Cheers to 2017
Cheers to 2017
We are very slowly getting back into our old routine living here in our beloved desert homeland. By slowly, I mean snails pace. I think that may be due to an extended period of humidity which has been challenging, but we’re getting there. What the kids miss most, other than family, are the trees… climbing the trees to be exact. I keep going back to the time when we went to Acrobranch in Centurion, South Africa. If any of our South African readers have not yet been to Acrobranch, please read this post. It is an aerial tree top adventure that caters to the whole family. All ages from children as young as 3 to adults of all ages.
I went there with my three minions, plus their cousin and her mom, and we had such a wonderful afternoon. The kids were climbing for over an hour and we then settled in to The Big Red Barn for lunch. It was truly a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Side note: The next time you find yourself there over lunch do yourself a favour and order the house fries. I may or may not have eaten the entire plate #sorrynotsorry.
“Acrobranch is Kid Heaven! Swinging through trees, dangling from branches, balancing in the air. But wait, Acrobranch also takes care of every parent’s fear and tucks those kids safely into snug harnesses, hooked into secure lines all through the course. It’s all with adult supervision, but the children are encouraged to go at their own pace and move their own clips themselves.
All courses are designed with specific ages in mind to keep your kids entertained…and safe. Check out your desired park for more info on our kids course age and height requirements.” – via Acrobranch website.
Now what I appreciate the most about this concept is the benefit to a child’s physical development. A child is constantly thinking about which hand they need to put where, which foot they need to move first, and which clip goes where. They work on balance, how the brain interprets where the body is in the environment it is in, they need to orientate their whole being to work as one to navigate the course safely, they build core strength, and improve flexibility and reach.
The next time I go, I promise to take more grownups with me, which should leave me hands free to carry my ‘big’ camera and get proper photos, but hey, they say the best camera is the one you have with you, so thank you iPhone.
Acrobranch – super affordable rates and fantastic for kids parties, I can only imagine how much fun it would be for team building too. You can contact them on +27 86 999 0369 or visit their website for more information. I highly recommend it.
If anyone has tried them out and would like to share your experience with our readers, we would love to read your comments below.
There’s one thing my kids cannot seem to get enough of on our African adventure – tree climbing. EVERY CHANCE THEY GET!
We get palm trees in Kuwait, lots of them, and they certainly add to the oasis look and feel of the desert. But it is very rare that you come across a tree that is climb worthy. It’s no wonder that when the kids come home to SA they are in tree climbing heaven. I am no professional and i’m not about to hash out statistics about why climbing trees is good for kids, all I can do is tell you what we have experienced first hand.
We have only 3 weeks left of our holidays and I think the kids will miss the trees the most. Next to family of course.
As a disclaimer, I do urge you to please keep a close watch on your kiddos, safety first!
On the August 9th, 1956, over 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, to protest the ‘Pass Laws‘ during the Apartheid era. The women stood there in absolute silence for 30 minutes and then started singing the protest song, Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.)
An adaptation of this phrase…
“You strike a woman, you strike a rock”
…has since come to represent a South African woman’s strength and courage.
National Women’s day has been celebrated every year on August 9th, since 2004.
It was then even more special that I had the privilege of photographing Deolandre: a strong, confidant young lady, on the eve of National Women’s Day as she prepared for her Matric Farewell.
(For our international readers, a Matric Farewell is South Africa’s version of an American Senior Prom.)
It marks the end of her high school career, the ceremonial coming age, the growth of an independent woman, the flourishing of hopes and dreams, the world in the palm of her hands. In South Africa it is a gift longed for by many, yet awarded to only a few. The moment I was tasked with, to freeze in frames for a lifetime. A blessing and a privilege indeed.
Camera: Nikon D4S
Location: Clients home, Centurion
Time: 3 – 4:45pm
Lighting Conditions: A few indoor photos with good natural light, althogh most of the photos were taken outdoors with good natural light but before sunset. No flash.
Kids in tow, but I’m super thankful for the client’s little brother who did a superb job of keeping my 3 minions entertained and out of harms way.
It’s a delight for me to be able to share a few of these photos with you. To celebrate this strong, confident woman and shine a light on many like her who are going through life changing moments. As women we need to lift each other up. We need to be each other’s biggest fans. We need to appreciate our differences, while at the same time enjoying our similarities.
This is one of the greatest parts of the friendship I share with Katie. She is always the first one to offer advice, guidance, and a prayer. She encouraged me even though we were in the same industry, she never once saw a competitor, she saw a friend and ultimately – a partner.
So, if you have a woman on your heart who has played a significant role in shaping the person you are today. Give them a call, give them your words, give them your love. It goes a long way.
Happy Women’s Day, wherever you are.
Katie and I both seem to have the ‘feels’ this week.
As I sit at the deli up the road from the house, I watch the children playing in the sand. I’m always taken aback at how easy it is for them to make friends. Sometimes it’s literally a matter of seconds. I envy their openness and kindness and while I would like to take credit for this skill of theirs, I think I’m a lot more shy and reserved than they are. I praise them for this gift whenever I can as I want them to see the good in people every chance they get.
When you choose an expat life the first thing you lose is your support system. Everyone you know, everyone who knows you is gone, everyone who would be there for you at the drop of a hat is now at least 2 flights and a day away. You find yourself alone. Really alone. When I first moved to Kuwait I would never be caught dead in a coffee shop by myself or at the movies alone. Now it seems like such a simple thing which really isn’t a big deal and dare I say it, even nice at times. I think that shows how much I have grown and changed over the years and how living abroad has toughened me up. I will never forget the time I moved into my first place with a car boot (trunk for my American friends) full of Ikea specials. I dragged each box up to my apartment by myself one by one and when everything was up I began to unpack and build. I remember sinking to the floor in despair when the instructions called for me to ask a friend to hold one side of the wardrobe while I set up the other. “Ask a friend?” I laughed, what friend?! And that was the moment I realised that life really isn’t always going to go according to plan, script, or instruction.
Over the years I came out of my shell and learned to make friends, friends that would ultimately come and go given the nature of this expat travel region. I still feel blessed to be close to each one of those friends to this day. As, Katie so beautiful puts it.
“my heart has been left in pieces around the world in the hands of our family and treasured friends”
(she’s one of them)
My friends and my family back home support us from a distance with understanding and love. Overtime as we travel home for holidays they are there with open arms and open hearts and even more so… open homes. It’s not easy living out of people’s homes as a family of 5 and yet they take us in so graciously. They babysit my kids so I can make doctors appointments, they drag us to remote places to experience hidden gems, they feeds us with familiar tastes from home, but most importantly, they love us as if we never left at all. So to all the friends and families supporting loved ones over seas, from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU! Thank you for keeping the connection across thousands of miles and many years. Thank you for making the world a smaller place and thank you for making my world a colourful world indeed.
Cheers with a thankful heart,
We have close ties to the CrossFit Tiger Valley Box here in Pretoria and it was amazing to not only watch the members compete, but also passionately cheer each other on. As Katie noted in her post Strength and Beauty, it’s not just a physical strength that is at work, it’s very much a mental strength too.
It was hugely inspiring to watch individuals who have trained up to 2 hours a day performing with machine like abilities, and it was equally inspiring to watch the beginners in their first ever competitions leaving all of themselves on the open fields.
Well done to all those who took part.
My biggest challenge of the weekend was trying to photograph the event while keeping an eye on 3 rather needy minions. The lens I favoured was the Nikon, 105mm prime. If I was able to bring my 80-200mm that would have been the ideal lens for this event, but the 105 was a pretty decent 2nd choice. My 80-200mm was simply too big to travel with on this trip.
We had the privilege of staying in self catering units at Kiara Lodge, which was about a 10 minute drive past Clarens itself. This family friendly accommodation is set between the Maluti Mountains and Golden Gate. Another true gem of the Free State. Being only a 3 hour, 30 minute drive from Johannesburg, it really is an ideal getaway for a long weekend, especially with little children who don’t sit well on long road trips.
The kids had an absolute blast at the lodge. They were in kiddie heaven. Giant blow up floor bouncy pillow, large colourful wooden climbing frames, large hanging tree swings, miniature golf, trampolines, and the highlight of the weekend – bunnies everywhere.
Note: If you do make your way there, please take lots of carrots for hungry bunnies, they are very friendly and this little activity keeps the kids busy for hours.
I have come away from the weekend with a greater understanding of the CrossFit culture and a better appreciation for the depth of their passion. I come from a sporting family and have been involved with sports all my life, however I now manage an auto immune disease which limits my abilities and if it wasn’t for this, boy, I’d be right along with them.
If you have ever been tempted to give CrossFit a try, go for it! It will change your life for the better – this I am sure of!
Cheers from SA,
There’s something about going home. Whether it’s just to your childhood house you grew up in or your home country you travel back to.
And then there’s something extra special about coming home to Africa.
The minute I step off the plane, it’s like breathing out. My shoulders get lighter and my troubles seem far away.
It’s winter here now and it’s spectacular. The temps are so wonderfully mild. Our middays are reaching 22’C (70’F), but the mornings bring with them that winter chill I still fondly remember.
What strikes me the most about my first few days here is always the sky. The air is so clean and fresh. Such contrast to the desert life. I posted about our famous dust storms in Kuwait a few weeks ago and how, for the summer seasons, it seems that we live in a sepia world. When I land in South Africa, all my senses come alive, as if every colour is showing off. Every landscape is standing proudly at attention. I hear every single bird chirping, I have no idea what birds they are, but oh boy do they serenade. I smell every flower in full fragrance, the rains on the horizon before they fall, and every earthy grain of sand. Textures are in abundance and the influence the land has over it’s people and local design is unmistakable.
My children are filthy. I’m talking about scrub them in the tub and leaving a dirty ring in the bath kind of filthy. And I LOVE it! They are out the house and exploring their environments every single day and I couldn’t be happier about it.
This past week we woke up to one beautiful misty morning. It was magical. My eldest ran outside to share in my joy and found her very first dew drop.
Aside from the land and her people, being around all our family and friends again is so special. Listening to the cousins playing outside, the familiar belly laugh of my brother and the kind words of my dad. The sweet giggle of my new niece and the warm comforts and hugs from loved ones who truly know you.
Yes, going home is special.
Love from Johannesburg,
By now you know I am a South African girl living in the deserts of Kuwait, raising my children and supporting my husband to the best of my abilities. It’s not an easy journey by any means, but one that is well worth it. On Katie’s post An American Patriot Abroad, she put it beautifully when she said:
“Living the expat life may even strengthen one’s patriotism as we experience life away from all that we know and love.”
One of the joys about living abroad is the luxury of travel. Living here means we get 3 months of school summer holidays. With the temperatures reaching unbearably high, everyone who is able, escapes the country with kids in tow for the bulk of this period.
I have been travelling between countries for the past 11 years. All my children were born in Kuwait and have been travelling since they were at least 3 months old. That said, flying is not something that comes naturally for me, and for this reason I feel I have to over prepare in order to cope. This girls feet prefer to be planted firmly on the ground, but alas, my life story has been written a little differently to what I expected and I have been ever so blessed for it.
Last year we travelled to Portugal and this year we are going home to Johannesburg. We are simply so excited. We have a new little family member to meet, old ones to catch up with, friends to cherish, birthday’s to celebrate and a whole lot of new places to see and plenty of adventures to go on. I am even looking forward to the days where we don’t do anything at all. For the next two months I will be writing to you from a beautiful wintery South Africa.
In December, I made this journey alone with the 3 kids and we made it fine with no real drama to write about. Even so, with a very thankful heart my husband will be travelling with us and escorting us safely home this time.
So to get to Johannesburg from Kuwait we will fly to Dubai (1.5 hours) and catch a connecting flight (8 hours) into Johannesburg (JHB). I choose day flights wherever possible which goes against what most of my friends do (including Katie). I generally, find that the travel is easier on my kids when they have a good nights sleep. We then travel all day and when we get home in JHB I put them straight to bed for another good nights sleep. This way we all wake up the next morning ready to start the day with no jet lag in sight. The challenge then becomes…
How do I cope with and entertain 3 small kids in the confined space of economy class all day long?
Well, here are a few of my top travel tips when travelling with kids. We all know ever child/family is different, but these work for mine.
1 – Travel as light as possible.
2 – Each child over 4 (in my case 2 of them) carries their own little backpack. (As light as possible)
3 – My smallest (3.5 year old) and I share 1 backpack.
4 – My one on board luggage bag with wheels is strong enough to carry the weight of my smallest around the terminal. He loves to ride my bag at the airport and it saves me having to carry him or push an extra stroller as well. The girls are big enough to handle the airport walks and we simply walk at their pace, but my little guy is not. Especially if he has just woken up, or having one of his ‘moments,’ so riding the bag it is.
5 – Kids should be comfortable. I’m talking sneakers and sweat pants when travelling long haul.
6 – Starve them of as much screen time as you can for the week before your journey, those little onboard movies will be a huge hit.
7 – Pack on board luggage carefully and intentionally. Remember, you’re trying to pack as light as possible.
That leads me to some of my go to packing tips:
1 – Bring a ziplock bag full of a few of their favourite snacks. Yes, airlines have great options for kids foods now a days, but especially in the case of my one gluten intolerant child, the little comforts of familiar snacks go a long way. Of course, if I cater for the one, I HAVE to cater for the other two as well. I don’t need to be miles high with 2 tantrums and no where to hide. I traded the fancy lunch boxes for simple ziplock bags to help with the weight issue, I mean something that gets lighter while travelling can only be a good thing right?!
2 – I pack a change of clothes, not just for each child, but for myself as well.
3 – Pack a small toy for each child.
4 – I save yummy fruit gummy’s for landing, if any of them have fallen asleep and I need them to get excited about being awake, a little treat (which also helps with their ears and cabin pressure) is sure to do the trick.
5 – Wet wipes, massively important when going anywhere with kids.
6 – Lip balm, that recirculated cabin air can dry out your lips fast.
7 – Empty packet (or baggie) or two, there’s nothing worse than little wrappers and pieces of tissue littering your seat for hours on end and those poor cabin crew members have more than one family to serve. I find a little empty packet very handy when you want to contain bits of rubbish here and there and it’s pretty easy to dispose of when you need to, keeping your area tidy.
This is the first trip I will be trying out a little travel Play Doh kit from Sensory Play Kuwait. It’s small enough and light enough for the kids to carry, so let’s see what they think of it. I will keep you posted.
In the spirit of being overly prepared I even mentally map out my morning-of routine and make sure that all luggage bags are packed up the night before. One of the key elements of this strategic plan is meal times. The kids will have a bowl of plain yogurt, banana or oats before we leave the house. After we make our way through passport control we will head up to the lounges (or food court) for a second breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages and fruit. Honestly, well-fed kids are happier than hungry ones.
Having said all this, no flight home is ever the same, I am constantly learning and refining this travelling process. I will recap once we have landed and update you all on how things went and what I would do differently. For those of you who pray, please pray for safe travels for us!
I look forward to showing you my neck of the woods. Come along for the ride, it promises to be a colourful one! I’d also, love to hear from you what you think of my country and I’m more than happy to answer any questions you may have.
Cheers from the skies,
UPDATE: Our flights went well, the kids were super stars, not much sleep onboard to report but I really can’t complain. It’s a traveling game changer when your kids have their own seats on the flight! (And that only happens when they’re over 2yrs old on most airlines)
When my friend Kerry casually dropped 6 books on a table amongst friends, she said “Oh, I have a few books of my mom’s story, if anyone wants to read it.” I’m pretty sure I elbowed our other friend Robin out the way to be one of the first ones to read it. Sorry Robin.
The book Colours of Africa – The Alexa Kirsten Story was written by Debra Hunter and published by Hunter publishing, New Zealand, in 2013.
“We shall not cease from exploring, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” – T.S. Eliot
The books goes into detail of how this family started their African journey back in 1938. When Alexa’s mother, Lexie, and her best friend Faith arrived in Cape Town, South Africa from England, to start their epic adventure travelling and hitch-hiking through Africa. The British pair had very little money, but a whole lot of heart, and this was my first insight into the strength and character of the women of this family.
During the war in 1943, Lexie was a qualified physiotherapist when she met South African solider, Charles Campbell Elliot. It was love at first sight and the pair were married within 2 weeks in Tripoli, Libya. On 27 July, 1952, Alexa Helen Jessie Elliot was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa to this remarkable couple. She was their 3rd child, and first daughter. Tich, Alexa’s younger sister followed 18 months later.
When Alexa’s family moved to Knysna she met her would-be-husband, Steve Kirsten. In 1973 the couple got married in The Holy Trinity Church in Knysna. Fun fact: this was the first building to be designed by a female Architect in Africa.
From Knysna the couple then settled in Wellington after the birth of their first child, a daughter, Kerry. Once there they went on to have a second child, Ben, and 10 years later Luke made his appearance.
“God, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. And sever any tie in my heart, except the tie that binds my heart to Yours” – David Livingstone (1813-73), explorer
Monday morning, 7 February, 2005
Alexa heard a scream coming from the neighbours house and ran over to investigate. She entered the house calling out, but there was no reply. And then she saw him. A short dark male figure emerging from the shadows. He said nothing. Alexa slowly turned around and walked back towards the back door and then she felt it. She has been hit alongside the head with an old iron door stopper. She staggered and then fell to the floor. He then went on to stab her in the back of the neck 17 times. She was left for dead.
But she was not gone. She very clearly recalls herself leaving her body and rising up above the scene with a complete sense of freedom and peace. She was completely calm and pain free in that moment. But she felt something holding her down, she describes it as the Hand of God, not allowing her to rise any further. But it didn’t last, she found herself back inside her body once again, the fear and pain returning, she could see the figure running away. Her neighbour had been killed in the attack. Alexa was taken to hospital and began her very long road to recovery.
She ultimately testified in court along with many witnesses and her attacker was sentenced to life in prison. Alexa, has chosen to live a life free of hatred, filled with forgiveness and overflowing with courage. She now does public speaking, helping women who have been through crisis to bring comfort and support and she also speaks at prisons, helping to shed light and conform (I can only imagine the courage it must take to go there).
Alexa has always had a love for art, but even more so since her attack. Her colours are even more vivid and her illustrations even more charismatic. She is also a remarkable story teller. The biography features letters she has written to her neighbour since the attack as a form of therapy. It’s through these letters that you start to see the true artist behind artwork. She is a very talented writer and painter.
I can’t wait to commission her to create a memory cloth for my own family; it’s a beautiful way to hold onto our stories and memories.
My thanks go out to Alexa Kirsten for sharing your story with such strength and grace. You are truly an inspirational woman and one simply cannot come across your story and remain unchanged.
Debra Hunter, for writing Alexa’s story.
My friend Kerry for boldly sharing her mother’s story with us.
” I begin to understand a little more of why God allowed me back and gave me another shot at life – this is indeed a violent, fearful and angry land. With so much bitterness and hatred, it is so easy to become part of the negative talk and situation. I was able to put this to these men, the fear and hatred that abounds outside the prison walls – from people who have been violated and traumatised by the things that they had done – their crimes. The ordinary people live in fear – fear for themselves and their loved ones, people who are shocked by the terrible, unbelievable awful things that happen these days.I pray with all my heart that my story, told to these, the most unlovely of men, might touch their hearts and that they may turn from their old lives, that they may make restitution with those whose lives they have destroyed, with themselves, and ultimately with God himself.” – Alexa Kirsten
The Kirsten family still lives happily in South Africa and cherishes everyday, even Great- Grandmother Lexie is doing well at 103.4 years old!
I hope this story has inspired you as much as it did me.
I remember being in high school, in South Africa, at 17 years of age and we went on a field trip to the Pretoria Art Museum. As an art student we had been learning about William Kentridge. His work was proudly on display that hot summer day in Pretoria. I had very little knowledge and appreciation for the greatness of the artist at the time. And I never gave it another thought passed our final exams that year.
Last year my husband and I went to Rome for a second honeymoon. You know the kind, where you are finally done being pregnant and are finally out of the baby phase of life and you can now start to enjoy your spouse a little bit more with your children getting more and more independent…
Anyway, I digress, it was during this trip to Rome that I came across the great wall of ‘Triumphs and Laments’ – the brief history of Rome. It gave me a vague feeling of nostalgia, and a strange familiarity, yet I had never seen it before. It was later, during a BBC interview with Mr. Kentridge that I connected the dots and his story came alive for me.
This piece is a 550m long frieze (erased from the biological patina on the Tiber embankment walls of Rome’s urban waterfront). It consists of more than 80 figures, up to 10m high and represents a silhouetted procession of Rome’s greatest triumphs and tragedies. To celebrate its launch, he and his long-time collaborator, the South African composer Philip Miller, devised a series of performances featuring live shadow play and more than 40 musicians.
‘The hope is that, [as] people walk the extent of these 500 meters, they will see images of the history they find both familiar and transformed in some way. And this will reflect the complex way in which a city is represented… We are trying to find the triumph in the lament and the lament in the triumph, putting together a sense of history from fragments.’ – William Kentridge
William Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa and still resides there today. Both his parents were attorneys during the apartheid era and they represented the oppressed and marginalised. This explains where he gets his political slant from. With a strong artistic voice he is able to communicate what we think and feel during turbulent times over tabu subjects. He makes you think, holds you accountable, and inspires you to do something – to make a change. He calls us out. Whether we are guilty or not.
Short film – Felix in Exile:
At first he wanted to be an actor, gave it a good try but when he realised he was failing, he went back to his first consistent love, drawing. Eventually, he became comfortable calling himself an artist and he has never looked back since. More than just art for arts sake (which there is nothing wrong with by the way) he genuinely has content that makes political leaders squirm in their seats. He took his charcoal drawings to another level and started to create short films – successive charcoal drawings, always on the same sheet of paper, contrary to the traditional animation technique in which each movement is drawn on a separate sheet. In this way, Kentridge’s videos and films came to keep the traces of the previous drawings. His animations deal with political and social themes from a personal and, at times, autobiographical point of view.
On the art market, Kentridge’s artworks are among the most sought-after and expensive works in South Africa: “a major charcoal drawing by world-renowned South African artist William Kentridge could set you back some £250 000”. Kentridge is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, however over the years he has also had work in all the major galleries around the world, including the Louve, Paris.
The above images were photographed from a Phaidon Publication.
Mr. Kentridge is a truly inspiring artist to follow and one I am deeply proud as a fellow South African.There is just so much more to him, than I have shared here, so I encourage you to look out for him in book stores and galleries near you. May be he will challenge how you see the world and history.