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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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.

To be of no consequence.

Jason was one of the great loves of my life. I adored that man and, if I am really honest with myself, I still do. Just as energy cannot be destroyed, I believe that neither can love. Yes, sometimes love is not enough and yes, sometimes hurt and anger and disillusionment can completely overshadow love. If you have ever truly loved another person, that love may change, but if you stop loving someone, then it might not have been love but one of the other emotions or baser human needs so often disguised as, or called, love.

I also believe that we forgive to the degree that we love and herein lies my quandary.

For a year, Jason was my raison d’être! Jason’s one wish for a Christmas present was a diary with, among others, a quote-a-day and a note field. I have searched high and low but found some with the one or the other but not a single one with both of these. I wanted to give him his hearts desire so bought a diary with a note field and wrote 313 individual quotes in by hand. Quite a task as I had to write minutely but still legible and this is undoubtedly the greatest labour of love of my life so far.

Yet, the greatest labour of love was also for the greatest unrequited love of my life. I cannot count the number of times that I waited for Jason, the times I showed up at friends’ houses and had to apologise for him, be embarrassed, hurt and disappointed and, after all that negativity, still had to be sociable. Of course he was always contrite about it afterwards, I would forgive him and next time we will do it all over again.

It is important to acknowledge that Jason did not do this to me. I handed this power to him with no reserve and with a childlike trust I kept on giving it, even though there was never any indication that this game has changed for him. Looking back, I completely understand how women stay in abusive relationships. We keep on believing that it will be different, tomorrow. Still, I do not regret any of this. It was a year of growth and learning and facing some of the demons hiding beneath both our beds. At the end of it however, I decided that there will never, ever, again be a Jason in my life. Never again will I give someone the power to make me feel as if I am of no consequence.

After Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo’s book “He’s just not that into you” came out in 2004, I have had a myriad conversations where someone, at some point, breathed this statement with resignation. My French tutor used to say that, at the beginning of a relationship, it has to be tout feu et tout flamme, all fire and flame, and while this may be especially true for romantic relationships, it is just as valid for friendships too.

When you meet somebody you can tell fairly quickly whether you want to get to know them better and, if you do, you are going to create opportunities to do so. If you have to convince someone to allow you into their lives, you probably should not be there. No matter how much baggage we have and how we all fear rejection, when we meet another person, a window of opportunity opens. When it passed and the connection has not been made, we need to recognize it, get up and get going.

Life is too short to spend time and energy on people who are not delighted to be part of your life and have little interest in building a cache of shared memories with you.

Never allow another person to make you feel as if you are of no consequence!

Mr. Perfect-for-me

I don’t know you yet, but I do know some things about you.

You are enthusiastic. You have a good sense of humour, keen intelligence and can appreciate sarcasm and the double entendre. You keep your mind busy, have varied interests and are fascinated by life. You enjoy philosophy. You read, probably go to the theatre and wouldn’t mind the odd cultural event.

You’re probably not the next Ironman, but take relatively good care of yourself and may think about climbing Kilimanjaro or conquering the Zambezi. You can be just as content alone on a mountain top as surrounded by significant people. The perfect holiday would be in pursuit of solitude rather than non-stop fun. If you haven’t yet, you want to see the world and visit the places of historical interest.

You have a strong personality, morals and ethics. Are self-assured without being arrogant. Open minded with respect for yourself and other people. You aren’t xenophobic, homophobic, envious and petty. If you need approval, it would be from God, yourself and carefully chosen individuals. You embrace choice, responsibility and being accountable.

You value your family, your friends, your mentors and respect mine. You support my dreams and ambitions. You know that both of us can stand on our own, but will be better and stronger together. You know that everybody has an emotional history. That relationships require work. That us become more important than me and you but always consists of me and you. You would love to have kids. You know life doesn’t have a blue print. You have faith, hope and courage. You believe in fate & destiny.

You know that there are things much more important than where you live and what you drive. That financial strength, like physical beauty, is a very nice bonus but also very relative. To you, the contents far outweigh the packaging.

You can love me whether I’m silly or serious, weird or wonderful, flighty or grounded. You love to be spoiled and surprised. You don’t try to tame my wild side and enjoy the fact that I’m a little bit of an exhibitionist.

I really don’t much care about how you look as attraction does not depend on a tick sheet.

The rest is up to magic…