Thursday, 5 December 2013

A Nation's Leader

A world leader like none other; you healed a broken nation with your unwavering faith in the human spirit.  I don't think there are many words that can do justice to the incredible life you lived, but to repeat a sentiment I heard earlier, and that is to say that the world is certainly a lesser place today. May you be at peace, Madiba

Tuesday, 5 November 2013


SA, today I miss you so much that it aches.

We were doing just fine, we went our amicable ways, and my life in Canada swept me up and kept me busy; busy until I started to read through my interviews and with a rush of clarity, the faces, places, and laughs that marked each of my interviews and my stay in SA came rushing back to me.  I can vividly recall each interview as I read through it, the voices of my friends and colleagues ringing out clear.  And for the past 2 days I feel as though I've been on the brink of tears, while simultaneously smiling to myself, remembering my friends and memories.

I've got to get back, back to that place…

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Two Worlds Collide

I've been back in Canada for 1.5 weeks, and it feels like I've spent the past 10 days floating in a state of sensory overload (endless broadband, TV shows, iPhones everywhere...).

I probably didn't give enough thought to the transition back from SA-Canada, before I left.  But here we are.  It's a bizarre feeling, trying to jump between two completely different lives. In one life, I was living in a country where I was immersed in a context defined by having one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, and in my other life, the biggest decision I've had to make is what time to catch the [existing, available, safe, affordable] bus to school (but, that SA context has been lingering in the back of my mind with everything that I do here in Canada and it's making me feel a little uncomfortable in my own skin).

I'm not really sure how to reconcile these two worlds, or if they can even be reconciled. Things feel easy, I feel so spoilt here, and I haven't quite worked out how to deal with the collision of these vastly different worlds and feelings.


It's a crazy, beautiful, world we live in.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Goodbye Page

And so it begins. I’ve had to say goodbye so many times in my life and it never gets easier. This time is no different.  I’m leaving a big piece of my heart behind and I hope to be back soon to retrieve it.

Siyabonga for everything my friends.

Much love, forever and for always.

This page will get updated as I go...figuratively and literally :( 

My partner in crime, Nduh // Lynn and Mark who have both been amazing mentors!

Goodbye picnic with my boys (& Petra) - I'll miss you more than you know!
(photo credit: Sboniso)

Goodbye Umthombo, you stole a piece of my heart 

Injoloba friends, I have some of the best memories with you, thank you
(photo credit: Louine Boothway)

Mandela Day Marathon

August 25th, 2013

Yesterday (Sunday August 25th) was the 2nd annual Mandela Marathon; the finish line being right at the capture site in Howick! How exciting for me to be able to experience such a fantastic feat of human perseverance, and in the name of an incredible leader.

Runners could opt for the 10km run, or the 42km run which started in PMB at 5:00AM.  Along the route, different organizations set up booths with sachets of water and powerade, and fuel in the form of biscuits, and bananas to sustain runners along the way.  As such, DUCT was lucky enough to snag the last booth before the finish line – an exciting place to be for sure.  But, along with the excitement of nourishing the runners in the homestretch of the marathon, came the responsibility of picking up the many, many empty water sachets between the DUCT booth and the capture site. So, myself, along with many DUCT and WESSA members, Injoloba and Umthombo Enviro Club members, Mpophomeni Youth Production actors, etc. came along to help clean up during the marathon.  We each took a couple of black bags and stationed ourselves in ~50m stretches along the side of the road, to pick up the empty sachets as they were dropped by passing runners.

It was an exciting atmosphere with helicopters buzzing around overhead and taxis hooting their support, as hoards of runners closed in on the finish line.  We got to see the winner, well ahead of anyone else, pass by, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera ready in time to grab a photo. 

We grinned our support as each of the runners passed by, but what surprised (and delighted) me the most, was the fact that many of the runners took the time to say sawubona, thank-you for supporting them, and several asked me how I was.  Nevermind the fact that they are the ones in the middle of a 42km run, they still took the time (and breath) to ask me how I was doing? People can be amazing.

Thanks for letting me be a part of such an exciting atmosphere, and thanks most of all to the many runners who inspired and awed me with your amazing dedication to such an awesome human feat.

I love the contrast of the gogo on one side and the marathon runners on the other
Fresh (from Mpophomeni Youth Productions) and I with the DUCT banner


miniSASS & Paper Brick Making

August 24th, 2013

In precisely 1 week, I will be back in my northern homeland.  How on earth did four months possibly pass in the blink of an eye?  We made the most out of this past weekend though, which kept me busy and out of trouble!

On Saturday, I joined Injoloba Enviro Club (as well as Ndu, and our Earth Mother, Louine) for an enviro field trip.  As usual, we met at the Howick Museum, before heading to the nearby Umgeni to do a miniSASS (with the hope of posting the results on the newlylaunched miniSASS database, another citizen science initiative related to water quality).

We ended up doing our river study right at the top of the Howick Falls, just behind the spot where these Shiyas ladies do their washing (seen here).  The water was disgusting – sewage, nothing new there - but, there were also blooms of a red, cloudy-like substance, with an oily surface, sitting stagnant along the riverbed. Luckily for us, nobody slipped into the red whilst jumping from rock to rock to get to the island of rocks in the main river.

Puddle jumping (photo credit: Louine Boothway)
Saturday’s turnout was great – we ended up with far more learners than usual, and the usual learners seemed even more enthusiastic than normal.  It’s amazing, what I’ve noticed is this: we gain self-confidence from doing/participating in an activity, as a result of having gained that experience, we are given more responsibility which in turn feeds our enthusiasm, enabling it (and us) to flourish in the process. I’ve watched this happen over the past few months and I think it really speaks to the fact that youth thrive when they aren’t treated as kids, but rather when they’re given an opportunity to become the capable leaders that they are.  Needless to say, it’s been an awesome process to observe, and to watch the learners literally flourish in front of my eyes.

Ready to begin miniSASS-ing

Our Earth Mother
Identifying specimens

Anyways, following our miniSASS, we piled into my car and the back of Garreth’s (L’s husband) bakkie and headed back to Garreth and Louine’s house for a lesson in paper brick making.  Following up with Injoloba’s recycling crisis, Louine suggested making paper bricks with the books that couldn’t be reused.  So, Garreth set about creating a paper brick press, which we got to try out on Saturday.  He made it all from R60 worth of scrap metal + a car jack – how awesome!

You tear your scrap paper into tiny, tiny pieces, mix with sawdust and water and allow to soak until the whole lot becomes a bucketful of mush.  Then, you fill your paper brick mould, jack it until you’ve squeezed out all of the water, remove your brick and allow to dry.  Paper bricks can be burnt, and when made well, are hot/strong enough to cook on, even.  The club is going to try experimenting with different ‘recipes’ as these ones were a bit heavy on the sawdust, resulting in a lot of smoke when burned – but, we did manage to boil the volcano kettle with them, so all in all, not too bad for a first attempt.  I’m excited to follow up with these guys and their paper brick making adventures.

Paper mush and brick press

A beautiful Mbali and her paper brick

Freshly pressed (wet) bricks, dried paper bricks (you can see the sawdust in these), putting them to the test boiling the volcano kettle

Friday, 23 August 2013


Yesterday was such a fun day. It started with a late morning interview with Moses (yes, ethics, I have permission to release his name) at Howick Museum.  Moses has an amazing life story.  As a Congolese refugee he’s had to etch out a new start in South Africa, and he’s done so selflessly. By selflessly, I mean that even in the most trying of times in his personal life, his commitment and passion for community empowerment have remained a fastidious focus; something that shone through during his interview.

Indeed, he’s done extensive work in Shiyas as an activist of both water quality issues and HIV/AIDS, helping to bring about awareness and education using visual media (he’s a photojournalist!).

It was really interesting to hear his story, his perspective, and his insights - certainly a humbling and inspiring experience for me.  He asked me to share his interview on the blog in order to get his voice and his passion for community empowerment out into the world; to help give a voice to those who are too often ignored. If you have a spare minute (or 57:25 to be precise), then take a listen:

{Clip to be uploaded soon, I promise}

Moses is an Enviro-Champ in Howick as part of his activism on water quality issues.  As such, he does the camera work and videography in Mpophomeni when needed, but he also monitors the spilling manholes in Howick (as in the middle of the town - there are literally manholes spilling down the streets). 

So, following our interview, Moses took me around Howick to show me the troublesome manholes and leaky pipes.  Sadly, and I’m kicking myself for this, I didn’t have my camera with me (‘I won’t need to bring my camera, it’s just an interview’…sensible thinking Andrea, really sensible). Needless to say, I don’t have any photos… but I’m hoping to go and capture a few next week.

We stopped and examined the sewage that was literally running down the streets alongside parked taxis and scurrying pedestrians.  We also stopped in at a hair salon with a leaky pipe (connected to the building’s toilet) resulting in wastewater leaking from the back of the building and down into the street.

I had to ask myself how I hadn’t noticed any of this before? The answer is embarrassingly obvious and all too common. It’s not a part of town I usually venture to because before now, I haven’t needed to. In other words, because I, like many others, have become so involved and absorbed in my own life and fieldwork, I have been blissfully unaware of these issues, especially as these particular leaks do not affect me directly.  Sadly, however, those who are affected have long since become accustomed to these conditions because little, if anything, has been done to remedy the situation, thus far.

And all of a sudden, you can see how I gained a whole new perspective and a lot more insight into the municipality’s (which we love to blame) viewpoint on these and other water quality issues.  I wonder if I were a municipality official, unaffected by, but aware of, these issues, with a slew of other issues also requiring my attention – how quickly would I respond to complaints of leaky pipes and spilling sewage?  It’s a question I don’t have an answer for, but one which gives pause to the torrent of blame often directed at both the local and district municipalities.

Lucky for us, Moses has provided a voice and a face to these problems, conscientiously reporting them to the district municipality’s office and following up with them to make sure that the issues either have been or will be addressed in the near future. Fingers crossed.

In the afternoon, we switched gears and went to visit Umthombo Enviro Club.  I asked if it would be alright for me to come and observe a typical Enviro Club session (as opposed to actually running an activity with the kids); I had no idea what an awesome hour that would turn out to be. It didn’t end up being a ‘typical’ Enviro Club session.  Because it was a Thursday, which is usually sports day, they don’t normally run Enviro-Club, but due to the threat of rain having resulted in sports being cancelled for the day, an impromptu Enviro Club session was held.

The session started off with an environmental game (identifying different parts of the environment as well as various environmental challenges), followed by some spectacular singing and dancing. Those kids have some beautiful singing voices and a sense of rhythm which is unparalleled. It was awesome to see!

Team A (or B, I'm not sure)
Team B (or A...)


Everybody is 'encouraged', shall we say, to participate!

Photos really don't do them justice, but these kids can dance!
Moses reunited with some of the students that he worked with on a previous project

Thanks for a beautiful day, friends, I loved every minute.