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The Self Employed Housewife - A Seaman's Wife's story Ch 11
Allowing her to be true to herself
She woke up with a jolt. The emotions from her nightmare were still lingering. Something about the loss of a child, but she had never lost a child at birth. She could still feel the grief, the loss, the emptiness that she would go home with no baby. Where had that come from?
Thank goodness that Jan was still fast asleep. That meant if she was careful she could sneak out of bed before he woke up.
Usually he would wake up first and fondle her so he could have his sexual needs met before the day started. That was his normal routine when they were together; sex at the beginning and at the end of every day. Waking up on her own when Jan was at sea was the one thing she enjoyed.
Jan’s tall body was spread-eagled taking up most of the bed, which made her feel claustrophobic.
The truth about her lack of enthusiasm for sex angered Jan and therefore often made her feel guilty, but she had as yet to experience what romantic novels were so fond of describing. For her it was an overrated pastime. If only he would give her an opportunity to allow her to be true to herself. She liked having foreplay in the form of communications, like they had before they were married. That stopped on their wedding day and never returned.
She tiptoed past the children’s bedroom in her dressing gown. She would prepare breakfast and bring Jan something he liked hoping that the kids would be awake by then and probably be jumping on their bed, especially now that Jan was home.
Their life in Australia
Fisherman’s Bend Hostel in Port Melbourne
Her sneaking downstairs to avoid Jan’s intent made her think back to their life in Australia. They had clearly been sabotaged by the Australia embassy employee when he claimed that they would make great immigrants; meaning they had an education which included English, and they had savings. They were both better qualified than most immigrants who wanted to start a new life in Australia.
Jan had wanted to stay in Melbourne because he had an uncle living there, who had written letters to Jan’s dad that he wanted to start his own vegetable garden business.
They ended up in Fisherman’s Bend Hostel in Port Melbourne. Their accommodation was in a corrugated-iron hut divided into a living room in the middle and a bedroom at each end. Bathroom and toilet blocks were outside. The first eight months was a nightmare. They shared breakfast, lunch and dinner in the hostel canteen with many other immigrants from all over Europe.
Apparently it was the peak year with more than 80,000 people coming to Australia. Since all Australian political parties supported the “White Australia” policy, they looked to Britain and northern European countries for immigrants in the belief that people from these countries would more easily assimilate with the Australian community.
She felt pregnant with Jeroen while she was working as a waitress in the city. Jan was once again not happy and this time blamed her for not taking the pill. She had to admit that she often totally forgot to take them.
Jan’s uncle who lived an hour away turned out to be clearly not interested buying his own land and growing his own crops to sell at the wholesale market in Melbourne. Instead he remained the manager at a business that did just that until his retirement. Instead he invested his money in buying a Milk bar, (called café in South Africa) and looked to others to run it.
Times got a lot better when they moved into their own home when she was in her sixth month of pregnancy. They had put a deposit down on a house in Croydon, one hour away from Melbourne, just to get out of the Hostel environment, but the only work that Jan could find was a house-painter job, which he hated.
Jan was home every night, but left for work early before the kids were awake. Over weekends the children would sneak into their bedroom early, which Jan disliked, so they would leave a packet of biscuits in their bedroom, in the hope that finding those would keep them happy for at least fifteen to twenty minutes.
She had not wanted to return back to Holland, but Jan hated his work. She could not blame him. Being forced to become a house painter was degrading. That his qualifications were not recognized by the Australians had been a real bummer.
His uncle then talked him into taking over running the Milk bar after it was rundown by the manager he had employed. That was truly the worst time of her life. They had to live at the back of this Milk barwhile they rented out their nice home. She still got the shivers thinking about those times.
In that horrible dark lounge she had a miscarriage. She had suspected that she was pregnant again, but the mere thought of Jan’s rejection and anger, blaming her for not regularly taking the pill made her wish that her period would come on. Life in the Milk bar was already stressed enough and she wanted to walk out.
She threw herself off tables and drank laxatives until the pain made her almost faint. The blood clots that she passed in the toilet reminded her of the Greek woman in the Hostel’s restrooms who had had a miscarriage. She knew that she had brought it on but she never told Jan about it. Instead she went to bed claiming to feel too sick to look after the kids or serve customers.
A week later she and the kids moved back to their home in Croydon while Jan told his uncle that they were quitting. Returning home was by then the best option.
Going on day tours
Gosh she had better snap out of her reminiscing mood. She could hear the kids upstairs laughing with Jan. He was good with them now that they started to be more interactive.
“Mommy what must I wear?” Sascia shouted from the top of the stairs.
It was going to be a sunny day, and instead of taking the children to school, they would go on day tours. No leatherwork.
“What about your favorite leather skirt. Show it to daddy.”
“But daddy has already seen that! “ Oh dear, her little girl’s getting dressed sagas were sometimes a real challenge.
Jan wanting to move to Port Elizabeth had been a real shock. She was just getting used to living in Durban. She loved the climate and had made friends. Her regular trips to the saddler’s shop to buy leather, or to the clothing boutiques to see if they needed more stock was getting to be a routine. She had no interest in being uprooted again. She was earning money, and she loved her independence.
A dish called Bunny Chow
The children had been allowed to stay out of school, so after breakfast they drove away in the Beetle. While driving around Jan told them stuff she never knew, like that Durban has the highest Indian population outside of India. He had done a lot of reading about Durban, including about a dish called Bunny Chow.
Apparently an innovative Durban restaurateur had come up with the idea of combining the meal and the container by scooping the inside out of half a loaf of bread, filling it with curry, using the scooped out bread as a lid and viola – the bunny chow. They were keen to try it themselves, but somehow no restaurant served this dish inside. An Indian waiter told them that because Indian and black people were not allowed to be seated in restaurants, they were instead served takeaways through a small window at the back of the restaurant. This apartheid Law disgusted her no end.
After Jan had gone back to sea she would ask her Indian friend in the saddler shop about Bunny chow.
A Durban rickshaw
The next day they parked the Beetle at the beachfront and went everywhere by rickshaw. When she had been on her own there was no money for trips on a Durban rickshaw. They were all fascinated by their elaborate costumes. The pullers individualized their attire by adding extra braids and wearing bangles of plaited reeds with seeds which rattled against their white washed lower legs.
Some days they stayed near Palm Springs. Jan would cook on his portable braai in the courtyard while she did some leather work in the garage. In the evenings they often went to the drive-in.
A week later they visited the Victoria Street Market bazaar (locally called a flea market) one of Durban's most recognizable pieces of architecture with eleven domes modeled on Indian construction. She loved the smells of the Indian spices and incenses. There were lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale, but before she had transport, she could never buy a lot of everything. She loved browsing among the fabrics, ceramics, and arts and crafts, not to mention the collection of souvenirs and jewelry.
They were invited for drinks at Corrie and Jim’s place a few times after the kids were all asleep. She would usually run down to their house three doors away just to check if Sascia and Jeroen were still asleep.
Jan’s last day home
On the last day of Jan’s holiday they visited the Durban Botanical Gardens. They both loved plants but she especially loved visiting the orchid house that was named the Ernest Thorp Orchid House. Jan told her that the encephalartos woodii, a cycad is acknowledged as probably the rarest plant in the world.
On the way home they drove past Umhlanga rocks, wondering if they would see the previous owners of the beetle. During the braai at their place she had learned from one family member that Umhlanga rocks used to be just a sandy little village with houses dotted along the shore. Their host told them that they often found many fresh oysters on the rocks next to the lighthouse.
When Jan was driving and smoking his pipe he was far more talkative. She loved listening. He told her that Mahatma Gandhi started his political career in Durban and that he became well-known for his activism that was covered by newspapers in England and India. In a few short years, Gandhi had become a leader of the Indian community in South Africa.
She promised herself that she would take books out of the library about this man. He intrigued her after Jan told her that when Gandhi boarded the first train of his journey at the Pietermaritzburg station, railroad officials told Gandhi that he needed to transfer to the third-class passenger car. When Gandhi, who was holding first-class passenger tickets, refused to move, a policeman came and threw him off the train.
She learned more about Durban during the time Jan was at home than all the time she lived on her own. His ten days home had done them all a lot of good, and their lovemaking was again coming from both sides. She would miss him and he didn’t want to be away sailing on the ships again, He would look for a job ashore when the Voorspeler offloaded cargo in the cities between Durban and Cape Town.
She was still in two minds about that, but it might take a while before he found a job ashore.