Cry the beloved country

VANESSA SMEETS

“Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all,” Aristotle.

It has taken months to find the energy or a story worth writing, but watching these students burn, destroy and steal has ravished my soul…

Don’t get me wrong, the “born-frees” of South Africa have the right to be angry. They are experiencing high-cost of living like no one before. A loaf of bread is R15, a two-litre bottle of milk is R30, rent on average is R5 000 for a one-bedroom flat near campus, a BA degree is about R20 000 with registration fees soaring at R5 000 – R15 000, depending on you being a citizen or not.

However, is burning the varsities a solution? No.
There will be no education there tomorrow.

Is looting shops nearby a solution? No.
No one will take your cause seriously anymore.

Is using violence, beating policemen with bricks, the answer? No.
They will not protect you at your most vulnerable.

There’s a dark cloud above the youth of today. It disguises itself as honour and pride. They believe it is better to fight, than just survive.

While last year’s “Fees Must Fall” seemed noble, with students gathering around campus in unity, this year’s cause is dampened with innocent blood and soiled ideals. As predicted, the fight last year was quickly “shut up,” only to rise again this year as an angrier, more vicious corpse. The people of South Africa were given, as usual, temporary solutions to a major issue – to satisfy that moment, to kill that immediate need. Meanwhile, the solution infected other areas – varsities are going bankrupt, lecturers are not being paid on time.

“They can afford it!” the students scream, their shields made of mattresses and ironing boards high in the air. Their anger is sadly aimed in the wrong direction – the government’s expenditure that needs to be reprimanded, not the educators…

Varsities have not been able to continue with exam season.
Students are failing, as they are too afraid to come to class or be threatened on campus.

South Africa’s “rainbow nation” has continued to fade, suffocated by smoke, empty promises and an uncertain dawn.

Can we raise our children in a country where the only answer seems to be destruction?You want his car? Shoot him.
You want her to feel your power? Rape her.
You want that baby? Kidnap it.
You want free education? Burn it all.

Cry for our beloved country.
Cry on this thirsty land that craves for manna in all her forms – rain, money or change.

Powerful photographs by Lee-Roy Jason Photography.

Digital Grave

VANESSA SMEETS

Digital grave1

GRIM REAPER = Grim realization the dead friend isn’t reading these posts.

I have a terrible addiction that started four years ago after a friend’s suicide. The night he died, I looked through all of his social media for clues… There it was: subtle yet incriminating evidence of someone who felt completely alone. Images of a broken telephone, of a threaded wire (ordinary things we would never look for as deeper symbolic meanings) on his Facebook, as well as updates like: “Seeing ALL my friends tonight. Cheers!” His Twitter was flooded with monologues – “No one sees me.” “Hello, are you listening?”

We were close at varsity; but, with most friendships, ours had its moments of distance. Sadly, I am one of those that live by the rule: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Facebook has made me a lazy friend. I used to phone and message people regularly, but now that most people advertise their lives, I don’t see the point. The ones I see the most are the ones that are the least active on Facebook.

Digital grave 2

RIP: What happens to your social media post-death?

I thought I was doing an okay job: every time my friend checked in somewhere, I liked it. Every time he posted a photo of himself with a new award, I liked it. I had no idea he was lonely. He was the soul at every party. As most of us know, social media gives us a false sense of belonging and of knowing everyone’s business.

An old school pal messaged me the other day: “Wow… You really are a terrible friend…” “Huh?” was my automatic reply. “You never message me. Guess where I am? A mental institution.” I had no idea, through all her beautiful photos of her children, the thought never even crossed my mind. Like most, she had been posting blissful photos to hide her extreme pain.

Digital grave 3

REMEMBERING: Facebook is made up of memories and friendships, which can be stirred up through lack of activity…

My addiction continued two years ago with the suicide of a Tuks lecturer. I looked through all his publicised photos. The ones made public (with that world icon) were actually the most painful to read, even though they were very few. Then this year, I realised my addiction had to stop. I read through the social media of the young girl (14) who killed herself at Northgate Mall. All she had were beautiful photos with very little hints of her darkness… And then I read through her mother’s updates and started crying. I was crying over a stranger, but a stranger who reflected my friend, who reflected my weakness, who reflected my pain through her mother. “If only I had known…” her mom posted over and over again. If only I had too…

After we die, our social media carries on quite the same, except suddenly people who never spoke to you for the last five years, start reaching out. TOO LATE. Everyone messages more: on your birthday, special days you shared and the anniversary of your death. SCARY.

Digital grave 4

WHO AM I? Does Facebook give a false sense of popularity?

It’s time to realise that in a time of so much communication in the form of Whatsapp, Skype, etc, people have actually never felt more alone. Touch is what we need, not a “like”. A cup of coffee is what we crave, not “a selfie.” A genuine “How are you?” beats a “What you up to tonight?” In fact, social media is anything but social. It causes us to shut down when trying to have real conversations, it allows us to become cyberbullies on difficult topics like religion, race or politics, it causes us to be quite narcissistic with an array of selfies and holiday snaps.

“How are you feeling today?” asks my Facebook daily, not even my virtual friends.
Has Facebook replaced my life book, become my journal, a place where I actually write for and to myself mostly? Are my virtual friends still my real friends and vice versa?

Is anyone reading this…?

READ MORE on Facebook’s “death etiquette:”
http://mashable.com/2013/02/13/facebook-after-death/#hxZkTpt9ziqy

My heritage has no colour

VANESSA SMEETS

Just in time for Heritage Week in South Africa, a time when we come together to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness, I found myself in an unexpected racist spat on Facebook.

The Stellenbosch debate

The person involved had made a comment about Stellenbosch University being racist for not becoming anglicized. There are two sides to this debate: Yes, Stellenbosch University is trying to preserve its Afrikaans heritage and culture by remaining as Afrikaans as possible but it does try to accommodate English speaking students with the T-option (bilingualism) in certain broad under-grad modules and most of post-grad is English, as well as all the textbooks.

I admit that I made the fatal mistake of defending my old university first, instead of the angry person’s argument. I completed my Honours there and Afrikaans was probably my most dreaded subject at school. Being white does not mean I speak Afrikaans, just as much as being black does not mean you speak isiZulu. However, Stellenbosch was the only university that offered such a brilliant practical course in such a short time frame.
Yes, I struggled when the lecturers would accidentally slip into Afrikaans, but, one has to admit, it’s not such a difficult language… There are only three tenses, unlike English or French who have variants of past, present and future, depending on the context or even type of writing. French, for example, uses a fascinating tense of “simple past” reserved only for certain written texts.

White supremacist? No, idealist.
peopleAnyway, bringing this up only added fuel to the fire. This old school pal, then proceeded to tell me I should go back to Europe with my “white supremacy tendencies.” My blood, like most, is filled with exceptional love stories: the Jew who fell in love with a German, the Belgian with the Congolese, the Walloon with the Flemish (tribal ‘rivalries’ of Belgium)… Maybe only 20% of me actually belongs in Europe. Do not be fooled by my shell, because I am actually a product of the forbidden and I embrace it, because a lot of people went through hell to love the one they knew was meant for them.

Education as key

The thing is, a good teacher is one that does not see colour, gender or religion. Eight years of teaching have taught me this: every child is unique and parents are the biggest factors in determining how the child behaves or performs academically at school. It doesn’t matter whether the child is orange, pink or blue, if the mom and dad treat the child with equal amounts of attention, the child is at peace at school. If one of the parent is not part of the child’s life, the child does start to seek certain amounts of attention from the gender that is missing. Every child cries they same when he/ she is not invited to a certain party, to the jungle gym or when he/she falls off the swing. Every child smiles the same after seeing mommy or daddy after a long day of work. Every child is exceptionally proud when you say: “Keep up the great work!”

Children quote

Do they see colour or religion on the playground? Definitely not before the age of seven, unless parents have made a fuss of it at home. The only thing they do see at this age is gender:
“Boys? Oh gross, they are so dirty and rough!”
“Girls? I don’t want to be made the dad in that ‘house-house’ game all the time.”

At age seven, they enter primary school and are exposed to an even more diverse group of people. Teachers say things they shouldn’t necessarily say. They also converse or play with older children that have been exposed to more.

At age nine and ten, children don’t worry so much about the social aspects of school, but start a deep journey of self-analysis:
What do I like?
What are my needs?
Why am I feeling this way?

This, I believe is the time they are the most sensitive to topics like racism. Now that I’m teaching this age, I made it my duty to teach them “the rights of the child” first. At the end of their short presentations, I asked them the same question:
“Which to you is the most important?”

Every answer, from 27 different mouths: “To be loved.”
“Why?”
“Because if I do not feel loved, I cannot love others. I cannot accept them.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will always feel jealous of others.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will refuse to see anyone’s own point of view.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never experience peace.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never feel secure with myself or others.”

This to me is the cure to racism: a simple yet over empowering act: to love selflessly, to see others’  point of view.
So, to that old school friend that has been tarnished by a certain person’s group or actions, I apologize – my heritage has no colour. It is a spectrum of experiences, of life lessons, of the desire to learn from our youngest yet purest minds.

“Oh great, you teach black children?! Get over your white saviour complex.”

Humans

To that school pal, I am not just a teacher… I am actually the one being taught every single day. You insulted my race and I felt nothing. You proceeded to call me “an embarrassment to my late grandmother” who is of mixed race, and I felt my blood boil, because it became personal. You then proceeded by insulting my life force, which is teaching.

If it were not for the children I teach every day, I would have probably become as bitter as you. But I have hope not only for South Africa, but for every adult. As adults, we need to keep quiet and let our children explain life… Because we have obviously forgotten what it feels like to be curious about others, to listen to their stories, to be proud of all diversity and most importantly to think before acting… And to love and accept others with our all.

heritage

heritage

Mr Gay SA: 12 Heroes, 1 Dream

VANESSA SMEETS

This time next week, the new Mr Gay South Africa will be crowned at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg. In a country that still struggles with sexual identity and where homophobia is still quite prevalent (we read about ‘gay beatings, murders’  and corrective rape on a weekly basis), I asked one of the finalists to share his aspirations, thoughts and comments on the whole experience.

Craig Maggs (25) and I met five years ago, after the whole “Stellenbosch Kissing Saga.” When I met him the first time, he was using another name and afraid to come out. All I could see was a survivor. He has not only survived homophobia, but also a crocodile attack that crushed his dream of becoming a surgeon (Craig lost an index finger in the attack). Today, he stands as an icon of solidarity; hopeful and watchful of a new South Africa that aims to not only accept every race, but also every sexual preference. From chef to personal trainer to writer, who knows where this talented young man will go…

Craig_friendly

IRON MAN: Body of steel, heart of gold. Craig hopes to change the gay community by creating a platform where socials can include fitness and fighting for similar causes. PIC: supplied

QUICK FACTS:

Height: 1.87m
Weight: 90kg
Favourite food: Mum’s lasagna or Portuguese chicken
Favourite quote: “With a single blow of a hammer, you have transferred plans into action.”
Biggest accomplishment: Surviving a crocodile attack at Lake Kariba and learning to accept myself as I am.
Greatest dream/ desires: My greatest desire is to live a life that will be remembered.
Strengths: Compassionate. Resilient. Dependable.
Weaknesses: Terrible liar, I over think things, I don’t trust easily.
Occupation: I work two jobs: I work for an NGO that deals with AIDS and Ebola research during the day and at night I am a waiter at Beefcakes in Illovo (who got me involved in this competition).
Hobbies: Playing sport, keeping fit, gardening, hiking, baking and sleeping.

Craig, you have trained hard to be in the Top 12. The last time I saw you, you were on a broccoli and asparagus diet, trying to reach your target weight and body.
But, tell us, what do wish to accomplish in terms of the competition?
My faith has challenged me to make a stand in order to make a difference to those that are hurting out there, especially those who I can relate to. The lonely, the oppressed, the bullied, the raped and those who have lost their ability to dream. I want to walk alongside them in their journey as a role model and friend. I want to be the reason someone never gave up on life or themselves.

Craig_smile

BEHIND BLUE EYES: Behind his charming smile, lies a BSc degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University. Pic: supplied

So, how did you prepare for Mr Gay SA?
Besides going to the gym and a horrible diet (of mostly green veggies), I wanted to broaden my mind. I approached different people and discussed their views on matters. It was incredible to see how differently we see things. I also did a lot of research into the history of gay rights, focusing on icons and how they altered history.

The Top 12 are incredibly diverse, from all over the country. How would you describe the other contestants?
The 12 contestants are incredibly inspiring people. All from different walks of life (from medical to political backgrounds), making us a dynamic team with different approaches and focus points. We have nicknamed ourselves the super 12 with the goal of changing the world around us.

Hmmm… How does Mr Gay SA stand apart from other “beauty” competitions?
Not only do we represent minority groups, we also focus on creating 12 role models, not just one. All twelve people will have a role to play throughout the year not just the winner.

What is your advice to those who wish to compete?
Approach this competition with an open mind and an open heart. It will challenge you and make you grow in ways you never thought possible. But, also be aware that this competition will open your eyes to a very broken world, that may cause you to become depressed if you have the wrong motives. Do it to make this world a better place not for selfish goals. Challenge the norms and be courageous role models to society.

What has been the biggest challenge in this competition?
For me personally the biggest challenge has been the emotional load of seeing so much hurt and need, especially because I can’t do enough to change it.

…And the greatest joy?
The greatest joy would be the message I received from a Zimbabwean friend living in Australia. She told me how she was so impressed on the impact I was making and that I should keep going, no matter how difficult it was.

How has your family and friends reacted to you being part of it?
My family were very concerned, if not disappointed, but have been amazing considering their background. As for my friends, they have been incredibly supportive and have really motivated and carried me all the way!

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage. PIC: Facebook

TOP 12: The finalists had fun and were also trained and mentored by Mr Gay World 2013, Christopher Olwage (far right). PIC: Facebook

What is your response to the negative feedback on Mamba Online page about you guys?
At first I was shocked and horrified at what people wrote, but now I see it as a challenge. A challenge to prove that this group of 12 heroes is there to be role models for all groups, not just racial or homosexual. We are a team and not individuals.

Now for the competition-type questions…

What is your view on being religious and homosexual? So many people battle and how do they overcome it?
Personally I am a Christian. Jesus said in the Bible: “WHOEVER believes in me shall have eternal life.” (John 5: 24) It doesn’t say “only some people” or “only straight people.” That is what I hold onto.

It is not an easy journey, as often the people of the church are the ones who cause the most hurt for gay people. They tend to ostracize you, judge you or try to change you. But don’t give up faith.

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

GAY PRIDE: The Top 12 inspired thousands in Cape Town to walk the streets with them, for a better South Africa. PIC: Facebook

What do you think SA can do more in terms of LGBTI rights?
South Africa is fortunate to have one of the best constitutions for LGBTI rights in the world. However, it could do a lot more in protecting the people from the homophobia experienced by people in the community. Also, I believe South Africa could also stand up for LGBT rights throughout Africa, like in Uganda and Zimbabwe.

How can we do more in terms of these African neighbours and homophobia?
This is a very delicate issue, because this could make conditions worse for the affected people in those countries. However, we do need to do something! There are too many human rights violations happening to do nothing. Usually, the best way to change situations like this is to change the minds of the young, while they are still open and accepting. Make them question the norms and they will create the positive change. It will take a few brave individuals risking a lot, but a worthwhile cause cannot be left alone.

How can we educate the community more on:

  • corrective rape
  • homophobia
  • LGBTI NGOs
  • “gay media”

I think a good place to start is to build relationships between the LGBTI community and the mainstream media. Yes, often people complain about the involvement of “pink news” but in our day and age, it is becoming more prevalent. This could be highly beneficial to both integration of the LGBTI community, as well as people being able to share their stories that are big issues in society today. For example, corrective rape and homophobia. The first step to solving a problem, is admitting that it exists and raising awareness of it.

This will take concerted effort from the LGBTI community, which needs to work as a team and not individuals.

Craig_gay pride

WALK THE WALK: Craig and the other contestants showed off their ideas and bodies at Gay Pride in Cape Town last month. PIC: supplied

How do plan on using the title if you win?
I have two ideas I would like to develop:
Firstly, the buddy system. Let young LGBTI people interact with people who can serve as role models. Have a small group forum, where they can learn through other peoples experiences.

Secondly, I would like to reintroduce the gay sports’ night where people can interact across age and racial barriers, in a relaxed fun environment. My focus would be raising young leaders and again having the young learn from people with experience.

Anything you’d like to add?
I really think that it’s time the LGBTI community starts to work together towards a common goal, rather than defeat its own purposes.

 

Goodbye, Hatfield Square!

VANESSA SMEETS

This week marks the first demolishing of Hatfield Square, a place which has become synonymous with the student lifestyle of partying, drinking and socialising in Pretoria over the last three decades.

Students, new and old, flocked this past weekend to say goodbye to Dropzone, Cherry Jam, Slug and Lettuce, News Café and Flair, or to relive their nostalgic student days.

Hatfield 1

HATS OFF TO HATFIELD: This past weekend marked the last weekend for Hatfield Square, which will be demolished to make room for more student housing. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Redefine Properties, the current owners of Hatfield Square, are planning to “break” the Square, in order to replace it with more student housing and offices. It is rumoured that at least three new student residences will be set up in its place.

Bittereinder

BITTER END: Bittereinder, a popular bilingual band, performed at Aandklas Friday night. Aandklas is one of the few places on the Square that will stay. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Where will students go party now? Arcade Empire and Presley’s on Lynnwood Road, Capital Craft at Greenlyn, Eastwoods in Arcadia, Menlyn Square, as well as the Pretoria CBD, which is restructuring itself with new shebeens and clubs. The CBD has been stigmatised since the late 1990s for being “dangerous, full of satanists and prostitutes.”

Of course many students are sad with the closing down of Hatfield Square, but those loyal to Aandklas, the only place on the Square that is rumoured to stay along with Springboks, are happy Aandklas survived. “Our best memories are here! This is where I met my fiancée, my best friend and even my current business partner, “ laughed one PhD student. “It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s also time to grow up… And Hatfield has lost its charm. No one really comes here anymore. It was at its peak during the World Cup.”

Cheers, Hatfield Square! Thank you for the memories!

Oppikoppi 2012: Crazy, filthy, sweet fun!

VANESSA SMEETS

Oppikoppi magic as Eagles of Death Metal play

OPPI MAGIC: Oppikoppi magic as Eagles of Death Metal play Copyright: VE Smeets

South Africa’s hottest music festival during the coldest time of year beat all records this year, in its 18-year existence. Just a few days before, Gauteng was celebrating its first winter wonderland in 30 years, with lions at Joburg Zoo captured playing in the snow.

Happy audience

CHEERFUL CROWD: The audience goes crazy for the Kongos who finally got through their technical difficulties. Copyright: VE Smeets

The theme for this year “Sweet Thing” gathered an estimated 23 000 fans to celebrate over 100 acts in SA’s finest music (including Fokofpolisiekar, aKing, 340ml, Bittereinder, BLK JKS) and international acts like Seether, Bullet for my Valentine, Enter Shikari and Eagles of Death Metal.
Click here for a full list view.

Oppikoppi comes from Afrikaans slang, translated as “on the hill.” Those brave enough to walk up the hill drunk or stoned, are greeted by a beautiful view of the campsite and a few more hidden stages. The festival includes three nights of camping in dust and thorn bushes, surrounded by friendly strangers. You also have the choice of staying at the Kreef Hotel for an extra R1000 and may even bump into your favourite band members. Expect to pay between R600-R750 for a ticket, R500 on a tent and R400-R500 on booze and food.

The Kongos ft Jack Parow

IN DIE F*KKEN HUISIE: Jack Parow does a surprise act with the Kongos, much to the crowd’s delight. Copyright: VE Smeets

This year’s festival even included a collection of short films, an extra stage, a sand-art competition (on audience members’ cars… No, that huge phallus was not sand art, but that beautiful baobab and eye were), colourful couches (apparently if yours was cool enough you could join band members backstage), free pancakes and coffee served by the Red Frogs (made up by members from various churches from Pretoria and Joburg) and the unexpected surprise acts doing duets with others (Jack Parow singing with the Kongos drove the crowd wild).

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough, you could witness drug dealers getting busted in your camping area. One guy at our site shouted at the cop who was dressed like a civilian: “I’m just a user!” as he removed his back-pack filled with marijuana and other goodies. They even kindly packed away his tent for him. Or, you could even be part of a movie… My friend and I were shouted at with “Cuuuuuut!” for helping out a guy covered in “blood.”

The worst part of Oppikoppi?

The endless queues; whether you’re waiting to go in, come out, get food or go to the toilet. But that’s how you meet people from all walks of life, from the banker in Sandton to the street vendor from Cape Town.

The best part ?

Apart from being part of a mosh-pit or noticed by your favourite lead singer, is the treasure-hunting afterwards. If you wait till noon Sunday (when most people are sitting in their cars in an endless queue), you could pick up an abandoned tent (zipper can be fixed), a cooler-box, a few Energades, the Cuervo ring you really wanted, etc.

Seether Shaun Morgan2

HOME SWEET HOME: Seether’s lead singer Shaun Morgan (aka Welgemoed) plays his best on home soil. Copyright: VE Smeets

The regulars like Henno Kruger (a photographer who has been to 14 Oppis) really enjoyed Wesley’s Dome and the Top Bar: “It was by far one of the best Oppis… Highlights included the international acts, Southern Gypsey Queen tribute, Yoav, Beast, Black Cat Bones and no disappointments.”

As an “Oppi virgin” as they love teasing us, I can safely say it was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life. Be prepared to see yourself at your craziest, filthiest, most joyous self and others at their most raw and naked.

Your friendships may bond over hours of endless drinking or dissolve after one gig they refused to go watch with you. You will probably bump into a guy dressed as Borat, see your best friend’s girlfriend flash her breasts on his shoulders or on stage and hear voices from the heavens.

These tend to be the naked, tripping guys who decided to climb a thorn tree to discuss the weather. Enjoy!

The video to prove it all:

Oppi fashion Borat style

OPPI FASHION: One of the main highlights of the Oppikoppi festival has to be the fashion. Be prepared to see anything imaginable! Copyright: VE Smeets

Highlights:

  • One Night in Cape Town party: Cape Townians got to rock out the night before the actual Oppi festivities started and see most international acts before the rest of us.
  • The old boys from the PBHS pipe-band adding some Scottish tunes to the weekend of debauchery…
  • Bullet for my Valentine playing the national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika” on their guitar. The crowd sang along in unison!
  • The crowd cheering “Saron Gas! Saron Gas!” before Seether went on stage. Lead singer Shaun Morgan (a South African) charmingly replied: “Yeah, I always knew that was a cool name!”
  • Seether breaking their guitar on stage, throwing the fragments into the cheering crowd.
  • SA’s favourites Fokofpolisiekar making the earth tremble and grown men cry!
The naked run

TOO SMALL: The Naked Run was a tad disappointing, with only about a dozen guys participating in the first of its kind in Oppi history. Copyright: VE Smeets

Disappointments:

  • “The naked run:” only a dozen or so guys took part because of the changes in time (11h30 instead of 12pm) and distance (from 1km to 500m).
  • The giant floating balls: a nuisance for photographers and tall people. Some people ended up piercing them with their car-keys, causing drunkards to use them as cushions. A scary sight when they looked suffocated, after passing out on them.
  • The Cuervo collection desk. So every time you bought a Tequila slush, you got a ticket. You excitedly go to the collection counter only to be told by some bad-mood blonde to come back later.
  • Lack of communication with the crowd. The black and yellow Cuervo wristbands had an ID number at the back. Apparently there was a huge draw but when and where?!?
  • Last minute cancellations or changes (obviously unforeseen by Hilltop Live, those in charge).

Checklist:

  1. Your ticket and ID
  2. A pair of shorts (it reaches past 30 degrees in the day)
  3. Gumboots (you will end up throwing away whichever shoes you bring with)
  4. A map of the camping site (cleverly print it onto your shirt perhaps)
  5. A few shirts (you will win many more)
  6. A warm jacket, beanie and cool hat (so your friends can spot you from afar. Everyone starts looking the same after two days with the Cuervo straw hat)
  7. Lots of water (for drinking, cleaning, brushing your teeth)

    Creative campsite

    CREATIVITY: Don’t forget something creative to decorate your campsite with… Copyright: VE Smeets

  8. A large water bottle to hold your booze (cans and glass bottles are forbidden in the entertainment area)
  9. An old cellphone (your smartphone will definitely get lost, stolen or extremely dirty). OId Nokia batteries last much longer anyway.
  10. Plasters (those thorn bushes are a nuisance when you stumble back to your tent in the middle of the night)
  11. Snacks. The food stalls are pretty expensive. Expect to pay R50-R90 for a burger and R38 for a pancake (rather go get a free one from the church people!)
  12. SPF cream, sunglasses, money for food and petrol. Money can be loaded on a card for food and more booze. Be advised don’t put all your R500 on a card. It may get lost or slip out of the plastic sleeve. Leftover money can be used next year or be exchanged this year for airtime
  13. Sleeping bag, pillow, extra blankets (brandy will only keep you warm for so long)
  14. A torch and toilet paper (those portable toilets are a nightmare in the dark)

Check out the awesome Oppikoppi site here!

The Tightened Cord

VANESSA SMEETS

Rachel observed the cord that now hung loosely around his neck. She flung her body around his torso: “WHY? WHY? WHY?”
His face was ashen, but smiling. His fingers were stiff and there was a note in his pocket:

“I’m sorry. I lived. Better to burn out than fade out.”  

These were the words from Kurt Cobain, one of his musical idols. He was a musician, artist and poet. He was a rising star. He had so much joy and love to give.  Although Rachel hadn’t seen him in two years, she had seen him in a dream just days before:
“I had never dreamt of him before. He was dancing and laughing. He was trying to tell me something, but the music was too loud. ‘Next time!’ I shouted. He nodded, but looked disappointed. ‘Next time’ never came… He used musical chords to live, but found solace in the other type… I can’t believe it.”

depression2

MENTAL PRISON: Those suffering from depression often find themselves in a mental prison, unable to escape what many describe as "the big black wolf." PIC: online

Rachel knew she had been there, dangling mentally from the tightened cord:
“For years, it was a dark horrific secret. You dream of screaming into a void but no one can hear you. Suddenly, the silence gets a face. It looks like a huge black wolf, eating various parts from the inside out. First, it takes your voice. Then your thoughts. Then, swiftly, your actions. You think of it constantly: death.”

She describes how she had stared death in the face five years ago. It was after her boyfriend had ended it for the twentieth time:
“It’s like switching a light switch constantly on and off. I knew he was cheating. I  knew he didn’t love me. I knew I didn’t have the strength to fight him, carry on alone or start over again. He broke up with me just before my degree ended. I never finished my year and never got my degree.”

Rachel was an A student, dreaming of becoming a doctor. A few months later, she found herself helping people in a mental institution instead. She was diagnosed with both clinical depression and bipolar disorder:

“Everyone goes through phases of depression. But my lows were outnumbering my highs. I was constantly on shopping sprees, trying to get rid of suicidal thoughts. I didn’t love my life or myself anymore.

At times, I would look into the mirror and see a monster. It looked like that huge black wolf… My thoughts were killing me. I decided to end it all with a few pills the first time. I felt so ashamed when I woke up.

Product of divorce, you often dream of that perfect romance. Or, the one that gives you the most kicks. You’ll look for it wherever you can. I found it in a charming abusive guy, who fed me compliments but told me how to live. You can’t escape the clutches of someone that possessive. I kept going back.”

Rachel shivers when she describes her survival strategy:
“Thinking about death smells like a rotting corpse… It sticks to you constantly, howling at you every night when you’re alone. You become fascinated by the sounds it makes, how it seems to know your name. You think of constant ways to lure it: by teasing those potent thoughts, finding ways to ward them off and searching for ways to subtly warn your friends and family that you are going through them. Often, they suspect nothing. Even the music you listen to doesn’t warn them enough. I’d lock myself up in silence. The only true way is to examine your behaviour and what you write constantly about in your diary…”

depression1

SECRETS: The only way to observe whether you are truly suicidal, is by keeping track of what you write in your diary. Focusing on the past and old mistakes shows an unhealthy way of dealing with the present and making progress with the future. PIC: Online

Subtle signs:

  • Fascination with death (wearing black clothes/ dark make-up)
  • Writing about one’s feelings over actions in a diary (focusing on past rather than present or future)
  • Worrying in forms of different sleeping and eating patterns
  • Constant stress (weight loss, weight gain, failing subjects)
  • Obsession with finance, academic performance, sexual preferenc
  • Mood swings out of the blue (especially crying alone)
  • Antisocial behavior (lying, not going to parties, cheating, stealing)
  • Loss of interest in previous hobbies and activities
  • Cutting themselves in hidden areas (inner arms/ thighs)

Apart from silent treatments, constant phrases used include:

  • “You don’t love me.”
  • “You have no idea what I’m going through.”
  • “What do you know?”
  • “Leave me alone!”

If you suspect your friend is going through suicidal thoughts:

> Speak to them alone soon as possible.
> Avoid judging or criticising them.
> Highlight their strengths without exaggerating them.
> Call the person they are closest to.

Don’t stop me now…

VANESSA SMEETS

“I feel alive 
And the world, I’ll turn it inside out! Yeah!
I’m floating around in ecstasy,
So don’t stop me now…
I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky…
I’m gonna go go go there’s no stopping me
I’m burning through the sky, yeah…”
Queen, Don’t Stop Me Now

butterfly

TIME TO SOAR: The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. ~Rabindranath Tagore PIC: Online


I recently started two new blogs and they’ve been as exhausting as that shooting star burning through the sky, YEAH!
Check out “Respatialized” on www.erasmusjourno.wordpress.com.
It gives a platform for my Journalism classmates to start writing about life as a Mundus student, articles on politics/ finance/ war/ culture and more. The aim of the blog is to give an overview of what it feels like to be an exchange student and not being able to write in your mother tongue.

Then there’s “Any day Aarhus” on www.anydayaarhus.wordpress.com.
It’s all about the little city of Aarhus, where I recently became a Goodwill Ambassador. The aim of the blog is to promote Aarhus as ideal student destination.
Here is the video that won. Unfortunately, it was not my group, but at least Aarhus came first!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbeDX-TCMN8&list=LLdHFy_rrkycw7k8LzxnIqdg&index=2&feature=plpp_video

Zimbelican Adventures (2): Lost in Translation

VANESSA SMEETS

Ich bin in der Übersetzung verloren… Ja, I often find myself lost in translation…

sex and the city

GIRL POWER: Ive employed the ladies from Sex & The City to help me out with my German. Completely dubbed, with English subtitles, makes for fascinating learning skills. PIC: online

SEX AND THE CITY

No, it’s not what you think. Haha… German is a sehr schwierig (very difficult) language, so difficult that I bought the entire Season 1 and 2 of Sex & The City to help me out (besides my official classes, of course). Shortly afterwards, I realised my vocabulary will be very limited. Oops (or Hoopla! as you say in German). It really was the ONLY series they had in the shop. And it was my favourite series ten years ago, so it helped a lot with feeling all nostalgic in a new town.

STRANDED

bus transport

LETS DO THE BUS-STOP: Public transport is amazing in Germany. You can be at any mall, train station, neighbouring village or big town in just a couple of minutes. Just take the right bus-line. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I’ve finally figured out the public transport system. Hurra! Busline 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 all go in similar directions and eventually back to the student apartments. So, when I had a late night class and none were immediately available, I did a crazy thing and took Busline 1. IDIOT!

I found myself stranded in the countryside on the coldest spring day, in the rain (nogal!). The bus driver shook his head at me and drove me to his final destination, where he swapped seats with a new driver.

The new driver grunted at me, whispered something in German, then Turkish and took me to where I had originally got on. I was patient now and waited for the right busline, which eventually came 45 minutes later.

Cold and wet, it was an amazing feeling to be home again. I may decide to do such future excursions on a sunny day. At least then I’ll be able to see my experiences.

POST-TRAUMA STRESS DISORDER

Yes, I had a traumatic experience at the post. No, it didn’t come from the sharp edges of envelopes or the messy desks filled with people’s unwanted letters and bills. It came from the DHL owner. I tried posting 24 postcards (for those who had been kind enough to send me their addresses) and a present. The cost came to 19, 77 Euros. I knew I had the exact amount and started digging in my purse. I couldn’t find the darn 2 cents to make up that 7… He soon lost his temper and shouted at me. In future: somehow calculate what each little stamp and gram will amount to… Really now 😉

internet cafe

GERMAN ENGINEERING: You can wait for your washing, while chatting online. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

SEEING ORANGE

I fell in love with a specific restaurant’s freshly pressed orange juice. I still don’t understand why they keep giving me the wrong one. I’ve given up in trying to explain, but the synthetic one has really left a sour taste in my mouth. Arghhh, and asthma attacks at night.

Rule here is: once it’s placed on your table, you can’t send it back. Keep your eyes and oranges peeled…

HELP-LESS

Do not invade people’s personal space. In South Africa, it may be good manners to help a little granny across the road, but here I would advise you not to. I was at the Internet Café, when the granny next to me couldn’t find the print button. The owner showed her once, but she soon forgot.

I put my hand on her mouse to show her the difference between right-click and left-click and she scratched it quite viciously!

I was in shock. She then printed her stuff and walked away. Not even a ‘Vielen Dank’ or an apology.

German sunset

TASTE OF AFRICA: The beautiful sunsets of Tübingen remind me of home and make every day worthwhile... PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

THE SILVER LINING

Despite these unpleasant few incidents, I have managed to find English classes which more or less fit into journalism. The one on War Photography I’m enjoying very much. We have to write response papers, do a presentation and do a written or oral exam (depending on what your major is). It feels great to know lots of background info on the topic and inform the class about the amazing foursome from South Africa known as the Bang Bang Club. Can’t wait for the movie this April! Sigh…

The other class is called Technological Utopias and asks us to see the pros and cons of living as part of the Technocratic Generation. I was thinking of doing another class on Shakespeare’s poetry and one on racism, just to fill up my time. But, a better idea would be to work for the local newspaper and finish my children’s stories. Yes, it has taken me nearly 12 years to tell the stories I used to tell my brother before he would go to sleep. Nothing leaked about the subject matter just yet 😉

Oh, and not forgetting these Zimbelican stories too… Time to check out the clubbing scene and blog about that, now that all the admin is finally done! PROST!

Stalked by HIV: The Human Indifference Virus

domestic violence

ABUSE: At the Gay Pride Parade in March, the gay community recognised the strong link between domestic violence at home because of oppressive parents. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

VANESSA SMEETS

Maybe it’s his red shoes or blond curls that make Andy stand out. When he sits down, I realize it’s rather the subtle scar slashed across his ice-blue eyes.

“Anything but gay?” he says with a smile.

His voice is soothing and pleasant to the ear. It can’t be described as feminine or masculine, but rather as something in between. He peers across my notes.

“I haven’t said anything yet and you’re writing away!” he says with an attractive grin that has one hooked immediately.

Family tides

The awkward silence between us is short-lived. He takes out his phone and proudly shows his photos. He continues to chat as though we’ve been life-long friends.

“That’s my mom, Dawn. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? She’s so proud of me. I’ve never pretended to be someone else. That’s my dad – he disowned me for a while. Called me a faggot, moffie, man-whore – you name it. He doesn’t treat me in the same way as my two brothers. Probably blames himself; he wasn’t around when I grew up.”

He’s silent while looking for a few moments at the blurred photo of a man in kaki attire, rifle in hand. He’s a hunter, perhaps. He quickly moves on to the next one.

“That’s my ouma, she’s the only one who doesn’t know I prefer guys. It’ll kill her.”

I ask him about the scar but he’d rather speak of something else – like joining Tuks’ (the University of Pretoria) first gay society. Surprisingly, they don’t get hate mail or threatening smses. Instead, they get messages like “Jesus loves you. You’ll burn in hell if you don’t change. Give Jesus a chance.”

 

pink revolution

PINK REVOLUTION: The University of Pretoria went through some extreme changes in 2006, when its first gay society was born. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Varsity blues

The only people who hassled them were a couple of guys in the SRC (Student Representative Council), which caused some controversy in 2006. They declared the society ‘non-existent’ even after more than 100 members joined. They painted twice over the freedom of speech wall, trying to stop what Andy calls the ‘Pink Revolution’ from going anywhere. But they didn’t succeed – the society keeps on growing, embracing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and straight people with their funky ideas and late-night parties.

After three hours of coffee, muffins and laughing, Andy decides to tell about his scar.

“My brothers did it to me when I was thirteen. They caught me cutting up pictures of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and pinning them against my wall. They forced me to tear them down. I didn’t. I couldn’t. It felt right.”

He pauses for a few moments then continues, his hands shaking, “The night of my Standard 5 Valediction, they spotted the pictures under my bed and threw me against the wall. My parents were waiting in the car. After that, I blacked out. I woke up in hospital bruised, in pain and alone.

The nurse said my family would come by later. They didn’t. My mom came by two days later. I pretended to be asleep. She kissed my cheek and sobbed her eyes out. When I looked up at her, I saw her sunglasses hiding a horrible blue eye. Dad had beaten her up for protecting me. We moved away together; the rest of them couldn’t accept my sexuality. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, so I brought girlfriends home. She knew I was faking. Now, we laugh together – ‘he’s cute and him.’ It’s liberating.”

What makes people “gay”?

Andy found out he was different when he enjoyed playing excessively with his cousin’s Barbie dolls and fell in love with his tennis coach in Standard 3. Today, the mystery into what makes people gay is still being researched. Swidey (2006: 40) explains that some scientists believe it to be half the amount of neurons found in the anterior hypothalamus of homosexuals compared to heterosexuals. After Dean Hamer’s discovery in 1993, some believe it could be a ‘gay gene’: the X chromosome, Xq28, is more frequent in gay men. Some still believe it to be biological causes, such as the increase of hormones in certain foods.  In 2005, Swedish researchers claimed the cause could be the different pheromones that gay men are attracted to. Like straight women, they are found to be attracted to male sweat rather than female urine. Whatever the case, Andy explains he never chose his sexual orientation.

Apart from the red shoes and strange voice, he looks like an ordinary guy. With a cigarette dangling from his manicured hands, he explains how he’s been labelled with stereotypes all his life.

“Yeah, so pink isn’t my favourite colour and I don’t wear two litres of after-shave. I’ve had my share of heart-breaks, just like any other guy. I’ve been sent for therapy. I’ve experimented with drugs and alcohol. I’ve been tested for AIDS, I’m negative. Basically, I’m just like any other student. People have stopped looking at me as that not-so-gay-guy.”

Andy removes his jersey. More scars are visible now – tiny red marks swim around on the inside of his wrist. I cannot help but stare.

great divide

GREAT DIVIDE: In South Africa, there is still a strong divide between the gay community and Christians, as the Pride Parade demonstrated. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

“People are too busy to notice,” he says, “It’s not for attention though, it’s for myself. To remind me what I’ve been through. Each scar marks a closure of some sort. That’s the day my dad told me to go to hell. That’s the day my so-called friends from school locked me in a closet and yelled ‘stay there, you freak!’ This one’s the deepest – it was the last one – the night I decided to die. I woke up, luckily. I realized then I was born for something incredible. This gay society (UP and Out) has given me a purpose. It’s not HIV but the Human Indifference Virus that almost killed me.”

After shaking my hand firmly, he smiles and begins to walk away. A ray of light laps up his blond curls while he finishes speaking.

He reaches for a gold chain in his pocket and says:

“God has taught me to love myself beyond what this world thinks. They may say I’ll burn in hell for being gay, but I’ll burn forever in this hell by trying to be someone else.”

*based on a true person, some facts have been edited to suit the article’s purpose

Sources:

Swidey, N. 2006. What makes people gay? In Fairlady, March 2006, Issue 830. Cape Town: Media 24.