Wednesday, January 31, 2007
We rested after checking our baggage and before going through security, and I took a trip to the loo. Through my queasy fog, I was able to muster a chuckle at the signs for the “Female Toilets” and the “Male Toilets.” I even managed to point them out to Sugar Daddy, who had already noticed and chuckled to himself, and we chuckled together. I couldn’t quite muster the energy to actually take a photo though. We staggered through security and down the stifling hallway lined with wilting passengers-to-be to our gate.
Sugar Daddy got some cheese sandwiches, hoping food would make him feel better (which it did, happily), and because at nearly 3 in the afternoon, Swee’pea still hadn’t had any lunch (he slept through it). I was too tired to traipse to the café with him, so I stayed and nursed Swee’pea between two middle-aged men. The two strangers alternated their contact with Swee’pea, tickling his feet and face, and I felt mildly uncomfortable with their attention. Swee’pea seemed to like it though, reaching out to touch their hands and give them his own version of high fives. Later, a young man, his pregnant partner and their young child of maybe two came up to one of the men, so I guess being a grandpa makes him enjoy other people’s babies when he encounters them. Somehow that made me feel better about the whole interaction.
Our flight was delayed, because the plane hadn’t landed by the time we were supposed to board, and we hung around feeding bits of grilled cheese to Swee’pea, me nibbling here and there too. South Africa has a real cell phone culture; Cousin R recently commented that if you don’t have a cell phone, you just can’t participate in life here, you can’t get by. This became clear when every single person around us immediately pulled out their cell phones and started phoning and texting the people who were supposed to pick them up in Cape Town. We had no cell phone, so no way of notifying Grandpa Cape Town that we would be late. Eventually, the plane landed and was cleaned, and we got on it. The captain said that there were storms a few minutes out so the Fasten Seatbelts sign would stay lit for longer than usual. Yay, I cheered sarcastically. As it turned out, the sign stayed lit for over an hour, and at times the turbulence flung even the experienced flight attendants against the seat backs. Swee’pea fell asleep and I mostly read Bill Bryson, who is funny enough to keep me relatively relaxed through all that turbulence and veering left and right.
It was clear over the Karoo, and Sugar Daddy pointed out the huge expanse of empty brown land, punctuated only by small peaks and valleys and rings of ancient volanoes, like the top of a meringue. Despite my anxiety, I was mostly glad we weren’t on a 24-hour train ride across that – I think. I haven’t landed in Cape Town in daylight before, and the mountains surrounding it are huge and beautiful. We started the descent and Swee’pea woke up and started squirming and pushing into my full bladder. The full bladder combined with my grumbly belly and usual anxiety to begin clenching my bowels. Then I noticed us going up then back down then back up while something on the outside of the plane buzzed back and forth.
"Something's going on. Something's happening," I told Sugar Daddy. He said nothing's happening, we're just landing. But I was certain, to the depths of my gut, that something strange was happening. I figured the wheels weren’t coming down and the pilot was considering aborting the landing. I imagined us flying around Cape Town until we ran out of fuel and we had to land on the steel belly of the plane, likely ending up in a huge ball of fire. I waited for the announcement to go into the brace position that the attendant had schooled me in before takeoff.
Now, with my feet firmly on the ground, I still think I was right, that the wheels weren't coming down, then suddenly did, but it is tinged with a hint of doubt. It WAS the first time I've sat directly over the wing, so perhaps those were normal sounds that I just haven't been close enough to the wing to hear before. But going up and then down and then up again is certainly now something I've experienced before.
Finally we landed, after I nearly broke Sugar Daddy’s hand in my terrified grip, and I nearly cried. As soon as we got to baggage claim I had to go to the loo again. I really never want to do this again. I don’t know why the domestic flights are so much scarier than the long flight over the Atlantic and down the entire length of Africa, but they are. Maybe next time we’ll take a leisurely drive along two-lane roads.
I haven’t written much about Grandpa Cape Town, who was waiting for us, mostly because I consider him to be a sort of public figure, and I haven’t been very careful about anonymity. He’s a novelist, and a recently retired journalist. He’s very reserved; kind, warm, generous and with a dry sense of humour, but very reserved. He was awfully glad to see us, and even caressed Swee’pea’s head and feet. I wonder if he was having visions of us crashing too? He has seemed more demonstrative with Swee’pea since we’ve gotten back to Cape Town, which makes me glad.
Anyways, we’re back in Cape Town, and my stomach continues to grumble in a mildly bad mood. Swee’pea is teething, and the last couple of nights have been a bit rough. One tooth has emerged from his gum (his seventh), and I can see white spots where I believe he is working on his first molars.
My camera battery has run out, and I can’t plug in the recharger. I’ve been phoning around this morning trying to find a way to charge it, and a place on Long Street does it for R30. So we will spend the afternoon in Long Street again while it charges. I’m a bit wary with the state of my stomach, but there are lots of cafes and bathrooms, along with great used book stores, so I’m sure we’ll be fine. I’m also going to have a look for some new sandals that don’t smell. Sugar Daddy found some in Joburg, and he mentioned that he chose the rubber sole thinking that it might absorb less odour than a rubber sole. Last night in bed, I mourned that my sandals smell.
“Like what?” he asked.
“Like stinky shoes.”
“Oh… I hadn’t noticed.”
“Good.” (I was worried that I was stinking up cars and rooms, and everyone was noticing.)
I’ve been wanting to write about some of the language here, how South Africans use the words now and just now, but I’m tired, so maybe just now.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Auntie M is a psychologist, and the first time I met her I was intimidated, worried that she was psychoanalyzing me and knew the things that I would prefer to keep private from my first introduction to Sugar Daddy's family. But then I discovered that she loves the same reality tv shows as I do, has a wonderful sense of humour and a lovely wide smile that she unleashes frequently. They have 10 (ten!) cats, most of whom have just arrived and been taken in by the soft hearts of Auntie M and Uncle C. She told me there is one beggar she sees regularly, who is apparently deaf and dumb. She was suspicious at first, thinking that the deaf and dumb thing was just a way to get more money from people. But as she was plotting a way to test his disabilities, she came upon him in the supermarket unexpectedly. When she saw he was buying catfood, and that indeed he was unable to speak to the cashier, she put him in her good books, and always gives him money whenever she sees him now. Because of the catfood. Uncle C is lawyer (I think they call it a barrister here), and a pleasure to converse with. He is a voracious reader, and unlike me, he remembers everything he reads and kindly shares it. He's truly
fascinating to talk to, loves music and film, and good food.
Auntie M's son, Cousin M, is hugely intelligent and perceptive, and is studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, so sadly we didn't get to see him this time. Last time, he took us around town to the art gallery, and a dance performance, and really showed us some of the vibrant culture of Joburg. Sugar Daddy's other cousin, Cousin R, one of Auntie J's sons, is also hugely intelligent, and he makes music and edits an online music journal. He was supposed to be in New York doing a month-long film course this month, but he had to cut his study short to come back for a sudden and unexpected funeral here. Since he was around, he decided to join us on the trip to Pilanesberg, to have a much-needed holiday. Although it was under such tragic ircumstances,
it was a real pleasure to get a chance to visit with him again, and he was great with Swee'pea. I think he really enjoyed spending time with Swee'pea, and it was nice to see Swee'pea enjoying his attention.
On Friday morning, Auntie M came to pick us up to take us to Pilanesberg Game Reserve, a couple of hours northwest of Joburg. I didn't really realize last time just how hilly Joburg is. I remember I did a project on South Africa in grade 7, and learned that Joburg is on the highveld, a high plateau about 2000 metres above sea level. At the time, I imagined the country being made up of a series of huge flat steps, but that's not the case at all. In fact, between Joburg and
Pilanesberg, there really isn't any flat land. There may be patches of flat land, but the koppies rise up out of them quite suddenly. The koppies seem to me to be misnamed. Koppie sounds like a cute little sort of miniature hill, but in fact they're huge and steep, sometimes almost the size of mountains, but rounded.
I expected the trip to Pilanesberg to be made on a large highway, but it was all on two-lane roads lined on either side with wide dusty red shoulders. It was quite rural, with occasional outcroppings of craft shops and roadside fruit and craft vendors under small awnings for a
bit of shade, and the parking lots were mostly unpaved, covered with the same beautiful red dirt of the road shoulders. I love the colour of the dirt here. It seems so lively, and well, African I guess. So from the roads I watched the koppies rise up and slope down, and I couldn't stop imagining them as giant animals sleeping under a cloak of grasses and thorny shrubs and small trees. I guess it's called bushveld when it's quite shrubby, and just veld when it's more just grass punctuated by small trees. It seems like nearly all the shrubs and trees have nasty-looking thorns, some of them a couple of inches long and white like teeth, I guess because the foliage is so valuable and hardwon in this arid land. We crossed the Magaliesberg (pronounced Mahaliesberg with a lot of spit and phlegm in your throat on the hal part), an ancient mountain range mostly rounded by time, and Hartebeespoort Dam, with a large almost suburban development on its shores and speedboats on its ripples.
There are still quite a few homemade tin shacks along the road, but there are also many brick and stucco houses, some just being constructed, which I find encouraging. And the shacks are more spaced out than in the townships of the cities. Outside of these homes, I noticed lots of people gathered at picnic tables under trees, or sitting on verandahs with a drink, and it looked peaceful and nice. I would have loved to take pictures of these people relaxing on a Friday
afternoon, but I also didn't want to stop with Swee'pea sleeping.
In the car, we talked about crime, among other things. I think Joburgers tell their crime stories (and I think every Joburger has them), the way new mothers tell their birth stories, except of course that nothing good and precious like a new life comes of them. They can be almost humourous when the person emerges from the experience (relatively) unscathed. But Auntie M has told me some truly horrifying stories. One of her friends was hijacked with her husband and young daughter in KwaZulu-Natal, and closed into the trunk of their car while their hijackers drove around for hours. Eventually, they let the husband out and told him to run, while they raped M's friend. I don't know what was happening to the daughter at this point, whether she was kept in the boot or freed with the husband, or, God forbid, raped with her mother. But Auntie M says her friend is recovering remarkably. Some people are amazingly resilient. She also told me about another friend of hers who was gang raped for hours, I think in the cottage of her own garden, when her husband was out. They have left Joburg, and she hasn't recovered as well as her other friend. As horrible as they are, I think it is good for me to hear these stories, otherwise I suspect I am dangerously naive, wondering if perhaps the walls and alarm systems
aren't just a bit paranoid.
As we got closer to Pilanesberg, I noticed huge reddish rocks scattered across the landscape and up the huge koppies, and when partly hidden by large shrubs, they looked like elephants' backs. After a fairly relaxed two-hour drive, we arrived at the thatch-roofed chalets of Manyane
Resort, just outside the gates of the game park. When we got out of the car, the heat really packed a punch, even hotter than Joburg or Cape Town. Luckily, the chalets are airconditioned and the thatched roofs keep them quite comfortable.
After we unpacked, Cousin R went for a walk, and Auntie M, Sugar Daddy, Swee'pea and I went for a drive in the park. By this time, it was 4 or 5 in the afternoon, so the animals were starting to stir from their siestas. One of the first animals we saw were zebras. Surprisingly, when they're at a distance and among the scrubby bushes, they are remarkably camouflaged. I felt like I was looking at one of those magic eye pictures, and eventually a zebra would coalesce out of the bushveld. But if I looked away, and then back to where I KNEW there was a zebra, I couldn't see it anymore. Later, we saw some right next to the road, and they were impossible to miss. We also saw a couple of rhinos, a mother and child pair, but they were fairly far away. Luckily I had a big fat zoom lens on my camera so I could see them a bit better. At one point, we came upon a clearing with several zebras and a herd of dainty little impala. It was a bit unnerving because every single one of them was staring somewhere behind us. At first we thought it was a truck that was coming up, somehow more interesting than we were, but then Sugar Daddy made out the silhouette of a predator under a tree some distance behind us. I took some pictures, which clearly show the shape of a spotted hyena. We tried to back up to get a closer look, but the hyena ambled away. I think it's quite rare to see a hyena, and I was excited.
When we got back to the chalets, the sun was about to set and it had cooled ever so slightly. We decided to go for a swim in the pool, since Swee'pea is so keen on splashing right now. I took a few pictures of the beautiful pink and purple spreading across the western sky, and the veld behind our chalet lit golden by the sinking sun. Then we got into our cozzies and went to the pool. The water held absolutely no shock as we got in, and felt warmer than the air once we'd been in it for a moment. It was magical to float and watch Swee'pea splash in Sugar Daddy's arm, huge smile across his face, while the African sun sank lower and spread its magenta rays above us. When we got out, the sky was mostly inky blues and greys, the stupendous sunset moment gone except in our memories. I think those moments in the pool will remain a highlight for both Sugar Daddy and I.
When we got back to the chalet, I decided to check out the loft above the living room. There was a bedroom with a large bed that we'd sleep in, but I wondered what was at the top of the steep narrow steps lined with sandpaper for traction. I almost took Swee'pea with me, but decided the stairs would be dangerous. Up above there was an airconditioning unit and two twin beds. I looked for some paper to write about the sunset swim, but didn't find any, so turned around to
go back down the stairs. I guess I lost my footing on the top step, and as I started falling, my life flashed before my eyes and I thought simply, "Oh SHIT!" I tried to keep balance backwards so I would somersault down, and bumped/slid down several steps. Eventually I stopped, my ass and thigh burning and tingling, both my wrists aching and my elbows burning from the ineffectual sandpaper. My first thought was profound gratefulness that I hadn't been holding Swee'pea. My
second was "Ouch, did I break something?" I didn't, but the back of my upper thigh swelled up like a third ass cheek, or so Sugar Daddy told me, and has now turned a very dark purple, almost black, bruise, nearly 5 or 6 inches in diameter. After I walked gingerly down the last few steps, Sugar Daddy gave me a big hug and told me to sit down. I started to cry; I'm not really sure why, fear and relief and pain, I guess, and Sugar Daddy just hugged me. Sometimes, actually most of the time, he knows exactly the right thing to make me feel better. These moments make me very glad to share my life and family with him, and I am grateful for the reminders, however painful they may be.
Auntie M and Uncle C brought some truly delectable nibbles, and we ate VERY well. After dinner and drinks, the three of us were left alone in our chalet. Swee'pea had a field day opening and closing the empty cupboards, and discovered the magic of drawers, although with a few
pinched fingers. At some point, I noticed a very large spider in the middle of the floor. Sugar Daddy got a glass to put over him to remove him in his customary way, but he had to be precisely accurate because the spider was nearly the same diameter as the glass. He was and he
slid some cardboard under the glass, took him outside and released him far away from the chalet. We saw two more smaller spiders that night, which he also removed. At this point, things got a bit silly. Sugar Daddy removed the pillows and duvet from the bed, just to make sure
none were nesting there, and we actually slept with the light on. It kind of freaked me out that Sugar Daddy agreed to all my paranoid ideas. Apart from the spiders, it was actually a really nice place to stay; the bed was big and comfortable, with nice soft sheets; the chalets were private; the pools lovely; monkeys, baboons, ostriches and impala roam freely, continuing the game park experience without the dangerous big game like lions, rhinos, hippos and elephants. I would certainly recommend it to anyone going to Pilanesberg.
The next morning was deliciously lazy and we set out for the park around 2 or so. This time it was all of us, and Uncle C was a real addition, with his knowledge of elephant behaviour, ability to identify birds, and share interesting trivia about the landscape and animals. Apparently Pilanesberg is in a huge ancient volcano. My mind still can't quite wrap around this because the volcano must have been like a hundred kilometers across or something, and so ancient its walls are huge koppies that look like giant dinosaurs in repose. Uncle C says it was the largest or second largest volcano ever on earth. We didn't see a huge variety of animals on this drive, but we had a great elephant encounter. At one point, the breeding group complete with little twin
babies came so close to the car that even Swee'pea pointed at them.
Later we stopped for a picnic on top of a koppie overlooking a dam. The picnic area is fenced from the park so there is no risk of a lion snatching Swee'pea or a hippo charging us. Apparently, hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa, responsible for the most human deaths, because when the fight or flight response is initiated they have absolutely no flight response. Their only predators are humans, so they have evolved to just fight anything that threatens them. We noticed a huge number of cars parked along the road on the other side of the dam. Uncle C got out his binoculars and hypothesized that the people must be looking at a lion. Anything else to attract that many cars, like an elephant, hippo, rhino or buffalo, he would surely be able to see. Uncle C and Auntie M have been to a lot of game reserves, and never seen a lion, which they are ok with but believe that some kind of hex is on them. We figured that by the time we piled back into the car and drove around, the lion would be long gone. Amazingly though, as we drove around we saw many many cars still parked there. And we saw a lion, a female walking through the tall golden grass. A minute or two later, she plopped down for a rest, lazily turning her head here and there occasionally. I actually found the experience a bit anti-climactic because lions are just so lazy. It's not really that interesting to watch a cat resting in the sun, no matter how large and majestic. We drove on, and spotted ANOTHER lion resting in the sun. The gates of the park were going to close in half an hour, and we didn't think they'd do anything until closer to sunset so we left. It was still impressive, and I did get one photo of the
first lion walking in just the right slanting sunlight to accentuate the definition of her muscles.
We had another sunset swim, although this time the sky was cloudy and not really colourful at all, and another al fresco delicious meal, and went to bed. This time we left the living room light on instead of the bedroom light. But as we were settling down, the power went out. The room became that pitch black that makes you think you're blind because your eyes are open and you can't see a thing. I had noticed the two candles and box of matches next to the bed when we first arrived, and thought it was cute that the resort was willing to provide a bit of romantic ambience for those so inclined. Now I realized that the candles served a much more practical purpose.
I opened the curtains a bit to let the moonlight in, and the night air started to flash and roar with lightning and thunder. Thunder sounds different through a thatched roof, more immediate. And the lightning was impressive, providing flashes of daylight over the veld. It rained a bit, and we fell asleep. Eventually, I don't know how long it was, the power came back on and the hum of the air conditioner woke me up. I was relieved that the power came back on, because I felt really uneasy being in an unfamiliar chalet, virtually in the middle of nowhere, with no lights and a pack of large scary spiders somewhere out there just waiting to crawl across our faces. Despite all that, we all slept well, and woke up refreshed.
Driving back to Joburg, we nearly ran out of gas because the gas stations are so few and far between. The first gas station we stopped at, nearly on fumes, was also a bottle store, and lots of peole were sitting under the trees lining the dirt parking lot with large bottles of beer. I noticed lots of people walking around dressed up in suits and dresses, which Auntie M surmised was their Sunday best (since it was Sunday and all). I also noticed quite a few people wearing khaki
uniforms that were mostly too big, which I guess might have been the closest outfits they have to a suit. I find it surprising how many people walk along major roads and highways here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. In Canada, anyone who lives in the country can also afford a car, so it's really not something I'm used to seeing. We drove passed a couple of modest cemetaries, which made me sad, thinking of all the people who have probably died from AIDS buried there. I also noticed that the really neat and tidy houses had dirt yards, that lovely rich reddish dirt, which I guess they must sweep regularly or something. Other houses, which looked sort of unkempt, were situated in yards with the long grass of the veld.
When we got back into Joburg, we met some of Sugar Daddy's friends for lunch. At one major intersection, we noticed a sign that said "Smash and Grab Hotspot." Apparently, if you leave something valuable on the passenger seat, someone is very likely to smash your window and grab it. Sugar Daddy told me to take a picture, but I didn't think I'd be able to get my camera out on time. Plus, it would be highly ironic if my camera were smashed and grabbed out of my hands as I took a picture of the smash and grab warning sign.
We ate lunch at a nice Italian restaurant in a local mall, and talk was babies babies babies. It struck me as funny that it was the three men who were friends from high school, but it was their wives who did most of the talking. One couple had a two-year-old son who was just a baby last time we got together, and the other couple is expecting a baby any day in the next few weeks. The expectant father published a novel nearly a year ago, and we were able to buy it on our way out of the mall. When we got outside the sky was grey and ominous, and a few raindrops sprinkled on us. We saw distant lightning and Sugar Daddy was hopeful that I would get to see my first Joburg summer storm (it didn't storm the last time either). But the storm passed by us without much excitement; just rain. We could see lightning on the top of the next koppie but nothing here. Sugar Daddy was also hoping that I would get to see a Parktown Prawn, a huge ugly insect that seeks shelter in people's houses from the rain, but I also didn't get to see one of
those. I've seen pictures online, and I don't really feel the need to get too close to one of those.
As I mentioned Uncle C is a voracious reader and I got to inspect his book collection. I noticed he has a lot of Bill Bryson, who I'd heard of but had got mixed up with a concrete poet named bill bissett (I think). He told me that Bryson writes very funny sort of travel memoirs and that he can't read them in public because he laughs out loud a lot. When Swee'pea fell asleep in my arms a bit later, I took advantage of the opportunity to read some of Bryson's Australia book and I'm hooked. Must find some at the library when we get home. I would also like to look up some David Goldblatt, a South African photographer who had some beautiful, arresting images on exhibit at the gallery in Cape Town and who is also a friend of Grandpa Cape Town.
* * *
So it is later today and I still haven't had a chance to post this. Their computer was disconnected for renovations until today so there were some logistical difficulties. This afternoon Auntie J took us around. We went through the edge of Hillbrow, which I guess is the worst neighbourhood in Joburg. I'm quite curious about it, especially since I discovered a book of photographs of it in the 70s at Auntie J's house. Back then it was quite a cosmopolitan place, with modern high rises with penthouses, and a vivid night life of discos and late night street food. It looked like quite the happening place (full of white people of course, because it was still under apartheid, and black people weren't allowed to live in Joburg). In the 80s I think Hillbrow started to degrade, and now is rather slummy, very high density living. The apartment buildings I saw didn't look very nice, like the apartments South of Bloor (SOB) in Oshawa (I don't know Toronto very well, so I'm not familiar with the equivalent areas there).
Auntie J very kindly took us through some areas of urban decay where it was likely safe for me to take pictures. I mostly shot through the moving car though, so I don't know how well the pictures will turn out. All in all though, Sugar Daddy thought the downtown core seemed much
cleaner than before, the result of considerable effort to build housing and bring people back downtown. (As I understand it many businesses just up and left, leaving it a sort of dangerous ghost town.)
So we are nearing the end of our last night in Joburg. Tomorrow morning we will go for a walk with Auntie M, then fly back to Cape Town. I have really enjoyed the company of Sugar Daddy's friendly and intelligent family, and now I am wishing we were staying here longer. Of course,
there is still lots we want to do in Cape Town before we leave, so it's ok. Off to pack, now.
ps - dial-up again, so no photos for a while... sorry.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
So here's a funny thing: getting conflicting safety advice about flying with a babe in arms from two different airlines.
When we flew from Toronto, the airlines gave me another seatbelt to loop through my seatbelt and around Swee'pea's belly. The attendant told me that the safest position for him was facing forward. I did think that if any force were applied to the strap, Swee'pea would likely suffer internal injuries, but figured if that happened we were all toast anyways. And because Swee'pea is so squirmy, I kind of liked having a bit of insurance.
Today, on a different airline, the attendant said they don't give out those straps anymore because it's not safe. They've tested it. So I just held him in my arms, and because there was no leg room, he couldn't slip down between our legs anyways.
All of this mostly just serves to make me more anxious.
I was so itchy and the new ointment wasn't cutting it so I took a Benadryl just before we flew. It occurs to me now that it was the non-drowsy formulation, so likely had some stimulants in it, and stimulants are probably not the best thing before this nervous flyer is launched into the air. I cried during takeoff, I felt so scared. I think it was the Benadryl. So the flight was mostly fine; Swee'pea fell asleep right after takeoff and didn't wake up until we were safely back on the ground. But there was some turbulence when we encountered some high clouds, and I did feel very very anxious. Nevertheless, I enjoyed having a window seat for once, and found the last few minutes before landing exhilerating.
So... we're here in Joburg, staying with Auntie J. They have a beautiful big old sort of 1920's house, all on one floor, which is great for Swee'pea. He's having a blast. And there are all kinds of authentic art deco light fixtures and door knobs that I just love. It's a really comfortable house, tidy but homey, with just enough clutter to make me feel at home. And Auntie J and Uncle R are suitably keen on Swee'pea.
With all this heat, we've been giving Swee'pea lots of cool baths and dips in pools. He loves it. He's really living up to his astrological sign (Aquarians ARE water babies, right?). After his early months of absolutely hating the bath, it's a real pleasure to watch him splash and smile and giggle.
Oh -- and another plus to staying here is that they work from home and so have TWO computers, both with a high speed connection. Yippee!
So here's the weird guy in the back of the truck:
And a couple of treats from the Bo Kaap... lurid, eh? I LOVED it!
There are more pics on my flickr page, though it's annoying uploading from cd so I may just wait till we're home. Also if I post all my Bo Kaap pictures now, everything else will be a disappointment. So I'm being strategic.
Anyways, today we took Swee'pea to the zoo, which he didn't enjoy as much as the aquarium. I think it was hard for him to see the animals when he didn't really know what he was looking at. It's also hot here, and right now he is taking a nap with Sugar Daddy. Tomorrow we're being 'fetched' in the morning to go to Pilanesberg Game Reserve, which I'm told will be even hotter than Cape Town or Joburg. I hope they have air conditioning. We're still miserable with mosquito bites, and there are still mosquitoes here, which seem to have a nose for us, and leave the rest of the family. I think Swee'pea is also teething, so last night was rough.
I keep thinking about things I want to say on my blog but the heat is melting my brain and I can't remember when I get in front of the computer. Until I remember, I guess that's it...
ps - these are all images from Cape Town. I haven't shot much here yet.
Yesterday morning, Grandpa Cape Town took me to a pharmacy to see what we could do for Swee’pea. But because he’s under a year, we can only use Calamine lotion without seeing a doctor. I have never actually used Calamine lotion before – I’ve never been so unlucky as to need it – but I can tell you now, it is NOT cutting it. I’m pretty sure Swee’pea doesn’t need to see a doctor, but since he’s only a coule of weeks from his first birthday, I think I’m going to get the ointment, at least for myself anyways.
What strikes me as funny about all this mosquito business is that several South Africans have asked me about the horrible nasty Canadian mosquitoes and other insects they’ve heard about. It seems Canada has a reputation for two things: mosquitoes (which are bigger than the ones here but mostly kept out of our houses with those lovely things called screens), and a welfare system so good nobody needs to beg (which I have set people straight on – is there any such thing as a welfare system like that?).
After we went to the pharmacy, Grandpa Cape Town said he wanted a coffee. I wondered if maybe he wanted to talk me alone about something. After ordering, and then going to the loo, he finally broached the subject that I thought he might want to. I won’t go into details, because I’m quite sure both he and Sugar Daddy would be upset by that, but the conversation left me feeling sad for the little boy Sugar Daddy once was. The sadness hung around me like a heavy necklace for hours, and I made sure to give him lots of hugs when we got back.
After lunch, we took Swee’pea to the aquarium down at the waterfront. It was another scorcher, and we figured the air conditioning would be a good thing, plus Swee’pea loves fish in fish tanks. He had a great time, swivelling his head left and right between the various fishes, eels and crabs, and the lights and exit signs. We wandered around the waterfront, which at 4:30 and 5 was still uncomfortably hot, and watched three different bands busking. I figure they must audition with some waterfront tourism organization because they were all so different. There was one kind of jazzy band with an accordion, banjo and saxophone, another playing big wooden xylophones, and a third choral men’s group very like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with the stepping and kicking and harmonizing.
I have taken something like 7 or 800 photos. We’ve burnt them onto two cds but we have another full cd that for some reason just won’t burn. I’m hoping to get that sorted out before we fly to Joburg this afternoon. I’d like to have clean memory cards for the trip. I’m quite nervous about this flight, because it could be on a small plane, and last time we flew domestically here the flight was very turbulent from all the summer storms around Joburg, and the plane swerved left and right to try to avoid them. Flying here though is incredibly cheap, the cheapest way to travel, as well as the fastest, so it was a no-brainer that I will just have to try to cope with the scary flight.
We are having a good time, but perhaps not as exciting as last time. We’d been planning to come back for the World Cup in 2010 but now, for various reasons, Sugar Daddy and I are on the same page reconsidering those plans. Regardless of what we decide, it’s nice that our thoughts and feelings are pretty much in total agreement about our experiences this time.
I have been meaning to write about the hairy intersections here. You probably know that people drive on the other side of the road here (from Canada – the left side), and I’m still not really used to it. Intersections no longer make any sense to me because the cars never go where I expect them to. We have to be super cautious crossing the street on foot because our instincts of which way to look for traffic are all wrong. Now, as I approach a crossing, I repeat to myself “Look right THEN left, right then left…” I remember last time we got used to this fairly quickly, but when we returned to Canada we had to readjust all over, being supercautious about crossing streets and driving again. The intersections are also full of people on foot trying to sell just about anything, or mothers with their babies on their backs, begging. (Sugar Daddy’s stepmom cynically wondered if perhaps they hire them for a better return.) When the lights turn red, they stream out to the cars stopped hawking their wares or holding up their signs with their sad stories. I’ve seen vendors at intersections selling newspapers, black garbage bags, clear plastic rolls, sunglasses, beaded wire flower sculptures. I admire their entrepeneurial spirit.
So… off to Joburg now, that huge heaving metropolis with crazy traffic and apparently the highest incidence of road rage in the country as the news reported yesterday. Perhaps there I will be able to find a good internet connection and some time to upload some photos, perhaps not. Hope you’re all well and staying warm.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Today, another very very hot one, we went downtown. We got dropped off midmorning in the Bo Kaap, the original muslim area, which is full of colourful architecture. It’s positively lurid. Just wait till you see my photos then you’ll see what I mean. Looking over them on the tiny camera screen, I think there are some great ones, if I do say so myself. I’m dying to go back there because we didn’t spend much time there. Sadly, it’s not very stroller friendly. Most of the streets are still paved with very uneven, bumpy cobblestones, and there are not many sidewalks. What sidewalks there are, stop suddenly, or are interrupted by someone’s front steps, and have very high curbs. Because it’s at the base of Signal Hill, many streets are also very steep. Sugar Daddy was pushing and he overheated navigating all these obstacles, so he insisted we go down to a café for a drink. I could have wandered for hours, although I was a touch wary because in most streets there weren’t many people about.
Nevertheless, I think I got some great shots in only about half an hour or 45 minutes. Swee’pea was also getting a bit fussy, and he enjoyed the break at the little café. After our break, we reapplied his sunscreen and proceeded down Long Street, which is full of backpackers and all manner of businesses catering to young (and not so young) travellers. It was very busy with pedestrians, and not just tourists. I took lots of pictures of people and architecture, both together wherever possible, if someone came onto their balcony to look down. We had lunch at a café there, which took considerably longer than we expected, but it was fine. Swee’pea fell asleep as soon as we set off again, this time in the other direction down Long Street to Greenmarket Square.
I’m so glad I practiced shooting in front of people back in Guelph. Either that or brazenness comes naturally to me. I didn’t feel self-conscious at all, and figured that people could see me holding the camera up to my eye so if they didn't like it, they could move. A few people darted out of the frame as quickly as possible, but I think that was more out of a mistaken sense of courtesy than to avoid being photographed. And lots of peole just don’t even notice the camera, which is a treat. My camera made it obvious we're tourists, but I don't mind being labelled a tourist.
I remember last time walking around Greenmarket Square seeing all kinds of things and people I wanted to photograph, but I was too chicken. I felt like I had ants in my pants. Finally, I screwed up my courage and quickly took one shot, and I felt hugely nervous and silly and uncomfortable. This time I shot fairly indescriminately, although it was so hot in the square that people looked kinda grumpy when the camera was near them. So I tried to be respectful.
We walked through a pedestrian mall, and then down the Company Gardens, and took another break. It seems that the Company Gardens is a coveted spot for an informal siesta. People were sprawled in shady spots all over the place. Of course I took their pictures. Then we met Grandpa Cape Town around 3. We were hot and sticky and tired, but I really enjoyed the day. Wandering around, stopping in outdoor cafes, and snapping pics is really my kind of day. I hope we get at least one more like it before we leave the country.
We have one more day in Cape Town, then we’re going to Joburg for six days with a two-day outing to Pilanesberg Game Reserve, then we’ll be back in Cape Town for the rest of our stay.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
It was hot again today, and even hotter at Granny’s. Her front lawn is parched drier than brown with nearly as many bare patches as shrivelled grass. The house was uncomfortably hot, and Granny made our lunch almost entirely in the oven: macaroni and cheese, some other things, and bread pudding for dessert.
Last time we were here, I really liked Uncle R and was slightly intimidated by Granny with her strong voice and constant motion. But things have changed. Granny must be pushing 90, and seems more tired and her hearing is poorer. She made us lunch, but that meant that we didn’t have much chance to visit with her. As for Uncle R, I was not impressed when the first thing we did when we got into the stifling house with Swee’pea was light up a cigarette. Sugar Daddy asked him to smoke outside for Swee’pea’s sake, and Uncle R just laughed sarcastically, “Ya, like I’m gonna smoke outside in this heat!” Granted, he smoked in the room next to the room that Swee’pea was in, but still. I was not impressed.
All I can do in these situations is weigh the options and choose the lowest risk to Swee’pea. In this case, the smoke inside seemed preferable to the burning heat hovering just outside the door and sneaking in through the windows. I felt bad cutting our visit short but after a couple of hours Swee’pea was cranky, sweaty and in need of a nap, preferably in the airconditioned car, and I also needed out of the heat. Which isn’t to say that Grandpa Cape Town’s house isn’t hot, but it isn’t AS hot as Granny’s. I didn’t feel bad for long though, because Uncle R told Grandpa Cape Town that Granny has to take three naps a day. So I’m sure our visit exhausted her. We will visit again before we leave, but only for tea, later in the afternoon, I think.
Coming home, Table Mountain was right in front of us the whole way. I got a chance to study it, with Lion’s Head to the right, and Signal Hill further to the right, and wonder at its size. It really dwarfs the entire city, and its skyscrapers can’t even come close. Last time I was here, I didn’t really understand how Lion’s Head got its name, but today I saw that it looks a bit like a natural, albeit crude, Sphynx somehow. And I love the way a line of trees lines the ride from Lion’s Head to Signal Hill, like the bristles on the back of a hyena’s neck.
Poor little Swee’pea seems much happier but his skin is suffering: he has a heat rash already, and of course all the mosquito bites. Poor guy got my skin and its vulnerability to heat rashes and sunburn, along with Sugar Daddy’s tastiness to mosquitoes, in the roll of the genetic dice. We took him into the pool twice today, to cool him down, and he loved splashing in it.
Amazingly, it cooled right down by about 7 pm. There is a lot of wind in Cape Town, and it seems to make all the difference, cooling down the evenings and nights. We went for a walk around Grandpa Cape Town’s neighbourhood, and it was a treat to stretch our legs. At home we walk almost every day if the weather’s ok, but here, there isn’t much within walking distance, and we’ve been driven everywhere. As we got towards the main road, we could see the mountain, and the clouds moving briskly over it in a pink and blue sky. I took some pictures and we turned around. At one point, the pink intensified over the mountain, and I noticed a tiny little crescent moon shyly peeking out between clouds. I took another picture, but I’m not sure if the moon turned out because the screen on my camera’s too small.
Sugar Daddy and I had a rare chance to talk on this walk, while Swee’pea slept. He doesn’t think he likes South Africa as much as he thought, and I think I would have to say the same. My expectations were higher setting out on this trip, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison, but the mosquitoes, as real as their nasty buzzing and bites are, are also a metaphor for me. I am noticing more of the not-so-great things this time around. Maybe it’s just the complexity of motherhood brought into the mix, I don’t know. I’m having a good time, and am certainly not regretting coming, but I’m not sure my former fantasy of living here for a year or two will withstand this trip.
By the way, I’m totally not able to keep up with your blogs. We just have dialup and apparently it’s quite expensive, so I write while offline then just go on and cut and paste. I’ll catch up when I’m home though I hope. For the same reason, I can't really edit my posts to add in the photos. Flickr just takes way too long to load. But just go check out my flickr page if you're interested.
Yesterday was really hot. Unpleasantly hot. I felt mildly ill off and on through the day. So we didn’t do much. But I did find a place to upload a few photos for only 8 rands, so I will update my earlier posts with them when I get a chance. We went for dinner at Sugar Daddy’s Uncle J and Auntie L’s house in Somerset West, and on the way stopped at the Strand for Sugar Daddy to take a dip in the ocean. It was still REALLY windy, and people on the beach were getting sandblasted by it. Swee’pea had fallen asleep in the car anyways, so we stayed inside the air conditioned sand-free car. I really want to see Swee’pea on a beach, but I think we will wait to go to Boulders Beach, which is sheltered from the wind.
We took the N2 to get there, which is lined with informal settlements. The homemade shacks are nearly piled on top of one another, but at least they have electricity now. Sugar Daddy pointed out the street lights and wires. It was an interesting drive, and we passed a few roofless abandoned buildings whose white walls were covered with graffiti. There are periodic pedestrian bridges, which look like tunnels snaking over the highway, and we noticed a line of cattle crossing through one of them, single file, which was strange.
Once off the highway, on the way to the Strand, there was a small pickup truck ahead of us with a muscled tan blonde man in the back of it. I don’t know if he noticed my camera, or didn’t notice the husband and baby in the backseat, but he smiled at me, then proceeded to go through a range of stretching exercises, followed by a chat on his cell phone, back to stretching, and so on. Sugar Daddy thought he was showing off. I thought it was pretty silly either way.
Uncle J and Auntie L are still as warm, fun and wonderful as I remember from my last visit. They love to entertain, and are really good at making you feel welcome and special. Uncle J is a potter, and last time we were here we were given wonderful wedding gifts that he had made. This time, he agreed to accept money from us, and we bought two beautiful large bowls that I couldn’t choose between, a couple of large mugs and a couple of small plates for Sugar Daddy’s mom. Their house is full of their daughter’s paintings and Uncle J’s pottery pieces, and is fabulously colourful and comfortable. Outside, it’s painted a golden yellow, and I took some pictures of the late afternoon sun shining on its warm walls.
Since we last visited, Auntie L was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour and had to have brain surgery. Benign is rather a misnomer when dealing with brain tumours, because they can still cause a lot of damage, and so can the surgery to remove them. I’m not sure whether it’s from the surgery or the tumour, but Auntie L lost hearing in one ear, and the right side of her face is paralyzed. She can’t blink her right eye and the right side of her mouth droops uselessly. But it’s amazing how much animation she can fit into the other side of her face. I was worried that her personality had changed, but from what I can see she is still as friendly, interested and just plain lovely as ever.
After our last visit, I sent cards that my brother made to all the family members I met, and Auntie L told me yesterday that she kept it on her fridge for nearly a year. We brought a small painting for them, also by my brother, (although we forgot it at Grandpa Cape Town’s) and she exclaimed that it sounded wonderful and what a special gift to be given. Seriously, it just made me feel SO good, and I feel privileged for having been invited into their home not once but twice. I’m hoping we’ll squeeze another visit in on our way to or from Stellenbosch before we leave the country. We have to bring their painting and pick up our pottery, which Uncle J is packing up in bubble wrap, anyways.
After a fabulous dinner of egg drop soup, ginger stirfried veggies with noodles, and a sort of strawberry mousse with melon, Uncle J pointed out a comet in the sky, which was very visible to the naked eye, and kind of magical. It disappeared before we left; I don’t know where. We drove back in the dark, listening to Johnny Cash sing his own version of other people’s songs. Grandpa Cape Town has much better taste in music than Swee’pea’s other Grandpa.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I didn’t know that Grandpa Cape Town’s house had its own smell, but it does and it’s the same as the last time we were here. When we got out of the car at his house, around midnight, some night scented flower welcomed us. I noticed it again the next night. It doesn’t release its perfume until 10 or so, but it’s quite lovely when it makes its presence known.
Being here with Swee’pea is difficult. I think he is suffering jet lag. After the first exhausted night of good sleep, he woke up for hours in the middle of the night, screaming when we made any move to try to get him to sleep. Last night, our third night, he moved the screaming and awake part up a few hours, so that he fell asleep around 11:30 and slept soundly (mostly – just a few minor wakings) until morning. I did not, because of the nasty buzz of mosquitoes around our head. They don’t have screens on the windows here and our room gets way too hot if we close the window. Poor little Swee’pea has little red bites all over him, though he doesn’t appear to be too itchy.
I thought the flight would be the hardest part of travelling with a baby, but now I’m not so sure. I think it might be the worry. The sun is harsh, and I worry about it on his new soft skin, even with sunscreen and an extra-large UV canopy on the stroller. It makes it hard to do and see the things I want to do and see. I worry that he could get malaria from one of mosquito bites even though we are not in a malaria area. Yesterday he got sunscreen in his eye and it got all irritated and red, and I worried he was going to go blind. I can handle him having some discomfort, but permanent effects would cause too much guilt for my shoulders to bear.
I also feel like every question people ask about Swee’pea is just an attempt to gather evidence for a judgment on our parenting. I noticed this feeling around my own family too, and I don’t really think it’s accurate. I think it’s me. Mostly. But I feel our parenting is under scrutiny and not measuring up. We’re too indulgent, too protective, too worried. I am happy with our choices most of the time, it’s only around other people that I feel like it’s not acceptable or accepted somehow.
Anyhow… Cape Town is as beautiful as ever. In fact, even more beautiful than I remember. The mountain surprises me every time it comes into sight when we’re driving. It’s HUGE. And it’s right in the middle of the city. And the architecture is fantastic. I think the construction materials that they can use here make for much more interesting homes and buildings than back home. There are all kinds of styles, and they look wonderful all mixed together and multi-coloured. Lots of art deco, lots of sleek modern homes, as well as more traditional, and Cape Dutch, from what I can see over all the walls. It’s kind of a funny contrast, all the cheerful colours – pink, yellow, turquoise, terracotta -- with the walls topped with unfriendly spikes and razor wire. I am trying to take pictures from the moving car as we are driven around, to document just how wonderful and varied the architecture is. I don’t have high expectations of the photos in themselves, but I hope there will be a few worth sharing. Of course, the photos will have to wait, because Grandpa Cape Town only has dial-up.
Also on the list of both strange and familiar… the rhythm of the lovely South African accents is familiar but the words get tangled up in my ears, and my words elicit blank looks. I feel like I SHOULD understand what everyone’s saying since I’ve been here before, but I don’t. And I should know to ask for the loo or the toilet instead of washrooms, but I keep asking for washrooms. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to ask for the toilet; it’s just too vulgar. (I know, funny coming from me for whom nothing really is too vulgar but somehow asking strangers about the toilet is just not polite.)
This afternoon we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens at the base of the mountain. We had a nice walk around, in awe of the huge grumpy-looking mountain. Yesterday afternoon we went to the art gallery, which is in a lovely old building whose dark wooden shutters outdoors seduced my camera against the white stucco walls. They were showing a huge photography exhibit by a man called Santu Mofokeng. It was really great, so I picked up a book of his photos. I'm really glad I did. He made photos through the terrible, warlike 80's and has been all over since then. When I went to the loo, I had to take a picture of the dark wood window frame, open wide with a view of the courtyard, tiled roofs and Signal Hill. Because I have a toilet sense of humour, I had to keep the roll of toilet paper in the corner of the image. The light is fantastic here. They keep saying it’s overcast, because there are clouds in the sky or over the mountain, but it sure looks bright and sunny to eyes that have been stuck in short grey winter days.
Today it’s quite windy, so walking at the botanical gardens was pleasant and cool. When we got home, we noticed the smell of woodsmoke on the wind, so there must be a fire on the mountain. Grateful Dead’s song keeps going through my head. There are fires on the mountain every summer, fanned by the strong southerly winds over the dry dry terrain. Sometimes they get out of control and burn people’s homes, and I keep catching occasional glimpses of black charcoal stumps of old trees. It provides another stark contrast: black stumps against lush green giant aloes and birds of paradise, proteas and palm trees.
The house stays fairly cool with many bright airy windows and walls the colour pale sand. Sugar Daddy’s stepmom has great taste in décor (she was also a great advisor when we went clothes shopping the other day) and it’s amazing that the house feels so tranquil when there are five dogs living here. Granted, they’re fairly small King Charles Spaniels that stepmom breeds but still, that’s a lot of dogs! They’re very friendly and great with Swee’pea, endlessly curious about him and always trying to lick his hands and face.
Hopefully this weekend will be spent visiting various family members around the city. I also really want to walk around the Bo Kaap, the original Cape Muslim neighbourhood at the base of Signal Hill. It’s very colourful, from what I saw of it from the gallery, and I’ve seen other photographers make some beautiful images there. Also at the top of my list is a tour of a township. Last time we went on a tour of Soweto near Joburg, but we only saw the townships and informal settlements of Cape Town from the highway.
The other day I got out to take some pictures of a colourful Indian shop boasting things like “Glory Henna” and “Superb Pitted Dates,” and a man who was missing his front teeth came up and asked me to take a picture of him. So I did. He asked why I was taking a picture of the Curry Pot and I said because I liked all the signs and colour. He said, “you’re not from here are you?” and when I told him I’m Canadian he said he was born and raised in Cape Town and not working now. I told him I didn’t have any money and he asked me to take another photo and walked away. Seems strange to me to ask someone to take your photo and not make arrangements to get a copy. Perhaps it’s a way of leaving your mark on the world, a way of being remembered when you’re gone?
Anyhow… I’m moody as hell. Not sure what else to report, so I’ll sign off now.
Cinnamon Gurl from Cape Town
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
We are here. The journey was both better and worse than I imagined. Travelling with Swee’pea was fine, although he didn’t sleep much so neither did we, and we arrived in Cape Town exhausted and grimy. Worse, because it takes SO LONG! Some highlights:
- At home, we got to the airport in the freezing rain ok, and just in time. The flight boarded at the normal time, but then we had to wait an hour and a half for de-icing. Luckily though, we got a good tailwind over the Atlantic so the flight itself only took 6 hours and we arrived pretty much on time in Amsterdam.
- Shortly after takeoff, when we were still climbing very steeply, a very elderly, very frail man unbuckled and started walking towards the flight attendants’ area. The crew were all still buckled in themselves and told the man to get back in his seatbelt. He was somewhat unsteady on his feet, and his shirt was untucked, so I assumed he was a bit funny in the head. As he walked past me and Swee’pea, my first thought was that he might fall on us and hurt Swee’pea.
- I have discovered I have morbid thoughts on airplanes, and having Swee’pea there makes it worse. Holding Swee’pea strapped onto my seatbelt, I thought, well, at least if we go down, I’ll be holding him.
- Apparently it is like minus 55 degrees Celsius at 30,000 feet up or whatever altitude the plane flies at. It occurred to me that if we crashed, I would be very cold. The Atlantic would be freezing. The air would be freezing, and I imagine I would feel a few minutes of frozenness. But I tried not to dwell on that.
- Shortly after the crew unbuckled themselves, I saw them bringing an oxygen tank to the elderly man and he needed it the whole way to Amsterdam. At one point they asked over the PA, “Is there a doctor on board?” and I worried that he would die. He made it though, and when we landed some ambulance men came on board right away. They struggled quietly against the passengers trying to get off, until an Australian air marshall came behind them and yelled at us to get out of the way. Then, once the medics made it to the old man, he barked “Get off the plane! Go away!” Everyone listened. But we had to wait for people to clear so we could get our bags. Swee’pea was asleep in the sling (he slept through the first takeoff and landing but not in between) and I stood waiting. I noticed the air marshall had a gone, and wanted to get off as soon as possible.
- A woman with a young child, not too much older than Swee’pea (maybe 18 months-ish?) left him on the seat next to me and started fighting her way to the back of the plane. She didn’t give the air marshall the slightest backwards glance and barged past the medics, who as far as I could tell weren’t actually doing anything. The child bawled and sobbed and arched his back and slid off the chair. He started to walk to get off the plane, looking for his mom. I didn’t know what to do, or why she left the child there, but I couldn’t just let him leave, and I couldn’t let him cry alone, so I picked him up too. Some people laughed at me holding these two children, one fair and redheaded, the other black, sobbing, big fat tears rolling down cheeks from frightened eyes. Swee’pea woke up and reached out his hand to this child, and I thought it would have made a nice photo, these two chubby hands intertwined.
- Then I saw the child’s mom coming back, another slightly older child in her arms. I still don’t really understand what was going on, but she was relieved when she saw me holding her youngest, and said thank you when she took the child back. I noticed she was already at least six or seven months pregnant too… wow, what an armful!
- We sat in smoky Schipol airport for a while, where people are still allowed to smoke in designated areas. I used to think Europe was pretty cool for this, but now that I have Swee’pea, it just annoyed me. Not having any choice but to blacken my child’s lungs while I wait for a plane. It didn’t help that it was still dark at nearly 8:30 am local time (apparently Amsterdam is further north than Guelph) and when it finally did lighten, it stayed dim and grey.
- Security on planes is crazy in Amsterdam (maybe all of Europe?). They have all kinds of rules for “liquids and gels,” which they showed on a video before we got off the plane. I didn’t realized that white toothpaste and deoderant counted as gels, but apparently they do. Our brandnew tube of Colgate, purchased specially for the trip, was too big I guess, and it was confiscated. Everything else made it onboard once we put it in clear sealed plastic bags.
- The rest of the journey was comparatively uneventful… we all slept for the first five hours or so. Twelve hours is a very very long time on a plane. But Swee’pea was awesome, and mostly flirted with other passengers, took things out of the pockets of the seats in front of us and put them back in, and played with his toys. He just started to get a bit fussy as we landed, though I suspect it was more from having had enough of the plane than from the descent.
- Once we made it through the long passport line-up, we discovered that our big suitcase, the one that had our gifts, and my and Sugar Daddy’s clothes in it, was left behind in Amsterdam. Apparently it will be delivered to us tomorrow, and in the meantime we have an allowance of 100 Euros each to buy anything we need. So we plan to go shopping this afternoon.
- What’s especially annoying about this is that when I was packing our carry-ons I mentioned to Sugar Daddy that I kept thinking I should put enough stuff in our carry-ons in case our luggage gets lost. But we decided to just stick to what’s essential for the flight. When I laid awake listening to the freezing rain against our window the night before we left, I thought I should pack a spare pair of underwear and a spare t-shirt in case Swee’pea puked on it, but I forgot the next morning.
Oh well… it felt wondeful to walk out of the airport in just our t-shirts into a dark and balmy night. Now we’ve all slept, we’ve showered (and Grandpa Cape Town’s shower is lovely lovely lovely, even if you have to get back into dirty clothes), we’ve eaten, and it’s warm and sunny.
Now I’m off to buys some clothes… and new sandals I think are in order.
ps - thanks for your good wishes and good flight karma vibes...
Monday, January 15, 2007
I woke up at four in the morning and couldn't get back to sleep. The freezing rain against the window kept me up, like fingers typing an insistent message.
Still, we've just continued in our preparations as though we will be able to fly. Now we just have to wait and hope... No whammies no whammies no whammies! I made sure to wear nice, unshredded underwear like my mom used to tell me in case I get in an accident. I wouldn't want any fish in the Atlantic to see my bits in bits of underwear.
Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" has become a favourite going to sleep song for Swee'pea. As a result, I have been listening to it a lot, and for days it's been going through my head when it's not coming out the speakers. Last night it was playing in my mind while I slept, and while I laid awake, worrying. It occurred to me that I could easily make it into a lullabye: Lay Baby Lay, lay upon my big brass bed. Sleep Baby Sleep, sleep until the light of day... etc. etc.
I think I may work on this on future sleepless nights.
One of the blogs I read, a photo blog by a journalist who blogs under his real name, mentioned that he doesn't say when he's travelling or blog in real time about his travels, because he doesn't want his house to get robbed. That possibility hadn't occurred to me. I am not very careful about anonymity.
But I'm not completely unconcerned with security. I have thought that I shouldn't say too much about my flight because someone could try to blow up the plane. I don't know who exactly would want to blow up the plane, but it might go something like that this:
That Cinnamon Gurl must be stopped before she destroys the world! We must stop her at ALL costs!
So I'm gonna wait to post this until we're safely in SA.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
Now I remember why I don't paint my own toenails.
I totally suck at it, painting most of my toe and then mashing the paint on the nail trying to get the polish off my toe.
Oh well. Still better than naked toenails in sandals, in my opinion. Upon seeing them, Sugar Daddy has suggested a pedicure when we get to SA. (Just kidding - he suggested that when he heard me whining about how I can't paint my toenails, before he saw them.)
We're nearly packed, toenails are mostly painted, just need to see what the weather does now. I see there's a snowfall warning in effect now. I never know whether the warnings are based on worst case scenario better than safe than sorry, or more realistic projections. How bad does it need to get before flights start getting delayed?
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Sugar Daddy was shocked when I said that thing about going with the flow. You?!? Go with the flow?!? Hey, I did it in labour. I planned and prepared and thought and imagined and made my decisions, and ultimately, I wanted to trust my caregivers' decisions, and go with the flow. I did it then. I can do it now.
So, because I have my priorities straight, I've updated my blogroll, mostly, so I don't have to depend on the bookmarks on my desktop, which will stay home. I don't expect to get a lot of time to keep up with everyone's blogs (plus Sugar Daddy says it would be rude), so I tried to keep it to the real essentials.
Hey, to people who have travelled with little people in diapers... what do you do with poopy diapers on plane? We have already decided not to feed the boy kiwis before we take off, but still. It's a 24-hour trip, not including the time we have to be at the airport before the plane leaves. Also, Swee'pea has started grinding his teeth. The sound is driving me nuts. I don't know how I'm gonna stand 24 hours in close proximity to THAT sound! Will he stop once the novelty wears off? Or is this gonna keep going until he grinds his new teeth to nothing?
Feeling excited about the flight is a major breakthrough for me. I am terrified of flying. Have been for years. But I have learned some great ways to manage anxiety. Hopefully I won't break down in a puddle of gibbering anxiety upon stepping into the plane. That happened once when I was 15 or so and we were flying to Scotland. As I walked up the tunnel thing to the plane, I thought for sure I was walking into my tomb, and that I was having a premonition. I started to spin into a panic, and I told my mom I was just going to stay home. She tried to threaten me with staying with one of her friends who I didn't like, but even that wasn't enough to prevent me from hightailing it off that plane. Somehow I calmed down and decided to stay on the plane, but ever since flying is extremely difficult for me, and there have been times when my fear has kept my feet on the ground, away from walking new faraway streets and beaches.
I haven't always been afraid of flying. I flew to Australia when I was 11, and I don't remember any fear. For as long as I can remember, and to this day, on the even of any journey, either figurative or literal, my dad can be relied upon to announce heartily, "This is the beginning of a Gurrrannnnd adventure." He said it two years ago before he drove us to the airport, and I expect him to say it again on Monday.
Anyways, I guess his endorsement was enough when I was a kid. So what happened between 11 and 15? Well, I think it has something to do with my mom's old friend who came to visit once with her fiance for some skiing. He was a pilot, and I guess I asked him how he wasn't scared. He said, you just have to remember that the pilot wants to get home just as badly as all the passengers.
Shortly after that conversation, he was killed in a plane crash. Not only that, but the crash was determined to be pilot error. Maybe you remember the Air Ontario crash near Dryden, Ontario in 1989? Yeah, that was the pilot I made friends with.
Since then, I have learned to deal with panic attacks; in fact it's been years since I last had one. And the flight last time was gruelling and long but not overly scary. I had brought Lorazepam, and various homeopathic remedies just in case (the Lorazepam as a last resort), but I didn't need to take any of them. I really hope this flight is the same, especially since I'm going without any of those remedies.
We still have tons to do packing-wise, but I'm feeling ok about it. We'll either be packed or we won't, but we'll getting on that plane. Fingers crossed, the weather lets us.
*I can never remember if it's one word or two... wow, Sugar Daddy isn't even sure).
PS -- Mad, saw your comment over at Ewe are Here and it's really easy to add and remove links using the add elements thing. Really easy!
Friday, January 12, 2007
So here my nomination for most bumbling bureaucracy in the world (well, in my world anyways.)
Let's start with the funny in a black comedy can't quite laugh at it yet thing. Apparently Sugar Daddy is not a dual citizen and never has been. Although South Africa tolerates dual citizens, they don't make it easy, and his citizenship was revoked when he got his Canadian citizenship (South African passport issued to him in 2005 notwithstanding). It's very convenient at the moment, because that is why we can travel to South Africa on Monday. Otherwise I would be very angry that the South African consulate in Toronto was not able to process his temp. passport application on time.
But I think I need to go back a bit. I already mentioned that the South African consulate was not returning any of my phone calls. They have never returned any of my phone calls to this day, despite the increasingly shrill note of panic in my voice with each passing day. Being naive little Canadian civil servant me, I thought it meant that everything was under control and in progress, and they would call us when everything was ready. They know we're travelling very soon, and will make it possible for us to do so.
On Wednesday, I began to lose hope that this wasn't the case. I called the Ottawa embassy, hoping maybe they could get some information from Toronto, but they don't really have that kind of relationship with the Toronto office. They are separate offices. Indeed, in my experience, the offices are polar opposites:
- returns calls
- plays kwaito music (South African hiphop) when they put you on hold
- gets things done
- never returns calls
- lets you listen to regular beeps for nearly half an hour on hold
- can't seem to get anything done
The woman in Ottawa suspected that Sugar Daddy wasn't officially a dual citizen (2005 South African passport notwithstanding), and that once she confirmed with Home Affairs, everything would be ok. But I fretted. I fretted myself into a knot of panic over the last coupla days.
So this morning, worried that Ottawa wouldn't hear from Home Affairs in South Africa and thinking that perhaps Toronto already knew he wasn't a citizen and that was why they weren't returning my calls, because he's not really a client of theirs, I called Toronto again. I finally cornered the woman on the phone. When I ran through the history of my never returned phone messages, she responded, "Oh, well it's been so overwhelming here..."
I said, "You wanna know what's overwhelming? Having a flight booked for Monday and not knowing whether you can get on it. THAT'S overwhelming!"
She said she had to look into it and call me back.
I said, "I don't believe that you'll call me back."
She said she would.
When I said, "Do you promise you'll call me back?" about to take the bait, she said, "Well I can put you on hold if you want."
So I went for it. And I sat on the phone listening to the beeps for a very long time. And it suddenly occurred to me that she could leave me languishing on our not-cordless phone, tethered by the four-foot telephone cable without a chair, water or food in reach. She could starve me off the phone, just waiting until I nearly fainted and finally disconnected. Just when I was getting into some really dark thoughts, she came back. And told me she'd have to call me back.
As soon as I got off the phone with her, the phone rang again. It was the Ottawa office. Sugar Daddy is officially not a South African citizen and she will send the official documents that he needs to carry with him by fax today. But I still can't really feel relief.
So here's the best part. An hour after we got word from Ottawa, Toronto actually, finally, dialled our number. There's a complaint from South Africa related to Sugar Daddy's application for a temporary South African passport. Could he come to Toronto today to work it out? She wasn't even sheepish when I told her he wasn't a dual citizen.
And some people think Canadian bureaucracy is a headache!
PS... don't forget about delurking week.
Some discussion is in order before I give my favourite quote.
I love that Meredith snores.
And Izzy. She rather skimmed over the situation with, "When my fiance dropped dead I went a little nuts." ?!? Uh, wasn't it more like you went a little nuts and cut your fiance's L-VAT wire (or whatever it was), thus contributing to his death shortly thereafter? Mostly I'm annoyed with her. It's annoying having that cheque sit around. It's annoying that she just whines to be given more privileges.
I think the happy dance around the bag of pee could be the first such event on network television history?
I totally didn't see the Addison-Alex thing coming, but I think it could work.
And. Judging from the preview for next week's show (which I will miss because we'll be away), I was so totally right!
Ok. So without further ado, my fave quote:
Sloane to Alex: Maybe you oughtta go back to the gynie squad where life was all squishy and pink.
Don't forget. Today is the last day of Delurking Week. As you can see, I've stolen Bubandpie's picture, because I love it. And I'm also going to steal her idea and offer some questions to get the delurking going. (Thanks to the folks who delurked on my last post... it's LOVELY to meet you!)
I loved one of the questions that a commenter at B&P asked the blogger extraordinaire, so I'm going to steal it for delurkers (and of course regular commenters can answer to):
If you were going to start a new career, what would it be? (Let's pretend that length of schooling and money are not factors.)
And, another stolen question, this time from Alpha Dogma (by the way, last night I saw a trailer for a movie named after Alpha Dogma, well sort of, so she's obviously got a large following despite her new arrival. It's called Alpha Dog.)
Which celebrity would play you in a movie about your life?
I'll share my answers in a comment later...
AND, we have just heard that we will indeed be able to take our trip on Monday. Coming up next, a post about my experiences with the most ineffectual, bumbling, give it to you up the ass while you're picking up the soap bureaucracy I have ever come across...
Thursday, January 11, 2007
First a few administrative details:
For those using bloglines you may get a sense of deja vu soon. I want to republish some of my posts with labels I forgot. So you've been warned.
Last night was much better, sleepwise. I'm somewhat more rested.
Since my photos were so popular in the last post, expect more. They may not even have the slightest association with the post...
Crap. There was more but I've forgotten.
Oh yeah. It's International Delurking Week. I don't really know why I'm trying again, because it seems to me that my many regular lurkers are committed to remaining lurkers. But I will try again. I've mentioned before that I'm nosy. Really really nosy. And I'm dying to know about the people who read but don't comment. If you don't comment, I assume it's because I've angered you. Even though I know that sometimes I don't comment on blogs I read because I'm tired, don't feel clever enough, or sometimes I'm just intimidated. But there's no need to be intimidated here. And also no need to be clever. Just, you know, delurk. Pleeease???
(So this was where I was going to post a funny picture to try to convince you to delurk but Blogger won't let me post it. Bloody Blogger! But you can see it here.)
Ok. So on with the post I've been wanting to write for months, but have been struggling to find the words. I can't remember enough of university, so if any of you academic readers can help me articulate, I'd be grateful. (Oh shit, just realized this could be construed as believing that non-academics -- like me -- couldn't help me articulate, which I didn't mean at all. Help from anyone would be wonderful, obviously.) In the meantime, bear with my struggles please.
A few of you called me ballsy or gutsy after my last post, but I'm really not. It's all an effort to avoid repeating past disappointments.
When we were last in South Africa, I was very self-conscious with my camera in public, I'd lost my eye, and I hadn't held a camera in years. (Maybe I should have put those in the opposite order but too late.)
There were many many things and people I wanted to photograph but I was too slow and too shy. Things like African women walking down busy streets carrying stuff on their heads, and carrying their babies on their backs. Things like the men riding on the backs of pickup trucks down busy highways. African people walking down rural roads, where it must be miles from any possible destinations.
I would get the urge to take a picture, but then I would stop myself. Not just from shyness, but from some kind of theoretical brake. I distrusted my interest in these people as photographic subjects, and felt like I was taking away their right to self-representation. I also felt like I was just buying into stereotypes of Africa, The Dark Continent. If I took their picture, I worried that I was not really treating them as fellow human beings, but as material for my voracious camera.
Somehow fragments of past university courses, involving postcolonial literature, and the figurative implications of photography, came together in South Africa, with its bloody history of racism and oppression. I expected to be treated with hostility occasionally, because of the colour of my skin (white), because how could it be otherwise? How could people who were oppressed for so long not feel some hostility towards people of the same skin colour as their oppressors?
I never once experienced any kind of hostility from people while I was there. Going to the Apartheid Museum, Robben Island, Constitutional Court, Soweto, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, and just listening to the experiences and thoughts of South Africans (you can read my July archives for more details on these places), this lack of hostility is incredible. I was amazed at the power of forgiveness, at the ability of all South Africans to look forward with a positive and open mind. I think I've said this before, but Nelson Mandela did an amazing thing to create a rainbow nation from the remnants of such a dark and bleak past.
Anyways, photography. People think the camera never lies, but it totally does. By necessity, it is exclusive. The photographer is always choosing what to put in the frame and what to leave out. A myriad of technical details add to the photographer's ability to shape the viewer's perspective and suggest conclusions about what's being looked at. When faced with the possibility of taking pictures of South Africa's people, I wondered, who am I to represent this person?
I felt better if I asked permission, but was invariably disappointed with the results. Most people change when they see the camera, become guarded.
When we were in Johannesburg, we stayed with Sugar Daddy's aunt and family, who had a live-in maid named Happy (the whole time we were there I thought her name was Hepi because of the way South African accents sound to my Canadian ears). She was a young woman who had escaped the horrors of Zimbabwe and she was trying to get a visa so she could study and begin a career. We spent quite a bit of time with Happy because the family worked and went to school during the day.
She was really sweet, and insisted on ironing our clothes for us. I felt bad about this because I don't even own an iron, but, man, she was good! Some shirts were still ironed when we got home, and were still wrinkle-free the next time I wore them the following summer. But she told me time and again, she doesn't want to clean houses for long. Her job situation seemed pretty good, and was mutually beneficial. She got a nice place to stay, and her hours were about the same as mine. One day, while she ate lunch, she read the paper. The light was nice and diffuse, the kitchen was clean, the paper was laid out and she had the kerchief-type thing on her head that she wore while working. The scene was just so peaceful. I went and got my camera and asked if I could take her picture. She agreed, but said she wanted to wait until she was wearing her nice clothes, not her work clothes.
The resulting photo was not at all what I wanted, and it's no great portrait. I'm really quite lousy at portraits, especially of people I know, but I will keep trying.
When I came home I profoundly regretted having virtually no pictures of the wonderful people of that country. There is no doubt that the landscape is stunning. But the people are even more beautiful for what they have endured, and the healing that continues.
Since I picked up my camera again in October, I have been asking Sugar Daddy for help in pulling apart these threads. Mostly, he has pretty quick answers.
He points out that the politics of representation are a problem no matter what the subject is. And he knows that my motives are good. He says that revealing the poverty that remains a major problem in South Africa is a good thing. That curiosity about people and scenes that are different from what I usually see is fine.
Today I took more pictures of people here in Guelph. And I tried shooting without holding the camera up to my eye, which I never would have attempted with my film camera.
I got some accidents (the sky, the top of the stroller, wonky angles), but I also got some gems. And it strikes me that these people are pretty disadvantaged too, I think.
I think perhaps I've moved forward. I'm hoping that my relative comfort in shooting these people means that I won't freeze up in the heat of South Africa this time.
I remember I only once saw an impoverished white person in South Africa. I wonder if there will be more this time? Some equality that would be...
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
"Dude, that'll make you puke!"
"I know. That's why we have to do it outside."
I stood there, wondering exactly what they were talking about, wishing I'd thought to listen to the part before the puke. I turned around and looked at them, friendly-like. I noticed the kid immediately behind me was buying a box of Gravol. Curiouser and curiouser.
And, because I'm nosy, I asked.
I chuckled and said, "I'm dying to know what came before the Dude, that'll make you make you puke..."
He looked mildly uncomfortable but not really (god, I'm a wrinklie buying diapers now, not a peer), and said, "Oohh, just a drinking game."
I was mildly disappointed. Seems teenagers today are doing the exact same stuff I did when I was a teenager. I was expecting something weird involving prescription drugs and alcohol and rituals under the moon. (Oh... that is still like my teenage behaviour.) Then again, maybe he just said whatever he thought would get the wrinklie to stop talking to him.
* * *
I've been noticing that there are some really interesting characters hanging out downtown in the afternoon. And the other day, I noticed some interesting teenagers smoking outside a local drop-in for at-risk teens. Yesterday, I decided to try people shooting. Which is not so violent as it sounds, but it WAS scary as hell, and really stretched my comfort zone, especially with little Swee'pea in the stroller in front of me.
Still, I learned a lot.
Lesson 1: I've been noticing strangers smile at me a lot as we pass each other on the street. Even more than the usual what a cute baby smiles, which mostly come from other women or older men. No, lately, even young men have been smiling at me. It's been very confusing. Then yesterday I figured out why.
He's funny looking. They're laughing that his mama dresses him funny. Is it cruel for me to take him out looking like this? The thing is, this suit is the warmest and biggest of the four snowsuits we have. That's why I dress him in it. But I can't explain that to every passerby.
Lesson 2: Most people notice you taking their picture, but they don't quite have enough hubris to really believe that you're actually taking a picture of them. Mostly they look curiously at you but don't say anything.
Sometimes they even smile.
Lesson 3: Cocky teenagers will not hesitate to demand what the hell you're doing. This makes my mouth go dry and my hands shake.
Closely related Lesson 4: Do not try to take surreptitious pictures in a mall, even if it looks brightly lit. The flash will fire and people will notice.
I think I'm happiest with this candid shot. Clearly badasses. ;)
Other people get immediately suspicious and angry whenever a camera is pointed in their general direction, even if I'm trying to look like I'm shooting other stuff.
Also, pictures of people walking towards or by you are not interesting shots. It's generally not worth it. Better to go after people just sitting or standing or whatever. I can't help but suspect these people are criminals or deadbeat daddies or something, imagining that I'm gonna shop them to the police or their exes or something. (Shit. Does that make me a judgmental asshole?)
It was until I got home that I noticed the couple in the background just about to kiss.
Next time I'm gonna try just shooting from my chest instead of bringing the camera up to my eye.
Still and all... my favourite shots from yesterday still don't involve people.