The Covid Months

There is a palpable sense of lightness this week in South Africa, after moving to Level 2 of lockdown. In retrospect the Covid journey seems to have taken forever, five months equating to so much more, and yet it the year has flown by. I am intrigued at how I have dealt with certain aspects of this journey.

The first days I was fearfully optimistic. If I obeyed all the rules to the letter, there was a chance the angel of death would pass me by. Three weeks. I could manage three weeks. Except I knew it would be many more weeks than three.

Lockdown. A watercolour.

I made a list of things to do. I always make lists. There were parts of the house that need sorting, work in the garden, murals I wanted to paint. And, of course, my current manuscript to finish. I tackled house keeping with new energy; I joined a painting group and practised my art; I looked at old lists and brought them through to the new one. (I seldom tick every chore off my list, and the Covid list is no exception.)

I read copiously. Every report. My cell pinged hysterically. Soon I removed myself from a number of groups. The data consumption was prohibitive, the hysteria infectious, the repeated forwards mindless.

In spite of my initial optimism, fear hovered subliminally, and then manifest in panic filled terror in the second week. The ‘what if’ questions, the long days filled with strange emptiness, the roads empty of traffic, the silence at night made it difficult to sleep. It was a bad bump. Fear raged out of control, I cried for no good reason, worried that I would never again see my sons, grandchildren, friends. I imagined the hot fluid of Covid in my lungs. I’m asthmatic so I know what it feels like not being able to draw breath.

The panic subsided after about three days, and I got on with getting through the rest of the lockdown.

I loved the silence of the night hours. I took pleasure in walking outside, standing at the gate to our complex, praying unhindered for healing, for wisdom for our leaders, for friends, and mostly for protection against the pandemic, while a recording of a shofar calling the faithful to worship played out. I hoped my neighbours would not be alarmed. They sky was extraordinary, lit up with stars, unpolluted by light or sound.

There was no one around except a fast walker, who interrupted the peace with his flip slap flip slap scuttle, the sound of which resonated sacrilegiously in the  silence of the early hours. There always has to be one person who thinks they are beyond the law.

 I came to grips with technology. I lead the ladies’ group at my church. It is a vibrant group ranging in age from 40 to 84, their humour is quick, their laughter infectious. It was soon apparent that messages via WhatsApp were not going to be enough to keep morale high. Some of the single members were not coping so well. I learnt about zoom and soon had the weekly bible study meeting going again. A few members resisted, but most came on board and it was such a relief getting to see each other, albeit in strange colour and cut off at the chest.

For those who live too far away, or who really eschewed the technology I began to record each week’s lesson and put it on You Tube. Years ago I was a broadcast journalist and I felt had come home. I enjoyed the discipline of having to prepare a teaching each week. I have always found comfort searching the Scriptures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDV0ItFxPRk&t=36s

I convinced my sons to come to a zoom meeting. I so badly needed to see them. I got to have video calls with my grandchildren, and friends far away. Virtual sundowners lifted the spirits.

We shared videos of exercise routines in those early days, realising how important it was we keep fit. I live in a complex so we walked up and down the driveways as well, masked and distant.

Level 5 lockdown was extended. We were in this for the long haul. Forget the list. Get back to your normal work routine. Did I? Huh!

At last an easing came. We could exercise between 6 and 9. Great. I was out there. Every morning. Until they extended the hours to 6pm. No pressure. My walks dwindled. Always the thought, ‘I can go this afternoon’.

My enthusiasm for painting waned. There is only so much space to store canvases that are unlikely to sell. I offer them to my neighbours.

I am not a drinker. Too many alcoholics in my past. I do, however, enjoy an occasional splash of wine in a glass well filled with ice cubes. Until I was told it was verboten, whereupon it became a glass a night. I made sure I had a good supply when the ban was lifted. Happy to say I was able to bless a friend with a bottle, and I had the last glass of my stash on Monday night. How was that for planning! Now to go back to my old ways where it matters not a jot if I have wine in the cupboard or not.

I have always worked from home, so lockdown should not have made much difference to me. All that changed was my freedom to come and go, socialise. These were replaced with well planned forays to the shops, a peaceful environment in which creativity should have thrived, and many hours in which to accomplish all that I have struggled to accomplish over the past however many years I have been working on this manuscript.

I did make headway on my manuscript but somehow the walls closed in on me. The uninterrupted routine of making meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, watering and weeding the garden took precedence and drained me of creativity. The days stretched long and lonely, the nights I filled with Netflix.

The move to Level 3 meant we could meet for coffee. Outside. But we could meet. So we did. What a reunion! Thirteen ladies, excited at our daring, our chatter unabated. I met with the odd friend too.

And I went to the Kruger Park.  Oh what heaven! The first thing we noticed was the state of the roads – dirty with grass and poo, and branches. Game rangers had been posting pictures of animals sleeping on the roads, and this was the evidence that tar was no longer something to be avoided. The animals had changed. Zebra not flicking their tails in irritation when you stopped to look at them and moving away into the safety of the bush, Giraffe staying put in the middle of the road, ellies calmer than I have seen them for many years. One trip we saw a heard of usually shy Sable antelope, happy to carry on grazing in spite of the proximity of our vehicles. What a spoiling! I went as often as I could, knowing this was a special time, not likely to be experienced again.

And so, after five months of relative isolation, we have arrived at level 2, and as I look about me, and reminisce, I cannot help wondering what all the hype has been about. The figures are not as dastardly as we were led to believe they would be, both globally and here. Let’s face it, 20 million infections out of a population of 7 billion, less than 800 thousand fatalities globally are hardly the millions we were told about in the beginning. True, there are still new infections, but they are decreasing, as is the death rate. I am not callous, but do these figures justify shutting the world down? Bringing country after country to its economic knees? Mass unemployment? Talk about World Interrupted!

Conspiracy theories have abounded since the first murmurs trickled out of Wuhan at the beginning of the year. Fear is an awful weapon, and it is fear that has caused this scenario. Fear and fear alone. And because the carnage seemingly isn’t enough for those orchestrating this ‘pandemic’, we are now being threatened with the, wait for it, SECOND WAVE. It sounds like the title of a cheap novel, or a horror movie.

If there is a conspiracy, what is it about? Economic control? Global domination? Or is it an act of benevolence, ensuring respite for the earth from rampant pollution, a time for families to regroup, re-evaluate relationships, bond, maybe reconcile? To ensure weaknesses of governments are made manifest, rampant corruption exposed, fractures in political ideals laid bare, leaders tested as never before?

I am saddened by the suffering of the past five months, the loss of life, lonely and unattended, the isolation that has led to increased suicides, domestic abuse and other horrors. But I am also aware of much good that has happened and I know I need to balance the two, and then figure out my way forward from here.

We were told it would be a different world after Covid. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. The world I look out onto looks much the same. People back in the park, leaving as much litter as before, the same speed freaks keeping us awake nights with their raucous engines in spite of curfew, the same arguments, the same riots and demonstrations.

The balance between the haves and the have nots is altered, but hopefully it will swing back better than before now that we are so much more aware of the chasm between the two.

I worried about how I would cope when this all ended, how I would begin again. But I think my life will crank into gear and soon I will be back in a familiar routine and these months of Covid will fade into the distance.

I pray, however, that the lessons learnt will not.

Our African Dream

Friday, middle of the month, it has been a frenetically busy day here in White River. I can only think it is the thought that maybe, just maybe, lockdown restrictions are about to be further eased, and people are getting ready to get back to work.

In a province that is heavily reliant on the tourist industry, there is a feeling of desperation at the continued travel restrictions. Lodges and tour operators are crashed and crushed after five months of no business. Those that can have tried to continue paying their staff, but the string is now stretched as far as it will go.

The line outside our local Post Office does not diminish, many people queuing, their shoulders hunched, their faces lined with worry as they wait hours for a pittance, with which they are to feed hungry mouths. The chatter and banter that is part and parcel of queues in Africa is missing.

Those that are fortunate enough to still have an income are nervous. There have been hold ups, robberies, hijackings. Be aware. Be careful. More to fear.

We can expect no less. People are desperate; desperate people are moved to desperate acts.

I have just listened to Kimi Skota sing My African Dream , a recording from when she was with Andre Rieu. She now lives in White River, so we feel proprietorial towards her! It is a song made famous by Vicky Sampson back in 1996, that speaks to the dream of a new tomorrow, an Africa that honours its people, its resources, that moves ahead of its history.

It is one of the go to songs in this part of the world, together with Johnny Clegg’s Great Heart

There is a spirit in African people that will not lie down and die, but right now it’s as close to breaking as I have ever known it to be. It is going to take great courage, and sacrifice, and unplumbed levels of selflessness to come back from this.

I was reading Romans 12, and therein I found what looks to be the perfect recipe to ease our survival, if we can manage to do this, to live this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another;

Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

I have a dear friend, a busy lady who lives a little in her own world. She enjoys a few glasses of wine after a hard day’s work and, like many, she ran out before the first ban was lifted.  Then sales opened. Time and again she would wander off on a Friday or Saturday to buy her wine for the week, totally forgetting she should have done so before Thursday. Poor Su!

When I heard Ramaphosa slam liquor sales closed that Sunday night, my thoughts immediately went to her. Needless to say she didn’t have a single bottle in stock. She has been ribbed mercilessly by all of us these past weeks, and she has dealt with it all very well.

The other afternoon she called to say she was baking bread, was I home so she could deliver a loaf to me. Where else would I be? As I waited for her, I felt a nudge. I had two bottles of wine in my cupboard. ‘Give her one,’ said the nudge. ‘But what if the ban goes on and on?’ ‘Give her one. Open up your mean little heart and give her one bottle’. I lost the argument with my better self I am happy to say, and the look of glazed delight on her face made it worthwhile.

But what of all those who don’t have a friend with two bottles of wine. Or surplus food. Or a few cents to spare. Or a heart hardened with meanness after a life of uncertainty and insecurity.

As I said earlier, if we are to recover from these catastrophic five months, it is going to take a degree of courage and selflessness such as has never been asked of us before. I believe we can do it. I believe in the indomitability of the African spirit.

As Master Kg featuring Nomcebo’s heartrending cry to the heavens in the song Jerusalema, has people dancing across the globe , so, I believe, we will we walk in jubilant freedom in one day.

I want to play my part – do you?

Ego or Just Reward?

I’m a writer. It’s my career, my calling, an unavoidable compulsion, call it what you will, it is what I am and what I do.

It is a hazardous career that involves many hours staring at a blank screen, followed by either furious typing or staccato bursts of finger tapping, frequently followed by depressing the backspace button and erasing most of what I’ve written.

 The prequel to this is endless discussions as to how best to set about writing your masterpiece: do you plot your storyline first or do you fly by the seat of your pants and let the story evolve, let your characters dictate the plot? Should you plan each chapter? How long should a paragraph be? Or, my bête noir, the debate about the everchanging use of commas, colons, semi or otherwise!

Hanging over all this is your word count. How many words do you produce each day? What is the optimum number? How else do you define a good day at the office, which is a corner of your home? Which leads people to think you don’t work, because sitting staring into space cannot reasonably be construed as a job, so it is fine to interrupt you and expect you to be available at the drop of a hat to perform whatever chore no one else wants. And which you leap to execute, because any excuse not to look at that screen will suffice.

When, finally, you come to the place where you can type THE END, the elation is short lived, as you now have to begin the dreaded re-writes. The combing of each sentence to ensure it says what it should, that you have used the right word, the right tense. The Thesaurus is at hand, something to chew on that hopefully isn’t too detrimental to your health, coffee on the go to prevent the eyes glazing over.

Whilst the re-write is happening, you have to start working on another horror, your pitch. This is your sales talk, your carefully crafted plea to the publishing world to stop for two minutes and agree to read your manuscript. Two hundred of the most important words you can come up with. This is the beginning of marketing yourself, of finding a way to get others to believe you are relevant, the story you have told cannot be kept private, why it should go out into the world and entertain thousands, eventually finding itself listed on one or other coveted list.

Everyone has read about rejections letters. How many this author or that received before they were published and found untold fame and fortune. For those who have never received one of those polite, we regret missives, believe me when I tell you there is no pleasure in them. My son, an actor, also a recipient of many rejection notices, says: “Grow a skin, Mum!” before telling me how a friend of his has used his rejection letters to wallpaper his study. Heaven forbid that I should have to look at them each day!

They hurt. Whichever way you look at them they are a condemnation of the essence of you, your craft, your ideas, your hours of relentless labour. A writer never has time off. Story lines and sentences and words are constantly claiming your attention – there is no escape. Whether they make it onto the page each day or not doesn’t count. They pester you.

I follow a good number of authors and writers. We are a band united by the vagaries and uncertainties of our craft, that only those of us who battle them each day really understand. Which is why, when one of our number has a lucky break and broadcasts it on twitter or wherever, the rest of us are able to rejoice with them, because we know what they went through to get there, and in their success our hope is kindled anew.

The plaudits are few and far between in this job, and I celebrate joyously even the smallest that come my way. Any encouragement, any verification that you have touched someone, that you are on the right track is worthy of mention. It is what builds us up and enables us to carry on.

I had a post shared this week. It was well received by a number of people way beyond my usual sphere. I was euphoric and couldn’t wait to share my news. My ardour was dampened when the allegation came that I sounded big headed. I have no doubt that I did. But only to those friends who are not writers, who do not understand the loneliness and insecurity of this journey, this career, the oft-times crippling need for endorsement.

I don’t begrudge you your opinion. You haven’t a clue of what I and fellow wordsmiths go through, and it is enough that they, my fellow writers and poets, stand in the wings and clap, and I thank them with all my heart.

#BlackLivesMatter

I was born in Mbabane, in the Kingdom of Eswatini many years ago and lived there for most of my life until a couple of years ago.

When my boys were small, friends of ours returned from an overseas posting. Friends who had a racially integrated marriage. It was the time of apartheid in neighbouring South Africa, and many of the prejudices of institutionalised separation made their way over the border. The sad thing about prejudice is that it easily rubs off, it is contagious and one has to consciously guard against it.

These friends had twins, separated in age from my youngest son by four days. The three were such firm friends that we laughingly referred to them as triplets.

One day, about six months into their first year at ‘big’ school, my youngest came home and asked me why he was different to his two friends. I was puzzled.

“What do you mean, different?”

Without a word he pointed to his arm and rubbed it. I knew with sinking certainty that some well-meaning, ignorant bigot must have pointed this out to him – he would never have figured that out on his own. I tried to respond to my unhappy five-year old with a lesson in genetics, but some of the light had gone out of his eyes, and my reassurances were not going to help.

We are one? or We need to be one?

A couple of weeks ago I was in Checkers, struggling through my mask and steamed up glasses to read the label on some product when the most atrocious language insinuated itself into my consciousness. My first thought was to hope there were no children around. The tone and insistence of the abuse penetrated, however, and as I looked up to see what was going on, I couldn’t help but object.

“Hey!” I said.

The perpetrator was a young white male, casually dressed. He looked at me almost proudly, confident of my approval, as he continued swearing at a young black man, who, hats off to him, was ignoring the tirade. What he had done to cause this, who knows, except that I heard the man say: “you can’t even say sorry,” so I assume maybe he had bumped past him.

I frowned, and said again, “Hey, you can’t talk like that!”

I can be a bit slow at times and should have made a much greater fuss. Once this chap realised I wasn’t applauding his vileness he disappeared fast. Like out of the shop fast. I found the whole episode deeply upsetting.

A couple of days later, at my home, which fronts onto a fairly busy road that edges a park I experienced another unpleasant incident. There are a number of hobos who live around here, and during lockdown a few desperate people had been scavenging for food. Where possible my neighbours and I had helped them. I was on the phone and one of these chaps was waiting to talk to me when a red bakkie screamed to a stop, half on my pavement and started yelling and asking if he was worrying me.

I shook my head and tried to indicate that everything was fine. But they told this man that they were community police and he better get moving before they sorted him out. I shouted and said “No, it’s fine, I know him.” They were in too much of a hurry to listen and roared off. This poor man took off down the street, and I have not seen him since. I had also never seen these “community police” before, nor have I seen them since.

In both these cases I know, and so do you, that if the subjects of the vitriol had been white, there would have been no incident.

How many times have you, I’m talking to the whites here, been served ahead of a black person who was in front of you in the queue? How many times have you received better treatment than your black brother or sister? How many times has a black man doffed his hat, or bowed his head to you and called you ‘Baas’ or ‘Madam’? How many times has a black lady curtsied to you, and shown you the utmost respect, even if she is many years your senior?

How many times have you bowed your head to a black man and called him ‘baas’? how many times have you curtsied to a black woman, or man, to thank them for some paltry favour?

Are you getting the picture?

Are you starting to understand why the response to #BlackLivesMatter can never be “But White Lives Mattter, or All Lives Matter? Do you get it? Because you need to get it! If you try to justify your response to #BlackLivesMatter by saying white, or all lives matter, you are tacitly admitting culpability in the systemic and unrelenting racism that has defined black lives for centuries.

Yup. You are guilty. As are most of us.

This movement is not denying the importance of all lives, even white lives, but it is about ending generations of attitude and behaviour that has ensured the denigration of black people, of treating them as lesser beings, as people who don’t count, and this has to change.

I am very aware that as a white I have and do receive preferential treatment, and it is easy to let it happen. Until such time as we acknowledge this and make a conscious effort to rearrange our attitudes and thoughts, that we refuse that preferential treatment, we are guilty of endorsing our own white privilege at the expense of black people, and nowhere is this more reprehensible than in the Church.

Every time I see Christians touting their counter hashtags I cringe at the damage they are doing to the message of the gospel, the message of love from a God who states unequivocally He created all men equal in His image. If I deny the rights of a black man before my Father in heaven, I deny God Himself. Nowhere in scripture does it differentiate between the races on the basis of colour. Nowhere.

Please! You need to understand what this is about. Until such time as we, as whites acknowledge our role and determine to change ourselves and our part in perpetuating racism, no matter how insignificant you may think your part is, we can never move forward, the fighting and outrage will never stop.

Like it or not, Black Lives Matter!

Your Serve

The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has put our future into our hands: “… as individuals, as families, as communities it is you who will determine whether we experience the devastation that so many other countries have suffered…” he said last night.

I have to be honest, that fills me with the utmost trepidation as there is nothing like a good pandemic to reveal the baser nature of human beings.

I want to address one controversy here – the ban on the sale of cigarettes. With all the shouting that has waged and raged, there has been not one mention of how dangerous to health cigarettes are.

I am an asthmatic. I also damaged my lungs irrevocably by smoking for many years, so add to that emphysema. Praise God, it is mild, so I am able to function pretty well on most levels. But I hate cigarette smoke with a passion. My neighbour smokes. I am in a complex so my neighbour is close by. The fumes from his cigarette waft around the corner of the wall the separates us, into my house, and send my lungs into immediate contraction.

There is nothing I can do about this. Smoking on his stoep is his right. My right to clean air is non-existent.

My neighbour on the other side has blatantly and continuously disregarded all the rules pertaining to the lockdown, or curfew. When I asked that our complex rules be respected, and those of the Government, I was pityingly asked if I understood how Covid-19 behaved. No one does, I responded. It is a nasty little crown that has sting in its tail that thus far has defied the world’s brightest minds, so your puerile observation means little to me.

Social distancing does not suit her, so she makes up a few facts to support her in her quest to live on her terms, and hers alone. Which means no respect or consideration for those around her. This attitude seems to be more the norm than not.

I met a guy on my walk the other day, not wearing a mask and had the most amazing conversation with him.

“You don’t have to wear a mask,” he said. “In fact, that mask is killing you because you are breathing back your fumes, your bad air.”

“Really? Then tell me this, are surgeons, who wear masks fro many hours each day poisoning themselves? Would they continue spending days in operating theatres if this were true? Would they still be alive a week after beginning their careers?”

I have seen this theory espoused on social media. One proponent went so far as to say “Even doctors say its true!” I’d love to know which doctors so that I can avoid them with a barge pole.

The next fallacy from the maskless walker was that of immunity. Yes, immunity can be forged, it takes time and choosing that route doesn’t always win you friends. Ask Boris Johnson. And now, Sweden. But listen to this.

Me: I have asthma. If someone 50 metres from me smokes, my lungs contract immediately.

Him. You must go closer, keep breathing it so you can acquire immunity. Your body must sort it out.

Me. I lived with a smoker for 27 years. I didn’t get immunity. My condition worsened.

End of discussion.

People talk such utter rot it is quite scary.

The dangers to health are so well documented that most people have long since given up worrying about them, so I thought it might be politic to give a little reminder of some of the direct consequences of smoking:

  • A basket of cancers affecting lungs, mouth, oesophagus, bowel, bladder, cervix, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, voicebox. I know of someone who had cancer of the tongue.
  • Smoking damages heart and blood circulation increasing risk of Coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, cerebrovascular disease.

Smoking directly increases the risk of some 50 serious diseases. Passive smoking offers the same risk profile to those living with and near to smokers. And let’s not look at what it does to children, not here.

In South Africa some 44,000 people a year, or 121 a day as of May 2018, die each year of tobacco related diseases. In Britain the figure is around 78,000. This is for all those people who love to spout death figures in support of their hysterical raging against the tobacco and other bans imposed by the government during the covid-19 pandemic. Those people like my walking friend who believe any crapshoot that suits their atavistic lifestyle but refuse to believe those in authority have done any study or used any material that is based in scientific fact.

So here and now we have a disease that specifically attacks the lungs. A disease that for a some will result in one of the most agonising and cruel death. One survivor described feeling as if her lungs had been filled with boiling tar. All survivors talk of unbearable pain, the hell made worse as it is endured in total solitude.

I smoked for many years. I regret every stick I ever pulled on, every cent I put into a death peddlers’ pocket. I regret even more that I taught my children to smoke, and I pray they never pass that addiction to their children.

There has also interestingly been not one mention of how crooked the industry is as a whole.

On the back of Johan van Loggerenberg’s book, Tobacco Wars, Ivan Pillay writes “From this book, you learn that the tobacco industry has manipulated and controlled parts of the state with help from accomplices within – and is probably continuing to do so.”

Within those covers Johan reveals how both sides of this industry are utterly dishonest, and ruthless in protecting their wealth. They both peddle death. They are both ruled by money. Lots of money. Both have their beneficiaries. Government has lost large amounts of tax revenue you say. Yes. Probably adjusted to an amount far less than it should be by clever accounting. And probably over the past decade, money that is not likely to have benefitted anyone but the same few who are accused of benefitting from the illegal trade now.

Like it or not, the decision made by this government was with your best interests in mind. And my best interests, and those like me, and I thank them for their concern.

But now, CR has put the ball into our court, responsibility for our lives, and of those around us, into our own hands. Our serve. Our point to win or lose.

I do not believe for one second that I can trust the players.

Can you?

https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/what-are-the-health-risks-of-smoking/

https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/13/4/396

Quit Bellyaching!

One of the most interesting aspects of any catastrophe is the number of experts the situation produces. Those who don’t quite have the cheek to pronounce themselves all-knowing are amazingly adept at producing doctors, epidemiologists, scientists, good hold hacks who all know it all. The nation of “They say…” my late husband always asked: who are ‘they’? and so should we.

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago, entitled, Who is Victor? Turned out Victor was an amazingly reliable chap, related to someone’s friend, who also had special status. At the end of the day, no one knew who Victor was and why he should be given such prominence.

The arguments flow back and forth. Some sound plausible, even have a ring of logic to them. Others are downright bunkum. The sad fact is that almost all the big arguments raging across social media have at their core, the well-being of the person waxing forth.

Me, myself and I reign in shrill and uninterrupted cacophony.

I have been told a number of times that the rules in Europe are better than ours, that they are handling the pandemic differently making it more bearable for their residents. Really? What publications are you reading? What newscasts are you listening to? What members of those populations are you talking to?

Sky News is reporting that Brits can forget about haircuts and trips to the pub until July. That’s the word from Dominic Raab. Elsewhere in Europe lockdowns are being extended, as the virus teases on graphs, steadying for a couple of days, only to rise again and knock everyone’s optimism into a cocked hat. Poor old Donald Trump is having to change his mind more frequently than his tweets.

I have a friend in Switzerland, who spent six weeks alone in her apartment. Restrictions there have been marginally eased, and she is able to go to work. She and three others. Four in a four story building. One per floor. I heard no grumbling from her. What I did hear, which was so refreshing, was her dedication to finding a way to help others through this crisis, to think creatively to minimise the effects, particularly in poorer regions of the world.

You see, in Europe, they understand the reasoning behind rules, and are prepared to submit, not just to ensure their own safety, but that of those around them. The rule of law is respected, no energy is spent in finding ways to circumvent it. We, I fear, have yet to learn that here in Africa.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us had that view, that outlook that regards the welfare of others above our own, that seeks to help and not hinder with never ending carping and criticising?

Others point to the figures. They are low, too low in the grand scheme of things to worry about. Yup, I looked at the figures. It worries me that the recovery rate is well less than half the number of those infected, so there are millions that may or may not recover. Weeks ago we were told Italy was over the worst. Have you checked the death rate in Italy recently? Or Spain? Or Britain? Or America? Or Brazil? Or India? Have you looked at the column that gives how many deaths per million population? Have you understood that we are nowhere near a final mortality figure yet, so quoting a percentage against GDP is a waste of time.

I was called a fear-lobotomised fascist on Twitter for daring to suggest human life mattered. I enjoyed that, made me laugh.

But I have a problem with people bewailing the loss of the civil liberties that they never paid much heed to until they were removed. Suddenly life pinches, because you are being asked to sacrifice your freedom, your desires, for the greater good and that doesn’t sit well. I also was told seriously how the lockdown was going to affect the poor, the TB rate. I doubt the person telling me that had ever thought about the poor, or TB numbers until now. Spurious arguments.

If you have never been inside a hovel, spoken to the poor, seen first hand how the live, held the hand of a young mother dying of HIV/Aids, desperate with grief at leaving her children to a cruel and uncaring world, you have no right to talk on behalf of the poor and dying.

The poor don’t give a toss about GDP, your business, jobs all the rest of the guff. They need food, shelter, preferably one made of more substantial material than cardboard and rusted corrugated iron, they need someone to care enough to take a real stand on their behalf, not use them as an excuse to get your home comforts back.

I believe we should give aid to the farmers, get food production going on a massive scale so we can feed the hungry. This would increase the job market, and given employment to many rural dwellers. Thereafter we can look at jobs, businesses small or medium or large, at education, and in the process improve every aspect of life for our ALL our citizens.

Let’s plant vegies on our sidewalks, and teach those we can, to read, and to write. Make a plan. After all you have plenty of time right now. Do something constructive.

Just please, please, stop bellyaching about every little thing.

Let’s investment in Farmers, develop the land and ensure food security for all. In the process, we may provide for more jobs!

Privilege Equals = ?

This is the story of two families, one father, two mothers. Or one husband and two wives. The man is my father. I am from the second wife. We lived in Swaziland.

The first wife had two children, a daughter and a son. Sadly, she died at a young age, leaving her two small children with a man, who had no family to assist him in taking care of them. He was convinced by well-meaning friends, and the children’s godmother, that he should allow them to be adopted. She had a wealthy family lined up.

My dad was a policeman who earned enough money to get his family through each month, but not much room for luxuries. He agreed, believing he was doing the right thing.

I spent many happy hours fishing in the rivers of Swaziland with my Dad

Enter my mother, they got married and a year later I appeared. My father was sixteen years older than my mother, but that did not seem to matter to any of us. My childhood was happy. He was transferred to Piggs Peak, where he was the commandant of the station, with a large area to supervise. He would often take me with him to outlying posts, and we would always stop on the way home for a spot of fishing in one of the two rivers of the area, Komati or Lomati.

Fishing, cricket and tennis consumed most weekends. They were times when I met up with friends who lived spread through the forests, and we played on see-saws and maypoles and swings, and watched our parents behave quite badly it would seem in retrospect. Much drinking, little concern about getting us home to bed at a reasonable hour. I remember a number of nights waking up cramped and cold on the floor at the back of the police Land Rover.

It didn’t matter back in the fifties and sixties. That was how it was.

He had made an agreement with the adoption agency that he would be allowed to see his children when his daughter turned eighteen. On the appointed day he travelled to Johannesburg only to have the door firmly closed in his face.

“Your children are no longer on the continent, and you will never see them again!”

A few months later he died. My mother was 34 and I was 9.

It was many decades before I caught up with my siblings. What an exciting moment that was!

We met up in America where they had been living. The, I want to call her ‘wicked’ or ‘nasty’, but suppose I shouldn’t really, Godmother had not lied. They family who adopted them was enormously wealthy. They lived in New York City, in one of the best suburbs – Gramercy Park. They attended the best schools and to all intents and purposes had an idyllic life.

All that money, however, did not buy them happiness. Their lives were marked by unhappy squabbles, always struggling to fit into their new identity, and no amount of money or privilege could give them the peace and happiness they craved, and deserved.

Why am I telling this tale?

I see so much on twitter and other for a about privilege, and the perception of how people of supposed privilege think and live. What you see is not always what is true on the inside.

Please don’t think for one moment that I am negating the plight of the poor. The living conditions of the majority of Africans appalls me. The level of poverty is so intense in places that I don’t know how people get up in the morning. A friend and I used to help in an impoverished area in Swaziland.

Each time we went there, our hearts broke a little more because what we did, the food parcels we took, were such a tiny drop in an enormous ocean that at times it hardly seemed worth the effort.

Each and every person who has enough, and by that I mean a roof over your head, clothes on your back, food in your belly and certain degree of security that this will continue to be the state in which you live, needs to do something about those who live in shacks, without toilets, running water, in some places no water, no jobs, nothing. Pointing accusatory fingers and making suspect judgment calls are not the way to go.

We need every bit of energy, every resource be it donations or ways to impact political leaders, locally and nationally, to address the wrongs of the huge divide between rich and poor, the haves and the have nots.

The saying goes ‘Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.’ I believe evil flourishes when men are so busy throwing stones they do not see the child lying motionless, trampled underfoot.

Suffering For Christ

I don’t believe there is a born again Christian on the face of this earth who does not desire to know Jesus, God the Father more intimately, to have the confidence to proclaim as Paul did in Phillipians 3 v 8:

Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

What a statement of love and commitment!

But one that causes confusion at times. There was a time, a long time if I recall, where I thought I could work my way into God’s favour, and that the more I suffered while doing it, the better chance I had of getting to that extraordinary oneness that I sought in and with God.

When it didn’t work out the way I believed it would, I thought the resultant ‘suffering’ was it, the same trials and agonies as Paul, Peter, John and others went through.

Like Peter, I didn’t really get the message. I had the cart before the horse. We cannot reach Him by causing ourselves to suffer. We suffer because of our relationship with Him, and until we understand that and start seeking His company, we aren’t going to experience that extraordinary joy, that certainty of knowing that He is, no matter what our circumstances

Paul goes on to say in Phillipians 3vv9,10

… be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith,

10. that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death,

Paul desired Christ for Christ’s sake, not his own, and he did not count the cost of seeking Him. As Stephen Fry says in the notes of the New Spirit-Filled Bible, He was a lover of God, not a user of God. Whether he moved in Christ’s resurrection power, or was stretched to his last ounce of endurance, it mattered little in Paul’s journey to truly knowing God.

It is that relationship of total commitment, total yielding, that marks the lives of the great men and women of God. The more they were persecuted the closer they drew to the Lord, until they could say with utter conviction: “count your sufferings as joy.” The pain they went through was as nothing compared to the pleasure of serving Him, and Him alone.

Without understanding and embracing the full measure of God’s plan of grace we cannot get to this place. Without the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit we struggle to find the courage, strength and wisdom to achieve the goal of the full measure of Christ, rooted and grounded and built up in Him.

It is in this place that we can exercise our faith to do the works we are sent to do. It is here that the words of James begin to make sense:

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith with deeds.

James 2 v 18

If we try to perform Christian duty in any way other than as a response to our love for Jesus, then as Paul says in Romans 4 v4:

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.

Empty works. It doesn’t mean that they were not good works. But works that are powered by our motives, our flesh, and not in submission to the will of God, are just that: works.

1 Corinthians 3 vv 13-16

Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

14. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.

15. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

16. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Work that you your works may endure, do as the Holy Spirit directs, and you will find yourself coming into that inexplicable relationship, where we take comfort in knowing that no matter what we may have to endure, our Father is constantly on hand to help us through the challenges. We are not left alone as orphans.

So, draw near to your Father. He promises that as you do, He will draw near to you, and as He does He brings the glow of His peace into the essence of your being, and to experience even a minute of that Presence, is worth the suffering that at times must be a part of this process called life.

Life After Lockdown

In so many ways the last four weeks have dragged, yet the time has flown by. I have achieved a small number of ticks against my long list, because somehow the uncertainties of the future made many of the activities seem futile, unimportant.

Yet, there is a future, and there is a hope. The challenge is to find a way to embrace that, to visualise what this future might look like. Everyone says the world is going to be a very different place. How different? In what way? Are we suddenly going to be better behaved and treat our planet the way we were ordained to? Are we going to stop stealing and pillaging and slagging each other off? How will life be in this different world?

Wallowing in the mud…is this us in the new world?

I read this week one of many lovely pieces about how the virus is a good thing, because the incarceration of man, the halting of the paraphernalia and industry that is part and parcel of what our lives have become,  has given the earth a chance to recover from the hammering it has taken. But it spoke of the virus as having a mind of its own, that it determined to spread its brand of havoc in order to save the planet from certain destruction.

My reaction was visceral: Not the Virus. No, it doesn’t have a mind or the ability to reason. In place of the virus, write ‘God’. Do you think God is pleased with the way man has mismanaged the earth over which he was given dominion? I don’t see how He can be.

The definition of ‘dominion’ in Collins Dictionary and Thesaurus is:

Control or authority

Young’s Bible Dictionary puts it this way:

       To be master of, to rule, to have power over, to have authority.

Surely together with authority, power, rule comes responsibility? How angry do we get when leaders renege on their promises, forget they are responsible for and to us, and impact our lives for the worse? But they, and we, have forgotten this side of the coin, the side that says with ruling and authority comes responsibility, an expectation to the best you can for all that has been entrusted to your rule.

We confused dominion with domination, ruling responsibly with tyranny, uncaringly raping the earth in search of riches and power. Industrialists and political leaders have rebelliously kowtowed to economic power blocks, ignoring the cries and pleas of naturalists and conservationists, to slow down, limit the damage, the earth is bleeding and there is not much time left before the planet bleeds out.

A pristine valley in Mpumalanga, South Africa, shrouded with the haze of pollution.

This time is spoken of in the bible. Romans 8 vv19-22:

19. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God

20. for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope,

21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God

22 for we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now.

Jeremiah 12 v 4

How long will the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither?

The beasts and birds are consumed, for the wickedness of those who dwell there, because they said, “He will not see our final end.”

V11 They have made it desolate, desolate it mourns to Me, the whole land is made desolate, because no one takes it to heart.

Couldn’t be clearer to my way of thinking. I hope the lockdown continues for a while yet, that the earth may heal completely, the animals enjoy some freedom, and for humanity to decide to behave a lot better in the new world all talk of so glibly.

The beauty of our planet – will it be restored, or is this simply a hiatus before worse devastation is unleashed?

A Flight of Whimsy

Something different for today. This is a piece I wrote a number of years back for fun, really. I needed to get a flow going and this is what happened. My challenge to you is to finish it, or to add the next scene. Between 200 and 500 words.

Are you up for it?

At the end of the street, near the pastureland, is a small structure, almost hidden by vegetation. So hidden, that it was some three months after I moved into the street that I saw it.

“Who lives there?” I asked of my landlady.

“Oh, that’s old Joyce – she’s as mad as a hatter!”

“Who takes care of her?”

“I think she takes care of herself. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen her for ages.”

The next day, as I set off on my daily walk, my feet unbidden set off towards the hidden house. As I came close, I heard singing – a joyous, uplifting sound, the notes lilting on the early morning rays.

The house whispered into view. The windows sparkled in the burgeoning sunlight. I could see a cat indolently sunning itself in the open doorway. I was drawn to the wooden gate, festooned on either side with creepers of old-fashioned dog roses.

The light emanating from the house beckoned, the singing mesmerized.

I stood, uncertain, my hand hovering near the latch on the gate. I wanted to make contact. I wanted to see the owner of the voice, and I oh so desperately wanted to peek inside the little house that nestled gem-like in its Edenic garden.

As if sensing my presence, the singing stopped. A shadow shuffled across the doorway, and the tiniest figure materialised out of the glistening dust motes. Bright eyes pierced towards me.

I smiled.

The eyes twinkled, a finger beckoned.

I opened the gate.

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