Review of 2010

The year 2010 is for me definitely a watershed year, where I tested the ropes on great many things and I am glad with the way they all turned out.

Early this year I finally made what I have been threatening to do for a long time, namely quit my office part-time job and concentrate on my home-based translation business. The decision was brought on after long consideration, and quite by chance on the day I handed in my resignation I found out that I qualified for an interview for a translation job with a high-profile international organization.  Of course, this did not mean I got the job but at least I travelled to the interview unencumbered by excuses to an employer, and I faced my interviewing panel as an independent language practitioner.

In April I found out that I passed the interview too and I braced myself for a long wait, loitering in a roster, without any idea when or where I will be called, but this did not concern me much at the time, there were other things to look forward to.

In June the World Cup came to South Africa, and my desire to live the experience to the full was also one of the reasons behind quitting my job. Robert had a prolonged holiday from school and we had our fill of the festivities, street parties and the fan walk. I was also fortunate enough to see two matches live, including the one Semi Final held in Cape Town between the Netherlands and Uruguay.

I am a World Cup baby, and I celebrated my 40th this year in style. And  a ticket to Algeria Vs England was a present to myself (the match itself a dud though). My birthday month also saw me sign a contract for buying a tiny new flat in a brand new block just around the corner from where I am renting. It was a huge leap of faith as I was not sure whether I can afford it, but my parents stepped in and rescued me with a generous loan that saved me from resorting to the banks (and risking getting turned down by them). My flat was scheduled for completion in February 2011.

Later in the year I had some stress with deadline and projects but in general I gently plodded on doing my work, looking after Robert and not forgetting to have a good time.

Late in October the saga with my lengthy job application progressed one step further and I was nominated for a job in New York. The rest of the year I spent doing some paperwork and speculating about how long the process will take.

I finally told Robert’s father of these plans in November and he did not take it easily. I had a few days of emotionally exhausting talks with him, where I stood firm on the fact that my life is going on – without him. He understood that the move will only benefit Robert in the long run.  I met him halfway, by offering him to rent my new apartment at a rate considerably less than market value.  Of course he was very pleased with that. He saw the flat with me a few days after Christmas and was involved in suggesting some minor changes.

Befitting my new amicable relationship with my ex we had a picnic on Christmas day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and he was with us to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

We had a simple celebration at home with music and dancing (provided by Robert). We had champagne then walked downtown to watch the Christmas Lights on Adderley Street. Later we came home and had a quick late supper then walked up to Ocean View Drive to watch the fireworks at midnight. It was a quiet end to a wonderful year and I hope 2011 will be just as great.

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.

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.

My Home My Castle.. where are you now?

Another erratic week has passed, with rain and floods in the Cape. My life is no less flooded with news, worries and small irritations.

It started last week Monday when Robert had a fever again while at school. He was sleepy and lethargic, and appeared to have problems swallowing. The fever did not break on the next day and I was forced to phone work and simply tell the truth : My child is sick and I cannot take him to day care and therefore cannot come to work.  Before resorting to this I tried Robert’s father but obviously his work is much more important and critical than mine,  so I just have to take whatever management deals me for this since I have no sick days or family days left – or so I believed at the time.

Robert improved ever so slightly on the next day, mercifully an off day from work for me,  and I decided that we tough it out this time and do not run to the doctor, which proved to be the correct decision in this case since he was well enough for school on Thursday, although I took precaution and gave him a dose of fever medicine before school on the day.

My troubles for the week though were not over because last week I also received notice to vacate my flat, by latest August 31st. This came as unwelcome shock for me, even though I hate many things about my current place, mainly its dilapidated general state, filthy carpet, pealing paint and leaking plumbing, but I am the kind of person who puts up with a lot of inconvenience and I do not particularly care for major changes and upheavals in my life. No, I am not a mover and a shaker and I HATE moving with a passion. This will be the fifth time I move since I came to Cape Town in 2005, and that is too much for anyone.  It is even too much for me because I only moved a dozen times in my adult life.

Small consolation for me is that the whole block has been served notice, on the pretext of major renovation to the building. The place does look shabby even on the outside and there is no denying the need for a major facelift, and some serious maintenance, but the timing is very unfortunate, for me that is. For the landlord it is probably just right to get the whole place done up and ready to be rented out during the World Cup.

I am starting to think that this whole World Cup thing is a curse for us bottom feeders, and regular citizens.  Everyone with a little stake in this city thinks that the World Cup will be their chance to make a fortune.  Not only landlords are licking their lips, taxi drivers are also starting to flex their muscles, unhappy about the public transport system which will start running in 2010, since they expect that it will take a chunk out of their profits. Workers Unions are exploiting the opportunity as well, and pressurizing construction workers into a strike that has hampered the construction work at the Green Point Stadium. Of course the workers are normally unwilling participants in such actions, but do not dare to go against the unions and the threats from more belligerent members.

I was euphoric many years ago when South Africa won the bid for hosting this World Cup, but now I am beginning to think that the best thing that can happen to me personally is for this spectacle to move elsewhere.  The properties will be selling like crazy, rents will be cheap, transport will not increase in price and my city will be my own again. Now I feel like I am being squeezed out for some wealthy foreigner who will take my apartment, and maybe even sleep in my bed when I am on the streets. Yes, this is over-dramatizing the situation, but I am a wee bit paranoid about being homeless.

Ah well, tomorrow I am going on my first -probably of many- flat-viewing errands, I hope that this time Robert and I will get to stay in the same place for two years at least. I want to move as soon as possible and will not wait until the end of next month if I can help it, because I do not want Robert to spend another birthday in the chaos of moving.

On a happier note, today is Bastille Day, my father’s birthday : Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you for being a great father and role model. I am trying to emulate you as best as I can.