The Test and Lessons of Time

There is no going back on some things you do, and no recovery of some pieces you give from yourself. Some people have deep pockets and shallow hearts. They give their word today and forget it tomorrow. They give their hearts forever, but that “forever” turns out to be just a day or a year. I am one of the unlucky few. I only say what I sincerely feel, and then only when I know that I truly mean it.

In loving, my regrets do not extend to the casual losses of heartache. My hurt is not for the wasted time, the squandered pride, and unrequited feelings. To my mind, the people I loved were worthy of the time I spent, the heartache I felt, and the pieces of my heart that I will never be able to fully heal. And even if they were not, then the love itself was worth it, in its sincerity and purity.

What I regret most, is giving people once loved a window to my truest self, and then knowing, long after they have proven transient in my life, that they might be still watching, through that window, lurking on the fringes of my existence, and silently judging me.

And it wouldn’t have mattered at all if the dishonesty they accused me of was real, because only I know that what I gave was my very essence. It was the only thing, that remained unchanged, after life presented me with challenges and bottomless heartbreaks in ten different cities on four continents.

Some people agonise over the secrets that they surrendered to the ears of lovers or friends, in the heat of passion, or on the coals of remorse. I do not care if the world knew about my petty secrets. It would not bother me if everyone found out about the men I loved; even my teenage follies and the occasional bad choices. But I am grateful that the objects of my old desires cannot look at my words here, to know what I think of them now. Let them cling to the bliss of ignorance, and think what makes them happy. That I still remember, or that I really forgot. Let them keep and shape their memories of me, as foolish woman, as a slut, or as the one they should have kept. And at least I have this magical place to laugh and to cry about things that happened, or almost did, or never came to pass. I can reflect on old loves, like I reflect and whinge on my rivals without fearing judgment.

For all my foolishness in love, I am grateful that at least I kept a space to myself to reflect where my former lovers cannot reach me. I think there was always a part of me that mistrusted men, and prevented me, sometimes at the last minute, from throwing caution completely to the wind. But I wish that feminine self-preservation extended further to my close female friends.

I wish I was woman enough to carry my pain alone, and bury it in this little wrinkle in the anonymous cyberspace, and not seek validation from anyone. It is a lesson I learned now. If I were observant, I would have learnt it earlier from the same woman who caused this regret. She always kept much of herself hidden, and only chose to show me things that I could relate to. But I was too much in pain to notice, and only started waking up when something inside me decided to rebel against my familiar, and house-trained, sorrow.

There are things now that I cannot talk about. It is the price I have to pay for being untrustworthy with the workings of my inner self. It is my punishment for giving a bit too much. But I will not allow it to be the end of the world for me, and it is not the end of giving parts of myself.

Some people I know in real life read this, and have access to my deepest thoughts. Most have proven their worth, not by being as foolish and open as I am to them, but by being always honest, empowering me to see things differently, rather than enabling my weakness. Not all of them are women. Some are family and some are decade-long friends. But all of them waited long enough for the privilege and understood it as an opportunity to critique, not a request for validation.

Almost 15 years ago I had to migrate my blog because my then husband and his family used to read it. It started as simple baby blog then turned into a space to chronicle my struggle with divorce and conflicts with my child’s father. I painstakingly removed all identifying information from blog posts, and started to speak freely about my ex. It was difficult at first to go past the self-imposed barriers of loyalty and pride. It became easier as time passed. Now my ex and I are so distant physically and mentally that it no longer matters to me if he reads here and how he judges it.

Time renders many things irrelevant, and perhaps this is also one of them. So I will turn the page on this story for now and speak about other things. From now on I will try to put things to the test of time, will what I say and do today matter next year? Will I love you next year like I love you today? Will I trust you next year like I trust you today?

The answer has to be a clear YES before I write about it here. There will be no place for “I am not sure”, or “I do not know”. And this cancels out most matters of the heart, because hearts are fickle and prone to change. It also cancel out dreams, aspirations and desires. The same is true for best laid plans. When I arrived in Kenya in 2015, I said to myself that I came home. I believed that I will never leave the sunshine of Africa again. Six years later I am here, staring out of a window into the darkness of the incoming European winter. I could tell myself that this is only transitory, that I will return in five years, when my son finished school, but I fear that the fates are already laughing at me, that my destiny might be to stay here into my old age, or to die here before I even get to enjoy my twilight years.

Will it matter in a year? Will this hold true in a year? Even if I say a clear YES today, the outline of a NO might be already drawn for me on the pages of destiny.

Time is such a joker, so keep a space to yourself, to change your mind about everything, and to erase what you have written yesterday, with great conviction.

Easter Fun on Roosevelt Island

On Saturday Robert met the Easter Bunny on Roosevelt Island. We got together with one of his pre-k friends and her mom, and we had some fun. Fortunately the weather held for the day.

The Easter Egg Hunt itself lasted only for a minute or so. The organizers had strewn the lawn with plastic eggs, filled with small toys and stickers. The kids swarmed over the stretch of lawn and picked it clean in the blink of an eye.

There were other activities after the “hunt”. Our kids had their faces painted, got to ride in the back of a police van and met a police dog called Achilles. Of course the most important event was taking a photo with the Easter Bunny. After the photo the kids put their heads together and started whispering, when pressed by us moms to tell what’s up. Robert came to me and whispered: “The Easter bunny is a man with bald hair (sic) and glasses”. So it was not the real Easter Bunny after all.

Are Social Networks Killing the Art of Personal Blogging?

Most people invest a lot of time and effort in social networking. Virtual socializing has almost replaced actual socializing. For people who are shy and introverted like myself, it is much easier to share stories and news on my wall. The social networks make it also very easy to wish people well on their birthday (rather than diarise and try to remember it ahead of time), it is also no effort at all to congratulate social network friends on their successes or send them well-meaning words when they advertise a failure or difficulty. I know many people who have sworn off social networking because they feel it infringes on their privacy. They think, and rightly so, that they have no control over the information they share with the world. Once you write a word or a statement it will be out there, whether you delete it, or close your whole social network account, it will remain accessible to someone out there, and is therefore bound to haunt you for the rest of your life. If you think conspiracy theory and big brother, you are going to have a huge problem with this idea. However, if you think human accountability, responsibility, and standing up for consequences, you will be able to breathe a little easier.

Personally, I find social networks hugely useful. They connect me to members of my family whom I am unlikely to meet anywhere else. The last time I visited my birth country was ten years ago, and I am unlikely to visit anytime soon. My other friends in South Africa, I see once I year at most and it is wonderful to be able to see the events of their lives on a daily basis. I see the pictures of their growing children and follow them on their vacations, when the great distance prevents me from keeping closely with them. I have no qualms about posting my own pictures, comments and ideas on a social network either. I feel it is one way of communicating with friends across great distances. The great success of social networking shows that it has filled a great need to communicate between people. This came of course with some disadvantages, I hinted at earlier. They are a poor substitute for actual face-to-face socializing, they perversely encourage people to become anti-social, for example it is easier to write a message on friend’s wall (and I mean here a friend in the old-fashioned sense) instead of picking up the phone and talking to them. They have also diluted the old-fashioned meaning of the word friend until it became synonymous with somebody you met once at a cocktail party. Finally, they simply produce too much information, which places pressure on our time. Once you are aware of these negative aspects, however, you can target them specifically with remedies. For example, give actual, not virtual, time to your real friends. Regularly cull friends with whom you are unlikely to cross path with ever again. Exercise your own rules in your own personal space to limit the amount of time wasted on social networks, and limit your interests to things you really want to know about, and to as little products and services (advertising) as possible.

Social Networks are in the end a business, and the members are potential capital, so the more time you spend interacting with them the more likely you are to buy something from them or from one of their partners or advertisers. You have to balance the benefits you get from them against the time and effort you invest. It is no surprise that in their quest for larger chunks of your time these networks make it increasingly easier to share, connect and communicate with other. The most famous social network is constantly evolving and upgrading. Giving users more and more ways to build a profile, that is now almost indistinguishable from a blog. I cannot think of anything I can do on this blog that I cannot do on my social networking “site”. With the added advantage that on the social network I already have a built-in audience in the form of my social network friends. During the past year, as I experienced a hiatus in my blogging enthusiasm I wondered whether sharing through social networking had something to do with it, and until now I am not clear on this in my own mind.

What is your view of this phenomenon? Do you think the blurred boundaries between social networking and blogging are positive or negative? Will blogging survive and evolve through this, or will it be in the end one application or function of social networking? I am curious to find out.

The Blog is dead? Long Live the Blog

Another month has passed and I have not visited, but seems like some people haven’t forgotten me, strangely enough my blog stats haven’t flat-lined (yet)

The months of June and July have been interesting so far. I followed the World Cup here in South Africa, I turned 40, I bought a flat, I cheered half a dozen different teams, I went on fan walks, I attended two World Cup matches live, and I indulged in a huge crush on a talented football player the way I did when I was 12.

Just before I turned 40, a young friend of mine died after a battle with cancer and whenever I remember him now I feel that I have to give thanks to the years, the white hairs and the time I have been given on this planet.

I may not be very young anymore but I can still enjoy simple pleasures and laugh from the bottom of my heart. I am still capable of working hard and staying up all night. I still love my life, and I love it today more than I did in my younger days. I have work to do on this planet, things to see and a young son to raise. I am happy to be part of it all.
More hopefully later when I finish my current project.

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.

Socializing

After more than a year of taking my son to creche, I am used to the routine of settling him in for the morning which is mostly a difficult process, as I have to deal with clinging, mood change and occasional tantrums. Most days I struggle to extract myself from this, suffering guilt feelings and changes of mood myself, which leaves me emotionally exhausted before my day at work even starts.

Today was a blissfully different experience. Robert was greeted by one of his classmates, and also his favorite friend Gina. She quickly whisked him away towards the playground and they started chatting and running around cheerfully. As I left the school I glanced back at Robert; he was totally engrossed in following Gina around as she pedaled along on a scooter-bike. He was happy and unaware of me watching him.  This is the first time I see my child as a social being, interacting with friends and classmates; he is growing up.

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.

Bad News Cannot Be Broken Gently

I found out today that a friend of mine has lost her husband in a freak accident on the weekend. He fell off a cliff in a nature reserve near Cape Town. Within seconds, a young healthy man, father of three and loving husband was reduced to a tragic statistic.

Was it only last week Sunday when I met the whole family by chance at the mall? We talked briefly and my friend told me that she was traveling with the kids to visit her family in Italy on Tuesday. Now they are all on their way back to say last goodbyes. I am guilty of anger, of thinking why him? Why, when there are so many deadbeat fathers,  good-for-nothing boyfriends and abusive husbands? The short answer- there are no reasons. Those with strong faith may console themselves with saying that the Lord chooses the good people early, and perhaps this is a comforting thought. But death has no discriminatory taste; it takes the young and the old, the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the ugly and the beautiful. It is nature’s cruel way of reminding us that we are all equal, that health, happiness and the presence of our loved ones are never to be taken for granted.

If I live long enough to see my next birthday, I will be grateful that I am living to see 40, like I am grateful to have seen 39, some people aren’t so lucky. If  I do not live long enough to see my child at high school, then I should feel fortunate to have witnessed his first word, his first step and received his first hug. I am not immortal, nobody is, and fearfully I also acknowledge the mortality of my own child. I can only hope that he will outlive me. In the meantime I want to lie down to sleep next to him, and breathe his warmth and feel grateful that we are both alive.

But before that I will light a candle tonight, for a friend who is traveling through the darkness of night and the darkness of grief, to face a  reality straight out of a worst nightmare. I am praying that a mother will find strength and courage to carry her children safely through it. I am praying that she will find comfort in their love as they will in hers. I am praying that one day they will all smile at the memory of a husband and a father, rather than cry at his loss.

I do not know what to say… Life is so cruel sometimes.

It Puzzles Me

My ex has been nice to us in this past month, and as much as it is a relief for me, I am still puzzled about his latest incarnation as a caring father, when not too long ago he told me that I was not able to look after our son AND called me many colourful names because I refused to hand him over some money which he thought -wrongly as usual- that it should be his.

I see his recent change of behaviour and wonder what is behind it. Is it real? Is it some sort of preemptive measure to avoid escalating maintenance payments? Is it a mind game? or is it just the sad realization that Robert is all he has left? I do not know, and I am hesitant to make a judgement call on this one. I am going to wait and see,  and I mean really wait for a long long time.  Maybe ten years from now I will be able to tell some more.  In the meantime I am taking his “helpfulness” where I find it, and taking advantage of it while it lasts.  As things happened, it looks like I will not be able to rely on his helpfulness too much because he got himself a full time job (something that he has been loath to do since moving to Cape Town). He said that he would be working every day including Saturday mornings until 11:30. What worried him, as he told me yesterday (and again this is completely out of character for my ex) is that he will not get too much time to spend with Robert, very strange.

In return my natural instinct is also to be nice, and although my analytical mind tells me that perhaps this is not such a good idea, I am willing to risk it. I feel in the end my son will benefit of a hostility-free relationship between his mother and his father.

Having fun at the toy store
Having fun at the toy store

On that note today was the said father’s birthday and we went with him to the Waterfront after he finished working (and gym) and I bought my ex a ticket to the Aquarium which he enjoyed. Robert has his usual fun-filled day at the toy store and we later introduced him again to the fish. He is still too young to appreciate all exhibits, but occasionally he would look and say fish, or “big” but mostly it is water (Ahti).

The Two Oceans Aquarium is really nice. The last time I was here was on the fateful day I lost my wallet (the one that got really lost, not the one I stupidly misplaced), so this became my first visit to the new frogs exhibit, which was interesting.  The few species they showed great variation in size and colours. Some of the frogs are as big as an adult’s fists while others would fit comfortably on a small coin.  In addition to this new exhibits therer were also the old favourites like the predator exhibit, and we were there in time for their feeding. My personal favourite is the kelp forrest with many snub nosed fishes that look pouty and angry. The only photo I took though was in the tank of the clown fish (made famous by the movie Finding Nemo) but the pictures turned out poor especially since I did not have enough time to study the features of my new camera.  I will have to try it out next time at leisure.

At the Aquarium I bumped into W. and her tall, tall son Zack.  Zack is now 18 months, and Robert still wears some of babygros that were too small for him at 12 months. I do not see much of Zack’s mom anymore because she lives and works in Sommerset West, but she promised to get in touch whenever she was in Cape Town.

It was five thrity in the afternoon when we got out of the Aquarium. Robert was completely finished, but I still managed to do some shopping. I went looking for some clothes for me and ended up buying a sandal for Robert. Meanwhile my own sandal is falling apart, but I will shop for myself some other time.

During the excitement out, Robert has nothing to eat for the whole afternoon, but he made up for it by eating one whole scrambled egg and toast. When I reported this to his father in a text message, he texted me back thanking me for a nice birthday.  “You are still important in my life and now Robert gives it meaning” he said.  Whatever that means, I will know ten years from now.

Boxing Day

Robert multitasking with toy and remote while Mr. (100% Trouble) is quietly watching

Another adventure awaited us today, we were invited to Camps Bay, to a friend’s house. She is another playgroup mom, and we share similar Middle East roots. I really did not think about getting anyone Christmas presents this year, but I had something small for Zach yesterday, which was really lucky since his mom gave Robert such a generous present. Today we had to make do with food and drinks for the grown ups and a little sweet treat for my son’s playmate.

The gathering was a typical South African bring and braai, and there were many guests, including some friends from overseas. I was slightly out of my comfort zone because this is not exactly my scene. I do prefer more intimate visits where one actually talks, but we had fun nevertheless. There was another baby apart from the two pictured here, so there was no escape from moms and babies talk.

After some initial discomfort Robert started to walk around and explore the big house. At some point we had to block the little ones from accessing the pool, and then minimize their exposure to braai smoke, but there were no major disasters. Robert snacked on all the goodies offered, and even asked for his own favourite food, when he took out a can of baked beans (baked – as he calls it) from an open cupboard.  My friend’s son, who is slightly older is not as verbal yet, and this is perhaps because he is raised bilingual (his father speaks to him only in German).  Children who are exposed to two languages simultaneously mostly take longer to verbalize, but then start speaking both with equal ease; these are the rare people who have TWO mother tongues.

My friend S. indicated that she would like to have us over for New Year’s but I politely declined. It was nice of her to have us today, especially considering that she had to pick us up and then drop us off. New Year’s is a time to party, and I wouldn’t want her to do so any less because she has to drive a mom and babe home.  Besides,  I was inclined to spend the last few days of the year in peaceful reflection of the past and the future, the most immediate of which is getting back to work on Friday January 2nd.