LOVE ACROSS THE BORDER: CAN YOU AFFORD TO FALL IN LOVE?

If food is the way to a man’s heart, 33-year-old *Thembi Nkosi seemed to have the exact Global Positioning System (GPS) co-ordinates to *Soren Adamsen’s.  The couple met ten years ago at a mutual friends’ Johannesburg home for dinner which Nkosi an invited guest and professional chef, ended up cooking from start to finish. It was shortly after taking bites of  Nkosi’s lemon chicken dish that Adamsen, a Danish national was permanently hooked on her. “Two months or so later after our first meeting he invited me to Denmark and introduced me to his family and friends” says Nkosi a South African citizen. “I guess he is only human” she says, explaining why Adamsen found her so irresistible.  After ten years of travelling between South Africa and Denmark the couple finally decided to take the plunge and build a life together in 2013.  This meant that Thembi Nkosi  and her three-year old daughter  had to  move from South Africa and join Soren Adamsen in Denmark using the family re-unification visa for entry. First the couple had to prove that they had lived together for two years consecutively in order to qualify for a visa,  an issue which presented a huge challenge for the couple.“The family unification process is a laborious one” says Adamsen, who works as a journalist for a leading investigative television program in Copenhagen.  “We had to fill out at least 100 pages of documents justifying why we wanted to be re-united or why we wanted to live together.”  He says adding that “Our initial application was rejected” Adamsen and Nkosi like many other couples who’ve had to apply for family re-unification visa’s found the process punitive and sometimes unfair. While the family re-unification laws in most EU countries require applicants to apply from their country of residence, those who do, do so at their own risk as they are more likely to be rejected from the outset. “We paid a big price for being honest, and trying to do things the right way” says Adamsen, adding that from his perspective the laws seem to favour those who are dishonest or cheat the process. The process however was even more frustrating for Nkosi as the paper work and all forms were written in Danish and she was ostensibly  excluded from the entire visa application process. Yet in the end it was not the paper-work nor the bureaucracy that would finally open the doors to a life together for the couple.  Money was the key without which it would have been impossible for them to be re-united even if they met all the other required criteria. “Soren had to get a bank guarantee loan of 50 thousand Kroner, equivalent to 100,000 ZAR  as an insurance” Says Nkosi.  Fortunately for the couple, Adamsen who is financially solvent and had not been on state-welfare in the past two to five years  qualified for a  bank guarantee  and the family was able to be re-united  six months after the initial application process.“I think it’s just another way for government to make it difficult to families to be together” says Adamsen. “For other people it may be difficult (to acquire the funds)  but for us the money issue was irrelevant. We just wanted to be together and I did everything in my power to make sure that, that happens, but it is still upsetting to know that government can have the last word on a private issue such as who you decide to spend your life with.” New family re-unification laws in the United Kingdom came under the spotlight last year  after a couple in Cornwall was denied a family re-unification visa due to insufficient funds. In 2013 the UK issued new regulations which stipulate that UK residents wanting to sponsor a loved one from a non- European Economic Area ( EEA)  should earn a minimum of 18 thousand Pounds or 311, 973 Rands a year  or about 25 thousand rands a month. The amount increases with each child a couple has.  The  British Home office staunchly defended its policy  in court  justifying the financial requirement as being part of an effort to help immigrants to integrate. When asked by a judge if the home office was suggesting that an affluent person would integrate more easily than a poor person, the response was “yes”.  London, the capital city of the United Kingdom is currently the billionaire capital of the world with a recorded 104 Billionaires  living in the city. UK officials say the new visa regulations introduced in 2012 are working as intended and estimated that the new policy would reduce family visa applications by 17,800 a year.   Under the EU directive on the right to family reunification non-EU nationals can bring their spouse, under-age children and the children of their spouse to the EU State in which they are residing. After a maximum of five years of residence, family members may apply for autonomous status if the family links still exist. The Directive only however only applies to 25 member states excluding the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland which determine their own criteria for family reunification. The UK is currently canvassing for new EU reforms which will ensure even tougher or stricter  legislation on benefits for migrants. While South African immigration law does not use money as the main criteria ( there is no financial threshold only proof of affordability) for family re-unification visa’s or family relative visas. The visa application process can be extremely tedious (littered with bureaucratic misunderstandings)  for relatives applying through the South African Home Affairs offices. *Lamya Luall, a Sudanese-American writer, married to a South African says US visa policies make it comparatively easier for families to be together. “My husband is eligible for permanent residence or green card as soon as we are married, his residence papers once issued are first on a conditional basis, to ensure people are still married but after two years the conditions are lifted and a full green card is issued which is good for 15 years.” She said.   However South Africa does not have a residency or work permit option for spouses once married. ” There’s a relatives permit, which needs to be renewed every two years pending police Clearance, a TB test, doctors clearance and a host of other requirements.” She adds “You have to hire lawyers (who don’t come cheap) to help because most people at home affairs aren’t familiar with these rules.” She said concluding “I can only be eligible for permanent residence in South Africa after 5 years of proving a marriage and/or life partner relationship. I could only apply for citizenship after 10 years”.  Lamya says marriage to a South African  does not make the process any easier. She says she will be applying for a separate special skills visa  which does not have a two-year renewal requirement.   Even though the process of applying for a family re-unification visa in Denmark would have been made  much easier had  Thembi Nkosi and Soren Adamsen decided to tie the knot Nkosi says she didn’t want to get married for a visa, she wants to marry for love. “I’m a catholic girl after all, I still want the official proposal. I want fire works!” She concluded.   *original names changed to protect identity

LATVIA, YOUR FLAG IS ON MY LIPS, CONGRATULATIONS!

Latvia is a country, right?

Imagine if I had to pitch an advertising campaign congratulating Latvia on the  successful  conclusion of its maiden Presidency of the  European Union (EU) in June this year, since it joined the union in 2004. If someone randomly came up to me and asked what my concept would be: it would be exactly  what you just saw:  The title and picture saying: Latvia, your flag is on my lips, Congratulations!

But to do that  I would have to assume that  you know what Latvias’ national flag looks like  and why  it would be significant  for me to wear it on my lips. Since I myself was simply clueless about Latvia less than ten months ago, I thought it might be cool to let you in on the thinking behind this fictitious advertising campaign of mine which no one has asked me to do by the way. I do it just because its fun to learn new things and to travel, even virtually. So my pitch is all about current history as you may have guessed so here goes:

First a disclaimer: I have never set foot in this country

So those of you who watch the news beyond your borders might be wondering why I would even bother congratulating Latvia on its EU presidency when the EU itself  is faced with arguably more pressing matters to resolve. First among them being the question of sanctions against Russia and Ukraine, should they be lifted or not? The second is the issue of  EU reforms brought forward by the United Kingdom, which wants a package of changes including tougher rules on migrant benefits and fair trade with the Eurozone.  Britain has a planned referendum in 2017 to decide on whether to stay in or out of the Union. So in light of this and many other issues concerning the EU such as Greece’s increasing financial delinquency, including an increasing wave of migrants from Africa into Europe, Riga – Latvia’s capital city’s role in the EU’s drivers’ seat for the past five months may seem well… inconsequential at best.

Think about  our younger years

I was actually quite shocked to discover that I share more in common (politically) with the small republic in North-Eastern Europe than with the rest of the  27  European Union member states combined. It was a strange feeling indeed. How was that possible right? I mean my  knowledge of Latvian history and politics was until recently, non-existent. And if on the very rare (unidentified flying object) occasion that it came up in conversation I would have automatically lumped it in the larger pool of Russia’s  (USSR) former conquests and basically left it at that.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong

Over the last couple of months, through intermittent and sporadic research prompted by a desire for something new, I found out that I do in actual fact share much more in common with Latvia  than with many of the countries in Europe I have visited or wished so fervently to see – I gave it my best shot Paris! Latvia’s history is complicated even for me,  I couldn’t keep track of the many, many conquest that took place there. But just to simplify a long story. Because of its strategic geographical location, Latvia has fought many wars with four main enemies at different times and simultaneously in its very tumultuous history: Germany, Sweden, Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. They’ve all pushed, pulled, killed and, manipulated in order to gain control of this  94 square kilometer of land.    For one Latvians are a brave and persisted lot who fought valiantly and tirelessly, with, for and against their occupiers, Russia and Germany who alternated possession of Latvia as if it were a ball in a tennis match. In fact I think at some point in history Latvian soldiers were fighting from all sides both with and against the Germans and Russians who were in turn fighting other Latvians to gain control of the Baltic nation. I never in a million years thought I could encounter a country whose history is more complicated than my own and as far as Latvia goes – it’s complicated and that’s not even an understatement.  Though Latvia gained independence in 1918, it took another 72 years of fighting off the various factions before it regained its independence again in 1990 on the fourth of May, despite having lost its independence formally to Russia in 1940.

Puts independence into perspective right?

In 72 years (and perhaps even to date) Germany and Russia could not leave Latvia alone which meant that Latvians not only had to learn to  hold on to who they were and their identity they also had to learn how the Sweet and honest Swedes, Precise and Competent Germans, Passionate and Strategic Russians and the Cynically pragmatic Poles were like and then use that knowledge to attain what they desired most of all: a right to self-determination and sovereignty.   They had to ultimately win not only just a physical, logistical or geographical war against the Germans and the Russians et al, they had to win the most important war of all:  The psychological war. Learning and understanding how the opposition thinks.

After joining the European Union in 2004 it took 11 years before the chair of the EU chairmanship  could rotate to their corner, which for them is a huge milestone. Even though the EU presidency rotates every six months to each of the member states, it shines a spotlight on the host country which is probably equivalent in my case to South Africa being included in the UN Security Council for the first time in 2007 (it was also the first time an African country was included in the SC in the UN’s history!)  So it’s a huge deal and milestone for Latvia. This is a time for them to flex their muscle and see how far their influence(if any) goes with the big boys. The country has made many gains and losses since its independence 25 years ago, but is today a largely stable country with a rapid economic growth of about 10 percent a year before an economic crisis and recession in 2009 reversed these gains. The country quickly recovered though and attained an annual growth of 5.5 percent by 2012 making it the fastest growing EU country to date.  Even so the rate of unemployment is very high (9.1%)  in a country of about 2 million people. Virtually all the previously state-owned small and medium enterprises have now been privatized with the exception of three. ( energy, oil and telecoms) two of which the country is planning to sell. With the second fastest  internet  speeds in all of Europe after Romania, it’s service sector provides about 24% of jobs in the country.

I see you, Thank you for the compliment

So my campaign which is basically this picture of a black woman is exactly what Latvia is not – on the outside. But I think if you were to look deep into the heart of Latvia ( conflicted and controversial as they may be) you will find that they look just like the pictured black woman. They have a level depth which is as frightening as it is exciting. They have penetrating black diamond like eyes: mysterious, curious, playful, visionary and sad all at the same time. They are wildly free and are connected to nature ( half of Latvia is made up of forest)and most things natural. They are intuitive, compassionate and sensitive. A people of legends, myths and numbers. Practical and wildly creative.  They are not  only strong and can whether tough storms but  they are also resilient and still maintain a youthful maturity, exuberance and just a little touch of innocence or  maybe some naivety.  And finally they are passionate people: their flag is the colour of dark red  on either side representing an ocean of blood spilled for independence (the exact colour of the lipstick, a mix of browns and purples) with a strip of white in the middle (represented here by the biting pearls or teeth). And since Latvians are not known for their wide beaming smiles – the only way to wear their flag on your lips is to do exactly the opposite and yes you guessed it: smile. ( this effect also works with red-wine stained lips).  So for what it’s worth, congratulations Latvia, Paldies, for the inspiration.

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME: MESSI YET SO WORTH IT

flag

  A LESSON IN HISTORY

You have to give it to Germany! I am yet to experience a country which is to a large extent the instigator if not the  cause of the longest and  deadliest war in our  common lifetime(s), an ongoing war in fact,  and still comes out of it smelling as fresh as roses in the dawn of spring! I mean can you imagine! This my dear is pure magic!  For the first time in my adult life I didn’t participate in the world cup event, either as an active fan supporting a country or continent or part of the audience. I didn’t watch a single game.  The one I tried to watch the semi-final between Argentina and Holland, left me pondering the tiny hole in my sock trying to think if I have a needle and thread somewhere to saw it up before it gets any bigger.  When I lost interest in the little potato I checked to see how long I could hold a glass in suspension an inch away from the surface of the wooden bar table. I even found time to look around and observe a sweet couple drinking hot-chocolates while whispering sweet nothings into other’s ears. Cosy, warm and content in each other’s arms.  Then there was a middle-aged man whose movements where so precise you would think he was being remote-controlled: from his step out of his German car, the efficiency with which he sat down ordered a Guinness, made sure all his personal belongings keys, jacket, wallet were all properly in place before glancing at his wrist-watch and fixating his eyes on the screen above, all happening in a smooth single movement as if he alone was in the bar.  His purpose, why he was there, was clear from his demeanour. By half-time I decided to take a brisk, cold walk home, to save my time and hopefully do something a little more useful.  That’s the most I’ve seen of the world cup this year.

THE MESSI PART- ONE

I guess my heart was not in it because I saw how tense the situation had been just before the World Cup in Brazil. The people protested, screaming their lungs out, risking body and limb saying they prefer houses, improved healthcare and better standards of living to a show of football, but no one listened. The game had to go on anyway. So the protest, however fierce, angry and heart wrenching it was, still didn’t change the fact that those who wanted the game to go on collectively around the world (that’s all of us who watched it) were more powerful in their desire for the game than those who didn’t. So as soon as kick-off started we all forgot about the holes in our socks  to refocus on the matter at hand, the  beautiful game.  So I wondered how those whose yellow and green colours I had worn so proudly and sensuously after having squeezed myself in into a tight-fitting, Brazil National team jersey which pumped my breast up firmly to resemble balls from which warm delicious, creamy fresh milk and golden  sweet honey could drip, with just a hint of my prune like belly button peeping between heaven and earth, could possibly win under these circumstances: the people didn’t want it.

“They had no focus, they were too emotional or didn’t direct that emotion into a positive strategy on the field” these were just some of the comments I heard in passing after Germany emaciated Brazil with a 7-one win. The Giants of football had fallen at the hands of the most interesting country in the world. They call it German Efficiency, Discipline, Precision, Focus and so forth. “Germany has paid its dues to history, it’s time to celebrate!” No holocaust was mentioned there in my friends comment on Facebook. Why spoil a good story with facts. “It happened but we learnt from it” You should too.   So now here we are in the middle of 2014, almost a century since the Second World War when between 1942 and 1943, six million Jews, homosexuals, the disabled, and mentally ill were efficiently suffocated to death. Germany has won the world cup and is smiling from ear to ear, while Palestinians (Arabs) and the Israeli’s (Jews) are at each other throats, forcing an empty argument with heavy artillery through the mouths of infants. Germany has nothing to do with it!  It is the USA whose hands are dirty. Germany has paid its penance for the crimes it committed, they do what they can to support from behind but they will not be the face of it no. Too shameful. Even though its ethnic cleansing initiatives in 1942, are the reasons why Arabs won’t live with the Jews or why Israel is bombing Gaza.  The deal was the Jews would get their own piece of land after such cruel and atrocious treatment from the Germans, they had to be compensated somehow so they were allocated a piece of land – it was given to them. But nobody thought about what would happen to the people who already lived in that same piece of land, where are they supposed to go? So the fight started. Now nobody knows how to deal with the problem because both sides are entitled to the land by birth right, not to mention any holy book. One party suffers more because it has no resources, so other countries who are sympathetic to its cause support it where they can with arms or open disdain against Israel. Israel for its part sees nothing wrong with its actions, it’s something any father would do to protect the family. Germany is nowhere in sight.

THE MESSI PART : TWO

In fact Germany is so ashamed of the holocaust that no one in the country is legally allowed to even utter the word “Holocaust”.  You will be imprisoned says one friend, for just mentioning the word.  That’s how sorry they are about the whole thing.  The sad part is Germany is a very good country actually, besides everything, those who have been there, especially artists who lived in Berlin – sing its praises.  They have achieved a lot since the Holocaust, it’s a shame that people don’t see beyond history to appreciate something good. There are so many Good things about Germany, economically, technologically, their approach to arts and culture, education, etc. So much good.  In fact it is as we speak the power house of the European Union. It is the most stable, most organized country in the EU. Germany decides. So while its plan to conquer the world by the most efficient form of clinical brutality was abruptly halted, they did not give up the idea all together. The idea of a powerful race was still there continuing to grow, it didn’t die, the question was only: how to do this without ending up with egg on your face? i.e. indiscriminately annihilating masses of people to get what you want? Once they figured that puzzle out, they could continue with their plan without smelling like last night’s dinner.  German soldiers had to change uniform, from Khaki military uniforms, to civilian clothing, actually to anything their target is wearing.  They sent an invisible army around the world to infiltrate and take as much information as possible about the target in order to help. We are here to help, not to harm you in any way.

Regardless of the circumstances under which Germany defeated Brazil on or off the field. In football it’s fair game. There are no party  politics involved, no social issues, no business, mother or father dying, you have to focus on the game and that’s what makes you a winner. Everybody understands and believes that in soccer no one cheats, there’s no match fixing, it’s impossible. The game is based on your fitness, training, mental focus, controlled emotions and time.

Instead of being at the foreground, Germany decided to take a back seat and control things out of sight. Being the pioneer of an ambitiously brutal quest for power does not win you many friends,  you have to appear sincere, seem to care. By learning through German Efficiency, Discipline, Precision, Focus and so forth, it was easy for them to identify their opponents’ weakest point but instead of making fun of it, they thought of a solution that would have you freely and voluntarily handing over your power to them without them having to requesting it. This way instead of hating them, you will forever be in awe of their kindness. So that when they tell you it’s better to do things their way you agree, and why not, you stand to benefit from the deal too and it is a sweet one.   What they are doing in actual fact is making you play the game in their own terms.

THE BEAUTIFUL GAME

Every country has its own form of football and that is what makes it such a beautiful game.  In days gone by during the world cup each country would play its own game to the field. I fell in love with Brazilians not because they have an over-supply of sexy men or beautiful women, no it was Brazilian soccer that got me hooked. Those boys were dancing on the field! Their tackles were so complex it made the tango seem easier in comparison. No one could break their rhythm, focus and precision with which they passed the ball from one foot to another.  Football was still fun then, and men played because they loved it, enjoyed the game. You could a compose a beautiful song while watching Brazil move as effortlessly as a swift  gentle breeze, which lingered for a moment in motion for a tete a tete with the opponent while their feet moved faster than a piano master’s fingers over black and white keys, as if asking: Will you dance with me? Before moving in a blink as if nothing ever happened. It was simply beautiful to watch. The result of this was other teams were forced to bring their own game to the table too. Which s why soccer was so interesting to watch, why the world cup could never be boring.

Everybody was inspired to play.  Now our hearts are too heavy to score a goal. We start and then just forget why we’re in the game in the first place – while at the same time wanting to win.   Now we’re playing the game on German terms and conditions: Efficiency, Discipline, Precision, Focus and so forth. They know that for as long as we play the game based on their rules, even if they don’t win now, because they are letting us win, they will eventually win and win big, since they are the creators of the rules of the game.  In effect they know their game better than you. I didn’t watch the game between Brazil and Germany but many say,  it was as if Germany was alone in the field.

So based on this evidence Germany clearly deserved the World Cup.  The country has done well. I think if there is a lesson that could be learnt from these times is: You can always change your future no matter how horrible your past is.  You can turn anything bad you have done into something good, something to be proud of.  You can recover from any set back, you can create a future you want. With time, focus and diligence things will work out for you.

The other lesson is and this one I think is most important: Play your own game – the one only you can play. Because no one can play your game better than you can. Keep playing your own game no matter what anyone says,  because the bottom line is the point of the game is for is for one team to make another lose their game. The minute you lose your game the other team wins. So if you keep playing your game – in your own terms, you will never lose because everything that happens (even thought it might seem like a loss to others) is in your own terms.

By sticking to your game, no one can copy you, even if they try to, and end up doing a brilliant job of it  – it will always be a brilliant copy, never an original.

So be you. Do what you love, what you are naturally inspired to do. Love will somehow, save you, even from yourself.

Who knew that you can learn so much from watching a game of boring football?