Friday, September 09, 2005

Friends Reunited

Many of us, especially those who move away from the places where we were schooled, harbour a lingering desire to get in touch with people with whom we were friendly with at the time. If you spent your entire high school years in one place, these are people that you spent 5 whole years with, almost on a daily basis, people that were around you as you changed from a child into a young adult. We all know how much we change over the years and how the friends one makes in later life are based on how we are rather than how we were before we became what we are. Giving the matter any thought, we know that re-connecting with the friends from back then is unlikely to re-kindle new close friendships. But, those formative years are often much more vivid than five years ago, or even, two years ago, so the desire to get in touch with the past is strong. That’s why websites like Friends Reunited and the South African equivalent, SA Friends Reunited, are so popular. Nostalgia, especially nostalgia of the sort those sites peddle is big business!

Over the past few years, I’ve been contacted by several of my old school friends, three classmates, and someone who was a year below me but who shared a room with me for a while at boarding school. In each case, I replied with a long email that gave them a whistle-stop tour of my life. I’m going to post it here as it’ll give you a good idea of me and what’s happened to me since I left school. Also, I think you may find it interesting to hear what their reactions to receiving it were. Here goes:

You may remember that I went off to Cape Town to study medicine after leaving school. That end-of-year holiday after completing matric was my last time in Mozambique until I went back for a holiday in 1996. A few months after arriving in Cape Town, I got a letter from my uncle (my guardian) and aunt in Mozambique to say that my friends there had been arrested for smoking dope and sent off to re-education camps (how archaically Marxist it sounds now!) and that letters between us had been opened and alleged to contain coded political information.
Friends - Maxixe, Mozambique - 1976
As a result, they thought it unwise for me to return there or, even, to correspond with them. They were expelled a year later and landed up in White River for a while. I saw them at the end of that year (1978) and the simmering discontent that had affected our relationship for a few years before started to boil over, aggravated to a considerable effect, by political differences and my appearance, ie ‘hippy-ish’ clothes and rather long, curly, blonde hair. We cut off ties completely a year later after my uncle stole money from me.

Cape Town 1978
My fees at university had been covered by a scholarship until the end of 1978 but I failed that year and had to get a bank loan. During 1979 I discovered that money had been left in trust for me (and my brother) at the Anglican Church in Maputo. I tried to get it released to help out with my academic and residence fees but as I was still under 21, I had to get my guardian’s permission to have it released. This he duly gave but the money was sent on to him instead of me - he kept it. After a few months of telephone calls, letters and a couple of lawyer’s letters, half was released but I never got the rest. I gave him and my aunt ample opportunity to explain themselves but eventually cut ties with them completely when I didn’t get an explanation for their actions.

During 1979, I met my wife, E, in Cape Town and fell head-over-heels in love with her despite being gay. She had just returned from a 3-year stint overseas that had culminated in a 4-month overland journey from Greece to Nepal. Her parents lived in Jo’burg but she preferred the idea of living in Cape Town. I moved in with her a few months after meeting her – it was my last year at university and she was doing door-to-door work. I started working as an articled clerk for a firm of chartered accountants, studying BComm part-time through Unisa, in 1980 and my wife started the first year of her BA at UCT. I absolutely loathed the work and gave it up after 3 years to do a Cobol-programming course in Jo’burg where I stayed with E’s parents. By that time she was working in publishing then moved to FL (a major South African women's magazine). We got married in 1984 and carried on living in Cape Town until we left for the UK in 1987. Initially, we were very happy to be in England - not only did it seem such a tranquil place after the political turmoil and despair in South Africa but we were also financially very well-off. But, as time went on, especially after the birth of our son in 1988, we realised that we were South Africans of the variety that wanted to live in our country. Nelson Mandela’s release was the final catalyst that got us moving and we returned to Cape Town in 1990. I got a job with Engen and E returned to the magazine, eventually becoming deputy editor a few years later. My daughter was born in 1991.

Over the years I sporadically kept up with my Unisa studies but, finally, in 1993, a year away from completing my BComm degree, I was accepted to do a BComm honours degree in IT at UCT. It was a part-time course that lasted 18 months. In 1995 I started the two-year part-time MBA degree at UCT, finishing it at the end of 1996. By that stage, I had realised that I really enjoyed research and had to be convinced by E not to carry on with a PhD – firstly, it was unfair on her as it took me away from home so much and, secondly, it would have had very little relevance to my working life. The idea of further study still continues to draw me but thoughts in that direction are easily banished! Returning to university then was quite a different experience to my first years there. The part-time aspect was the biggest difference but being a ‘mature student’ made a big difference too. But, being in my mid- to late-thirties then was not nearly as ‘mature’ as my wife is now that she is back at UCT as a fulltime post-grad law student. She’s definitely the oldest in the class!!

Although I was working in IT during those boom years (mid- to late-nineties), I was working for large corporations (and hating it) so, unfortunately, I didn’t benefit from all the money being made in the industry at the time. I seemed to be too busy changing jobs, studying and, generally, not being happy in the work I do. Such is life….

1996 was also the year of my pilgrimage back to Mozambique – we drove there from Cape Town. E and I dropped the kids off with her parents in Jo’burg and spent the next 3 weeks in Mozambique, mostly in Maputo, my birthplace and where I lived until 1971, and Maxixe, the village opposite the city of Inhambane that I used to return to on holiday from school in Barberton. It was wonderful returning there – so many memories came flooding back and, despite the country being in the very early days of recovering from the devastation there, the country was just as beautiful as I remembered it. In many ways, it felt like I was returning home and I surprised myself by remembering exactly where places and things were. It was also very heart-warming to be so warmly greeted by friends/servants/employees in Maxixe, people that emerged over-night after the word had spread that I was back in town. It was also a very poignant time for me as I visited my mother’s and grandmother’s graves for the first time in my life.

In 2000, I worked in Brighton, UK, for 8 months having been placed there by the SA branch of a UK company to do development for Sanlam. Little did I realise that that would be the precursor to quite a few more years of working in the UK! I got retrenched in 2001 and found it very hard to get decent work in Cape Town – depressed job market and affirmative action weren’t helping matters. I left for the UK in July that year, spent a few weeks at my sister-in-law’s place south of London then got a job in Newcastle in the north. I spent almost two years there working on a massive government IT project and discovered that my initial negative feelings towards Newcastle were completely unfounded. But, despite liking the city and the people there, I certainly had no (nor have any) inclination to make the UK my permanent home. During that time I returned to SA as often as I could for breaks but the breaks never seemed long enough.

I was unemployed again for a few months after that project came to an end but then landed a 2-month contract in Singapore. What an amazing contrast to the UK! The work was part of a tendering process – I was working for Accenture (international consultancy firm) who were competing with IBM for a major project at a life assurance company there. I returned to Cape Town in June later that year fully expecting to hear within a few weeks that Accenture had been granted the project. However, to this day, no decision has been made – it seems that the Chinese may be very bright and mad workaholics but their decision-making skills are decidedly lacking!! In the meantime, I looked for work in Cape Town but nothing was to be had so returned to the UK in September, staying, yet again, with my sister-in-law, while looking for work. I started my current contract in November and am based in Nottingham in the midlands. The Singapore decision may still be made in Accenture’s favour so I could still land up going there. Also, there is the possibility of working in Shanghai for a while as the Accenture office there got hold of me wanting my services for a client of theirs. I rather like the idea of working in the Far East for the while for various reasons such as the contrast with Africa and Europe and, especially, the remuneration. But, in the absence of any quick decision-making there, I’m likely to be here for a while although I am putting out as many feelers as possible to find decent employment anywhere in South Africa.

Whew!! That was a marathon typing session – I think I must have developed arthritis in my fingers! But, I think I must have given you some idea of what has happened to me over the last quarter of a century. Naturally, lots of bits have been left out but many of those bits would not really make much sense without the context given by the summary given above. So, if you want bits, you will have to ask!

That may have been a marathon typing session, but it will have been a marathon reading session for you. I'm off to my interview in Bridgwater soon, so I'll leave what I have to say about the comments/reactions I received from old school friends until later.

However, you may like to hazard a guess or two.


Blogger mike said...

It's just a hunch, but I think it might have something to do with the first sentence of the second paragraph!

3:08 pm  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

Yep, I wonder how you worked that out? I've re-jigged the layout so the 'offending' words no longer appear to be in the second paragraph.

12:58 am  
Anonymous Jose Valerio said...

I wonder if we met in Maxixe around 1971 ? You mention "Maxixe, the village opposite the city of Inhambane that I used to return to on holiday from school in Barberton". I lived with my parents in the WENELA compound situated on the way to Chicuque, the local (Methodist) hospital?
Best regards

3:32 pm  

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