For Baby (and the wind will whisper your name to me)

Nobody puts Baby in a corner!

I was once told that the mother – daughter relationship is a strongly karmic one. I don’t believe in reincarnation but I do know that Kiera and I have an incredibly strong bond. Once I woke in the early hours of the morning fretting for no apparent reason. Kiera called later from Thailand to say she had been hit from behind by a motorbike whilst walking along a street. She was carried several meters by the bike before she was flung off, landing on her back. Kiera has a curved spine, which had always bothered her as she had the notion that her back was weak because of it. So as she lay in a heap on a dirty pavement in Thailand, she thought her back was broken. When her boyfriend, James, found her she was crying and asking for me. We calculated the time of the accident and it was about the time that I had woken up. Fortunately nothing was broken; she had to have several stitches in her leg and was very bruised and sore. In true Kiera style she says that thanks to the accident she now regards her back as a strong point and doesn’t worry about it anymore.

While Kiera was doing honours in French at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, she decided that she wanted to experience the world of work and so she got a job with Pentravel head office running their help desk. She worked for a year and then packed it in concluding that the rat race was not for her. After graduating, she went on to get the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) qualification. It was here that she started to discover a passion. She found teaching to be an incredibly rewarding experience especially as she was teaching African refugees who had travelled to South Africa in search of a better life.  It was hard to imagine this petite young woman teaching English to a bunch of burly, Congolese street guards but by all accounts, she had them eating out of the palm of her hand.

Kiera with some of her CELTA students

Kiera with some of her CELTA students

After this experience she felt that she needed to leave home and experience a completely foreign culture (a bit like her anthropologist dad), so off she went to teach English in China in August 2008. She wrote this when she arrived:

At first, there was complete shock and discomfort (fortunately this didn’t last long).  I arrived in Fuzhou in the middle of August on the hottest day of the year.  It was a sweltering 38 degrees Celsius, not including the humidity, and I had left a cold, wintery Johannesburg just the day before.  I was sticky, dirty and trying to regain stability after a bad bout of motion sickness.  The university I was going to work for very kindly sent a driver and representative to pick me up from the airport and to be honest the drive to campus was a bit of a blur.  My luggage was dropped off in my room and before I had a chance look around (or take a shower) I was whisked off to a lunch with some of the staff, including the dean.

In hindsight I realize that this was a very generous gesture but at the time it felt like torture.  I was still nauseous from the flight and had not yet recovered my appetite; my chopstick skills left a lot to be desired and to be quite frank the food looked a little repulsive.  Once seated at the table I was gripped by absolute terror; “Am I supposed to help myself or wait for the dean?  What are they talking about?  Are they laughing at me?  What is this stuff?  When can I go?  I want to go home!”  Eventually, I went for an innocuous looking dumpling but given my chopstick ineptitude, I lost it in the soy sauce.  After what felt like an eternity, with all eyes on me, I managed to get it out and shove it as quickly as possible into my mouth.  Unfortunately, a mouth full of soy sauce was not exactly the easiest thing to swallow.  Then I went for the white ball of undetermined origin, at the time I didn’t know that this Fujian delicacy is called a fish ball: yu wan.  Pulverized fish is moulded into a ball with salty pork meat in the centre.  The slimy texture of the fish was difficult to get down and I was seriously contemplating the prospect of throwing up, on the dean.

However she soon settled, made friends and met James, an American who was also teaching English in Fuzhou. I was fortunate to be able to visit her in December 2009. Kiera and James were living together so I stayed in James’ apartment, one floor below them. I cooked and cleaned and tidied and reorganised their apartment, it had to be done! Fortunately there were no complaints. Kiera and I treated ourselves to a long weekend together at a swanky hotel in Xiamen, a 4 hour bus trip from Fuzhou. Here we behaved like tourists but in Fuzhou it was business as usual, and I loved it. James took me shopping at the local supermarket on the back of their scooter, which was a hair-raising experience. After that I learned how to catch the bus, despite being terrified of getting lost. Kiera describes her first visit to the supermarket:

 As soon as I entered the store a pungent smell hit me head on with such intensity that it literally knocked me back.  One’s first encounter with a durian is not easily forgotten.  This Southeast Asian fruit may be considered a delicacy to some but the smell is undeniably stomach turning and it was everywhere.  One can hold one’s breath for only so long.  I will quite candidly say that this fruit was more disgusting than the piles of pigs’ hooves and chickens’ feet, of entrails and indeterminate meat.  It was nearly surpassed by the mounds of dried fish, squid and other fishy-smelling products but alas the durian is a resilient bugger.

Fortunately I developed a blocked nose in China, from the pollution, so trips to the supermarket were fascinating to me, as was everything else about China. The only aspect of it I didn’t like was all the hocking of phlegm, especially on a long bus trip, it was quite nauseating. I understand why they do it though because the pollution really does get the mucous going. Oh, and the taxi rides were terrifying. There seem to be no obvious traffic rules and it comes at you in all forms, from all directions at breakneck speeds. An intersection is a sight to behold, a bit like Russian roulette.

Recently Kiera decided that she would like to study further in the field of education so I recommended that she watch the TED videos of Sir Ken Robinson. This is what she emailed me which, as you can imagine, made my day:

I loved those talks by Sir Ken Robinson – so, so true.  I can see the influence on your teaching and parenting style and I’m so grateful because I think it’s given me the ability to really assess what I want to achieve in life without using a conventional model of success which would inevitably have led to an unfulfilled life.  I loved the part about how education should be organic and learning is symbiotic with your life experiences – it made me think of all those times you suggested that I just follow opportunities and that life would work out without me mapping it.  I’m so glad because the degree I want to pursue now is so much more worthwhile (and more me) than what I would have selected straight out of university.

That’s my girl!

Kiera, Xiamen December 2009

Kiera, Xiamen December 2009

Fujian Province is famous for its oolong tea, Fuzhou tea house, December 2009

James and Kiera, Fuzhou December 2009

James and Kiera, Fuzhou December 2009

Fuzhou, December 2009

Fuzhou, December 2009

Fuzhou, December 2009

Fuzhou, December 2009

the café scene on Gulangyu Island, December 2009

the café scene on Gulangyu Island, December 2009

Gulangyu Island, December 2009

Gulangyu Island, December 2009

Kiera's 24th Birthday with some of her students, Fuzhou December 2009

Kiera’s 24th Birthday with some of her students, Fuzhou December 2009


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6 Responses to For Baby (and the wind will whisper your name to me)

  1. Adam says:

    I love Kiera’s CND T-shirt. Does this mean that some of the next generation feel as passionately about the state of the world and the people in it as we do and will keep on with the struggle to make humankind a more worthy inheritor of the Earth?
    Another beautiful piece, your pride in Kiera shines through.

    • Cathy says:

      Right on! Hopefully they’ll do a better job than we did. Kiera went to see Hair on Broadway and bought the t-shirt. She is a closet hippie though, I think.

  2. Mark Muggeridge says:

    Nice post Cathy, I have always been fascinated by the idea of visiting China, your personal experience and insights get me part of the way there. There are shops in China town / Soho in London that just like the shops you describe.

    • Cathy says:

      I’m going back to China next month with my son, Alex. We’re meeting Kiera and James in Beijing, going to Shanghai before spending 2 weeks in Thailand and Hong Kong. Kiera has planned an amazing trip, on a very tight budget. Can’t wait.

  3. Judy says:

    You and Peter deserve praise for having raised a strong and beautiful woman.

  4. Louise Groom says:

    This post brought a tear to my eye and made me smile at the same time. I miss Kiera so much and cannot wait for her to come home even for just a short while! Your pictures brought back some memories of when I visited Kiera last year. I know exactly what you mean by the hocking of phlegm – Urgh, it’s disgusting!

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