Born Free

Born Free Copyright 2013 Wordycara

Born Free
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

For many people worldwide and South Africans, in particular, this has been a week of solemn reflection as we process the passing of Nelson Mandela (Madiba), hailed as the last greatest leader of the 20th Century. Of his many traits that have been highlighted, the one that stands out to me today is his great sense of timing. He had this talent in every sense – from his unique style of dancing coined the ‘Madiba shuffle’, his spot-on public speaking, the delivery of his many punchlines and jokes, to his political and leadership timing that hardly ever saw him put a foot wrong.

It is, therefore, not surprising to me that even in death, his timing has been impeccable. Today, 16 December – the day after his funeral – is the day us South Africans celebrate as the Day of Reconciliation. The focus of the day is for all South Africans to continue to work together to build a nation based on mutual respect and equality.

The past week has allowed us to reflect on the principles that Madiba and his peers held dear. It’s ensured that we’ve taken stock of what we’ve achieved and what still has to be achieved – making sure that we attain the right balance in striving towards a shared future.

Today is not simply a day off work, reflecting on the past. The nature of the day makes us look forward and also allows for some introspection – how are we, on a daily basis, working in the spirit of forgiveness? Do we allow little hurts that others – friends, relatives, foes, strangers – have caused us to fall away or do we hang onto them, allowing them to taint our future interactions and become bigger obstacles than they ought to be?

For me, as I reflect, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that my children are ‘born frees’. The term ‘born free’ refers to children born after the fall of apartheid, who have (or SHOULD have) access to the same opportunities to realise their potential. Now, although my children would technically not have been ‘have nots’ under the previous government, I have termed them born frees because they have truly been brought up free from discriminatory thoughts. While they are aware that people have many different tones of skin colour, they do not care for labels such as ‘black’ and ‘white’. It makes no sense to them. They appreciate that people speak different languages and enjoy diverse celebrations. They are interested, intrigued and eager to consume knowledge about others that makes them true global citizens. They are free to do all of this without constraints to their thinking. What is even more remarkable, is that even though they have far greater knowledge about and interaction with other cultures, countries and people, they remain devoted to the country of their birth. They long for the feel of the African sand under their bare feet, the warm health-giving sunshine, the call of the jackal in the veld on a hot summer evening, and the vibrant colours and characters that paint our everyday lives.

The timing was perfect for the children to learn who Madiba was and why he was so important worldwide (simply told, but sufficient for them to have a better understanding). What great things they have learnt about forgiveness, about making a future that is nothing like your past and about being the very best person you can be each day. They’ve learnt it is possible to break expectations and exceed your own. They’ve learnt that the world is not always fair or right or kind, but it is how you respond to those injustices that is important.

How very fortunate us South Africans are to have a day set aside that allows us to carry out our own little reconciliation – seeking to find a better balance and having the opportunity to extend the olive branch, where needed. Today is the perfect day to reflect, free your mind from the negative thoughts that hold you back and move forward. You don’t need to be a South African to do all of this, and that is why I am sharing it with you.

Stand up, be Counted and Make a Difference to your World

Farewell Madiba  Copyright Wordycara 2013

Farewell Madiba
Copyright 2013 Wordycara

I remember the crisp, fresh autumn morning in April 1994 well, right down to the clothes I wore. I was waiting in a queue that went on and around a few blocks ahead of me – no front in sight. Behind me, the queue went on for even longer. People were chatting. Strangers striking up conversation with one another… laughter, joking, excitement, anticipation. English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, Setswana and so many more languages merging together into a unique rhythm, music to the ear. Strangers – young, old, healthy, frail, male, female and – then – most importantly, black, coloured, Indian and white all together with the same vision ahead of us.

18 years old, having just recently celebrated my birthday, I held my identity book as if it were gold. This was one thing that my normally flippant teenage mind grasped the importance of and I took a mental photo of that moment, standing in that line waiting to cast my first ever vote along with so many others who had waiting so long, too long to have their individual voice heard.

It did not matter which party we were voting for. What mattered was that we could now share the same experience, irrespective of our backgrounds, beliefs, language or colour of our skin. We knew that change was inevitable. What was not inevitable in our minds was how it would all turn out.

Everyone recalls this day – the first free and fair democratic elections in South Africa that marked the end of Apartheid. The picture of snaking queues of people that went on for kilometres and that filled television screens will remain imprinted in the minds of everyone around the world. What must not be forgotten is that the wheels were set into motion long before these queues gave the first insight into the sheer number of South Africans who yearned to make the country something to be proud of. I cannot detail the intricate political history or the many steps along the way, but I can share my memories – the thoughts of an adolescent who understood that what was happening was significant, but perhaps not yet how significant it all was.

The first memory I have of the impending change of ‘the way things were’ was on 11 February 1990, when I saw, on the news, a man called Nelson Mandela being released from prison. Not being too interested in adult chatter, but still managing to absorb snippets of conversation, I recall being unsure about whether this was a good or perhaps not-so-good thing.

A referendum was called in 1992 to determine whether white South Africans supported the negotiated reforms that would bring an end to the Apartheid system. Always grateful for my multi-racial schooling, I remember the entire school being led out onto the athletics field as the referendum was due to take place, creating a colourful chain of joined hands, singing songs of peace and hoping for a positive outcome. It was.

Leading up to those elections in 1994, there was naturally a great sense of apprehension and uncertainty. Would revenge be exacted by those who had suffered for so many years in so many ways – humiliation, physical violence, exclusion and separation? Would extreme right-wing groups scupper the work that was being done? What would happen and how would it affect us all?

Well, on that day in 1994, there was no sign of those worries and fears. Cleaners, gardeners, rubbish collectors, teachers, lawyers, doctors, the educated, the illiterate stood side by side. All wanting the best for themselves, their families, their future and our beautiful country.

Nelson Mandela became our President by means of a legitimate process, but he became our hero through his example, his instinctive talent for leadership and his decision to leave bitterness to evaporate in the confines of a prison cell.

He took what utopian thinkers might call the best possible outcome and made it a reality. We wanted to be able to live side by side, accepting of and acknowledging our differences, carving a life for our families filled with opportunity and making South Africa an example of how an infamous country can become one to be emulated, held up as a model of reconciliation, respect and worthiness.

He helped us to feel worthy – worthy to each have our place in society and on the world stage. I always smile to myself when people from overseas talk about the film Invictus and how magnificent the World Cup-winning rugby match must have been. It is indeed a wonderful film and one which had my husband and I teary eyed as we managed to catch it randomly and at least three times on TV after we arrived in Germany. Oh, but it was so much better in reality. To experience a such a sense of unity, of support for one another and our team, and to admire the example set by such a savvy, yet authentic and sincere leader is indescribable.

What a sense of pride it gives me to know that I am a witness to one of the most significant periods of African and world history.

As I think back to that day in 1994, it strikes me as significant that I cannot actually recall the very moment that I made my first cross on a ballot. What stands out is the camaraderie I felt in the queue, the excitement, the acceptance and the knowledge that every person has the power to make a difference.

I will forever be grateful that we had a leader who showed us that forgiveness and love for your fellow human will overcome the darkest possibilities. Nelson Mandela served his South Africans well. Now it is our duty to continue his work, to persevere and to never allow the principles, for which he and so many others fought so hard to make a reality, to be discarded.

Rest in peace, Madiba. You are our pride, who held our hopes in your hands and kept them safe. It’s time to take those hopes and continue to strive towards them as our guiding star.

When the Hemispheres Switched – Part 1

Adventure, beginnings, fear, ignoring the chatterings of a severe risk aversion and a leap of faith are all related to how this blog started. They’re also words I associate with the switching of my hemispheres…

Ah, I see you there rolling your eyes and circling your forefingers around either side of your head and muttering to yourself, “What is she going on about? Loopy, loopy chick!”. Well, perhaps, but actually it really does make sense. I’m talking about when I left my family, friends and home in South Africa for an adventure in Europe. It’s not really as ‘devil-may-care’ as I’d like it to sound. In fact, I have a very vivid memory of me prodding my forefinger in the vicinity of my husband’s face (he’s a tall guy, ok? Think well-fed Chihuahua versus St Bernard) and making him promise that it would be for the shortest time possible and that we’d be back in the blink of an eye. Expat contracts don’t work that way. In fact, they’re rather unpredictable in nature and you learn to go with the flow and make the most of the here-and-now… but he didn’t tell me that because he knew better. You don’t yell a warning at an ostrich while it’s got its head buried in the sand – you’re going to get a nasty kick and a very scrambled egg.

Now how did I get on this tangent? Well, all these lovely memories got hauled up by the arrival of a South African family to my current city this past week. I’m finding I’m putting myself in the new lass’s shoes, trying to give her very worthy advice based on the lessons learnt in my first few weeks here. Call it therapy for me, if you will. Plus, I’ve never really had a chance to relate all my “When the Hemispheres Switched” stories on my visits home because: a) we’re too busy catching up on what has being going on behind our backs; and b) I don’t want to ruin the great vibes when our nearest and dearest are quaffing the best red/white that South Africa has to offer, while I savour every sip of my it-costs-more-to-get-there-than-the-wine cream soda.

The problem, I’m finding, is that there’s a very fine line between giving valuable advice and underestimating the lady’s resilience. Add to that the most bizarre thought that occurred to me: Allow her to experience some of the things herself. Now, could this be supreme genius on my part, allowing the lady to immerse herself in experiences, creating memories that she can share back home, “You won’t believe what happened to me today…” and learning things in her own way and on her terms? The alternative is slightly sinister with overtones of ‘schadenfreude’ and I’d like to think that I reserve that only for my most mean-spirited foes. So, what the heck, let’s go with supreme genius.

Now, giving advice about business and shopping hours (none on Sunday), parking rules (important in a city in which there is slim to no chance of finding any in the vicinity of where you’d like to be and in a space that was demarcated for horses without the cart, testing your proficiency as a professional parallel-parker), etc. all makes sense. It’s the smaller, finer lessons learnt that are the trickiest when deciding to share, overshare or not to share at all.

The one that really bothered me was whether to warn her about the baked goods. Oh, there’s nothing at all wrong with the baked goods here – they’re heavenly, delicious, wickedly crammed with all kinds of fillings – some fruity and some that should have a percentage of alcohol stamped on the side. You see, the problem comes in when you sample a fresh Breze (pretzel) – the crispy, salty golden outer layer with a soft bready dough inside. You like it so much, you go back for more so you can enjoy it the next morning.

Yum, before you know it breakfast arrives and you grab that Brezel out of the packet and, defying common sense and convention, you sink your pearly whites into a weapon of dentists’ dreams. Overnight, it turns into a deadly boomerang – light as a feather and as hard as a brick.

Now then, do I assume that any person new to the city would make the mistake I did, based on delightful ignorance? Hmm, perhaps that’s just one of the things best left to discover…