Soldier for the soul (if his weapon just wants to fire)


On Friday, 13 June, I couldn’t get past the password on my computer, because the a, the Backspace and the Caps Lock keys decided without warning to go on early retirement. It didn’t take me long to wise up about a few things:

1. The development was highly disturbing.

2. People put their hopes for happiness on something that’s part of their daily lives. Sometimes they know what it is, and sometimes they only discover what it was when it’s gone. For some people it is an intimate relationship with another person. For someone else, it’s taking care of a family. For others, it’s the fact that they have a lot of money. And sometimes it’s all of the above. For me it is writing. In practical terms it means typing the password on my computer every day and working on a project.

3. If I’m a soldier, my computer is my weapon.

4. The thought occurred to me that I might just have to buy a new computer.

For the record, the reason I bought a notebook computer in June 2000 was because it was portable back to South Africa. It was insurance: If I ended up in servant’s quarters again, at least I would have my own computer. A desktop PC – big box with a big screen – meant that I had to remain here for long enough to be okay with writing it off when the time came to pack my backpack again.

And now? Has a dysfunctional a key forced me to address the Big Question earlier than I had planned? Will I stay in Taiwan long enough to justify buying a new computer – and probably not the portable kind?

I also wonder, just in passing, if I’m not still a little naïve about what awaits me, a certifiable poor white, in South Africa.

Thus a thought came to me as I was looking at computers this evening: Stay here for long enough to enable myself to eventually afford an apartment in South Africa – of course in a neighbourhood and in an architectural style appropriate for a self-respecting poor white intellectual.

To be honest, similar ideas had been jumping around in my head before the a became a Caps Lock. Early in the morning I had already thought, “now in July for three weeks with the family, then next March. And if you don’t return to South Africa at the end of next year, also next December with the family somewhere on a beach.” (If business goes well enough for the family.)

Time will of course be getting on, and my Chinese will eventually reach a point where one could make money with it in South Africa. So much more time is also so much more time for the publication of textbooks and writing inspired by a life in the Far East. And there’s of course the old-age insurance of 15,000-kilometre railway journeys, a few weeks in Japan, a few weeks in China, and even a visit to New York.

But on a much simpler level, this point: To own my own house or apartment in South Africa.

What’s the alternative? I return to South Africa before the end of this year. From March 2004 I barbeque every weekend at my younger sister’s (as long as I can afford my own boerewors and garlic bread); I continue paying down my student loans for another three or four years, and rent an apartment in Bronkhorstspruit for the rest of my life. This while I listen to other people’s stories of journeys over Russian mountains and Chinese deserts, and trips to Japan and New York, and Paris and Amsterdam, at barbecues where my garlic bread’s flavour is getting weaker and weaker, and as I get older by the day, with my enthusiasm for doing battle with my keyboard decreasing dangerously fast.

But at least I’ll get to see my family more often, right?

No one said this would be easy. But I’m a soldier in the Poor White Battalion, fighting in the front trenches in the Battle for the Soul.

And you win as long as you remain standing.