Friday, August 12, 2011

Missing sipping tea in South Africa

Packing tea cups                                       Eve Hemming
Edited version published in the Witness, September 2010

Last night I hauled out a disused New Zealand Herald and wrapped a tea-cup in a page – not any old teacup, but a French designer Longchamp cup in a caramel cream whirly design reminiscent of the late 60’s; part of the dinner service wedding gift from years ago. They came from Nagels, (in Pietermaritzburg, KZN, SA), which later became The Hub.

I started crying when Ant said – “I wonder how many times you’ve wrapped that cup.”  And I counted twelve times – my entire married life flooding through my mind; extracted from the spider-web swamped labyrinths.
I cried, not only because forty years had erroneously slipped through my fingers like water escaping from a running tap; not just because I felt that they were lost, irretrievable years to return to and reconstruct, but also because the tea cup’s future remained unconvincingly tenuous.
The first time the tea cup was wrapped was to move from our first home – a modest rondavel, decorated with bath towel curtains, where we’d animatedly ripped open our wedding gifts. I was nineteen. The tea cup remained unused. There was no place for guests to drink tea in a bohemian dwelling with no table.
A later wrapping was due to relocating from a one to a two bed- roomed flat, when our first baby joined our family ranks. The tea cup was still unused – one of the special ones for special occasions. There was no time for special occasion tea parties when life revolved around feeds, sleepless nights and nappy changes.

The tea cup and its set came out of the confines of the cupboard and into functional use in our various homes in KZN – including bastardised Victoriana, a rambling Midlands Meander country thatch, (where we ran a Sunday meander restaurant, with roast lamb cooked with tomato, onion, garlic, rosemary and feta cheese, and Eric Clapton CDs setting the tone ) suburban modernistic, a converted post office in Winterskloof, and an original wattle and daub cladded home with a kitchen burner and ball and claw footed bath. 

Mostly interesting spacious homes with
 impressive views. Places to drink tea under the African sun. Meaningful moments. Moments that became those years I cried about last night.

Thereafter the teacup went bubble wrapped in a box in an outsized container. It must have sweated in its wrapping in the dark bowels across the ocean, first docking at Port Louis, followed by Sydney before arriving at Auckland harbour. 

We traced the tea cup and all our worldly possessions on the Internet from our empty home in Auckland. We even went to the harbour and gazed at a thousand containers, where omnipotent cranes bent their heads on a Sunday.
Joyfully its destination was reached. The container was unpacked and a trillion boxes delivered to our doorstep by NZ Van Lines, where some amiable Jonah Lomu type blokes with tattoo festooned muscles, carried our furniture and the boxes including my tea cup in. I joyfully opened the box and the bubble wrap contents to find my symbolic cup, which by then was running over.
            And last night I wrapped it again -this time to move to a larger home a kilometre away as the NZ duck flies. But why so sad on this momentous journey to yet another characterful home – this one an authentic Kiwi wooden multi-levelled home, where my cup will once more be unwrapped.
            The sadness this evoked is for all the lost moments I didn’t sufficiently or abundantly embrace – the teas I sipped unfocused, the company I kept maybe insincerely, the people my life, paved with good intentions, meant to, but didn’t invite to sip tea before emigrating from Africa.
More poignantly the sadness was for the terrible loss of family teas, (with grandchildren spilling from their tumblers, and teddy bear's picnics...)… evaporated into this vacuum created by distance.

My mother was a staunch fan of the institution of tea drinkers. 

I also missed her because the association I have of tea has a motherliness about it. I miss not being that type of mother, because I was always ‘too busy’ being the perennial student and full-on professional career woman. Mothers should find the time to sip tea with anyone old, sad, ill or lonely.

And musing about who can come over and sip tea from the Longchamp cup one fine Auckland day.


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