Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bringing Ezra Home

The day we brought Ezra home from the hospital was magical. There was a light, glittery, fluffy snow falling outside and the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony was playing on the little hospital tv as we packed up. Dave warmed up the car before I started shuffling down the corridors towards it. The light snow continued to fluff down as I painfully made my way into the passenger seat. Ezra was finally in his carseat (we'd needed lessons from the nurse) and Dave secured him in the back. Off we went like a herd of turtles, Dave turning into the street like a 90-year-old, waiting for all other vehicles to be out of sight before going forward. The snow made a slight covering on the road and as we drove down the hill on Eramosa, we heard a strange rumbling. Suddenly, the large, 4-inxh-thick sheet of ice that had been covering the roof of the car slid onto the windshield, obscuring our visibility and breaking the windshield wipers so they wouldn't wipe anymore. This was scary. We were transporting the most precious cargo ever and now Dave could just barely see out on a slippery road. He pulled over and wiped the ice and snow off the windshield. The wipers still weren't working so we drove the last kilometer or so very carefully.

As a result, we felt rather traumatized when we walked into our home after three momentous days away. When we arrived we changed Ezra's diaper. I can't remember now if he was crying or if we heard him poop or what but we changed his diaper. And we forgot to cover his penis. Of course, he peed right into his eyes and immediately started crying – hard. I also burst into tears... I was clearly an unfit mother for letting him pee in his eye. Hopefully it hasn't done any permanent damage to his psyche.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

From South Africa 2005 Part 7 - Soweto

Date: Tue, 15 Mar 2005 16:13:52 -0500
Subject: second last day

Hi Everyone,

Today may have been the most amazing day of my trip, even my life? We took a tour to Soweto, the township where most of the uprisings/struggle for democracy/police confrontations/shootings took place pretty much from the start of apartheid in 1948 to 1990. The tour guide's name is Joe and he lives in Soweto and knows pretty much everyone. His web site says he was also involved in the student uprising in 1976 (protesting the law by the government making Afrikaans the mandatory language of instruction for all schools) but he didn't talk about it.

Soweto is pretty much its own city with 3.5 million people including 40 white people with richer and poorer neighbourhoods, the largest hospital in the world, schools, etc. We stopped at a squatter camp, which the new government has allowed for temporary housing while they build permanent housing. This squatter camp houses 11,000 people and amazingly they have come together to make it a crime-free area. A guide took us down a street (read dirt track strewn with some garbage), showed us the daycare, the communal tap for the street (each street has one) and took us into someone's house. It's very small, made of tin, wood and cardboard - basically each family was given a plot and they made their own homes, including gardens. No electricity but there is sewage and clean water, which is most important. The plots were all very tidy but some houses (about 6 ft by 8 ft?) have 6 or 8 people living in them. There were lots of little kids, all very adorable asking for sweets.

Then we went to Nelson Mandela's old house, which is now a museum. He only lived in it for 11 days after he was released because so many people were singing and dancing outside at all hours that he had to move for some peace. Luckily, there happened to be a dance performance by a young local troupe, with singing and drama and it was amazing! I didn't think I was going to get to see any African dancing before we left so it was just so serendipitous. Most amazingly, Winnie Mandela (who still lives in Soweto) appeared and we got to meet her and get our photo with her! Apparently, she's a rather controversial figure, just having been convicted of fraud and other dodgy stuff over the years but she's very striking and a bit like Cher (she's in her 70s supposedly but looked very young and hip). She's very well respected in the community and it was quite incredible. We may even be in the Sowetan, a local daily as the press photographer asked us to write down our names.

We also stopped by the Hector Peterson memorial and museum (he was the first student killed in the 76 uprising and was only 13) but not for long because we spent so long at the performance. We were the only two people on the tour so we got excellent treatment and could do whatever we asked for. I felt the safest I've felt in Joburg and shot 2 or 3 rolls of film... many people had cameras at the performance.

This afternoon, we went to Constitution Hill, which used to be a jail but has been redeveloped to house the highest court in SA. We had a free tour (again just by luck they have free tours on Tuesdays) and they have a very good collection of prominent South African artists' work. It's right next to probably the roughest part of town, called Hillbrow, which is pretty much a dead city - all businesses up and moved to another area in the nineties. I've now shot all my film, even the two extra rolls I bought at Addo at vastly inflated prices.

In contrast to today's good luck, yesterday was bizarre and full of bad luck. It's a bit of a story but Dave's aunt and uncle's power got switched off because although she paid on Sunday, it takes 2 or 3 days to process (apparently it doesn't take nearly as long to cut someone off here) and then we had problems with their gate late at night with no light to see by. Anyways, we're at Dave's other aunt's tonight. We did nothing all day because we weren't able to get in touch with anyone to take us round. In the evening, after all the drama (3 men with no id came to the gate with tools to cut the power off and there was nothing we could do to stop them), we met up with my old high school friend, in Melville and had dinner... it was nice to catch up and hear about what she's doing... She's working with an organization involved in setting up affordable housing for impoverished people that meets the community's needs.

Richard dj'd at a bar across the street from the restaurant we ate at so we listened to him spinning local hip hop... it was very good.

So I guess that's all for now. We leave tomorrow night but are planning to go the art gallery to check out South African art then to the apartheid museum... both sad and glad to be leaving...

Off to bed now...

Love Kate

From South Africa 2005 Part 6 - Johannesburg

Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005 15:58:28 -0500
Subject: hey there

Hi everyone,

So, Dave has shingles apparently, which is caused by the same virus as chicken pox... apparently it lies dormant in some individuals and pops up when they're run down or stressed out... His head keeps swelling and apparently it's generally very painful. Since it's on his head near his eye, it's kind of serious but it doesn't seem to have got into his eye yet. Luckily, he's not experiencing any pain really, just fatigue and a bit of a headache. He's now on antiviral medication and he said he felt better today so hopefully it doesn't get worse.

Anyways, we did pretty much nothing yesterday except take him to the doctor and get his prescription filled. Dave's aunt and uncle live in an area where you can walk around (unlike his dad) and there are shops and restaurants nearby. We went to a nice Indian place for lunch. Last night we watched a really good documentary called Amandla (which means power in Zulu) about the role of music in the struggle for freedom. It was fascinating and I won't go into detail about it but if you can track it down I would really recommend it.

Today Dave's aunt took us to a craft market that is run by an organization that is trying to help people make a living at their crafts. We bought a beautiful wall hanging (embroidered maybe? Or some other kind of needlework) and Dave's aunt bought us a Zulu basket as a wedding gift.

Then we went out for lunch with some of Dave's old high school friends, who were very nice... I found we definitely had a lot in common with them, which I think was nice for Dave. Then we went to his other aunt's house and hung out with her, her husband and Dave's cousin Matthew. His aunt is working on a PhD in psychology and is a practising therapist. Her husband is a barrister... they're all very clever and very well informed so the conversation was good... It did nothing to dispel my feeling intimidated though. Their house is gorgeous and very big, on a koppie overlooking the city...

We talked a bit about crime with both of Dave's aunts, which was interesting. In Cape Town I found myself wondering if people weren't just a bit paranoid but this is most certainly not the case in Joburg. They've both been burgled, one of his aunts more than once and she even woke up with people in the house. Richard was hijacked and Matthew was mugged... his story is slightly humorous (in retrospect, knowing he's ok) because he was mugged at knifepoint and gave the guy all his money and immediately was mugged again, this time at gunpoint... he said he'd just been mugged and the gun-wielding mugger went chasing after the knife-wielding one... but it seems that people are a bit more relaxed here than in Cape Town - they say that crime is a fact of life and you just take precautions and hope for the best. Burglary happens and it's inconvenient but they've been ok so far.

The barrister talked about how truly miraculous the democratic elections were in 94 because he said things were so bad in the 80s most people really were just waiting for all-out war and total destruction.

Not sure if I mentioned some of the little differences between SA and Canada before, so here are some bizarre little differences: the doorknobs are higher, almost chest level; the toilet flushing lever is on the right side of the toilet; fat content in milk is not measured by percent: it's called full cream, low fat or no fat; light switches go down when they're turned on, or sideways, not up; the country is truly multilingual and I think I'm beginning to get used to not understanding most of the conversations around me; everybody drinks roiboos tea; people say yaa (like in Swedish or something) not yeah and they say "I'll tell you" and "Look" a lot... I thought I was pissing people off when they started a reply with "Look" but it just seems to be a figure of speech; traffic lights are called robots; people say must instead of should (oh you must go to that place or whatever); everyone seems to have a maid; there are mostly black people in rural areas, in urban areas too but that doesn't seem different to me. You can't seem to get away from race here, everyone talks about it; but in some ways maybe it's a bit refreshing not to be always trying to avoid or ignore it.

The food is different in some ways... there are many traditional Afrikaans dishes but most centre around meat so I haven't sampled them. There is a nice desert called melktert, which is like tapioca pudding in a pie without the bubbles... But restaurants in the cities are diverse like in Canada.

We just got back from a dance performance that Matthew took us to. He said he'd seen other work by this choreographer and dance company and that they do cool fusions of traditional african dance and contemporary dance. Unfortunately this one wasn't good... it was all conceptual with lots of pretentious talking and not much dancing and Matthew was disappointed and apologetic. We were going to see Richard's gig but they were charging cover and Dave was wiped out. Oh well...

Tomorrow we're off to a flea market, then lunch with his aunt and her husband and then they're taking us to the Cradle of Mankind at Sterkfontein caves.

I haven't shot any film in Joburg because it's not safe to carry a camera around (especially one like mine) but I must take pictures of Dave's family...

Anyhoo... I'll tottle off to bed now...

Love Kate

Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005 16:33:20 -0500
Subject: more differences

I forgot a few differences... people wear their shoes indoors all the time - I'm not sure if there's a reason for this or not - and the doors and windows don't have screens, just burglar bars... and when they say just now they mean later... so I find myself saying just now more frequently but I use it in the way we use it at home...

From South Africa 2005 Part 5 - Knysna, Tsitsikamma and Addo

Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 11:49:47 -0500

Subject: in Joburg

Hi Everyone,

we've arrived safely in Joburg now after a rather harrowing (for me) flight from Port Elizabeth. I thought it would be a walk in the park after the flight over here but we had lots of turbulence, from storms, and if we weren't flying through a storm we were swerving left and right to avoid them. But we landed and I felt like kissing the ground. Dave said it was too dirty.

So... from Knysna, after my last e-mail, we took a ferry across the lagoon to the heads and Featherbed Nature Reserve on the western head. Apparently, (sorry if I already mentioned this but I was quite impressed) the heads are the most dangerous harbour entrance in the world. Our boat actually went a little bit into the heads, where there were very large waves that slammed into the jagged rocks nearby. Apparently the navigable part is only 60 m wide and the harbour master's job is quite important in directing large vessels in at the right time. Then the ferry let out at the reserve and they bussed us up to the top in a 4x4 where there was an incredible view. We then walked down the coast 2.2 km back to the boat, which was actually quite strenuous with so many steps down. It's mostly indigenous forest there and very lush. There were caves along the coast and many beautiful views of the sea. I'm getting to love the thunder of the waves against the rocks.

The next day was overcast and we got our rental car. We wanted to check out 'the big tree' but we had to take a dirt road that was quite treacherous due to the heavy rains. It was just a slippery muddy mess and we'd had to drive through a township type settlement so I wasn't sure if we got stuck whether people would be helpful or hostile. As we drove through the settlement we came upon various livestock just wandering loose by the side of the road - chickens, cows, pigs and goats. People have since assured me that the people undoubtedly would have been helpful.

Anyways, I desperately had to pee (ended up going by the side of the road) and we were able to get turned around at one point and made it back to the main highway in one piece. Shortly down the highway we stopped at the Knysna Elephant Park because we really needed a break after the stress of the road... they have a tame elephant herd and we fed them a bucket of assorted fruits and vegetables. Their trunks are very strong but also incredibly agile so it was quite an experience... we also got to touch them and their skin is tough with bristly hairs.

As we drove towards Tsitsikamma National Park we went over many extremely deep, craggy rivers. The Bloukrans (not sure of the spelling) actually offers the highest bungee jump in the world, though it's not actually the longest jump. We had a nice tea in Storms River Village then went onto our B&B, which was a ways out on another muddy dirt road filled with potholes. It immediately started raining very heavily, which seemed fitting given that Tsitsikamma means "place of much water" in Khoisan. Went for an exhorbitantly priced meal - the nearest place - and didn't enjoy it too much.

The next day we packed up and went to the Storms River Mouth in Tsitsikamma National Park, which was very beautiful... huge waves - bigger than I've seen before - crashing against the rocks (although I spent two rolls of film trying to capture the huge waves crashing I never got the really big ones)... we walked along a boardwalk through the forest canopy to a very large, very swingy suspension bridge - which, I'm happy to report I crossed: Twice! There was a sign for a lookout so we decided to check it out because it didn't look too far on the map; but what the map didn't say was that it was all straight up. By the time we made it up there, sweating like pigs, the sun had come out and it was very hot and exposed with no trees, just fynbos. We had planned to check out another big tree on the way to Addo but because it took us so long to get up to the lookout (actually, like Table Mountain, we didn't quite make it all the way to the top but stopped where there was still a beautiful view), we decided to give it a miss.

It took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to Addo, where there was another nasty dirt road and a huge puddle to get to the B&B. This area is obviously drier than Tsitsikamma and Knysna, with lots of succulents, including many aloe, and prickly pear cacti. However, they've been experiencing unusually rainy weather... we lucked out the next day though when we went to the national elephant park because it was totally clear and hot. Apparently, you don't tend to see as many animals when it's wet because they don't need to come to the waterholes. We saw lots: elephants, warthogs, red hartebeest, ostriches, tortoises, jackals, buffalo, eland, kudu, vultures, grey herons, and dung beetles, which are protected in the park and we had to avoid them on the road. One large female elephant was quite close to our car and started coming towards us... she seemed unhappy with our presence so we moved on. We also interrupted some ostriches having a dust bath... We went on a sundowner game drive and I saw my first real sunset in this country from a high vantage point. Basically the guide spent the whole time hunting for lions but we didn't end up finding any and didn't really see much that we hadn't seen in the day. Though we did see some owls (very cool) and spotted genet, which kind of looks like a long house cat. Dave wasn't too impressed with the whole game reserve experience though because there are no toilets in the park and you can't get out of your car to pee... because the park is so big we ended up nearly bursting our bladders a few times. He says he's not too keen to go to another game reserve but I didn't mind - seeing the animals was worth it for me.

So now we're back in the care of Dave's family and here he has many cousins, who all seem very clever and talented, keen to take us out and about. His cousin Richard is spinning at a club Saturday night and his other cousin Matthew has a Rhodes scholarship to study in England in Oct. He's going to take us to an art exhibit Sat. afternoon and Richard is taking us to a digital media thing at the local university tomorrow afternoon. His youngest cousin is Robert, who has a mohawk and several facial piercings with plans to put more metal in his face... Teenagers are so cute, he makes me a bit nostalgic for all that angst and drama...

Anyhow... I think dinner's ready so I'll sign off now.

Love Kate

From South Africa 2005 Part 4 - Cape Peninsula and Knysna

Date: Sun, 6 Mar 2005 04:28:53 -0500

Subject: in Knysna

Hi Everyone,

we're here in Knysna after a bit of a marathon yesterday. We left Cape Town at 6:30 am on the bus and watched the sun rise over the mountains. We had to go through a very long tunnel through the mountains (it had to be a mile long at least) and the scenes were breathtaking once through. We drove through part of the winelands I think, which was fairly lush agricultural land, though I noticed they had to water even the pastures for cattle, then some towns in the Klein Karoo, which is a fairly scrubby area with (big) hills and not too many trees.

We arrived in George around 12:45 pm to take the last steam train in SA to Knysna... unfortunately no taxis were available so we had to walk with all our luggage to the steam train museum (Dad you would have liked the museum). A woman took pity on us (it was hot hot hot! and heavy) and picked us up. She owns a guest house in Wilderness, which we passed on the train, called Wilderness Beach Lodge so if anyone comes to SA you must stay there to repay her extreme kindness. As we were walking, there no other people around and I thought if any time we were going to get robbed it was then and they would take everything we had. I've not seen any evidence of crime here... generally people are extremely friendly and seem very happy.

The steam train journey is less than 100 km I think but it took 2 1/2 hours because the train goes quite slowly and has to go up and down the mountains... this leg also involved some short tunnels, which were pitch black inside. The views of the sea were stunning and the kids in the houses (some more like homemade tin shacks) as we left George were waving and cheering at us as we passed - very cute. Once we passed Wilderness, though, we learned why they don't really use steam trains anymore... we became covered in soot that blew in through the open windows (it was far too hot to close them) and it took a very long time to arrive in Knysna, especially after a 6-hour bus ride. The coal smoke is also polluting I imagine and the soot can cause fires (some days they run it with a diesel engine to prevent forest fires, which are a major problem... there were several while we were in Cape Town). The flora is remarkable along the train tracks - I even saw some arum (calla?) lilies growing wild - they're indigenous here - and some bizarre looking plant called a candelabra flower I think... it has huge red flower heads and you can't see its flat leaves on the ground so it looks like a large red carnivorous plant.

The place we're staying in here, Inyathi Guest Lodge, is beautiful but a little hot. Wooden chalets each with their own balcony on different levels so it's quite private. The day before (Friday) we spent the day with Dave's dad and stepmum driving around the peninsula. First we went to Hout Bay, a beautiful fishing village where I took lots of photos of the people working on the fishing vessels and a group of minstrels. It has a nice sand beach and the water is beautiful. We drove along a road over Chapman's Peak where there was a huge rock that killed a woman in her car. They closed the road for repairs for three years (I think it destroyed part of the road) and have now reopened it but it's still prone to rock falls when it rains and seemed rather perilous. We saw baboons at Cape Point, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean... I really got a sense of just how tough the fynbos plants are - it was extremely windy and rocky, very exposed. The southwesternmost point of the continent is also in this park though we didn't go out to it (I took photos of it though before I knew it was the southwesternmost point - it was just so beautiful).

Finally we stopped at Boulders Beach in Simon Town where many many African penguins have made their home. They're also called Jackass Penguins because they sound like donkeys - their homeowning neighbours apparently are not so keen on them because it's difficult to sleep. The beach has huge rounded boulders (hence the name) and the water is very sheltered in a little inlet (lagoon? bay?). Lots of people swim here and the penguins just go about their lives with no concerns for the people.

That night, Dave's dad and stepmum took us out to a small Thai restaurant that, unlike the Thai restaurants I've been to in Canada, actually had atmosphere and nice decor. I think it may have been the best meal I've ever had. When we left Saturday, Dave's dad thanked me for marrying Dave so I think that means he likes me. I really liked him and now I know how Dave ended up so nice.

Thursday we wandered around downtown Cape Town, bought books, a couple of cds, clothes, etc. Greenmarket square has a whole bunch of craft vendors, who are very friendly (some may say pushy but I didn't think so, just more friendly than vendors in Canada).

Wednesday we hiked on Table Mountain for four hours (!) but we must have missed the path we wanted so we didn't actually make it to the top. There were many locusts, which were bright red and black and the size of a mouse. Dave says the red colour means they're poisonous. The government (I think) is trying to kill off the pine trees that were planted there and are now interfering with the indigenous flora. We walked to the blockhouse where there are canons pointing over the city and there was a plaque commemorating the man who forested the whole mountain with pine trees. Apparently he also started working on other nearby mountains... it was kind of funny next to all the dead and dying pine trees. I'm pleased with all the work the government is doing to preserve the indigenous flora - Canada could take a lesson from it.

I noticed it was garbage day as we were driven to the mountain, which is a bit different here. We don't separate garbage here but apparently there is recycling. It gets separated on the roadside in the baking heat by (black) people. I do see evidence of white privilege, for sure. It seems like if you're affluent, you're really affluent and domestic labour is cheap. I think Dave's stepmum pays her maid R80 (less than $20 CDN) per day.

On Thursday we had dinner with another uncle of Dave's on his mum's side, his wife and two kids. They couldn't make it to his granny's place on Sunday to visit and they didn't seem overly keen to see us. But whatever, they're busy and Dave said he wasn't very close with them when he lived in Joburg so maybe they're just a bit shy. His uncle mostly talked about money, property values, etc. and I think he would be shocked to know that Dave once had a job sorting garbage at the wet-dry... when I pointed out that people don't sit in the backs of trucks in Canada, he asked, "but how do the workers get to their jobs?" It was said in the tone of voice like "those workers" as opposed to "us" and I felt like answering, "Well we can take public transit or drive ourselves..."

A woman I work with mentioned that her cousin was horrified with the poverty of people while she was in Cape Town but I haven't been at all. Yes, many people don't have much and many live in homemade shacks. But modern conveniences are not the meaning of life and as I said before, people in general seem very happy... gas attendants dance between cars, people happily carry your bags to the bus for a few rands, and I see a lot of laughter.

Anyhow, I think I'll sign off now. I probably won't be able to email again until we get to Joburg on March 10. This afternoon we're taking a ferry across Knysna lagoon to Featherbed Nature Reserve... tomorrow we head to Tsitsikamma, then to Addo for 2 days...

Love Kate

From South Africa 2005 Part 3 - Yzerfontein and Robben Island

Date: Tue, 1 Mar 2005 13:19:09 -0500
Subject: March 1 update

Well I got sunburned today though Dave is worse off than I am. We went up to Yzerfontein (pronounced Azerfontane) where Dave's dad and stepmum are building a beach house. The house was supposed to be done by November last year but it's still in progress and in fact there's still quite a bit of work to do. The builder seems to be working very slowly and not working according to the architect's plans so Dave's stepmum is a bit frustrated. Yzerfontein is a small village on the western coast about an hour or so from Cape Town. Once we got away from Cape Town there was very little habitation and the landscape became quite flat and scrubby with sand dunes. Since I've never been to the prairies it was quite strange to drive so far and not see any trees - there are large shrubs, almost trees, but they appear only occasionally. Another strange thing: the highway up there is a two-lane highway but the paved shoulders appear to act as additional lanes. When a car wants to pass, the slower vehicle moves onto the shoulder and the passer stays in the lane. Occasionally it's necessary to move into the lane for oncoming traffic and then any oncoming cars will move onto their shoulder. Seems a bit dangerous to me to have to pay attention to so many variables but it allows traffic to move much more freely than on two-lane roads in Canada.

So back to Yzerfontein - there's a lot of building going on, mostly large holiday homes of all styles of architecture. Dave's dad's house will be really nice with huge windows looking over the Atlantic ocean. The sea is very rough here and mind-numbingly cold, even just washing over my feet. There's a sand beach with lots of shells, rocks and tidal pools. There are also blue bottle jellyfish carcasses, which we must be careful not to step on. They look like small plastic bags blown up but apparently the stringlike thing attached to it is its stinger and it hurts a lot if you step on it - Peter says the only thing that will kill the intense pain is pee, so the Friends episode was accurate I guess. Their house is on a steep hill or koppie, surrounded by the native flora, fynbos (pronounced fanebose).

Anyways, Dave and I strolled along the beach, collecting sea shells and taking pictures for about an hour and a half at midday and got burnt. The breeze was cool so we didn't feel the heat and I was totally covered except for my legs... I didn't think they'd get burnt because my body seems to cast a shadow over them but the reflection of the sea changes all that. Dave's shoulders are a nice shade of magenta now and he feels rather foolish.

Yesterday we went to Robben Island... it's 11 km from Cape Town's waterfront and the boat ride was fairly bouncy but fast. We took a bus tour of the island, saw the quarry where Mandela and others were virtually blinded by the glare from the rock (it was closed in 1978 because of international pressure), and other buildings... the island housed a leper colony in the mid-nineteenth century... the island has a long history of people banished to it for one reason or another. The jail was built by prisoners, and a church was built by lepers... We also saw some bontebok and springbok (deer-like animals), and there was a penguin colony too - they're shy birds but not too shy: they just hide behind a tree or under something waiting for you to pass. I got a few shots... mostly the walking tour of the jail was very rushed and overall I would have liked more time. But they don't seem to like tourists wandering around on their own. We saw Mandela's cell: small but at least it had a window.
And Mandela's garden:

Our guide's name was Benjamin and he was sentenced to 20 years there for high treason (i.e. protesting apartheid) but he didn't have to serve the whole term as everyone was released in 1991 I think. It was part of Mandela's negotiations with the state to make the jail into a museum...

We returned to the waterfront around 1:30 or so and had a nice lunch on a patio right next to the water. We drank Castle lager (a South African beer - quite nice) and watched seals frolic. They have no fear of people or boats it seems. After a trip to the aquarium and a quick wander around the shops, we went to Dave's stepsister's place for dinner. It's in Nordhoek, on the other side of the mountain and it was insanely windy there. She lives with her husband and 4-yr-old son on a smallholding... it's quite beautiful and they have a menagerie... a huge great dane, two horses, chickens, ducks and a pig...

I found out later that most of the people we've met drink Windhoek (pronounced Windhook), an independently produced Namibian beer.

I've now shot about 8 rolls of film... tomorrow we're going to try to hike up Table Mountain. Apparently, when Sir Edmund Hilary (he climbed Mount Everest - I think he was the first?) visited Cape Town not too long ago, he refused to climb it, saying it was too dangerous. There's a lot of wind here and the mist comes over the mountain very quickly, making it impossible to see your way down. It's called the table cloth. But we'll give it a shot, despite being unfit...

I think Dave's dad is showing signs of liking me... he's difficult to get to know, very reserved but he's got a lovely if rare smile... it's a lot like Dave's in that it overtakes his whole face... I'd like to try to take a picture of him with that smile but it's not the kind of smile one can do on command, I think.

Hopefully tomorrow night we'll go to Camps Bay to watch the sun set while drinking beer on a patio... we can't really the see the sun set from Dave's dad's house.

From South Africa 2005 Part 2 - Cape Town

Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2005 11:34:53 -0500
Subject: [No Subject]

Oy... it's Sunday evening/late afternoon here and we just returned from an afternoon at Dave's maternal grandmother's house. We met his uncle, who lives with her, and two of Dave's cousins, with their mom, Jane. They are all very nice and I asked Dave's cousin to take us out one night (hope it wasn't too forward)... he said he could take us to listen to some kwaito music, which we've probably played for you at some point... it's township music, a kind of mixture of african rhythms and hip hop.

I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, although not as emotional as I felt last night. Yesterday, Dave's dad drove us out to places called Gordon's Bay, which is a very ritzy area with enormous houses that go up a mountain (the Hottentot Holland mountains - not Table Mountain) with beautiful views of False Bay. All the houses are quite different - even a rundown house will cost a few million rands here so it seems that people have more money than sense and they design their own homes... I like the eclecticism (?) though.

We drove up the mountain partway, to the water filtration plant that supplies Cape Town with its water (although there are tight restrictions on water use at the moment because of the drought), called Steenbras Dam. It has an incredible view of False Bay and Table Mountain on the other side (Dave's dad pointed out that from here it looks like Queen Victoria lying on her back).

Then he took us to the Strand, which is a typical beach with high rise holiday condos along it and big waves rolling in. Dave went for a swim but I hung out on the beach taking pictures. It's a very typical resort type scene that you could see anywhere, except for the mountains on the backdrop.

Finally we went to Dave's uncle's house in Somerset West. His uncle is a potter and he showed us around his studio. Dave's dad gave us a casserole dish, which we got to choose, and Dave's aunt and uncle gave us a lasagne dish and two mugs as a wedding gift. We'll have some difficulty transporting it home but I love them and feel honoured by their generosity.

Dave's aunt and uncle are very warm people, who love to entertain. Their daughter, who's 17, wants to be a chef, and they all seem to share a love of food and people. We went out to a nice restaurant and I had a fish called kingklip, which was quite good – though I later found out it's a bit like an eel... I figured if I'm by the sea I should eat some fish.

It was way more emotional meeting Dave's family and promptly saying goodbye than I ever expected. I knew in my head that Dave had family but I guess I didn't realize what it would FEEL like to be welcomed into his family. They talked about the family in general, and I must say there are definite similarities between the men in this family (for one, they have chatty wives who like wine)...

I've never become part of someone else's family before... it's kind of bittersweet...

I really liked his aunt and uncle – his uncle reminds me of my brother in that he's always cracking jokes but also has a keen insight that makes one stop and think quite frequently - if you can take it seriously. I was a bit of a wreck coming home - I cried most of the way... I suppose they were tears I might have cried at our wedding if any of Dave's family could have made it over...

The drive to and from Somerset West goes past several informal settlements... I'm still trying to make sense of their history but they're communities of tightly packed, very small, handmade shacks, for the most part. Apparently they've just gotten electricity and sewage systems in the last few years but so many people are coming to the city from rural areas and there just isn't enough formal housing. I'm not sure what to make of these areas. Certainly, they're evidence of intense poverty but I don't feel sorry for the residents, somehow... modern conveniences and big houses are not what life's about to me. We're planning to take a tour of Soweto when we get to Joburg. I guess I'll see what I think from a closer distance.

Anyhoo... I am definitely falling in love with this place and am trying to figure out how to come back again soon, for longer... I also very much enjoyed meeting Dave's granny, who has a big heart and is an impressive woman - she lives in her own house at the age of 88, goes to the gym, drives her own car, serves everyone tea and makes a mean macaroni and cheese. Dave's uncle who lives with his granny, who they call Bok (I think it means something like Little Buck - he's a bit like Peter Pan they say), is also fascinating to talk to and has been all around the country.

The road signs here are in four languages - English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa (there are 11 national languages - but those are the main ones)... the light switches push down for on, the toilet flushes are on the other side of the tank (the right side, not the backside) and people look at me blankly when I ask for the washroom. Dave's uncle also pointed out my confusion in measurements - kilometres for distances but feet and inches for space or height and pounds for weight. I tried to explain but we both came to the conclusion that Canadians are just confused.

So, I must go make some dinner...

Love Kate

From South Africa 2005 Part 1 - Cape Town

Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 13:56:34 -0500

Subject: hello from SA

Hi everyone,

Well, we arrived two days ago and we're having a great time. The flight was just fine - I actually kind of enjoyed it and I didn't need to take any sedatives! They have screens on the backs of the seats in front so we got to choose what we wanted to watch or listen to... Dave watched the Matrix and Lord of the Rings and I watched Bollywood Queen and Something's Got to Give... But it was a real marathon... flying to Amsterdam was a breeze but waiting in the airport for 3 hours, then waiting an hour on the plane for them to de-ice the wings ("you go right ahead and take your time, I thought. "Do it right.") was not fun. And Africa is a huge continent - I never realized it was so big till I tried to fly the length of it! I started to feel like Cape Town kept moving farther and farther away the closer we got but we did eventually arrive. The screens could also track the flight on an electronic map and gave details of how much time/distance was left... At one point, I was quite pleased because we only had 5 1/2 hours to go... then I realized that we'd only just reached the halfway point of that leg... anyhow, we're here now! And it's amazing!

Yesterday we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is full of South African indigenous flora... the Cape has its own floral kingdom, called fynbos, which are only found here. Apparently this region has a huge diversity of flora. It's at the foot of Table Mountain, which the city wraps itself around, and was very beautiful. We got a real English tea there, with scones, jam, real clotted cream and everything. Yum...
When we arrived at the airport, we found out that as of Mar 1 dual citizens need to travel in and out of SA with a South African passport, but Dave's had expired years ago so he just had his Canadian passport. They let us in but said he would need to get a temporary passport to leave the country (I told him I wasn't leaving without him).

So this morning we went to the Office of Home Affairs and I got my first taste of South African bureaucracy. It's very similar to Canadian bureaucracy but the office is less flashy, maybe a little dingy. Dave's Dad was most impressed with its efficiency today though - he said SA is world famous for its inefficient bureaucracy.

This afternoon we went downtown to the SA Museum and wandered around another public garden... the architecture is beautiful - colourful and tropical - especially against the backdrop of Table Mountain and Lion's Head. Dave's dad has a press pass to the Parliament building, so he gave us a tour... it's a beautiful old building, much like Canadian parliament buildings.

Then Dave's dad took the long way home and drove us around the mountain and along the Atlantic coast. He said it was a shortcut though because traffic is quite bad at that time of day - I guess it's quite difficult to address traffic issues with a huge mountain in the middle of the city. We drove past a part of the city that's quite posh and pretty much right next to it was an informal settlement... a shanty town sort of... apparently no one knows how many people live there but it was quite a juxtaposition.

Dave's dad and stepmom are very nice and totally spoiling us. His dad's very quiet (big surprise, I know, knowing Dave) but very generous, and funny in a dry, sarcastic sort of way. Tomorrow we're going to Dave's uncle's place, who's a potter, and we'll have a look around his studio. I'll really have to keep a tight rein on myself, otherwise I'll have to leave my clothes behind to bring pottery home. Somehow knowing the potter is family makes it ok to buy lots...

I'll write more when I can...

Love Kate

Ezra's Birth Story

Throughout my pregnancy, I was convinced Ezra would come early, perhaps on January 31 or February 2 (his due date was February 4, 2006). However, all those days came and went with no baby. On February 6, my mom came up for a visit to help me maintain my sanity while waiting for baby. She arrived around 4:30 in the afternoon, having driven through a blizzard, and around 7:30 she, Dave and I went out to dinner. Soon after sitting down, I realized I was having a lot of braxton hicks contractions and I found myself wondering if this was it. We finished dinner and returned home and the contractions kept coming, about every four to five minutes, and getting stronger.

Around 9 p.m. I took a bath and discovered what I thought was bloody show. However, the show kept coming and was quite fluid and I began to wonder if perhaps this was something else. I called the primary midwife around midnight with very regular but fairly short (30-45 seconds) contractions to ask about the discharge and after significant questioning, she decided to come check me. When she and the secondary midwife arrived, they discovered that in fact my water had broken and there was thick meconium – not a good sign. I remember looking at the ceiling after they had checked me and thinking, “Wow, we may not end up with a baby.”

We decided to go to the hospital for monitoring and to start I.V. antibiotics since I was GBS positive. We got there around 2 a.m. and I was strapped to the monitors – one for baby's heartrate and one to identify contractions. After about half an hour, the midwives reviewed the strip and determined that the baby was having some decelerations that were not associated with contractions and they consulted with the OB on call. They decided to transfer care and the OB offered to do a cesarean at that time if I wanted but thought it best to allow me to continue to labour while monitoring the baby continuously. Dave went down and brought the rest of our stuff from the car. We'd put the baby's car seat in the trunk for the trip over to have a bit more room for me. When Dave had brought all our stuff up, he said, “I put our baby's car seat back in place so we can bring our baby home.” and he said it in a way that meant everything was going to be fine.

At this point, my contractions kept getting stronger and time began to go by without my noticing since I was so focused on getting through the contractions. Around 6 a.m., I was 3 cm dilated and 100 % effaced (up from 2 cm and 30% effaced around 2 a.m.). Some time after that we decided to get an epidural because I wasn't able to relax through the contractions and was feeling a lot of pressure in my bum. I was really scared of getting the epidural and pretty much fell in love with the anestesiologist, he was so kind and warm and respectful. I think I got the epidural around 8 a.m. and it brought considerable, though not complete, relief. They sent everyone (the doula, my mom, and the midwives) home so I could try to sleep. But I was still feeling intense pressure and couldn't. I remember at this time, holding onto the bed's bar for dear life through a contraction, listening to the baby's heartrate get slower and slower and praying the contraction would end so that it could go back up.

Dr. F, the new OB on call, checked me around 9:25 a.m. and although I had dilated to 7 cm, I now had a fever. He said I was getting a section because there were too many strikes against me: decelerations, not much variability in the baby's heartrate, GBS positive and now I had a fever. By 9:40 I was being wheeled down to the OR and Ezra was born at 10:01 a.m. I didn't have a chance to see my mom before going in but the midwives got there and observed the surgery.

They took Dave away to get dressed up in sterile clothes and prepped me for surgery. I had a new anesthesiologist, who was also very nice. The new epidural made me feel like I couldn't breathe or laugh but he assured me this was very normal, I wouldn't stop breathing and I was just fine. I could feel tingling sensations on my belly as they washed and shaved me, and I guess when they started cutting. Dave and the midwives came in when they put the curtain up. I remember feeling like Jesus on a horizontal crucifix because both my arms were stretched out and strapped down. I was glad they were strapped down because then I didn't need to prevent myself from moving. I was worried about having a panic attack on the table but I was so tired, there wasn't much risk of that. I just kept breathing and thinking that I just had to get through this for the baby.

I tried not to listen to the doctors' conversation because I knew if I heard a fragment I could take it out of context and get scared unnecessarily. Nevertheless, I heard bits and pieces. Like “That's her bladder and it's very full – there's something wrong with her catheter.” I guess they fixed whatever the problem was before proceeding.

Next thing I know they tell me the head is born and that I'm going to feel a lot of pressure. Well, “a lot of pressure” didn't really prepare me. It was the most intense pressure on my diaphragm I've ever felt, and I felt like I would never breathe again... it was quite scary but over very quickly. The doctor said there was no amniotic fluid left and the baby was covered in meconium with a very short cord. And then the anesthesiologist announced quietly, “it's a boy.” I remember being faintly surprised it wasn't a girl. There was silence for quite a while (well people were probably talking but it felt like silence to me because there were no baby cries like on tv). I didn't really think about the baby (I probably wasn't letting myself for fear he was dead), just about the weird sensations I was feeling and how tired I was. I heard Dr. Fraser say, “I'm taking it out now,” and I thought he was giving me a hysterectomy. I yelled, “You're taking my uterus?!? Why?!?” not so much worried about losing my uterus (I'd already decided hours before that I was never going through this again) as about the reason, because I knew it had to be something serious. Dave told me that he was just taking it out to stitch it up and would put it back in when he was done.

Then I heard a baby crying – it was the cutest baby cry I'd ever heard – and I asked, “Is that him? Is that our baby?” It was. I started sobbing from relief and fear and joy and everything, and Dr. F had to tell me to stop crying because it was changing 'his' uterus. Dave went over to the baby and the midwife stayed next to me. At some point they brought our baby over for me to look at and he was just beautiful. I kissed his cheek and said hello. I thought his name should be Jack Finley but changed my mind later. Then they took him to the nursery for tests and observation. Dave accompanied him. They finished stitching me up and removed some of the tubes and straps and other stuff. I couldn't move my arms or legs, they just tingled, and I apologized for the fact that I couldn't help them get me onto the gurney to go to recovery.

After the surgery I couldn't stop shaking. They brought the baby for a short visit around noon and let me hold him and nurse him. I stopped shaking while I held him... I think it must have been a physiological need to hold him. My body knew I'd had a baby and I needed to hold him to recover from the shock. I started shaking when they took him away again, but not as bad and not for long... While we waited for his return Dave and I talked about his name. He thought his name should be Ezra Jack even though my first thought was Jack Finley. I figured after watching me go through all that labour and a c-section, he must have a pretty good reason so I agreed to Ezra Jack. Now it seems perfect so obviously Dave was right.

I didn't see Ezra again until 5 p.m. when he was discharged from the nursery. At that time, the nurse brought him in and said, “he's very hungry and he's all yours. He doesn't need to go back to the nursery.”