Claire South Africa

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Back at the BBC

Hi Folks

A slightly belated Happy New Year. Hope it has started out the way you want.

I am back in the office at good old BBC Northern Ireland - Day 3. I certainly got a warm welcome, which is just as well as it is freezing here. As I type we have a severe gale warning and a prospect of snow next week. Well, what can you expect? It is January in Northern Ireland.

My parents and I had a great time travelling around Route 62 and the Garden Route. We started in Stellenbosch and then travelled on to Montague and Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo. Boy that was hot. Around 35 degrees C.

Once we crossed the mountains we visited Knysna and I hooked up with Star, the Vice Principal of Knysna High School, and Wilma, an English teacher there. I was able to present them with a mini DVD video camera which was bought with the remainder of the money raised in Northern Ireland. I am hoping that now the pupils are back I will receive the first footage in the not too distant future.

Knysna was wet, windy and slightly chilly for much of the 3 days we spent there which was a tad disappointing but we still got to go to the Elephant Sanctuary outside Plettenberg Bay and go on a game drive at Rhino Base Camp.

We stayed in Arniston for one night. An amazing place on the tip of South Africa not far from the southern most point, Cape Aguilas. It really reminded me of Donegal in all its windsweptness and the thatched white cottages huddled together and the white, white sand dunes in the distance.

My last three nights were spent in Clovelly, just between Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay. A lovely self-catering apartment with balcony views out to sea and over a wetland bird sanctuary area. It would have been perfect but unfortunately the night we arrived there Mum fell and hurt her hip. Ambulances, morphine, all night at the hospital. Poor Mum. We were all fairly stressed out but of course it could have been worse. Two nights in hospital and Mum was released on crutches. And then of course it was time for me to fly home.

And here I am. Busy processing my South African trip both consciously and unconsciously - trying to sort out what the best times and the worst times were - not there quite yet.

Thanks all of you. More will follow.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Last day at The Big Issue

Hi all

Doesn't time fly? It hardly seems a moment since I arrived at the office and was shown around by the Editor, James. As it is the Christmas holiday time here in SA there are very few of us in the office. Justine, the designer, is hard at work laying out the February issue, Tarryn, an intern like me, is putting the finishing touches to a story on sports development in SA.

Of course the distribution office is open downstairs as the vendors can't take a holiday. They have to buy the magazines, (the January issue is out) with whatever money they have and go onto the streets to sell. It is a clear, blue, cloudless sky so it will be hot and thirsty work. Let's hope some of the Christmas spirit is still blowing around the city's streets.

On another note, and somewhat guiltily, I have to report that I will be leaving the office early and going shopping. I haven't been to the V&A Waterfront yet on this visit so I am going to consume - in more ways than one.

That is the difficulty with finding your conscience. It tends to bother you.

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At the weekend my parents arrive from Northern Ireland and I am hiring a car and taking them on a 12 day trip around a small corner of this vast country. I am looking forward to seeing what they think of South Africa.

I return to the wet and windswept streets of Belfast on 13th January and I am looking forward to seeing friends, family and, of course, the boyfriend.

Over and out for now and thanks to all my readers and 'posters'.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mopanie Worm

Hi All

I thought I would just share with you a little delicacy Donna and I tried in a restaurant in Obz (Observatory) a couple of weeks ago.

It was a wet and windy Sunday and the Obz Fest for that day had been cancelled so we were at a loose end. After having a beer in the local Cool Runnings bar, being dripped on and listening to modern jazz, we decided we needed a change of scene. We mooched along Lower Main Road and came across a friendly looking bar/restaurant. I think it was called Babbos but I just can't quite recall.

Donna tucked into a Mushroom burger while I looked on sipping at a vodka and orange. After a little while the owner, I believe he was called Andrew, came along and asked where we were from. After a chat he asked if we would like to try a South African delicacy. Mopanie Worms.

He told us that these worms, or caterpillars, were dried, then re-hydrated, and then cooked in a variety of ways. I have to say I wasn't keen. Donna was more adventurous and so, in a moment or two, a small plate of deep fried mopanie worms stuffed with feta cheese and accompanied by a curry mayonaise dip arrived at our table.

Donna tucked in first. She didn't look horrified and munched pensively. I had no choice but to try them, except I only took half a one. What was it like? Interesting. I am sure if I had not known it had once been a large caterpillar I could have enjoyed it more. It was rather chewy and had a sort of earthy/gamey taste but with a bit of smoked oyster thrown in. I think my western mind couldn't get my head around it. Andrew told us that they were also eaten fresh, were a great delicacy and full of nutrition.

Donna asked to see the 'worm' before it was re-hydrated. They were about one inch long, dark grey and shrivelled. Not too worm like. Check out the link below to see what they look like when they are alive. They are pretty amazing looking things.

I have since read up about them a little. They are the caterpillar of the giant Emperor Moth and they 'infest' Mopanie trees at certain times of the year. The locals wait until they are fat and juicy and then harvest them from the trees. You have to rip the head off and squeeze out their bitter insides. Then they either eat them fresh or dry them for later.

See a picture of the 4 inch long caterpillars:

Learn more about them:

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Big Isshue"

Dear All

Each Christmas the office staff go out onto the streets of Cape Town and sell copies of The Big Issue. It is a mark of support and respect for the vendors and to remind them all what the vendors go through each and every day. Any proceeds made go the vendors.

So, on Friday I sold TBI on the streets of Cape Town. At a set of robots on Buitengraght Street to be precise, (robots are traffic lights). It was a hot, windy day and we were all kitted out in our Big Issue T-shirts. The other staff were dotted down the road at various intersections. Each time the lights went red I walked up between the lanes of traffic holding the magazine aloft and saying "Big Issue?"

As the time passed I noticed three main reactions. The drivers who looked straight ahead pretending that you didn't exist, windows tightly closed, aircon blasting away. The second was a negative nod indicating that they weren't interested. This, at least, acknowledged that you existed and was a perfectly acceptable response. The third was interaction! Either it was waving a copy they had already bought, or a "No thanks, not today", or "I already bought one" or "I haven't any change" or sometimes the odd joke.

There was one exception to the above. A guy in his 30s, white, in a 4x4. He saw me coming up the traffic lane, looked straight ahead - ignoring me - while winding up his window. Like I looked like I was going to mug/hijack/abuse him. What a sad way to be.

When the lights turn to green you jump back onto the middle pavement smartish, walk back down to the lights and wait for the lights to go red once more.

I did this for about 1.5 hours and sold precisely zero copies. It was hot and the dust blew into my face and eyes. The exhaust fumes began to give me a headache and made me feel sick. It was a brief insight into how a day pans out for a vendor. Except they often sell from 8 am to 7 pm every day in the heat of summer and the wet of winter. They also often walk long distances to and from the The Big Issue depot and their pitches.

So, the next time you are waiting at the lights and someone comes up the lane selling a Big Issue magazine at least acknowledge that you come from the same species. Ideally put your hand in your pocket and buy a copy. The vendors have to buy their magazines, they work hard to sell them and they deserve some respect.

Over and out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

TBI Vendor Party

Dear All

Am back on-line after a brief pause. Living in Cape Town is very different to Knysna. Well, it would be wouldn't it as after all this is the 'mother' city, not a small, attractive town on the Garden Route.

On Friday last we interns helped out at the Vendor's Christmas party in Khayelitsha. It was held in a community hall on Look Out Hill and although the local radio station had predicted showers it was actually warm and sunny, if a little windy. Do, the Senior Social Development Manager, told us to expect around 100 children and although there weren't quite that many there was a fair crowd. And of course the vendors and their close family were there too.

First there were a few short speeches and then a personal account from a vendor. After this TBI had organised a drumming work shop facilitated by 'Teamspirit'. There were 60 drums set in a circle and after a little bit of encouragement (from me and others from TBI) we had a child or adult at each one. The workshop was fantastic. It was amazing how quickly everyone got into the rhythm. There was no talking or formal 'lesson'- the drum leaders showed by example and everyone just got on with it.

After that some of the children danced to the latest pop songs. Their sense of rhythm is something else. The hips just keep going and their suppleness is impressive. Then lunch. Chicken and rice with beetroot and coleslaw with lots of sweet mango juice to wash it down.

Outside was an inflatable Bouncy castle and the younger children jumped and threw themselves about until I was exhausted just looking at them. Two of TBI staff had brought face paints so in no time we has a colourful array of butterfly-faced kids zigzagging amoungst the adults.

A little later the children were handed Christmas gifts while the adults received large blankets in plastic holders and bags of toiletries.

On the way back to the office it was hard to take in the scale of the settlement. We seemed to drive along the freeway for many kilometres with the closely packed huts of the township keeping perfect pace with us. I looked it up on the web and according to one source there are between 500,000 and 1m people living there. A pretty big margin don't you think and, as it is growing all the time, there are no accurate figures on population levels.

So, while on the one hand the day was full of fun, enjoyment and hope there was also the realisation that there is just so much to do.

Over and out for now.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Big Issue - Guest Blog from Jan

Yesterday Claire arrived in Cape Town from Knysna to join the writing team of the Big Issue. For those of you who don’t know, TBI is a magazine devoted to the homeless people in Cape Town. They can buy the magazine from the organisation and then sell it to the general public. Normally you would find these vendors (as we call them) on the city streets, at shopping mall entrances or near traffic lights where they hope to catch shoppers and drivers unaware. In doing so, they can make a handsome profit (6 rands for each sale). Rather than begging on the streets, this allows them to acquire a small income while building their confidence. Some of them will move up in the world to unprecedented heights. The support they get from the Big Issue (it is also a social support organisation), will be basic in finding an official job later on.

The magazine itself is made by professional journalists, students and interns and its core audience is the socially conscious Capetonian - the he or she who can afford to pay the 12 rands and wants to give support to the not so fortunate fellow-man.

In the magazine a lot attention is given to social issues. Aids, sexual abuse, housing problems, drugs, gangster violence are all everyday realities in the city, and people need to be made aware. Fortunately, there are also lighter topics, as not everything in Cape Town is dark, dangerous and gloomy. I remember fun features on punk bands who sing Afrikaans, alien abductions in Africa, and informal eating cultures where you don’t eat in a restaurant but stay in people’s actual homes.

Claire will now bring her own experiences and glorious Belfast background into the equation. We expect a lot of her but have no worries that she will deliver. The only fear is that she will find life in Cape Town so distracting and fun and bizarre that she won’t have time to write. That, or she may be scooped away by a hard-boiled, non-African alien, in which case we will stop our presses and start looking for her immediately. For now, TBI is glad to have her.

By the way, we haven’t spotted any cockroaches, yet!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Leaving Percy

Dear All

Last Monday was my last day at the school. The day was spent trying to get all the material I had gathered sorted into easily accessible folders so that Ian could find the information and the photographs that he needed. Why? Because Ian is in the process of updating the Percy Mdala website. I feel a bit guilty really as I was meant to do much more work on that than I got a chance to,

There were no students at the school on Monday as they have all finished their exams and so are off for their long summer break. This is a pity in a way for 9D as I know they are anxious to get feedback from the students at Percy on the powerpoint presentations they sent over.

I also received from Belfast a set of personal stories so I will put up a couple of those in the very near future. Initially on the Blog but hopefully later on the BBC website.

I have to go now as it is my second day at The Big Issue in Cape Town where I am volunteering for a month. Can't sit here doing personal stuff all day!.

All the best for now.