Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Friday, January 29, 2010

Winter Storm Aviso

Yesterday was a fairly nice day. I filled all the bird feeders and enjoyed a brief fire in the chimenea. My bird friends are glad I filled those feeders yesterday. The rain began last night and it was freezing by the time I left for work this morning. I got to the University just in time for the announcement it was closing and classes were cancelled. I finalized my travel authorization that I had been postponing and then came on back home.
Although not much accumulation is expected, the ice on tree branches coupled with the predicted high winds is expected to cause power outages due to breaks. Even as I sit here, I continue to hear limbs falling in my front yard.
I had just opened the curtains to look out when this large branch crashed right before my eyes. All the saplings are bent double to the ground and we have lost numerous limbs already.
This tree is normally quite tall, but the weight already has it bent to about half its normal height. I have been contemplating cutting it down as it is really in an inopportune location, and chance are, I will have to anyway.

I moved my car from its usual parking place. There is a tall pine on the hill near our parking areas, which has already lost a couple of limbs in the past year. It is not on our property, but I eye it warily during wind and storms. Depending on how it might fall--if it falls--it could take out our power line from the pole to the house, our fence, or my car. I can't move the power lines or fence, but I did park my car as far from it as possible to at least minimize that risk.

It is supposed to continue throughout the night and tomorrow morning before warming up to enough to melt it. Based on what I have seen so far of falling limbs, we will definitely be in for some more.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union

I have to confess that I am most unhappy with the state of the union this past year. Full disclosure, I supported and campaigned for President Obama.

I also confess that as I was waiting for the address, I did feel a rushing of pride and accomplishment as I saw President Obama standing in the doorway waiting to walk down the aisle to deliver his first State of the Union speech. It still awes me and amazes me that we elected an African American as President of the United States, and for who I thought he was and would be, I am proud of that.

Then, there was Vice President Joe Biden--looking like a commercial for Crest White Strips most of the speech--that just seemed to annoy me. I was also annoyed by the consistent standing of the left and the consistent seating of the right--neither of which was deserved for the most part.

Yes, there were things President Obama said that I disagreed with and which did not deserve "agreement." There were also things he said that I did agree with and which made sense, and yes, renewed my sense of optimism and hope for the United States. The United States OF America. Not AMERICA. There is North America, Central America, and South America, and I confess, it drives me to distraction that we say "America" when we mean the United States.

It bothered me that the there was only one time the justices of the Supreme Court stood and acknowledged a comment, and that there was only one time the leaders (generals, admirals, ?) of the Armed Forces stood and acknowledged a comment.

I cannot imagine how difficult it is to be President, based on how difficult I know it has been to be the director of programs in my past. I have to admire and respect that difficulty. I recall once when I was upset about something when Randy and I were buying our house in Texas and I opened my Bible and my eyes fell on a text: Do not flog an official for carrying out his responsibility.

I am unhappy with health care and housing and jobs and education--I will say that straight out. No, we do not have the best of that of any country, and yes, there are other countries that are worse. Traveling to other countries broadens one's perspective--to be able to see the benefits of the homeland, and to see the deficits of the homeland.

I struggle to keep the faith, to believe in the kind of change that will benefit all of us, and the hope that our generosity and love for each other can triumph over our greed and suspicion and fear.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sunshine, Blue Skies, Winter's Coming

We are in for a winter storm of ice and snow Thursday and Friday, "followed by bitter cold Arctic wind" for the weekend and next week. Oh, yeah, I can hardly wait. Predictions of power outages (not good when your heat and water supply are powered by electricity) and broken tree limbs are in the offerings as well.

In the meantime, the sun is out, the wind has abated a bit, and the birds are rejoicing at the full feeders. The Ghost Cat and his/her friend are regularly eating on my front porch now, and as the daffodils are pushing through the ground, surely better weather must be coming. And just think, only a week ago I was complaining of heat in South Africa. We are never satisfied, are we?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Ghost Cat

Sometime while I was in South Africa, a cat took up residence on my porch. Randy found it one morning when he went out to get dog food. It had been sleeping in the little foam softside cathouse I bought for Killer for cold days. Killer preferred to stay outside and sleep on the settee on the front porch, but when it was really cold, she would come in on the screened porch and curl up in her little foam bed. He put out some food and of course, the cat has been hanging around. I saw it one morning as I went out to go to work--a rather unattractive streak of orange, black and gray (what we would have called 'muckeldy dun' back in Texas. That is the only time I have seen it, but it eats the food I put out every day...or at least something does. I also saw a black cat with white paws--which used to hang around occasionally when Killer was still alive. There is actually not much telling how many feral cats may live in the woods across from our house.

This first week home has been quite difficult, in terms of my body's trying to recover from jet lag, getting things together for work--preparing for next week and I had two classes this week, plus our first faculty meeting and a day of advising transfer students. I have been pretty much exhausted by the time I get home every evening. Monday is my 8 am until 10 pm day, so I am trying to gear up for that soon. I have to prepare first day lectures this weekend--there has simply been no time to do it before now.

In addition to the physical roller coaster since being home, it has been an emotional roller coaster as well. It helped a lot to talk with two of my good friends yesterday and to feel supported and valued. I know it is tough for all of us, everywhere, right now in these uncertain times.

It seemed a good time to go back and "revisit" the recent trip to South Africa to try to help me gain perspective again.

The contrast there is evident, as it is everywhere, between the rich and the poor. This is near where the new soccer stadium was built, and has always been considered a resort residential area.
A pond of water in Durbanville Hills--It looks more like a painting, than water.

One Sunday, we drove over to Hermanus, another sea-side resort town, for lunch and then to pick up a student who was to return to the residence after her holiday break. There are always two possibilities for when you see men sleeping in a public area: they are homeless and have no where else to sleep; they are sleeping off a hangover from a binge the night before. Note the snake in the far left of the picture.

That day would take us on an adventure way out into the rural area...through pastures on a farm and down a cow trail to "the bush" looking for the student, who turned out to not be at home. Her father walked through the bush to one house (20 minutes) but she was not there. He proceeded over the mountain--over an hour--looking for her. It was getting dark, and we opted to return to the city. It pretty much felt like we were at the ends of the earth...though they had a little kitten also that kept following Courtney around while we waited.

A favorite pass-time of the children in the townships is to turn flips backwards, landing on an old mattress. I have seen this scene so many times. Perhaps it just speaks to the creativity of children and their capacity to imagine--which is likely far better developed when they are left to their own devices instead of something that comes out of a box with a set of rules.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A visit to Aunty's, and bits and pieces of the trip

When I first met Aunty Goliath in 2002, this young lady was just a toddler, and was quite fearful of me, though she allowed me to hold her briefly. I am amazed at what a beautiful young woman she has become, and how readily she interacts with me, seeing me only sporadically in between.
The younger children just find it fun that "Aunty Susan" is visiting, and love to have their picture made.

On of Aunty's foster children who has continued to live with her has a baby as well, which means about 19 people living in this small house in the community. Last year we raised funds for Aunty to buy a new stove as hers had broken (she feeds 50 children a day through a soup kitchen in addition to her own family and foster children) and she also bought a washing machine, dryer, and new beds and bedding for the children. With a baby in the house, the washing machine is very needed.
Trains are the primary means of travel for poor people in South Africa, and are fraught with danger, from crime as well as accidents. While we were there, a woman threw herself onto the tracks in front of a train, dragging several people into the path of the train with her. Two of the children from Marsh Memorial, where Lira works, were on the train going home for the holidays and saw the results, which were understandably very traumatic for them.
As we were leaving the community where Aunty lived, I noted this sign along a strip of shops, so Jeanne stopped for me to take a quick photo. It produced a smile from the gentleman getting into a car near us when I pointed to the sign.
On Thursday, Jeanne and I finally went to Eagles Rising, where she had a meeting for most of the day. I learned a bit about their work, which is done with young adults 18-21. Afterwards, we drove across the road to Sir Lowry's Pass Village, a township where the students from Eagles Rising do outreach. Eagles Rising will be building a resource center in SLPV soon, to be a further support to the community. As everywhere, the children always seem to want their picture made. I really only wanted to take a picture of these trees and the vacant lot which is where the resource center will be built, but I accommodated their request.
Strand, an ocean-side city near by, as we drove toward Stellenbosch and a quick visit to three of my favorite wineries, Annandale, Alto, and Bilton.
The winemaker was present at Annandale, and came over to meet with us and chat a moment, finding out where I was from and how I had learned about his wines. The Reserve is one of my favorites, with my favorite "sweaty saddle" nose, and the vintage was 2001--the year of my first visit to South Africa. I decided it was symbolic of the likelihood that this is also my last visit, so purchased a bottle for our final dinner the following night.
A bit further up the road is Alto, also one of my favorites.

These flowers are prolific all over the area.
Ah, the dreaded guinea fowl. Jeanne's lovely home is also home to a flock of guinea fowl who live in the trees behind her yard. At dusk and sometimes during the night and at dawn, they screech incessantly. We made many a joke about how to off guinea fowl. On our way to dinner one night, we discovered these giant guinea fowl statues, so thought it fitting to memorialize them in photograph on our final day as we were leaving to return to Courtney and Lira's and prepare for the flight home.
Although there has been much building of new housing along the N2, and it is billed as the N2 Gateway--from Shacklands to Dignity on the billboards, it is primarily concentrated immediately near the city from the airport--where travelers will drive as they enter for the World Cup--"2010." The majority of the townships appear to remain as they were.

This is an additional stadium, built in Athlone, near where I worked on my 2007 trip, and also not far from where Courtney and Lira live.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Delayed Report of South Africa

I have not seen Joshua since he was about 10 months old so he was not sure what to make of me, though his mama and papa had prepared him for the visit of Tannie Susan and Oom Justin. While it was a very slow warm up the first few days, he adjusted to our presence and by the end of the trip, was playing and interacting with us both.
His mama, Lira, said his English improved during our visit. His first language is Afrikaans and while he speaks some English and understands some, he is still learning it after starting to school. As well, J and I learned some Afrikaans words, and often, the household was semi-bilingual.
The first day, we met our friend Jeanne and went to breakfast up at Rhodes Monument. Afterwards, Jeanne and J and I drove to Signal Hill to get a glimpse of the new soccer stadium for 2010. Once, this was where the market was held, however, the market was discontinued in order to build the stadium. That was sad to me, not only for the loss of the tradition of the market, but that many people earned their living there. Jeanne says the downtown market cannot accommodate them all now, so they can only have a booth every other day, which also affects their income.

One of the major concerns for 2010 is child trafficking and prostitution and abduction, and social agencies are gearing up with extra security and preparations to accommodate the needs.
Once back at the house, a neighbor came to visit and brought her little boy who is the age of Joshua as well. He took readily to me and crawled up on my lap.
This is the view of the mountains behind Jeanne's house, which is in Durbanville. We went to Jeanne's for lunch the following day (Sunday) where she made a traditional South African meal called brianni. It was a chicken curry kind of dish and was very good. We decided to try a couple of the wine farms in the immediate area (Durbanville Hills) but since it was holiday time and Sunday, most of them were closed. Still, it was a pleasant drive and afternoon since it was terribly hot in the house. Outside, the breeze blows and one can get under a shade tree.
This photo was one afternoon when Jeanne and I had been out and decided to stop by a wine farm. It reminded me so much of a scene one might see in West Texas...except for maybe not so many trees.
One afternoon following our visit to Aunty Goliath, Courtney, Lira, Jeanne and I visited a couple of wine farms. This is the view of Thelema, which is one of the top 2 vineyards in South Africa. I had always wanted to visit, but they sell out early in the year and by the time May got there for my usual visits, they were always closed. It was a lovely setting in the hills, and I could see why the wine is ranked so highly. We selected a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon "The Mint" which had a lovely chocolate and mint nose and finish, and saved it for our last night, but more on that later.

I began to see South Africa in a different light almost immediately, what I call the "2010 lens." I recall my dad saying as I was home Christmas, "Its a shame them spending all that money on a stadium when all those people are starving." J also shed new vision on things, commenting "too many fences." He was unprepared for all the concrete walls topped by razor wire or electric fences--"apartheid fences." I said I understood as this was my first visit to stay in such an area as well. It was very different from the small community in which I normally stay in my cottage and walk everywhere with little concern for my safety, and never having felt threatened in any way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Home to Mississippi

We are at home, after a very long 24 hours of flying, and even more time on the ground due to all sorts of unexpected difficulties. More security checks than one can imagine. I will update tomorrow, but for now have showered and am convincing my dog Libby that I am not a stranger.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Last Post from South Africa

It is Friday at last and our final day. I will stop by to visit Aunty Goliath on my way back to Courtney and Lira's where we plan pizza and wine for dinner, followed by chocolate cake and a lovely Thelema cabernet sauvignon infused with a deep chocolate nose and finish, to celebrate our departure. Then we will load for the airport and the long flight home. We are both happy to be returning home to Mississippi, Randy and for me--my dogs.

While it was nothing like I had planned, hoped, assumed, "it is what it is" and I have learned what I needed to experience.

Prayers go up and out from South Africa for safe travels home for J and me, for Randy's friend John, and for baby Emery.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Leaving South Africa

This has not been the trip that I imagined. Not even close. I am sitting here right now sweltering, with no energy nor motivation to write, other than to say we are okay and happy to be heading home on Friday night.

The most appropriate thing I can say is how my friend Jeanne expressed it: Perhaps this is just the end of your season in South Africa. I think that explains it best. I love people here, but my season of purpose here may well have ended and it took this trip to show me. I have written extensively in my journal, due to not having access to Internet the majority of the time, and have had some insight and awareness that are not possible when things go the way you think they should. A great deal of it has been about my work, but much of it has also been personal.

There have been some funny moments, some sad moments, some frightening moments, and some things that simply have to be dealt with. Some of those I will share once we are back in the US and I have access and can upload some pictures--it is just not feasible here now.

We are anxious to be home soon. Tomorrow I will visit, for the first time, the organization I was actually over here to do some work with--another long story. Friday, I will say goodbye to Aunty Goliath and my friends, and happily board a plane for a 24 hour flight home. I never thought I would be so happy to be on a plane for 24 hours as I will be on this one.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Better Days, These are Better Days

Just a brief note to say we have enjoyed the miracle of wonderful medical care from a private physician in South Africa. After explaining the situation with the Lyme's Disease and the recurrence, he was superbly nice. J got an injection of an anti-inflammatory, antibiotics, pain medication and instructions to come back in two days if not better. The visit, his medications were both less than his co-pay with insurance in the US. He is feeling better now.

Jeanne was great to negotiate the system for us and has been very supportive and helpful. We are all now recuperating back at her flat and miraculously her work was canceled tomorrow so we can enjoy the day that we were supposed to enjoy today. Plus, a cold front is coming and the next few days will be in the mid-70s so pleasant to be out and about.

Maybe pictures soon, and maybe a real blog story soon!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Update no pictures

Internet access here has been sporadic to say the least and that has been no ability to download pictures to this point. This trip has been very hard on me physically and emotionally, so even the stories are difficult to put into words this time. I am feeling better today, but J is quite ill and I had to go to the chemist to get medication for him. He is better finally, not only due to medication, but lots of Powerade. We are in Durbanville for the next couple of days and hope the change will be helpful. It was horribly hot today (I am so sunburned!) and someone set Khayletisha on fire, so the smoke and heat were bad as well.

I will be able to post a few pictures tomorrow and relay a bit of what is happening as I will have Internet and a little more time. Hope all is well with everyone back in the States.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year from South Africa

Good morning from a sunny and hot South Africa. We arrived safely with nary a problem anywhere along the trip. A good night's sleep and we are up and ready to begin our day--starting with food! Posts with pictures and stories will come later!