Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Have We Become?

I just read that for World AIDS Day, Lady Gaga is going to abstain from Twitter and Facebook, along with several other celebrities, until US$1 million is raised for singer Alicia Keys' charity, Keep a Child Alive. Keys said, "It’s so important to shock you to the point of waking up... This is such a direct and instantly emotional way and a little sarcastic, you know, of a way to get people to pay attention."

I can't deny that I am thankful for celebrities who use their fame to raise money for important causes and charities, but let me first share a few statistics with you:
  • AIDS is the leading cause of death in South Africa
  • 5.6 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa, more than any other country in the world (2009 statistics)
  • 1 in 3 South African children will lose a parent to AIDS by the year 2015
  • 30% of pregnant women in South Africa are HIV positive
  • South Africa is one of 12 countries in the world that has not seen its child mortality rate decline at all since the 1990s
  • 33% of of women aged 25-29 and 25% of men aged 30-34 are HIV positive in South Africa
  • 41% of all deaths in the year 2006 were attributed to 25-49 year olds
Now may I respectfully ask, why do these statistics not shock people into awareness? Why does it take a lady who wears raw meat for a dress to abstain from her computer for a day to convince people to pay attention to the problem of AIDS?

I am absolutely ashamed to be an American, and furious to the point of tears.

(Research statistics are courtesy of The Body: The Complete HIV/AIDS Research, University of Cape Town, and AVERT)

The Newest Member of our Family

A red bishop has taken over our backyard. Doesn't he look like a bird version of Little Red Riding Hood? He has made his home in one of our trees, together with his harem of "boring brown" females. I love looking outside my window and seeing flashes of red in the trees.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Pet Peeve

The thing about driving in Pretoria is that when you stop at a robot (traffic light) you will be hounded by street hawkers trying to sell you anything from a medical poster of the digestive system to inflatable life jackets. For someone like me who sees driving time as an opportunity to rehearse my music, this is at best amusing and at worst irritating.

There is a new breed of street beggars, though, that really get to me. They will stand in the street with a trash bag and offer to take any rubbish from your car - for a small donation, of course. If you politely decline, they'll stick their face in your window and look really pathetic. If you keep ignoring them, they'll drop to their knees and start crying.

You may think I am being cruel and heartless, but these are the same people who pretend to be crippled the next day and come up with all sorts of crazy gaits and torn clothing to convince you of their infirmity and poverty so you'll give them money.

I suppose I need to readjust my expectations and count on my driving time to be interrupted with these diversions, but when I regularly make a 25 minute drive across town and am approached at every single robot... it becomes a bit taxing.

And then - every once in a while - you'll come across a really creative beggar:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering." - Theodore Roosevelt

When in Rome... You Can Still Have a Bad Day

I don't expect two countries to be the same. I try not to compare them - I really do. And while many people say that customer service in South Africa is non-existent, these are the people who are used to American-style customer service, which is... different.

Today, however, it appears to be "Antagonize the Customer Day" here in South Africa. I went to the Post Office to pay our annual vehicle registration fee (which you can actually pay at a post office in this country - yippee!), and the lady behind the counter just disappeared when I handed her my paperwork. No explanation or anything. When she finally came back, she said, "The system was down. I couldn't do anything until it came back up." Do you think she could have told me that before she walked off, so I at least knew what was going on?

At the next shop, the woman at the till gave me R30 rand in change... all in R1 and R2 coins. She said, "Is this okay?" I asked if she had any notes. She said no. I asked if she had any R5 coins. She said no. I asked if she could ask someone at one of the other tills. She said no. Which leads me to wonder, why did she ask me if I had no choice? I ended up with 19 coins.

The next place I went had clothing high up on the wall out of anyone's reach. I asked a woman to get down a jersey (sweater) for me, and she said they didn't have it in my daughter's size. I said, "But there's a whole stack of jerseys. Can you please just check?" She said, "See. There's a size 10 behind a size 7. There's no size 9." Long story short, there were tons of size 9's. She just didn't want to look past the first two jerseys.

All this causes me to wonder - am I really a horrible American who can't help but compare everything to how it is "back home," or is there a base level of customer service one can expect worldwide? And does it even matter?

I think I'll just chalk it up to a bad day and let it go at that.

Tuesdays With Auntie Hope

I switched my days with Auntie Hope from Mondays to Tuesdays because she's spending more time with her family on the weekends. I wondered if that would confuse her more, so I reminded her that I used to come on Mondays, and asked her how her family was doing. She replied, "Yes, I'm spending Mondays with them as well now. I have a mental condition, and it isn't something that one can hide away from. It's something one has to face and manage as best one can."

I think my mouth dropped open when she said that. If I had Alzheimer's, I think I would hide away... having been the acadmic-type, I imagine how destructive and demoralising it would be to slowly forget things. Auntie Hope, however, seems to face life with nerves of steel. And this from a woman who says she isn't qualified to do anything!

There are times, however, when Auntie Hope feels lonely and miserable, and that's when she finds comfort in her cat, who usually sidles up to her and purrs contentedly. In moments like those I feel like crying. Even if people visited daily, it wouldn't change the feelings of loneliness that comes from going to bed alone, the silence that comes from living alone, or the sense of abandonment from having no short-term memory of the people who do love and visit her.

When it was time to lock up her flat and walk down to lunch, Auntie Hope couldn't find her keys. I helped her look and finally found them outdoors. It made me realise how precious - and how precarious -our time together is.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Look Ma - No Consonants!

I've always said that the challenge with Afrikaans is the vowels. Every language has its difficulty - with German it's the verbs, with English it's the pronunciations, and with Afrikaans it's the vowels. There are just so many vowel combinations and different sounds that are hard for a native-English speaker. I struggle to make the eu, ui and uu sounds.

Today, I learned a new Afrikaans word: eeue-oue. That means "centuries-old." Notice how there are seven vowels and not a single consonant. I rest my case.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mondays With Auntie Hope

The past few Mondays Auntie Hope hasn't been home. I started to get worried about her, so I went down to the management office of the retirement centre. They said Auntie Hope's been really deurmekaar the past several weeks and her family is really concerned . They've been keeping her longer over the weekends ("deurmekaar" is a great Afrikaans word that means "confused", but it goes deeper than that, which is probably why it's used in English just as frequently. If you think of a pile of spaghetti noodles all interwoven and stuck together, you'll have a good idea of what the word means).

I miss Auntie Hope, and I'm going to have to change my schedule so I can come visit her on a different morning each week. I also thought I'd have more time with Auntie Hope, that she wouldn't decline so quickly. I feel sad.

Time really is a strange thing. Sometimes you think you have too much of it, and other times there isn't enough. I guess the important thing is to make the most of every opportunity.

"Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation always be full of grace..." - Colossians 4:5-6

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Kwaito

Last night we went to the Grade 7 arts and culture production at my kids' school. This is a big deal for Grade 7's as it's their last year of primary school as well as the end of the school year.

The four Grade 7 classes each performed excerpts from famous musicals, but they added a South African spin to them. In addition to performing the traditional time-period dances that went with each musical, they added a South African modern dance to each one, incorporating it into the musical's plot. There were dances from the 1950's and 1960's, as well as modern House, Hip Hop and traditional South African dances. It was SO cool!

I suddenly thought of Hollywood movies and their influence around the world. I don't understand why kids try to emulate Hollywood celebrities. There was so much talent bursting out of the Grade 7 kids last night; they don't NEED to copy Hollywood stars. They are amazing all on their own. And these kids are the future of this country. I pray that they will reach their God-given potential and not succumb to the pressures of conforming to some silly standard set by some other country.

(P.S. You rock, Lesego!!! Can I have your autograph?)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

...And What I Don't Love

Christmas beetles, as they're known in South Africa (I think they're actually June bugs?), are so named because they come out this time of year in droves. Once the sun sets, you really don't want to take a walk, as these things are *everywhere.* And it's mating season.

Last night I was reading in bed (Dan was already asleep), when Dan suddenly jerked awake, threw his pillow across the room, threw off the covers, jumped out of bed, and - while I was trying to figure out what on earth was going on - said, "It's still on the bed somewhere!"

Turns out a Christmas beetle had flown in his ear.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What I Love About South African Summers

Dan took this photo last night during a thunderstorm. I *love* falling asleep to the sound of rain and thunder.