17 06 2009

Back in 1988, having a pen-friend was the latest trend at my school. My friends and I would search the pages of UK music magazines like “SMASH HITS” and the German “BRAVO,” to find interesting people to correspond with. These were the days before emails and internet, instant messaging, smses, cell phones and social networking sites. Can you believe that, nowadays, actually putting pen to paper is considered archaic?

When our penpals eventually wrote back, it was so exciting. We had a hand-written letter from someone who was “overseas”. Now this may seem mundane to some, but having access to someone other than your small, and usually Coloured only community, was a big thing in 1988 Apartheid South Africa.

We brought the letters to school and allowed our friends to read them, ever so proud at receiving personal correspondence from abroad. These were the days at the height of the Rick Astley phenomenon, circa 1988.
We used words like “kief” meaning cool and “larney” meaning posh. We danced to songs like “Never gonna give you up” and were ecstatic when we read that our penpals were listening to the same LP. Yes, LPs or records were what we listened to in the 80’s.

The content of these letters were much the same as what we were going through as teenagers, but somehow, theirs always seemed cooler. I guess because, they took annual holidays to places like Majorca, and it was so natural and the done thing. My friends and I were lucky if we saw Durban!

I still have some of those letters. I kept the funniest and longest ones, mostly from my penpal from Norfolk in the UK. I read with delight her escapades with her boyfriends, her holidays and her family life. In some ways, it was everything “normal and nuclear” that I yearned for in my own so-called dysfunctional family. Years later, she came to visit me and vice versa, and that was when it dawned on me that her life was far from perfect.




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