Category: Musings

Ancient technology

My neighbour’s tenth grader just came over to borrow my scientific calculator because she’d left hers at school.

It’s the calculator that took me through high school Physics, Math and Accounting. As she went out the gate I realised the calculator is older than her…by over a decade! I guess I really can’t object any more to young people calling me “oom” (literal translation, “uncle” – in Afrikaans it’s used for non-relatives as well, with “sir” only used in formal settings, or if the person is deliberately difficult.) They should treat my calculator with that level of respect, for crying out loud!

What’s amazing is that these calculators haven’t changed much over the past three decades. It’s kinda refreshing to think that with the pace that technology keeps changing, some just do their job so well that no one feels the need to mess with it. If it ain’t broke, and all that…

Pray for South Africa

You may have seen some reports of South Africa in the news this week. In case you’re not sure what’s actually going on, here’s the short version:

Last week, our former president, Jacob Zuma, went to prison for contempt of court (I’m not going to get into the details of why, as I try to keep politics off my blog). His supporters took to the streets to protest, the protests turned violent, and on Monday devolved into large-scale looting and riots in several parts of the country. Including Kwazulu-Natal, where I live.

Across the province armed mobs descended on businesses, factories and warehouses, taking everything they could carry, vandalising and burning everything they couldn’t. They blocked off national roads, access to cities and towns, and torched trucks.

Miraculously in my town not a single business was looted – early on Monday already our police service, security companies, and private citizens co-ordinated by our community policing forums, blocked off access routes to town and somehow managed to keep the looters at bay, and to drive those who did come through (passing less than 2 km from my house) back. But one person (that I know of), a high school senior who was part of a group of protesters who got into a confrontation with the police, was killed.

In our sister-town across the highway, the entire business district was looted, with some businesses completely destroyed, and several sugar cane farms were torched.

I’ve had people reach out to check if we’re okay. First, thank you to all who did. You have no idea how much that means.

We’re not okay, but we’re safe. We’re safe, but we’re stressed out and tired, tired from sitting up at night praying while others patrol the streets, tired from hiding our fear and stress from Elizabeth, so she can enjoy the innocence and ignorance of childhood for a while longer. And yes, we’re afraid that things will start escalating again, though we bury that fear very deep down lest we fall into despair.

And while I have faith that this too shall pass, I can’t help but worry about what still lies ahead.

With the entire goods distribution chain disrupted, with stores and warehouses destroyed, and the roads not yet safe for delivery trucks to bring in new stock, there’s a real danger of food running out. Petrol pumps are already running dry. In a stroke of luck we bought some groceries over the weekend, so we won’t go hungry, but from tomorrow I’m taking my coffee black, and there won’t be a birthday cake for Elizabeth when she turns five on Monday. Many people are not as lucky as we are.

But I’m even more concerned about the other, long-term effects. As much as our community rallied together across different races to protect our town and to start cleaning up in the aftermath, these events have defined a new Us and a new Them. Seeing my neighbour walk down the street with a firearm strapped to his hip, talking about shooting first, and hearing people refer to the looters simply as “the enemy”, fills me with dread at where we’re heading. Rebuilding the businesses (those that can be rebuilt – for many who were already struggling due to Covid, this was likely the final nail in the coffin) will take months. Rebuilding the new rifts this has created in our community will take years.

As we ride out the storm, if you believe in prayer I ask you to please pray. Pray for peace to be restored, and for shelves to remain stocked so people can have enough to eat. Pray for hope, faith and compassion to prevail over fear, anger and hate. Pray for the people defending our towns, police, army and civilians alike. Pray for their safety, but also that they won’t need to reach for a weapon and take something that can’t be given back. Pray for the people doing the looting, most of whom are simply desperate, angry and frustrated after years of poverty and broken promises, making them easy to manipulate for those with political agendas.

Above all, pray for healing of the divisions in our country. While there has been many setbacks and failures along the way, South Africa has come a long way since our first democratic elections in 1994, and we’re running the risk of going back to square one. Pray that we’ll have the courage to finally address the rift between rich and poor, in concrete, sustainable ways instead of just talking about it. Pray that our leaders will finally put politics and personal gain aside and do what’s best for the people they were elected to serve.

Pray that we come out of this stronger, not more divided.

A letter to my daughter on her fourth birthday

A letter to my daughter on her fourth birthday

My dearest Elizabeth,

Today you turned four. It took quite a bit of convincing before you believed that’s a good thing…I’m actually not sure you’re completely sold on the idea yet. “3” has been your favourite number since you learned, somewhere along the line, about having favourites, and you’ve not been very impressed with the idea of not being your favourite number any more.

But you proudly showed four fingers today when Oupa Kokkie and Ouma Iréne asked how old you are, so you’re already adapting. You’re truly amazing in how well you adapt to change…

2020 has been a year we won’t forget soon, and we’ve likely not seen the worst of it yet. I have darker days where I wonder if we’ll both still be around and that I can write you another one of these in a year’s time.

As I write this, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, with a virus that has infected millions, and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide since the start of the year. You’ve only left our yard a handful of times since March. You haven’t seen your friends or played on the beach, and are already completely used to the idea that your ballet classes takes place in our living room, with images of your teacher and fellow ballerinas being streamed onto the TV.

And you have been incredible. You’ve accepted the new normal with barely a complaint, and when we leave the house you wear your mask with a smile. You make art, you’ve started your own veggie garden (can’t wait until it’s time to harvest your first crop of butternuts), you tell stories, play games, go on adventures, help around the house.

And you care. You have empathy on a level that many adults will never achieve. I guess being stuck at home with your mom and me, each of us trying to deal with our stress in our own way, you can’t help but pick up on it. I am sorry for this – I wish I knew how to do a better job protecting you against this, as you shouldn’t be sharing these types of burdens with us yet – but it has brought out something beautiful in you.

I can’t express how much it means when you come to my office just to give me a hug, or when you walk up to me, look me in the eye, and tell me I’m the best. It’s a cliche, but you truly are a little ray of hope in our lives.

I admit, I’m afraid, not just for our immediate future, but for the world you’ll be growing up in once this is over. But when I look at you laughing and smiling and finding ways to cope without even really understanding what you’re coping with, I’m a little less afraid. Because I see a little girl who’s going to grow up to be someone who makes a plan, who knows how to find the hidden moments of joy around us, and who makes the best of what life throws at you.

This birthday I don’t have any sage advice for you. I only have thanks. Thank you for being you, for being the best little girl a dad can ask for, for hugs and giggles and kisses on my cheek and back-scratches and make-believe tea and crawling into my lap not because you need to be held, but because you can tell I need to hold you.

Love you more than I can say.


Once upon a time, there was a virus

Once upon a time, there was a virus

I think if one looks back through history, every generation likely encounters an event that changes the way the world works for them, that makes them re-think their assumptions and ways of doing things. For my grandparents’ generation it was World War II and the Great Depression. For my parents’ it was probably 9/11. And for mine it will likely be COVID-19.

Last night our president addressed the nation and declared a national disaster.

Continue reading “Once upon a time, there was a virus”