Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I was reading a very good book, called No Man's Land, by a South African called Carel van der Merwe (and names don't get much more South African than that) recently, and I came across an Afrikaans expression I'd heard before.


It's a bit rude, so often it's abbreviated to Soutie, as it means salty (soutie) willie (or whatever you choose to call the male anatamony without using the P word). I'm sure Muriel or Hann will correct my translation as required.

It's a derogatory term applied to a white South African of English descent who has one foot in England and the other in South Africa - metaphorically meaning that their heart is in two places and they can't commit, and literally meaning that their pee-pee is dangling in the Atlantic (if I have my geography right. If not, Mrs B will correct me).

I think I'm a bit of an Indian Ocean soutie. I don't dislike my country, Australia, at all, but right now I really would rather be back in Africa. It's probably because I was just there a couple of weeks ago.

For one thing, the weather is much nicer in Africa than Australia at the moment, and the beer is significantly cheaper. These things weigh heavily on my mind in the midst of a wet, cold Sydney winter.

Of course, there's the crime thing in Africa, and the AIDS thing, and the corrupt politician thing, and the economy thing, etc etc etc. I'm not blind enough to think that Africa is a paradise, although I do know a few southern Africans who think Australia is the promised land.

As Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder put it so eloquently, "people are the same wherever you go. There is good and bad, in everyone..." They also said at different times, respectively "I am the walrus, koo-koo-koo-choo..." and "peace has come to Zimbabwe..." so I'm not putting all my faith in their lyrics, but you get the picture.

No Man's Land, which I commend to you, legion of fans, even though it's not published by my very good friends at Pan Macmillan, deals with a guy who leaves South Africa for England, in search of his wife, who has run away from him. I won't go into details, but he does make some observations about people living abroad.

It must be incredibly difficult to find yourself in a situation, as people I know have, where it becomes untenable or unsafe to stay in your own country. I can't really imagine HAVING to leave Australia. I would not like it, not one little bit.

But nor do I applaud when the 747 touches down at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (which I hope is never renamed Albert Namitjira or Osma Bin Laden International Airport), or get all misty-eyed when the annoying Qantas children start singing "I still call Australia home" as the aircraft taxis to its gate.

I like both places, but I love neither. I dislike some things about both continents, but I hate neither.

I am lucky, very lucky, enough to have a work-life balance which allows me to spend time in both Australia and Africa. I am very, very, very, very lucky, to have a wife who is happy to go along with this weird life, and support me and perhaps not do whatever it is that she might be doing if she wasn't spending five months of the year in Africa.

I'm one proud, lucky soutie.


ali g said...

hear a tall beautiful blonde is cooking you a chicken pie tonight...that must give Aus a slight edge over Africa surely.

tonypark said...

nice sucking-up, Ali G. It won't go unnoticed and I'll pass it on.

But Mrs B cooks chicken pie in Africa, as well, so it's one-one.

Hann said...

Aus don't have Castle Largers, 2-1 then?
I never knew that 'soutie' meant that! but rather thought it was just a term for an English speaking SA-can like Rooi nek. Good post, I agree I love bits of both as well and dislike bits of both. I can't stand how some Aussies complain about things they have here, I feel like saying "come to Africa and then we talk again or shut up and appreciate".

Muriel said...

Spot-on translation. Not bad for an Aussie! I'm a 2nd-generation South African so can't lay any claim to having come across with Jan and his buds (or, for that matter, run with ostrich-egg-stored water across the thirstlands), but my heart is immovably here in SA, and so would my willie be if I had one.
As to the weather: it snowed in Joburg two days ago (granted, for only the 2nd time in 26 years) and the mountains around the small village I live in look like Switzerland. It's bitterly cold and because we in 'sunny SA' live in the illusion that ours is a superheated paradise, none of our houses are properly insulated and we're constantly cold.
But hey I'm not complaining. Wine is cheap, friends are suitably odd and summer is coming.

Bec said...

I'm finding the mental image of a man with legs either side of an ocean deeply disturbing.

No wonder Soutie's have trouble settling down. All that salt water on the sensitive bits must become quite crusty after a while...

(but yes, even 20 years on, and as you know, I can vouch for the cliche of Africa getting into your blood)

tonypark said...

Yes, no room for shrinkage when you're a soutie with long legs