Monday, September 02, 2013

Gearing up

Knuckles are creaking. Fingers are cracking. What is this contraption in front of me. A keyboard?

OMG, who blogs these days? That's like, sooooo circa 2005.

Here goes.

After a year of bumbling my way around Swahili in Dar, Mills and I returned to Jozi.

"For good..?" Friends and family ask us, with a lilt of hopefulness.
"For now." I always reply.

Is this the epitome of commitment-phobe?
I can't even settle in my own home town.

It's kinda weird being back - it's home, but it's strange. I grew up here, but I haven't lived in Joburg for over ten years. How many locals travel via Melville when trying to get from Greenside to Illovo, doing a round-route which looks more like a drunk earthworm than a plotted path.

View Larger Map

But hey, much like the rest of my life decisions, I get there in the end. Usually. And after seeing quite a few things on the way - sometimes more than once and from multiple angles.

It's good to be back - discovering my old city. As soon as I can remember road names, I think I'll get on just fine.

*Interestingly, when I opened up a new tab to Google map my route home, the search engine returned all my results in German. Wonder what that was all about?

Friday, August 10, 2012

GOP* before my time

I hate themed days. I hate the expectation that I need to congratulate birthdays, and birth days, especially with something more creative than "Happy Birthday" or "Congratulations on being a mammal" (these cards are particularly hard to find).

Don't get me wrong, I like me a good birthday ice-cream face-cake. Who doesn't? And I love getting (and sometimes even, giving... I'm that generous) Christmas prezzies, sharing a special day with loved ones.  But when people feel the need to publicly shout across Facebook or send out group messages to anyone who happens to be on their mailing list, I want to give them a cyber-slap and tell them to go back indoors and appreciate their family.

And I especially hate having it forced down my throat en mass. A day when I'm expected to dramatically demonstrate that I love someone, a day to publicly declare that I have a mother. Another one a few months later to make sure no one forgets that they have a father. Womens' Day. Where everyone kindly feels the need to recognise that I have lady-parts and therefore must somehow be congratulated and have an extra special day accordingly.

I think we may have lost the point somewhere. I love my parents and I certainly will thank them on Mother and Fathers Day - I do get that point. But I don't know why everyone needs to know that I have told my parents that I appreciate them.

Similarly, Womens' Day is not meant to acknowledge the fact that I happen to have a vagina, it's meant to acknowledge a day in history when largely-unheard members of the public (who remain largely-unheard and unrepresented to this day), made their Apartheid objections known in an eerily silent demonstration. Womens' Day recognises the danger that these women put themselves and their children in. Wishing me Happy Womens' Day via Facebook or email means nothing. I understand the gesture, but I struggle to fight down the rage to refrain from replying in a tirade as to how patronising the sender sounds.

There is one birthday I do support - Nelson Mandela Day. Rather than just posting messages (which will happen anyway.. in this case I understand, a personal message isn't really an option), people arrange to be involved in their communities. It's only an hour, but something is actually done. Small though the gesture might be in the big scheme of problems, awareness is raised for various community needs.

Maybe National Womens' Day should have a similar call to action. Instead of just saying "Happy Womens' Day!", we should be called to volunteer for women who still need assistance. It doesn't even have to be physical help, even something as simple as a small donation, like this. Then you can go back to your day off of slothing on the couch and congratulating female friends for having bajingoes.

Maybe every themed-day should have a similar call to action. A general rubbish collection clean up on Heritage Day, you know... to protect our heritage going forward.

Volunteering at orphanages for mother and fathers' day - giving those who don't have parents (to take advantage of every other day) a day of love. Speaking of love, Valentines Day. Urgh. But maybe it would be fitting to volunteer at a shelter on or around this day - I'm guessing not much would make you appreciate a true loved one more than seeing how other people are treated by those who they think love them.

Wouldn't it be awesome if, instead of seeing a leery middle-aged drunkard stumbling around a pub at 4pm in the afternoon, his friends apologetically shrugging and excusing him with, "what you gonna do, it's his 40th, a man's gotta celebrate"... if, instead, we got used to the sight of groups of families and friends doing something together in the community. You can still have your drinks and party afterwards, but you can also say that for one or two hours, you picked up rubbish, or you handed out food packages, or you re-painted a jungle gym. I think I quite like the idea.

Not everyone would participate, and certainly not many people would give up every public holiday for manual labour, but I would love to see the general expectation become an hour of community involvement (of your own choice), rather than a general Facebook shout-out recognising the day followed by "... and now, back to the couch" subtext.

*Grumpy Old Person, way before my time.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gautrain - a bonding experience

South Africa is not known for its public transport. There's a bus here and there, which may or may not run around the time that it says it will arrive on any given day. There are private minibus drivers that fling themselves from one side of the road to the other, cramming more bum cheeks than conceivably possible into the back of their vehicles.

But even these run on very limited routes, and during work hours (I only recently learnt that taxis stop running to Soweto after 8pm. This is shocking on two parts - first, that I never knew that simple fact about my own city and second, unless you have your own car, it is incredibly difficult for most people to travel between suburbs overnight in Joburg). But that's not supposed to be my point here. Sadly the Gautrain also runs on - what I think to be - far too limited hours during the day, but... it's an attempt at first-world public transport. And from what I have seen so far, it is working.

I know my enthusiasm stems from the fact that I am lucky enough to live in one of the very few areas that the Gautrain buses already service, which means that I can use this novel creation to its full extent. Walking just four blocks from my house, I can catch one of the buses that come past every 10 - 12 minutes on week days to Sandton and from that station, I can get to Central Johannesburg (one train to Rosebank followed by another bus, which is always on time), or to the Airport, or to Hatfield in Pretoria... all in 40 minutes or less, easily and comfortably.

There are complaints that it is expensive, which it probably is, compared to what South Africans are used to. But we are also used to not paying much and not getting much. I don't think the price I paid yesterday from Randburg to Hatfield was unreasonable at all - a R49 total journey. Getting to the airport is twice that (and then a bit), but airport transport always comes with a surcharge. Always.

I've only used the Gautrain out of peak hours, and don't know if I have a particularly approachable face, or a neon sign on my forehead and incessantly flashes "Talk To Me!", but that's exactly what happens on every trip. People strike up conversation with me. I don't know why, but I am almost always entertained. This whole accessible, functioning, public transport thing is still a novel and exciting experience for most of us in the third-world.

We usually discuss, with great enthusiasm, the marvel of the high-speed train, or the marvel of regular buses that arrive when indicated on the timetable, whether the costs are worth the trip (they are). More often than not, the little fact that no food or liquids are allowed to be consumed on the train or in the station is mentioned. Where else, aside from Singapore, is the public transport so posh that you're not even allowed to chew gum..?

But yesterday was my favourite experience to date. On the train back from Hatfield, two gogos hobbled on and sat at the window opposite me. They were elderly black ladies, I can't imagine they were much younger than 65. Winter has arrived in Gauteng, the one lady had a thick dark green coat on, the other had a more traditional blanket wrapped snugly around her torso. They both had sensible, well-used shoes on, and respectable hats. One was relying heavily on a crutch.

And they were giggling like two naughty teenage girls bunking school.

The lady with the coat was taking pictures of her friend on her cellphone, clearly documenting their train journey. Then she asked me to take a picture of the two of them and - of course - started telling me about their trip. They were going from Pretoria, to Joburg, catching a bus around Jozi and coming back again. A big day out - the gogos' first, and I think I can safely guess only, time on first-world transportation.

Soon, they were calling one of the (many) train guards over, to include me in their train trip memories. So I sat squished between two large-bottomed grannies on a two-seater Gautrain seat, excitedly sharing their enthusiasm with me.

These two women lived through Apartheid. And there they were, sitting on a high-speed train, overflowing with exuberance... doing the trip simply because they could. It was a wonderful experience just to be with them in their adventure.

I suppose I better get up now. I need to catch a bus, to catch a train, to catch another bus to get work in Braamfontein. Viva Public Transport!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Curried Koekie

Every office has them. The people you just don't get on with, prefer not to interact with, just can't connect.

So there's Whacko in my office. He refuses to use his work email (has no personal email either), which I think in this day and age, should set off alarm bells for NOT hiring. But unfortunately, he has a job and it's in our office. He's a classic conspiracy theorist (hence the "I will not have an email address because then THEY can follow me online" attitude), which does lead to some marvelous behind-his-back discussions.

One of my favourite conversations with him was on my birthday last year. I bought cake, then everyone gathered around for the devouring thereof, as is the horrible tradition. Whacko doesn't have email, so of course, he didn't receive the group "It's my birthday, please have some cake" message that got sent around so I had to tell him in person.

Koekie : "Hi Whacko, it's my birthday, we're having cake if you'd like some."
Whacko : "Cake? What for?"
Koekie : "My birthday"
Whacko : "Your what?"
Koekie : "My birthday. Celebration. Happens about once a year for some of us."

I chose not to add... I know you've been to these sort of gathering before, and yet you never seem to have a birthday yourself. Whacko-the-cake-scoffer, who apparently doesn't believe in hosting events, but has no objections to partaking in free food if it's there.

By this stage, we'd move to the colleagues gathering around the cake table.
Yet his confusion persisted.

Whacko : "You had a birth? Where's the baby?"
Koekie : "No. No babies. Happy birthday to me. I really don't know how to make this any clearer."

We now had everyone's attention, as tends to happen when Whacko lets us into his psychedelic world.
Finally, comprehension seemed to settle in.

Whacko : "Oooooooh, it's your... birth... day."
Koekie : "Yes.. Birthday. Today. Well done."
Whacko : "So you're a virgin!"
Koekie : "No, but thanks for checking. I think you mean Virgo."

And that was the last time I ever bothered with conversation. That and, 18 months after I joined the company, he could never remember my name. Which actually suited me, because I had a legitimate reason to ignore any attempts at conversation.

Unfortunately sometimes our paths do have to cross, like when we find ourselves in the kitchen together. Most days I manage to limit the interaction to simple grunted greetings, and we ignore each other for the rest.

Just recently, I was heating up some leftover Tikka Masala from Indian take-out the night before. It had a few more seconds to go and I was slavering over the microwave in anticipation when Whacko walked in. Great.

We grunted at each other and I turned my attention back to the microwave. Next thing, his head was right next to mine.

"Kerry," he barked into my ear.

I stood upright, faced him directly, deciding to make a point of correcting him once and for all.
"No," I said firmly, stabbing myself in the chest with my finger. "Koekie. My name is KOE-KIE."

He looked at me with a scowl and said, "I know that, Koekie. You're having curry for lunch.. I say it in Dutch: kerrie?"

So on the one occasion that he appeared to actually be lucid and was attempting have normal every-day conversation, I managed to make myself look like the crazy one. Oh well, now at least the feeling is mutual.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I love my cycle in to the office, head phones pumping, my iPhone Kumquat tuning my favourite mango-grooves. Once at work, I generally take headphones out, but forget Kumquat in my back pocket, until I have a reason to use it. Sometimes she stays there all day, until I need to plug in again for my cycle home.

So imagine my shock and horror today, when after making a wee li'l wee, I pulled up my jean-pant and heard a very heavy, very solid, SPLOSHI whipped around, trying to figure out what the hell could've made that noise. 

What was that solid, dark object in the..? 

O sacred mother of all things porcelain, say it isn't...

It was. A string of swear words escaped my lips that would've turned the water foul, even if it hadn't just come out of a used toilet bowl. My lovely blue-covered Kumquat had become a forlorn, water-logged iTurd*. 

With immense displeasure, I reclaimed my iPhone, followed by frantic researching to figure out the best means of emergency rescue. It was interesting to note that a frenzied Google search for "iPhone water submersion" turned up "How to save your iPhone or iPod from a fall into a toilet [tutorial]" as the second result. I may not be the only one, but it doesn't make me any less of an iDiot.

And so it came to be that Kumquat found her way into a bag full of dry rice, in a desperate attempt to draw excess toilet water from her nooks and crannies. Shortly after, GBM came flying in on his bike (I like to think he wore a blue and red flashing light on this head, and shouted "wee-waaah, weee-waaah" as he sprinted in), tiny screwdrivers in hand, to perform exploratory surgery on my poor Kumquat's internal organs. 

The prognosis is not good. Even if the water hadn't voided the warranty, the damage is not going to be covered by insurance seeing as we've now ripped off explicit "DO NOT REMOVE" tags in her gut and unscrewed every fitting. She has been violated in every way possible. 

I'm praying to the iGods, but don't hold out much hope.

* iTurd : actual hashtag tweeted by fellow toilet-dropping iTwits.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Snot shower

Cycling to work at the moment is glorious. It's nippy... but that early-morning pre-warmth chill, rather than this-is-as-good-as-it's-gonna-get winter chill. 

The sun is coming up later, so now I find myself cycling to work just after sunrise. Which, while somewhat depressing (long days are over), is beautiful as the low rays strike through the trees and settle and shimmer on the still canals. We deserve it, after the rotten, sodden summer that we were subjected too. It's so good that even GBM is prepared to take a gentle cycle into town with me, just to enjoy the decent-ish weather while it lasts. 

So there we were, cycling together this morning along a particularly tranquil patch of unkempt grass, looking beautiful in its unmanicured state. The dew was still fresh and sparkly on the leaves, warmed with a slight orange hue from the early morning rays that were just starting to kiss the ground. Everything in front of us was in golden silhouette, as we topped a small bridge, heading directly towards the rising sun. 

We were behind a slower cyclist, and GBM had just made to pass him when the guy turned his head in the same direction, put his right hand up to his face - and without-hesitation, explosively blew out the contents of his left nostril. I was close enough behind the nasal expulsion to get a beautiful demonstration of just how far snot can fly when backlit by early morning sun. 

The fact that the two of us were directly in his mucous-trajectory did not perturb the snotter in the slightest. He turned his head the other way, raised left hand and loudly expelled the remains from his other nostril, complete with the same spectacular splay of visual mucousity. 

I'm fairly confident I caught both angles directly in the face. I'm so glad we could share that moment with him, and will shortly be sharing his cold and flu germs too. It was awesome.