Parts of the process

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

– Benjamin Franklin

All the mistakes, all the bad decisions, all those missed opportunities, all the moments of indiscretion – these are parts of the process.

And the triumphs, the opportunities seized with cautious yet eager hands these, and all the glorious moments are also part of the process.

The people who took advantage of my insecurities, the friends who showed me the way, the colleagues who offered me a drink when I needed to drown my sorrows, the lovers and the dreamers- they too are part of the process.

The times I had to fight back the tears, the time when I felt free driving a tractor through a corn field, the times I felt trapped in my body, the time I  felt complete dancing in the street with children I’d just met – these times are part of the process.

The tequila I drank like water to make everything feel right, the ice cold watermelons I devoured under the scorching Israeli sun, the gelato I ate in a small Tuscan square which made time stand still, the cheap vodka mixed with chocolate milk which made me sick to my stomach – all these things are part of the process.

The house in Ghana with it’s cold showers and turtles in buckets, the apartment in the clouds with shiny floors and bath-time cigars, the cottage surrounded by vineyards with a wooden spiral staircase, the house I grew up in with gutters full of leaves and closed doors – these places are part of the process.

The months I retreated from the world when my friends needed me, the nights I walked the streets yearning to be part of something bigger, the days I felt completely numb, the Christmas I spent alone in a strange house eating pizza, the day I said goodbye for the last time – these times are part of the process.

The relationships that taught me to be kind, the relationships that forced me to be brave, the relationships with no strings attached, and the ones that made me believe in fairy tales – these are part of the process.

So don’t mind being at odds with the status quo. Embrace this new age which allows us to choose any path we like. Sometimes it’s a highway, sometimes it’s a slow and meandering lane. Choose one that is full of experiences rather than just achievements. Enjoy the transformation. The process that follows the rhythm of your heart. A process you can’t stop. For once you stop changing, adapting, evolving and growing, you cease to be you.

Mostly the Mother City

I’m trying to re-adjust my thinking, re-programme my vocabulary and re-align my chakras. Trying to live, speak and act like a Capetonian again. It’s not easy, but I’m trying. I’ve noticed a couple of things since moving back and realised I’d also forgotten some.

You know you’ve living in Cape Town when:

The waiters say to each other: “This is a RESTaurant, so we should rest, man!” (while you wait 15 minutes for a coffee). And your waiters name is Blessing or Progress..

Cars move faster in the slow lane than the fast lane.

You use a mountain to help you navigate whilst driving.

Taxi drivers use the pavement as a short cut through traffic.

Many people still wear brightly coloured clothes made from hemp and sandals made from car tyres.

Your car is constantly covered in a thin layer of salt from being parked near the sea.

A gap in one’s teeth or a missing a tooth, is described as “having a puncture in your face.”

Rush hour starts at 3:30. On Friday’s, at 2:30.

You see people do their grocery shopping in bare feet on the weekends.

You realise that most also hibernate in the winter.

Otters swim past your balcony most evenings.

Ornithological Adventures cont…

I think I may take up bird-watching. Well, I have, by default, anyway due to my new location. I am currently sitting on the balcony at home with my camera, a book entitled ‘Voels van Suider-Afrika’ (a gift from my oldest friend, Ruth – which is simultaneously turning me into a bird anorak and improving my Afrikaans which has become almost non-existent), and my laptop on which I am furiously documenting the birds as I see them. I never understood how some people derived so much excitement from bird-watching – my childhood pet, a canary called Chirpy, never evoked much admiration in me – but I am now beginning to appreciate the bird-watchers fervor. Admittedly, the cuteness factor plays a big part in my new found hobby, and I find myself squealing at each new sighting and, just recently, launching myself off the balcony, camera in hand, in order to stalk these birds who then eye me with great skepticism and mistrust.

But I find it therapeutic to watch them go about their business – catching fish, paddling on the lagoon, terrorising each other. The more I observe, the more I learn about their behavior and  I can now even identify most of them by their calls. The Seagulls hang out in packs, squawk loudly and all have ASBO’s. The Mallards are aloof but rather dapper and appear to be in monogamous and committed relationships.  The Cormorants are eager and industrious little creatures, but lacking in social skills. The Kingfishers are jittery but keen hunters and the prettiest of the lot. The Hadeda’s look almost prehistoric, but I hear them a lot more than I see them. My book describes their unique call: “Een van die bekendste roepe in dele van Afrika. Lawaaierig in vlug, maak ‘n haarde ‘ha-ha-ha-dah-da’.”

Since I began writing this post I have spotted the following from our balcony and managed to photograph a few:

1- Malachite Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher - Not a great shot because he was quite far away but definitely the cutest bird I've seen so far.

2- Pied Kingfisher

3- Little Tern

4- Great White Pelican

5- Cape Gull

6- Hadeda Ibis

7- White-breasted Cormorant

8- Cape Cormorant

Cape Cormorant - very industrious little divers that spend more time under water than in the air.

9- Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Geese - rather handsome, but they seem angry.

11- White-Eye

12- Wag-tail

14- Hartlaub’s Gull

Hartlaub's Gull (seagull) - the chavs of the bird world.

Woodbridge Wildlife

Let me tell you about the animals in my neighbourhood. I recently moved back home to Cape Town and live in an area called Woodbridge Island – not the most ‘happening’ place in the city and it rather resembles Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, but, due to its situation between a lagoon and a beach, it has an impressive variety of wildlife.

Our front balcony overlooks the lagoon and is an excellent spot for bird-watching – especially in the morning whilst having a bowl of muesli. (No more fry ups – all the women in Cape Town are toned and tanned and I’m feeling inadequate with my pale, bandy legs – so I’ve implemented a regime of yoga, walks on the beach and ‘health food’). Breakfast time is often shared with the local ornithological community.  So far I have spotted: a flock of Seagulls, a few Cormorants, a pair of Egyptian geese, a couple of Kingfishers and some small white birds with yellow beaks and legs I think may be Egrets. The lagoon is also full of silvery fish of various sizes that dart about in the shallows and are often gulped up by the birds. I think I might take up fishing. I could catch a delicious bass every Friday for dinner. My favourite discovery, however, has been the pair of otters that come to feed almost every night. More accurately, they come to visit us almost every night. They appear between 10 and 11pm and we’re alerted of their arrival by the loud snorting sound they make. They have sleek brown bodies, with a white throat and belly and long whiskers. Wikipedia tells me these are Cape Clawless Otters, so named because instead of having claws like sea otters, they have partly webbed paws which are very good at holding onto fish and grabbing unsuspecting crabs. And that’s just in the front of our house.

Out back we have a small courtyard surrounded by palm trees and with a large hibiscus bush in it. Here I find little White Eyes who peck at the hibiscus flowers. There are also a couple of doves  I often find pecking at the paving stones. Do they survive on sand and dirt alone? Then there are the geckos that cling to the walls and occasionally some butterflies wobble past. Finally, our neighbour has a belligerent parrot that spends most of its time in the backyard making noises like a car alarm.

I must also mention the local human inhabitants who I like to include in my inventory of indigenous fauna. I have identified two main species so far: 1 – greying, retired men, who have too much time and money and trundle around, either in their Range Rovers, or their golf carts which they park in their very large, triple garages.  2 – radical surfer dudes, who have silly hair styles and only wear boardies and flip-flops, and say things such as “Hundreds my bru”.

And since I started writing this, we also appear to have adopted a small praying mantis called Clive.

Memories of Ghanaian markets

These are two excerpts from the journal I kept in Ghana..

– May 2006

“O Broonie!” This is what the kids in the street shout at me. It means ‘hey whitey’, but I’m told this is a term of endearment, not an insult as I first thought. It’s my first day in Accra and all my senses are being assaulted. Nyami, my eternally-grinning tour guide, decides it’s a good day to show me the city – despite the torrential downpour. The streets have been turned into rivers of mud and I’m trying in vain to avoid it. My flip-flops flick mud up the backs of my legs with every step and I have to stop at each corner to wipe it off. I give up on this futile exercise soon afterwards and instead tell myself that being caked in mud from the knee down is a good look.

Nyami takes me into Makola Market – the biggest and busiest in the country. It’s hot and the humidity is at about 95%. Its a bit like walking into the bathroom after someone has just taken a long, hot shower. He tells me they sell everything here from bread, to underwear, to umbrellas, to chickens. He doesn’t tell me they also sell pigs trotters, cows feet, giant snails and buckets of angry crabs. I stop to watch a young girl hack open a cows hoof with a machete; I’m grateful – when the bits of sinew and fat fly onto my legs – that they are still covered in mud. Nyami senses the experience is a bit much for this ‘whitey’ and very graciously takes me to a friends house to wash my legs and feet. I am beginning to realise that I have become squeamish living in London. Not that London is a particularly sanitary place, but this is my first taste of real ‘Africa’. Growing up in suburban Cape Town does not prepare you for this either.

Pigs trotter sashimi anyone?

I am yet to have my first supper in Ghana and suddenly have a vision of going home to my lovely Ghanaian host family to find the dinner table laden with boiled pigs trotters and snails the size of my fist. I imagine them sitting around the table with expectant faces and me being forced to eat the mutant molluscs. I doubt I would handle this situation very well. I am relieved when I get home and discover that spaghetti bolognese is on the menu. Its only the next morning I find out that it was made from goats mince.


– June 2006

It’s the day after Ghana beat the USA in the Football World Cup. Making it through to the 2nd round of the tournament is a first for these debutantes. I’m in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region, and Ghana’s victory last night prompted a spontaneous street party throughout the city. I came here with a group of fellow volunteers and we spent the night drinking Star beer, jumping up and down, and hugging everyone we passed.

It was a very happy night, but now its the morning after and I have a severe hangover. This is not helped by the sweltering heat and the humidity which is at its usual level of 97% – not ideal conditions for nursing a hangover. We have to go back to Accra today which, unfortunately for us, means a trek to the other side of Kumasi where the bus terminal is located. After crawling out of our ‘5 star hostel’, we navigate our way through the remnants of last nights celebration to the central market where we hope to find something resembling breakfast. This is Ghana however, and breakfast here rarely comes in the form of a fresh croissant and a cappuccino. Perhaps a stale bread roll and some jam if we’re lucky.

Not the best hangover cure

We arrive at the market and march straight into the heaving mass of people ahead. As soon as we’re inside I can smell that this is a bad idea. I can see a woman behind a small table – she appears to be selling a pile of honeycomb. Or perhaps its coral. Why would she be selling coral I wonder – we’re nowhere near the sea… As we get closer the stench confirms what she is selling. Tripe. Great steaming heaps of it. It doesn’t take long until we notice that there is a woman selling tripe at roughly five meter intervals in this market. And if its not a pile of tripe laid out neatly on the table, its a large enamel basin full of slightly rotting fish. The smell is incredible. I can hardly breath and am certain I will either faint or throw up in the next two minutes. Its midday, the sun is fierce, the market is busy and noisy and I feel completely disorientated. I keep bumping into people in my state of semi-consciousness and nearly walk straight into a table full of tripe. The rest of the group are in a similar position and we must look like a bunch of recovering heroin addicts. At this point the thought of eating anything here makes me retch and the relief is tangible when we finally make it out the other side. I can see the bus terminal and now have a three hours of motion sickness to look forward to in a dilapidated mini-bus along the most pot-holed road in Ghana.

Tonsillitis and Tequila

I can hardly swallow. It feels as if I have crushed glass in my throat. The glands in my neck are swollen and protruding. My ears hurt. My body aches. I’m exhausted. Time for some tequila. Definitely not a shot of Jose Quervo with salt and a lemon wedge though. And forget the Gypsy Kings. My current condition can only be remedied by the restorative properties of a Tequila Toddy. Sipped quietly in bed. One part tequila (Don Julio Reposado in this case), the juice of half a lime, agave syrup and hot water, all stirred into a mug.

My Medicine

Making this proves tricky in my state of exhaustion and mild delirium. It takes all my strength to squeeze the lime into the mug and I forget to catch the falling pips. Chewing or choking on a lime pip is not recommended for sufferers of tonsillitis so I try to fish them out. I choose a steak knife for this task – clearly the best tool for scooping up slippery pips. I locate one and manage to maneuver it half way up the side of the mug.  I have a bit of a wobble and the pip slides back down. The second attempt results in a similar outcome. And the third. And the fourth. By the ninth attempt I’m tilting the mug at such an angle that I pour a good portion of my toddy onto the floor.  About half an hour later I slide the last last pip out of the mug. Feeling significantly weaker than before I started, I worm my way into bed with the elixir and two nurofen. I am asleep before I even finish the fruits of my toil and labour.

I wake up early feeling bright. My throat hardly hurts and I no longer feel like one huge bruise.  Then I get a phone call and discover I sound like Rod Stewart.  However I do feel much better and it seems my Mexican medicine worked, so I can deal with sounding like an ageing rockstar for a day.  My phone goes again. Someone has tweeted at me. Excellia Tequila has tweeted at me.. I remember entering a competition two days ago to win the whole range of their tequilas……  I read the tweet: ” Congrats Hannah, you win 2 big and 3 little bottles of Excellia – the whole range! Mailing address please.” I do a little jig in my bed. Excellia is the Rolls Royce of tequila; aged in Grand Cru Sauternes and Cognac barrels, it’s one of the finest highland tequilas. This is not something you shoot in a bar where the girls whip bottles of tequila from their bandolier belts. This is sophisticated sipping tequila. I think some kind of Mexican themed knees-up is in order. Tonight. Margaritas, nachos, tacos,  quesadillas and mariachi music. Today is National Corn Chip Day anyway. I couldn’t think of a better excuse.

London’s Lessons

Like any city, London has its quirks and idiosyncrasies. But I think, because of its size and intensity, London has developed more than most. Some of them are dangerous, such as: Never Dawdle on Pavements. Dawdling can be lethal, particularly if you’re shopping in Oxford St on a Saturday afternoon. Shoppers in this area become militant whilst searching for plastic sunglasses and leopard-print leggings. Primark bags filled with cheap underwear become battering rams and are used indiscriminately to navigate a clear pathway into Topshop. Walk as fast as possible at all times to avoid obliteration. Note that prams and umbrellas are also deployed to maim and decapitate bystanders blocking the entrance to any high street store with a sale on.

Some I will never understand, such as: Queuing for Sales. And I don’t mean queuing for an hour or even two hours, I mean spending the night in a sleeping bag on the pavement outside the store in order to be one of the first to get their grubby hands on the 70% off items.  Boxing day sales induce mass hysteria all over London and many families will abandon their Christmas dinners early to rather spend the night in a tent outside Selfridges. I’m still baffled as to how anyone could want a half price sofa that badly but apparently lots of people do.

Queuing for the new i-phone 4

Some are soul-destroying, such as: Public Transport turns Normal People into Bad People. Myself included. Being herded onto the tube in rush hour and having to stand in a position most contortionists would find difficult with a strangers armpit 5cm above your face for about half an hour seems to bring out the worst in people. Funny that. No one speaks unless we’re ‘politely’  asking someone to “please move down” (whilst in our heads we’re thinking “move your fat ass out the way lady!”). Even when the trains are a minute behind each other we become consumed with a desire to ram into the back of people already on the train so our heads get mashed between the closing doors. Just so we can get to work about 45 seconds earlier.

And some defy the laws of nature, such as: Drunk Teenage Girls do not Feel Cold. I’ve seen this one so many times but am still in awe of these creatures. You can spot them lurching down Charing Cross Rd at around 2am on a Saturday morning, their shoes in one hand and a bottle of WKD in the other. They’ll either be singing, screeching at passing men or throwing up in the bus stop.

Looking good

Even in February when the temperature is below zero and arctic winds howl through the streets they’ll be wearing little more than a tea-towel and a tampon. These girls are immune to the icy conditions and seem to be virtually indestructible.

These are what make London one of the world’s great capital cities. Oh how I will miss them.