Going Potty..

Yesterday was officially the first day of Easter Holiday for Robert. The creche has holiday care for about one week of the school holiday and remains closed for a week after Easter, but this time I opted for him to stay home with me because I wanted to finish his potty training.

I think I underestimated the task, and my confidence was boosted by minor successes at introducing the potty and keeping Robert’s underpants dry of pee. It is, however the big stuff that I am battling with. Robert insists on making a poo in his nappy/pants. There was even the memorable episode on Sunday when he stubbornly sat in the buggy, soiled pants and all for over half an hour.

This setback demotivated me and made me question my method. I am ashamed to admit that I even started to taste some resentment against my son.  Somehow his aloofness and refusal to communicate on the matter of using the toilet brought back memories of his father, and the way he used to behave.  I had nightmare scenarios in my mind of the son I love beyond reason turning into a carbon copy of his father. The prospect made me want to scream, run away, hide and even give Robert up to his father – Thankfully these black thoughts did not persist.

The whole situation may seem comical now, but I was definitely on the verge of depression, and I always teeter on the brink of it with the onset of PMS.  So for all of yesterday I was battling these emotions of resentment, depression and anxiety. I think my son reacted to my unbalanced state and added his own mix of naughtiness and mischief. Yesterday marked several disasters on the home front: One liter of yogurt spilled all over the table and floor; One of my two Yucca plants completely denuded of leaves and the other missing half of them; and floor tiles lifted in one section of the lounge. That, in addition to the normal set light to medium misbehavior, such as throwing toys and screeching tantrums, all of which did not contribute to enhancing my mothering instinct but made me rather more inclined to fight and/or flee this little terror.

Today things look much better. The battle for the potty has been removed to a lower priority and with the pressure off I think I will have better success. Robert is sleeping peacefully like an angel, and my feelings for him are back to normal. It is all a matter of attitude.

Apart from taking a step back and de-emphasizing the problem issue, here are some of the things that made the difference for me today: Venting off to my parents on Skype, fixing the chairs that Robert broke ages ago, and good old comfort food of Macaroni and cheese for lunch, finishing off with a cup of chococcino in the evening.

A friend of mine told me today that the difference between a good day and a bad day are only a bunch of chemicals in the brain, and I bet these small doses of comfort fixed the imbalance in my brain – You are absolutely right G !

South Africa Has a Heart

A couple of good friends of mine started yet another wave of Afro-pessimist discussions. One of them is a former co-worker who moved here from Germany less than a year ago, and another is one of many South Africans who decided that they had enough of this place and moved to a space in the advanced world, where things run predictably and one is more likely to die old in bed than in a violent crime. Both people, I must say, are very near and dear to me and I understand where they are coming from, but I do not feel that they are judging this place fairly.

I would be imitating the official propaganda line if I say that the world has to judge South Africa by where it used to be a few decades ago, with gross inequalities and tension between the races reaching a near-breaking p0int. I would be asking too much of the world perhaps to judge it not by the yardstick of a Europe whose civilization has been in the making for hundreds of year, or by the yardstick of a North America, or Australia who built their civilization after marginalizing and ousting the indigenous peoples.

I ask people to judge South Africa by its heart, by its people.  The people who are the salt of the earth of this country (and this continent) are not the criminals who broke into my flat and lifted my computer, they are not the child rapists,  they are not the corrupt politicians, and they are not the South Africans who criticize and bad-mouth the country with another (western) passport tucked safely into their back pockets. It is everyone else who lives in this place trying to earn an honest living with a smile, no matter how difficult things get.

I have been to Europe and I always get this cold feeling from people around me. They complain and moan if the bus is late, and quickly start huffing and puffing if another person inadvertently blocks their way in a supermarket aisle.  People are so uncharitable and intolerant of others’ mishaps and of small inconveniences.

Here in South Africa, people are tougher, yet in a way this makes them more human. We tolerate being squeezed four abreast in a minibus. We wait patiently when a person wallows in confusion not knowing exactly what item they are looking for in a shop. We greet each other on the road, and we smile. We start making conversations and getting to know someone after we encountered them once or twice at the same place.

People in this country have a lot on their plate. They fight the daily prejudice, and the crime. They try to eke out an existence hampered by daily inconvenience of imperfect services and over-extended public facilities, and yet they persevere, with dignity and with a smile.

A few days ago I was walking towards the V & A Waterfront. Across the road from the Commodore Hotel there is (or was) a bedsitter of sort, or cheap flats.  On that day I saw the people who lived in that bedsitter. They were strewn on the sidewalk along with all their worldly belongings. There were cookers, ancient fridges, bunk beds, appliances, and at least one battered car.  But mostly there were the mattresses and bedrolls, extending from the wall of the property to block the whole sidewalk.

I walked past mostly black and coloured people of varied ages.  I saw one gaunt-looking elderly white woman in blue jeans cuddling an equally ancient dog. These were no bums or homeless beggars. Most wore decent, but old clothes, and some were passing the time by reading. Perhaps there were a few students from out of town among them.  As I walked along I saw a clutch of them further on talking to a policeman in a patrol car, but there was no trouble, rioting or shouting as you would expect under the circumstances.  When I wanted to maneuver Robert’s buggy past the last mattress, the young man sitting on it just moved it aside. I turned and said: “Thank you”. He surprised me by answering, with a smile: “You’re welcome and sorry for the trouble”.

I was so blown away by his polite answer, because it was so free of rancour and so incongruous with his desperate situation. I  had to ask him then what was happening there, and as I expected they have been evicted from their lodgings. The young man did not seem perturbed but rather optimistic that the policeman will solve the problem. I keep thinking of these people now and hope that they have been sorted out. That man, and the way he behaved is in a nutshell the people of South Africa. The way they react to dire problems with patience, dignity and humor always amazes and inspires me.

I once spoke to a friend of mine about South Africa, why I love it.  There are many reasons, but mostly because it is a place that challenges you, and surprises you. Sometimes the surprises are nasty, but most of the time they are little gems of wonder, wisdom and learning.

South Africa makes you face your own prejudice and challenges it. You cannot hide behind the familiarity of your comfort zone, be it country, colour, race or sexual preference, and then glibly make a judgment on this country.  To those who question whether South Africa is capable of hosting the World Cup I say: Didn’t Mexico host one successfully ? Didn’t Greece pull off hosting the Olympics, with a balance book worse than South Africa’s?  What I would like to know the REAL criteria that makes these two countries better than  South Africa.

Yes, perhaps I am wearing rose-coloured blinkers, but I am optimistic that this World Cup will work. It won’t be spectacular, groundbreaking or breathtaking, but it will be an African World Cup, for All Africans to be proud of and for the world to enjoy.

This is the link to the article my friend mailed me and which was referred to in this post by my friend the Baron.  One of the commentators inspired me to write this. He reasons that it is the responsibility of the world to assist in making this World Cup work for South Africa and thus give hope for the future of the continent,  because South Africa its  only beacon of hope. He said: The world cup is the symbol of the future for this country. If it is pulled from [its people], whatever investments exist in the country will be pulled out, whatever skilled people remain in the country will surely leave, and Africa will go to pot”. I think his opinion has merit, and I also believe that true aid is teaching Africans how to do things, not to throw money and food at them. The world however prefers either to do the latter, or to watch from afar expecting us to burn ourselves down anytime.

Here are all the other reasons why I love South Africa ( I will be adding to this list as I remember things).

1- It is the rainbow nation. Nobody here is too foreign, and no religion is too exotic .  Most people accept you for what you are.

2- I can wear shorts and sandals almost year round.

3- I do not own mittens, gloves, or long underwear.

4- I can see wild animals in their natural habitat.

5- I can get my documents certified for free at the police station.

6- I don’t have to see the face of one corrupt political leader or another whenever I open my wallet to take out paper money. Our money has the faces of the big five (African wild animals: Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Buffalo, and leopard).

7- In South Africa you can install prepaid electricity meters, where you can really watch your electricity consumption.

8- South Africa is ranked 35th out of 178 countries for ease of doing business – ahead of places like Spain, Brazil and India.

9- South Africans are creative, resourceful and artistically inclined – you can enjoy the creative energy everywhere. There is amazing music, literature and visual art produced here. This apart from the traditional and innovative arts and crafts you see in market stalls.

10- It is God’s own country, stunning in every way, with amazing biodiversity and most wonderful vistas.

11- Chocolate marshmallow Easter eggs, Chutney, and the plethora of tastes and spices from all over the world.

12- The abundance and variety of local fruit and vegetables: Avocados, mango, litchi, papaya and pineapple are a few of the popular ones, in addition to all types of other fruits I am used to in the northern hemisphere. No wonder South Africa is one of the largest fruit exporters in the world.

13- I can easily get and afford efficient household help.  I try not to abuse the privilege by offering decent working conditions and wages.

14- The music, the spontaneous rhythm that comes out of people at every possible occasion. There is nothing more moving than strangers singing together in perfect harmony that comes out of the joy of the occasion, completely unrehearsed.  Even the demonstrations and strike become a song-and-dance affair. After all, we are the people who made the toyi-toyi protest dance famous.

There are many more reasons but to sum up most of what I read and feel, I can say that South Africa is real, passionate and challenging.  Living here has an element of adventure, as you are experiencing a place that is evolving and trying to find its place in the world. So if you like your life predictable, and safe you may want to stay away.  South Africa, like its mother continent,  is wild, passionate and surprising and it takes a free spirit with tenacity and tolerance to understand and embrace it.

Make Your Choice:

5 Reasons Why South Africa is Not Ready for World Cup 2010

5 Reasons to Stay in SA & 5 Reasons to Leave

24 More Reasons to Stay in SA

One of the best reasons sums it up

Update: The Cape Argus ran a story about the eviction on Portswood Road. Here is their update. Unfortunately there was no happy ending for the people involved.

The eviction might have been one of the results of moving Somerset Hospital (A government hospital) from Green Point. This move is most probably motivated by the business potential of the building and area of the hospital, which is very close to the V&A Waterfront. I bet it would be turned into a hotel, making money for big business, at the expense of the weak and poor as usual.

Getting out of Geneva

Morning Frost in March

I woke up very refreshed this morning and was greeted by the sight of frost from my window. I showered, emailed, and uploaded some pictures and went on slowly to the venue of my interview. It took some time to check in and get my temporary badge, but I arrived with time to spare. The interview was conducted in an annex and I did not know what to expect, which was just as well, because otherwise I would have been more worried than I should.

I had my laptop with me, along with my diplomas and documents but it turned out that I did not need any of that. First I was shown into someone’s office and then I was given a brief outline of what will happen, the interview will be led by a lady from Geneva (whose name I failed to record) and she will start the process and hand me over to the panel, but first I had to do a short translation within twenty minutes on the fly.

I tried to keep my wits about me as I did the translation which dealt in broad terms with the Middle East conflict. Later the Geneva lady led me to a room where four tables were arranged in a box shape. I took one side of the box while members of the panel took each of the other three sides. I was introduced to the head of the Arabic department in New York, the head of the Arabic department in Geneva, and the head of training in New York. The latter shared his table to with the Geneva lady who took the role of moderator; they were on my left and I faced the big boss from New York. In all there were two women and two men that I was trying to impress.

First the question and answer session dealt with my translation, my choice of terminology, the difficulties I had, the errors if any.  Next there was the competency based part of the interview, where I thought I did really well.  Fortunately I had just finished a collaborative project with colleagues in Australia and I could draw from my very recent experience on all concerns regarding technology, teamwork, etiquette and others.

Two hours later I was dismissed. The Geneva moderator told me that I will be informed within the next month of the outcome of this interview, and so I made my way out of the interview room. It was still too early to go to the hotel so I looked around the big buildings and joined an English tour group on the premises, but unfortunately I only caught the tail end of the interview and the group were soon disbanded and I figured it will be too late to wait for the next one. I made a quick stop at the shop and bought a little teddy bear for Robert (this one will become later known as Geneva), and I bought a cap for myself and for Robert’s father.

Hotel room

I had time for another leisurely lunch and some more emails before I changed, packed and made my way out of the hotel. There was a short walk from there to the bus and 15 minutes later I was at the airport.

I had plenty of time. I first called my parents with my leftover Swiss coins, then sat on an outside terrace in the sun. I ate my bananas and read my book until it was time for my flight. I also sent text messages to a friend in Frankfurt who was keen on meeting me at FRA Airport since I had a few hours wait before my flight leaves late at night for Cape Town.

It was funny boarding all these flights and imagining my erstwhile colleagues doing the load papers for them all the way in Cape Town. It felt good being a paying passenger rather than the poor standby. In any case, I arrived in Frankfurt with some delay but Andrea was waiting for me in the lounge. We had drinks and talked about how lucky we were to have left our former employer. We gossiped and laughed a lot until the Cape Town flight was called.

More Treats for Robbie

Andrea sent with me another present for Robert who will be spoiled in the next week, with chocolate,  chocolate Muessli.  I lay back in my seat and braced myself for a long night of movie watching, but it doesn’t matter I am on my way home to my Robbie. Mission accomplished.

Solo Adventure: 24 Hours in Geneva

Geneva is a very small city. The airport is no more than 15 minutes away, which made my transport to town really easy.

I arrived at my hotel before regular check-in time and had to store my overnight bag and then go out to explore the area and the site of my interview tomorrow. It is very good that I have one night to rest and tomorrow I will leave right after the interview.

My flight was uneventful, except that my next door neighbor was a talkative Austrian with a keen interest in sailboats. In fact he was in Cape Town to finish a catamaran he is planning to sail around the world soon. So we kept each other company for parts of the evening and then he fell asleep and I resorted to watching movies for the rest of the night. I arrived in Frankfurt groggy and tired and we parted ways to go to our respective flights; but we exchanged emails and he promised to give me a call when he is next in Cape Town to check up again on his boat.

I walked about in Geneva until check-in time. I bought a wi-fi account and the hotel provided a city transport ticket for two days, and I took advantage of it during the afternoon.  First though I freshened up and treated myself to lunch and a Swiss beer, I tried to fit the role of a business traveller (not very well). Later I explored the town, a bit of the lake and stopped at a supermarket to buy some supplies for dinner. I bought Muessli to take home, some cake and bananas which will have to do for my dinner.

When I settled in the evening at my hotel I had some time to type emails and look at my notes for the interview. I was so tired by the early evening that I slept without any problem, without worrying about a thing.

Heartwarming Moments

On days like these when I am rushing, fighting loss of sleep and nervous at the choices and responsibilities ahead, I have to stop and appreciate what I have, and pause to take in the joys of being a mom to a small child

Sometimes I want to stop time and capture these rays of happiness and sunshine he gives my life. I want to capture every laugh and every smile, because I am so aware of their precious transience. Every time I hold him and smell his sweet innocence, I realize that one day the child’s softness will give way to the rough edges of boyhood, then the distance of manhood. And just as the smell and sound of baby Robert is now something to remember and smile about, this toddler Robert gives me at least one reason to smile every single day, and most of these smiles are worth mentioning and remembering.

Today Robert was carrying his books in one hand and his little green chair in the other and following the cat around. Mommy, I want cat he said to me. Why? I wanted to know. I want to read to cat, he said.  I tried to cajole the disinterested Pete, and I managed to get him to sit at my feet while right across Robert sat on his chair and started “reading”one of his books to cat, all about Bo-Beep who lost her sheep. The cat, being  his arrogant self, walked away quickly to the other room with Robert in tow, books in arm and chair dragged behind.  He tried time after time to sit on his chair next to Pete and read to him, until finally he got tired of the futile task.

I was amused and happy at the same time. At least my boy has learned the love of books from his mom and was trying diligently to teach this to a smaller creature.