Oppikoppi 2014: Odyssey

VANESSA SMEETS

“We are but dust and shadow,” The Odes of Horace

My third Oppikoppi and maybe ‘third time lucky’… I went for FREE! Thank you, Cinema Nouveau for choosing my random post on which movie best describes the Oppikoppi experience.
I chose “Searching for Sugarman” from the selection given, because we are all still searching for that experience/ that artist/ that time in our lives when we embark on an Odyssey, a massive adventure.

I separated myself from the city lights, embraced the dust and bushveld, was initiated by the full moon under warm winter nights and returned whole.

Many complained the line-up was not that impressive this year… But, for 20 years of Oppikoppi, one should know it’s not so much about the music, it’s about:
– discovering who you are in extreme conditions
– knowing what your best friend finally looks like without make-up
– making friends with strangers in long queues
– holding some celebrity’s drink while he/ she takes a selfie with a random
– catching the drumstick/ the CD/ the item of clothing full of hard-earned sweat
– sharing crazy “past Koppi” experiences
– making memories filled with dust, life and music

Here is a selection of my favourite dust, life and musical moments, accompanied by words from Homer himself. Long live this Odyssey!

A friend to all ages

Article & photos © VANESSA SMEETS

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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.”

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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.

Resolution 2014 (check!)

VANESSA SMEETS

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”
– LM Montgomery

How many resolutions have you kept this year? A new year, a new beginning and yet, fourth month into the new year, it feels like we make resolutions only to break them.

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Pic: Internet

The problem may stem from the actual meaning. The Oxford Dictionary defines a “resolution” as: ‘(1) a firm decision to do or not to do something’ and ‘(2) the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.’

This can be hard to come by, as many people are not emotionally ready to stop smoking, stop drinking or make peace with that family member. The “Happy New Year” syndrome enables you to impulsively make that leap. But, as the gym classes pile up, one has to ask: how many of those new gym members will still be there by mid-year?

You have to be passionate about what you are changing. Not for him/ her/ them/ God, but for you. You may be have been conceived by your parents, enhanced with God’s talents, but ultimately you are the author of your own destiny.

For ten years, I had “get your driver’s licence” as a resolution… It started growing into an emotional fungus that prevented me from actually tackling it. Reading that resolution year after year made me feel more and more useless.

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Pic: Internet

In 2012, I did not put it on my list and, guess what, 5 months after a few lessons (lessons I had done twice before, but never attempted the test) it was mine. No more fears or mockery from people that did not know the real reason for that fungus: four friends who had tragically passed away in separate car accidents.

I made an emotional choice not to go on limping by their tragedies, but tackle it head on. I broke down mental barriers, which freed me emotionally, spiritually and, of course, physically. Now, the only regret is knowing what I could have experienced and seen year after year…

But, it’s okay. The timing was perfect. Not having a licence made me go on other crazy adventures: trekking around Australia with classmates, trying out the car-pool system in Germany (you sign up online and see how many people are interested in joining you; kind of like ‘couch surfing’ but with transport), taking endless bus-trips to forests, beaches, public pools and other sites I would not have found on my own. The fondest memories come from falling asleep on bus-trips, not understanding Danish and being taken to another city, as well as finding my way back after the wrong stop.

This year, I asked my friends if they had any 2014 resolutions. The answers were seemingly ambiguous:
“Who the f*ck makes those anymore?”
“Of course…I make one small one a week.”
“Stop smoking. It’s been there for 15 years. Maybe next year.”
“Gym…at least for a month, just to get rid of Christmas baggage.”
“Get married to that guy I met at New Year’s. It’s been three days, but I know he’s the ONE.”
“Like everyone else, become suddenly rich. Realistically, that’s a decade-long-resolution.”
“Do something I’ve never done before. You know, no FOMO, just YOLO.”

Where did resolutions originate?

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Pic: Internet

According to historian Bill Petro, they started in Babylon and continued in Ancient Rome, as the Romans worshipped their two-faced god Janus (hence the name ‘January’) who looks on the past with one head and on the future with the other.

That does not give much space to the present, does it? Which is exactly the crux of problematic resolutions, they don’t let you live: you just keep looking back and forth, self-critical and more aware of your apathy.

So, as we already reach the third of 2014 (as I was not able to keep my resolution “Blog more this year”) let’s say cheers to the best resolution yet: “No more resolutions!” Not annual ones at least… Hehe…

As Walt Whitman put it so beautifully:

“Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road: healthy, free, the world before me.”

 

EXTRA SOURCE:
http://billpetro.com/history-of-new-years-resolutions

Braamfontein: Joburg’s creative hub

VANESSA SMEETS

There’s something magical about Braamfontein, Johannesburg’s creative hub; home to the Joburg Theatre, Neighbourgoods’ Market every Saturday and an array of funky art and coffee shops…

Lessons from Granny

VANESSA SMEETS

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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.

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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

Road tripping through South Africa

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The route

ADVENTURE: The route for an 11-day road trip (in June/ July) that changed my perspective on South Africa.

Have you lost faith in South Africa? Just take your car and drive… 
Drive to the lost and unseen parts…

You will be greeted by the most incredible sunrise, the yearning for random children to wave at you, the eager “Oom” or “Tannie” to feed you… 

South Africa, the way it was meant to be, a mosaic of mountains, bushveld, beach, winelands and beauty in her purest form. Here is about 4000 kilometres around this amazing country…

 

Happy 31st, Zimbabwe!

33 years later….

Chica Papillon

VANESSA SMEETS

Independence Day

18 April, 1980. The ground shakes in Harare with stamping feet. Buildings tremble with jubilant voices. The crowds rush to see him speak. He is handsome, well educated and a great orator. A person for the people: calm and collected. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe is 56 years old when he is inaugurated, with Canaan Banana as president. But Mugabe is the stern favourite, speaking to the core of the masses.

“Long live our freedom!
Long live our sovereignty!
Long live our independence!”

The Shona people claim Rhodesian soil is red with the bloodshed of civil war. They are tired of 16 years of fighting and tired of Ian Smith’s policies. Rufaro Stadium is packed to its maximum capacity. John Moyo*, a civil servant at the time, attended the celebrations. He claims the media went mad: “Long live Mugabe!” and “Good old Bob!” ran as headlines for…

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The value of LIFE in Zimbabwe

Why today’s elections mean so much…

Chica Papillon

VANESSA SMEETS

As a child, I valued all living things. I would collect crickets and dragonflies in the kitchen and set them free in the garden. As I grew up, those small things transformed into valuable assets: the values of patience, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness and forgiveness.

During the June holidays, I was on my way to Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, after living in South Africa for the last 20 years. It was time to go back to the garden filled with those noisy crickets.

Patience

The plane takes off from Johannesburg an hour late. My brother and I wait patiently, knowing our dad has been expecting us for the last three hours.

In Harare, we are greeted with sour faces: “Why are you here? What do you want?” At R300 or $30 US (the country has decided its own exchange rate), we finally get our…

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