About the coolest thing that can happen

I had my first radio appearance today. And before you think that I’m famous, let me tell you this, it had nothing to do with fame and everything to do with luck. Not only that, that luck is only lucky if 10 people were listening. My friend’s father has started an online radio station in the sleepy village of Hout Bay, in the Western Cape, fondly known as the Republic of Hout Bay due to its seeming detachment from Cape Town and the tendency for villagers to stick to their own. “Republic Radio”, as it is so wittily called, maintains a prevailing focus on 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s music. A strong commercial slant predominates, which makes me feel a little apprehensive. But I am now listening to some of my old “History and Appreciation of Music” songs and starting to think that the term “commercial” could encompass just about anything. With Jimi Hendrix one minute and the Beach Boys the next, I realise that it all belongs somewhere. And let’s face it, radio stations were good once and the music they played wasn’t always mucky and one-dimensional.

So my appearance was actually linked to a potential job, without a salary, but with a lot of the cool factor thrown in, enough to keep me interested. And due to my absolute and all-consuming love for music, it’s actually a little prize for all my hard work being The Ultimate Fan. The chance to be a radio presenter, with a rock show, where I get to choose the music: The Ultimate Job (without the money). One downside: I am limited to commercial rock from back in the day. Perhaps I am lucky in that rock from back then was diverse and progressive and damn fine music. You see where I am going with this – I scored big time. I am now determined to get to a play a little Metallica.

My musical education was a whole lot of DIY, with the occasional formal learning taking place; such as the aforementioned “HAM” course with I took as an extra credit at University. That course for some was an easy credit towards a BA, but for me, it was four hours a week of complete submersion in real information, with an introduction to the weird and quirky. I have totally forgotten everything that I learnt in the classical and jazz sections, but have gleaned a few quality anecdotes about rock music. The best thing about HAM was that it was a real course, with real lecturers who knew their stuff, where you were expected to learn how to appreciate music through listening to it and perhaps discussing a bit of the history for an hour every week. The fact that I was expected to listen to music repeatedly, so that I could recognise songs within a bar (something I am still particularly bad at due to a memory like a sieve), just seemed to be too good to be true. My time at University now seems slightly surreal and undoubtedly peculiar too.

While HAM was a formal way of learning about that thing I love, rock music, the DIY aspect involved a whole lot of reliance on the circles of people I ventured into. While my childhood had been ruled by “East Coast Radio”, a provincial radio station as commercial as it gets, I was lucky to have been a natural fan of music from the day I was born. Talking about music has always been my favourite kind of conversation and I know now that I will always be open to anything and everything to do with rock music: any discussion, any book and any band. Along the way to this very day, I have spoken to more band members than I care to list, have read just about every biography on Jimi Hendrix (and have started a collection of books on various bands) and spent thousands of hours discussing music with the few friends who care enough to have a worthwhile opinion.

But the best way to learn about music is to listen. Of course. It may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but there are a great number of people out there who don’t listen. Of course they listen to radio, but their minds do not filter or process what it is they are listening to. They don’t often absorb the right information, such as where a band comes from or what the lyrics are saying. And this is the way you kill music. Music is not supposed to be one-dimensional. It is not supposed to be something which is merely sound; rather it is a feeling, a story, a sign, a protest or a journey. It’s a lot of things which the general public seem to misunderstand or not really care about. The thing is, the public dictates what happens, so in many ways, we need to pander to their whims. Music is a business now and you have to sell music as a product, not a feeling.

It is of course really ironic that I am currently reading a book by Irish rock DJ, Dave Fanning. Dave is an institution, if you get my drift. He discovered a good many bands, he had a hand in their advancement and he was always true to his first love, music. Of course, that’s what the book says, but I believe him. More than that, I admire him greatly. So far, I have learnt a great deal from him – that’s it’s okay not to like what everyone else likes (hence my dislike for electronic drivel) and that music should come before pride. He has also taught me to do what you love, but work hard at it. There are no half measures allowed.

The trouble is, my heart sinks just a little when I realise I will never be a Dave Fanning. For one, I tend to enjoy commercial rock, have shied away from the very obscure genres such as psychedelia and punk and have run away screaming from Indie Rock, the latest rock to emerge from the radio waves. I am way behind when it comes to rock trivia and I will never ever catch up. Music is always undermining my confidence, although I owe a lot of that to people I encounter around me. Truth is, there must be a million bands out there and there is no hope in hell that I will ever know all of them. A large part me wishes that I didn’t give a shit.

When it comes to this radio show, it’s about the coolest thing that can happen to someone like me. I have to simple hang on to whatever integrity I possess and play music for the sake of the music, with just a little thought given to the audience out there. But damn, I am nervous. So, to ease the nervousness I am going to make myself this promise: that I am also going to be true to me. I mean, that music that I really don’t get, I can miss. No big deal. No one will even notice.

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The Hunter and the Hunted

Hi, my name is *** and I am a vegetarian…

But I have a little secret too. I come from a family of hunters. In fact, my grandfather and father were top marksmen in their younger days. Riflemen, hunters, pros.

 

 

Here, birdy birdy

 

I remember that, when I was very small, the sound of the gun would scare me. But I was also intensely fascinated by the puff of feathers and the bloodied mess of the dead bird. So I used to run away when my dad was about to shoot and then run back to see what the bird looked like; limp and lolling around in his hand. I do not think of this as an unhealthy or cruel thing for me to have done; I see it as a very natural fulfilment of my curiosity.

When I was about 15 or so, my father took me out to shoot my first gun. It was a shot gun. I cried, because I was terrified. But even worse, my boyfriend at the time was taken out on a hunting expedition to shoot pigeons. He was really unhappy about the whole thing, even though he was a good shot and almost an adult man. The irony.

There was a lot of power in the feeling of the gun against my shoulder, but an immense amount of fear too. I was quite proud of having managed it and I later kept the cartridge with the date penned onto it. When I was in my 20’s my uncle took me out for target practice. Again, I was stressed and nervous, but managed to hit the target every time. I guess I inherited their aim.

Having grown up in a family of huntsman, I harbour a paradoxical perspective: I am a vegetarian who believes that hunting is okay.

But let me qualify that statement: I think that ethical hunting is okay.

Gasp. Any “true” vegetarian will tell me that the term “ethical hunting” is an oxymoron – that by killing an animal you are infringing on their rights.

But I think it all really depends on the premises on which you base your beliefs. For instance:

  • I don’t believe the factory farming is ethical because I believe that animals live and die in a cruel way
  • I believe that people are too far removed from their food, so that they cannot appreciate the life of the animal that they are eating
  • I believe that factory farming has a vastly negative impact on the environment

However, I can easily remedy my conscience when it comes to the hunting of wild game. As it stands in South Africa, perhaps not all game is as “wild” as it seems and there is, possibly, poor treatment of stock and cramped living conditions on game farms. The whole concept of the game farm is now a manufactured and farmed enterprise.

 

The majestic kudu

 

However, that bokkie runs free; eating, breathing, procreating and running when and where it wants, until that one day, while innocently munching on its grass, lights out! The hunter himself is forced to confront that animal, even if it for a brief moment in his scope.

I cannot see this as cruel. If hunting is undertaken in a respectful (understanding the value of the animal and not wasting any of it), conscious (knowing that the hunting is sustainable) and ethical way (by ensuring that the animal does not suffer), I see no point in condemning it.

I also know that my views have been clearly marked by growing up as a young South African in a family of hunters. But here is the thing; both my brother and I have chosen to become vegetarians and we are even willing to take this further. We are both keen environmentalists and do-gooders; I even chose to dedicate my career to environmentalism. I can only think that my life has been enlightened and enriched by these manly men who go out in their kakis and brown boots and come home with something for the pot. I have even allowed myself to respect them for it.

You see, when I really look it from all angles, hunting is not always a question of might over right. This is not always about the power dynamics between the hunter and the hunted. There is something innocent and natural about the process. And, if I had to choose between my own life and that of an animal, I would choose mine.

The shame of it

PART II

 

An acquaintance committed suicide a while back. One of the brightest of stars, making a small but meaningful difference to the world, his death sparked off something within me. He was an HIV/AIDs activist and advocate for human rights. Since his death I have attempted to learn more about this elusive disease, knowing that I will never know all, not having direct relations with someone with it, not having a family member with it and not being HIV positive myself.

 

Nonetheless, the shame of the disease is not an entirely elusive concept. One just has to sit with an HIV/AIDs counsellor to understand your thoughts. You may find them racist, supremist and unjustified. A thought that entered my head today, while I was being counselled before taking my umpteenth HIV test, was that being HIV + would be such a waste; and I hated myself for that thought. Yes, it is a waste, a waste of human life; but in this instance the context was of my own life. Ashamedly, I often view myself as superior to the “common” man. I base this on six years of tertiary education, an open, curious mind, a liberal view of the world and the desire to do something meaningful. In other words, I feel my life is more valuable because I feel like I am contributing in a positive way to this world.

 

What has this to do with shame? Having such an esteemed view of myself, I know that AIDs exposes my stupidity, my plain and simple recklessness, a disease I cannot blame on ignorance or misinformation. I have so much control of my own life, yet I don’t appreciate it, nor do I use that control when it is necessary. I am vulnerable to my own need to feel loved, that I have succumbed over and over again to having sex in unsafe circumstances. When you want love and acceptance, you disregard the HIV test and the condoms, you give your body over more readily and you sacrifice your control.

 

I am not more valuable. I am taking my life for granted and I am proving myself to be weak. I take these HIV tests in an attempt to gain back control of my destiny and fail again and again to stick with it. Not this time, no. I have vowed to myself that I will be stronger and more in control; and I aim to fulfill that promise to myself.

So far, so good.

The power is in the testing

PART I

 

I sat in front of the counsellor in a small cubicle, its walls brimming with pamphlets and sexual health paraphernalia. It was my second year at University (2004) and I had decided that I needed to do this. It had never seemed a serious thing and I knew very few people who had taken an HIV test or were open about having done so. But in talking to the counsellor, the enormity of such an undertaking became more apparent and I felt a coldness growing within me. I felt fear.

 

She asked me if I felt it was likely that I could be HIV +. For the first time I was confronted with the bleak reality of the past. Her eyes darkened as I explained that my boyfriend at school had cheated on me many times while we were together. During the December holiday, the truth had been unleashed and for the first time in over a year and I was openly told by friends and acquaintances about his indiscretions. A photography film of memories in my mind’s eye, I remembered clearly the night in a bar when my best friend’s boyfriend told me that she too had slept with him. He had discovered the truth when he had read of it in her diary, where she had placed his name with others, strangers, foreigners. It suddenly did not matter that she was my best friend; we were all victims of our so-called “sexual liberation” and her boyfriend suffered in silence, as did I.

 

After the counselling session, after feeling the counsellor’s sympathetic gaze, I paced for a while, trying to distract myself from the stark reality of a life with AIDs. For me, the reality of AIDs is that it stretches backwards into a vastness of different faces, friends, strangers, normal, everyday people. I realised that if I had the disease, it would be the most impersonal personal thing I would ever call my own. The disease is about nations, whole societies and more; and yet it is mine alone to come to terms with and mine to live with.

 

If it came down to it, who would I say inflicted this upon me; with whom would I lay the blame? The state for not making it more apparent that this was a serious issue, my mother for not forcing me to leave him sooner, the women he slept with, him? Or does it really come down to me? Here I was, an educated, middle-income, South African citizen with an inescapable, de-habilitating disease looming up in my life. Would I now be adding HIV + to my numerous self-labels?

 

The relief, soft and overwhelming, was something I treasure. The past in-discrepancies, the pain that he caused, lost some of its power.

 

Taking that test means more than simply knowing. Taking an HIV test is about taking control, forgetting the past, keeping yourself safe from harm and giving yourself hope for one more day. Taking the test is never easy or carefree because sex is never easy or carefree. AIDs is a complicated disease, which is based on the complications of human relations, and the sex, lust and power relations which are inherent within this.

 

Take a test today.

 

My Guilt-Laced Offerings

 

All shall be equal before the law, by Faith47 (Cape Town)

 

I stand with you, watching my words make punctuations of frosty excuses into the night-time cold. I am so eager to confess to you. I want to believe that I am doing something good and meaningful, giving of myself, but I know that what I feel is a fickle pride. Each steaming, nutritious mouthful of soup is my vehicle to my boastful self-betterment. I feel a liberal’s sense of injustice at what the state is doing to you, my socialistic tendencies tsk tsking at the targeted conspiracy against your human dignity. But, at the end of the hour I still go home. I bring weekly nutritional supplementation as supplication for a lifetime of suffering.

 

I want to empathise with you; I want to cut myself down to your level, so I shout out my hatred for the failures of our post-apartheid system and shake my head at the agonies endured by the homeless. I think that simply being kind and opening my eyes to your plight is enough to obliterate my middle-class guilt. But the truth is this: I am white and I have benefitted from the years of racist pacification and depravation of the masses.

 

I have tried to deny it, I have attempted many excuses as to why I was not part of the past, thrusting my youthful innocence in the face of Anti-Apartheid protagonists. But youth is not innocence and seeing the hangover of the past is enough to ensure that I cannot use any more excuses to justify my life. I have a privileged skin and a moneyed smile. My frosty excuses are insulting but I cannot stop.

 

Your poverty brings to the fore how little of life I really know. I cannot know what it is like to be you. I know, simply, that there are many reasons why you sleep on the sidewalk. I know, simply, that life is difficult, but that sometimes it is less difficult that facing the real world. I have no understanding of what you are thinking when you gratefully accept a meagre cup; but sometimes you smile, sometimes you bow your head, sometimes you talk incessantly about the glory of G-d. You ask for blessings, but my blessing is merely human and contained within the potatoes and carrots that constitute the soup that you are eating. I can only put feeling into every chop and slice and hope that your spiritual sustenance will come from somewhere else. I am glad of you; you give me something to make my life feel worthwhile: feeding the homeless.

 

It does not assuage my white guilt because I am no longer trying to do so. I tried once, but I realise there is a certain happiness in your life; mercies are small, far-apart but satisfactory. If I over-think this I will realise how little I understand and how little I am really contributing to your life. There are braver, better people out there. I can bare this burden of guilt, because I suffer it in a life of surplus and it’s the life I have grown accustomed to.

 

So, tonight, I will stand with you, I will listen to you, I will feed you and I will simply be grateful for my own world of semi-luxury.

no body’s Angel

premature little person with

unsteady footprints

on unknown paths

cherub hands to hold

but no one is holding on

 

every second

a first strangled breath

a new pair of blue/brown eyes

focus for the first time

on this world

 

without name

 

no one awaits with greetings

welkom

sala kakuhle

I love you

 

you are perfect

but you are

no body’s Angel

 

and I do not know if I will ever be

brave enough

to make you mine

 

The background to this poem:

I heard a story of the birth of a new baby. The mother of the baby did not want the child and refused to even look at it. The narrator of the story told me about how sad she felt because there was no one there to welcome this child into the world. She sat with the baby for a while, crying. Eventually the nurse came and told her that if she was not careful, she would fall in love with the baby and would want to adopt it. The nurse had already adopted two.

I thought of all the countless babies who have no one to love or look after them. I have thought about adoption for a while, but stories like these make you realise how badly the world needs more people to take on the role of mother or father. Imagine the sacrifice and selflessness involved. I asked myself, “Will you be brave enough to adopt?” I hope I will be.