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Archive for May, 2008

Chance Encounters

A couple of months ago I found myself at the airport in Bloemfontein with a five hour wait ahead of me before my plane to Johannesburg was due to depart. Those South African’s among you who have had the dubious pleasure of spending time at the Bloemfontein airport know that there is absolutely nothing to do there. There is one small food outlet with a few plastic chairs and tables and a public restroom. That’s it! There are no book stores, no souvenir shops, no candy machines. Nothing!

It’s a tiny airport on the outskirts of town, and in anticipation of the 2010 world cup, it is undergoing renovations. I’m not sure if this is meant to make it bigger and more serviceable or not, but it certainly does make for a very noisy experience. Suffice to say that I was not really looking forward to my wait.

I had my laptop with me, but since there is no satellite signal, not to mention plug points, I was unable to get any work done. Dead time indeed!

After checking in, I bought a stale sandwich and a coke and proceeded to find somewhere to sit. All the tables were taken, so I approached a man who was seated alone and asked if I could share his space. He smiled and introduced himself, and the four hours I still had to wait passed in a flash. In fact, so engrossed was I in conversation that I almost missed my flight.

At the risk of sounding mystic, some encounters seem fated and have effects that far outlive the actual experience. This was one of them.

This man turned out to be an amazing person with a wealth of experience in all sorts of diverse areas. His essence was evident from the first moment he spoke. He brought with him a sense of peace and calm and his outlook on life is something I can only aspire to.

Sometimes chance encounters touch us at a “soul” level, and sometimes circumstances facilitate those encounters, providing opportunity to learn. However, we need to be open to receive the gifts these people have to offer.

Have you taken time to talk to a stranger lately? I highly recommend it.

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I have been disinclined to write for the last week or so, my thoughts being overrun by the senseless acts of violence taking place in my country. It has been a heartbreaking time and for many of us South Africans, a time of disillusionment and deep mourning. Mourning for a country that we believe in and a unity that we have fought and sacrificed for. Together.

I was hard pressed to find the fortitude to go ahead and write anyway, knowing that I had no choice but to address my feelings and the feelings of my fellow South Africans, but browsing around some of the blogs I follow, and speaking to the people around me, I am once again compelled to move forward.

Many South African’s, myself included, have recently stated that they are ashamed to be South African. Having thought about this, it occurred to me that you don’t hear other country’s citizens proclaiming shame at their birthright. When did you hear an American declare their shame at being American, or a Zimbabwean, to bring things closer to home and more within the comparative realm?

I want to state now, once and for all that I am proud to be South African. I am deeply ashamed of some of my countrymen, and even of my government, but of my nation, I am proud. What we need to remember is that apartheid was a crime by the minority against the majority. The xenophobic violence taking place now is a crime by a minority of thugs and criminals, the debris of humanity. To say that we are ashamed to be South African, lends credence to the fact that the actions of this heinous minority speak for the majority. This is just not true!

So as a proud South African who believes that all stand equal and that our brothers and sisters throughout Africa share our blood and our hopes and our dreams. As a proud South African who acknowledges that we are surrounded by crises, both in our neighbouring countries and on the home front, I urge all of you, hold onto your love of Africa, remember our history, remember that a few carried the dreams of many, and won. We have a legacy to uphold. We are not a nation who bows our head in shame and skulks off into the corner to lick our wounds. We are Madiba’s Rainbow Nation and we owe it to ourselves and to the man who liberated us to stand firm, to stand proud against the horrors that are being perpetrated against our neighbours and our friends.

These are actions you can take right now – one person can make a difference, one person already did:

  1. Firstly, speak out. When someone, and there’s always that someone – makes inappropriate comments or even, dare I say, jokes, about what is happening, cut them short and show your disgust.

  2. Educate your children, explain our past and the responsibility that comes with it. Encourage your child to celebrate our differences and treat others with respect.
  3. Offer your support. When you speak to someone from elsewhere in Africa, be sure to let them know how you feel. Offer your support, even if it’s only to listen to their stories. Get to know the car guard at your local shopping centre, ask about his family.
  4. Make a donation. There are a number of organisations offering assistance to the tens of thousands who are displaced. Find out where you can donate blankets, food, money. Talk radio 702 has posted a list of organizations that are assisiting those in need.
  5. List your organisation. If you belong to an organisation, church group or community centre that wants to help, post your details on the 702 web site, simply click here and fill in the form
  6. .

  7. Protest. “Women in the media are staging a march on Friday to support the fight against xenophobia under the banner of WIN (Women In News)” You don’t necessarily have to join a March, but show your protestations by writing to your local coucellors, newspapers, radio stations.
  8. Use social networks to connect with like minded people. What can I say, for those of you online who share my feelings so strongly, keep doing what you are doing.

It’s time to make our voices heard once again. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Let’s climb this one together.

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Life moves along at an outrageous pace. We think about people and never call, relationships fade, not because we want them to, but because “life gets in the way” and it becomes easier to do nothing than to struggle through re-initiating a connection.

The last few weeks have been, in a word, breathless. I have had the most surprising conversations with the most unexpected people. I have re-connected with cousins I have not spoken to in many years and it has been an unexpected joy. I have been startled out of my torpor into action. It’s been a long time coming, and this blog has been a step along the way.

Relationships ebb and flow, propelled by their own energy. Change is part of life and we need to remain open to those changes. Just as we need to redefine who we are at different stages of our lives, we sometimes need to redefine our relationships.

I’ve learned that it is important to surround yourself with people who bring value to you, and by value I mean that the people in your life should make a positive contribution to who you are as a person. Just as I wrote about becoming the change you want to see, we should surround ourselves with people who reflect who we are and who we want to become. Our relationships should nurture, should be a place of mutual love and respect.

Sometimes it is necessary to walk away from a relationship, whether that is a marriage, a friendship or a family relationship. Letting go means choosing to see our relationships for what they are, no matter who they are with.

You will find that learning to let go of negative relationships, those that are destructive, that drain you and tire you and eat at your soul, will open a space for you to grow and align yourself more closely to the person you are meant to be.

It is equally important to nurture those relationships that are important to us so that they grow with us and can support us in our journey through life. We need to make time for these relationships, and understand their dynamic nature, the ebbing and the flowing. This isn’t always easy in the rush that is life, but the internet has made this easier. Make time to send an email, to dial that number.

I am fortunate enough to have some very special people in my life, I am not in constant contact with them, as I said, life happens, but they have and continue to provide joy, reassurance, encouragement and the comfortable silences that are so essential to my turbulent soul.

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It was my daughter’s twelfth birthday on Tuesday and I am overwhelmed, once again, by the responsibility of parenthood. Last time I spoke about how important it is to tell our stories and today I am reminded how Isla (my daughter) was the cataclysmic event that forced me to create my own narrative.

I have never had a linear perspective of time, my life for the most part, and particularly my childhood, was no more than an incoherent and sporadic rorchach. With the birth of my daughter, things fragmented and I came to realise that in order to understand something – the something being myself – you have to be willing to embrace the darkness, and tell the stories. I needed to begin the narrative, to give structure to the events that had shaped me.

Everyone has a story, or rather, stories, that make up their realities. Sometimes those stories need to be revisited, examined, and rewritten from a fresh perspective. The manner in which we tell our stories (to ourselves or others) makes a huge difference to the way we shape our realities.

After the birth of my daughter I had to re-examine many areas of my inner self. I had to find the person inside who could be strong, who could overcome anything, who could draw strength from the darkness in order to equip this girl-child of mine to face a world that I was terrified to expose her to.

I realised that being a good mother to my daughter meant retelling my history, accepting the past and not wasting the lessons learned.

Yes, we are shaped by our stories, but we need to be mindful that we create the defining narrative for our lives. In the telling of our stories we should always endevour to illuminate the darkness, to pass on the lessons learned and ultimately to heal.

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Memory Lane

I recently took my mother-in-law and a friend who was visiting with her from Cape Town on a bit of a tour of Johannesburg. It wasn’t just any tour, it was a journey of rememberance. Robert had lived in Berea as a child during the war and hadn’t been back since.

We drove through the bottom end of Braamfontein, past the taxi rank at Joubert Park and then through downtown Johannesburg and doubling back up Twist Street, through Hillbrow and on into Berea where we stopped in front of the house he had once lived in. (The picture on the left shows the Joubert Park that Robert remembers and the one below shows it as it is now.)

The South Africans who are reading this will understand that things have changed dramatically over the years. The Hillbrow/Berea area is now a haven for Nigerian Drug cartels, a place where people live lives of quiet desperation. In Robert’s words, “I was shocked to see how derelict and run down it now looks, in fact it turned my stomach and nearly made me cry!”


A street market in Hillbrow

The reason I am writing about this is to emphasise the importance of telling our stories. Africa has a rich history of storytelling. It is the way in which most of learned about the past – through the stories passed on from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers (the fathers did this from time to time, but it has traditionally been the woman’s role). Black African culture particularly used the art of storytelling to teach children about the past. I say used, because sadly, these traditions are being pushed aside.

I personally feel that our children are being done a great disservice by relying so much on what is written in the history books. So go out and tell your stories, speak to your children, to your parents, to the older people in your community and find out what life was really like before television and computers took over from the spoken word. The blogosphere is the perfect new medium for sustaining the tradition of storytelling.

In the words of Gustav Mahler, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” So keep the fires burning!

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