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

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.

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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.

 

A friend to all ages

Article & photos © VANESSA SMEETS

Sarah_happy

INSPIRATION: Sarah’s joy comes from entertaining the people she cares about, from preschool to frail-care.

Sarah Widman (88) has finally had her biggest wish come true: the publishing of her first book, The Ant and the Elephant. It appeals to young children and teaches them many lessons:

K.T. (5): “It taught me to love all people.”
J.D. (5): “It taught me to be a better person.”
N.T. (5): “It taught me to work hard for the things I believe in.”

Interestingly, these lessons are all vital aspects to Sarah herself. She loves all people, young and old, by helping out the elderly in frail-care at the retirement home where she is a resident and also at Pretoria Montessori Preschool, where she reads or puts on shows for the children.

“God gave me the gift of making all people laugh, I use it as much as I can,” she says. Sarah found solace from a difficult background by putting on shows and plays for others. All her plays were self-written. Her play, Stages through the Ages, is for a more mature audience and aims to show what friendship goes through in various seasons of life.

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PUBLISHED: Sarah Widman (88) made the local newspaper this week after publishing her first book.

Sarah has definitely worked hard for the things she believes in. She waited 25 years for this first book, being rejected several times by a number of publishers.

She says: “Maybe people are more open now to the ideas of this imaginary world, where we need to escape from stress and technology.” Although her stories reflect Aesop’s Fables in terms of their morals, they are uniquely African and in tune with a child’s mind.

“I speak to my inner child, that’s where I get my ideas… I travel in my thoughts, I daydream, I ask a lot of questions… I’m always curious, like a child, and find joy in observing them.”

Sarah_kiss

BLISS: A friendly kiss after reading time for Sarah, the children at Pretoria Montessori Preschool’s dearest friend.

She has been a guest teacher at Pretoria Montessori Preschool for the last two years and this relationship has worked magic both ways. The preschool teachers describe Sarah’s presence as “a light to these little souls. They have learnt so much more on being respectful, disciplined and listening to the elderly.”

“I love Teacher Sarah because her stories are always clever and fun… She also gives the biggest hugs,” says S.M. (5).
Her next book, Adventures in Ghost-town, is currently in production and should be published by the end of the year. It will explore a little boy’s brave journey after disobeying his parents.

Lessons from Granny

VANESSA SMEETS

Mamy1

LIGHT OF OUR LIVES: Granny was a beacon of light in how to live life to the fullest. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

I miss my granny every single day since her passing 21 months ago… She endured a lot in her 89 years. She stopped school at 14 to start working and help her family in a little Belgian village. She survived the hardships of war and falling in love just as it started.

She chose career over family at times and although she once confided in me that this was her biggest regret, she smiled: “One child, one life, to give all I had to give.”

The last time I held her was the eve of my 26th birthday:
“Granny, do you know what day it is tomorrow?”
“I’d rather not, my sweet poupée (doll in French). I know it’ll be my last one with you.”

She sent a birthday card every year of my life. But this message was the hardest one to endure, because there would be no card in the post the next year or the next… There would just be the gaping side of love: the yearning for that hug at the airport, the phone call every Sunday evening, the random coffee and cake date when she was here.

After those words about my birthday, she slipped back into her strange Alzheimer’s world. She picked up a tabloid magazine next to us: “Oh look, it’s my neighbour on the cover!”

No, it wasn’t. It was the king of Belgium. I just nodded and smiled. What was the use in breaking her joy? She had taught me so much:

Save every penny.
Granny gave my brother and I a “doggie bank” when we were little. Every time we bought ice-cream, the odd 50c would go in there. At the end of our summer holiday, we’d have enough to buy the whole family ice-cream.

Cultivate your friendships.
Granny kept a little book with all her friends’ numbers and addresses. She’d check on them regularly. One year, she tore out the pages one by one. I was horrified. “Don’t worry, my child… These have all gone to heaven now. Enjoy your friends while you can.” 

Remember the “little people” as your biggest lessons.
For ten years (daily), she would give a few Belgian Francs to the blind beggar outside her pharmacy. One year, she followed him home to meet his family. Instead,  she was shocked to see him counting coins, examining them one by one. He wasn’t blind at all, but instead of being furious she told him: “I was the blind one all along. Blinded by my kindness for you. You definitely let me see the world in a new light.”

Listen to find love.
Granny met Grandpa as they took the train across Belgium every day at the same time. He was in uniform, going to translate things during the war, she was on her way to work. Grandpa claimed he fell in love with her when she kindly brought him stockings from the pharmacy. He had to give them to the Germans for their wives back home and somehow she remembered, even after just using it as random chit-chat:

“A woman who remembers your needs once, is a woman you keep for eternity,” he claimed years later.

They were married for 59 years.

Mamy2

PURE LOVE: On an outing with my grandparents in 1988. Pic: My mom

Forgive quickly.
Even though my grandparents fought passionately, granny hated bearing grudges: “It ages you. Every harsh wrinkle is a sour face you pulled once in your life, every soft one is a smile you shared. Remember that throughout your marriage.” 

Savour the moments.
Granny was one of the few people I knew who purposely shopped for the wrong size: “I savour the dress more, if I change it more to my liking. The same cannot be said about men. Take them as they are.”

Don’t over prepare.
When grandpa was late for their wedding day because he was out walking his dog, instead of collecting his suit, she just laughed it off:

“It taught me I had to make room in our marriage even for the unexpected. Love is compromising both your needs.” 

Stand out.
My granny stood out at Sunday mass in her bright pink suit and matching scarf: “Will they remember you tomorrow? Yes, if you stand out. Yes, if you stand for something. I am proud but not boastful.”

I was definitely proud of her and today I boast it to the world: she was the most stylish, kindest and most hard working granny that ever lived. I miss you so much.

Forever grateful,
Ta Poupée

More to read: Granny’s Alzheimer’s World

The Frenemy

VANESSA SMEETS

Ever have that one “friend” you dread adding on Facebook, because you know she’ll constantly be watching and criticizing your every move? She’s known as the “Fakebooker” (more of an acquaintance than a friend), but she’s not the only species of ‘Frenemy’ you will come across in your lifetime. Here are the others:

Frenemy 1The Boyfriend Flirter

In front of you, she tells how gross your boyfriend is in comparison to hers or, even worse, your exes. Everything he says or does seems to annoy her, but behind your back she loves sending him funny emails, meeting up for coffee to discuss… you. Yeah right. Move on, b*tch.

The Friend Thief

She’s back from her incredible adventures overseas and can’t seem to find new friends on her own, so she now backpacks on your back wherever you go. She organizes events where everyone you know without you is invited. She doesn’t care and neither should you.

Frenemy 2The Expired Cool Girl

At school, you were both the head of this and that and yet you still found time for each other, but then she became headgirl and all that changed… she just didn’t know you anymore. Really? What kind of make-up can hide such a two-faced chick? None. Walk away.

The Wannabe

She knows you’re a great networker, so she invites you to all her open events so that you can invite everyone you know. Looks may attract, but it’s personality that keeps, darling. Nothing can hide the fact she’s using you.

Frenemy 4The Whiner

She calls you whenever she loses a job or a man. You go over and comfort her. She never asks how your day was. When you break-up with your man of four years, she’s suddenly too busy. Cry me a river, she’s an alligator with fake tears.

The Hot-Headed Heels

Frenemy 3

PIC: Internet

She’s like the Samantha from Sex and the City of your group, she always boasts about how many men want to bed her and how her boss sends her saucy, encrypted texts. She makes all your lives feel totally bland in comparison. Truth is, her life is empty and nothing you do will help her feel better about herself or you. Goodbye, Sam. I’ll save you for a rainy day.

The Casper

Yup, she’s the friendly ghost of your past. You think that because you’ve known each other for two decades, you’re obligated to keep her in your life. Yes, she shows up once a year for your birthday, but how do you catch up 365 days in a few hours? You can’t, because she happens to be the first one to leave your party. Time to call in the ghost-busters. De-clutter your life before your party.

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PIC: Internet

Happiness is…

VANESSA SMEETS

For years, I searched far and wide for happiness.
The greatest poets and creative people have spoken of it as an illusion or the ultimate tease, being short-lived and unfulfilling. Walt Disney claimed it’s the way one looks at things. William Shakespeare referred to it as good friends. AA Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh, referred to it as the secret to all beauty. For many, it comes in four states of being, which I believe could be seen as four seasons: euphoria, bliss, joy, and contentment.

Euphoria: where everything seems to be floating and unreal, your senses are overcome much like in spring.
Bliss: where everything seems almost too perfect to be true. Your body and heart are one, much like in summer.
Joy: where everything still seems beautiful, just like the colours of autumn.
Contentment: where you hold on to the other three, but will have to do with the warmth provided, much like in winter.

But, what does it mean to me? Because that’s what Incitement is about: my story, our story. (For more on Incitement SA, see my previous article: There is HOPE!)

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FREEDOM: The magic of childhood should not be forgotten in adulthood… PIC: Internet

My seasonal journey with happiness has been complex, sometimes raining with splendor, other times hard to harvest.
I first discovered it as a small child from simple things: setting dragonflies and butterflies free in the kitchen, catching grasshoppers in the garden and feeling them tickle my skin, watching my parents kiss, playing with Barbies for hours on end. Yes, I’ve always been a romantic and that is where my disillusionment with happiness was born.

This is quite personal, but I believe many of us have been through it…
As someone who struggled with clinical depression for almost ten years, I am finally free of it. No, it was not through fancy medication or hours at the psychiatrist. If anything, those things worsened my state of being. The meds poisoned my body, to the verge of becoming a diabetic and the shrink poisoned my soul by opening old wounds. I had forgiven. I didn’t need to be reminded of my past regrets and hurt.

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FAITH: Balancing faith against your fears will push you forward. PIC: RobinSharma.com

Happiness is the ability to balance what you have with what you need, appreciating those special moments. I learnt this best as a preschool teacher. Children have the ability to be creative, even when their little heads and hearts are in disjoint. A child will continue to smile, even if things at home aren’t easy. They believe in the power of daily life – every day is a magical reason to wake up, discover your surroundings and explore your needs.

As adults, we forget the essence of imagination. We forget to discover daily power and magic. We keep diaries of our daily struggles, instead of your daily triumphs. And we forget to spend time with children, who teach us to see through new eyes. I’ve always believed children are the world’s greatest teachers.

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THE KEY: Children are not only the future, but the world’s greatest teachers. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

I discovered a whole new world as a preschool teacher: one where killed spiders are given funerals, where storms are caused by an angry creator and where friendship is about listening and sharing, even if that means your favourite sandwich.

Children, not pills, healed my heartache. Originally, I studied journalism. I was determined to become a war photographer. But teaching taught me to focus on life, rather than death. And the war within myself was finally put to rest. So the trick is to BELIEVE, in yourself, in your dreams, in others, in their dreams. Clichéd but true: what a difference this makes.

For the parents out there, I urge you to write down the beautiful things you witness on a daily basis with your child. Get involved with your child’s preschool: “What did he/ she get up to today?”

Happiness is obeying your bliss, even if it comes from ridiculous sounding things like a fresh smoothie, a yoga session you’ve been avoiding or an afternoon in the botanical gardens. Unhappy people are those that don’t know what they want out of life. They have little focus on where they are going. They keep looking back on past mistakes, instead of embracing today’s beauty. Every sunset should be seen as unique. Every stranger on the street has a story to share.

These are my tips for a state of happiness every day:

euphoria_spring

Euphoria, like spring, is the overwhelming beauty of one’s life reawakening. PIC: Internet

EUPHORIA:

  • Start a random conversation with a stranger, such as a person who sells you a newspaper, hands out a flyer. If everyone listened with more patience, we’d have more interesting days.
  • Put away your phone and Facebook for a whole day. Make face-to-face conversation with a person you haven’t seen in a long time. The power of touch is one which can heal.
bliss_summer

Bliss is like summer, when mind, body, heart and soul beat as one. PIC: Internet

BLISS:

  • Listen to the way a small child speaks to their pet. If everyone spoke with such kindness, we’d have many more friends.
  • Draw. Paint. Sing. Dance. Do something you normally never have time to do, yet enjoy. It will rejuvenate your soul.
joy_autumn

Much like autumn, joy is an array of beautiful colours that envelop the soul. PIC: Internet

JOY:

  • Arrange a coffee-date with your parents and grandparents. Listen to stories of their youth and their search for happiness before it’s too late.
  • Hold your pet for a good hour, cuddle it… That is the only creature that never judges you, criticizes you; despite giving it the same food every day and the same lame excuse “I’ll play with you tomorrow”.
contentment_winter

Much like winter, contentment is loving the warmth of what we knew… PIC: Internet

CONTENTMENT:

  • Fall in love with your life again… Seek that dream job and those fun friends. Reawaken your inner being. A wise friend once told me: “Don’t walk away from negativity. RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!”
  • Meditate on the previous seasons.

Happiness should never be searched for. That goes against its aim. It finds you when you least expect it, much like love and peace. And I do believe those three work hand-in-hand. You cannot be truly happy without love or peace. And what is love or peace without happiness? Go on then, dream some more. Live for eternity.

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BLESSINGS: The essence of life… PIC: Internet

Valentine’s Day Ideas

VANESSA SMEETS

Ever the romantic, I decided to rack my brain for original ideas. These can be applied to both men and women.

“All you need is love, love is all you need…”
– The Beatles

  • Not a poet? Create a poem with your lover’s favourite song lyrics. The Beatles and Queen have incredible lines…
  • Love_flowerPlace petals on the bed, spelling the letters of their name. Too long a name? A letter for each petal.
  • Lingerie too expensive these days? Wrap yourself in a large bow. He must unwrap only using his tongue and teeth.
  • Prepare the room like a beach getaway. Pour champagne upon your darling… Cool water and bubbles, just like the ocean.
  • After showering together, tell him/her to meet you in the room. Come back only with whipped cream on the important bits… Shower again. Hehe…LOVE_naughty
  • Prepare breakfast in bed, but unique in that under each item he/she finds a word. They spell out whatever he/she means to you.
  • Buy a rose for his/her mom… She raised him/her after all.
  • Try making a card instead of buying a soppy one. “I took time for you…” says so much more.
  • Love_quoteTake him/her on a picnic. Prepare a type of treasure map of the park you choose. Every tree or bush indicated on the map hides a word describing what he/she means to you.
  • Go to the movies early, ask the people in charge if you can insert something before… “John, I love you…” “Thank you for everything, Jane…” He’ll be so surprised when you start watching the movie.
  • Spell their name out with adjectives:

e.g. IAN…

Incredible
Athletic
Naughty

The trick to romance is pure originality and knowing what your lover likes.
Is he/she a racer? Prepare a trip around in a McClaren, or whatever his/her favourite car may be. Test drives are free or cheaper 😉
A boxer? Get him/her new gloves with the words “Love” and “You” on each hand.
A tour guide? Surprise him/her with a tour of your body. Blindfold him/her. And explore you, tongue only.
A doctor? Play his naughty nurse side-kick… “Doctor, I’m not quite sure how to turn you on… Mind showing me?”

There’s only as far as your imagination can take you…

Christmas time in rural South Africa!

VANESSA SMEETS

Please scroll down for the full slide-show…

About 40 children at the Peng-ai-Gong Care Centre in Zone 16 of Ga-Rankuwa, a few kilometres out of Pretoria, were greeted with toys, clothes, food and stationery last week, just in time for the holiday season.

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CHRISTMAS LOVE: Abandoned children were greeted with gifts and food last week in rural South Africa. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The children all come from disadvantaged, vulnerable or abused backgrounds and attend schools near by. They go to the care centre after school till about 16h30 to eat and do homework. But things have not been easy: the centre lost its main sponsor a few months ago.

However, Bianca O’Neill, a lecturer at Tshwane’s University of Technology, heard about their plight and decided to help out. In September, the children were asked to draw anything of their choice that they would like to own and O’Neill instructed her students, who are future Foundation Phase teachers, to make these toys out of whatever materials they had.

It was a project that would be both educational and inspirational. The result was phenomenal: the children were given objects like a giraffe, doll houses, a Chris Brown doll, wire cars, amongst other things.

For Irene Kgasi, the centre’s manager, O’Neill’s arrival was a divine appointment:

“Bianca is a gift. She wiped away our tears just in time. We, however, still need a donor and more food as we cannot expect Bianca to continue helping us. Whoever is interested must please contact our Board Member, Angie Molebatsi.”

The centre is made up of a total of 46 boys and 58 girls (when they are all present) between the ages of 4-19 and also includes activities like numerical literacy and sport.

Peng ai Gong_smeets

HOPEFUL: The care centre’s manager, Irene Kgasi, hopes they will find a sponsor in time for Christmas. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

The project of transforming a child’s hand-drawn dream into a real-life model was inspired by the idea of giving to those less fortunate, but also giving something that you made personally. It was a test to see how generous and imaginative the students were, but also to test their love for children and whether teaching was truly their chosen profession. The students were marked on originality, durability, neatness, as well as evaluated on the journal they had to keep from the day they started on the toy till now.

For student Mpho Kesimoloste, it was a wonderful experience:

“To see the smiles on the children’s faces was truly amazing…The whole thing became personal for me, because I did not know where to begin or how my toys would turn out. We also didn’t know how the children would react to the toys that we made and, to our surprise, they were very happy and it brought a sense of joy and happiness to them.
I believe that as people we should continue to help and care for needy and vulnerable children, this kind of thing should not end with us but continue to help these children to be positive in life.”

For Mpho* (8), an orphan at the centre, the gifts came just in time:

“We are so happy. We have never had a real Christmas. All I wanted was a toy… old or new. Now, I have so many! We are going to share and make it the best Christmas ever!”

O’Neill describes the success of this community project:

“This involvement has inspired my students so much… I’m proud of all my students and happy with all the people who made donations. Here’s hoping to continue with his for a long time and bring as much joy to the children and teenagers as we can.”

The project also hopes to break down the stigma attached to the Tshwane University of Technology, which became infamous earlier this year for their strikes and unrest. O’Neill explains:

“My students have proved themselves as hardworking and dedicated individuals, who are willing to make a difference.”

Readers who are interested in helping the centre, can visit their website: http://noah.clickclickboom.co.za/?p=2468

Unrequited Love…

VANESSA SMEETS

Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

burning desire

CHASING A DREAM: Sometimes the burning desire to be loved in return leads you astray from the one person with you every step of the way: yourself. PIC: Internet

After years of searching for love in unconventional places, it hit me… Love is neither word nor feeling. It is action: 

Listening.
Dreaming.
Being.
Seeing.
Becoming.

But, this is not necessarily accomplished through others, but through the only person that can ultimately love you 100% in return: yourself. And once you fall in love with you are, the rest happens naturally… Not in the narcissistic kind of way, of course. Unfortunately, millions of people are dealing with unrequited love (devoting attention to people who feel very little for them) in their daily lives, leading them to becoming martyrs and masochists, allowing them to replace love with lust.

Love heals old wounds through patience and kindness, lust temporarily blinds you from them.

unrequited love cartoon

HEARTLESS: Wearing your heart on your sleeve only to have it getting lost or broken. PIC: Internet

With over 7 billion people on earth, the search to find one’s soul-mate that sets your soul aflight, wipes away your fears and whom you can ultimately share a family with, has become a life-long dilemma. In ancient Greece, soul-mates were believed to be souls who had been cut in half, left to search the world for their missing halves. For centuries, this search has fascinated poets, philosophers, song-writers and playwrights.

William Shakespeare based most of his plays and poetry on it. Ophelia in Hamlet believes he is the love of her life, only to discover that his obsession with his mother borders on incest. She literally drowns her sorrows by throwing herself in the castle’s moat, left to search for love for eternity. At first, Hamlet shows no remorse or guilt towards her death. But at her burial, he loses it completely, throwing himself into her grave: “Forty thousand brothers / Could not, with all their quantity of love, / make up my sum” (V.i.254–256).

Plato mastered the search for love in his Symposium. He cleverly deciphered erotic, selfish love (eros) from giving, selfless love (agape). He explains that true contentment only comes once one realizes the difference and gives up his soul not to someone else, but to the wisdom rejection brings.

unrequited love charlie brown

OH, SCHULTZ: Even Charlie Brown was fascinated by unrequited love, searching his world for that little red haired girl. PIC: Internet

In contemporary society, the search for love has been both infused and confused with physical satisfaction. Magazines like FHM and Cosmopolitan, have led readers to believe that guys give love for sex and girls give sex for love. The man who falls into this trap continues to mislead women he is worth her while and dotes on her every move. Like the little schoolgirl being chased on the playground through the game, “kissing catchers,” she is flattered but scared. When she finally cracks and kisses or sleeps with him, he loses interest.
The more he rejects her, the more she yearns for him. This yearning can last for months or years, until she finally sees him with someone else.

Many women who have been victims to this, try to get revenge by turning the tables and sleeping with a guy first and then trying to break his heart later. Even if the guy is finally “Mr Nice Guy,” she feels tempted to cheat on him in order to justify her past mistakes. Or, she cheats on herself by becoming destructive towards him. She’ll act like the jealous, insecure type to see how much she truly means. All this, because she doesn’t believe she is special or unique enough to be loved, so fills the void by degrading herself and putting herself into tempting situations. The physical becomes the all, in order to avoid the emotional. 

Unrequited love is a lonely but inspiring quest:

It is the slow realization you are discovering the world in someone, only to realize they’ve conquered you already.

unrequited love - time

TIME AFTER TIME: They say time heals all wounds… Disagreed. It’s what you do in that time… PIC: Internet

The question is: can you conquer your own insecurities and fears to meet your true soul-mate? The one reflecting years of experience, staring at you in silence from the mirror, wishing you would notice them just once and not go back on that futile quest.

Here’s a short guide to distinguish love from lust, helping you to walk away from that which leads you on, only to lead you astray…

LOVE LUST
Focus on future Focus on present
Compassionate communication Constant fighting
Their needs Your needs
Feeling of renewal, growth Feeling of restraint, insecurity
Discussions focus on emotional: dreams, aspirations, goals Discussions focus on physical: sexual positions, past partners, libido
Security causing release: you want the best for them, even if that means letting go Insecurity causing control: you want him/ her all to yourself, all the time
Long-lasting, compassionate Quick-fix, competitive
Sentimental gifts (thoughtful/ nostalgic) Material gifts (expensive/ impressive)
A journey of emotional discovery A roller-coaster ride of physical satisfaction

Searching for satisfaction…

VANESSA SMEETS

A look on the 5 type of guys to avoid and how to enjoy singledom…

singleness

LIVING COLOUR: Your colourful past, certainly makes way for a brighter future. PIC: Online

You’re in your late twenties or early thirties, everyone around you is either getting married or having kids.

The best thing about being single? Less questions on where you were.
The worst? More questions on where you’re going…

There’s a lot of pressure on women of today to, as well as having a fulfilling career, be romantically fulfilled as well. No matter how independent or well she’s been doing.

This leads to her falling desperately for the wrong type of men, starting with…

The Ex

Things ended because he moved away and you had to pursue a career or studies. You both still like each other and still secretly have virtual sex. Big mistake. The truth hits you when pictures of his new girlfriend show up on Facebook. Delete that chapter. Delete him. For good, this time…

This new chapter leads you to…

The Rebound

Why I'm single

The honest truth… PIC: Online

You meet him at a bar, share a few beers. The attraction is pretty insane. The sex turns out to be mind-blowing, but you have absolutely nothing else in common. Stop having sex, it’s preventing you from meeting someone more worthwhile.

However, your loneliness leads you to that elusive…

The One-Night Stand

Out of the blue, you meet someone incredibly smart and attractive. Problem is, you’re still not emotionally ready, so you come across as desperate and smothering. You end up liking him too soon, not knowing this is the type of guy to lose interest when things become too sexual. In a moment of passion, you end up sleeping together. The sex turns out to be average, but you’re kind of determined to find out where this could lead. He, however, is not:

“Listen, I’m not blown away by you. That was fun, but that’s all it’ll remain. Have a nice life.”

You feel like a dirty tramp and turn to…

single dilemma

The flying solo dilemma… PIC: Online

The Best Friend

He’s liked you for years, but you’ve kept your distance. After all, could there not just be one platonic male presence in your life, for goodness sake? After hours of crying on his shoulder for the umpteenth time, you look into his kind, genuine eyes and end up making out. The next time you see him, it’s really awkward, so you end up flirting with…

The Colleague

He’s the guy kind enough to offer you a lift to work or leave post-its while you’re out on a smoke break. Mixing business with pleasure has as many perks as risks. You two soon become office talk.

It’s time to break the vicious cycle many women find themselves in and rather embrace singledom.
In the words of Sex and the City:

“Some people are settling down, some people are settling for less and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”

Things to embrace while you’re single:

men to avoid

  • Flirt shamelessly with strangers. It’s okay to practice… Practice makes perfect. Just avoid taking them home.
  • Explore the world. Finally you can go on that Contiki tour with your best friend! Do it!
  • Take up new and strange hobbies. Start pole-dancing, hip-hopping, silk painting… You’ll certainly be more interesting to the next lucky fish.
  • Become adventurous without inhibitions. Take up that job offer in South Korea! Go become a photographer on a cruise ship! Au pair while you still can! So many more stories to tell…
  • Focus on what you want, not what you need. Neediness is unattractive. Want is ambitious. Not keen on divorce? Don’t marry that average guy from the dentist’s office.
  • “Water” your friendships. The Sims illustrated this part of social life perfectly. Remember that girlfriend you stopped hearing about once she got hitched? You’ve become her, without the ring. Catch up with a cocktail party or ladies’ night. Liking their Facebook status is simply not enough, by the way.
  • Realize that marriage is more than just a piece of paper, it’s for life. Could you really marry that rebound guy that litters your place with dirty dishes?
  • Play safe. So your heart is broken, wait till you’re emotionally ready to take up something physical. Getting physical too soon means the next guy won’t have time to get to know you on an emotional scale.
  • Keep a diary of your weaknesses, as well as your achievements. Some guys are mean to girls in order to move on more easily, don’t take all their insults to heart. However, if all relationships ended because you were obsessed with your girlfriends or cat, it may be time to overthink some things.
  • Stop complaining, start living. Remember Carrie’s addiction…nagging on and on about Mr Big? So unattractive, even to your closest friends.
  • Find your inner child. He used to steal your lunch, now he’s stolen your dreams. He used to flirt with the teacher, now he flirts with your best friend. Move on. Mr Nice (yet Good-looking) Guy exists… Someone wise once wrote: “Nice guys always finish last, but isn’t that what women want in the end?”