What Lies Below

Whoever cannot seek the unforeseen sees nothing for the known way is an impasse.


Growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, with no Afrikaans friends and only one experience of being mocked for being an ‘engelsman’, in this case by a group of Afrikaans children as I stood alone in my school uniform on Newlands station, 13 years old, I didn’t know how to deal with my experience as a simple and free-natured child. I know myself so much better as I approach my seventieth year.

Back then there was much to make me feel angry and isolated as I grew older and watched unpleasant things happen amongst the various racial groups of my homeland and as the two white and privileged nations squabbled, plotted and mocked each other. I count myself amongst the lucky ones who are seldom plagued by anger. Depression was more my bag in those youthful days. As things turned out, I chose to attend Stellenbosch University, an Afrikaans language university, because it was the nearest place to home where I could study the degree that seemed like the right fit for me. Although Cape Town University seemed like a more fashionable ‘uni’ I was not unhappy about going to Stellenbosch. It was going to be an experience and it meant that I had to leave home as daily travel was not an option. What I was always sure of, just as I had never been attracted to boarding school was that I had no intention of staying in a residence, especially because of the strict rules they placed on female students, so I found a room not far from the campus. I was already becoming more aware of my own nature which simply held no more than a few light prejudices that would take me a decade or two more to be able to identify what they were. I do remember though wondering whether it was just because I couldn’t be bothered – that old sloth rearing its ugly head – but as I have grown older I am more confident that this is just what is more natural to me. While in Stellenbosch I learnt more of how much I had in common with some English people and not others, and also of what I had in common with some Afrikaaners and not others. I was meeting and mixing with Afrikaans people of as many political persuasions as their English-speaking counterparts. I also learnt a different side of the European history of South Africa that broadened my outlook again. 

I left South Africa as a twenty-four-year-old in 1977 not for the same reason as most people around those times, ie for political reasons, but rather because of the toxic atmosphere of hatred festering and ulcerating through all of its people. I did not want to live as part of this soup of pain, anger, resentment and destruction. Once I had arrived in Europe a part of me felt released and relieved. I was living in a country that was not my responsibility. Well, naive you could say, but allowed me to observe life and grow up without anyone inhibiting, knowing or even experiencing much of my existence. I came to learn that while bigotry and passive aggression was just diluted in the UK and Europe, it was still there, and always bubbling away under the surface.

I still feel cold towards bigots, although working hard to hold onto compassion. Unfortunately I find most, not all, activists to be myopic when it comes to viewing the bigger picture, especially one in which their particular ‘beef’ would be more constructively viewed. Sadly, I find that the majority of humanity has trouble recognising the path following consequences if more than one degree away. While many prefer war to peace, this still has little to do with how self-perpetuating and destructive war is to our souls-that killing people is always going to work out badly for us whether legal or not. 

When I meet a person, no matter how intellectual or simple their souls are, that has an open, questioning and seeking mind, that is when I can let go because I am home. I let out a relaxing and deeply satisfying out-breath, and my heart sings like the bird’s.

We may be able to hide from what lies below but best to know that while not the prettiest part of who we are, it certainly is the most vital. Surely good to make friends.

Author: jenniesredbook

Someone who is trying to find the stepping stones that will make a difference to her in this lifetime.

2 thoughts on “What Lies Below”

  1. Interesting reflection Jen … being a teenager myself in the UK, I was totally unaware of the world beyond our relatively small family. Attending a school of maybe 650 girls, with not one pupil of ethnicity different from the rest.


    1. Thanks for replying Jen. I love to get a comment. And yes, growing up in SA certainly caused some of us to interrogate our feelings on discrimination, on our own bravery or cowardice in the face of it, and whether to stay or to leave. I had admiration for those who became activists but their reasons for doing so weren’t always as selfless as they appeared. Life is more complicated than that and so are we, not least because of our egos. But it is us who ultimately have to live with ourselves, and hopefully we manage to do this honestly. I have also come to believe that we are born where life will provide us with the lessons we need to learn, but that doesn’t mean she wants us to suffer. That is up to us alone.


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