What happens when the food runs out?

Drought+

Christmas and New Year have come and gone and somehow we are staring down the barrel at the end of January 2016 with the month of February looming. As a South Africans expat it’s been great to see all the Facebook post about all the little tots and kiddies heading back to their first day of school, with our starting in September it doesn’t always feel so special but that it purely because how we grew up was slightly different.

We spent our December holiday in South Africa on the farm in the eastern Free State. Being home is always a very special occasion for us as we get to spend time with our family and really connect back to our roots. This visit was even more special as we welcomed a new family member into the fold as my sister in law got married the week before Christmas. One of the greatest things about this last visit was the fact that the Rand/Dollar exchange rate was fanatically in our favor as it is the highest it has even been. This was great because we had a ball doing a bit of shopping, eating out and activities.

Ok, it is not so great if you are actually earning rands but for the expats it was, as they say, like Christmas.

Despite the great shopping and the wonderful time with our families, there was and still is a looming threat in South Africa that most South Africans are either blissfully unaware of or are choosing to ignore. Being a family of farmers, our family is directly affected by any changes in weather patterns or shift in the seasons and 2015 has been one of the worst years in record since before 1904, according to the weather bureau. December for our family has always been occupied by the process of planting, getting the maize and soybeans in to the ground before the big December rains. In past years it was also the month of making sure all the wheat was harvested but wheat has not been planted for some time now. However, this year December was a month of waiting and praying for the rain to actually come so that we could plant. Normally November is quite a wet month, allowing the soil to become moist and ready to be worked and planted but this year there was none. Finally in the first week of December we were blessed with 60mm of rain and it was a crazy flurry of chaos to make sure all the Soybeans and Maize was planted but then came the waiting game, and boy, did we wait?

December came and went, the clouds built up and they floated right over us, finally by mid January we were blessed with a bit of follow up rain. Over a yearly period our average rainfall would be around 650 – 700 mm of rain, in 2015 we had 150mm. The consequences of this lack of rainfall are that about 50% of the total planted crop is lost. But the scary thing is that this change in weather pattern has not just been an issue in our lives but in the lives of nearly every farmer in South Africa and neighboring countries.  Subsequently, South Africa is looking at a 50% failure in the countries maize, wheat and Soybean crop, and that 50% is being totally optimistic.

According to Grain South Africa is forecasting 5 million tons of maize imports during the marketing year from May 1 to April 30 next year as well as 2 million tons of wheat imports in the year ended September. However, Transnet Port Terminals Agricultural Bulk operations had a total of just 4 million tons of annual capacity available across all its seven local ports and these 7 ports are used not only for South Africa but for many neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe as well. Durban Port is the only port which was the capacity to handle the import in Maize into South Africa and it wholly lacks the facilities to manage the tonnage in maize and other grains required for South Africa due to the drought. The only other option is to consider using the only other grain import facility in the area which is located in Maputo.

Nations in the area, which includes Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland, will need to find 10.9 million metric tons of grains such as corn, wheat, and soybeans, South African Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana told reporters Friday in Pretoria, the capital. This includes 5 million to 6 million tons of maize for South Africa.

Scary thought isn’t it. For the first time in living memory South Africa is going to be experiencing a food shortage, and Im afraid that this shortage is going to create ripple effects in our society of epic proportions. I say this because hungry and desperate people do desperate things to make sure they and their children are fed. Due to the drought South Africans are going to see the in boost food inflation, with prices expected to increase by as much as 25 percent in the year ending April 2017, this is according to Ronald Ramabulana, CEO of the National Agricultural Marketing Council. In November alone the food-price growth was 4.8 percent.

My concern with all the above information is that most South Africans, mostly those living in the cities, are not aware that this is a looming over them. It’s not entirely their own fault, in all fairness, the main topic of discussion all over the news at the moment is the racially charged diatribe that is pin ponging from one race to another. While the racial issue in South Africa is always going to be a sticking point in our lives, it is easier to sit from my perspective as an outsider looking in to a situation and realize that the Government is very adept as creating distraction within South Africa to hide impending doom and their utter failure to run a country.  Perhaps the creation of distraction is one of the only quivers in its arrowless bag of management. Soon enough though the real effect of food shortages is going to take effect and of course the first people to feel the pinch of this is going to be the rural communities who depend on food grants, what is the use of having the grant money if there is actually no food to buy?

So here we sit with an amazingly abundant country, one with unlimited potential on the brink of upheaval, don’t get me wrong I am the eternally optimistic South African. In a sea of often bitter expats Im often the lone one defending South Africa as a motherland but at this point even I am starting to see the flawed logic that is the currently running the country.

In times of food shortages, the cost of food will spike, crime becomes uncontrollable and the safety of citizens is not guaranteed. So my question is this, can South Africa handle a more violent environment than it already is struggling to deal with? Will the country be able to handle a race war that may erupt thanks to the government who continues to use it as a distraction tool to cover its tracks? For once, Im not actually convinced that it can.

Finding Sunlight

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Any mom with a toddler in their threenage year knows that their toddler is constantly pushing every boundary set for them, test inch of your patience and generally finding their spot in the world. Over the last four months our son has grown and matured astronomically and has broadened his vocabulary  unbelievably. Yesterday morning my hubby and I were discussing the changes on him and we are both so surprised but coming with those changes is a little mind that all of a sudden wants to do everything himself, god forbid you don’t let him flush the toilet after doing his business, knows exactly what he wants to eat (cheese, lots of cheese) and the one that annoys me the most, defying at all costs instructions whether it is to get undressed, take your socks off…. oh hell no mommy. Last week was one where time out was a constant, we even now have a degree of time outs, minor infractions he sits on the stairs near the lounge but serious issues he gets to sit in mom’s study all on his own and he HATES it but it totally works.

I have noticed though that it is a cycle of behavior that happens every six months or so, our last period of chaos was in April, just before our trip to South Africa, at one stage we, as parents, were so worried about the trip because we though that our families would think we had raised a total delinquent and then as suddenly as the behavior started it passed and we had our gorgeous little guy back. I do believe that it arises in times of uncertainty or when he is feeling a bit insecure. We have alot of activity at home at the moment, new puppy, new school and dad has been working odd hours. Through all of this, despite my job, I have been trying to make myself more available to him in the afternoon, after my meetings instead of going back to the office I try work from home, weekends are dedicated to spending as much time as a family as possible but often as a parent you don’t feel that you are doing enough.

This feeling isn’t brought about by your children telling you they are unhappy it is often self inflicted because you feel you aren’t giving enough to your children and often the pressure which we place upon our own shoulders is unreasonable and counter productive. The harder you push yourself to be a better parent the harder it becomes to please yourself and instead of sitting back and relaxing with your child or sitting on the floor to help them colour in, we are organizing play dates and activities and before you know it the weekend is gone and if you think about the amount of quality time you have spent together, not in a mall, but just enjoying the intimacy of being a family, you realize it was still not enough.

Often when I reflect on parenting skills and finding more time to enjoy my son I find myself thinking about something my Dad’s mom told me before she died. She had three sons, Nookie (my dad), Peter and Marc. Tragically one Easter weekend Nookie and Peter were killed in a terrible accident and our family lived with the scars of this for the rest of their lives but no one as much as my gran and she often recalled their antics as kids but the one thing that she always said was that she wished she had done more, in broad terms I think she wished she had slowed down and spent more time with her boys as they got older and moved into adulthood and I think that that is a feeling that comes with hind sight and the trauma of losing your children, not just your child but two in one full swoop. I cant begin to image the pain of that loss, despair and emptiness that comes with losing your child, the thought along horrifies me and having grown up with that life is fragile in the back of my mind I really want to try harder to live every moment with my son and introduce him to the world but also to know my child and for him to know he is deeply loved.

Last night after a bit of an argument about getting into the bath, I went to fetch Daniel’s PJs and he called me to the bathroom, looked straight up at me and said, “Mommy, I am very happy”, those five little words totally floored me and made me realize, I guess I am doing something right!

Off to School We Have Gone

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During the first week of September my toddler, now 3.5 years old started school. Here in the UAE the kids start school at the early age of 3ish, depending on what time of the year they were born. The first adjustment that myself, as a South Africa mom, was that fact that they started so young, here was my baby waltzing off to school, wearing a school uniform on top of it, at such a young age when we only started school at 6 years old. We are encouraged to drop them off at the door of the classroom, turn around and not look back, gulping down that lump in your throat and the parents reassuring each other every thing will be fine. The second adjustment was that the school year started in September, we are so used to our school year starting in January after a nice long Christmas holiday, although I will admit that the June summer holiday was long enough, thank you very much and the third was how the school organised their orientation days.

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Whilst a lot of moms are stay at home mommies, there is a large number of us who aren’t, and it is not a privileged that we have either chosen or can afford, especially with the rising living costs in Dubai at the moment. The kiddies had four orientation days, one the first day our half of the class had to be dropped off at 10:30 in the morning and collected at 12:30 sharp, the second morning they had to be dropped off at 7:30 and collected at 9:30 and so the days alternated. Being a working mom with a hubby who has very little flexibility on his comings and goings this was a bit of a logistical nightmare, but what can you really do? Thankfully it was only four days of havoc because there was no way that I was going to have someone else pick him up from his first few days at school. So I guess we rolled with the punches but it also highlighted something to me that, in general, most interactive sessions between parents and schools are only scheduled during working hours, yes I understand that working hours means teachers hours as well but in an environment in Dubai where many of the parents are working, very little consideration is taken for their work timings.

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This arose many times when my toddler was in nursery as well, we had to miss a few of the parent teacher meetings due to scheduling conflicts. But its not only school, its toddler classes or play groups as well. While there are so many groups that can be found encouraging moms and tots to join for yoga (Im faaar to inflexible for yoga but I like to think there is a possibility one day) or art classes during the week, try looking for over the weekends and your options dry up very quickly.

Yes, I know it is my choice to be a working parent, I have heard the lecture many times, and Im certainly not bashing stay at home mums, but should just because we work be a reason not to have more options other than the 9-5? Our group of friends got to chatting the other day and we realized that if someone opened up a baby gym offering classes for moms and tots with activities over the weekend they would make a killing because it would be filled with working moms.

So left with our choices we fill our weekends with art classes in our lounge, build tents and realize that time spent with our littlies can be special within the sanctity of our own home but that is great for a few hours and then my toddler starts bouncing off the walls and we need to get out the house and I do try my best not to head to a mall of some sort but often in the summer heat we are often left without a choice.

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So we are three weeks in to our new school year and while the adjustments have taken quite a lot of getting used to, early mornings, PE classes, show and tell (yes at the age of 3) and a few bumps and bruises here or there; I am very happy with how he was fitted in to his new schedule and the school is really doing wonders for him. Although this morning I was driving to work after dropping him off when I realized that I would be doing this for the next twelve years of my life and I groaned because sleeping late ever again just became a non existent reality!

Clearing out all the cobwebs

Because we can!

Because we can!

Wow, time flies! It has been nearly four months since I last theoretically picked up the pen and wrote my last blog piece and the scary thing was that it was not intentional. Life just got so busy that when I cleared the gunk out of my eyes and we were barreling through September. In the meantime we have survived another summer in Dubai, barely but we survived and that is all that matters. My toddler started FS1 and we happily adopted a puppy called hunter, but I believe that each of those happenings deserves an article on their own. Today is about finding my stride and remembering why I really enjoyed blogging in the first place. I have missed having somewhere to put my thoughts down on to paper and knowing that there was nothing bottled up in side me but also it gave me great satisfaction knowing that I was not the only one out there who was going through the same thing. Being an expat blogger opens you up to a wider community of like minded bloggers, not only from your home country but much farther afield and strewn across the globe.

I have loved having comments from readers as far flung as Greenland, Croatia, The Cayman Islands and China just to mention a few. While for the seasoned blogger this is an everyday occurrence, for first timers like me it was amazing.  I have loved being able to write about watching South Africa from an inside/ outside perspective, being a proud South Africa with a strong tie to the country but not living there has given we a fresh perspective on how the country works. While it was opened me up to negative comments it has also made me realize that the country still has so much to offer the world, there are still people who believe in the countries success story, and can see through the mess of the current politics.

So Im hoping that today’s post is going to trigger a steady flow of great new pieces that can bring me back to the love of the art without the doubt of what people may think or misinterpretation of particular articles. So here is to the new and improved and here is to a bit of spring cleaning!

Logistics of a Dream

Morgan Bay

Morgan Bay

Last week I had, thanks to my hubby and hard work, one of my childhood dreams come true. We purchased a plot in a little village in the Eastern Cape called Morgan Bay. I have written about the spot before because it is somewhere very close to my heart, the very first time I visited Morgs I was all of one month old and I spent nearly every Easter and Christmas holiday there until I left home for university. So when the opportunity to actually have a spot of my own, it was something that we jumped on. In fairness, even though most of family have houses there or a place to stay there, the houses belong to our grandparents, parents or cousins and as it often does when one goes with joint family houses, when it comes to inheritance things can get very messy.

I have always found that the death of a family member, especially if that member is the Matriarch, and there is an inheritance to split, like a house, the complication behind this can stretch for years and sour relationships for generations. Im not making assumptions here, this is something that I have witnessed happen on many occasions and I don’t think that it is a generational issue, it will effect the generations to come because is inherently human nature to fight for what they believe is theirs. Often they are blinded by grief or even greed but this is the reality of having to share.

While we have had the opportunity to invest into the main family house over the years and I was very excited about doing that it bought alone with it the stark reality that one day should our matriarch pass on then we have a house that needs to be split between four families. In the grand scheme of things there are many families that can handle a situation like this seamlessly but why leave that up to chance or the whim of fickle human nature.

So keeping this in mind we set about the process of finding a plot that suited our needs, one of the main requirements was that the plot needed to be close to the family house so that we weren’t on the other side of the valley and needed to get into a vehicle to see them because that would defy the point of being together on holiday. So off my mom in law and I went traipsing around the village to see what was available and to be honest, although there were great plots waiting to be bought, there weren’t any that caught my fancy, either because they were to small or far away or expenive. In the absence of what we were looking for, we considered alternatives but those also eventually fell away.

We had searched through most of the available plots by now but we have overlooked the obvious choices, just next to my Gran’s house there was a newer development of land but we had not gone to see the plots on offer there because we knew that they were very expensive, and why wouldn’t they be? It was prime property! But I had also failed to take in to account the depressed property market in that particular area. So we went to take a look, found a plot we loved and gambled on our sale offer thinking that it would not be accepted and to our surprise it was. The first feeling that I got was total surprise and excitement at the same time. Then the nerves kicked in because by this point I was back in Dubai and I needed to managed the process remotely, thankfully my hubby had a better suggestion and we handed the matter over to our RSA lawyers to handle and all I needed to do was sign the documents.  Papers are signed and now the real logistics need to start because we now want to start designing our house.

Finding an architect that doesn’t think we are made of money because we live in Dubai has been quite a challenge and it is still on going. Sometimes I think that I am a sucker for punishment but it has been an eye opening experience and what I have learnt from it is that not everything is as it seems and it is good to gamble once in a while on things that matter the most to you because the reward might just make one of your dreams come true!

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The Sisters We Get to Choose

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I was not the typical girly girl while growing up on the farm in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. I was the only girl in the farming neighborhood and I was blessed with 2 rambunctious brothers who although they were a lot younger than me, were a great source of entertainment. It was not until I went to boarding school did I actually start making girlfriends. It was always interesting to me to see the relationship dynamics that many the girls in my class had with their elder siblings and especially with their sisters. I think the interest was purely because I didn’t understand it.

At this stage in my young life I was closest to my grandparents, having life spent the majority of my 7 years with them and my mother was an enigma and I was still getting to know her. I was just 6 and a bit when I went off to weekly boarding and it did me a lot of good as well. I got to go home to the farm every weekend but it also got out me out of the house. I wont say that I was an angel during my time in the small town called Komga but it helped me built my character that I am today. As I got older and moved to high school the sibling relationships around me, although slightly more mature, were still prevalent. The most that I observed had a love/ hate element that most brothers and sisters share but the closeness that many sisters shared was what I was most jealous of. I noticed that it was a bond that, even though they may be fighting, no one else may fight with their sister. There was an element of possessiveness and belonging that I had wanted from when I was a little girl. This often is a result of growing up as an outsider within a family unit. I was my mother’s child but I was not her husband’s child. Even though I was at home with my extended family, my core family was fragmented and, without a doubt, it left a hole.

But that hole also helped shape who I am today, it gave me the strength to be able to make a life outside of the family unit and to be as independent as I am today. By the time I left home for university I was a bit of a force to be reckoned with but the problem with that was that I was hard with very few fuzzy edges which meant people found me very difficult to get to know, it I allowed them in at all. To change this part of my has taken a long time of being constantly aware of who I’m interacting with and the nature of our interaction. It took my hubby months of slowly chipping away at my stony exterior to finally reach my marshmallow insecure center and he thought it was so worth it which led me to believe that you didn’t need to be this hard core what not to make your way through life successfully. I had this strange idea in my head that it could face this world along and live to tell the tale. It would probably have worked but if I look around me I doubt it would have been worth the fight.

It was at this stage in my life that I met my first sister, Carmen, she was my hubbies youngest sister and she was a fire cracker! This started a long period of having to adjust to having each other in our lives and learning the ropes of having another girl in the house, she also had two brothers but she had the added benefit of having gone to an all girls school and I loved that she had very little time for the drama that often stalked after most girls. It took Carmen and I a lot of time to find common ground but once we did, going to the ends of the earth for her would be an easy task and although we will always have a difference in opinions, this is what makes relationships interesting.

A few years later after I had married my hubby and we had became expats, my brother in law bought my second sister in to my life, and to say that we were so similar in some ways in so totally different in others is an understatement but there was a calm about Chantal that reminded me of a (and she is going to hate me for this because she suffers from Ornithophobia) Peking Duck, gracefully heading through life but under the water she paddled like hell. She worked so hard but made it look very easy and it is a trait that she still has today. It didn’t take long for us to bond and before long our family had gained another valued member.

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And then we were three, well actually we were four because my mother in law was always there to lend a supportive ear through any disruptive periods and it is through her guidance and wisdom that we all found our place within our family. Through all of this I can now sit back and say how proud I am to have two sisters who through it all will support the decisions we make and be there when the hells fall off every now and then. There will be tears and bad days but we know that we will always be stronger standing together than fighting apart and I wouldn’t have chosen it to be any other way.

Sister

Lamb chops in the desert

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The summer months in Dubai can easily be described as hell on earth because the temperatures soar to the high forties and sometimes low fifty degrees Celsius and it becomes the time of the year where families either leave the country or become hermits because being outside is just impossible.

Needless to say, summer is settling in on the UAE and the last few days have been scorching. I am the type of person who is built for winter, Im quite happy being in the Eastern Free State in the depth of winter but I do not fare so well in the summer heat. I tend to feel like Im completely hyper ventilating and this leads to me hiding away in the comfort of my AC. But this is not fair on my toddler who loves being outside no matter the heat, even though as a parent we only let him outside for long periods of time in the early mornings and the late evenings and he hates it. So we set up splash pools in the garden shade (well in what little garden we have) and open a door to make sure he gets a waft of AC.

Yesterday morning was one of those very hot ones and I had resigned myself to an afternoon on the couch and catching up on recorded series when a friend of mine called to say that her and her family where heading out into the desert to find the Oryx pools not far from where we lived. I will admit that I was very reluctant to head out into the scorching desert with a toddler and his two cousins but in the interest of letting them burn off steam, off we went.

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We drove past our usual spot and headed further into the sand than we usually would venture in my KIA Sorento but my little car surprised me again and we zooted through the sandy spots without any trouble. And to my surprise we found ourselves in a little oasis that was truly jaw dropping. In all the years that we have lived in Dubai, we have yet to find such a charming little spot for some R&R and the kids absolutely loved it. Before long the braai was on and the kids were splashing around in the water.  As we settled under the shade of the trees and listened to the bird life around us, it reminded me that us expat often take the UAE for granted and don’t look beyond the sand to find the natural beauty that is waiting over the next sand dune. Or you could land up like some over the other 4×4 vehicles that got themselves very stuck! But it is worth taking the risk because the story and the memories that you make will outweigh the moments of having to push your car out the sand.

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So as the sun set on another weekend in Dubai, we snacked on our lamb choppies and gave thanks that we could share such a lovely moment with our friends and family.

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