Thursday, 30 September 2010

meeting free zone

I've had a week without meetings and it has been total bliss.

Not driving into Cape Town means that I may not have seen views like this...

and, even in a meeting free week, there hasn't even been time for this...

But I have managed to get to a stage where the work left to do is not quite so overwhelming as it was, and that can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

wooden structures

We may have lost the lapa ( I wrote about it here and here ) and the palm trees were cut down, but we have been left with a wonderful treasure trove of wood that Greg has been using to build all sorts of cool structures in our garden.

Next to the washing line is the beginning of a wall that Greg is building with the palm tree pieces. I love the way it curves around the avocado tree that I grew from a pip. I think it is important that you notice that tree. It is one of my biggest achievements ... my thumbs are decidedly not green but somehow this tree has survived a couple of transplants and a scorching Moorreesburg summer and is still growing.

Next are a screen that Greg built in front of the pool pump and the walls he built to hide the door of the outside toilet. It would have originally been the only toilet in the house, but thankfully we have one inside now. I'm always a bit wary of all the spiders who live out there, and I always hated it if the door was left open so that people driving past could see the actual toilet... I think sometimes I channel my Victorian grandmother. And as you can see, there are still lots of poles and latte (not coffee... thin poles) lying around, so I expect many more creative structures to be springing up in the future. 

And these are the screens Greg built so that the outside shower that we installed last year is not completely visible from the road.

The garden is a work in progress, and it is really exciting to see how it develops. It is such a change from the bare clay and millions of termites that we had when we moved here seven years ago. We are learning what works and what doesn't. We are discovering what plants will grow in our unforgiving climate and we are turning a house into a home.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Square insanity

It is official.

I have lost my head.

I am knitting a gazillion squares in blues and greens and greys and purples, to make a blanket for our bed.
I started a similar project about a year ago but then decided it was a stupid idea and gave away all the squares I had made.

But this time I am only using colours in the palette I have chosen (the other one was too full of bright reds and yellows) so I think it has a better chance of success.

And I am using left over wool from other projects, some that other people have given me, so there is a memory in each one which is nice.

Anyone want to add a square or two, or send me some wool? They'd be greatly appreciated!

Monday, 27 September 2010

balm for my soul

It is probably time for a change of pace ... a move from what some would say are the "socialist delusions" of my last post.
But I am still harping on in my mind about what it means to be a South African, now at this moment, in this place. So, be warned,  I'll probably come back to it again.

In the meantime, here is one of the songs that sings to my African soul. Thanks to Helen Brain (whose blog is listed in my blog list) for reminding me.

Now... tell me that doesn't soothe all your troubles away?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

heritage day

Yesterday was Heritage Day in South Africa.

It is a day where we are intended to celebrate our individual and common heritage, and while I think it is a great idea (public holidays are always a great idea!) I must admit that it doesn't quite work for me in the South Africa of 2010, where bigotry and suspicion of "the other" are more common that a pride in a common heritage.

Many of the people I know identify most strongly with their tribe. Others define themselves by their language group, and I can understand that. My literary heritage is almost all English. I love so much about England: the weather, the landscape, the architecture, the history (which I know as well as South African history).
But, that said, I am not British and aren't likely to ever get a British passport.

Many of the things that traditionally (and very one-dimensionally) define a South African don't resonate with me. I don't watch rugby or cricket, don't drink beer, very seldom eat braai (barbecue) and have never had a brandy and coke. I don't feel a strong affinity with most of the people I see around me.

I know for sure that I am African... the continent with its harsh beauty sings to my soul ... but most of the time I feel more strongly about the continent than I do about the small corner where I live.

But, in spite of that, we'll continue to fly the South African flag outside our front door (and not only because it annoys the neighbours ... ) We put it up during the World Cup when everyone was flying the flag, and decided it would be wrong to take it down just because the football fans had gone home.

For so many years, being a white South African meant that you were a pariah. It was not something that I could proclaim with pride, and my skin still crawls when I see people harking back to the "good old days" of unwarranted privilege and flying the old South African flag. I still hate the fact that people from here and abroad make assumptions about my attitudes based on my skin colour. I despair when certain sectors of the "new" South Africa claim the struggle as their own, as if no one else ever contributed or gave their lives because they, too, believed in freedom. For me, the flag of South Africa, with its "welcoming arms", is a symbol of what we all went through to get to where we are today.

It is my profound hope that one day, all South Africans will be able to feel a sense of belonging, and that Heritage Day will be a meaningful time of mutual respect for all of us.

This graffiti on a door in Woodstock, Cape Town, really sums up for me how far we have strayed from the ideals of the Freedom Charter
I hope that one day, we will live according to the Freedom Charter (a document that was never intended to be the property of just one political group) which was signed in June 1955 and still resonates today.

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
  • That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
  • That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;
  • That our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
  • That only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
  • And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter;
  • And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.
The People Shall Govern!
  • Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;
  • All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country;
  • The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;
  • All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.
All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!
  • There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races;
  • All people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs;
  • All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride;
  • The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime;
  • All apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside.
The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth!
  • The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
  • The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
  • All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people;
  • All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.
The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!
  • Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;
  • The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers;
  • Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;
  • All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;
  • People shall not be robbed of their cattle, and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.
All Shall be Equal Before the Law!
  • No-one shall be imprisoned, deported or restricted without a fair trial;
  • No-one shall be condemned by the order of any Government official;
  • The courts shall be representative of all the people;
  • Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance;
  • The police force and army shall be open to all on an equal basis and shall be the helpers and protectors of the people;
  • All laws which discriminate on grounds of race, colour or belief shall be repealed.All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!
  • The law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, to organise, to meet together, to publish, to preach, to worship and to educate their children;
  • The privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law;
  • All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad;
  • Pass Laws, permits and all other laws restricting these freedoms shall be abolished.
There Shall be Work and Security!
  • All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;
  • The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits;
  • Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;
  • There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;
  • Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work;
  • Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.
The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!
  • The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life;
  • All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;
  • The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;
  • Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;
  • Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;
  • Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;
  • Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;
  • The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.
There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort!
  • All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security;
  • Unused housing space shall be made available to the people;
  • Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no-one shall go hungry;
  • A preventive health scheme shall be run by the state;
  • Free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children;
  • Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres;
  • The aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state.
Rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all:
  • Fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished, and laws which break up families shall be repealed.
There Shall be Peace and Friendship!
  • South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations;
  • South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation - not war;
  • Peace and friendship amongst all our people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all;
  • The people of the protectorates Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland  (Botswana) and Swaziland shall be free to decide for themselves their own future;
  • The right of all peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close co-operation.
Let all people who love their people and their country now say, as we say here:

These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives. Until we have won our liberty.

Friday, 24 September 2010

living the quiet life

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business  
and to work with your hands...  
 1 Thessalonians 4:11

I love that scripture. For me, it embodies the kind of life I would love to live.

But it remains an ideal.

The environment where I live and work is quiet, and most mornings I am woken by the sound of birdsong. That's just before some idiot, somewhere in this town lets his damn car alarm off, for at least 1/2 an hour every morning at 6am. I keep planning to drive around and find him, but that means actually getting up and dressed before 6am, which is seriously unlikely to ever happen.

Mind your own business.... hmmm. Sounds good. But what happens when you are a journalist and "your own business" is the business of others? I prefer to interpret this as "don't gossip" which is generally much easier for me to live by.

I wonder if working with your hands includes working on the computer, because that seems to be all the handwork I have time to do at the moment.

But one day! One day I will be living somewhere wild (by the sea, in a forest under a mountain... and yes, I do mean all three) which I have bought due to (by then) being a best selling author. 

Then I'll be quiet, mind my own business and spend my days making pots, painting landscapes and making apple pies.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Judging is a no-no

This post is quite difficult to write, because I don't quite know how to express what I am feeling.

I want to tell you about the man who joined our congregation at church this Sunday, but the more I think about it, the more I get myself tied into knots about how best to describe the experience of meeting him.

Nono is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (now there is a misnomer!). He has left his wife and 11 year old daughter behind in the Congo (not the DRC) and has come to South Africa to see if he can start a new life, one with more stability, and he plans to send for his family as soon as he is settled.

He is in Moorreesburg at the moment because the N7 highway that passes our town is being repaired and he is working with the road team. I'm not sure what it is he is doing, but I hope he is one of the guys who is waving a flag to warn the traffic rather than one of the people working with hot tar or the strange fabric stuff that they seem to be sticking over the potholes.

I am always saddened by the plight of the refugees to South Africa. Not only are they met with the usual racism that this country still exhibits daily (and it is not just black against white, many Afrikaaners hate the English and there is inter-tribal racism too) but he also has to deal with the xenophobic attitude of people who he says "are immediately able to tell the difference between a South African black and someone from outside the borders".

Almost without exception, the refugees are the cream of their countries. They are the ones who are determined not to sit back and accept the status quo. They are the ones who are prepared to sacrifice to make a good life for their families. They are the ones who have looked into the abyss and are determined not to get sucked in.

And, in South Africa, they are looked down on by so many. Someone confided in Greg recently that he was "getting over his racism", but was not prepared to invite "them" into his house. That's fair enough, and I admire his honesty. Change doesn't happen in an instant. Or even in 16 years.

What I can't accept is the way people are judged and belittled. It comes down to a simple choice: am I going to treat this person as my neighbour, as a fellow human being, as someone who deserves the same level of respect as I want for myself? If you can't answer yes to those questions, maybe you need to be asking some hard questions about yourself and your attitude.

Like, what exactly is it that makes you think that you are superior to the flag waver on the side of the road, as you pass them by at the roadblock? Does the job a person is doing make them less worthy of respect?

Would you feel differently if you knew something about them?

Would your opinion change if you were involved in an accident on the N7 this week and the first person on the scene to help you was Nono, the lowly roadworker who is doing what he can to send money back to his family while he waits to take the exam that will recognise his qualifications and experience and allow him to continue practising as a medical doctor?

Monday, 20 September 2010

passing time

I woke up today to the realisation that in less than two months we will be in Italy, on our holiday to soak in the art and culture of a country which has filled my dreams ever since my brother went there when I was about 12.

(It is worth noting, though, that many countries fill my dreams... Russia, Morocco, Alaska (yes, I know, not a country), Patagonia ...)

And now I am in that strange limbo of not quite looking forward to the trip yet, because all the things that are still to be done before we go are filling my mind.

Life would be so much easier if it didn't involve working for a living.

This rather spendid figure is part of a monument in Torino that I saw when I was there with the World Federation of Science Journalists earlier this year.

Most of our time was spent working and getting to know what we had agreed to do for the next two years, so there was only one evening set aside for a bit of sightseeing.

There was time for a group picture, though getting us together was a bit like herding butterflies.
I'm fully expecting to see many more moody vistas like this one when we go, and I admit to feeling some trepidation about what I am going to wear, seeing as South African winter clothes aren't exactly warm and most of mine don't fit me any more anyway seeing as I am 15kg lighter than I was at the beginning of last winter.

And, of course, our shops are in full summer swing... not a warm thing to be found!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

standing room only

When I was a little girl, I was a sci fi freak. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, and some of the stories I read then have remained with me ever since.

I was so convinced that the things I read about would be reality by the time I grew up that I sometimes feel an almost disconnected feeling ... like I am one of the survivors of some planetary disaster, and have memories of what the world used to be like.

I thought that we would have space travel for everybody, not just the super rich. In fact, I fully expected to be living on another planet.

I thought we would have instant access portals that we would step into if we wanted to get from one place to another. Kind of "beam me up Scotty" without the need for Scotty. A bit like the flues in Harry Potter, I suppose. 

I certainly didn't think that I'd still be here, feet mostly on the ground, looking into a future of standing-room only aeroplanes.

These pictures are of Italian company Aviointeriors' new aircraft 'standing seat' which has 46cm of legroom, instead of the current economy class average of 60cm. They were taken at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in California a few days ago. you can see more pics here

Are they serious? Imagine this on a long-haul flight! And imagine how much more it will emphasise the disparity between the fatcats in first class and the rest of us in economy...

But it is not all pie in the sky...

Some things in my future have come true ... this is a photo of me in my office in Moorreesburg, South Africa,  taken by my colleague Akin in Abuja, Nigeria. I was being projected onto the wall, thanks to the wonders of skype video (and no thanks at all to the Nigerian consulate in Joburg) I seem to be making a point about something. I hope it was interesting!

Friday, 17 September 2010

just breathe...

On days like this, it is a good idea to take the time to breathe and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.

And to remember that there are sometimes surprises in the most mundane of occurances.

This orchid is a Cattleyas. It was named in 1824 after William Cattley, a London plant importer. He had been intrigued by the packaging material that had been used for some other plants he had imported from South America. He decided to try to grow it, and this, the "corsage orchid" was the result.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The last day of the palms

So, how about this. Two posts in as many days after a hiatus of how long?

Is it symbolic that on the day that I woke up at 2.30am to get to the airport and go to Joburg to not get my Nigerian visa, our five seventy year old palm trees were cut down?

One of the trees had begun to lean a little alarmingly. You can see it on the left of the three trees in front of the house.

You know how it is... we had a couple of vague discussions about whether the palm had moved, and the feeling of disquiet grew into a certainty and a conviction that we would have to do something about it.

Then our neighbours put up one of those exceptionally ugly vibracrete walls, (you can see it on the left of our gate in the second pic, and yes I know it doesn't look so bad in that picture).

Where we live, vibracrete walls are described as "mooi netjies" which in theory means "nice and neat" but actually means "ugly and devoid of character".

The inordinate pride that he obviously felt for the defacement of his property and ours made us think again about the palm trees. I mean, if one fell down and broke the wall my joy at its demise would be tempered by the horror of having to pay for a new one.

(And please don't get the idea that I don't like our neighbours. I think they are great people. I just don't like the wall. Robert Frost's neighbour was wrong.  )

And pay is what we would have had to do.
I had insisted that Greg phone our insurance company (Standard Bank, because until the mortgage is paid they actually own our house) and tell them that we were worried about the tree.

I absolutely insisted.

So he did.

"Thank you for telling us" said the person on the other end of the phone. "Because you have let us know, we are removing the tree from your policy and will not be covering any damage if it falls."

They confirmed, in response to Greg's horrified query, that even if the tree fell while he was still on the phone to them they would not pay a cent. (insert phrase that calls parentage of bank, insurance company and all its staff into question, here).

So, we had no choice but to do two things: change insurance companies (remember they were the ones that also didn't pay for the lapa) and cut down the trees.

Our house looks like a man after a haircut... kind of clean and slightly sheepish.

Greg has been a total hero, carting away the huge piles of palm leaves to the municipal dump. I think this was trip number 12!

We're keeping the trunks for now ... thay may be turned into a wall or a path, and even a couple of outdoor stools.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

hanging around

I spent yesterday hanging on a wall in a hotel room in Abuja, Nigeria (remembering, I hope, not to pick my nose or do anything else that shouldn't be done in public). And after a quick dash into town to interview someone on the totally scintillating topic of medical aid tarrif increases, I expect to do the same thing tomorrow.

This week was one that I have been looking forward to for a long time. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of five mentors for science journalists in English-speaking Africa as part of the World Federation of Science Journalists SjCOOP programme. This week we were to get the chance to meet face to face with the mentees that we will be working with for the next two years.

Sadly, for me, that didn't happen. Its a long story, the ending of which is best explained by Extranjera here. She was an island of sanity in the Nigerian consulate in Johannesburg where I spent one of the longest and most frustrating days of my life. Sadly the public face of Nigeria ... in Johannesburg at least ... is nothing like the totally amazing people that I have met from that country. Even more sadly, I suspect that the main reason that my visa was not granted (in spite of very senior government officials demanding that my visa be issued) is that I refused to pay the R2500 bribe that the visa company said the consulate officials wanted to process my documents.

So I am not in Nigeria, and I have been interested in the almost equal numbers of my friends and acquintances who have either said I should have paid, or who have supported me for not doing so. Perhaps naively, I thought that if I went to the offices I would be able to persuade them that they should give me the visa. After all, I had an official letter of invitation from the Nigerian Health Ministry. But no... that letter was what caused a nasty little man to yell at me from behind the (presumably bullet proof) glass that I was committing fraud because I "held the letter in my hand" when it belonged to their ministry. He then told me to go away and print the letter out again and bring it back, and totally failed to see that by doing so I would be holding it in my hand all over again.

And that was just the beginning of a day where the kindness and desparation of the people on my side of the counter was the polar opposite of the callous inhumanitiy of the "people" on the other. But read Extranjera's account. It is funnier than I can be. I just feel tired and despairing because of the way that a handful of people are screwing up our continent. And it works both ways: I am told by my Nigerian friends that the South African embassy there is a total nightmare to deal with too.

So why was I hanging on a wall? Because of the wonders of Skype video conferencing, I was able to see and be seen - projected onto the wall -  and to get a view of the people I will be working with for the next two years. It wasn't the same as actually being there, but it was a very good second best.