Over the next ten years, as their host country confronts fundamental change of its own, their marriage buckles under the strain of their disparate experiences. With the international economic crisis making it all but impossible for them to return to their country, they relocate from California to the North, the South, and the Midwest searching for a place they can call home.
Against the backdrop of uncertainties in post-apartheid South Africa, Belinda Nicoll unfolds a contemporary and thought-provoking account of post-9/11 America's tantalizing hopes and unexpected disappointments. Out of Sync is an insightful tale about marital endurance that promises to enthrall anyone, expatriate or not, who has ever felt at odds with themselves or the world.
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)|
About the Author
Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing. She was a talent agent and drama coach before venturing into the advertising world as copywriter and client service director. These days, she works as a teacher of creative writing and will soon complete her first novel, an epic mystery set in South Africa and the U.S., spanning four generations and exploring concepts of shamanism, archaeology, and intergenerational shame.
Read an Excerpt
I took a deep breath and twirled slowly to view myself in the mirror. Tight, black leather pants were offset against a glitzy, gold-flecked knitted top with fake fur trim around the collar and cuffs. A leopard-print hat completed my outrageous outfit. I lifted my chin and winked at myself. Okay then, let the future begin!
As I watched the reflected imagefine, blonde hair, green eyes, dimples below high cheekbones, and a sharp china familiar sensation passed through me, a realization of my body being just a fraction of my self. Although I had embraced the concept of soul awareness only late in life, my fascination with the ethereal body had started in childhood; I would make eye contact with myself in the mirror, wondering about my inner being, hoping it would show itself if I held my gaze long enough.
The sound of wood scraping against glass drew my gaze to the giant blue gum close to the bedroom window. The tree stretched higher than my partner's fourth-level art deco condo. I soaked up the sight of the sprawling branches etched against the winter twilight, relishing the illusion of living in a tree house. It stirred up memories of a six-year-old me climbing a weeping willow to jump from the top branch into a muddy dam; doing equestrian vaulting on my Shetland pony after Boswell Wilkie Circus had been to town; fishing tadpoles and frogs from a river; dancing with a make-believe Serpent Goddessmy childhood on our small farm in Magaliesburg, a village in the vicinity of the Cradle of Humankind, where humanoid fossils dating back three million years had been found. I still had a soft spot for this World Heritage Site, a rural area that embodied the rich and fascinating history of South Africa.
Through the blue gum's branches I could see Johannesburg's city lights glimmering in the distance. My legs felt hollow at the thought of leaving it all behindthe bright, star-gazing winter nights and the hot summers when the streets were paved with purple Jacaranda blossoms. I was already missing the friends who had shared my milestones, not to mention the pains of the multiethnic strife that had become a part of our nation's social DNA. My family. My children.
I heard the swish of Juanita's shoes on the carpet as she came rushing down the passage, and I closed the curtains with a quick yank.
“Are you ready?” asked my eighteen-year-old daughter. “We've got to go.”
Turning my attention back to the mirror, I fluffed and sprayed my hair once more. “Oh crap, it looks worse than a bird's nest.”
“You look great.”
“Whatever possessed me to dress like this?”
“Because you didn't want to look like an ordinary bride.” She tapped her watch. “For heaven's sake, hurry upwe're late!”
“You're such a bossy bridesmaid.” I twirled and gasped one last time before rushing out the apartment into the next phase of my life.
Juanita opened the passenger door of my white Nissan Sentra, and I took care to ease into the car without splitting a seam. As my daughter drove me to my wedding, my heart pounded unevenly: thumps of joy interspersed with throbs of sadness. The event marked our partingin a couple of weeks I'd be following my new husband to America for the sake of pursuing his advertising career abroad; she would set off on a one-year adventure in Germany to work as an au pair before returning home to start her studies in occupational therapy.
Clearing her throat, Juanita looked at me askew. “I can't believe you're marrying Bruce.”
I wiggled uncomfortably on the seat. “So much for vowing never to marry again…hardly a year after the divorce, and I'm on my way to the altar.”
What really made me uneasy, though, was putting my own career in advertising on hold when, at forty, I should rather have been taking it to the top. Then again, Bruce had promised it would just be for a year or two while he earned some dollars. “We'll quickly apply for green cards to get you working again. And if it doesn't work out, we'll come back,” he'd said.
Juanita laughed. “You'll love the way he has art directed the venue.” She parked the car at the curb outside a rambling mansion in Forest Town, an affluent suburb on the border of the Johannesburg Zoo.
Bruce had wanted an eclectic backdrop for our wedding, touches of various belief systems to reflect our holistic sentiments. “A celebration under the African night sky so we can wave to the moon and blow kisses at the stars,” he'd said. “We'll have all the feng shui elements present: fire, earth, metal, water, wood. It'll be perfect.” Close friends of his had offered their home as the venue for the ceremony and celebration, so he'd set about creating a type of pagan altar in the garden and a party area on the patio next to the swimming pool.
It was perfect, all right. Juanita and I walked through the fortress-like wooden gate onto a fabulous scene: candles glowing in paper bags lined the avenue to the house and the paths to the garden; fire pits were dotted around to counter the winter chill, and strings of fairy lights enhanced the festivity; the altar displayed flowers and greenery, candles in medieval candelabras, a cross, and other sacred paraphernalia. The entire area was strewn with sunflower petals.
Bruce met me halfway down the avenue, dressed in an informal suit: dark trousers, yellow jacket, golden tie, and a Moroccan fez he'd brought back from a temporary stay in Saudi Arabia. My body tingled all over when I saw his sparkly eyes and gorgeous smile. Holding hands, we walked down the improvised aisle, lined with familiar faces.
We stopped halfway to watch my twenty-year-old son, Warrick, and his best friend perform a fire dance in our honor. As he twirled and juggled the shimmering flame, I imagined an invisible thread connecting me to my free-spirited son. Memories flashed by of the time I nearly lost him as a sickly newborn. I blew him a kiss and got a smile beaming with affection.
Bruce and I took our places in front of the altar. Our friends and families gathered tightly around us. A mutual friend and ordained minister, a guru who ran a self-empowerment workshop called Magica, conducted the ceremony. We repeated the marriage vow after him: “I promise to love and support you as best I can.” Warrick and Juanita handed us the rings. “To a new life, together,” Bruce said. “Forever,” I added. We kissed and rose petals rained down upon us.
We moved to the top terrace patio, where the food and drinks were set out. Amid copious toasts, each guest tied a prayer string to a dream catcher I had made from cotton, bird feathers, and crystal beadsan inexpert replica, but a special ritual all the same. We danced to our DJ's world music collection until, shortly before midnight, Juanita tugged at my sleeve.
“Come quickly,” she said. “Rinki is acting strange.”
Rinki was Bruce's housekeeper. Her Zulu name, Busisiwe, meant “she's been blessed.” Except now it seemed like she might've attracted an evil spell. She was pacing up and down next to the altar, tugging at her Afro hairstyle and muttering in a language that sounded way more alien than Zulu. I noticed her wild tear-filled eyes when I got up close. As I reached out to touch her, she drew her breath in with a sharp wheeze. Her body stiffened like a rod.
“The bad one's coming…no, my mother's not dead…take me home,” she wailed.
“Call Bruce,” I said. “She's had too much of something again.”
As Bruce led Rinki away to take her back to the servant quarters at his Killarney apartment, the lions from the zoo across the road started roaring. The hollow sensation returned to my legs. The moment felt surreal, like I had one foot on stable ground and the other dangling over an abyss. I shrugged off the foreboding. Life had to take me where I needed to go.
Bruce and I kept squeezing “just one more” farewell party into our tight timetable those next weeks until the last day before leaving. I took great care mentally cling-wrapping every face, every smile, every conversation, every tear to make sure I'd preserve the precious memories for as long as I could.
I had reserved the airport send-off for my children. Juanita's departure was scheduled two hours ahead of our own, allowing me to see her off safely like a good mother should. However, shortly after we arrived at the airport, the public address system blared the details of her flight's delay. Suddenly, I was no longer seeing my daughter off; I was leaving her behind.
Warrick pulled me toward him with a firm hug. “Look after yourself, Mom. I'll miss you. Juanita will be all right. I'll stay with her until she checks in.”
I took strength from his composure to take my leave from Juanita. I saw my misgivings in her eyes. She was only eighteen! Tears were spilling down our cheeks. I turned up the volume of the mantra in my head: She's leaving home, anyway; she's leaving home, anyway.
I planted kisses all over her face. “Let me know that you've arrived safely. Have lots of fun. Make this the best year of your life.”
I waved to them. “Goodbye, my darlings. I'll miss you. I love you. Write lots. I'll write lots too.”
Bruce put his arm around my shoulder, ushering me through security.
I turned around one last time, for one more wave, one more promise. “It's only for a year; see you in a year from now.”
Table of ContentsBelinda Nicoll is originally from South Africa. She expatriated to the United States in 2001, became a resident in 2004, and has held dual citizenship since 2010. Belinda holds a BA degree in the social sciences and an MFA in Creative Writing. She was a talent agent and drama coach before venturing into the advertising world as copywriter and client service director. These days, she works as a teacher of creative writing and will soon complete her first novel, an epic mystery set in South Africa and the U.S., spanning four generations and exploring concepts of shamanism, archaeology, and intergenerational shame.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2.5 stars Did I enjoy this book: As someone who’s filled many a journal (and thereby killed many a tree), I understand Nicoll’s desire to “write it out.” I’m actually going through the process of sorting (err, tossing) my old writing right now, and I’ve discovered about Nicoll something I was loathe to discover about myself: we’re whiners. We write about how terrible our lives are (even when they’re not that bad), how toxic our relationships are (even though they’re not really), and generally how awful the world, from our point of view, happens to be (OK, well, that one might be true). There’s a fine line between writing a journal and writing a memoir: mainly (in my mind, anyway), memoirs tend to have a bit more of a theme than straight-out journaling. I guess . . . this book just doesn’t fit the genre of memoir for me. I was expecting a unifying theme, but Nicoll veered from meditation to politics to advertising and back again. I think maybe it’s this: you write a memoir because you’ve done something remarkable or something remarkable has happened to you, whereas you write a journal to purge. And let’s face it, unless you’re Anais Nin, your purging probably isn’t as exciting as you think it is. I’d like to read Nicoll’s upcoming novel; in keeping with my Nin references, there’s a great deal of difference between one’s personal writing and one’s fiction . . . I haven’t given up on Nicoll yet. Would I recommend it: Not this time, but I’m withholding judment about her skills as a fiction writer. As reviewed by Melissa at Every Free Chance Book Reviews. (I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
You're in for a great expat adventure with Belinda Nicoll's memoir, Out of Sync, following her journey from her roots in her beloved South Africa where she grew up, to her emotional roller-coaster expat life in the U.S. Her book touches upon so many topics: most of them universal, as well as those related to being an expat and adapting to life in a foreign country. Without holding back, Belinda pulls us into the intricacies of married life, and shares what is was like to live in South Africa and being forced to choose an either-or identity for her children: English or Afrikaans. After her first marriage collapses, and her daughter leaves for Europe, Belinda follows Bruce--who proposes marriage--and uproots to the U.S. Both of them have a desire for adventure, and adventure is what they get. From their arrival in New York on 9/11 2001, it seems that upheavals follow them for several years. Between numerous relocations and jobs in various cities in the U.S., they are not quite "in sync." They both desire to work and at first Belinda tries to get a green card, but the reader finds out the difficulties of becoming a legal citizen in the U.S. During several relocations to various cities in the U.S., while returning to South Africa, Belinda questions where she truly feels "at home." She describes in great detail, the feelings and resentments she goes through during her adaptation to life in the U.S. With complete honesty, we sense the financial stress and frustrations of not finding the "ideal" job for both of them at the same time. Belinda shares so many of her emotions: the guilt of not being "there" for her son and daughter in South Africa, and the jealousy she feels when Bruce works long hours and seems to thrive on his time at work, and cocktails after work. Belinda longs to find her dream job, which is life coaching, not working in the advertising business as she did in South Africa and attempted to start over when she and Bruce moved to Saratoga Springs. She's longing for balance in her life and the answer to her question: "Where is home?" After several visits back "home," Belinda finally realizes that the grass is not always greener, and in fact notices how people have changed, including her own children. Everyone seems more "on guard" and less smiling and eager to make eye contact. Theft and corruption have become a huge problem in South Africa. Belinda seems to feel like an outsider in her home country. Everyone has been forced to adapt to the political changes since Belinda left. Belinda finally gets her U.S. citizenship, moves to Ohio, and comes to the conclusion that "home is that place where you feel comfortable with yourself."