Remember your first day at school…….
Now this was a very long time ago as you will see from my photograph, yes that’s me on the chair a year before I started school.
On my first day, I am sure my sister would have held my hand as we walked down the footpath that ran from near the back fence of our large garden. We would have passed our chicken run and water tank that stood on legs high above the hedgerows. Then walked between long, waving African grass, on our way to school.
I am sure, I would have had a raincoat folded in my small case, although it probably hadn’t rained for months and probably wouldn’t in the next five.
I am sure there was a jam sandwich wrapped in greaseproof paper in my small brown case as well.
I know we had to cross the trainline and walk passed the huge six floor flour mill built out of sandstone, where Daddy worked. I am sure Mommy would have stayed at home as she had to look after my new baby brother and little sister.
When we reached the Gumtree Primary School, which was made up of three classrooms, I know that, I would have shared a class of children between the ages of 5 to 7, who all spoke in Afrikaans, a language still foreign to me.
But this school was then suddenly classed as ‘bi-lingual’ because two English speaking children in the area needed an education.
I am sure that I would have loved the whole day, meeting other children, as we had no neighbours with children to play with. I always enjoyed school as life went on and playing in bare feet became the norm, as you can see.
It never occurred to me as a child that I was different; I lived it every day.
We did, my siblings and I. It was the way we spoke, dressed and even the fact that we were held so close to the family nest. Nevertheless we were lucky because our home was gentle and kind; warm beds, hot food, home baked cakes and love, loads of love.
We had a Mum who served our lunch when we came in from school, dried our tears and bought us special ‘well making’ chocolate when we were ill.
The ‘Winchester Castle’ first brought us to our new home in South Africa. A choice not taken lightly by the young Irish couple but nevertheless they made it, all for the benefit of a better future for their children. It changed the course of their lives forever.
I grew up in Africa, an Irish girl who spoke the Queen’s English in an Afrikaans school. We were so unique at the first farm school we attended in Gumtree, that in the play ground during break, my older sister was made to recite or sing in English standing on a chair.
Of course my command and grounding of the Afrikaans language stems from those years. As children we saw no barriers, we got by with very little confusion, each speaking our own language.
They came to school barefoot when it was hot. We were made to carry raincoats, just in case of bad weather! Her heart was sometimes back in Ireland dreaming of a ‘grand soft day’(this means rain!), our Mum. In the age of hand-me-down clothes, my younger sister always had a special, ‘as new’ raincoat passed on.
Saturday afternoon to the heavenly smell of shortbread baking in the oven and the thought of fresh hot scones for afternoon tea, we gathered around our father’s chair and sang Irish songs from the Community song books. My sure bet today is that no other children in South Africa did this! But we didn’t know this and I am glad.
School days did become more normal in time, after we moved to a new home in Potchefstroom, where classes were segregated and everyone who attended spoke English, as I excitedly told my Mom on my first day of attendance.
My Dad wrote my name in Irish Gaelic on twenty new school books that I had freshly covered in brown paper, because he ‘saw no harm’. I cried all the way to school the next day.
Cried, because I was ashamed? No never. I cried because of what they may say, as I was still often perceived as different by other children, who are sometimes the cruellest little beasts alive.
Today, thoughts run through my mind as to how privileged I am to have had my African adventure.
There is no possible way that I could have had a drop, of a drop of southern hemisphere blood in me at birth, but some part of me will always be there in South Africa; a yearning that is unexplainable.
The beautiful sunsets, taken so for granted, night calls from the bush and the blue, blue waves crashing down and foaming up the sands will live on in me forever.
I was different, but how fortunate!