30 July 2016

Sleeping Outside for Homelessness

About two or three weeks ago I got called into my school's deputy principle's office. Upon hearing his request to see me, every action which I have taken or committed  over the past five years of my high school career quickly flurried in and out of my mind. One might say that I'm a bit of a 'goody two shoes' hence being called into the office of the second-in-command outright petrified me.
Turns out, I was called in for my squeaky clean image. The school wanted me to represent them at a local charity event which has turned out to be life changing.

The CEO sleepout was created back in 2006, in Parramatta, Sydney. Nine years later, in 2015, the concept traveled across the Southern Ocean to South Africa. Last year's inaugural event extended as far as some of South Africa's top CEOs sleeping on the Nelson Mandela bridge in the middle of town called. This year, the event went beyond the top heads of companies and included as many as 65 schools sleeping outside for the night to raise awareness and create empathy for homelessness.

Myself and my fellow classmates arrived at the field which was to be our home for the night. We had previously gathered cardboard boxes to shield us from the elements- mainly temperatures of -2 degrees Celsius (20,3 degrees Farenheit). We lay down our cardboard in hopes of creating a shield between our sleeping bags and the soon to-be freezing grassy ground. We strategically set up camp beside a fire which roared like a lion. With base camp set up, we started to play our first 'ice-breaker' challenge with the other schools- which was appropriate in two ways: it broke the 'ice' between other people and broke our thoughts away from the inhospitable cooling weather.

One of the schools at the sleep out was a school for deaf students. They had printed out the alphabet with its matching sign to teach us. I spent a large part off my night learning sign language. I can officially introduce myself and say that I like to swim- which is all I really need to know, right? This experience was incredible for me. It was filled with such compassion, patience and humour. Firstly, it was incredible to be denied my voice, a tool which I have always known as being essential in social interaction. It was incredible, in a short amount of time, to need to develop a whole new set of skills to communicate with people. I lost my physical voice and these students  had lost their sense of hearing, but here we were, both denied a sense, yet communicating through the movement of our ten digits. From the whole night,  this moment really shines out for me; I was losing my voice and giving these marginalized students theirs. Somewhere between the letters A-Z I made friends. We bonded over my inability to sign particular letters like k and p and incapability to recall the whole alphabet about 30 seconds after I was taught it.

The most important part of the night came at 01:00. I bundled up with every layer of clothing I could manage to wear: After 5 layers on top, two pairs of tights, woolly pajamas pants and tracksuit pants on my legs, three layers of socks and my running shoes protecting my feet, I jumped into my sleeping bag. The first hour or so went well. I made a jersey into a makeshift pillow which I rolled under my head and slept like a Princess. This was short lived. By 2:30 or 03:00, I felt the cold nibbling at my toes and slowly scheming its was through my entire body- my beanie, ear muff, balaclava and gloves left me defenseless to this kind of cold. After as much rationale deliberation which one can manage under these circumstances, I 'sack-hopped' to the nearest fire place in hopes of propelling some of my kinetic energy into thermal energy and leeching upon the simmering embers from the orange and red flame like a pathogen leeching off its host.

I slept inside a sleeping bag with possibly five layers of clothing (which still was not enough), with a full stomach and I still lay mercilessly at the hands of the climax of South Africa's winter. I woke up with an aching back and an unusual grumpiness that I can only correlate to not getting a good night's sleep. Thousands of individuals, in South Africa, and globally do what I did for one night, everyday. These individuals do not have sleeping bags, five thermal layers and a full stomach. I took two naps the day after due to my inability to function. A sustainable society cannot be created when people are victims of these conditions. That night was an adventure for myself and my friends. It is a reality for thousands of others.

I drove around my city the day after-in between the naps- with a desire to pour out the content of my cupboards and give everything away. I saw a lady and her daughter begging on the side of the road and thought about the blue, polka-dotted pajamas I could give her. I saw a man holding a plastic bag collecting people's trash, and I thought about the streaky blue and green scarf which lays dormant in my cupboard 365 days a year but would mean the world to him.

I suggest this experience to everyone. Get a couple of friends together- or do it on your own: In the climax of your winter, grab a piece of cardboard and lay it on the ground, lay a sleeping bag on top and clad yourself in as many layers as you possibly can and then attempt to sleep outside. You will go to sleep that night wearing more than homeless people wear and it still will not have been enough. I always realized that homeless people slept on the streets but I wrongly thought I understood it. It is only when we submerge ourselves into someone else's circumstances that we truly understand someone. I have gained empathy, an insight and an understanding into the plight of thousands in my city, in my nation and in my world which is an understanding I hope shapes and moulds my values and outlook towards homeless people- and I hope changes yours too, if you wish to rise to this challenge.

I got into bed the night after rising to this challenge and I already noticed a difference in my behavior. I thoughtfully slid into my warm covers and carefully pulled the blanket up to to my ears. I completed these actions with a sense of cognizance which previously had not been there- I was appreciating the comfortable bed, raised above the ground which provided me warmth and comfort on that night and n so many nights before. I lay there, appreciative of the four walls which encompassed me from the cold. When I turned over to say my nightly prayer, I no longer only asked for the protection of my friends, family and those who I know, but pleaded for goodness towards those suffering on the streets. It changed me.


23 July 2016

A 'Feel-Good' Story

This week's post shares to themes with last week's post: acting upon random thoughts...and boxes. I first read the story that follows about a year or so ago. Today, when I was in the shower, as one does, the story bubbled back into my head. I think it is an incredibly well-written and an unquestionably astounding narrative. I personally love the style in which this story was written. Hence, the following story acts upon my random thoughts and the narrator's discovery in a box.

The passage is a 9 minute read, but, in all my biased manners, I truly think it's a story worth reading. But, I'll stop blabbering-on now and let you decide for yourself:

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But only when this particular week is the next week.
We are never ready. It is never the right time. By the time it comes, you will not have done all the things that we wanted to. The end always comes as a surprise, and it’s a tearful moment for widows and a bore for the children who don’t really understand what a funeral is (thank God).
It was no different with my father. In fact, his death was even more unexpected. He was gone at age 27. The same age that claimed the lives of several famous musicians. He was young. Way too young. My father was not a musician and neither a famous person. Cancer doesn’t pick its victims. He was gone when I was young, and I learned what a funeral was because of him. I was 8 and half, old enough to miss him for a lifetime. Had he died before, I wouldn’t have memories. I would feel no pain. But I wouldn’t have a father in my life. And I had a father.
I had a father who was both firm and fun. Someone who would tell a joke before grounding me. That way, I wouldn’t feel so bad. Someone who kissed me on the forehead before I went to sleep. A habit which I passed on to my children. Someone who forced me to support the same football team he supported, and who explained things better than my mother. Do you know what I mean? A father like that is someone to be missed.
He never told me he was going to die. Even when he was lying on a hospital bed with tubes all over him, he didn’t say a word. My father made plans for the next year even though he knew he wouldn’t be around in the next month. Next year, we would go fishing, we would travel, we would visit places we’ve never been. Next year would be an amazing year. We lived the same dream.
I believe — actually I’m sure — he thought this should bring luck. He was a superstitious man. Thinking about the future was the way he found to keep hope alive. The bastard made me laugh until the very end. He knew about it. He didn’t tell me. He didn’t see me crying.
And suddenly, the next year was over before it even started.
My mother picked me up at school and we went to the hospital. The doctor told the news with all the sensitivity that doctors lose over the years. My mother cried. She did have a tiny bit of hope. As I said before, everyone does. I felt the blow. What does it mean? Wasn’t it just a regular disease, the kind of disease doctors heal with a shot? I hated you, dad. I felt betrayed. I screamed with anger in the hospital, until I realized my father was not around to ground me. I cried.
Then, my father was once again a father to me. With a shoebox under her arm, a nurse came by to comfort me. The box was full of sealed envelopes, with sentences where the address should be. I couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. The nurse then handed me a letter. The only letter that was out of the box.
“Your dad asked me to give you this letter. He spent the whole week writing these, and he wants you read it. Be strong.” the nurse said, holding me.
The envelope read WHEN I’M GONE. I opened it.
If you’re reading this, I’m dead. I’m sorry. I knew I was going to die.
I didn’t want to tell you what was going to happen, I didn’t want to see you crying. Well, it looks like I’ve made it. I think that a man who’s about to die has the right to act a little bit selfish.
Well, as you can see, I still have a lot to teach you. After all, you don’t know crap about anything. So I wrote these letters for you. You must not open them before the right moment, OK? This is our deal.
I love you. Take care of your mom. You’re the man of the house now.
Love, dad.
PS: I didn’t write letters to your mom. She’s got my car.
He made me stop crying with his bad handwriting. Printing was not easy back then. His ugly writing, which I barely understood, made me feel calm. It made me smile. That’s how my father did things. Like the joke before the grounding.
That box became the most important thing in the world for me. I told my mother not to open it. Those letters were mine and no one else could read them. I knew all the life moments written on the envelopes by heart. But it took a while for these moments to happen. And I forgot about it.
Seven years later, after we moved to a new place, I had no idea where I put the box. I couldn’t remember it. And when we don’t remember something, we usually don’t care about it. If something goes lost in your memory, It doesn’t mean you lost it. It simply doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like change in the pockets of your trousers.
And so it happened. My teenage years and my mother’s new boyfriend triggered what my father had anticipated a long time before. My mother had several boyfriends, and I always understood it. She never married again. I don’t know why, but I like to believe that my father had been the love of her life. This boyfriend, however, was worthless. I thought she was humiliating herself by dating him. He had no respect for her. She deserved something a lot better than a guy she met at a bar.
I still remember the slap she gave me after I pronounced the word “bar”. I’ll admit that I deserved it. I learned that over the years. At the time, when my skin was still burning from the slap, I remembered the box and the letters. I remembered a specific letter, which read “WHEN YOU HAVE THE WORST FIGHT EVER WITH YOUR MOM”.
I ransacked my bedroom looking for it, which earned me another slap in the face. I found the box inside a suitcase lying on top of the wardrobe. The limbo. I looked through the letters, and realized that I had forgotten to open WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR FIRST KISS. I hated myself for doing that, and I decided that would be the next letter I’d open. WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY came right next in the pack, a letter I was hoping to open really soon. Eventually I found what I was looking for.
Now apologize to her.
I don’t know why you’re fighting and I don’t know who’s right. But I know your mother. So a humble apology is the best way to get over this. I’m talking about a down-on-your-knees apology.
She’s your mother, kid. She loves you more than anything in this world. Do you know that she went through natural birth because someone told her that it would be the best for you? Have you ever seen a woman giving birth? Do you need a bigger proof of love than that?
Apologize. She’ll forgive you.
Love, dad.
My father was not a great writer, he was just a bank clerk. But his words had a great impact on me. They were words that carried more wisdom than all of my 14 years of age at the time. (That wasn’t very hard to achieve, though).
I rushed to my mother’s room and opened the door. I was crying when she turned her head to look me in the eyes. She was also crying. I don’t remember what she yelled at me. Probably something like “What do you want?” What I do remember is that I walked towards her holding the letter my father wrote. I held her in my arms, while my hands crumpled the old paper. She hugged me, and we both stood in silence.
My father’s letter made her laugh a few minutes later. We made peace and talked a little about him. She told me about some of his most eccentric habits, such as eating salami with strawberries. Somehow, I felt he was sitting right next to us. Me, my mother and a piece of my father, a piece he left for us, on a piece of paper. It felt good.
It didn’t take long before I read WHEN YOU LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY
Congratulations, son.
Don’t worry, it gets better with time. It always sucks the first time. Mine happened with an ugly woman…who was also a prostitute.
My biggest fear is that you’d ask your mother what virginity is after reading what’s on the letter. Or even worse, reading what I just wrote without knowing what jerking off is (you know what it is, right?). But that’s none of my business.
Love, dad.
My father followed me through my entire life. He was with me, even though he was not near me. His words did what no one else could: they gave me strength to overcome countless challenging moments in my life. He would always find a way to put a smile on my face when things looked grim, or clear my mind during those angry moments.
WHEN YOU GET MARRIED made me feel very emotional. But not so much as WHEN YOU BECOME A FATHER.
Now you’ll understand what real love is, son. You’ll realize how much you love her, but real love is something you’ll feel for this little thing over there. I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. I’m just a corpse, I’m not a fortune teller.
Have fun. It’s a great thing. Time is gonna fly now, so make sure you’ll be around. Never miss a moment, they never come back. Change diapers, bathe the baby, be a role model to this child. I think you have what it takes to be an amazing father, just like me.
The most painful letter I read in my entire life was also the shortest letter my father wrote. While he wrote those four words, I believe he suffered just as much as I did living through that moment. It took a while, but eventually I had to open WHEN YOUR MOTHER IS GONE.
She is mine now.
A joke. A sad clown hiding his sadness with a smile on his makeup. It was the only letter that didn’t make me smile, but I could see the reason.
I always kept the deal I had made with my father. I never read letters before their time. With the exception of WHEN YOU REALIZE YOU’RE GAY. Since I never thought I’d have to open this one, I decided to read it. It was one of the funniest letters, by the way.
What can I say? I’m glad I’m dead.
Now, all joking aside, being half-dead made me realize that we care too much about things that don’t matter much. Do you think that changes anything, son?
Don’t be silly. Be happy.
I would always wait for the next moment, the next letter. The next lesson my father would teach me. It’s amazing what a 27 year old man can teach to an 85 year old senior like me.
Now that I am lying on a hospital bed, with tubes in my nose and my throat thanks to this damn cancer, I run my fingers on the faded paper of the only letter I didn’t open. The sentence WHEN YOUR TIME COMES is barely visible on the envelope.
I don’t want to open it. I’m scared. I don’t want to believe that my time is near. It’s a matter of hope, you know? No one believes they’re gonna die.
I take a deep breath, opening the envelope.
Hello, son. I hope you’re an old man now.
You know, this letter was the easiest to write, and the first I wrote. It was the letter that set me free from the pain of losing you. I think your mind becomes clearer when you’re this close to the end. It’s easier to talk about it.
In my last days here I thought about the life I had. I had a brief life, but a very happy one. I was your father and the husband of your mother. What else could I ask for? It gave me peace of mind. Now you do the same.
My advice for you: you don’t have to be afraid
PS: I miss you
(Written by Rafael Zoehler, 2015)
This story, at some point of originally reading it, indented its words into the neural pathways of my brain because of the fact that the father could be apart of his son's life without being there; The letters accompany the boy throughout different stages of his life and pass on advice that his father would have given, had he been there which evokes a sense of sadness, but simultaneously joy,in me, as the son didn't lose his father, fully, in death, although he lost his dad physically.Also, I think the father gives advice which I personally can relate to, specifically one of the last lines with "...don't be afraid".
There are a lot of lessons which one can learn from this narrative and each person will take something different from it. Or not, and that's okay too.
I hope this has evoked something within you, and possible changed you- as it did me.
Till next time-


16 July 2016

A Peek Into My Past

Lately, I've had some trouble falling asleep- not every night, and not all the time, but, during exam time, my thoughts are over-active and the night does nothing to shut my eyes. 
Hence, a couple of nights ago my thoughts wondered to a box I once had as a little girl. I had almost completely forgotten about this box, or so I had thought until my insomniatic thoughts brought it back to me.

When I was a little girl, I put all my favourite possessions into a Blackberry cellphone box, and this is its content:

I opened the small, white cardboard box and gently picked out my memories from over a decade ago:

1) My parents came home one day from an exhibition once with these cotton-wool, cylindrical-shaped objects. I marveled at the thought that if I placed these objects in water, they would 'grow' and become cloths. Hence, that's exactly what I did. I though these were the most spectacular 'wet-wipes' in the world.

2) I was on holiday in Greece, about 7 or so years ago when I meandered into a stationary shop. I found this eraser in a store. I had never seen an eraser which was not-white and not plain. This was awe-inspiring to me. I remember not wanting to use it because I was afraid it would ruin it.

3) This box was apart of a gift from a friend, in Fourth grade. I don't remember what had been in the box, but I thought the fusion of pinks and yellows was beautiful- and to this day, I agree.

4) One Sunday, my parents took us to a property with mounds of sand as high as Mount Everest (to a six year old). My siblings and I spent the day scouring these mounds. I came across this stone which glistened in a way I had never seen a stone sparkle before. I ran to my dad and he explained in the way a Biomedical Engineer would explain the process of crystal formation to an eight year old. I had truly believed that I had 'struck gold'...eh...I mean crystals.

5) I went on a family holiday to Durban where I found these stones. I think at the time, I had found them wet. Hence, in order to recreate them to the standard which I had first discovered them I needed some saliva.
I marveled at the beauty of the conglomeration of orange and the red, and then the granite-like form of the brown stone whilst the regular white line across another stone separated the grainy pink and off-white colours perfectly. The last stone reminded me of a shoe, and hence made it into Steph's Box of Memories.

6) South Africa has numerous crocodile farms across the country, where one is ale to witness the large reptiles feeding, or giving birth. These farms also provide visitors with information about the large animals. Did you know, that crocodiles have up to 8 sets of teeth- talk about in with the new and out with the old! So, at one crocodile farm, I asked for a tooth...and I got one.

7) I don't remember the exact moment I found this shell, but I vaguely recall it being on one of the main beaches in Durban, the South part of South Africa. I was captured (and still am) by the intricacy of the spiral and undulating forms on the back.

8) This shell was also found in Durban more than half  a decade ago. I was in awe at the contrast between the white and the rich brown colour. I also think that the geometric pattern on the shell is beautiful.

9) This was probably the most recent addition to the box of memories- although these coins were added in five years ago. The two R5 coins have Nelson Mandela's face on them and are limited edition coins which circulated to commemorate a historical occasion in South Africa. I saved these coins because I felt that a coin with Mandela's face on it ( which is not on any of our bank money) would be important historically. In truth, I have no idea how many of these coins were made, but I appreciate that they say something about South Africa's history.

It was lovely ( and nostalgic), meandering through my favourite items- some from a decade ago- and recalling what they are and what they meant to me when I first placed  them into this box- and what they mean to me now.
For now, they're all back in their boxes... where they'll probably remain  for a while more, until insomnia hits me late one night, 10 years from now, and I pull them out again

Do you have an item (or two) which you love dearly? I encourage you to scour your house and resurface those lost treasures which we all have hidden somewhere.

Let me know, in the comments, if you love anything as much as I love these quirky items in my old phone box.

Till next time-

4 July 2016

My Persepctive on Globalisation

Playing in Soweto.2014. Dlamini Street, Soweto. Own photo
A home at the entrance of Soweto, South Africa.2014. Own Photo.

Cindy and Sam arrived at their workplace, where they'll be spending 8 hours, of everyday, for six weeks, working. They noted an interesting observation to me, that they "felt uncomfortable" being the only white individuals amongst a sea of black students, as well as that our roofs lacked insulation and double-paned windows, but, for all intensive purpose of this post, I'll probe into their initial experience.

Globalisation (the ability for concepts, information, languages, speech and individuals to be freely distributed across borders due to the connectivity of the contemporary world)  is a massive global trend right now. This blog is a perfect example of it. I'm in South Africa, and you, are somewhere else, reading these specifically arranged symbols, and understand them. For example, when I click 'post' on this side of the Earth, someone else can receive it at the other end, within a matter of milliseconds. How's that for globalisation?

This trend of globalisation is aided by our ability to hop onto a stream-lined, pointed-nosed machine that goes against the wind and upwards- aerplanes. Due to globalisation, we have the ability to be at the furthermost geographically located country in the world, in only a matter of hours. Hence, recently, I knew of two female students, from the United States of America, which were offered an opportunity to spend their summer vacation working in South Africa. They practically tip-toed off the aeroplane in fear of where they'd landed. They are 12 835 km away from their home, approximately, and outright terrified.
Taken from the rooftop of one of Johannesburg's oldest building. 2015. Own Photo
According to 2011 South African Census results, South Africa's African population makes up 79.2% of our country's demographic. Therefore, if you gathered 10 random South African's into a room, at random, the chances of having at least 7 Africans with you, is very, very likely. Cindy and Sam are both white and come from a country where 'African American's only make up 12,2 5 of their country's demographic- that's at least 1 black person, in a randomly selected roomful of 10 individuals. Hence, arriving at work everyday brought on feelings which were uncomfortable and set them off on edge slightly as daily routine back home did not usually involve direct interaction with so many people who weren't their race. Cindy and Sam arrived in South Africa with their own indoctrinated prejudices and misconceptions, but that's the power of globalisation.

Both ends of a rainbow. 2016. Road trip to Cape Town. Photographer: Harry T

Now, picture Cindy and Sam disembarking from their Lufthansa flight, arriving in South Africa, for the first time...but ten years into the future. Globalisation could have done two things by this point in time- either boost the image of our country, or break it down; Ten years from now, two females arriving to my country, from overseas, could disembark  thoughtlessly. Our interconnected world can be used to highlight our countries' differences, but create tolerance and then acceptance and then celebrate our diversity. Imagine two individuals, disembarking from an aeroplane, excited to interact with people which hey would not have interacted with back home, whether it be blacks, whites, Indians, Asians or alien. Globalisation, in this instant, could be positively used to minimize our differences and maximise our understanding of "the other".

Conversely so, globalisation could tear apart our country due to the instability of our economy. Money is constantly and exponentially being vacuumed from our economy leaving locals jobless and stuck, because our weak currency will make us inescapable. Therefore, ten years from now, two students could step foot into our country, and not have a University campus to intern at because our infrastructure would have broken down to such a detrimental degree.

My only hope, is that globalisation helps to break down misconceptions and re-build correct ideas of the country which has built the person I am- a person who is able to have positive interactions with all races, all tribes, all individuals of any ethnical background, the poor and the wealthy.

Cindy and Sam will leave South Africa in the next four weeks with shattered fragments of their prejudices due to their positive experiences in South Africa.

I'm 99.9% sure that you, reading this, have a prejudice towards something or someone (Ironically, that's me being prejudice). However, through this blog, through globalisation, I am going to show you my country; the good and the bad. But, when you've come to live in this country for as long as I have, the ugly becomes beautiful. The stereotypical image of the young boy being cradled by his compromising mother, becomes beautiful- revealing something about humanity.

My final thought is this; Why do we fight our differences? Why from a young age are we taught to go against difference- instead of celebrating them? Why aren't we open to explore and enjoy any type of difference between ourselves and another? There are more similarities to be 'toasted to' than differences to be torn down.

Untitled. 2015. Garden Route, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

The above and below shown photos have been taken by either myself or by my incredible amateur photographer-uncle, Harry. Please meander through these visuals of my country. Note the ugliness and the beauty and then the beauty in the 'ugly'.

Here is my country, through four eyes, two individuals and one camera:
Brushstrokes of Blue Sky. August, 2015. On a road trip to Cape Town. Photographer: Harry T

Parachuter. 2015. Rand Air Show. Photographer: Harry T

Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. Photographer: Harry T

A Seal at Sea Point.2015. Cape Town, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

7 planes in Parallel...well, almost.2015. Rand Air Show. Photographer: Harry T

Seagull at Sea Point.2015. Cape Town, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

V & A Water Front. 2016. Cape Town, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. Photographer: Harry T

Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. Photographer: Harry T

Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. Photographer: Harry T

En Route to Cape Town, South Africa. 2015. Photographer: Harry T

Orlando Towers. 2014. A drive into Soweto. Own Photo.

Picking our own strawberries. 2014. Own Photo.

Red Truck in Soweto. 2014. Soweto, South Africa. Own Photo.

Spaza Shop.2016. Photographer: Harry T

Yellow Trains.2015. Newtown, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

'Say Cheese'. 2014. Dlamini Street, Soweto. Own Photo.

Ellen and uMama wakhe. 2014. Dlamini Street, Soweto. Own photo.

In the Middle of Nowhere.2016. South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

Unknown. 2015. A bus to Cape Town. Photographer: Harry T

Far from home. 2016. South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

Endangered Baby Rhino. 2015. Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photographer: Harry T

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