The Stranger Within

VANESSA SMEETS

When you look at Mark Smith’s class photo, you see an ordinary guy trying to crack a smile. Look a little closer…
He stands quite isolated from everyone else. There are cuts on his arm he’s trying to hide. There’s a pain in his eyes. His mom raised him alone. She had various boyfriends who taught him how to use a gun. A gun was the only thing he could handle. It felt good. It felt powerful. It represented a sense of belonging. An anchor.

During break/ recess, Mark often sits alone reading a random comic, trying to laugh. He will sometimes creep up into the computer room and watch YouTube in secret. He loves rap. He loves these guys who know exactly how to act. He learns that not giving a damn is the only way.

Once home, he opens his school journal. Another negative note from his teacher: “Mark was not ready today. Mark could not do his presentation. I am disappointed. This is the third time.”
He tears it up. He writes a fake note to show his mom, “Mark’s presentation went very well. Thank you.”
His mother glances at the paper, beer drooling from the sides of her mouth.
“That’s nice, my boy. You can play in your room a little longer today.”

cartoon gun control

GUN WORSHIP: Gun control treats the symptoms, not the cause.

He rushes upstairs, locks the door. He places his headphones on and glares into the screen. He watches these school shootings over and over again.
He fantasizes about his teacher pinned against the wall, saying sorry for each time she picked on him:

“You were alone. No one could help you. I understand now.”
“Too little, too late, Mrs Sanders. And now, no one is going to help you.”
He shoots her at point-blank range.

Mark now fantasizes about the guys who laugh at him at break.
“Loser… You’re so weird.”
He sees how truly vulnerable they are against his gun. He smiles.
The adrenaline rush takes over. He starts sweating, even panting.

His mom yells out from the staircase, “I’m hungry. Get cracking…”
“I’m starving too, mom…” he whispers under his breath, “Starving for you to just take the lead sometime. To tell me when it’s not okay. To talk to me, instead of stuffing an iPad or phone into my face to keep me busy. To tell me I’m normal. Am I even normal?”

It hits him.
Mark is a stranger to his own mother.
His own teacher.
His own peers.
His own self.
Mark is currently 10 years old.

Mark could become any of these other school shooters.
Gun control may remove the symptoms, but not the cause.
Discipline begins at home, yes. But, self-discipline gets crushed by various factors:
– lack of love
– lack of empathy
– emotional and physical bullying
– cyber-bullying
– lack of respect

Even though guns have been around for over 200 years, being unheard is huge in the last 30 years. We live in an era of mass communication, with no one truly communicating.

To parents out there, be part of your child’s life. Go support their school play, their dress rehearsals, their sports match and know their friends.
Show interest in the shows they watch and the music they listen to. It illustrates your child’s psyche.
Raise your child to enjoy childhood (not be stressed out by it), to respect others, to do chores, to give him/ her a purpose. Or else, his/ her only purpose will be to engrave his/ her name within history books as another delinquent, another statistic.

To children/ teens reading this: It does get better. Clichéd, I know. Bullying seems to be a rite of passage in school. Hold on. Befriend them, or stay away from them. And, most importantly, stay away from that shadow within you that feeds upon revenge, as tempting as it may be.

As a teacher, I have this to say to those in the same profession:
Forget about written homework. Give them self-reflection. Ask a philosophical question to debate upon in class.
“What makes you happy?”
Link this to the areas of their lives: family, friendship, school, games they play.
Also, speak to your students. Know who the others are afraid of, who they never invite. Know who sits alone. Know who gets called names. And, know who you unknowingly pick on the whole time…

 

 

Travelling through memory…

VANESSA SMEETS

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SANTÉ: Founder of Blank Canvas Studio, Martine de Kock, welcomes guests to The Thyste Traveller’s third event.                                                                                  PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Memory flows for some in the form of a distinct song, an exceptional smell or a specific taste. For Martine de Kock (31), founder of Blank Canvas Studio, capturing the essence of her late great grandfather came in the form of what he loved most: great food, wine and company.

These ideals had to be captured in a truly sensory journey and, so, The Thyste Traveller series was born, asking exclusive wineries across South Africa to be part of an unforgettable experience.
The Thyste Traveller journey has grown from a small intimate group of friends to a monthly event of celebration and joy, in the comfort of a cozy atmosphere, in Pretoria.

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CHEERS: Bernard Dewey, sales and marketing director for Chamonix, and Martine de Kock, organiser of these delightful events.                                            PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Blank Canvas Studio has hosted numerous events in its young existence, but this is a very personal one for its founder:
“My great grandfather, Oupa Thys, travelled the globe to experience its culinary offerings. These events are held in his home, in memory of him, where we share a love of what he stood for.”

The third event in the series was showcased by Chamonix, a beautiful wine farm nestled in the Franschhoek valley, with a 50-hectare game farm, and found only one hour away from Cape Town.

chamonix

PARADISE: Chamonix wine farm in Franschhoek, paired perfectly for the third event.         PIC: Chamonix website

Guests were treated to a delicious 6-course pairing menu, prepared by ESSEN eatery which included:
TOP: dried porcini mushroom tortellini, parmesan ice-cream, peking duck.
BOTTOM: pork dish, melanzanata aubergine and gold Belgian chocolate dome for dessert.

Regulars to these events, Joha and Piet Bredell, said: “We keep coming for the great food, wine and company. What better way to spend a Wednesday evening?”

Keep an eye out for the fourth installment on this appetizing journey…

 

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.

TBR: Fast & Furious

VANESSA SMEETS

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RULE 1: Have a reliable pit-crew. Punctuality and communication are key.

“I couldn’t find the sports car of my dreams, so I built it myself,” Ferdinand Porsche.

Racing cars is not just sport, it’s become integrated into South African culture ever since I can remember. My first experience of racing? Sitting around and waiting for my parents to get off medical duty at race circuits around South Africa. I was only 7 years old and had no idea that one day I would be one of those women screaming, sighing and laughing nervously in the pits. My parents often shared their worst-case-scenarios of quadriplegics, stabbed jugulars and cindered off body hair… It was normal at our family dinners.

Kyalami2

RULE 2: Have a reliable car. Drive it with passion!

“Everyone in life is looking for a certain rush. Racing is where I get mine,” John Troutmann.

Ironically, my boyfriend’s favourite hobby is building and racing cars. His team? Team Beer Racing (TBR). Don’t get the wrong idea… It’s so much more than just a bunch of guys drinking and talking cars, it’s a brotherhood.

You risk your life at the hands of others. While one is great at giving advice, another is great with his hands and another with the wiring. It’s intricate. It’s time-consuming. But, best of all, it’s self-made.

After weeks of late nights and hassling our neighbours with loud grinding noises as well as early morning revving, my boyfriend’s car was ready for the African Endurance Series at Kyalami, 9 May 2015. 22 years later, all those family dinners flashed back with my nerves.

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RULE 3: Have an amazing support system.

I will never forget that date, as it was etched into our daily lives: “The engine has to be rebuilt… 30 days left,” “Sh*t! The left back tyre is loose… 10 days to go.”

Ladies, I warn you – you must have the patience to share your man with his machine. He will devote most of his free time to it and then come to bed smelling like petrol. Well, it’s okay! Support him with your kindness and smiles. I tried learning some car jargon, but quickly got lost…

Gentlemen, be patient with us women who support you. We are as tired as you, waiting patiently in cold beds… But it’s okay, we love you for your ambition and dedication. True men stick to the their rims!

“A smooth race never made a skillful driver,” Anon.

Kyalami, I thank you for the most stressful, yet adrenaline-packed, two hours of my life
, watching the love of my life at high speed amongst 40 cars. I will never forget the look on his face as the engine was finally finished: surprise. As the car ran: relief and as he finished the race with his partner: ecstasy.

Endurance racing is not really about winning, it’s about finishing. It’s about showing the other guys you did a great job building your car, that the endurance of building such a sweet piece of machinery was worth it.

I thank you, my racer, for allowing me to be your pit-girl but, most importantly, for teaching me the importance of self-discipline and fraternity. I’m so proud of you.

Great Gatsby event at Brooklyn Mall

VANESSA SMEETS

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...

The first edition of The Great Gatsby (1925). PIC: Wikipedia

“People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other…”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Students, lawyers, doctors, journalists, mothers and grandmothers dressed up for an exquisite evening, decorated in frills, pearls, feather boas, long cigarettes and white gloves for The Great Gatsby Girfriends’ Getaway at Brooklyn Mall, on Wednesday 22 May, 2013.

The prizes were much more extravagant than last time, with the biggest prizes coming from sponsors like DisChem, House of Superior Clothing, Lenthéric and “The diet everyone is talking about.” Prizes went to best-dressed, second best-dressed, a lucky seat number, three lucky-draw numbers from DisChem, three lucky-draw numbers from “The diet everyone is talking about” and one Ralo Cosmetics hamper to the woman who could answer the question: Which other Baz Luhrmann movie did Leonardo DiCaprio star in? The answer being, Romeo and Juliet.

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Many audience members were left stunned by Luhrmann’s melodramatic ending, some found pleasure in the effervescent soundtrack, while other older members were irritated by its stern contrast to the époque.

Set in the early 1920s, Wall Street is booming, liquour is cheap and gangsters are abound. The movie blends modern music to the Charleston era, beautifully incorporating the novel’s quotes as words on screen, haunting the audience members hours after the show.

GG Poster

Baz Luhrmann’s latest blockbuster has left audiences around the world stunned by its beauty, yet disgusting reality of greed and fortune. PIC: Internet

The Great Gatsby explores Nick Carraway’s recollection of visiting his cousin, Daisy, on the east coast of the USA. His neighbour happens to be the mysterious Jay Gatsby, millionaire extraordinaire, known for his wild parties. But who is it all for? Nick starts to weave everything together, leaving him haunted by his loss of innocence, relationships and more, thrown into a world of decadence, greed and the elusive American Dream. Can the past ever be repeated, when one feels “within yet without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”?

Natasha Secchi (21), Financial Management student, said: “Ladies night at Ster-Kinekor is filled with excitement from the very first second. Everyone looks forward to the interesting lucky packets and the raffle for the lucky draw. I enjoyed The Great Gatsby from the great graphics to the realistic acting, as a whole.”

Bianca O’Neill (27), lecturer and actress, said: “It was a wonderful cinematic experience, depicting the greed and deceit of the human race. Evil is always decorated with sparkle and glitter a.k.a. Gatsbilliosis.”

The night was an overall success, with a full house at Brooklyn Mall and a few random men (who had booked without knowing), who enjoyed the razzle and dazzle of the beautiful women surrounding them.