Tag Archives: south africa

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.

Emergence Of A Rainbow Generation

3 Nov

On a hot day in February 1990, I stood still, waiting for history to happen. It was the middle of a South African summer; I had just started my final year at the University of Cape Town, and it seemed as if the entire student body – no, make that the entire population of the Western Cape – had turned out. I was going through a lot of difficulty in my life at that time, but wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from this.

Finally, it happened: the event everyone had been waiting for. A well-known and much-loved figure appeared and waved at the crowd, which was going nuts with excitement. Tears of emotion flowed all around me and within me as this great man stood before us. It was official. Nelson Mandela, the icon of freedom in South Africa, was a free man.

During my childhood years in South Africa, I was a little afraid of black people. This is hardly surprising when you consider the draconian laws that were in effect at the time. Black people and white people were completely segregated. They were required by law to live in different neighbourhoods, they could not attend the same schools or churches, and they could not use the same public facilities. In many cases, they could not even enter stores through the same doors. When I was a child, my exposure to black people was limited to the gardener and the cleaning lady.

My parents, and the parents of my peers, did their best. They themselves had been raised to distrust people different from themselves. Fortunately for me and my contemporaries, common sense and basic human dignity had prevailed, so the generation above me had gone against their own upbringings and taught us to treat everyone with respect, no matter what colour their skin was.

And yet, it has to be remembered that our parents were trying to raise non-discriminatory kids in a society that legally mandated racism.  We couldn’t have playdates with black people. If you looked at the student body during school assemblies, you would have seen a sea of white faces. We never shared grocery store line-ups with black people; we didn’t even pass them on the street.

How could a generation of kids learn how to interact in a positive way with a group of people they were never exposed to? It is no wonder that despite the eventual dismantling of the Apartheid regime, race relations in South Africa remain troubled. People are still learning how to get along after generations of having been told that they were not allowed to.

My two kids are having a childhood that contrasts sharply with my own. They have never known an existence of discrimination. They interact freely with kids from all backgrounds, regardless of ethnic origin. To them, people are just people. A telling example of this happened almost two years ago, when my younger son’s Kindergarten teacher unexpectedly died and a new teacher was brought in. When I asked my son what the new teacher looked like, he said she was absolutely beautiful. She had long black hair, and a big smile, and big brown eyes. It is perhaps a damning indictment to my own upbringing that I was surprised, when I finally met the teacher, to see that she was black. My son had not once mentioned this in his lengthy description of her. He had not even noticed her skin colour.

My kids are growing up in a world that sadly still experiences some racism. But so far, they themselves have not shown any signs of discrimination. If that ever happens, it will be nipped in the bud immediately. My dream is for my kids to grow up respecting everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from.

As Scout says in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, “There’s only one kind of folks. Folks.”

The Running Man – continuing the legacy

6 Dec

Six years ago today, my Dad died.  Dad had been many things to many people.  He was many things to me – in addition to being my Dad, he was friend, financial advisor, giver of wise advice, and provider of corny but very, very funny jokes.  He was also my unofficial running coach.

Dad grew up in a small town in South Africa.  In his early years, he was raised by his mother while his father fought in World War II.  The war split the family apart; my grandparents divorced, and although my grandmother remarried, the new union did not create financial stability.  Dad and his siblings were fed and sheltered, but there was only money for the bare necessities; certainly no luxuries.  His childhood was probably typical of the late war and immediate post-war years.

Dad did well in school, academically outperforming most of his peers.  There was no money for university, so he had to get his education in the School of Hard Knocks.  At some point in his youth, possibly when he was fresh out of school and newly employed at the bottom of the totem pole, he joined an athletic club.  He was physically fit out of necessity, having had a childhood where he had to walk or bike everywhere.   He started entering races, running longer and longer distances.  And he started winning.

In the days before there were heart rate monitors, motion control shoes, and online training programs, Dad made an impact on the South African running scene, distinguishing himself as one of the elites of his generation.  I have a folder full of newspaper clippings featuring his victories, and my Mom’s display cabinet at home contains medals and trophies.

Dad never tried to push me into running – far from it.  In my school days, I was hardly a poster child for athleticism.  But still, the sport of running always held a fascination for me.  Every year starting from when I was twelve or thirteen, there was one particular day when Dad and I would get up before six in the morning and spend the entire day riveted to the TV.  That was the day of the annual Comrades Marathon, South Africa’s premier ultramarathon.   It is the world’s oldest ultramarathon and draws more registrants than any other event of its kind.  Dad and I would watch the start, we would be watching when the first runners completed the 55 mile race about five and a half hours later, and we would still be watching when the final gun went off signalling the end of the eleven hours that runners were allowed to complete the race in.  Most years, Mom would be in the kitchen baking cookies.  She said it was the one day of the year when she could any baking done without the entire family getting under her feet.

I made my own personal acquaintance with running when I was 26.  I had decided to give up my ten-year smoking habit, and was preparing by taking on healthy lifestyle habits.  My first runs weren’t really runs.  They were walks with the occasional burst of running here and there.  But soon, with Dad’s help, I was following a program of walking and running that slowly but surely built me up.  Before I knew it, I was running and walking in equal proportions, and soon after that, the running overtook the walking.

I did not run my first race until I was 30, and that year, I did a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon.  Out of all of these races, the one that is by far the most special to me is the 10K.  Sure, the half-marathon was a tremendous accomplishment, and as soon as it was over, I was on the phone to my Dad in South Africa, telling him all about it.  Earlier that year, however, Mom and Dad had been over to Canada on a visit, and they were there with me when I ran my first 10K race.  It is the only race that Dad was physically present at, where I crossed the finish line and saw him on the other side.

During those years of running, Dad gave me countless pieces of advice.  He coached and mentored me.  He told me what I doing right and where I was going wrong.  He was thrilled to have a receptive audience for his running-related wisdom.

By the time I started running again after my seven-year gap, Dad was gone.  But his words lived on in my head, and when I find myself hitting a rough spot either in a training run or a race, I say to myself, “What would Dad do?”  I draw on his advice time and time again – advice about everything from nutrition to shoes to running form and pacing.

Every time I run, I think of Dad.  Sometimes, when my energy starts to flag, I feel a sudden burst of energy, as if something unseen is lifting me up and helping me soar.  And so the legacy of the Running Man in my life lives on.  I am proud that I can call myself his daughter.