Thursday, April 22, 2010

I am a Foreign National

I’ve been privileged for the past four years to be able to live out my dream – a work permit in South Africa has enabled me to live and work in this beautiful country, travel within Africa, and stamp out boundaries towards becoming a better person. As a Foreign National, the privilege comes with a fair amount of strife – moving to another continent wasn’t such a breeze as I naively imagined while planning my move from sunny Southern California. Some say “change is as good as a holiday,” but imagine changing almost everything in your life – all at the same time.

You move into a new house, neighborhood, town, region, and country. You live in a new time zone, in a new hemisphere, and ‘home’ is more than a day’s journey away, cramped inside a tiny space and at an exorbitant price. You contemplate the similarities between your position and the pioneers of yesteryear – you are surrounded by strangers and new things, nothing is familiar, you feel like you’re living on an outpost, far away from the “same” and the known. Driving is now an adventure, in a manual shift car on the “other side” of the road. You teach yourself to look right-left-right before crossing, and fight the urge to look the other way around, as you have been ingrained to do since childhood. A small task like grocery shopping becomes a drawn out affair as you’re faced with a sea of brands you’ve never seen or heard of before – perhaps the one with the red label is fair, or maybe that other one – over there?

Your seasons are swapped around so holidays that used to be cold-weather ones are now sunny-bikini ones, and, in your new country you’ve got new dates to celebrate – like Youth Day, Family Day and Women’s Day. You do so with joy, after all, you’re getting an “extra” day off, one you’ve never had off before! But the feeling becomes bittersweet when you realize you’re the only one who seems to know about your old favourites, like Saint Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Halloween or Thanksgiving.

You have new friends now and no matter how you try, you just can’t seem to keep up with your old ones – email, online chats and the telephone seem so inadequate when you’re trying to describe your new life, an average day, your new friends, or the man you’ve fallen in love with. Time passes and even though it breaks your heart, it seems impossible to avoid missing out on life-changing milestones, like anniversaries, engagements and weddings, first pregnancies and births, or even saying good-bye when someone you love passes on. You are far, far away – you straddle two worlds, two lives, two understandings, two sets of friends, two points of view – you can feel yourself changing, growing, becoming more “you”. Here there are new things to try – new food, new places, new languages, new words and slang – even in English. You pick up small learnings each and every day, like that a “hat” is actually a “beanie” and a “cap” can be called a “peak”. Your accent changes, your mannerisms, too – things become easier, more natural, you start to call this ‘home’ and remember times ‘here’ instead of ‘there,’ life becomes more comfortable on top of your new grown foundation.

You begin to feel familiar, now you have context. You have history here, too – you know how it works, at least more now than ever before. You feel happy – you’ve done the battle with loneliness and discomfort – you’ve grown and achieved new success – you can start to take off now, to greater levels, to push greater boundaries. You know you’ve made the right choice – this is home now, there are still new places to explore, new things to learn – you want more. You feel like you belong here – like you’re no longer a stranger, you might actually fit in. But then you realize one thing – your visa is about to expire, you’ve got only 30 days left.

It’s time to visit Home Affairs to apply for more time – you gather your documents, you patiently wait in the que. You put on your most pleasant smile to those attending the room packed full of other foreign nationals who, just like you, jockey for their own fate. The air feels a little thicker in here, you can feel the pace of your heartbeat going a little bit quicker – what if, what if, what if? You try to laugh at yourself for being so affected and glance out the window at life in the city, moving on, as usual. You think about your past, the present, the unknown future – you have trouble swallowing. Your future hangs in the balance, somewhere between getting that stamp – or not.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Port Dreams and Calitzdorp

A visit to Calitzdorp is sort of like a step back to another era – once off the main road, the streets are few, narrow, and lined with colourful Bougainvillea, the houses are thick-walled and set back in ample shade, the building that holds the town museum looks like part of the display, the police station is friendly and relaxed, and you get a quiet feeling of being in a place where time moves a little slower. This is an honest place, like a little welcoming gem in the dusty, lonely expanse of the hot Klein Karoo. It’s blessed with a climate perfect for growing sweet, sugary grapes and as a result is home to South Africa’s top two producers of port – Boplaas Family Vineyards and De Krans.

These winemakers consistently score the highest marks in the John Platter ratings guide and aren’t shy about telling you through the many sign-boards posted throughout town. Every few hundred meters there is a reminder peeking out through the flowers at you, making it nearly impossible to leave without stopping in for a try. I had to make a choice between the two wine farms and chose Boplaas because of its older history, since 1880. It was easy to find – I just followed the signboards like directions on a treasure hunt, and within moments I found the shaded car park and made my way up to the tasting room.

Dark and cool inside, I nearly forgot it was only 11AM and got stuck into tasting all versions of sweet and smooth goodness. The Cape Ruby port was dark, plumy and ripe with fruit – I imagined myself enjoying it with a rich, gooey, dark chocolate dessert, perhaps with raspberry sauce. The Cape Tawney is grown on 20-year old vines and aged for 12 months in Portuguese oak, and you can tell – it tasted like raisin molasses, perfect on its own or over a rich vanilla ice-cream. The Cape Vintage Reserve is aged for 2 years in Portuguese oak and was the Grand Daddy of them all, living up to its five-star reputation with ease. It has a dark, deep purple colour and tasted smooth, regal, and heavy with blackberries.

At the end of the tasting I found it difficult to choose which treasures to purchase – would it be ruby, tawny, dark and plumy, pink, raisin-like, or berry delicious? Finally I settled on the Cape Tawney and the Vintage Reserve and now that I’m back at home, I have the even more difficult task of waiting for the perfect opportunity to enjoy them again!

Details & Cellar Door Prices

-Tasting: R20 per person, unless you make a purchase over R200, then it’s complimentary

- Cape Tawny Port Vinter’s Reserve 2006, 4-stars JP Guide, R100 per 750ml bottle or R41 per 375ml bottle

- Cape Vintage Reserve Port 2006, 5-stars JP Guide, R150 per 750ml bottle