Immigrant songs

The future is beautiful and bright*, mostly. But at sunset, the beauty makes me sad. Then I go out walking*. And I feel like a stranger*. And at times like these, I hope my pony knows the way back home*.


My production teacher, Gil Bettman, says love is the strongest want. By this, everyone tends to assume “romantic” love. But I can tell you right now that that’s not the only kind you need. In fact, I’m not sure who needs that kind, at all. It’s only really fun in the beginning, and after that you just spend the next few years trying to get back the feeling you had in the first place, don’t you? And destroying each other in the process of course, like drug addicts trying to re-create the original high by upping the dose of poison until it nearly kills them.

A welcoming frog, a spoiled dog, a rusted American flag and a white picket fence. It's all real, folks.

I don’t know. I may be a little cynical. Just maybe.

The love I miss most is the love of a place where people really know me. And I always feel a bit of guilt saying this, but it’s inescapable: I get really homesick. I am making some friends now, and people have been kind and welcoming, and there are lots of intelligent people to meet. I am finding a niche. I am even bonding enough to occasionally drop the facade of politeness behind which I’ve lived for three months. But still, I miss South Africa terribly. And listening to my iPod, the songs playing on random made me realise that the human need for this kind of love is just as strong, and that its absence, though a quieter pain than heartbreak, is a powerful force. From Tom Waits, to Traffic, from Karma to Paul Simon – all the classic singer songwriters wrote about it.

Durban is my second home. This paw-paw tree, growing in front of a house - brought the smell of the place rushing back over me.

Oddly, at these times, the things that comfort me and the things that make me want to cry are the same. These are the weeds. The flowers that grow all over the world. The aliens. The stars may not be the same. The roads run in opposite directions. The houses are decorated with stars and stripes. The sprinklers go on at 2am, drenching me as I cycle home through the dessert.

But those funny yellow flowers in the big spiky bushes still smell like they did when I was just a kid, playing crazy games with my brother. I walk through the suburbs of Orange, seeing everyone going about their lives, their lives so familiar, with the comfort learned through years of repetition.

This cat was not an early evening person.

In the unfamiliarity of the place, every memory feels fresher than before. I touch a wall, still warm from the sun, and remember a moment in Italy. I see a colour that triggers a flash of recollection of the colours of the sheets Jinty put down in France. A house reminds me of the little one I grew up in, in Kirstenhof, Cape Town. A cat glares at me from a window in the almost dark. I remember waking up one morning and feeling warm stickiness at my feet when I was six years old. The warm stickiness was wriggling. When lifted the blanket to see what was going on I found my cat, Kanga, had given birth to her litter of kittens under the blankets of my bed, at my feet.

I think that must be the most anyone’s ever trusted me.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’m not. I am living my dreams. I am building my future. I am alive and I wouldn’t be anywhere else right now. But I’m allowed to be blue, now and then, when I think back to my homeland. It does sometimes feel like it’s slipping away. Like life has gone on without me. And so it should. But I don’t have to like it.

*Lyrics. I’m sure you picked that up, but just in case you didn’t, they’re all from great songs.


5 Responses to “Immigrant songs”

  1. Uberfiend Says:


  2. jeanbarker Says:

    From you? Really? You don’t really seem like the type who does hugs. I’m a little afraid.

  3. Tweets that mention Immigrant songs « Jean Barker's Sign Language -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jean Barker, Gavin Mannion. Gavin Mannion said: RT @JeanBarker: Immigrant songs: […]

  4. Shannon Says:

    I understand entirely. I love being here and find new things to fall in love with every day…but I won’t be sorry when it’s time to go home.

  5. jeanbarker Says:

    Oh my god. Every now and then, just when I’m thinking “what am I doing?’ I have a day like today. A decent idea appears in my brain. I get to go to dinner with the producer of some of my favourite movies of all time. And it’s beautiful, cool and sunny. All at the same time. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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