Thursday, May 22, 2008

Open for business

I am sitting at my desk at work. I can hear the traffic outside and the phone still rings. There was a photo shoot in the studio today. My kids went to school and have gone home with friends for playdates. This is quite a normal day. Except, I just read that there are about 27,000 people displaced from their homes in a city whose official population is some 2.5 million. Yes, 10% of Joburg has been displaced due to xenophobic attacks. Its mainly foreigners that are getting the axe - or rather the necklace (which is the very disturbing practice of putting a tire around somebody's neck and lighting it on fire), but those housing and employing foreigners are also a target.

People are dying, people are starving. Many have been beaten or raped and at the very least, they have been unable to fight back as the few possessions they own have been taken from them or destroyed. It started because a group of South Africans heard from somewhere that foreigners were getting preferential allocations to government housing. This information, coupled with massive unemployment, rising food and petrol costs, growing disassociation and disenfranchisement from the government - and probably also a couple bottles of beer - led to the first attacks on Zimbabwean nationals living in Alex Township. Others caught on to this and the wave of violence spread, through and outside of Joburg. The classic xenophobic beliefs that foreigners are taking "our" jobs and commit all the crimes fueled the classic mob mentality and within a few moments, the thugs got involved. They were doing it anyhow, now its just an easier environment to work in.

Thousands of people, many of them already refugees and (as the current government refuses to accept that Zimbabweans could possibly have reason to leave home) economic migrants, some documented, some not, have been left displaced again. South Africa does not have a refugee camp policy. These people have been seeking refuge in churches and police stations. Ironically, it is the "Red Ants" now guarding these makeshift camps. (The "Red Ants" are a branch of the police force responsible for the search and eviction of undocumented migrants in the inner city and known for the cruelty in which they carry these orders out.) The call has gone out for everyone to bring in food and clothing, especially for the children. Everyone knows someone who is gathering up to take in to some shelter or other. Community associations are up in arms - its just that the government has been awful slow in taking up arms against the terror. The pictures are horrific. The stories will make you cry.

There is a war against foreigners going on in "my" city. I wonder if I should be worried about my safety. I wonder if there will come a point when I need to jump on the next airplane and off to safety. I wonder if I am really a foreigner; how can I be now? And as I ponder all these things, I sit at my desk in a city with violence erupting and exploding around me and I answer the phone calls that are still bringing work in. The city is burning, but if you need a make up artist, we are open for business.

Friday, June 29, 2007

fire exits

I read like a tarot card, its so easy to pick out my mood and to divide up what I am really saying. But I am not alone. I think it is actually rare that people are able to conceal their real feelings. And I am generally pretty good at picking these things up. Last night was just another night, like any other night. An exhibition, some drinks and then a packed full space of people mushing and pushing and putting on their smiles and their attitudes. A sea of bodies, dancing and laughing and full of the expectations of this life... I played along, I smiled and put on my attitude and danced and laughed, but I am feeling jaded.

I saw him. He doesn't know who I am, but I know who he is. I know his history, his story. I know this because when people are in a sea of other people all mushing and pushing each other, sometimes they talk. And they gossip and they say things to get an edge. But that is not the point right now, we all already know this and I don't need to rehash this for you right now. The point is that I know what he has gone through, in a very superficial way perhaps, but it is something I have gone through. And I was fascinated. It was, if nothing else, more interesting than worrying about venue capacity versus possible exits in the case of a fire. I watched him and his interactions with the people around him. I watched him dance and flirt and smile and laugh. I saw how he dealt with the mushing and pushing. I saw a moment of release, where all the old rubbish just went away and he mushed and pushed back and he relaxed and became himself. It was revealing, and it released me. I stopped watching him, I stopped thinking about fire exits and how close I was to one. I let go myself.

Transformation. Realisation. And I danced with abandon and I mushed and pushed and I was full of the expectations of this life. I was full of dreams and possibilities, and pushed back the regrets and the bittersweet sentiments that I cherish. I started to watch me in my minds eye and I laughed, for it was far more interesting than the fire exits. I felt assured, reassured and not pressured. And then I had to leave. All the mushing and pushing, its not forever me, it was a night, just another night. I made a bacon and egg sandwich. I skimmed through a cooking magazine and went to bed, joined eventually by my babies who mushed but didn't push and who are intensely filled with the expectations of this life. And this morning, I got my daily tarot card emailed to me: The moon (now go pick that apart).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

stop colding me out

Its another cold morning and everyone is worried about their toes. Its not that my toes don't count, its just that it is winter and of course they are gonna be cold. And truth be told, its not that cold. It is refreshing. Although, I admit, the way the wind was kicking up something terrible last night was nothing I would have wanted to be out and about in. But this cold is not really up to scratch (meaning it doesn't compete with NEOH winters) and as I have recently had a taste of proper snow, there is nothing here to get excited about, not even cold toes.

What is exciting is moving in to my new place in a weeks time. We all know by now that I love lists and organising them and making them so complicated I need more than one spreadsheet to accomplish the task of organisation. Then there is prioritising, and crossing completed tasks off my lists and then cross referencing them and delegation and educated decision making. Its all too wonderful. So what a move entails is a lot of list making and all related tasks. I should be in my element and I am, truly. Only, I can hardly say that list girl is on the ball. List girl is not working off a list, she has not made up complex spreadsheets, she is pretending that the move is not the scary or list deserving.

List girl is for some reason spending way too much time worried about the fact that she does not have a bread knife. This is not a train smash. This is not even cold toes in winter. No one really NEEDS a bread knife. I mean, they are nice to have and when you get to a certain point in your life, it is kind of assumed that you will own something called a bread knife, but it is not a necessity, ya know. Trouble is, I thought I was at the point in my life where I would be expected to have a bread knife. I have plenty of tableware & servingware & linens for entertaining only, so surely I should have a bread knife. But I don't. Not even an old one. I am now trying to figure out why I don't just go and buy one. Not an expensive one, mind you, just your average run of the mill Woolies brand bread knife. Its not something that will break the bank (okay, maybe it will mine), but truly, I could pay more for medication to make me sleep at night instead of worrying about silly things like bread knives.

Bread knives and cold toes aside, I am excited. I have been eagerly anticipating this move since long before it was coming. I have been waiting for this new beginning, this revolution for far too long and the idea of it all gets me giddy extreme. And perhaps this is why I am not concerned about my toes. I wish I was not concerned about bread knives and I will try my best to listen to the very good advice I received from my son this morning, "Mooooommmm, stop colding me out already!"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

righter me, writer me

Get back to it everyone screams at me. Write. Just write. Just write. So alright, I have spent the past several weeks trying to come up with some sort of inspiration, with mixed success... Some things are actually just too personal. You understand. So instead, I filled myself with writers block and writers grief and self doubt and procrastination and I tried to wallow in it, but its just not there; I guess I am just no good at it. Late last week I sat down to write a short story. I could feel it - the air around the story. I could see my characters, almost smell and touch them. I felt their fear and emotions. I dove right into the icy piercing waters of weeks of writing nothing. And I typed as quick as I could, still stumbling as my brain was working faster. And then, and then... bam, I had no more oxygen and the hypothermia started to creep in and freeze up my body, fingers first. Brain, still stumbling along, I realised the story was trite. The line was not unique, my characters were shallow. The whole story was rather cold and distant, lacking in any substance or thrills. Again, I tried to wallow in that misery, to absolutely no avail.

Last night I tossed and turned, it was like drowning in the warmth of my blankets and socks. I flit over millions of tiny thoughts, as if it was just a puzzle of information I had to put together. Truly, I have plenty to analyze, the past several weeks (months, years...) have all been something of a blur and some clarity is required, just to soothe my hypothermic soul...

This morning I woke up with strange memories. I woke up in the cold, with icy frost on my car and on the grass in the garden. I woke up thinking about the one cold I experienced in Australia hundreds of years ago... It was far west Victoria, maybe even in South Australia and only a matter of about 10 days before I travelled home. It was freezing cold outside and I had a warm, bittersweet soupy feeling in my heart, that was visible on my face. I must have looked like I was waking up, the glow surrounding me, radiating out from me. People commented on how well I looked and I loved the warm feeling that was growing inside, hiding the fear of leaving that still lurked deep inside. My coffee that morning tasted like my coffee this morning, warm and sugary and just about right. That coffee's sugar came in packets. One found its way slipped into a jacket pocket, and was retrieved only weeks later, back in NEOH at a time when the bittersweet was overwhelming, all encompassing... I spent the morning thinking about what I may have accidentally slipped into a pocket this morning.

Oh, but I am not looking back. I do not need a sugar packet or cigarette wrapper or a scrap piece of paper with a note scribbled on it. I have no fear, I am fearless. I am a world of warmth in the frosty morning light. I am not drowning in icy waters. I am a writer - go check my status...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

heaven, hell and in between

Airports are weird places. And they are all completely different - even if they are in the same city. Take for example Washington Dulles and Washington Reagan - they are 2 totally different vibes. As for New York, I can't really say. I've flown through both LaGuardia and the more remote Newark (which yeah, I know is in New Jersey, but its all the same metropolis), but I don't know these airports at all. As far as JFK is concerned - its hard to even call it one airport considering there are 9, count them - nine terminals. I can't really say I know all of JFK airport, but i can tell you all about terminals 2, 3 & 4. Just so I can get it down, the first two are totally rubbish. Terminal 4 is set up totally different and Delta has nothing to do with it, so it is marginally better. However, I guess I can allow for the fact that if I was stuck in Terminal 4 for 2 days, I might think of it in terms of Terminal 2. As it was, I spent 5 hours in Terminal 4 yesterday and it was enough.

Thinking back, I've been in a lot of different airports, though I am not sure I could actually list them all. And i would certainly try if I didn't think I would lose the tiny readership that I have in the attempt to do so. Basically though, I have begun to equate airports with pregnancy. Think about it. You find out your are travelling and you are excited or apprehensive or whatever, but in any case, you begin to accept your fate. At the airport you find yourself weighted down by all kids of extra baggage, totally within your own world, waiting, while you place your life in the hands of others. Its just like being pregnant. And its dreadful. Temperature controls are off, people smell weird, and if you are like me - taking flights with ridiculous lay-overs in random places - then you are uncomfortable for too long, forced to sleep sitting up and constantly checking to see if the time is now or not yet. Its just like being pregnant. And more, when it is over, I will only remember that I didn't like it while forgetting many of the reasons I didn't like it. (And just so you know, I heard a baby crying just as I tried to make the broad leap to delivery...)

As I sit here writing this, I am in the middle of a ridiculously long 8-hour lay-over in Dubai, but believe it or not, there are free internet terminals here, which means I can even hike over there and type this all up after I finish my beer. Its a totally different airport, probably because I don't have a history of hanging out in Arab countries and no matter how international they make it, this is predominantly populated by Arabs. That's not bad, just different. I wonder what Joburg's airport felt like the first time around. I'm sure it felt like being in Africa - also not a place I was ever know for hanging out in.

The fact that I have been in 6 airports since I left - some twice, some for 2 days (ahem) makes me think I may be some sort of authority on the subject. But, kind of like being pregnant, I don't know any more than anyone else who has been through it before. Every experience is unique. So just nod your head and smile as you would do if you were talking to some pregnant woman. And be thankful if you never had to sped 2 days at JFK or 8 hours in any other airport... Cause airports are weird places and its probably good that they separate out arrivals, departures and transiting passengers - cause heaven, hell and purgatory are a lot to deal with all at once. As for me, I think I am waiting for the words "final destination", cause whether its Cleveland or Joburg - the arrivals hall is the best place to be...

Monday, February 19, 2007


You know you are with good people when you find yourself totally comfortable. You know - when you meet someone new or when you find yourself in the presence of people you haven't seen in half a decade or more and nothing is weird. I've been having a lot of this kind of thing going on since I arrived Stateside. Of course, for those of you who don't know, I've also had crazy troubles. I landed and cleared customs like it was my job, then I tore screaming into the bitterly cold New York air, took a deep breath and ran screaming back inside. Shortly there after I had the unfortunate realisation that I wasn't getting out of New York. The very few people that were getting out were a small and infinitely lucky minority. I didn't resent them as I stood at the baggage claim office trying to get my hands on my luggage - crying and carrying on. - I just wanted out. Long story short, I ended up in good hands with a friend of a friend. (This seriously deserves its own blog and will get one, if out of sequence.) And there I was comfortable.

Last night, sitting in a bar with my friends Chris and Samantha, I realised that since landing, I had spent 1 night in New York, 1 night in DC, 1 night in Cleveland and 1 night in Pittsburgh. And even though Julie was missing and Chris and Samantha (despite both being Kent friends) came from totally different periods in my life - every thing was perfectly comfortable. Ditto that sentiment on today which was spent breakfasting, shopping, lunching, watching tv (during which I napped on Samantha's couch to the sounds of Chris and Samantha reciting with Office Space), and more food (read- I whined until they had no choice but to organise me some Taco Bell).

In and amongst the primary activity of the day (eating), I was being instructed in the fine art of Pittsburgh speak. Look, its not all that far away from Cleveland, but man, they talk funny here. All this yinz-ing and some, "watch out its slippy - might fall on to a jagger bush". The last comment was followed by extreme laughter on the part of me and Samantha, who tried to recall the Ohio word for jagger bush - its called prickers. Take your pick, they are both totally ridiculous descriptions of whatever the plant may actually be called. Nonetheless, to my Pitt Crew, I gotta tell yinz, its been a good time out here. I feel totally out of circuit on my beer knowledge, which is understandable I guess. And the merry little stroll was a little cold and the team lost the game. Its slippy outside, but I am totally comfortable and I'm sad I don't have more time.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

fast forward

It is Sunday morning. I leave on Wednesday morning. That gives me about 3 days to get my shit in order. I am mostly done and good thing too. Today is filled up with kids parties and the like. Tomorrow I work full day and will no doubt be spending most of it explaining where all my stuff is so the other ladies can find it when they need it. Tuesday is a half day, but I have to run around to the bank and grab things I don't yet have for the voyage. (This is a self-note to remember to find the electrical converter so I can charge my phone.)

But you see, as happy as I am to go home, I can't seem to get everything altogether for some reason. It could be that I am working a lot on my books lately and started going to the gym again. It could be that work has been completely chaotic and I can barely find a minute to think. Or it could just be, that in many ways, I don't believe I am going. I really just cannot believe it. Josie said she wouldn't believe it until she saw me, so I sent her my flight itinerary from the airline's website - with a whole bunch of CONFIRMEDs next to each flight - and she started to believe (clap your hands if you believe in fairies). Its like I've just realised that life doesn't stop on either side of the ocean if I am not there. In theory I know this, I know that people go on living without me, but I like to think I hold some universal remote that I can press pause on when I leave a place.

Last night I had a collision of worlds and it sent me reeling. First, my housekeeper came in with a handbag she had found tossed by the side of the road. The strap had been cut, but most of the contents (less, one must assume, the cash) were inside. We located the name and number of the person who owned the bag and phoned. She would come and collect. When she arrived with two other folks, we heard the sad story, they had been held up at gun point at zoo lake. Even I wouldn't go for a walk around zoo lake without one of the dogs, I might go into the bowling club or sit down at Moyo, but I wouldn't go walking around the pond that they call a lake without the dogs, c'mon. The lady was distraught, wouldn't you be? And then my house keeper got in the car with them to show them where she had found the bag. What a tough world this can be...

A few minutes after this happened (which, I'll be honest, I didn't completely have the headspace for), I called Holly. I'm at Kelly's shower, wanna talk to her? Yeah, gimme the phone. Ahhhh and ahhhh and ahhhh and what are you doing next Friday? Ahhhh. She hands the phone back to Holly. Wanna talk to another mystery guest? Yeah, who? Just talk... Kat - omigod! Ahhhh ahhhh ahhhh. Where are you, what do you do? You have kids? You have kids? You live in Chicago? You live in South Africa? Ahhhh ahhhh. When do you go back to Chicago? Tomorrow. Damn... This was an interaction I had the headspace for, but couldn't believe as much as I could believe someone getting robbed at gunpoint at Zoo Lake. Wierd. I hauled out an old photo album with some pics from Kent days and the times my peeps would all come down to go out dancing at some totally crappy nightclub. Then Holly's email came in listing names of people I went to elementary school with - married, kids - oh and this one - married, kids. Holy cow, my pause button doesn't work at all.

And that my friends is why I HAVE TO GO HOME. Because you aren't all sitting around in a vacuum waiting for me to let you out. Things change, construction happens. And when a good chunk of my heart is spread out over there, sometimes, I just have to check on those pieces so I can feel whole again. And I don't have long to go until I am on the plane, but I'll tell you, I would use the fast forward button if I could find it. And if I could find it, then I would know where that pause button is as well and that means I wouldn't have to spend any time getting stuff in order here, cause I would only press play when I got back.