Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hope for the Future

A little pool of sunshine on a rainy day came my way this morning, in the form of a smiling 17 year old girl that I gave a lift to, on my way back from dropping my kids at school.

Public transport here in South Africa is patchy, or should I rather say threadbare. In the city there is a train and bus service (though not by any means a comprehensive one), but out here only 40 minutes from Cape Town, the rural communities are served by maybe one bus a day. The huge gap is filled by private “taxis”. These are minibuses designed for eight passengers and converted to take about twenty. They run more frequently than the buses, but are not cheap. A twenty minute ride from the community behind us, into the nearest market town costs R20 return, which is about a third of a reasonable day’s pay for a farm labourer or domestic worker. So a large part of the population get about by hitching rides.

As a mother driving about with small children in the car I don’t usually give lifts. There are always people at the side of the road needing them and I often feel bad driving by, but my primary responsibility is to keep my children safe, so it is easier to have a no lifts policy than to try and assess every single person who sticks their thumb out for a potential security threat.

Having said that, I often feel like a taxi service myself – the car often groans with a load of my children’s classmates having a ride down the 2km road between their ‘informal settlement’ and the school. Some of their mothers, who work at the Camphill Village near us, regularly stop me for a ride when they’ve missed the Camphill bus to work.

Today, as I drove back from dropping the children at their school, on impulse I stopped for a girl hitching a ride and asked where she was going. I was going into the local town to do the weekly shop. She said she was going there to school. Three of her school mates ran over to take advantage of the lift and I managed to fit them all in. I presumed they’d missed the school bus. I have often seen a group of about twenty teenagers in uniform on that corner and assumed the school bus was late. She told me that there is no school bus for them. So I asked about taxis. She laughed and said that they always hitchhike to school.

This is a group of about twenty-seven high school kids travelling 25 km each way every day. Apparently the municipality (town council) won’t provide a school bus because there is a shortage, and these children are crossing the border between two municipalities. They are much closer to another town (poorer, with high unemployment and not a great reputation for its schools) and as far as the authorities are concerned they should just go there. These kids are determined though. The school they go to in the market town is better, they are more likely to end up with a good matric. So every day they get themselves there. I asked whether they get to school every day. They do, though often they are late. The girl in the passenger seat is in Grade 12, her last year. She said she would like to go to college and train to teach, but it would be difficult financially. She smiled again and said she was going to try.

This kind of encounter gives me great hope for the future of South Africa. Forget the newspapers and all the doom and gloom of crime rates. If some the next generation of children, who are living in shacks with no running water, have this kind of determination to get an education and choose the best they can get, rather than settle for what they are told they can have, even if they have to hitch every day to do so, then there is a lot of hope. The future is in their hands.

Anyone who wants to invest in South Africa should look to improving education and helping kids like these go to college, university or teacher training. I was left wondering what I could do to help – I’d like to sponsor the whole lot of them through college, if I wasn’t wondering how we’re going to put our own kids through college when we get to that point. I guess I can see what information I can find out for them on getting sponsorship or bursaries. At the very least I can give them a lift to school on my shopping days and hear their story.

Statistics and surveys can paint one picture, but everyday encounters with actual people, who are far more than statistics, paint that picture with bright colours and transform it into a beautiful landscape.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bethlehem Blues

My children’s current favourite for singing in the car is, season notwithstanding, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. They see no good reason for restricting such a good tune to one small section of the year. I may be able to ban the playing of the Christmas Carol CD outside December and January, but I can hardly censor their car singalong material. So it is that in our warm autumn April sunshine, I am driving along with youngest to pick up the others from school, belting out .. joyful all ye nations rise..” at the top of our voices, slightly out of tune with each other.

Youngest thinks about her next request carefully.
“The one with Bethlehem in” she says.
I need more of a clue here. Quite a few Christmas carols fit the description.
“ With Jesus in”
Not much clearer.
“and Mary and Joseph.”

This is as far as she can take me to identify what she’s after. Tentatively I strike up “Oh little town of Bethlehem” but know I’ve got it wrong when a resounding silence wafts from the back of the car. “O come all ye faithful” gets a little hum of recognition but no wholehearted acclaim.

It isn’t until the return journey that the puzzle is resolved. Big sister is humming something under her breath.
“That’s the one Mummy!”
I ask her to sing a little louder so I can hear over the shake, rattle and roll of our car’s personal anthem. It turns out to be “Away in the Manger”.
I sing it all the way through without turning up a single reference to Bethlehem, even in the third verse.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flour Arranging

Flour is such an impressively versatile substance. Forget about the endless varieties of bread that you can achieve, this holidays we have been using it in several different ways as the staple ingredient of our craft activities. That makes me sound like a frightfully efficient mother with a themed holiday ‘program’ all mapped out. The truth is more of a distracted mum, hidden behind the computer screen, deaf to all the rumpus, occasionally giving in to entreaties to please try making this modelling clay from this book. Ingredients for modelling clay: flour, salt, water. Ingredients for play dough: flour, salt, water, oil. Ingredients for papier-mache paste: flour, water, sugar. I can feel a book coming on - 101 ways to entertain your child from the contents of your cupboards. Don't pinch it , I might even write it one day!

Yesterday as it was the last day of the school holidays I gave up any idea of trying to do any useful work on the computer and surrendered to the previously unappreciated joys of being a SAHM, instead of trying to be a WAHM. It’s a very fine line between those two states, fine, wobbly and blurred at the edges. Anyway my son has long been asking to do some papier-mache, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow has been my answer. My memories of papier-mache all involved a lot of mess, gloopy glue, soggy paper and the house is already in such a mess that a layer of glue on top would probably preserve it in that state until the end of time.

In the end I took off my boring grown-up hat, looked up the recipe for home-made glue on the internet and we cooked up a great panful. It’s amazing how just half a cup of flour can turn 5 cups of water into a very respectable gloopy paste.

While the paste cooled, I dragooned the girls into clearing up just some of their ‘mess’ with the threat of their brother getting sole mandate over the papier mache proceedings if they didn’t. He has far less to clear up than they do these days – he’ll wear the same clothes for several days, so avoids the snowflake scattering of cast-off clothes that litter the ground and form drifts around their beds. He spends hours either reading or playing with a ball, while they are building elaborate stage sets for their animals and dolls, usually in the sitting room, whence it must all be transported reluctantly back to their bedroom.

Eventually the paste was cool enough and the bedroom was tidy enough (sort of) and we set up shop. Unfortunately a very imaginative book on the subject has given my son ideas way beyond my immediate capabilities in the realm of papier-mache. The thought of constructing frames of wire mesh and cardboard was too much. I firmly decreed that we were going to start off making plates. I remember making a plate myself as a child in art class and it survived for years, plus it was easy.

We took an enamel plate or bowl each, smeared it with Vaseline and there was our mold ready to start. Tearing up the paper into little pieces was achieved and then came the fun part. Dipping each piece into the gloop, squeezing off the excess and creating a patchwork of overlapping pieces over our plates. I gave myself one to do too, throwing the grown-up hat to the winds and getting my hands right in the gloop, good therapeutic stuff, gloop. So now we have done the first few layers and have left them overnight to dry, my son having completed several layers effortlessly, whereas youngest flagged after covering only half her plate.

The Scrooge-like thriftiness in me just loves the thought of all this creativity with the barest of materials: old newspaper, flour and water. We may have to splash out for some paint and varnish to finish them off, and our paint brushes are disintegrating, but maybe those old toothbrushes could be pressed into service....

Friday, April 13, 2007

Great Snakes!

My son has always been a keen watcher of Animal Planet, devouring everything from snake and crocodile programs to animal rescue and vets. Until recently he had to share their allotted watching time with the Disney videos, that his younger sisters preferred, and there was always much haggling about how long each got to watch their choice for. Over this last week though, the girls have developed an interest in the Steve Irwin series, that have been on when they get to watch, and when I came in to switch over to video they opted to keep watching Animal Planet.

This has resulted in some interesting creative play. Tonight while I was cooking supper I overheard:.

“The Mummy Snake is going to be crikey when I pick up her babies.”

The girls were trailing long pieces of wool around the floor, giving a fine commentary a la Steve Irwin as they went:

“I’ve got the crikey Dad, you’ve got the crikey Mum and lets both get the crikey babies.”

“Oooh he’s trying to bite me.”

“You go down there, mate.”

“This one’s the crikiest snake in the whole world!”

I think I’d better submit this as an emerging adjective to the Oxford Dictionary people. A new generation is growing up with a new vocabulary here!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The pictures tell it better than words. An impromptu pink art therapy session that completely zaps all my credibility as a nutritionally sound mother.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thinking, I think

In the rather gloomy aftermath of the Easter weekend, as autumnal cloud cover and wind dispatched the last vestiges of summer and my jeans emerged from the wardrobe for the first time this year, a glint of sunlight came my way from Jenny- Prairie Farmeress, who has tagged me for a Thinking Blogger Award. Thank you Jenny, it has cheered up my day, when thinking at all has been a struggle!

I think I will put up the elegant trophy icon on my sidebar instead of the gaudy SA Blog Awards one...I haven't yet reported back on those, (not because I was sulking because I didn't win, I was very pleased to have come a respectable fifth, so thank you for voting and saving me from the ignominy of being last) but because there was too much else going on and they faded out of my consciousness.

Now I have to pass the award on to five more blogs that make me think. I may be nominating blogs that have already had the award, as I know I've seen it around over the last few weeks. This being an entirely democratic, non-divisive awards ceremony, I would like to add that all the blogs I read make me think, so choosing five is hard and I still love the ones I didn't choose here too!

Charlotte's Web for making me think about writing, books and family.
Tongue in Cheek for making me think about spirit, love and beauty.
Planet Nomad for making me think about other places, other cultures.
Cook Sister for making me think about food and new flavours with new enthusiasm.
Toddled Dredge for writing so thoughtfully about family life - right now the 'joys' of pregnancy, when that baby just doesn't want to come out.

How participation works:
If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think. Link to
this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
Optional: Display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I had the smallest glimpse today of life as a chef, with several sous chefs carrying out your commands, the orchestration, strategy, diplomacy and multi-tasking weaving together like an elaborate eighteenth century dance. Just an inkling of it as I baked our Easter Simnel Cake with three eager helpers...ok it wasn’t really anything like a Michelin starred kitchen, but for once I didn’t have to do every bit of mixing and beating myself, just had to keep track of where we were in the process, who was doing which bit and whose turn it was to stir, sift and switch on the beater.

My son is doing weighing and measuring at school at the moment, so I put him in charge of the marzipan. He conscientiously weighed the ingredients, stirred in the liquid and stalwartly mixed and kneaded until it all came together, which was great as I inevitably start getting impatient with it, as it seems to take forever. Meanwhile the girls took it it turns to beat the butter to smithereens, whip in the sugar until it was lighter and fluffier than ever before, as they each kept needing just one more turn on the whizzer. We blew the eggs, so that we can paint them for decorating an Easter tree and with a few casualties the girls took care of that too. All that was left for me to do was to inspect each process, control the ardour with which the eggs were beaten and the flour folded in, supervise the rolling out of the marzipan, cut out the paper to line the cake tin and smooth the final layer of cake mixture in the tin....and remember to take it out at the end of the cooking time of course.

Our last blast of summer has cooled down enough today to make baking seem like a viable alternative to swimming. Those autumnal thunderclouds loom on the distant horizon, promising evening son et lumiere shows to be viewed from the comfort of our stoep and the gentle warm spicy aroma of Simnel cake baking pervades the house, an eternally nostalgic and comforting smell redolent of traditional feasts and family festivals.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Driving in the Dark

As I drove back home after taking my mother to the airport at the end of her visit, I trundled through the evening traffic and watched the moon rise golden, slightly melted at the edge, now it’s just past full. I had to get my night eyes back in training, remember to focus my eyes on the lines at the side of the road, not in the middle to get drawn magnetically towards the oncoming traffic. I realised that these days I hardly ever do drive in the dark. I’m usually at home cooking supper as the sun sets. It is my husband and sisters-in-law whose headlights the children watch for at the gate.

Long gone the easy nonchalance of my youth, the disdain with which I secretly regarded those who made a big deal out of setting off home before it got dark. These last couple of weeks, unusually, I’ve made several late journeys back from Cape Town after having dinner with my clients and though I’m not nervous of the driving after dark, there is a frisson of daring, where I used to be blasé.

The novelty brings back memories: a crazy epic journey in a Landrover from Italy back to England in under 24 hours, driving through the night along the autoroute in France at hours when the only other vehicles are long distance truckers, keeping awake with a supply of Pocket Coffees – wickedly strong dark chocolates with a liquid centre of condensed espresso coffee, no music but the noisy chortling of a diesel engine, the so urgent cargo in the back an entire cured Carpegna ham (like Parma ham but far more recherché!), several pecorino cheeses from Pienza, wines from out of the way Italian vineyards, some prized extra virgin olive oil, all due back for a gourmet tasting the next day. Now I don’t know how I did it and also wonder Why did I do it?! From time’s perspective it seems far more desirable to wander in a leisurely way across France, in daylight to enjoy the view, rather than hurtling madly throught the small hours of the night in a speed/ endurance challenge.

Other memories of living in London, where winter darkness engulfs the afternoon rush hour, raindrenched windscreen wipers creating prisms of light from a multitude of headlights in the traffic, the swoosh of tyres through puddles, fog blurring the Christmas lights strung across the high street. Here we’re closer to the Equator so the difference between the length of day in summer and winter isn’t so pronounced. Our winter evenings draw in when we are already at home, unless we’ve been out visiting friends late in Cape Town, and high street Christmas lights are only ever seen unlit in the summer sunlight.

There are some bonusses to driving through the dusk: against the extra concentration and hands gripping the steering wheel extra tight, I weigh up the glow of setting sun behind the outline of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain, the full moon rising benignly to guide me home, stars glimmering above the sea fog that creeps over the road and curtains off our hills, so that the watched for silhouette of black hill against dark sky is strangely absent, making me suspect that I’ve travelled unwittingly into a different dimension by blindly following the tail lights in front of me! Then the warm lights of home beckon me as I get out to open the farm gate and the moon smiles gently having seen me safely home.