It was mid-December 1973. I was finally in Cape Town, South Africa after travelling with a South African/New Zealand friend for three months overland from the UK to India and then by ship to Durban . Unfortunately on arrival in South Africa the rules for entering the country had changed – when I set off all you needed was a sufficient amount of money, £100 – now though I was made to pay for a ticket out of the country and as I had arrived by ship the ticket had to be by ship. The cheapest option was from Durban back to Mombasa – it took practically all my money and I truly hoped that I never had to use it! I had no idea what I would do if I was to find myself alone in Kenya!
Arriving in the Mother City I was invited to stay with my friend’s family in the southern suburbs. Due to my financial crisis I had to get work quickly and I managed to get a temporary job in the city at the lovely pink coloured historic hotel, the Mount Nelson, doing flower arrangements of all things. No-one can say I was not adaptable. As it was almost Christmas we were very busy with table arrangements and huge floral displays for the suites and public areas. It was hard work with an early start and a long day, but quite enjoyable and the best part was walking to and from the railway station along Adderley Street and through the Company Gardens where cheeky squirrels ran around chasing you for peanuts.
Christmas Eve arrived and I was looking forward to spending my first Christmas away from home and in the southern hemisphere. The sight of robins and snow were rather incongruous in the summer heat. My friend’s family came from Norwegian origins so this was the night for their main dinner and celebrations. It would be very different from my own experiences. I had even spent some of my wages on a dress for the event as all I had with me were jeans and tee-shirts.
It was very different alright, but not quite in the way I had imagined. On arriving back at the house in the suburbs after work in the early evening I was met by my friend’s mother with my rucksack in hand. She told me I was not welcome in her house any more as she had friends and family coming to dinner that evening and I was too ‘common’ and didn’t have the ‘right’ clothes to wear.
I was stunned! I knew that she wasn’t very keen on me and was a bit of a class snob, but the rest of the family were lovely and I had spent a couple of free days on the beach and in the mountains with her other children. It wasn’t even as though I was in a relationship with her precious boy, we were good friends, but had no plans in taking it any further. But I could see from the look on her face that it was no good arguing with her. Christmas Eve and homeless was not what I had in mind! My travelling friend, took me to a youth hostel in Muizenberg on the False Bay coastline where fortunately they had a vacancy. He dropped me off then left, looking somewhat shamefaced, as he had to return to his family dinner. Thinking of the hospitality my own family had shown him in England, I felt quite sad and rather home-sick. I turned in early as I still had to go to work the next day.
I returned to the hostel on Christmas Day at around 6 p.m. to find the other hostelers sitting around having Christmas dinner together. They were all talking and laughing, wearing silly paper hats, being happy and having a good time. I tried to sneak past them to the dorm without being noticed as I was still feeling a bit raw, but the manager caught sight of me and insisted that I joined them, even though I hadn’t contributed financially to the meal. Quickly room was made for another seat and food hurriedly dished out onto a plate. Silly hat was found and a glass of red wine poured. For the next couple of hours I was welcomed into the fold and a normal Christmas resumed.
I thank those strangers for their kindness.
~wander.essence~ | Prose