5 Stages of Cape Town’s water crisis

January 30, 2018

With Day Zero looming, Capetonians are getting increasingly anxious about the day when the taps run dry. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m very concerned but there also times when I feel reassured by the spirit of “we’re all in this together” and the resilience and innovation that Capetonians are showing.

Of course one thing that helps (apart from 1-minute showers and not using the washing machine very often) is humour. So here’s my take (with borrowings naturally) on the 5 stages of Cape Town’s water crisis.

5 stages of water shortage

On the innovation side, I’ve noticed that at our local spring, there are a few “water guards / water carriers” who are earning a brisk trade fetching people’s water for them.

I think we also need a playlist of Water Songs for inspiration. Any ideas?






At the Cape Town book fair

August 2, 2010

L and I spent a few hours at the Cape Town book fair yesterday and managed to hear author Jodi Picoult howling like a wolf with her son Jake (in addition to talking about her novels). She was down-to-earth, enthusiastic and quite refreshing in her approach to writing. I’ve not yet read one of her novels but I enjoyed watching My Sister’s Keeper. It was interesting to hear her account of trying to have a discussion with the director about why they changed the ending. Apparently he basically hung up on her and then refused to speak to her on the set when she tried to speak to him about it there. (Needless to say, he won’t be directing any more movies based on one of her novels.)

When I first heard about these issue-based novels of hers, I though the idea was suspect. Doesn’t it just sound a little contrived to choose a whole bunch of contentious issues and base your novels on them? Well it did to me. But I liked the way that she explained that. From what I can remember of the discussion it had to do with being a mother and wondering about all the things that can go wrong with your child and then exploring those things from the inside out. I also liked her comment that you can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank one. Having three kids of her own, she found that she had to squash her writing into any time available. Sounds pretty exhausting.

But getting back to the novels and the discussion (she was in conversation with the SA editor of O magazine, Samantha Paige), the best part for me was hearing her account of the novel she is writing at the moment (which is due out in 2011). It’s called Sing you home and it’s about gay adoption. Well that’s one of the issues. The book will be accompanied by a CD with each song title being the title of a chapter (with Picoult herself writing the lyrics). How’s that for self-belief? I’m almost a little surprised that she didn’t write and perform the music herself. But she makes an excellent point in saying that once you’ve heard someone’s story and heard them expressing their emotions in a heartfelt way, it’s much more difficult to judge them. And of course when you’re dealing with a subject like gay adoption (and related fertility issues) then the religious right has a lot to say about that.

We also wandered around looking at the various stalls and L bought a kid’s book for her niece (Abby’s Aquarium) and I got pressured into buying a book on children’s health in South Africa. I already have a pile of books to take to Darfur (more on this next time) so I wasn’t tempted to buy anything else. But it was great to see so many new titles and to see the crowds that always turn out for these events. Of course I’m not really a fan of crowds but at least there were no vuvuzelas! And the bar-one ice-cream was excellent.

I’m happy to report that I’m feeling a lot better about my upcoming trip to Darfur. I’m still heading off in early September and I’m not sure when exactly I’ll be coming back (hopefully the end of November) but I’m far more relaxed about it. I didn’t make one call about it in the past week or so and I’ll start worrying again about the slow process of my passport and visa applications from tomorrow.

I’m also still not ready to tell you about my and L’s news just yet. That will have to wait for another few weeks. But things are looking good and we had our respective parents over for brunch on Sunday. L cooked up some delicious muesli and I even tried to make some marmite biscuits (since L likes marmite). It was only after I’d put them in the oven that I realised that I was supposed to add two egg yolks to the flour / butter mixture and so the biscuits were more blobs than anything else. And quite rich considering the amount of butter that went in there. I still had fun making them though. And no, that was not what we served the parents. We gave them some yummy fruit salad with yoghurt and muesli; croissants with jam and cheese; eggs, bacon and sausage and some coffee to finish off. The parents got on extremely well and L’s parents have already been invited for lunch at Betty’s.

Goodbye, Ayoba World Cup

July 12, 2010

Part of the Cape Town fanwalk with Table Mountain in the background

It’s been fun and it’s been (mostly) exciting. And it’s united the country like never before. So for these and other reasons I’m happy we had the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. No analysis of the tournament from me today. I’m sad that the Netherlands didn’t win it. But I’m happy that they came very close and that Robben didn’t dive in the penalty area the way that many many others players would have. Maybe the better team won. At the end of the day, does it really matter?

Of course my attention is massively diverted by my upcoming Sudan trip and so I probably won’t allow myself to post more than a few words before getting back to work. But the reality of this job is that a lot of the time it’s about “hurry up and wait”. There’s nothing pressing that I need to do in the next 30 minutes for example but I know that I will feel guilty about blogging for more than a few minutes. Something to work on I guess, those guilty feelings.

But while I’m here I want to show you a few images* I took from our trip down the fanwalk in Cape Town the other day. I loved the atmosphere and the colour and the flags. I could have done with less annoying vuvuzela blasts close to my ear-drums though. I would find myself whipping around in anxiety at an ear-splitting cry from a distressed hippopotamus to find that the sound was coming from a small 12-year old boy. No doubt he was mighty pleased that he could produce such a powerful sound. My rather uncharitable wish in those circumstances was that whoever bought him the annoying plastic trumpet gets to enjoy the sound of it as much as the rest of us.

More of the fanwalk

In the jungle, the mighty jungle ...

The t-shirt in the bottom picture shows the inside of a lion’s mouth. That’s another thing about this tournament – it really brought out people’s creativity. From a marketing perspective alone, this was phenomenal since the whole country now associates the word “Ayoba!” with the cellphone provider MTN. We don’t actually know whether this is a real word or not but we all know that it has to do with parties, massive excitement and the soccer world cup. Here’s hoping that the next one (in Brazil in 2014) is equally Ayoba.

* Click to enlarge

Mirror socks and giant vuvuzelas

May 31, 2010

Cape Town stadium as seen in the mirror

Yesterday was a good day, which makes the shock of Monday morning that much greater. This morning didn’t start well. I knew when my alarm went off at 5.45am that I needed to make a concerted effort to get to work in time for 7am rollcall. But when the electronic gate didn’t open and I had to find the key and then shoo the geckos out of the motor and then write a note for my neighbours and all this at 6 o’clock in the morning I was pretty sure that I would be late. And I hate being late, especially since I got some ‘feedback’ on Friday that I am often late.

Friday was a horror. Compulsory staff workshop in the afternoon at which I battled to stay awake and almost had to prop up my eyelids with matchsticks to avoid embarrassing snoring. I eventually settled on writing down random words which the presenter said (but which I couldn’t bring myself to attend to) and trying to stay awake that way. It wasn’t pleasant and I was partly to blame for having two slices of cake over lunch. But what got me rattled (and I seem to rattle easily these days) is that we were forced to give anonymous feedback to each other about our strengths and weaknesses.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Presenter C, ‘the feedback will be anonymous and I’ll find a way to use it creatively.’

That’s OK then, I thought, the Major won’t see that this feedback is from me. I can happily write away and perhaps the presenter will pool all the comments on a flipchart. What a relief.

‘But I don’t want to see ten strengths and only one weakness’, continued Presenter C sternly. And like a fool I complied, dutifully writing an almost equal-length list on both sides.

The idea of anonymity in a small sickbay like ours is a bit laughable though. With only one psychologist in the group, who else is going to use words like defensive, self-esteem and conflict management? And of course handwriting is pretty easy to decipher as well.

The ‘creative’ way that the presenter thought of to share this feedback was to simply walk over to each person and, with a small delay, hand them their ‘feedback’. Shock and horror. My piece of paper (in a handwriting I know well) said that I was temperamental and often late. Fair enough. There were positive comments too but it was the negative ones that stood out.

And then I was too mortified to see how the Major took my constructive comments that she was perhaps stubborn, defensive, avoids conflict and that she sometimes appears to lack self-confidence. The sugar and my resentment worked together (along with the boring content) and for the rest of the session I was away in my own world, trying to stay awake.

Fast forward to this morning and I’m trying to be on time in order to show that I’m addressing this weakness in my character. Although of course I didn’t have to. I could have happily agreed that I am often late and that I quite like it, since I get to miss standing to attention during the national anthem on a Monday for example. It’s no big deal. Oh, if only I was as laidback as that.

But on to other things. The picture above shows Cape Town stadium as reflected in my car mirror, decorated with mirror socks in the spirit of the World Cup. Quite a few cars have these mirror socks and also flags and the spirit is if not quite at fever pitch then well on the way.

To give you another idea of the football fever that is set to become seriously over-cooked in the next month or so, I give you … the giant vuvuzela.

This is like a giant kid’s toy which has been dropped on the uncompleted freeway near the Waterfront. Hyundai clearly spotted a gap in the market for such a toy and combined it with a giant electronic scoreboard so that we can all see how many days there are to the World Cup. Apparently the giant kids who will be operating this device promise to blow a big, loud blast of hot air whenever there is a goal scored at the Cape Town stadium.

Life is good (and other points)

May 6, 2010

1. Time is even more precious than usual these days as my ‘practice’ at the military hots up. Even with all the public holidays last month, I still had 51 scheduled sessions with 35 people and it felt that my attention was spread very thinly at times. Quite a few of those were no-shows (all too common here) but I still block off the time and then work half-heartedly in case they arrive late.

2. Winter has arrived, which means howling wind and rain and cold temperatures. This happens every year and so you would think that I would manage to keep an umbrella from one year to the next.

3. It’s been “Men at Work” at my house for the past two weeks and I’m sick of it. First it was the window guys (replacing wooden windows with powdered aluminium). I’m happy with the windows but less happy that the burglar bars have now gone. So of course the alarm people came to put in contact points. And then there were the painters. Mr D has been painting for my parents for 20 years and he is a dear but I still rush home from work in a state of mild anxiety to check whether the workmen are OK and are managing to do their work without destroying anything they shouldn’t be destroying. This week the builders are putting in the world’s smallest deck outside the dining room and putting up trellises and laying paving along the side of the house. In the driving rain, nogal! Not pleasant.

4. In preparation for my talk on ‘Positive Psychology’ tomorrow I’ve been watching a clip on YouTube which features Bette Midler and Bing Crosby singing ‘You’ve got to ac-cent-tchuate the positive’. It’s a cute song but it got stuck in my brain and started annoying me with the lyrics about eliminating the negative and not messing with Mr In-Between. Of course you must mess with Mr In-between. The middle-ground is what it’s all about. But I was also fascinated by the body language between the two – Midler young and flirtatious and Crosby slick and charming but a little intimidated by Midler’s flirtatiousness. At one point she punches him in the stomach and I wasn’t sure how to analyse that!

5. L is attending a laparoscopy course in Germany for two weeks and I got a text message yesterday to say she had just done a laparoscopic hysterectomy on a pig. I’m happy for her that she’s getting the training but I feel sorry for the poor pig. Who asked her whether she wanted to have a hysterectomy? And what kind of after-care do they get after their ops? I know the reality of Science is that animals get operated on for the greater good of humanity. I just don’t like it.

6. I’m feeling anxious but also a little excited about my talk tomorrow. I’m basically presenting it as a “Journey through Positive Psychology”. I became interested in PP as a result of my blog-reading. Lilian mentioned it first and then Dorothy got me interested in reading Barbara Fredrickson’s book ‘Positivity’. From there the reading just mushroomed.

7. For example I’ve learned a lot about positive and negative emotions in the last few days. I will share these thoughts here in due course, once I’ve managed to formulate them properly. But it’s interesting how intertwined and yet how different the two sets of emotions can be. The negative emotions are more important to understand but the positive emotions are what we aim for.

8. I finished Kate Atkinson’s When will there be good news? which I found riveting. She has a very refreshing narrative voice and I loved the way she subverts gender stereotypes. In this book Jackson Brodie spends much of the story injured and basically a bit on the ropes while 16-year old Reggie Chase (Famous Girl Detective) does most of the sleuth work. And as for the ending, well that just wasn’t terribly realistic was it? But does it matter? I doubt it.

9. My latest book order arrived from the internet book suppliers and I was very happy. To add to the growing TBR pile we have: The Boat by Nam Le; Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield-Jamison; Writing through the Darkness (on writing as a healing process for depression); Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson; and a textbook on Psychology and Law. Life is good, right?

10. And while we’re on the subject of life being good, on Saturday we celebrated my older brother’s birthday at Delaire restaurant in the Stellenbosch winelands. The weather was perfect, the view was exquisite and the food was sublime. I will start sounding like a Western Cape Tourism public relations officer with these adjectives but they’re definitely justified. The autumn light on the vines across the valley, the soft blue haze of the mountains in the distance, the succulent roast beef (yes I did feel guilty) with whatever fancy vegetable stuff they added to it, the red wine from Rupert and Rothschild, the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate dessert and the sinful coffee to end off. Not the kind of restaurant that I can afford to go to regularly on my salary, which makes it doubly good I suppose.

Looking for Lance (and finding Avatar)

March 14, 2010

• I loved this gem of writing advice from Roddy Doyle: “Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” Now I don’t think he is making fun of depressed writers here (or the famous ones who committed suicide). But I like the mental image of the struggling writer looking to their mentor for inspiration and getting, well something other than inspiration I guess.

• The big story in Cape Town this week was the week-long presence of the world’s greatest cyclist and seven-times Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong. Apparently the number of watching spectators was almost double this year, and all to get a glimpse of the great man himself. I was watching on TV and, as luck would have it, just when Lance and the nine other riders made their winning breakaway with about 30kms to go, the live action feed stopped working because of the high winds. Instead we got to see helicopter shots of the breakaway group with no chance of identifying individual riders. It was so frustrating, especially if you drag yourself out of bed at 6.30am and sit patiently through the inane Lebo doing pretty mindless interviews every 10 minutes or so. Eventually we got to see Lance make his tactical charge straight into the howling south-easter with 1km to go but it wasn’t enough to set up his team-mate for the win. Very exciting though and my adrenalin was pumping from my leisurely position on the couch.

• The post-race interviewer wanted to know if legendary Lance had anything to say on the course. The guy who came second (Christoff somebody) said Lance was a bit alarmed when a cannon went off on one of the descents. “Why would somebody do something like that?” asked Lance. To which Christoff simply replied: “This is Africa.” I wonder if that is one of the abiding memories that Lance will take away with him from Cape Town. Crazy spectators letting off cannons. That, and the aerial shot of a Great White shark in False Bay.

• Today I finally got to see Avatar. The fantasy world that James Cameron and his team have created is breathtaking. Really excellent. I know a lot of people found it too long but I found it much easier to watch than the long battle scenes in the Lord of the Ring series. Even the inevitable fight-to-the-death sequence near the end, although predictable, was exciting. One thing that did grate a little was those scenes of the Navi people all moving in unison, swaying back and forth in a metaphor of a close community completely in sync with one another.

• Now that I think about the movie a little more, I also realise that these war epics very rarely show the suffering that war creates. We get the suffering after the initial attack on Hometree but the protracted fighting that inevitably ensues in this kind of situation? The countless wounded and traumatised people? No, we get none of those. The victors smile and the vanquished slink off to their space ship without much of a struggle. Interestingly, as viewers we have a lot of sympathy for Jake (who is a victim of war) but we’re spared all the other wounded veterans of this type of fighting. All in all though, a great way to spend close on three hours on a Sunday afternoon.

Cape Town stories

October 19, 2009

It’s another windy day in Cape Town and I’m a bit tired from family celebrations. My mom’s turning 70 on Tuesday and yesterday we celebrated in style at The Greenhouse restaurant at The Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia. It was like being in a very stylish tree-house looking out over the maginificent gardens there. Very fitting for someone whose main passion is gardening.

But that’s not what I’m on about today. I’ve been wanting to post on novels set in Cape Town for a while but I’ve battled to find 10 (or even 5) that I really want to write about. Today I have three – two books and a play.

1. In A City Imagined, which is a collection of 19 different writers’ reactions to and associations of Cape Town, Stephen Watson writes:

In the past it has been common to hear that Cape Town comprises a tale of two cities only. There is the city of the privileged, their rose and vanilla mansions hugging those contours of privilege close to the city’s mountain chain, its forest slopes, and better beaches. On the other hand, there sprawls the immense city of the dispossessed and deprived, the apartheid dormitory towns and squatter camps, steadily filling up the waste ground between the city’s mountain backbone and the barrier range of the Hottentots Holland.

One of the things I enjoyed about this collection of memories, stories and associations of Cape Town is that it showed me this city that I know so well, and have lived in for the majority of my 39 years, in such a familiar and yet different way. Each of the 19 contributors brought their own perspective and personality to their accounts and the result is a tale of 19 cities. Damon Galgut writes about the beauty of the city which is also tinged with longing and regret and sorrow almost. We have gay Cape Town in Mark Behr’s account of his first love and having to betray his lover for the sake of the military. Then we also have PR Anderson on the Newlands Forest, Jeremy Cronin on Simonstown, Finuala Dowling playing tour guide and Sindiwe Magona remembering her family’s home in Blouvlei (near Retreat) before Group Areas moved them to Gugulethu (which has the ironic name of Our Pride).

I liked this quote which Watson gives from Albert Camus writing about his native Algiers: “What you can love in Algiers is what everybody lives off: the sea visible from every corner, a certain weight of sunlight, the beauty of the race.”

Then we have the actor Antony Sher writing about his memories of Cape Town:

Back in the Sixties all I wanted to do was to leave Cape Town. These days I can’t wait to come back. It isn’t just that I rejoice in South Africa’s flourishing democracy; it’s also because those childhood impressions of my birthplace are imbedded in me, even if I was rather careless about collecting them in the first place. The sense memories are like seeds: they lie dormant for most of the year while I’m in the UK, but I only have to step off the plane at Cape Town International Airport, and the sunlight only has to hit them, and a plunge in the sea only has to water them, and they blossom again, and their fragrance breaks my heart.

Reading Antony Sher’s account of playing Cape Town, I felt a sense of serendipity since I kept making connections. For example he talks about saying goodbye to his mom who has Alzheimer’s and then he mentions the delicious bagels that Katie, his mom’s ‘coloured’ cook, learned to bake from Antony’s mom, who learned it from her mom, who learned it back in the tiny shtetl of Plungyn in Lithuania. Alzheimer’s? The shtetl? What was next I wondered. Well it turns out that he’s friends with Janice Honeyman, who was then directing Sindiwe Magona’s play Mother to Mother at the Baxter which P and I had seen a few days before.

2. Mother to Mother is a moving and poignant one-woman play based on the book of the same name. Magona was a friend of the mother of one of the killers of Amy Biehl, a young American volunteer who was tragically killed in Gugulethu the year before South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. The book is an attempt by this mother to explain to Linda Biehl, the mother of the victim, how such a terrible thing could have happened. I remember being so shocked at the time that this vibrant young woman who was trying to make a difference in a poor country far from her home had been killed by an angry mob of protesters. I can’t vouch for the book but the play was heart-breakingly sad but also funny and hopeful at the same time. There was a powerful sense that it will be through telling stories such as this one, as difficult as they are, that the traumas of the past can be reworked into a more inclusive and integrated future.

3. The third book that I want to mention here is Whiplash by Tracey Farren. It’s a first-person narrative about a prostitute (or sex worker to use the more PC term) who lives in Muizenberg. I found this an ambitious and interesting first novel and I really admired the thought behind it but I just couldn’t stay with the narrator for the whole 300 pages.

Tess is a (white, blonde) prostitute who lives in Muizenberg and the novel is a first-person narrative addressed to her mother. The story is raw and gritty and shows up the violence and exploitation which is bound up with the sex trade. Tess is addicted to codeine pills and appears to want to numb out her working life. Her narrative is a bit disjointed and jarry but she has some excellent descriptions. For example one of her clients gives her a ticket to a prestigious horse race and she and her friend get all dolled up and go there to the absolute horror of the men and their wives.

It slowly emerges that Tess was abused by her stepfather as a child and that sex work is her way of dealing with this abuse. Her mother seems to have known about the abuse but did nothing, becoming sick instead and eventually developing cancer. It’s unclear for much of the novel whether she’s still alive.

What I found difficult to relate to is the disjunction between Tess’s voice, which is rather defensive and monotonous at times, and that of the author, who has clearly done her research into sex work and is interested to tell this story. I kept wanting to hear more of this voice as opposed to the numbed-out monotony of Tess.

I also found it difficult to feel much empathy for Tess since she herself seems often quite far removed from her own pain. The emotional numbness serves to distance us from the experience. I can understand that she would want to escape the sordidness of the sex acts that she is involved in but the euphemistic word of “jumps” makes it sound almost like a game. I’d be interested to read more about this seedier side of Cape Town but I think it would help to be a lot more transparent about that other voice. Just describing the process of writing makes me as a reader much more involved in the novel.