Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some Kind of Thresh Hold

This blog post is NOT about me--although, I confess, the thresh hold that is being crossed affects me.  You see, in just a few hours, my elder child will turn 40.

The photo above is of our son Geoffrey and our daughter-in-law Christy.

While there are many photos I could choose of him, this one seemed most fitting.  Of course I have those wonderful baby photos, and the little boy photos too.  I have used them before on the occasion of his birthday.  But the photo of you two together is just right.

This time I want to write about a few scenes which I hold dear in my mother's  heart.
  • I remember a day when you were about 18 months old.  I had just come home from teaching, carrying you, along with a bag of your supplies from the baby-sitter's, complete with a container of Spaghettios.  I don't know how I got distracted, but for a moment I turned my back.  When I came back into the room, there you sat with the Spaghettios container opened and smeared all over the place. 
  • I remember how you fell off a coffee table, and cut your head.  We had to rush you to a hospital to get some stitches.  And I remember how white your dad's face was as he helped to hold you so you would be comforted while the doctor worked on you.
  • I remember the first time you walked alone up the sidewalk to a neighbor's house so you could play with your friend.  I thought--wow, he's on his own.
  • I remember how you reacted when we told you we were going to have another baby--you said, oh good, now I won't be an only child anymore.
  • I remember how sweet you were (most of the time) with your sister.   And still are.
  • I remember how proud we were when you won academic recognition and went off to the college of your choice.
  • I remember when you came home and told us you had met someone special--and you asked if you could bring her (Christy) along on our family vacation.
  • I remember that only when you headed to grad school did I cry--realizing you really WERE on your own--but this time with Christy by your side.
  • I remember how happy you and Christy were on your wedding day--even though you hadn't thought to get programs ready and printed until the morning of the wedding.
  • I remember several moves we helped you with.--to apartments, to houses.
  • I remember--
A mother does remember--and I am proud, so very proud, that you are our son.  

So, special love to you this day--as you celebrate your 40th birthday.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cry, the Beloved Country

Lovely mountains around Cape Town

It had been more than 50 years since I was last in South Africa, and--to tell the truth--I had very little memory of the country.  But, having grown up in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, I always maintained a keen interest in southern African developments.  I read much about Zimbabwe and South Africa.  Among these books, I recall reading Nadine Gordimer's novel July's People, written before the change of government from minority apartheid rule to majority rule.  In that work, she postulates the end of apartheid, in a civil war which turns the power structure upside down.  

That vision was entirely credible, and what I anticipated would be the most likely ending of apartheid. 

But, then, the world witnessed the miracle of Nelson Mandela.  Imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activities, upon his release he continued working for majority government.  Seemingly, miraculously, he succeeded.  In 1994, he was elected President of South Africa.  A civil war was averted--South Africa managed to make the transition from a minority government to a majority government, escaping the fate of its neighbor to the north, Zimbabwe.

True, many people died on the struggle to reach majority government.  There were multiple massacres of citizens on both sides of the color bar.  Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) spent years in prison, along side Mandela.  Many of those years of imprisonment were on Robben Island, within easy view of Cape Town's harbor--it must have been maddeningly tantalizing for both sides being so close.   But Mandela seemed to accomplish the impossible--he not only survived; he thrived and honed his deeply moral presence.

Cape Town Harbor with Robben Island in the distance
Under the surface, simmering problems linger that threaten to undo all the creative work to bring the new South Africa into existence.  While the power structure has been realigned, the economics of the country have been largely unchanged.  Unemployment hovers around 25%, with the rate of unemployed youth at 50%.  However, the unemployment rate for whites is around 4%.  Average annual income for blacks in South Africa are around $1,800; for whites around $8,200.

Nowhere is the disparity more evident than in housing.  The three main racial divides in South Africa are white, colored, and black.  Whites are those who descended from the original Dutch and British settlers.  Coloreds (a term I had difficulty with given my U.S. thinking) are those who descend from Khoisan (the original inhabitants of southern Africa), mixed race and immigrants from various Asian countries such as Malaysia.  Blacks are those descended from earlier migration of Bantu peoples from further north on the African continent.  With a population of about 60 million, 80% of South Africans are black, whites around 9%, and colored including Asians around 11%.

A township
Housing is like a pyramid--at the top the lovely houses in urban areas, many in gated communities, are largely owned by whites; in the middle, cinder-block houses in organized communities are owned by coloreds; at the bottom, in a huge swath of housing, are the townships.  The houses in these areas are quickly constructed lean-tos, pieces of corrugated iron thrown up with a roof across.  Township housing lacks internal plumbing; instead townships have communal bath houses where families have to do all their toileting and washing.  Electricity is provided by central poles with wiring from which people string up electrical wires to connect.  Frequently people get electrocuted trying to tap into the power supply.  And these townships just keep growing--one of the largest in Cape Town, Khayelitsha, has over one and a half MILLION people living in it.

80% of farm land continues to be held by whites.  The ANC had promised land reform which intended to restore land ownership to blacks, but over time progress toward that goal has stalled.  Now, newer leaders in the ANC--those who have moved away from the harmonious legacy of Nelson Mandela--promise, or threaten, massive redistribution of land and wealth.  One particular leader--Julius Malema--threatens nationalizing South African gold and diamond mines.

Upon our return from South Africa, my daughter and I set about reading (actually re-reading) Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country.  While many aspects of the novel seem very dated, and also quite simplistic, there is a prophetic sense about the work.  Paton writes:

Have no doubt it is fear in the land.  For what can men do when so many have grown lawless?  ... There are voices crying what must be done, a hundred, a thousand cries this, and one cries that, and another cries something that is neither this nor that.

Paton envisioned a time when the social fabric, which was already tearing in the reality of which he wrote, would dissolve completely.  

As we waited in the Cape Town airport to board our flight back to the U.S., I perused books in the bookstore.  One was titled After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa.  Out of curiosity, I thumbed through the book, and read the chapter titles.  The last chapter title brought me up short:  "The Shadow of Zimbabwe."

I can think of no greater tragedy for Mandela's legacy than to see South Africa go the way of Zimbabwe.  So, indeed--cry, the beloved country.

Photo taken by Kristen, my daughter, of Franschhoek, S.A.

Photo taken by my husband, of Klein Karoo

Sunset over Camps Bay Beach

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Glimpses of A Childhood Home

One of the pleasures for me in our recent trip to South Africa was to experience some scenes that reminded me very much of my childhood.  Long time readers will know that I did not grow up in South Africa, but in the country just to the north--now Zimbabwe, Rhodesia in the years I was there.

I had been ages since I saw a lovely avenue of trees bordering a well-tended dirt road.  The one shown below is the avenue leading up to Boschendal The Estate, now a wine estate.  It was originally established in 1685 as a farm including vineyards.  In 1897, Cecil Rhodes acquired the estate, established fruit orchards and eventually turned the whole estate over to De Beers.

In Bulawayo, the town where I went to school, the avenues were lined with jacaranda trees.  Below is a photo of jacaranda blossoms close up.  It was wonderful to see them again.  Also, bougainvillea, another flower from childhood memory.

During my parents' time as missionaries, they occasionally had vacation time--it was during these times that we visited Cape Town.  Of course, Table Mountain is the iconic landmark in Cape Town.  You see it everywhere you travel around Cape Town.  

My prior time going to the top of Table Mountain was when I was a child.  Then, the cable car was a less sturdy looking device.  Based on a website recounting the history of the cable car, I assume when my dad and I visited it, we rode the car identified as the First Cable Car.  The newest iteration of cable car is much sleeker and sound.  Despite my fear of heights, I rode the cable car with no apprehension at all.  The small nob you see at the top is the cable car station.

And, here I sit with my husband on rocks at the top of Table Mountain.

Not the same rock, to be sure, but here's proof that I sat on the rocks atop Table Mountain once before--with my dad, some time in the early 1950s.

Most people identify almost any part of Africa as a place with animals.  Growing up, I did see lots of animals--more, actually, than we saw on our recent trip.  One animal that is still seemingly present everywhere is the baboon.  Oh, yes, I recall baboons from my childhood.

As we drove various places, baboons could be seen along side or even on the roads.  One baboon had found a beer bottle, which he cradled jealously, and kept from the other baboons in the troop.  The photo below is one our son-in-law took.  He was seated on the side of the car with the best view.  Travelers are sternly warned: 1) not to open car doors as the baboons know no fear; 2) not to feed the baboons; and 3) not to harm the baboons which are a protected species.  We saw people whose job was to mind the baboons, and warn cars to slow down.  I wondered if the people told their friends they were in "monkey business." 

Finally, many of my childhood memories involve lovely flowers and interesting birds.  The flowers shown were in Kirstenbosch Gardens, a lovely large park adjacent to Cecil Rhodes' Cape Town estate of Kirstenbosch. 

The bird is the blue crane which is the South African national bird.  Kind of an odd looking bird, if you ask me.

But the most scene reminiscent of my childhood were the African skies.  I kept thinking of Paul Simon's song "Under African Skies" as I looked at the endless sky unfurling around me.

Not all the scenes in South Africa are as lovely--I will share some of my sadness in another post.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Lovely Cape Town

It is time to begin reflecting on our most recent trip.  We returned, on New Year's Eve day, from a visit to South Africa.  

We spent a week in South Africa, with our daughter and son-in-law: our Christmas gift to each other, no need for any other presents.

The scenes below begin to tell the story of our trip--Camps Bay Beach at sunset, with the ocean spray.

Turn around and we can see part of the mountains around Table Mountain lit by the setting sun.

Part of Cape Town, the Malay area, with brightly painted buildings.  After years of mandatory whitewash exteriors, when the rules were changed, the residents in this area opted for splashes of color.

The mandatory trip up Table Mountain, the cable for the cable car firmly in view.  I had been to Table Mountain as a child, traveling up a more primitive cable car with my dad.  Now, a corporate sponsored sleek car takes us up, all the while revolving for a view all around.

Table Mountain dominates Cape Town, visible from almost all angles.  The winds sweep clouds over the mountain, which give the impression of a table cloth.  Our guide told us Table Mountain is a guide's nightmare.  The cable car up can be closed down on a moment's notice, due to high winds.  Frankly, I'd rather not ride up in high winds.  We were fortunate--up and back with no hitches.  Our guide told us of one group he had who were determined to go up.  When informed that the cable car wasn't running, they wanted to know if there were another way up.  HIKE--was the answer.  So, they all informed the guide they would, and they did--two hours up.  

I wanted a reprise photo of me on the top of the mountain, this time with my husband.  I have a photo from childhood of me with my dad--not necessarily sitting on the same rock, but certainly on the same mountain.

Lion's Head to the one side of Table Mountain.

The view below--Cape Town.  In truth, Cape Town is all around Table Mountain.

Well, there's a start.  More photos, more reports and observations--to come.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Last Report

Forgive my silence, dear reader, and the rather extended pause in the on-going saga of hospital care in the U.S.  I have been away--but my absence is testament to the fact that the recently inflicted treatment must have worked.

When my doctor said he wanted to try a new prescription for atrial fibrillation, he also noted there was something I wouldn't like: a hospital stay.  At the time, my only response was--no problem.  I just have two trips that I am planning to make, and, if I can fit in the hospital stay between those two trips--well, fine.

So, at the beginning of December we went to San Diego to see our son and daughter-in-law, then over Christmas we traveled to South Africa and met up with our daughter and son-in-law. The doctor didn't blink at my schedule caveat--so I am guessing he hears such conditions frequently.   His response--I think we can work something out.  And work it out we did.  Trip 1, hospital stay, and then trip 2.

As anyone who watches the myriad of health shows that have been televised knows, hospitals are places of great drama.  There are daily mini-dramas.  My two roommates are illustrative.

The first roommate came in very shortly after I was admitted.  She was wheeled in, and transferred to her bed. With her came a retinue of family--sons, daughters, spouses. Who knows who all was there?  All I could tell was that there was a hub-bub of activity on the other side of the room.  Since my husband was with me, I just rolled my eyes to indicate my puzzlement--and, yes, maybe intolerance.

But over the next two days, this family showed warmth and support.  You see, the woman was in her 80s.  She had been, until a few weeks before, a picture of health, quite independent and most certainly stubborn.  Then, she had a fall, and a subsequent stroke that leveled her.  She was hospitalized, and then a heart condition became apparent--she had multiple blocked coronary arteries.  

Her family members buzzed about her, trying to make her comfortable, tut-tutting if she tried to move or do something.  Even though the curtain was drawn, I could hear them saying "Mom, you can't do that" or "Call the nurse for that."  It seemed a bit over-done to me, but she was clearly the glue in that family's fabric--a true matriarch.

When no one was there, I went to her bed and said hi, and introduced myself.  I asked if she needed anything, and she managed a very weak hello followed by a demurring of help.

As it turned out, that seemingly overwhelming family was really tremendously supportive.  At one point, I heard the older son say to his sleeping mother--Oh, Mom.  It was a heart-felt cry.  Later, he came over to my side of the room and sat down and visited for quite a while.  Another son also made a point of introducing himself to both my husband and me.  For a brief two days, I almost seemed to be included in that expansive family.

When the mother went in to surgery, one son stopped by to see me, just to see how I was doing.

And, then, there was my second roommate.  With the matriarch in surgery, and being returned to a more intensive care room, the bed next to me was empty.  Soon, a second post-surgery patient was wheeled in.

What ensued was a circus.  First, with new patient in the room, all the staff departed.  Then the phone rang.  And rang.  And rang.  So , I said--through the curtain--just push the red button.  Meaning, of course, on the phone.  But new patient thought I meant on the device to call a nurse.  She kept saying, loudly, HELLO, HELLO.  Then she said GEORGE?  I finally got out of bed, went over to her side of the room and pointed out the telephone.  Of course, she had NO idea who I was, and gave me a wild-eyed look.

Then, a nurse came in (maybe in response to the call button) and said--Barbara, don't move around so much; you have to stay still.  As soon as the nurse left, Barbara tried to get out of bed.  That set off a loud beeping alarm which produced several staff members.   This happened multiple times, each time with an accompanying loud beeping alarm.  Every time they came into the room, they said (quite loudly)--Barbara, what are you trying to do?

Soon, another staff member came in, and began to ask Barbara some questions.  Herewith the conversation:

Q--do you know where you are?  A--I am at So-and-so's house.
Q--why are you there?  A--I am at a party.
Q--do you know what year it is?  A--(pause) 1998.
Q--do you know who is President?  A--Al Gore.
Q--aren't you in a hospital now?  A--(most indignantly) NO.

Oh, my.  Other than the startling news that Al Gore actually won the election (well, he did--but that's another story altogether), the whole conversation was most bizarre.  But, I recognized the questions as standard ones asked to ascertain whether or not someone has dementia.  Oh, and Barbara most certainly did.

Layer dementia on top of the disorienting experience of being in a hospital, and no wonder Barbara looked at me with wild eyes.

Most annoying of all, each time a staff member came in to see Barbara, they asked if she wanted her television on, and then JUST turned it on.  And turned up the volume.  I told my husband--I can't stay here another night if Barbara is my roommate.

Thankfully, when the doctor came in (finally), after initially saying I had to stay one more day so that I would have the requisite number of doses of the new medicine--and after being informed that in fact I had HAD the correct number, he agreed to discharge me.

Hospitals--places where life's dramas, both tragedy and comedy, play out.  I promise--this the last report on my hospital stay.

Next up, the trip to South Africa.