Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gathering Happinesses

It happened when I dived into the pool in Hopefield one morning; I used to go swim with Ilze in the mornings.  I’m not much of a morning person, but that morning, as billions of tiny bubbles slid past my face in the somewhat green water – a smile burst out onto my face.  No one was there to see it, Ilze was swimming, and nobody else was there.  And I realized I smiled for no one, but me.  That’s when it hit me:  it’s because I’m happy.  And from then on, I’ve been gathering happinesses – registering when exactly I smile, for no one but me, involuntarily, for that I think, is my happiness indicator.

And so I tried to become consciously aware of that involuntary smile:  My first cup of morning-coffee; Louis and Skye arriving home from school; their faces when they’re sleeping; when they’re happy; when I take photos (even just thinking about it, because I just smiled;) brushing my teeth, the smell of wildflowers and rain and sunlight on my face and the chirping birdies … and many many more.  Over the months I have been gathering happinesses, and I really needed these, a few months back, when we went through the cancer ordeal with Tinus.  I could use my happiness triggers to give me moments where I smiled.

Marie-Louise and I were sitting on the stoep at the River Cottage talking about this when we saw two white-tipped Basset tails wag through the reeds next to the river – Brigid and Brandon, our two dogs!  And I smiled.  I ran down to call them.  Brigid looked up at me across the clumps of brilliant green grass, and I am quite prepared to swear that she was smiling as well.  She had this look of utter adoration, happiness and joy and everything in her said:  “I found you!”

The puppies (as we call them – they will be two years old at the end of December) were taken care of by Eugenie and later by Marie-Louise, John and Cous cous while we were trying to organize our lives.  Finally with visas and import permits organized, vet papers signed and delivered the long wait was over – they flew into Dubai and we could fetch them from the air port.  We were overjoyed and the puppies settled in quickly.  They became house dogs – with boundaries - but they still prefer to spend most of their time outside.   

One Saturday morning, about two weeks after we fetched them, Tinus and I were sitting outside with the puppies having a slow morning, each with a book and a cup of coffee.  It was a perfect morning, not too hot yet, birdies chirping happily in the trees when Brigid got up, took a few unsteady steps toward me and started convulsing.  My heart!!  It was dreadful, I held her until the attack was over and then we franticly called every vet and pet shop we found listed to find someone open on a Saturday.  Eventually we located a vet in Jumeira.  By the time Brigid arrived at the vet she was back to her old loveable self, charming and licking her way into every heart around.

The vet said it was quite possibly an epileptic seizure, I never knew dogs get these – it seems that there are a number of breeds who do. He said it could just be an isolated case but if it continues it can be controlled effectively with medication.   I have such sympathy for parents whose children suffer from epilepsy, it was terrible to see her so helpless, and feeling so completely helpless myself.  It hasn’t happened again, I hope this is an isolated case.  

My happinesses are happy to be with us and we are so happy to have them here, we just need the last member of our little family to join us.  We miss you Tanzanite and hope you’ll be joining us soon.

Canine Epilepsy

Monday, October 3, 2011

Beauty has an address

I’ve been to Oman quite a few times – never had my passport stamped for it.  Al Ain, a village in the UAE, shares its borders with Oman – in a very strange way; in the days before black gold, Al Ain was very important:  In Al Ain, hidden deep under the desert sands, are huge caverns filled all year round with cool clear spring water. Al Ain (Arabic: العين‎, al-ʿayn) literally means the spring,and for years and years ownership of the small village was ferociously warred over by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi –later part of the UAE - and Oman.  It was finally decided to share the village between the two countries.  Somewhere in Al Ain there is a road with three speed bumps.  Once you’re over the last hump you find yourself in Oman in a village, which after the speed bumps is called Buraimi.  We used to live in Al Ain (BC - before children) and those three bumps were at the beginning of many of our scariest, most wonderful and most memorable desert adventures.

Bubble on a road-trip to Oman

This time however, we went into Oman very very officially.  In order for me and the children to change over from our tourist visas to our residency visas we had to leave the country, have our passports stamped out and stamped in again.  Since Oman is only about 100km from Dubai it was the most sensible destination.  Our road trip got off after the second try - we forgot that our rental car doesn’t have international insurance, fortunately for us Richard and Marianne’s Bubble does. Around 20km outside of Dubai the last buildings disappear in the heat-born haze and the white desert sand stretch around you as far as the eye can see.  The openness of the desert speaks to my soul – always has.  Why it is that the desert landscape intrigues me so I cannot say – perhaps because the Little Prince said:  “every desert hides a well,” perhaps because of the open skies and complete horizon, perhaps because here, life is precarious but uncomplicated, minimalistic and large at the same time, serene and scary, yes, perhaps that is it – the contrasts.

After a while the white sand dunes turns into red, shaded in deep brown, black and sometimes even purple.  There is a sand dune known as Big Red, where there is always human activity.  The monstrous dune is an eternal challenge for those who think their particular brand of 4x4 vehicle will be the one to make it to the top or their driving skills will prove superior to the rest.  From the road the SUVs on the slope resemble toy cars and the odd incident where a vehicle come rolling down the side of the dune rarely cause panic – it just seems too unreal.

Shortly after Big Red one starts to see Mountains in the distance.  Mountains  with a BIG M.  Resembling silk paintings they disappear into the distance in hues of blues and purple.  I always thought Tolkien must’ve modeled his Mordor after these giants.  High up in these rough mountains are little villages where roses are grown - some of the best rosewater in the world come from here.  All along the road we find wadis,*some filled with cool clear water and some dry, treacherously waiting for the uninformed tourist to wander down.  The wadis can become flooded in seconds with rainwater from the mountains - flashing down with tragic results for anyone trapped in its way.  

Every now and again one glimpses green oasis hidden in the folds of the mountains.  Proud villas perched on higher ground dots the area, their high walls undulating ownership across the rolling landscape.

We had our passports stamped out at the UAE border to bring us to the end of our stay on our tourist visas.  At the Omani border we parked our car in the parking area, purchased Omani tourism visas and had our passports stamped as entering the country.  The handsome fellow with his traditional Omani headdress (I like these much more than the UAE ones) meticulously filled in one line for each of us (Tinus included) in a very large book, more or less starting at the one end of the table, writing …. writing …. writing …. writing all the way to the other end of the table.  He then took our passports again, stamped them out, and did a new line for each of us writing …. writing …. writing …. writing …. We got back into the car and returned to the UAE border post where we had our passports stamped back into the UAE, now on residential visas.  On the way back to Dubai we stopped the green bubble somewhere in the red part of the desert and four happy UAE residents watched the sunset pour molten gold over the endless dunes.

Pots at a roadside shop from the days
when missionaries were still on the menu

Wadi (Arabic: وادي‎ wādī; also: Vadi) is the Arabic term traditionally referring to a valley. In some cases, it may refer to a dry (ephemeralriverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain or simply an intermittent stream

Buyer's market - if you're willing to haggle

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The man took my Broom!

As mentioned before, things in the UAE do not quite work on the same timescale as in other parts of the world - bar perhaps Africa-proper.  Our rental contract said we can move in on Saturday, and even though we had no furniture, we decided to move in.  Our stuff will be leaving Cape Town Harbour on the good ship HMS Zambia - or something to that effect - on the 5th of October and we’re expecting it somewhere to the middle of November.  I found a darling looking little table and chairs on Dubizzle for only AED 500 in Sharjah and we eventually also bought a lovely 12 piece dinner set from Amal.  We had to stop ourselves from buying more things from her.  Things we have space for – lots of space - but really don’t need right now.  (E.g. four silk paintings in midnight blue – which she’s keeping for me)

  We expected to arrive finding a clean villa, with all the little snags sorted out – the agency had two weeks in which to do it – silly us.  Huge piles of dust had collected in each corner – possibly a desert soul dust collector lurking somewhere.  We counted to five (we can’t count any further in Arabic) and went to Ace hardware, where we bought  four camp beds, a tent (‘cos it was really nicely priced) and lots and lots of cleaning materials, amongst others a brilliant red broom with black bristles and an Ace hardware label on the handle. 

Back home (did you hear: home!) we started cleaning.  Skye and I started on the kitchen while the boys went upstairs to start on the bedrooms.   Now I first have to give you an idea of scale:  On the lower level of the villa, as you enter, you have the foyer; from here you have two sets of double doors on either side and a single door directly ahead, leading to the kitchen.  The kitchen is disappointingly small, but nicely done in fake wood and marble.  We were looking for a villa that has – firstly – a kitchen inside the house, and secondly, a kitchen door leading outside – which this one has.

On the left of the foyer you have what is known around here as the majlis, which is traditionally the visiting area for males, a washroom leading out of it with two basins and out of that a full bathroom.  (Black and white marble) Between the majlis and kitchen is another room connecting to the kitchen.  Dining room – once the table is here.  Both these rooms are roughly 6m x 6m.  On the left of the entrance hall you have another set of double doors leading to another lounge connected to the lower bedroom, with a full en-suite bathroom and separate dressing room – no BICs. 

Upstairs you have the lovely area overlooking the (very dry at present) garden and mosque, and four bedrooms, each approximately 6mx5m with en-suite bathroom and dressing room with BIC.  There is also an outside maid’s room – which was another requirement – for our puppies!  We wanted a five bedroom villa, three bedrooms for us, one for visitors and another one to be used as a study.  Hence the many many rooms.

And so we cleaned – and cleaned – and cleaned, and when the evening prayer call came (from across the street) we have finished two bedrooms and the kitchen.  And it was night and it was morning - the first day of the week (here on a Sunday)   we carried on cleaning, and went on extensive shopping trips to buy appliances and somewhere in the afternoon of Monday (after numerous phone calls from  Tinus to the agency) the cleaning crew arrived:  Two scrawny sub-continentals  with big smiles, a very old (as in flat-bristled-bleached-bone-white-with-age old) plastic broom and a bottle of disinfectant.  They left around an hour later.  Initially I though nothing much had changed; Closer inspection revealed that the dust piles were now spread in sticky streaks, all over the floors.  The owner of the agency said it costs him AED 3000 to have the villa cleaned – these must be the two highest paid individuals in the UAE, at around AED 1500 per hour – and they left with my red broom!

Tuesday went by and eventually on Wednesday the agent called to tell us that the maintenance crew will arrive in half an hour.  Two hours later:  The same two smiling faces arrived – now bearing tools – maintenance crew!  They ran up and down the outside staircase, but with very little command of the English language (three words used interchangeably; hah, uh, and water) not much was done.  The lower bedroom’s bathroom had water running out of the roof – like a torrential rainstorm!  They eventually disconnected the right tap and left, promising to be back later, leaving me to clean the soggy bathroom.  And it was night and it was morning - Thursday;
Around ten o’clock Thursday morning one of the two cleaner/maintenance men arrived carrying a huge bag of grout.   “Fix” he says, and proceeds to re-grout (not remove old grout, clean and put new ones in.  No no, that would be way too effective – grout over existing grout) in upper bathroom floor - the one above the lower, leaky one.  “This fix the leak?”  I ask.  “No.” he said with a wide smile, and placidly carried on applying grout to the bathroom floor with his fingers.

It is Thursday evening and I have the worst headache I’ve had in my life.  Tinus figures it’s because I have not had enough water to drink (4.5litre so far.)  I need to sweep the floors, but I have no broom.

From Home to Home

Title courtesy of Richard 
Our new home

Richard and Marianne have been living in the UAE for about fifteen years now.  The other day Marianne said to me they are going home for the holidays.  Home, for them, still is South Africa, after all these years.  Another dear friend of mine, Tani - previously from across the hall, now from across the world - said to me one sunny Friday afternoon that she’s going home for the weekend; she hopes she doesn’t get lost - she’s never been there.  Her parents moved to Jeffrey’s Bay, and for her, home was where her parents were.

During my years in boarding school, I remember watching people through my bedroom window jogging in the streets below, thinking - they’re going home.  Although I returned to my parents’ home from time to time, it never quite felt like home.  My life since school pretty much kept me moving, never staying in one place for long enough for it to become home.  There were places I've slept, places I've lived in, decorated, even renovated, but nothing has ever felt like home.  Or has it?  Am I looking at the wrong definition of home?

Complete with opulent staircase :) 
I’m not sure the living in one place thing has ever really had great appeal for me.  It's hard to explain:  One of the most interesting couples I’ve ever come across was on bicycles in Sinai.  They met while they were cycling from two different parts of the globe, he from India and she from Sweden.  They travelled together for a while, eventually fell in love, married while ‘on the road’ and when I met them they had a five year old daughter.   Yes, she was born while they were travelling and have been travelling with them for all her life.  They were thinking (I almost want to say sadly) of settling down when I met them, in order for their daughter to attend school. 

That, I think is my ideal:  to travel with the ones I love, having the world as my home, the important thing being the fact that we are together – SHARING LIFE.  And that is what we are doing.  It is not always easy – but the worthwhile things aren't, are they?  So from home to home we live, sharing life.  Our home for this part of the journey turned out to be this enormous villa:  Lots of potential for living, for being happy.  We have to create it, for creating our own happinesses is such an integral part of living a good life. 

When we left Dubai the previous time, not sure if we’re ever coming back, we went to my parents’ home, where they took us in, gave us shelter and comfort, looked after us and helped us get strong.  Yes, then we were home, and now, we are busy making another home.  We have tried to settle down for so long now; when we returned from Dubai early 2003/4 our children were around five, we wanted to settle down then, so that they can have the stability of one school in one town.  It didn't work.  In Hopefield I even planted a tree, hoping that those roots will be able to keep me there, but it didn't.  It is just not in our makeup - I think. 

Marble floors all over - this is the landing - possibly breakfast room - upstairs
Perhaps this time we’ll be able to stay, if not for ever, for a long while at least.  We’ve received our residency visas today; we just have to do a visa run to Oman for it to become official. And then, at least on paper, we will be residents. 

Noun: A person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis.
Adjective: Living somewhere on a long-term basis.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hanging around – reflecting

Days turn to weeks and weeks turn into months, but very slowly with the odd bump and hick-up things are beginning to come together.  We finally found a villa, the children have been accepted into Repton and the puppies will be arriving on Friday.  We have been staying in the Tamani hotel in the Dubai Marina now for about three weeks (and counting.)  We keep on extending our stay due to these little speed bumps:  When we finally managed to get the company cheque for the villa – this took some serious time-sharing, sleight-of-hand work and I’m sure small amounts of time travel and large amounts of quantum physics on Tinus’ part - as he was in Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and other places for most of the week – the villa turned out to be dirty and without water and electricity.  

I am at the villa now, waiting for the DEWA (Dept of Electricity and Water Affairs) connection to be connected and the cleaning crew to arrive.    The children didn’t start school this morning – bureaucracy.  (bureau-crazy) The school won’t let them start without paying the full first term’s fees, and no normal person has at anytime a spare R120 000 ++ in their bank account they can quickly spent at short notice.  The company is in something they refer to as a pay cycle – I see one of those old bicycles with the Biiiig front wheel and little one at the back – and because of this they can only pay the school (or us) next week!  Another week of hanging around.

Pool deck at the Tamani - life is tough :D

As we ‘speak’ Tinus is probably glowing in the dark.  He is having a PET scan done  - I said PEC scan before, it’s PET (Positron Emission Tomography).  It is like a super-dooper-ultra CAT scan where they check every part of his body for cancer cells.  Before a PET scan, the patient receives an intravenous injection of radioactive glucose. Many cancer cells are highly metabolic and rapidly synthesize the radioactive glucose. Information regarding the location of abnormal levels of radioactive glucose obtained from the whole-body PET scan helps physicians effectively pinpoint the source of cancer and detect whether cancer is isolated to one specific area or has spread to other organs…. What this means in English is that cancer cells like sweet stuff and they will suck up the glucose – and because the glucose is radioactive, the scan can see it.  He has done really well with the first session of chemo, as I said before, nothing more than nausea and tiredness.  I am so relieved and hope that the rest will be as easy if not better. 

It has been an hour and a half, I think I’m going to go and do stove shopping.  This is a very big decision – most of you know about the joke of the photographer who were invited to dinner, the hostess remarking that he takes such lovely photos, he must have a very good camera, to which he replied she cooked such a lovely dinner – she must have some really good pots.  Most photographers like to think that they took such lovely photos because they’re really good – not their cameras.  But let me tell you – having a good camera helps – A LOT. This, I must admit, from not-one-of-the-best-photographers in the world.  Maybe the seriously good ones don’t need a good camera :)

I took this photo from our kitchen - almost lost my keys in the process

Most of you also know that I’m a rather pathetic cook.  So I recon I’m going to need all the help I can get, if you have any suggestions about the type of stove I should be getting – let me know.  If possible brand name and serial number.  One of Tinus’ colleagues recently told me she bought a new stove and has gotten an eight thousand Rands discount on it – and I’m wondering what does it costs if the discount is more than what I’ve ever considered paying for one?  But then again, I’ve never been serious about stove shopping before.  Whish me luck.   

Friday, September 16, 2011

Your route has been calculated

Driving in the “new” Dubai is at best a bit like playing “Fast and Furious,” at worst a techno nightmare on speed. I think I’ve read somewhere that the roads in the UAE are the most dangerous in the world. Sheikh Zayeh highway is a ferocious speed way that shoots through the city in eight or sometimes nine lanes (one-way, thus sixteen to eighteen both ways.) The highway that’s never quiet runs through the city that never sleeps with overhead electronic sign boards that regulate the speed limit. The speed limit changes depending on the amount of traffic on it.

When we arrived here the first time we realized we’ll need some help ‘from above’ if we are to survive here – and so we downloaded updated Dubai roadmaps for my trusted Nokia navigator’s GPS.  Only one problem : isn’t there always?  The maps were last updated – it seems - in 2008, so quite often we found ourselves as a little red pointy arrow in the middle of the great yellow expanse, which in 2008 was still desert.  Highways have morphed into super highways and suburban communities have mushroomed in places which are nothing but empty desert on our GPS’ maps. 

For a while I would always return to the hotel from dropping Tinus off at the office by driving through the Dubai Marina Mall’s Parking area; “follow the green exit signs, two levels up, first right, second left, first right.”  My road to the office would normally follow a road out into the desert, then a u-turn close to a lovely palace - which I never would’ve seen if not for Gertrude – our GPS’ female operator – to get back to Sheikh Zayed road, which I crossed “bearing left.” 
One day on the way back to the hotel on the Emirates highway Gertrude said: “in 250 meters, at the roundabout, take the sixth exit.”  I need glasses to see close-up but I still have good eyesight for far-away things, and I can see quite far – but there was no roundabout anywhere in sight, 250m or otherwise.  We kept going.

And it was this, I think, that finally led to Gertrude’s breakdown.  If you have a GPS you’ll know what I mean when I say you can hear the slight hysteria in the electronic voice at the third “turn around now.”  Heedless we carried on, travelling on the Emirates highway, while Gertrude stayed silent, sulking somewhere on an electronic couch, probably eating a large box of electronic chocolates.  But she had the last say:  I can almost see her flinging the box of chocolates on the floor, getting up and stomping off to the console from where she speaks to us, grabbling the microphone and announcing: “AN ERROR HAS OCCURRED, YOU CAN NO LONGER REACH YOUR DESTINATION” with a definite ‘so-there’ in her voice.

A few days later, when we once again ended up somewhere we never planned to go, Tinus said he thinks it’s almost unfair to have a female voice on the GPS when the mapping is so “not fully coded.”  So we have employed “James.”  We are beginning to get to know our own way about more and more and we rely less on James than we did on Gertrude.  I miss Gertrude, but I think she needs the time off. 

Our route ahead seems to be calculated.  Tinus has received his residency visa, we have found a nice villa, and are now waiting for Tinus’ boss to get back from Europe to sign his application for a cheque for the money to pay for the first year’s lease.  We are waiting to hear from the school and we are in the process of applying for my visa, well, we first need to get our marriage certificate authenticated by the high court in South Africa, and we are busy applying for the pets’ import permits.  The worst day so far, post chemo for Tinus was Tuesday.  I have for the first time in two months been back to fairyland – my favourite facebook app – and got a really weird, yet surprisingly effective cure for Tinus’ post chemo symptoms - thank you Wendy and Safonia – Jelly Beans!!    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Education in Frustration in Education

Why oh why did I ever decide to let the kids go back to mainstream education, or decide to home-school them in the first place?  If I didn't, I never would've known how great it is and how greatly main stream education pale in comparison.  We did all the right things - but it just doesn't want to work!!  The reason why we took the great leap to come with Tinus before he had his residential visa was to get the children settled into school by the time school starts in September.  The school started today, and the kids are not in school.

Why - you ask?  "Een bliksemse god-almagtige man," to quote Dalene Matthee.* from Fiela's child We started eliminating from a long list of potential schools in May, when we came out here for the first time.  The children were accepted at all the schools we've applied at and we chose the school we did, for many reasons.  Unfortunately the school we chose was the only school who wanted to have a pre-admissions interview with us.  On request they informed us they wanted to see us because the children were home-schooled for two years.  Due to Eid the interview was postponed to just three days before the school started.  

In the mean time we had to decline the other seat offers and on Saturday we met with the school's principal and a person called Willem - a psychologist - who seem to have completed his education in a cave somewhere in the eighteenth century, because he was not even anti-home-schooling, just completely clueless about it.  The interview was set up to inform us that they would like a complete psycho-ed report on both children.  Could they not tell us this over email, like a month ago??!

Still hopeful we go to see the educational psychologist.  She requests an interview with us, we schedule the interview and arrive – still hopeful.  She asks us why we want the psycho-ed report, we tell her the school requires this, she tells is this will cost FIVE …THOUSAND… FIVE …HUNDRED …DIRHAM… PER… CHILD, and charges us Dhs750-00 for this session.  I kid you not – that was it – around one and a half thousand rand for twenty minutes - Tinus took some time filling in a form asking things like his name, his employer, nationality and phone number and address.

We cannot afford this right now, even if we could (pay R22 000.00 for two tests which cost R3 000.00 in South Africa) I think out of principle one shouldn’t.  The children are not on Tinus’ medical scheme here yet and we simply do not have the cash to do this now.  And here we are – back to square one, after two months of arrangements and organization, of flying to and fro, having the children write hours upon hours of admission exams – all the planning, dreaming – even the house hunting, for nothing.

Quick revise – applied to the one school we left off our list because of its location – on the other side of Dubai, where, when we were here eight years ago, there was nothing – unfamiliar territory.  Quick phone call – they have space, if the kids pass the assessment exams (Dhs 1500-00 per paper per child – ka-ching) the kids are in! Tests scheduled for next week Tuesday – hold thumbs.  We are now going to wait until we know the children are definitely accepted before we start house hunting – Mirdif- Al Warca area. 

On the medical and visa front:  Tinus’ visa medical is scheduled for Thursday (tomorrow) and he’s starting the chemo on Sunday/Monday.  I’m not sure when exactly because his work schedule is quite busy and he needed to get a PEC (??) scan before the chemo, but this couldn’t happen because there is only one of these Pec-scan machines in Dubai and he’s got stuff scheduled.  (Lack of details due to sleeping subject.)   I wish we could’ve had the schooling sorted out; I would really like to focus on Tinus and help him through this.  It would seem though that the worse of the chemo side effects are expected only a week after the actual administration.  Hopefully we’ll have the kids settled in school by then - Insh’Allah.   

* Daleen Matthee is a South Africa Author who is best known for her four "Forest books" set against the backdrop of the beautiful Knysna Forest: Circles in a ForestFiela's ChildThe Mulberry Forest and Dreamforest.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hope in Fields of Flowers

About three years ago, I sat under a tree and heard someone say “Hopefield,” and decided that that is the place where I’m going to live.  We were running the rat race.  Tinus is an Air Traffic Controller and at point I was a teacher, (who cared - oink oink) in a collapsing education system.  I was recuperating after having been hospitalized for stomach ulcers, at my folks’ house here in Saldanha - my sanctuary – coming to terms with the fact that I am indeed mortal.

The West Coast of South Africa is a harsh and arid landscape with a peculiar hidden beauty.  The people who live here are a unique breed who can survive in this strange dry land, which rewards its devotees with a paradise-like winter landscape of brilliant green and gold - fields of corn and cranola.  And then after winter comes the flowers.   People from all over the world come here during August and September, to experience the mind blowing vistas of painted hills.  Flowers as far as the eye can see.  But the true beauty only becomes visible once you stop and get down on your knees as if in prayer. 

My dad drove me through the little village, I saw my little house on the hill, and bought it.  My time in Hopefield gave me so much, taught me so much.  For the first time in my life, I owned power tools - no, no, owned AND used - power tools.  Hooo-raaaahhh!! I built, I fixed, I grew.  I met an array of beautiful people with great hearts, open minds and helpful hands.  I find it impossible to believe that in one village so many people with a similar mindset came together, and that I was fortunate enough to be there as well.  Strangely enough we were all “inkommers.”  A word used by the local people to describe people coming in from outside, we came, we saw and we stayed.

And then we left.  We leave quite a lot, both Tinus and myself are nomads.  In our, soon to be twenty one years of marriage, we have never stayed in one place for more than three years.  Hopefield was the most difficult place I ever left.  Two months ago, I cried bitterly, as I stood on the Veranda at the Merry Widow with Ilze and Lizana, not wanting to let go.  Then the whirl winds came and tossed us around, and when we came down, our friends here in Hopefield caught us, and held us tight.

I now know why I cried so the last time we left – I thought that we were at the end of our friendship, that we will never be able to return to what we had.  And now, as I sit here on the floor between my suitcases, ready to leave for the airport, my heart is light, I know it will always be as it is.  I am fond of saying one can never go back, but you know what, you can, I did, and now that I know one can go back, I am ready to go.  



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Great Expectations

Yesterday on the way to Cape Town, to drop Tinus off at the airport to return to Dubai, I was struck once again by the incredible beauty of this valley of ours.  Flowers everywhere; No one planted them, or watered them, there was no one to plan the layout or to prepare the soil.  Yet we have the joy of miles and miles of fields of flowers.    Every year is different and you never know what to expect. 

Our conversation in the car circled around the flowers, the mysterious beauty of Table Mountain, the lovely time we had here, how lovely it was to see everyone again so soon, the weather, what type of aero planes operate in and out of the airport close to Atlantis and anything and everything, but our future.  Both of us are apprehensive – to say the least - about the future.  Our family and friends are all very excited and happy for us that “things are now getting back on track.”  Neither of us feels that way yet.  Having been swept through this valley of dread – even though we came out on the other side so well, knowing we are blessed - we are worried that, should we hit another obstacle, (I feel like saying, should we be hit by another obstacle) we may not have the energy to overcome it.

Tinus is fond of saying that the only way to ensure that you are not disappointed, is to have no expectations, you have to try and live your life without expectations; so that when things go right, it is a nice surprise and when it goes wrong you are not disappointed.  This sounds cool and calm and collected, so strong and wise that it makes me feel like such a weakling. Because I have expectations. 

Those of you who know us, know that he is the planner and I am the dreamer.  I do what I do because I want to, until I don’t want to anymore.  He does what he does, because it is part of a plan with a predicted outcome, with scheduled change management calculated in as part of the many variables all accounted for.  He is great with finances and went on to do a degree in it and I cried while doing accounting homework for the few years it was a compulsory subject at school.  I’m still not sure if a creditor owes you money, or you him. 

What I do know is that if you invest money in something, you EXPECT a return.  You put money into some fund – I always imagine a man with stripy pants and a really big bag - because you expect Stripy Pants to give you your money back at some point.  But you also expect him to give you more money than what you put in.  I don’t know what happens in the bag, that is why I don’t have a degree in money management.  But if I were money minded enough to be let loose on the stock exchange (can you imagine that) I would not invest money in something I have no expectations of getting more money out of than what I’d put in, right? 

So I have expectations, now finally, after thinking about it, without feeling stupid.  I am going to expect everything to go well from now on.  Happily Tinus arrived in Dubai this morning just after 4am South African time, 6am UAE time, and he had a good flight.  On Friday we are starting our journey and I am looking forward to it!  Oh yes, I have great expectations.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Magic Bread and Dreams

On Saturday we went to Eugenie’s house warming.  We’ve been meaning to have a house warming for the past two and a half years, but there was always something:  As soon as we are done with the stoep, (that’s what we call a veranda here in Africa) … as soon as we’re done with the pantry …. as soon as we are done with the new bathroom … we need to get the ceilings done.  And so the months crept past…It is so nice to see what she’s done with the house.  Skye’s reply to Ulrich, when he asked her what the house looked like, was a breathless: “It’s so beautiful.”  Strangely enough, I looked at this pretty little house, standing on its own little hill framed by the Milky Way, and there was no connection.  I have moved on.

When we arrived the fires were already burning.  The traditional South African barbeque (braai) is something to appreciate.  In this particular case two deboned legs of game (Springbok) were the main features on the menu.  One was marinated in buttermilk and the other in red wine.  There were some artfully done salads, chocolate brownies for desert and a selection of wines, cheeses and bread.

I am a vegetarian and so I naturally gave the meats a wide berth and took myself some bread.  The bread was brown, like earth after rain, cut in chunky slices.  As I was looking at the cheeses trying to decide which ones to try, I bit into the bread.  The slightly sourness sparkled on my tongue and caused a tiny fireworks display of happy hormones to be triggered somewhere on the inside of my head.  If anyone did see my expression at that point I’m sure they’d have though I had too much wine.  I must’ve looked dazed at least.  I realized that this is not the kind of bread you can eat standing up and I went to sit down under the stars a little apart from the crowd, with my single slice of bread on a plate.

The next bite was part crust.  The crust was the perfect balance of crunchy and chewy.  Like tasty gift wrap around the perfect gift.  It spoke to my Pagan Soul.   “From the sun to the Earth, from the Earth to the grain, from the grain to us, Great Mother, we thank you for this blessing.  I could taste the sun and the wind and the wisdom of the Earth which grew this perfect grain in dark secrecy. 

At this point Mathe and Hans arrived.  They are both German, and both of them have beautiful stories of their own, which I might tell you later.  They came over and sat down next to me and Mathe turned this slice of bread into a story.  Mathe and I got to know each other better, sadly, only a short while ago, when she asked me to teach her to speak Afrikaans.  She already speaks four languages fluently. We exchanged the normal pleasantries, chatted over this and that and at some point Hans left with one of their twin girls.  Mathe reached over and broke a piece off the slice of bread on my plate ate it and said:  “You know I baked this bread?”  In her lovely gently rolling German accented English.  “It takes twenty-four hours to make.”  It made perfect sense, nothing less for something this perfect.  “I love working with dough, the feel of it in my hands,” she said and continued:  “All it is, is flour and water and salt. And also the yeast, it is natural sour dough, I make it over several days and I have to feed it regularly. Working with dough like this, is like magic.”

 She told me she wants to build a wood burning oven, at the moment she “does all kinds of things” with her oven to make the bread taste like it’s done in a wood burning oven.  “That is my dream, “she said, “to have my own little artisan bakery.  You gave it to me, you know.  We sat here on your stoep, and you told me, I have to have a dream.”   

I smiled as I remembered:  I told her of a Bushman (Khoi-San) I met many many years ago, who when I asked him how old he was, said he didn’t know; Numbers were not important to him.  He said he is as old as his greatest achievement and as young as his fondest dream.   And there under the stars, sharing magic bread with a beautiful soul who has a dream, I thought it’s time for me to get myself a new dream.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Unbearable lightness of being

Warning – this is too bloody depressing to read, but I had to write it.  There is no pain, no tears, just this big quiet slow motion explosion in my head.

One particularly cold and dark morning we’ve decided to head away from the river for our early morning walk.  There were ice on the grass and the two previous icy mornings my socks were soaked and my toes frozen when we returned – my boots clearly need some Dubbin. We found a path leading off into the remnants of a forest.  We walked in silence as the rays of the new day’s sun sparkled off the still closed wild flowers around us.  I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I saw graves in the misty tendrils of the morning. Forgotten graves make me sad.  They make beautiful photos but the gravestones are markers for a life once lead, someone once loved – but now, no longer remembered.  The graves were overgrown with wildflowers.  I remember thinking that no florist’s bouquet can come close to this, and that if I had to choose how my forgotten grave would look, it would be like this, hidden among the wild reeds and covered in wild flowers.

The wonder turned to confusion when, as I walked amongst the graves, looking at the names and dates, I realized that the graves are not old.  The dates are fairly recent; 1990s and the family names I saw are of families still prominent in town today.  Later that same morning Lizana came around and I asked her if she knows about the “forgotten” graveyard.  She did, and asked me if I noticed that they are busy cleaning it up.  It is one of the many things the community forum has taken on as a task. 

The community forum is one of Lizana and Ulrich’s many “brain children,” conceived on the thinking chairs.  They have started the community forum and opened it to every person in Hopefield.  The only prerequisite was that you had to come in a positive spirit.  The aim of the forum is to take responsibility for our town - I say our, because this is my Hopefield too.  In South Africa we have municipalities which are responsible for more than one town or city.  This unfortunately allows little towns like Hopefield to disappear amongst the cracks. 

At the first meeting of the Community Forum the whole evening was spent giving everyone a chance to name things they think can be changed for the better.  Lizana listed each and every issue on a whiteboard.  These were then organized into groups and “task forces” were formed.  And now things are happening.  The shift in the energy around Hopefield is obvious and change is sweeping through our village like a happy hurricane, leaving smiling people and splashes of colour all over the sandveld.  The embodiment of being the change you want to see.  This started literally as we were about to leave.  I think the first community forum meeting was held the day after Tinus and I flew to Dubai the first time in May.  Would I have been part of this if we were still here?  It seems obvious that I would, but in that dark place in my mind, where I’m too scared to go, I wonder. 

The last month’s rates and taxes accounts just arrived.  On it is a newly added monthly charge of R200.00 for having a prepaid electricity box installed in your house.  A number of years ago, the government encouraged everyone to have one of these installed – free of charge (I think,) I bought the house with it already installed.  It works exactly like pre-paid airtime, which I don’t have, because I know I will run out of airtime in the middle of the Kalahari while being attacked by a monstrous snake after my car broke down.  It happens with my electricity - normally on a Sunday afternoon, once when I’ve had a cake in the oven for about ten minutes.  This is hugely uncomfortable for me, but I would have to pay R1700.00 if I want to have the box removed.  Now if you decide not to pay your rates and taxes account, every time you go to buy pre-paid electricity, half of the money you tender to buy electricity will be used to cover your outstanding rates and taxes bill.  Incidentally at the moment we cannot speak to anyone to complain or learn more about this charge – all the municipal workers are on strike. 

The other night we had one of those intense wine-infused discussions over the boxes.  No, that’s not true, it wasn't really the boxes, it was about everything of which the boxes were just something you could point to on a bill.  Things like Community Police Forum meetings closed to the community, the helpless frustration of a young reporter intimidated by Johanna-Ma-Baker-Stoffels and her Head-of-Hopefield-Police-henchman, someone saying someone said all whites in the country should take a pay cut in goodwill, being taxed for being successful and then not being allowed to have a say in what is done with your tax money.   Of unions forcing people to go on strike, and giving them nothing in return.  Forty percent unemployment in a country, where the things that should be done are not done because there are not enough people employed to do it. 

The story of the chicken and the pig looking at the farmer having breakfast:  The chicken saying: “It feels good to know that I’m contributing to the farmer’s happiness.”  The pig saying: “It’s all good and well for you to say, you’re only making a contribution … I have to get involved.”

In the story of my life I am the pig.  I do not have the capacity to contribute without getting involved.  And so I don’t, I am flippant, uncaring –deliberately so.  As the wine and words were flowing around me I cast myself in the role of the uncaring rich bitch while in the dark depths of my mind I remembered the pain of a family whose son was murdered on a farm, unsolved, a friend raped on her way to meeting me, unsolved, two pensioners robbed of everything they owned and the insurance company refusing to compensate them, of young conscripted men maimed for being involved in a war on behalf of a government for which they were too young to vote for.  I remembered warm tears as I held a little dying boy, who was born with AIDS. I remembered the look of defeat in the eyes of the father of a friend whose family farm was repossessed.  I thought of our country and her people and their potential, of us humans and our potential, and how close we are to loosing that, of spinning out of control, of becoming empty, and I wanted to scream in rage and desperation.  “… en binne my is twee, die een is gek, die ander ek, dit is hy wat kerm en gil … maar ek is bang en stil…   And I remembered Roza saying: “We all live lives of quiet desperation.”

In my fourty four years I have hurt too much, lost too much of myself by getting involved in fights I didn’t start.  In one of these passionate arguments one has when one is young, Tinus once said he finds it impossible to deal with my ‘lightness of being.’  There are many things my dear husband says which I just don’t understand.  For as long as I were able to make New Year’s resolutions in the thirty years before I smoked, my New Year’s resolution was always just this:  to lighten up.  I take life and myself too seriously.  Life is heavy, maybe that is why, in self defense, I live light.  In Shantaram the author wrote: “… all smokers have one thing in common, they want to die almost as much as they want to live.”  On my packet of cigarettes is a message printed in large friendly blue letters: “SMOKING CAN KILL YOU” - not a promise, just a possibility, not ‘will’ kill you, but ‘can’ kill you.  In that dark place in my mind I wonder if I should be diagnosed with cancer, would I have it removed?  Once life heaped upon life didn’t seem enough, but someone killed the fire, dreams all end in tears and I live life light.

A foolish word, bygone?
How so then, gone?
Gone to sheer nothing,
Past with null made one.
What matters creative endless toil,
when at a snatch oblivion ends the coil?
It is bygone – how shall this riddle be run?
As good as if things never had begun.
Yet circle back, existence to possess:
I’d rather have Eternal Emptiness.


Postscript:  Deep big apologies, I know we all get there, here where I am now, and then we move on.  I promise, tomorrow I will be better, the sun will rise as it does every day, I will get up and life will go on, here in fields of hope among the wildflowers.