The cows don’t care

The early morning road dips into darkness and there’s total silence in the car. He says he’s deaf. I say he chooses not to hear. I’m late for leaving. He says I do it deliberately. Here are two people, married 36 years, at the start of a road trip around South Africa.

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Eventually I break the silence and mutter that the sunrise is beautifully reflected in the many rivers we get to cross, but mainly because I really have to pee and need to ask him to stop somewhere. Which we do again and again on the trip and every time I’m relieved and impressed by the state of filling-station toilets in South Africa. I wonder if this is a good omen of things to come because if you can get it right from the bottom up – well then…

We travel through the Transkei. The sea intermittently comes and goes from behind the rolling green hills smudged with brightly coloured houses. Free-willed goats scavenge for rubbish, of which there is surprisingly little. These rural roadsides are much cleaner and less littered than we remember. It seems that the pay-for-plastic policy at the chain-stores is beginning to work.

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(Pont across the Kei River with a Xhosa lady in traditional headgear.)

School children, all so neat in their polished uniforms, wait for transport in huddles, white-puffs of breath framing their faces.

The roads are good – despite the areas still under construction where they narrow down to one lane and the traffic backs-up to stop.  Though the wait can be irritating and long, the time passes quickly as we watch people get out of their cars for a spontaneous smoke and chit chat with anybody near them. No racial tension here.  Just men and women doing what they can in a situation they can’t control – connecting, laughing, smoking, sharing stories and shaking their heads and hands at whatever.

We travel through Kwa-Zulu Natal with its tropical climate, green hills of sugar cane and bright bougainvillea that shouts it’s cerise and orange blooms across the hi-ways.  Northwards to the Kruger Park we go, my happy place for longer than I can remember.

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Here deep in the African bush, the big five – lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard roam free.  They mingle with the little five – ant lion, buffalo weaver, rhino beetle, and leopard tortoise.  Above and all around, more than 450 bird species fly, chirp and cry from the vast and varied vegetation. We marvel at the animal kingdom in its natural habitat.  As the sun rises and reflects its glory in the waterhole, we dunk buttermilk rusks into our tin-cupped tea.  This ritual as much a part of this national heritage as the animals themselves.

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The road home brings us back through the Free State where the rains have lasted. The dams have water, the grass is green and the cows don’t care that the Rand has devalued or the petrol price has escalated once again.

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Oh South Africa, a world in one country, so astounding and diverse in your landscape and people. So torn and tormented with your eccentric past and rattled future.

It’s exhilarating to be back in the motherland after twenty years of living abroad. We’re home for good and couldn’t be happier. In a moment of shameless sentimentality, I tell Lincoln how much I love this country – idiosyncrasies, hurting history, bad press and all. Daily murders, extortionate crime, and puffed-up politics seem to shout loudest and longest and are relentlessly reported both locally and abroad. But here’s the thing:

Every country has its own exceptional insanity. It seems that many South Africans think that ours is the only country facing the trauma of transition. I don’t think so.

Talk to Europeans about the Brexit exit. Americans fuss about walls, discrimination and lack of government funding. Syria and Somali force their refugees to lose their lives trying the save them.   North Korea deals with its narcissist leader and the Middle East with fundamentalists and panic as the oil reserves drip dry. China has a trillion-dollar transition plan for world domination, Venezuela intransigent leaders and the Zimbabwe government stifles desperate cries from its citizens.   Then there’s global warming and its potential to jeopardize the security of water, food and energy systems. Sex and drug trafficking, health epidemics…and on and on it goes. The world’s in a wobble, not just the end of Africa.

While I don’t mean to negate the heartbreak and tragedy of unacceptably high crime rates, daily loss of life (our family has been affected too), and super-scary unemployment statistics on our sunny shores, the grass is not greener on the other side. (Except, maybe if you live in New Zealand but then it’s mostly cold and wet, so no braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet – ok maybe not rugby 🙂

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South Africa’s future may be hanging in limbo. Our socio-political problems are raw and angry, but the amount of goodwill that abounds between everyday people is enough to keep hope alive – willing me to invest time and energy into this nation that needs to build bridges, streets and even just a small dusty path between its fragmented peoples.  I’m not naive enough to think that this is an easy or flippant task. These things take time. I’ve got time.  I can start by speaking sweetly to and being curious about my neighbor – be they black or white, geek or gay, young or old – whoever.

I’m ready to rethink my assumptions, reframe my paradigms, revisit my values and extend a hand to my traditional ‘enemies’. I can’t help the fact that I’m a white apartheid child any more than anyone of us can help being born Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, Ndebele, Tsonga or Afrikaans. But I can, by the grace of God, overcome my white privilege and my uncertainty of whether I’ll be liked or even accepted by my fellow citizens. Only time will tell how this all unfolds…but for now, there’s no place we’d rather be than right here.

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At home for good, in South Africa.

#I’mStaying

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Living in the moment

The three gorgeous bridesmaids, in their softly flowing blue and white china-plate dresses floated in on the piano and cello notes of “I’ll love you for a thousand years”. The groom and his best men stood under a halo of pink, blue and purple flowers. The guests gasped in the wonder of so much pretty and the drizzle fell gently on the large tented roof over-covering a beautifully manicured, much tended and loved home-garden.

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And then… the bride.

On the arm of her father, covered in cream lace and a cloud of fine netting, the two paused at the start of the white chairs and neatly rowed family and friends.   He gently removed her veil, taking back his fatherly ownership, and prepared to give her away.  The song “Marry me” serenaded and all eyes, mostly tear filled, were on the beautiful bride as they walked up the green grass aisle for her to be married.

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The ceremony wasn’t as much a statement of commitment, they’ve already been at that for a long time, as a magnificent celebration to a life of possibilities still to come. Cousin Brett sincerely spoke the formalities and bride and groom exchanged vows and rings true to their own personalities and evident long-time love for each other.  More tears. An aunt on each side gave their own words of blessings, both profound and deeply meaningful.

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Building a wedding is grueling fun wrought with expectation, muddle and the unpredictable.  This one was planned with precision for two years, wanting to make something truly memorable and thoroughly beautiful. Items were collected and stored by friends, both sides of the family,  and mother-of-the bride, Kerry, pulled out all the stops and weeds to make a cover-page garden around the home in which Paula grew up, all the while not letting cancer or chemo hinder her in any way.  An incredible testimony to love and determined longevity.

Paula is detail oriented, almost to a fault.  She wants what she wants, always the best and with huge enthusiasm, even down to the glass jars for the candles being the same shape and size.  No big coffee jars in this lot of jam jars, please.  The waitrons  had clothes specially made to match the pastel colours of the garden and flowers.  Even their shoes coordinated, bought to size and brought from South Africa. The tailor sitting patiently on the khondi all week, waiting for the on/off power problem to stabilize.  It never did, an on-going Malawian problem which reared its irritating head all too often.   Out of town guests were organized in lodges, hotels and homes, lifted and shifted in cars and buses and on arrival given chitenge made welcome bags with a poem, phone cards, general warm-heart-of-Africa information and a list of local taxi drivers.  Just so thoughtful.  And what about food to feed the community the week before the wedding?  And the buddymoon afterwards?  Thin, elegant glasses, pure linen table cloths and the cheeses amongst other things were imported. Tree trunks were thickly sliced to carry the starters and delectably display the desserts.  The menu planned with precision – finger nibbles to go with the Gin bar with a sign behind it inviting the fun to beGIN.   The gins themselves crafted with care and originality, infused for weeks before.  Starters, mains, desserts, coffee, cheese, chocolates.  Wedding cake.   Each course impeccably planned, presented and so pleasing both to eye and palate. The passing of the chief caterer a few weeks before, handled with grace and dignity. A live band before the ceremony, with the lady singers voice strong and pure, setting the tone of what was to come. A large photo wall, telling of the life and times of the couple’s courtship. Two long drop toilets in the back garden, dug and built specially, then draped with hessian and flowers.  Oh yes – flowers.  Everywhere. All in the blue, purple, pink wedding hues.  In bouquets, in pots and in hanging baskets.  In buckets and watering cans and wheel barrows. On the tables. Next to the ceremony chairs.  Over the arch and under the trees.    Stunningly beautiful and fulfilling the brides dream of a truly exquisite garden wedding.   It was everything she wanted and hoped for.

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Then… the rain.

Despite all the precision planning, there was no controlling some of the elements. Power cuts, cancer, the caterer and weather. The skies opened with a no-mercy-monsoon just as the ceremony ended and the pictures were being taken on the vastly green school fields. No problem for this lot.  Living in the moment, Paula hitched both her now filthily muddied skirt and a ride on Greg’s back and laughed the way through a very wet photoshoot. An excellent omen for times to come.  This bridal party got good and properly drenched. It made for exquisite photos and soggy hair do’s.

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And then… the party.

Undeterred, and after a wipe down with every towel in the house, heart and body warming speeches were made, dinner was served and the party began.  Fueled by heavy handed gin pourers, an excellent DJ and the legacy of Rhodes Uni alumni there was oh-so-much merry making. Foot stomping, arm shaking, head swaying stuff.  In fact, the party got so good, the dance floor broke and had to be carried out.  The grass sufficed and even Nana, Greg’s 84-year-old granny got up to do her thing.

The festivities ended with the die-hards going for a dip in the pool and Greg losing his brand-new wedding ring at some hour close to sunrise, only to get up and go, lunch time later to a hamburger and boerewors braai at the same place.   This was followed by the cutting of the wedding cake, which somehow didn’t happen the night before.  Three layers of decadent chocolate, carrot and poppy seed bringing a sweet close to a perfect celebration.

And then…the end.

But not really.  Some went home.  Some stayed at home to clean up.  Some caught airplanes out of the country.  Some went to the lake to relax and a whole lot went on a buddymoon on the shores of Lake Malawi with the bride and groom.   It may have been the end of an extended and joyous celebration, but only the beginning of a wonderful new life.

And then…in closing.

Paula and Greg – flower petals, family and friends, fine food,  flavor-filled gins and fabulous dancing, weren’t only created for wedding receptions.

Let them fill your everyday life.  I have a very strong feeling you will.

See the slideshow and more pictures here:

https://www.andyandszerdi.com/paula-greg-slideshow/

https://www.andyandszerdi.com/paula-and-greg/

Snot Balls for President

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I was catching up with a dear friend of mine across the pond in Canada the other day. We reminisced about the time we were living in Malawi (Central Africa) and used to go for long runs along rocky mountain roads and dusty tracks chatting incessantly to take our minds off the pain and strain that jogging brings with it.

She reminded me that I’d infamously taught her how to blow snot balls out of the side of her nose whilst moving merrily along.   As most runners can attest, this is a very necessary and serious skill and one that should be taught to every novice jogger right alongside how to tie your Nike laces and deal with stray ankle yapping dogs.

‘Struth.     Who’s got time for Kleenex anyway and what do you do with it once you’ve finished doing with it?

As Trudy and I chuckled across the Facebook miles my mouth muttered these words:

SNOTBALLS FOR PRESIDENT!

Which is exactly what we seem to be dealing with these days.

Snot balls. For Presidents.

One the eve of one of the most slanderous and nasty election campaigns the world has ever seen I find myself wondering why I’ve become so embroiled and opinionated about an election that seemingly has nothing to do with me. I am not an American. I am a South African who doesn’t even live in South Africa, but I did live in the States once, have visited the country many times and I’m immensely grateful that it was kind enough to college-educate our two boys and one wife in a mighty fine manner. I love and thank you for that the US of A.

At the same time, South Africa is riding a rough path with our very dis-honourable President of a few years too many trying to cover up and hide his corrupt self along with all his cronies. This man, who presides over a country of nearly 55 million with only a third grade education has managed to either destroy or steal whatever he put his hand to and them some. He’s a mess and sadly, so too is the country.

(So, what’s that saying about people living in glass houses not throwing stones…uhemm,  moving right along. )

I’ve never really considered myself politically astute. Or even really very interested. I find it hard enough to run my own life, never mind any body else’s. As long as my status quo is ok and unaffected, politics is something that other people do and get hot under the collar about somehow side stepping fairness and liberty for all.   Sure, I can hold my own in a political conversation – just as I can hold my own in one about flower arranging, the trend towards moral education or the price and privilege of eating Casu marzu – a Sardinian cheese that contains live maggots able to jump up to five inches into the air. And believe me I can negotiate my way through a dozen cupcakes and whether it’s a good idea or not to fight over a play truck parked near the building blocks in my classroom.  I’m never short of a word, but usually my words are found elsewhere and not in the political arena.
That was until this year. And these elections.   THESE elections.

I’ve read the reviews and listened to the debates. I’ve talked with my American friends from both sides and have often found myself lost in articles about Trump, his wife and children and the shenanigans they’ve got up to pre-election along with their father’s infamous past. Really…   Yes really.  I’ve marvelled at Donald’s guts and Hillary’s fortitude while cringing at the lipstick on her teeth during one of the debates.   And why? I really don’t know.   Maybe because its all been so debauched and uncivilised and just so un-American.   Maybe because the world has become such a small space and what matters there matters here too but mostly because I’m worried about our hard earned dollars stockpiled for retirement. What’s going to happen to the Dow Jones, people? Only time will tell.

So on the eve or what must be one of the most important days in world history, to my family and friends and all the peoples of the United States of America I say this: whether you are ecstatic or devastated at the end of the vote tomorrow, whether your democratically  elected president is a snot ball or a champion of change and hope, we are rooting for you because the world needs a strong America. We need you to win. And I trust that your faith in goodness and grace will prevail no matter what.

Please… go and vote well and in the meantime

God Bless America,

Land that I love

Stand beside Her

And guide her

Through the night

With a light from above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The missing ink of communication

IMG_4684A long long time ago (like almost 40 years) I was an exchange student to the USA. In those days the job and the title was prestigious, sought after and impressive.   Exactly to whom I’m not sure, but people raised their eyebrows (possibly in wonder), smiled politely, gave the equivalent of a high five and wished me well on my year abroad. It was also the only time I got really good grades in my final year of school (make that all my years of school) because I knew I had to appear “kind of bright” to get a look in. My mother, a college lecturer at the time, made extra wedding dresses and iced beautiful cakes to afford the ticket for me – her barely 17 year old, fresh-out-of-school daughter who was ever so ready to share her country and culture whilst embracing the American dream and thinking she could foster global understanding and world peace at the same time.

Oh the illusions of youth.

I’m not sure I managed to do any of those things.   My culture for one, as a white, middle classed South African girl was ignorantly flawed and full of the propaganda prepping received in pre-exchange student training. Here we were taught the intricacies of being your country’s best ambassador and all the pomp that goes with that. You don’t know what you don’t know and in hindsight I knew less than a little of the truth behind apartheid and the constitutional rulings by the South African government of the day. I still cringe. But that’s a story for another time; suffice to say I brought home a totally different perspective to the one I left with. S’truth.

What I did know, and still know now, is that some of my most treasured forever-people came into my life during that time.   Facebook has made it all so easy to keep in touch.   And Email. And Instagram. And Twitter. And Whatsapp. And Messenger. And Skype and Facetime. And all the other instant communicators in whatever form that have now become the norm.  This is a good thing. Yet…

40 years ago all we had were cripplingly expensive phone calls and letters – handwritten in pen and plopped into (usually red) post boxes on the corner. Sometimes they arrived two weeks later, sometimes a month.   Always the news was old but eagerly anticipated and every word devoured by the heart and often accompanied by a bit of a weep and much longing. I adored receiving letters from home and I loved replying with my own news too. My mother kept every one of my letters in a file and on my return I had a diary of my comings and goings to read and remember. Such a treasure. Another “mother” who kept many of my letters written post U.S., through my college years, wedding preparations, children, million of moves and right up to her passing a few years ago was a beautiful woman by the name of Barbara Lasley. This lady took me in when my exchange student days began to unravel and reveal the ugly side of being far from home and all alone. When things didn’t quite go as planned, logistically and emotionally, she held my hand, baked banana bread and provided me a school aftercare that saved my sanity and I’m sure my life. She became a treasured mentor and very dear friend and I remember so clearly our last conversation a few days before she left this earth. As sick as she was she still laughed down the phone and told me how fabulous I was.

I cried then, just as I cried a little today when a package from America arrived for me. It came from Barbara’s very kind son Scott who took the time and trouble to mail the photo album in which, Mrs L as I called her, kept every picture I’d sent her through the years and my handwritten letters. As I read through them, more than the content, I marvelled at my handwriting, which looks near perfect compared to my now degenerated, barely legible scrawl so rarely practiced when a keyboard is so much easier and quicker.

I wonder if anyone handwrites letters anymore or have they become the missing ink of communications? I’m fairly positive that emails and Facebook and the others do not have the lasting legacy of a longhand written, sealed and stamped letter. (I mean, move over Snap chat you’re gone and forgotten in just 24hours).

In 40 years from now, I’m quite sure nothing will be left of these words hastily banged out on a laptop. Indeed, nothing will be left of the laptop and quite possibly nothing left of me either. And who knows how people will communicate and keep in touch across the miles and indeed across the dinner table – if that even exists. Maybe Rumi was right when he said “Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.”

I can only hope that this inner bond never disappears, as then there will most definitely be nothing to write home about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’ll be no red white and blue covering my profile picture

Not that there’s anything wrong with showing solidarity or as a symbol of unity and love in a crisis such as France is carrying right now.

Not that I don’t love Paris. I do, and am lucky enough to have had a few wonderful and wonder-filled times there. I love the culture and the café’s and of course the regality of that tall tower. Not that I don’t feel for the French. I do and have friends who live there forever and whom I was so grateful to see checked into the Safe in Paris Attack app.

I do love Paris. And I too, am desperately sad about the ruthless and merciless killings that have happened there.

I also love Beirut. I do, and am lucky enough to have spent time in that beautiful city where the white snow-capped mountains have at their feet, the clear blue of the Mediterranean. Where the people love and live LIFE in uppercase and you don’t have to go far to find a chocolatier and a beauty parlor side by side. The Lebanese, they get it – regardless of the turbulent past and a devastating civil war that lasted too long. These are some of the finest and most hospitable people on the planet.

So, I have to ask myself, why is the outcry against ISIS in Paris so much more vocal and visible than the outcry against ISIS in Beirut? I myself posted a prayer for the people of Paris and kept quiet the day before when suicide bombers killed 43 and wounded 239 in Beirut. Ouch!

Was it because mainstream coverage of the Middle East attack was minimal – every day blasé and passed off with a shrug and an almost-not-again sigh. As are the killings in Bagdad and Burundi. And Zimbabwe and South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan.   Maybe not all terrorist related but devastating loss of life, nonetheless. Each one of those that died, someone’s daughter or someone’s son. Mother, brother, uncle, girlfriend, best friend. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yes even those that bombed and shot and maimed and then took their own cheap lives along with a whole lot of others. They too were born and belonged once. Who knows their stories and how they got to the place where “ my ideology, worldview, religion ranks so much higher than yours and therefore I’m going to wipe out the collective you so mine can move up the ladder and gain more status than yours.” Who knows how or why their minds became so depraved, so callous that life loses all its value? Even their own.

Whatever, however, whoever the religion and politics pursuing the people of today. Much of which is so complicated I have no clue, but simplistically, doesn’t it all boil down to “us and them” in a world so fragmented and foreign we’ve forgotten to identify our own neighbours.

The ones we’ve alienated and failed to love or even like, living and moving right next door. Simply because they are Black or White, Christian or Muslim, Straight or Gay, Recluse or Socialite.

Oh God have mercy on us all. This, us, my mankind that you created in your image – that of unity and love. How far we’ve strayed from your goodness and mercy and selflessness. How far we’ve walked away from what is right and what is kind. Help me, help us.. please, to see the value and worth of each other. All the time. Regardless.

Now, if there was a flag representing all the peoples of the world, every tribe and every nation – that one I would fly with true conviction not only across my profile picture but from my roof racks and roof top. Standing solidarity and reminding me to think of all the peoples of the world who are having it hard and hurting right now. And to remind me that even if I feel powerless to stop ISIS in Cairo and the murderers in Cape Town, I can still show up and in some small way, help to change the day (week, life) of those around me.

And that flag would certainly carry the colours of kindness.

NO red flag kindness

Post the Posts – Thank you

Just when you thought the purple words turned yellow and scuttled off to find a place of safety and rest…. here they are back again, trumpeting forth in rhapsodic thanks to all of you out there who purposefully take the time and energy to read my crap ramblings.   As of today, more than 10 500 of you, dear readers have indulged me and oh-blessed-my-soul most bountifully.

IMG_3458In the universe according to cyber writers this number is a mere blip and certainly nothing to write home about. Those big blogging boys out there – their figures screech into the half million knocking onto a million readers. Oh my. But right now, believe me, for the teeny 1.05 percent of that, I’m most grateful.

Not that numbers are everything or anything actually. I write because I think I have something to say – even to one person and because I enjoy playing around with words. I write because most times my subject impacts ME, in whatever shape or form that takes. And I’m all for shape changes – body, soul, spirit and community. I write because it takes enormous discipline to do so – and discipline, that necessary evil, usually spells a four-lettered word in my vocab.

I did the 31 days writing challenge because I’m driven by challenges and I hoped it would force me to sit down and tap out stuff on the keyboard.

Like Every.Single.Day.

Which it did and which is a miracle.

If it takes 21 days to form a habit it should follow that I’m now habitually sitting in front of my computer.

Like Every.Single.Day.

Which I am not, which means a bigger miracle is needed.

This very morning with a clear calendar I had grand plans to write a good few chapters of my book. After making my bed so I couldn’t get back into it, riding my bike, watering the plants and contemplating my day while sitting in the plant-watered garden, I rejoiced that I had the whole day ahead to get what goes on in my head – out.

Instead I found one hand cracking eggs and the other measuring coco. Baking requires no effort and it’s easy for me to do. I like easy so I do. Writing requires creative skills and lots of effort. So I don’t. At least, not often enough. Yet still, whilst mixing and making, the most profound and world changing sentences churn along with the beater – so impactful that, of course I’ll never forget them, until ten minutes later when I’m actually sitting at my desk.

They’re gone. Forever. Leaving the world a lesser place devoid of my brilliance.

And then…..oh look… Facebook.

Oh dear Lord have mercy for the rest of the day is a gonner.

Why?

Because I’m a writer. I have 10 500 reads here and others elsewhere therefor I have to be a writer.

And yet, putting off writing is one of the things I do best. Right up there with nail polish peeling, nose digging and staring out the window. I avoid writing like I avoid the back of my fridge – I’m fearful of what I might find there.

Letters, words and sentences take on a life of their own and what is planned rarely turns into what is presented. And it’s never ever perfect. Not even vaguely so. This torture is tiresome but yet I’m compelled to keep on keeping on. Regardless of the fact that others with far more fame and fortune write:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do—you can either type or kill yourself.” – Ann Lamott

Bleed and kill yourself? Hardly encouraging motivators those.

Regardless,  I’ll still keep on keeping on

And then…oh look…MYbook!

After all is said and done….go be a cupcake.

Five four three two one…its done. Done and dusted is this 31-day straight, writing challenge. Consistency is a discipline I’m ashamedly short on so, heck yes, I’ve just rah-rah-shaken the pom-pom at my successful attempt and given myself a halfway high five!

The other half plus full-on-two-handed-high-ten goes to the community, that has so graciously and gloriously allowed me into their places and spaces. Not one (ok the newspaper guy, but I like to think that was a time thing) of these precious people cut me off or cast me aside and all hail the mighty cupcake for cutting the ice, over and over again.

31 days pic for day 31

Everyone longs for attention and everyone has a story to tell.

Everyone can get attention by telling their story but not everyone has a place to tell it as too few are asking for the opportunity to listen.

And it’s these very stories that are so necessary, giving evidence to our existence and undergirding the holy humanity of our everyday lives.  And it’s in listening to these stories that we’re granted perspective and can put assumed thoughts into their rightful place covered with a huge dose of gratitude.

Stories need to be told just as much as stories need to be heard. Because it’s in both the telling and the listening that allows us to see the me in you, bringing with it the realisation, as Mother Theresa so aptly put it, that “the problem with the world is that we’ve just forgotten that we belong to each other.”

I’ve spoken to many more people than I’ve been able to document in this blog. Some didn’t want their stories told on such a public forum although they were eager to tell them, nonetheless.    I chose not to post others, as my inept words would never have done them or their stories justice. There are still more I would love to listen to and maybe some day I will. Perhaps I’ve focused too much on the hurting and hard-done-by, as conversely, there are many… many in this city doing well and who, in turn are being beautifully kind and extremely generous with their time and resources.

It takes all sorts to make a society and build a community. The rich and poor, the old and young, the black and white, the tall and short and pertinent to this particular city, the Alaskan, Argentinian, Australian and everyone in between.

What we have and who we are has very little relevance to what we have to give. Irrespective of circumstance we’ve all got a smile and a few simple words. We’ve all got the ability to eeek out of our comfort zone and cross the them-and-us barrier with bold bravery.

And … we’ve all got the ability to be cupcakes.

So please, I urge you to go now. Go create community with cupcakes. Either being or doing and watch then, for the beauty you will reap in reward.

I know, for this is my story over the last 31 days.

If They Come They Have to Go.

Expats in the UAE can never become citizens of this country, no matter how long they stay. They will never be domiciled or get an Emirati passport. That privilege is reserved for those people born to parents who are both full-blooded Emiratis.

Information is scant and unclear but it seems that as recently as last year, 2014, even children born to Emirati mothers and foreign fathers were not eligible to claim the navy-blue passport, the one with the golden falcon in its coat of arms proudly displayed on the front cover, as their own.  Although children born to Emirati fathers and foreign mothers could do so. That may have changed now and it seems names of half-Emirati offspring can be submitted to the Ministry of Interior for approval by a committee. Once passed, those named are granted citizenship but only after their 18th birthdays. This gives them full rights inclusive of free education, health benefits and guaranteed employment.

Which is great for them as citizenship comes with many rights and privileges – but not going to happen to foreigners.

Which means that if expats come then they have to go.

Which makes this a very transient society.

Which makes goodbyes and farewells an all too common occurrence in the community and the following quote much too close to home for me:

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.

Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”  Author unknown. 

IMG_8749This very morning I bid a fond farewell, alongside many others, to a wonderful family of five who are trans-locating to Australia. They arrived in Dubai a little time after us and have contributed in every way to the community. They leave their mark on many of our lives and I know they will do the same down under. It’s highly likely that they’ll get Australian citizenship after four years and who knows if we’ll ever see each other face to face again.

I hope so…but only time will tell.

Until then, they move from my faith community to my Facebook community.

You know…that mighty fine, fabulously friendly and forever community.

The one I wrote about here.

A Little Time in Learning

The mere mention of the word SCHOOL here in Dubai is likely to evoke an eruption of emotions volatile enough to take on Mount Etna. It’s a hot topic and one that’s not going to die down very easily. People have children. Children need schools and school cost money – lots of it. Expats have limited choice as local schools are not open to foreigners and so its private schools, home schooling, boarding school or fractured families living across countries.

As an ex-fulltime teacher and now regular supply/substitute teacher I’ve seen the inside workings of the system and quite bluntly… teachers just don’t have the time necessary to accomplish what is needed or desired or dreamed of in an average school day. More and more is demanded of them – from the government, school leadership , the students and by their very nature, the teachers themselves. All of which means more and more time needed to tick the boxes simply to survive a day in a paperwork-plenty environment. I’ve never yet met a teacher who has closed his or her classroom door at the end of the day with everything crossed off the to-do list. There’s always much more required and still only 24 hours in a day.

So all that to simply say that since school is an important part of my community I really wanted to quiz a few teachers, but sadly, I could not find one that had the time to go beyond a sweet smile and informal greeting thrown over a shoulder attached to an arm holding and guiding at least two or three students.

I did manage to speak to some of the other staff though:

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Denise Kish, American: Head of Curriculum and Assessment:

Denise interviewed me for a long-short, sub/supply position at the school last year. She very professionally went through all the required questions and I did the best to answer as I should. At the end of the interview she asked me if I was interested in the job and I misheard her, hearing only “Are you interesting?” I repeated the question slowly as I thought it rather strange. ”Are..you..interesting?” Some sort of trick question? Interesting is a very subjective thing after all. We ended up having a good laugh and perhaps that’s the only reason I got the job. Denise can laugh and does so regularly. This is her second year in Dubai. She came here after a long and successful career as an educator in the US – in all the fields from teacher to Principal to consultant. Been there, done that and now looking for something different is how she ended up here. Different she got and she’s enjoying the challenge, as well as the fact that she’s also able to send money home to ‘educate’ her five children. A common thread for expats but this time it’s after the fact as they are all grown up and some have children of their own. She’s helping them pay off their college debt and will continue to do so as long as its necessary.                                                             Highly commendable.

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Jhoana A Nunag, Filipino: Teachers Assistant.

Jhoana has been in Dubai for eight years. She followed her Mechanical Engineer husband here, after he moved from Saudi Arabia. They have two children – a son studying like dad, to be a mechanical engineer in the Philipines and a daughter who lives with them and attends the Filipino School in Dubai. Jhoana owns land back home on which she would like to build a whole lot of apartments. Her dream is to return to the job she enjoyed most before she came out to be by her husbands side – owning her own business.                                                                                   Determined.

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MaGe Arroza Tavnio, Filipino: Bus Attendant and nanny is adored by most of the children that come under her nanny-care.   Her main job is to accompany the children on the buses to and from school but she gets fully involved in their little lives during the day too. She knows kids, she’s got 7 of her own as well as 3 grandchildren. Her husband lives and works in Saudi Arabia – where she has no desire to go. He drives a long haul truck between the Middle Eastern countries and she sees him every weekend, as routine drives bring him back to Abu Dhabi every Thursday. Maggi is bent on giving her children the best education she can and has two studying Criminology with two more still at school back home and the other three already working.   She says she has six years left of school fees after which she will spend a few more years in Dubai making some money for herself.                                                         Effective.

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Hazel Rumbaoa, Filippino:  Cleaner,  quietly and efficiently cleans up – over and over again behind the children. She swipes and sweeps, 6 days a week from six am to six pm. Sub-contracted out from the school, she has one month left on her two year contract and as her stay here has been hard and lonely she’s going home as soon as she gets her passport back and the clearance to do so. She’s not sure what to do next as jobs are in short supply back home and the pay minimal. She wants a rest first and then will decide on her future.                                                                       Efficient.

Name and photo withheld: Born and bred in Dubai but of Jordanian origin, Sara (not her real name) is one of the school admin team. She’s fluent in English, despite Arabic being her first language and amongst other things does some of the translation work for the school.  Sara is married with two children. She married her first cousin, although not specifically an arranged marriage in the traditional sense. She and her cousin were aware of each other growing up and at the age of 25, she told her mother that there was something between them. Her mother was initially not very keen, but Sara worked her over, which she then did, in turn persuading Sara’s father to agree to the marriage. And they’ve been happily married ever since.                           Interesting.

Deliveries on Demand

If you’re one with this age of instant gratification, what with a no-wait for anything and where fast, faster and fastest delivery of food are key words in your daily vocabulary, then Dubai is the place for you.   And if you are even vaguely that way inclined, let me give you a taster ….. those golden arches stretch across this city under the surreptitious name of McDelivery! You don’t even have to give Ronald a personal phone call.   Just get the app, set your address, choose your food, check out and you could be munching on a big Mac and having a French fry frenzy within a matter of minutes.

Each to his own, of course.

But just saying…..(I quote from a survey done and published in the National newspaper)

“More than 66 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in the UAE are overweight or obese, according to a new analysis, prompting researchers to issue a call for action for the region.

The UAE and other Arabian Gulf countries must tackle obesity because the high prevalence rates – which do not seem to be levelling – will amount to a heavy burden on their societies, said Dr Ali Mokdad, director of Middle Eastern Initiatives at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the US, which analysed the data used in the study.

“That means more diabetes in a place where diabetes is a major problem,” he said. “That means more cardiovascular disease. That means more cancer.”

Even though these countries are affluent, the burden will be costly and place more pressure on government resources and families.

“They cannot afford to have the manpower to treat so many people with chronic diseases,” said Dr Mokdad.”

Enough said!

I’m certainly not laying the blame on the Macs alone. I think I’m safe to say that just about every restaurant in the city delivers and with the gruelling pace people live at, it makes feeding your face that little bit easier when food is only at the end of an order.

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Each and every day our garden gates are assaulted with pick-me-please-pamphlets urging us to push the buttons and call for anything from a burger

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to six course gourmet meals and with Christmas coming soon – please place your order for turkey and figgie pudding. Now. It will come delivered with hats and crackers, being pulled along by reindeer. (ok that one, only maybe, but then again nothing is impossible in this part of the world).

Admittedly this family are not fast food fans at all, but there is one delicacy we indulge in on a fairly regular basis and that’s a rotisserie chicken.   You cannot buy a raw chicken in Carrefour for cheaper than the cost of these little lovelies, complete with a side of flat bread, hummus, a small salad and garlic cream.

For the love of all things leisurely who would ever want to roast their own?

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Indian, Ismail Pallipesha Abdul Khadar comes from Kerala and has been bringing chickens round for the last eight years. He and Lincoln have established a fine rapport and there are hand shakes and smiles all round when he arrives. Tonight was the first time we’ve ever asked him about him. The smile soon faded and the story saddened. He rolled his eyes heaven ward with each sentence, at the same time placing his hand on his heart while punctuating his words with “In shaa Allah” over and over again. He has a severely mentally challenged child with heart problems back in India. He’s looked after by his wife and a second child, mostly from hospitals. Ismail works a 12 hour shift from 1.30pm to 1.30am, seven days a week, week in and week out. He sleeps, alongside 9 other men, in a flat connected to the shop. In the earlier days he delivered by pedal bike, but these days he has a car.  Much better, he says, because of the air conditioning in summer. He works for as long as it takes him to earn enough money to go home and stay for at least four to six months – thus relieving the burden on his wife. When he has more than enough money to build a small house in his village he will return home for good. “But, In shaa Allah, who knows when that will be, In shaa Allah”

There, with his wife and two boys,  he will survive by subsistence farming. In shaa Allah.

Drat…I’ve just remembered that I never asked him if he’d one day consider raising chickens. His answer would probably have been “Yes, In shaa Allah.”  Bless him.