TBR: Fast & Furious

VANESSA SMEETS

Kyalami1

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.

Kyalami3

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.

25 Lessons

VANESSA SMEETS

My first quarter of a century is up! 26, already?  Inspired by the voice of Baz Luhrmann for the Sunscreen song, I’ve come up with my own 25 lessons to honour the last 25 years that have passed by quietly or with a bang, on my eternal quest for love and truth.

love family

YES, DAD: A beautiful day in Zimbabwe with my dad (1986) PHOTO: CVU

1)    Learn from your parents’ mistakes. Although marriage seems like a tempting way to consummate one’s love for one another, it rather comes from hours of proper communication and compassion. Yet, happily divorced parents tend to give great advice…

2)    Write down your grandparents’ tales. Parky (Grandpa) used to tell his World War 2 tales under the stars. Wish I wasn’t too little to really understand how precious these memories were…

3)    Speak to strangers. As children, we are taught: “Don’t talk to strangers.” But, in adulthood meeting new people adds colour to one’s own world. You’d be surprised at how many similar experiences you actually share. Today, I spoke to an Afghan refugee. It was the most thought-provoking conversation in a few years.

cocktail times

BICYCLE DIARIES: Happiness in the middle of the night PHOTO: CJ

4)    Ride a bicycle in a cocktail dress. Late one night, a friend and I jumped onto bicycles a little tipsy. We never arrived at our initial destination. Instead, we spent an amazing 40 minutes trying to perfect riding a bicycle in a cocktail dress and trying to stay on it without the cops suspecting we were a little over the limit…

5)    Don’t fall too hard in love, although it hurts just as much every time. After a few excruciating heart-breaks, I must say the shortest one was the most painful. Although you become a little more cynical after each failed relationship, you also make the huge mistake of settling for less. DON’T!!!

6)    Keep your girlfriends near. Many girls once in love brush away their friendships in order to make room for their new guy. A true gentleman will allow a wonderful girls’ night out, where you can recharge your batteries away from him.

7)    Ask your guy friends for direction. Blessed with wonderful guy friends, they have taught me how to laugh at myself, step away from abusive relationships and help make the right career move.

Valencia

SERENITY: The beautiful aquarium of Valencia, Spain PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

8)    Travel. Try the Paella in Spain, the white beaches of Mauritius, the beer-gardens in Munich, the apfel-strudel of Austria and the Table Mountain of South Africa. So many languages and cultures to explore, even in your own country.

9)    Write love letters. Somehow, emails never have the same impact. If someone really means a lot to you, the relationship is bound to last longer than a few weeks. Getting a letter written when everything was burning hot re-ignites that spark!

10)  Gain wisdom from children. Two years as a pre-school teacher taught me enough to last the rest of my life. The joys of being human come from our unique gifts: speech, creativity, compassion, reason and enough laughter to keep it all going strong.

11)  Give pseudoscience a chance. This year, I fell in love with Reiki, a Japanese technique of finding out what is bothering you and allowing you to heal in your own time. I also realised graphologists (people who analyse handwriting) contain a lot of truth. Even the way one presses against the paper means something exceptional.

12)  Leave the ex alone. As tempting as it is to flirt with an old flame, you have to realise it’s preventing you from meeting someone new. This is your turn to shine for someone who truly appreciates you.

13) Study in different countries. Travelling is somehow not enough in seeking solace for one’s soul. By living 11 000 kilometres away from home, I‘ve come to appreciate South Africa so much more. Yes, Internet and transport efficiency is amazing in Europe, but the sun doesn’t shine as much, the people tend to keep to themselves and you have to make the effort of getting to know them first. Long live the days of “braais” around a pool…

14) Be prepared to be criticised and criticise. Although I hate conflict, a little conflict with some of my closest friends taught me there is joy in reconciling only a stronger friendship.

15) Keep a journal. Writing your experiences, struggles and feelings helps you meet the person you will spend the rest of your life with: yourself.

Faith through Ibrahim

FINDING FAITH: Ibrahim gets paid a minimum salary for being the care-taker of Stellenbosch's (South Africa) only mosque PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

16) Have faith or find it through others. Whether it comes from believing in G_d or Allah, it gives one direction in living a purpose-filled life.

17) It’s never too late to fall in love. When I saw my grandmother smiling in the old age home because of a certain someone, it hit me that it was never too late to fall in love again. Although at the same time I realised I don’t want to find the love of my life in nappies.

18)  Fear only fear itself. In high school, we were taught by watching Strictly Ballroom that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. I wouldn’t be where I am today (travelling like a nomad with little knowledge of what’s coming next) if I had feared this ocean of incertitude…

19) Party till the sun comes up. Watching the a sunrise over a beach or mountain at the crack of dawn gives life so much more meaning and so many more reasons to appreciate every day as TODAY.

20) Make peace with your past. My childhood friend passed away this year. Although we hadn’t talked properly in years, her death hit me hard. I found  our old letters and photos we had taken 13 years ago. I made peace by her saying goodbye in this way…

21) “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” declared Einstein. The world is so much more colourful when you stop over-analysing situations in exchange for creating new dreams and desires.

22) Appreciate everyone, even the bergie (beggar) that will one day save your life. When I was being followed in Stellenbosch after a late night working at the newspaper, I bumped into Moksie (Stellies’ famous bergie). By being nice to her the week before, she “took care of” the people following me.

23)  Embrace your childhood. Time for the clichés: run like you’ve never fallen, laugh like it’s your first time, play before it’s too late, love like you’ve never been hurt and find your inner child again!

school days

PRECIOUS MEMORIES: Laughter and sunshine with school friends (2003) PHOTO: VS

24) Trust your teenhood. If it wasn’t for that first cigarette or terrible first kiss, we wouldn’t appreciate the real taste we have now.

25)  Feast your adulthood. People take for granted the ability to savour each new memory or experience. It comes from soothing your soul. You need time-out from work, friends and family to reflect in solitude. Ever listen to your own heart-beat? It’s possible…

As close as it gets: James Nachtwey

VANESSA SMEETS

“I have been a witness and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”
James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey

PEACE AMONGST WAR: James Nachtwey takes a break from photographing the horrific... PIC: Online

In the Killing Fields

When legendary photographer Robert Capa claimed: “If the picture wasn’t good enough, you weren’t close enough,” it’s as if he had James Nachtwey in mind.

Nachtwey has been to some of the most war-torn places in the world: Bosnia, Sudan, South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst others. He is often on scene with soldiers, terrorists or war-crazy citizens. It was only while photographing a bomb explosion, skin melting off his arm that he realized his obsession with getting the right shot had taken over his life and sanity. Nachtwey suffered for years from post-traumatic stress disorder. In various interviews, he describes his nightmares as simple recollections of what already had been, only now the mangled corpses were screaming out in pain, asking for help.

Rwanda Hutu Camp Genocide

SCARRED: A survivor from a Hutu death camp; Rwanda/ 1994. PIC: James Nachtwey

Echoing Silent Voices

His horrific experiences turned Nachtwey into a recluse, unable to communicate properly with his family and colleagues. Nachtwey has since admitted that he is slowly recovering and jokingly claims: “Somehow the only way to replace such morbid pain and anger is to be fascinated by that which is even more morbid. It is a never-ending love-hate relationship with what you are witnessing.”
When Nachtwey speaks, his voice is as steady as his hand on the camera. There is a monotony to his voice that makes him sound like a Shaman amongst photographers. It has become more than just a profession, but a passion. His colleagues in the documentary War Photographer describe this as a passion-turned-obsession. Even after the shot is taken, Nachtwey will spend hours cropping and changing levels of light or saturation on Photoshop. Nothing, however, is manipulated, but only aimed at getting a better account of what happened. Nachtwey has claimed for years that the credibility of one’s pictures is all about your own account and testimony on the field. His photographs are often on eye-level, to make the viewer feel as if he/ she was there.

Sudan Famine

DESPAIR: Nachtwey's account of the famine in Sudan during the 1990s helped open the world's eyes to what he calls "the weapon of mass extermination." PIC: James Nachtwey/ site

Cream of the Crop

Zimbabwean photojournalist Richard Con* hails Nachtwey as “the most legendary photographer of all time,” stating:

“When Mugabe’s militants tortured me for ten hours to get my photos, I thought of Nachtwey in that documentary claiming every bit of torture, whether expected or not, is worth it. But yet, I’ve come to realize people act in front of the camera. When I photographed civil war in South Africa around the same time as Nachtwey, I realized men become savages to seem more amazing on film. That is when I had enough…”

CNN foreign correspondent Christian Amanpour describes Nachtwey as “a loner…a mystery” with an incredible drive, yet compassion, for those he photographs. Nachtwey insists in the documentary that a photographer must never force him/herself upon the scene. He has learnt the most effective photographs come from respecting your subjects. Their grief somewhat becomes your grief. When they cry, you take a few pictures and offer them tissues and a few kind words. After all, they have offered you an intimate look into their personal world.

Illustrating Pain

Susan Sontag criticises photographers in Regarding the Pain of Others as insensitive, yet Nachtwey has learnt to creatively use the pain of others. He will, for example, photograph only half a crying face for more effect, as if the subject is still searching for some guidance or reassurance that will make them whole again.

Some have criticised this symbolism, while others have hailed it as ‘genius’ and ‘works of art.’ Nachtwey, however, does not see his pieces as ‘works of art’ but as fragments of people’s pain, suffering and daily life. He boldly claims:

“I do not want my works to be hung up in people’s homes as masterpieces. How can someone’s extreme pain be a masterpiece? Each piece is sacred, an intimate bit of his/ her life.”

nachtwey war photographer

BANG BANG: The documentry War Photographer, produced by Christian Frei (2001), is a bitter-sweet reflection into Nachtwey's passion, life and relationships with his colleagues. PIC: Online

Nachtwey’s signature trademark of photographing everything in black and white has shown the importance of composition over colour. “Jim” as he’s known amongst his friends has been in the business since 1980. He was first part of Magnum photo agency, then co-founded his own agency VII with other worldwide photographers.
Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva describe Nacthwey as “the missing member” of their Bang Bang Club in their book with the same title. Nachtwey covered some of the civil war between two tribes in South Africa: Xhosa (African National Congress Party) vs Zulu (Inkatha Freedom Party). Nachtwey was the one who carried wounded Marinovich to safety in 1994 and helped carry the body of his dead colleague Ken Oosterbroek. The movie with the same title is currently on circuit.

Being taken as a serious photojournalist demands days, weeks or even years of being in war-zones, amongst the dying and grieving for only a few published pictures. Yet Nachtwey has learnt over the years that such few published pictures can change the lives of those you are photographing, as well as the lives of those who see them:

“Sometimes, one picture will touch one person then another and suddenly I am swarmed with people offering money, food or shelter. It is then that I realize even just one picture was all worth it.” 

EXTRA SOURCES:

Documentary: War Photographer (2001) produced by Christian Frei
http://www.jamesnachtwey.com
Book: Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva
Various interviews of Nachtwey on YouTube
Personal interview with Richard Con*
Class notes

Zimbelican Adventures (2): Lost in Translation

VANESSA SMEETS

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

sex and the city

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

SEX AND THE CITY

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

STRANDED

bus transport

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

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

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

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

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

POST-TRAUMA STRESS DISORDER

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

internet cafe

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

SEEING ORANGE

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

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

HELP-LESS

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

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

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

German sunset

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

THE SILVER LINING

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

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

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

Sutherland: shooting stars, chained dogs and a telescope

With its population of 2 840 inhabitants and its freezing cold temperatures, Vanessa Smeets explores a different side to Sutherland in the Northern Cape, through its fascination with weird names, chained dogs and famous telescope.

 

lost child

CHILD's PLAY: Children in Sutherland's township are often found wondering alone. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

I’ve known about Sutherland’s existence since I was a little girl, when my mom would comment about each city at the end of the news, during the weather. “I feel sorry for those Sutherland people. It’s cold all year there,” she would repeat season after season.

So, when our class was told we were to go there for a short weekend of star-gazing, I felt a little apprehensive. Unfortunately, my warmest clothes had already been sent back to Pretoria. Thus, my duvet and pillow were my first priorities.

After a delicious ‘high tea’ of scones, koeksisters and cookies in Matjiesfontein, my Journalism class and I drive for another hour and a half to Sutherland.

As we arrive, searching aimlessly for the Sutherland Hotel, I’m fascinated by the original names around each corner: “Jupiter’s Café,” “Galaxy World,” “Sterland,” “Saturn’s rings” and “Shooting stars.” It’s like being on our own galaxy quest. My friend Jean and I make a game up of who can spot the next most interesting name. We get tired after the thirtieth one.

Each street looks exactly like the next one: white, dusty and abandoned. It’s like a scene straight out of the X-Files. The opening song resounds in my head the entire afternoon.

The tired faces we see now and then look different to the ones in Stellenbosch. People here don’t look stressed, worried or anxious about getting somewhere. They carry on walking in the middle of the streets, alien-like in their expressions. We smile and wave, but most do not respond. The few that do acknowledge us, come right against the windows.

“Who are you looking for? Who do you work for?” says one man with a missing tooth. His hand touches the car just slightly, making you wonder if he’ll open the car door. We tell him we’re looking for him. “How do you know me?” he asks confused. We smile and tell him we’re just exploring. He walks away, still as confused. Obviously, there can’t be much to explore in Sutherland…

As Jean and I walk into the liquor store, the owner stares at us with owl-like eyes: large and dark. He never looks us in the eye and blinks very slowly.

SALT OF THE EARTH: The South African Large Telescope's beauty lies in her immense size and power.

“Will that be all?” he says, rustling a plastic bag that is too small for our bottle. “Gosh…it’s all I have.” He forces the bottle inside. The bag tears a little. “There…there…” He says to us, or the bag; I’m not quite sure. He expects us to leave then, but I turn around out of curiosity. “Is this really the coldest town?” I ask, trying to make chit-chat, see his reaction and testing if he’ll blink faster. He stutters, grunts and then quickly replies: “No… you are mistaken, girl. Try Grahamstown.” I smile and thank him. He doesn’t respond.

It’s finally time for the ‘star of our excursion:’ SALT (the South African Large Telescope). I’ve read about her in books, newspapers and friends’ Facebook entries and here she finally is. Immense, grey and serene.

Thousands flock to her each year and yet, as she stands there, you begin to ask yourself why… Well, Sutherland’s arid climate, small population and remote location 1 450 metres above sea level, give it one of the clearest night skies in the world. Unfortunately, we aren’t given the chance to touch or use SALT, the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere. We arrive late and are hurried back to our cars.

SALT satellites

GOING NOWHERE SLOWLY: SALT is surrounded by various other satellites, with the white ones being owned by South Africa.

The freezing night temperatures turn our excited class into a lazy bunch. That night, we look at the stars from behind our hotel windows. And yet, they sparkle brightly over the dead town. There’s something mystical about this place…

That night, I dream about the chained dogs I saw that day in Sutherland’s township. Some sat on cardboard boxes or near doll houses, waiting for their owners to return. Most of them had their hair mangled around chains attached to cars, racing wildly as they saw us, mistaking us for their owners.

I also dream of the children I saw playing in the streets with toys made by their own hands. A little boy falls over his tin car and laughs. Another beats his friend at a spinning top game. I see the little girl with mucus running down onto her lip. Her brother gently wipes it as he sees the camera. I hear the dogs howling my name again. I wake up in a sweat. Sutherland will haunt me.

The trip back is an interesting collection of all seasons. There is rain, wind, sun, thunderstorms, waterfalls and rainbows as we head home.

The howling in my head has stopped and is replaced by hooting taxis and the shouting of Bergies walking in the streets of Stellenbosch. What a comforting welcome to the land of civilization…

Interesting facts:
• Sutherland is home to the endangered Riverine Rabbit.
• The average yearly temperature is 10, 6C and an average minimum yearly temperature of 3,4C.
• The coldest recorded temperature recorded was -16,4C on July 12, 2003.
• Sutherland is the second coldest place in South Africa, after Buffelsfontein in the Western Cape.

PUPPY PRISON: Dogs are often found chained to various objects.

SOURCES:

Some interesting facts: http://www.northerncape.org.za
Background info: http://www.wikipedia.org