Adapting to the midlands

Adapting to the midlands

As a semigrant from the smog filled skies of Johannesburg, settling into the KwaZulu Natal Midlands has been a life-changing journey. One assumes that it is the huge relocations that people make across oceans and into foreign climes that will change the way you see the world.

But I found that the 500 plus kilometre trip from Johannesburg to Hilton has made quite an impact on me. It has been character building!  As we drove into Hilton to find our temporary home at a Hilton B&B, the mist was as thick as soup. It was early evening and somehow on journey to the Midlands the car headlights had ceased to function. So there we were, peering out the windscreen like myopic travellers looking for the right turn off.

My son came to the rescue and produced a pocket flashlight and we used this to poke a tiny hole through the thick invisibility and then I saw one … a runner. My eyes opened wide and I commented to the family that clearly the man must be off his head.

In less than five minutes we saw another one merrily bobbing through the inclement weather.  But having come from the capital city of weirdoes and eccentrics I assumed that these people were not altogether sane.

Fast forward a few years and I am now used to seeing Midlands people exercising in torrential rain, scorching heat and windy weather. It is no co-incidence that a huge portion of the country’s sporting events are based in the KZN Midlands.

The Midmar Mile, the Comrades Marathon and the Duzi are events that create much fuss and interest. For me this is just more evidence that there is something genetically wrong with the locals. Who in their right mind wants to swim across a body of water where E-coli is not just a rumour?

Running uphill or downhill for hours while suffering from cramps, chaffed thighs and delirium is not my idea of fun. But whoa – before you label me as a “lazy foreigner.” I must explain the mitigating circumstances.

In Johannesburg people generally try not to go walking or running in any public place where there may be muggers or psychopaths lurking in every corner.  The acceptable thing is to join a reputable sports club which offers a safe environment for physical activities. I have joined the gym three times (no less) and each time I went on average five times. I should have torn up all those rand and thrown them down the toilet.

On any given evening you can see them working the treadmill like automated robots in their lycra or spandex. Rows apon rows of them, headphones in their ears and glazed eyes.

Guilt forced me there and I just could not bear to sweat alongside a row of Duracell bunnies who were thriving on their endorphin rush while I was eyeing the snack bar … throughout the workout.  I have never experienced an endorphin rush and have had to make do with a chocolate high.

This love of sport is instilled from an early age – they breed a tough lot here in this backwater. My “ex” attended a very stiff upper lip type of boarding school and I assumed that this sporting fetish was created by masochistic sports coaches who needed to make up activities for the youths lest they stray to the worker’s compound and imbibe some local beer.

I ,of course, never went to boarding school and my mother (an ex-boarder) would threaten us with boarding school for every mis-demeanour. “Eat your vegetables or you’ll go to boarding school” or “clean your room or its boarding school.”  I was terrified of the notion. In my imagination there were sadistic sports coaches drilling children to the point of exhaustion.

But having acclimatised to the Midlands I now realise that many people actually like exercising … with or without the endorphins – FOR FUN!  A new friend (who clearly did not know me very well) suggested that I join a sports club and meet new people. I looked at her askance. I would rather stick pins in my eyes or have a nasty dose of the flu than actually bond with sporty types. Eeuw!

Exercise you may have gathered is not my forte, I have been known to strain a muscle lifting the remote for the television.  In my misspent youth I dallied with badminton because I had a huge crush on a boy who was captain of the team.

In my teens my mother persuaded me to go to yoga and I thought that lying on a mat was a good position for me, especially when the lesson ends with relaxation – that’s my style. But now these exercise freaks have even robbed me of that … there are all types of new yoga that have been re-invented to give a thorough workout.

So I began to feel slightly ill at ease in my new environment. Luckily one of my children took to the sporting side of things with great enthusiasm and I have been dragged to watch squash matches and rugby games – while reading a book.

The child that takes after me – prefers to hide in the library when her friends are at athletics and I watched with amusement as she was urged to enter the Spar ladies race recently. “Come on” – said her bouncy friend “they have cool goodie bags.” She raised an eyebrow and said in a voice much like mine … “Unless there is a brand new iPad in that goodie bag the answer is no!”Oh dear, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

I was forced to confront this state of affairs recently when I re-discovered the scale which I had managed to hide right at the back of a cupboard. I gingerly put it on the floor and then I made the fatal mistake of standing on it.

Immediately I had to calm my nerves with a bar of chocolate. Of course the scale was broken!  But the cold hard truth sunk in – I was FAT! This realisation has been lurking in the shadows for some years but now immersed in this sports culture I knew it to be true.

I am an expert dieter – I have tried every diet known to mankind. The truth is that without exercise they don’t work.  I have drunk cabbage soup until I look green, submitted myself to electric shocks which are supposed to zap fat cells. I have worn plastic and sweated out a ton of water.  I have drunk shakes and swallowed miracle pills that did nothing BUT cost a fortune. A career high in my dieting quest was visiting a creepy hypnotist who did his best to alter my eating habits. Finally he declared defeat and sent me to his wife who co-incidentally sold some new fat burning tea that cost a fortune.

The number on that dratted scale began to haunt me. I began to watch the walkers in the morning – cheerfully tripping along the road smiling. One group always walk along in my neck of the woods. They are regular as a clockwork – even when the mist is thick and soupy. On one occasion I nearly ran them down as I screeched around the corner to meet the children’s lift club ten minutes late.

A woman wagged her finger at me and I nearly responded with the Joburg salute … trust me you know it!  But I have to confess that deeply in my sub-conscious something was beginning to stir. I thought that if I absolutely had to exercise I could probably handle walking … as long as it was on a flat surface.

I agreed to walk once or twice a week with a friend who convinced me it would be fun. We set off at a steady pace rumbling along and were overtaken by many professionals who would wave and chat without gasping.

Our walking route is quite secluded, off the main roads and sometimes we pick up a good pace and other times we stroll along chatting and solving the world’s problems. To be honest I have not noticed that my clothes feel any looser, but I feel better.

The Midlands has an abundance of fresh air, the countryside is so very pretty … perhaps there are psychopathic muggers hiding behind every jasmine bush but I haven’t seen one.  I notice the little things on our walks like butterflies and interesting flowers and birds.

At times my muscles hurt but my brain seems less foggy and at least I feel I have earned a chocolate. A close Joburg friend responded in horror recently when I suggested she load an app onto her phone that counts calories and records your steps.

She was baffled – had I really sent her that? Her caustic remark was – “That fresh air has clearly gotten to you.” Hmm – I think it has!

Strelitzia Sunshine

Strelitzia (Lizzie) Sunshine has fled her broken marriage (the ex predictably ran off with a younger woman – the dog trainer to be precise).
She decides that the city is no place to be a single mother so she heads off to the countryside.
Seeking greener pastures she settles in a small suburb in the South African countryside. In Hilton – a pseudo-English village in the last outpost of KwaZulu Natal.
She settles determined to make a new life, find new friends and possibly a romantic interest.
Her best friend Annie, a pal from her varsity days lives here and Lizzie hopes that by immersing herself in the local culture she will distract her the daily grind and forget the past.
But life in this area is far from tranquil and she finds that far from being bored she is fascinated with the locals who are like extras in a Monty Python movie.
Colonial snobs, new age hippies, bible-bashers and irate Zulus all conspire to make her life interesting.
As if mid-life is not enough of a challenge she has her two children to deal with and a hard time finding work. She writes her daily observations in a haphazard diary style.