Sunday, 21 December 2014

Step out

It's a weird time of the year.
Idealised memories of Christmas spent with cousins cluster like grapes around the realities of the non-season here. In one we are all at my grandmother's first house, the one with the patio above the garage (above some other room?) where one had a startling view of the sea. My aunt asked someone to play Santa Claus and to a pack of preschoolers the man in the red suit arriving at our doorstep was everything.

In another memory we are again at the beach, always at the beach, and my grandmother has tossed the traditional idea of a Christmas tree by using the long branch-bloom that extends from the middle of some type of succulent. She has made little packets for each grandchild containing a host of tiny 'onbenullighede', things she has picked up at farm stalls and convenience stores during the past year in her pursuit to be fair to us all. The families are all there, the aunts and uncles and my mother and sister.

A different year sees my grandmother, always my grandmother, with us in 2000, the first one without my father. I remember him gifting me a Celine Dion CD, a sign that he had not noticed I had moved away from 'My Heart Will Go On' to falling for my sister's Backstreet Boys collection.

Then there was the one year my sister and I spent Christmas alone. The sad year, the bad year, the one where we fought and ended up in our separate rooms.

But it is the Christmases of my 20s that I yearn for now. I miss planning how to get my grandmother to wherever the celebration will be; coordinating a menu with everyone doing different dishes; thinking up cool presents; bickering and fighting and the feeling of needing distance from the overdose of family; having everyone unpack each present individually, stretching the time spent with one another; hanging out with cousins that are so very different from me and still so relatable; sitting outside in the sun with whomever is there at the moment, sipping on a glass of wine and catching up; and lastly, more than the event that is Christmas I miss the sense that blood is thicker than water.

This Christmas will surely be its own shrewd kind of miracle, and I look forward to spending it with people close to my heart. And last year was experiencing Christmas as an observer more than as a participant, by no fault of the kind family that hosted me. It was still a lot of fun and I enjoyed getting to know the little rituals of a family quite different from mine.

Nevertheless, none of this is Christmas. Forget about the religious aspect of the season, dismiss the name and the particular date all together, and center on what it is that makes the time spent together on those few days so memorable: the people. Sometimes, it is as simple as this - I long for my people.

Monday, 24 November 2014


I've decided to dance when gravity becomes too much. So I twirl around, never on my own in a world of sound.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Lonely Souls

This past weekend I went to Bremen, again with the international students. It was miserable, gray and the kind of cold that infiltrates your bones and refuses to leave for the next months. Even our arrival at the central station was marked by how unspectacular everything there was: simply another big building with groups of anti-establishment homeless young adults and other homeless skulking about, reeking of beer and piss. The city tour was immensely boring as the lady who showed us around did not seem to notice that she was talking to students and not a group of geriatrics. Luckily that evening some of us went out and met up with my friend Pina, with whom we ended up at a gay club, dancing to Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, and other 90s hits.

As half the group is Catholic, we attended mass in the Bremer Cathedral, which must have been the first time in years that I sat through a sermon. More interesting that being preached to were the stained glass windows and the architecture of the cathedral. Afterwards, a Russian girl accompanied me to the Weserburg Museum of Modern Art, which divides its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions between 5 floors.

After exploring four floors and contemplating rooms filled with Rothko-ish colour paintings, children's drawings and cultural artifacts exhibited next to art works we opened the door to a black room in the fifth floor. Initially I thought it would be another strange video installation that I refused to suffer through, but Richard Mosse's The Enclave (2012) was miraculous.

Four large screens formed a rectangle in the middle of the dark room, with a screen hanging at a distance on two more sides (so 6 screens in total). We went into the rectangle and focused on the film shown on only one of them, the rest were blank, bathed in black. The film showed what looked like a refugee camp in between strangely pink hills, with African people moving out of the camera's way as it progressed through the makeshift village. As we followed the camera's path, the other screens went on and suddenly we were overwhelmed by this pink colour that did not seem to fit the suffering these people must have endured (and are still enduring).

Turns out the footage was filmed on 16mm infrared film, used during wartime to differentiate between plants and people as the chlorophyll in the plants shows up in red-pink tones. For this film alone it was worth going to Bremen.

Richard Mosse: The Impossible Image from Frieze on Vimeo.

Friday, 21 November 2014

If I don't have to

Arnold Böcklin, Die Toteninsel (The Isle of the Dead), 1883
During this month of November I have been gone more than I have been here. Throw in a darkness that clung to me like bubblegum to a shoe, well, then let us say it was the best of months and the worst of months, and it isn't even over yet. 

One of the first trips was to Berlin, accompanying the international students to the capital. That weekend the conductors of the Deutsche Bahn (the rail services) decided to strike. Luckily we took the arduous journey from Flensburg to Berlin by bus, but in the city transport was made more difficult as the S-Bahn was striking as well. Luckily we could get to most places by U-Bahn and managed to see the Festival of Lights, an old DDR Prison (Stasi-Museum near Lichterfelde), go on a walking tour of the city, visit some museums on the Museumsinsel, do a little shopping, go out to a club in an old furniture factory and spend the last hours enjoying beautiful sunshine at the Mauerpark. For 72hours, we really did cram it in. Nevertheless, I doubt the students realise how stressful it is to look after them. At times it felt like having 25 children who could legally get drunk. 

A good distraction from being mother/mean-bitch to 25 people who are just a few years younger was taking one of the other tutors to the museum island. I should perhaps be more of an art connoisseur, given that it is partially what I studied. But I find art to be an extremely subjective thing, dependent on mood and timing and how an individual reacts to a work. The Isle of the Dead is mesmerizing to me, although inexplicably so. In total Böcklin painted 5 versions, four of which survive to this day (one was burnt during WWII). I have seen the Berlin and the Leipzig versions, and both made me want to disappear into the work, rather than having to quietly tip-toe around it at a distance. 

The Festival of Lights was astounding on a different level. For one night many famous buildings have various images projected on them as citizens walk around and observe the city at night. That weekend Berlin really pulled out all the stops, as on our last day there we soaked up the sun in the Mauerpark as various artists played music all around us. We also had the best Vietnamese dish I have ever tasted (it was some kind of beefy broth, but not really having tasted Vietnamese before this was perfectly spiced). All that remained was a long ride in a crowded bus back to a tiny city that keeps playing hide and seek with the light. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

I'm so tired

The holidays seem like a distant memory. As soon as I landed back in Germany work started and this week the university began. With it comes and endless stream of  To-Do-lists and everyday processes that tire me about before they have even really begun.

So I reminisce about time spent with my family, about road trips and vacationing in Istanbul. Our day of arrival in Istanbul is a hazy recollection: my friend met my at the baggage claim as she had landed hours earlier and then we stumbled into the bright sunrise of the city. A very friendly cab driver sped us across the Bosphorus to Beyoglu where our hostel was. In broken English he explained how he had traveled to 62 cities and as we feared for our lives he swerved across empty lanes while simultaneously scrolling though old photographs on his smartphone of him in Vegas.

When we got to the Neverland Hostel we weren't allowed to check-in because it was only 6AM. So we slept on dingy couches in the foyer for a few hours until the other patrons came down for breakfast. After a shower we wandered the city and found our own breakfast. After finally checking in we found Taksim Square, ate some grapes in a park and wandered down the Istiklal avenue, Istanbul's shopping street. My aunt had given me an enormous goodie bag filled with padkos, so for dinner we snacked on biltong sticks, nuts and dried mango and then passed out.

Taksim Square


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Light home

Negester en stedelig

Terwyl die Negesterre en die stedeligte witter
in die donker suidelike nagte óm ons skitter,
slaap jy nog weg in nag en swye
langs mos en varings van eertye:
’n see-anemoon waar geel spirale
lig deur water in jou van ’n Oerson daal,
daal in jou slaap; jy roer,
’n vis teen riet en maan se perlemoer;
jy sluimer in ’n tonnel van die kuil –
’n otter in nat holtes nog verskuil;
dan stort jy skielik uit as mens, besitter
van die Negester en stedelig se skitter.
Saans as die rye ligte langs die strate brand
sal jy met wye oë en met kleine hand
vir my bedui en stotterend sê
hoe groot houttolle kabels in diep slote lê;
partymaal sal jy by my tafel neul
om na die sirkus of die mallemeul
te gaan; en vaster om jou groei bioskope,
fabrieke, speurverhale en mynhope;
saans sal die stad se ligte witter
in jou donker siel bly skitter.
Watter kaart of watter ster sal ek jou wys
om veilig deur die grysland heen te reis?
Sal ek van ’n God praat wat verdoem,
van Christus, en die Tien Gebooie noem?
Voorlopig dan, maar onthou altyd
aan jou dade grens ’n ewigheid;
gee sin aan voorgeslagte deur die eeue heen,
besef jy is ’n vegter weer van die begin, alleen;
en mag die Suiderkruis en Negesterre witter
as die stedeligte in jou siel bly skitter.
~ DJ Opperman

Hierdie hemel is nie myne nie, agter wolke sonder einde skuil geen sterre wat vir my iets beteken nie. Hier ken ek nie my pad nie, hier is geen Suiderkruis wat wys waar my plek in die wêreld is nie.

Gedurend die tuisvakansie het ons twee plaas toe gery. Daai eerste aand het ons met tee en komberse buite gaan sit en ons plek tussen die sterre gekry. Ligjare se ligte het oor ons geskyn terwyl die melkweg vir ons ons rigting gewys het. Salig en gelukkig om in daai oomblik met jou te wees het ek geweet dat solank jy by my is, solank hierdie hemel 'n stukkie myne bly, sal ek nie die pad duister raak nie.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Older chests

Not too bad second attempt. 

My grandmother knows how to make things last. I have heard them retell countless times how once a year everyone came to the farm to aid in slaughtering a cow and then using all of its parts, even cooking the fat with something to make soap. Somehow the Afrikaner legacy of preserving food gets passed on through the generations and when I see an abundance of fruit for a cheap price, knowing full and well that I can't eat it, I'll purchase it.

This Watermelon-Strawberry Jam is a result of one such impulse. During the summer strawberries were abundant at the farmers' market and I still has some frozen watermelon in the freezer from my birthday party. Not one to throw anything away needlessly, I figured why not make strawberry watermelon jam?! The problem was that both do not contain enough pectin (I think) on their own to ensure that the jam thickens.

So I dialed my grandmother, some 14 000 km away, and asked what I should do. Sadly, she misunderstood what I wanted to do and proceeded to explain how to make Waatlemoen konfyt (Watermelon jam made from the white rind). Then I tried Google, but to no avail.

In the end this is more error than trial, but it worked out quite well:

6 cups  watermelon juice
5 cups strawberries (650g), washed and hulled
1kg Gelierzucker (jam sugar with added citric acid and pectin available in Germany)
500g Stevia Gelierzucker
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice

- Place a plate in the freezer to later test if the jam is ready.
- I first cooked the frozen watermelon slowly just to thaw it and then sieved it to just get the juice.
- Then wash and cut the strawberries, and add them to the watermelon juice. It is best to use the biggest pot you have to prevent the whole thing from boiling over.
- Add all the sugars and the lemon juice, the slowly bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Turn down the heat and let it boil on a medium heat (about 15min in my case). To test whether the jam is ready put a tiny bit on the plate that was in the freezer. If it jellifies after a few minutes it is ready.

Hah, now for all the fails in this recipe:
- the jam jellified, but then did not when all of it was in jars and ready to be given as presents.
- the strawberry chunks also looked weird.
- I went back to the store and bought a 500g packet of Stevia Gelierzucker because it has less calories and I thought well, there is already a boatload of sugar in it.
- For next time I'll just immediately use 2 kg of normal Gelierzucker (no Stevia, no normal sugar) and that should do the trick.

Botched first attempt.

Monday, 6 October 2014


By my own fault I had imagined Constantinople and not Istanbul. I had pictured a layer of gold gleaming across the city, opulent mosques and churches bordering on lavish little streets and fantastic markets. Instead, a vast modern city spread endlessly before us with its accompanying stench and filth.

The highlight, undoubtedly, was the food. By God, the food!
Everyday started out with a large Turkish breakfast at out hostel (9€ for the night including this very breakfast): thick yogurt, muesli, slices of watermelon, grapes, feta cheese, tomato/carrot/cucumber salad, fresh bread and various spreads with coffee and an endless supply of Turkish tea. This tea is brewed strongly in a tiny teapot,  then diluted with hot water to suit the individual drinker's preference in tea-strength and served in small glasses with sugar klontjies.

For lunch and dinner my friend and I tried everything:

The only breakfast we paid for: a cheese omelette with bread, feta and salad.

Hazelnut and pistachio baklava. 
Snacktime on the Bosporus boat ride. 
Wonderful goat's milk ice cream at Mado.
A churro-thing with pistachio. 
The best grilled lamb in Istanbul. 

Kokoreç, or what I now now to be "lamb or goat intestines, often wrapping seasoned offal, including sweetbreads, hearts, lungs or kidneys". Thank you Wikipedia. It was really tasty though. 
Mince Pide. 
Börek filled with cheese. The only vegetarian thing we ate during the entire trip. 
Manti, or Turkish ravioli, with a yogurt sauce. Delicious. 
Waffle with Nutella and strawberries. Don't mind if I do. 
Weekly market

Fresh orange or pomegranate juice. 
Lamb (I think it might have been liver), köfte and chickpeas. 
Caramel dondurma, or an elastic ice cream that involves an entire game with the ice cream vendor. I was not amused but my friend thought it was very funny. Here is an example. 
Our last meal: döner. 
Even though I only just realised what some of the things I ate were, it was all extremely well spiced, tasted marvelous and was very affordable. Next time we head to Turkey I would suggest skipping the city and only going where your stomach takes you.

Sunday, 5 October 2014


The holiday is over, daily life is almost back in full swing.
I sat in the plane crying because this time there is no certain date for me to go back home. This time it seemed more final, the lightness of my country and my people giving way to dark clouds and a hovering sense of never fully being myself here. I pretend at belonging, at finding a rhythm, but perhaps first must come the acceptance that home always remains home and at the same time no longer is.

During this tumultuous diaspora of the individual a friend posted this on FB, a guiding light when I was about to get lost again:

“We must be willing to get rid of
the life we’ve planned, so as to have
the life that is waiting for us.

The old skin has to be shed
before the new one can come.

If we fix on the old, we get stuck.
When we hang onto any form,
we are in danger of putrefaction.

Hell is life drying up.

Excerpt from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


This homecoming is a strange thing.
It feels like I have never left.
Conversations with friends never halt, never fail, never make me feel like I missed a year.
These roads are still mine, knowing where the speed traps hide and where the shortcuts are.
The wine section in Checkers still has the Odd Bins Pinotage.

And yet, everything has changed as well.
I stay with my aunt, digging through boxes of old clothes and books and things that do not matter.
Our house is another family's house now.
The roads are changing, with construction sites everywhere.
The Odd Bins is no longer #706, but #710, with its date changing from 2011 to 2012.

I have missed a year.

But then again, so have the others.

Monday, 4 August 2014


My tas is gepak, propvol met goedjies vir julle. 
Sien julle nou nou.

deur Jaco van der Merwe

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The light woke me. 4.a.m., that dreaded in-between-time where night has not yet ended and the day is still waiting to start. My sister was lying next to me, sound asleep, missing the spectacular sunrise. In winter the light hides away in other corners of the planet, but when summer comes so does the day: the sun rises at about 4.30 and only sets at 22.00. It is strange to me to have either really short days or really long ones because I am not accustomed to such extremes. In summer this is lovely, with long evenings spent at the harbour sipping drinks and contemplating what life will bring next.

In a week I'll be heading home for almost two months, so I looked at the photographs from when my family came to visit. Their suitcases were filled to the brim with things for me: Chutney, glorious glorious bottles of chutney. Proper rooibos tea. Beskuit (rusks), baked by my mom. Marula jelly. Custard powder. Biltong. A section from The Sunday Times. And tons and tons of my clothes.

And now that the flight leaves in little more than a week I am planning my gifts carefully. Who would enjoy what? Would the gift break in my bag? Will it melt? Mostly I have settled on chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate.

Although I am bubbling over with excitement it is also strange to leave here now, just as summer has blown in for a few weeks. When my mother and sister were visiting, we had a few nice days where we explored Glücksburg by boat and on foot, and were also lucky enough to go aboard the Alexander von Humboldt II. Now on to exploring my hometown :)

The Okseø islands


Alexander von Humboldt II

Friday, 25 July 2014

Made of Stone

The Forgotten One

Nicholas knows they can smell him before they can see him. What is he supposed to do? He can’t go back; there is no place to go home to and there is no place for him to go forward to. So he spends his life huddling into the spaces that others ignore. There is the corner of the bus stop where he can rest his head against dirty Plexiglas. Then there is the corner opposite the Indian restaurant where he can smell the coriander, the turmeric and the cumin combining with a hint of cinnamon, maybe some garlic and a handful of chili peppers to create their garam masala. Or on warm summer nights he can hide away from prying eyes behind the arches of the old rum storage hall near the harbour.

He does not grow embarrassed anymore. Now he simply exists as he is, waiting for a future that brings him no hope. What do they see as they walk quickly past him, fearful of him extending his empty coffee cup in that tell-tale way of the beggar? But he does not beg, even though his condition would be best suited to it. His wheelchair is a good start, but it is the burns on his face and upper body that could really make the people empty their wallets. The stench and the rags are just a bonus, something to add to his look of callous wretchedness.

Nicholas knows he scares them. He knows what he looks like. His once blue eyes have submitted to a greyish colourlessness and the right one has a droopy lower lid. He has no eyebrows left, his right cheek is torn apart by disfiguring burns. The right wing of his nose is missing completely, making him appear more skull-like than human-like. The scars on the top of his head he hides underneath an old beanie, but the ones extending down his chest and torso he wears as a shield of armour. Thick worms of badly healed skin crisscross down his torso like veins and arteries that have inverted their place in the body.

His looks he accepts, it is just one of those things. But the loss of his life he did not consent to. And now they walk past him, daily, the ones who loved him most also most afraid of him. He struggles to push his chair up the slight angle of the hill of the main shopping street. Cobblestones be damned. The plastic bags hanging from his chair’s handles sway-swish-swish as he tries to move forward. They contain all of his belongings, which does not amount to much: some ratty clothes, a pair of black boots for the winter, a towel and a bottle of wine. He is not really going anywhere, but the holidays have started and the city is inundated by them so he had to get away. He is advancing slowly, creeping up the hill, but no one offers to help. They part in front of him like the Red Sea.

He escapes and hides in the corner behind the church. No one goes to church any more, he knows he is safe from the hordes. The steeple casts a long shadow. It is 18:00. The bells start ringing all over town. Nicholas carefully fishes a paper cup from one of the bags and wipes it down with a serviette. The wine is pink and girlish but it was the cheapest he could find. He pours himself a glass and takes a big sip. But he does not gulp it down, no, he swirls it from one side of his mouth to the other, savouring the berry-like sweetness before he swallows soundlessly. The contents of the bottle disappear slowly; his head falls to his shoulder as he drifts into an uneasy sleep.

Only in this drunken stupor does he relive the horror of that night. The most joyous of them all, the night they had prepared for during the past 364 days. The day that ruined him.

All the preparations had been in order, his team had done a wonderful job and thought of everything. The first half of the night passed eventlessly, but then he slid down the chimney that would disfigure him forever. Nicholas had seen no smoke, felt no heat and smelt no soot so he felt safe. But when he reached the bottom he was engulfed by flames. The plastic imitation leather he was wearing because his workers no longer advocated the use of animal products singed and clung to his skin. It seared him, a fat steak on a griddle pan.

The children heard him scream. They came running but there was nothing they could do. Their parents appeared, tried to extinguish the man on fire in their living room. ‘How had he broken in? What was he there to steal?’ - they wondered. Good thing they let the fire burn. The parents phoned the ambulance and the police. Nicholas was rushed to hospital, but because he had no identification and kept mumbling that the children could not see him like this he was treated like a criminal, a pervert even. They barely patched him up, thinking him strange and scary and thus undeserving of proper care. Then they stuck him in a wheelchair and rolled him out of the front door. He had fallen through the bureaucratic cracks, no one cared what he did from that point onward.

Nicholas tried getting in touch with his office, after all he had worked there all his life and practically been the boss. But they only sent him a note: “Regret this happened to you, but we can no longer employ you. We hope you understand. Kind regards, Fir Tree Management”. He did not blame them, really, accepting that his looks made him ineligible to be the main guy any longer. But could they not have found alternate employment for him? Could his loyalty to the company for the past centuries not have been rewarded by something other than a letter of dismissal?

He started existing on the streets as he discovered the hidden nooks and crannies where he could breathe in peace. Worse than the betrayal by his employers and friends however was the way the children now looked at him. They retreated in disgust and avoided him at all cost. Nicholas had spent his life trying to bring them whatever they most desired, and this was the way they repaid him. He knew is anger was unfounded, knew that he should not blame them. How could the children recognize him like this? To them he was a crippled hobo surrounded by the stench of the streets, a urine-soaked figure of filth and human indifference. To them another Santa would be coming to town.

Friday, 11 July 2014

She gone with the man/ In the long black coat

The biggest musical moment was when Jimmy Eat World came to Oppikoppi in 2007. After Savage Garden and Usher in the Dome in Johannesburg when I was still a preteen this was huge. I must have been 19, ready to finish my Abitur and head out into the world at the end of that year. I remember standing pretty close to the stage with one of my best friends, how excited we were and how we sang along to every song. It was magnificent.

This year I have had the privilege of seeing the National, and with that my musical bucket list had started. There are just 4 names on there: Radiohead. The National. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. Ben Howard. Easy. Doable, in a lifetime, surely.

And then someone came along who would blow that bucket list to smithereens: Bob Dylan. As in, the Bob Dylan. Bobby D. The one and only. For some reason (I do not question the powers that be in this case) Bob Dylan came to Flensburg, of all places. And played for us. Jimmy Eat World were magnificent because of who I saw them with and because they are the band of my teens; the National were a testament to how sad songs can make you incredibly happy; and then came Bob Dylan.

Except for jazzy versions of All Along the Watchtower and Blowin in the Wind played as an encore I knew none of the songs. Not a single one. There was no singing along, no great dancing, no great moving along to the music. And yet he was mesmerizing. He walked on stage in a black suit where the jacket was quite long and then a wide-brimmed hat. During the performance, he switched between singing and playing on the piano, walking between the two stations with more swagger than an entire Hip Hop crew, and enthralled us. The hall was stickily hot, the people were packed quite densely next to one another and I was constantly stepping on my jacket on the floor. And yet, him being there was all it took to make everyone forget how hot and humid it was.

To him it must have been just another gig, one of 1000s, but to me it was the world. It was seeing someone who had lived their dream and who at 70-something was still going strong. I am not a musician and I am entirely unsure what the future holds, but seeing him in the hall us students had been welcomed to Flensburg in, well, it made me believe for a little while that anything was possible.

(After the concert we watched Germany beat Brazil 7-1, so that night the impossible truly became a reality.)

Standing Bob.
Piano Bob. 
Germans celebrating their win.