Can I Say This?


The sun is shining, I am officially in Paradise. Not my version because my reality is that it is not place bound, but gratitude is important and the view spectacular. To confess to it being anything other than earthly perfection would be churlish.

But it is interesting to be conscious of clarity coming in; to see how my view of my vision adjusts as understanding lands. Small moments of awareness are gently folding themselves open and the vast expanses of beauty rests upon some very dead weight. I live in South London. I live in an area where I am frequently the only white person on the bus or in the shops or on the street. Many of my friends are mixed race, black, (what is the current PC description? I loose track).

Do I ever feel more than? No. Do I ever feel threatened? Never. I know I am the wrong generation to be threatened and I am extremely human, full of frailties and therefore no better than anyone.

But here. Gosh. As my eyes open and I see what goes on, how it is, the expectations, the voices, the glances. the comments, the realities…. Paradise is very flawed. Look at at the sea and it is lovely. Turn to look around at all that allows me be to be here looking at the sea and it is not lovely at all.

Sitting at breakfast in a 5 star hotel, only the guests and the manager are white. I asked the very tight lipped, suited manager about where I could run. She was surprised and took time to answer. I should never run alone was the final response and no, there was no one to run with me or with whom I could run. She confessed to being a runner herself, but ran far too far and too fast to run with me. I thought nothing of it until later, walking down the rocks to the beach, realising that I was in fact in serious danger. Not from the rocks or the elements but the fact that I am white, alone with a child, gold jewellery, handbag, female……. By the time I got it I was at sea level with a long walk back up through bushes, scrubland, hidden pathways, in front of me.

It is many years since I moved through my daily life watching my back. True, I worked in Africa a lot 20 years ago and now remember the sensations, the endless threat of rape, not trusting anyone. It is an unpleasant experience and it is very evident amongst the women here, the fear, but also the endless divisions as to what is done by black, what is owed, due and owned by white. 3 days in and I am no longer filled with delight and awe. I am horrified.

Corrective rape is the new black in Capetown and this week a famous black lesbian was gang raped and murdered in the city. My friend here is white and gay and I am interested to see what her take will be. She is rich, privileged, less than honest about the realities of life, lives with a woman. I want to see what it is like for her. Is she able to be open about her sexual choices? Does she have impunity? Is it perhaps even trendy to be white, gay, rich? I’ll bet all the tea in China it is fine.

The politics of female sexuality and it’s expression are not getting any easier. The UN may have decided to make rape in all it’s forms an illegal act of war but does anyone out there know? Or care? Or get caught?

“It is such a tricky subject, rape”. Another one of those Facebook sentences that never makes it to my “personal status”.
It is never talked about, goes on all the time all over the world, one is labeled a feminist for having views, a victim for the experience. It is as complex an issue as masturbation to discuss, or miscarriage. Bring it up and a huge space looms which no one quite dares to fall into. The space is dark and frightening. Compassion looms within in a very broad, sweeping way for anyone but what to say to the individual who has experienced it? Now or years ago…… just a huge yawning gulf of unspoken, unsupported terror.

To walk in what one assumes is an area rendolent of luxury and all it’s thrall and in that moment realize that one actually has no rights, no impunity, no safety, no power at all is a very shocking realization. It quite takes one’s breath away. Yesterday, as it dawned upon me what I was doing, I stopped, understood and felt so utterly stupid, so devoid of all the protection that my closeted life in the wilds of South London gives me and took a deep breath. “Keep calm, smile, breathe and walk with determination back up the hill”, through the myriad of hidden recesses and unknown shadows and try to concentrate. Attempt to wrap my 51 year old reality and my 8 year old daughter in a completely different blanket, one that is untrusting, overly vigilant and aware all the time. How unparadise-like can I get? But keep smiling, keep being grateful, open and positive and enjoy the view, wait for the dolphins to leap past with all their promise of fairy dust and a better world, but watch my back all the way and do not for a moment suggest to my beautiful child that life is anything less than perfect.

Having said that, questions are bubbling up in her: Why are we only served by blacks? Why do blacks not have proper houses? Why do they walk and not drive? A small cavalcade of questions that when answered as honestly as I can answer them with my limited knowledge of life here, beg more and more quizzes. Are they rich? Why not? If they work so hard why do the whites have all the money?

Sat on the film set, right now, in one of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat upon, fur rug at my feet, I watch all the layers moving in front of me. The film is financed by an Indian Billionaire. Louis Vuitton twinkles from all the Indian corners of the Directors troupe and the star’s girlfriend. Limited edition wallets and handbags in shiny patent leather lie sparkling on dark wooden tables, the rooms are splendid, the comfort beyond even the reach of Ralph Lauren and his fantasy furniture. Someone mentioned the location, a weekend house, is worth £50,000,000. How lovely. It is. Please don’t get me wrong. It is stunning, the view, the location, the décor, the peace and the stillness. Utter perfection. And the layers beneath, what maintains it, cleans it, feeds and serves us, the crew….. the layers are quite fascinating.

My mother does not venture out into the world much but she has been here and has written, begging me to keep the hotel swimming pool. I am starting to see why.