Sunday, May 19, 2013

Follow Your Bliss

During a long commute last week, I found myself reflecting on a birthday post on a friend's Facebook wall.  It contained the usual wish but included 'Follow your Bliss'.  That seems like such a simple phrase, but is so profound when you stop to really think about it.

Numerous birthdays in this journey of life has given insight, or an understanding of timing and the things that really matter, and I found myself pondering, 'what is your Bliss?'

I googled it naturally, and found a multitude of diagrams, links to books, articles; some have even given us the graphic of what it should look like and how we arrive at our bliss. Of  course, everyone's bliss is different and looks different, but could it be that we are all in search of that 'something'?

My bliss will obviously include family, friends etc., but what is it that gives me a fire in my belly, the something that touches my soul?  What is so natural and such a good fit it's like breathing, effortless. What is it I hanker after? 

Some would call me an Empath, some an Activist. While both are true to a greater or lesser extent, I call myself a champion of causes, protector of the underdog, a nurturer of those who hurt and mission driven to make a positive difference in this journey called life.

The Bliss, and life begins in Africa. The Motherland. The beauty, the poverty, the wars, the struggles, the politics. The lack - lack of safety, lack of refuge, lack of shelter, lack of water - and abundance - of poaching.  If current trends continue elephants will be extinct by 2022 or 2025, depending on the source of the research. Extinct. Gone. Forever. Our children and our grandchildren will learn of elephants and rhinos from pictures in books. What poor stewards we have been of our miraculous world.

My South African family know that trips home center around them, in the bush. The two go hand-in-hand. I am blessed because they understand the need. Some will call me selfish I'm sure, but there is no desire to mingle in the rush and bustle of the busyness of life in the sprawling city.  It's time in the bush that feeds my soul - the adventurous warthog, the buzz of the cicada beetles, the rustle as buck move through the trees, identifying the dung on the road hoping to see your favorite animal. It's time in the bush that gets me to realign and go deep within myself - and that gives me momentum to face everyday life, and the challenges it brings. Perhaps Wayne Cordeiro said it best "Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first."

African isolation refines my soul.

As a Scatterling of Africa (credit to Johnny Clegg) the earthy wild Africa, and my Bliss, is still available to me. The wildlife may not be. Poaching is a very real threat to the extinction of elephants and rhinos - the slaughtering horrific. If you have a way to become involved to fight against this tragedy, I urge you to.  Below are a couple of links to sign petitions and adopt elephant or rhino orphans,

Adopt/foster baby elephants and rhinos

You don't visit or 'go' to Africa, you experience it, inhale it - it becomes part of you.  Plan a trip - until you go you won't know.

When you’ve acquired a taste for dust,
The scent of our first rain,
You’re hooked for life on Africa,
And you’ll not be right again
Till you can watch the setting moon
And hear the jackals bark
And know that they’re around you,
Waiting in the dark.

When you long to see the Elephants,
Or to hear the coucal’s song,
When the moonrise sets your blood on fire,
You’ve been away too long.
It’s time to cut the traces loose
And let you’re heart go free
Beyond that far horizon,
Where your spirit yearns to be.  -  Emily Dibb

Perhaps 'my bliss' may just become yours too.

Friday, April 5, 2013

5,113 Days

... Or 15 years including some three extra days to account for the leap years.  That's the number of days I've lived in the US, but more specifically it's the number of days since I left home.  May 1998.

Home. South Africa. The country the furthest South on the continent of Africa.  A country of heritage and cultures as rich as the red clay earth and as vast as the wide open skies. And misperception. 

The typical reaction when people hear I'm from Africa is "But, but, but  ... you're white". Their surprise never ceases to surprise me. That's inevitably followed by "what's it like" "do wild animals roam the streets" and even an occasional "I have cousin who went to Kenya, (or Egypt or Ghana) do you know him?"   Sorry, 'No'. [You do know those are all other countries on the continent of Africa, right?]   

South Africa is a land of mixed cultures and peoples. To an outsider, a country perceived to be divided by color - blacks against whites, and vice versa.   What we are, is a cosmopolitan melting pot of many colors, many traditions and many nationalities.  Portuguese, Lebanese, Italian, American, (East) Indian, Jews, Greek, Arabs, Chinese (and more)......all of whom have their own little piece of the South Africa they call 'home'.

The years of Apartheid are well known, world wide.  This can never be undone.  It's complicated.  The country had no TV - at all, until 1976, nor freedom of the press, both of which resulted in life in South Africa being censored.  It is only in the last 15+ years that details of the injustices have become known, and they should never be repeated.

As the first 'one man one vote' election approached in 1994 after Nelson Mandela's release, South Africans prayed for peaceful change and the sharing of power.  The world watched and waited as lines of South Africans, of all colors, stood for hours in the sun to cast their vote. I was there, black and white waiting together. Offering one another shade, or a can of soda. Respectfully. Orderly. Were we all wondering if changes in government would result in Civil War?  Despite all the fears, we didn't have bloodshed - the first indication that this was positive, despite our own individual fears and insecurities. 

Much has happened since then, and for the most part, for the better, but the country is not without its struggles. An entire generation is growing up as orphans having lost their parents or even grandparents to AIDS. Political corruption is everywhere,  Education of the masses lacking, unemployment high, and crime the result.  People live behind huge walls with electric fencing.  If life consists of some trade-offs, and adapting is part of life, then life in South Africa is good, considering no country or city is challenge-free.

It is a country with rich and poor. Some are black and some are white. It's new and modern, it is steeped in history and tradition. There were wars fought - lost and won. There was land claimed and life lost. There are achievements. There are disappointments.There are regrets and embarrassments. But, this is a new beginning and this is a country forging a new future, with excitement and passion!

And South Africans have passion.  In everything.

We are a nation that is fiercely patriotic. Especially when it comes to sport. You only needed to see or be at the Rugby World Cup Final in 1995, just a mere year after the abolition of Apartheid, to witness the new South African flag waved by blacks and whites and every shade in between, singing Shosoloza and proudly cheering our Rugby team on to win the World Title. When I sat down to watch Invictus, I wasn't expecting to cry, but there I was, home again, reliving every moment and every emotion! 

We are lovers of Rugby, Cricket, Sunday afternoon braais (pronounced 'brr eyes') otherwise known as a BBQ, served with crisp rolls and every variety of salad, (All South African men are A+ braaiers - it's a fine art!) Biltong (dried meat - like jerky, only better). Boerewors (handmade sausage) green Cream Soda, delicious Chocolate, Milk Tart, Vetkoek, and Biscuits  (cookies) of every kind.

And then there's that unmistakable accent. Nothing can describe that warm fuzzy feeling when you're somewhere else in the world and hear it. You find yourself looking around trying to identify the owner of the voice! Someone from our familiar place - 'home'. We've never met, yet we know one another, and suddenly life is good.

We South Africans, also speak a different language - trunks are boots, traffic lights are robots, cookies are biscuits, cubbyholes are glove boxes, flickers are indicators.  We drive on the left side of the road, and we don't know how to give directions "go to the robot, then turn left, and cross over two streets, then turn right at Kentucky Chicken"

Maybe it's the red dust, but sunsets in Africa are like nowhere else in the world.  Neither is the smell of the first drops of rain on the earth. Or the spectacular lightning shows that light up the sky. And sunshine.  Hot bright sunshine virtually all year round.  Here you see, there are two seasons rather than four - the few months of winter, cold, but with bright blue skies.

South Africa is beautiful. There's semi desert, there are rolling hills, stony mountain crags, beautiful beaches and then ...   then there's the African Bushveld. That's when I know I've come home. The smells. The Acacia trees. The Elephants. Those red sunsets. The wide open spaces where the animals roam, and bright stars in clear night skies.

There are no words to describe the feelings boarding a 747 with the South African Airways livery, or the overwhelming emotion when those wheels first touch down on a runway at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport.

This is the Africa I love, and the one you will too if you ever have the opportunity to visit. But be warned, prepare to be ever changed. While you may leave Africa, Africa never leaves you. It's in your blood.  It flows through your veins.


Ask any South African Expat.

If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.
Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I Take Thee, Slanket

Yes, I must confess - as I hang my head in shame - I'm one of THOSE people.

I own a Snuggie.

It's a rich caramel color which blends nicely with the colors of my sofas - living room style is, after all, what's important, right?  You're thinking, style? Did she really just say style? A blanket with sleeves HAS no style!!
Don't we hate hospital gowns because they have openings at the back? Don't we hate a rush of cold air? Then tell me please, how this is different.
Just the word 'Winter' causes me to shiver. It's a time of dread that begins around June 22 - that slow descent to the dark place that can choke the life right out of you, or shall I say, me.

People who love the snow and relish each and every opportunity to snowboard, ski, snowshoe and more, have my respect because in a perfect world, my perfect world, there would be just three seasons.  Warm, Warmer and Warmest.

Now you're shaking your head in disbelief. The romantic in you is imagining a white winter wonderland, lying on a bear rug in front of an open fire enjoying a glass of eggnog, all cuddled up warm and cozy with the special person in your life - not bundled up wading through slush, shoveling snow or playing dodgem cars in the (ice rink) parking lot.  My romance with 'The White Stuff' begins and ends with a snowball - or two, and making snow angels with my children when they were younger.

It's precisely at this time when the grip of winter is at its tightest that the call of the home I love - Africa - is its loudest. You see this little picanin (a Zulu word meaning small child) was born in the land of the wild, of red clay earth, of spectacular thunderstorms and.... year round sunlight. 

Sadly fantasizing about hot Summer days lying at the pool enjoying a long cool drink (with an umbrella in it) must be left for another day. It's time to don the Slanket, sit under a sunlamp and contemplate what life would be like...... as a BEAR! Sleeping for half the year, no restrictive diet, and no need for painful waxing.