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The Less Obvious Truths about Long Life Milk, and Other Stories From Africa

By | Musings, Our Travels, Uncategorized | No Comments

It has become quite apparent to me over the last week or so, just how spoilt we are. I don’t mean this in an ‘I get everything I want’ kind of way, I mean it in an ‘I have such an easy life’ kind of way. I should probably just title this post “#blessed”, but I’m not sure if that is the truth of it.

Two days ago I found myself hanging laundry, marvelling over how this is the first time in my life, that I have ever had to hand wash 5 loads of laundry. I was so proud of my efforts. There I was with my rubber gloves and perfect white buckets, and an image popped to mind of the countless rows of clothes we have driven past along the side of the road, flung over fences, hanging from poles, and I thought: I am pretty damn sure those weren’t washed in a machine! Never-the-less, my arms were tired and my fingers were sore, and I was satisfied with my first ‘en masse attempts. But then I thought about it more…
We had just driven from Etosha to the Caprivi strip, and the landscape changed dramatically. There is something called a ‘vet fence’, which is a large fence entirely separating the very north of Namibia from the South. The Northern lands were given back to the native Namibians, but as the spread of disease between animals was rife, the government-run South fenced it off and implemented policing of the borders, stopping any meat products from being taken from the North into the South. What’s interesting is that as soon as you cross over that ‘border’, there are animals everywhere! Cows, goat, sheep – all walking across the road, grazing on the verges, it’s like crossing into really-rural Africa. Suddenly there are kraals or homesteads every couple of hundred metres. The houses are all built out of wood and grass, and there are people walking along the side of the road carrying buckets of water on their heads, or on poles supported by two people. Even the children carry water. The first time I ever had to carry my own water was when Cape Town had its severe drought last year and suddenly we had to carry buckets of water from the shower to flush the loo’s, and from gutters to the pool, but I feel that’s not at all the same thing. Here I am being so proud of my laundry, and all around me, people not only hand wash all of their laundry, but they carry their own water to do it in too!

The cattle

 

All of this was really hammered home this morning when after an incredibly beautiful game drive along the banks of the Okavango river, we popped in at a local store to pick up some supplies we had unexpectedly run out of. One of these things was milk. As I fought my way to the front of the petrol queue, Shaun ran into the general store with me yelling at his back, “Don’t buy milk if they only have long-life”. As it turns out, they only had long-life (not a surprise, this is true of most of Namibia). Back at the van, as I unpacked the groceries and moaned about Lola’s sudden love of cows milk, I may have mentioned milk rationing as a way of saving the fresh milk for my tea (we only have 1 litre left!). When we established (after some choice language) that I would rather not drink tea than have it with long-life milk, Shaun told me to grow a pair. Although I prefer not to grow a pair, I did think on the conversation for a while, and this is where it lead me: blessed is not at all the correct way to describe it – spoilt is.

Although there are numerous things I do feel blessed about, like medical care and access to education, there are other things that are unnecessary spoilings that in no way make our lives ‘better’ than any of the people living here. Maybe the good life is in the simple places. Once you have had it easy, like everyone who is reading this right now, it makes it harder to enjoy the simple things, because you are so aware of what you are missing. In my case, fresh milk and a washing machine, and I have no doubt many more things are going to rear their heads the further away from civilisation we go. Thank goodness we had enough boot space to stock pile good coffee and toilet paper!

My laundry

 

Life On The Road

By | Hikes, Musings, Our Travels, Parks | No Comments

It’s always the people you meet that add the special moments to an adventure. The stories you hear, the cultures you learn about; they add the little bits of ‘real life’ to an otherwise beautiful yet foreign setting. We have spent the last 3 days in Etosha with a social calendar that rivals ours in Cape Town. It’s been such a lovely few days. Feels like we’ve been able to have a bit of normal in an otherwise bizarrely abnormal life arrangement.

I have to back track a little as there is a fair amount I haven’t filled you in on… After soaking in the warm waters of the Ai, we drove north to Aus, and stayed in a camping spot that wins the prize for best sunsets and hiking trails. In fact, it was the start of an area that Shaun and I would put on our list of ‘must stay’ places in Namibia. It really is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t a lot going on apart from epic vistas, wild horses and lots of nothing. Aus doesn’t even have a grocery store. The Engen garage, wait; when I say this don’t picture the convenience kind in South Africa that has a Woolies inside it, begin anew, because this is unlike anything you have seen. It comes complete with a car tires and random tools section, an animal hide rack, random tourist memorabilia, a caravan park reception area, as well as tinned foods, frozen meats and long life milk shelf. That is Aus. Don’t let it put you off though, it is the gateway to an incredible part of Namibia – just bring your own food!

We stayed there but drove through to Luderitz; a town on the coast, boasting, well, not much, but it does have its very own ghost town near by. It was eerie to walk through a deserted town with nothing but empty houses filled with sand. It was like stepping into another time. The area surrounding it is like a post apocalyptic wasteland, complete with dust devils and swirling sand across the road. It was nothing compared to Sossusvlei, which is the real dessert in the middle of Namibia though, and that is where we headed next.

We stopped off for a night in the M-O-S-T spectacular campsite, and then carried on through to the real dunes. We cursed these sand roads when we got into the country, but it has forced us to explore more and stop over on our way to places, because you simply can’t drive certain stretches of road at more than 60km per hour. It has meant we have found real gems of places, little treasures hidden away off the main roads. This was one of those treasures. When we arrived at the dune area (Sossusvlei National Park) the following day I was ready to turn around and run for the hills! It was a seething mass of tourists. The campsite lacked any of the characteristic beauty we have encountered throughout Namibia, and was instead just a sand bowl. The reception area was operated with all the finesse of an African government office. I must admit I did wonder when we arrived if anything could be worth that kind of commotion, but when we headed off for the dunes it was a special kind of magical that waited for us. We plotted a course for the Big Daddy dune at the end of the park, and not surprisingly greeted another hoard of tourists when we got there. So off we went in search of our own dune to climb. There are literally hundreds of dunes, but for some reason, everyone climbs the same few. We found one all on its own, with no footprints destroying the pristine ripples of sand in front of us. With not another human in sight we slogged our way up that dune, racing the sunset as we summited. Not only did we not want to freeze to death after the sun went down, we also had to be back in the camping area before 7.30pm. Sadly, we never made it to the real top, there seemed to always be another rise. So after turning back at sun down, we had to run down the dune, sprint back to the car, and ever so slightly exceed the speed limit to get us back to the gate at precisly 7.29pm, scraping in as the last car through the gate! Shew. We were also one of the first back into the park the following morning because we had the daft notion of watching the sunrise over the dunes. We had packed our breakfast picnic the night before, and left in the dark to find one of the smaller dunes to climb. The evening before we had climbed bare foot as sand gets in everywhere. Your shoes get progressively more uncomfortable as the sand works its way to the front, making you feel like your shoes are 2 sizes too small. So we all trotted off to the dunes in our flipflops, discarding them at the bottom. The joke was on us because the sand temperature drops to almost zero along with the air temperature. It was like putting our feet in the deep freeze! The kids and I abandoned the plan very quickly as our toes turned red, but Shaun with his thick skin and dogged determination made it all the way to the top. He did regret it later when the feeling hadn’t returned to his toes by that evening.
Luckily the night we spent there was calm, freezing cold, but still. The night after we left there was a sand storm which apparently blew people’s tents away, deposited heaps of sand all over everything, and sandblasted a layer of glass off everyone’s windscreens. We couldn’t have been luckier that we left when we did.

After the dunes it was off to Swakopmund for 4 days in a real house! We needed some catch-up-with-work-and-life time, some time to really valet the car, and not sleep all piled in 8 square meters of space. It was much needed and thoroughly appreciated. Swakopmund is a quiet little town, even though it is Namibia’s 2nd largest city, and had some really great little coffee shops and even a pizza restaurant! Anyone who knows how much the Wuths love pizza knows how much that was appreciated ☺

But small comfort stops can’t last forever, and so we were off to find some more perfect spots Namibia had to offer. We made our way through Damaraland as we headed up to Etosha, and visited living museums (where you get to see how the Damara people lived hundreds of years ago) as well as run around the hills looking at thousand year old rock engravings. It is a beautiful area and quite different from the south of the country. From there we rolled into Etosha game reserve, and were greeted with more animals in our first hour in the park than I think I’ve ever seen. We had a matriarch ellie mock-charge our car which terrified the lot of us! She was huge, and slow, and graceful, but clearly didn’t like the look of our green machine. Slow turned to dust churning speed in seconds and Shaun did a nifty reverse manoeuvre – with the trailer in tow – and luckily she backed down.
The game in Etosha is prolific around the waterholes, so we spent most of our time sitting in the hide at our campsite, enjoying the quiet and calm days, watching lion, ellies, hyena and black rhino saunter over for a drink, and in some cases even a bath. I never thought I’d ever be luckily enough to see black rhino so we were thrilled.

School and office for 3 days … bliss

Really up close and personal with the ellies … so amazing!

‘Our’ hide in Etosha – Olifants Rus Camp

We met some wonderful people, were invited to gourmet meals in other people’s campsites, and picked up some very handy tips about how to cope with life on the road. We have met few South Africans in Namibia but the ones we have encountered have been so warm and friendly, it makes us proud to be South African. They are always quick to share what they have and offer help when they can. The added bonus is that they have all been interesting, intelligent people who have shared their knowledge, their life stories, and had us doubled over with laughter from some of their encounters. The people you meet really do add that little something extra.

We have just left the western side of Etosha for a night of stock-up and work needed wifi, and are about to head back in on the eastern side. The landscape is changing quite dramatically as we edge ever closer to the more rural side of Africa. I am both nervous and intrigued to see what lies ahead.

Sending love to all of our South African peeps, and those wonderful foreigners we are lucky enough to call friends too!

S & M & L & L
Xxx

Living On the Front Lines

By | Musings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never lived in Africa just what it entails. How after weekends like this, Africa and its many complexities reverberate in your bones, the challenges right on your doorstep can shake you to your core. Cape Town is always plagued by fires at this time of year, having our annual rainfall in winter means summers are usually dry, but this summer is worse. We have enough water in our reservoirs to last about another 60 days, after that we are the mercy of the Rain Gods. Fires have been raging on our mountain sides like they normally do, but Friday night’s fire took hold in a far more devastating way. It started in a shack in the informal settlement Mandela Park, located in Hout Bay. With shacks built one upon another with barely enough room to walk between, let alone enough room for fire-truck access or even firemen with hoses, the fire wrecked devastation, burning roughly 1000 houses, claiming numerous lives, and leaving a yet unconfirmed number of people, but estimates are around 10 000, with virtually nothing.

Living in the Hout Bay valley has been a sombre experience this weekend. We watched as thousands of people covered in soot, carrying what few possessions they could carry out of their homes, amble their way down to the main road, as blackened leaves and ash rained down around us. Sometimes all people could carry was the young, disabled or the elderly, while they left everything else to burn. We are used to fires, we – sadly – are even used to homeless people, but this was so different. Listening to the sounds of exploding gas bottles every few minutes, which sounded like bombing, made me feel like we were fighting our own kind of war. It seems wholly unfair; people who have so little, losing what few possessions they have.

There is a huge disparity between rich and poor in South Africa, and a natural segregation that comes with it. One of the positives of living in Hout Bay is that our children grow up with their eyes wide open, aware of people who have less, and those that have more. We see their houses, we spend time with them and we share stories. When devastation like this happens our children are virtually on the front lines. They see the queues of people waiting for food and water, and we are forced to talk about these issues, the fact that we have so much more than so many people in the world, and there are things we can do to help. Sharing our clothes, our toys and our food with people who have lost what little they had seems the least we could do. As much as I want to protect my children from the big-bad-ugly world, I also want them to know how privileged they are, I want them to know gratitude, and I want to teach them that they have a responsibility to give back to people who need help. We are not alone on this planet; we are each other’s keepers.

Residents of Mandela Park doing all they can. Photo credit: Sullivan Photography

 

It’s so easy to look past what’s going on next to you, think that someone else will deal with it, rationalise why it’s not your problem, but if we all did that who on earth would help? Thankfully Hout Bay seems to have a lot of people who don’t behave that way. There has been a spur to action to the point where there is no bread left in most of our shops, the shelves are being cleared by Hout Bay residents who are buying food and dropping it at designated locations where volunteers feed, clothe and medically attend to those affected by the fire. Organisations are rallying to collect funds to purchase new school supplies and uniforms for children who have nothing. The community at large seems to be doing wardrobe ‘clean outs’ and donating clothing to people with nothing more than the pyjamas they were wearing when they ran from their shacks in the middle of the night. It really is something inspiring to see, when your community and your neighbours stand up and do what they can to help. They give what they can give, and pass on all the love they can. I have seen more than a few onlookers in tears and heard parents talking about their children not being able to sleep because they are worrying about their friends from school who live in Mandela Park. Let us hope this care and concern carries on, because our community will need help for a while yet, with thousands homeless and many of them needing trauma counselling and support. We all need to do our part, whatever that part is, and we need to keep doing it after all the hype dies down. Thankfully the Hout Bay community has an incredible track record of pulling together. They are a beacon of light in a country that is still torn by inequality and racial differences. Despite our many problems, and we have them – make no mistake – there are few Hout Bay residents that will turn a blind eye on what’s going on around them.

After a heavy weekend, our own disappointments pale into insignificance when looking through the smoky haze of unfairness that surrounds us. Our own problems shouldn’t be ignored, but a disaster like this certainly puts them in perspective.

Love and thanks to all those volunteers out there who selflessly continue to give of their time and energy.

Thank you to www.sullivanphotography.org for the incredible images.

FYI – As of Monday morning there was still no electricity or water in the whole of Mandela Park, including the area that was unaffected by the fire. What most people consider basic human rights, are inaccessible for a large portion of the Hout Bay population. So while our attention is needed by those directly affected by the fire, don’t forget to check in with others from Mandela Park, make sure they have a way to prepare and cook food, enough water for basic ablutions, or offer those you know, at the very least, the opportunity to get clean at your house until water pipes are mended and electricity restored.

From Mom to Machine – The Big Day has Arrived!

By | Events, From Mom To Machine, Musings | No Comments

I’m not sure where to begin, it feels a little like I’m in a confessional; it has been many months since I last wrote an article on my training. But documenting my training each week got boring fast, I can just imagine how dull it must have been to read about it, except for a few sadistic friends who find their amusement in my discomfort – and fair enough. It’s laborious enough to actually do the training, writing about it every week seemed a little self-absorbed, and quite frankly lacked the passion with which I have tried to tackle this training journey. When I began all of this I wanted to give you a run down of what it takes to get an everyday mum to the point of ‘race ready’ for a half iron man, but you are going to have to settle for a nervous account of where I am instead… 2 days from the start line. I can tell you no amount of training takes away the nerves! Every niggle and twitch of a muscle begs for further inspection. And every free minute has your brain obsessed with logistics, nutrition, transitions and gear. I am all consumed.

 

But I will save you from my brains anxious misfires. There are things I have learned along this journey that might mean something to you. So instead of blabbing on about my current state of mind, here are my points to ponder and my lessons learned… Maybe some of it will resonate with you. Maybe even inspire you…

 

“We will never be as young as we are now.” These lyrics (from a song called ‘As We Are Now’ by Saint Raymond) rang more true than I wanted to admit. If we don’t grab today, and use it, we’ll look back on this time and say, “why didn’t I do … when I was young and full of energy?” I don’t always feel full of energy, but I am wise enough to know that’s not going to improve as I get older. This is probably the best I’m going to feel for the rest of my life. Scary right? So grab this moment, and the next, and do something you’ll be proud of when you look back.

 

Overcome the scary things; don’t let them stop you. “You swim 2km in the sea?? But aren’t you scared of sharks?” … I can’t tell you how many people have asked me this question. And the answer is YES, I most certainly am! But I am also scared of vehicle accidents and I still drive a car. It’s about focussing your attention on what matters. You can’t control everything, and this has been a great lesson for me. I was a nervous wreck the first time I swam any distance in the sea, to the point where I thought I would vomit from the nerves. The second time, it was better, much better. I panicked twice while I was in the sea and chuckled at myself when I looked at my heart-rate graph after the swim. There were 2 notable spikes and I know exactly what I was thinking when they happened. My third sea swim was better again. The spikes this time round were from pushing hard, not panicking hard. It’s about getting into a rhythm, almost a meditation while you swim. You focus on what you know will get you to the end, when doubts creep up you silence them by focussing on what matters. It’s an incredible exercise in silencing your thoughts.

 

It’s easier than you think to turn into a hypochondriac. I’ve always liked the fact that I have a pretty level head. I’m a good person to have around in a crisis; I don’t panic. When it’s not a crisis however, I know just how to get myself into a knot. Shaun has documented my transition from nonchalance to quivering wreck over something as commonplace as a shin splint. This little terror that took hold of my leg was enough to send my once chilled mind over to the dark side. Fear can creep up on you when you’re not looking, and most of us aren’t. Recognising your fears for what they are, giving them due thought and then dismissing them is an important part of the process. Letting every ache after a training session throw you into a fit of worry is unwarranted, and needs checking at the door.

 

It’s embarrassing to admit, given my age, but I have never really tried this hard or trained this much for an event. I am as much afraid of failing as the next guy, and for most of my life I have let this stand in my way, not wanting the judgement I thought trying might bring. What I’ve realised is when you start trying, and you actually get into it, the journey becomes enjoyable. It doesn’t make race day any easier, and I still feel compelled to ‘race’. I’m not sure exactly who I’m racing, I’m certainly not going to win, but I feel like I’m racing an idea I have in my mind of what I should be able to do. But what I’m trying to say is there is so much enjoyment around trying; in the preparation and the camaraderie, that despite being fraught with nerves, and having a stomach made of jelly, the experience is exhilarating.

 

Having said all the above, I might say something very different on Sunday after the race! But I’m hoping not. I’ve put a lot of myself into this training, but not more than I had to give, and I think that’s made for a balanced last couple of months, and a positive outlook on the experience. Here’s hoping the weekend is as fun as the training has been! …. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

Being Schooled… By My Kids!

By | Musings | No Comments

When your husband has an above average intelligence, there are certain things you learn to expect as a mother. Yes, mother, because when the bulging IQ is passed down to the children, and they combine that with their own love of various subjects, that is when your general knowledge begins to fall far short. You have to learn to stomach correction from people who can’t tie their own shoelaces and who don’t brush their teeth unless they’re told to.

Me:      “These are lovely leaves, I wonder what kind of plant it is.”
Lola:    “It’s a bamboo.”
Me:      “ … um, of course it is.”
—-

Me:      “Oh little duck please don’t cross the road.”
Lola:    “Where’s a duck?”
Me:      “There!”
Lola:    “You mean the Egyptian goose?”
Me:      “… um, yes.”
—-

Me:      “I can’t get this peddle off.”
Lincoln: “That’s because you’re turning it the wrong way.”
Me:      “ … ” sigh.

This kind of thing I am getting quite used to, but being called up on my behaviour by my own child, it something quite new. Let me tell you, it was a rather humbling experience.

Let me set the scene: I have had a rough 2 weeks. I feel like that’s all the explanation that’s needed, and quite frankly, I don’t have all that much more to add. Grown-ups are always on about how they’re having a rough time for some reason or the other, it almost goes without saying. We’re dropping balls, forgetting to do things and running late for meetings. Same same but different.

So here we are. I am in the kitchen, irritated that the children aren’t listening to me, and stewing over how they are able to put me on mute whenever they feel like it. Lola wanders in and in my mind I am already cross. She doesn’t even have a chance to ask what she can do and I am issuing instructions.
“Pass the salt,” I say, without a second thought.
“Do you think maybe you forgot your manners?” she says with a wry little smile.

I am stumped. I literally stood there with my mouth open.

She is completely right. Who do I think I am? I correct them all day on being polite and having manners, and then I turn around and behave like a ‘rude’ child. I was horrified at myself. A seemingly small event put my cogs into motion and I mulled over what had happened for the rest of the day.

Seriously, where do we ‘grown-up’s’ get off?

We run around believing we are entitled to bad moods and hormonal fluctuations. We blame ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’ and not getting enough sleep. Work stress or family drama. We act like we, alone, experience this, expecting the best from our children at all times. Anyone who’s read a parenting book can tell you that children have hormonal fluctuations at various ages, behaving like moms with PMS and dad’s with testosterone surges. Most of us place little weight on this information, scoffing at it, shrugging it off as less important than our own issues, possibly even choosing to forget it, but the facts remain.

They have bad days in the same way we do, and they sometimes don’t get a good night’s sleep. You might say, “But I told them to go to bed early!” and you would be right. But how many times have you stayed awake for whatever reason, past what you knew was a good time to go to bed? I’d wager many, many nights. We all do this and we all know how it influences us the next day. It is no different for them. Would we berate another adult for making a mistake and lose our temper with them? Probably not. We would, however, not tolerate rudeness because they were tired and grumpy. If they behaved badly we would probably give them a wide berth, and tell them when we didn’t agree with their behaviour. I don’t think most of us offer our children the same courtesy.

Do we think we have somehow earned the right to treat our children with less respect than we would treat another adult?

I know with absolute certainty I would not yell at an adult in the same way I have yelled at my kids. Yes, they may have been asked several times to do something. Yes, they may choose to ignore us. And yes, they may do seemingly ridiculous things. But let’s be honest, they don’t even have a quarter of the life experience we do. It is our job to demonstrate how to behave, to be the example, especially when they are flailing about on the sidelines. I’m not for one moment saying don’t discipline your children, quite the contrary. Set boundaries and stick to them, just don’t fly off the handle when your children push against them, because they will.

Sometimes they may not feel very social, or they may feel downright bolshie. Accept it, we ‘grown-up’s’ have those days too. Don’t insist they give granny a hug or make them feel like an awful person because they didn’t. Explain why it might be important that they give granny a hug, and tell them it would be nice if they behaved in a different way the next time, but don’t humiliate them or reprimand them in public. I can’t say enough how a quiet word, alone with my kids, has gone a long way in improving their behaviour. I’m pretty sure my kids aren’t alone in this. We need to choose how to react to our kid’s behaviour; with every reaction we are teaching them something. It’s one hell of a responsibility.

All this thinking has made me realise just how important ‘tagging out’ is. Having someone we can hand the baton to when we know our patience is waning. Sometimes all we need is a little space. This is true of every person in the world. Playing ‘tag’ with your spouse is an absolute necessity! If you don’t have that as an option then ‘tag out’ with a friend or a grandparent, use the TV or mandatory quiet time. Invent a way to give yourself some time alone to regroup, so you can continue to treat your children with the respect every person on the planet deserves, regardless of age.

I’m not pointing fingers and my intention is certainly not to preach, I’m the first to admit fault. I am simply asking if we should all reassess how we treat our children? Take a look at our own individual parenting quirks that may, in fact, be constituted as ‘rude’ if we behaved that way to another adult. I can’t help but feel we exercise less patience with our kids, when we should be using more. It’s certainly worth a thought.