Saturday, December 28, 2013

Makeshift Beach Shelters, Tomatoes, Pine Nuts...

It has been hot, hot, hot and we're just finishing off the last of the plum sauce from last year's plums, pictured here as plum-lemonade-coconut ice-cream (Emily, thank you so much for the little metal cups, we use them every day). This year's plums are just ripening on my dad's trees now.
Yesterday we went to see my brother fly his microlight parachute at Misty Cliffs/Soetwater. It was incredibly hot so my mom had the idea to build a shelter out of pieces of wood scattered on the beach. Genius, right?

Even though it was very, very hot, the water was extremely cold. Which did not stop the kids from running in and out of the waves, of course. 
This is the time of year where the pine trees are laden with cones, and any free time is spent cracking nuts. I'll write more about it soon. Despite the fact that it's ridiculously time-consuming, I still feel abundance  as I gradually accumulate enough nuts for our year's supply of pesto.
I now follow the Cape Town tides religiously, and go to different beaches depending on the tides. We go very early at the moment, because it's tourist season and most beaches are packed, and also because of the heat. I also follow the tides so that when it's low tide early-ish in the morning, I go with the kids to pick mussels. While I could probably go out closer to the waves to forage if I was by myself, the moon must be just right to forage safely with the kids.The best mussels are in open sea rather than tidal pools, accessible only during low tide.
Even though the early blight hit our tomatoes pretty hard because of unusually late summer, today I experienced even more abundance when I happened upon a set of GIANT cherry tomatoes growing on a compost pile at the ecovillage. We were able to get about 5kg of perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes, more than I was likely to get from mine in the best of times.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas

My natural tendency during Christmas is to do nothing at all- probably due to a bad mixture of laziness and frugality and actual lack of income. Yet with Noah and Eli I want to somehow convey to them that Jesus' birth is a big deal, and that because of Jesus my life is different. 

I once heard a pastor suggest that it might be fun to try to celebrate Christmas in a way that is somewhat different than your natural tendency. For me, that means putting a bit more effort into finding what the kids would consider as the ultimate in abundance. Sortof because what Jesus has rescued me from is the sense that I always have to be at work strategizing to make my life "work", so instead of feeling that things will fall apart if I don't measure up (ok I still feel that sometimes), I feel abundance- contentment- at some deep level. And I want to convey that to the kids.

So Noah and I made cookies. Last year, making cookies with Noah was easy-ish because he took on whatever small task was assigned him. This year, he had to do everything himself so it was a painful, multi-day process. He loved it. But apart from preparing cookies, we tried to convey abundance by allowing routines more flexibility, spending time with family, taking a couple of days off, and providing the experiences that we know Noah and Eli really enjoy.

But they turned out really well. We planned to give them to all our family members but then we ate all but one small bottleful. So we had to make truffles secretly.
Noah got this big windmill from my parents. There's abundance, right there.

Eli got a little windmill, an my sister brought giant flowers that had been props for a kindergarten play she'd staged. 

My sister-in-law's famous gingerbread house...
Elis favourite thing in the world is balloons. So we blew up 50 for him to discover on Christmas morning. The only thing is that I greatly overestimated my tolerance for balloons all over the house. In the left top corner is Noah's gift: a bike generously provided by someone on freecycle.
We got to take the kids swimming in my parent's pool. 
And after we had run out of things to do, and the kids were completely exhausted, we turned on the sprinkler for a bit.

Then today, we visited Newland's forest, where two helicopters were landed.

Contributing to erosion?
They were completely covered in red clay soil by the end, but joy is a river, rocks and some soil.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mostert's Mill

We had the opportunity to visit the only working windmill south of the Sahara today. It's in Mowbray, just 5 minutes drive from our house, off the M3:

The mill was built in the late 1700s and is maintained by friends of the mill, who have apprenticed in how to maintain it. Once a month, the trained millers demonstrate the process and make about 6kg of milled flour. It's beautifully maintained and it's amazing to see the millstones at work (I've only read about it in Richard Scarrey books before!) - and you can apprentice there and learn how it all works! We'll definitely keep going back and get to know the mill as best we can.

Noah kept looking for Able Baker Charlie.

Up the stairs. Noah is pretty cautious about stairs but he was curious enough to brave two sets of stairs to look at the two upper levels of the windmill. 

Noah didn't care that much about the mill, but he really liked a dog that someone had brought along.

We got to spend time with my nephews, too!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Changing perspectives and Mandela

I've noticed in our talking of Mandela as the father of our nation, we gloss over a lot. I am talking particularly to those of us who are white South Africans: When we talk about the Mandela who we loved and respected as the father of our nation, the father of our democracy, we hide the feelings of fear that dominated at the time, at least in my small corner of the world there in Durban North. Then, Madiba was not our father. It is a big deal that so many of us, myself included, now join the chorus of those who say goodbye to a father figure. What happened in between?

I think there is embarrassment in charting the change, so we go right to celebrating. Or maybe it doesn't feel appropriate to remember Mandela by talking about ourselves. But it is a big deal when people change their minds AND say their perspective on the world was wrong. It is something to be proud of. Maybe it builds courage for others grappling with other inherited prejudices to talk about exactly what made Mandela great for us.

So I want to talk about my parents' and my generation- the recovering racists. There is a gradual transition happening, where people are learning to say the right thing, but they don't believe that they received any undeserved privilege, and I'm not talking about that here. I'm talking about real change. Like recovering alcoholics, we're never fully "there" no matter how many years sober. But we changed, and Mandela was central to that change.

I was seven years old when Mandela was released from prison. I was a very little girl but I remember fear, I remember friends moving to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, to a lesser extent the U.S. in the years between 1990 and 1994. Envy at those with foreign passports. I remember the entitlement and the ignorance, and the fact that it was normal. I also now know how abnormal it was to have had more than a handful of friends or acquaintances shot or hijacked. When schools opened up it wasn't fun for the first black child in a formerly white school, the first coloured. Or the first hundred; in our neighbourhood, non-whites remained the outsiders in our schools right up until I left school in 1999. I remember when schools closed for three days for the first democratic elections in 1994, the mood in my neighbourhood wasn't ebullient. It was fearful.

But then there was the footage on TV of old grannies voting for the first time, there were images of Mandela's inauguration, and whatever else I knew, I knew I was witnessing a miracle. What Mandela did for those of us with small horizons, in "nice" racist neighbourhoods with very limited exposure to the systemic violence of apartheid- was to give us a glimpse of another way, one that included forgiveness, an actual taste of a world in which an eye for an eye didn't hold. It got me out of defensive mode long enough to learn something new. By proving our worst fears wrong, Mandela created a paradigm shift, and I understood the world a little differently after that first election. As I watched Mandela it was clear to me, an eleven year old, that the most common justification for apartheid, the statment that "'those' people need more time to develop" was simply not true.

But not everything changed after 1994. My world was still small and in that world, white people were still in charge, even if not politically. Sure, we learned at school about the Sharpeville Massacre and the Group Areas Act but these were taught as distant events, not events that were directly linked to the way we lived there in Durban. No one in our family belonged to the police or committed acts of violence during their military service! We weren't rich! The socioeconomic implications of apartheid were (and are) discussed in unhelpful and alienating ways: "formerly disadvantaged", "black economic empowerment". The new fear was affirmative action. I remember in 1999 arriving to Wales and to my first Math class and assuming that the black person next to me would need my help- that was all I knew. It was disorienting that she had to help me figure out my TI-83 graphing calculator. And gradually, my horizons expanded through different glimpses of the world, study, different friendships. Those horizons are still expanding.

The point of this is not to foster guilt or self-hate. Racism was (is?) in the air and we could not help but breath it in. I want to highlight the significance of a large group of people giving up long-held prejudices- or trying to- because of Mandela's decisions in the 1990s. For us, it is a big deal for Mandela to be revered as a father. Perhaps a big enough deal to allow me to glance up from all the day-to-day things that grab my attention.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Lemon-basil sorbet, melon seeds, drawings and Christmas

We discovered lemon and basil go really well together in sorbet. Sugar, lemon, water, freshly chopped basil.
Did you know that, like pumpkin seeds, you can roast melon seeds? I didn't. These were from a spanspek, or cantaloupe
Noah is really into bones. Which morphed into fascination with "the Human Body". Here, he asked me to draw kidneys and a bladder to colour in, and then after he coloured it in, he copied me, with a second bladder "for emergencies". I like how he thinks.

Our Christmas tree is in a pot, borrowed yearly from my dad, who keeps it alive the rest of the year. Inspired by Eugene's cousins in Texas, we are trying out origami- Noah's a little young for it, but he loves watching. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Reflections on Mandela's life and the second anniversary of my return to South Africa

Yesterday it was two years since we arrived in South Africa to live, and when I woke up, I heard the news that Nelson Mandela had died.

Someone wrote that "exile is a one-way trip, even if you return". Though I was not exactly in exile during my years away, I have found this to be true. I do not understand what it means to be South African anymore. I am South African, certainly I am nothing else, but I take my South Africanness, indeed my Africanness, as a birthright. It is not something I have to prove by trying not to act too white, liking the right foods, having native crafts tastefully placed around my home, talking about rainbow nations or the natural beauty of this place (I would like to communicate better in more South African languages, though- I think that is something real and helpful).

For South Africans my age, I have in common the story of Mandela- and the story of what the ANC once represented. I tell it as the miracle of my childhood, a miracle I hope to retell to my grandchildren one day, and they to theirs. While my understanding of this miracle changes as I grow up- and I frame it both supernaturally and naturally- I know I owe my life to Mandela and others who chose grace and growth over justice. For what it's worth, I would like that story to continue. I have only to drive through Langa to know that the story is nowhere near complete.

We will never be a nice Afrikaans family in a small farming town somewhere outside of Cape Town, even if we settle as homesteaders and live there for many years. Though we have thrown in our lot with South Africa with all the passion we could muster, we are not fully rooted here. Our home contains a weird mixture of customs picked up from everywhere, and mostly we just want to keep it passably clean. Eugene is Korean and American. I have lived outside of South Africa for many of the formative years of my late teens and twenties. I don't know if my children will marry South Africans or want to live here. And Cape Town is an uncomfortable place to live: conveniences and ostentatious wealth set against the constant reminder of the worst kind of poverty, poverty in which I am implicated and yet have few good ideas on alleviating. And yet here we are.

Part of me would love to share with Noah and Eli a deep connection to a particular place- to the earth and to specific people in a specific place. That is why it makes me so happy they are growing up near my family here in Cape Town. I am insecure about what spread-out roots mean to living responsibly, faithfully, sustainably. Perhaps that is what we will try to offer them through our lives - for now we are their roots. Perhaps not belonging also means understanding what it means for others to be outsiders, too. Perhaps we will all learn empathy together.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Extraordinary radicals

In 1980 Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan were murdered by officers of the Salvadoran military. Missionaries serving among the poor during El Salvador’s civil war, these women knew, as Ita Ford said the night before she died, that “one who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor.” Their deaths affected the North American church deeply, galvanizing opposition to US support for the Salvadoran government’s repression of its -people.

This was the start of the prayer in the liturgy of the ordinary radicals today, the anniversary of their deaths. When I looked up more about the four women, I found that Jean Donovan was just in her twenties when she was killed. 

I don't know terribly much about the stories of these women, but I hope to think about their lives today as I work on my PhD. As I work, there's the temptation to take the most cynical route possible: "what will get me the degree so that I can move on with my life?" I hope that I don't do this, even though I understand the need to be somewhat pragmatic. I hope I can be a tiny bit brave and try to say something a tiny bit different than what is expected in the academic setting I'm in. And when I move on from this one part of my life, I hope I can be a tiny bit brave in how I teach Noah and Eli about the world- to look beyond our immediate realities and to tiny, brave things we can do every day. I know the actions of these women were more than tiny brave choices- they were huge! But maybe God also calls us to tiny brave choices that accumulate and gradually amount to us becoming the people who can, with authority, stand up for injustice.