South African book clubs: A novel experience

I do love a good book. Which is why, when a mate suggested that I set up a book club as a possible means of meeting new people and making new friends in foreign climes, I leapt at the idea.

 

With her being of the new media persuasion, she even encouraged me to take advantage of the possibilities opened up by twenty-first century technology and sign up to the social networking site, MeetUp.com, which is all very novel for a Luddite such as myself.

 

For those not in the know, MeetUp.com is a cross between a kind of platonic group dating site and Fresher’s Week at university. Organisers set up virtual stalls for a monthly fee in a bid to woo you into joining their club, while you browse through the attractions on offer to see if you’re interested in signing up to any of them (for free) and attending their get-together in the physical world at a pre-designated time/date.

 

Although Cape Town has a veritable cornucopia of options available being a big city and everything, the choice in little old Stellenbosch is, unsurprisingly, somewhat more limited. By far the most popular group in the area is Kiki, which is aimed at local photographers – it had an impressive 346 members at the time of writing, all presumably rushing around taking snapshots of all those lovely bleak mountains and cliffs plunging down into the sea.

 

But other groups, including my own book club, are not quite so well endowed. Boland (the former name for the Cape Winelands district) Badminton Academy has the grand total of 25 members.

 

My book club, coming next on the list in the popularity stakes, boasts a more humble six, including myself – although thankfully I’m not completely bottom of the list. That dubious honour goes to the admittedly very specialist SocialVine group for social media marketers, which has so far managed to rack up only three participants.

 

One last chance

 

All a bit disheartening really especially as, despite being in existence for a good couple of months now, we have yet to hold our inaugural meeting. It’s all a bit odd really. People initially seem to be wildly enthusiastic – “can’t wait, I’ve always wanted to join a book club, sounds fabulous” etc.

 

But as the deadline for the MeetUp approaches, their enthusiasm appears to waver. “I was really looking forward to coming, but I tripped over and snapped a fingernail and now need to go into therapy for at least a month to get over the trauma and so won’t be able to make it.”

 

Or “I’m really sorry, but I put the book down on the dining room table only for a minute, but an eagle came swooping in through the window and made off with it in its talons. And all of the local book shops and online stores have now closed down temporarily and so I won’t be able to get another copy for at least a month.”

 

Things like that. So after having my hopes raised and dashed so cruelly no less than three times now, I’m giving it one last chance. I’ve set a date for about a month’s time when I’m back from my much-anticipated trip back home to see friends and family in the UK and then that’s it. If it doesn’t happen, I shall terminate my subscription without so much as a backwards glance…..

 

Continuing on the subject of books though, I went to the launch of a particularly moving one a couple of weeks ago at the convention centre in Cape Town. The book entitled “Journey into the Unknown” was written by dental surgeon, Dr Adam Mahomed, and his now deceased wife, Noorjehan, who lost their three young daughters following a disastrous car accident near Durban in 1986.

 

The book sees both of them giving an account of their lives leading up to the event, their experiences of how the tragedy enfolds as well as the devastating aftermath and how they managed to cope with the profound grief and loss that it generated.

 

A happy ending

 

Unsurprisingly, the couple were initially very depressed and even suicidal at times, and their marriage started to suffer as they blamed each other for what had happened before retreating into their own personal worlds of pain.

 

One of the things, over and above bereavement counselling, that really seemed to help, however, was coming off anti-depressants and going out dancing instead, although some members of their wider Muslim community disapproved of this activity, feeling that it was inappropriate.

 

But as Dr Adam explained: “In Brazil, they’ve opened up a dancing school for depressed patients as they’ve found that general exercise is very effective due to the release of endorphins. But dancing is much nicer and more graceful. Your mind’s not cluttered, it’s free. It’s the only time that angels can dance in your mind.”

 

Other key things that seemed to make a difference were the cathartic experience of writing the book as well as getting heavily involved in charitable work.

 

For example, the Mahomeds not only set up various scholarships, but also established the Shahumna (a portmanteau word based on the names of their daughters, Shamima, Humeira and Nadia) Assessment Centre for people with hearing impairments in Durban.

 

Moreover, Dr Adam, who has just remarried after finding love again, is also channelling all of the proceeds of the book into his charitable endeavours, which include funding dialysis machines for the community in Chatsworth, an Indian area of Durban.

 

And so the rather powerful moral of the story would appear to be that great oaks out of little acorns really can grow if you let them, and even the saddest of stories can, sometimes, have a happy ending….

 

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