those ones pay you. When my sister-in-law was a GP it was implicitly understood that we would not crowd her holiday days with our tedious concerns about the health of small children, etc. Alas, listening to someone pour out their woes is so easily bundled into the everyday that we forget it’s perfectly reasonable to boundary that kind of involvement. And nine hours is a long, long time. Personally I think you did well not to whop him about the head with his bag of potatoes. 😉

  10. Pete says:

    Di – LOL. I think you’re probably right. 😉

    Litlove – That’s strong stuff coming from you! I’m shocked. But good advice. I need to be more boundaried in my personal life. H does a very good wounded puppy impersonation though, so it’s easy to fall for it and want to try and help him. But I suppose I just end up resenting it (and resenting the Afrikaans speaking as well). Difficult balance since a basic colleague-like friendship would be good.

  11. boxofbooks says:

    Everyone knows the don’t-bring-up-your-exes-on-a-first-date rule, but so few people know the don’t-bring-up-your-exes-to-a-new-friend rule.

    I like the potato metaphor. I think I will borrow it the next time I meet a person with baggage.

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