ONCE upon a time, 20-something and newlywed, I made my way north and west to begin a life atop a hill swirled in pale gray fog and clanging cable-car bells. Far, far from the early morning hadedas and hot African sun of my home, my future sparkled before me bright as the white sails that dotted the Bay, expansive as the red bridge I crossed to go to work. As strange as those hilly streets and twangy accents were to me, I was cheerily confident this too would become home.
But I was a South African in San Francisco – possibly the furthest in the world I could be from the place where I’d lived most of my life, where I had befriended Anne of Green Gables, and met Moon-Face, Silky the Fairy and Saucepan Man in The Magic Faraway Tree. Where I had fallen in love with Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, and where I took a book with me to almost every family gathering, because I am the eldest cousin and the worlds created by Judy Blume and Mary Higgins Clark were far more exciting to me than playing hide-and-go-seek in the garden.
I was far away from that place and from the parents who taught me to read, from the friends who shared their books with me, and from the aunts who passed on their favourite titles, but I clung to my literary worlds. Armistead Maupin brought the beautiful city I now called home, to life. His delicious descriptions of characters and encounters in his famous Tales of the City series were more colourful on the black and white page than they were in my real life. Those books made San Francisco home to me in a way my job and apartment and going to the gym and buying groceries didn’t.
I wanted to write like that. I wanted to create worlds that eldest cousins could escape to, write words that were cozy and comforting and settled over my own babies like their warmest, fuzziest blanket. I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas and seedlings of creativity on the page.
My adopted, faraway home has indeed become home. I am raising four loud and wonderful children who clamor over each other like wriggly puppies to be the first to read the Sunday comics. I fight against the restlessness of being a stay-at-home-mom and delight in the endless moments of kids and dog and chaos. And I continue to read, and now I write.
I watch my son trip over the dachshund because his nose is buried in his latest sci-fi journey.The words are everywhere. I write them and read them, borrow them from libraries, and share them with my children at bedtime.
The words, read and written, transform my space: my special spot on my grandmother’s couch in Pretoria, my tiny res room at Rhodes or my son’s bedroom in San Francisco, the bench I sit on outside the school library or the parking lot outside the ballet studio. All of time and space, imagined or real, are contained in those words, and no matter where or when in the world I am, when I am reading – or writing – I am home.
This post originally appeared in South Africa’s The Daily Dispatch and The Herald as part of the Nal’ibali literacy campaign. Nal’ibali – it starts with a story. #Just15Minutes