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

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.

friends

PIC: Internet

Road tripping through South Africa

VANESSA SMEETS

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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Fading Rainbow

VANESSA SMEETS

Madiba_goodbye

FREEDOM: Is this goodbye? A democratic South Africa struggles to say goodbye to the man who freed her, as balloons, cards and posters fill up his hospital wall in Pretoria. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

In 1991, I came to a hateful, racist country that was on the verge of revival. Coming from Zimbabwe, I was shocked to see no black, Indian or coloured children in my class. “Where are they… the children of colour?” I asked my teacher one day. She looked at me confused. “Didn’t your parents tell you? We are separated here. We are different.”

Different? My black friends in Zimbabwe all spoke English. They taught me the beauty of an African sunset, those were the only colours that mattered.

I spoke fluent Shona. I could sing the national anthem, which has the exact same tune to the South African one, Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika. The television spoke of a civil war rising between the ANC (African National Congress) and the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party).

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BANG BANG SA: Greg Marinovich and other photojournalists documented South Africa’s gruesome civil war as the Bang Bang Club, now a major motion movie under the same name. PIC: Internet

My parents were glued every night to the screen: “Maybe it’s time we go back?” “But we just got here.” Chris Hani’s gruesome assassination in his driveway rocked the country the most. He was the Communist Party leader and yet, being so popular, there was hint he had a good chance at winning the next elections.

The unrest and murders were documented by the Bang Bang Club in photojournalism that shocked the world. The ANC’s leader, Nelson Mandela (a Xhosa), was set free. For years, the country had labelled him “a terrorist.” Today, he is known as our most cherished “freedom fighter.” He was even condemned by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who later visited him as our leader.

I was only eight years old when Nelson Mandela took the oath in April 1994, next to FW De Klerk, to rebuild our country and her people. Yet, I remember it like yesterday. A man of peace stood before us. He was imprisoned for 27 years for treason. He was only allowed to send one letter every six months and get a visitor for only 30 minutes once a year.

Madiba_De Klerk

PEACE: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1993 to Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk (who was his predecessor and deputy president) for “The peaceful termination of Apartheid.” PIC: Internet

It takes a lot to stand against your oppressors, learn their language and finally lead them. It takes a Godly man. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside De Klerk.

My dad took us to the Union Buildings the week after our first democratic elections. There was still confetti all over the lawns. Our new flag was flown proudly above the arches.
“Do you know what this man and flag mean for all of us?” Dad asked us.
“Not really…”
“It means we are all free. We are free to vote. We are free to take the same bus. We are free to go to the same schools.”

The rainbow flag fascinated me the most: the red for our blood-shed, the white for our peace, the yellow for our riches, the blue for our two oceans, the black for our tribes. The green “Y” shows two parts becoming one. Eleven languages were a result of our separation known as “homelands.” I even remember taking my domestic worker regularly to check her pass, a few years before. “I am different to you,” she showed me. “I have to be in bed at a certain time, I cannot go to certain places.” She had eyes, ears, a nose and curly hair like me and I also had to be in bed by a certain time, it was hard for a young child to understand.

Little by little, my father’s prophecy came true. Black, coloured, Indian children trickled one by one into my school. The children played with each other’s hair the most, it was fascinating to finally meet them. Nelson Mandela’s real first name is “Rolihlahla” meaning ‘pulling the branch of a tree’ and that’s exactly what he stood for. He took a poisoned tree of South Africa and gave her new branches: the branches of courage, forgiveness, patience and peace.

People were worried the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) trials would open old wounds. And, while they did, our new country (thanks to Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) bled less in her quest for peace. Most perpetrators were given amnesty or asylum elsewhere.

Madiba_collage

SPORTS’ HERO: Nelson Mandela reunited South Africa using sport. PICS: Various sources GRAPHIC: Vanessa Smeets

Nelson Mandela saw the one thing that united us all: sport. While the black people of South Africa loved football (or soccer, as we call it), the whites preferred rugby. As documented by the Hollywood movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela stood at the Rugby World Cup in 1995, shaking hands with our Springboks. They sang the new national anthem proudly that day, after much practice, and took the cup home for us. That golden cup represented a golden era for South Africa that would forever be known as the “Madiba years.” Father of our nation aka Tata Madiba, for his clan name. He was our oldest elected president at 75. But, he’s not only “father of the nation,” he’s keeper of peace and guardian of our rainbow nation.

Today, I am struck with the realisation it’s time to let him go. Yet, like so many other South Africans, I am unable to free the man that set us free. South Africa stands uncertain: what will happen to the ANC? To our peace?

My only wish is that his last memory of us will be positive. Despite our xenophobia, crime and incessant complaining, that we can rise above and meet his ideals again: a country bound by love and forgiveness. You divide a nation by fear and hatred. Those who fear and hate, they flee. He gave us courage and taught us forgiveness. The problem with every rainbow, is that it slowly fades, but its beauty lives on. Mandela painted that rainbow for us.

In 2004, with his help, we were given the chance to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It was the biggest challenge to ever face South Africa; our stadiums were small or worn down. But, somehow, his smiling face grabbing onto that trophy motivated us.

In 2006, I interviewed eight 8-year olds for a newspaper article about what they would give him for his 88th birthday. Their answers were beautiful: “eternal life,” “immortality,” “freedom” and “happiness.”

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FREEDOM BABIES: Mandela has touched both our oldest and youngest citizens. Pretoria Montessori Pre-school’s art illuminates his hospital wall with messages of hope and love. PIC: Vanessa Smeets

Today, I am teaching four and five year olds what he means to us. These freedom babies have still a lot to learn about his legacy. Their messages on their art for his hospital wall reveal, however, that they finally comprehend what he stands for:
“He is the grandfather I always wish I had.”
“Our country will be so sad without him.”
“He was the best president we ever had.”
“Mandela means freedom for us all.”
“It’s thanks to him, I can go to school with everyone.”

It’s the biggest full moon of the year. In a way, she consoles us: “Don’t worry, South Africa. Rest assured, his light will shine on.”

EXTRA SOURCE:

 

A Racing Miracle

VANESSA SMEETS

Peter Whyte (21) was flung against a tree from his motorbike at 160km/ hour last December at the Bulawayo 3-Hour Endurance Race in Zimbabwe, breaking his 9th vertebra. The 9th vertebra is one of the lowest positioned of the thoracic 12 (T12). Breaking it could have resulted in paralysis of the lower limbs, loss of control over the bladder and bowels.

Peter White_seated ball

DETERMINED: Peter Whyte’s recuperation programme was a lot of hard work. In only 6 months, he is walking and talking again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

He was in a deep coma for six weeks, leaving doctors convinced he would be brain dead. Today, he is walking and talking just like any other person his age. What makes him different? His extreme will and determination to survive and now recover completely.

Peter remembers nothing from that day, except driving to Bulawayo. His body is dotted in scars: a tracheotomy, an hour-long lung puncture to drain all the blood that had leaked into his right lung. His uncle saved his life through CPR and chest compressions.

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BREATH OF LIFE: Peter shows off the puncture marks, where doctors had to drain his lung from blood. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Although he walks a bit like a robot, his mobility is improving daily and his speech is at 100%. A true miracle, he explains:

“I am alive to share my story, that’s for sure.”

Much to his parents’ disbelief, he is determined to get on a motorbike again. But his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, at the Sports Injuries Clinic in Harare disagrees: “One must realise your reflexes have to be 100% to participate in races like that. Next time, he may not be so lucky.”

Peter White_walk

HARD WORK: Peter and his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, practised regularly for four months. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Didier helps him with stretches and exercises once a week, building up the muscles that were as strong as jelly only a few months ago. Didier has been working as a physiotherapist for over 30 years and cherishes this as one of his most special cases: “You get people who come here because they are forced by family or friends. Peter came here out of sheer will.

The recipe to success is: a good operation, good aftercare and a great support system. Much can be done daily. There is no limit to one’s will to get further.

Each case for me is a new challenge, where both the patient and I have to work on their flexibility, stability and places of attention.”

Peter’s eyes sparkle as I ask him why he keeps getting back on after every accident (in his last accident, he broke his shoulder): “There’s something incredible in driving a bike: the freedom, the glide, even the graze against your leg. Once I can, I will! This has only made me appreciate life even more.”

Peter White_foot

FOOTWORK: Peter shows his weekly progress, getting his feet at equal length again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Another racer walks in the surgery and gives his support:

“Peter is a hero to us all. His will to survive is incredible. His will to recuperate even stronger. For those who don’t believe in miracles, just talk to Peter about his story.” 

Peter is currently back at work and has stopped his physiotherapy for now.

Watch the video here: 

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.