By odd coincidence, this was the day I planned to post my interview with Megan, a talented young South African writer. I met Megan at the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat in Reykjavik, Iceland. One of the retreat's founders, Eliza Reid, is the First Lady of Iceland. Writers from all around the world attended. It was a cultural event as much as a writing event. Megan was one of the first people I met who volunteered to be interviewed.
Thank you, Megan, for agreeing to be the voice of your beautiful country and make this happen. Today I feel as though I have more in common with you than just writing.
All photos in this post were supplied by Megan.
I am a writer based in East London, a coastal city in an area known as the Wild Coast of South Africa. It’s southeast, between Cape Town and Durban (two more well-known cities).
I write fiction, poetry and have recently released my first book, Milk Fever. I’m also a journalist and a graphic designer, and because I’m self-employed, I take on a lot of work that loosely fits into those categories. I am also mom to a toddler, and although I was born inland, in Johannesburg.
I am very much a beach person.
Please look out a window in your home and tell me what you see.
Looking out the French doors, I see a rambling garden filled with trees and bird life – coral trees and wild figs – a bright blue sky, and then of course, not seen, but I can hear the Indian Ocean quite clearly from here.
If I were to come to your house for dinner, what would you cook for me?
We cook many western staples that I believe someone from the US or UK might like: mac and cheese, bangers and mash, spaghetti bolognaise, casseroles, and curries. However, the cultures, flavours, and tastes in South Africa are multitudinous: given our country’s history, there is much to draw from in terms of what we eat, and so you will find that Indian curries, Cape Malay dishes (like Bobotie), Umngqusho (isiXhosa for samp and beans) and other more prevalent in people’s homes. If you were to come to my house I would probably braai [pronounced ‘cry’ but with a B] for you. Although other countries might equate a braai with a barbeque, South Africans like to insist that what we do is one better. For starters, building the wood fire outside and attending to the preparation of the meat (spicing, marinading) is an art form honed and shown off for when family and friends come around. It’s very social. Usually, we braai boerewors (a kind of sausage), lamb or pork chops, and steak of some kind. With chicken wings and drumsticks of course. I might add braai toebroodjies (toasted cheese, tomato and onion sandwiches done on the braai), garlic bread, and an array of salads (Greek salad, noodle salad, and possibly, a pineapple, grated carrot, and raisin salad).
What myth or stereotype about your country/culture would you like to set straight?
We are a diverse nation, with 11 official national languages and a multitude of cultures and religions, and so I suppose there are countless myths about our country, although it would be difficult for me to pick one particular myth. Perhaps just to say that no – we do not have lions and elephants roaming our backyards, although a drive up the coast could find you in a game reserve quite quickly.
What brings you joy?
Joy? Writing. Free time. Sunny days. Traveling when the Rand isn’t too weak and the developed West lets us into your countries (we have a notoriously difficult and expensive time procuring visas for the US, UK, and Europe). Big cities. Cuddling my son. Being published. Swimming in the Indian Ocean.
What are your greatest fears?
Losing my child. My life not matching the grandiose plans I have for myself. Rape and sexual assault. Not writing.
What are your biggest daily struggles?
It is important for me to establish here that being a white South African woman, I have benefited from years of racial and economic inequality in our country, Apartheid having only come to an official end with the first democratic elections of 1994. And as such, it would be impudent for me to complain about lack of sleep, or being too busy, or struggling with depression and anxiety, when just up the road from me, there are children who may never finish school, young women who may not have access to sanitary pads, and so much that must still be deconstructed to create a fair and equal society.
Things that I almost feel OK about complaining about, here, might be the state of our roads where I live. Possibly the rising fuel costs and nagging clients to pay me.
What gives you hope?
Seeing young South Africans of all races attending school and growing up together in a way generations of children before 1994 would never have dreamed of.
What is the most unusual thing about where you live?
At any given moment there could be a cow or sheep relaxing on my pavement. I know this does little to dispel notions foreigners have of our backyards being jungles, but in the eastern cape, where I’m from, this, alongside a really sunny, temperate winter, and a humid, raining summer, is our reality.
What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?
My first trip to the United States was last year in October. I visited New York City and DC in the fall. I absolutely loved it, especially New York City. I was struck by how efficient public transport was, how friendly people are, and how big everything is! Having consumed American media since I was born, I have an absolute fascination with the country and am grateful for the opportunity to have finally visited.
However, I am not in favor of the current political leadership and am distressed by accounts of children being separated from their parents at the border, and the ways in which people of color and the LGBTQI community are being treated. As for Chicago, I have always found people from Chicago to be extremely friendly and proud of their city, and I am in awe of your beautiful skyline (and that gorgeous river).
What is your favorite time of year in your country?
Summer. Which is in December. So it is Christmastime, hot, the beaches are cooking, and everybody leaves the cities to travel home to their families. So December is synonymous with all of this merriment and fun. There is this saying that goes “In SA, December is not a month, it is a lifestyle.” We call it Dezemba.
What does your country do really well? What do you wish your country did better?
We do culture, community and the outdoors really, really well. We speak over 11 languages in South Africa; there is a spirit and heart like no other. I do wish we were able to make history a compulsory school subject in order for students to truly understand how colonialism and then apartheid have torn our country apart, and how much work we still have to do in order to redress the injustices of the past.
What do you want the world to know about your country?
If you aren’t already, you are going to soon see our artists, musicians, singers, writers, and filmmakers killing it all over the world. Our country has such palpable energy, strength, and creativity and this fuels everything we do.
Is there a song or book that best captures the essence of your culture?
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, which means God bless Africa in isiXhosa, is a hymn written by Enoch Sontonga and forms part of our national anthem.
What would you like to say to the people of America?
Please look after your people, no matter their racial, gender, cultural or sexual identities.
In one word, describe your country.
If you enjoyed reading Talking to the World, why not consider becoming a subscriber? Just enter your email address in the box to the right of this post.
Comments are always welcome. Hope to hear from you soon.
Thanks for reading!