Monday, November 30, 2009

Aguamenti and Aparecium (while I'm at it)

It is a gorgeous Friday afternoon. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and I don't need to pee. All is well with the world. I quietly hum a little tune to myself as I walk into the salon.

I remove my sunglasses, adjust my eyes to the light, and I'm instantly greeted with multiple " Hello, would you like some coffee? Or some wine?" The salon staff knows me so well. I opt for coffee. Life seems good.

As I sit in the chair facing the mirror and the stylist behind me attempts to flip my hairspray and gel stiff hair this way and that way, and under his breath wonders how much product I go through every month and why am I not buying it from his salon, we chat about the different blues in the world.

Because that's what I want my new hair color to be - blue. Radiant blue. Bright blue. Shock blue. The kind of blue that is nothing but blue.

I invoke the sky, the Blue Bulls, Kelly Osbourne, that woman from all of those cheap-o cable shows like 10 years Younger in 10 days, and that one where they swap salons (although that one gets a blank stare from the stylist), and what's her face who has/had blue hair. You know, that rock chick.  

I tell him how I hate purple just because, and never want to go purple again, and how I couldn't stand the black hair because I looked like one of those monks with that little bald spot on top every time my hair grew just a little to reveal the very blonde roots, and how I would just like for the hair to be blue. End of story.


So first he dyes my hair purple:

Which would have been fine were I over 60, owned one of the really fancy walkers, kept hard candy with me at all times in case my grandkids unexpectedly dropped in on me, and had asked the stylist to get rid of all of the grey in my hair no matter the cost.

But I specifically asked for no purple. I hate purple. It ranks right up there with orange, lice, snakes and war.

Then, while in a smidgen of panic (I can be an extremely frightening woman) the stylist decides he needs to add on a little more dye, allows for the hair somehow to turn black, and consequently enables me to channel Harry Potter for months to come:

All I need now is a decent wand and Accio Wine it will be. All the way.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Laughing all the way to the bank

I can't really say I've been thinking about Thanksgiving, and what it really means to be thankful and such. It's not my holiday, regardless of having 'celebrated' it often enough, and well, I've been far too busy yelling at the fiber-optics people who will hopefully give us better internet eventually (at some distant point now that we've sent them packing for being filthy) for leaving dirty fingerprints they were unable to remove all over my Mexican Sand-colored walls, and trying not to laugh while having a serious discussion with my maid who accidentally managed to glue a box of tissues to my bathroom counter, and then tried to remove it first with butter and then with rubbing alcohol, of all things imaginable. But let's not go there. Let's just not.

Because I have been thinking about giving, about generosity, what it really means, and how far we'll go to avoid being generous. How far we'll go to avoid equalizing the situation for everyone on this earth.

As Christmas dawns in the horizon, two things become extremely noticeable in South Africa, or at least in my part of Joburg: increased security and beggars. To me, these two speak of the same thing - desperation. Being the highly westernized (by which I mean Coca-Colaized, McDonaldized, and Oprahized) and religious nation this proud nation is, Christmas is a big thing. It also happens to take place smack in the middle of the big summer vacation, which easily makes it the biggest holiday in South Africa.

People want to celebrate, they want to provide, they want to give and receive presents, and they want to eat good food with their families. Or at least many of them do.

To achieve this, most of them work hard the whole year. Some of them decide to rob a grocery store, hijack a car, steal a delivery of cellphones, or break into a house and empty it of cash, electronics, and jewelry, as every year before Christmas the number of all of these crimes goes up. And some others decide to stand at intersections and ask for money. Sometimes with their children or a blind person in tow for sympathy.

Many of them don't have any other choice.

In my time in South Africa the subject of begging has come up quite a few times, and I've heard many an explanation on why one should NOT give any money to beggars, and none too many on why one should, or even why it would be okay to do so. I've also heard plenty of, what I consider to be nothing but stupid urban legends with absolutely no truth to them, stories about someone living large off of the few coins they beg for at a stoplight. I've also seen real beggars getting nothing while windows roll down for white matric students (those finishing high school) who 'beg' for money at a crossroads to fund their matric trips to some beachside town.

From the media in Finland I know that my own nation (oh the shame) is trying to outlaw begging, or possibly already has, and seems to consider such a phenomenon, which is quite a recent addition, a huge disruption of the Finnish society perpetrated by a bunch of Romanians (the tabloid version, but the proper media is not using terms much more complicated) who come for the summer and establish tent-villages, which Finland also feels should be eradicated. Like right now. There are also urban legend-ish stories (circulated by the mainstream media also) of how these people who make it to Finland from Romania for the summer aren't poor at all, but just out to leach on us and use us to make more money in addition to their already good incomes.

A pure load of bull, I'm sure you would agree.

Here's what I feel is closer to one kind of truth. To a truth about an everyday life here for many South African citizens.
  1. Begging is hard work. It is not an 'easy way out', or something one does out of being lazy. It's hot and dusty, cold, dangerous, monotonous, uncertain, and you probably get if not physically, then at least verbally abused quite a bit.
  2. No one has ever gotten rich from begging, or even moderately wealthy. 
  3. Not everyone, or even many, of the people who beg are drunks or drug-addicts. Especially in South Africa or Finland. And even if some of them are, that does not mean that all of them are.
  4. Regardless of hearing numerous stories on begging-rings with big bosses behind the whole operation there is no hard evidence anywhere of such activity.
  5. There simply aren't jobs for everyone. Or at least jobs that will keep a family afloat. 
If one has more than enough to cover their own basic needs, shouldn't some of that go to covering the basic needs of one's fellow humans? And if the government cannot get a system based on paying taxes to do just that to work properly, isn't physically giving that money to those who need it the next best thing?

Really, I just can't fathom how it could be any more complicated than that. I just can't.

And if you're not cool with just blindly believing every word I write here (as you shouldn't since I am certainly not an authority on anything else besides what I think is right, tequila, coffee and wine), here are some of these awesome mansions these beggars who make hundreds of dollars every week live in. Obviously.

Thoughts? Nice ones.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Please read me carefully and comment on me, as I tend to drip and wallow...

There is ample reading material in my photography school's bathroom*.

"Please handle me gently and lift me up after flushing," the lever on the toilet tells me as I go to push it.

"Make sure you close me tightly. I tend to drip..." warns the cold water tap as I turn it to wash my hands.

"A little of me goes a long way," reminds the soap dispenser as I push on the button to extricate some of the pink liquid soap it holds in its innards.

"Please don't throw me in the toilet, I can't swim!" exclaims the paper dispenser as I yank on the paper to dry my hands.

Signs. Everywhere on the walls of the bathroom. Inanimate toilet fixtures** that I have been more or less successfully utilizing for quite a number of years, now come with instructions given by the fixture itself.


No. Not even close.

Weird and unnerving?

Very much so.

Out of place?

Appropriate for a primary school.

Every time I enter the school, I walk past the front desk. Looking at the receptionist behind the desk and at her actual cutesy-wutesy (hey, being scientific here) workspace, I'm almost certain that I am also looking at the culprit behind the dubious toilet-signage.

Every time I pass her I want to tell her: "Get a life woman", but then I remember that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Or cliches around flippantly.

So I won't.

And then I get home to my sorrowfully sighing and eternally melancholy fridge, the washing machine that threatens me when it doesn't get its way (Yes, the un-torched one too), and the house that was born a fridge in a house's outer shell, and I'm filled with gratitude that my toilet has thus far kept its thoughts to itself.

I deal best with complaints when my pants are not around my ankles.

Now, this is a sign I can get onboard with, and relate to.

* It is actually a bathroom, since the school is located in an old mansion. And really, there is nothing nicer than taking a quick bath in between classes. 
** Not that there are animate ones here, the stupid not-Japan this place is.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Holy word-vomit Batman! I can't even do a short photo post correctly.

I wish I was one of those bloggers who are cool with just posting a photo or two accompanied by a few lines and then calling it a blogging day. Because, oh boy and all of his friends and relatives and maybe even his pet turtle on a leash, what an activity-filled/ all-kinds-of-weird-running-around/ me-driving-other-women-to-places-in-the-Viking's-green-monster-and-scaring-them-by-hitting-every-curb-in-sight-and-then-laughing-insanely-about-it-to-"lighten-the-mood"/ me-being-stuck-in-traffic-for-two-whole-hours-and-consuming-much-too-much-coffee-in-the-process day it has been (and then some, but I have no more grammatically inappropriate or otherwise suspect word-strings in me. At least none that make the kind of half-sense the above ones make). And I still have a golf-lesson to get to.

But it's either writing a post or writing an email to my parents who use my blog and the frequency of the posts on it to gauge how alive their eldest daughter, me, is (Did I ever mention how crap I am at staying in touch? Might have. Yup.). So unless I get to publishing something here soon, my dearest ma and pa will quickly be on the phone dialing away to alert some sort of Finnish authority, who would without a doubt, since the Finns are at the least excruciatingly effective when it comes to such matters, knock on my door in a not so long a time followed by billing me an exorbitant amount of money because I dared to be alive, and then put me on the cover of the biggest tabloid with a headline saying 'A Finn thought dead in Africa alive after all' accompanied by a story filled with the potential horrors of the oh so violent South Africa. And well, I don't like writing e-mails either.

I'm also thinking of all of you who read this stuff voluntarily (i.e. are no relation or bound in marriage to me), and just might be wondering whether they put me in jail because I finally accidentally drove over one of the guards at the gate (I didn't but touch him softly with the side mirror which to me screams affection and not jail time and he came out of nowhere without looking anyhoo, but then we both laughed about it heartily and I wasn't even giving him the stink-eye), or whether I discovered and consequently was pulled into that black hole somewhere in this house where the warmth, most of my underwear, as well as my wineglasses must have been sucked into (don't ask about the underwear, because I'm working hard to repress, as I did with the toothbrush and how it is being used by the maid. Just don't ask.), or whether I went ahead and finally sought help (I know! For what?).

So in the best interest of me everyone, I'll just become one of those bloggers for today and post some pictures from my hectic morn and call it a blogging day. Tell me what you think. And go ahead and ignore the stuff above I still somehow managed to write, although I thought I couldn't. Thanks.

Ever wonder how it would be if Santa's elves wore black and could really control a crowd?

Ever wonder how Santa would look if he were a Swede and not a Finn and had a pillow positioned uncomfortably in his shorts instead of that bottle of vodka? Or how a Christmas tree would come out if you planted it into a cooler box?

Ever wonder what stuff would mean if you didn't have that much of it?

Ever wonder how it would be to really stomp the night away? 

Or what would happen if you stuck your hair underneath an elf hat for longer than necessary? 
Nothing! Muahahahahaaaaa. I have finally beat my Finnish flat-hair genes! Or am possibly singlehandedly saving the world's hairspray and gel industries from the recession. Could be either.  

Random. I know. But what else is new?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Heartfelt sentiment

My husband just might be the most romantic nerd on the face of the earth. And I have proof.

He's also finally been able to keep a secret from me for longer than it takes him to dial my number on his cellphone, so really, I urge you to duck and take cover, and watch out for those flying pigs. They fast and sneaky, and I hear they just come out of nowhere, completely take you by surprise, and then there you are staring at a pair of fangs going for your jugular.

Or perhaps I'm just getting far too wrapped up in all of this New Moon hype. Far too early on a Sunday morning. And I don't even like Twilight. Hmph.

But just watch them pigs soar high above the clouds, and keep an eye out for any that might be getting some funny ideas. Probably should have bought that pitchfork when I had the chance. Now, all I'm left with are a tripod and a statue the husband brought from Malawi. Not exactly close-combat ready.

But why are these creatures violating our airspace this time around?

Yesterday I received my birthday present. It is not my birthday for another month yet, but this is what happened:

I look through a jeweler's catalogue in Finland, during the summer of 2008: "Oh. Oh. OH. Oooh."

"What is it honey? Maybe you shouldn't have had that last glass.... Or all that cheese.... And maybe those 4 pounds of strawberries weren't such a hot idea. I mean look at your lips woman... You know you're allergic. Sigh..." The Hubby looks at me suspiciously.

I push that catalogue at the unsuspecting husband's face: "No! It's not that. It's just that I want, want, and neeeed this heart-thingamajiggy-pendant-shiny-thing from Swarowsky. Look at it. LOOK! It has a flash drive inside. Isn't it the cutest thing ever?"

"And you need a crystal encrusted flash drive to hang around your neck on a chain because...?" the man responds in a dry tone.

"Well, er... Duh," I roll my eyes.

"Because all of your friends have one?" he quips.

"NO! I'd totally be the first. That'd be so cool," I'm too taken by the badly reproduced image of the heart to understand the sarcasm.

The Hubby looks at me as if I've once again overindulged the materialist Extranjera: "But why a flash drive? Do you even know what that means?"

"Of course I do. It's like a USB thing. For stuff. To use with a computer. For stuff. You know," I roll my eyes so hard they actually make a screeching sound.

"I know, but do you?" he smiles back at me.


Yesterday while touring a Johannesburg mall I spot a shop: "Oh. Oh. OH. Oooh."

"What is it honey? Maybe you shouldn't have had that last glass... Or all that meat.... And maybe all of that coffee, black of all things, wasn't such a hot idea. I mean, look at your hands woman.... You're shaking like your high on something. Sigh..." the Hubby looks at me suspiciously.

I drag the unsuspecting husband towards a shop with a dark blue front: "NO! It's not that. It's just that they have a Swarowski shop here. And I, like, urgently need a flash drive to move my photos around. And you remember that cute heart-one they were selling in Finland? I neeeed that. Now."  

We step into the shop and I enquire for a "heart-thing, that like comes apart, and then there's like a thing, for, like, the computer and stuff, inside there?" while I draw a heart in the air and in grand gestures mime taking it apart. But we get a quick, and a slightly condescending "I'm sorry, that was a limited release product."

There is nothing to do, but leave the shop.

I look at the Hubby and contemplate embarking on the mother of all guilt-trippings: "Damn. Now I really wish I'd gotten one back then in Finland. Uhhuh. I really do. I do," as the Hubby attempts to gently maneuver me in the direction of the exit and the car.

The man distracs me with yet another cup of coffee: "Maybe we can just get a chain for it and look for it elsewhere? Some other time?"


"Can I distract you for a second?" the Hubby inquires late yesterday night.

I quickly glance at him, but return to a furious (and rather one-sided to be frank) battle I'm having with burning my homework on a CD that obviously wants to stay virginal.

"What?" I glance at the man again.

He hands me a little box: "I was supposed to give this to you on your birthday, but you're saying you need it now, and that you need it empty, right? But just in case you want, there's a folder on my computer of pictures of us, our music, and some emails we sent to each other, that I was going to upload on it, so that you could always have all that with you."

"Like a modern locket," my man tells me.

My viking really is the most romantic computer-nerd ever. At least in my world.

Love you man xo

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ousting the ugly stepsister

"Oh Summer, where art thou?" she exclaimed into the frosty air, while wearing her winter coat indoors.  

Just as I, and everyone else in our neck of the sticks of Jozi, finally thought that the summer had come to stay for the entire, well, summer, the big S decided to sneakily abscond overnight and leave us with her unkempt, rainy, cold, and not that nice stepsister, whom I like to call Notmer, in the spirit of that Paris Hilton flick, the Hottie and the Nottie (or something to equally stupid effect), which I will refuse to see until I see Hitler skiing down our driveway.

(HA! The joke's on AH and PH. Our driveway is uphill. HA! Although, it being a complicated wittiness neither of them might get it, in which case the joke is wasted on both Adolf and Paris. Oh well.)

And Notmer, like all ugly stepsisters in the history of fairy-tales, is up to no good. She clearly wants to punish all of us for something horrendous that we've done, and freeze our asses off. Which in theory sounds like an easy and quick way to lose weight, but in practice involves much suffering and a steep drop in the libido department, as no one wants to grab a cold butt cheek, a butt cheek that might come off in one's grasp at any moment, or worse yet, some cold air at where the backside used to be located, only to find the backside on the floor beside the bed, completely out of reach.

Or at least I don't.

So what is there to do to cheer up? To at least warm the brain, if the glutes (as my physiotherapist calls the derriere, and consistently fools me into wondering what that Indian butter-derivative was called again and whether there is any chance that instead of talking about some non-existent muscle on my body, she might have switched to talking about cooking instead, which then turns out to be pure wishful thinking when she stretches my gluteus in a way it wasn't ever meant to be stretched, and just creates despondency on my part and on the part of both of my glutes) are just beyond rescue in the warmth department?

A list. A random list

Of course. When in doubt, what could save the day like a random list of sunny things? Nothing, I tell you. Or maybe a cheeseburger, some wine, and some sun, but writing that would just be facetious. And that is something I just cannot be associated with. I might lose my credibility for good. A credibility I've worked so hard to build and hold onto with my cold fingers as hard as I can.

Ag, shame.

But the list of sunny sunniness:
  • Google (An attempt at suck-up to see whether that does anything for the unfortunate weather. A sort of virtual prayer in disguise. Dear Google, do you really want to see me assless? I think not.)
  • Coffee. Black. First thing in the morning.
  • Brad Paisley
  • Wine and drinking it in good company (preferably with Brad Paisley, but also the Hubby will do, unless his ass has already fallen off at that point). And especially if it happens to be a bottle of Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 which has got to be the best wine ever, and which I still hold 4 bottles of and will only enjoy in my own very good company.  
  • Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved.  
  • Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad, and all of those bottomless wells of inspiration for a dirty, twisted mind. 
  • Loretta Lynn, the original Coal Miner's Daughter
  • Coffee, especially filter coffee.
  • Puppies
  • Posters of puppies on someone else's wall providing an additional layer of warmth to the basic warmth of puppies, because you will be able to laugh at that person for having one of those weird posters of puppies on their wall, which is just plain old pathetic, if you ask me, and I know you didn't, but when has that stopped me from stepping on some toes, not ever, I tell you.
  • Skype and people, like Ph.D. Mommy, willing to use it to listen to me say "I fokken hate working with people" in severel different languages.
  • Coffee. And plenty of it. 
  • Learning isiXhosa through tweets
  • 3-minute eggs, unless they are organic, because that apparently means that they look like eggs but taste like fish gone bad with a twist of wet towel. #Brandfail Woolworth's (What? I'm not on Twitter? Since when?) 
  • Golf
  • Coffee, and especially lattes.  
  • Blogging about nothing.
  • Elephants. And one rhino.
  • Not having to ever do any math anymore, yet having enough money not to be later pissed off about accidentally tipping someone 124%
  • making pointless lists.
  • The guy who always packs my groceries into my car and his funky hat.
The list is obviously not complete, but I need to pee and that involves removing several upon several layers of clothing and, well, there are no guarantees that I'll soon be back from that journey, so I'll just go ahead and publish, and hope that some of you will be kind enough to list your own sunny sunniness right here on my comments or maybe even on your own blog, or maybe on the phone to your mother, or even Twitter. Who knows? I won't, unless you tell me. And you should.

I'm totally confused now. See you on the other side of the toilet? I guess.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lame see, lame do

I seem to be a tad bloggily blocked.

Words to live by.

Or, actually, since this thing is all about being honest and shit, and I have long since crossed any kind of border to a land I love, but which with the invention of social media (whatever the hell that means) has become quite the tourist trap - the not quite proud or that independent Republic of Too much Information, I might as well tell you what I've really been doing.

Apart from having a very long and civilized discussion with my Danish BFF over Skype that meandered from literature, the staple in our relationship, to how much we hate it when people talk about their nails, to vitamins and how many we each take daily and what they might be called, to smells of the townships and how smelling those smells would create a new level of awareness for my friend, from a post-post-colonial, or perhaps rather globalized, point of view naturally, I have been doing something I probably shouldn't admit to.

What you are to take away from this description of the discussion is that I am in fact smart. Perhaps you should remember that little tidbit of important information when I reveal the rest of my doings. To put things in balance. Because I am smart. Really.

Am too!

Since yesterday afternoon, upon learning of its existence and only taking a respectful break to let in the maid (who now thinks I talk to my computer and rolls her eyes accordingly) and to focus on talking to my friend, I have been pretty glued to Lamebook.

I know it's lame (Duh. That's even in the name...), but I've read 62 pages of it, and I can't discern any light at the end of the tunnel. I'm hooked on stupid teenagers writing about their stupid escapades and then having to apologize to their uncles, or grandmas, or mothers, who they forgot were amongst their Facebook friends (Really?). I'm addicted to the pure stupidity that is status updates about bowel movements, herpes, and badly executed infidelity. I'm addicted to people's lack of common sense and common courtesy. I'm addicted to lolz that go with everything, even a dearly departed. But most of all, I'm addicted to a degree of stupidity, I have to admit, I didn't even know existed.

I'm baffled by a trend of adding vowels to the ends of words, and what the possible purpose of that practice might be (Heyyyy girlyyyy?). I'm intrigued by how mean some people are to others and how they still appear to be Facebook friends with each other. I'm outraged by the rampant bad spelling, but equally disgusted by the number of people who feel that it is okay to correct other people's grammar or spelling in front of all of their friends. I'm amazed at what many people seem to 'like', and weirded out by how much verbal violence there seems to be out there. It's a big jumble of ugly, disgusting and pathetic and I can't stay away.

I feel like an explorer charting an unknown territory. I'm amused, frightened, sometimes bored, and I can't stop. I need to know what lies beyond the next hill hacked status update by a jilted girlfriend. I'm hooked.

I admit I love laughing at others. And admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get away from me

This morning when I left to do my thing of meetings, planning and putting together some marketing material and goodie bags, I was planning a rather compassionate post about the ubiquitous beggars and the various attitudes towards begging in South Africa. But that will have to wait.

I need to vent.

Today I was reminded of how much I hate working with people.

And how I should never be put in a position that involves me giving my honest opinion. Because eventually someone will cry. Someone always does.

It's not that I (always) try to make people cry, it's something that simply happens. Oftentimes when I think I'm actually being pretty nice, and not even coming at them full force. Every once in a while I'll even do that 'criticizing by pointing out the good things first' tactic someone once told me to use as a buffer - to my personality - and ignore that little Scandinavian chick in my head that keeps saying: "This is not fokken high school. Pointless pats in the back belong in fokken high school. Don't fokken waste time. Just say what needs fokken changing and the working parts will be fokken implicit. For fok's sake."

Of course when she says it, being a Scand and all, it goes more like this: "Tää on ihan syvältä tää koko paska. Uusiks vaan koko homma. Mitä sitä jahkaileen. Mitä toi nyt tossa itkee? Voi helvetti," or like this: "For helvede. Det her ting sutter totalt. Det hele skal laves om. Hvad græder hun nu om? Fok."

The Scand in my head is a total bitch.

But she's mostly right.

And today I had to use up all of my energy to keep her silent. To everyone else than me. And without even completely succeeding in that, just the effort to constantly bite my tongue has exhausted me to no end. When I got back, I had to stop myself from SHOUTING at people on Twitter who had tweeted things while I was gone that I didn't agree with, or things that touched a nerve, or complain-y, negative, and inane things, or stupid things, or things I wasn't interested in, or, you know, things and shit, which pretty much summed up my entire Twitter-feed, and sent me to a tailspin that could only be cushioned with one of two things.

And since I couldn't be bothered to open wine, I made some coffee.

So what is it exactly that's gotten inside my head and by the feel of it laid a sizable number of eggs too?

Well. I guess it can be summed up with a little story of a minor detail I discovered about myself when I was taking psychology classes back in the day when I thought I might become a psychiatrist but then discovered that they weren't just going to give me the white coat and a cute little wild-haired patient of my own if I could confidently discuss the history of schizophrenia, but that I would have to take all manner of courses and classes that would involve complicated mathematics, and, well, that was the end of that.

But I did learn that I'm a man in a woman's body.

Not the kind who was born a male in a female's body, but the kind many of whose behavioral patterns are typical to those of males in what can be, in a very broad sweep, called western cultures.

I don't commiserate, I try to offer a solution, I don't make nice, I compete, I automatically challenge, I don't see disagreement as a disruptive element, I don't ask, I tell, I confront, and so on.

Ergo, according to many a theorist, I behave like a man.

Now whether that is just complete and utter psychobabble can and perhaps should be discussed at length (just not with me), especially taking into consideration how it seems that 'male' in this equation and many more like it seems to come across as the 'norm', and thus implicitly somehow as the better of the available possible categorizations, while simultaneously, me behaving in the way that I do, in this male-like way of the supposed norm, makes me a bitch. Especially in the company of other women.

So any which way, I'm screwed in the pleasantness department.

Which is exactly what happened today. And made me want to shake more than one pair of shoulders, drink a whole bottle of wine and then top it off with some amazing tequila, go hit some balls on the driving range, rip someone's head off (or actually, again, more than one), and just generally keep telling people to fokken shut up.

I didn't. I really did manage without a definite, relationship forever-altering blowout.

But I don't want to go back either.

I fokken hate working with people.

AAAAAAAAARGH!!! Now what's this guy so happy-go-singy about? 

So what's your take on this? Am I a bitch or just a man with a penchant for costume jewelry, and great Sauvignon Blancs? Or something completely different? What are you?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Whose car is it anyway?

I'm descending the narrow and steep passage we like to call our staircase while hugging a mountain of dirty laundry, when, suddenly, as I shift my grip, a pair of underwear seems to slide in from somewhere inside the belly of the gargantuan beast in my bear-hug, and almost succeeds in sending me into a universe of delirium-inducing smells no one should ever visit, and nearly blocks my vision. I stumble, crouch ever so slightly in a fierce battle to regain my balance, manage to steady myself by leaning my forehead and a pair of jeans onto the wall at my right, and ultimately make it down the stairs in one piece. Shaken by what the paramedics would have found had I fallen, and smelling like laundry forgotten in the never-used hamper in June, but otherwise in good condition.

However, my near death by laundry has given me a novel idea.

I go over the possible discussion in my head.

"I'm in the emergency room. Nothing serious though. Just fell down the stairs and sprained my ankle," I would say all nonchalantly.

"Oh no! Glad you're alright! Don't you worry about class, I'll have the secretary email you your homework," my teacher would say with a note of worry in her voice.

And I would make a mental note to limp next time I saw her.

But then I remember how much I enjoy going to class once I'm actually there, and I harden myself for what is to come. I have, after all, donned my hobo-chic wear, in my mind suited for a photographer, I have dug out the almost dried mascara and applied it (mixed with plenty of water) with rigor, and even smeared some foundation on my face to cover the raccoon-ish, golf-induced sunburn on my face. I'm ready.

I can do this.

I grab my purse, my camera bag, my sunglasses, my house keys, and then I see it. It is the only thing left in my pile of things I'll need to remember to not leave the house without. A key that doesn't even seem to fit in my palm comfortably. A key almost as big as the engine that it was designed to start. But I extend my hand one last time as I hear the garage door slowly rattle up and I grab the key.

"You can't drive back in the dark in the Daihatsu, honey. That's suicide," had the Hubby said to me in a grave tone of voice, making the name Daihatsu sound like a swear word.

I aim the key towards the green monster parked in the garage near where my own little silvery shoe box normally stands, and push one of the buttons on the key, but get no response. I try another, but nothing happens. In dismay, I turn over the key in my hands, but find no other buttons, nor any other markings indicating how to unlock the vehicle. As a final attempt, before dialing the Hubby in Malawi, I try the door handle, and to my surprise, in one fluid movement, pull the door open.

I adjust the seat, the mirrors, and briefly wonder how to turn the radio off, or even just lower the volume, while knowing I'm increasingly pressed for time. The rush hour is slowly closing in on my departure.

I try sliding the gearstick to reverse, but when I try the gas, the engine just roars at me. I slam the gearstick back with my hand, and the car miraculously moves.

I narrowly miss the side of the opening as the left side of the car rises up on the curbing and probably crushes a fair portion of the flower bed immediately beyond the curbing. But crushed flowers are the last thing on my mind. In the rearview mirror, as I turn the wheel to avoid backing the entire car into the flower bed dividing our and the neighbor's driveways, I glimpse the quickly approaching garden wall. This car must be double or triple the size of my own.

I hit the break, and hear a soft thump.

Blood escapes my face, but I check myself quickly. I reason that metal simply doesn't make thump-like sounds, and put the car in first gear. I need to be on my way. I shouldn't be late. Not this time.

I drive to the first gate, and then I realize what I've forgotten. I stop the car, and quickly jump out and run back to our driveway with my house keys and push the button that closes the garage door. With the rattle of the door sending me on my way, I make it back to the car and start it again.

I make it through the first set of gates, and slowly roll my way downhill towards the next set. The tough set. The set with complicated dividers, narrow lanes, booms with stop-signs, and the need to get the car close enough to the fingerprint machine to be able to reach it from the car window, yet not close enough to take the machine out with the side mirror.

I turn the wheels towards the lane marked 'Residents'.

I hit the curb slightly, but not enough to make the car rise onto it. I glance to my side at the workmen waiting to leave the compound, and see them all turning to stare at me. One of them smiles. Or is that a smirk on his face?

I check my rearview mirror. There's no one behind me. Once again, I slam the car in reverse, and carefully maneuver myself and the vehicle away from the direct course with the divider. I attempt entry again, and succeed, albeit with so much space between me and the fingerprint scanner that I need to open the door ever so slightly to reach it.

While I'm waiting for my fingerprint to be recognized as my own and to be let out of the complex, I hear a voice call out to me.

"I drive my father's car," it seems to be saying.

I turn my gaze away from the words that read VERI-FYING PLEASE WAIT, and I'm met with a broad white smile from the car-free visitors lane. It's a guard smiling and waving at me.

"I'm sorry?" I say as I nod to him politely.

"I AM DRIVING MY FATHER'S CAR?" he articulates and his smile broadens.

I stare at him unsure what to say, until, from the corner of my eye, I see the boom lift.

"Actually. I'm driving my husband's car," I yell at him, and make him laugh out loud. I can see him double up with laughter as I make it to the other side of the dividers.

Note to self: No Danish Christmas cookies for the guards this year.  

My thoughts exactly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How bad is bad?

Today (or actually yesterday if we are being completely accurate, but when have we ever been that?) I am a golfer.

Indeed. You can gasp and roll your eyes all you like, but I am. An actual golfer. Honest.

I'm finally golfing just above that fine line that separates the embarrassing player, or the player who should not be on the course at all, from the simply bad player. At times, I may have even ventured above the next separation point - the one dividing the bad players from the not good ones. But mainly, I don't totally suck.

It is an exact science after all, that deals in such complicated categorizations as: Tiger, nice, ok, meh, bad, did you just hit someone?, totally horrid, and dude, run before they run you off.

And I no longer need to run and/or hide. I no longer need to either constantly yell FORE! or look mortified because I missed the ball completely. I no longer need to use industrial strength concealer to cover that weird bruise on my nose that was caused by a complicated sequence of events involving the shaft of my 9-iron and my golf-bag trolley. I'm finally a bruise-free golfer.

Jump of joy with me, wont you.

No? Not even one little one?

Hmph. Well, don't expect me to jump when you have a birthday, a kid, a job, or find Vegemite outside of Australia. Not even 5 centimeters off the ground. Nada.


But enough with pats on my own back (you unfriendly non-jumpers you), and inner warmth (if it wasn't for you all being so grounded), and all around feeling of golf-goddessness (-hood? -icity?), that I reach when I don't totally blow thanks to my 'healthy' self-esteem (you can't drag me down!). I'm here today to tell you a story of a golfer who should not have been on the course yesterday. A cautionary tale for all ages of golfers and those pondering the sport. A tale of my friend who has agreed to "need to be able to laugh at myself."

He's brave like that, but a golfer he's not. (Mandatory disclaimer: Not Hubby.)

So what was it that took him from the ranks of those who don't completely suck at this hitting a tiny ball to a hole hundreds of meters away with an instrument not designed to make the hitting or aiming or such easy in the first place  - after all, he has been playing off and on for three years - and squarely placed him amongst those who really, really should not have been anywhere near the course, or any of the paraphernalia necessary for the sport?

Was it the fact that his score card looked like this: - - - 9 - - - - -   - - - - - - - - - , meaning that he managed to finish only one hole?

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that he lost 20 balls in 18 holes?

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that regardless of aiming for the hole every time, he managed to hit the walkway countless times?

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that he hit a ball neatly inside our golf cart, parked to his right and broke the plexi-glass screen when trying to cross the water directly in front of him.

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that he almost buried himself in the bunker and still couldn't get the ball out, on several occasions?

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that he missed the ball completely on the fairway in an optimal spot three times in a row?

Not entirely.

Was it the fact that as we were leaving, the 4-ball behind us drove up to us and asked us whether we were missing a club, and returned my friend's 3-iron, which he had in some inexplicable way left at the tee box six holes back?

Not entirely.

His golf on that specific day was like something out of a slapstick comedy. It was as if the universe conspired against him, and made him, with awe-inspiring accuracy and stealth - as if he was executing the intended task perfectly - make every single mistake and error in judgement and technique possible.

It was as if the closest he had ever come to golfing before was on the Playstation, and not even the new one of those, but the one from the Super Mario days. It was as if he had lost a bet with someone.  It was as if every single thing he had ever learned about golf had somehow leaked out of his brain leaving him unable to execute any element of the swing. Or a pitch shot. Or a bunker shot. Or a chip shot. Or a put. Or even putting his club back in his bag.

"I have been humbled by this course," he was finally forced to admit.

The golfing deities had better use for his balls.

I'm glad they already have mine.

Guess who was the better golfer?

A, my dear, won't you still play with us? With much better luck next time? Maybe? 

Friday, November 13, 2009

SA's got very little of it, if at all

As some of you know (my tweeps especially), since we got back from the bush, I have been feeling poorly. It might be that the H1N1-fairy sprinkled me with some dust she got off of that Belgian girl who kept coughing, and sneezing, and coughing, and sneezing, or it might just be your ordinary whatever since the fever hasn't been too bad and I haven't felt coffee was too much.  Still, McSnot's gone to town. Big time.

But I know I'll live.

Want to know how I know?

Not because I'm a doctor or even have any sort of gut feeling, as my gut is indecently filled with coffee and snot, and frankly the word 'nauseous' comes to mind when I think of my gut. I'm no psychic either. If I were, I would have bought that new MacBook Pro while I was in the States back in August, and wouldn't have to wait another year while I fear for my CD drive's life every time I insert. I haven't gotten a visit from Z either. Granted, I don't think I'm on his itinerary, as I'm pretty sure he's more alive in our minds than anywhere else. And why would he visit someone who thinks he's a figment of a cultural consciousness. He wouldn't, I tell you that.

How then?

Well, I know I'll be alright, since I was lucid enough yesterday to write that serpent post (although I realize now not all of my feverish references are entirely clear to someone who doesn't live in my brain, and I forgot to mention that both the biter and the bitee survived the ordeal), and I was way lucid enough to turn on the television and watch the entire length (Okay, half. I'm a zapper) of SA's Got (has? has got? hasn't got? is plagued by the lack of?) Talent.  

Now, that signifies BOREDOM (the capital, screaming kind if it's not otherwise clear) like nothing else. And boredom I can only achieve if I'm not afraid of one or both of my lungs collapsing. Or my heart stopping. Or me sprouting a snout. Or Z being real after all, and me needing to do a quick confessing and repenting thing before we ride into the sunset together.  

I was bored enough to understand that whoever hung up those words above the stage - SA's Got Talent - was an unfortunate pawn in the machinations of SABC to confuse the citizens of this here rainbow nation (and all innocent foreigners accidentally tuned onto the channel) into thinking that the only talent needed to get on television in South Africa (although, I must admit, based on various SA programming I've seen, I already had an inkling of this) is one's ability to ignore reality and have that unshakeable faith in one's own capabilities, and fool the country's unsuspecting inhabitants into thinking that what was displayed on that stage was something that could in some circles be referred to as talent.

It wasn't. Really, it wasn't.

It was embarrassing, horrible, mundane, boring, lackluster, mediocre, dull, tedious, run-of-the-mill, unfortunate, and ho-hum. To describe it in a few words. Granted, some of it was less bad than the other stuff, and some of it had that annoying car-crash quality to it, which made it impossible for me to look away, but that is as much as anyone can say about any of it.

And the judges went along with the scam too. They praised the performers who in all truth should have been laughed off the stage, except for the children who really just should have been escorted back to their schools to actually learn something instead of being allowed to make weird faces at the audience or sound like I do in the shower when I belt out the chorus to Europe's The Final Countdown. On a bad day and if I'm simultaneously falling or possibly being bitten by a rat or some other smallish rodent.

Last night was exactly like being back in front of a Finnish or a Danish channel. But in our defense there are only about 5 million Finns, so the concentration of any kind of talent in that population cannot conceivably be very high, especially since a lot of it seems to be found in our ice-hockey players and our formula 1 drivers. And, well, Denmark contains more pigs than people, and if that piece of statistics doesn't scream significance in your face, I don't know what will.

So, really? A boy who can do a backflip followed by a split and some 80s jazz-hands while sticking his tongue out, a guy who plays the guitar like it's a banjo only not as well, a beatboxer who sounds like the Hubs does in his sleep on a bad-sinus night, a bendy but very uninteresting dancer, two brothers who have taken one too many drives with Il Divo playing on the stereo (in all honesty, throughout their performance I was going, "Really? They're brothers? Really?"), and a little girl who one day might be a decent singer but until she learns the meaning of 'key' she's nowhere near that, are the creme de la creme of South Africa's talent pool?


I guess Mandela, Coetzee, and Charlize Theron decided to keep it all to themselves and not share with anyone else.

Guys, it shows. Shame on you.

  If this guy was South African he could totally be in the top 6 of the show. His talent? Accessorizing of course! Or possibly wearing pink with an attitude. I bet he would have won too.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mrs Extranjera and the revelation of the flying reptile

As much as I love the South African bush, there is something to be said about a country that only boasts one species of venomous snakes - and even if you get bitten by one of these pshaw-barely-a-snake-to-begin-with-who-are-much-more-afraid-of-you-than-you-are-of-them vipers, unless you are an infant or a truly sickly old thing or a sickly infant or possibly a chihuahua, the bite won't even get you high - while the other biggest threats to your health amount to coming across a bear and forgetting to stop playing dead after it has moved along, suicide/ coffee/ alcohol and any and all combinations of the three, this guy with his phone (never claimed to be current, but in my defense the guy and the girl haunt my nightmares and the Finnish tabloids, which I occasionally gander at to laugh at them and verify why I never ever read them. Like never, ever. At all), bad Santa and his reindeer and polar bear minions, blindingly white flesh, water, an army of tango kings and queens, and socks with sandals.

It's a relatively safe, albeit confusingly tango-happy, 100% mobile network covered haven over where I come from.

No crocodile will drag you under water. No buffalo will trample you, although Santa might give some light trampling a shot if you refuse to buy him a mojito, and he's said "pretty please" and everything. No hungry lion will mistake you for a zebra and drag you into the bush to put some meat on the menu for the hungry cubs. You can freely wear any animal print available and come to no harm. From any animals that is. The sandals with socks and matching tracksuits wearing crowd are a different issue. When they start tangoing furiously it's better to move away. Zebra print or no. No dingo hyena or leopard will eat your baby, and no overly zealous hunter will accidentally shoot you in the buttock.

No, wait, that last thing might still happen. And the shooter might be a relative of mine. 

Sooo... If ever in Finland beware of aged, disconcertingly Wolverine-looking (it must be the hair) gentlemen if they happen to be carrying a gun or a set of car keys. If neither item is present, do chat them up and you might score some hard candy. 

But whoa! What's with the Finland praise?

This appreciation for the minor dangers associated with an existence in my watery part of the globe reached its unprecedented peak when a snake flew down from the ceiling.


A living, live, wriggling snake. 

Onto the exact spot where I had just been standing only seconds before, right up until the infamous potty dance reared its crotch holding extremities and also in so many ways wriggling head, and I decided to start making my way towards a bathroom. 

Thank Z for pee.

It flew. A living, slithering snake that then bit the person who was kind enough to not kill it straight away with a broken bottle (I was at a bar. Surprise, surprise.), but attempted to carry it outside and release it back into the wild. 

It bit, where Santa would have only threatened to do so. Or at most handcuffed you to his completely parked sled and only gifted you coals. Or twigs. And absolutely no jewelry or any good books.  

I know it's blurry, but I wasn't wearing my hiking boots or even my converse, so really you should admire me even managing to snap a picture in the first place. And why yes, this was taken in a bar. I already told you that. Remember?

When you really get to know Santa, you can't but feel his pain.

I know now where my loyalties lie. Do you?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Safari dissected

The South African bush - with its wild animals, wide open skies, soothing crickets, melodic birdsong, interesting plant life, amazing sunsets, equally amazing sunrises, ancient trees, wilderness, and other nature-y things that go together with the bush - is pretty awesome.

Well worth visiting. Two thumbs up and other assorted fingers, if not limbs too. Should be on everyone's bucket list. At least as a one day aside while taking a pause from the world-famous Cape Wine Route.

Definitely something to see and experience.

But, as with most things, there are some details that never make it to the brochures, but that really should be talked about and acknowledged.

About the underbelly of the bush.

Yup. The murky side the safari website will never ever mention. What lies beneath the dinner  underneath the sky watching the sunset while zebra and antelope graze. The other side of seeing a majestic elephant care for its young coin. The unmentionable beneath a sundowner accompanied by lion-growls. The downside to the elusive leopard making an appearance. The ugly truth about the baby rhino.

The wilderness about the wild.

Be warned: There might be some quite graphic images that might shock you. Some serious stuff. Of animals. So yah, be warned, or at least sort of cautious, or something in that vein. And bear in mind that this post might bring down the entire safari-industry. Singlehandedly.

I just can't let these secrets be.

What no one ever talks about:
  • When you order wine as your sundowner for the evening game drive the ranger brings along a whole bottle of excellent South African Sauvignon Blanc just for you, real wine glasses, and he will serve you with a smile until the bottle runs dry. This will really fok with your picture taking ability.

  • Every lunch menu includes 3 tasty courses, and every dinner menu 4 scrumptious courses executed by the best chef in KwaZulu Natal. There will be things on the menu you never even thought about trying, but find that you just lurve, lurve, and lurve. This will really fok with your ability to drink all of that special selection vintage wine you ordered.

  • There's a baby rhino that desperately wants to take a bath in the swimming pool. You get to pet a wild 180 kg rhino and play with it while its handler radios for reinforcement, something that most people never, apart from zoo keepers, get to do, and well, you'll never be one. This will really fok with your drunken nap by the pool. 

  • When you tell the ranger and tracker that you don't even know what a genet is they will find three live specimen for you on a specially organized night drive. You will have plenty of time to admire this elusive nocturnal most people never get to see. This will seriously fok with your drinking wine at the lodge bar. Or at home on your own couch for that matter.

  • There is a bathtub with jets in your room and it overlooks the watering hole where the elephants like to hang out. You will be able to get a bazillion elephant photos from the privacy of your own bathroom. This will really fok with your grip on the wineglass since it will be essential to keep the camera above water. However, a little bubbles in the wine are fine. They are organic after all

  • You will be waited on hand and foot, everyone will remember your name, they'll constantly want to know if there is anything more they can do for you, and even before you have the sense to ask they're already headed your way with a bottle of your favorite wine. This will really make going to the toilet feel like an inconvenience because for that you actually have to get up. 

There you have it. The sheer horror. Makes you never want to go back. All you do is look at animals all day long, drink coffee and wine, eat superbly well, have interesting discussions with the game reserve owner who saved the animals in the Baghdad zoo, and everywhere you point your camera there's something to shoot.

Just makes you groan.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


The medicine man meets us at the car. He is in full regalia; beaded armbands, a headdress made out of animal fur, a loincloth made of yet more fur, a scepter of sorts with some form of hair sprouting from its tip,  and dusty black Crocks on his feet.

A chicken makes it past us, angling for the hut entrance, but despite his years the medicine man is fast, and a quick lash of the makeshift scepter helps to shoo away the intruder.

We step inside the medicine man's hut.

The floor is lined with an assortment of furs. I only recognize antelope and gnu, but there are others. We are pointed to some straw mats and told to sit down. I gaze around the hut with its furry floor and make out hundreds of dusty jars and tubs - most of which say something like Marmite, Clover, or Flora - by the wall, as well as a good number of Spar, Shoprite, and Checkers plastic bags, all filled with some suspicious looking substance or what appears to be dust in varying colors.

The hut is like a sauna and sweat is running down my face. I fan my face with my hand which makes the medicine man and the ranger who has come to translate jump up in a uniform movement and jointly open the window as much as possible. A bottle of water appears at my side.

I smile at the medicine man and take out my camera.

The old man rushes to one side of the hut, grabs a spear and a shield, attempts what I believe goes for a fierce pose, but ends up smiling at me like a grandfather looking at his first grandchild while furiously brandishing his spear.

"It's okay to take pictures?" I ask the ranger, a 19 year old Zulu.

"All the time. Many!" answers the medicine man and Crock-wearing Zulu warrior in perfect English.

"He used to drive trucks from Durban to Johannesburg," explains the ranger, "he denied his calling, but then he got into a car accident and couldn't drive anymore, and his great grandmother, who had chosen him in the first place told him in a dream that it was because he hadn't taken his calling seriously."

"Also, he had no other choice," the ranger continues, albeit much less audibly, "he had to support his family somehow."

The medicine man grabs a handful of what appear to be dried leaves and wood chips from one of the plastic bags, and sticks his fist under my nose.

I smell the dried leaves obediently. And find them to smell like dried leaves. And maybe oregano. I smile  and nod and make an appreciative noise.

"This is for pie," the ranger explains as he points to his stomach.

"For pie?" I say and look at the Hubby who is looking very confused while I'm formulating a better question.

"Like pie pie?" I manage intelligently.

The ranger looks rather baffled, and repeats, very slowly and clearly: "For PIE in the STOMACH."

"Like the pie you eat? Apple pie?" I offer, accompanied by a crude gesture for something that I hope refers to eating and not sniffing one's stinky fingers, while the Hubby has decided to cover his face with his camera and take pictures of the stuff for pie, instead of bothering with the ensuing confusion. Or any uncontrollable giggles.

"No, pie in the STOMACH... sickness," the ranger makes a fist in front of his bellybutton. I'm sure he would roll his eyes if he weren't expecting a tip later on.

"Oh. Bile," I say and think that I'm onto some backwards way of seeing the root of illnesses being in too much bile, or acid, or bad blood, or whatever it was they figured out hundreds of years ago. I feel a fleeting sympathy for the medicine man's patients with very real health issues, who are lying in the next hut over, and who seem to be treated for excess bile, or some such ancient misbelief. But I'm too high on my horse.

"NO. PIE... PIE?" the ranger counters me once again, and is beginning to look at the stupid blonde woman rather sympathetically in return.

"Ah. Okay. Now I understand you. Pie!" I have no other choice, but to pretend to understand.

And with that, we are asked to smell yet another ingredient, something that looks suspiciously like it came from a chicken, and a lavender good luck powder which also doubles as love potion, before the medicine man throws bones for us.

He burns something, prays, and we take pictures.

After the medicine man has told us that the Hubby's great grandmother and my great grandfather - who met at a war and are the reason I and the Hubs click so well in today as to have married - are angry at us for not being thankful enough to God for all of the great opportunities they have jointly lined up for us, we ask him where it is we might end up next after South Africa.

He studies the bones and other bits and pieces he has in the bag both I and the Hubs have blown into.

"He doesn't have any flags yet. He needs more flags," the ranger translates, "but he says you'll most likely return to South Africa."

The medicine man lifts his eyes up to meet mine, smiles, and says: "Maybe for 2010. SOCCER!" as he flicks the hairs of the hairy scepter at me once more.

The man knows his craft. And his audience.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Let's hope the truth is somewhere in between.

Tomorrow we are headed to the great unknown.

Tomorrow we are going to try to have confidence in the GPS and drive 8 hours to reach a luxury lodge somewhere in KwaZulu Natal. The aircon in the car will be deemed insufficient by the third hour of our journey. I will be grossed out by at least 4 different gas station toilets. We will find nowhere better to have lunch than a rest stop Wimpy, South Africa's 'stick it' to McDonalds.

We will camp out.

We have reserved one night in a 'tent' complete with a floor, indoor toilet, a bathtub, and somewhere to plug my hairdryer. For the other nights we have reserved a luxury bungalow, in case the tent is too 'earthy'. Both options will have a bathtub big enough for two. I will refuse to get in the bathtub after the bubbles are in there, unless Hubby can prove to me no snakes or other beasts got into the water while the tub was filling up. Hubby will eventually get rid of the bubbles to make a point, but by then the water will be too cold to bathe in. I will be continuously freaked out by what must be snakes under the bed, but will turn out to be figments of my imagination. I will need many drinks to calm my nerves. And will possibly wear my converse to bed.

We will hike amongst all of Africa's magnificent wildlife.

There will be one bush walk with a ranger and undoubtedly some pale tourists wearing shorts, sneakers and T-shirts that say BOTSWANA UBUNTU in dark red letters, GAP, or NIKE. There will be bucket-loads of sweat, and absolutely no other wildlife than spotted guinea fowls because we all pant and smell so much. I will fall and in a brave attempt to protect the camera, I will tear my brand new khakis in an awkward place. My underwear will either be a deep turquoise or shock pink and on display from said tear. There will be a teenage boy in the group who will then fall in line right behind me.

We will be surrounded by indigenous culture.

We have organized to visit the near-by Zulu village for a few hours to take some portrait photos, and a 1000 other pictures. The villagers will pose gladly, like they've done a hundred times before. The little kids will insist on gang signs or the oddly ubiquitous Kiss-pose (tongue out & horns), and I'll have to bribe them with candy to make a peace-sign instead. Or at least give me the thumbs up. Due to feeling horribly colonial, and in a vain attempt to justify our visiting the village, I'll end up using all of the money I have on me on beaded and wooden somethings that the Hubby will then awkwardly lug around in brightly colored grocery store plastic bags.

We will go see a sangoma - a real witch doctor - who doesn't even speak English.

We'll pay a R100 to some guy to tell us about herbs, and say things like "rooibos tea is good for indigestion," via the ranger who will translate, and who we'll then tip so handsomely he'll hang around for the rest of the trip. The sangoma's hut will be too dark to take pictures in, and I'll attempt to fiddle with the camera settings, set the ISO way too high, and get awfully grainy pictures, and then forget the settings on, and screw up the rest of the pictures for that day.

We will relax by the pool, read a book and enjoy some ice-cold white wine.

I'll drink too much wine right after breakfast, take an unintended nap in the sun, claim to suffer from heat exhaustion or dehydration, and then feel like throwing up throughout the afternoon game drive, that I'll insist on attending anyway because Hubby makes that face that tells me how much it means to him that we both go on the drive. The ranger will give me some 'neat' job to do like shining the light into the bush, which will just make it impossible for me to see any animals or take any pictures, but that will make me slightly seasick, and tire out my arm. 

We'll lead a completely internet-free existence until Monday.

The Hubby will get a work-related call at least every second meal time. I'll get bored, because he's on the phone so much, and will try to use my iPhone to reach some sort of network, but will be unable to do so. The waiter/owner of the lodge will feel so bad for me that he'll try to talk to me, but will be thrown off by the fact that I live in Africa and quickly wander away. I'll get stressed about some big issue coming up in the world and me being unaware of it, because I can't see my Twitter feed, only to find out on Monday that absolutely NOTHING has been going on while I was gone. Except for someone making homemade jam, someone receiving a bunch of Postcrossing-cards, and someone else taking their dog for a walk.

We'll go on game drives at the break of dawn.

At 5am, I will be forced to climb into a pick-up before anyone's even asked me whether I would like some coffee, and weather two grueling hours before a morning coffee break, during which only instant coffee will be served. I'll drink three cups of it nonetheless and then suffer from a severely burnt tongue, and from having to pee like never before. We will see plenty of spotted guinea fowls, and an ostrich or two. Then, while I'm using the hideaway toilet, washing my hands compulsively and swearing I'll not get the swine flu one of the Americans sitting behind me in the pick-up obviously just sneezed on me, a massive herd of elephants will pass the pick-up close by, immediately followed by an entire pride of lions on their way back from a hunt. The Hubby will share the pictures and the earthmoving experience with me later that day. I'll feel an urge to kick him.

The rangers will tell us about the wildlife we see.

I'll be forced to handle hyena poop, because I'm closest to the ranger, and not paying attention.

We'll return relaxed and recharged ready to face the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg. Again.

We will get lost on the way back, have at least one flat tire, have a little squabble over the fact that someone (not me) was supposed to learn how to change a tire after that fiasco in Zambia but that someone forgot about it, nearly run out of gas, and end up having dinner at a rest stop Wimpy. Again.  

Into the great wide open. With rhino droppings.

Have an awesome rest of the week and weekend, and see you back here on Monday (Tuesday?)!

Don't do anything fun and/or interesting without me! Everyone stop blogging while I'm gone! Nobody tweet for four whole days! Don't forget about me! Check back constantly in case I can mobile blog from the road! Leave me plenty of reassuring comments! 

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Back to school

Never, in my 30 and a little added something precious years had I been interested in photography. I never even owned a camera. I was one of those people who always go on and on about recording the memories in their minds, "the way they really are, complete with the atmosphere, and the feelings. The smells and all."

I didn't understand the fascination with photography.

When I and that dashing foreigner, whom I some years down the line convinced to marry me and keep buying me things to keep me happy, met, he was a photographer of sorts. He had a fancy SLR camera and he could spend an entire day with that thing glued to his face. It was a traditional film camera too, so he would plan and plan, and wait and wait for the perfect shot of the Colosseum when all I really wanted to do was to find a nice little gelateria or a pizzeria and really, really urgently use their bathroom facilities.

The Colosseum doesn't have a toilet. Which I think is very odd. But I think it is because their plumbing must be subpar. Or they don't have any plumbing. Could be either.

Every time we move, we transport with us thousands and thousands of photographs taken by my Viking. Most of them are of landscapes and architecture, some of them are of animals and people, and some of them are of me. And although, the Hubby is pretty excellent at this snapping photos business (just lookie here), none of the ones of me are any good. I either look angry, demonic, threatening, or really, really surprised, which comes out of an attempt to not come across as demonic.

I am the epitome of something that can only be referred to as crazy eyes meet caffeine stained teeth and much too much gum, and nothing else.

This picture is NOT by the hubby, but illustrates my point nicely. We will, however, forever be in the dark about how much 1800 tequila brings out this specific pallor in me.

When this supreme unphotogenicality (I am making it a word now.) is the hand one has been dealt in life (I'm not saying I'm an ugly, just photograph like one. And don't you dare tell me different.), what else can a person do but pick up the camera herself, and start snapping?

Which is exactly what I did, when I finally saw the light (or one more surprised with gums expression from myself). In last April. While we were in Zambia. Because I didn't know all of you back then, and thus didn't have much to do. Apart from people-watching in the hotel bar, and being afraid of that one waitress I crossed and who then started aiming her spit in my lattes. Or so I thought at least.

I picked up Hubby's, by that time a digital SLR, Canon 450D, and started getting blurred, wrong-thing-in-focus, horribly lit, confusing shots of Lusaka, Zambia. And corn. There were plenty of out-of-focus shots of corn.

Slowly, I started getting some of the basics right. Mostly by yelling at the hubby every time one of my 'good' shots turned out to be not so good at all, once I uploaded it on the computer, and he would then patiently tell me what button I was supposed to have pushed on instead of the one I had chanced at.

I refused to read the manual.

I looked at plenty of excellent photos from Erin, Kristine, Kristina, and Spud admiring their photo as well as their editing skills, and from julochka who is more resistant to the modern photography tools, and wants to do as little as possible to her photos after that shutter closes. (Please, please let me know if I forgot anyone else [Thanks Eidothia!], and I'm not sure how much editing the Ks actually do...)

Then I decided that better equipment was needed (This is my pitfall. I admit it. I'm gadget happy, and frequently buy instant gratification. What else is new?), and the Hubby had also subtly hinted at possibly wanting his camera back. Or maybe there was talk of the Hubby, the real photographer of the pair, wanting a new camera, so that I could keep the 450D? It's very likely, but could hardly be what actually took place.

So I got me a DSLR Canon 5D Mark II, and some fancy lenses: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L USM, Canon Macro EF 100mm f/2.8 USM, Canon EF ultra wide-angle 14mm f/2.8 L II USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, and a tripod to boot.

The Hubs got Big Berta, the mother of all lenses. And that eased his pain.

Still, I had no idea what I needed all of the equipment for. I had bought a professional camera because I could, not because I knew what I was going to use it for. I was still shooting with the Program settings most of the time, so that the camera would set everything and I would only occasionally override it by changing the white balance or the exposure. Sometimes I would shoot fast moving objects with the Shutter Priority setting so that they wouldn't come off so blurred, and sometimes I would shoot something with the setting on Aperture Priority to achieve a good blurred foreground and background, to get a nice depth of field, a nice bokeh.

But mostly, I would just point and shoot. And let the camera do most of the photographing.  

Until yesterday night, that is.

Around the same time that I received the final bits and pieces to my new interest, a Field Guide to my new camera appeared on my nightstand. There were some more muffled whispers during the twilight hours on how it would perhaps be a good idea to read the manual to my camera, do some leafing through the Field Guide, to go out and snap some photos, to try out the different settings, or at least find out what the abbreviations by all of the different buttons on my camera meant. There were some hints at how it would be awesome to try out setting X or Y or QWK, and I started to see where the train was headed.

So I signed up for an intermediate photography class at the best institution in Johannesburg that Google could find for me - the National College of Photography.

And last night I had my first class.

From now on, there is only one setting I'm allowed to use: the Full Manual. There will be no more of "letting the camera take your picture for you." There will be shutter speeds matched to the aperture matched to the ISO speed according to the light meter reading, white balance settings, RAW format conversion, panning, filters, focal length, zoom, and only manual focus.

And other things that are complete and utter hebrew to me.

My first homework consists of taking light meter readings and a very complicated exercise in low light photography.

I'm scared.

Still, I get a huge kick out of it every time the teacher tells us to depress the button instead of pressing it.

And that makes all the difference.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Ce-le-brate. Good times. Come on.

You might be wondering, especially if yours was sugar-filled and satisfyingly scary and horrifying, how halloween was celebrated in South Africa.

You might. If not much else is going on. If that sugar-high left you too hung-over to do anything but surf and wonder about South Africa.

Could happen.

Well, just for you my lovelies (Is it just me or does that make me sound like a decrepit guy who tries to lure children into his house but never succeeds, an aging witch played by Michelle Pfeiffer, or Gollum from the Lord of the Rings, the cinematic adaptation? Maybe it's just me, since you can't actually hear me. Hmm. Can you?) I decided to engage in some very sophisticated empirical studies.

Just for you. I went ahead, donned my South African designers top, and tried to blend in with the natives.

But as it would be, my rigorous research ended up unearthing a secret much darker than the South African ways of Halloween.

It unearthed rugby and soccer. The two truly horrifying aspects to living in South Africa.

On Saturday, it seems, a rugby cup known as the Currie Cup came to a much anticipated end in a battle between two of the greats, the Blue Bulls from Pretoria and the Cheetahs from the Free State, right when folks were really, according to that calendar forced upon us by Coca Cola and Disney and some minor thing someone once referred to as tradition, walk around begging for candy dressed as tiny Dwight Schrutes from The Office, or barring that, as ghosts, supermen, witches, Bratz dolls, or something fun and inventive that my brain is completely incapable of coming up with.

There was also soccer. A match in the South African Premier League between the Kaizer Chiefs who hail from South Africa (and that's all I can find out about them, so...) and the Orlando Pirates who train at the Johannesburg stadium, but who (I think, and we all know my thinking can't always be trusted) hail from Soweto in south-western Johannesburg.

So instead of white sheets, Edward Cullen messy hair and fangs, or 'elaborate' gogga-costumes, all I was met with as I was trying to bring you the inside scoop on the Halloween celebrations from the tip of this very special continent, were drunk guys in pick-ups wearing Blue Bulls jerseys and a set of blue flashing horns on their heads, with a black heart, or possibly upside-down balls (wouldn't be too surprised to find out that's what it was.), between the horns, and drunk guys in cars and taxis wearing yellow or black and white skull-and-bones decorated jerseys.

There was a very drunk guy wearing a pair of really big yellow glasses and carrying the biggest bottle of Southern Comfort I ever saw. What those had to do with soccer I'll never know. Or maybe he was the only one in an actual Halloween costume I came across.

But I doubt it.

So what did I do?

I didn't think twice. I abandoned the potential hight of my scientific life, and escaped to the movies, saw the absolutely awesome Inglorious Basterds, and quietly made my way home with the scared Hubs, as we tried to avoid the drunks on the roads, too busy waving their flags in support of one of the four teams playing that night rather than watching the road, or even bothering with such minor details as putting their hands on the steering wheel.

You can forget all about ten and two. But being scary (and scared?) is what matters on Halloween anyway. Right?

After the eventful journey back, during which I was very happy that we were traveling in the monster-vehicle owned by my dear Viking (who didn't go as a viking, but very much without thinking about it wore a Blue Bulls blue polo-shirt, which worked as the equivalent of 'honk if you're plastered out of your mind' bumper sticker.), and not the little tin can I sometimes, when the sun's out and I'm feeling good about life, have called a car, we finally rolled onto our much-missed driveway, we glanced at the neighbor's balcony. Yes, the same people who like to dress up their pug.  

There was no pug, but there was definitely something out there.

It turns out the neighbors had celebrated Halloween by putting up their Christmas Decorations.

I bet I'll be staring at this display until at least February. 

And here I was thinking you shouldn't do that until November 1st.

Silly me.