Independence Day, the "American War of Independence"

When we lived in South Africa, we weren’t allowed to fly the American flag in the 4th of July. My brother Pehr once installed it on his third floor porch, but Dad made him take it down. He was always concerned that the South African government would not like it. “We have to keep a low profile,” he would say. We were invited to the American Consulate in Durban one 4th of July. Michael, Siri and I attended the party. The other children seemed very different from us: their clothes, their American accents. We felt out of place. They had a clown show and nice food, but no fireworks.

Fireworks in South Africa at that time were reserved for Guy Fawkes Day: “Remember, remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot . . .” It celebrates the foiling of (Catholic) Guy Fawkes's attempt to blow up (Protestant controlled) England's House of Parliament on November 5th, 1605. At Westminster in London, Guy Fawkes, a chief conspirator in the plot to blow up the British Parliament building, jumps to his death moments before his execution for treason. ... After a brief trial, Guy Fawkes was sentenced, along with the other surviving chief conspirators, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in London.

My sister Kirstin learned about “the American War of Independence” in history class in school in South Africa. They didn’t call it the American Revolution.

Why did I write this book?

I have been to several book club meetings where my book was discussed. Inevitably, the first question I am asked is, “Why did you write the book?” Even though I believed I had answered this question in the Introduction, some things have shifted in the past two years.

This photo of me was used for my South African Alien’s Registration card. It appears that I am looking querulously into the future: what did it hold for me? Would I be able to see through the great shadows that were cast over the land? I see more clearly now that I needed to untie the knots that my childhood experiences had created in my heart and mind.

I look at the cruelties in today’s world from this aspect. What I see is people’s inability to feel the humanity of those they are oppressing.


All the way to India!

The book has found its way to India in the luggage of my granddaughter who is visiting the family she stayed with a few years ago while studying under the NSLI-Y program (National Security Language Institute for Youth). The family lives in Indore, in west-central India. 

Dr GovindaKrishna Rahalkar, a retired veterinary surgeon, also writes family history. His wife, Sashila Rahalkar is a former secondary school principal.


GovindaKrishna Rahalkar.png

Whaling station on Durban Bluff

Sadly, there was an active whaling station off of Durban when we lived there, originally started by Norwegians at the beginning of the 20th Century. When the wind blew a certain direction, the smell was awful.

Following the Second World War, Durban became a major center for the catching of sperm whales on their migrations. 

One day Dad took us around the end of the bluff, and we walked along the beach to the station. We collected whale teeth! The whaling station was closed in the 1970s, and is now a restricted military area.

Odhner memories Whaling station Bluff.jpg


The yellowing news clipping below shows Durban harbor clogged with shipping during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. I remember this well: we used to count the ships sitting off the coast.

Egyptian president Nasser closed the Suez Canal for four months 1956-57, as the result of a complicated series of events involving Britain and France (in a secret military pact), with Israel, as aggressors, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and the United Nations lined up against them. 

Ships that could not use the canal were forced to sail from Europe and the UK by way of the southern tip of Africa. Durban, with it's natural harbor, was the last port of call for vessels sailing to India and further east. The increased number of ships could not be berthed all at the same time, so they had to wait outside the harbor until there was space.

The Suez Canal was of great strategic importance during the world wars. Troop ships from Australia and New Zealand sailed through the canal. The waterway was also the main conduit for oil tankers sailing from the Middle East to the Mediterranean and beyond.

I also remember how amazed I was when my American classmates were clearly ignorant of the location of the Suez Canal! 


Photo source:

Photo source:

Reserved for the Sole Use of the White Race

"Under Section 37 of the Durban Beach By-Laws, this bathing area is reserved for the sole use of members of the White race group."

We were the privileged ones.

These words were posted at the entrance to all the beaches in Durban with the exception of one beach where nonwhites were permitted. The admonition was written in English, Afrikaans, and Zulu.

One day, alerted by telephone that someone had been pulled from the water and needed a doctor, Dr Jay Sanghai, an Indian, rushed to the scene. When he arrived, the policeman wouldn't permit him to go onto the beach because he was not white.

The child, who was a white boy, died as they waited for the white ambulance the policeman had called.


Durban Girls College

In my book I describe something of the life of a schoolgirl at Durban Girls College. It has long been a prestige private school serving girls from preschool to matriculation (12th Grade). It was a very British school when I was there.

The photo above is a class photo from around 1950. I am fifth from left in the front row. As you can see, we wore school uniforms and most of us are sitting in the same position. There was a militaristic feel to the school, post World War II. The British school and the apartheid government made for a very authoritarian environment. My family is surprised, even today, that I obey even "small" rules that most people ignore. I think it comes from those school days.


Rachel's class photo, Durban Girls College early 1950s.jpg
Durban girls college.jpg