Africa is my land, South Africa my country. It is a place I will always feel at home and no matter where I go, which countries I live in and which language I end up speaking there, there is a part of me that will always be Africa.
That said, I no longer feel comfortable there. Every time I visit home I do so with trepidation and anxiety. Nostalgia is mixed liberally with disappointment as I see how things have degraded. Strikes are constant, water and electricity availability fluctuate too often and violence is sudden and spontaneous.
I was greated in the traditional manner (as far as Johannesburg Airport is concerned) by my luggage being broken. The pull handle had been ripped off and a section of the frame made of thick plastic had been cut through.
What was the airport's response, you may ask? Baggage handling refused to accept responsibility for it and the Ticket Counter (where I was directed next) was void of the person I needed to speak to. Emailing then later, I was told to return the bag to the airport where they'd send it off for repairs - repairs that would take 4-6 weeks. When I informed them that I wouldn't be in the country that long they attempted to offer me a loaner bag.
Well two weeks of fighting with them got me a solution. The bag was repaired (badly and with inferior parts) and returned to where I was staying within 4 days.
Another nasty shock was thrown my way a week into my visit. I had brought a card game with me back from Taiwan, but it turned out I had forgotten some of the cards in Taiwan. I contacted my friend and he posted them to me. I was going to give my copy of the game to a friend of mine.
When the cards arrived the South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) charged me import duties, despite the fact that the envelope was labelled non-dutiable. I fought with the post office people. When they wouldn't budge I got a phone number from them, paid them their pirate fee and went home.
I called the number. It was the postal admin. They gave me a mobile number for SARS. When I tried calling the number the person on the other end kept stopping the call, then turned their phone off.
I called the postal service again. They gave me another number. The person on the end of that number said that I shouldn't have accepted the package if I didn't agree to the charge. They told me that a complaint had to be lodged and four forms completed to argue my case. Then the package had to be sent to SARS head office for them to debate whether I could receive the package without charge. That process, I was told, would take 4-6 months.
I swore. I swore a lot at the man on the other end of the phone and said things that were not favourable for me in the situation. That said, I was livid.
Enough of the bad things for now. Let's talk about the good.
Being home was wonderful. Looking out at that clear, crisp blue sky, feeling the wind rushing against my skin without the burden of heavy building looming around me in all directions and eating non-city food was heaven.
My first visit home was barely two days before I was in a bus heading for Grahamstown to visit family and catch the second half of the National Arts Festival.
Grahamstown is a rather quirky place. A university town at its heart, it is the cultural centre of the Eastern Cape. Known as the town that God forgot, (as they have so many churches, almost as if in gesture to call Her back and apologise) Grahamstown is a charming place with a unique character. There is a large concentration of exquisite Victorian, Colonial and Gothic Revivalist architectural styles.
My bus dropped me off at 5:30 in the morning. Ambling up the road in the direction of my brother and sister-in-law's house I came upon my first residents - two donkeys casually eating out of someone's rubbish bins.
While too dark for pictures, I made the effort to track them down later in the day and get some pictures.
A portion of the fringe market situated behind the Cathedral of St Michael & St George.
However, one must not forget that Grahamstown is, after all, a university town with all the trappings that such dictate.
The Union Building where tickets can be bought and where a large portion of the advertising of shows is done. Behind this building stretches the field across which the large marquees are erected to host the festival market.
Sadly it seems I have neglected to capture the market save for these two pictures. The first is a series of easily identifiable keyring figures. The second is a piece of Afrikaans wisdom, though clearly not exclusive to their culture.
Fabricate was an exhibition featuring two decades of the work of the Handspring Puppet Company - the company behind the full-scale puppet in the aclaimed stage show War Horse. The collection was both startling and surreal.
The rearing puppet from War Horse along with some of the artists' sketches on the right.
More of said sketches.
The 1820 Settlers' Monument is a large and quite frankly ugly building, supposedly built to resemble a ship, that squats on the top of the hill overlooking Grahamstown like a troll who has given up on life.
The 1820 Settlers' Monument (as seen from town)
A few shots of Rhodes University campus grounds.
After a lovely visit catching up with my brother and sister-in-law, as well as catching a few shows at the festival, I returned home to the Greater Durban Area. Soon after my brother and sister-in-law joined me there, bringing their three wonderful cats to visit. Our parents were about to be baby-sitters as the others had a planned holiday.
My brother working from home.
They were not our only guests. We had many people descending upon our part of the world as our Gran's 90th birthday was upon us. It also coincided with my aunt's and my uncle's birthdays. It was a big occasion for the family.
We went out for dinner, but it seems my camera wasn't too keen on the darkness settings. I managed to grab a few nice pictures though, including this lovely one of my Gran and Nick, one of my English cousins.
My brother and sister-in-law enjoying a drink at my Gran's 90th birthday party.
When I think about my family, it's comforting to know that they always have the essentials for a gathering.
Four cousins with our Gogo (Gran)
I believe the next series of pictures requires an explanation. My Gran is retired, though to state such a thing is likely unnecessary. In her spare time she engages in a wonderful hobby. She trawls charity shops and auctions for little soft toys, brassware and bric a brac. She cleans the items, makes new clothes for the soft toys and then goes to various markets and sells the items. All money that she makes is then turned into cheques for the SPCA and Hospice.
For her 90th a cake was baked for her. Her daughter (my aunt) applied her incredible culinary skills in decorating the cake to perfection.