Forged in fire

Monday the 5th of June started like any other week except, maybe, for severe weather warnings for a monster storm expected in the Western Cape. By Tuesday the country was abuzz with the news that the Western Cape Education Department made an unpresidented decision to close all the province’s schools on Wednesday, causing many a local joke about the storm with screen grabs of an hour by hour weather report with our expected ‘stiff breeze’. Africa, after all, is not for sissies, Cape Town is renowned for her storms and in the Garden Route we are used to our berg winds.

The berg wind woke most of us that morning, chasing up dust devils.

Knysna Fires Eden Fires

Eden Fires by Elrorke Photography

The first reports of fire came from Hoekwil, and while we took notice, most of us carried on with life with not much more than a fleeting thought of the Hoekwil fires of 11 August 2016, and the hope that there will be less damage to property.

Reports followed of fires raging in Elandskraal and, as the day progresses, we started to dread the sounds of our telephones. Every call had the potential to carry news of another house that burned to the ground; another family, friend, colleague or acquaintance who have, in some cases, literally just seen their whole lives go up in smoke.

It was a day that turned into fighting fires on our doorstep. Offices soon emptied with men and woman rushing out to assist. Engrossed in the here and now, it was only when news feeds started to flood with the frantic messages of people who couldn’t travel, or when family and friends from across the world started to call or message, we realised that our whole world was burning down. Roads were closed, families trapped in different towns and rescue missions launched to save property, animals and humans. By Wednesday evening we have become a trending hashtag.

Yet it was on social media that we could find the most accurate (and the most inaccurate) information. Brilliant pages like Knysna fires 7th June kept us up to date and was also instrumental in mobilising the country.

There was not much thought of sunsets or sunrises those first days of fire and smoke. Orange flames and lingering smoke filled the horison and, if you slept, you woke up in a haze, with dread, wondering what the day might bring. It was somewhere in this eerie landscape that the first relief arrived. They came from all over the country – first a trickle and then a stream of vehicles – cars, bakkies, trucks…

Disasters are the great equalisers. It exposes people. It unmasks us.

It carries the defeated face of a friend in a supermarket. Or an empty voice on the other side of a telephone line. It has the nothingness of a person who gives orders every day, reduced to the Obedient by the whim of the gods. It is the exhaustion of a firefighter who came to eat just to head out again. It is the tears of a volunteer when finding a piggy bank in a box of donations.

It is how you give, not what you give.

It is breaking down on the side of a highway, sobbing your heart out when a truck of relief supplies pass. It is the line of friends who fight by your side to save your house. It is the miracle in the madness.

It is the silence when you have no words. Or an embrace when there is nothing left.

It brings out the helpers…

They came in droves, setting aside their own worries and woes, the concerns of their every day. They worked tirelessly to provide refuge to those in need. They came to cook, to clean to carry. Every cry for help met with swift response. A community united.

Look for the Helpers

They flew and drove in from far and wide, or mobilised communities across the country, friends from overseas. They donated, packed and posted.

Disasters humble us.

It changes our perception and the value of our earthly things. It shows us how fragile we are. It brings us face to face with the choices we make, the trappings of our daily lives.

Disasters give us love.

The love that is patient and kind, the love that does not envy, does not boast, nor is proud. The love that does not dishonour others, is not self-seeking, nor easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs. That love that rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.

The love that forges friendships through fire.

The love it takes to Rebuild Eden…

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A legacy in our children

The second time I was overwhelmed by traveller’s guilt was at the travertines at Pamukkale, Turkey. The first was in Jaisalmer, India but that is a story for another day.

The surreal landscape of the travertines in Pamukkale

The surreal landscape of the travertines at Pamukkale

A pathway in Hierapolis

A pathway in Hierapolis

This surreal landscape is adjacent to Hierapolis and was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. As I was standing there, one of the thousands of tourists who flock there every month, I suddenly thought: “What am I doing here?”.

Except for the fact that I was busy with a Round-the-World trip, comprising of very many flights, I was standing on that pristine white limestone and became acutely aware that I was leaving a very real footprint with every step I took.

The moonlike calcium deposits of the travertines in Pamukkale

The moon like calcium deposits of the travertines at Pamukkale

Tourists in the natural pools formed by the travertines

Tourists in the natural pools formed by the travertines

In the village-sized world we live in, where reaching the far-flung corners of the earth has become as easy as a plane, a train and a boat ride away, how much right do I have to travel to these places, gasp in awe and wonder for a day or two, and continue on my merry way? Except for the little bit of money I may have injected into the local economy, can I say, at any level, that I have made a contribution, or was everything on my side just consumption?

The "Cotton Castle" at Pamukkale

The “Cotton Castle” at Pamukkale

In Simon Usborne’s article on world heritage sites he talks about the influx of tourists to places locals were hardly aware of; the wear and tear of millions of feet passing through; the looting of artefacts; the urbanisation of surrounding areas. Then we haven’t even mentioned pollution; the consumption of resources untouched by locals; the drinking and discarding of countless bottles of water; the stress on the environment; the corruption of local customs and beliefs through the influence of tourists and travellers –  the list can go on and on.

Maybe that is the travellers dilemma. Many of these places depend on the income derived from tourists while tourists also contribute to the destruction, albeit sometimes gradual, of these places.

Real understanding though, comes from intimate knowledge and, just as much as travelling breaks down cultural barriers and preconceptions, just as much a love for nature comes from a closeness thereto.

In Plettenberg Bay visisting the NSRI

In Plettenberg Bay visisting the NSRI

The first time I came to Sedgefield was in 1990. I just finished high school and, although I have dipped my feet in the icy waters of Bloubergstrand, I can’t say that I have had any real knowledge of the ocean.

Making a mussel "potjie" from frashly harvested mussels

Making a mussel “potjie” from freshly harvested mussels

At the time I was part of Die Voortrekkers, an Afrikaner youth group similar to the Scouts. It was the first year they had a sea camp for kids living in the Transvaal (now Gauteng) and we, a group of youth leaders, were doing a training course in survival on water.

I wanted to live right here!

I wanted to live right here!

I will always remember walking over the dune between Swartvlei caravan park and the ocean. A berg wind was blowing and I lost my heart! There was a little house on the crest of that dune and I decided then and there I want to live here – one day.

The years rolled by and I haven’t been back to Sedgefield till a road trip in 2008 with one of my best friends. Of course I included what have remained, even after many travels through the known world, my favourite place. Countless times I gushed about the rock pools filled with sea life and am unable to describe how I felt when Ravi and I made our way out to Gericke’s point. Where did they go? Where were all the sea stars and the octopuses and the anemones? In comparison with the teeming life of 1990 the pools were dead and devoid!

Ravi on Swartvlei beach

Ravi on Swartvlei beach

A couple of weeks ago Jo, a friend who recently moved to the Garden Route, mentioned the wonderful sea life in the rock pools at Gericke’s. In an off the cuff remark local guide and lover of nature, Mark, commented that it is a wonder after the Voortrekkers were here (the camp takes place during the July winter holidays).

Ravi at Gericke's Point

Ravi at Gericke’s Point

What a punch to the gut! I was immediately transported to that camp. A camp specifically designed to teach children – many who may never have had the opportunity otherwise – to respect, appreciate and grow to love this indescribably wonderful part of creation. Yet, by the process of collecting samples and specimens for the camp aquarium, harvesting and plundering the very thing they want to preserve.

As in that moment in Pamukkale, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that I, without a shadow of doubt, contributed to the destruction of life at Gericke’s point.

In that moment I was overcome with the responsibility we have to leave a legacy, not only for our children, but to leave a legacy in our children. A legacy not through words but through the very example of our lives. A legacy to observe rather than obtain, to contribute rather than consume and to walk ever more lightly on this earth, for what we have is finite and, once we have plucked all the sea stars, there will be no more.

Vulnerability and the art of asking

Yesterday two things happened that, on the surface, seemed completely unrelated but turned out to be more connected than one would think.

I love music! I have been known to spend nights on the net searching for new or unknown artists. My favourite genres are, on the one hand, House & Trance and, on the other hand, singer-songwriter Indie & Folk music. For the former I mainly use SoundCloud and, for the latter NoiseTrade.

Cartoon by Thibaut Soulcié

Cartoon by Thibaut Soulcié

Recently I found a Tom & Collins remix of Hanging Tree that I just cannot stop listening to! As I was raving about my new find to a friend, the topic of artist compensation came up. A topic dear to my heart as I, as a photographer, am all too familiar with the expectation of delivering free services and products.

I mentioned a video clip I saw quite some time ago on trusting your audience to pay for the music you make and, although it might not be true for SoundCloud, it is the whole premise on which NoiseTrade operates. He, quite rightly, judged is as quite risky. Of course it is but considering how little compensation artists get from sites like iTunes, it may not be such a difficult choice for an artist to make, especially as platforms like NoiseTrade offer a better opportunity for artist to promote themselves.

One of the stories that made it to my Facebook news feed yesterday was Amy Pence-Brown who took a stand for self love.

As I always try to dig a little deeper, her video led me to Jea West’s public experiment in Piccadilly Circus attributed by Amy as the inspiration for hers.

In turn, Jea mentioned in her blog post that she was inspired by the TED talk of Amanda Palmer on the Art of Asking. The same video that made such an impression on me when I watched it a couple of years ago that, although I may not have remembered her name or even that it was a TED talk, the message definitely stayed with me.

In her video, Amanda mentions CouchSurfing a couple of times. As a seasoned CouchSurfer who have been hosted by a multitude of CouchSurfing hosts on 5 continents, I am often asked how I can stay in a total stranger’s house or how I trust total strangers enough to invite them into my home – sometimes even when I am not there. It is a very valid question and a question once again brought to the forefront by the recent killing of Dahlia Yehia in Nepal.

My go-to joke – before I get to the sound advice – is that people don’t travel all the way to Africa to come and steal your furniture. Jokes aside though, it does take courage to trust. It does take courage to step out of your comfort zone. It does take courage to make yourself vulnerable. It does take courage to ask.

What I have learned (and I believe Amanda and Jae and Amy have learned) is that it takes grace, and humility, to receive. To put yourself, your well-being, and even your future in the hands of people who don’t know you and who don’t care about you and trust, blindly, that they will handle it with care.

What we may have learned is that making yourself vulnerable and practicing the art of asking may just be the most amazing gift you can give yourself.

Boots of Spanish Leather

Song number three definitely falls more in the category of reminding me of a place, a person or a moment that touched me.

In 2007 Amanda and I did a wonderful road trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon.

From Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

From Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

It was a magical day! Nothing prepared me for the majesty of the canyon, or the wind, or a restaurant that had farm raised catfish on the menu!!!

Catfish on the menu

Catfish on the menu

This was my introduction to the joys of an iPod (keep in mind that Apple products was then almost unheard of in South Africa), artist like Dar Williams (we’ll have something of hers later), and Nanci Griffith’s version of Boots of Spanish Leather.

Sometimes the people we love go on an adventure we have no part in, sometimes love is not enough, sometimes we just have to move on and sometimes all we have to show is boots of Spanish leather.

 

An awesome day!

An awesome day!

Last year, when Rose sailed the seven seas and needed to come home, I found this lovely version by Trevor Willmott and Juliana Richer Daily.

In fear of not living

I finished high school in a time when South Africa still suffered from international sanctions against us. South Africa was still very isolated, the world wasn’t nearly as small and young people who took a gap year were few and far between.

I knew I wanted to do and “live an adventure” but our options were very limited. There were basically two choices – either you could go to a kibbutz in Israel or you could go and work as an au pair in one of 5 countries: Holland, Germany, Belgium, France or Italy. Although I did contemplate a kibbutz for a while, my love of children and my (then) fascination with everything French, prompted me to choose the Au Pair route. I didn’t make it to France but at least I ended up in the French part of Belgium.

I think if there was one song that inspired my generation to at least dream of driving through Paris, in a sports car, with the warm wind in our hair, Marianne Faithfull succeeded brilliantly.

We’ve got a long way to run

I’ve met many travellers in my life and we are a special lot. Often philosophers, often philanthropists, often adrenalin junkies, we all have something in common – we all battle the ennui of the modern consumerism world.

Sonrotse touches on that a bit but who says it better than Collective Soul with Run?

Are these times contagious
I’ve never been this bored before
Is this the prize I’ve waited for
Now as the hours passing
There’s nothing left here to mature
I long to find a messenger

Is there a cure among us
From this processed sanity
I weaken with each voice that sings
In this world of purchase
I’m going to buy back memories
To awaken some old qualities

Snippets of home when you’re on the road

Like Afrikaans literature, good Afrikaans music is, in my opinion, few and far between.

During my Round the World trip, I was on my way from Europe to New York when Bernard shared Klein Tambotieboom, by Die Heuwels Fantasties, on Facebook and I was immediately smitten. Afrikaans music that I could actually listen to. Intelligent and eloquent with an extraordinary gift for wordplay.

I was met at the airport by fellow South African and CouchSurfing host extraodinaire, Dean. Except for the fact that his unique South African hospitality blew me away, I was able to get excited and share new music in my mother tongue with someone just as intelligent, who loves language just as much as I do.

Song number four is about the need to escape a life that brought no satisfaction, when even familiar faces start to look like strangers.