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Life can be pretty funny- although sometimes you have to dig deep to find the humour. Often, people don’t get it. Have you ever been asked “Why are men like that?” as if you should know the answer? Why does my family laugh if I injure myself? Why should a man never be trusted to shop for clothes on his own? From the dawn of civilization, we have pondered these mysteries: Could a being as uncomplicated as a husband have found the key? Nah, but he has fun trying…
   

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Sunday, June 08, 2008
Could have Used This Time for Painting

I should be more active around the house. Lately I spend my weekends pretending not to notice things. Today I would have done a couple of them, but I was feeling really ill. What I hate about not doing them in the nagging suspicion that the house is falling down.

 

I see a tiny hairline crack, and my paranoia turns it into some massive sinkhole threatening to suck in the entire neighbourhood. A flake of paint means some rogue mold embarking on a worldwide lung-destroying mission. A slightly loose wire is going to have us all doing the Wile-E Coyote skeleton dance pretty soon.

 

As a noble husband, those happenings would all be filed under my name in the manslaughter case at court. (If my electrocuted and virus-ridden body could be retrieved from the bottom of the sinkhole).

 

I have a confession: I expect inordinate amounts of praise when I do regular husband stuff. Hellllooooo, Over heeeere! Just changed that lightbulb all on my oooown!

 

And my wife, to her credit, has learned to respond to that need for praise. Well done, she'll coo, You are sooo manly! (Ok, so that response is just in my head). She does appreciate me, but relative to what I do. A lightbulb is a half smile of praise, a fixed lightswitch a mental highfive…

 

I'm looking forward to how she responds when I dig the family out of the sinkhole using nothing but a shelf that we bought but never put up…


Posted at 07:35 pm by SGDBlog
Comment (1)  

Saturday, June 07, 2008
Soup Kitchen

Winter is that wonderful time of year when children get to not appreciate other kinds of food.

 

I spent a while chopping up butternut, grating the zest of a naartjie* (just google it, ok?) and generally creating the soup to end all soups.

 

If I put a bowl of soup next to, say, a Happy Meal from a particular chain of restaurants on the table, and gave the children a choice, I can tell you that they would go for the boxed stuff every time.

 

Which is odd, because a recent poll of chefs asked what they would choose to eat as their last meal if they were going to be executed, and almost all of them chose comfort food. The kind of food Mum used to make when they were small (or Maman, seeing as a lot of them were French). Roasted this, stewed that, fresh whatever. None of them chose junk food, or even complicated food like a reduction of truffles on a nest of Russian caviar blah blah.

 

Does this mean, then, that in thirty years time, my children will go misty-eyed with nostalgia over food that had them making quiet gagging noises before they were sent to their respective rooms? If I am still around (as I hope I am, I will highlight their revisionism, and force them to eat plastic burgers.

 

Of course, they won’t be living at home then. Surely?

*

 

 

*Ok, I took pity on you. This is a naartjie- sort of a tangerine.


Posted at 06:30 pm by SGDBlog
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Return of the Unitasker

I was at home with Jonah today, as Grandpa, who normally looks after him, has flu. Fine- I don’t mind doing the whole parenting thing. Of course, a man without something to do can cause plenty of trouble…

 

At the end of a peaceful day, the highlight of which was playing balloon soccer with some leftover balloons from the Barney party (don’t those things ever deflate???), I decided to invent a recipe for Neen.

 

Really, it was an adaptation of the traditional kedgeree (rice, fish and veg) with tuna, egg, green peppers, spinach and white sauce. It was going well until I thought I would run a bath for the children so that they could hop in when they came home to save time.

 

The stupid extractor fan on the stove was so loud that I forgot about the bath. As Neen arrived home, I remembered. Instead of coming home to a peaceful home with supper simmering on the stove and a warm bath, she came through the door to me frantically, and rather pointlessly, throwing clean towels onto a pool of water covering much of our carpets an inch deep.

 

I hate it when stupid irritating unnecessary things happen, and you can only blame yourself. If my arms weren’t so sore from mopping and rinsing, I would beat myself about the ears.

 

She enjoyed the supper. Eventually. Yet more proof that I can't multitask.


Posted at 09:06 pm by SGDBlog
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Doing the Math

I find it interesting the way children receive a descrescendo of care depending on their place in the family hierarchy.

 

James, son number one, had entire photo albums dedicated to him. We even almost started one of those keepsake books, you know, first lock of hair, wristband from maternity ward. Those two things were as far as we got. But we did try.

 

He came into the world with a wardrobe ready-made, toys all lined up as though one-day-old babies love to play with keys in primary colours. He was pushed around shopping malls by his proud parents, receiving soft sideways smiles from almost everyone. He hardly ever cried, and slept through the night from about 2 months on. We peered at the contents of every nappy, checked for any sign of a cold, and sang and read to him every night.

 

Hannah, daughter number one, came next: By now we were slightly distracted parents, so we forgot to buy as many batteries for the camera: not so many photos of her. She got to wear any of James's old clothes without holes, although many friends bought her pink stuff. By now we knew that babies didn't really need toys, so we let her look at James's stuff. When we went to the shops it was for our sanity: We had to get out occasionally, or we'd go mad. The smiles weren't as frequent as the 'why do those young parents have TWO children? Do they not know about birth control?'looks.

 

We let her sit in on whatever books we were reading to James, bu usually she was crying, absorbing our attention. Fortunately, two parents means a neatly divided regimen. I could still wave at Neen occasionally as we went about our 'I'll sort out James, you look after the baby' routine.

 

Lastly: Jonah, son number two, child number three. By now we were just downloading the photos- hardly any hard copies exist, so if the harddrive crashes… He was lucky to have clothes, our exhaustion levels threatening our ability to cope so much that we would have just tied a loincloth on him and left him if we could. We were no longer experimenting with follies such as cloth diapers: Disposable. Who has the time to rinse nappies at the end of the day?

 

He got to watch TV, play with tiny unsuitable toys, and survive on a diet of Tomato ketchup. Instead of coaching his language skills, we laughed when he got it wrong, and let him grow up on his own. Two parents, three children meant that by now Neen and I had to wear name tags in order to remember who each of us were in the family. Jonah was indulged in being allowed to wear the same Spiderman t-shirt for three days if he wanted. Heck, anything to make life easier.

Shopping? We try to avoid it these days. Anything to get out of it. My own personal hell is a busy shop with the full triptych of children crying at the same time. I daren't even attempt to translate the looks we get when that happens…

 

I guess if we'd carried on having children, by number ten or eleven, they would have to come out of the womb practically self-sufficient, like those snakes that just wander off after birth, or they would have starved. If you'd asked us after the first child if we were good parents, we could have replied, confidently, that we were doing the best we could. Now? I have my doubts, but still, they all seem to have turned out ok.


Posted at 04:41 pm by SGDBlog
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Monday, June 02, 2008
Wrapping up

*Slips into phone booth and out of disguise*

 

I learned something today: Never listen to the advice of a policeman without asking about mental illness in his extended family. When you are part of organizing a march of a couple of thousand people in the city centre, always make sure that the cops know what they are doing in terms of crowd management.

 

Our anti-xenophobia marchwas getting a bit restless. Half of the march had passed when another ten busloads of irate displaced people arrived. They were beating people up wearing the same t-shirt as me, which was in support of foreigners. Then a cop asked me to divert the march into two lanes of traffic. I tried, but apparently a thousand angry people don't give my authority a second glance. After nearly falling over and being trampled twice, I ran away.

 

Then the really violent stuff happened. As I left, a Somali woman was screaming 'Die, South Africa!' I continued leaving.

 

Fortunately, no-one was too badly injured, and we successfully marched on parliament with various demands from different displaced people group.

 

Then, back to the office to arrange a press conference, phoning the media and being pleasant. A lot of them turned out, which was wonderful. Bit nervous about ending up in the papers or on TV by accident, but that is one of the hazards.

 

I think tomorrow is the last day I shall be able to invest in volunteering, as I need to earn a salary, but I will still be as involved as I can.

 

Let me just mention that I have been very much just a tiny spinning cog in this. Thousands have been labouring far longer hours than I, and giving selflessly.

I've been working out of the Treatment Action Campaign offices in the city. TAC is normally an AIDS advocacy organization, lobbying government for free treatment, proper care and human rights issues for HIV positive South Africans. Under the charismatic leadership of veteran struggle leader Zackie Achmat, they have created one of the most effective teams combating HIV in South Africa.

 

ZA and TAC joined forces with other civil groups two weeks ago to spearhead the relief work in Cape Town as the Western Cape Civil Society Coalition. Considering their involvement is voluntary, I have been astounded at the quality of support coming out of meager logistical frameworks. Together with other roleplayers, TAC has cared for displaced people with great compassion, always aware of their rights as human beings. What sensitivity.

 

Zackie Achmat has so impressed me as a leader: He doesn't force himself on anyone, and yet with calm authority, he gets things done. I am no veteran activist, but I wish we could have more leaders of integrity like him. And, of course, the whole team has benefited from his involvement: They seem to act as one organism, each one following through with their various responsibilities. I was privileged to have helped out.

 

We are a nation of individuals: each needs to examine himself to check for any signs of racial hatred. I do believe that we can heal this nasty wound, but it is going to take a long time.

 

I do still have a family, so I guess I should go and be dad, small 'd', again.

 

*As an aside: I made pasta and meatballs for supper last night, Hannah was looking at them dubiously: What goes into the meteors, Dad? She asked. Guess it's back to culinary academy for me...


Posted at 08:12 pm by SGDBlog
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Saturday, May 31, 2008
Still Active

I have somehow found myself in this hub of activity at the Civil Coalition central office, fielding the cell phone calls of the organisers, and the other telephone calls of people wanting to donate/media looking for statements. The media are incredibly important, but the crisis at hand is more demanding. I have been trying to stall the BBC, New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post and pretty much every publication of note. They all have deadlines, so they hate me.

Yesterday on the way to the office a group of streetkids crowded around me, and one stuck his hand in my jacket pocet, grabbed me and started pushing me, threatening to 'stab you..kill you...' Fortunately, a couple came along and chased him away. The weird thing was that I have so much adrenalin already going, that it was a small blip on my stress levels. In retrospect, it could have been fairly nasty: tourists have been stabbed to death by streetkids in the City centre.

The family are all well: strange how life can go on in the midst of social upheaval. Apparently not for the United Nations. Their offices closed at 1pm yesterday. The UNHCR offices were empty, the phones all switched off, in their local offices in Pretoria. We were having to phone Geneva in Switzerland for details. How can one of the major players in a humanitarian crisis close the office for the weekend like that?

I hope that at the end of this, heads will roll in the administrative and political offices. But they won't. There will be irate letters to the paper for a while, vitriol on blog pages, but the decision makers will escape with their jobs, but not their reputations, intact.

At this stage, it is about protecting individuals in camps and other sites. Food, shelter, comfort and counselling. Healthcare. We have to deal with the social aspects first, the political second. But God is in control.

 


Posted at 09:38 am by SGDBlog
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
My Hours as a Social Activist

Given the hysteria of the previous post, I should give you an update:

 

I have volunteered for the co-ordinating centre for refugee relief. There are at least 65 camps around Cape Town, some tents, some community halls. Some have 1200 people, others 60, giving a total of 20 000. These are the formal relief centres, not including private places.

 

20 000 times three meals, bedding and clothing. Most refugees have had their houses/shacks destroyed by mobs, or else cannot return to their houses for fear of violence. Many are pregnant, HIV positive, or old/infirm/blind. I have been fielding all the phone calls for the central hub, making sure that medical/logistical updates get through to the movers and shakers, so that everything is run smoothly.

 

It has been truly inspiring to see the humanitarian response, not from government, but from local/civic organizations, businesses and individuals. Some companies, you phone them up: We need 500 cell phone chargers. Done. No questions. 1000 blankets? Done. Doctors in one camp needed? Done. You name any need, and it has been responded to within one or two hours. Incredible.

 

One organization phoned up: How much money do we need? I confirmed with the boss: Me: We need, er, five million… ($900 000). Done. What!?!

 

I am so glad I have had an opportunity to see the good side of this, not just the depressing newspaper reports. The job is not over yet, it will take weeks to sort out repatriating many to their home countries, but fortunately the U.N. should be absorbing much of the relief within the next few days.

 

I think I love my country again…


Posted at 06:05 pm by SGDBlog
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Monday, May 26, 2008
Pride Goes Before Destruction...

It was very strange walking around central Cape Town this morning. For about the last ten years, the local population has been boosted by an influx of people from other African nations. Many have been driven here by endless civil wars, the threat of being pressganged into some rebel army, or murdered.

 

Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, DRC, Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Sudan, Somalia… the list is as long as the A-Z of Africa.

 

Some came here out of desperation: Who can live in Zimbabwe with no work, food or money? Some came here shrewdly recognizing South Africa as an economic hub of Sub-Saharan Africa. Many came legally, immigrating. Some, like my Rwandan friends, walked with young children through the lion-infested Kruger Park, and waded across the Limpopo river seething with crocodiles.

 

Of course, coming with nothing, many brought issues and problems. Yes, criminals came here too. So did the children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, having seen their families raped and butchered.

 

What excited me about the tapestry of nations that used to be here, was that they wore bright clothing, brought vigour to our country, the excitement of being in a land of opportunity. They changed the way our church looks and operates, and have opened our eyes to the fantastic places beyond our borders.

 

And we let them down. Mobs have threatened, beaten and chased them out of town, particularly in the informal areas where many were forced to live. Their neighbours hounded them out, looted their possessions. Africa is supposed to have ‘Ubuntu’, a spirit of community that stirs us to care for one another. Other nations housed our exiled leaders during Apartheid, and we have not served them the same way.

 

Today I saw long queues of refugees at the bus station, sitting with their belongings, desperate to leave. I saw empty businesses, abandoned with the self-protection that comes with being a visitor in a strange country. I saw fear on our friends’ faces. Despair. We have let them down.

 

How can a human rape another because they are from another country? Drop a concrete block on his head and burn him alive? How?

 

I am deeply ashamed of our country, which paraded Nobel Peace prizes, and bragged about our achievements.

 

I apologise. As one South African, one who has had wonderful friends from Liberia, Congo, DRC, Nigeria, Central African Republic. These are not just names to me, but relationships, and I mourn for every hope lost over the last two weeks.

 

Uxolo, brothers, uxolo.*

(peace)

God have mercy on our Nation once more.


Posted at 09:05 pm by SGDBlog
Comment (1)  

Sunday, May 25, 2008
Debugged

Remember the first time you were eating a red Smartie/M+M, and some cruel beast told you that the food colouring was made out of cochineal? They didn't say it like that, though. They leaned over slightly, and rasped into your face 'Enjoying your BEETLE BLOOD?' before making fake retching noises.

 

Some people used to pick out the red ones and save them for last, until they heard the beetle blood story.

 

Now, I can remind you that this is not quality journalism, just random nonsense, so I didn't contact (I want to say bug) the brand manager at the Nestle corporation for the truth. I am just assuming that they have opted for a synthetic/chemical option, as the volumes would mean having to annihilate whole farms of beetles just to make one batch.

 

My sources are Wiki, and my own shaky sense of reality. *although I did find this on the Nestle website...*

 

What gets me on to this is not a passion for beetles, although I do love ants in a platonic way, but the gagging of most adults over the cake I made for Jonah's party yesterday. Apparently, purple food colouring isn't slightly chemical in make-up, but is equal quantities of acid, bile and draino. It is under my fingernails, all over the kitchen in indelible (and inedible) patches.

 

Surgeon General here: You idiot! You ate something with a purple dinosaur on it! You deserve this- makes fake retching noises.

 

Frankly, I would have preferred a few beetles. Sigh.

 

 

 

 


Posted at 04:47 pm by SGDBlog
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Friday, May 23, 2008
Men Who Stare At Barney

I read a book recently. The author claimed, at one point, that US interrogation officers at one of the detention centres for Iraqis had locked them in shipping containers, and then played the Barney the Dinosaur theme tune on a loop. 'I love you, you love me, we are happy families…' For days on end.

 

No proof was found that it produced any usable intelligence. Particularly on the part of the interrogators, I may add.

 

Jonah has recently discovered Barney. I have nothing against the dopey magenta-coloured beast, but frankly his music is soft torture. When James was a baby, we had only a small black and white portable TV, and he was only occasionally allowed to watch Teletubbies if it happened to be on. He turned out ok, even if 'scholars' have supposedly found all sorts of deviant undertones in the TT's.

 

Hannah loves Barbie movies. Which are about as deep as the layer of grease on a sink after washing up. Lots of pink. That's ok, she only watches one maybe once a month.

 

But Jonah is addicted. Barney. And a National Geographic kids special on primates. (The Nat Geo kids versions don't have excessive animal mating/savanna porn on them, unlike the adult ones, which take about half a minute before some mating ritual is depicted.)

 

It is highly unlikely that he will be either a primatologist or a paleoanthropologist, so what good do these do for him?

 

He learns music- of the plodding, clapalong variety. He learns that adults can speak in idiotic sing-song voices. He learns values like Nobody ever gets randomly killed by illness or a speeding car in Barneyland.

 

Time to grow up, guys! I'll go right now and reserve Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and the Godfather trilogy. That'll learn them…

 

As a closing note: I went to see Iron Man this week. Pretty good! There was a debate about the pricing on some of my friends' US blogs. One guy paid $9.50. My ticket, on half-price Tuesday, was R22. Which converts to just less than three dollars. Pretty cool, eh? Anyone want to immigrate?


Posted at 02:58 pm by SGDBlog
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