Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Unlikely Secret Agent

Last night I attended the launch of a new book by Ronnie Kasrils.  The book, about his wife Eleanors involvement in the struggle against apartheid in the early 60s.  At the time, she was working at Grigg's Bookstore in Durban so there was a harmony to having the book launch in the City, at Adams.

Ronnie Kasrils is a great speaker (he would have had experience in his years in the ANC and in his role as Minister for Intelligence Services in South Africa from 2004-8) and gave a warm introduction to the story with some cliffhanger moments.  It is a quick and enjoyable read - with a story balanced between its historical moment and a the action of the events as they unfold.   It was particularly interesting to hear how Ronnie and Eleanor revisited some of the sites together after they returned from exile and how more recently he had visited the house in Florida Rd (now a store) where the security police had come for Ronnie.

Ronnie Kasrils signing books at the launch

The event was well attended and much wine and guava juice was drunk.   Frost read Tintin and Wren napped in the office.  Later they played iPad.  Frost enjoyed the samosas and fruit juice.

Mr Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, Deputy Minister
for the International Relations and Cooperation
delivers an introduction.

During question time there was some discussion of the impending "information bill"  being discussed in parliament and why more ANC leadership had not spoken out against the 'censorship' of the media and media freedom.    Ronnie Kasrils said (among other things about the nature of government and the process of democracy) that he felt it was important that people speak with their government and say what they feel about the new law.  He remains hopeful that it will not be passed as it is now and, in the context of his new book, felt that his wife would have stood up for media freedom.

Me at the launch.
Wren now demands breakfast.  We shall be out of internet freedom for a few days at Leisure Bay from today.  I shall try and post from a cafe.  Imagine us at the coast with the monkeys.

Josh arrives Tomorrow Night Late!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Will I Ever Live in a Magazine?

You know how you walk into some homes and it feels as if Grown Ups Live Here, rather than People Like You who own children and have sentimental hoarding tendencies and still feel as if you are 27 and live on bread?

Well, in South Africa at age 43, I still feel as if my home in Seattle is a share house compared to the Realio Trulio pretty houses of some people around here.

For a start, I don't have any crystal, not even a decanter or a small chandelier.  I don't own a new couch

(we said we would wait till the children were bigger but since I only had the last child around age 40 it doesn't seem that I will get to sit in a new couch much before my 50th birthday).
The problem with the couches
There are two couches in our living room.  The one that is kind of textured in blue, red, purple and black, also has nails sticking out the front where the arm panels have been torn off by the cat using it for a scratching post.

It has a crevasse at the back into which once dropped a few Christmas Tree ornaments [I use the passive tense intentionally, since no-one has claimed responsibility and thus is was imagined to be me].  These shattered under the seats and now, if you stick your fingers in to retrieve lost hairbrushes, keys, remote controls and lego guys - you risk slicing your fingertips as I have done on a couple of occasions.

The other couch is cream.  We all find it very comfortable but lets face it, it had to be comfortable after being shaped by the unknown years of some family in Wallingford who discarded it on the sidewalk around the time I happened to drive past with a rental truck on a dump run to the transfer station.  Out went the construction debris and in came the dumped couch.

It was synchronicity.

The couch is also a bed (although we seldom convert it) and has holes through which the foam appears and lots of odd dark marks along the back and arms.  I cover these with exotic cloths which are always pushed out of place, along with the curiously mobile cushions.  I swear, I "refix" the sofa about 5 times a day after people sit on it.  It embodies the truth of entropy.

The Alternative
Sometimes, I just want to get the grownup interior design and let nature [aka family life] take its course.  I want to have a pair of white pants [Trina being the only girl I know who has a son and white pants]  so perhaps this is her way of saying "fuck it" and getting grown up on her own timetable.

Ingrid fanned the flames of this impulse when she took me to a local Interior Design and furnishing store near Gateway.  Here are a few "looks" that I imagined in our house ;)

Can you imagine two large white wooden
antelope heads on our coffee table?  What style!
What Elan!

These wooden... lumps... were really comforting
to sit on.  I could contemplate on a lump
of wood like this.
How splendid to have a Botswanan makororo
(dugout canoe) to rest your ... emptiness in.
I am sure there are enough left on the delta and we surely
lack emptiness.

What I liked here was that wooden bench and the corklike carpet
and the brown. Oh, the brown everwhere!  I love brown.
And the nude wood:
The Unfinished openness of it which says "it is alright to be incomplete
It is alright for your children to draw on me or put their lego bits
in me and leave crumbs of coconut in the pile of the carpet
(which probably can't be vacuumed)."


"It is all alright because if you have bought me you are rich enough to
get another one when the kids leave home."

I should have asked for a couch for my 40th.  I have unfinished business with interiors.  I should have stood for self-esteem and asked for crystal or at least the chance to paint a room exactly the color of my imagination, with a bit of faux zebra thrown in.

Anecdotes from the family frontlines

I know that all this scenery and nostalgia has been wearing a bit thin for some of you.   Today, I am going to offer a few little vignettes from the home front.

These may resonate for those of you who know my family.

Those who do not, pray wait until tomorrow for our return to the usual programming.

Dad and the Sock
We went out to dinner at Christine's.  She has fabulous taste and the energy to realize it as an interior design wonderland.  Her lovely home is full of beautiful ornaments and contrasts in texture:  crystal decanter's near pillows covered in dyed feathers, silver and soft wood, a bell-jar of bleached seashells and a peculiar cat with no ears.

Christine set a lovely table and made vegetarian lasagne served with fresh salad and a pinotage.  We were all enjoying our meal when Dad pulled a sports sock out of his pocket and blew his nose into it.   He returned the sock to his pocket.

I recognized this sock as one that Ms A. had worn to gym that afternoon and discarded on the bathroom floor.

When offered fresh tissues by Christine (the bathroom was mere feet away) he declined, saying "I don't see what is wrong using the sock, its going into the laundry anyway."

I tried to point out that his behavior was 'eccentric' at best.  How would it look if Christine pulled out Ingrids used gym sock and blew her nose on it and kept it for later?

Dad did not concede.

The worst of it was that when I came down to the kitchen at 4.45am to take David to the airport (he returned to CT this morning) THE SNORTED IN SOCK WAS ON THE KITCHEN COUNTER WHERE WE EAT BREAKFAST!

Ingrid and the Ginger
Dad was brought up by Christian Scientists and his state of health is notoriously hard to pin down.  When he last visited us in Seattle he had a raging fever and cough but kept saying he was just tired.

Well, ever since we arrived Ingrid has been "coming down with something" or has known that "Dad is coming down with something" or reminding me that Ms A has "had a persistant something - and I asked her to tell the Doctor she was exposed to TB."

Dad has said he is just fine but has had some long naps and finally said he is getting over [not being sick, really.]

It is enough to make me neurotic.

I think it is because of the peril of disease that Ingrid drinks ginger tea in copious amounts.  Every time I come into the kitchen I find flasks or teabags of ginger tea.  Sometimes the sink has chunks of boiled ginger sitting in it.  When I was feeling a bit weary one day and thought I might be coming down with The Something, I drank ginger tea and felt better.  Last night, Frost had a sore stomach and Ingrid gave him one of her TWO CUPS OF GINGER TEA sitting by her bed.

Frost found it too spicy.

Either Ingrid is very predisposed to respond to ginger tea, ginger tea is a wonderdrug or she just really likes ginger tea.

As it happens Ingrid is definitely a bit under the weather with something - I think she has caught Dad's cold - but oddly since she is obviously sneezing she says she is not really ill!

Dad is no longer feeling ill but Ingrid says he is chesty.  He is lying in bed with his eyes closed saying he is not sleeping but "thinking of his speech" for a book launch.

Curiouser and curiouser.  Makes me want some ginger tea.

Its bedtime.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The sound of rain on an electric fence

This morning, I took the kids on a walk to mail postcards.   It turned out to be the day that the the drought broke and it started to rain.   As we were walking home, Frost was singing a made up song that went something like this:

"I am having a great day,
I am walking along.
Its raining on my head
but I am never, never ever going to put
my ..... rain..... coat... on"

Along the way we heard an odd clicking noise that went like this:


A nice brick wall with an electric topper.
It appeared to be coming from an electric fence.

A woman was approaching the gate of the property so I asked her about it.

"Oh ja," she said.  "Its the sound of the rain shorting out the electric fence."

It appears that electric fences are the mattress-toppers of the Durban-North scene.  You get a double-plus, memory-foam, king-size wall and then you top it with a whole washing line of electric do-dah.  These doo-dahs kill doves at a fair rate.  Perhaps because doves are common and stupid and settle on things.


Frost says that Durban is fun but can be a bit stressful because, as well as the electric fences,  crossing the road doesn't work very well ...

(South Africa is reputed to have one of the highest pedestrian motor-vehicle mortality rates in the world, being an increasingly "motorized" country with an unmotorized culture).  

Despite traffic signs, we have to dash across quite fast and cars often shoot along at high speed.

On our 90 minute walk to and from the shops we did not see any other caucasians walking.  They were all in the cars.  We met lots of other black-african walkers, similarly dashing across streets.  Wren said we had to play "follow the leader" to see how to cross.

Frost also finds the dogs stressful.   Wren and Frost call the dogs barking behind gates "I'M ON GUARD"'s.   They are not normal dogs as we know them in Seattle.  They clearly have a different function beyond family pet.  I mean, how many Rotweilers, rhodesian ridgebacks and german shepherds potter around our friends' houses?
You can also put them on
plaster walls.

Frost and Wren also noticed that there are many flattened animals on the road.  Wren is thrilled by "pancake" frogs while Frost has seen a few birds and perhaps a rat.

The boys debated the correct simile:
"Cooked flat as a pancake"
"Fried flat like a pancake" and
"Squashed flat as a pancake" were all considered.

It is hot on the road so the animals do take on a rather dried, mummified look that is not familiar on Seattle roads!

Some places take their security VERY seriously.
We enjoyed mailing our postcards and having pastries at the local coffee shop.  We are going to eat our challah for lunch and then go to Windemere Center in search of Warhammer base paint.


The Durban Country Club is laying new greens on the golf course so the course is closed.  This gave Dad and I the opportunity to do a bit of bird watching along the side of the greens, and for Wren to practice putting in an area that would usually be very busy on a Sunday morning.

It was a lucky outing.

There's a dwarf bittern or juvenile green heron in here.
It thinks its hiding.
Down by the pond under a big leafed tree, we saw a dwarf bittern or juvenile green heron.  We saw it many times - it flew into the reeds, then up to a tree, then reperched itself.  Despite the notoriously short range of the Lumix zoom, I was able to get this passable shot of the bittern.  A dwarf bittern is a secretive and tricky bird.  Dad says that it is not terribly rare but he has only seen one about 6 times in his life.   However, a green heron is more common but also sneaky.  I shall post a super enlarged one below to see if Mum has any opinion on this discussion.

Green heron (j) or Dwarf bittern? 

This is the reflection of leaves in the pond
We also saw some more wooly necked storks, natal robins, sacred ibis, yellow-billed kite, fork-tailed dronga, masked weavers, cisticola, amethyst sunbird and various other small yellow birds Dad calls "canaries".  All this was without binoculars.

There are a startling number of "canaries" in Durban - more than I remembered.  Every time I see a new exciting yellow bird on the ground Dad says "probably canaries".   I am not sure whether Dad is correct or merely lazy with their identification.   They are the new version of the LBB (little brown bugger) - my LYCPC (little yellow critter probably canary).

There was one particular little yellow bird which had a red blush under its chin which I am still trying to identify.  The female was more buff and it was the size of a weaver.  I am guessing (without binoculars) that it was a Cape Weaver.

I also took a picture of a lovely pattern of leaves in the pond.  I was thinking of printing a few larger versions of it to hang on the wall.   I thought Jen would appreciation my meditation in taupe.

Wren enjoyed the outing with us... especially the putting on the practice golf T.  We found some lost balls in the shrubbery and Wren decreed that the florescent yellow ball was The Winners Ball.   Frost remained at home because he said "this one day I am feeling less than half of 1000%.  I am just TIRED!"

Wren sitting in an Erythrina
sucking a nice sour bush plum


This morning Wren saw vervet monkeys for the first time.   They were running along and climbing through the brush at the side of the Country Club golf course.

At first we saw only a few large guard monkeys but once we went into the Country Club we saw large ones and mothers and lots of younger monkeys.

Young monkey running along the wire.
Blue balled monkey showing me his bottom.
The small monkeys had trouble with running along power lines and kept falling off and hanging on with their tales under the wire.  The larger ones liked to show me their bright blue testicles and red bottoms.  

It was lovely to see them so close although local runners couldn't understand why we were taking pictures of monkeys.

The monkeys were just across the road from the World Cup Soccer Stadium - Moses Mbeda Soccer Stadium.  There is a ride you can take across the peak of the stadium but we are waiting for Joshua to join us for that outing.

More later on birds spotted and a visit to Aunt Helen.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I need a day off from holiday

I am tired.   Being away from home also means being unable to really escape and lock the front door.   Everything is really nice but this afternoon, after eating a few pieces of Lindt Chilli-chocolate in bed, I suddenly felt ill and depleted.  I took some ginger tea and milk-thistle tonic and had a hot bath and felt better.  But I need a day without a major physical activity.  A time to retreat and watch TV.

This time, Ingrid watched the kids while Dad took David and I on one of his routes.  There was no wind and lovely crisp sunshine.  All the monkeys were out on the ground - we saw some troops of almost 50 vervet monkeys rushing from the ploughed cane fields to the treeline when they saw us approach, some carrying pieces of cane.  They were particularly angry with The Dog (Charlie) and made ferocious barking chortles at him from the safety of the canopy.  Unfortunately I was unable to get close enough for a decent shot.

Dad vanishes down a road towards the river.
The route took us along the river behind the old homestead of Sir Marshall Campbell who once owned the sugar estate and along the river until it crossed the North Coast Road.   At the intersection we saw groups of women from the nearby squatter camp washing their laundry in the river and hanging their blankets out to dry on the embankment.  The squatter camp has been reduced since I was here last but there are still many established homes and piles of litter nearby.
Washing day under the highway.

We also noticed a security guard posted to watch some huge sections of pipe that had been assembled by the road works.  I can imagine the pipes (about 5 feet in diameter) would make a good shelter in the rain.

The Bad Biting Dog
Dad has been making a lot of effort to socialize the dogs and we have not had another biting incident.  That said, we are careful to keep the kids away from unsupervised contact with them, especially Charlie.  Wren had a chance to feed the dogs today and I also had some time with Charlie, without snapping.

Charlie at the river.
He was very happy to come out of the house and join us on the run through the cane - especially chasing monkeys.  I was relieved he had had his rabies vaccination although Dad assures me that there is no way the could catch a monkey and if he did the other monkeys in the troup would jump on him and attack him until he released it.

The ride itself was a mix of easy riding along the river and an extremely long and strenuous climb up to the ridge.  David reached the top first, followed by me and then Dad (who has a bit of a cold and is feeling under the weather but denying it because That Is His Way.)    Anyway ...

I kept thinking how much Frost would enjoy the ride and that, but for the tricky patches of fine deep red sand which bog your tyres and make the bike unsteady, it was an easy ride.

Me:  Call Charlie!  MONKEYS!!   He will catch a monkey!
Dad:  Oh, another monkey.  He hasn't a chance of catching one.
As we descended from the ridge we passed the cane laborers accommodation - small square red-brick huts on a terraced red sand hill.  We could hear monkeys shouting from the trees on the one side of the valley and roosters crowing from behind the huts.  In the cane, men in blue overalls and long black galoshes carried plastic bags.  David considered our safety at various points and said it is "important to keep an eye out."

Dad pushing up a very sandy patch of hillside.
We saw a few birds, fewer than I expected, but Dad was excited to see a yellow billed kite, least I think that was what it was, newly returned from the winter away from the region.    Looking across the reeds we saw only a few weavers.   The most excitement (beside the hundreds of monkeys) was David seeing a duiker escaping through the brush below the road.

Below the Campbell House looking for birds

Frost in sloth
Frost has been pretty languid and still prefers to stay at home unless a particularly child-enticing outing is planned.  He is building many warhammer guys (although we have yet to locate a shop selling the spray paint needed for the undercoat) and Orion has been letting him watch TV shows of questionable suitability on the laptop.  Orion and David's room seems to be the boys' den where TV on computer is watched, music is played and sleep occurs at all hours of the day.  Frost wants to be one of the guys and hangs out there when he can.

Tomorrow, I hope to take him for a ride and get him out a bit more.  We are also planning to do some math practice (ahem) which has not happened since we arrived.

The Ohlanga River - meaning "reeds" in the Zulu language.
Umhlanga is named as the place of these reeds.