Memoirs of Life in South Africa

English 162: Literature and Place (A Queens College Study Abroad Course)

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Blog #8

January 14th, 2012 by mikestrianese · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Tell a story about a Cape Town experience (keeping Eakin’s ideas about autobiography in mind).

On the eighth of January, at the Waterfront outside by the Ferris wheel a woman asked me if i took pictures.  My camera hung around my neck and I had been taking pictures all day so it’s possible she saw me doing so.  Confused, I told her that I did which resulted in her response of, “How much?”  Realizing that she meant for tourists, I amended my answer and told her that I did not, but would be happy to take a picture for her and email it to her for free.  She looked at me like I was crazy, said nothing, and walked away.  Why is the kindness of strangers often unwanted? Why do people not want others to be nice to them? People should expect kindness from everyone, is that not what we desire for ourselves?

At the beach I cut my finger on the jammed door of a changing room.  I started walking toward the sea to cleanse my bleeding wound, something I’d mindlessly do home on Long Island, but saw the shark spotter flags above and remembered South Africa has Great Whites.  I wasn’t in fear for myself, but saw the amount of people in the water and decided it was not a good idea.  Standing on the beach I rinsed my finger with water from a bottle I had brought with me.  The blood mixed with water, which turned burnt orange in color before running off my finger to the sand below.  I heard someone shout, “Hey!”, which made me look up despite the fact that I knew no one besides people who were in the water, and someone calling for my attention from the beach was unlikely.  I attributed it as a reflex and hung my head to nurse my wound when I heard the same voice fill the vacant, windy air.  This time it was louder, sharper, and seemed like more of a command.  Looking up I saw an old chubby woman, black in color holding a green container in her light palmed, long nailed fingered hand.  She was sitting in the shade but had a floppy, large brimmed sun hat atop her head.  It had a lavender band hugging its center as well as a lavender ribbon like cloth dancing in the wind behind it.  Leaning against a log cabin type support wall that separated the street from the beach, she was looking in my direction.  “Me?”, I questioned.  “Jaa, you my boy.”  I walked over to her, about 500 feet stood between us, bringing my confusion with me.

She held up the green container which she had already opened, its lid sat silent in the hand that was still on her dimpled, dark thigh.  The contents of the tub resembled petroleum jelly, but smelled much better, like basil and mint.  “Its for ya finger.  I make it meself because my boy likes to adventure and gets a lot of cuts while do-ing so”, she said through a smile that resembled the keys on a piano… a few of her upper teeth had gone somewhere to never return.  I’m no going to lie, I was nervous and reluctant to spread some mystery goop over my exposed flesh, but felt obligated.  This woman saw me in the distance, flushing my cut, and summoned me closer to help.  I realized later it was the kindness of strangers I have been burning inside for.  One of the biggest smiles of my life, and I say this with minimal exaggeration, stole my cheek’s place on my face and pushed my eyes past their brows to my hairline.  “Thank you so much.  This is so kind of you”, I said, reaching down with my uncut hand into the container she held.  She said nothing, only smiled with a face of care.

I spread the clear ointment over my wound and immediately felt a sharp burning sensation spread through my finger onto the top of my hand.  It felt like a pretty centipede with high heels made of needles was walking over my skin.  But I was not worried, it instantaneously relieved me like a lion shot in the rear with the dart of a tranquilizer gun.  I said good-bye and walked away, and know this next part seems unbelievable… I have trouble believing it myself and I know it to be true.  When I woke the next morning the cut on my finger had vanished.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Talisa Feliciano

    This is a wonderful story. I have similar ones with stranger’s kindness. I sincerely believe that some people in Cape Town are a lot nicer to strangers than New Yorkers are accustomed to. Also, you’re always getting hurt.

  • mikestrianese

    Thank you guys for the kind words! I’ll send them to the beautiful woman I wrote about here.

  • Jason Tougaw

    This is an amazing story. And I agree about the imagery–especially the centipede. The spirit of this is fantastic and particularly poignant given the fact that it couldn’t have happened a mere two decades ago.

  • Merzela

    WOW. Your imagery here is great. That is such a rewarding experience to have especially when you’re far away from home. The random acts of kindness by strangers are sometimes not taken as acts of kindness but rather something negative (sometimes rightly so). I think this is because a lot of people have the notion that if someone does something kind for you then they want something in return. I think we all should do acts of kindness even if sometimes that kindness is not well received. I don’t think the woman who asked you about photography didn’t want your act of kindness but I think she was skeptical of your intentions because of stories she had heard. She didn’t know how to receive your act of kindness or even if she believed it. There are many people who have ill intentions but I think there are many more who have good ones; such as yourself and the woman who helped you by the beach.

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