Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing some Odes to the cities I have been living in the last year. Thinking of it now I have lived in 3 different cities in less than a year. Moving around that much can be really overwhelming but it has also taught me a lot about life and myself. So the first city I will be writing an Ode to, is Oxford.
An Ode is defined as a lyrical poem devoted to something or someone and has a lot of deep emotions attached to it. This will not be a poem, I’ve long given up on my poem writing skills, but it will be a set of pieces expressing my deep emotions to these crazy, noisy, wonderful and inspiring cities I have been blessed to call home for a while.
Oxford in the United Kingdom was my home for about 4 months. It was the first city I lived in on my own, it was the first time I travelled overseas alone and despite having lived away from home for 8 months previously, Oxford was really the first place where I had to take care of myself. Those last 4 months of 2015 were some of the most difficult and most eye-opening months of my life.
In some ways, Oxford was a disappointment to me. I had visited the city as a 16-year-old girl and made a promise to myself that I would one-day study there. Looking back now I know I placed unreasonable expectations on the city and Oxford I apologise to your for that. Now that I have been back in South African for almost just as long as I was in Oxford, the loneliness and sadness I experienced in Oxford is not as painful anymore and I can remember the days I went for walks and discovered wooden benches with magical animals carved out of them, the days I spent in London as a hair model, all on my own, getting completely lost and riding the tube to some place on the map that sounded touristy. I now miss walking. I hated the buses always being late and having to walk everywhere, but sitting in traffic every day now, I miss walking. Cold misty mornings make me think back with a smile to the cold misty Oxford mornings. I catch myself wanting to wear my crazy thick K-way snow jacket my parents sent over to Oxford here in South Africa. Because in many ways, that jacket was my lifeline to home.
There I’ve done it, just started crying. Not the same type of crying I did in Oxford, not the lonely, longing for home crying. No, I’m crying for the girl I was when I went to Oxford and the young women who came back.
I had made a conscious decision to come back to South Africa early, but I did not expect it to be as difficult as it was to adjust back to life here. I had been so dependent on myself (and I say dependent not independent because independent people don’t just survive, they live) that having my parents and even boyfriend do anything for me felt wrong.
The truth is that I really was only surviving in Oxford, emotionally at least. Maybe that is what has made it such a special city in my heart now. It’s the places where we learn to survive that become our home. Oxford had become my home, even if just for a few months, I know that city. I walked it up and down and I discovered. I also discovered myself.
So I have to thank you Oxford. You helped me grow up, you helped me realise that I can take care of myself and that I could figure out problems life threw at me. You taught me that sometimes it’s ok to cry over burnt lunch and that I can go shopping and eat in a restaurant (ok it was just McDonalds cause I couldn’t afford a proper restaurant) by myself and not feel self-conscious. You taught me about money and grocery shopping and about how important people are in your life. But you also showed me that my time for being a student was over and that I needed to move on with my life. I had been trying to hold onto some of my best years by becoming a student again, but I had changed, I was ready to start my life and make a difference in the world (I’m still working on that one).
Most of all you helped me realise how much I love my family, friends and country. I missed everything about South Africa, even the bad parts. I missed my cousin’s wedding, my other sister-cousin’s 18th, both my parents’ birthdays, my gran’s birthday and the (now) fiancé’s birthday. I not only missed these events, but I missed the people. I realised I am a people person, no matter how much I want to be on my own sometimes.
Before living in Oxford all I wanted to do was leave. I had this sense of urgency in me that I had to get away. Maybe I did. Maybe I did need to get away. I needed to get away to realise that I never want to leave. I will never be able to explain to anyone the love-hate relationship Oxford and I have, but I can describe my intense gratitude to this centuries old city. Your cobble stone streets have seen many stories like mine and will see many more. Thank you Oxford for being the place where I could finally find myself, but also thank you for letting me go. I can now live a life free from expectations, free from wondering.
Oxford my Ode to you is my gratitude. You will forever be my magical rainy, bookworm city.