• Danielle Bitton

The Road Less Travelled - Part 1

In grade 3, my class had to memorise a poem to recite to the school at our morning assembly, I must have been 9 at the time and even though my memory fails me at the best of times it managed to hold on to these words.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I never realised it at the young age of 9, but these words would, in fact, shape my destiny.

My mother grew up in Newlands, it was cold and Calvinistic and she never felt like she fitted in. She spent her breaks at school staring at the Holiday Inn Hotel across the field wondering where those tourists were coming from and imagining a whole life outside of the prison she found herself in. Winters were cold and she was told by her mother that she needed to reduce (lose weight). She felt starved of love and food, as her mother used to lock the fridge and she was served boiled diet food when the rest of the family ate a hearty supper.

There was a painting in her house of a red flamenco dancer, dancing in a circle of people playing music and clapping, it had such a sense of warmth and she felt so alive when she looked at it, she thought, "if someone painted this scene, then there must be a place out there with this feeling with this spirit and energy which was so alive.

She was relieved when her parents sent her to Israel at 19 after school and for the first time in her life she found that feeling and felt alive.

She was staying on a Kibbutz full of South Africans but preferred to stick with the locals. She met my father who was 17 at the time, on a bus while travelling to visit a friend and asked him for directions. He had such nice manners for an Israeli, he actually got off the bus with her to show her where to go.

A week later she bumped into him again in the old city of Jerusalem and had a lovely friendly chat, then both of them went on their way. The 70's Jerusalem was a melting pot of different cultures, the movie Saturday Night Fever had just come out and the local Levantine men wore tailored trousers, and tight fitting shirts. They had afros and strutted around in style just like John Travolta, my mother was in heaven.

As fate would have it, ten days later they bumped into each other at the central post office. He asked my mother for her number, but the thought of waiting next to the phone hoping it would ring was too much for her, so she asked him for his number instead, she also happened to mention which youth hostel she was staying at. Unfortunately she lost his number and was absolutely devastated, so she decided to wait at the central bus station in Jerusalem for the entire day hoping she would see him like a needle in a haystack, but there was no sign of Shlomo.

The hostel she was staying at was run by Eskimos and she gave them strict instructions that Shlomo was the man she was going to marry (she had probably spent a total of 1 hr with him, but was certain) and if he phoned her, they were to insist that he leave his number and if he showed up, they had to knock on her door urgently to warn her. 2 weeks went by and she had given up hope and found herself another boyfriend Ibrahim, who she liked to call "Avi" (the Israeli Jewish version). One day they received a knock on the door from the Eskimo who told her King Solomon (Shlomo) had arrived.

My mother was so excited, she kicked Ibrahim out and got herself together to meet her King, who was waiting in the lobby. She had been waiting for this moment but now she was conflicted and froze, Shlomo was waiting downstairs and poor "Avi" was outside upset. The Eskimo came knocking at the door once again shouting at her to take a phone call immediately at the front desk, Ibrahim wouldn't stop calling. She walked downstairs sheepishly with the Eskimo to answer the phone glanced at my father and gave him a brief smile, he must have thought "this girl is very strange'.

"Avi" began yelling at my mother so come see him outside immediately or he was coming in, well that would have been a catastrophe like no other, so she went to speak to him outside, wait it gets better!

At this very moment the police showed up outside the hostel and assumed that my mother an "Avi" were doing a drug deal, they ordered my mother to go upstairs and show them her passport. they searched everyone's rooms and found a piece of Hashish wrapped in foil in my mother's coat pocket. She swore she had no idea it was drugs, she really thought it was a piece of chocolate. if you know my mother you would know what a chocoholic she is and that she doesn't even drink let alone take drugs. The police dragged her downstairs in handcuffs as she looked at Shlomo completely mortified.

Being the "Yeled Tov Yerushalayim" (goodie too shoes Jerusalem boy) that he was, my father was in a complete state of shock, what had he gotten himself into? He ended up bailing my mother out of jail the next day and she sat down with him and told him to please give her a chance, "This was all a misunderstanding, please just give me 1 week of your time and if you don't like me after that, we can go our separate ways." In my mother's mind she knew this was the man she was going to marry.

My father invited my mother for Shabbat dinner with his family the following week, she couldn't believe what a warm family he had and what an abundance of moroccan food there was. She ate herself into a coma and decided she was quite happy there and didn't want to leave. She finally felt at home even though she couldn't understand what his family were saying. My parents were in love and it was time to build a life together, My mother had to wait 3 years before he finished the army to return to South Africa to take her future husband to meet her parents..

They came to South Africa and had a big wedding, she felt so delighted that she

managed to seal the deal. My father felt like a fish out of water initially, as he was thrown in to a culture that was very different from his own. They had planned to return to Israel to live 2 years later but my father grew close to my mother's father, who became like a second father who mentored him and groomed him into a successful businessman and auctioneer.

I was born in Cape Town on September 19th 1984. I was 2 months premature, which I'm pretty sure it contributed to my fighting spirit in life.

Being the firstborn, my parents were naturally obsessed with me, my mother treated me like I was her little doll. When she couldn't find cute enough clothing for her little princess to wear, she would buy actual dolls and dress me up in their cute outfits.

I was very fortunate to have such loving doting parents.

At age 2 my brother arrived in this world, I was so happy to have a new brother and friend to play with. Dancing and singing and putting on shows for my parents, was my favourite past time, I even dressed up my brother in one of my tutus for our grand ballet Show! My brother and I had a love hate relationship and there was bad sibling rivalry, in our early years we got along, but as we got older we wanted to kill each other at the best of times and my mother was exhausted from playing the mediator.

I went to Alon Ashel nursery school and the highlight of my week was being chosen to be the "Ima" (mother in Hebrew) at our Shabbat service where I would say the blessings over the candles to welcome in the Sabbath and we would eat Challah bread and drink grape juice (an age-appropriate substitute for wine).

I was a very sociable and creative child with an active imagination and a sense of wonder. I loved art and looked forward to extracurricular art classes once a week after school where I could develop my skills.

I grew up in a very lively home, there was always music playing. My father being Israeli, had an eclectic worldly taste in music. He would play his favourite 70's or Eurovision hits and The Gypsy Kings were his favourite. I would be transported to Italy with the hits from the San Remo Song Festival and to Paris by famous French singers like Joe Dassin.

Our house was very sociable, there would always be a lively bunch of friends over and our weekends were spent braaing (barbecuing) and splashing in the pool.

I was the apple of my father's eye and he would always throw me the best birthday parties, scrambling to get party decorations at the last minute but somehow managing to pull it off. Pass the Parcel, Pick O Box, the chocolate game and the dancing freeze game, were the standard birthday activities.

One party in particular that stood out for me, was my "Pop Star" birthday party, I think I was 6 or 7. Obviously, I was Janet Jackson in black high waisted pants and a beaded crop top, we sang karaoke and danced the evening away. All I wanted, was to be a pop star.

Since I could stand, I loved to dance and had a natural sense of rhythm. I got sent to ballet at age 6, and was told that It was the foundation and discipline for all genres of dance. I struggled with it and the classical music really didn't resonate with me. I also had a podgy big tummy not conducive to being a ballerina.

I started primary school and fell short as I struggled immensely with reading, I was lagging a lot behind my class and my confidence started to dwindle, I was also bullied by one girl in particular who made me feel rather small, but I kept my head up and carried on.

Modern dancing was my new found passion and I loved it, however it was very challenging for me to pick up the steps. I persevered and did many dance eisteddfods and won the best character dance prize in my red tulle skirt and black hat for my version of Eliza Dolittle's sing "Just You Wait Henry Higgins".

For my second dance that year, I completely blanked midway in my performance, I forgot the dance and ran off the stage to the song " A La La La Long, A La La Long Long Di Long Long Long" I will never forget it. I nearly gave up, instead I started tap lessons that year and excelled as I had a great sense of rhythm.

I had prayed so hard for a little sister and couldn't believe my prayers were answered when I was 9, but my parents were very anxious when Gabriella was born.

She was a miracle baby being 3 months premature and weighing 750 grams, just like a tub of margarine. She was so delicate and minute, her body was slightly bigger than the size of a standard ball-point pen. Gabriella got pneumonia and my parents were nervous wrecks praying for her survival. Even though I was just 9 years old I confidently reassured my mother not to worry, that I had been praying every night and I just knew Gabi was going to be ok. My intuition was right, she was the most beautiful child you have ever seen. I just loved having a baby sister.

By grade 3, all the friends I had were shining in ballet and I felt completely left out. I had no confidence and was left with only 1 friend. My self esteem plummeted even further as I couldn't do Maths. I would sit in class so lost, I would just sharpen my pencils the entire lesson. My teacher was rather concerned and sent me for an IQ test. Feeling very stupid up until that point, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had a very high IQ and that my grades should be in the high B's and that I might even get a few A's. This brought a huge sense of relief and I started applying myself more. It was safe to say that I did much better in the subjects that were more interesting to me and I quickly came to understand that my creative right brain was working overtime in order to compensate for the lack of activity in my left brain, the seat of numbers and logic.

Never the less, I was loved by my teachers and started to become popular again by the time I reached grade 6.

I was a very sensitive child and a bit of a cry baby, I remember going to a friends birthday party and calling my mother crying to come to fetch me because my friends were being horrible to me. She told me to go back in the room and pretend that everyone liked me and if I still felt sad I should call her after 10 minutes to come and collect me. I called her back five minutes later and told her I was fine and didn't want her to fetch me. Through that lesson, she taught me, that how we perceive our reality is everything, and a slight shift in perception can make the world of difference.

When I was 10 years old I auditioned and got into the musical Evita as one of the children, I was so excited, I remember that first feeling of being in the theatre, the vast backstage with all the hanging props and sets waiting in the wings, even the smell of the dusty red velvet curtains and of course the costumes, the charismatic actors and being centre stage in the spotlight. I knew at that point, I felt like I was home, this was where I was meant to be, this was my destiny.

In Grade 6, my last year of junior school, I landed my first part in our school play "The Jungle Book" as Baloo, the bear. The timing couldn't have been worse as my parents had booked us a

once in a lifetime dream holiday to Disney World.

It was a tough decision to make, to go on this dream holiday and miss out on my first debut role. Some of the other mothers told my mom,

"She better not miss this opportunity because once she gets to middle school, it will be so competitive that she might not get another chance."

Needless to say, off I went to Disney World. Luckily the opposite happened when I got to middle school.

One of my best friend's Oona, had very creative parents, her father was a film director and her mother was a Yogi before yoga was all the rage and mainstream. They lived in a very big house at the top of Fresnaye. There was a wind chime that tinkled outside the main entrance and it made me feel very calm when I visited. Oona's mother had a yoga studio in the house where she would teach. On one of my visits we met one of her guests, a guru from the USA, a few of us friends sat in the yoga studio on the floor as he played us his favourite uplifting Kundalini songs. We asked him so many questions of a spiritual nature, questions we desperately wanted answers to. I think that was the start of my spiritual journey, I began to think out the box and question things, I also started finding all these random new age books around my house on subjects like astro travelling, the afterlife and new age religions. When I asked my mother where these books came from, she had no idea. I guess I, the student was ready and the master appeared. Subconsciously I knew this would take me to another place and decided to put down the books till a later stage.

I have to hand it to my mom, she was and still is the most unconventional, brilliant mother, I would not be who I am today without her. She helped me believe in myself, supported me and always said, "nothing ventured, nothing gained". At around age 11/12, a new underage club opened up in Claremont called "Taboo", all the mothers were in a state about us kids going there, so naturally my mother went to check it out. There was no alcohol, no drugs and she told the other mothers,

"Let them go, while they are young and want to dance, let them dance."

That was my mother for you, always thinking out the box. Thanks to her we had the most wonderful nights at Taboo, socialising and dancing our hearts out.