Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sawa sawa

This is the first year that it seemed that Noah could understand some of what Easter represents, but wading through my own jargon and conceptions to give him something helpful didn't go as planned:

Noah: Why Easter?
Jo: We're thanking Jesus for coming and helping us and showing us who God is.
Noah: Oh!! Happy Christmas!!!
Jo: Well, ummm. No. I think. Um.. Actually well, Jesus actually died at Easter time.
Noah: Oh!! Kill me! Cook me! Eat me! [a few too many books where the animals attempt to eat other animals]
Jo: um. Uh....
Noah: Please mommy! Cook me!!!
Jo: Um. So Easter.  God sent Jesus so that the worst things we do... those don't need to be the whole of us. Jesus showed us another way. By giving us everything.
Noah: Kill me! Cook me!

So not entirely helpful on how death translates to life, but Noah understands how death and food are integrally related. So it is perhaps just one more step. 

This past week we visited Hermanus- me for a university thing and Eug, Eli and Noah so that I didn't have to be away from Eli for too long. 
This is a Western Leopard Toad that was trapped in this container when we were in Hermanus this past week. Noah saved it and then watched as it decided where to go next. Toads breath through their skin so they are often the first victims of development and pollution. 
Here's Eli at Grotto Beach. 

This was the view from my work spot. In winter, the whales come right into the bay.
 Noah and Eli did wonderfully on the beach while I was working.

After a few really good days in Hermanus, we decided to return via an alternate route in case we saw potential farms on the way. This is what we saw:

This is Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) is nearby Hermanus- It was breathtakingly beautiful. 
When we kept going on a dirt road after an unexpected detour, we came upon an out-of-the-way set of farms in Tesselaarsdaal that have been seriously over-grazed and the soil destroyed by excessive industrial barley farming for beer (as far as we could tell). Given that this town is not even on the map, our dirt road detour seemed to be something to think about and look into as we consider our next life step, which is what we're doing now.

Returning to Easter and the subject of the post, I thought the Swahili phrase "sawa sawa" represents some of the contentment we're trying to enter into right now. Kenyans feel free to tell me off, but from my Eric Wainaina phase I always hear sawa sawa and think of an early song where it means more than the literal "I'm fine"; here's an excerpt and the youtube video:

[I wake up early in the morning,
and hear the birds call out my name
I look heavenward and hear your voice say
You're alright you're ok,
I'm alright, I'm ok.

(and later in the song)
I've stretched my rod as far as I can reach
Say I'm alright I'm ok
You're alright, you're ok.]

If you can overlook the old style of the video (and the phonics section at the end!!), this is one of my favourite songs because it calls into view contentment that's totally outside of us. It speaks of Moses reaching his rod to part the sea, and the act being real and physical but totally trivial in terms of actually performing the miracle and parting of the seas to free his people from slavery. I'm encouraged that our real and physical act of faith doesn't actually have to do a whole lot in actually making something happen- there's a lot there simply in the act of reaching out as far as we can.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The First Honey

Growing up my dad loved raising bees and after a very long break, he's just bought a hive. In South Africa, there are not specific ordinances against raising bees in the suburbs or the city, but if your neighbours complain then you'd likely have to get rid of them. So for a long time, my dad has longed to have bees but hasn't been able to because the house is surrounded by about 1-4m of garden, so there's no "corner" in which the bees would be away from the wall and away from the house. South Africa is also home to certain kinds of pretty aggressive kinds of bees, so there are real stakes involved in figuring out a safe place to keep the bees. The Cape honey bee is not as aggressive as other South African bees, so that makes it easier to keep bees in pretty tight quarters than, say, in Durban.

Inspired by the hives she read about on top of New York City skyscrapers, my mom suggested a small flat piece of corrugated iron roof above their bathroom. After some time searching for a place that would sell them their supplies, they found the Bee Foundation in Ndabeni/Pinelands. If you're interested in beekeeping in Cape Town, visit!! As a side note, at the shop there's also a perspex covered bee frame so you can show your kids (and yourself) the bees at work making honey, and it's a place where you can get waste-free unprocessed honey on tap if you bring your own container.

According to the Bee Foundation, beekeeping is a dying art in South Africa. So if you're here in South Africa and have even a tiny bit of space- a flat roof or any garden space, keeping bees certainly involves a learning curve, but can be done easily and well in a very small space.  The cost of a hive with a swarm is about R780, and if you add in the basic supplies, you can get started for less than R2000. With the short Cape winters, once you start getting honey, the cost will be quickly recovered. You can also build a hive yourself for much cheaper, there are a lot of different templates on the web.

After a couple of months with the bees, my dad did his first tentative robbing this past Tuesday, and it seemed to be an occasion worthy of documenting!

The honey is capped with wax. Although you generally don't take the wax that forms the honeycomb (it is a lot of work for the bees to make), you need to carefully slice off the wax that caps the ripe honey, in order for the honey to be released.
Once the thin layer of wax is removed, the honey is revealed.

To get it out, the honey is spun in a kind of centrifuge- basically a large bucket with a drill attachment and a place for the frames to rest while the honey is spun out.

It was exciting enough that Noah has been making honey out of everything in sight since Tuesday...

Once the honey is spun out of the comb, the extractor is tilted so the honey flows out of a hole in the bottom.

Beautiful, fresh honey!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Productivity and Soul

I have two indicators that my soul is doing poorly: If I get angry at minibus taxis who cut me off when I'm driving (which is like getting angry at the rain for falling), and if I get really angry when Noah wakes Eli up after I've spent ages lulling him to sleep (which is like getting angry at the rain for falling).

Our pastor at the Vineyard in Boston used to describe this condition of "grim drivenness" as something to avoid at all costs. The words sum up the condition well: in myself a space where the voice in my head says I must go on; everyone should congratulate me on surviving, I must go on, I consider myself that pillar that cannot fall. Given all the time that we've spent to avoid consumerism and the 9-5 and give our best to Noah, Eli, and eachother, it's unfortunate that I've fallen deeply into this drivenness in recent months.

I could give you the background but I wonder if it is a background each of us can relate to in various stages of our lives: babies not sleeping, parents not sleeping, a death in our family, some concern over vocation and work and finding space for this in amongst the babies, and South African Home Affairs. Delete home affairs and maybe the babies, and I guess it's your story at some stage, too.

What I have been discovering recently, to my surprise, is that my soul is more important than productivity, even creative self-actualizing productivity. It is not that I didn't know this. It is just that I didn't know I was neglecting my soul. It is something that crept up on me. The problem is, the soul is whispy and intangible, and my work is tangible and involves timelines, deadlines, and money. I take great pride in being a juggler, in writing a journal article and canning tomato sauce in one day. But pride, at least this kind of pride, is usually a sign that something is not quite right. While it always seems the soul can wait another day, the reality is that it is the one thing that should not have to wait.

My soul needs rest and space to recover and give space to others. It is no good to live or parent from a place of grim drivenness. Rest is also ephemeral- it is not TV or internet, or even practicing spiritual disciplines such as devotionals or prayer, though these definitely help. That is, rest cannot be ticked off a to-do list like prayer or reading some Psalms. Entering into rest involves having my eyes opened to the reality that the pillar wasn't actually bearing any real weight after all, and the house will not only stand but might even look more inviting if it were to fall.

For me entering into rest often involves reading a good, soul-feeding book: I'm reading Wendell Berry's "Art of Commonplace", Mark Scandrette's "Practicing the Way of Jesus", and Masanoba Fukuoka's "Sowing Seeds in the Desert", if anyone is keen to read along with me. For me it is also cleaning the house, and learning to treat my work in the household as valuable and important and beautiful- and self-actualizing, surely as much as any less tangible work outside. It is going to bed really early so when I am woken up, I am not angry. And, perhaps most surprisingly for me as a beginner parent, it is placing some limits on my children not because I know it is best for them to have these limits or because I think they must learn to be unselfish or whatever, but because if they need more than I can give them, then it is better to acknowledge this and step back to see how to get them what they need another way, than to attempt to give what I do not have and in so doing become a pot of simmering anger. To put it somewhat dramatically in a very long sentence.

Which is to say, even having [tentatively] let go of many external measures of success (money, a good job, the praise of peers), there remain so many internal measures of success that are directly opposed to a flourishing of good fruit (love, abundance of spirit, gentleness, self-control, real generosity). This good fruit is from God, available for the picking, but somehow very hard to reach up and pluck.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Swimming with the Penguins

There's something about going to the beach that helps our family a lot. We calm down, slow down, and I enjoy my smallness in relation to the massive ocean and the way things just seem to work in nature (if there's no interference), without any worry or much fear or control.

Our favourite beach at the moment is Boulders, or the Penguin beach. We go early and climb over the rocks and wade through the water until we reach our own little secluded spot, where we sit alone but for the penguins. We don't prepare too much, because the clambering means we can't hold much. We take our Kleen Kanteens with home made ice-cream, some cookies and fruit and water. A change of clothes for the kids. No towels, no toys, no umbrellas.

Noah wears his Italian Moon shirt in honour of Leah, who sewed it, and Lia, who gave it to me a long time ago, and [today?] became an MP. Yes. Our Lia.
I don't think she meant to lay an egg right there. 
Because it was super high tide, all the penguins were bunched together. We were careful not to bother them.
Also because it was high tide, the penguins were swimming like crazy. When I see them swimming I can tell that they belong in the water. And I'm slower to giggle when I see them waddling on land. Perhaps a deep metaphor? 
There was no beach so we camped out on a rock and spent lots of time in the water.

We even got to have home made ice-cream.