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.
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.
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.
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.
Malick 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 Malick stopped venturing too far from home and would often return sooner than expected. Even his friends would mock him, taunting him and calling him “Malick, 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.”
In spite of his social strife, Malick 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 Malick 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 Malick, going to school was put on hold for a year. “If Malick 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 Malick.
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 Malick 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 Malick’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.”
Malick 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 Malick 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. He is off to school soon, and when he grows up, he’d like to go to travel to France, to find work there…
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 Malick 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 Malick’s story. The photographs used here were taken by Lara Arkinsal, a photographer from Australia. The photograph of Malick 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’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.
Over the past few months Audi Snÿman Interior Design commissioned me to write a few voice overs for some 3D fly-through animations. They were used for videos featuring some of the homes in Steyn City and Cornwall Hill, that Audi has designed the interiors for. The scripts were creatively challenging and it was a treat having a sneak preview of how the other half lives.
Some extracts from two of the scripts include:
Your family home inspires delight and defines the very essence of your beings, without needing a single word to express your stories. Its doors are always open. Its rich, luxurious and tasteful interiors speak of your warmth, saying “Sit at our table, and partake – you are close family, and you are welcome here.”
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.
As one moves through the ground level of 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 an epoxy-coated floor and four-poster lift. This versatile space is truly a hobbyists dream.
Unfortunately, for privacy reasons, I’m unable to share the photos or full scripts, but they included some poetry (yes!), first and third person narratives, and a bit of a “Top Billing” style script. Writing them was pure escapism!
I also edited and wrote some articles and captions for Audi, that were used in the SA Home Owner magazine. I’ll update this post as more of them become available.
When they were given a date for cataract surgery onboard the Africa Mercy, seven-year-old Zackaria asked his mother: “Is it possible to remove the white things in my eyes?” To which Binta replied “Yes my son. God-willing, that will be possible.”
Zackaria is the second youngest of five. He has three sisters, and a thirteen-year-old brother Elimane, who was also born with cataracts. After Zackaria was born Binta began seeing the same signs she had seen in her eldest. “I knew about Zackaria’s eyes when he was still very young, as I had the same experience with my first born. Elimane had an operation, but his surgery was not successful” says Binta. “I wept when I saw that my new baby was looking and moving, in the same way.”
She knew that she was in no way to blame for his poor eyesight, but the fact that both her boys had been born with cataracts caused a lot of stress, and she became quite ill. “It’s hard to move around if you close your eyes for just a few minutes. Imagine what it is like for a blind person.” she says. “It is the reason I kept crying.” Her mother stepped in and offered to take the two boys to live with her in Casamance, so that Binta could focus on getting well.
As Zackaria grew up, he was aware that he could not see like other children, but still wanted to live a full life, including playing with other children and even being ambitious enough to try and kick a football. Sometimes his grandfather would try to stop him playing, but a teacher encouraged him to let the boy play, so that he did not dwell on his disability. Zackaria would sometimes come home sporting scratches and bruises from his escapades, but even those could not dampen his inquisitive nature and zest for life.
While Binta was visiting Cassamance the family heard of the Africa Mercy’s pending arrival on a local television channel, but they did not know what treatments would be offered. One day Elimane came home and told his mother to take him and Zackaria to the hospital. “There are some people coming for free surgeries for the eyes,” he had said to her. Binta took her boys to where the patients were being selected. Sadly it was established that Elimane could not be operated on – he had been blind for too long, and the chances of a second surgery being successful were very slim.
For young Zackaria, however, there was hope for healing. He was given a date on which he would be admitted to the ship’s hospital and Binta was elated. “The family prayed for the ship to be blessed, and that the operation would be successful,” she says. And to ensure that they would be closer to the ship for the surgery and follow-up appointments, she moved in with relatives in Keur Massar, on the outskirts of Dakar.
Zackaria was incredibly excited about having, as he terms it, the “things in his eyes” removed. He was in a great hurry to see and began counting down the days to his surgery. Every day he would come and ask his mother, how many more days it was. Four more…three more…two more…one more… Finally, the day of the operation dawned.
When they were admitted to the hospital onboard the Africa Mercy, Binta knew that his surgery was becoming a reality. She says that while she was afraid, she also grew more confident: “It was hard, but I put things in God’s hands.”
In a blink of an eye, his operation was over. Zackaria was discharged the day after surgery, and asked to come back a week later for a check-up and some eye tests. In young children, who have been blind for most of their lives, the brain needs to learn how to interpret the new electrical signals arriving from the eyes. The doctor was really pleased with his progress thus far.
Six weeks post op and Zackaria was back for a final checkup and for the Celebration of Sight ceremony held on the dock. He was given some spectacles to help him focus, and had so much fun joining in the celebrations! “Now Zackaria can see better, he hardly stays still and is constantly moving about,” says Binta. “I am so happy. I never thought that Zackaria would have this opportunity for surgery. Even I was suffering from something that Mercy Ships has healed!”
If it was up to Binta to decide what Zackaria would become, she says that she would want him to be a surgeon. “To help people as people have helped him.”
As for Zackaria, his main ambition right now is to play outside until the sun sets… and to be a mason and build things. He’ll be off to school sometime soon, and then a whole new chapter of his life will begin.
The above is the first patient I met when I joined the Africa Mercy in Dakar in January 2020. This is the unedited version of his story. The photographs used here were taken by Lara Arkinsal, a photographer from Australia.
Eighteen-year-old Khady’s face lights up as she keeps a close eye on the movements of her first-born. Fatimata appears to be a well-rounded toddler and quite comfortable in her new environment. She babbles and gurgles happily as she tracks movement in the Africa Mercy’s hospital admissions room. Until it’s time for her pre-admission check-up.
The tears start. And who can blame Fatimata? The nurses are gentle and kind, and do their best to soothe her. But it’s cold on the scales, it’s no fun being measured, and it’s all so very new. The concerned expression that crossed her mother’s face demonstrates how in tune to her little one’s wellbeing Khady is. Thank goodness the discomfort is quickly over, and peace is once again restored.
Khady is the youngest child in a big family and one day she would also like to have a large family of her own. “At least another six children,” she says, looking over at Fatimata with a smile. She was very excited at the prospect of becoming a mother and when her daughter was born, it was love at first sight. Sadly, not everyone felt the same way about her little girl’s birth defect, and the villagers would often laugh at her baby’s cleft-lip. This resulted in Khady spending more and more time at home, alone with her daughter.
Her desire is for Fatimata to have the opportunities that were never afforded her. “I have not been to school, and I want to give my daughter the chance to go to school,” she says. The potential teasing and unkind, thoughtless words that she may have had to endure, did not bode well for this dream.
Khady first heard about Mercy Ships coming to Senegal on a local radio station. She trusted the message of hope and healing that she had heard on the news and visited the nearest city center, where medical volunteers were busy with the patient selection process. Fatimata was given a date to see a surgeon on the ship.
A few weeks before the operation the two travelled over five-hundred kilometers from Matam to Dakar to check into the hospital outpatient extension, known as the HOPE Center. Sometimes babies with cleft-lips struggle to breastfeed, and therefore don’t get the nutrients they need. The medical staff felt that Fatimata was too small for surgery, so she was put on a feeding program to ensure she gained sufficient weight, to support her little body through the healing process.
Finally, she achieved her target weight, and together with all the other patients at the HOPE Center being admitted that day, they set off to the Port in a Mercy Ships vehicle. “When I arrived on the dock and saw the Africa Mercy in front of me, my greatest hope was to see my daughter healed, and for the surgery to be successful,” says Khady.
The surgery itself went as planned. Back in the ward Khady’s anxiety is written all over her face. Her toddler is fast asleep, and blissfully unaware of recent events. To give her little body an even further boost she is being fed via a nasogastric tube, which carries food and medicine straight into her stomach.
Twenty-four hours later, Fatimata is up and about, and moving at a pace that is hard to reconcile with the fact that she has just undergone reconstructive surgery. She is discharged back to the HOPE Center, with the instruction to return to the ship for a scheduled mid-week checkup.
Seventy-two hours after being discharged from the ship’s hospital Fatimata and Khady return, in order for the nursing staff to check on her progress. Her stitches are healing well. She really doesn’t like having her face cleaned prior to the ointment being applied, and is almost inconsolable, until the appearance of a pink balloon cheers her up.
Khady is restless. It’s been a while since Fatimata has seen her father, and she is looking forward to the reunion and bringing her beloved daughter home. “I will always remember Mercy Ships and the people at the HOPE Center, especially those who became friends with Fatimata,” says Khady. “I’ll remember the environment and the compassion and love of those who took care of us.”
Finally, it’s time for Fatimata and Khady to begin their journey back home. It’s been twenty six days since they arrived at the HOPE Centre. Seven days since they first arrived on Africa Mercy. How Khady will explain the little scar above her lip to Fatimata is an unknown. A near certainty, however, is that as she grows older, the healing that took place during her short stay on the Africa Mercy will last a lifetime.
The above is the first patient story I wrote while onboard the Africa Mercy in Dakar in January 2020. This is the unedited version. The photographs used here were taken by John Seddon, a videographer and photographer from the UK (before photo), and Lara Arkinsal, a photographer from Australia (after photo).
What are the chances of scrubbing up and walking into the OR on the Africa Mercy and bumping into a close childhood friend, you’d lost touch with almost forty-five years ago? For general surgeon James Smellie and ophthalmic surgeon Richard Newsom (two of thirteen surgeons onboard the hospital ship this February) the stars above Dakar must have aligned to enable this event. “To meet up with an old school buddy in Senegal is just one of these amazing coincidences,” says Richard. “When I saw James in the OR, it was a complete shock to me. I had no idea he was here.”
The two surgeons, both of whom are Mercy Ships alumni, had gone to elementary school together in Cambridge. Their parents worked as doctors and colleagues in the same hospital in Cambridge, and the families knew each other well. When they went off to separate boarding schools, the two lost touch.
“While I was preparing to come to the ship this year I saw Richard’s name, so knew I could meet him again,” says James, “but I hadn’t seen him since 1976, until he walked into the operating theatre.”
The two had a lot of catching up and reminiscing to do, over just a few days, as James’ general surgery block was coming to an end. “I’ve really enjoyed my time onboard the Africa Mercy,” says James. “It’s been a good time – including a nice reunion with an old friend as well as an eye-opener professionally. You’re never too senior to learn something!”
As the two talked about their lives and training, they realized that there had been some parallels and that they knew many of the same people. Yet, even though their professional development saw both study in South London and work in some of the same institutions, their paths never crossed. Until now.
“I remember James as being one of the really bright guys at school, and have always wondered what had become of him,” says Richard. “It’s an amazing coincidence and I’d certainly like to stay in touch, and not wait another 46 years to meet up again!”
Dr Smellie left Dakar on 15 February 2020, and Dr Newsom departed from Senegal en-route back to the United Kingdom on 19 February 2020. They will both be back onboard Africa Mercy for the next field service that begins in Monrovia, Liberia later this year.
About Mercy Ships
Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building, and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 55 developing countries, providing services valued at more than $1.53 billion and treating more than 2.71 million direct beneficiaries. Our ships are crewed by volunteers from over 50 nations, with an average of over 1,000 volunteers each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills. With 16 national offices and our Africa Bureau, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.
The heat rising off the players and spectators inside the Mandeville Sports Centre makes the scorching 32-degrees outside seem like a cool summer’s breeze. Fifty minutes have passed since a heartfelt rendition of Nkosi Sikelele Africa. Forty-five since Impi declared the Lions war on its opponents, who wasted no time launching the first attack. Twenty-eight since the Eagles threw the first basket of 2019’s SuperSport Wheelchair basketball final, to take a lead they’d cling on to, all the way through to the fourth quarter.
In the final quarter the match continues to deliver nail-biting, wheels-in-the-air action. Heads swivel from side to side, as spectators try keep up with players propelling wheelchairs and chasing the ball, at rubber-burning speed, across the court. Baskets are followed by fouls, followed by penalties, followed by more falls, and fouls, followed by superbly executed penalty shots.
With about five minutes of play remaining, it feels like a lifetime since Kirloskar Lions’ head coach Lydia (Lids) Dumond mouthed “Relax. No pressure.” to her players on the field.
With just under three minutes, the Diesel Electric Services Eagles find themselves down to four men (due to foul play) and for the first time in this match the Lions lead by a mere point. The score is 46:45 and jubilant Lions’ fans can almost taste victory as they challenge their team to put the match to bed with an impassioned Siyolal siyolal’embheden, an extract of a Zulu pop song turned sporting anthem (which translates to “let’s go sleep on the bed”).
With two minutes and fifty-two seconds left on the clock, Eagles’ head coach, Anele Kledi, calls time out, and SuperSport’s live coverage of the event zooms in for a close up of the Lions’ team talk.
Lids’ final pre-match advice to the team was to not put pressure on themselves. That, and no unnecessary fouls. “Go out there, have fun. And let’s show them why the Lions have won this league, three times in a row.” Now, she crouches down in the middle of her pride, forgetting that she is wired for live television, and that an entire nation could be eavesdropping on her final battle prep. Her demeanour clearly communicates that she intends sending a team that’s on fire, back onto the court.
“They are four. We are five.” She holds out four fingers to drive home what the current advantage is, her tone and posture testimony to this petite thirty-six year old’s fighting spirit. “We pressurise the kak out of them now. We win the ball. Eight seconds. We do it again.”
Her short sharp instructions are reinforced by her hand gestures. “We win the ball. Eight seconds. WE DO IT EVERY TIME.” The pumped-up Lions clap hands before joining fists to close their circle and cry: “One. Two. Three. LIONS!”
What follows is a mix of masterfully executed set routines, with each basket scored celebrated to the beat of a frenzied Come on everybody let’s do the conga, accompanied by a small band of Jenga drummers and encouraging spectators. Everyone is sweating, either from physical or physiological exertion, or because they underestimated the heat and arrived under prepared.
As the score board shows 51:47 Lids finally smiles. It’s her first of the game and softens the tired, dark shadows under her eyes. Tension slowly evaporates as she relaxes her taut frame, clad in a white Kirloskar branded T-shirt, three quarter blue jeans and white trainers. The pragmatic brunette, with her long hair in a trademark side-parting, is even showing signs of enjoying herself.
This is what the African continent’s first female head coach of a men’s national team looks like, when things are going her way.
Anele, her counterpart (and often adversary in finals) stands on his side-line, his composure not revealing what must be an undesirable turn of events. It is only his sweat-beaded brow, revealed by the ever-present TV camera, that hints at his inner turmoil. His elbows rest on his crutches, hands on hips. He doesn’t lose his cool, but having come this close and losing the lead through fouls, must be a bitter pill to swallow.
The final whistle of the SuperSport Wheelchair Basketball Final, held on 26 October 2019, blows on a score of 55:51. The Lions are victorious for the fourth year running, and the sports centre erupts as celebrations raise temperatures by a further five degrees.
The prize giving and post-match interviews are concluded in a blink of an eye, and Lids and Anele embrace, commiserating over his loss and the costly fouls. There will be another stand-off between two of their teams, in two short weeks’ time. However, these two are not always on opposing sides of the court – they are the coaching duo tasked with taking Sasol’s AmaWheelaBoys through to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Both coaches have day jobs – Lids is a sergeant in the police force and Anele a financial officer at a bank. Coaching wheelchair basketball is just a hobby for them. Albeit one where players and coaches take competition very seriously, as well as having to sign contracts and commit to performance deliverables. It seems like an inordinate amount of commitment for a casual pastime. What keeps them motivated? And, in practice, what does it take, to coach an amateur sports teams that plays according to professional rules?
Coaches come to the sport in various ways. Some have themselves been players. Some have family members who play. Lids’ husband Cecil broke his back in a mining accident. A few years later she met him in a bar, they had a little too much to drink, and he kissed her. “Oh shit, what now!?” went through her mind, but she liked him. A lot. And pursued him, until he succumbed to her charms. And once a couple, she looked for hobbies they could pursue together, encouraging him to join the Lions, their local wheelchair basketball team.
It wasn’t long before Cecil was selected for the AmaWheelaBoys. Lids also moved through the ranks, starting as spectator, moral supporter and water girl. She eventually became the Lions assistant coach, then the Lions head coach, the North West Province’s head coach, and eventually in April 2018 was named the Sasol’s AmaWheelaBoys head coach.
Marius Koenig, the Kirloskar Lions chairman says that she always expressed curiosity and was researching the game long before she started completing her coaching accreditations. “We’re incredibly proud of her. I must admit, I’m afraid to lose Lydia as it will be difficult to replace her – not just from the coaching perspective but it’s obvious that the players trust and respect her so much. That in my mind is one of the most important things about a coach – they must have the respect of the player.”
In addition to commanding respect, another deliverable of fitting the coaching profile is contending with the constant presence of a TV camera, which can be especially daunting in a live game. “You get used to it, but I’m Afrikaans and I also usually swear a lot, so having a camera over my shoulder did make me nervous at first,” says Lids. “I don’t think SuperSport used my post-match interviews for the first year – not because I was swearing, but just because I went blank and couldn’t give strong answers. It’s easier today.”
She and Cecil usually watch the games when they are repeated on SuperSport, and in addition to tactics and game play, she also gets to see how she comes across on camera. “This sport, at this level in South Africa, would definitely not exist if it wasn’t for our sponsors,” says Lids. “It’s important that we acknowledge them as much as we can, and when I first started, I was a mess. I’m sure people must see the difference between then and now.”
Anele feels that having the camera nearby means you really have to watch your volume and your mouth. He says that it has actually improved his communication with players, both during and outside of games, as it has made him even more aware of how he addresses different situations. “If we are abusive to the players it doesn’t get through to them. It’s also more empowering to a player if one sees someone doing something wrong and encourages them to get it right next time, and off camera.”
A coach will still need more than respect, a good TV presence and the ability to communicate to go far. It’s vitally important that they know both their own and their players’ strengths and limitations. Anele has Cerebral Palsy Dysplasia, which affects his lower body. He is a self-confessed better coach than he has ever been a player and says, with a big grin: “I do the instructing much better than the actioning and have told my players to do as I say, and not as I ever did on the court!” His coaching style (he coaches Eagles, Gauteng Provincial Team, National Under 23s, and is assistant coach for the AmaWheelaBoys) is to nurture and develop individual strengths that will make a big difference for the team.
In wheelchair basketball the court and basket are exactly the same as in the running version. However, there are three major considerations that differentiate it from running basketball: the inability of the wheelchairs to move from side-to-side; the different disabilities, abilities and strengths of the individual players on court; and the challenge of propelling forward, while managing the ball with your free hand.
Wheelchairs are not able to move from side to side, therefore revealing the athletes travel direction and limits the element of surprise. Each chair is custom-made for its player to caters for their specific disability and to support their being as agile as possible. For example, someone who has no legs will require a very short seat, and someone who has legs, will require a long seat. The same applies to the height of the back of the chair, and all chairs have straps to secure their players.
Players are classified according to their disabilities and assigned points, between 0 and 4,5. Amputees are stronger than paraplegics. A broken back (with none or little core function) means you’re a low pointer (zero to 2,5), and if you suffered from polio or are an amputee, you are a high-pointer. A coach is allowed to field five players at a time, with a cumulative total of 14 points. This makes planning, and knowing your players stamina, an essential aspect of being a national coach.
Lids is known for pushing her players hard, demanding they be fit, know their chair skills and stick to a game plan. “My team knows that when we’re on court, they are there to do a job. If I say do this, you don’t give me a story or an excuse.” Her training sessions are much harder and more physical than the actual games usually are, but she says this prepares her team for different scenarios on court. “Many of our international opponents play high-paced, professional wheelchair basketball and regularly compete with other international teams. We don’t have that exposure in South Africa as it’s bloody expensive to travel. But my team knows that when they are on court, they are there to do a job. We are fast, and we defend. We are aggressive and loud and don’t play soft basketball.”
She hasn’t always been this feisty and nearly quit the team in April 2019 when South Africa lost to Great Britain (a team, that by the way is the current World Champion, has very tall players and plays professionally) by 104 points in Belgium. After that game Lids set the AmaWheelaBoys a target of achieving ten points for each period. And then, moving forward, to improve on just that.
Anele is very aware that basketball is a hobby for most of his players and training often comprises of just a few hours a week. “Basketball is a sport, rather than how we make a living, and if we try to emulate the international professionals, we’ll never catch up.” His goal is to work on his team’s strengths and make the most of training time, while encouraging individual athletes to develop their strengths and abilities on court.
AmaWheelaBoys player Jack Mokgosi is classified as a short 4.5. Tall high-pointers, with height and agility advantages, are usually selected for the team and Jack made the cut due his all-round skills. He credits his coaches for encouraging him to develop his wheelchair skills, stamina and speed as well as at shooting three-pointers. “Today my game is more than shooting and I will work on what my coaches need me to work on, in order to contribute to the team.”
Working as a unit is probably the most important foundation of any team sport, and a successful wheelchair basketball team is no different. Combining forward movement and ball control can leave a player vulnerable to attack, as the ball defender has a distinct mobility advantage. “A lot is required of players in order for the game to open up, and to move the chairs across the court,” says Anele. His organised approach to training transcribes into smoothly leveraged self-discipline and meticulous attention to detail (probably a result of his work as a financial officer). He makes notes after each game and is often tasked by Lids to introduce new shooting and lay up drills to the training programmes.
No-one seems to take issue with being trained by a woman, although Lids did feel that initially her capabilities were under scrutiny. “In the beginning, especially when I took over the National Team it was difficult. I think they thought, ag, it’s Lydia, she’s still learning, she doesn’t know.” They had to grow as a team and as she puts it “find one another”. It didn’t take long before her highly-intense yet approachable coaching style gained traction and people began lining up to play for the Lions.
Cecil Dumond, Sasol AmaWheelaBoys captain, mentor to younger players and husband to the coach, says that Lids’ style and approach is very different to previous coaches. “Lydia has more of an open relationship with the players, than previous coaches. In fact, both she and Anele are trying very different approaches, and at the moment it’s working.” Cecil continues saying that there is a thin line between being a coach and a friend, however, the previous approach of not mingling and investing in players, had not yielded the desired game results. This combined approach seems to work, as players want to play for their coaches.
There is a healthy self-belief apparent in the national players, which will most certainly contribute to future games. “It’s a great experience for us players to have switched to a woman coach,” says Shane Williams, Lions and AmaWheelaBoys player. “If you know the game, it’s not a big difference whether you’re male or female. Under Lydia as coach, we’re helping each other more and playing is a joy.”
In spite of the game bringing a lot of joy, this joy does come at a cost, including sacrificing a large part, if not most, of your free time. Weekends are dedicated to games; most teams train two to three nights during the week and a lot of holiday time is sacrificed for international training camps or big games. “As a police employee the government give you half of your leave days for sport – so if I go away for five days, they give two and I take three,” says Lids, who sadly had to miss a training opportunity with a visiting US coach in late October, as she had run out of annual leave. “I honestly never knew it would be so much work balancing the Lions, the National Team and my work commitments. The struggle is real!”
There’s no letting up, as the rest of 2019 and early 2020 is filled with back-to-back training camps and competitions, in preparation for Tokyo. On 16 November, a few hours after Lid’s North West team beat Anele’s Gauteng to scoop the coveted Vodacom Cup (and the R100 000 prize money), the AmaWheelaBoys hopped on a plane to Thailand for a tri-nations challenge.
The coaching duo are used to the travelling now, but their very first international coaching gig saw them embark on a plane, for the very first time ever, for a flight to Dubai. “I took Calmettes, sleeping tablets and alcohol for my nerves, and didn’t move AT ALL throughout that whole flight – not even to go to the toilet,” says Lids. Anele tells the story much the same way, however, mentions that sitting next to Lids eased some of his tension, as she was by far the more nervous one.
They’ve since become seasoned travellers and this event will see them playing New Zealand and Thailand’s National Teams and will serve as a final training camp before 2020’s Paralympic Qualifiers, that will take place at the Mandeville Sports Centre in March next year.
It is essential for the team to perform at the event in order to qualify for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. When asked what her goal right now is, Lids says she wants to prove a point. “All of our contracts state that if we go to the qualifiers and don’t qualify, then Wheelchair Basketball South Africa has the right to replace us. I want to go the Paralympics next year. And I want to compete, not just be there.”
Our two coaches are ambitious and have earned respect. They are cool on camera. They know when to turn the heat up on court and are committed to their training repertoires. They are keeping the joy in the game and work to their players strengths and weaknesses. What more can Anele and Lids do to prepare our AmaWheelaBoys for this massive event?
They both agree: Practice. Practice. And more practice. And if it’s up to Lids, pressure the kak out of the competition once they are there.
Every parent will tell you that his or her child is truly amazing. Many parents will tell you that they want to encourage their children to grow up to be creative individuals, free thinkers and successful at whatever they choose to do. All parents are known to brag about their little one’s latest achievement and most parents will go the extra mile to encourage the development of their kids from an early age.
While looking for a suitable birthday present for our two-year old son (who is of course truly amazing) we came across the established Swedish brand BRIO, that has been “sparking young minds since 1884”. We were so taken by their range of products, that we decided to become South African online resellers for these, and other ranges of wooden toys.
Our two-year old struggles to articulate the word Pinocchio, probably one of the most famous wooden toys to date, and like many wonderful nicknames that come out of early childhood, the unique name he has given this iconic toy is ‘Hakito’. We felt it was a fitting name for a store that sells quality wooden toys, plus it will be a good story to tell at his 21st birthday, when he takes over the family empire… or perhaps at his wedding.
An extract of Hakito’s story, written for company founder Waldo Minny.
It was showing obvious signs of aging and had grown pale and wan since the first time it had proudly perused the streets of Sophiatown from just under two-metres up. In spite of its appearance, and twenty years after its first outing, the trilby still exuded this self-same confidence when perched atop Terence’s head.
Its dark felt was no longer as soft as it had been on the first day it had experienced the thrill of the fresh, cold, winter-morning air on its crown. A deep inhalation of its well worn shape invoked the memories of a life well-lived. Its narrow brim, now faded and worn, had been imprinted with the tips of its owners’ fingers – constantly seeking, constantly worrying, constantly wanting assurances.
As if on cue, Terence smoothly took the trilby’s rim between thumb and forefinger, seeking its approval of what he was about to do. He was in fact seeking the assurance and approval of the original wearer, a man who had placed this self-same trilby on Terence’s youthful head, tweaked his chubby cheeks and promised him, that one day, with the help of this magic trilby, he would conquer the world.
He had seen the man only once, on the day that his life had changed forever. As he had stood on the dusty streets of Meadowlands, Terence had believed that man’s promise, and gratefully accepted his gift. His fierce determination to conquer the world had seen the trilby take on its own unique sense of being and place in his life.
Today, proud as a peacock and with the knowledge that it was a lifer, the twenty-year old’s jaunty attitude put paid to any thoughts that it was a has-been. It was a proud symbol of how one small action by a passer-by, could change the path of a young South African with seemingly no prospects.
Beth stared at her toes. There were still ten of them down there, all neatly parked in her pink flip-flops. Just like there were still ten people up ahead of her, haphazardly distributed in what resembled a queue. She tilted her head slightly, squinting at the clock on the peeling wall and decided she’d give it another ten minutes.
600 seconds, 599 seconds, 598, 597, 596… If her handbag hadn’t been stolen, she’d be having cocktails on the beach with that gorgeous Swede they’d met clubbing last night. Instead, she was trapped here in the police station, another victim of what she had heard termed a false island-sense of security. 488, 487, 486…
She didn’t mind the handbag, there wasn’t really much in it, apart from her passport. Even that wasn’t a crisis, as she was here for months to come. However, her host family had insisted she report it immediately. So here she was. 402 seconds, 401, 400…
On the up side, at least she was out of the sweltering heat, although the stifling veneer of law and order was certainly not her first choice of escape. She sighed and shifted her weight onto her left foot. 350 seconds, 349, 348… Using the lid of the pen she’d just used to fill in her statement, she bent her elbow behind her back to scratch her peeling skin. She looked at the people ahead and idly wondered what ill fate had brought them here too.
Twenty-seven-year-old Dibuseng Mokoena has worked for Stefanutti Stocks Mining Services for four years, most recently as the production manager at the Chilwavhusiku Colliery in Bronkhorstpruit. The colliery, that is owned by Black Royalty Minerals, became fully operational towards the end of 2017, and supplies coal to customers within South Africa, as well as serving the export market. The team running the site is a young team, comprising approximately sixty per cent of females, and overseen by contracts manager Graham Ralph, who is one of Mokoena’s mentors. She is currently also mentored by Marco Pasquali Stefanutti Stocks Mining Services’ contracts director responsible for tailings disposal and material handling.
Mokoena, who completed her Mining Engineering degree at Wits in 2014, joined Stefanutti Stocks as a site engineer halfway through 2015. The timing was perfect as in 2016 Ian Ferguson, managing director of the group’s Mining Services division, introduced a two-year internship programme for mining graduates. Since joining the programme she has worked as a site engineer at the Kangala mine, where she also worked shifts as a production foreman, a pit supervisor and a production manager, shadowing the contracts manager. Since November 2017 she has been the production manager at Chilwavhusiku Colliery, and part of the team that have worked on building a greenfield site into a successful open-pit coal mine.
What have some of your career highlights been thus far?
“After having cold-called and sent my CV to every potential employer across a number of provinces, being called for an interview and getting a job at Stefanutti Stocks was certainly one of the most exciting days of my life.
“Since then other highlights included getting my blasting ticket and being appointed as a production manager. Also, the process of winning over our client’s confi dence, when we moved from being a month behind on production to being ahead, and consistently exceeding Black Royalty Mineral’s targets ever since.
“Another highlight is working with and learning from Graham Ralph, who keeps encouraging me to think beyond what I have learned in my text books. Seeing the mine through his more experienced eyes has really brought it, and all of its components, to life.”
What is the most important aspect of your job?
“The planning process and then simplifying and clarifying the vision, so that everyone on the production team buys in. An important, and exciting aspect of my work is the interaction with people – I want to leave them better off than I have found them. This can mean leaving them with more knowledge or insight into our reason for doing things in a certain way, or better equipped to do their work more effi ciently. It’s also important to make sure that the right people are in the right positions and can contribute to our overall goal.
“A win for one is a win for all and within our site team we allow room for people to voice their ideas, and suggestions for how we can do things better. As a tight-knit team we also know that when challenged (by rain or when our client increases the targets) we can count on one another to execute the work.”
What is your favourite part of the day at work?
“Defi nitely the time we spend in the pit or at the viewpoint, where we can get a good snapshot of the operation to see if our production is going according to plan, if our people are taking care of our machines, and how everybody is interacting.”
Do you see your working within the construction industry as a unique occurrence?
“I think women in construction bring a breath of fresh air. Every individual is diff erent, and all families have their quirks. Here I am in a family that embraces me. Sometimes it does take a bit of adjusting to be comfortable, but I don’t have a problem with that. I am also very aware of perceptions, i.e. how people see one another, and how one should pitch oneself in a certain environment. I’ve been reading a lot of books on the subject.”
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
“I attended a Women in Mining Counsel recently and a representative from SASOL shared an interesting anecdote about riding an elevator. Whatever fl oor you’re on, don’t forget to press the Ground Level for the elevator to go back down: wherever, and in whatever position you find yourself in during your career, you need to see who you can motivate or mentor – and I’d like to do that.
“In terms of position wise, the Dibuseng of three years ago would have said she wants to be a director, or the fi rst woman occupying a specific position in a company. Of course, I’d like to be a trail blazer, but while titles grow people, they can also constrain them.
“I’m not an inventor but I do have vision, and I’ve learned that if you give me something to make better, something that I can optimise – that is where I am most valuable. I also think that is why I gel with Graham, as this is his forte. The element of change that we have brought here on this site has made me realise that we have the ability to do so much to influence and improve operations.
“So, whatever position I will be in, in fi ve or ten years’ time, I will need to be able to infl uence change and to optimise it. I would like to be part a part of THAT team, call it the strategic planning team: the one that is driving change.”
My name is LoFo, which is short for Lost and Found. I was born in the Kruger National Park, and when I was about twelve months old I lost my mum to some poachers. I tried to protect her, but they beat me with their machetes, and then left me to die.
I was so frightened after losing my mom, that when some kind humans came to rescue me, I kept on running and hiding for five whole days. Eventually I was so exhausted, sad, and thirsty, that I hid between some branches and hoped no-one would find me. The trackers at the Kruger National Park didn’t give up, and when they found me with the help of some tourists, they took me to Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, which is now my home.
I’m not really vain, but I’m so glad that they chose a good photograph of me to use with this letter to you, as I really wasn’t in very good shape after the poachers were done with my mom and me. There were three bad wounds on my back, two really bad, and a nasty one on my right ankle, that I got when I tripped over a log that cut deep into my leg. These wounds made me feel very sick and very weak. Even though the good Samaritans at my new home took care of me day and night, my wounds got infected, which was very bad.
My human mom, Petronel, says that my medical team consists of some of the kindest, most skilled healers in the world. And they fixed me as well as they could, but then I needed special Acticoat dressings, and my new family was struggling to find the money to pay for these. Then Stefanutti Stocks became one of my guardian angels, when they said they’d pay for my medical costs, rehabilitation and care for one year. Those very expensive dressings took care of the infection and I began to feel so much better! I started eating more and gaining weight and you won’t believe the fuss everyone made of me when I put on 9kg in August! I felt like a prince!
There was a little hiccup in my recovery when some of the bone on my back that had been chipped by the machete, got infected but my medical team operated and successfully removed the bone. After a few more magic dressings courtesy of my guardian angels, I started feeling like a brand new rhino calf, and as I grew stronger, I grew more confident too.
Let me tell you a little about my current home. I do know that once I’m hundred per cent well, I’ll go to live in the wild again, but I must say that I like it where I am. It is beautiful, and I feel safe and special. I’ve heard the humans talk of something called a website, but I’ve not seen it. I think it’s like a snapshot of my current home, maybe you’ll go and have a look? There is always a herd of lovely humans here. They call them caretakers, and they feed and clean us and take great care of our needs.
These days I spend most of my time with Twinkle grazing, playing and napping in the camp. Twinkle came to the sanctuary a few weeks after I did. She also lost her mom, and was attacked by the poachers – her injuries were similar to mine, but luckily she wasn’t hurt as badly.
Twinkle is very special to me, we understand one another’s stories, and I like to spend time with her. In the late afternoon, we go back to our night pen where we cuddle and keep each other warm and safe, till the sun comes up. I know that I am very lucky to have been ‘Found’ and not to have become another ‘Lost’ statistic of my species.
Right now life is good. Maybe one day Twinkle and I can even have a family of our own. I hope so.
(This was written for the Stefanutti Stocks (Pty) Ltd Sustainability Focus: Sizimisele Volume 3, October 2016. Since writing this both LoFo and Twinkle have been dehorned under the expert supervision of Petronel and her incredible support team at Care for the Wild. Please visit their website to read more about their efforts to save young rhinos here).
I have written a number of stories for the “If rings could talk …”section of Jewel-Art Africa. Rudi Cronje, the resident jeweller at Jewel-Art Africa, designs and crafts beautiful custom-made rings for his clients – and sometimes, as part of the crafting process, they gift their clients with a first person narrative, written from the perspective of the ring.
What has really struck me while writing these stories, is how unique the various journeys of each couple has been. Below is the story of Ivana’s ring. I hope you feel the love too.
Ivana’s ring: full circle
The proposal: Hawaii, late April 2015
As the sun rose over a remote black-sand beach in Hawaii, the early morning waves echoed its announcement of this new dawn. Two figures quietly observed this age old ritual, standing so close to one another, that they could easily have been mistaken for one. As he stepped from their embrace she immediately missed his warmth, the cool fear of the unknown threatening to infiltrate the magic of the moment. Witnessed only by Mother Nature, the Creator, and a dark cloud of uncertainty that hung over them, Andrew pulled a small black box from his pocket. “Ivana,” he gently said, presenting her with a beautiful, black diamond stone. “Will you be my wife?”
Annie grew up on a working farm in the Free State, with four brothers and a host of chores evenly distributed amongst the five children. Before she was knee-high to a grasshopper she was rolling up her sleeves and tackling more than her fair share of tasks. Her affinity for the mechanical quickly saw her becoming an expert in maintaining everything that was motorised – from the old, rusty farm tractor right through to the bright red crop sprayer.
Much to the dismay of her mother but to the delight of her brothers, her adventurous nature saw her learning to pilot said crop-sprayer. She became a regular crop-dusting pilot and people would travel from near and far to witness her nail-biting aerobatics. Fearless, skilled and hands-on Annie was always looking for the next adventure, and when Avex asked her to enhance its tooling division, with the promise of ample time in the air, she was all smiles, and of course answered with a resounding ‘yes’!
Annie’s enthusiasm is infectious and she is passionate about her job here with us! She’ll bring you the latest news from Avex, advice on best practices and make sure you’re the first to know about our amazing special offers. She has an uncanny habit of seeming to be in many places at the same time, so keep your eyes peeled for her broad and friendly smile!
Written for Tracy King, Wing Commander of Paperplane Communication and Design, for her client Avex Tools, to introduce their new brand mascot Annie.
Once you have introduced a respectful paraglider-pilot-and-paraglider-wing relationship to a column of rising air, you can sit back and watch the fairytale unfold.
You may already have met some of the characters I’ve hitched a ride up to cloud base with – but if not, I can assure you most of them are worth getting to know, and they are all very special in their own unique, weird and wonderful way.
You’ll definitely know the ‘staat-maaker’ or house thermal. Shelives very close to launch and can usually be relied on without fail. She’s that friend you always go to in your time of need, but you are quick to question her fickleness if she dares to take a me-day, and you find yourself in the turkey patch.
The empty-promises thermal is the one that is just not worth sticking around for. He will give you a bit of hope…beep beep beep… then lets you down horribly with no warning whatsoever. You may go back for a little more once or twice if you are really desperate, but eventually you’ll tire of being led down the garden path, and go searching for lift elsewhere.
The one-man / one-woman thermal does not always have space for two. If you really make an effort to understand it, then perhaps its spiky, narrow, temperamental column of lift will reward you, but then again perhaps it won’t… Generally pilots do not like to share these thermals with other pilots as they require undivided attention, no distractions…unless a feathered friend is prepared to demonstrate exactly how this one is mastered.
Much like my favourite fiction hero, Jack Reacher, the drifter thermal is quiet, inconspicuous, and maintains a low profile until riled. You may chance across one of these when lining up for landing on a dirt road in the Karoo… It’s lazy, it’s low, it’s slow… yet somehow, before you know it, you will have drifted downwind for ten kilometres in its company, even climbing a little on the meander. But be aware…when this one hits a trigger it can metamorphose into a fighting machine, just like good ol’ Jack. One should never underestimate the drifter.
If I stumble into a lamaze thermal before finding my air-legs, my initial reaction is to retract deep into my pod, in the hope that it won’t see me and pass by… No no no, I’m not ready for you yet… However, this thermal means business and it’s better just to surrender and play ball, pull your shoulders back and stand tall. This one takes no prisoners and is offering you exactly what you want – a fast ride up to base. Just don’t fall out its side… I find the “I’m-about-to-have-a-baby” breathing works well as an aid to cope with your glider’s contractions, just don’t accidentally press your PTT while doing so – your mates will never let you forget that you did. I love these thermals, A LOT, for the rewards they deliver, but too many in one flight? Well, that would just be greedy…
The fire thermal (a distant cousin to the friendlier smokey tendril) has you looking up at your glider as often as is humanly possible while trying to avoid whiplash. Firstly, you’ll find yourself double-checking that you actually did get the right bag out the garage this morning, and didn’t accidentally pack the Boom 3 you bought, under the influence, at some fundraising auction years back. Secondly, you’ll need to keep making sure that your wing hasn’t spontaneously combusted and is still above you… or at least in the near vicinity. The fire thermal will see your glider behaving in an unusually boisterous manner, and is only to be used in desperate, indeed only in very desperate times. Or of course if you’re Superman.
The confetti thermal is an absolute dream. My encounters have been rare, but the few I have danced with have required my full and unconditional commitment. Once you’ve connected, you literally shoot up into the stratosphere leaving the other gliders wobbling clumsily in the air below, just like little pieces of confetti in the breeze. It’s all fireworks and symphonies and pure magic, and leaves you feeling amazingly accomplished!
The smooth operator is a massive sky-pond filled with luxurious and delicious lift. It squats above a few inversions and you need to work hard to earn passage there. Entrance is mostly granted through the fire -, confetti- or lamaze-breather thermal. Though the smooth operator is aloof it will welcome you and embrace you warmly. And once immersed you are transformed into a weightless, floating, levitating angel… a feeling totally juxtaposed by the hysterical, off-the-charts screams emitted by your vario.
It’s not always high drama up there though, and it wouldn’t be fair to forget the girl-next-door thermal. She’s more than likely every sane pilots’ favourite, however doesn’t always make a good post-war story, so misses out on the mentions. She’s reliable, she’s smooth, she’s kind, she’s generous and she’ll get you to cloud base without you breaking a sweat.
Sweating or not, topping out is the sweet-sweet reward of an encounter with whichever thermal you’ve hitched a ride up on. String enough heights together and you’ll eventually arrive back on terra firma sporting a big smile and with a good story to tell.
If you’ve just started dipping your toes into racking up the airmiles, and haven’t formed any decent one-on-one connections with rising air just yet, hang in there, these encounters are definitely worth the wait.