Friday, April 23, 2010

Adrenaline Addiction?! Not just for Bungee Jumpers!

Awhile ago, I wrote a post about the difference in crime between South Africa and the threat of terrorism here in England. The main point I tried to make was that I could, to a degree, rationalise someone who was brought up in such dire poverty that crime was all he knew - as opposed to a terrorist killing on behalf of his chosen ideology. THIS got me into serious hot water with a South African ex-pat who attacked me for my short-sighted view of terrorists, saying: "You cannot understand why someone would make a statement for a political ideology but can understand children being killed for no apparent reason," and saying terrorists are 'freedom fighters'. Admittedly, I rashly used the word 'humanity' to describe the human element in our poverty-related crime such as hunger, fear, the need for shelter etc. and it was this that was misinterpreted by a few readers. Needless to say, I've at least been able to apologise for my thoughtless choice of word, thanks to the wonders of the 'comment' blog function! (Read the blog post and comments here to add your own *important* opinion.)
Today I am going to have to backtrack over my very own words - and if only there was a rewind button or virtual Tipp-Ex in Life - because I don't think I can honestly stand by what I said about our crime in South Africa since accidentally reading two devastating news clips that have left me reeling, and with tears. Normally, I refuse to read the news in a positive boycotting of what I see as the media's unnecessary thirst and glorification of blood - i.e. anything that resembles scandal, murder, assault, corruption, abuse, you name it, and the media relies on our bloodlust to sell advertising and column centiimetres. I prefer, thank you very much, to not ruin my day, so perfect with potential, with the horrors of 'the news'. My husband says I am unrealistic, but I honestly believe there has got to be a more constructive way of presenting what is actually important to us as a nation. I'm going to post the two links here for you to follow if you have a strong stomach - and if you are able to see why I have posted it.

And here's why. An experiment: mindfully read the two articles - paying very close attention to what happens to your heart rate, your breathing, if you begin to sweat, if you have a surge of adrenaline, what your most honest thoughts are, and your emotional state. (If you have the guts, please leave a record of it in the 'comments' section at the end of this post!)
Did you notice an initial sharp intake of breath? Perhaps your heart lurched forward as it was flooded with adrenaline? Palms sweaty, maybe? Did you think about how lucky you are to be 'safe', have electric-fencing or how you should get some - as in NOW?!
What I am proposing is that with the advent of the media and now its literal explosive presence and seeming inescapability, we have become adrenaline junkies. We live from fix to fix, from one shocking news report to the next. Tough to digest? I just Googled 'adrenaline addictive' and - sjoe! Go on - try it. And maybe, just maybe, you might be able to honest enough with yourself to admit that yes, the news keeps us informed, but I do not need to feast upon the terrors and tragedies of others. I can choose to tune it out. I can choose to not read these articles. And if you're afraid of 'losing touch with the world', ask yourself these two questions: if, after I make sure I and my family are as safe as is reasonable,
1. How did people live, say 200 years ago, without the kind of news we crave and are bombarded with on a moment-by-moment basis?
2. Why do I feel such a compulsive need to feel in control of 'the world' by knowing what's supposedly 'happening'?
The answer lies in a cycle of addiction to adrenaline. And the hallmark of an addict? Denial. The answer to recovery (and serenity) lies in our ability to be so honest with ourselves that we can come to a point of accepting we are addicted, and then - choosing to help ourselves.
Here are the two links: Parents and Baby. (Please, brave souls, leave your observations in the comments box.)
PS. Adrenaline Addicts Anonymous.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Braais, boerewors and beer!

Ah! Spring has arrived magnificently early to adorn the memories of our last 9.5 weeks in England with happy nostalgia! Truly - yesterday was absolute English perfection; so much so that I had faintest whisper of regret that we'd be leaving so soon.
After months upon dreary month where the sun rises late and sets chillingly, perversely early, the sudden onset of spring and its 4am sunrise (almost!) dispels any memory of the perpetual winter darkness. And the sunsets... the gloriously late sunsets! It is this that makes the English summer so delicious, where the gentle warmth of the day sidles on late into the night, so that you find yourself sitting outside, blissfully daydreaming your way past your bedtime. But I'm getting stuck in poetic humdrum here - so let me tell you about yesterday and what was so perfectly English about it.
Layla and I waltzed down the stairs to find a blanket spread out on the grass, lamb chops defrosting on the garden bench (our boerewors supplies depleted) and a visibly ecstatic Craig sunning himself like a literate lizard, Stephen King book in hand. (To my horror and rampant frustration, Craig continues to worship the sun as if there were no such thing as skin cancer. AAARRRGH!!!) Anyway, after a quick rifle through the fridge, I decided a quick trip to the One Stop was in order! But then, relief like the coldest beer on a hot day flooded over me in as I remembered that our village now boasted its very own 'country store'. More like a deli with fresh veg, fruit, herbs, spices and racks of the most marvellous breads and fresh rolls, the exuberant and helpful owner, Lee, makes you feel as if you are in Franschoek! It has a certain 'Cape Town' vibe about it in its layout and ambience - so much so that I am blissed out into thinking I am back home already! (Lee's going to be opening out the back and the front of the store into a cafe - so at long blerry last I will have a place to go and boer with a cup of coffee! There are two pubs within walking distance of our front door, but the typical pub atmosphere with its frumpish dourness just wouldn't satisfy that constant craving I have for the kind of coffee culture we are so lucky to have in South Africa. The biggest problem, for me, with English pubs is not so much the olde worlde decor or the beer-guzzling patrons leaning against the bar as if they were holding each other up, but the simple fact that it feels too... exotic. I feel uncomfortably out of sorts in a pub - a 'sore thumb', if you will. Every single time (and perhaps I am overly sensitive) I enter a pub, I feel as if the usually close-knit beer-guzzlers turn around to stare, long and hard, in territorial defence of their turf. I even feel as if I have to talk quietly for fear of being teased out as a usurper! Ja, okay - I admit that's pretty ridiculous...) Ag no - I'm getting sidetracked again into complaining about being in England when, as I wandered along the blossom-strewn road to the shop yesterday, I had wanted to write about how beautiful and peaceful our little village is. And now I've run out of time. (Craig just got back after a trip to Kettering for what looks like twenty packs of boerewors! He saw how warm and sunny today promised to be, and he got a bee in his Eastern Cape bonnet and decided we had to braai --- again!)
PS. To make up for the fact that I didn't write about the loveliness of English village life, I've put up some pics of our village as evidence :)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Health24 - News, Columns

Health24 - News, Columns
Want to get hold of this lekker lady - she has JUST the right attitude ;)

A Nation of Super-Heroes! (Do YOU have what it takes?)

My PC is dragging its feet - my darling husband is half-watching some or other Super 14 game online - so I'm typing this post out in my Gmail as an email draft. (*sigh* the ever-present state of compromise/collaboration that characterises a happy marriage!) And I guess that brings me to what I want to write about today: accountability. As individuals. And as South Africans. (You know, I'm kind of getting tired of only writing and thinking (and dreaming!) about this whole Malema thing - and I yearn for something a little more frivolous and fun to discuss, but I am a bit like a bull-terrier: once I sink my teeth into something, there's no letting go until, well - for lack of a better analogy, the thing is dead. Kaput. Finito.
And no, I am not referring to the widely wished for death of a certain someone, because that wouldn't really solve anything. He is not actually the problem. He personifies the problem quite nicely, but I believe the problem lies much deeper. It is in your heart and mine. Let's face it: the heart of our nation is sick. It is damaged. It is weakened by rumours of war, plagued by ceaseless nightmares. And after this last week where I've been trying to roll out 'Malema, a Love Letter' across the country, what has made itself evident is the general South African attitude of lazy apathy, passive complacency, defensive/wounded egos and a tendency to blame. (Struggling with my mother-in-law's untimely death, I contacted a bereavement counsellor here in the UK for some outside advice - and ironically, she turned out to be South African. While I explained some of the issues surrounding our grief, she made a point I didn't like too much. She said that as a collective, South Africans tend to blame others for problems they themselves are actually responsible for. My immediate reaction? "No, I don't do that!" But since that day, and as I've been watching people reacting to my posts and things on the news, I am ashamed to admit that we do, in fact, blame anything and anybody we can. Blaming is the passive defence of a coward. The good news, however, is that it is never too late to change. And this begins with the renewing of our minds, one thought at a time. Be a hero! MAKE your voice count! Don't wait for miraculous change to suddenly appear out of thin air - or for somebody ELSE to effect the change you long for.

Blaming is the passive defence of a coward.

All my life, I've avoided politics like the plague that it is. So my current obsession with South Africa's political situation has taken me surprise - though, if I think about it, perhaps it is not that shocking after all: it is not so much about cold-blooded politics as a human drama with villains and heroes fighting for their own brands of justice. Seen like that, it makes our involvement as individuals that much more critical: we must fight with our own two hands, our minds, our hearts and our talents. Fight the GOOD fight.

So, what can you do today to make a difference? Write your letter to Malema.

(The mere fact that only THREE South Africans have purposefully taken this action is a direct reflection on the sick, sad 'passivism' paralysing us. Let's see if we can reach TWENTY letters by the end of the weekend. (The truth is, we need THOUSANDS of letters for this gesture to be noticed and broadcast by the likes of The Times and Carte Blanche.))

(This post is dedicated to Alan Straton and Edward Labuschagne from MyZA for personally choosing to champion this radically different approach! If you're on Facebook, join the group Edward created here.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Malema, a Love Letter

A few weeks ago, a story of mine called Homesickness or Headsickness was attacked by a South African expat bitterly living out his very obviously un-sunny days in Iceland. My initial reaction was one of sarcastic defensiveness (you can read the ensuing battle of words if you click on the aforementioned link) which had two disastrous effects:

1. All the hope and passion I'd been pouring into my Soutpiel project, as well as my imminent return home to South Africa was suddenly stained with the ugliness of egos clashing.
2. My response of lashing out at said expat only served to embitter him more, putting him on the defensive and thereby opening myself up to further attacks.

After the third vile comment was left by this clearly pissed-off soul, I found myself teetering precariously on the brink of a very dark and endlessly evil abyss: hate. And the feeling I was constantly fighting an enemy. Our instinctive reaction to being threatened is to fight back - fire with fire, an eye for an eye. But clearly, this 'natural' fight-instinct was doing neither myself, my 'enemy' nor my country any good. Instead, all it did was enrage us all and continue to poison the system that is South Africa's current state.

As in every situation, I had a choice: I could simply (and it is deceptively and beautifully simple) defuse the bomb before it went off. How? By smothering it with kindness and love. Logically, I did not know this person from Adam - so who was I actually raging against? He was a fellow South African and I was damn well going to embrace him - despite our opposing ideas. Putting my silly little ego aside, I chose to:

1. apologise for my sarcastic response, admitting that I was wrong.
2. try and answer his questions from a place of heartfelt and honest humility.
3. invite his comments again in future, even if they would be contrary to my own ideas.

And do you know what? After his barrage of comments on each and every post, I've never heard from him again. And, if I do, I will think before I feel. i.e. I will smile and sort out an ego-free response instead of blindly and childishly lashing out in defense.

The best part? Inasmuch as it is a universal human trait to fight what you feel is an enemy attack, it is also human nature to succumb to forgiveness, humility and lovingkindness as an alternative. Hence why I am proposing this nationwide project as a means to defuse the bomb that we are afraid is Julius Malema. Instead of sitting back, a herd of apathetic 'passivists and pouring all of our negativity (anger, fear, hostility) like so much poison into the closed system of our country, let us instead CHOOSE another way, a better way:

write a letter, personally addressed to Julius Malema, detailing your dreams and hopes for this country we love, showing the recipient why he should trust you. The only condition is this: IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER may you personally attack Julius Malema for anything he has said or done in the past. It is so easy (and short-sighted) to demand the very opposite, but let us try this as a nationwide experiment. Let us show, each and every single one of us, only a tiny mustard seed of faith as we put pen to paper.
Please post your letters to: P.O. Box 3955, North End, 6056

or simply submit them online here: write to Julius Malema

Once I have received all the letters, I shall unite them all into a permanent public sculpture which will be handed over as a gift of hope to Julius Malema and the ANC. (In the interim, I will be publishing the emailed letters online here at Ukukulisa.)

PS. There is no age or literacy limit: letters can be sent as drawn images, poems, collages and photographs.