WEDNESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2005
I look myself in the proverbial eyes, and I see: myself, my life, my environment, all recognisable from a year ago and two years ago.
And then she appears: a story so beautiful that not even children will believe it. A fairy princess, with the heart of a mortal.
I am confronted with [N]’s Stellenbosch experience, and following cryptic descriptions I again fall victim to a very unpleasant sensation: disappointment, even a sense of failure.
That dirty archenemy, that big old culprit is once again to blame! Assumptions!
Fact is, to go to university, and to go to Stellenbosch, were not original actions on my part. “University” was not a concept that I devised one afternoon in 1987. “Stellenbosch” was not a fictional town that I came up with one evening in 1989 while I was soaking in the bath. Both concepts had existed, full of colourful images and implications long before I, Brand Smit started thinking about going to Stellenbosch. And from the moment I started thinking about it – in ’88 or ’89, assumptions started taking shape in my head about how it will be.
I saw myself with a bookbag over the shoulder, walking with friends from the cafeteria to some class. I saw myself in a so-called student house. I saw myself with a pretty girl, and us holding hands while we take a walk along the Eerste River, or sitting under an oak tree on a bench talking. I saw myself on a bicycle – my own bicycle! – or even in a cheap car.
Those were the images, the assumptions.
In the end my Stellenbosch was filled with worries and anxiety and financial difficulties and loneliness and longing. My first room was with a family that were complete strangers to me until a few days before I moved in. After six weeks, I began to feel extremely uncomfortable sitting down to dinner, knowing that my first month’s rent had not been paid yet. After two and a half months not even the oak leaves could help me forget my overdue rent. One of the reasons why I went to the Cape was to be closer to a young woman who had made my heart stop a year earlier, and then shocked it into beating again by telling me that she liked me. Six months after I had arrived in Stellenbosch, we agreed that we should rather just be “friends”.
Friends? Lunch at the cafeteria? My own bicycle? A cheap little car? By the end of my first year I was living in a room previously reserved for a live-in servant, a room just big enough for myself and the bed. I cooked lentil soup with one potato in on a gas stove that stood in the shower. Money to take a girl out on a date? Coffee and cake in town? Ha!
So, my Stellenbosch experience was a disappointment? Can we go further and say it was a failure? Just because it was different from what I had assumed it would be? Because it was different from how it was supposed to be? What kind of person allows himself to be bullied, after how many years, by assumptions?
I say: My Stellenbosch experience was a triumphant success! I, now, was born out of that experience! Was it a painful birth? Yes. Is the adult result of that pregnancy and childbirth a failure? What is the standard? What is the expectation? Property, permanent job, marriage, children, school fees, bills, barbecues on Saturday evenings with old friends? Are these still the standards of success as an adult? If that is the case, then I am indeed bloody disappointed!
Do I want to say after all these years that I, Brand Smit, want nothing more than to climb in a time machine and travel back ten, fifteen years? Will I burn incense on the altar of the mainstream establishment, and recite poetic prayers before the gods of John and Sandy Allman, and tread mighty carefully not to accidentally experience something that does not correspond with How Things Ought to Be When You Study at Stellenbosch?
Is this the seed of self-denial that has been growing inside me all these years since my Stellenbosch experience turned south? Am I still disappointed that my student years were not filled with enough money and a nice little apartment and holding hands by the river and laughing with friends? I am what I am today because my student years were not like that!
It is time to raise my fist and declare: “Triumph!”
It is time to climb on a roof and shout: “My experience was shit, that’s true! But thank the gods for it otherwise I wouldn’t have been the person I am today!”
It is time to once again see that I have long since reached the end of the tunnel, that I have survived the birth, that I have become, and that I am now in a position to identify the source of unnecessary disappointments and say, “There! There’s the culprit!”
Life is a struggle, and as long as you remain on your feet, you win. And I, Brand Smit, have remained on my feet. Despite my assumptions.