Category Archives: Anecdotal

stories from the field

Field Notes: Massingir PNL

In ethnographic study one of the main challenges is for the researcher to deal with his or her bias. From metanarratives to small daily events, one has to recognise and reflect on issues that can inform one’s observation and analysis. When someone says that bad behaviour occurs because people were messed up mentally through slavery, I immediately have to recognise that the irritation I feel is really a fear of guilt and a protest in what I deem to be reasonable resistance against cheap excuses. When I don’t sleep more than two hours at a time for three night running due to rats eating our stuff, I have to recognise that my view on the Park and it’s management will be influenced.

Below follows me dumping my observations and some emotions, it is not refined, it does not reflect my well considered opinion or stance, it is just a dump of things I see and things I’m tempted to think. I think I will start my reflections on lighter issues and get progressively deeper, so herewith a few observations:

Anecdote 1: One of the PNL workers, the person doing receipts and bookings asked me to give him boerewors when I passed through before my wedding. I obliged and gave him Woolies Grabouw worth R100. I left it for him. He never sent me a message or email to thank me. I then got a message from Doc saying the guy liked the boerewors and wants more. What Doc didn’t tell me is he said he wanted R200 worth and will pay me. Nevertheless, in Phalabhorwa I made effort to go to a good butchery and I bought the guy a small pack of boerewors. When we were seated at a restaurant on Sunday evening, he showed up and before greeting and chit chatting immediately asked where his wors were. When we gave him the wors he loudly threw a tantrum going on that it is too small and an insult. He wanted to pay, and this small ‘gift’ looks like a bribe he said. He wouldn’t take it, a gift offered freely and which took effort to bring from South Africa. In which culture would such behaviour be polite? No thank-you, no grace, no calm explanation. For someone with a small admin job his ego is out of control. His admin by the way is also shocking and unprofessional. Imagine this guy had a big job or leadership position… That by the way also happens more regularly than not. I asked his colleague why this guy has not been fired, to which he replied ‘witchcraft (drogas) is real’.

Anecdote 2: The manager of community affairs gave me a speech about communication, by which she really means reporting for the sake of control and showing off. Everyone wants to look good with their bosses. I pushed back on the issue emphasising the youths needs freedom to ensure ownership, she didn’t budge but danced around with words. Yet, when she and her colleague took our leader and leather products to an event in Zimbabwe, they did not bother to inform Doc or I; neither before nor after the event. Surely communication is a two-way street? If it aint, it’s called reporting.

Anecdote 3: Doc played in a top4 football final. He was a stand-out player doing well. Because he passed the ball on the floor (which is good) and did not just kick it forward in the air (like the majority of players on the field) the spectators commented that the ‘ball is too heavy for Doc’ and that the spirits surrounded him so that his team mates won’t understand his intentions. Before the game, as is common here, the coach wanted to give Doc salt to put in his socks for ‘protection’ for neutralising the ‘magic’ muti the other team put against them. I was not shocked at all, this is normative.

Anecdote 4: This area has a massive poaching problem. Killing a big rhino bull and selling it’s horn gets a group about R5m from the Chinese who want their own horns enhanced. The discrepancy in cash is staggering. The army and police are severely under-resourced, getting R2k salary a month you have to fight and risk against poachers who are themselves armed… The police end up asking transport from the poachers they are supposed to catch, like the grey Toyota double cab this morning. The policeman climbed out and asked me ‘onde esta minha coisa’ where is my thing, meaning, buy me a gift. A begging culture created by a sense of poverty. There can be no poverty without wealth and here the wealth is introduced by Chinese people who want rhino-horn. With each cash injection the community gets poorer, the good guys get poorer and the appeal of education, hard work and patience lose its value. The money is literally killing the community. The poachers get shot and the ones that get away kills the life and integrity of their villages. Crime cash can never bring true wealth; but it can buy cars and beer.

Anecdote 5: Speaking to the adult group of football players involved in the leather project, we spoke for more than an hour about the challenges of making a table. 15 minutes was used to discuss and conclude that the table would definitely be stolen, so it was not worth it. Government gave solar lights and a water pump and someone stole it. The whole town knows who did it, but nobody says anything. Now people walk 3 km to fetch water, because of one selfish stupid who stole the town’s pump. At night it is dark. Nobody replaced the lights or pump, the stolen vandalised installations stand there as monuments; of a thief and a communal culture that wont take charge of their communal good. Fear, hierarchy (chiefs) and witchcraft inform a culture that seeks non-confrontation over all else.

Anecdote 6: The main section of the table discussion centred around the notion that if it was build and left on the veranda, people would shit on it. Initially I smiled and thought it was a joke or metaphor, but each individual went on to confirm that a human being would actually climb on it and shit on it; it happens. Perhaps kids? No, adults. In the end the conclusion was that a cement table had to be built and it needed to belong to one person, a respected (feared) poacher. If government builds it or if it belongs to the community, shitting and theft is fair play. But if it belongs to an individual people will be too scared to touch it. Talk about tragedy of the commons.

Anecdote 7: Next up: water was needed for a building project. At first the young men simply said it was to far to carry. Even with the user-friendly hippo roller drum. Then the road was to bad for the drum to roll. Fetching water was impossible. Eventually, the point was made: we can’t fetch the water, it is the women’s job. Not that they were embarrassed or lazy, the women would be angry. So then surely one should ask them to carry the water for the building? Nope, they could never do that to them and burden them with such extra tasks… What to make of this? Perhaps the importance of repetitive ingrained culture and rhythms that provide a sense of security and order. If one aspect of daily culture could be contravened, what is to say all order would not be eroded. Maintaining the status quo is more attractive than disruptive pioneering. Kind of obvious who will stay behind in a globally competitive economy.

Anecdote 8: Kids here hear the word voetsek more than any other words. Nobody is friendly with the kids, nobody playes with them or asks them how they are, never mind asking them their opinion. The adults are embarrassed by the dirty little kids, perhaps they mirror the poverty in an embarrassingly real way. The go to job for villagers is seasonal orange picking in Tzaneen. Bottom of the food chain; unless you take out a rhino or elephant. There are no girls sports, no boys training football in the afternoon. The majority of the towns are unemployed and no one is taking time to occupy and develop the kids. Why? Yet the ‘cool’ men sit and drink every day. On a Monday morning, on a Sunday afternoon. Drinking and playing gambling games… Talking about what? Gossiping, talking badly about others literally takes half the time. Complex analysis of why this one or that one’s behaviour is out of order and wrong. Explaining why another person is actually bad or unfair. I know everyone gossips, but when gossips become the reinforcement of fear and paralysis it becomes something different than when two successful people gossip about each other.

Anecdote 9: The brightest young girl we took to SA last year now left school. Ten guesses why? A boyfriend. We know her father and I wondered why he would allow that? Not in the name of love, the guy that took (grab) her owns a small tuckshop in the village, which allowed him to buy a small car. A car worth $500 and a tuckshop made of mud, is all that was need to take the best and most promising young girl. She was not taken to be the wife, but the girlfriend, who would become the second wife. Shock and horror? Not so much, for her dad owns a small car and transport business, bringing supplies from South Africa. His house is the size of a South African RDP. This wealth allowed him to have three wives. So the promising young girl already has a father who is husband to three. Before the enlightened academics in fancy universities give me a speech about respecting all cultures and the traditional right and beauty of polygamy, I would just like to know, here in this village, how does it impact on this girl, her development and her future? The same happened again and again in Manica, the more a project developed a young female leader, the more attractive she became for a local man to make her pregnant (typical) or take her as a wife (best case). Should one invest in girls in such a culture? How should one confront the men? Can it change? Will it change? What I learn is that making comparisons of wealth between cultures and countries or races is a disingenuous and erroneous game played by elites for political sympathy in the public domain. If one really cared about equality and human rights, leaders should have been breaking their heads trying to crack the real issues of jealousy, witchcraft, fear and patriarchy.

Anecdote 10: A community and park leader told me he is tired of drinking. Too much 2M does not help. He will not give his life to beer. He would rather give his life for women. You must just not get caught by your wife. At least by ‘playing’ with girls, one day when you die and God asks you why, you can say to him that he made you for this, he gave you a penis and desires to do these things. But if you drank your life away, you would have no answer to God, because God made alcohol for us just to take a bit so we can deal better with life’s challenges. Again, fun for the man, where does it leave our sisters and mothers? Or are they okay with the gifts of clothes, one litre liquid-fruit or little material ‘thank you’ gifts?

Anecdote 11: Where I sit and type, I have small pleasures: little birds chirping and making the odd appearance, a fish eagle instead of a rooster greeting us in the mornings and sitting around a fire at night. Small instances of solace in nature. I never thought such small simplicities could be life-lines for my mental sanity. They are not ‘nice to have’s’ but necessities.

Of Vice and Virtue

We all have things that get under our skin. One of my pet hates are seeing disadvantaged youths posting pictures of booze on Facebook. Wasting money on alcohol when you don’t have a book in your home is a symbol of much that is wrong with South Africa. I also dislike smoking more than the average person. A filthy habit wasting cash, killing lungs and polluting the environment. These are my own personal weird dislikes and provides the ironic context of what is to follow.

Dislikes aside however, I really like and believe in people. I try to grow in character and sincerity. Integrity is a journey and we can improve, we can become. Men are not born upright, we become upright through consistent and repeated choice. Having been raised in a good home and earning a decent salary I believe in sharing. I believe in giving, free money without strings attached. Last night for example  I was at a Laureus quiz and my group won, being given a R500 Totalsports voucher. I would certainly have liked to pick out something nice in Totalsports, or even buy something for my fiancé. But I knew there were people in the room from very challenging backgrounds, people who couldn’t win the quiz, because general knowledge is part of privilege, not of merit or intelligence. I knew immediately I’d give away my voucher. I’ve figured such out and I gave away the voucher, through someone else, also from a township, so I was sure not to get the praise for being the hero.

I’m well trained at giving things away. What I struggle with a bit more is not to be the hero and to relinquish control. I’m still learning to give through others so that there are three beneficiaries involved in every gift. I mostly try to give through another person, not directly to the end recipient. In such a transaction I benefit, because I practice the discipline of secrecy and being behind the scenes, the middle man benefits from learning what its like to change lives, to be a leader making a difference and the beneficiary gets the material gift. The girl who got the Totalsports voucher lost her shack in a fire last week, so the Totalsports card will be a big deal for her. Her need materially allowed a cycle of humanity to be activated.

Now, giving clothes and vouchers to someone is a shack is a beautiful story, its cute and endearing.  In contrast to the gift of clothes, a friend asked me for my credit card in a fancy hotel, having expensive wine and whiskey with a bunch of strangers. Giving my creditcard to a friend who could buy booze while talking shit till 3 am is giving that does not naturally make me feel good. Why I did it was because I knew some of the kids around the table of celebrities could not afford drinks. Still, making the middle man the big man is something I am trying to practice and I instinctively recognised this as an opportunity to stretch my ‘giving power away’ muscles. Besides that the kids could not afford the whiskey and wine I did like my close friend being the hero, being the main man. Dignity can be expressed in many ways, but I never thought my ‘tithing’ would buy booze in a luxury hotel.

Mercedes Benz, during the same week allowed us to drive their AMG’s around a track. The trust they showed us by giving us these R1m cars and ‘playing’ with them was fantastic. Allowing a bunch of NGO practitioners to drive super luxury performance cars was one of the most developmental things I’ve seen. The execs at Mercedes might have seen it as publicity or marketing but magic was released through the combination of trust and dignity.

Reflecting back on these events, I realised that I was prepared by the Caltex petrol attendant that refused my offer of coffee one evening after church. I just drove from an evening service at ‘Third Place’ and while the car was filling up I went to buy coffee. It was raining and I assumed the Christian thing to do was to also offer the man helping me with refuelling with a coffee. He politely declined with a “NO thanks, Im ok with coffee, but Im running low on tobacco.” I was a bit surprised so I did what we should generally do as I asked him what he wanted? A short “Stuyvesant” settled the matter and I felt weird as I asked for cigarettes at the counter with another church member curiously glancing over to my side. Ten minutes after church I was buying ‘tobacco’ for someone according to what they wanted, not what I wanted to offer. The basics of charity and development are easy to grasp once we get it. To give cash without power is not natural however and we should keep on training. I had a hectic week with e few opportunities, with some leaving me more excited than others. All round a good week in my life-long attempt of reducing the amount of asshole in my character.

Afrikaner Leerwerk

Ek’t ‘n stelletjie gereedskap gekoop om met leerwerk as stokperdjie te begin. Vir diegene wat van dag tot dag met mense werk, sal dit nie verrassend wees om te hoor ek wil iets met my hande doen en ‘n eindproduk wat tasbaar is kan vashou aan die einde van die dag nie. Maar leerwerk is ook ‘n lekker metafoor. Die letters l, e, e en r langs mekaar geskryf is ‘n goeie voorbeeld van hoe dieselfde ding verskillende betekenisse kan hê, afhangend van konteks. In ons land word ‘n groot bohaai gemaak oor dekolonialisasie en ek hoef niemand te herinner dat, ten spyte van ons stryd met die Kakies, ons as Afrikaners die kolonialiste is in die storie van Suid Afrika nie. Nietemin, is ons verhouding met die souties gereeld vir my kosbare stof tot nadenke. Party Suid-Afrikaners dink dit is teenstrydig met swart bewussyn om goed te leer Engels praat. Ons Boere weet al te goed dat taal ‘n stuk gereedskap is en dat taal in mag vertaal. As jy nie ‘n domkop wil wees nie, moet jy leer. Die eerste keer toe ek ‘n Engelsman in ‘n groepie hoor sê iemand is ‘condescending’, toe kyk ek vir water en kondensasie! Net so lyk dit my party van ons, wanneer daar oor restitusie gepraat word, verwar die woorde ‘constitution’ met ‘constipation’ en alhoewel die twee soms verband hou in ons ervaringsvelde, beteken hulle iets heel verskillend.

Ek werk deesdae met leer en ek leer om te leer. My eerste iPhone sakkie lyk maar gehawend, maar ek is seker die derde of vierde pogings sal mooi genoeg wees om as geskenkies uit te deel.Ek moet leer reguit sny met ‘n skerp messie, sonder om oor die lyne te gaan. Soms sny ek waar ek nie bedoel het om te sny nie en soms maak ek ‘n groot gekrappige gemors waar ‘n kliniese lyntjie gesny of getrek moes word. Ek leer stik met die hand. Soms stik ek aan nuwe idees en woorde, veral gespreek van onder ‘n rooi kappie op ‘n kwaadkop. Met my nuwe stokperdjie leer ek om mooi goedjies te maak en om goedjies mooi te maak. Die byvoordeel is dat ek dinge skep wat ander dinge beskerm. En dit is dalk my voorbehoud in Suid Afrika in 2016; nie om weg te hardloop of terug te trek nie, maar om iets te skep deur kreatiewe toepassing sodat my pêrels nie êrens lê waar iets of iemand daarop kan trap nie. Met ‘n leeromhulseltjie kan ek steeds reis en op avonture gaan, want daar’s ‘n lagie dikvelligheid rondom dit wat vir my kosbaar is.

In my groeiproses en gespartel met Engels, moes ek uitpluis wat ‘homogenous’ en ‘impasse’ beteken en in my groeiproses en spartel met my land moes ek uitpluis dat ons deur die ‘impasse’ kan kom deur uit ons ‘homogenous’ groepies te beweeg in politiek, ekonomie, kerk en sosiaal. As mens leer natmaak, buig dit makliker en ek besef hoe ryk metafoor water is: water wat stort en water wat doop; waarin moet ek my onderdompel of deurdrenk om toe te laat dat ek ook gebuig en gevorm kan word, sonder om my krag te verloor? Ons ken van genadereën en ek besef ek moet toelaat of ooplaat, sodat ek deurdrenk kan word met ‘n naasteliefde wat ‘n baie wyer naaste insluit en innooi. 

eerste probeerslag
eerste probeerslag

Take Your Pick

We give things away because we need to,
we literally learn to give gifts
to strangers, with labels
to fix ourselves.
We do this as a process
until we are ready to be the gift.

I give and give and give
until I learn to be the gift.

This is not clever word play, it is the normal path.
Small kids are taught to share, we celebrate when they share food and toys.

Then we lose it, for pragmatic justifications of comfort and safety.
Life becomes small as we become big.

As a youngster I used to be very active in church life.
In my twenties I lived in a rural Mozambican village for six years.
I got a Masters in Development Studies.
I’m leading a large national non-profit.

Yet, I’m learning most, seeing most, from ordinary people around me
ordinary people being extra-ordinary generous.

I present four life giving, mind blowing examples:

Thulani, picked up a disabled abandoned baby in Umlazi, he and his wife took this baby under their care, despite living in a RDP house and having very little themselves.

My sister Sunelle and her husband, after having three amazing biological kids, Adopted a black baby called Joshua. They too are not wealthy. Much wealthier than Thulani, but on a tight budget and vulnerable compared to other Afrikaans families.

Thulani and Sunelle might be so good and courageous that we don’t associate with them, we
play games in our heads that call them special or gifted, unlike us…

My other sister Irma and her husband went on holiday in December and took a young white girl from their kid’s school with them. The girl, Leanne lives with a single mom, has never seen the ocean and never had a Christmas gift. She is very poor, by any standard, but enjoyed a fantastic December with our Van Heerden family, and she was a gift to us.

My friend Adri-Marie van Heerden, opened up their fancy family home in the bushveld, and not only invited Anathi (from Zandspruit Informal settlement), but allowed him to pick who goes away to the house for Easter weekend. Luckily I got invited. As I drove the open Toyota game viewer by myself, between wild animals, I felt privilege, free and lucky. So did Anathi. He told me that usually everything has to go right, and then after 30 years of work one might be able to enjoy such a weekend.

That is when I was reminded, not just of heroes like Thulani and Sunelle, but smart courageous
non-assholes like Irma and Adri-Marie who chose to realise a human hospitality that pulls ubuntu out of dictionaries, power-points and philosophy books and cleaned our eyes with it, wiped our faces fresh and folded around our hearts.

It is that easy.

So, take your pick.
Too scared to adopt an abandoned baby?
Take someone on holiday, your holiday.
give the kind of love that smells of respect and looks like dignity…

We have to give,
until we learn
how to be
the gift.

Sunelle's child
Sunelle’s child
At the beach in Port Alfred
At the beach in Port Alfred
near Thabazimbi at an Afrikaner holiday home...
near Thabazimbi at an Afrikaner holiday home…

 

Thulani's adopted baby
Thulani’s adopted baby
Thulani coaching a community female football team
Thulani coaching a community female football team

Grounded, Growing, Good.

I’ve decided to make public (*) that I am part of a Secret Order.

The point is not to make the Order known, nor to gather support.

Rather, I want to ask:
Do you have a commitment and space
that is unspectacular and regular
where you repeatedly make a statement to yourself
that you care?

We have to manage and train ourselves.

Auto-pilot inevitably leads to self-destruction.

I have to save myself from myself.

Grounded, Growing, Good…

* make public to the three readers who already know!  :-)

Regrettably Ironic Support

Round One; and a spectacular fail
A marriage of silence and doubt:
Delivered a tragedy of violence and regret.
A lack of discernment and wisdom
complacent and complicit
In a choice that should never have been chosen.

Round Two; on the brink of beauty
A unity of love and life:
Poised and pregnant with love and joy.
The very same lack of discernment and wisdom
resurfaces, in vain attempts to right the past
this time a noise that kills a choice
made in heaven and on earth.

You were silent when you should have spoken
Now you speak when you should be silent.
In a fleshly attempt to vindicate your care
you repeat, you perpetuate your failure.
In attempts to prevent self-projected disaster
you introduce it, through fear and guilt.

If there’s any love
if there’s any humility

Rest in God
and pray for grace
to see.

Too often
good intentions
lead to regrettable
ironic
disaster

Hit Me Baby One More Time

I’m at a loss for words. The normally self-entitled, ever-judging, critical me had to stand in awe as the ‘new’ South Africa slapped me in the face with something that felt like a hug. Life will surprise you if you put yourself in the right places. Sometimes, the right place is through sheer luck (providence) and sometimes it is through the dullness of duty.

I found my self in Umlazi for three days and my expectations were low. The third largest township in Mzansi, know for violent crime and extreme poverty. They say you enter Umlazi with a Citi Golf, you leave in a taxi. The rolling hills of RDP houses and informal footpaths characterise these KZN favelas. At least I was traveling with Doc the Pedi boy, so the Boertjie and the Pedi was in the Kingdom of Shaka…

Day One:

We went to visit Ayanda, a long time friend who touched my heart the night he slept in my flat. It was about four years ago and I remember he posted on Facebook that the highlight of his time was that he used the same towel as me. It was one of those moments, and epiphany where I remembered that nation building was easy and beautiful. Fixing all the problems is not easy, but taking a step in the right direction of reconciliation is. We parked our car and took the little path to Ayanda’s home. Ayanda used to be a large and imposing Zulu man. Today he is literally skinny and fading. It seems that talking drains his energy. Yet his small business of selling airtime, DSTV and RICA for sim cards is doing well and giving him purpose. His business did so well that he is also selling clothes; all from his tiny shack in the bottom of one of the valleys in Umlazi. While hanging out at the shack, I heard Ayanda and Doc talk about a murderer who is coaching kids. Ayanda was upset, but Doc seemed to want to chat with the person first. My take was that no murderer should be allowed near kids, this type of person gives SA a crime stat of 50 murders per day. He should be ostracised.

From Ayanda’s shack we went up to Inselele school where youngsters were about to start football practice. It started to rain, but the kids kept training, on a field with no grass. They had a flat football and an old fake basketball. My warm-up kicking was with the old basketball. Doc threw out two new Nike balls. The speed of the session picked up, the energy levels jumped two levels. We were playing in the rain. Was the rain washing us? After the session we huddled together in the usual small circle. The conversation was in isiZulu, so I understood only a few parts. After about 20 minutes I realised the guy to my left, standing in my arms, hugging me, was the murderer. By this time I had a bond with him, through jokes and small connections we were chommies. I looked at his young body, just a kid: a kid with nothing. My rage was gone, my hatred and contempt had disapeared. I looked around the circle at the other boys. Two had shoes one that didn’t match. Three had sneakers that were cheap from the start, but now gaping open, almost impossible to run with. One guy had decent shoes, but three sizes to small so he cut holes in the front and his big toes stuck out about two centimetres. Here we were, a circle of men and boys, talking in the rain. The chat, led by Doc, was about honouring the guy who was trying to fix his life, coaching kids, trying to ensure they don’t repeat his mistakes. All the boys chose yes, that this guy, should not be kicked out, but that his efforts should be honoured. I stood there bare. So much noise was stripped away and in a moment of clarity, all I saw was young human beings who needed shoes, a ball and friendship. I couldn’t resist the jump to think of all the wealthy people complaining from their lives of luxury, and how easy it would have been to get each kid a pair of boots, to visit and to connect. We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Day 2

I visited Thulani. He and his wife picked up a mentally handicapped baby. They are poor themselves, but they took in a throw away baby and started caring for it in one of the most courageous human acts I have seen in my life. The power and faith proclaimed by this act of unselfish humanity reminds us that ubuntu is not a debate, but a choice. They chose. I learnt that a lady from Unisa started to assist Thulani to buy food and care for the baby. A small modest amount, not even covering all the expenses. She was with me on the visit and when Thulani thanked her, she said: “no, my small donation is nothing, we thank you.” She then asked if the money she was sending is enough, and that she could increase. Thulani said no, that the money was enough, that they didn’t need more. I was slapped in the face again, at a loss for words. Is there anything as inspirational and beautiful as integrity and character?

From Thulani’s house we went to a run-down school where we were to meet two more friends: Sigwasa and Mfanafuthi who we spent a few days with in Shongweni last month. These two kids intrigued me in Shongweni, and blew me away in their home town of Umlazi. If someone deserves support in this country it is them. We arrived at the old run-down school, it was a Friday afternoon around 17:00 and the small hall was half full of local youths. They looked a bit different, each person showed something arty or unique, their was an air of art and culture in the room. As the youths arrived, some wrote their names on a piece of paper entitled ‘performance list’. The room became full and the youths started to recite poems, sing songs and perform whatever they wanted to share. The way the crowd listened was as inspiring as the items. I was touched by talent, sincerity, determination, hope and spirit; against all odds, these youths were killing it. We have to do something. I was left inspired. We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Day 3

The Unisa visitors arrived. We had a programme where successes were celebrated. Izak, an Afrikaner from RSG Radio was there and when he heard a young girl, Sipelele recite a poem about the struggles of womanhood, he phoned the SABC and we went live with the poem being recited to Afrikaners all across South Africa. As she finished here poem she was in tears. Another moment of vulnerability and bravery; unseen in the day to day comfort of middle-class suburbs. What can the ‘rich’ learn or receive from the ‘poor’? My three days in Umlazi unlocked new dimensions of answers to that question! These girls, expressing themselves through song and poetry reminded me to be brave, they reminded me that I am okay. Before colour and cash, we are human.

We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Here is a five minute sound clip by Izak from RSG, narration in Afrikaans but interviews in English:

20151020_MONITOR

This post reflects on the events in Umlazi where true depth confronted shallow superficiality. Cheap complaints were faced by courageous courage. The youngsters from Umlazi inspired me: they literally lifted me up and energised me. They renewed me more than any holiday ever could.

 

Ambivalence Anonymous

I write to stay sane. I write to recover. I write to discover.

The past two weeks saw my three greatest irritations and problems get solved, pretty much taking care of themselves. I know my top three problems and irritations by the amount of prayer time they usurp.

These three issues were not so serious or insurmountable, nor were they that threatening. They did cause me stress and admin though:
– Noisy neighbours weekly upsetting me with inconsiderate actions, representing the worst of what I associate with certain stereotypes.
– Two maxed out credit cards.
– A colleague I needed to fire, but didn’t want to give up on and threatening labour issues.
These may seem innocuous in the bigger world of serious problems, but they were three little foxes eating away at me on a personal level. What they had in common is that I could not resolve them by myself. I could exert pressure and hope that with enough time my fortunes change, but events outside my direct control brought the bother to me.

Then, just like that, in two weeks: my neighbours move out, SARS pays me a tax return exactly as big as my debt and the unruly staff member resigns. Boom. Bang. Problems gone. Out of the blue, the blues disappeared.

And then the weird anti-climax, the melancholic ambivalence, the what-now, the day after passing metric, the hour after getting your license, the dissatisfaction and the unchuffed tardiness set in.

It’s the weirdest thing, a complete lack of joy and celebration in a situation that is supposed to leave me exuberantly joyous and celebratory.

As I reflect on this weirdness of feeling, I can think of three explanations:
– Fear: I am scared that these familiar problems might be replaced by greater challenges…better
the devil you know.
– Guilt: A Calvinistic guilt and unease for receiving something I did not deserve or make
happen…grace can be a bitch.
– Sadness: A sense of loss when pity and frustration makes way for abdication and abnegation.

In stead of being happy, it is as if I am waiting for the replacements to enter the stage. How silly and sad it is? Sad, because I have been slapped by life so often it seems normative. Silly, if I start self-fulfilling the fears by looking for and creating the replacement issues. Like a fighter who will beat up people, until he inevitably meets his match that clobbers him well. One can argue people who like to fight with their fists are on a masochistic journey of cursed curiosity, in that every victory bring them closer to the proper defeat that inevitably awaits them.

I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be the guy who is ok to take a stress holiday, a break from irritation and difficulty. I want to be the guy that can learn from the rhythms of tolerance, patience and relief.

I want to be the guy who can smile at pressure and ridiculousness.

I want to be the guy with a smile that can be entertained without harbouring bitterness;
– The guy who can smile ironically without sarcasm.

anticipating

Strong chin
Stubborn shoulders
Smart feet
Quiet lips
Resilient heart
Purposeful hands
Far seeing eyes
Layered ears
Grateful thoughts

and

a clean conscience.

I still Miss Betty

When the head of the Deutsche Bank in South Africa heard he had to move to Singapore, he was left with a dilemma. What to do with his English Pointer, a well trained working dog that he took out every weekend to hunt with his falcon. People who love dogs know very well that you can’t leave your loved one with a stranger. So, when a mutual friend introduced us, the owner of Betty, told me that I have to meet him at 6 a.m. for five consecutive Saturdays to go walk with Betty so he could ascertain whether I was a worthy new caretaker. We went out every Saturday and Betty found a new home.

The first thing I did with Betty was to regularly go jogging. She was so obedient that I even went riding my mountain bike- with her on the leash, attached to my handle bars! That went well until the day she thought we should go past the lamp post on the left and I thought we should pass by the right side… it would have been funny if the fall wasn’t so painful! Needless to say, the bike riding became jogging again.

Betty was well trained to hunt with a falcon and I was always entertained when I threw a rock in the grass to see how she would freeze, focus and then change angles so that she investigates the sound approaching against up-wind. Betty, like many English Pointers showed the naturally elegant traits of a thoroughbred. Once a friend and I were sitting at a restaurant next to Chicamba dam with Betty laying next to us. A wild falcon was circling and to our amazement Miss Betty jumped up and started ‘working’ the field shadowed by the wild falcon. It was amazing to see the two of them working instinctively together. Betty was an interesting mix of a fearless worker and adventurer on the one hand and also a real domestic lady and comfort seeker on the other. Betty was such a little lady that we renamed her ‘Miss Betty’.

In 2002 when I moved to Mozambique, Betty came along. All papers in order we travelled the 2000km via Maputo in my red Stallion bakkie. We settled in a town called Manica. It was Miss Betty paradise. The scent of wild quail and guinea fowl would always be the triggers that make her genetic disposition explode with a shivering intensity. Above all this was a working dog. She could hold a point for 20 minutes with intense discipline. Being trained with a falcon, she was unfortunately a bit gun shy, and her fear of loud noises was most apparent during thunderstorms. During loud thunderstorms Miss Betty became a house dog.

Miss Betty was an extremely intelligent little Pointer. On a weekend visit to a Colonel’s house where she visited her three GSP friends she discovered a way to escape the confounds of the yard and explore the adjacent veld. None of the GSP’s ever found a way out, but Miss Betty started by working in the opposite direction of her exit point. She climbed into a tree, jumped onto a shed, walked onto the roof of the house, down onto a another wall and then jumped off the front wall. The Colonel and his family was in disbelief, 40 years with very smart dogs, but never have they seen such a manoeuvre!

In the town of Manica, Miss Betty learnt to ‘speak’ her third language. She was raised by the falconer in English, learnt Afrikaans from me and now had to learn all her commands in Portuguese. Wait… Wag… Espera… was followed by Eat it… Eet hom… Comer… She was so good that the local English teacher took her into the English 101 lecture and proved to the kids with various commands that Miss Betty understood more than 10 words in three languages! The same house that functioned as the English School was where she performed a few of her miracles. When a grass lawn was planted everybody had to walk on a specific path laid out with spaced concrete blocks. I started placing her Eukenuba on those blocks and reprimanded her if the diverted of the path. Reward for doing it right and stress for trying to take a short cut. Very soon Miss Betty would first finish the path route and then made a left turn to he destination, even without the food, she would show the kids not to take a short cut over the grass. She did this even when nobody was around and people would peek through the windows from inside the house to see this for themselves.

English Pointers love to run and Miss Betty loved to swim. Chasing geese in the dam was one of her most futile yet stubbornly persistent hobbies. She once kept going for two hours and I learnt that a swimming Pointer cannot catch a duck or goose on a dam. She would easily run 30km of dirt road and once ran so far that when she got home all the cushions of her paws were raw. For a few weeks she struggled to walk and we all felt very sorry for her as she tip toed around looking like a cat with sticky tape around her paws. I had an old farm motorbike and Betty with my command of ‘UP’ would give a mighty jump onto the bike seat and sit neatly on the seat between my legs, up straight with her front legs standing on the petrol tank. It was quite a scene for the local villagers to see the Afrikaner and his dog drive by like that.

In some areas Miss Betty was just a normal dog. She could bark at people at the gate, she loved to play with other dogs and even one minute after feeding could make you think she hasn’t had food for two months. After a bath, she somehow knew she could try to sneak into the house. She would stand next to me and softly place her chin on my leg. She sometimes stood like that for 15 minutes, and I loved it. The end goal of all her conniving and scheming was off course to sit on my lap. Once on the lap she would curl into a little bundle and act like an invisible little puppy, the oddity of her actual large body ignored in favour of a construct that would allow for prolonged state of lap sitting bliss.

For a while we saw that eggs went missing from our chicken coup and we suspected human thieves, since we never saw a broken shell in the coup. And here is where Miss Betty the egg thieve became famously infamous. Once we saw her open the gate, but once she saw that we saw she simply turned around and walked away. The breakthrough came when a group of five of us were sitting in the garden and I saw her circling towards the coup. In a calm voice I told my friends to keep talking and not turn their heads towards the chickens. We saw her walk in and take one egg in her mouth and she walked right past us, got onto the little path that became mandatory habit and went to lie down in her box. Later I went to check and found the unbroken egg under her blanket! We went to bed that night and in the morning I saw the shells in the box, a midnight treat while the humans were sleeping. Her box or bed was also the scene of another mystery: we used to argue about who tucked Miss Betty in on cold winter nights and with everyone saying they didn’t we were left perplexed. Until we saw how the dog pushed the blanket onto her body and kept turning in a little circle until it was even, then with a twisting turn lied down on the edges of the blanket, tucked in perfectly as if a human helped her.

Then, while out of town for work a huge thunderstorm broke out and the next morning as the rays of sun started to dry out Manica, the local youths saw that Miss Betty was gone! The whole town knew her and everyone started looking. Posters and regular broadcasts on the community radio station was met by literally hundred of people going around looking for Manic’a celebrity dog. We could only assume that she jumped out of the yard and started running in fear of the lightning and thunder. The possibility of theft was also an option, knowing her fear of storms, we figured she ran, and no one knew where to or who found her. Knowing how Mozambicans treat their dogs, I was terrified of how Miss Betty’s life might end or play out. I was distraught and cried, more sad than I have ever been over a lost loved one or broken romantic relationship! I felt responsible for not being there. Miss Betty was gone. A week became a month and a month almost became a year… all hope was lost.

I was in Mutare, just across the border of Zimbabwe when a Land Cruiser with two English Pointers reminded me of Betty and brought back so many memories. As I was stroking the two Pointers the owner showed up and I apologised for touching her dogs without permission, explaining that I too had an English Pointer, and that she went missing just under a year ago. I mentioned that I stayed across the border in Mozambique. The woman looked to be in disbelief and asked if it was a bitch, I said ‘yes’.’Is she terrified of lightning?’ the woman asked and I said ‘yes’, now cautiously curious. She proceeded to tell me that she knew where my dog was and that a Zimbabwean expat farmer found her 50 km from Manica and not knowing who she belonged to kept her! I received a cell number and directions, and went straight to the farm. Arriving there I met a pleasant young man who confirmed the story. They gave her a new name and calling her Miss Betty came out of the farm house. We were about 100 meters away, but she stopped and started at my red Stallion bakkie with a curious look on her face. I shouted: ‘Betty come!’ and she sprinted towards me. The embrace, yelping and excitement was the stuff of movies were made of and I halted the euphoria with a strict heel, and she immediately sat next to my left leg. ‘UP’ I said and she jumped into the Stallion. “Ok, it’s your dog” the young Zim farmer said.

Arriving in Manica the town was in joyous disbelief and the story of the prodigal bitch had everyone talking as far as Cape Town and Colorado. Miss Betty lived out her life with me in Manica and eventually passed away at age 11 of tick fever. Her death was indeed terribly sad and seeing her becoming thinner and thinner, weaker and weaker was heart breaking. I asked a local friend to bury her. I couldn’t look at her body. The idea of seeing Betty dead was too much.

As is the case with great people, in death, we we celebrate life. In the case of Miss Betty, a life well lived, by an amazing little English Pointer.

Below: Miss Betty and I on a Sunday stroll in the streets of Manica
Miss Betty in Manica

Below: Miss Betty finally getting out of the water.
00139137

Below: Portrait
00105679

Below: A true lady, never lied with her face on the ground

00105677

Below: Excerpts from my diary when Miss Betty went missing

IMG_9587
IMG_9588

The Division of the Pursuit of Happiness

Division of Labour is in a way natural and no one can argue the efficiency.  We produce more and the average person has access to more for cheaper.
I’m typing on this laptop which thousands of individuals made, each doing his own part.
I’m sitting in my flat, which hundreds of specialised people built. Using electricity, generated and distributed by thousands more.
My house was financed through a bank, with even more individual cogs in a big wheel.
The clothes I’m wearing is also a result of the division of labour.
All the above occurred, not because I wanted it, but because others derived a plan as to make a profit. That is, they orchestrated production of goods in excess to enable bartering and stock up on currency.
I can never escape this preoccupation. First, the economic goal was meeting needs, but the process, once it got going did not only meet needs, it created needs.
At what price? Obviously the market puts a monetary price on every singe item that is excess to the producer. The buyer (the wanter) sells some of his own exxcess (time and skill) in order to purchase the excess of the seller.
At what human price?
An ever increasing division of labour turns individuals more and more into machines. It is inescapable and I won’t argue with the relevance and force of the market.
I will however, argue and resist the dehumanising affects the system has on me.
As a spiritual person it is good, in some ways to travel light and not be too anchored, too rooted.
Yet, as a human it is also important to be rooted, to connect. With people and process. That is why even the wealthiest of individuals still have hobbies. The immitation of being involved in a complete process nurtures a hidden part of our humanity. Growing your own vegetables or gardening is perhaps the best example.
Here in my flat, suspended in the sky I make a some symbolic attempts at resistence:
I planted and nurture a few plants. At present I can see new fruits forming on the trees. It is a cyclical process of life and death. The plants and their fruits grow so slowly, but it is beautiful and miraculous in nature.
This morning I baked bread again. Sure, I did not grow the wheat or sugar cane. I did not produce the yeast or salt. But every step closer to the process serves its purpose of grounding my soul. The sight of the dough expanding, the smell of the bread baking and the satisfaction of cutting a freshly baked bread does something for the human inside of me.
All of us cannot be subsistence farmers. Well, we can, but it won’t happen. So I’m not advocating an Amish extremity. I’m advocating a balance. A rhythm that merge a bit of slow into a fast paced division and bartering of labour.
When I was young I told my dad I don’t want to learn how to wire an electric plug. I told him I will make enough money as lawyer to pay someone to do it. It was such a seminal conversation. My dad had the patience and grace to allow me to discover these things by myself. I didn’t get a speech. Only during my first year in Mozambique, at 19, did I start to experience the pleasure of doing things with my own hands. Today when I see Builders Warehouse buzzing with clueless yet excited individuals on a Saturday morning, I know that I am not alone.
Unfortunately Facebook, video games and the television is cheap numbing device that keeps humans from realising all of this. Ironically, TV, Facebook, playstation, magazines, clothing, beer and restaurants exist due to individuals devising excess production to eat our money! They don’t care about us wasting hours and keeping our minds numb. They care that someone pays for the TV, the decoder, the movie, the shoes, the bling, the music, the beer. They produce in excess through the division of labour so that others will spend their own excess (in the form of currency) on these products. Some products are obviously better or less harmful than others. Hats off to the bastards that get you to buy cigarettes and shooters. The price we pay for consuming useless things is a bombardment of advertising that floods and pollutes our minds to the extent of us not realising it.
We need to learn to say no to some things before we are allowed to say yes to others. What do you say no to? What do I say no to?
As I get older, I want to move away from the spectacular, the comfortable and the quick.
I want to discover rhythms of slower and deeper moments.
Shaving with my old fashioned cut-throat razor is one of these things, like bread baking or gardening that slows me down. By activating my hands and seeing a tangible complete outcome or result of a particular labour I am connecting myself with a way that I think is healthier and more human, more humane.
We are all in pursuit of happiness. So this is not a point of morality or spirituality; although it might affect both.
For some the pursuit of happiness entails new shoes, music videos, beer, smart cars, fashion, gossip, fast foods, walking in the mall or watching TV shows.
For some it entails creation, reading, growing, traveling, writing or cooking meat on a fire you made yourself.
Mostly it entails a weird mix of all of the above.
I won’t say one is right and one is wrong. If putting mags on your car and smoking cigarettes makes you genuinely happy; go for it.
My point is that I think the system sells happiness as a shallow by product of entrepreneurial profit drive. Our happiness are automatic assumptions derived from the market that creates, advertise and sell products that are easy to like… The super rich rely on our uselessness and ingeniousness to consume what they create for us.
My way to escape some of that is to do very basic things that are holistic rather than dissected.
My pursuit of happiness hopes to do basic things well and to derive satisfaction from integrated processes. Why? It makes me feel grounded and in touch. And being grounded in my body and outside, grounds my heart and mind, which in turn allows me to think more clearly.
And being smart and wise (one day) is a non negotiable in my pursuit of happiness.