HONEY I’M WRITING!

The last time I went to watch a play with someone I didn’t know that my life would be changed forever.  He sat next to me and I next to him. He didn’t know what the play was about he told me. He didn’t seem excited about it. It was just part of his job. I chose not to probe and focused on the stage which shimmered with console glass bottles. I had seen many plays at the market theater, but this was the first I was to watch without knowing the subject.  I was curious. It was a Sunday afternoon, the second to last show. And I cried from beginning to end.

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry” he said looking concerned. “You couldn’t have known” I responded willing the tears to stop flowing ” I didn’t know myself” I said incredulous at the turn of events. I was moved. I wanted to reach out to the director and writer of the play Gina Shmuckler, but I didn’t know just what to say. Thank you I murmured. Surprised at myself for not knowing. We sat across from each other and I wanted to tell him the reasons behind my tears. The reasons my innocence had been lost. The reasons I didn’t call him honey anymore. The reason I didn’t believe it when he said he loved me. The reason I refused to see it in his eyes.  I didn’t know. The thought seemed hallow, empty. How is it possible not to know?  My wall had been cracked. Now I knew.  So I went searching for answers. ” At some stage journalists who  have done conflict reporting, at some stage in their lives, they will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”. There was a name for it. PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My former editor’s words kept ringing in my head.  I looked at him, wondering why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me go? “I couldn’t take a shower,  the water felt like bullets shooting through my skin” .  “The smell of dead bodies stayed me for weeks after that”.  ” We stumbled on eight dead bodies”.  Why did I want to be a journalist. Why did I think all those deaths would not affect me. ” I’m fine”  I told all concerned. I dreamt of being a foreign correspondent.  I was already jumping over dead bodies here in my home country. I was  doing the body count with the police in the Natal Mid-lands. I was already speaking to emaciated shells of people waiting to die. I was already faced with hungry starving children. Barren poverty. I was already in a country at war with itself.   I didn’t need to see lifeless ashen infants who had been dug up from mountains of crumbled concrete. I didn’t have to watch the wild crazed eyes of a man who had just been drinking coffee with his family yesterday, and today was left alone in the world. His entire family wiped out in single strike of a joystick. His wife, daughters, son-in laws and grandchildren. Gone as if they never lived. Not even a single picture left.  I didn’t need to know what it felt like to stand when the earth beneath your feet was shaking giving way to unmarked graves for the innocent.  I didn’t know what it was like to be a moving target.  I had never been to a deserted town  left full with all the material possession we kill for. I never cried. In all those years I never shed a tear. And this one small play, this little play about understanding violence and xenophobia. Brought so much grief – I didn’t know that I was already healing. I was starting to feel again. And it hurt like hell.  I thought I was fine.  I didn’t know. I thought I was a strange person. I thought something was wrong. But not this. Not my job. Something was wrong.  Without being aware of it, I had stopped believing in love. I had started to blame myself for the ills of the world. I had seen the dark side of human beings. Mothers who were willing to sacrifice their children for a war they found raging. Boys who smiled and laughed and praised their peers for being martyrs. What am I doing here? I’m Jedi. The sweet girl, who calls people honey. Who gives affection freely, effortlessly, who loves life, a girl with a spark in her eye. What was I doing in a war-zone. What was I doing in a bunker. Hoping to see another day. Why was this man telling me not to fear, the sound of sirens, silencing my prayers to live to see the sun again. Who am I? I only panicked six years later. I only felt the cold embrace of fear years later. I would wake up at night panicking, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die”  My heart would race when leaving a loved one  as if I would never see them again “don’t leave me” I would cling to them irrationally. I knew what fear tasted like. I was rational in irrational circumstances. Now I had become irrational in rational spaces.  I was afraid of being alone. I was petrified of crowds.  ” When we heard that you volunteered” my father said over dinner ” we decided to leave it to God” .  How could I not volunteer? Being a war correspondent was the ultimate mark of a true and fearless journalist.  “black bags meant for garbage are prized possessions here” I read the line over and over stuck on it like a lost soul. ” what’s wrong with you” remarked a colleague ” why do you hesitate to ask questions” he said taking the mic from my hand and showing me how it’s done. How to ask direct questions to  aid workers helping victims of xenophobia  in 2008. This story left me numb. I envied his ability to just ask ” what are you doing here” as if he could not see “black bags meant for garbage are prized possession here” . ” where should we go, we have nowhere to go” Mother and fathers left with nothing but the clothes on their backs looked to me for answers. How do you tell the same story again and again? I don’t know. But the voices wouldn’t stop”where am I supposed to go?” What did we do wrong? What are we supposed to do?”

The last time I went to a play  alone, I was looking for a venue to stage my news play Lindiwe! I had found a way of telling a story of a life I never lived. Like Gina Smuckler.   Laughter hovered over empty seats. The actors improvised. Lindiwe was already on stage. She had us all mesmerized. Such striking beauty. For my presence I was awarded  with a  honey pot.

The last time I went to a play I was in it. I  was writer, director  and actress. I performed to an international audience. They had no idea what was going on. They all watched in awe  as I stripped  down to my bare bones, howling like a crazed animal.  Naked and Cold. “Black bags meant for garbage are prized possessions here’ “It’s not my fault’  “You don’t deserve this” The voices were fading.  It didn’t hurt this time.   “We thought you were a journalist”  They didn’t know.

I am this person.

Now I know.  24 years later I can tell my ten year old self – the beautiful, curios little girl who never ever wanted the story in the book to end. I can say  honey you’re a writer and a damn good one!

 

 

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A MILLION WAYS TO LIVE: WRITE HARD, DIE FREE

This weeks’ blog post features a story by journalist, editor and writer Clinton Nagoor. My former colleague, editor and boss. We’ve worked together for the greatest part of my career as journalist. He never seized to challenge me to come up with more creative ways to tell a compelling story, to write well and to write stories that matter and have an impact. He’s pushed me to do better and inspired me to be a better storyteller and I have admired his ability to remain so positive and focused in a profession that can sometimes  be brutally unforgiving. In many ways he has been my mentor and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with him. Last week he moved me. Here’s why:

WRITE HARD, DIE FREE by Clinton Nagoor

I used to be a crime reporter. That first murder scene. I can’t recall her name. But she was eight-years-old and still in her white school dress. She lay in the gutter of a park known as Strawberry Fields. She lay there next to the swings and merry-go-round. Her shoes kicked off-her panties scrunched and thrown beside her. Head turned to one side, her knees slightly drawn up- almost asleep-like. But she had been raped. Then strangled with surgical tubing. Raped and murdered at eight. And left there in the gutter of a child’s playground. It was the early 90s in KZN so I attended many more crime scenes. Massacres where families were shot and their bodies set alight, suicide by gunshot, robberies gone wrong, gone right, death by friends, by serial killers and customers. Political violence and tribal violence. A violent death is an ugly thing. The last crime scene. July 28th 2003. It was a Monday. The house was empty when I got there. There was bloody handprints as I walked up the stairway to the first floor. I noticed blood on the panic button and the alarm panel. A great pool of dark cloying blood on the kitchen floor. Lots of bloody marks in the corridor leading to it. I didn’t look intently but there was enough to burn in my memory. The police docket, witness statements and picture book told a story. The home panic button had been set off sometime in the night. Security guards came to the house but no one answered and everything seemed to be in order. So they left. The alarm went off again. This time they returned with policemen. At the back of the house through the kitchen window they could see a man lying on the floor He was not responsive to their calls so they went in. One of the constables says in his statement that the male victim’s fingers were still twitching. But by the time paramedics arrived there had been lots of blood loss. He was declared dead on scene. The post-mortem will show a massive blunt force trauma to the back of his head. Several stab wounds to his face and upper body. I remember everything about this scene of murder. The man was a 60-year-old who had celebrated his birthday on April 18th with friends and family. He was a printer by trade. Ink dyed into his finger tips. A lifetime of work to raise his sons. He never met his grandkids. Never got to play with them. Nor regale them with childhood stories or teach them to kick a ball. I remember everything about that last crime scene of mine. His name was Larry. But I called him Daddy.

BLACK AND WHITE: TELL ME SOMETHING NEW

My last attempt at a relationship was a complete disaster.

He was perfect. For me it was love at first sound.

He was not a typical Hollywood stud. But he had me at Hello, Hello.

I was skeptical. He was sure.

We drank the truth serum.

The first night was sweet.

The second night he wanted out.

I told him I understood.

He changed his mind.

The third night we heard silence.

He made coffee in the morning.

We sang a duet.

Stay.

His arms wrapped around my waist

I wore black pants and a grey top

He wore black pants and  a grey top.

I ran.

None had shown me such tenderness.

Are you for real?

He called and said we should just be friends.

I agreed and promptly stopped breathing.

A few months later he came crushing into my basement.

With his electronic baggage.

I said I could take it.

We spoke hardly.

We told each other lies.

We were happy.

In our separate rooms.

He saw me crying.

I saw him naked.

I said I love you

He said he  didn’t know what to say.

He was skeptical. I was sure.

I AM THIS PERSON: WHEN YOU ARE ENOUGH

“Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairy-tale, by love.”
― Ben Okri

Today’s  blog post is inspired by my three-year old niece who  has this ability to sneak up on me when I least expect it and say “I am following you Auntie Jedi”.  She doesn’t just say it, she literally follows my every step while watching my every move.

Her statement which she says from a place of innocence and playfulness spreads a smile across my heart and orders my steps in ways that no other  human being can. I have to think about where I’m going and what I’m going to do there and if that is a place I would like her to be in with me. It is a  huge and  humbling experience. But more than the responsibility that comes with it, it makes me joyful and  happy. In those private moments I have this insatiable desire to be a  better person because I know without a shadow of doubt that she’s following me for real.

It never seizes to amaze me how much power we have as individuals. The realization that I, myself and I  just by living my life, minding my own business have the power to influence someone else’ choices without my knowledge is astounding to me. It is incredibly humbling to realize that even then when it seems to you that you are alone, searching for clues on your own  in the dark, in reality you are not alone at all. There are eyes watching you. There is an audience which is listening, watching and following you whether you’re aware of it or not. But this is not an audience you choose, prefer, want or know about. It is an audience that chooses you. The audience  that decides that you are the person they want to follow and you have no control over it.  You can’t say don’t follow me or don’t look up to me. You can’t say, I am not worthy.

LIFE AS A RUBIK-CUBE

I am an 80’s child. And in the years after my birth the world was obsessed with a new game among many other inventions. Solving the Rubik’s Cube.  Even though it was an invention created  by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor in the early 70’s. I think  Rubik’s Cube is a perfect analogy for (my) life, because just when I think I got it, I have to start all over again. And it is only in understanding clearly where I have gone wrong, when and where or why I have made all the wrong moves.It is then that I can learn which moves I need to make to solve the  puzzle.

So it was during an unguarded moment  with my niece this afternoon when she said something which added another piece to the Jedi puzzle when she said, “Jedi, I’m not this person”  it is after she uttered these words over and over again that my squares started to align.

I’M NOT THIS PERSON

Is the key to who I am. In the past two weeks I have met with several old friends and had the opportunity to update them on my life so far. And while it has been a whirlwind adventure it has  also been an incredibly challenging time for me and with each disappointment, with each experiment I have found myself growing frustrated with the process. Wondering how many times I have to fail before I get it. The answer was with my niece. What I have been doing all along without knowing is an essential  process of elimination, and with each elimination I have come closer and closer to finding out what I am not actually. My adventures and experiments have helped me to peel off all the masks I’ve acquired over the years  and have gotten me to a place where I can look in the mirror and say. I am this person.

This person that I truly am is completely flawed in all the right ways.  When I  first took a look at her, all her mistakes  popped to the surface. They screamed at me. There’s something missing. You’re all wrong.  It’s not working. If your teeth were straight. If you’re hair was longer. If you’re nose was straighter. If you’re skin was baby smooth, caramel, coffee-coloured, dark chocolate, maybe. If your smile was more like this. If your hair was softer, if your voice was deeper, if your English was better, if your French was excellent, if you were more stable, if you didn’t give it up so easily… if.  Then everyone starts shouting all the my wrongs back at me.

You’re not what we’re looking for. You don’t have command. You’re too independent. You can’t follow instructions. How’s your maths? You don’t have confidence. You have potential but…  You want things the easy way. You don’t have the right  mindset. You like doing things your own way. You’re selfish, Self-absorbed. You don’t believe in yourself. Over and over. From all sides until I decided to turn the Rubix cube and discover the answers for myself.

The flaws were still there but  with each twist and focused attention on each problem I found that I could eliminate what I was not; a doormat, a slave, ignorant, selfish, inconsiderate, lazy or unmotivated.  While doing this I discovered other fun things about myself like the fact that I was playful, easygoing, open, sympathetic, forgiving and kind.

Then I started enjoying the twists and turns. That works, I have this skill, doing this like this makes me happy. Okay maybe this trait doesn’t work well here. But I could use it over there. Then I discovered that no one else but me is tasked with completing my puzzle, they can help me find clues, they can be my sounding board, they can walk some of the way with me, but the responsibility of completing my task is solely mine and mine only.

But the most surprising thing about discovering or exploring the real me is that all the character traits  I disliked most about myself, the quirky things which I could have changed already if it was possible are not only what makes me unique and different but they are exactly what I need to complete the puzzle.

So even though this person whom I have always wanted to be, the person I have given my all to be like, to emulate and imitate, is truly beautiful, truly intelligent, charming, sexy and everything I have ever dreamed of being as a woman and human being. Even though she is all wise, alluring, enigmatic,  insightful, oozing charm, even though she’s so deep I drown at the sight of her eyes. Even though I will admit that she is quite frankly a genius, a multi-talented can do most things with equal brilliance – type A person. Even though she has been my everything, even though I have tried everything I can to come just an inch of being half the  woman she is.

It gives me such a great pleasure to finally say in the most positive way possible that  ” I am not this person “- as wonderful and brilliant as she maybe, I am not her and that’s a huge relief. I don’t have to try to be her  or like her because only she can be who she is.

This person whom I have always looked up to and wanted to be all my life, this person who I have always wanted to impress,  will always be a part of me. But I don’t have to be her.  I can admire and love her for the brilliant one of a kind person that she truly is. But I’m not this person. And that is exactly  how it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to my niece for telling me who she is not,  because it  is only through this process that I could find out who I am. And the person that I am at this moment  is not so bad after all. She makes me laugh. And that’s enough.

TRAVELLING FROM TERMINAL DEPARTURES TO ARRIVAL TERMINALS

It has never occurred to me to look up and really think about the signs.  I have been coming in and out of OR Tambo International  Airport for so many years and I hadn’t noticed these signs until one day while getting on the lift heading to Terminal Departures that I realized that the words, Terminal Departures, sound terminally wrong. As if the airport had suddenly become a hospital or an infirmary where the terminal departed and arrived.  I thought about it during my efforts to improve my English language skills after I made a mistake and used the word homage in the wrong context; the person in question was still very much alive. So following this rather embarrassing episode I was determined to renew my focus and attention on the  ‘true’ meaning of words and to using words in their most appropriate contexts.

So there I was subconsciously brushing up on my English language skills when it suddenly occurred to me that the signs at the OR Tambo International Airport reading: Terminal Departures and Terminal Arrivals might not be grammatically correct.  ‘How so?’ a friend asked curiously over pizza and wine at Bambanani restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg. ‘ I don’t quite know exactly’ I said realizing that I had not yet fully formed my thoughts ‘ I think the best way to explain it is,  it sounds grammatically wrong’.  ‘But why?’ she persisted ‘why is it wrong, what is it supposed to be’ she probed.

‘Well first of all’ I said putting my pizza down and folding my hands together for effect “I think it would sound better if you said Departure Terminal instead of Terminal Departure. The way the words are arranged give it a completely different meaning. If you say Terminal Departures it sounds to me like people who are departing are terminal, i.e. have a terminal illness never to return, or the terminal (the object) itself is departing. Whereas Departure Terminal sounds more like a place or an area where people go to depart or a place where people arrive at.  It’s a small change but it makes a whole lot of difference in meaning’ I concluded thinking privately to myself ‘not bad hey nige!’

Of course I needed to be clear and certain of my own hypothesis.  I knew I had to consult the dictionary to verify if  what I had observed and believed to be true was indeed so. It took me a while because I had to be equally ready for my theory to go to the dogs. The last time I traveled I took my dictionary as the only book to help me understand and while it was great to have it beside me, I must admit it was not of  any use in assisting me to decode  the language and the meaning of the words in Denmark even if the words spoken were in English.

Despite my fears and past experiences in coding and language, this time I was more confident in my own judgement and I also had a huge incentive or ROI (Return of Investment).

My friends told me in between sips of wine that they often deferred reading my blog posts because they thought them “too deep and serious” as they often required one to be in the “right frame of mind” to read them which,  in their case, almost never happened. They promised to read my blog this time, though, if I expanded on my theory. These friends of mine who appreciate my writing without reading it told me that they would not only read my blog but would actually look forward to reading it if I  wrote an explainer on my Terminal Departure theory. Imagine that!  This was an exciting challenge.

So I had to be thorough.

According to the Concise Oxford dictionary, published in 1991 the word Terminal (an adjective and noun) means an ending (of a disease) in death, fatal. Or a patient in the last stage of a fatal disease; a morbid condition; forming the last stage of a fatal disease or in colloquial terms; ruinous disastrous very great ( terminal laziness) or forming a limit or terminus terminal station.

Since no definition of anything can be final without consulting Google I thought it prudent to include Google’s definition of the word.

Terminal (adjective) forming or situated at the end or extremity of something. When used as a noun the word Terminal means the end of a railway line or other transport.

So based on the above definitions the signage officials at OR Tambo International Airport and I are both right in our in understanding of the word Terminal.  In this case it is the context that changes the meaning or where the words are placed.

Terminal Departure or Arrival: puts more emphasis on the word terminal and highlights the Oxford dictionary meaning; the end of a slow, fatal disease, death.  While Departure Terminal sounds more like a place where one goes to do something, it highlights or puts the emphasis on the Googled meaning; a place one goes to.

This of course is much to do about nothing. I realized that the reason why I never noticed the words Terminal Arrival or Terminal Departures was because I only focused  on what I wanted. So when I looked at the signs before I only looked for Arrivals or Departures and I never paid much attention to the words preceding them.

Now that I have noticed the Terminal part I realized that  we’ve gotten used to it and have subconsciously  inferred the appropriate meaning for ourselves without thinking too much about how the words are arranged. The human mind is an amazing organ.  I love the genius behind it.

Of course I am not blind to the philosophical meanings embedded in this blog post. We will all at some point arrive at a point where we must depart. But I am almost certain that we’d all rather do this at an airport terminal instead of a terminal airport!

LOAD-SHEDDING: CONVERSATIONS IN THE DARK

Years ago I discussed a desire with friends to graffiti-bomb all the walls in Johannesburg with these words “we need to talk”. I imagined the words printed in large bold fonts everywhere on bumper stickers on cars, on posters held by the homeless, jobless, hopeless, entrepreneurs standing on street corners and traffic light intersections. Under bridges, and in huge neon signs in Hillbrow. I saw the words all over on billboards in Sandton, on the M2 Highway and all the way to OR international airport. On shop windows and kitchen doors. I wanted the message to be as loud and clear as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s  World peace campaign of 1969 –  in which they printed huge posters and billboards saying the  “war is over – if you want it”.

I expressed this desire because I was a little frustrated with the huge elephant in the room that I kept bumping into which no one seemed to want to talk about or even name. I was restless perhaps a little frustrated. I didn’t want a confrontation, just a simple conversation, even though the words “we need to talk” have an ominous ring to them and are bound to send one into a fit of panic and anxiety. How else should one say we need to talk?

When I was sharing this desire with friends I imagined  “we need to talk” as a three month long advertising campaign for my upcoming  radio show in which I, as the host will talk to anyone and everyone who needs to talk about something important to them. A show similar to an appointment with a therapist, a psychologist or seeing a councillor. The guest would choose the subject to be discussed, the role of the host would be to guide the interview and give it some kind of structure from which to navigate.

A conversation with no preconceived ideas, or prejudgements. The topic under discussion will of course be of relevance to the public or be of public interest. There will be no open lines. No comments read on Twitter threads or Facebook timelines. Just one guest and their story. A radio conversation with a mystery guest and a known host. Jedi Ramalapa.

We do talk a lot as a nation, turn on any radio station or television set and you’ll hear lots  of chatter and people talking about a lot of things. Yet we still  ‘need to talk’ as a nation. We need more than just talking actually, we need more than just one voice talking at us, or shouting, or instructing or ‘advising’. More than just talking we need to listen as a nation. We need to hear the heart of the nation, of our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends, neighbours, colleagues, street kids, the homeless, the home owners, tax payers, non-tax payers, the wealthy, the poor, the politicians, workers, servants, drivers, butchers, bakers, nannies, teachers and their students.  No pointing fingers. No blaming. No forgone conclusions. Just a conversation.

I came to think more about this concept now that we’re going through load shedding also known as electricity or power cuts in South Africa. An how this down time, for most our electrical appliances, is an opportunity for us to do some load-shedding of a different kind. The kind one does at a confessional booth or on a sofa with a therapist.

STAGE 1

At first I  suppose as with most South African without alternative sources of energy such as a generator or gas, I was  simply at a loss as to what to do in that time.  If your phone or laptop is not fully charged, there’s not much else one can do but read, write or talk to someone without power. The darkness  revealed so much to me about how much I had become attached to the internet, to my laptop or computer, to music playing in the background, to tea and coffee every five minutes,  to filling my time with things to do, with movies on youtube and searches on google.  I watched with the same fascination how lost my family members became. At first we tried to endure the darkness on our own and in our own terms. Some went straight to bed, some held on to the last green bars on their phones and tablets, others paced around looking helplessly for a miracle for the lights to come because when there is electricity, when we have power we don’t need each other so much, everyone can be absorbed in their own individual world, and individual experience on laptops, tablets or phones, television cooking and music. There’s always something to do when you have power and electricity.

STAGE 2

After a few naps and time alone in the dark I started to use the two hours to have conversations with my sister. In the dark. We started talking and listening to each other, without the spot light, as if in a dream. We started having conversation about life and these were what I missed the most when the lights came back on. We started having candle lit dinners at home. And having conversations around the dinner table. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do in the dark, we were obliged to be with each other in ways that were not possible when the light is on.  A lack of power or electricity, has brought us closer, made us more patient, and more ready to listen to another, because let’s face it it’s not fun to be alone in the dark.  Amid the bad news of the economy going down, decreasing levels of productivity in the country and all the other  negative side effects of power cuts,  being able to have down time and talk to those near and dear, with no distractions has been a blessing.

STAGE 3

As if Eskom once upon a time read my mind, and decided to launch my campaign pre-maturely setting a  talking schedule renamed load shedding. We now have at the most 6 hours each week for quality talking time for the near future. Even though not having electricity or power is more than just annoying we can use the time to do other things that we would not do if we had the power, such as listening to the radio in our cars, listening to our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sharing our deepest dreams, and deepest desires out  of the spotlight. The benefits of talking and listening without judgments can be incredibly beneficial, life changing and freeing.  It is as if the cloak of darkness somehow as in a radio show, makes it easy for one to open up outside of the constant spotlight. I for one look forward to loadsedding.

We need to hear. We need to feel. We need to understand. We need to accept. We need to move on. We need to listen.  We need to talk.

It’s time.