Beleaguered and Confused

I am not sure where to begin. Today is the one-hundred-and-twenty-somethingth day since South Africa went into a lockdown. Of these, some five weeks were a hard lockdown to retard the community transmission of the novel corona virus that causes COVID-19 disease. More importantly, it was to buy time to prepare the country’s health facilities for the onslaught that was inevitable.

It’s about six weeks since I last had something to say about “the situation”. In South Africa.  The world.  Not because it doesn’t occupy a fair bit of my waking (and sleeping) mind, but because it’s becoming less of a “thing” and more of a thing.  It’s reached our village and we’ve moved between zero and three cases at any one time.  As far as I know, all cases have recovered.  That said, the woman who helps me in the house has lost four members of her extended family.  One of my best friends, who lives in Johannesburg, has had symptoms but these weren’t deemed sufficiently severe for a third test.  Notwithstanding the killer headache.  She went into self isolation and happily she is fine.  As I write, a contemporary from school is in a living hell.  Her husband has been in an induced coma for the last two weeks.  He still is.  Today Sunday’s update was that there was improvement to his heart and liver but that his lungs were still “70% saturated with the covid infection”.

A look at the numbers

Six weeks ago, there were thirty six thousand confirmed cases in South Africa.  Now there are more than four hundred and twenty thousand.  Nearly 40% have required treatment and 0.1% have / are critical and needed ICU treatment.  That’s a total of five hundred and thirty nine people.  Those are not overnight stays.  They are prolonged stays.  My friend’s husband still has weeks ahead of him.  First in ICU and then…

Covid-19 figures as at 25 July 2020: The world and South Africa

We haven’t reached the peak of the pandemic in this country or, it would seem, in the world.  The curves are still rising.

South Africa’s confirmed cases and recorded deaths – March to July 2020. Source.

Yes, there are regions and countries that seem to have things under control, but the fears of second waves remain.  The EU is planning for that eventuality. Notwithstanding any advances in the development of a vaccine and/or treatments.

Doubling down up – it’s a complicated, fickle disease

Infectious diseases spread rapidly.  That’s stating the obvious, but it bears repeating.  I keep on hearing people questioning how the numbers can double so quickly.  Well, just think about it:  Dad gets home from work.  Kisses mom hello.  Dad kisses the two kids good night.  The kids cuddle granny the next day.  Dad (one person) came home with the virus.  He has potentially given it to another four people.    If all four are infected with enough of the virus to become infected and infectious, they will spread it.  Granny will cuddle the other grandchildren.  Mom will go to work and potentially infect her co-workers, and so how many people infected – from just Dad?  All this complicated by the reality that the children may never display symptoms or get ill. Or be diagnosed. But will be infectious.

None of this is new.  It’s what all the authorities are saying and it’s also why the World Health Organisation did an about turn on wearing cloth face masks.  The thing is:  even with, in South Africa, a more than 60% recovery rate:  if people get sick, they get very, very sick.  For a long time.  In hospital.  It’s a horrible disease and it takes a long time to recover.

Capricious

When I marked twenty one days of lockdown, I lamented the heavy handed conduct of the authorities.  I celebrated being able to cook with wine.  I noted that contrariness regarding tobacco sales which had simply descended into the underworld and that all the smokers I know are still smoking.  At extortionate prices.

Yes, that’s a teaspoon and a minute plastic bag of tobacco.

This tiny baggie of tobacco in which our gardener indulged, and from which he’d already had one entjie (little end), cost him R30 (just over $2).  He would get another entjie from that last bit.  He is a casual worker who eventually found his birth certificate that enabled him to register for food parcels for his family – only two weeks ago.  In the meantime, when he had money, tobacco took precedence.

Worn down

On day 54 of the lockdown, I said I was tired. On day 125, I’m not just tired, I’m worn down and confused.   I know I’m not alone.  We went from a lifting of some restrictions and feeling not quite so hemmed in because there was no curfew and we could excercise and take the odd day trip.  Then, suddenly, just like that, on a Sunday evening about two weeks ago, boom!  the President announced the reinstatement of a curfew, toasting it with a ban on alcohol sales.  I can no longer cook with wine.

Needless to say there is an ongoing hue and cry:  when the ban was lifted on 1 July, there was a more than 60% increase in alcohol related trauma.  This stretched, certainly in my home province, the already strained high care facilities.  So, I do get it.

It’s also common knowledge that there is an “alcohol problem” in South Africa.  As with smoking, though, it’s about a third of the population that drinks, and amonn them, very heavy drinkers. As with smoking (she repeats herself), it’s the minority who ruin it for those who drink moderately enjoy an aperitif and/or a glass of wine over dinner.

It’s not only booze

After the hard lockdown, restaurants remained unable to sell and serve alcohol.  Initially they could offer takeways and then were permitted to host diners to enjoy a meal. At COVID-19 standard social distances.  Suddenly, an 9pm curfew means in the cities, that kitchens probably have to close at 7pm and staff leave for home by 8pm.

“Dinner service?” I hear you ask.  Well, exactly.

Oh, and leisure accommodation may not accept guests.  Business travellers, yes.  You can take a trip into the country, in your home province, but you can’t stay over.  Oh, and I can go to church, and I can sit in a café and have a coffee, with complete strangers, but I can’t visit my friends who are family.  Let alone family.

Tail wagging the dog – in the taxi and at school

Oh, and I can sit in a minibus taxi – also with complete strangers – full to capacity – as long as the windows are open.  Because the industry threatened to shut down the country if they couldn’t operate at 100%.

Schools are out.  Again. Because the teachers’ unions are afraid for the children that the children might get ill, infect the teachers and/or take the infection home to granny and grandpa.

Like teachers don’t bring the virus to school because they don’t ride in taxis or go to the shops to buy food to feed their families?

As a former educator and with a lifelong interest in education, I know this is doing almost as much damage to this generation of scholars as is the virus.  South Africa can ill afford yet another lost generation.

Where is she going with this?

Well, you may well ask and getting back to the booze:  the point is about more than the alcohol.  It’s about the value chains. Yes, plural.

Let’s look briefly at one that’s rather close to home:  the wine industry.  Our village is in the heart of the winelands, so let’s start in the vineyard, where people, led by viticulturists, work to tend the vines and pick the grapes to take to the cellar.  The grapes are pressed and the juice nurtured to turn into fine wine – using equipment and vats and barrels – by highly skilled people. Then it must be bottled and labelled.  The equipment in the vineyards and cellars must be procured and maintained.  Bottles and lables must be sourced from producers.

This, all before the wine even hits a retail counter in a cellar, bottle store or bistro.  The knock-on effects on livelihoods are no less devastating than COVID-19.  And as exponential.  This is just one element of the tourism and hospitality sector.  There is a myriad of others.

Losing more than money

The South African government is also losing money and face.  In an op ed piece, the Premier of the Western Cape anticipates the loss of two hundred and forty thousand jobs.  Just in our province.  Two people in my close circle have businesses that have either not launched, and/or not functioned because of, the lockdown and specifically the alcohol ban.  No income for going on five months but still having to feed, clothe and meet the ongoing obligations of maintaining premises?

In the face of rampant government corruption associated with the pandemic and over the past more than ten years.

Then, when the hospitality sector holds a peaceful demonstration, the conduct of the police is reminiscent of the apartheid era, I am just simply at a loss for words.

Illogical paradoxes

I still don’t know where I’m going with this, and I’m not sure anyone really understands what lies behind the mixed messages emanating from the powers that be.  As a Piscean, I’m known for chasing my tail and flapping about before making a decision.  I like to think, though, that when I’ve made a decision its mostly on logical and solid ground.  I then stick to my guns.  What’s going on around me continues, it seems to me, to be a slippery slope and a recipe peppered with very little common sense.

And now?

The legislation governing the state of disaster under which South Africa currently exists, provides for the government to continue extending the declaration every month for as long as necessary.  It has been extended to mid-August.  Looking dipassionately at the numbers and listening to the daily announcements of confirmed cases of between ten- and thirteen thousand, even I can see that the numbers have not peaked in South Africa.   Those who know much more than I, say so, too.  It begs the question:  how much longer will we be living in a constant state of confusion and incoherence?

What I’m doing to cope

I miss seeing the people I care about.  I miss going to my regular places. I’m not sure I’m coping.  I am doing.  Keeping my head down and diligently doing the bit of work I’ve (happily) found, and looking for more.  I am grateful that the McGregor Saturday market has begun again.  It means that after three months, suddenly, my week has shape again:  kitchen day is back.  There is one day in the week when I must get out of bed and wear something other than sweat pants because there is somewhere to go, and people to see.

With a new addition to my market repertoire:  sourdough rolls.

More of “mother”, sourdough bread and rolls, anon.

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

 

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing, research and online tutoring services

writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional my instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr.  On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.

 

le zoulou blanc – a man for all

Before I get going…

It’s week or so ago that shared what was, kinda the soundtrack of my life (on WordPress; on Hive). It was, in part a piece of fluff, but in others, not. In the final paragraph, I note –

There are songs missing from this list and which I’d love to have included, like Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”

And then…

Around about a year after I first wrote that, Johnny Clegg died. The news of his death came as I was preparing dinner on an ordinary Tuesday in July. It seemed that suddenly the world, and South Africa in particular, were the poorer. Another voice in the soundtrack of my life silenced forever.

This is what I wrote exactly a year ago today. Mandela Day and the anniversary of that great man’s birthday. With hindsight, rather apt.

A necessary digression

I was seventeen the first time I heard a Juluka song. I was at boarding school, and as seniors, we were allowed to have our own transistor radios.

At the end of the preceding year, 1979, the first independent radio station in South Africa had been launched. Broadcasting from the beautiful and then pristine coastal village of Port St Johns in the “independent” Transkei, Capital Radio 604 was essentially a music station that broadcast music and news often not heard on mainstream state-owned radio stations.

Source

The line-up, I clearly remember, included a mishmash of folk: Englishmen (pukka) an American and South Africans – black and white. Unheard of. As a young, unaware kid, the significance was totally lost on me. As was the fact that one of the most popular songs of 1980 was banned in South Africa: Pink Floyd’s Another brick in the wall. It was also on this radio station that Juluka’s song, Africa topped the charts. It was their first hit.

I listen to this song and am immediately transported into the cell-like room in which I stayed for at least one term. It had no windows and could literally just take a narrow single bed, the “tin shanty” as we called our bedside lockers and the laundry box that stood at the foot of the bed.

In my childish ignorance, I did not know that the African language melded with the English, was isiZulu. I had only been exposed to a little isiXhosa. Of course, I sang every single word, but my words in the isiZulu verses were all mondegreens. It’s only as an adult, searching for the lyrics that I learned what they meant:

As he grew, people told him, son, don’t you trust anyone, you don’t learn how to trust a stone,
This is not a gentle land, and it breaks those who never learn how to be alone.

Afrika kukhala abangcwele
eAfrika kukhala abangcwele wena (Africa be holy to you)

And so, he walked in the passion of his land, until at last he cried out,
Can anybody hear, hear me, hear the song in my heart?
There’s a song to be sung that can heal these broken men,
Let us sing and we’ll walk through the dark, hand in hand, hand in hand.

From the album, Universal Men, 1979

The soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives

They took on a new poignancy for me yesterday when I saw this Facebook post from Andrew Boraine:

While in solitary confinement in 1980, I would pace around my cell and sing to myself over and over a Johnny Clegg and Jaluka song [Africa], to strengthen my resolve in the face of my interrogators:….

RIP Johnny, I will miss you and your music. It saved me when I was a young man. It is part of the soundtrack of my life.

That Clegg, Jaluka and Savuka’s music was integral to the soundtrack of so many South Africans’ lives, was the overriding theme to all the tributes I heard yesterday: from the celebrities and musicians who worked with him, to ordinary people, whom he may or may not have actually met.

Clegg, in an interview, following his diagnosis and in advance of his Final Journey Tour, said two things that resonated for me. He didn’t go looking for politics, but rather that “politics found me”: because he had simply followed his passion and curiosity, spending time with the people with whom he felt most connected. The second was that he had toured every year since 1983.

Dancing to a political awakening

This made me realise that when I was at university, and the first time I saw him perform, they were on that first tour. The venues had to be places where he and Sipho Mchunu could perform together on the same stage: the liberal (white) universities and townships. I remember the Great Hall at Rhodes University, filling up with students, armed with their joints cigarettes, cheap wine and/or beer. The music, in modern parlance, was epic, and even thirty-seven years later, the image of the two of them doing the high kicks of Zulu dances, is as vivid as if it had been just last night (without the side-effects of alcohol and second-hand dope-smoking).

How far we have come: a friend of mine from those days, now living in London, was at both that concert and at the London show of the Final Journey Tour. He and I have not seen each other since we both lived in Johannesburg in the mid- to late 1980s, and this was our exchange on Facebook the night Clegg died:

Steve and I were on opposite sides of the student politics spectrum. We ran into each other where I worked in 1986, and had our first ever real adult conversation. We both lived in Yeoville and we both lived in Rockey Street, a few houses from each other. As he says: all those years ago (with no apologies to George Harrison, whose 1981 song is also part of the soundtrack of our university days, too).

The years, 1982 to 1986 were also the time of my real political awakening: I have alluded to it elsewhere, but it was driven home in 1986 when I spent some of my happiest ever times dancing the night away to Maskanda and Mbaqanga music in the depths of Soweto. I tell you: this white girl could dance. She was, in those circles, made an “honorary Sowetan”; an honour I still hold dear.

The following year (1987) saw the release of Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”. Many young people don’t know the double entendre of “we have not seen him”: any likeness, image or photograph of Nelson Mandela was also banned. In about 1988, an early memoir of Winnie Mandela emerged, written by Fatima Meer. It contained photographs of Winnie; not one of Madiba. Asimbonanga, with its most haunting melody, celebrates and mourns people killed by the Apartheid regime. At the time Clegg wrote it, neither he, nor I dreamed that Mandela would be free, let alone be South Africa’s first democratically elected President. One can only but imagine how he felt, singing this song and discovering Mandela behind him. I watch it now, and have, many times. Still the tears come.

Clegg’s songs punctuate different parts of my life; it was not until I worked in the mining industry, and had actually gone down gold mines, that the words of African Sky Blue really hit:

I could reel off and find other songs that I love, especially from the first two albums whose songs take me back to the common room at boarding school and parties at university, but I shan’t. There is, however, one that must not be glossed over. Clegg wrote it after the death of a band member. That year, 1997, was a year of crossing for me, too. It was the first time I had to confront the sudden death of a colleague and friend. It also marked a crossing point in my first marriage.

Crossing

It is the song that a group of Clegg’s friends recorded for him – as a surprise gift – and as a celebration of the man – just eight before his death in 2019.

When Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, was interviewed the day after his death, he pondered the significance of having spontaneously played this on his saxophone the morning of Clegg’s own crossing.

Johnny Clegg
(7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters)
OBE
OIS
Your voice may be silent, but your songs live on

Sources:

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain. Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.

Taking the Lead

This month’s theme for the monthly top 3 contest on the Hive crypto-blogging blockchain was one that the team just must have known I couldn’t pass up.  I started thinking about my selection the instant the post appeared on 1 July.

I “compete” for fun

I’m getting a little ahead of myself:  I always say that I don’t “do” these compteitions to win, and I don’t, so imagine my surprise after last month’s contest, and I see this in the post announcing the winners.  With this list.

Thank you for asking:  yes, I did win a little prize – in crypto currency – which just popped into my wallet.  Thank you to the @yourtop3 team that rewards rambling tenacity!!

Note to self:  sometimes it pays off to work hard at just having a bit of fun!

Picking a winning lead

As I’ve already said, this is a hard task for me.  I ended Sunday, when I really began working on this, with a list of 14. Then that got derailed by posts from a couple of blogpals like this one and then this one and this one….

I had a series of criteria worked out:  the voice, the looks, the sheer talent, and then because I’m a patriot of note, my best South African lead singers.  Anyhow, I am in a busy patch and I’m not going to bore run you through a history of where, when, what and whom, but I will share some of my favourites.  Of course. Not.

The Voice

One of the most distinctive voices I’ve ever heard is Darius Rucker from Hootie & the Blowfish. That dinctive gravel just does it for me every time I hear it and I stop and listen.  And yes it takes me back to the 80’s….

Then there’s Heather Small from the M-People.  There is a depth and timbre to her voice that is recogniseable anywhere.  From having heard her being interviewed when she was in South Africa, she seems like a downright nice and good person, too.

I love this song and its has a universal message as apposite today as it was in 1994.

My next serious contender is Stevie Nicks.  She was part of the lineup of Fleetwood Mac in their heyday – a band that’s featured in other entries this month.  She, though, has a voice that is so versatile and distinctive.  There are a few songs from the Rumours album that just nobody can do.  Like this one.

One of my favourites in between albums, is this duet with Tom Petty. Here it is, just because I can and because it takes me back to about 1982….

The looks

My final voice just has to go to Jim Morrison from The Doors. He also fits into the categories of gorgeous and talented.  Like so many in the talented category, tortured and wasted.  Sad.

This is another song which, in this time of Covid really resonates.  But that’s another story.  Perhaps for another time.

Still in the gorgeous, talented and voice category must be Jon Bon Jovi.  This song has resonance (I’m saying that a lot…) for me because it came out after my mother had died and my father was dying.  It was an anthem then.  It should be an anthem for everyone.  For ever.

I defy anyone not to dance to this.  I still do.  Whenever I hear it.

Talent and viruosity

Anyone who knows me, and who  has followed my blog will know that I will never ignore Freddie Mercury.  I shan’t repeat what I’ve said before.  Although Jazz is often remembered for Fat Bottomed Girls and Bicycle Race, this Brian May-penned song, perfectly showcases Mercury’s beautiful voice and maginficent range.

I could go on – there are so many more, but I’m running out of your attention time, so let me come home.

South African songbirds

We have great music talent in South Africa, one of whom I celebrated and lamented here.  However,  today, I’m selecting three great women.

PJ Powers

PJ’s music career and my life have kind of run in parallel.  Known also as Thandeka and best known internationally for her rendition of The World in Union for the 1995 Rugby World Cup, she’s risen above well, let’s just say, she’s done more than pull herself up by her bootstraps.  My first memory of seeing her live was in 1986 in the Underground – which really was – at the Chelsea Hotel in Hilbrow, Johannesburg.  We danced until the wee hours.  We and she were the last people staggering standing.

More recently, I’ve seen her perform in Cape Town.  When I asked her to sign the CD we bought, I mentioned this and she said:  “I saw you – in the front row – you knew ever word!”  I did.  I do.  Just a few months ago in an intimate venue here in McGregor.  I did.  I will.  Sing.  Every. Word. Again.

This is one of her signature songs.  Jabulani means “happy”.  It is also the name a stadium in Soweto where she and Hotline – the band with which she sang – performed in the 1980s. At the time, it was illegal for people of race to share a stage.  And for white folk to be in a black township.  Some of my happiest memories – ever – are of my times, dancing in Soweto in the mid-1980s.

Also from around the same time, is Mango Groove.  Their posters adorned every underpass the bus traversed on my way to and from work in the centre of Johannesburg.  Claire Johnston who has also visited, but not performed in, McGregor, has the voice of an angel.  I love the early work which is vibey, afro-fusion and just fun.  It really is get-up-and-dance music.  You just have to.  It still does it for me so many years later.

This song is just has so many levels to it.  It came out as South Africa was heading towards her first democratic elections.  A time of such hope and happiness.  Here, she sings with my final South African songbird, Zolane Mahola.

Mahola not only has a beautiful voice, but she’s multi talented and hails from my home province of the Eastern Cape.  She’s the lead singer of the Afro fusion band, Freshlyground that is a miscellany of so many talented musicians whose music has also punctuated my life.  We first saw them perform at Kirstenbosh Gardens before they hit the big time.  This song hadn’t even been released when they played that concert, but Mahola sang it that day and it’s haunted me ever since.

My current favourite top 3 lead singers

As I write, I’m still  hard pressed to choose just three.  There are so many others that I’ve not included:  Diana Ross and her liquid silver voice.  The lead singers from REM and Simple Minds whose names escape me….

So, just for Q:

My current top 3, and it’ll probably change tomorrow:

Freddie Mercury, Stevie Nicks and…Jim Morrison

 

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

 

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.

I’m tired….

I’m tired.

I’m tired of being in lockdown.

I’m tired of people supporting the lockdown.

I’m tired of people not supporting the lockdown.

I’m tired of people railing about “the situation” before they’ve read all the facts.

I’m tired of the mixed messages from our leaders – local and international.

I’m tired of listening to learned people telling us that they’re learning that they don’t know what they don’t know. Every day.

I’m tired of hearing the numbers. Every day. They are awful.

I’m tired of people dying. All over the world. All day. Every day. So far, none of my near (or far) dear people have died. But I’m hearing of people whose dear ones are ill and might die.

I’m tired of this virus. It has developed a vibrant life of its own that has taken over mine. I’m not ill, but it’s making me sick. It’s the last thing I think about as I go to sleep. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up.

I’m tired of spending every day – and I mean every day – and a signficant portion of it – in front of the laptop. I’m trawling the interweb for work, bearing my soul listing my skills for all and sundry. Because my business has gone down the tubes. Just when things were looking up. Every gig has come to an end.

I’m tired of having to reinvent myself. Again.

I’m tired of stretching each penny as far as it possibly can.

I’m tired.

One in 58 million

I’m only one in 58 million in this country.

There are many in that 58 million for whom I feel and, today, one in particular. Last evening, following a week of clamouring, the President addressed the nation.

Did he impress me?

No. Not this time.

I did learn, though, that the level of preparedness has improved.

I appreciate the acknowledgement and apology that the government has potentially overreached and contradicted itself.

I hear that things are under review and that the country could be moved to level 3 at the end of May.

It’s not enough. I’ve said I don’t agree with everything he’s done. Yes, I think he’s missed a few things and is lead astray often overruled by pedants.

Think about this: we’ve been locked down for 49 days. It’s 70 since the first case was diagnosed. That’s more than two months. He and that team, responsible for 58 million souls, have probably had no days off.

And they’re dealing with a moving morphing target.

Would I like the job?

When I watched the president last night, I saw something else: I saw a man who is exhausted. He’s worried. He stumbled over the numbers. I would have. He stumbled over that big word, death. I would have. Palbable sighs punctuated parts of his speech.

I also saw another side of the man: when he mentioned masks, he involuntarily smiled. Really smiled. With his eyes. Remembering the last time he addressed the nation and donned the now mandatory mask. You have to admire that.

So, no, I’d not like his job.

Today, we should cut him some slack. At 8.30 pm, last night, he should have had his feet up catching up with his wife, or having Facetime with his grand children.

I’m tired

I’m tired of being in lockdown.

Today is day 49. Theoretically We’re in level 4. That means nothing if one has no work or that the work one did prior to lockdown was in and/or associated with hospitality and tourism. Or domestic construction. Or cleaning someone’s home or tending a garden.

I’m tired being one of the missing middle unable to apply for government support.

Who knows when we’ll get to level 2, let alone level zero when we can associate with as many people as we please, and travel freely. Locally and internationally.

I’m tired of the new normal.

Not the 9 o’clock news

I’ve stopped listening to the news. Except mornings and evenings with the odd article from reliable sources during the day. I do need to stay informed and up to date.

I have to stop this “Corona crud” from making me sick. I do worry how it will all end up: for the people and our democracy.

I have to get on with things and do what I can. Reinvention of Fiona: version 500.

I’m tired, but I have to take these lemons, sour as they may be, and turn them into lemonade, marmalade, lemon curd, pickle and pie.

I just have to.

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes. As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print. If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain. Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.

Balancing Act or Slippery Slope?

I’ve had a hiatus from blogging.  Some of it because I’ve moved to a new host – a story for another time.  Most of it, though, because I’ve been through a bit of a low patch.  I can’t say that I’m out of the funk. I’m not.  Things still look and feel bleak.  I am, however, getting angry.  I am confused.

When I last wrote about the Covid-19 pandemic, I shared facts and little opinion.  I said I’d save my thoughts for another time. That time has come.  Be warned:  it’s a long read.

Before I do, a factual update:

The stats

Covid-19 figures as at 30 April 2020: The world and South Africa

The centre of the South African epidemic is now Cape Town.  In the 38 days since the first case was reported, an average of 148 new cases has been reported per day.  However, in the last three days, the number of confirmed new cases has averaged more than 300.

The South African curve is still rising.  Potentially exponentially.  Unlike originally hoped.  The peak is still expected in August or September.  So the numbers will go up, as will the need for hospital beds.

In our minicipal district, Langeberg, in the 14 days since I last wrote about Covid-19, we’ve gone from 1 active case to 4.

Effective today, 1 May 2020, South Africa moves out of a total lockdown and into stage 4.  A summary of what we may and may not do, is here.

What the President said

Last Thursday, and in anticipation of the end of the extended lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation.  For the majority of people in my circle, there were three things that were top of mind: excercise, booze and smokes.  Not necessarily in that order.

The president was unequivocal.

The people 

  • will be able to buy smokes.  Again.
  • won’t be able to buy beer.
  • will be able to exercise
    but umm…well…my people, will get back to you on that.

Let’s talk about alcohol

The logic behind the ban on the sale of alcohol can be deduced and, to a degree, understood.  Yes, overindulgence does impair one’s judgement and one thing can lead to another.  Yes, South Africa does have a problem with alcohol abuse and binge drinking.  It’s common knowledge that alcohol contributes to domestic and gender based violence as well as motor vehicle accidents.  South Africa has more than her fair share of these.

Following the lockdown, there was a more than 60% reduction in trauma cases – stabbings, gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents.  Reports attribute this to the ban on the sale of alcohol. Nobody mentions that traffic levels over the Easter weekend were also much reduced because people had to stay at home.  The corollary, and in the same report: there was no “major shift” in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence.

The devil and the details

On Wednesday, on the eve of the eve of the lifting of the ultimate lockdown,  the relevant ministers briefed the nation.  We all waited with baited breath.  Smokers, enjoying the last of the eked out stash of ciggies, waiting to learn what “exercising” would mean.

School, universities and work

Certain people are back to work; certain mines, factories and enterprises are operating again;  restaurants may deliver food between certain hours.  Schools may open on 1 June.  The colleges and universities will not return to campus-based classes this year.  Except for final year clinical medical students.  They’re needed on the “front line”.

The rest of us, especially the “elderly” must stay at home.

An exercise gap

Individuals may walk, jog or cycle between 6 and 9 am.  We’re going into winter and South Africa has one time zone.  At 6am, it’s pitch dark on this (west) side of the country.  In the towns and cities, this is exactly the time when those who may, are going to work.

Why just this two-hour window, is a question that is vexing everyone.

  • It’s easier to police. Especially in the townships and informal settlements.
  • Because we won’t be tempted to have a catch up on the corner like we would between 4 and 6 pm.

It was our local police captain’s partner who posited these reasons on the community Facebook page.  Some villagers were placated.  Others incensed.  Having ventured out during the alotted time this morning, here was much acatching-up-on-the-corner….  The social media is awash with misty morning photographs of joggers on the Seapoint Promenade in Cape Town practising social distancing.

I am concerned about –

  • solitary women cycling, walking or running in the dark
  • homes, desserted by exercise fanatics people exercising their right to exercise, that are vulnerable to the criminal element that thrives on routine

Oh, and for pet owners:  their dogs can walk them.  They can’t walk their dogs.

De ja vu

It gets better.  I said that the rest of us, especially the elderly, must stay at home. We may only leave home for essentials, excercise and for medical appointments.  If stopped by the police (or army), we may be asked to prove why we’ve ventured out.

Workers are on a tight leash:  they may only leave home at 5am and must be back at home not later than 8pm.  Or else.  You must have a permit.  Or else. Oh, and a permit to move between provinces. Or else. If you must. Or else.

I hear bells ringing.  South Africa has a national curfew.  Again.

The dompas is back. Again.

That’s not all.

The about turn

On Wednesday, as the minister was rambling on, I wasn’t paying attention because I was faffing in the kitchen.  The Husband was watching the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen and suddenly said, “No cigarettes!”

What?

I checked Twitter.  Sure enough.

I sat down to watch. What the Minister of Co-operative Governance, went on to say was, at best, laughable. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a medical doctor, former Minister of Health and an rabid anti-smoking campaigner:  she advised that more than 2,000 submissions opposed the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products.  The health rationale is a given.  Partly.  I’ll come back to this. Then she said –

the way tobacco is shared does not allow for social distancing…When people zol, they put saliva on the paper, and then they share that zol

Source

zol is a hand-rolled cigarette which often includes marijhana.  It’s not having a joint that’s the problem;  we may grow our own ganja.  We just can’t sell it (which has nothing to do with Covid-19 or the lockdown…).  In the time of Covid-19, according to the South African Command Council, it’s sharing a cigarette that spreads the disease.

I’ll come back to this.

Who is old and at risk?

Up to this point I have, by and large, been enormously proud of the way the South African government has managed the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have endorsed the lockdown, in principle.  I said so. I spoke about the significant proportion of the population at risk because of HIV and TB.  What I didn’t delve into was overall life expectancy and the incidence of deaths from non-communicable diseases – just over 26% of all deaths.

The table below suggests that if one is over 60, one is old.  Women live, on average, three years longer than their male counterparts.

Source

I am approaching 60;  The Husband is over 70.  It’s quite a thing to be told one is old because the demographics say so.  Especially if one is healthy.  In this village, we are surrounded by sassy over 60’s who could put many 40 and 50 year-olds to shame.  We won’t talk about the 70- and 80-year olds who have the stamina to boogy the night away and bang a ball around a tennis court two to three times a week.

Old people must stay at home

Does this include our Minister of Health who, himself, along with many in cabinet, are well over 60?  Oh, and speaking of Mkhize, he’s asthmatic….

Although these data are from 2016, they do paint a useful picture of the population’s characteristics.  Other than being old, which one can’t help, it’s the chronic conditions that make people particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.  At a briefing on Tuesday,  the Minister of Health said that most of the deaths in South Africa were among people with comorbidities.  He specifically mentioned hypertension and diabetes but added a third:  obesity.  This adds another risk factor when one considers the proportion of South Africans who are overweight:

Source

This is a significant proportion of South Africans;  obesity is a burgeoning problem.  What these figures do not show, is how many of those who are overweight are also diabetic.  It’s common knowledge, though, that the two often go hand in hand.

Back to tobacco

The logic behind the ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products is perplexing.  To say the least.  I am not a smoker; never have been.  However, I grew up with smokers and I’m surrounded by people who do.  I, and they, are all aware of the health risks associated with the habit.  Like many addicts, they don’t care. Even if it does put them at higher risk of disease.  Including Covid-19.  At least one smoker in my friendship circle has said so.

The experts do say that there is an almost immediate benefit to the lungs when someone stops smoking.  However, I also know, from having lived with people who have quit, that in the six to twelve months after, they seem particularly vulnerable to colds and flu.

With all that in mind, let’s have another look at the actual proportion of the nearly 58 million South Africans who smoke.

Source

Those figures mean that there are fewer people in the country who smoke than there are people who are overweight.  Yet, as some wag on social media suggested, there’s been no ban on sugary drinks, chocolates, sweets, confectionary….

The ban on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products defies logic.

It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that seems to pander to the members of the local temperance society.  Or does it?

Prohibition

South Africa’s history is full of prohibitions.  That’s what Apartheid was about.  Prohibiting certain groups of people from doing, accessing, and generally being human beings.  It criminalised normal human behaviour.  Including the home-based manufacture of alcohol.  Virtually every South African community has stories of making one form of moonshine or another, from mampoer to umqombothi.  Not all good.  Especially when it came to the heavy hand of the law.

Prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes has, on one hand, robbed the government of desperately needed cash.  On the other, it’s contributed to an existing black market – with all the nasty things that go with it.  Violence and extortion.  As with all black market commodities, it’s a case of who one knows and price.  Said a friend who lives in a suburb of Cape Town:

I can give you the names …. and who they allow the selling of alcohol through or even which shop and which items to ask for in order to get your stock. Everyone and everything has a price.

It’s the old story of supply and demand.  Those who don’t have access to those channels resorted to mobbing and looting.  The existing gang leaders probably don’t need lessons from Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.

Oh, and since then, it would seem that she who made those pronouncements, has an association with that ilk.

Cigarettes: a symbol of oppression?

As more and more people, far more learned or erudite than I, question the rationality of this decision, questions are also being asked about the deeper significance of aspects of the restrictions associated with the lockdown.

When the lockdown was just being mooted and the fear and paranoia of this invisible enemy began to seep into our conversations, there were laughing suggestions that the gates of the village should be closed.  The fear of the unknown, and unseen is how it begins. We get caught up in the headlines and soundbites and don’t delve into the mire beneath.  We should.  It’s as scary as it is enlightening.

Yes, the numbers are scary.  Yes, this disease is ugly, horrible and has no cure. No, I don’t want to get it.  No, I don’t want anyone I love to get it.  Yes, they might. That frightens me.

It’s these emotions that are fed by the numbers that are spewed out and not interrogated.  We need to remember that the mortality rate is between 1 and 5% depending on the population.  That means that many, many more people survive the virus than succumb.

Tools for Control

It’s this perspective that neither governments nor the news media foreground.  Instead, they frighten us so that we want to set ourselves apart from people who might be contaminated.  That is how stigma begins.

Fear is one of the tools that governments use to control their subjects.

Another is the big data that they collect: the information we readily (and not so readily) give away in our internet searches, social media activities and with out mobile phones.  The ubiquitous mobile phone has become a critical mechanism for the tracking and tracing of potential Covid-19 cases.  You don’t have watch CSI or Criminal Minds to catch my drift.

Yes, they need to find potential super-spreaders. They need to find, treat and heal people who are ill.

After Covid-19

When all this is over, what will they do with the data they’ve collected?  Our data.

Edward Snowden is concerned.  He says we should be, too.

Will we be able to legally buy and enjoy a glass of wine and a fag?  Where and with whom we please?

Will we be able to do more than break virtual bread and have virtual birthday parties?

These are vexing questions, not just for South Africans, but for other countries, too, where civil liberties have been severely curtailed.  In the interests of public health.

Bastardising another cliché, there may be short term gains, but one does have to wonder about the longer term implications once this disease, as the Spanish flu did, peters out.

Is it a fine balancing act, or a slippery slope?

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

 

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd and with the occasional post on Medium.

 

Countering Covid-19: South Africa 21 days in

The world seems to have stopped and united over a single concern: Covid-19. In the six years I’ve been blogging this is the first time I’ve ever written serveral posts on a single topic in such quick succession. I’ve gone from mentioning Covid-19 as a tangential aside, to actually writing an update. Only one burble was a little tongue in cheek. Writing this is part of my own processing what’s going on and also because South Africa is not often mentioned in the global statistics. So often, too, Africa gets a bad rep. On April 4th, I got this WhatsApp message:

So this is how the British press are reporting SA handling of the virus?? Is it correct??

My honest answer was “yes” and I sent, in return, this link to share my thoughts on the lockdown.

My son from another mother’s response:

Will you write an update?

So, now

Just 24 days ago, South Africa had fewer than 500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and no deaths. Now, there are more than 2,500 and 34 deaths. That’s an average of just under 105 new cases confirmed every day.

Bad news or good news?

As I write, I’m wondering whether I should start with the bad news or the good news. As I’m not really sure, I’ll begin with an update on the figures. Just four days ago, there were 1,8 million cases in the world. The number of confirmed cases, globally, is more than 2 million. It looks, though, to my layman’s eye, that the curve is beginning to be just a little less steep.


Total confirmed Covid-19 cases: 9 January to 14 April 2020 (Source)
The number of deaths does not bear thinking about. They are far too many for the burdened health systems of the three most affected countries. What we all do think about, though, is what if it happens to us? What if one of those “deceased” is someone we know? In my virtual, world wide friendship circle, I know people who have lost loved ones.

What of our near and dear who fall into the risk groups? Yes, there are recoveries and although those figures are important, what is worrying the health authorities is that this is more than a pretty lousy bug. It’s virulent, has crossed species (more than once if you count how it ended up in humans). Humanity has no real protection from it.

Meanwhile, in South Africa

We should have been ending our 21-day lockdown tomorrow (Friday). We are not. This is a summary of the last two and a half weeks:

  1. At the end of week one, a national screening and testing programme was announced and rolled out. Mass screening is centred on the so-called hotspots identified through geotracking of cases.
  2. Where tests are positive, they are followed up with aggressive contact tracing which includes the use of mobile phone geo tracking. Where individuals are unable or unwilling to self-isolate and quarantine, arrangements will be made to help. There are cases where individuals have been arrested for refusing to do so.
  3. Towards the end of week two, on the eve of Good Friday, the President told the nation that we’d be staying at home until 30 April.
  4. The figures for testing, confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries look like this:

    South Africa’s Covid-19 statistics as at 16 April 2020 (Source)
    I’ve been working on this post since yesterday, and my notes show what’s happened to the figures over night.
  5. There are three focal points for the disease in South Africa and these are, expectedly, in the three major economic hubs. The numbers, in ascending order, in the densely populated metropoles of Johannesburg, Cape Town and eThekwini (Durban). It was in this province, KwaZulu-Natal, that South Africa’s patient zero was recorded.

    Map courtesy of Johns Hopkins University and the data courtesy of the National Department of Health, South Africa. Annotations added.
  6. Closer to home, in the broader Western Cape and specifically the Cape Winelands district into which our municipality, Langerberg falls, the picture looks like this. There is a single case in our broader municipality which consists of five towns and villages, Robertson, Ashton, Bonnievale, Montagu and McGregor.

    Courtesy of the Provincial Government, with my annotations.
  7. In a virtual public meeting on Sunday, the Minister’s Advisor, Prof Salim Abdool Karim told us among other things, that South Africa’s curve has been atypical. It’s been a steady rise with a blip, ironically, the day the lockdown began.

    Source
    The exponential rise in cases has been arrested.
  8. In addition, Karim summarised the three waves of the South African epidemic, contrasting what was expected (top two graphs below), with what has actually happened (bottom two graphs below):
    Source
  9. He concluded that the flattening of the South African curve is not cause for celebration or complacency. It just provides breathing space: time for preparation for an anticipated and inevitable second wave following the lifting of restrictions.
  10. Just two or so hours ago, there was a government briefing on the ongoing lockdown and restrictions. My takeaways:
    1. continued prohibition on the sale of tobacco and alcohol
    2. no relaxation on the sale of cooked food
    3. children may be moved (with papers) between the custodial parents’ homes
    4. mines, with restrictions may return to 50% production
    5. certain warehouses and associated trades (plumbers, electricians) may operate
    6. the lockdown will be eased incrementally in an “orderly” manner.
    7. restrictions, still to be defined, will continue into May and beyond.

Meanwhile, “at home”

So, while many of us have been good children, and stayed at home, many have not. In the village our police captain was inundated with questions ranging from dog-walking to overnight hikes into the mountains. On day ten, the police issued eleven fines to people at home and who abused members of the police force. Yesterday, The Husband saw more fines being issued to people who thought that by wandering around with a bag, “shopping”, was an adequate “cover”. Countrywide more than 2,000 have been arrested, including a wedding party.

In the poorer parts of our village and in the rest of the country, especially in informal villages, social distancing is a mere dream. People live cheek by jowl and are hungry. This is fomenting unrest and violence. Even though it’s widely reported that there has been a significant drop off in trauma cases at hospitals, there’s been a significant rise in gender based violence.

Further from home, and in the rest of the country, there are incidents of army brutality, looting and similar patterns of I’ll just do what I like, when I like. Then there are the folk who genuinely don’t understand what all the fuss is about: an invisible threat.

Good News and Bad

Today, I am enormously proud of what South Africa has achieved in managing the pandemic locally. That the tide has been stemmed allowing for preparation for what might still come is a win. It’s time to prepare beds, purchase equipment and for South Africans to adapt to a “new normal”. A delay also means that the clever people working behind the scenes may also find better treatments, drug combinations and in time, a vaccine.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s clear that the lockdown will certainly not be lifted on 1 May. Life, business and especially hospitality and tourism will not go back to normal. The truism “the virus doesn’t move, people move the virus” also means that travel restrictions will stay in place. International travel will take years to go back to what it once was. I am imagining that “covid-free” areas may take steps to stay that way. Whatever that might mean. On a personal level: it may mean that I won’t be rushing into Cape Town in a hurry.

At this point, I’m not sharing my thoughts on the implications of lockdown measures and how they’re implemented and managed. I will. In time. Along with how I think it’s going to affect our daily lives.

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Corona Virus feature image: CDC on Unsplash
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd

Where were you when…?

I went cold.  Not because a Cape Cobra had tried to join us for brunch.  The moment The Husband and I rose from the table – in unison – he literally turned tail and headed back when he’d come.

That was yesterday.

This morning, going through the ritual Sunday chores, listening to the local radio station, I heard the question, “Do you remember where you were on this day, thirty years ago?”

Then it dawned on me that it is the 2nd of February.  I did know that.  Facebook had reminded me and I had wished three folk for their birthdays.

I do remember

Thirty years ago, February the 2nd was a Friday.  It was the opening of parliament and it was to be F W de Klerk’s maiden address.  It was the beginning of a new decade, and a new era.  We had no idea what the future would hold.  We had an inkling, and great deal of hope.  At the time I was working In a job where I was seeing out my last month.  The ninth month of hell.  Not because the people were awful.  Nor was the company.  It was the mindlessly, endlessly boring job.  Not that I had nothing to do.  On the contrary, I was busy and even took work home.  It just didn’t stimulate me.  It didn’t rock my socks.

My office was like a cell.  It was on the top level of a parking garage in the bowels of Johannesburg.  The only natural light came from a long fanlight set so close to the ceiling that I’d have needed a ladder to look down at the street below.

My boss knew that in my spare time I volunteered with a street children organisation in Hillbrow.    She was also a former police woman.  Her husband was still in “the force” as it was known then.  However, and ironically, he was not mainstream police.  Nor was he part of that other, more secret branch of the force.  He was a founding member of the child protection unit and they were all too familiar with, and sympathetic to, the street children “problem”.  The irony continues because some years later when I worked for a national children’s charity, we collaborated with the police and that unit to start National Child Protection week which is still an annual event in South Africa.

Returning to that day:  I had a good rapport with my boss and we had an unspoken understanding of each others’ politics.  In those days, in certain many contexts, with certain people, certain subjects were taboo.  It was just before lunch and Bosslady, very unusually, burst into my office.

Have you heard the news?

No, why?

Let’s remember that thirty years ago, there were no mobile phones, no social media, let alone email.  The closest we got to instant communication was a telegram delivered to your door by a man on a bicycle, telex or fax.  Our firsthand news came via telephone – landline.  If one had an answering machine, a message might be waiting.  For the rest, news came from the news media:  newspaper, radio and television.

De Klerk has unbanned the ANC.  Nelson Mandela’s being released.

How do you know?

My husband…

I sat at my desk, aghast.  Delighted.  Gobsmacked.  Thrilled.

Alone.

There was no-one near and dear with whom to share the news.  I did not have that kind of rapport with either my boss or my colleagues and subordinates.  I didn’t know who to phone.  Anyway, it would have been a personal call on the company dime.  I had no radio in the office, let alone in my car (the first – a very second hand Renault 5).  I do remember wishing I’d started my new job – at an independent school that was run and staffed by anti-apartheid activists.

Freedom

I have no recollection of what I did after work that day, but I do remember what I did ten days later, on February 12th, the day that Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison:  a free man.

It was a Sunday and once a month we’d take “our children” from the halfway house in Hillbrow, into the country where our “other” children were more settled.  Always a bunch of volunteers, the children and staff.  The volunteers would make contributions by way of meat, salads and treats for the children.  We’d play games in the sun, chat and just generally have a fun, lazy day in the sun over a lunch braai (barbecue).

A typical Sunday outing to our Magaliesberg project. These photos which include me with four of the boys, were taken in 1988 by a Canadian visitor.

 

That particular Sunday, I deposited my passengers and headed home.  At the time, the Yellow Peril (aka aforementioned Renault 5) lived in a rented space that belonged to a friend’s apartment.  She, until she became too ill to do so, was part of our Magaliesberg outings.  She is on the extreme right, in pink, in the bottom photograph.  It was not unusual for me to pop up and say hi, as I did that afternoon.  Maxine had grown up in Johannesburg and especially in and around the cosmopolitan communities that were most devastated by apartheid.  Her stories:  how I wish I’d listened more carefully and written them down.  I digress.

Maxine had the television on, her oxygen tank her only companion.  We all knew that that was D-day.

It hasn’t happened yet.  Let’s have a cup of tea.

So we did.  As we sat discussing the significance and events of the previous ten days, we watched Nelson Mandela walk out of prison.  A free man.  We graduated from tea to sherry and thence to wine.  I have no idea what time I headed home down the block.  I do remember our sitting waiting, and then in rapt attention as Nelson Mandela gave that first address to the people of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, flanked by Walter Sisulu, his former wife, Winnie, and Cyril Ramaphosa, reads first address to the people of South Africa since his trial. Picture: Leon Muller

Thirty years

Fast forward thirty years.  I cannot believe that it is thirty years.  It feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago.  I go cold.  So much has changed and there is still so much to do.  It also dawns on me how the world turns.  For one of my birthday pals, that February 2nd thirty years ago, had so much more significance for her.  Funny that we’ve known each other more than 30 years – we were at Rhodes together;  neighbours in the same residence in our first years.  Neither of us celebrated our birthdays at university – they fell outside term time.  Of course I knew about her journey with V, and until today, didn’t think how special a gift she had received on her birthday in 1990.

That brings, me, in a roundabout way, back to the cobra:  both she and I love our gardens and their life;  we both have more than a passing interest in sustainable living.  It’s what’s reconnected us so many years later.  It’s not the first cobra we’ve had at The Sandbag House, and it certainly won’t be the last.  This one, did give us cause for pause.  Not for us, so much as for our Christmas guinea fowl family.

There were twelve in the clutch. They were probably 2 days old here.

They are very difficult to count, let alone photograph.  We try do do the former pretty regularly;  I do the latter very badly.  When I can.  There is a reason for the expression bird brain:  Mrs Guinea isn’t the best mum. Dad was, in the early days, superior.  In the baby album collage below – random photos of their progress – you’ll see one hunkered down near our little stone wall.  That’s Mr Guinea.  All twelve are nestled underneath him.  Mum was most definitely taking a break.

In the last six weeks, they have diminished in number to less than half.  When they were seven, The Husband and I spent an early windy evening in the dry leiwater sloot (irrigation channel) that runs past our house:  the babies had fallen in and couldn’t get out.  Talk about quick and little!  Eventually we’d scooped all seven out to scamper through the fence.  All this while Dad had a go at The Husband for messing with the kids.  And Mum?  Well she was chattering up and down the fence, like a headless chicken not sure whether to thank us or not.

Then there were six and then, on Friday, there were five.  That evening, The Husband said he wasn’t sure about Little Five.  He’d been commenting on the little straggler for a while: a dreamer, lagging behind and then chivied up to catch up with the family.  On Friday, The Husband thought Little Five was was poorly.

Sure enough, yesterday, there were only four when we did a head count.  I snapped the bottom right pic when I got home yesterday afternoon.  Sure enough:  four.  Perhaps the cobra did have brunch after all.  Today, as it was 40°C, we hadn’t seen them, but a moment ago, we were still grandparents to four guinea fowl chicks.  Ignored by Gandalf the Grey and Princess Pearli, The Husband’s wondering when they’ll move in.

A last word:  something else had been on my Sunday agenda. Until I went cold.

Until next time
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • Originally posted in Feburary.  I am reposting it because of this.  Please bear with me as I “reconstitute” my lost posts.

Loadshedding survivors’ guide

In March, South Africa, was on the brink of a national electricity blackout.  And we are there again.  Why?  At the time, I said that the reasons are myriad and what one chooses to believe, also depends on to whom one listens.   Now, it seems, we are getting closer to the truth:  acknowledgement not just of the failure to follow through on routine maintenance, but also of the “success” of the project to systematically loot state owned enterprises through the project now known as “state capture”.  The Zondo Commission is unearthing hair raising facts.  The Auditor General is doing the same and his staff are feeling the heat.

This is good news

In March, for the best past of two weeks, there was no power for between two to five, sometimes more, hours a day, and I noted that it was likely, that similar outages will happen again over the next few years.  Well, it all began again last week and on Monday, the state-owned electricity utility went from stage 4 loadshedding to stage 6.  Stage 2 means that in McGregor, we are without power for between 2,5 and 5 hours in a 24 hour period, scheduled in 2,5 hour slots.  Stage 4 means that we are without power for 7,5 hours – also staggered.  Stage 6, we had no idea.  Suffice it to say that it was rather startling and the President has cut short a state visit to Egypt.

The March crisis was an act of God:  Hurricane Idai, damaged power lines in Mocambique that supply electricity to South Africa.  This time, it’s also weather related:  wet coal accompanied by heavier than normal rainfall and flooding.

In my original post on Steemit, I noted

The electricity crisis notwithstanding, I have long aspired to being self-sufficient and off the grid – as I explained in this interview, so at the first real opportunity, i.e. when we owned our own home, and had the money, we installed a solar geyser.  The next step was converting from electricity to cooking with gas.  In this instance, it was as much to do with the cooking experience as with the repeated electricity cuts – at cooking time.

In March, I developed a survivors’ guide to loadshedding and I thought it worth sharing again.  Now that I am beginning to recover my sense of humour.  It’s essential to survival:

Loadshedding survivors’ guide

  1. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
  2. Pour a glass of wine.
  3. Download – if you get your electricity direct from Eskom, the app.  Or the schedules from your municipality. Prior to this most recent rash, we had loadshedding in 2015.  I uninstalled the app a week before it struck in March;  I’ve kept it up to date since.
  4. Have a sip of wine.
  5. Keep your sense of humour.
  6. Pour a glass of wine
  7. Fish out the old Telkom phone that has a handset connected with a cord;  ensure that your stock of candles, lighting implements (matches, lighters, etc.) and solar jars are charged and close at hand.
  8. Have a sip of wine.
  9. Check the schedule and plan your day(s) in anticipation of the scheduled outage.
  10. Check the wine stash.
  11. Invite friends over and braai – timed for when the lights are off.
  12. Pour more wine.
  13. When it’s not practical (or sensible to have friends around and drink lots of wine):
  14. Cook by candles and solar jar (with wine).
  15. Clean:  cupboards the you’ve not cleaned for a gazillion years; sort through the old clothes that you’ve not worn for a gazillion years – throw them out or sort them for a jumble sale, clothing swop or charity shop.
  16. Pour another glass of wine.
  17. Make sure all your devices are charged:  assuming you’re using a laptop, and work for as long as you have juice.  Uninterrupted without Facebook, WhtasApp, Discord – yes, you know who you are – and Instagram
  18. Get the next bottle of wine.
  19. Fish out and start working on the projects that you haven’t worked on because you’ve been distracted by the social media (your phone).
  20. Pour another glass of wine.

Until next time, be well
Fiona
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa


Photo: Selma

Post Script

Originally posted in December 2019, but “re-constituted” for reasons I you will find here.

It’s also why some of the links may not work properly.  If you come across one, please do comment and let me know so that I can fix it.

My apologies if you feel you’re being spammed.  I’ve tried to stop the email notifications – will continue trying – but haven’t been successful….

From drab, dull and mostly grey to astonishing colour

It often amazes me how out of things seemingly unsightly, dull and ugly, beauty emerges. I have mentioned a spot we often visit and which is home not just to a fabulous spot for eating lunch, but is also the working gallery and home to a glassblower and his artist wife.

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Outside his barn studio, hangs this copper kettle

An artist’s place of work is one of contrasts:  apparently untidy, seemingly uninspiring, but very organised.

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The “rowing” chair on which the artist sits and works with the molten glass, painstakingly forming it into the shape it ought to be
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The long, metal rods resting in the water
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One of three furnaces
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The glass that falls off as they work.  This tray is on the floor next to the chair, three photos up.

On one of our recent visits, we had the privilege of watching the master and his team at work.  These are just three examples:

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Outside the barn door, in the elements
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In a deep window
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On a glass shelf

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A word about the photos of the interior of barn

Visitors to the barn are not permitted far into the barn where David Reade and his team work, so all of these photographs were taken from a distance, and using the quite limited zoom of my camera.  I was struck by the dominance of black, white and grey in that space, in contrast with the colours that eventually emerge.  Consequently, I thought that those photographs would be and interesting entry into Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge.

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I will share more of David Reade and his team at work in another post.

Post Script

Having entered this challenge, I was delighted that Fiona’s Favourites and this post was selected as one of Cee’s featured bloggers.

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© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Shades of winter

We live in the most diverse floristic kingdom in the world which has a Mediterranean climate.  The contrast between our part of South Africa and the Highveld struck me again as I flew between Cape Town and Johannesburg last week.  The latter, which has had rain, is lush and green.  In our part of the world, except for cultivated land: the vineyards, orchards and domestic gardens, the veld (countryside), is drab and brown but with its own beauty.

Then, as I was browsing through my photographs, looking for something else, I found these.

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All of these grew (some naturally occurring, some cultivated) and were picked on the mountains above our village, and all except the Banksia, are indigenous and natural (i.e. not dyed).

Our mountains after a hot summer, before the winter rain.

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A closer look at the colours to which we look forward each winter.

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Not all are as vibrant.  The aptly-named blushing bride is delicate and ethereal.

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In 40°C+ (100°F+) heat, winter cold is hard to contemplate.  I hate winter.  The flowers are the best thing about it, especially as they are at their best when the weather’s the coldest and just before spring.

Postscript

Having seen Hugh’s post about this week’s WordPress Daily post photo challenge, and this week’s theme, “vibrant”, this is my entry.

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016