Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

I Am From

I am from Africa. I am from blue skies, tropical breezes, and sunshine on my back. I am from tall trees that throw great shadows. I am from monkeys in the garden and a chameleon on a bush. I am from mountains that rarely see snow, beaches with huge waves, sharks behind the shoreline. I am from banana plants, sugar-cane and mealies. I am from huge moths and flying ants. I am from humidity, from thunderstorms that build up as black towers in the sky, and rain so hard it hurts my skin.

I am from eating outside. I am from the intense smell of a slightly under-ripe naartjie that I pick from its tree, dig open with dirty fingernails, and devour despite the sourness. I am from plucking granadillas off the vine and greedily sucking the juice. I am from braai meat, salad and crunchy white rolls. I am from mussels gathered from the sea.

I am from lucky beans. I am from a hoary old magnolia tree that bursts forth luscious, vanilla-scented blooms that decorate the Christmas table. I am from a red-brick house that looks out over trees and a hot town. I am from black and white tiles that cool hot summer feet. I am from the smell of dogs being washed. I am from the sound of Zulu hymns as I fall asleep.

I am from Marmite sandwiches. I am from a schoolbag digging into my shoulder as I walk home. I am from the smell of an over-chlorinated swimming-pool in my wet hair. I am from giggling. I am from eating all the cookie mixture. I am from marathon card games. I am from the thwack of tennis balls. I am from kissing boys.

I am from little brothers playing cricket on the lawn. I am from long car journeys. I am from beach holidays. I am from sand in my hair, from fairy gardens and dreaming I can fly. I am from blonde people. I am from children go to bed early. I am from fragrant grandmothers and laughing aunts. I am from a funny dad. I am from a little brother who shared my nightmares. I am from a mother who said, “You can do anything.”

Where are you from?

29 thoughts on “I Am From

  1. Hi Charlotte,

    I am also from South Africa and love your blog. My husband and I currently live in Stuttgart, Germany. Do you by any chance have contact with other South Africans living in the Stuttgart-area.

    Much appreciated!

  2. Hi Gina, and welcome! I don’t know anyone in Stuttgart, I’m sorry. There is a group of South Africans who meet in Karlsruhe I believe. You could maybe do a search on

  3. Thanks Charlotte,
    My dad was from South Africa–he immigrated to the UK in the mid-50s and then to the States where I was born. I’ve not spent enough time there–but feel fortunate to have been twice in the past 7 years (Durban AIDS conference and another meeting in Cape Town–I work in public health), still have half-sisters there (Durban and Kwa Zulu Natal) and an Aunt and Uncle in Cape Town… anyway, so I loved reading this. Thank you.

    A friend of mine recently launched a website called global hometown ( and would love this piece. Check out the site… add to it… and good luck with your cooking, reading, and writing.

  4. Pingback: I am from « into the quiet

  5. Spent my childhood up the almond tree in the garden in CapeTown!Live in Rome your blog, I can smell the smells and get soooooooooooo nostalgic! much enjoyed thankx

  6. Hi Charlotte,

    I was looking to see if you had an e-mail anywhere on your blog and came across this. I love it. What beautiful memories. I may have to steal this idea!

    I just received an e-mail from a friend in Zimbabwe. It’s from one of her neighbors. The situation there seem frightening. I thought it would be of interest to you. Here goes:

    From a farming couple (elderly) that we know in another town

    It is Sunday, 27th April, time is 1am
    It seems as if a lifetime has passed since my first letter on the 5th April.
    We are still on the farm (husband and myself)
    but now with a base camp set up 150 yards from the homestead,
    and a roadblock below the house. This made up of drums and branches from
    We were informed that there was to be a “pungwe” tonight. A “pungwe” is a
    political reorientation by the Youth Brigade and “war veterans” of our staff and surrounding people.
    Woken up at 11.00 (Saturday) pm with the “pungwe”, it is getting closer and
    closer to the homestead.
    It is now right outside our front gate. (this is locked permanently for
    Our security dog is very quiet, does this mean that he has been killed.
    The noise escalates, I start phoning for assistance. The time is 11.40pm on
    Saturday 26th April, The reaction team leader is phoned, and he can hear the noise on my side.
    He assures me that assistance is on it’s way.
    I phone his Superior who reassures me that they are on the way.
    They always reassure us they are reacting but they never arrive.
    I phone a Provincial Leader but the lady of the house informs me that he is
    asleep and will not be woken.
    My question to her is what if there is “blood shed tonight” and the reply is
    “there is nothing I can do!”
    It is now 1pm and still no assistance has arrived. The ” pungwe” has moved
    away from our front gate and now back at their base camp. It is only in instances like this that one notices how sound travels through the dead of night. It is so much LOUDER!!! The “pungwe” continues.
    We have checked on our Staff housed within the security fence and they are
    okay. This is Staff brought in to help while our permanent staff refuse to work as they are petrified of intimidation.
    Our security dog is okay we have checked on him too.
    It is a waiting game. Will they or won’t they come to help us??
    While I am sitting here trying to put words together I just want to say
    how wonderful the family have been during this time. For all the support and
    love you have given us during these three weeks. We love you so much.
    To all the Friends and Family who have phoned from all over the world we could not continue without you. For those few, brave enough to pay us a visit in our situation you are wonderful people.

    To all the Strangers that have replied to our situation we thank you for all
    the support, phone calls, txts, emails etc., it is so encouraging to know that you stand with us in the fight of our lives.

    May God Bless you All.

    A Farmer’s Wife.

    (The time is 1.15am – still no reaction)

    -*- Forwarded message follows: -*-

    It was a very long night for us. No reaction from the Police that we heard.
    An ex-neighbour phones every morning at 6am to check our landline has not been tampered with. Our landline/telephone line has been cut on numerous occassions by the invaders.

    We load food for the cattle and sheep. Our four staff (brought in to help as
    our permanent staff still refusing to work for fear of intimidation) help with the feeding and watering. Some of our staff have been with us since the early 70’s and it is terrifying to see the efficient manner which these so called “war vets” ( approx 30 years old which mean that they were born after our bush war), can instill absolute terror in the people, with their beatings and threats.

    A Police vehicle arrives at 7am with three Police detail.
    Farmer checks that they have uplifted the road block drums when they came out at 1am this morning.

    So give them their due they did come out.

    They have returned to see how things are. We escort them to the Base Camp
    (only 150 yds from the homestead) and they carry out their investigation getting details of the people at the Base Camp. They return to inform us that it is the same people that have been arrested before and not charged. It would appear that the Reaction Team is refusing to react as they are not getting any one charged. The people at the Base Camp are refusing to say who their Leader is. However this is already known to us as we have it on tape.

    We continue to feed and water and return the animals to their paddocks.
    It is alleged that the cattle have wondered into the neighbouring farm and
    eaten someone’s crop, which is rubbish as due to the excessive rain the crops
    are a wipe out.
    Our staff are sent to investigate and it is ascertained that 1840 meters of
    fencing wire has been stolen and the fence line been cut in 15 different
    places, this is orders followed which were issued at the first “pungwe” on the
    5th April, to destroy the fencing and move the cattle on. We assign a member
    of staff to herd the cattle away from this area so that they do not stray across
    the fence line. Tonight we have pushed the herd as close as possible to where
    they will be fetched in the morning to be fed. We were afraid that if we
    enclose them in a small area the “war veteran youth” would
    panic them during the night. A “pungwe and a jambanji” is a political
    re-orientation of staff and the people.
    They are the most gentlest creatures, that is the cattle that I am talking
    The most serious situation is that within the next few days we will run out of
    grazing for our sheep and cattle as the invaders have forced the livestock into
    a small corner near our homestead. We cannot even begin to think what will
    happen to our animals and will have to make alternative plans. We have been
    reduced from over 3000 head of cattle down to 230 head, due to this continuous land invasion. We also have 60 sheep, not counting the hens and roosters!

    Our dairy herd has not been milked for over a week now owing to no staff.
    Our milk production was for the use of our staff and surplus was sold to folk
    in town desperate for this commodity and for us it was an additional income our support our survival, this is now all gone!

    With this latest invasion they have now pegged all our land to give to the new
    land invaders. Our drinking water is finished, this is normally fetched with a bowser from a borehole 6kms away as the pipeline to the house has been damaged by the “settlers”. So for now our immune system has clicked into action as we are now drinking water from the dam but boiling it and filtering it.

    Last night “someone” opened an outside tap and this morning we had run out of water.
    However for us Zimbabweans no water and no power is nothing new!
    This pm we can sleep for a few hours as all animals are fed and watered.
    4pm. We check on the animals and all seems well only the morning will tell if
    they have been mixed up and panicked.
    They do not need this stress in their lives and nor do we!
    It would seem that only a “few” are present at the base camp as the others have probably gone in for re-supply and to be briefed for future tactics.
    Yesterday there were two Youth Brigade stationed in the branches of the tree by the Road Block near the homestead and we questioned them as to “whether they had now been promoted to Branch Managers?” Through this all we still try to keep our humour going, for a marriage I can only say that this situation is the best councilling I would recommend as you are just to tired to argue with your partner!

    As the Farmer’s wife I am now Base Commander 2 as Base Commander 1 is stationed 150 yards from the Homestead.
    This is from my husband!
    We have not really been able to get to town to do a good shop such as it would be with all the astronomical prices but somehow the fridge and pantry keeps producing food that we are able to put together to sustain us.
    Dish Washer is finished so we just grate a bar of soap boil it with water and
    add lemon juice. Voila!
    We can try and keep our spirits up and all the emails, phone calls, etc., from
    family, friends and strangers keep them so. I find that I email at my best
    when the “Pungwe” is going full blast at our front gate and the harmonising does something for the fingers and keys of the computer. “Pungwe” is a political re-orientation.

    So for now we pray that it will be a reasonably quiet night and that we can get
    a full nights sleep.
    To our Wonderful Family who keep us going with all the phone calls and prayers we thank you all for the Support you are giving us.

    God Bless you all

  7. Hi Charlotte,

    Thanks for your positive blog. Please tell Gina (above) that I also live in Stuttgart and would like to make contact. Lived in Cape Town, before moving here.

    My blog is at

    Christo Volschenk

  8. Hi there Charlotte, loved, loved, LOVED this posting of yours. Well done. I am from Cape Town xxx

  9. Charlotte,

    I read and loved every single word and I don’t even know you (or do I)? I wrote a book, soon to be self-published, and I do hope I show signs of an editing gene.

    In Peace, Joe

  10. Hi Charlotte – I find you via Ian from Letters Home. While I am not South African-born, I spent over twenty years living there, so totally related to your piece above!

    I hope you are not too cold in Hamburg – I was last there, in the middle of summer (we have friends who live in Meckesheim), and just can’t imagine the Necker frozen!!

    Happy 2009 and enjoy your trip back to SA!

  11. Hi Charlotte.

    This is just beautiful!


  12. Hi Charlotte
    Ian from Hamburg put me onto your blog – and so glad he did!

  13. Hamburg?!? Why did I type Hamburg when I clearly meant “Heidelberg”? After all, the Necker is definitely not in Hamburg, is it? 🙂

  14. I am from a tiny town in northeast Missouri…
    BUT, my mom is from Germany. All of her (our) family still lives there. We visit often, but not often enough. I loved your 10 things about Germany… I am actually working on a nonfiction project called My Summers in Germany.

    Your blog is lovely.. I’ll be back!

  15. Hi i dont live in Germany.But i plan to go and live in Stuggart for studies.
    I need a love to share and be sure to live close with her.

  16. Charlotte,

    My first visit to your blog. Looks like I’ll have to blogroll it. I posted something similar to this in April 2006. It really tells you something about people. Mine is here:

  17. You’ve just nailed our country, this post is perfection. I’m a South African living in KwaZulu Natal and this country in my opinion is the best country in the world. There are glitches here and there but all in all it’s is home.

    I’m glad I found your blog, I’ve been looking for good blogs by South African and yours is brilliant, keep it up.

    I have a website and will add you on my links page

  18. sounds like ur from Durban

  19. Im from India, currently living in Germany (walldorf-wiesloch)
    Love your blog, will be frequenting it 🙂


  20. Also from South Africa and glad to have found your blog via your comment on Cook Sister.

  21. This post is so lovely, Charlotte… guess I hadn’t clicked over to this tab yet! Anyway, it was strange how potent the memories were of yours, that conjured all the memories of mine. I am from Washington, DC, Rochester, NY, Chantilly, VA and NY, NY and I’m not done yet. I think I was Polish in a former life, or French, or both. Not unlike Chopin, which would be OK.

  22. Oh WOW – thanks for reminding us of the more important things in life. I feel better already.Thanks Charlotte (and Jean for passing it on)

  23. Dear fellow “transplanted South African”,

    After nearly 10 years in my beloved South Africa, I have now returned to my roots, as they say. Only to find that my roots didn’t stop growing at age 19. They grew further and stronger. They took to new ground with new flavors. The fresh groundwater rose up inside and let me grow into something new. Being back where my roots started growing is hard. But I am hoping that at age 28, still, my roots are able survive another “transplant”. Thank you for your wonderful words.


  24. I was just speaking with to my drummer in my band whose from South Africa! I told him we are totally going this summer! I really enjoy your blog!

  25. Charlotte, I loved you blog…a lesson in how to draw pictures with words. I’m not sure if it’s poetry or prose – but I’m just off to read it all again.
    Suzanne (Flamenca)

  26. Pingback: LOCATION, LOCUTION: Charlotte Otter – South African expat and crime writer living in Germany | The Displaced Nation

  27. I am from Canada, a land of contrasts! Bitter cold and steaming hot, piles of snow and rivers of rain, bright green, fiery red and pure, pure white. Oceans and prairies and mountains, French and English and every language under the sun in between 🙂

    I just discovered your blog and love it, I’m just getting back into blogging myself and am constantly looking for inspiration and questioning what I write. Reading your blog has made me realise that what I need to do is just be myself and open up and the rest will come on its own if I let it!

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