Sunday, 25 August 2013

Shenzhen: Parasols

I had been exploring the East, with it's heavy humid days, for the past few days and had arrived at the height of typhoon season. 
These tropical cyclones typically start in the South China Sea or Pacific Ocean, making the city of Shenzhen an ideal location for it to unleash all of its fury. This, of course, I had only found out after arriving in China. In high-devastation, typhoon-prone weather.

Shenzhen, China

Ominous Clouds

Then again, back in 2006, I had basically learned upon boarding the plane to Oklahoma, that tornadoes tend to frequent the Sooner state. So I was just going to have to hope for the best this time round too. And pack an umbrella, just in case.

Tornado Shelter in Oklahoma

I soon realised that a Chinese women's parasol was to her like a braaitang to a South African boerseun: Home is not left without it. Especially not when a hot and sunny day awaited.
Every morning, a kaleidoscope of colourful parasols lined up by the side of the road, floated to work, or assembled on park benches.

Pretty Parasols

Sunshine Day

Parasol stands are found outside every office or restaurant; including a lock and key to secure these prized possessions.

Parasol Stand

So far, the rain and wind have stayed away from Shenzhen, but it doesn't mean that my umbrella was not put to good use. In true Chinese fashion I have used it to ward off the gleaming sunlight everywhere I went. Had I not done so, I would have surely melted, disintegrated or evaporated from the heat.

Thank you, China, for learning me to put my umbrella to good use. And thereby protecting me, if not from a typhoon, from the sun at least.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Marblehall: Mandela Day

On 18 July 2013, South Africa (and the world!) celebrated International Mandela Day by spending 67 minutes to "make the world a better place." 

Why 67 minutes? 
Because Nelson Mandela has devoted 67 years of his life to actively changing the world. He started his first human rights campaign in 1942 at the youthful age of twenty-four and 67 years later (26 of which he spent in prison) the world celebrated the first International Nelson Mandela Day in 2009.

What did you do with your 67 minutes?
In South Africa, you need to only take a single, literal step to encounter someone in need. A neighbour, friend, gardener, or beggar at the street corner. Sixty seven minutes are mere drops in the ocean of time, but the comfort, support and hope provided during these precious minutes can spread to 67 days, months, or even years.

On 18 July a group of us spent the day building, painting and planting vegetables at Mokgwaneng Pre-school, close to Marblehall where 80 children from the area attend the pre-school and receive a meal every morning. For some, this is their only meal for the day. Many small feet walk the endless dirt roads between the local communities and the school daily for the enjoyment of wheeling old tyres through the dusty playground.

Mokgwaneng Pre-School

As we drove up to the school, peering out of the car windows, a parent turned to his 8 year old son and said in a paternal manner: "Imagine what it must be like living here."
With a frown his son smartly replied: "Why would I imagine that?"
Why indeed. Unless you are not privileged enough to imagine otherwise.

Before: The Classrooms and Playground

At the pre-school there was no water supply, no toys for the kids to play with, no green grass. Only a few scattered trees and classrooms with paint peeling under the sun's burning rays. 
We grabbed the tools, brushes and supplies we had brought and set to work straightaway.

Painting the Classrooms

By the time our paint supply had almost dried up, we still had a whole wall to cover. Luckily a smart problem-solving engineer (who knew engineers could be this creative!) devised a brilliant plan to turn the few drops we had left into a work of art.


A Welcoming Sight

More and more kids turned up as we worked, staring at the vibrant paint with fascination, clapping their hands and singing songs they have been taught at school. 

The Children

The end result was magnificent. 
After 5 hours of work, 20 people had accomplished more than we could have imagined: Supplying water to the school, planting two vegetable gardens, painting 3 classrooms inside and out, and even building a jungle gym.

After: Classrooms, Vegetable Gardens, Jungle Gym

Then, my favourite part of the day: Playing vroteier with the kids. Because how can you fully appreciate being a child if you have never played vroteier?

Fun and Games

And so another happy, blessed Mandela Day had come to an end. 
Although, in South Africa, it is easy to make every day a Mandela Day.

"We must use time wisely and forever realise that the time is always ripe to do right" ~ Nelson Mandela.

Saying Goodbye

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Johannesburg: Warm Winter Weather

It might be winter in South Africa, but the weather in Johannesburg is still absolutely amazing. 
I can recall many a day where the European spring sun had stayed hidden behind the clouds, rain drizzling from the skies in a never-ending pattern. If the Johannesburg winter were to compete with the Maastricht spring of 2013 in a best-weather tournament, the Maastricht spring might as well withdraw like a wimpy, under-the-weather child. There will be no contest. The Johannesburg winter will walk away with every award under the sun.

Even though the early mornings and evenings have been in the single digits with lows of 5 degrees C this week, by 10 am every day the sun has stretched its long, warm rays across the city, basking everything it touches in glorious sunlight. You don't even have to turn to the weather channel, because every day is the same: A cold morning that transforms into an amazingly 20 C sunny day, which cools down again by 5 pm. 

Warm Winter Days

Every weekend can (and have been!) celebrated with a braai, lunch or picnic in the sun.

Picnic Time

On this day a year ago, the picture looked a lot different though. For the first time ever all nine provinces of South Africa were covered with a blanket of snow. I remember clearly how people poured out into the streets to catch a glimpse of the snow and catch their first snowflake. People were cheering, hurling snowballs (quite an art, considering the snow was only 2 cm deep) and taking pictures with the icy white flecks on their faces. 

Show Day: August 2012

The winter of 2012 was magnificent and magical, but this year I will be celebrating the predictability of the Johannesburg weather with lazy picnics on the warm grass.