Soul Searching

“Out of suffering comes creativity. You cannot spell painting without pain.” John Lithgow

South Africa has been gifted a canvas of such natural beauty and diversity it leaves you breathless at times. Breathless at the sheer audacity and grace of the Artist and his/her depth of vision, generosity, and creativity.

If you’ve seen, heard or read anything in the news lately about South Africa that would be easy to forget. For, if you scratch a little below the surface what you’ll find is a strong undercurrent of powerlessness, and it’s close ally, hopelessness.

At some point, most, not some of us, have been knocked off our feet by that current, and by those, who feel the need to claim their power through senseless acts of violence.

It’s not as if we have ever denied that this country was built and sustained historically and politically through violence but perhaps we have been in denial about just how much it has spread through the veins of our social structures and about just how much it has become so every day.

So every day and so endemic.

So many questions and so few answers.

My personal beliefs are perhaps those of a small minority. I believe in energy, in flow, in tides, in seasons, in new ways of doing things, in new levels of consciousness, in sustainability, in community, in creativity, in the feminine, in forgiveness and in living in love.

I have referenced my father many times in this blog, and believe me, if he had just read the above paragraph, he would be saying by now, “What crap is this?”

Like my father, you and I may not believe in the same things and that’s ok but what would not be ok is if we collectively did not believe in hope. Hope for South Africa. Hope for re-discovering our collective soul. Hope for humanity.

Soul searching does not often happen in times of great joy and happiness. It happens in times of deep, dark despair. It happens in times of an achingly painful state of being. It happens in times when the stench of decay becomes unbearable and the rotting hatred of life too much.

For a country like South Africa where smart, strong, honest leadership is missing, it’s up to the small steps of one and giant leaps of many to claim it’s soul back.

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.” Ernst Fischer

If you still have it in you to dig a little deeper, to go into the depths of our complexities, to go beyond the violence and the depravity and the inhumanity, what you will find is communities.

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Communities of artists and of activists, groups of people who’ve stepped beyond the threshold of commercial gain and into the realm of agents of change. People who are quietly leading the way in re-generating, re-birthing and re-energising parts of the city and country that have been left for dead, so to speak.

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People who are using design, fashion, food, art, music, theatre and comedy to re-suscitate this ailing heart that is South Africa. They are proving through cultural endeavours that we are still here. That beyond the corruption, the fraud, and the violence, those who believed in what freedom would bring post-1994, those who were inspired by the humanity of Nelson Mandela and those who believe in a bright future for South Africa, are still here.

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They are proving that there is still a heart beat in this country, and however faint or weak it might be, as long as it is there, we have hope.

Hope that one day the beauty of the canvas will be matched by the beauty of the collective soul.

 

 

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A Very English Girl Passing Through A Very Afrikaans World

If you are from Bloemfontein and are sensitive or defensive, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS.

All Afrikanerism definitions from Wikipedia. I did not make them up. I promise.

Traveling is a wonderful thing. I love it. I love my country. I love traveling in my country. I love the diversity of the landscape and the people.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, like when you’re sitting in a sports car, and your face is Vogue ready and you’re wearing your Karl Lagerfeld’s and you’re looking pristine, and some moegoe (silly/stupid person) sticks his face through the car window and says, “Heita ousie (hello maid/black female)”, you just have to wonder whether you passed a border post and didn’t realise it.

These are just my thoughts, the thoughts of a very English girl passing through a very Afrikaans world, Bloemfontein.

If there is one thing traveling has taught me, it’s the good sense to differentiate between a language and an attitude. I have no issues with Afrikaans as a language; it’s one of the easiest and most expressive languages in the world.

I do have issues though with the attitude of some Afrikaans speaking people.

On entering the city, of roses, mind you, I felt like I was in a 1980’s South Africa, like someone had pressed rewind on the politics, culture and clothing. Like Nelson Mandela had never happened. Like vellies (veldskoens – traditional Afrikaans outdoor shoes made from hide) were still in fashion.

I felt like Posh Spice in the heart of Boerfontein (farmer’s land). Jislaaik! (Oh the horror).

But at least I cracked a smile.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, and you find that you’ve crossed the invisible border post, and you are in the middle of some sort of time lapse, you just have to pull in the bum and push out the boobs, and “gooi” (throw your weight/attitude/bitchiness) with the best of them.

When I was out in public, my laaitie (younger person, esp. a younger male), kept saying to me, ‘get ready for the stares’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry, 2 years in Korea prepared me for stares’.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, and you find yourself in an adverse or annoying situation, feel it, deal with it and move on. It’s the Universe preparing you for another situation. And because you have already been prepared for it you won’t feel the need to skop, skiet en donner (kick, shoot and beat people up) over it.

Just march on like the laanie (boss) you are!

If it sounds like Bloemfontein is a kak plek (crap/shit place), ag shame man, it’s actually not.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, you need to get past certain things and focus on the positive, and then you’ll enable yourself to just enjoy the experience.

Bloemfontein does have the most amazing skyline. It feels like you can reach up and touch it.

The streets are clean and the gardens pretty.

I got to run, walk and hike in a beautiful, quiet and peaceful wildlife estate.

 

Photo: The wildlife estate

I got to enjoy some quality time with family (great conversation, good laughs and lots of delicious food)

I satisfied my craving for pap ‘n vleis met a bietjie chakalaka on the side

 

Photo: Boerewors, lamb chops, pap and chakalaka

Bloem is mos a ander plek maar ‘n goeie plek. (Bloem is an ‘other’ kind of place but a good place)

This ‘ousie” may not be back in a hurry, but still, one love. We cool. Like that.

Ons sal weer om dieselfde vuur sit. Miskien.

Photo: Sunset Clouds

 

Putting your best face forward

My mother lived for many years near a beach front area with a beautiful promenade. We’d often go for walks in the evening but before we left she always had to do her face first.

She is not a vain woman so it would make me all the more frustrated that she HAD to touch up with a little foundation, mascara and eye-liner beforehand. And being the brat that I was I would always go big on the moaning and whining about having to wait for her. “We’re only going for a walk, why do you need to do your face?” Standard question and the standard unapologetic answer, “You never know who you’re going to meet.”

What I didn’t realise back then that I know now is that there is this subliminal pressure in society to always present your best self to others. To present the face you think other’s think is the perfect you.

You meet an old school friend for coffee and she glosses over all the real shit stuff happening in her life and presents you with her best photo-shopped version. She leaves out all the cellulite and stretch marks and only talks about the toned and tanned.

So there you are thinking wow, Debbie’s doing so well. All the while she actually feels unappreciated by her husband, is stressed and overworked in her job, is struggling financially and can’t get a handle on her kids.

And we all do this. You. Me. Debbie. Because no-one wants to be a downer, no-one wants to be judged, but mostly, we do this because we’re taught to ‘pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile smile’.  We’re not really encouraged to talk about the less than pretty, to unpack the ugly, to let it go.

We use social media sites to present the best packaged versions of ourselves.  We get on Facebook and write snippety status updates because we’re hip like that. We get on Twitter and write witty one liners because we’re smart like that. We get on to Instagram and shimmy up all our pics because we’re cool like that.

And yes people naturally want to hear and see all the positives. People like the good and warm and fuzzy. I like the good and warm and fuzzy. But life is not all about the good and warm and fuzzy.

Have you ever wondered what makes Nelson Mandela or Oprah’s life stories all the more powerful? It’s the fact that they’re not perfect.

Yes, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison sacrificing his personal freedom for the greater good of his country. And for this he is adored and respected. But he has also not pretended to be the perfect man. He is twice divorced with a strained relationship with his children. He has endured personal struggles.

And yes, Oprah is one of the most powerful and successful woman in the world. But she has also not presented the standard ‘poor black girl makes good’ story. She’s exposed the sexual abuse, the promiscuity, the lack of self worth, the emotional eating and I’m sure a whole lot more. She has endured personal struggles.

And it’s in these personal struggle stories that we can relate to them.  We have context for their lives and we have truth. And in some ways it makes us feel a connection with them knowing that they too have struggled.

You don’t look at them and think, damn, I’m never going be like that. You look at them and think hell yeah, I want to be like that and I can be like that. Their personal struggles didn’t stop them from being all that they can be. Just like ours don’t have to stop us from being all that we can be.

It took me a long time and a lot of tears to come to this realisation. It took me an even longer time to know that you don’t have to be perfect for people to like you, to respect you, to love you.

In fact, if you are truly engaging with people then you are being the imperfect you. You’re revealing the cellulite, the stretch marks, the chicken skin, the acne scars, the lumps and bumps and rolls.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, some may turn away in disgust and run.  But that’s ok because you’ll never do it for everyone all the time. In my experience the people that matter the most stay and hold your hand and love you all the more.

I only managed to unpack my old kit bag about 3-4 years ago. And when I did I had an emotional break-down of magnificent proportions. This of course is not really recommended. Not unless you don’t mind not being able to sleep, eat, drink or speak. And you like crying for days.

Don’t be like me. Don’t stash away your struggles. Don’t try to be perfect. Don’t minimise you by maximizing a version of yourself.

Be imperfect. Be you. Be free.