Friday, March 30, 2012

In the meantime...

It's raining in Johannesburg tonight. For me it's a soothing kind of rain that makes me want to curl up in bed and sleep for a week.

Lately I feel like I've been put through the karmic ringer for a crime I didn't commit. And looking back, this has been one toughest years of my life on just about every level. There have been many defining moments and honestly, the person I was last year at this time and the person I am today is completely different.

I've grown in more ways than I ever imagined I could - that much I know. I'm just hoping that I am a better person for it.

Guess I'll have to wait and see what the new chapter brings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Classroom Antics

The instructions were simple: go to the Wikipedia website, choose a suitable topic and then do some research for Prepared Speech on Friday.

Gaspar was the first to put up his hand. "Teacher, can we talk about anything?" 

"Anything", I assured him. "Well, anything except Facebook... please don't come up here and talk about Facebook", I added. 

The class sniggered. And then came the barrage of questions.

Arnaud: "Can we talk about you?"
Me: "No"
Veronique: Can we talk about your birthday?"
Me: "No"
Roberto: "Can we talk about your sisters?"
Me: "No"
Carla: "Ok. Can I talk about how much I love you?"
Me: "No, you may NOT speak about me, or my life, or me as a teacher, or my sisters. NOTHING about me. ANYTHING else".

So we get to the computer room and after helping some students get settled I see Ariana, a FRENCH-speaking student from Gabon who had been living in China for the past 7 years, reading up on her topic on the Wikipedia site in CHINESE, and then writing out her information in ENGLISH. I tell her that I may be somewhat narrow-minded in this instance, but I've never seen a black woman read or speak Chinese before and I ask her to read it aloud for me. She does, much to everyone's amusement. We pick up our jaws from the floor and I just have to whip out my old Nokia to take a photo:


We take a break, during which I come across a previous student looking less than happy. "What's wrong Juan?", I ask him. He says he's stressed and his t-shirt says it all. I just have to whip out my pathetic cellphone camera again:

Flight Board  detailing Flight number +  Destination + Information

I walk along the corridor to the canteen and come across a few of the male Congolese students on their break outside the rec room; looking all hardcore ghetto, buffed and pimped out with baggy jeans, over-sized t-shirts, Dr. Dre headphones dangling around their necks along with blinged out skulls and thick neck chains... and Celine Dion's "Because you loved me" blaring from their iPods. You've never seen anything like it. It becomes funnier when they're on their way home packed into their cars like gangsters on the prowl... with a medley of Celine Dion's hits echoing down the road. Je'taime Encore indeed.

I eventually make my way back to the classroom and find myself in the midst of a heated discussion between the African students. The Brazilians are sitting in the corner as spectators, cackling merrily at the unfolding drama. 

"What's going on?", I ask. "They're arguing over Africa's problems", Ana-Maria tells me. "In Brazil, we have many problems, but no real concept of race. In Africa it's a little different", she continues.

"So what exactly is the discussion about?", I ask again. 

"Teacher, we're talking about corruption and the political problems in the DRC and everyone blames the corruption on the white man... they're the real reason we have all these problems", answers Rosalind. 

"Do you really think so?" I ask. 

They all agree, including Paulo from Mozambique. 

"But what about Paulo?", I ask the class... "isn't he white?" 

"No, he was born in Africa, so he's not white", they all concur. 

"Is it true Paulo? How do you see or define yourself?", I enquire.

"Well, my father is a white. And my mother is a white. So I am white too. But I am also African. And my country is hot. And I'm in the sun all the time. So no I'm not really white, no."

My sister pointed out to me that no matter what happens throughout my day, I always have a smile on my face when she picks me up to go home. It's never occurred to me before, and I have to attribute it to my students. All of them. There's some real love in these sentiments.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In the jungle of life, the lion is still king...

I've always been more of a doer than a talker. I like to get things done. At school I used to do my homework on Friday during break while everyone else was having lunch, just so that I wouldn't have to think about it until Monday morning. If I have to cook dinner, I'll do it in the morning to get it out of the way. Even my weekly lesson plans are done a month in advance. And that's why procrastination (although a prominent part of my life these days) goes against my very nature and I'm overcome with guilt when I succumb to laziness.

I've been like this in most areas of my life. A doer... a woman of action. I was much the same when it came to war, always taking action even though I don't like fighting. Actually I abhor it even though I'm very very good at it.

Previously when someone offended me, I'd leap to the ground like a human transformer, ready to annihilate the enemy. And what made me particularly dangerous is that when I'm really angry, I have no regard for consequences. Ruthless I was. The most dangerous people in the world are those with nothing to lose. I wasn't governed by fear or self-consciousness... I just didn't care about anything except my own victory.

And most times, I never fought fairly. If someone threw a dart in my direction, I had 10 bazookas lined up, heading their way. If someone stepped on my toe, I'd break every bone in their body. It helped that people always underestimated me (still do), which made it easy to go for the gut.

I would rip apart any argument (along with their egos) to shreds. And my favourite form of punishment? Public humiliation. Because an astounding number of people worry more about what others think of them, even if they won't admit it. There was always that one weak spot waiting to be found and exploited.

And then one day, things changed. After what felt like my hundredth encounter with an arsehole of note, I began to question what exactly is it about me that attracts these people who think they can just walk all over me. And what exactly is it that makes them believe they'd get away with it unscathed? In every scenario, I'm the one going about minding my own business when someone comes along, wanting to teach me a lesson. And I'd always end up making an example of them.

So I set out to do some soul searching and introspection and I began to believe that there was a lesson for me to learn from all of this... that perhaps, I keep on attracting this kind of appalling behaviour because I keep on reacting to it the same way. I thought about it for a long time, and came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to change the way I acted and reacted to certain people and situations.

I once said that Lions don't fight with Monkeys... that it's not worth flaring up every time you're provoked by an unworthy adversary to prove to them that you're the stronger species. I know I can annihilate  them if I wanted to. They know that I can annihilate them if I wanted to. I don't need to prove it to myself or anyone else. I've come to see that it's not about winning any more. It's about choosing the battles.

That's not to say that we should just sit back and let people walk all over us. Not at all. There's a time and place for everything. In any case, I've often found that people who are arrogant and unjust eventually pay a higher price for their misdeeds when Aunty Karma comes around for tea, unannounced and in a bitchy mood.

Justice should never be about Vanity. And Vengeance is for God alone.

I'm getting soft in my old age :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

#5

Some guy once said that it's the drudgery of life that will kill you. Not the major catastrophes and earth shattering disasters we may face, but the mundane monotony of every day life because the human condition is such that we can survive and even thrive in crisis. But there's no way out of the drudgery.

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of the year. I love it because the sun is hot and the wind is cool and I always want to go sailing. I hate it because for some reason, I'm always depressed around this time of the year. Perhaps its a seasonal change, or maybe it's because I'm in the middle of a war, but I've been feeling particularly stressed and anxious lately. And my coping mechanism is to daydream. Getting lost in a reverie is my escape from the drudgery of life.

Speaking of sailing, one of the things I've always wanted to do was sail / cruise around the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. The Med (and her sister oceans) win in terms of priority.

There is so much I'd love to see on a Med cruise that I don't think I'd be able to cram it all in on just one trip - unless that trip is at least 6 months long.

I'd love to go to Malta...
And Casablanca in Morocco...
And the Amalfi coast as well as the Isle of Capri...


And for the longest time, I've wanted to go to Dubrovnik, Croatia. There is something enchanting about the thought of sailing on the Dalmatian Coast.


Montenegro also features high on my list.


And then there's Santorini

And maybe one day I'll return to my beloved Gibraltar

So many places... so little time.

Monday, March 19, 2012

On being a monkey & waking a sleeping dragon...

I've spent the better part of the last week consulting with lawyers and government officials. As it turns out, someone has thought it apt to try to victimize me - without any prior knowledge on my history or what I tend to do to people who "want to teach me a lesson". But I won't get into that right now. Not today.

Anyway, I was discussing racism with my class the other day and one of my students told me a story that left me both disgusted and thoroughly amused.

My student, Miguel, is an Angolan National. I asked him to tell me about his favourite place on earth and he replied "my country". So I responded, "Really? Surely you must have been to other countries?"; to which he responded "Yes, Portugal, Brazil..."

"OK, good" I said, "tell me about Portugal, and why it isn't your favourite place?"

And that's when he told the class that as an Angolan National, he couldn't walk through the streets of Funchal without random strangers calling him a "Monkey" and then hiding away.

Shocked, we all laughed. And then he continued "yes it's true... they call you a monkey and then run away or hide behind pillars. Sometimes they throw bananas at you while you're walking in the street. And if you're in the supermarket, they come up to you and give you a banana - because you're a Monkey".

We laughed again and after making a concerted effort to be serious about a serious matter, I told him that was the most appalling (and funniest) thing I've ever heard. I guess what's most surprising is that this kind of activity continues in this day and age, when people are supposed to be at their most tolerant and accepting. But alas, it's not to be.

I then proceeded to explain to Miguel something worse than being called a monkey in the streets of Portugal. That, 18 years after Apartheid was abolished, we as South Africans are still required to specify which "race" we come from on just about every piece of documentation - official or non-official. That, 18 years after the Blacks have gained freedom from an oppressive regime, most of them have emerged as racists of the new world, often discriminating against everyone else as well as each other and each other's tribes e.g Zulu's against Xhosa's etc. as well as being extremely Xenophobic to immigrants from all over Africa.

And worse, that in a country where Indians are 5th and 6th generation descendants and recognise themselves and their nationalities as proudly South African, there is still an overwhelming majority that are prejudicial and will discriminate against each other because once-upon-a-time their ancestors came from different villages in India... absolutely ludicrous, but true.

We all laughed again. At least we can laugh at these things.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saying what you mean, meaning what you say...

I have a younger female friend who is a people pleaser. I've accepted that this is who she is and that I can't change that... but every now and then I have a problem with it. And the reason I have a problem with it is because she will often say things that she doesn't mean, just so that she doesn't have to offend or upset anyone.

For instance, she will say she likes something, when she clearly doesn't. Or she will say that she's going to do something / go somewhere - even if she has no intention of doing it. And she just can't comprehend that every insincere word she utters is a blatant LIE.

Trying to win a perpetual popularity contest must be exhausting. In her case, she's never her authentic self, always portraying herself to be who others want her to be. Fortunately some of us can see through all the bull-shit.

Not that I think that I am any better than she is. I'm all too aware that I can be too direct and offensive to those with much more delicate constitutions. But how do you draw the line between tact, diplomacy and honesty? Surely there must be a difference between social nicety and deceit? Or maybe not. I could never say that I like something when I don't. I just can't lie pretend and it irritates me when others do.

I clearly missed that class at charm school.

On a brighter note, I found this on Facebook. It's quite funny and applicable to a few other cultures too (click on image for full visual):

Monday, March 5, 2012

#4

So seven weeks ago, the Costa Concordia sank off the Italian coastline. And then last week the Costa Allegra lost power after an electrical fault leaving the ship floating in the middle of nowhere for three days while food and water had to be delivered to passengers by helicopter...

One would think that these catastrophes would put me off sailing into yonder for good. But no. I'm a masochist like that.

If I had a hundred Squajillion bucks at my disposal, I'd be sure to buy me a place on The World. Who wouldn't want to OWN an apartment (and a stake) aboard a luxurious ship (aside from the passengers and crew on the Concordia and Allegra)?

Who wouldn't want to sail at their leisure to just about every place on earth, seeing parts of the world that most people will never get to see... complete with on board entertainment and all the embellishments of a 5 star cruise?


And all that for only USD$600 000 for a studio flat or USD$2 950 000 for a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom apartment - & a further USD$20 000 a month (for the smaller units & up) to cover fuel, crew, maintenance and a meal allowance.

The ship has 165 residential units, all owned by the ships residents. For on-board entertainment there is Internet access in each residence, a movie theatre, library and music performances. In addition to shore excursions classes have been offered on board in topics such as dance, navigation, language, cooking, arts and crafts, music, computers, and photography.

I actually saw this beautiful ship on the day we left port to Bazaruto Island. The ship, it's residents at sea (from 40 different countries) and the crew circumnavigate the world at a snails pace, stopping at every port for up to 5 days at a time.

Some people live in the light.

Anyways, in the real world, I'd be perfectly happy to just cruise around like a normal person for a week or two at a time on the Med or in the Carribean. Which brings me to #5...