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Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

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Journey–Part 1

22 Feb

This time two weeks ago I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I was bored out of my skull, having spent seven hours drifting aimlessly around the Internet and walking around the duty free shops looking at stuff I didn’t want and couldn’t afford to buy.

Eventually my flight left, and I arrived in South Africa early the following morning. The next ten days or so were a whirlwind of activity. I spent time with my mom and my brother, went out with people I haven’t seen for an inordinately long time, and said goodbye to my aunt as we laid her ashes to rest.

It is worth recording what I did during this trip, because I am not getting any younger and I do not want these memories to get lost in the busy-ness and noise of my regular day-to-day life.

2012-02-08 22.57.18

Thursday: I arrive in South Africa. My brother picks me up and feeds me non-airline food. It feels odd to drink a cup of coffee without air turbulence making it splash all over my face. I absently wonder whether pilots plan to hit turbulence right around the time coffee is being served. My mom picks me up from my brother’s place and takes me to the house that was home to me for many years. I meet the current instalment of dogs and cats, and have a glass of wine with my mom before going to bed and failing to sleep.

Friday: Today is a sad day. My mom and I go to the funeral home where we meet up with my aunt Mary and my cousins Alison and Ivan. We go in to pay respects to my aunt. Little do I know that the image of her bruised and damaged face will come to haunt me after a few days. She was so beautiful in life, and that is how I want to remember her. In the evening, my brother comes for dinner. He is working too hard, and he looks too stressed. We all relax together for the evening, the three of us. I feel the absence of my dad. I feel like he should be there with us. Maybe he is.

Saturday: My brother takes Mom and I out for the best cappuccino in town, and then Mom and I head back home because we’re expecting a visitor, Pieter. I have known him since I was about ten, when his late wife Tanya became friends with Mom. In the afternoon, my brother picks me up and we go out for a movie. After the movie we go to a rooftop bar to have a drink and chat. We have a great time. It has been far too long since we went out, just the two of us.

2012-02-12 07.16.16Sunday: I go for a trail run by the river. The altitude makes it tough, but I love the sunshine and the beauty, and I deem the run to be a success. When I get back, I go out for breakfast with Mom and my cousin Alison. Later in the day, my friend Wayne picks me up and we go for lunch. It is great to see him. I met him when I went to Israel twenty years ago and we have been firm friends ever since.

Monday: My birth father Ron takes me out for brunch. I saw him seven years ago at my dad’s funeral, but I have not had much contact with him since. We have a good time and a lovely chat. In the afternoon, two of Mom’s friends come over for tea. One of them I have known all my life; the other I am meeting for the first time. A good time is had by all.

Tuesday: I have a day with Mom today. The plan is to go to her hairdresser salon – run by her long-time friends Willie and Martinus – and then to go shopping. I am delighted to see them. They have been true friends to my mom for many years, and Willie cut my hair last time I was here seven years ago. Willie takes one look at me, and telling me that I’m far too young to be walking around with grey hair (God bless him), he makes an executive decision to colour my hair for me. Mom and I end up spending most of the afternoon there, talking, laughing, and getting our hair done. There is no time for shopping at the end of it, but we do stop on the way home to make sure we have wine. It’s all about priorities.

Continued on Friday…

10 Random Observations About South Africa

14 Feb

2012-02-08 23.47.42It is seven years since I’ve been in South Africa. The seven-year gap is, very sadly, bookended with deaths in the family. Amid the sadness on both occasions, there has been some happiness. I have seen old friends and family members, hung out with my mom’s dogs and cats, and gone running in the warm sunshine.

Change is inevitable, especially in a fledgling democracy with a developing economy, after a seven-year period. Some of my observations today are based on change, but some are simply things that I had forgotten or perhaps, not really appreciated in days gone by.

  1. Security guards are everywhere. In Canada, you see security guards in obvious places, like banks and government buildings. In South Africa, they were in evidence almost as soon as I had stepped off the plane. When I caught the Gautrain from the airport to one of the major centres, there were about six security guards, complete with Kevlar vests and firearms, standing along the platform.
  2. Prices have gone up. A lot. When I do the whole currency conversion thing, prices of, say, movies and restaurant meals are more or less in line with what you’d pay in Canada. Last time I was here, prices were very low by international standards.
  3. Johannesburg weather is the best. Warm sunshine, little humidity, awesome thunderstorms to provide afternoon entertainment on some days.
  4. In many ways, South Africa is a very capable performer on the international stage. I got my first taste of this during my flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg, which was run by South African Airways. SAA is as good – and in some ways better – than most other airlines I’ve flown with. When I got off the plane, I went through a very efficiently run passport control, collected my bag within a reasonable space of time, and took a very impressive and well-run rail link (the Gautrain) from the airport. Compare this to Toronto, where a rapid link between the airport and the city centre exists only in the hopeful imaginations of the public.
  5. Some South African services are struggling to catch up with acceptable standards. This is partly due to inefficiency, partly due to technology that lags a bit behind the rest of the world, and partly due to social problems like theft of copper cables that transmit electricity and telephone signals. Communities here are plagued by interruptions in telephone and hydro services, traffic lights that are out of order, and bus services that are suspended due to illegal strikes.
  6. South African people are, in general, very friendly. There’s a community-like atmosphere here, where people know each other and look out for each other. As I’ve gone with my mom to her grocery store, her pharmacy, and her hairdresser, I have seen her chat with the people who work at these places, people who have hugged her, offered her their condolences, and been genuinely concerned about her.
  7. The South African accent is very, very cool.
  8. South Africa is absolutely, heart-wrenchingly beautiful. I went running on Sunday along the river that runs in front of my mom’s house, and my breath was taken away by how lovely it all was.
  9. South African roads are, in general, in very good condition. There is no salt or snowploughs to gouge up the roads every winter.
  10. In many ways, South Africans have the same concerns as people who live in other parts of the world. The economy is taking a certain amount of punishment, people worry about their jobs and their mortgage payments, and the gas prices are too high. There are, of course, some concerns that are uniquely South African. But in general, it is clear that South Africans are a part of the melting pot of the international society.

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 2

12 Feb

2012-02-12 07.16.16This week of training has been dismal. That’s putting it mildly. News of my aunt’s very unexpected death threw me into a tailspin, and I was focused first on making arrangements for a very long journey, and then on actually making the journey itself. With all that has been going on, I have barely been able to run this week.

Monday

Today was a designated rest day. I felt good after yesterday’s 12K run. I thought about going for a short run this evening, but since I had to pack for my trip, I did not have the time.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a tempo run today, and I had every intention of doing so. But since (a) all of my running stuff was securely packed in my luggage, and (b) I had to get to work super-early so I could leave early, I was not able to run. I guess it was always wishful thinking. I am consoled by the fact that high anxiety has been burning up plenty of energy for the last week.

 

Wednesday

I spent the better part of today at Heathrow Airport. It’s not a situation conducive to exercise, although I did spend a lot of time walking around. It took almost 25 minutes just to walk from the main part of the terminal to the gate. Just as well, because I spent the next 12 hours stuck on a plane.

 

Thursday

I arrived in Johannesburg today. It was an exhausting trip, and although I didn’t go to sleep until bedtime, I did spend the day kind of slouched on a chair without the ability to move or form a coherent thought.

 

Friday

Today was my aunt’s visitation. An intensely emotional experience. After we paid our respects we assembled at my aunt’s house talking and sharing memories. Running was the very furthest thing from my mind today.

 

Saturday

Jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks today. My body clock kept telling me it was the middle of the night while the bright sunshine outside said the opposite. I lazed around in a semi-conscious state for most of the day before going to see a movie with my brother.

 

Sunday

Finally! I woke up this morning, put on my running clothes, and off I went. I didn’t really know what to expect, how far I was going, or even what route I was taking. About a kilometre down the road, I looked to my left and saw a nice little trail down by the river. It was fantastic. It was warm but not to hot, and the trail was challenging but manageable. I ended up doing 8km. This was far short of the distance I was supposed to do, but considering that I’m not used to trail running, and considering that I was running in an altitude almost 6000 feet above what I’m used to, I’m glad I managed to go that far.

 

Conclusion

This was a tough week, made so by circumstances. Although I did the best I could considering everything that was going on, I would not deem this to be a successful training week. I will definitely have to make up some ground when I return home. This week may be difficult as well, and any run that I can get in will be considered a bonus.

Airline Security For The Uninitiated

8 Feb

When I first flew to Canada almost twelve years ago, travel was relatively easy. You checked your bag and got your boarding pass from a pretty woman with a big smile and insanely white teeth, and then you headed over to the gate, where your carry-on bag went through an X-ray machine. As long as you didn’t have something in there that could bring down Fort Knox, you were good to go.

Even in the wake of 9/11, there wasn’t really anything to travelling. The same procedures were followed, albeit more thoroughly. Lineups were longer, more questions were asked, and from time to time, your stuff was checked for anthrax.

Now that I am in the midst of my first long-haul journey in seven years, I find that air travel is a whole different ballgame to what it used to be. All the rules have changed, and when I went through the security screening at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, I had no idea what to expect.

I had already quizzed one of my co-workers, a recent traveller, on the legalities of bringing a small tube of toothpaste onto the plane with me. For some reason I thought that if I knew the answer to that, I’d be home free.

But then I saw the guy in front of me sifting through his carry-on baggage, removing items and confidently putting them in plastic trays. He whipped off his jacket and put it into another tray. He and his belongings went through the various machines and off he went. And I was left standing there, wondering what I was supposed to be putting into the plastic trays.

I took out my sad tube of toothpaste in its Ziploc bag and put it into a tray, along with my phone and my laptop. And because I had seen the guy in front of me remove his jacket, I did the same.  I tentatively shoved all of my stuff onto the conveyer belt and wondered about my shoes.

Some people were removing their shoes and others weren’t. Everyone appeared to know as if by magic whether their footwear could stay on their feet. I had to expose myself as the no-longer-experienced traveller that I am and call out to a security guy, who assured me that my shoes looked fine and could stay on.

Although it took no longer than three minutes for me to pass through the security checkpoint, I found the whole process to be a little daunting. Then again, this entire trip is daunting when you consider the circumstances behind it.

At least when I passed through the checkpoint at Heathrow Airport, I kind of knew what I had to do. I even knew the exact pose to strike when the machine beeped at me as I walked through and I had to be searched.

I really hope they don’t change the rules again during my stay in South Africa. It would be a shame, now that I’m just starting to get the hang of it again.

Why I’m Not Wearing Mascara

7 Feb

“You look tired,” said my mother-in-law gently. “Why don’t you put a bit of makeup on you?”

She meant well – of course she did – but what she had way of knowing is that I never wear mascara to airports. Because no matter how I try to talk myself up as this brave, strong person, at airports I turn into a blubbery crybaby.

The plan this evening was that I would check in for my flight, and then spend time hanging out with my family. But we all knew, with George’s autism being what it is, that this might not happen. Even at relatively quiet times like this, airports are loud, busy places with lots of people and bright fluorescent lights. Airports are a recipe for sensory overload for a child with autism who’s already bewildered by the idea that his Mommy is going away.

And so I checked in, and then George tolerated a few minutes of looking at the planes before they had to go. I hugged my mother-in-law, and then clutched onto my children without wanting to ever let them go. A hug and kiss for my husband, and then they were off.

I stood in the middle of the wide terminal and watched them go. I didn’t move until long after they were out of sight. I savoured every glimpse of them that I could get, trying to get enough to last me for the next twelve days.

And then, just as my eyes were starting to overflow, I bolted into the Ladies Room and hid myself in a stall. When the flow of tears had subsided, I washed my face, surveyed my worn-out looking self in the mirror, and remembered just why it is that I never wear mascara to airports.

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 1

6 Feb

Monday

It’s a good thing each training week starts with a rest day, because there’s no way I would have been able to run today. I was struck down by a vicious stomach bug for all of yesterday and into today. The last time I felt this sick was when I had a listeria infection four years ago.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a 5km tempo run today, but could not manage it. For a start, I still wasn’t really well enough, and secondly, there was a crisis in the office that had me working through lunch. By the time I left for the day, I felt like throwing up again. So much for starting my training program with a bang.

 

Wednesday

I took running clothes to work with me today, and went to the gym at lunchtime. I still wasn’t feeling all that well, but I had no choice. Anxiety has been eating me alive this week, so I had a choice between running it off or letting my head implode. So I hopped on the treadmill and did a tempo run at the target pace. It went really well – better than I had expected – but I couldn’t manage the full 5km. I flaked out after about 4km. Considering how sick I’ve been, I felt OK about that.

Thursday

The run I had planned for today evaporated with the phone call I received in the early hours of the morning, informing me that my beloved aunt in South Africa had very unexpectedly died. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I was like the walking dead. I ended up staying home, as did my older son who was sick.

Friday

Despite my body screaming at me in protest, I got up early this morning and went out for a 6km run. It was perfect. It felt so good to be out there, running on the open road. I may have been sick earlier this week, but you’d never have known it today. I think my two-week lead-up to my training made a real difference.

Saturday

I thought of doing my scheduled Saturday run today, but chose not to. I don’t want to miss out on tomorrow’s long run, and since I ran yesterday, I’m worried about overdoing it this early in my program. Besides, I had tons to do. I am flying out to South Africa on Tuesday, and there’s a lot that needs to be done before I leave.

Sunday

I came this close to bailing on my long run early this morning. I started telling myself that I didn’t have to get up early – I could just go running later on. But I squashed that talk, laced up my shoes and headed out the door. And I am so glad I did. I ran 12km and enjoyed every single one of them. I wasn’t exactly a speed demon, but on these long runs, I’m not supposed to be. This was as perfect as a 12km run can possibly be.

Conclusion

My first week of training did not exactly go as planned. I missed one run and both of my strength training days. But considering all that was going on this week, I feel good about what I did accomplish. Finishing off the week on a high training note was fantastic, and I deem this week to be a success.

The next two weeks will be challenging because of my upcoming trip to South Africa. My friend and coach Phaedra assures me that because it’s so early in the program, this disruption will be easy to work around.

Now, it’s time for me to finish my packing. I will be taking my running gear with me across the Atlantic.