Monday, March 28, 2011

Safrophiliac Moves Back (to SA and her old Soutpiel blog!)

Here are the posts from my 'Safrophilia' blog that just lacked the passionate oomph of this blog!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Patriotic Pelargonium Pride Parade!

After watching Carte Blanche's feature on the German pharmaceutical rape of the Eastern Cape's pelargonium crops, the budding (no pun intended) gardenista in me jumped at the idea of expanding my gardening repertoire from my current succulents obsession, while simultaneously raising awareness about this mass pillage. The local Xhosa whose sole source of income comes from the trade of pelargoniums (for their potent medicinal properties) to the local and foreign pharmaceutical giants are being blindly robbed - specifically by one German company (who have, ironically, always been such avid anti-apartheid supporters...)
But, my bugbear with South Africans (and though it seems to be universal human nature - but I'm picking on ourselves because the health and future country of ours is my life's purpose!) is twofold: that though this kind of corruption has been brought out into the open via the mass-watched medium of Carte Blanche, how many of us will actually step into the breach and take personal responsibility to do something about? And we don't need to fix the problem as a hugely maginficent South African superhero, but we can, as Mother Teresa says: "We can do no great things,
only small things with great love." Do you even ask yourself, when faced with a specifically South African problem or tragedy, ask: "What small thing can I do to help? How can I be a small part of the solution? What small thing can I do - out of great love - for my country and my people?" How many of us use our lack of time to bow out conveniently as a coward? Or say just one person (i.e. ME. YOU) could never hope to make even the slightest dent in the problem? Well... For starters, God has given us creative brains, compassionate hearts and a conquering will. We can CHOOSE to NOT unthinkingly follow the trends of the herd. We can come up with a solution that fits in with our unique personality, talents and situation within the South African social and working scene. Perhaps we could boycott said German pharmaceutical company by not buying their products and also raise awareness among friends and colleagues to do the same. Are you a letter-writer? Blog it. Write to newpapers and magazines - and suggest solutions readers could act on.
Oh yes. My second bugbear about The Pelargonium Problem: did anyone notice it was not a South African source of corruption? So many of us (here and abroad) hang on for dear life to this sick notion that the rest of the 'first' world is NOT corrupt. This is a 'first' world country - that has always professed support for a liberated South Africa - hypocritically robbing the previously oppressed and STILL poverty-stricken among us. Sies, man! Grab our South African reality by the balls - and DO one SMALL thing: for you, for us, for our children. (It's a blerry mission to get a British passport; infinitely easier to do one small thing out of great love.)
Bugbears aside, my passion for succulents never stops growing (too many accidental puns today...) And though I've only ever been partial to roses, I am cultivating (groan *pun*) a new love and respect for our South African flora. Pelargoniums, here I come! (Hey - maybe one of us could donate pelargonium cuttings and seeds to the blighted pelargonium farming community highlighted by Carte Blanche to replace their pillaged stock and save them from spending their depleted livelihood on seeds? And don't so cowardly accuse me of idealism, capiche?)

PS. Another tiny step made with great love and a leap of faith? Read, research, reach out! Discover more at The Pelargonium Project blog!

Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom - let your email find you!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Random rambling...

Having neither internet at home nor time to sit at my PC with a cup of coffee to write up a storm, I've decided the best time and place to write is on my Blackberry! And so I shall brave the perilous finger/knuckle/wrist agony that comes from tapping away at the miniature keypad to satisfy my word-lust! (For some reason, I can't upload my posts to my Blogger blogs - and Wordpress just won't install... Grrrrrr!! So quite how I'm going to update from here ANYWAY is still an irritating mystery...)
I'm gatvol with my Safrophilia blog: because the name just seems too generic and not specifically 'me' enough... So I will try to transfer the relevant blog posts to my Soutpiel and Navel blogs sometime this week! I also want to begin writing more magazine and newspaper articles focusing on my obsessive passions du jour : expat vs repatriation, South Africanness, and mothering/parenting issues informed by attachment parenting vs 'breaking them in like a horse' parenting a la Gina Ford. As one of my favourite GP-Mommy-Bloggers says: parenting is not about 'managing an inconvenience'! (See, I am already cantering happily along on my high horse and I'm not even writing a topically specific blog post! As arrogant as it may be perceived to be so opinionated, it is actually a critically vital part of being human and being a self-actualised, unique individual - as long as one's opinions are not a form of approval-seeking copycatism. Opinions are both matters of the heart and the mind, so should also be well-researched and thought through.)
Getting progressively more 'naar' typing here in the backseat of an exceedingly bouncy bakkie, so time to adios before our arrival at the dilapidated but still entertainingly educational Port Elizabeth aquarium!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Bitch at the Braai

Yet another month goes by without internet at home. Was it really FOUR months ago that I last blogged here?? So much has happened that, to merely reiterate the cliche, I wouldn't know where to begin! But that doesn't matter because I'm going to leave that all out and bring you up to date on where we are at right now:
We are still living in Grahamstown (Eastern Cape) and I am finally beginning to feel like I belong in this dusty, gossipy little 'city'! At the beginning of December we moved into the accomodation the school converted for us from what used to be a boys' dormitory - hence the lack of internet and phoneline: it all has to be approved by the governing body, yadda-yadda-yadda. Being right across the road from the school means that I have the use of the car because Craig walks to school. Layla and I also spend an hour or so actually at the school - having tea in the staffroom during breaktime, helping Amy* in the library, sitting in on the music lessons, watching the (world class!!) marimba band practise, playing in the primary school's playground etc.
*Amy: Amy and her husband and 18month old Tom are also recently returned from the UK as of three months ago. So watch this space for more confirmation and information that it is the right thing to do to come home!
Anyway - that's all desperately boring compared to what kept me awake last night: what happened during our braai last night!
Picture this: Wors, chicken kebabs, lamb chops. Salad. Garlic bread. Coke. Red wine. Simple, unextravagant fare, but a feast for the average South African. (And if you know what it's like to furtively braai so your British neighbours aren't offended by the braai smoke - and to have driven all the way to the South African shop for astronomically expensive wors - then you will understand just how much more beautiful and meaningful it is to braai on home soil!) And the point of that parenthesis is that the South Africans who entered into the very heated argument with me last night have NEVER lived away from South Africa --- and they are adamant that there is no future here, they want to move overseas etc. (You know the story.)
Anyway, back to what was actually argued about. I can't really even remember what started it all off - but whatever it was snowballed out of control too quickly for me to keep my heart under lock and key. And so it was that I placed my heart on the table for all to see - and I think they mistook it for a lambchop! They stabbed at it with forks and spat it out again: I am distasteful, apparently, in my own particular South African outlook. I was defending the fact that South Africa is quite normal as a country. The particular point-in-fact was the corruption in our government. And when I reflected back at them the recent corruption by MPs in the UK who funnelled money into their own accounts to buy second and third houses for themselves, I was looked at as though I was an inexperienced little child who had no right stepping into their little bitch-and-moan. Ag, there is so much, much more that I want to tell you about this whole thing, but my free-mommy-time is running out (as usual) but I PROMISE to try and write again in the next few days before I forget the specifics of the debate. If only I could have recorded it on camera: it was a perfect microcosm of our whites' political attitudes du jour.
(a little note re: the post title: I am obviously The Bitch at the braai, but the 'bitch' is also the aggressive and apathetic bitch-and-moan. Just thought I should point out to you what a literary genius I am *wink*)
Here is a quote from the novel by Andre Brink I'm reading at the moment, "An Instant in the Wind":
Too white for the truth.
What a brave man to have written this story in 1976... I think that if you can arrive at the point of realising, if you are white, that the truth does frighten you/make you aggressively defensive etc, then you have arrived at a place where you can begin to invest in the present state of our country as a South African. That critical moment of change in perspective in just one mind will ignite the change in the other minds around it. But why is the white mind so lazy and terrified to apprehend the truth then? Hmmm...
Here are some recent pics of our continued and increasing joy and peace at being home.

Granny and Layla share the most special of kisses only grannies and grandchildren share - and something so frustratingly, saddeningly impossible on Skype...

My bedside table: an antique hand-embroidered 'lappie' from my best friend in Cape Town, a silk scarf that belonged to my late mother-in-law, my late grandfather's bottle of Old Spice from the 1960s...

Layla playing with our neighbours, Darry and Lukes, washing the tricycle they have given her. They also lived in the UK for awhile, but are another proud and very happy returned South African family! (We just never managed to make friends like this in our little English village... Lovely friends, but still somehow detached...) It was, um... bloody lonely!! (Apologies to Jody and Dylbo who we gratefully met in the last two months of our stay in the UK!)

Layla's first camping trip in the Wilderness! It was incredibly special to see my little girl experiencing all the magic of these idyllic Wilderness holidays that made my girlhood so magical...

To hear the hero-worship in Layla's hysterical glee as Granny pulled her along in the canoe is something, again, that Skype just fails at heartbreakingly!

And what could replace the perfect 'South Africa as home' combination of the Spur and Granny?!

Layla wouldn't let me put her warm top on before a braai - only 'Teve' (her beloved Uncle Steve) was allowed to!

Adios for now. Another post later this week detailing the attitudes expressed during the Bitch at the Braai.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Violets in the Mountains have Broken the Rocks...

Grooves: Plush (Rory Eliot - who I had the honour and joy of befriending when I worked as the art director for a fashion brand in Cape Town a few years ago, and we sponsored him and his band in clothes and publicity/gigs.)

Beverage: Earl Grey (it's that delicately decadent bergamot it's scented with... hmmm...) from a white teapot, festooned in painted pink floral filigree - and sipped from a cup handmade by Nosiphiwo: from the forming of the virgin porcelain, to the painting and glazing. (Hence why I recruited her so quickly into the Oodade ranks!)

Weather: deliciously cool, calm and drizzling with a misty rain that transforms my garden into a rainforest paradise!

After my last blog entry about the glories of our Makana municipality, the reactions it catalysed made me realise just how mindblowingly heart-based this whole South Africa/UK is: people react, their hearts volatile, and their brains not quite engaged. Facts are ignored, and fears and ideals blindly embraced. {Because I absolutely avoid conflict whenever possible in my lust to be loved and liked be everyone, writing about such a layered and paradoxical situation is pretty tough. I find myself wanting even those who negate what I have to say to accept the experiences that have shaped my understanding of the 'in vs out' South African dilemma. To accept my facts and feelings as a kind of living parable about how the grass can be greener on the other side only if you water it with your pro-UK convictions, and taking extra-careful care to tend the weeds of homesickness that creep into the garden of your heart, mercilessly.

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of
our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.
Franklin D. Roosevelt }

I refuse to have an emotional attachment to a piece of ground.
At one end of the scale it's called patriotism, at the other end
of the scale it's called gardening.
{ Bob Shaw }

As the gardening guru of the book I'm reading says, "Weeds are a mirror of the condition of the soil - so pay attention to them and use them to read the condition and health of your soil." (I ad-libbed that - sorry, Jane!) Weeds can be suffocated, blow-torched away, pulled out at the roots or poisoned to death. Or, they can be seen for what they are: a symptom of the poor condition of the soil : acknowledged, weeds can be a blessing. Weeds can spur you into redesigning your garden, getting you more in touch with your earth, improving the health of your soil --- and, as a consequence, the fruits it bears. (Let's hope that wasn't too obscure an analogy?!)

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.
{ Tennessee Williams }

Anyway, as someone who thrives on getting so messy with paints and glues and other random art materials that it has shocked the socks off some people, I've not really taken the same pleasure in getting dirty in sand and soil. But perhaps that's more to do with my terror of the spiders that lurk behind leaves, ready to pounce! But, since buying The Virgin Gardener and reading my pops-in-law's Jane's Delicious Garden, I've had an epiphany: we are one with the earth. (Not the New-Agey sort of 'One', but 'one' in the sense that ... (*oh gosh* I've been reading an anthology of quotes about gardening -- and they're all so perfect : the most perfect and practical philosophy, that I can't quite find my own words now... And to simply cut+paste a thousand quotes onto this page would be an enormous cheat... I think I'll go away for a few days to dig deep for my own words about this discovery that is slowly changing my life: my outlook, the pace at which I live and love, my priorities... Come back in a few days, ok?)

In the meantime, here are some of the fruits of my labour: each one a miracle that heals, delights, soothes and excites. (My favourite plants right now are succulents - and, quite fortunately so, what with this Eastern Cape drought which means water is too precious to waste on acres of lawn and thirsty plants! When we move into our new little plekkie at the end of the month, I'm going to get rid of most of the lawn and replace it with vegetables and succulents, layed happily between winding paths of stones...)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jasmine JazzTea & Municipal Magnificence!

Hot already at 10am. I have the morning to myself - and over the moon about the new look I created for my blog this morning: fresh, happy-happy-happy and real!
Sipping: steaming jasmine green tea.
Grooves: Thelonius Monk
Social State: thought I was alone, but my house has been hijacked through the Trellidor nogal by a lightning-bolt of somebody's errant ginger cat: last time I tried to chase outside for fear of a sneezing/eye-itch attack, we ended up in the bedroom, with him almost getting stuck as he scrambled and slipped on the wood floor to take refuge in the two-inch dusty blackness beneath our bed! (This is the second cat visitation we've had - and probably due to the birdfeeder Layla and I put up in the peach tree in the garden a few days ago... Ah, the cycle of life...)

re: this post-title, I've been wanting to write to our local municipality to thank them for making me a very happy and smug South African citizen. (And before any bitter reposts are slung my way, I will say that - yes - there are some sh*tty bits to South African municipal/governmental issues, but there are also good and bad bits to every other country in the world: e.g. the postcode-lottery in the UK on which hospital you end up in!) Anyway, I'll put my happy experiences in point form for the sake of keeping you here (*wink*)

1. My very first Sunday evening in Grahamstown, and it's time to bath Layla and get some supper on the go. It's the middle of winter, and darkening out. And we are suddenly plunged into a most primal state of electricitynessless! Now what?! Nothing showing on our switchboard. Our neighbours all have electricity. Hmmm... On a Sunday evening, who can we call? Not the Ghostbusters - but the emergency number for the Makana Municipality. Expecting the Electricity Department, someone (damnit, I meant to remember his name!!) answered, "Fire Department. How can I help you?" Turns out Grahamstown is such a small place (a genuine dorpie) that whether your mains have burst or your house is ablaze, all emergencies are routed to the same place! Within 30 minutes, two guys arrived in their Makana Municipality bakkie at our door, looked at the switchboard and had as sorted in no less than 10 minutes! Oh yes, and may I mention they were Xhosa (intelligent, skilled, professional, friendly) and they didn't try to steal or pillage?! (*Very wry chuckle*)

2. Another great moment that made me proud was after 3 months of anxiety about the dangerous crossroads a few metres from our house, seeing a beaming (and sweating!) municipal worker picking up the orange cones (do they have a proper name?) after painting bright, white yield markings on the road! Awesome!!

(Gosh - that tea was good...)

3. After really getting into the brilliant recycling thing in the UK with their red and blue crates, and the way they alternated the black household refuse bin with the brown garden waste bin, I missed the lekker feeling I got from minimising my waste there. In Grahamstown, there are no black bins! I was a bit appalled, and quite ashamed to find myself thinking the 'Welcome To Africa' thought... Seeing the black rubbish bags thrown out into the street each Morning, only to be ripped apart by foraging bergies and dogs, dirty nappies, rotten food and broken glass strewn everywhere, made me angry-sad-confused-deeplydisappointed ---- but it also galvanised me into action! I phoned the municipality's sanitation department, expecting (thanks to news-induced stereotypes) apathy, but was instead met with eagerness and interest, as well as information about a plan to introduce recycling to Grahamstonians who're apparently notoriously hardegat about not bothering to recycle! And what happened? Nothing? Nope. A few weeks later, exactly as promised, my packet of black refuse bags arrived, so that I could spend the money I would normally have spent on black bags on either clear or orange plastic bags, which would then act as the receptacle for all recyclables. These would be collected by the same rubbish truck, but taken to the recycling plant which is overseen by an NGO creating employment and environmental care.Well done, Makana Municipality! And, THANK YOU!!!

4. Because my job at Kip McGrath turned out to be a stunningly empty promise on behalf of it's manager, we haven't been able to pay for medical from Craig's teacher's salary after paying R5 500/month rent: and Layla's ears have tormented her (and me) with sleepless nights and irritable days, so when the GP here said it was imperative she have grommets, we were crestfallen. How would be solve our daughter's pain with no money? But, our kind doctor got us in at the local government hospital as state patients so that an absolutely phenomenal ENT oversaw the initial investigation and operation, and our GP and the other doctor in his practice did the anaesthetic: and all for nothing. (*Sjoe... Wow...*) And to top it all off, every single hospital staff member was impeccably kind and efficient. The building, inside and outside, sparkled with being clean, and cleaned with great care and pride, with lovely art adorning the walls and smiles on every face! The whole Day Of The Grommets is an entirely other story which I'll save the next rainy day - but here is the picture of a completely pain-free Layla, post King Cone ice-cream!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back Home - 4 months and counting...

Since I last had a chance to write, I decided to send my little princess to playschool 5 mornings a week as the seeming randomness of only going on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays confused her - so as of this week she'll be at school every day, which also means that I can start writing again! (Not being able to write was, and I'm not exaggerating, like drowning. And drowing very, very slowly.)

Twice-a-week updates are what I'm aiming for, though I'd write every single day if I could! But there is so much happening at the moment, that I'll need to use this time that Layla is at school more wisely than I have ever used time!! For example, our house at the school (where we'll only be paying about a fifth of what we pay now (i.e. R5 500/month) and I think/hope that'll include water and electricity as well!) will be ready for us by the end of the month - so I've got to try and pack up our things here without Layla actually seeing me packing the boxes. Twice since we've arrived back from the UK, I've needed to repack our boxes when I was in Cape Town: first, when the boxes arrived in South Africa via Allfreight's fabulous service, and I needed to unpack them to check what was damaged/what I wanted to take with me back to Grahamstown. And then second, when I was in Cape Town two weeks ago, I spent many hot hours in my parents' attic sorting through the random bits of furniture and repacking my stuff for freight-by-truck to Grahamstown. And both times, Layla's anxiety levels skyrocketed upon witnessing this packing of boxes. Seeing just how perceptive and deeply sensitive my child has made me rethink my entire modus operandi of parenting... But more about this at a later stage.

And then there is the matter of me finding work for next year. Perhaps an art teaching position at St Andrews? And if that doesn't pan out, then I'll focus on setting up a studio for the collective/co-operative I've set up with two of my friends. At the moment, we're each working from home, but if I can find a space for us to work from together for next year, then we'd be able to work that much more quickly and efficiently! Our company's name is Oodade which is the Xhosa word for 'sisters'. Inspired by the work my sister commissioned me to do for her space at Kamersvol Geskenke, as well as by the bond of sisterhood I share with my fellow South African women, Nokwayiyo and Nosiphiwo arrived in my life like sunshine and blessings with their grace, warmth, joy and industrious talent! I'll link back here to the Oodade blog I've set up (*wink*)

Not much Safrophilic news there, but I thought I sommer just had to write AND to explain my long absence from these pages.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Quickest History of an ex-Soutie's Repatriation Ever!

After crashing heavily to earth from quite shitty burnout, I've decided to end all my other blogs and writing commitments in an effort to simplify my life. Hence this new space where I can write about anything and everything in the context of South Africanness (where before I had a blog for my South African concerns, a blog for random generalities, two separate blog for Soutpielness, and a weekly column about motherhood. And on top of it all, that whole Malema project, my 'news revolution' AND all the newspaper articles I was writing and the resulting radio interviews. Eish - no wonder I burned out! Seems as though multitasking is something my female DNA lacks...) And so, I am back with a vengeance: to write purely from a selfish desire, tap-tap-tapping words out to the rhythms of my own particular heart.
A quick history of our first 3.5 months back in South Africa?
1. Living, as a devout Capetonian, in the Eastern Cape for the very first time, has been both intriguing and a bit of a drag. Grahamstown is hot, dry and dusty - and when the wind blows, there is nowhere to escape to (unless you are a student and the Rat & Parrot can slake your thirst/drown your sorrows for you. But I, alas, am too old at 32, too skint of pocket and - I'm not quite sure that a rowdy drinking hole is the most wholesome environment for an excitable 19-month old princess!
2. Craig's job as a primary school teacher at a Model C/government school is fairly peachy, while I was horribly let down by the company that 'promised' me a job upon my arrival in Grahamstown. No such luck. I should have gotten a written and signed commitment from this chick - but instead, she um-ed and aah-ed for weeks while I pestered her for opportunities. Eventually, I did one day of negligently-taught training and then one day of work, whereupon I received a Harry-casual sms saying I needn't come in the following week as the student had changed to another day. Ho-hum (*seething frustration/sense of betrayal*). Because we worked our finances when we were planning to come home to SA to within a hair's breadth of survival versus homelessness, I naively misplaced my trust in this girl in my excitement to return home. And so, with Craig's teacher's salary, our rent of R5 500 (excluding water and electricity) etc etc, we have had to tighten our belts a little more than we thought (I have lost 5kg!) Thankfully, we were able to still afford numerous doctor's appointments for Layla's incessant ear problems, ranging between R220 and R300 (Eastern Cape vs Cape Town prices) as well as all the medicine needed. (We'll get medical aid next year once I am also working.) When she had a bad fall once Saturday evening when I thought she'd broken the occipital bone under her eye, we took her to the clean and efficient-enough government hospital where, contrary to stereotyped doubts, we did not encounter any gunshot/rape/stabbing victims! (I'm sure there are government clinics and hospitals which have plenty of these, but Settlers Hospital made me proud!) I was also able to use the government mental health hospital for free and get free medication. The cherry on the top? Layla is having grommets inserted in a week's time by an absolutely phenomenal ENT specialist -- as a government patient. WOW!
3. Layla goes to a gorgeous little playschool three mornings a week - her classmates adore her as the youngest little soul among them! (She'll probably be fluent in Xhosa by the end of the year!) Her and I walk to school the three mornings a week, stopping to chat to new friends, neighbours and all sorts of warm, kind strangers. (Admittedly, there is a darker side to how Layla struggled with the move back to South Africa, but I'll leave that for another day...)
It's time for me to get my jersery on (freak thunderstorm and perpetual rain yesterday, with icy temperatures after the most summery winter I've ever experienced with highs sometimes of 30deg!) and walk to 'Little Blessings' and see my Layla's eyes light up when she sees me!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maybe Two Blogs ARE Better than One?!

Well, well, well... Long time, no see, eh? Despite having created a new blog that was meant to incorporate my 'Contemplating My Navel' ideas with my fervent Safrophilia into one more manageable headspace for me, it is actually not really tickling my fancy. It's just that my Navel blog satisfied the whimsical, chatty writer in me, while my near-obsession with South Africa and (ex)patriotism found a place to rant, rave and ... expose the truths and lies about the expat experience and what it feels like to come home. (Sjoe - I nearly went off on a tangent on my high horse there...)

Anyway, I will try to bring all the relevant posts from my Safrophilia blog back here - and now that I've finally figured out how to post to my blogs via my Blackberry, I am no longer a manically frustrated prisoner of no-internet-at-home! I am also hoping to do more writing for newspapers and magazines (not so sure about doing any more radio interviews...) : MORE SOUTH AFRICANS NEED TO KNOW THAT IT IS OK TO BE HONEST : about EVERYTHING!

Eish ... I am desperate to write more but my bambino is calling for her mama...