Money Matters

My finances haven’t improved since I agreed to resume my marriage. It really frustrates me. When I was in the single/separated phase, it seemed that I could do no wrong; I bought what I liked in cash and got to enjoy the windfall and the fruits of my labour. Now it seems that I buy things that I do not think are strictly necessary, and do not get to enjoy any treats. In addition to all that, it looks like I have hit a real dry phase in my freelance work, so the money coming in is barely covering my expenditures.I have always been bad at this concept of “our money” in a married relationship. My husband always claims that our joint property and our bank accounts whether joint or separate are OURS. I put this to the test once at the point when I wanted to get divorced and things suddenly got sour. What was ours got suddenly reduced to our relative incomes and what each of us brought into the marriage, and of course I ended up with the short end of the stick. Yes, I could have fought him out in court and chances are that I could have ended up with far more than the meagre settlement he offered, but I chickened out. I found that I do not have the stomach for a long battle in court which will probably make me hate him in the end – although he does deserve it sometimes.

Well, I still have feelings for the man, and I do not want to walk the same road again, but I am angry at the fact that my contributions into the marriage – in terms of money spent far outweigh his at the moment.

Yes, I am the only one with a full-time job at the moment but he has at least 100K Dollars sitting in the bank and earning interest in several investments to my meagre 7k waiting to be spent on rent and telephone bills and electricity. I can’t catch up even to a point where I can have a small amount put aside into a Money Market account.I do not have a good feeling about this. People do not change, and my marriage still has a good chance of turning sour again and ending up in divorce, what then?

It is important for me to have this cushion of security – mine – for all eventualities, and in order to achieve it I am back again, to skimping on my pleasures to have some more security, because I can’t trust him to look after me when things go sour. I will be left out again in the cold, and I am still the same person who does not have the stomach to fight for what is rightfully hers. On the other hand he still might be the same stingy person. Why, he only indulges now in some pleasures because I happen to pay for them.



Summer of Discontent

I keep thinking of a small place, where I can live alone with my cat. I do not know why this is so when I am married and supposedly working on the rehabilitation of my ailing relationship.
But it is still not working for me. I keep feeling that I am living outside my normal pace, outside my comfort zone, I really do not know why.

My cat seems to have settled in fine, he is starting to explore his territory and expand it, slowly and with mixed results. Occasionally he gets frightened off by another cat or an unfamiliar sound, but he seems to be adapting. On the surface I am doing the same thing.
Yes, I suppose I am as guilty as my husband, because I do not give voice to my nagging worries, when ignoring them will not make them better, they will just fester and grow into something really malignant.
I see that the physical side of our marriage is waning again, and I fear that it will digress again into total celibacy. I keep wondering, why? In the past my husband used to initiate sex, now it is always me that has to, and my libido is very temperamental and relies so much on my emotional well-being and state of mind. I never had a truly fulfilling emotional life, and it has probably scarred me somewhat. I am sure that my husband has the same problem somewhere, on an emotional level too, because there is no disputing his performance power, he can f*** a woman brainless if he wanted to.

I might be the least demanding woman on a material level, but I could be extremely demanding emotionally, especially for a man who is bound to put practicality before sensuality, and I see this becoming a chronic problem.

Another aspect of my problem with the man, is that I am still a novice in many areas of my life experience, whereas he went through the gamut of experience throughout his youth, relationships and first marriage.
At times I find myself bitterly cheated of camping trips, dirty weekends, motorcar sex, hangovers, and even morning sickness. It is not my fault that I grew up in a sheltered and isolated environment, but since I am no longer there, isn’t it just nice if I could experience some of those “first times” that every other young person goes through.
How can I grow up when I did not have the chance to be young and reckless ? I am in a middle aged relationship, and there are not honeymoon photos to look back and smile at. It has always been like this, cool-headed and boring.
The funny thing is that I might project this image to the outside world, cool-headed and boring, nobody knows that underneath these calm waters are some turbulent currents of rebellion.

The Syrian Bride

It has been some time since I went and saw a good film, and this one was.It was shown here in Cape Town as part of the “Cape Town World Cinema Festival 2006”

Of course given the film’s title it was impossible for me to ignore it, and so I chose to see it with Ron.

The simple story revolves around the wedding of Mona, a Druze woman from the occupied Golan heights, who is to wed a relative she hardly knows, from across the border in Syria. The complication is that once she enters Syrian soil she can no longer return to her native Majdal Shams. Her family who were attending her wedding and seeing her off at the border post, were in essense bidding her a final farewell.

The characters spoke as they would have in real life, switching between Arabic, Hebrew and English. Here is a list of the most notable characters:

Amal, the bride’s sister, caught in an unhappy marriage, yet chipping away at her prison bars with slow but unfaltering resolve. She is the quintessential Arab woman, in her sacrifice and limitless patience;

Hammad, the brides father, caught in the middle of political and social contradictions: The law of the occupied territories, his loyalty to his identity, his loyalty to tradition and his paternal love. The last two influences play against each other in his poignant confrontation with his long absent son Hattem, who came after eight years to attend the wedding of his youngest sister along with his Russian wife and their son – they are the symbolic and actual break from tradition which led to the family rift

Last but not least is Marwan, and doesn’t every family have one? A slimy characters who knows how to charm women, and travels the world on ‘business’. He speaks in blooming yet, vaguely defined terms of his business, which leaves you wondering about its legality. He has enough money though, and the charm he bestows on women has little to do with his looks.

Marwan is the Macho type, his male friends and relatives laugh about his escapades with his foreign, and Jewish lady loves, yet his brother who married a foreigner, a Russian doctor no less, is sneered at, his wife hardly accepted in the conservative village.

The film I thought gave an honest portrait of life in the region. The deadly bureaucracy at the border control and the apathetic behaviour of the Syrians at the border control were typical as far as I am concerned. The useless officials simply shrug their shoulder and mouth their sweetly spoken but unwavering rejections: Come on Sunday, we can’t do anything now; Or: This can only be approved by the president. Meanwhile the poor applicant ( in this case the Syrian Bride ) is caught in the middle.

Very good movie – go see it if you haven’t

Why Some Women Are Not Management Material

Being a woman myself, I say this with some regret. However, I do realise that sometimes we do not have the right temperament to lead people, and I am one of the biggest offenders.
The months I spent managing Alex Motors are a case in point. Dealing with the demands of around 20 staff members was a constant strain; it drained me physically and emotionally.
I am happy to admit that I am not management material. My absolute limit would be perhaps supervising five people, but to be honest I am most content when I only work to the limits of my own incompetence.

The staff at Alex Motors might have considered me a humane and benevolent manager, but most of the times I was weak and could not offer them the strength of leadership they needed; I stood shoulder to shoulder with them, leading from the flanks rather than the command position. My biggest fault was getting my emotions tangled in the employee’s problems, applying my own reasoning to these problems and getting exasperated when their behaviour came short and did not measure up to my principles.
In effect I placed an unnecessary burden on myself; I tried to manage and correct people’s lives for them when it was only necessary to deal with their working performance.
By the same token, I did not succeed in detaching myself emotionally from the working environment, I was troubled by the staff’s mistakes and shortcomings, because I judged them by my own standards. I also could not handle crisis, and flew of f the handle at the first sign of trouble or mishap. In short I was a reactionary and emotional leader, not at all a calm and collected trouble-shooter.

Today I was on the receiving end of the exact same type of behaviour. My days as a manager are long passed, and I am happy now to be a simple employee, one of many pegs in a giant wheel, doing a singularly unspectacular job.
Admittedly, the query I raised with management today was not of great importance. It was a whinge, basically pointing out a minor hitch in planning the allocation of break time for the agents on the floor. What I did not expect was the vehement reaction I got. The answer was simply that the planning was not perfect, and we the employees should take the initiative and fix things amongst ourselves.
I am afraid that this type of argument does appease me. These people work so hard to elevate themselves into positions of responsibility, but once they get there they try to wash their hands off the very same duties they are required to perform. I am tired of this policy of shifting responsibility downwards. I am sitting here at the bottom of the food chain, the buck stops with me, when I bungle up there is nobody to squirm or hide behind; I am simply instructed to make a statement explaining myself. Furthermore, my mistakes will directly influence my performance bonus. Meanwhile the people supervising and evaluating me, keep making the same mistakes over and over again; they mess up working schedules, shift plans, break allocations and pay cheques, and we here at the bottom are supposed to grin and bear it, no we should even take the initiative to correct their mistakes.
All these thoughts went through my head, but of course there was no way I could escape with my skin intact had I given voice to them.
I simply pointed out to the duty “manager” that even small inconsistencies should be communicated to admin, because otherwise they will be totally out of touch with the working procedures and problems on the floor. I added that there were already some people on the floor who feel that admin has no clue anymore about the actual operations here.
When I finished my sentence, the woman in question jumped up as if bitten by snake, made a snap decision of rescheduling my break, crossing out the previous scheduling for the day and arbitrarily putting in a new one, then she stormed out towards who knows where.
I was shocked at receiving this reaction, but on further reflection I realised that I was not a stranger to it. Here was another reactionary manger flying off the handle for no reason at all, when it would have sufficed if she just said: Thanks for bringing this to our attention, I will forward it on to the relevant parties.

People in positions have to realise that most of their work will be fielding questions and dealing with staff. We are human too, occasionally there will be complaints and whinges, and sometimes people will give substandard performances or not perform at all. However, it does not serve the organisation at all if the leaders jump into the fray and get themselves involved. No general jumps into battle to save one of his soldiers. A leader has to stay in control, keep a cool head at all times. Yes, it is not easy to deal with the constant flow of complaints, whinges and failures of your people, but unfortunately it comes with the property and if you can’t take the heat then stay out of the kitchen.

Leadership is an art and a discipline, it is a skill that can be honed with experience and training. However, I get the feeling that men are more capable of perfecting it than women. Women take ownership, while men take responsibility. And taking ownership is by far the more painful route to management; it implies deeper personal involvement and opens a person up to disappointment. Taking responsibility on the other hand is a more sober approach, since it excludes or limits the emotional involvement.
Taking responsibility can be done with the cool reasoning of the head, while taking ownership is a personal cruisade and a battle of the heart.
Having said that, I still believe that women can make good managers with the correct training and discipline, and if they can learn to put aside emotions and motherly instincts, but I also know that neither myself nor my duty manager today can quite cut it.

Marriage : A Balancing Act

My friend Kirsten is a social worker and has spent her whole life dealing with broken and fractured souls, she claims that people can mend, if they want to that is. Once you recongise that you need healing, you can work your way up to reclaiming you life and starting it over.

Life however is subjective, and right or wrong depends solely on the way or direction you look at things. Viewed through the lense of a camera, the same object will look different depending on how you shed light on it, and so differs one’s interpretation of events and people depending on previous experiences and knowledge.

A sceptic by nature, I do question all the time. It took me seven years to realise that the initial failure of my marriage was not my fault. I was trapped into believing that I was not good enough or not working hard enough. It did not occur to me at the time, that outside my limping relationship I am a fully functional human being, who is capable of having friends, taking responsibility and working for a goal.
In the space of seven years I carved myself an existence that is separate from my spouse, I became a person in my own right, I started to see that I was getting lost, being swallowed in the demands of a relationship and one man’s ego.
Having been through all that, I am very reluctant to go through this over again.
I have struggled with the choice between restarting the old relationship on new grounds, or severing it to look for happiness somewhere else. I have swung between the two extremes a few times.
In the end I realised that severing my marriage might be the more practical choice, is a finality that I could not live with. It would simply mean that I have given up, and chose to turn my back on the element of goodness present in my husband.
So I chose to continue on in the balancing act called marriage, it is much more difficult since the success depends equally on both people. Sometimes it is much easier to dance solo.
Still, there are moments when the effort is worth it. It is nice to have someone you care for to come home to, and to be the recipient of simple yet subtle expressions of love and caring.
All around me I see couples working on this balancing act, and whoever is solo are constantly looking for someone to complete them, so maybe there is general consensus that living as a couple is better than facing the world solo.

Playing Tourist in Cape Town

It is an absolute hazard to walk Cape Town as a tourist. A hazard to your pocket that is.
Yesterday my colleague Kirsten and I walked out of the office to have a cup of coffee.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, but in Cape Town this is not exactly the greatest time to tour the coffee shops on St. George’s Mall. Most shops close by one, and the Mall turns into a silent and empty space, save for a few coffee shops that cater mainly for tourists.
We ventured first to the Gold Museum on Strand Street, but its coffee shop was closed for a function. The museum itself has a collection of exhibits, traditional African gold pieces as I understood from Kirsten; their owner made them available to the public in one of the older buildings on Strand Street. The street is incidentally where we both work.
We marched onwards looking for our cup of coffee, and ended up on the Green Market Square.
Here one of the coffee shops has spilled over its white plastic and metal chairs onto the pavement. A few people were indulging outside while the person working on the take away hutch looked glumly outside. Inside the restaurant a handful of African waitrons and waitresses where swaying to loud African rhythms blaring from stereo loudspeakers, and in true African tradition they continued their merry-making oblivious to the pair of us waiting outside on the empty table. Kirsten turned her head on all this, preferring to watch a group of youngsters, barefooted and scrawny, singing and dancing and drumming for the pleasure of the bored tourists. The youngsters smart as they are in peddling their primitive music, caught on immediately and Kirsten could not resist giving a full five Rand coin to the little girl who had just finished jumping around and doing the split, I had to dig into my wallet as well for a couple of stray coppers ( and one or two silver coins no less).
After a few minutes of being caught between these two conflicting rhythms ( the street dancers on one side and the staff’s choice of hip hop on the other), we decided to move on, especially since we have seen only the backs of the merry waiters at the coffee shop. Oh, maybe we just caught them at a bad time.
In the end we had our coffee, at a small place called Afro Cafe. This place has the uncomplicated feel and colour of the African continent. The plastic table cloths sport the African colours and dance with the brilliance of yellows, reds and greens. The lighting fixtures are made of recycled material, green plastic bottles and red caps among a myriad of other brightly coloured scrap.
Here as well we did not fail to attract the tourists. One guy came to sell us the ‘Big Issue’ a magazine whose sole purpose is to create an income for the people selling it.
Once he sold us one copy he turned to the next customer begging him to buy another one from him, it was the last one he said.
Next came the bead artist, he had wall hangings and key chains, composed of beads threaded on fine wire. The shapes and colours were really amazing and very true to life, I pondered buying a gecko or a chameleon and in the end settled for a plump little aircraft – that was not as well proportioned as the animals, but which I thought would be more practical for me to carry around in a bag.
At one time I actually succeeded in turning the gentle African salesman away, by telling him I worked in this place, I earned my money in Rands, but then I made a mistake of asking him where he came from, and he said from Zimbabwe, and at once I felt his polite admission tug at my heart. How could I resist helping a Zimbabwean brother, whose whole family could be dependent on selling one ornament.
So I came back after this outing, poorer in pocket but richer in experience. I must say Kirsten and I make a terrible pair, she can’t resist buying stuff and she mostly shames me into doing the same.

New Start ?

I am writing this while the wind is blowing on the Atlantic Seaboard, fireworks are cracking in the darkness and lighting up the sky with frequent colour bursts.
Our new flat is really nice, it has a view over the water all the way to the other side of Cape Town, along the Atlantic coast to Table View. It is great to watch the ships sail by from my side of the window while I work on the computer, or look up Signal Hill as I wash dishes. The only negative thing about the flat, and it is quite an important one is that it lies on the juncture of two of the busiest roads in Cape Town, the traffic simply never stops.

The afternoon was nice and sunny today, and I spent some time with two nice women, an old friend and probably a new one, the company garden was full of people of every colour and creed.
I had lots on my mind so I did not really watch the people. The animal life though attracted my attention: doves and pigeons, squirrels, and mice. We saw one really big rat, larger than a squirrel, it competed with the furry guys over crackers and nuts, and most likely it was the winner.
There is also a large Koi pond teeming with little fish, the parents quite big, one of my friends commented that they would make great Sushi.
We had scones and tea, not quite a posh affair at the public gardens, but still a treat. And as we were leaving there was a wedding procession visiting the garden for photos.

The afternoon was unfortunately too short, and tomorrow is another day at work.

For starters

The initial panic is over for me and for my black cat. We are sitting in the big new flat, surrounded by things, most of which have stories we know nothing about.
For my part, I will try to make peace with the past, where it came from does not concern me, as long as it does not suck me in its undertow, it is fine.

I am who I am, and being without baggage and without possessions is my choice, I adopted my partner’s possessions and I will enjoy them for what they are. Possessions will never claim me, but I can still appreciate them.
The cat is quite a different story, the cat has to learn its territory, and accept its limitations.

My husband also has to accept me and the cat. Contrary to what he believes, he is not the only one making compromises. I know that I would personally prefer a much simpler, barer existence.
If this is our new start, I would rather start on a fresh canvas, put in my own shades and colours.
The apartment I lived in before we came back together, might have looked to him like a dump. To me however it was a work in progress, an unfinished canvas. My time, and the emotional roller coaster I was riding on prevented me from completing it to my liking, but I was going to get there one way or another.
The canvas that I would have drawn would have included soft fabrics, knitted throws and crocheted cushions – things like that speak to me more than a leather sofa, rosewood furniture and fine china lamps; I have no use for those. I prefer scented candles and incense sticks.

I spoke to two of my friends today, they saw that my husband and I have two sets of conflicting values. The question is whether we can compromise between them or not.

Petey the cat has walked outside to the kitchen balcony today, sniffed around and stretched tippy toeing on his hind legs to peek over the balcony wall. He was quite funny, stretched tall there and supporting himself against the wall with one paw. I wish I had my phone camera handy.
Eventually, I will take him down to the garden and he will be happy. Ron still protests tells me it would make life more difficult – compromise ? where is his compromise?

Remains to be seen.

Round and Round

I don’t think that I can ever write in this blog with my real name. People might think I am a lunatic or something. This project started with the intention of mapping my life near the Cape of Good hope, it turned out into a study in hopelessness. It has been almost a year since I wrote here, and ironically it is again the season of heartbreak in Cape Town ! I feel edgy and unhappy, and confused.
Since my doomed crush on Aquarius went nowhere, I got cold feet regarding my breakup with Husband. I pulled the plug on the divorce, and coughed up the lawyer bill.
In the divine wisdom of pop culture : “Love The One You’re With” (If you can’t be with the one you love).
So this was great, I swallowed a big wallop of my pride, and begged Husband to get back. He left for a few months home to Canada, then came back, called the moving van and shipped loads of stuff to Cape Town. The furniture has been in storage ever since, awaiting the time when it can be set up in a place we can call a home.
The past few months I was happy – I think – living on makeshift and 2nd hand furniture, and having very few possessions. We spent lots of time together or in the outdoors.
At the end of October we moved from the old flat, gave away the old rickety ‘furniture’ or whatever you might want to call it.

Yesterday it was the day, the day we were supposed to get our nice things, and put it in our home. Yes, the furniture arrived yesterday, and along with it came the foreboding. I do not know what is up with me. All of a sudden I see the expensive things, the box of old love letters, the diving equipment and the sport bags — his things, and again there is nothing of me here, just a few crates of books, and suitcase full of coloured threads that I wanted to knit one day into and afghan, and a black emotionally disturbed cat.
Years back, we bought some things together : A bed, a leather sofa ( his dream was always to have one) and a desk for me, but Husband has had almost everything else longer that I have been with him. He calls these nice pieces a legacy, and now they are incompatible with one of the few things that I do care about … Petey my cat.
The cat is sleeping in the closet now, he is disoriented and sad to lose his home, and I do not know why I relate to him so much. I will have to figure this one out.