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All good things…

Firstly, I feel I must apologise to Agaete for saying it had little green to offer. It has since been serving up little oases of green daily. I’ve also been told, by a visiting Brit, that it may rain this week and I’m sad that I’m going to miss that. I bumped into the camera-wielding Englishman on a rocky path, and established that he is a studier of, amongst others, the Great Gran Can lizard. Naturally, I asked if he’d already seen Tomato, and, of course, he has.

Plaza de la Constitución – the coolish tree-lined town square is also one of my favourite spots to escape the heat.

I’ve come across some interesting folks on the island – including a French tourist, who was a co-passenger on a nail-biting 101 ride along the GC-200; a Colombian, who lives and works here now, but travelled here via Norway; and a couple from Mali, West Africa who have a market stall at Puerto de las Nieves. I chatted to them while buying a sunhat that could weather the wind, while protecting my ears and nose from getting crispy. They have lived and worked on Gran Can for the past twenty years.

I have no idea or information on what their home country was like two decades ago, but I remember reading about the Senegalese military building a camp near Mali’s borders, so I assume there is ongoing instability. A few months back I also read The Beekeeper of Aleppo which tells the story of refugee movement from Syria to Europe (tough read, at least for me). Add to my flimsy information base above the fact that hundreds of migrants from West African countries land on the Canaries every year, and you may understand why that shameful corner of my preconceived mind was having visions… Visions of a treacherous journey from landlocked Mali, including a precarious, scary and desperate time in a small-overfilled boat.

I casually asked him, how they had travelled here, hoping I wasn’t overstepping, but too interested not to ask. He looked at me a little strangely, answering: “The normal way. We took flights and had visas”. Boom! And as he dropped the mike, I decided that I needed to go and re-watch that epic 2009 TED talk by Chimamanda Adiche “The danger of a single story”.

  

Sadly, my time here is nearly done, and what with all the distractions, I haven’t quite finished everything I intended to do – but as Trevor Noah says, in order to do comedy, you need to do life (or something similar). Anyway, I’ve tried to live a little, and not only hole up to write amongst other things, the first draft of my memoir. Yes indeed, a memoir!

It has been a particular treat chatting to people and seeing their faces when I respond to their question: “What are you writing at the moment?”

Me:                              “Something along the lines of a personal memoir.”

Person:                        “Oh.” (looks uncomfortable, as though trying to place what B-Grade movie they may have seen me in)

Other person:             “Aren’t you a bit young?” (trying to muster supportive face, but sceptic face wins, hands down)

Yet another person:    “Are you dying?” (again, trying to look supportive, then horrified that the thought passed their lips).

When asked, I remind myself that there is no need to justify everything one does, and, in answer, I just smile sweetly… It will probably not be as successful as Eat, Pray, Love… although one can always hope, and you’d buy it, right? Most importantly, I do believe that the exercise of writing something like this, i.e., something that I truly enjoy writing for others, is going to make me better at what I do. For the most part it’s been rewarding, but it’s also been a hard and ugly slog on some days. It’s good to know how this feels. And how uncomfortable getting personal can be. And how one is rarely the hero of one’s own story.

I must add that writing is cheaper than therapy (could that be the sweet aroma of justification we smell?) – even though my experience of therapy is somewhat limited, and I of course, like so many others, definitely do not need expensive therapy. Having said that, coming away isn’t exactly for free, is it. But that’s beside my point… Focus. Back to therapy, and my limited exposure… Therapist One (relationship) told me that if I was their daughter, they would suggest I leave the relationship (spoiler alert, I did in the end). I think I heard Therapist Two (sports) telling me that I’m perfectly normal, but that I needed to redefine my relationship with a specific person. More recently, I believe that Therapist Three alluded to the fact that I was the problem, and a change in my behaviour was required to remedy a situation. Makes one wonder what conclusions a – I mean my (see, I’m still struggling to own it) – memoir may reveal!

But enough about me and my troubles (and truthfully, I am a big champion of therapy…).

Soon I’ll be donning a mask again, catching a bus (big yellow house on my back) and then a plane. Then I need to pass/fail a test again, so that I can travel back to South Africa, and be allowed back into a complicated country that I feel both loves and hates me. Nonetheless, I’m excited about what tomorrow brings.

Lots of love,

Chrissi

What’s in the Yellow Bag?

I decided to use my Iberia voucher (for a flight I couldn’t take last year) and have collected my over-sized bright yellow tog bag in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria where Africa Mercy is in the shipyard, in the dry dock. The bag stayed behind when I left in March 2020 as I’d naively expected I’d be back onboard soon as… It feels like an absolute age since I purchased that Iberia flight from Dakar, so using this voucher now felt like I was flying here for free…

What’s in the bag, that was so important that I made the trip here? So important that I left the green alpine meadows of Switzerland that I quarantined for ten days for, so that I could frolic in the mountain lakes with Annette and Marcel? Important enough to leave behind the cheese and chocolate and spend time on an island with little green grass.

 

 

To be honest, when I unzipped the bag in my B&B in Las Palmas, it was a bit of an anti-climax – I’m not sure what I expected? Closure? To hear puzzle pieces clicking back into place now that I had my belongings back. Equilibrium restored? Clarity on what comes next. Or…was I just looking for an excuse for another adventure?

When I first saw my yellow tog bag again, I was rather taken aback at its size – how had I gotten two of those to Dakar? Goodness, I hadn’t even booked a flight off the island yet, and that monster had to do public transport with me, for the duration of my stay…I needed to whittle out, nip any hoarding temptation in the bud, and minimise – if for no other reason than for the sake of my fifty-year-old back.

The bag contained some sentimental items, and I’m very happy to have my copy of “Ships of Mercy” back, so that I can finally finish the book – I also have a thing about collecting books signed by their authors, and Don Stephens (Mercy Ships founder) had signed my copy for me when I met him onboard in Jan or Feb 2020. Also in the bag: a Senegalese dress that Zackaria’s mom gifted me, and my writing pants (a gift from KJ many moons ago, as an alternative to wear on my “pyjama days”). A few other sentimental knick-knacks I’m happy to have back, as well as my Mercy Sheep (more about him/her another time).

When I purposefully trotted off to catch the 103 to Aga-e-te (mask-clad and carrying my yellow house on my back), I left behind yet another bag of previously-loved-but-not-coveted possessions, which my gracious B&B host promised to drop off somewhere, where they would be put to good use.

Why to Aga-e-te? I had never heard of this pretty town before planning this visit to Gran Can. In fact, Gran Can had never really featured on my radar, as a place to visit, prior to my joining Mercy Ships. In the shameful corner of my preconceived mind, the Canary Islands had always been a convenient package holiday destination for European tourists . I totally get it now.

 

Sunset over Pico del Teide, Tenerife.

When I travelled to Europe in late June, the hope was to be able to visit with friends and family in other countries too. There was a lot of pre-planning, planning, re-planning, pre-planning, planning… repeat – you know the drill. The UK was going to be far too complicated to get to, so on 1 August I mentioned to one of my besties that I was thinking of flying to Gran Can.

Her:     “Wow! Love it! What are COVID protocols?”

Me:      “They require covid vaccination certificate.… wanna join for some of the time?

Her:     “Do you have to do a PCR test?

Me:      “There’s a travel form you have to fill in prior to going, then the vaccination certificate (must be fourteen days after second vaccine), plus you can do either a PCR (72 hours) or a Rapid test by the looks of it, 48 hours prior.”

Her:     “I will seriously consider but will be honest, am anxious about all of the testing requirements for a short stay. Worth it if going for 2 to 3 weeks.”

Me:      “Let’s chat after I get my second jab… then I feel like I can really start planning the next steps…”

In between vaccinations I stocked up on some mountain adventures, made all the sweeter by the delayed gratification. Coming down the mountain, after a four-day hike with Annette and Marcel, felt a bit like a post-sugar-high depression.

A few days after that trip I graduated to full vaccination status and hopped on a train, wearing a mask, straight over the border and into Germany to catch up with friends and family. After a memorable week, I donned another mask and joined the queue to fly out of Dusseldorf Airport, to Gran Canaria, via Madrid. My trip here was long (I’ll take a more direct route “home”) but logistically much simpler than Sarah’s. I also received nothing but moral support and encouragement from my family and friends (in Europe and back in SA) – honestly, when you feel as though you’re about to embark on a covert mission, it sure helps to have allies. A lot.

Have mask (plus vax passport in the bag), will travel…

Some last-minute uncertainties threatened to upset our plans – like rumours that Spain might move from the UKs amber to red list, but we were given some respite and Sarah and I arranged to meet up in Agaete – in the north-west of the island and off the usual tourist track. The town also borders a national park and mountains to satisfy her appetite for crazy trails. And for the more faint-hearted there’s also tapas, coffee and wine tasting nearby, local giant Gran Can lizards, volcano rock pools, promenades, as well as the GC-200. This coastal road is said to be the most dangerous road in Spain… And I’ve indulged in a good few adrenalin fixes on Bus 101 on route to, what is in my mind, one of the most gorgeous stone beaches. It’s impossible to enter the sea elegantly here, but no sand in your pants – I mean, what more could you want?

 

My new favourite place, Playa de la Aldea.
Mid-centre is a Gallotia stehlini, a Gran Canaria giant lizard… they grow up to 80cm, and love baking on the rocks. We nicknamed this big boy Tomato.
Maskless for a change, and treating ourselves to a sundowner in a wind-protected spot.

The wind here provides sterling ventilation. We’re surrounded by the Atlantic, so being windy makes sense. On an extreme day, think way too windy to fly in Porterville or de Aar; Wilderness whitecaps that mean milkshakes or cappuccinos are on the menu; or a dust-free doctor wind you just cannot escape.

It’s almost two weeks now since I sat in Agaete’s Plaza de la Constitution waiting for Sarah to arrive. I remember sitting in the cool, relatively wind-protected tree-lined town square, enjoying the normalcy of being surrounded by mask-clad folks, going about their regular routine, laughing, talking, relaxing. I felt quite content, if not a little nostalgic after reading a few more chapters of Ships of Mercy and thinking of the talented communications team I only got to work with for such a brief time. Sarah’s been and gone now. I’m grateful to have been able reconnect with a dear friend, who has been a part of my journey since we were kids, and to mark the year we both turn 50 in an extraordinary way. 

I stayed behind in Agaete for a little while, to write, and to think, and to think and to write. And to frolic in the sea every now and again. And to prolong this incredible sense of freedom that has settled over me, in the time that has passed since collecting my over-sized yellow tog.

The bag is currently standing empty in the corner of my room, waiting to be repacked in preparation for whatever comes next… After Mercy Ships not working out, the way I had envisioned, I do want to make the next “next” count. And how fitting that I have just read a speech by SA climbing legend “the grand old daddy of the Lost World” Andy de Klerk, that ends with this statement:

“If your dreams don’t scare you then they aren’t big enough.”

Till soon

Love,

Chrissi

 

Just checking in…

You know, when you mostly write to earn a living it never looks good if there hasn’t been much action on your website, right? So, this is me, dropping in from my little writing retreat, where the longed-for “clean headspace” has often been severely challenged by the mostly alarming news of our world. Yet, at the same time, there is still much beauty to behold!

Apart from working hard to strengthen my relationship with the usual procrastination and angst associated with getting down to the business of writing, I’ve also been reminded of how great it is to process life and my often-chaotic thoughts through the written word.

And all you have to do is show up…

There definitely isn’t magic happening every day. In fact, if I had my production-driven German game-face on, I would say productivity is below par. But the more “Chill Chrissi” says: What’s the rush. This thing you’re doing doesn’t really have a deadline.

Hopefully “Chill Chrissi” and “Consistent Chrissi” will find a good middle ground. 

Till soon,

Chrissi

The things you do in quarantine…

You guessed it! My test was negative, and I boarded my flight on Monday, arriving in the land of milk, mountains, and red bull on Tuesday, at the crack of dawn. Today is Day Five of my 10-day mandatory quarantine and I will go for a Rapid Test on Monday (Day Seven), to see if I’m eligible for early release. Another negative test means that I can end my quarantine early and go for a long walk along that river I’ve longingly been staring at out of the kitchen window.

Opportunities for exposure since the test last Saturday have been minimal – apart from the flight, and a short journey from the airport to my quarantine pad. Sitting in the kind of craft that helped transport the virus around the world was rather surreal, but we were neatly spread out across the plane. And, apart from a bellowing snorer one row across, it was a rather peaceful experience… Or rather, became peaceful one G&T and chocolate later, once I dealt with the odd nerves of being outside my safe zone, and settled in for the night.

Other than masking up and being surrounded by covered faces for the entire flight, there was really nothing unusual to report. And waking up to the view below was a real treat…

So, what does one do in quarantine? For the first few days it was pretty much business as usual. Finishing a few projects, connecting with family and friends, reading a little, watching series, eating great quarantine cuisine. I have no cause to complain (unlike some Olympic athletes) – just look at what I cooked on Thursday night…or maybe it was Wednesday? Never mind, it was delicious! My quarantine host has provided catering fit for royalty.

And what else does one do in quarantine? Within the safe four walls of an apartment, in a country that seems to have gotten a handle on things.

I worry. I worry about the people back home. I worry about the hospital capacity. I worry about the ever-increasing positive cases within my network and circle of friends. And the fatalities.

My heart goes out to my friends who have lost their parents. And to D, who lost his mom this past Mother’s Day, and sent me a message this afternoon, asking me to tell my parents to be extremely careful. Before telling me, his aunt and uncle both died today. It’s a struggle to make sense of it all.

My heart goes out to Hendrik’s family and friends – sadly, he died of COVID-19 on Thursday. We were not very close, and didn’t see each other often, but he was a part of a paragliding group of friends who have always made me feel very appreciated and welcome. I remember him as always moving at full speed, tirelessly winching as many people up into the air as possible, sometimes even hopping out of the bakkie while it was still moving… like every second counted! I asked how others, who knew him much better, remembered him. Buzz said: “Quiet, friendly, always smiling and eager to get involved and help out.” Charles also remembered the bakkie, adding: “Always with that khaki peak cap with the flap. Always high intensity but never losing his cool.” Gary sent me a video of the lads enjoying a post flying drink, saying “I suppose his boyish naughty laugh and constant smile.” The camaraderie in the video is palpable.

It’s heart wrenchingly sad when moments such as these, will be no more.

I worry. I worry about the people back home. I worry about the hospital capacity. I worry about the ever-increasing positive cases within my network and circle of friends. I’m not ready to lose any of you. So please take extra care out there.

Love,

Chrissi

 

Gorgeously Grand (voice over script for Audi Snÿman Interior Design)

The allure of this eclectic dream home begins to weave its magic on approach, as shimmering lights promise to fulfil the anticipation of an inspired interior.

The grand staircase, crowned by light, dominates a spacious, symmetrical and elegant entrance hall whispering: “Welcome to this Gorgeously Grand family home, curated by internationally recognised Audi Snÿman Interior Design”.

Shades and textures of neutral colours embrace stabilising blues that have been artfully woven into expansive spaces – at times through subtle inclusion; at times through splashes of colour evident in paintings, plush soft furnishings, handwoven rugs and carefully selected hand-crafted artworks. Neutrals are layered with luxurious textiles and accent colours, adding a warm depth that is reflected in everyroom.

The clean lines of the open plan kitchen with its natural stone countertop offer an infinite view over the dining room and beyond. This well-appointed space is both aesthetically pleasing and efficiently functional.

Everything in sight fulfils a key role in combining eclectic inspirations and the design brief, with an eye on sustainability. The lovingly curated, bespoke dining room chandelier – made from recycled glass – eavesdrops at the opulent dining room table, and is surrounded by multiple other conversation starters.

The pairing of beautifully crafted lighting and luxurious comfort characterises the interior downstairs spaces, and spills out across the exterior spaces, that echo the symmetry and drama of the design.

Both the indoor and outdoor lounge areas are furnished with spacious, comfortable and unique furnishings, effortlessly lending themselves to entertaining, and to being entertained.

The ease of interaction is accentuated by a collection of inviting sofas and chic seating, a pool table area, a custom home bar, and an elevated lounge that speaks of the passions and patriotism of the home owners.

The unassuming colour palette is brought to life by layers of light, creating the perfect canvas for conversational items to shine. The spaces are rich with stories and tales of milestones already met, while embracing the possibilities of new memories yet to be made and celebrated together.

The understated glamour of classical wallpaper is brought to life by exquisite pendant lights and an ornate mirror. The journey continues into the downstairs study where a whimsical map of the world and ceiling height bookshelves showcase a deep love for travel. The opposite side of this room easily morphs into a safe retreat for home schooling.

At the top of the stairs three colourful soccer-themed artworks bear witness to a shared family passion and bring a playful edge to the space. The pyjama lounge reveals a blue statement-making corner sofa, overlooked by two pieces of fine art, commissioned to ensure young family members form an integral part of the space.

Inspired interiors exude calming symmetry complemented by the gold thread of blue that forms an integral part of the DNA of this family haven.

The chic interior of the master bedroom merges tastes to ensure rest and rejuvenation. Creams and beige temper masculine dark wood, while crystal chandeliers add warmth, and an invitation to enjoy an occasional Sunday morning lie-in.

The overarching theme of symmetry continues to soothe the eye in the elegant bathroom, where aesthetic effortlessly merges with natural textured stone and refined fixtures and fittings. 

Crystal chandeliers are repeated over the bath and in the walk-in cupboard adding a sense of occasion and timeless style to these areas.

The two guest bedrooms, while being mirror images in terms of floor plan, each tell their own unique stories. The Sentimental Room departs from the signature style of the house to softly frame and showcase family heritage and restored heirlooms and has a distinctly feminine touch.

All bedrooms have elegant en-suites, with clean lines and luxurious finishes.

The second guest bedroom incorporates more masculine décor and lighting, and a return to the home’s signature layered textures, with blue woven throughout artwork and lampshades.

The young children’s rooms are spacious with impactful wallpapers and décor themes that reflect their respective passions and create a unique experience that is customised to their individuality and breathes a spirit of fun and playfulness into each space.

These rooms continue to tell a family story of love, laughter and happiness; sentiment embraced; a place brimming with stories and dreams; full of personality and talking points.

Each room incorporates an en-suite, a practical nook study, and a walk-in closet and is tailored to grow with the boys as they mature.

A timeless addition to the home is the downstairs cinema, where, once the credits have run, both friends and family can fall asleep in the deep comfort of the home theatre’s plush centrepiece: an inviting upholstered bed positioned under the starry cinema sky… in an incredible place called home.

Gorgeously Grand  has been brought to life by the distinctive flair of internationally acclaimed interior planner, Audi Snÿman Interior Design: Creating bespoke homes for you to live your best life.

 

Eminente (voice over script for Audi Snÿman Interior Design)

Audi Snÿman Interior Design was commissioned to create a modern classic home for a young family that thrives on inviting others over their threshold and into interior spaces that welcome with their warmth, sophistication, and a golden thread of class and sense of occasion.

The neutral and natural palette used throughout this home is the perfect backdrop for splashes of colour, soft metallic hues and inviting warm light that encourages dwelling in luxurious comfort a little longer. The pairing of royal blue with this warm glow creates an atmosphere fit for aristocratic dining.

Luxurious textiles, layered textures of browns and blues are crowned by suspended sparkling lighting masterpieces, created from recycled glass and adding an element of storytelling to the room.

The communal interior spaces are testament to both the pleasure and flow of open plan living, where beautifully blurred boundaries support effortless social interactions and movement between formal and informal spaces.

The distinctive textures, shades and patterns of greys, deep yellows, browns, rose and gold are crowned by exquisite lighting and personalised bling. Velvety chairs are soft to the touch, and oh-so-comfortable and enticing.

This sense of luxurious warmth and stylish comfort extends into the guest bedroom, where complementary art pieces adorn the walls. Modern fixtures and fittings integrate seamlessly, their simplicity allowing the other features of the house to steal the show.

Splashes of royal blue once again feature in the large entertainment area with a well-stocked bar to enjoy pre- or after dinner drinks.

Back indoors you’ll pass a beautifully simplistic private study, and an elegant guest bathroom, before heading up a staircase that ushers in an abundance of natural light

The plush interiors of the upstairs lounge that leads into the home entertainment centre echoes the deep, comfort of the downstairs lounge and invites family time, TV dinners, as well as friendship, banter, and lively conversation. OR if you prefer, some rest and recovery from the day’s hectic.

The supreme leather chairs, with footrests and cupholders, in this state-of-the-art home theatre promise a luxury movie night at home, with easy access to the upstairs kitchen to replenish with a round of refreshments.

The movie magic continues throughout the personalised and themed children’s bedrooms with their modern en-suite bathrooms and stylish fixtures and fittings. Customised wall papers are juxtaposed by more colourful personal touches that encourage the freedom to be young and curious.

This home’s regal master bedroom is a space you’d be forgiven for never wanting to leave. The beautiful tapestry of tarnished metallic colours and neutrals add a timeless touch within an intimate setting, all of which is grounded by the room’s elegant platform bed that adds to the spacious feel of the room.

The luxurious master bathroom includes a dual shower, dual sink bathroom vanities, premium finish fixtures and a large jacuzzi bathtub.

A second, upstairs outside lounge offers a further invitation to reflect on the day or enjoy the view over sundowners.

The bar, with its ambient lighting, natural stone counter top and wall cladding reverberates the depth and versatility of the backdrop of natural colours used throughout the house.

This picture of elegance and sophistication stands testimony to the attention to detail, and creative spark that is synonymous with talented South African interior designer, Audi Snyman.

Marvão (voice over script for Audi Snÿman Interior Design)

This spacious hilltop mansion, set on a one hectare stand in a sought after estate, was built to incorporate the blissful panoramic views into its interior spaces. It’s lush green garden and rolling lawns serve as a pedestal to this trophy home, that was modernised and refurbished in 2019.

The interior design, undertaken by Audi Snÿman, combines sophistication with playfulness; comfort and luxury with practical function; and impact with warmth. The result is a 1 650m² home, with beautifully designed spaces that invite you to live, work and play in.

Feature pieces at the entrance and double volume entrance hall include bronze statues and a grand piano. Further visual impact is created by the customised black and white art pieces that speak of family, as well as a passion for travel and an adventurous spirit – an element that is an essential part of this home’s character.

The unique private residence with its free-flowing and comfortable living, entertainment and communal areas has been furnished and decorated to cater for those who love to entertain and host. The beautiful 180 degree view of a nature reserve and dam is mirrored and matched by the beauty of its interior design.

The sleek and modern kitchen, with its imported top-of-the range AGA stove and a beautiful oversized natural Minger wood worktop, invites culinary exploration and excellence.

The neutral palette throughout the house creates the perfect canvas to allow striking features to shine, and is complemented by oriental rugs and other treasures, beautiful textiles, and splashes of colour throughout.

The luxurious main bedroom provides a grand retreat with its pyjama lounge, private dressing room and en-suite that boasts inside and outside showers. A backlit onyx slab mounted behind the luxury bath is a focal point that brings both dramatic effect and warmth into the room.

A further feature artwork in the main bedroom overlooks the king-sized bed. A beautiful wall mural on the other side of this spacious room reinforces the idea of being cocooned in a magical forest. The splashes of teal further link the exterior to this interior sanctuary.

This level of detail and immersion is apparent in all five large-scale bedrooms in this house, two of which include customised wallpaper that reinforce the playful and adventurous theme.

As one moves through the house the theme of practical function and comfort and luxury is apparent: throughout its two offices, its indoor heated pool, the outside patios, fire pit and pool area…all the way through to the toy storage and workshop with its epoxy coated floor and four-poster lift. This versatile space is truly a hobbyists dream.

On a practical level, this home’s state-of-the-art automation system is modular, to allow expansion. The house is sustainable, with solar panels and an inverter system to provide back up, solar geysers and a water storage tank system.

This five-bedroom, spacious mansion is a one-of-a-kind, well-rounded luxury property that exudes boundless character and personality that have been brought to life by the professional touch of interior designer, Audi Snÿman.

Ten babies, or not

What a strange world we live in, where we have things like ghost decuplets; the White Spiritual Boy Trust; a health minister on special leave for trying to become a digital celebrity; an invisible virus wreaking havoc – I mean… you couldn’t make these things up, if you tried. No wonder the streaming services have so much content with this abundance of subject material. Never mind the captive audience.

Last night as I attended our Family Meeting in anticipation of a regulation that might scupper my future adventures, I inhaled, and told myself not to be silly. Then I remembered that we weren’t allowed to buy underclothes during our first hard lockdown, and a little paranoia crept right back in.

I plan to be away for a few months (some holiday, mostly writing), and sad as this sounds, I’m going to miss the continual soap opera plus the at times ridiculous abuse of the public goodwill, by other members of the public… I think we all agree… I definitely need to get out more!

We may or may not have been hoodwinked by ghost babies; fooled into believing there is a gazillion dollar fund; swayed by the seeming competence of leadership; or heaven forbid, postulate that the pandemic has been blown way out of proportion.

Right now, the prospect of my pending travels feels as surreal as any of the above.

I just have one last hurdle to overcome… please pray that I fail that COVID-19 test I have to sit on Saturday. And if all goes well, and I do, then my next report will come to you straight from quarantine!

A creature, a quorum and new trustees

There’s nothing unusual about politics and mayhem within body corporates – I remember sympathetically listening to friends airing their challenges, clueless as I nodded my head, a little smug that I was a free agent and silently relieved that I’ve never had to worry about such a creature. And, when I moved into an estate at the beginning of the year, that very creature was the furthest thing from my mind. I had noticed that the village I was moving into looked a little neglected and scruffy, but there were more things that spoke for it, than against.

On 13 May I received an SMS announcing that the AGM was scheduled for last night, 27 May. I had to go back on my phone to check when that SMS came in, as to be honest the AGM only really registered when the daily e-mails re proxies hit my inbox. I had plans for last night (yeah baby, birthday week and all), and had been meaning to postpone them, when I got a call from my friend on Tuesday, cancelling, as her hubby had tested positive for COVID-19.

On Tuesday there were only two proxies.

On Wednesday my doctor’s rooms called, postponing my annual check-up, as she too was down with COVID. More time to pay a little attention to the AGM, which to be honest I began doubting would happen – due to rising cases of the virus, as well as my inbox filling up with reminders and requests for proxies.

On Wednesday there were only eight proxies.

On Thursday at 12h00 there were 13 proxies.

On Thursday I visited the municipal offices, only to find them closed due to fumigation.

When it started looking like the AGM would actually go ahead, I began paying more attention, and finally cast my eye over the ninety-page document I accessed via a link in an email. As I scrolled through… Houston… the last AGM was held four years ago… we. the last four years of financials all seemed to be completed in May this year…. have… every year the body corporate was in the process of becoming SARS compliant… a problem: we were supposed to have nominated trustees pretty much 48 hours ago: I sincerely hoped that other folks hadn’t been sleeping like I so obviously had been and took myself off to the AGM.

By hook or by crook we got ourselves a quorum, which meant that the meeting could proceed. There were a number of new owners in the room, and during those first fifteen minutes – as an accumulation of mistrust, frustration and dissatisfaction was vented – I’m sure we all doubted whether it had been a good idea to buy into this place. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the clueless Chrissi-body was full-on engaged in fight or flight mode. Not quite the adrenalin rush I wished for on Sunday… I was hoping to traverse a cliff, or hike up a mountain, or board a plane, or camp amongst wild cats, or… well, you know what I mean.

No one in the room had been present at the 2017 AGM so no-one could vouch for the accuracy of the 2017 minutes. The 10-year maintenance plan (penned in 2017 and not accepted or updated since) and proposed budget were confusing and unsatisfactory. Apparently a R240 000 bike shed is a planned improvement, and while I think it’s a fantastic idea – R240k? I wonder what this proposed “shed” looks like, and who is being paid to build it? Another PPE-scandal unfolding right before our eyes? Oh, who to trust. I am a sucker for giving people the benefit of the doubt, you know, but when you smell a rat…

The chair constantly reminded us that we only had the room for two hours and needed to get through the agenda items post haste… as if we could cover four years of nothing, in no time at all. I asked many “stupid questions” including why we hadn’t been chased up to nominate trustees, in the same manner as we had been hounded for proxies. Granted, not knowing is not an excuse when the information is available somewhere, however, I still think we should have been encouraged by the managing agent. I guess I expected something along the lines of SAHPA where the nominations and their bios are shared with the members prior to the AGM and electing a committee, and where you get to choose who represents you. I felt like a beggar, who cannot be a chooser. And this beggar had been caught napping.

There is/was a lot going on, and obviously there’s a lot of history I’m not aware of – and I’m not sure I want to go there. Where were 2017 attendees, and why did so many people with a vested interest leave this particular meeting early. Surely the status quo was not ok?

When it finally came to the new trustees, the room was first asked how many we’d like. Someone said three. The chair said four. I said more. Another lady listed the roles that should be fulfilled. We settled on seven.

The trustees who had been nominated were then revealed to us: the three, seemingly comfortable existing trustees and one new nomination (thank you Mia for having been awake before the 48-hour cut off). We needed another three to make up our seven, and, hallelujah, three owners put up their hands.

I know what you’re thinking, but no, not me…  I did however promise moral support, a listening ear, and wine if the going gets really tough. I’m rooting for the new committee and hope they can resuscitate this creature.

I guess that’s life, right? There’s nothing new under the sun. And although I spent a restless night, thinking of the potential conflict that lies ahead for the trustees, I’m hoping with a little elbow grease, ethics and putting egos aside, we get to restore our little haven to what it was, back in the day.

And now, I’m off to traverse a cliff, or hike up a mountain, or board a plane, or camp amongst wild cats, or… well, you know what I mean.

Love

Chrissi

Becoming an alumna, bubbles, and a big birthday

A few months ago, we were preparing to return to the ship, which would include a week or so of quarantine in Dakar at the beginning of June, before embarking on the Africa Mercy, and finishing the field service there. I’d got my psyche re-aligned to being ‘out in the world, living in a ship’ and was cautiously optimist about venturing beyond my comfort zone again. I had even worked out a little quarantine sanity plan: indoor exercise, Netflix movies and a reading list. I’d broken up with almost all my clients, and prepped my family and friends, when the international board made the decision to only return to Africa in 2022. So, I re-aligned my sights… Most of my clients happily took me back (again), and I’ve been busy as a bee, pushing out strings of words, like a little sausage making machine.

And so, my chapter as a writer with Mercy Ships has officially drawn to a close – and I am now referred to as one of the alumni. I always thought becoming an alumna followed some sort of achievement, which to be honest, my time with the organisation doesn’t really feel like – but it is, what it is. Who knows, perhaps in the future if the stars align, I’ll return to one of the ships, in a different capacity.

My desire is to write. Be it stories about people, that are relevant, authentic and informative; or stories about me – that entertain, amuse, and share my world view and experiences. I believe I can do this, in any one of the bubbles currently available to me. I just need to make a decision…and invest the effort.

I turn fifty next week, and while I embrace the maturity (relative) that comes with this milestone, I do want it to mark a new chapter. I could carry on doing what I do now and do it well. But I don’t really want to. It represents the safe choice, and this near fifty-year old wants more adventure (albeit not of the white-knuckle kind). I’m putting that out there into the universe and am excited about what comes next.

My original, over ambitious plan was to take all of next week off, and spend time with friends and family, marking the milestone, drinking bubbly, rehashing old memories and making new ones. That hasn’t quite worked out, so I’m stretching celebrations into June, and maybe even beyond. Because I can. And you know us “old” folk, we can get quite cantankerous if things don’t work out, just so.

till soon,

Chrissi 

 

Today is 19 March

Today is the one-year anniversary of my return from Senegal. And so much has happened, since I got back here. In the world, and in my little old life too! And boy, am I ready for an aeroplane ride again. So much so, I would happily have one of those Astra Zeneca, in storage somewhere in South Africa… but that’s beside today’s point. We’ve all been experiencing a different kind of action (or lack thereof) than we’ve been used to.

However, I’m not complaining. This smaller world we’ve been living in, has definitely helped the process of making decisions easier.

I always work my way to a decision without sharing or discussing too much with those close to me. In fact, I mostly process alone, dropping a few breadcrumbs, or a turkey decoy, along the way. And then suddenly I know my decision, and I spring the surprise: This is my plan. And everyone is like: “where did that one come from? I thought she was doing this. Not that? I thought she felt this, not that. How? When?”

When I left South Africa to join Mercy Ships in January 2020, I was all in, and many were quite surprised at my decision. I left behind a pretty incredible life – family, friends, work, nature, lifestyle… I had decided it was time to do something different. Something purposeful, something in an environment that was true, and real, and meaningful, and authentic. I thought that I needed to leave here, to do that. I thought I needed to commit to a LONG time away, to do that. And, they do say that a change is like a holiday. Perhaps I felt a bit jaded in SA. Like I needed a holiday. Perhaps a change is really like one.

But I cannot lie – my ‘holiday’ was a tough one. I’m not only talking about being on the ship – my word, but the job satisfaction on that ship is on another level… I’m talking more about leaving behind a life where people know and see you. And opting for the totally unknown. I didn’t realise how much ‘being known and seen’ fuels me. I was intent on seeing and knowing those who are normally unseen. But to be honest, the ship, followed hot on the heels by the pandemic, resulted in me (for a few months) feeling quite displaced, and like a shadow of the real Chrissi. And for a while there, I did not think that going back to the ship was on the cards.

I’m not sure about all of you? Have you felt known, and seen and loved this past year? So many of us “wing it” quite well. We may just look as though we are taking it all in our stride. I think one (or two) of many things that this year has taught me, is the importance of boundaries. We can really only do so much, with what we have. And the importance of self-care. Again, we can only do so much with what we have. However, I realise that our journeys this past year all look very different.

Mine has taken me here:

On a personal level, I take such delight in having been able to spend more quality time with my family, and some close friends, this year, be it online, face-to-face, or mask-to-mask. I am so grateful for the wonderful family get-together, that was a wedding this past December. And that the party could include my sister and her other half, and that they were able to fly back home again. I am so incredibly grateful to all my beautiful friends (in South Africa and abroad) who know me and see me – you have no idea how valuable that is. Or perhaps you do.

I’m excited to be going back to the ship, with a place to come home to, at the end of that season. The timing of that, and what exactly it will look like amidst the pandemic, I’ll share as soon as I can. I am looking forward to seeing and knowing others and honouring their stories, while feeling confident in the fact that I too am known, and seen, and loved, back home.  It’s more important than I have ever realised before.

On a professional level: Is it a strange thing to have this much job satisfaction? And to take such pride in really striving to do things properly. It’s such an empowering environment when you feel you are adding real value through the work that you do. And I’ve stopped being apologetic, about being so terribly fussy about the detail.

I have so much right here. The grass is not always greener on the other side. And, if you think the grass is greener on the other side, try watering and fertilising your patch (I may as well lay it on thick, while we’re on cliches, right?)

A lot of irrigation has happened here since March 19, a year ago. 

This is me, saying thank you, for being part of this season.

Chrissi

 

 

Physiotherapist seeks to make a difference where it counts

Physiotherapist Michelle White from Eswatini spent two months at the end of 2020 working in the Tintswalo District Hospital’s rehabilitation department as a Tshemba Foundation volunteer. Michelle is no stranger to working as a community-based physiotherapist and has previously offered her services as a sports physio to community projects; has worked in Uganda; and has volunteered at Mercy Ships on the specialised surgery ship the Africa Mercy, both in Madagascar (as a physiotherapist) and in Senegal (as a clubfoot physiotherapist).

Michelle with the Mercy Ships Clubfoot Programme team in Dakar, Senegal. Photograph by John Seddon, volunteer photographer onboard the Africa Mercy in 2020.

In addition to working in a clinical environment Michelle has also worked as a Sustainable Health Financing Analyst. She has a Masters in International Public Health from the University of Sydney and says she chose this course to gain a better understanding of the public health sector: how its systems should deliver healthcare, what results in inefficiencies, and ultimately how these can be addressed. “After working in a public hospital in South Africa I realised that while we have amazing nurses, doctors and physios working in the public health sector, the system in which they work is very flawed,” says Michelle. “It is not so much the lack of skill or knowledge, than the system that results in inefficiencies.”

When asked why she feels medical professionals volunteer to work in places outside of their comfort zones, Michelle says she believes being exposed to cases and situations – which you wouldn’t normally experience in your normal context of work – offers an opportunity for growth. “It’s also a great opportunity to connect with other people who have a similar drive: to expand their knowledge and share their skills,” she says.

Michelle recognises the value of sharing her skills with people who may not be able to afford or access it under normal circumstances. “As a physio, in my comfort zone a patient would pay a fair bit of money to access my skills, whereas in a volunteering situation I am gifting it to patients for free.”

Q: Michelle, why do you volunteer?

“I do it because I get great fulfilment using my physio skills to help people in government hospitals, specifically here in South Africa. The people who are accessing government healthcare services often need rehabilitation services a lot more than people who can access private healthcare. And I say that because many people who access the public sector – about 84% of South Africans – are blue collar workers who perform manual labour. The work they perform also means that they are more likely to be injured. I feel I can make a much bigger impact and difference rehabilitating patients here, as opposed to patients who access private healthcare, who are often able to earn an income through passive means, or to whom a physical injury would not be as devastating as it would be to a manual labourer.”

Q: How did you hear about the Tshemba Foundation?

“I had finished volunteering with Mercy Ships and while looking for what next to do, a friend sent me the link…and I thought ‘Why Not!’”

Q: What did you expect when you came? What was the picture in your head?

“I expected the living conditions to be wonderful in terms of the bush and a beautiful lodge and was looking forward to living in the stillness of the bush.

“With regard to the work in the hospital, I had done a year of community service in a hospital in Mpumalanga previously, so felt I knew what to expect.

“With regard to the team, the resources and the types of patients I would see, I expected to see a lot of illness, and a lot of hopelessness in the patients with regard to their illness. I also expected a lot of frustration with the process and with team members. But, I also anticipated big wins and victories with regard to being able to assist patients, and also being able to connect with other members of the permanent staff, as well as bring new energy, AND have some fun.”

Michelle, having a little fun while doing something worthwhile on her #LEAVEOFPURPOSE

Q: What has been a highlight thus far?

“Being involved in Tintswalo’s clubfoot clinic was definitely a highlight – the team is very enthusiastic, and though they had undergone some basic training, they hadn’t yet had any long term mentorship. I was really able to use the experienced gained in my last field service with Mercy Ships here. I really enjoyed being able to spend time with them, and help them fine tune the skills they already had, as well as show them a few other techniques.

“I felt my contribution to the clubfoot clinic was well-received and we achieved a happy balance of being able to complement what they had already established. My input and advice was welcomed, which is very important when you’re volunteering. It also speaks to the willingness to learn and the humility of the physios I worked with.”

Q: Any low points?

“Outside of the clubfoot clinic I must be honest it took a while to get to the point where my opinion and clinical reasonings were heard and valued, and I didn’t feel like I was there just to substitute the existing team.

“It took me a while to integrate into the team, even though I was only there to help, but the team needs to figure you out first. So you do encounter barriers and resistance.

“Language is definitely a barrier too and I’d often have to rely on other physiotherapists for translation. Initially there was some resistance to this as well, which can be quite disheartening. After I’d been there for some time though, we shifted to seeing and diagnosing the patients together.

“I must admit that I did feel disappointment in some of the apathy and hopelessness I felt coming from some of the permanent staff, who didn’t really fight and advocate for the patients. Although having said that, there were doctors who fought for their patients to the nth degree, especially the doctors doing their community service.”

Q: What are the challenges you face or have faced, working in rural Mpumalanga?

“With regard to seeing patients in rural Mpumalanga one cannot forget that getting to the hospital for them is difficult and expensive.

“As a physio, if you want to rehabilitate a patient thoroughly, you would want to see them three times a week for a good session, but for many patients that is just not possible. So if you’re trying to rehabilitation a shoulder, or a fracture, or a spinal cord injury, your rehabilitation work is undone during the time before they come back.

“It’s a sad tension between the knowledge the patient needs to get back to work, and that I really need to see them more frequently. One has to encourage and educate them and their families (while faced with a language barrier), to self-manage at home, and that it is up to them to take care of their injury in the time that you do not see them.

“Other challenges I’ve encountered are traditional beliefs and the fear of the demonic.”

Q: Any stories you’ll definitely be sharing with friends and families for many years to come?

“The children are precious, but I’d probably share some of the breakthroughs with some of the therapists, as many initially put up boundaries and were suspicious about what motivated my being there. I too can be quick to jump to conclusions but my grace for the therapists grew as I learned about what the year has been like for them, their challenges with their children, and other burdens they carry from back home – it definitely struck a compassionate chord.

“I think the very fact that we’re able to come and volunteer means that we are from a privileged background. I don’t know what family responsibilities and financial requests my colleagues at the hospital may face, but I do know that volunteering is not an option for them.”

Q: Would you come back?

“If my time and circumstance allowed, I would.”

Q: Any advice for would-be volunteers?

“I would recommend that people come for at least three weeks to a month. The first bit is taken up by orientation, and in order to add value, come for longer.

“If you are thinking of volunteering, approach your role with humility. Have a conversation with your sectional head about what your role is going to be and find out where you can add value.

“Try not to implement changes, without understanding what it is you want to change. Systems in a hospital develop organically, and there is often a reason why they have developed: take your time to understand why and how they have developed.

“In this context take a slow and gentle pressure kind of approach, as people will take time to warm up to you.”

Thank you, Michelle, for your holistic and compassionate approach to healthcare, and thank you for volunteering through the Tshemba Foundation. To find out more, visit their website here 

Tshemba Foundation’s #LEAVEOFPURPOSE

In mid-December 2020 my volunteering journey led me to the wild and wonderful Hoedspruit, where the Tshemba Foundation’s volunteer programme places medical professionals (from SA and abroad) at Tintswalo Hospital, the Tintswalo Eye Clinic and/or the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic.

I came to know about Tshemba via a physiotherapist volunteer from Eswatini, whom I had met onboard the Africa Mercy. Michelle’s sense of purpose and ability to adapt easily to whatever environment she is in, are but two of her incredible qualities. I interviewed her as well as two other international volunteers, one of whom has volunteered at the refugee camps in Greece numerous times (I’ve recently read The Beekeeper of Aleppo, so had a picture in my head about what the journey of a refugee could look like). I do understand that the majority of medical volunteers do not do so for recognition, nonetheless, I’m filled with deep admiration and respect for those who are driven to fill a gap in healthcare, in locations outside of their comfort zones.

The founders of the Tshemba Foundation felt compelled to start something meaningful – something that would make a real difference to specifically the rural communities in the region. I believe their journey may have started with the upgrade of a small rural school (perhaps Kismet is at play in my life here…see my previous column) before growing into something bigger. They entered an MOU with the Mpumalanga Department of Health, and first focused on placing medical volunteers in the region. They went on to build the Hlokomela Clinic Women’s facility which caters for women’s health including HIV, cancer, and obstetrics. They then invested R12-million into building a new eye-clinic at Tintswalo. This also included purchasing all the equipment and instruments, and now volunteer ophthalmological teams regularly hold two to three day eye camps at the hospital, gifting their time to restore the eyesight of blind patients. And as a cataract operation alumni, who only suffered from blurred vision, I can vouch for just how incredible a new lens is!

Halala!

Volunteers are accommodated at the Tshemba Lodge, and I was treated to this wonderful sight while interviewing one of the founders. Naturally the interview came to an abrupt halt, so that I could give the lioness the attention she deserved.

There’s much more to the Tshemba Foundation’s philanthropic story and I really only managed to scratch the surface during my two-and-a-half day visit. But I do plan to go back, soon, and write more stories.

I know that any kind of volunteering is not a walk in the park – there are sacrifices, highs and lows, and pros and cons. Here in South Africa the rural hospitals face immense challenges with funding, infrastructure, inefficient systems, equipment, specialist capacity, staff morale… I spent a fair bit of time interviewing members of the hospital staff who work with volunteers or with the Tshemba Foundation. It reinforced the fact that volunteering often impacts more than the direct beneficiary, in this case the patient, of you gifting your time. 

I’d like to close with something Michelle mentioned when I interviewed her, at the end of her Tshemba Foundation #LEAVEOFPURPOSE: “I think the very fact that we’re able to come and volunteer means that we are from a privileged background. I don’t know what family responsibilities and financial requests my colleagues at the hospital may face, but I do know that volunteering is not an option for them.”

Is it an option for you?

And now I’m off to work, so that I can continue to feed my volunteering appetite.

Till soon, Chrissi xxx

 

Everything communicated here reflects my own personal opinion and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by the Tshemba Foundation, Tintswalo Hospital, the Tintswalo Eye Clinic and/or the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic.

Sometimes timing is everything

If I hadn’t had to come back from Senegal last March, I wouldn’t have been able to work for general construction company PAMCO on a ‘make it inspiring, tell a story’ brief at Maserunyane High School in Limpopo. In fact, I quoted the project manager for my small contribution (to what was to become a massive transformation), months before I left. And mere weeks after my return, the overall project cost of R7-million was approved by the Tirisano Construction Fund, and voila, I was available. How’s that for good timing?

Last Friday the MD of PAMCO handed over the keys of this now unrecognisable rural school – including top-to-toe revamped classroom blocks, four flushing toilet blocks, elevated water tanks, an extended and revamped admin block, paving, shade structures between classroom blocks, a food garden/tunnels, a kitchen, exterior and interior school signage and posters, a beautiful wall paper, and so much more…

This is important for me today, because of the never-ending narrative of the hundreds of millions of Rands being wasted or stolen. Companies taking government for a ride. Government taking government for a ride. It’s a daily occurrence in South Africa. It’s always in the news. 

So here’s a little news about one of the feel-good stories no-one seems to talk about. Please watch the below snapshot (produced by Zaheer from One Way Up Productions) of Maserunyane’s transformation, to see what seven-million well managed and accounted for Rands can get you  This is what an ethical and experienced building contractor can get you. This is how R7-million benefits teachers, scholars and the community…those it was intended for.

Halala!!!

Ke a leboga for letting me play a small part here too. I’m so proud to be associated with the team that pulled off this seemingly incredible (improbable?) feat, with such ease and grace.

Come on South Africa. It’s really not that difficult.

Love, Chrissi

This photo of the new school hall was taken by Charles Wright. I worked with some of my favourite fellow creatives, Dalton, and the lovely Lientjie “to make it inspiring, tell a story” and you’ll see some of our work in the video above too.
Photo by Charles Wright. A view from the front of one the 13 classrooms that were transformed.
Photo by Charles Wright. A view from the back of one of the 13 classrooms that were transformed.
This is one of the posters featuring founder of Lighting Tomorrow Ghazala Khan (middle) and four Maserunyane High School based educational consultants and mentors from this “educational breakthrough programme that boosts South African youth with 21st century leadership skills”. Dalton photographed them in the same classroom as in Charles’ photograph above (about midway through renovations at the school).

Everything communicated here reflects my own personal opinion and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Tirisano Construction Trust, PAMCO, or Maserunyane High School. 

 

Free Spirit

Music often streams in the background as I work, or read, or write, clean the house or do the dishes (yip, a bit of signature un-glamour right there for you). Sometimes, a song begins to play, grabs my attention and moves me to drop everything I’m doing. One moment, I am immersed in my task, and the next I’m gripped by a deep desire to write, or at the very least sway or dance around the room… I do hope this happens to you too, and I’m not now, in your eyes, that crazy lady who is visited by a free-agent feline, whenever he needs a quiet moment.

Streaming songs has introduced me to a whole range of new artists, many I’d probably never have come across if I was still sticking to previously mainstream ways to access their work. Enter “Free Spirit” by American singer and songwriter Khalid, and I just had to come here to share my thoughts.

This 22-year-old artist sure didn’t have me in mind when he wrote this song, but I’m not immune to the beautiful, melancholy rising and falling waves of a sweet voice. My knowledge of music is as limited as my knowledge of wine – basically, if it’s easy on the ears, and easy on the palate, I’m there.

Sometimes when music really moves me, I’ll do a little online research to find out more about the motivation or story behind the song. Not today. I think he’s singing about coming of age, but these words from “Free Spirit” just resonate with me:

“Free spirits, free spirits
Can you hear me calling?
Oh, it’s all or nothing
When you’re free spirits, free spirits
Can you hear it calling?
‘Cause I don’t wanna live no normal life, let go…”

Is it my desire to get out there and explore the world again? Am I seeking more than the current status quo? Right now it’s not important, as I don’t want to spoil this moment by overanalysing.

Whatever the magic ingredient in this song is, for the three-and-a-half minutes that I listened to it (and the ones that followed) my soul soared, along with the melody.

Art is just amazing, isn’t it?

till soon, 

Chrissi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another 18 holes

Over these last few months some days have felt like I’m an extra in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day (anyone under thirty google it). Wake up, do the day, sleep, repeat… And it’s not because the content of my days is the same, it’s more that the narrative of the world has felt stuck in this particular season.

This week America refreshed the story a little with the inauguration of President Biden on 20 January, and back here in South Africa, the passing of Jackson Mthembu, on 21 January, caused quite a shockwave. As I listened to the news reader’s composure crack while sharing this breaking news with the nation, I too was moved. And as I sat listening to the presenter and callers digest this major loss to the country, I stepped away from that deadline for a few minutes, to mourn with them.

Still, I was torn… Deadline? Or participate in paying some form of respect to a man I did not know. Work? Or join a collective state of mourning? Even if just for a while. And then I thought, what a ridiculous conundrum we find ourselves in, where we (I guess this is the royal we, as I truly can only speak for myself) are weighing up the urgency of our productivity, against spending some time reflecting on the life of a man, who breathed some fresh air into the politics of our nation. What a curious decision to get stuck on. And then I thought, how are his close friends and colleagues going to mourn, in the middle of this crazy time, where really, all we expect them to do is focus their energies on us, and to not miss a beat.

That afternoon, while walking around the periphery of the golf course with a friend, I shared some of my thoughts with her. She had also been thrown off her working game by the news that day, so could relate. Usually when we walk here, we have to look out for golfers, but fortunately this week the course has been undergoing maintenance, so the players were few and far between, and we could focus on our download.

It felt good to get things out of my system and restart a little lighter than before.

The game of golf, apart from other associated benefits, seems a great way to do this. I don’t play. Yet (!?). But my dad’s been a member here for over 45 years (I stand to be corrected, but nonetheless, it’s been a very respectable length of time). About two weeks ago I joined him and his fourball for about seven holes (only walking alongside them, heaven forbid I cramp their style with my yet-to-be-honed golfing skills). I so enjoyed swinging into refresh. And it was great seeing the easy camaraderie between the players.

I’m lucky to live alongside the golf course now. Easy access to nature within a secure environment. I feel safe in my home. And on a daily basis, I get to observe some of the world go by – on foot, or in golf carts – as they navigate these 18 holes. They come in all shapes and sizes, colourfully or conservatively attired, and at all levels of ability. They all have their own personal stories to tell, and crosses to bear. But they’ll return again, tomorrow, or in a week’s time. Their goals may be different. Some may be here to socialise. Some just want to get around the course without losing too many balls. Others want to improve their score, and their handicaps. Some will cheat. Some will research and analyse their game and the course. Some will have good games, and some bad. But they’ll be back to play another 18 holes.

And though we can’t really use Groundhog Day to predict the spring in Africa, let me know if you see your shadow, or not, on 2 February. Perhaps there’s something to celebrate. Perhaps we’ll get unstuck, and there’s a change in season ahead. And I have an extraordinary bottle of bubbly, ready to go!

Till soon, Chrissi xxx

Off to the bins

Last week a few folk asked me why I hadn’t included a photograph in my “dating profile”, so I thought I’d start off with that, just to set the scene…

You’re welcome! You know who you are 🙂

Twenty-twenty sure has dished out some hidings, hey? And many folks were happy to see the year and its COVID bride relegated to the bins. But of course, it wasn’t a clean break.

I myself am not yet fully in control of how I’m dealing with this pandemic, even ten months on. I go through waves. To be honest, mostly I’m calm, and focused on just getting on with life as best I can. Then I make the mistake of tuning into a broadcast while vaccination rollouts are being discussed, and I feel like I may just explode. Then I hear of someone I’ve known for years lying in ICU on a ventilator, and I get all emotional. Or someone, that I knew back in the day when I attended youth group, who has died. That really rattled me.

But we have to keep moving forward – mask clad, hygienically sanitised and socially distanced, because not only is that what we’re told we can do to help stop the spread, but because it makes sense. A friend sent this little meme below to a group I’m on, and it made me laugh out loud…perhaps it will make you laugh too.

I’m happy to report, as is evident from my dating profile pic above, that I am fully potty trained. This mask thing will for ever remain a contentious topic…isn’t it amazing, that a small piece of covering elicits a whole range of strong feelings and reactions.

Implosion” is my word of the week. And I’m going to use the definition that best fits my purposes, with thanks to vocabulary.com/dictionary/implode, accessed just a few minutes ago.

“When something implodes, it explodes inward — instead of outward. With extremely large buildings, it helps to implode them rather than explode them, because by falling inward they take up less space.

Why bother to have a word like implode when you already have explode? Well, imagine there is something deep beneath the sea, being subjected to the intense pressure there. If the pressure is high enough that the object bursts, it would collapse in rather than out. It would, in fact, implode. People also sometimes use implode to describe a person subjected to intense pressures who, emotionally at least, bursts inward: “All that stress just made Jess implode.”

It sounds, as though imploding is a lot less messy than exploding… I reckon we need to look around, not just for the mess, but to see if there aren’t some folks we know who could do with a little more support during these times of COVID.

And, not all our misfortunes are down to those crown-wearing virions. I mean, imagine having a major accident in 2020, followed by a number of surgeries and weeks in hospital. Followed by months and months of rehabilitation, only to find out that your bones are not knitting. And, you need another operation. Thus you’ll take a good few more months to get back to where you are today, and perhaps you’ll not. That’s hectic. It’s not my story to tell, but said strong person is a shining example of what coping graciously looks like. I’m rooting for him, and I wish him all of the best, from the bottom of my heart.

Till soon, Chrissi xxx

Predictable. Or not.

The bank that I’ve banked with all of my life decided that as a self-employed individual, I was too risky to bet on with a small bond. And, after banking with them since I was barely out of nappies, as well as journeying my entire adult life with them (house, car, personal, business, credit card, investments etc) I have to say that this was quite a bitter pill to swallow. It’s always felt like a neat way of managing my piggy bank…however, it seems a relatively healthy financial track record and good habits count for very little these days. Perhaps I’ve been a little too unpredictable for their taste lately.

I mentioned (to my mom) that I had seriously thought of voting with my feet, before deciding that the bank wouldn’t even feel the slightest draft if I stormed out the room. The wise woman responded that this is exactly why businesses and service providers can act as they do, they bank on the fact that it will be too much trouble for us to make the move. So…guess what I’ve done!?

I must say that I’m a tad nervous about this action. And no, I’ve not decided to stash cash under my bed. I mean…

It’s more about the perception of security and comfort of knowing that things are in place… the ability to put food in the fridge, the option of taking in fresh air daily, the possibility of visiting family and friends, access to healthcare, planning for retirement, and banking with an institution that’s been around for a while. I’m guessing all that is relatively predictable human behaviour as we teeter up and down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

And, until a few weeks ago, I had always felt a sense of being loved and belonging, and quite possibly the association with “Africa’s strongest banking brand” was good for my self-esteem…

Until they tried to stop me from becoming “the most that I can be”.

Indeed. It seems like an overly dramatic reaction, but our tendency to be oh so predictable makes it easy to for us to accept a status quo, become stuck in a rut or even entrapped, and at “their” mercy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m all for keeping “them” on their toes, and shaking things up a bit, even if all it does is make me feel like I’ve reclaimed a tiny portion of my independence.

Perhaps I’ll let you know how my new relationship pans out.

till soon xxx

(PS the notification from FNB popped up on my phone about an hour after posting this blog. I love the “try again” at the bottom, as I failed to unlock my phone first time around. Ah, life. It’s the little things…)

 

My online dating profile

To my dear friends, who encourage me to try and meet a good man and settle down, I’m so sorry to have gotten your attention under false pretences… Man, how I hate it when advertisers bait you with their fake news headings…

Anyway, I’m glad you’re here now, I hope you’ll stick around a while.

I had a visit from a good friend late last week, who mentioned that it’s a wonderful thing to arrive somewhere and be celebrated for who you are. And I want to say a massive thank you, to all my wonderful friends and family who think I’m interesting, and relevant, and just awesome! Right back at you. I do miss seeing your beautiful faces in person. It seems that we may be gathering on other virtual platforms going forward, as some of you are, or have, been migrating to different chat apps.

But back to me. I just emptied the contents of my recycling bin into the blue recycling bin downstairs, and as I walked away, I wondered what people would think if they saw my offerings. They could probably be forgiven for assuming that I’ve been drinking a little lots lately, what with the empty wine bottle, and bottle of gin – which in my defence took me about six months to empty, but before you say “yeah Chrissi, you protest a little much” I’ll get closer to my point…although I must admit that I am intrigued by the deductions the critics may make about my persona and habits, due to the fact that I do at least recycle.

If those same people were to go through my regular rubbish bin, this would paint an entirely new picture of me (I think). A lot of hair (I know, it’s gross, I’m shedding hair like a Persian cat), an empty bag of fruit chutney chips, a lot of vegetable and fruit peelings (no garden, can’t compost) and for the life of me, I cannot remember what else went into the black bin. I assure you, I am not going back to check for you.

If they looked at my empty car parking spots, they may think “She doesn’t own a car”. And they’d be right.

If they followed me upstairs they would see a selection of herbs and plants, and at least two pairs of trainers. “She grows stuff, and she must run,” they may think.

If they saw the ginger cat that’s become a regular caller at my door, they may think, “she has a cat”. And while this little creature brings me much joy, he’s not mine. Although, when he is here, he does act as though my little home is entirely his. His ability to just arrive and settle down so quickly, really does intrigue me.

If they saw the row of vitamins in the kitchen, they may think “She consumes vitamins” – but alas, she always forgets. It’s the bane of her life.

If they looked at yesterday’s google searches – intercranial pressure, smeg, pro bono, telemedicine, differentials and administer anaesthetic – who knows what they may think. You tell me.

If they walk into my study, and start flipping through the file that says “Private & Confidential” then for sure, we’d have a stand off. And if I have that level of sensitive and correct information on line, then yes, that makes me nervous, especially with the amount of data mining and privacy violations.

But just for fun, based on the above information and what we’ve learned about me today, what could my online dating profile look like:

Chrissi is a middle-aged (be nice!) raging alcoholic spinster with a cat. She runs off her hangover on a daily basis, and tries to nurse her battered body back to health with vitamins, and some healthy foods. She has no car. She is going bald, and spends her days searching for solutions to her medical challenges online.

I sure hope that doesn’t sound like me (to those who know me) and I’m guessing that the organisations ‘stealing’ our private information probably have more quality control processes in place, than I do. But I don’t think any of these platforms ever publicly promised us confidentiality, and our presumption of this is perhaps naïve.

Whereas I do seriously doubt the accuracy of some of the information they glean, I do worry a little about the kind of information they have access to, and share. Why, just the other day I was googling Gerbera Brand Management and would you know it’s a South African based company, with approximately a $6-million annual turnover, and about 18 staff. Well, I never…one can but dream. Send me a wire, and tell me what you think.

Till soon xxx

Another 18 rolls…

When I moved into my little garden flat (aka Bruno’s Bungalow) six months ago, I arrived with a bag of eighteen toilet rolls, and jokingly told my landlord, that this was how long I’d be here: who knew when my ship would sail again.

Well, it’s been more than just those initial eighteen rolls, and today I marked the occasion of starting yet another new pack of white gold, by opening a box of pralines. News from the Africa Mercy is that she now hopes to be back in Senegal in April 2021 – how exactly life onboard would look for the communications team, I’m not sure yet. Watch this space.

When we (Andrea, the other writer on the team and I) left the ship, we were incredibly naïve in thinking that we’d be back onboard in a matter of a few weeks, possibly months. We left a lot of our personal stuff behind, packed and safely stashed in our boss’s office. I imagine my bag is still sitting there, patiently waiting for my return. There is stuff I wish I’d brought back with me (especially a green dress and two of my books). In fact, I wonder why I didn’t just take it all along on 18 March 2020 – I’m sure the airline would not have run out of space, if I’d arrived with another 23kg.

I believe that the 2020 phenomenon of panic buying began well before the arrival of the pandemic. I mastered it in early January when I bought enough of my favourite lotions and potions, shampoo and conditioner, hair colour, vitamins and supplements, contact lenses, sun and mosquito repellent…and who knows what else is in that yellow bag… Well, in my defence I was planning to be away for thirty months, or at least for a year, before I would return to SA. At least I got two months use out of my stash, although I did have enough of my wits about me to pack my contact lenses before leaving. In fact, we’re now in danger of my year’s supply of these running out.

While I was on the ship some lovely friends and family (thank you KJ&J, A&M and G) sent me some care packages. Unfortunately, they arrived in the Port of Dakar well after we had left, and after the ship had already sailed for the Canary Islands. They eventually found their way back to Mercy Ships Holland, and the lovely folks there are sending them to my sister in Switzerland. Perhaps she’ll bring some of my treats with her, when she visits in December. I can’t wait! It’s my nephews wedding, and it’s going to be the social highlight of our 2020! We’re just hoping and praying for no more COVID-19 hitches. Hoping and praying Annette and Marcel make it into the country. And hoping and praying that Kevin and especially Kate’s incredible planning and attention to detail pays off; that their nerves remain steely; and that their patience doesn’t run out.

I guess there has been a lot of hoping and praying going on, around the world. There definitely has been some crazy stuff going down this year. Who would have thought panic buyers would strip the shelves of toilet paper, and other essentials, for fear of running out. Who would have thought how incredibly few empty shelves I would come across during my Wednesday shopping excursions? Who would have thought that I would ever be moved to write a blog by a pack of dermatologically tested, bought on special, loo rolls? Or even buy pralines, to mark the occasion.

Who would have thought? Well, I won’t ponder on that for too long. It’s time to post this and move onto the next distraction.

To complain, or not to complain? That is the question.

 

It rained through the night last night, and oh, what a blissful night. Just rain on the roof. No midnight, post-curfew peacock squawks. No piercing four am peacock screams. No honking from the droves of peacocks that have taken siege of the banks along the extremely polluted Hennopsriver.

Have you ever heard the cry of a peacock? It sounds nothing like the bird looks. It is simply hideous. And it never ends. They are supposed to make a lot of noise during courtship, but man, the length of this mating season is matching the pandemic. With the amount of birds around this area, procreation should simply be terminated till further notice.

Peafowl consume insects, snakes, amphibians and rodents, but what happens when these birds themselves become the pest. Surely there must be a way of managing the fowl population. Apparently, peafowl eggs make a good omelette… or we could just rehome the majority of the males as most of the local residents in the suburbs are posturing studs. Couldn’t we?

I’ve always felt complaining is a very unattractive thing…probably because complaints are rarely delivered with a smile. Or possibly because complaints are hardly ever well-received: one complaint opens up a sea of grievances, and all of a sudden, a conversation becomes heavily laden, even ugly. Nobody likes a complainer. A clumsily delivered complaint is immediately associated with criticism; criticism often leads to self-defence, which often leads to conflict. Which I hate. It’s complicated, right?

These last few months have reminded me that I’m happiest in an environment where I’m able to control my surroundings, or at least have some semblance of control. I cannot control this noise, but perhaps if I share my observations, they may fall on the right ears? How do we fix this? I cannot believe that I am the only one struggling with the incessant noise. And if you feel I’m being a bit overdramatic, then I’d just like to add that there has not been even a three-minute intermission since I began writing this.

And while I’m getting things off my chest… this river. How? How did we let things get this bad? The few summer rains we’ve had have helped flush some of the sewage and stench down river, but never mind the floating poo and the putrid smell…the rubbish lining the vegetation along the banks is simply depressing. Clean water is essential to survival – of the creatures who live in the river, and the people who live alongside it, up and downstream from here. How did we let things get this bad? And please don’t answer that, I want a solution. How do we fix it? Can we fix it? Why haven’t we fixed it yet? Shame on us, for letting it get so bad, and accepting the status quo. And shame on me, for thinking, it’s just a total shot in the dark, that we’ll be able to clean this mess up. I so admire the folk all over the world who spend weekends cleaning up after humanity, but after having walked over the Hennopsriver this morning and seen the garbage rushing downstream, I must admit, I do not know how they keep at it.

The incredible thing is that the frogs, the ducks, the dragonflies, the birds, the bees, and yes, even those pesky peafowls are still managing to live it large along the river. How? How have they adapted to the slow demise of what used to be a life-force? Or is their never-ending extended breeding season a symptom of the side-effects of living alongside a toxic polluted water? How soon will our dogs start mewing and our cats barking? When will we start turning blue? When will our cars start corroding? When will our taxes be used for the really important things?

To complain, or not to complain? I say yes, go for it. Just get to the point, and get to it fast. No back story, no unnecessary interpretations or details. No one likes a whiner who just never shuts up – heck, I feel like taking a shotgun to the bellyaching peafowl population, and I’m a peace-loving global citizen. Just tell me what, if anything, is bothering you today? You never know who may be listening.

 

The long drive home

Ever been on holiday at the other end of the country, and then driven home to Gauteng, all in one go? It’s like the trip just never ends, and as you drive through the different landscapes, the mood and alertness levels vary.

When you’re driving up or down a mountain pass, and it’s rainy and misty, you’re on high alert, straining to see what may lie ahead. When you’re driving through the endless and desolate open Eastern Cape or Karoo flats decorated with flat-topped koppies, the journey can get a bit monotonous. The monotony is broken by another pass, or a green oasis – a farmhouse, or a small riverbed, that in spite of being bone dry still hosts a cluster of weeping willows, or other hardy alien survivors. Or, an obstacle in the road. Like in our case, a behemoth Eskom thing creeping up towards Graaff Reinet on the back of an abnormal flatbed.

You’ll eventually overtake this obstacle and make your way along the edges of Middelburg. You’ll see the tips of Noupoort Wind Farm, stop for a milkshake and driver change in Colesburg, and if you hang in there a while longer, you’ll be rewarded by a glimpse of the Gariep Dam. Not much further along, and you’ll head over the Orange River, that has travelled all the way from Lesotho to cross your path sort-of near Colesburg.

The Free State’s golden-October grasslands stretch endlessly, and once you’re through Bloemfontein (and you didn’t leave at the crack of dawn) you’ll be treated to a sunset on fire. You’ll journey into dusk and then a driver change, and into darkness… Eventually you’ll make it home, and listen to the familiar night noises, before hopefully spending a restful night in your own bed, recovering from the journey.

After holidaying and enjoying the freedom of open spaces, sea, sun and mountains, I always return to Gauteng with mixed feelings. This time around there’s a little more uncertainty in the mix, as my head and my heart process what our immediate future, amidst COVID-19, may look like.

I take COVID-19 very seriously – from a health, social and economic impact perspective.

You may disagree and think it’s no more than the flu and that shutdowns were a mistake.

I think we are in a more vulnerable position than, based on our behaviour, we appear to think we are.

You may think that this has all been blown way out of proportion, and precautions are for the birds.

There are so many divided opinions, worldwide, on how best to move forward and navigate life, under the shadow of COVID-19. It can get confusing and frustrating.

I believe we’re still on the long drive home. I’m not sure where exactly on route, but I do hope that we’ve passed the abnormal load that created traffic congestion approaching the Valley of Desolation. And that there are no more major obstacles in the way. The journey is at the point where my limbs are feeling the confines of the car; my mouth is dry from too much coffee; my tummy is rebelling against the three too many road-snacks; I’m desperate for a sip of ice-cold water; my eyes feel a bit gritty and sun-strained. I can’t set the aircon just right; and I’m weary.

So, we’ll stop to refuel, we’ll stretch a little, and then get back in the car, and navigate the roads, according to the rules, as best we can. Because eventually, we’ll make it home, and put our heads down on our pillows, listen to the familiar night noises, before hopefully spending a restful night, recovering from the journey.

And then, we’ll wake up to a new tomorrow. One day. Some day.

Soon?

I think it all depends on how we drive.

 

Week 36 random recap: rabbit feet and a cat burglar

There’s a lot of animal action around the neighbourhood at the moment. In particular in the wee hours of the night. It seems that the creatures have also emerged from lockdown and are using the property’s borders as a highway to move between appointments. Or perhaps it’s just that time of year, and I haven’t been as aware of them, as I have been this past week. They wake up the neighbourhood dogs, including Bruno, and then everyone joins the commotion – even the peacocks and the hadidas. Roll on summer!

Marinus is away this week, enjoying some of the travel privileges that come with SA’s level 2 lockdown. So, I’ve also been visiting and feeding Poppy and Manito next door. The other day I came across some rabbit hindlegs in his garden… Surely one of those soft little kitty noses that I’ve been kissing every morning and evening have not savaged a soft and sweet, recently born kit? Oh, I hope not. It’s probably the owls, or the big lion cat that’s been on the prowl. Or maybe the resident gymnogene or sparrow hawks I recently encountered while out with my walking buddy Linda…

With our load shedding being scheduled for 21h00 this week I’ve been going to bed relatively early. On Tuesday night, shortly after retiring, I heard a very, very loud noise. So loud in fact, that I thought it was entirely possible that the geyser had fallen through the roof next door. I decided to investigate and, using my Phone’s torch to guide me, I set off into the night. As I rounded the corner of the house and approached the carport, I saw a slight figure drop off the carport roof and into the garden next door. Guys… I can’t even begin to describe the places, in my body, that my heart went. Bruno, who had been barking earlier, was now with me and rushed straight towards the spot I’d seen the “cat burglar” disappear… I immediately mobilised forces – got my landlord out, who got the neighbour out, who got the armed response out, who arrived swiftly and swept the grounds with their torches, seeking the intruder.

A few moments into the excitement and the neighbour came out: “Is it possible, that it could have been a very big cat?”

I’m beginning to doubt myself… “Only if it was a really, really big lion cat,” I say.

“I only ask,” she says, “as a massive cat just passed by the bedroom. So big in fact, that I first thought the armed response had arrived with a dog.”

Okay. I’m beginning to feel a little foolish now. But in my defence, I’ve had enough break ins to err on the side of caution… but yes, we agree it must have been a very large, domestic cat, with a super long body. Come to think of it, I’m sure I’ve encountered this monster cat once before, earlier in lockdown, and prior to moving into Bruno’s Bungalow. Poppy and Manito had been acting kind of skittish. In fact, Manito came galloping through the kitchen door cat-flap late one night at such a pace, that we later located the actual flap in the lounge. Of course, I shot out of bed immediately assuming the worst… an intruder… and mobilised Marinus who emerged from his bedroom disgruntled and sleepy… Thank goodness for the broken cat-flap to back up my story.

The innocent faces of non-rabbit-eaters.

But back to the bunny feet… I’m going with the owls being the culprits here… Random google fact: “Owls can’t carry a whole rabbit, so they just take the head.” It’s kind of cool living in suburbia, and having all this animal action transpire around me. There’s also a lot of bird life in the area, including the below special “spookvoël” grey-headed bush shrike couple recently spotted and photographed by Marinus in his garden.

And there you have probably the most exciting parts of my thirty-sixth week of this year, thus far. Other highlights included some cool catch up with friends, lunch with my folks, lunch with my sis, a visit to the hairdresser, and a red-carpet worthy new hairstyle! Oh, and I booked some time away… but that’s for my random recaps of weeks 38 and 41.

Till soon. x

 

A random recap of week 35

It was Vera’s birthday on Friday, and it was such a treat to have a family get together and to physically be in the same eating venue (@Mami&Papi) as multiple other heartbeats. When I got home, I felt like a child coming down from a sugar high… that slightly directionless, “what to do now?” feeling after all the guests have left and the cake has been consumed…

Luckily Saturday mornings is my weekly “hard-core” cycle with Birgit, my landlady, so I could work off my three (yes, three, plus cream) pieces of delicious mom-made cake. Yesterday’s bike ride took us to the Voortrekker Monument, where we treated ourselves to a cappuccino after cycling the route that was once part of the park run. Peddling up the dreaded “uphill” was beautiful: we passed some gnu, the birds were tweeting, the vegetation was thick, the clouds were low, and a cool breeze was blowing up the hill. It was just magical.

On our way home we encountered at least three groups of motorcyclists riding to the Union Buildings to raise awareness for farm murders and racism. I stopped on a bridge to take in some of the solidarity passing on the highway below. I, like many, am incredibly disappointed, disillusioned and feeling despondent about the way our government has been handling, in particular, our country’s financial matters. And right now, any demonstration or indication of solidarity tends to leave a lump in my emotional throat. 

This week Herman Mashaba launched a new political party – Action SA. I’m thrilled to see a new warrior in the colosseum, as it’s high time for some fresh air to sweep through those putrid South African political corridors. I’m just not sure whether we’d manage to collect a comprehensive selection of presidential candidates for voters to elect a president from. But man, wouldn’t it be amazing, to play a part in appointing someone you felt could lead the country wisely. I’ve dipped into the Facebook posts about the party and read some of the comments: some are supportive and constructive, and others are just blech – cynicism can be so very ugly.

The presidential candidates in the States made me think of a blog I wrote a while back (how old is too old). How come presidential options in many countries are all beyond normal retirement age? I still don’t get how someone is allowed to run a country but would probably not even be considered for the position of leading a multinational corporate. Are young people not interested in leading a country? I mean, I sure as heck would not want that job, in any country, but if I did, we’d literally have no money left for the fat cats, as I’d be feeding, housing and trying to find ways to empower the poor…and fixing the infrastructure…and cleaning the rivers…and and and… I don’t know enough about the Democratic candidates for number 1 and number 2 in the US, still, I definitely know where my vote would go. I must admit I’m quite surprised when someone I know or interact with turns out to be a Trump supporter…that man is definitely not from my tribe.

And speaking of fake tans… the weather here has started improving enough for me to think about shedding a few layers. I decided to give my light blue legs some attention just in case I have the opportunity to venture outdoors in shorts. I discovered that hand sanitiser (the alcohol spray version) has an additional benefit of being able to remove the quick-setting, tell-tale fake-tan stains on your hands… So, if you don’t happen to have mittens with which to apply a healthy looking colour, now you know.

Other than visiting with my folks, a bit of writing for reward and daily doses of fresh air, Bruno has continued to entertain me this week; my French lessons are going well (although I’m about six years from fluent); and I have a hair-dressers appointment this coming week. Never thought that this would ever be as big a deal as it is right now.

Till soon. x

 

All Aissatou hoped for

When shy and reserved 45-year-old Aissatou heard a radio broadcast about Mercy Ships pending arrival in Senegal, she immediately told her husband Samba. She knew a surgery to mend her cleft lip would change many things in her life. “If they fix my lips, I will have health. With my mouth like this, dust and germs enter,” she said. “I will also be free in the society, because I will be like others.”

As a child growing up in a remote village, Aissatou had no access to a school. This meant that she was shielded from the unkind taunts of children…until she was a teenager. She remembers how people would either laugh or shrink away from her when she went out, and as a result she contracted more and more into herself.

As she matured there were no opportunities to have her cleft lip fixed, and she accepted that this was how she was meant to walk the earth. She was fortunate to meet a man who accepted her, exactly as she was. They got married and had children. Sadly, tragedy struck, and her first husband died. Thank God for Samba, who also loved her freely, exactly as she was. He became her pillar of support.

People in their village would say: “Aissatou, you are not like everyone.” or “You are a bad person. Go away.” It was very difficult for her, as even when people did speak to her, they would avert their gazes. Samba would be quick to jump to his wife’s defense, telling the villagers: “If I hear someone being disrespectful to Aissatou, I will not make it easy for them!”

When she was given a date for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy in Dakar, Aissatou and Samba were both over the moon. Unfortunately, they missed the Mercy Ships vehicle that transported patients to Dakar, so had to brave public transport to travel the eleven hours to the nation’s capital. Once in Dakar, Aissatou checked into the Hospital Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, in anticipation of being able to check into the ship’s hospital the next day. Samba stayed with friends in Rufisque, about an hour from Dakar. He intended to be close by, so that he could see her again as soon as possible.

Aissatou’s journey to healing took longer than expected, as her surgery date had to be moved twice. After examining her, the hospital admissions doctor felt her body was not quite strong enough to support her healing after the operation. She was given some medication and prescribed a nutritional diet which was prepared for her at the HOPE Center. The Mercy Ships medical volunteers and the day crew took good care of her and tried to keep her motivated and positive. Yet as the weeks went by, no matter how optimistic everyone else was about her situation, every delay added a little more doubt and fear that the day of her surgery may never come.

But it did! And praise God, her body was strong, and her wound healed well.

By the time Samba and Aissatou were reunited, a month-and-a-half had passed. And the very first time Samba saw his beautiful Aissatou without her disfiguring cleft lip, he was amazed and overjoyed. He could not stop smiling or take his eyes off her, saying “Mercy Ships has given us a victory! “Now they (the villagers) will be ashamed. She is fine now. She is like them.”

Aissatou was moved to tears by the reunion, saying “I’m so happy. But I can hardly speak. Thank you, Mercy Ships.”

There were so many people onboard the ship (and in other countries) invested in Aissatou’s story, and  it was wonderful to be able to write a story about an adult life being transformed. This is the unedited version of her story. The photographs used here were taken by John Seddon, a videographer and photographer from the United Kingdom.

 

New normal in Bruno’s Bungalow

I had the strangest dream… I was arrested. It was a false ID, but the arresting officer made a point of telling me that I looked dodgy… or more specifically that my mole made me look dodgy. After being made to feel terribly guilty for Mother Nature’s role in my arrest, he then handed me back my Mother’s handbag, my phone and washing basket (complete with neatly folded gym clothes) – without apology – and I was ushered off, and allowed to get back to going about my usual business.

Today’s usual looks somewhat different to what it did a few months back – before Covid-19; before the ship; before packing up Poppy’s Palace to embark on the next adventure. Eight months ago, I was serving Princess Poppy her breakfast and dinner, on demand. Today I’m sitting on a stoep, with Bruno, my landlord’s German Shepherd, keeping an eye on me.

The two creatures are vastly different, yet both have their uses for this human. Poppy needed food, warmth, the occasional conversation and tickle under her chin. Bruno sometimes takes me for walks or demands that I throw his Kong toy around the garden for him. He has developed a habit of throwing the well-chewed, gooey toy into my flat, through the open sliding door. On the surface, this is not unusual behaviour. I only question his motivation when I’m sitting outside, on the stoep, next to him… Regardless, he brings me a lot of joy, especially when I observe him running in circles, chasing flies or setting off after a hadida (it’s the small things in life…). 

I love that these creatures’ lives have continued uninterrupted, despite the doo-doo storm on their doorsteps. I love that the sun still sets each night and returns every morning. I like that, in spite of all the crazy, I’m beginning to feel a lot more like ME again. More so than I have for a while. I’ve felt like I had been sent back to the starting blocks, where it’s a bit confusing when there isn’t a “race” to run. Perhaps I’m just getting used to my new environment and the rules of engagement; perhaps it’s the changing season; or the new projects I’m working on… It could just be the greens I’ve been eating, in lieu of chocolate, chips and lockdown gin – who knows. But it’s a comforting feeling to have.

I’m sure it won’t be long until I’m feeling restless again. But for the next few minutes, I’ll just chill on the stoep of Bruno’s Bungalow, and ponder. Why was I carrying my Mother’s handbag? What was I doing with a washing basket when I got “dream arrested”… or even what dreaming about a false arrest means in the first place.

While I may be okay with everything not making total sense to me, I believe it’s super important to be intentional about looking after one’s own well-being and mental health. I’m sure this season is taking its toll on many, there has been an inordinate amount of stuff to deal with. I also think we often poo-poo getting someone to assist us when we’re stuck, struggling or just overwhelmed with what’s on our plate. There are so many good, noble and trustworthy resources out there, but dear friends, if you just want to talk, I’ll be happy to listen.

 

Double the trouble, twice the joy

It’s easy to tell the five-year-old twin’s apart once you have the opportunity to get to know their personalities – Ousseynou is outgoing and cheeky, while Assane is quiet and reserved. If you were seeing them for the very first time though, and you didn’t know that Ousseynou has a little scar on his forehead, you would not be able to tell the two apart.

They share more than just their good looks – they both developed an identical condition that saw their legs curving outward at the knee. As the twins grew older, their knees grew further apart. And as their deformity became more apparent, society began pushing them further away.

Ousseynou and Assane at the Port of Dakar with their mother before surgery.

The twin’s parents, Abdukka and Awa, accepted that this was Allah’s will. Nevertheless, it was a challenging time for the family. “It was hard for us. We knew that the neighbors were laughing about the twin’s appearance,” says Awa. “We could not hide Ousseynou and Assane away, so we all had to live with people treating them as inferior.”

Mame Sor, a nurse at the local clinic has known the twins since they were a year old. Unfortunately, when their condition became apparent, she was unable to identify or remedy it. However, she began to champion their cause and appointed herself as their guardian angel. She joined the twin’s parents in their prayers for healing and also never gave up hope that they would find a solution.

When Mame Sor heard about Mercy Ships coming to Senegal she shared this exciting news with Awa and arranged to collect the boys and their mother to drive them to the patient registration in Kaffrine. Days before the twins were due to see a surgeon, she drove Awa, the twins and their aunt the three-hundred-and-forty-three kilometers from Missira to Dakar. This was the furthest the twins had ever been away from home, but the closest they had ever been to finding healing.

It was also the first time any of them had seen a ship. Awa was a bit nervous about all of these new experiences, and even more so when the nurses came to take Ousseynou and then Assane to the operating theatres. She was relieved to have the twin’s aunt by her side. After the operation, when her boys were wheeled out sporting their respective blue and turquoise casts, she was all smiles! “When they came back to the ward after the surgery and their legs were straight in their casts, I was so, so very happy,” says Awa.

It’s a little outdoor physical therapy time for the twins!

During the weeks following the surgery the twins crept into the hearts of the volunteer and day crew on Africa Mercy. The rehab team put them through their paces. First gently as they wobbled around on newly straightened legs, still in casts and with the assistance of walkers. They were discharged to the hospital outpatient extension (HOPE Center) where they continued their rehabilitation along with the many other young orthopedic patients they befriended.

Once their casts came off, the physio sessions became a bit tougher. The goal was to improve their range of motion as well as their balance and strength. Eventually, the twins were moving faster and more confidently than they had been able to before. “Since I gave birth to Ousseynou and Assane, I have never seen them run,” says Awa. “The surgeries created this opportunity. It is something that comes only once in a lifetime.”

And when they turn seven, the twins will be able to start school, blend in with the other children. They will be standing tall and confidently on legs that were bowed before.

Awa is so proud of her boys. “I was living with doubt about their future, but the hard part of their life is over now,” says Awa. She feels that now that they have straight legs they have already succeeded. “I don’t know any soldiers, but I can see that my boys are strong, and I would love for them to serve their country!”

Ousseynou and Assane really crept into the hearts of the crew, and it was fun to watch how they would try to fool people into thinking they were the other twin. This is the unedited version of their story. The photographs used here were taken by Lara Arkinsal, a photographer from Australia.

A triumphant homecoming

Diacko was a handsome baby. In fact, the other villagers would stop Youma, while they were out and about, to tell her how very good looking her little boy was. Then, when he was about three years old, his legs began to bow outwards, and slowly the admiring glances became filled with pity and scorn. The complements turned to repeated advice to visit doctors and have it fixed before it got worse. “We didn’t have money for that,” says Youma. “So, I stayed home, waiting for something to come from God.”

As he grew older Diacko stopped venturing too far from home and would often return sooner than expected. Even his friends would mock him, taunting him and calling him “Diacko, the bowlegged boy!” He didn’t like being teased, and sometimes would respond by saying“I will let you wrestle with God, who will judge us.”

Diacko, at home before the surgery to correct his bowed legs.

In spite of his social strife, Diacko was still growing up to become a conscientious young boy, who would pride himself on his cleanliness and neat appearance. He would go to the river daily and wash himself and his dirty clothes, before putting on a clean outfit. Often in the evenings his limbs would ache and Youma would massage the painful muscles in his legs. The winter would affect him quite badly, and Youma would have to encourage him to get out of bed in the chilly mornings.

In the year that Diacko was to start going to school, Youma saw a television advertisement, about Mercy Ships. “At first I couldn’t understand what it was about,” says Youma, “but when someone explained to me that a ship is coming to Senegal and can offer surgery to my son, I decided to find out more.”

When it turned out that Mercy Ships could help Diacko, going to school was put on hold for a year. “If Diacko did not have this surgery, he would have become stuck,” says Youma. “And as he grows up, he would have become more and more useless.”

The majority of the villagers were very suspicious of this gift of free healthcare. In fact, now everyone was advising them not to go, saying “It’s not safe, you don’t know what will happen.” Or: “Perhaps they are only pretending to give free surgery and you will be kidnapped…” The fears and rumors ran rife, but Youma decided that she was prepared to take any risk to help Diacko.

Mother and son travelled from Matam to Dakar in a Mercy Ships vehicle. They were not alone. There were three other children and their caretakers in the same car and, over the next few months, firm friendships would develop between them.

Once Diacko was admitted to the hospital onboard the Africa Mercy, he met more children, who suffered from the same condition he did. And after his little legs were operated on, straightened and then put into casts to heal, he was showered with care and attention by the medical staff and the day crew. Many weeks passed and sometimes the healing process was tough for this brave little boy, but he was surrounded by love and support, and his mother was never far away.

Youma began to feel more and more vindicated in her decision to trust Mercy Ships. The two decided to keep Diacko’s newly straightened legs a secret, wanting to save the surprise for their eventual return to their village. People back home would call to find how he was doing. They were also curious about the ship, and the conditions, they were living in. Youma would simply respond: “Sometimes I forget I am not in my house, as I am so well treated.”

Diacko tackled rehabilitation and the exercises he was given by the physiotherapists with earnest determination. It wasn’t easy, but he would push on through and every day there would be some improvement in his strength and movement. Youma sings the rehabilitation teams praises, saying: “What they do here, we cannot do it, even if we try. Our children will get upset if we push them too much, and then we may stop.”

Finally, it was time for Diacko to go home, and what a spectacular homecoming it was. He has become a minor celebrity in the village and his story of hope and healing will probably be told for decades to come.

This whole experience has brought mother and son even closer than they were before. “We achieved this dream together,” says Youma. “I was dreaming that he would be healed, and he trusted me.” Life is so different now, the two say it’s hard to believe that Diacko ever had bowlegs.

When many said it was not possible, a mother believed that it was. And her son was healed.

This is the unedited version of Diacko’s story. The photographs used here were taken by Lara Arkinsal, a photographer from Australia. The photograph of Diacko on the tricycle is one of John Seddon’s (from the UK).

“I’m strong, I walk alone, and my legs are straight”

Six-year old Satou is a happy, sociable child who loves being around people. As much as she wanted to be an accepted part of her community, sadly her windswept legs often saw her being teased and rejected. “Satou is actually a happy child. She doesn’t like being sad,” says her mother Khady. “She is also strong-willed and determined and gets very upset when she feels that she is not respected.” Khady explains that the constant taunting made Satou feel ashamed and helpless, as though she was always the object of mockery – so much so that whenever she heard someone laughing, she immediately assumed that it was because of her.

Her little legs had begun to deform and bend when she was three. Her mother was dismayed and tried to find out what had happened to her daughter – had she fallen and injured herself while in someone else’s care? Was she suffering from some unknown illness? There was just no single event that Khady could pinpoint as being the cause of Satou’s disability. A visit to the traditional healer in their locality also resulted in a dead end. “In our society people assume witchcraft or disease, and they exclude such people,” says Khady. “I was worried about my daughter and wished that she could be like the other children in the village.”

Satou and her mom, Khady, before her surgery on the Africa Mercy.

Satou’s hardworking, god-fearing family was very disheartened. They work as subsistence farmers and are often barely able to make ends meet. Their livelihood depends on their annual harvest, and if it is poor, they struggle. “Life in the village where we live is hard, and every day we thank Allah for giving us food,” says Khady. “There was no money or means to spare to get Satou some help.”

Then, in late 2019, someone told Khady about the arrival of a Mercy Ship, and things began happening fast. After attending a patient screening event Khady was given a date for orthopedic surgery (to straighten Satou’s legs) onboard the Africa Mercy. “I have not dared to even dream that it is possible that my daughter’s legs can be straightened,” says Khady. “It feels as though the doors of heaven were being opened for her.”

When Satou was admitted to the hospital, it marked the beginning of a new chapter – one of physical and spiritual healing – in her life. In the hospital, and later in the HOPE Center, she was accepted and loved by the volunteers and other patients. She was able to mingle with many other children who, just like her, had been outcast because of a physical disability or deformity. Other children who, just like her, had undergone orthopedic surgery. Who, just like her, were in casts and learning to walk again on their newly straightened legs. She was in a community and surrounded by friends – to play with, to encourage and to laugh with.

Once they were at the HOPE Center Satou would keep asking her mother for her walker, so that she could walk more. Sometimes she would stand, without holding onto the walker, and clap her hands and try to dance. Eventually she abandoned the walker and began moving around on her own. “When we spoke with her father, Satou told him: ‘I’m strong, I walk alone, and my legs are straight’!” says Khady.

Satou came to the Africa Mercy with windswept legs, and after her operation spent months with Mercy Ships – in the hospital, in casts, at the Hope Center, in casts, in the physio tent, in casts. And then finally the casts could come off, and she could really enjoy her new legs! The day Satou’s casts came off and she had her final x-ray, is a day that Khady will never forget. She says that seeing her daughter’s straight legs is her best memory of their time on the ship. “I thought: how is it possible for people to have the capacity to straighten legs that are crossed? It was magical – the kind of thing one can only dream of.”

Khady says she does feel very sad for the other children with bent legs in her village, whose parents were pessimistic and reluctant to come to the ship. She is grateful and relieved that she took the leap of faith to trust that her daughter would be well taken care of. And she is looking forward to returning to her family, with her healed daughter: “When I go home with Satou, it will be a day full of happiness,” says Khady.

Soon Satou will be home and getting on with living her life to the fullest… Gone is that sad little girl, who could not run with the other kids. “As every mother does, I am praying for her to be like others, return to school and to be integrated into society. I believe that she will now have an easier life – one that is full and successful.”

I met Satou shortly after her operation, and she had pretty much charmed most of the volunteers. She has a very big personality! This is the unedited version of her story. The before photographs used here were taken by John Seddon from the UK and the after photograph was taken by Lara Arkinsal from Australia.

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