The Joy of Places

The clock is ticking and it will be soon time to depart the Cape of Good Hope, leave Africa and the southern hemisphere, and my beloved Cape Town to the Big Apple, the cold north. I have never been a fan of the US but New York is different, it is the intellectual and cultural capital of the USA, and a melting pot of the whole world.

Still I am not sure how I will respond to it on an emotional level. My friend K arrived from Germany last week and we are often with her on her excursions and visits. Throughout that I feel like I am on holiday and appreciate the beauty and special attributes of Cape Town. If I had to describe it in one word I would say it is joyous. This led me to thinking about Berlin which I think offers tons of wisdom but little joy, whereas I can perhaps say that Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro could be more joyous than serious. I have no idea whether this perception is true and perhaps I will have a chance to visit these cities and measure the degree of joy myself.

What is your joyous place and what is the word that describes your city?

Eventful Past Weeks

The last two weekends were busy what with concerts, birthday parties and trips to the beach to soak in the last days of summer.

The major event though was my trip last Monday to the US consulate to apply for my US G-4 visa as requested by the United Nations. The trip was long and the outcome was somewhat disconcerting. I was put on administrative review for my visa, because of my Syrian origin, I suppose.

I can speak about it now dispassionately but at the time it was a distressing experience. I came with all relevant documents but I was not prepared for the lengthy interrogation, nor for additional forms. And I was not at all prepared for having my passports and papers returned to me long after every other applicant had already left. I was almost two hours late for picking up Robert and my nerves were in tatters, even after I stopped with Robert for a pizza and a drink on Long Street.

The woman operating the DHL counter at the consulate, watched me unravel after the consular officer sent me back with the passports. She was kind enough to bring me tissues and when I finally gathered my wits to leave she handed me a paper with the name of some tissue salts, she said they would help. I dutifully got them the very next day and my anger and disappointment slowly dissolved as I settled myself for a long wait.

My spirit was lifted with the visit of my cousin from Dubai, who came to attend a regional conference with his company. We met on Tuesday after Robert’s school, and he invited me for lunch.  We met again on his last day here on Friday, and by then I was able to tell him that I had received a phone call from the consulate that my visa was approved. I had braced myself for numerous weeks of uncertainty while unknown entities investigated me, so I was endlessly relieved that the matter was resolved in less that a week. Of course I have to make the long train trip to Tokai where the consulate is located. It keeps strange company out there next to Pollsmore Prison, one of the most infamous gaols in the country.

The next challenge after this will be packing and shipping my beloved books, but that is a whole different story.

Cape Town Rocks !

This is my often declared opinion of the Mother City.. It Rocks ! but this has been taken to a totally new level with the U2 Concert at Green Point Stadium. It was a perfect evening, with a giant full moon shining over the mountain as we queued up to enter the stadium then rising over the stadium.

I went there with my best friend and we soaked in the atmosphere of the Fan Walk complete with carnival performers, big dolls representing the band members. We had Bockwurst Rolls from a kiosk and queued for a long time to get drinks, but it was all part of the fun.

At the stadium we first listened to Springbok Nude Girls led by Arno Carstens and then there was some wait until U2 graced the stage. The visuals were fantastic and the atmosphere electric. The best moments for me were when Bono shared the stage with Yvonne Chaka Chaka and they sang I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For and then Stand By Me.  There were many visuals of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and a tribute to Suu Kyi the leader of opposition in Burma (Myanmar). In all it was a dazzling show that left me in awe. My ears suffered somewhat and in most songs I recognized the beat but not the words, I wouldn’t know whether this was the norm for all rock concerts because it was my very attendance of a live rock concert.

It is great that many other sites and blogs, including the Cape Town Travel Blog had an extensive post about the concert, with videos and great photos. This was especially welcomed since my own photos have fallen victims to a technical bug. My camera was ready, with spare batteries and all, but instead of taking pictures it winked at me with the message : NO DATA CARD. Sure enough I had forgotten my data card in the laptop the last time I downloaded photos. What can I say but, there is a good reason to own a good camera phone.

Here are some of the better pictures:

I was trying to catch the moon in this one, it is the “searchlight” on the far right corner.

It is not easy to see on my camera, but the stage has bridges and walkways that wrapped around parts of the audience (The Golden Circle crowd) who got the best position in the show. Later I heard that they had a bar right there in their midst and free sushi – for a ticket price of about 400 USD, it figures.

Depending on the lighting the setup of the stage looked like a spaceship, a giant arachnid or a cathedral. The whole screen setup was also very innovative.

Final number, gone are the days of lighters. It is now “turn on the screen of your cell phone” and we were all part of a galaxy of stars.

Long Street

I know I am supposed to feel thrilled and happy with the developments in my life. Most people would do anything to have a bite of the Big Apple, but I am just a small town girl who learned to love the Mother City.

The sights and sounds I experience of Cape Town in these days and weeks have great poignancy because I know that I am going to be without them soon. My eyes have learned to appreciate and take in all the color and vibrancy I took for granted for the past five years, and I know deep in my heart that even the greatest city in the world cannot replace Cape Town from my heart.

My son’s pre-school is at the top of Long Street, attached to the St. Martini German Lutheran Church. I walked this street many times before but in the last weeks I started to note and take in almost every building and shop-front. This post is my tribute to a Cape Town landmark.

Long street is Cape Town at its best. Its Victorian buildings are tourist favourites, its shops, restaurants, and coffee shops well-frequented by foreigners and locals alike, and it comes to life at night with its selection of bars and party haunts. The shopping possibilities on Long are endless: Books, lingerie, antiques, African inspired and designed clothes, accessories, and the obligatory African art are only some of the offering.

The street features a couple of mosques rubbing shoulders with coffee shops or bars, and there is a Turkish bath at its end. Each of its Victorian buildings is distinct in its style and most are not shy of making a bold statement with colour and design. To my mind Long Street best expresses the irreverence of this city and its bohemian nature. It is happy with its quirks and flaunts them instead of hiding them.

I love Long Street, I love Cape Town, and I love South Africa and all its warm people. Nowhere else in the world can be warmer. No other place can have a stronger pull on my heart.

Help Me Out

August will mark the five years anniversary to my arrival in Cape Town, a time when I finally faced up to the fact that perhaps I did not want to go on with the status quo of my marriage. You may say, and correctly that it took me a long time to realize it, but well, that is the way things were.

From where I am sitting now I shake my head in wonder. How on earth was I bullied to think for nine years that I was to blame for all the ills of this relationship. How did I ever accept the verdict of my husband and his judgment on everything when I was an adult with a healthy common sense myself. It all goes down to upbringing and culture. My mother – bless her and keep her healthy- is the most wonderful woman in the world but by her example she encouraged a subservience to the male head of the family, and unfortunately for myself and my sister we did not have any other examples to a healthy balanced relationship. If you add to that the fact that my ex is 13 years my senior with that much more experience than myself, a female who had a very sheltered upbringing, you may understand where my feeling of inferiority came from. Regardless, of the reasons I was intimidated into thinking that it was always me to blame until East London.

I am often reprimanded about my fondness for East London, a sleepy town in the Southern African province of the Eastern Cape. Admitting that you lived there is apparently extremely uncool.  East London to me is the place where I finally rose up emotionally to my chronological age. It was a long, long time coming.

I will always remember East London for its rolling dunes and beautiful beaches, for the twin rivers that border it and for the simple uncomplicated people who live there. One day I will go there again with someone I love whether it is a partner or a son it does not matter, but I would like to show someone what I found there… I found myself.

It was a long journey that I made alone, without the help of a mother, a sister, a trusted girlfriend or even an agony aunt, but I did have a therapist. It was back in July 2005 that I saw a therapist in East London, I tried desperately to speak to someone and even in such a sleepy hollow as this town -or perhaps exactly for that reason- therapists were booked for months in advance. This one had a slot after two weeks, maybe she was not that good. The only thing I remember about her place is the cream-colored couch and the light pastels of her consultation room. During the hour session, the woman did not speak much she just listened and commented and in that hour I articulated all the negative feelings accumulated throughout six years of marriage. The therapist made the appropriate noises and comments throughout and pointed me to the road that I have already glimpsed when I phoned for an appointment. It was not love that I was living it was an act of willful manipulation. It was time for me to break free and I did.

One month later found me on the shores of Cape Town. A few miles away from the Cape of Good Hope, and to me it was Good Hope. I had a lot of time to reflect on my past life and to think about the way forward; what I really want for my future. I could not, or was not allowed to severe my marriage completely, because at the time my husband  kept trying to win me back, for the wrong reasons now I know. It was the first time though since coming to South Africa where I lived according to my own rules, without having to defer to his every strict edict. I had a great time and indulged in simple pleasures that were not allowed at home: Staying up late, sleeping in, reading in bed, chocolate, cheese and many other treats and junk foods that were extremely frowned upon in my married life. I exercised when I wanted to, and rediscovered the simple joy of doing things for pleasure, not because I needed to break a sweat or do a chore. I also enjoyed the company of Spliff the cat, who shared my bed on some cold winter nights, another no-no in my husband’s dictionary.
The people I shared a house with – two singles dealing with their own problems with relationships and life- gave me plenty of insight, advice and anecdotes, and together we formed an unlikely but rewarding friendship. I enjoyed their company, more so because they also fell on the disagreeable side of my partner’s rules, he had something against overweight women and gay men.
Along with all these personal benefits, things were slowly going my way on a professional level. I bought a computer and worked on my first large freelance translation project, while I also attended interviews for jobs in Cape Town.

Still, no matter how successful I was, or how much I rationalized my relationship and analyzed its glaring flaws, there were many hurdles to conquer mentally and emotionally. I was helped along by a song that came out that year: All These Things I have Done by the Killers.
I would wake up at night sometimes to listen to FM radio on my headphones and would start humming along to the beautiful melody and the lyrics. Unlike the hopelessness of Losing My Religion, somehow there was an underlying theme of hope in this one, and the person crying for help, finds or at least expects to find a way out.
The best part for me was the refrain of : I’ve Got Soul But I am Not a Soldier. It translated my exact feelings: I do have a heart and emotions and I am capable of love and hope, but I will not continue this endless battle of my marriage, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The video of that lovely track, and the lyrics are below.

When there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
One more son
If you can hold on
If you can hold on, hold on
I wanna stand up, I wanna let go
You know, you know – no you don’t, you don’t
I wanna shine on in the hearts of men
I wanna mean it from the back of my broken hand

Another head aches, another heart breaks
I am so much older than I can take
And my affection, well it comes and goes
I need direction to perfection, no no no no

Help me out
Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out

And when there’s nowhere else to run
Is there room for one more son
These changes ain’t changing me
The gold-hearted boy I used to be

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

I got soul, but I’m not a soldier
I got soul, but I’m not a soldier

Yeah, you know you got to help me out
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You know you got to help me out
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, oh don’t you put me on the back burner
You’re gonna bring yourself down
Yeah, you’re gonna bring yourself down

Over and in, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

I read in one interpretation that the lyrics are written from the viewpoint of God. Speaking how people turn to Him only when they need help, which makes sense. However, like any work of art this song evokes different feelings, images and memories in different people. The message for me was hope, eventually I shall prevail, or find help, I have what it takes.

In April 2008, I moved with my six-month old son Robert to the same house that welcomed me when I first arrived in Cape Town.  I was determined this time to finish what I failed to do almost three years ago.  The circumstances this time were more difficult than the first time around, but on some levels I was much happier. I never took walks alone to the beach anymore and wondered about my future, I never worried about what I would do about love. I had all the love and the future I wanted in my son. When my song played, there were two of us to dance to it.

Happiness is…

I subscribed to a site called the Happiness Project and I am trying to follow some of the advice dished out by Gretchen Rubin the who authored a book called The Happiness Project.

One advice she gave last week was to take a day off which I did today, unauthorized of course. I felt overwhelmed with my life, as yesterday was particularly demanding with Robert. I felt like I spent the whole afternoon running after him, picking up messes and fixing things that he broke (the dial out lock on the phone and one of my tapes to name two). I read somewhere that one can phone work and request a mental health day, which of course is not possible in our marvelous workplace, so I claimed food poisoning instead. No, I am not afraid to be found out by management since I have given notice already, they cannot fire me anymore.

So What we did today with Robbie boy? We went to his swim lesson which was great then I came back to spend some time with my new best friend – my new laptop which I bought yesterday. Later and after my boy forced at least one shut-down and aborted one download we went to the Waterfront. He kept asking yesterday for steak sandwich from the Waterfront,  just as we were getting ready for sleep.

So we spent a leisurely two hours walking there and back. It was one of those golden afternoons, warm with no wind, heralding the arrival of autumn, my favorite season.  As we sat together on a bench, with Rob eating his sandwich and sipping on a cool drink (dry lemon soda of all things) I felt I was so happy, what more do I need from life? Things are falling into place. I have work coming up which will keep me busy and there might also be another opportunity on the horizon.  I will have to drink this in and the memories and appreciate what I got.

Robert took pleasure in watching people dismantling the little rides that were busy here during the summer holidays. One of them is a roller-coaster that looks like a caterpillar. I felt a pang of guilt that he never got to ride them this summer but I am hoping to do the rides with him next year. Also there are still things that I can do with him once I am a free working from home mommy.

There are always the good times, I should remember that. This blog is not only about me whinging. It is also about me enjoying life as a mom and taking little snapshots of our time together. On our way back for example he had the hiccups and asked me for water: “I am hiccing up” he said, and I thought it was so funny that he made up this verb. I heard him before saying: “I hicced up”.

I hope I will never forget these little phrases and his little gems of wisdom he imparts on me every once in a while.

A Little Crazy

I dropped off Robert at the day care, and because I had a few hours to kill I stopped with my laptop at a coffee shop that has a free wi-fi zone. I was totally out of place with the beautiful rich people, killing time and sipping coffee, but at least my laptop measured up. In my rush to pack up my laptop upon leaving home I forgot to equip my son’s schoolbag with nappies, everything comes at a price.

At eleven I had an appointment to look at the only flat I found in my price range AND in my area of interest. I Just wanted to reassure myself for a final time before I paid a deposit. As usual the place is not perfect but has some advantages over the one we live in right now. I went home and did the banking, paid a deposit then went for another appointment to view furniture being sold by a work colleague, I agreed to buy.

At about half past one I made my way under drizzling rain to pick up Robert from day care then onwards to the company garden where I had arranged to meet and spend an afternoon with my new friend D and her son, who is four years old.

We made a pretty picture, two women with similar colouring, two kids, one blond one with dark tightly curled hair, and no men in sight. D is also a divorcee so we had a few laughs comparing our situations.

The sun obliged and came out after we arrived at the gardens and the kids got to feed the squirrels and the pigeons. Robert mostly held on to the packet of peanuts and ate them himself until a cheeky little squirrel went up on its hind-legs and clambered up on his shirt trying to reach the little plastic bag held firmly in my boy’s fist. Robert was so surprised he dropped the packet and started howling… the image was worth a picture, but I was of course too surprised to capture the moment. D was quick to pick up Robert and comfort him, but his distress was mostly because he thought he lost the peanuts forever, and all was well when he reclaimed them. We made it as far as the museum, by way of statues of colonialists, bird cages and Koi ponds without Koi, and we ended the day at McGrease with two burgers, two happy meals and two very hyper kids, then D went with her son to catch the train while I half dragged half carried Robert to the minibus taxi stop.

I will be moving by the end of next week, but until now I have not arranged a moving team or packed a single item.  But I arranged to spend the day tomorrow with another friend Jen, who will be bringing my boxes. I will also meet the owner of the furniture to give her a down payment. The money is going through my fingers like crazy, and I feel somewhat crazy myself.

We never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy, and nobody says it better than my friend Alanis.

Cream Cupcakes, Not Guilty ?

When I emailed my mother yesterday and mentioned Robert’s runny tummy, she said maybe he is teething.  I dismissed the notion immediately, because my boy is almost fully grown, how could he be teething again? Besides I was too busy blaming the cream cupcake. I guess I was brainwashed by my ex, who used to claim that even a small ice cream gives him indigestion.

When I picked Robert up from school today he looked tired and unhappy. His teachers told me he has slight temperature and he hadn’t eaten. One of them mentioned teething as well because they noted that one of his cheeks was red and hot. I was still unconvinced until I tried to investigate his gum this evening, and sure enough the gum is swollen on the right bottom side his mouth, so I think we are both going to have some interesting times ahead.

Eating has been almost non-existent, and the runny tummy continues. He also has a little temperature, we are in for some challenging time.

Apart from that the weather in Cape Town is still great, it reached 28 degrees this afternoon. So we did get to the playground, runny tummy and all.

This is another picture of today’s sunset from the playground on the promenade

The Gross Out Phenomenon

Yesterday was another day off school for Robert. He started the day with a terrible bout of diarrhea and went on like this for the rest of the day. I spent considerable amount of time at the changing table trying to prevent a leaking nappy disaster.

Scientifically, an ailment of this nature can only be caused by a virus, but I do not know why I am still blaming the cream cup cakes we both consumed greedily yesterday. I was buying our usual stuff from the supermarket when he saw these ones on the discount table and started crying out : muffin.. muffin, and of course I had to buy him something. Perhaps I made him my excuse because they were discounted and I fancied something sweet.  I think next time there are more wholesome options, and I can buy him ONE bran muffin instead of a whole tray of cream cupcakes.

If it was not for another pressing translation assignment I would have enjoyed today’s break with my son a little more. It was a glorious warm autumn day with blue skies and sunshine, something that this part of the world is renowned for.  I took Robert in his stroller up Victoria Road in the direction of Camps Bay and after a brief rest taking in the views of the Twelve Apostles and Clifton beaches we headed back towards our part of the world, and Robert got to walk as well on the promenade.

We do not get this fabulous weather all the time, though. This past weekend was disastrous in the Cape. The rain and gale force winds wreaked havoc in informal settlements (shanty towns) and on the Cape Flats (where flood damage is always greatest).  I had quite a challenging time because I had to go to work and I was scheduled to drop off Robert with Britt’s nanny at their place.  As is always the case Britt came to the rescue and offered to come and pick us up. She gave me a lift to work and back on that day too, something I only got once from my ex husband since our divorce. Compassion was never one of his strongest points.

On Sunday Robert was due to be with his father and the weather was better. I had the chance to put the laundry out in the sun for a few hours when I came back from work. My ex dropped off our son late and my poor baby was drenched in mud water from the knees down. My ex insisted that I not mention anything because Robert fell in a puddle and was very upset for at least half an hour after that. At home Robbie protested bitterly at being carried into the bath and the subsequent cleanup, but I did not sense anything was wrong, our afternoon proceeded normally with the usual bath-time and bedtime routine.  I was very surprised when my ex phoned just as we were both drifting to sleep to ask how Robert was, it makes me wonder whether my ex was telling me everything about Robert’s misadventure.

Speaking of the tyke. I think he is starting the boy tradition of fascination with the gross. Whenever I change his diaper (and yesterday I had more of this experience than I care to count) he would give a comment on this, either: bum hurting (hetin) – meaning he has a nappy rash , ka ka toiten (he should have used the toilet) or just nappy on/ nappy off. Lately however he started commenting -I think- on the actual contents of the nappy.. gross.  As I wrinkle my nose at the disgusting diapers and try hard to keep the squirming toddler from smearing it everywhere or putting his hands on his dirty bum he would go : “like avocado”… Yuk… Last night he volunteered: “Like Hummus” … I had a hard time fighting my gag reflex while laughing at the same time.

Last Days of Summer

Truly amazing how we moved from 40 degrees plus last week, to low 20s this week. Robert and I are struggling with early cold symptoms and a nagging dry cough because of this drastic change.

We are starting to think hot cereal, and hot milk bottles, when a week ago it was a question of how to keep the milk cold. Well, that’s Cape Town weather for you, now we are in for experiencing four seasons in day and asking a clairvoyant what to wear for the weather, great fun ahead.