My part of city

I seldom get a chance to just sit and enjoy my house in solitude during the daylight hours. I’m either at work or doing one of a million weekend activities or playing with the dogs or whatever. This weekend was an exception when I found myself lounging in my sunroom with nothing better to do than just unwind.

It was then that I could enjoy one of the best things about living in Joburg: I could chill in my centrally located house and look out at my large green garden and pool while listening to the hustle of traffic (city life) just a block away. A lot of people in the world have to experience city life from apartments where your space is limited and your green views only the top of trees (if you are that lucky). Yes, there are great conveniences of living “in” the city (as apposed to suburbia) but it comes at a price of space and peace and freedom.

However, in Joburg a lot of us lucky folk have a completely different experience. While I live 3 minutes drive from a highway and 5 minutes from a large mall and I can easily walk to my corner cafe or a smaller mall or my local restaurant strip (such as city life offers) I can also just take a moment and enjoy all the trees and birds and calmness around me from my actual house which overlooks a park.

And I have all these benefits without having to life in an expensive of “upper class” neighbourhood. Nope, I’m just an average Joburg Joanne. It’s a little bit surreal if you think about it: traffic and the richest mile in Africa a stones throw away and then complete serenity right at my feet as my Retriever lazes away in the midday sun – too content to even chase the weavers and finches snacking on my lawn.

While the sounds of traffic might seem annoying it’s something I love for the simple reason that it tells me where I am and that I am surrounded by people, industry and ambition – it’s inspiring. While Ariel from the Little Mermaid yearns to “be where the people are” I already am there while also being completely on my own in.  See, surreal.

There is a lot to do in Joburg if you live here but for those moments where you just want to be on your own it’s good to know home is right in the middle of it.

It is the worst or times, it is the best of times

I’ve got to admit that I’ve never read Great Expectations but I feel like now would be a great time to write a sequel. Like the setting of Charles Dickens’ novel I feel we’re on the cusp of a revolution albeit quite a different one: more social and humanitarian than industrial (though some would argue for this point too) in nature

Although the world has been through a lot throughout history I feel like the mark of this revolution starts with two massive political occurrences: Brexit and Trump.

Like many other people I’ve been stewing over these things for the past few months. I’m pretty sure I know why people chose these two ends but I’m not entirely sure those who didn’t want these things to happen ultimately know how it happened. Trump was elected back in Nov and CNN had a feature on the how as recent as yesterday. It’s this not knowing how it happened to the people it happened to that absolutely baffles me. How in this modern age is the so called “free world” stumped by these questions? So that’s my “how?” questions and my biggest peeve about this whole situation

I will not be told that the Brexit margin of favour was large enough to really reflect the will of the people when the margin was so narrow (less than one percent) exasperated by the fact that some people thought there may be an opportunity of a do over or that this wasn’t serious. How can the free world be so naïve?

Similarly, how is the American democracy set up that someone can lose the so-called “popular vote” but then because of the College set up still win the right to rule the nation? Do the American’s know that’s not really a democracy? Do people know that some people’s votes count more than others? How would they feel about that? How can the free world sit back and not realise they are not as embowered as they think they are?

And when some votes ultimately count more than others and you feel very strongly about not having Trump as a president why did you wait until after the election to have rally’s and marches? He raises a good point (yes I said it) actually: did you, disgruntled American scientist, vote?  Or did you think that there was no way it could happen and you didn’t feel strong enough about Hilary to go and vote? Look, Hilary is not the greatest alternative but you’d probably be in a better place right now had you at least chosen anyone but Trump.

The reason I feel so strongly about this is because as a South African I know that democracy and rights are hard earned and hard fought for sometimes. Real democracy and freedom – not some version of it where people can still be discriminated against because they are women or because they are gay.

I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who was involved in the struggle. Where the Americans had a great civil war we had a quieter battle which resembled something in between a cold war, a civil war and a cold should world war (sanctions).   It often got ugly, it was often beautiful, striking and inspirational. And while I’m sure good people did things they regret (things that had to be done) and I am sure a lot of bad people on both sides got away with very bad things, thank you for everyone who was involved whether you are a retrospective villan or hero today. Thank you for a society which, at the very least, understands that elections are important – that they can make a difference. And thank you for a constitution which at least promises to respect me for who I am provided I respect those around me. It’s a fairly simple rule actually.

Yes, the realist in me knows that there is still a lot of unfairness and injustice and people are still being treated in the worst possible way because they are the “other” but when it comes down to it, the law will stand up for all of us. That law was hard fought for and agreed upon after the fact and therein lies another reason it’s great to be South African.

So, while the world it reacting in all kinds of ways to Brexit and Trump and I am sure there will be minor and bigger battles fought over these things I do hope that the world can walk away years from now less naïve of what freedom, choice and freedom of choice really mean. These are not things that should be taken for granted so maybe it warrants another battle or two if it’s going to make the world really reflect and stand up for itself and each other. This is the time to get interested in politics and make a stand on behalf od everyone being discriminated against and being run away from.

What the Brexit “yes” vote people and the Trump supporters seem to be overlooking is something a lot more critical than protecting what is “theirs”. It’s the fact that the people they are discriminating against en masse is actually the enemy of their enemy as well (do you think they would flee if they supported the baddies?) and frankly, you probably will want to count their numbers in their favour if this ever becomes a huge show down.

I could end dramatically by saying Good Luck to all of us the free world” but no, I’m thinking more along the lines of: Now is the time to take responsibility for the free world you want to live in and become informed and active in it’s true formation” because honestly, luck has nothing to do with this.

Shosholoza

Shosholoza is a song which I heard for the first time in 1995. It somehow become one of the anthems of the Rugby World cup we were fortunate to host. Yes, that world cup that brought a nation together.

I LOVE the song. I try to incite its singing within the crowd every time I’m at a live rugby match and I get the chills every time I hear it. Weirdly though, until today, I didn’t know what it meant. If it wasn’t for this blog I wouldn’t have bothered to find out but I thought I had better do my due diligence before I start writing about it.

I chose to write about it since it drove me to tears again now when I watched a clip of the South African Paraolymipics team sing an impromptu version while waiting their turn at the opening ceremony.

So, I realised it’s time hail something as simple as a song. A song, which to me, speaks of unity and strength and in it’s simplicity is just beautiful. Finding out what it means put this song in a new light though. It’s still a very positive one but it’s bitter sweet. It’s about a train running away from South Africa over the mountains. A tune I can only suspect was written to wish well the oppressed people who were lucky enough to escape our past atrocities. The song wished that the train “run fast” which is probably why it became a sport anthem in that the train can be an analogy for athletes.

To me though there is one extra gem in the analogy when I think back to 1995 (a year past the birth of our democracy) and I think of everyone singing that song together: The train running fast over the mountain was running away from the old South Africa. That train symbolises a journey which can only be measures in mountains because the struggle was real and hard.

In many ways we’re still on that mountain but I firmly believe the train has now turned back towards its country and South Africans want to work together to get it off that mountain. There are still lots of struggles but there is a nation of people who want to make this country work and so the tracks are headed back home and may we all receive the warm welcome we deserve. Shozoloza.

Because life is beautiful

So, South Africa is going through another trauma because our finance minister is being persecuted for what I can only assume is nonsense because politics is dirty. This news is utterly depressing and so two days ago I was just angry. I want my country to do well. I want us to succeed and I don’t want people’s agendas to hamper my country’s future.

I haven’t checked on the developments around that this morning but instead I cam across this gem on You Tube. It’s a flashmod organised by some petrol attendants in the cape. It’s simple but it’s full of energy and enthusiasm. These guys wants to share some joy with the world in two minutes. They succeeded at risk of annoying some of their customers. At risk of being told to go back to work. And yet, they practiced to put this together and it paid off. It made me smile and it’s had quite a lot of views for something that is two days old

And now my mood is lifted and I have energy to carry on despite my politicians because the people of this country know that it is beautiful and know that life is worth celebrating.

 

Mandela Day needs to be Mandela year

I am an avid supporter of Mandela Day. I fully believe that rallying people to do a thoughtful thing on 18 July will show them how easy it is to care for others (humans or animals) and will make them realise how much these gestures are appreciated and how they really can uplift society.

True to  expectation Mandela Day 2016 was a very positive day across the country. Food parcels were handed out, libraries were opened, blanket drives broke Guinness World Records and  cups of coffee were handed out to people who do thankless work in the cold. Many, many, many other things were done and as a nation we will collectively pat ourselves on the back. Thanks Madiba for being an inspiration for something so diverse and meaningful.

I was part of the coffee drive I organised with some of my colleagues. I bought some coffee, organised some urns and spent my 67 minutes handing out hot coffee and tea to car washers, security gaurs, wastepreneurs, fruit sellers and security guards. Most were surprised that someone had thought of them, it made me feel good that we could say thank you to them for the often thankless work they do in the cold. Of course I feel good.

What has bothered me ever since yesterday morning though is that a single cup of coffee and biscuit handed out is only a moment in time for these people. I don’t know what I have done other to say “thank you” and “your work is appreciated”. Yes, on some level that means something. It’s a little boost for everyone, but what about today, tomorrow, a week from now. While I spend quite a lot of time working towards charitable donations / efforts I feel like Mandela Day  has come and gone and in many cases the impact is not long lasting enough.

There is a line of thought that believes that one Mandela Day can inspire people to make every day a Mandela Day. A Mandela Year, year after year, that is what we really need. So, I have thought of some ways you can try and be kind to those around you more often:

  • Make a sandwich or two every day and hand this out to a wastepreneur, newspaper salesperson or car washer you come across on your commute to work. If you can’t make it daily then try for weekly at least
  • When you go out playing Pokémon Go take your, or your neighbour’s dog for a walk. Better yet, contact a local animal shelter and ask if you can take one of their dogs for a walk
  • Separate your plastic and metal waste from your other waste and put in on top of your rubbish bin for the wastepreneurs. How would you like it if things you needed for work were thrown in the dustbin?
  • Treat car guards and parking meter operators as you would treat anyone else whose office you are entering. They are the CEO of that street, they should be treated as such. Same goes for cashiers. If you were treated as a servant (service industry) every day at your own work place you’d be grumpy too. Don’t forget about the lady who washes your hair or does your nails in the salon.
  • Go to that picnic or festival night your local dog shelter, nursery schools, recreational centre or nursing home has organised. It’ll probably be fun. Your few bucks for a picnic spot and some entertainment will go a long way
  • Support restaurants and recreational facilities in your neighbourhood. If you support them, they can stay open and employ people and you’ll have no vacant properties just a few blocks from your house. Less safety concerns and a great community spirit = winning.
  • Call your granny. In fact, write her a letter she can read whenever she misses you. I send post cards to my mom every day when I travel overseas. They only arrive well after I’m home but it reminds her that I love her. If I still had a granny I would write her too
  • Support local handymen. Obviously get a good reference but you might meet a reliable guy who uses your money to support this whole family
  • Do your very best to not slam down the phone when you realise you’ve just been called by a telemarketer. I always listen politely to their introduction and then firmly say “no thanks”. If they carry on after that I interrupt with “I don’t need what you’re offering. I’m ending this call”. I like to think it takes the edge off. They’re just doing their job
  • Tip well for good service. Let the manager know if you’ve received bad service. If things don’t improve it’s their loss when you don’t go back
  • Tip car guards and petrol attendants
  • Donate old clothing and everything else. It’s amazing what it useful to charitable organisations. Donate books to your local school. Books can really change the world.
  • Choose a charity to support every few weeks/months. I periodically donate to the South African Guide Dog Association and send dog food to Dogtown every 6 weeks or so once I’ve accumulated enough eBucks to buy and get free delivery via Take A Lot. Nothing is easier
  •  Donate an annual box or two/three/four/twenty to http://www.santashoebox.co.za. It’s a great cause. Club in with a few friends if you need to – it’s really worthwhile. When you donate put a few extra small items in the box and also write the child a short note to make them feel special. That note can impact a life in a very positive way – it’s nice to know someone really thought about you, even if you’ve never met that person face to face

There are many, many, many other things we can do but these are things I feel like “normal” working 9 – 5 people can do without too much effort. These are really small things that can make a positive impact on the souls who are often the most overlooked in society or taken for granted. If you’re able to organise town clean-ups or go paint houses at orphanages then please do that too but for most of us the small things done constantly will also help a lot.

You can set an example to your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, the world. Madiba Day yesterday. Joe Soap day, every day

Start today.

Great South African Grub: A braai

Braais are not unique to South Africa. I know America and the UK have barbeques and cook outs and I’ve had a version of a braai in Germany.

The thing about a South African braai is that it one of the things we can agree on as a nation. Everyone braais. Everyone has their family traditions and everyone has their favourite braai meat. But ultimately it comes down to the most important thing: Spending time under a South African sky enjoying the great weather and the great company of your friends and family. We love it so much we even now celebrate Heritage Day as Braai Day as instigated by Jan Braai

Jan Braai will have you believe you can braai almost anything but I prefer the simple tradition of:

  • Worse
  • Steak
  • Fresh Garden Salad
  • Garlic Bread
  • Pap n Sous
  • Braaibroodjies

(We’re South African. We can have two to three starches at any meal.)

These are all served as the main meal but at some point during a braai you’ve also snacked on crisps and large slices of watermelon. By the time the meat is served you’ve also had a lot of time to drink some ice cold alcoholic beverages. South African men love their beer, I like G&T though I have also discovered Beergaritas which are the most fun you can have in your own back yard.

If your host is a good one you’re starting your meal at around sunset and so you can all sit quietly and watch the country say goodnight in the most spectacular fashion while feeling blissfully content in that moment.

Braais are not eat an run affairs and so you stick around for more beers and probably ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert. A few hours later you’re still visiting and by now you’ve relished in more watermelon and the quick guests have made light work of the leftover wors (that’s why you’ve got to have it handy)

Eventually wives drag husbands away and sleeping kids are bundled into the backseat. You’ve had a great time and you’re so pleased that your cousin has invited you around to his place for the same affair next week.

 

Parkrun South Africa

I know that Parkruns are nothing new but as I plan my New Year’s Day run I thought it worth writing a bit out this great ‘activity’.

It was thanks to Discovery Vitality that I came across Parkrun . This is an international movement which encourages people to get out of bed on a Saturday morning and have some fun outdoors. Participation in outdoor activities are becoming a bit of an anomaly in most households so it’s great that someone thought of a way to encourage people to get out there – and for free for that matter.

Parkruns tick quite a lot of boxes for me: Outdoors, physical activity, quality time with my dogs and husband, an opportunity to compete in a non-threatening environment because you’re ultimately only competing with yourself, taking part in a social activity – Parkrunners are friendly and Vitality points. What more could you ask for really. Yes, we don’t have a mountain or ocean but there’s nothing I can do about that.

In South Africa Parkrunning is most important for two reasons: We have a real obesity problem and historically a lot of people can’t afford to exercise or have a safe place to exercise for free (jogging in your neighbourhood alone not always the best idea). Parkrun now gives people access to safe venues and because you’re timed you can measure your progress. You can also run/walk at your own pace so no matter how unfit you are you can start (at the proverbial) “somewhere”. Physical activity has always been a chore for me but now I look forward to the weekly run and my future self thanks me for it.

The second reason is more obvious in that it brings South Africans together.  It’s great to see the same people week on week and know that they have gotten out of bed for the same reasons you have. It’s easy enough to have chat with them and so you can make new friends. Being a volunteer really open up potential for this as you spend quite a lot of time together setting up. Also It’s become popular to Parkrun no matter where you are over the weekend and so Parkrun has become a way for people to explore each other’s cities. JHB is infamous for having ‘nothing’ to do and ‘nowhere’ to go other than a mall so it’s nice to show off a bit of our natural beauty and social tendencies to people from other parts of the country. Jo’burgers are not all money driven snobs.

I hope that 2016 will see several more Parkruns starting up as it becomes more and more popular. Some runs now easily have 1000 runners a week and I suspect these numbers will only grow as people realise that Parkrun is also Parkfun (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

So, this is my new thing, it could be your new thing. Try it out.