A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

Calm, cool and collected. Who, me?

No news on my coat, and the following week a couple coworkers bought me some pepper spray. It's the third time I've been given pepper spray, and I think I shall actually practice using it once and carry it around this time. I got some wonderful birthday wishes, and on top of it, two of my favorite people said they want to buy me a new coat as a belated birthday present! Thanks for all the <3. href="http://www.daltoneducationtrust.com/newsletter-advert-may.htm">newsletter!(Photo: rhino dad and mom & baby very suspicious of me. By the way, rhinos are nearly blind. So did they see or smell me behind an electric fence?. Other photo: winter sunrise)

My conflict work and "crazy outsider" status has turned me into a bit of an ombuds-woman, and I have a lot less to lose by trying to implement change than the other workers here. I also think that if one continues to work within a fraught framework without working within to implement positive change, that one becomes complicit and has responsibility for one's inaction. Something interesting came up in conflict class this week, too: why do we think other people say or do things to purposely hurt/annoy/degrade/etc us, yet we don't do/say /think with those intentions. Why do we think others do? Let's assume the best! Also, I've started conflict work with schools and teaching about the peaceable classroom model in exchange for donations to the project. Peaceable communities, workplaces, classrooms, ole!

Speaking of peaceable, I had a such a difficult visitor last weekend I have been apologizing and de-compressing from it all week. From refusing the dinner I made because it has potatoes and then eating potato chips, to when my boss was kind enough to invite us to dinner dictating what would be cooked and how, to putting files on and burning music from my computer without asking (computers are personal and it took me 2 weeks to get blank cd's out here), to leaving half-eaten sandwiches and dishes all over my house knowing my gluten allergy, to making kids ride in the back of a buggy on a cold night while he sat inside...it was horrifying. Twenty-five going on five. Driving to the community movie I visualized a healthy, calm, cool and collected aura with white energy bursting from the top of my head so his murky stormy aura wouldn't penetrate me. One apology for bringing him round to a friend entails volunteering for a school survivor-style fundraiser this weekend. Building a raft from sticks and mud, eating a mouse or a raw egg--I think I have signed up for Crazy. (Photo: another winter sunrise)

This week's motto: be zen.

Posted byValerie at 6:27 PM 0 comments  

Please Press 1 if this is an Emergency. Then Hold.

“Valerie, call the police! There’s a man with a knife outside the window!” I ran for my phone and dialed the emergency number. I had to listen to a recording and press 1 that This Was An Emergency, then I was put on hold, then had to explain to a switchboard operator, presumably in Jo’burg, where I was so she could connect me to the closest police station. She did not understand my accent, nor was she familiar with my location. As I repeated myself in frustration, my friend found her phone and called the local station directly.

To rewind just a bit: at about 2:30 AM my friend and I realized we’d been chatting by the fire, exchanging music and enjoying her delicious raw cuisine and spice tea with no regard to time, and that I had better stay the night. She lives in a small town about 40 minutes from the reserve. She walked over to shut the music and turned around to the lit guest room to make up my bed, where she saw a man with a knife standing outside the window, on the lit porch, peering at her. She screamed to me, then turned to scream at him: “Go away! Get out of here! We’re calling the police!” He waved his knife at her. My first thought as I dashed for the phone was her three kids asleep in the bedroom. I felt completely powerless. (Photo: another bathtub with a view from a tea spot in town.)

She got through to the local police before I made it through the switchboard. “Hi, there’s an intruder on my property with a knife. There’s just women and children here. Please send someone quickly.” Not sure which direction the man ran, we roused the kids in case he’d gone around the back. The eldest, a boy, was content to keep sleeping. The middle girl came in quite scared and sat next to me by the fire. She drank my tea, I stroked her hair, and she said, “I wish we didn’t have money. We should go back to swapping things.” Trying to distract her, I asked how many carrots one would swap for a haircut. We chatted and waited, and the youngest girl joined us. We were all a bit shaky. There’s something incredibly brazen, illogical and especially scary about a man--without even any facial covering--coming to a lit house with music playing, in which people are clearly awake, and trying to break in. After waiting over half an hour (the station is about an 8 minute drive away, tops), my friend phoned back to see if someone was coming. The officers were lost. She repeated her directions. Then, “No, I will NOT come outside to meet them—did you not hear me that there’s a man with a knife outside my house?!” The middle child cringed and lay her head on my lap.

A few minutes later the police arrived and did a perimeter search. They found nothing. I walked outside to check my vehicle. In that cold weather with a choke the robber would’ve made a faster getaway by foot than trying to steal my buggy. While my boss sorted out the strike and tension on the reserve, I met a friend and spent the morning playing with poo (rhino, zebra, and buffalo), working on our new product, biopots and cute manure-made instantly-plantable indigenous seed discs, so the back of the buggy was full of manure and a bag of kids’ shorts from our psychomotor training. He’d peered inside and passed on those. In the front I had some papers, a Tupperware, my black straw hat and a new white winter coat I’d treated myself to on my trip to Jo’burg. The passenger door was unlocked, and the coat was missing. I wondered if my hat should be offended. (Photo: malfunctioning fountain in the Jo'burg botanic gardens that seems appropriate here)

The police came in to take down a report for my stolen coat. There were two, one in training, who mimicked the constable he was working with, down to when he lifted his pen or sipped his tea. They worked through their forms, asking questions and filling boxes. “What is your date of birth?” I suddenly realized. “It’s today, actually.” They didn’t flinch. “Year?” The girls and my friend all chorused an oh shame, happy birthday, sorry about the coat! More so than the coat, even though I didn’t see him, I’ve got an image in my mind of a middle aged man brandishing a knife glinting in the light, and the cockiness of his attempted armed robbery. My friend has lived in that house for about 2 years, and this is her 4th break-in. The 2nd time, a year ago, she was home and at 3 am heard a noise. She and her dog walked into the kitchen and saw a man at the window. She screamed and ran for her phone, and he stayed there and kept banging as if to break the glass. She was alone. Then he went around to the front door and banged and rattled around as if to try and enter from there. She locked herself and her dog in the bathroom and talked on the phone to a friend until the police arrived, over 30 minutes later. Then the officer proceeded to hit on her and tried to force a kiss when he left.

The officers thanked my friend for the coffee (she'd made them tea). After a couple hours of sleep, we four women in one room, I head to toe on a twin mattress on the floor with the middle girl, I led my friend in a little yoga and we sipped smoothies. The kids’ dad arrived, and after hearing our encounter told us his friend’s girlfriend in Durban was in the ICU. She had just admitted to her husband whom she’s separated from that she’s been seeing someone else. He’d gotten mad, and then later apologized and asked her for a hug to make up. She went to hug him and with a knife in his hand he stabbed her chest. With their kid in the room. I do not envy the life of a single mom in South Africa. Hats off to you, ladies, truly. (Thankfully I still have my beautiful vintage black hat to take off!) (Photo: contemplating at home)

What I needed was some sleep and a long walk. I hadn’t been in a proper humid forest since camping with a friend in Tennessee in August. A long wintry walk amid trees was just what I needed: wet, crisp, and comforting. The forest was also full of blackjacks and bramble, burring all over my leggings and skirt. My skirt was also soaked about ten centimeters up as I sloshed in my socks and shoes. When I drove home the kids presented me with a basket of naartjie and hand-dipped candles they’d made. My parents phoned to say happy birthday, and my house smelled from the lovely roses a coworker left on my table with my mail. I opened cards and a few packages (hooray for my new Opex watch!) and was treated to a yummy farm-fresh dinner at my boss’s house, and had a long chat with a coworker friend. The next day I redecorated my walls with the cards & wrapping paper & a new lovely screen print, and another coworker brought over a present. I readied the next batch of cards & quills and watched Strictly Ballroom, missing dancing and mostly thankful I was safe on the reserve. I locked my doors for the first time in a long time. The cats will have to sleep with their owners for a while. (Photo: view from home)

Posted byValerie at 11:00 AM 1 comments  


As I walked into work this morning I watched a rhino slowly ambling up a mountainside and a pair of cranes building a nest above a pond. One crane flew to gather a branch or some grass, flew back and gave it to the other who put it in place. I’m told the crane couple builds their nest every year and they have yet to have babies. Both struck me as metaphors for progress: collaboration, positivity, patience, perseverance…pretty much the opposite of the environment here now. I feel like I’ve been transported to 1903 and the worker’s rights’ movement: high ideals of what a union can do with little legal and practical understanding, no trust for The Man (aka management).

On the other hand, my workers are happy and working well. Our coordinator spent all day last Friday assembling a database in Excel of the kids we serve—and it was her first time using a computer! And Saturday a group of us finished our community food garden: 3 beds of winter veggies (beets, cabbage, spinach, beans) & 8 fruit trees (fig, lemon, apple, peach, orange) to start our orchard. (Photo: helping in the garden. So sweet.)

Now that the communities are coming together and our everyday is running smoother, I’m shifting into building a business so we have a steady source of income and can employ more locals. The idea of producing biodegradable stuffs is forcing me to brush up on my chemistry. Today I made milk plastic. It’s not that hard now, but it hardens over time (that’s what she said). I emailed a couple engineer friends for advice, and one said, "You know the question you're asking...is basically how to restart society with nothing...it's gonna be hard to just use the same supplies and compete in the market since people have been using those supplies forever."Ouch, it’s not that dire. A friend & collaborator has suggested that what we need is a Thneed (according to Dr. Suess, A Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need). What’s the point of having a supposedly $200,000 brain if I can’t develop a thneed? (Photo: an ancient fern tree of the ilk that dinos used to chomp on)

The new business (ad)venture, along with some Sunday-poker-in-the-pub friends (horse-breeder friend: “It’s my one year one ear anniversary!”) and my first actual Scrabble game since I left the US are pleasantly rounding out my life like a rhino’s bum. Speaking of rhinos, they’re so fat that in the last month two had babies, and we thought one still had months of pregnancy left. I’ve caught glimpses of the babies, but mostly the parents hover around to protect them so I just get a peek of some extra small tubby chubby legs. Since the gestation period is ??? so they can only have one baby every ??? years, they gotta protect their offspring. Especially when a stupid neighbor farmer starts a fire and leaves the country so we can watch it with worry and chant a stayawayfromourdrygrass mantra. Which is about as effective as a plane full of rabbis praying to prevent swine flu.

Right now it’s the opposite of monsoon season. I’ve taken to pouring puddles around my bedroom before I sleep so thety evaporate and wet the air. (I must just be careful not to pour too near my bed to avoid another mid-night knee wham.)

Yesterday I was asked whether I can sprint (with probing, I find out this means that if I run into Pogenpoel, the lone, angry male buffalo who’s been kicked out of the herd they want to think I can sprint to my escape). The two most popular Zulu questions: (1) Do you have kids, Valer?, and (2) What do you do on weekends [since you don’t have kids or animals]? This weekend I know what I’m planning: inaugural community outdoor movie night! Without electricity. Requested feature film: Mr. Bones. Those 2 ½ years of engineering sure are coming in handy. (Might be postponed due to worker strike safety concerns. Shame.)

Speaking of weekends, I’ve been watching Flight of the Conchords (or rather rewatching the first season it's all I have), and driving home one night hunched over my steering wheel squinting down a dark, dirt country road a little ditty popped into my head: ‘Like a porcupine, you’ve stuck your quill in my spine and I can’t get you out of my mind’. Bret & Germaine could definitely work with that. And the Zulu worry what I do in my free time. (Photo: if only we all had the view of this bathtub at a friend's former house)

Posted byValerie at 11:10 AM 0 comments  

A Quote Collage

Heard & said in the last week:

If you’re gored by a rhino, the indemnity form will be scant consolation.

She ate her hearing aid!

The car’s fine, you won’t have a problem, it just needs new brake pads so try not to brake much, and if it breaks down nearby, here’s my number.

You’re leaking petrol--you can’t drive, you have to stay here!

If you don’t know what you’re doing, you will get carjacked.

Aren’t we targets sitting here waiting for the gate to open?

The gate closes at 6, but you’ll want to be gone by 4:30 at the latest.

Whenever I see the police I shit myself and think please don’t commit a crime while I’m around.

Yeah, but you sell yourself to help kids, and he just sells himself.

The first night I was here I cooked vegetables in the meat pot.

Not to be racist, but Jews are known for guilt.

She survived the Holocaust and now she won’t leave Israel, because she says all goyim are out to kill us. (Photo: Double-butt buffalo money shot)

They lied about my being an Israeli citizen for 22 years, but Israel figured it out.

When she house-sat for us, she drank 22 bottles in 21 days, at R300 a bottle!

R4300 to India—you’d pay that in petrol to drive to Cape Town!

I wasn’t even informed I’d be flying out of a different airport.

Is this picture really recent? (Photos: rose & Jo'burg botanic gardens)

It’s my Mary Poppins skirt.

Wow, I’ve never heard German with an American accent before.

I can't believe I just heard an American say banana [in South African accent].

I got a golf scholarship to Missouri, but was denied a US visa three times.

They called and said if you want a visa, come right away, so I don’t dare say my travel plans changed.

Learning is like feeding a baby, best to eat a little at a time more often.

If we're good at our job, it's like we're a brick and they cement us in place and we get stuck in that job.

I can feel it [through the phone], you’re processing.

He was either married, or worse, a politician.

Here, look at the bra straps my daughter is wearing.

I could cut your hair, but then it would be shorter.

I think I’m allergic to my washing powder.

Are you sure this is gluten-free pizza?

I’m just in shock someone ordered tea.

I’ve never seen someone without a pupil before.

Zulu don't eat Zulu food, they want homemade bologna and fetkuchen [donuts].

Do it at the beginning of the month when people have money, maybe the second weekend, when they’re less drunk, and earlier in the evening.

He licked my face at 3 am so I kicked him out.

I feed him moldy goat cheese.

He’s using my driveway as a litter box.

We have a bet whether the cats will be cuddling by August, and the loser has to do 75 favors. (Photo: inside a schmanzy Jo'burg furniture shop)

How about a drinkie-poo?

I can play Scrabble not today, but Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday.

You usually do it in 8 hours, but can you do it in 2?

Only someone who hasn’t given birth would say that—I’ve seen it—it’s not that hard.

I have never known a dog that would not hump anybody’s leg.

A Wisconsin woman arrested for shooting blow-darts at pedestrians said she had done so because she liked to hear people say, “Ouch.”

Good news: the federal government gave you $125 for working and being poor!

I thought it was playing Frogger with my life crossing the street in Bombay, but people here cross the freeway when I’m going like 120 km per hour, and all the notice I have is a triangular sign with an ‘!’ that says ‘Pedestrians. No Fencing.’

Can you stop by Atlanta on your way to India? (Photo: Durban being African/Indian)

Posted byValerie at 11:49 AM 0 comments