How buying bling will set you free

Rings Archives - Queenspark

My sister bought herself a pretty ring at the weekend and I got to thinking about rings ‘n things and their meaning. In my middle-class, suburban thinking, I used to think that only my man should be the one to buy me rings, until The Maestro made it clear after we were married that he had bought me enough rings.

Then, when I saw a pretty l’il thing in Sterns one day and since it was bonus month, I thought, ‘Well, why not?!’ And I bought it. It wasn’t expensive, but it was gleefully empowering to do something like that for myself. Despite fashioning myself as a feminist, I had still been so bound by conventional thinking that a small thing like buying myself a ring became a liberation of sorts.

‘If you like it, you’d better put a ring on it’ is a concept that encourages women to believe that a man is the source of her joy and that only a man is the solution  and comptroller of pleasure. In many ways that keeps us believing that other people (men) control our happiness. And so, my learning to buy my own jolly jewellery has emancipated my thinking and has had the unfortunately expensive outcome of several subsequent shopping expeditions. But I have a cool collection of bling now, some of it is even real.

But you know, the pleasure that a little bling brings and the accompanying freedom is merely a symbol of how we should take charge of our own happiness. Stop waiting for other people to make you happy. Go out and find it for yourself.

I am reminded of my mother who believed (as a young woman brought up in the fifties) that a woman could only go to the movies with her man and so when she got divorced, she stopped going to the cinema! And we could never persuade her to just go along with a couple of girlfriends. No, that was for couples in her books. I always thought that was so sad.

How we limit ourselves! And we may well end up miserable while we wait for others to make us happy. And it’s not even their job. They probably don’t realise we are waiting for them to be our white knights either.

The bling in this world is out there just waiting for you to enjoy it: in nature; in your career, in dance lessons on your own, that holiday that you want to take (after COVID maybe). So, ask him out (or not), go to the restaurant or film on your own, book the ticket to somewhere. Life really is yours for the taking.

Just buy the ring yourself. Queenspark has some rather fancy baubles and they only cost R60!

‘Must have the precious’

What is precious?

The recent UCT fire and the panicked evacuation of residences has probably had all of us contemplating what we would grab if we had to escape our homes in a rush.

University of Cape Town students were told to grab their ‘essentials’ and run, and most (well those who were there at the time of course) took only their documents, laptops and phones, and the forward-thinking ones took their chargers too (no surprises there). Some managed to extract textbooks and a few clothes, but several were left with only the clothes they stood up in.

Of course, it is important to save human lives before all else and we can be so grateful that despite the devastation of some the buildings on our beautiful mountain, no person died, but the fire did get me thinking about a time I ran (not quite for my life) but in some ways I certainly was escaping.

 When I fled post-911 America, I took with me the five most precious gifts the world has ever given me – well one was still inside me, so he was slightly easier to carry. But it was a nightmare trying to decide what to take with us and what to leave behind.

In the end what went into the suitcases was the bare essentials: clothing and Lego (I know – not what you were expecting, right? But it was guaranteed to keep my youngsters busy for hours – and it had cost a great deal.) Naturally I crammed our important documents into my suitcase, along with all our photographs (It was back in the days before digital storage), which were loose in a large box – you can guess how heavy that bag was! The only albums I took were the children’s poorly scrapbooked baby albums, and i admit to thinking my husband could keep the wedding album – the fairytale had devolved into a miserable film noir by then.

Some precious belongings had to be abandoned though and I miss them still.

I took no furniture with me when we moved to the US, except for a box that was sent on, containing my grandmother’s lead crystal lamp, the only thing I wanted from my mother’s estate besides the hand-painted fruit bowl which my sister and I fought over (She won). The candelabra was magnificent: a cut glass extravanganza with the wiring (which I’d had redone from its original 1920’s job) running up the inside of the heavy, cut glass stem. The lampshade was a magnificent canopy also crafted from lead crystal carved into beautiful patterns and held in place by silver arms. When the lighbulbs were illuminated, it sent sparkling light across the room. I loved it. Clearly that couldn’t fit into a suitcase, and we didn’t qualify for anymore luggage. My husband assured me he would send it on, so I carefully packed it into a box again, along with my teddy bear from childhood and my ballet shoes (just in case no one believed this baby elephant once danced on her toes).

I so nearly baulked at carrying the photograph box all the way back to Africa, but at the last moment I panicked that he wouldn’t send things on and so I lugged a cardboard box filled with family pictures all the way through three airports and thank God I did, because in the end my carton-of-precious stayed behind in Utah and probably found its way to a yard sale or antique shop in downtown Salt Lake City. So at least I had our memories. But, if you’re rummaging through old treasures in Utah and come across a beauty like this, check its provenance. If it was found with a handmade bear, drop me a line…

You can keep the toe shoes – I don’t have the ankle strength left anyway.

I think in the end though, we decide what is important by our choices. We choose what is precious.

I chose my children. Best choice ever.

“The things which you get from your parents are valuable but the things which you earn by your blood become precious.”
― Sonal Takalkar

‘[He] wasn’t roaring; [he] was weeping’

How Looky-Loos can save the day

Can Police Take My Cell Phone For Recording Them?

One of my earliest memories of my father was of his acerbic tirade against looky-loos at a bad car accident on the foreshore in Cape Town. I think we were returning from the circus (this was back in the days before the elevated freeway was built near the docks on the reclaimed land) and the night was a kaleidoscope of flashing emergency vehicles, which mesmerized my five-year-old self, as did the prospect of seeing something so gruesomely awful.

But my father’s clear disdain for people drawn to the horror of an accident scene, labelling them as schadenfreudian monsters, has had me try valiantly to avert my eyes from crash sites ever since, or be filled with guilty fascination if I happened to catch sight of wreckage of any kind.

I have battled over the years to understand how journalists have been able to stand by and photograph victims of war and famine without helping the injured and suffering, although I do understand on some level why they do. And I am incensed by students who hover around the edges of fights and film acts of bullying, instead of breaking up the attacks and have often blamed social media for encouraging such incidents.

Until April 2021.

And Darnella Frazier’s shocking film of George Floyd’s murder.

The young woman who filmed the loathsome execution of George Floyd may well have changed the course of history with her film, in much the same way as Nick Ut’s Pulitzer-winning shot of a naked nine-year-old  Phan Thi Kim Phuc (known as ‘napalm girl’) shattered any delusions that the Vietnam War was a noble enterprise (as if any war is!), or the heart-breaking vision captured by Kevin Carter (which also won a Pulitzer) of a starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture in 1993, forced the world to sit up and take notice of the famine in drought-stricken Africa.

Perhaps NOW there will be a change in the United States appalling policing of black ‘criminals,’ ‘driving while black’ being their main offence. One is reminded of apartheid style security police measures and excuses for murders during their detention without trial in the notorious John Vorster Square.

Chris van Wyk’s poem, In Detention, foreshadows a list in an an article published by Brandon Giggs of CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/20/us/living-while-black-police-calls-trnd/index.html of all the ludicrous 911 calls made about black people going about their daily business- just the ones they reported on recently:

Operating a lemonade store

Golfing too slowly

Waiting for a friend at Starbucks

Barbecuing at a park

Working out at a gym

Campaigning door to door

Moving into an apartment

Mowing the wrong lawn

Shopping for prom clothes

Napping in a university common room

Asking for directions

Not waving while leaving an Airbnb

Redeeming a coupon

Selling bottled water on a sidewalk

Eating lunch on a college campus

Riding in a car with a white grandmother

Babysitting two white children

Wearing a backpack that brushed against a woman

Working as a home inspector

Working as a firefighter

Helping a homeless man

Delivering newspapers

Swimming in a pool

Shopping while pregnant

Driving with leaves on a car

Trying to cash a paycheck

Chris van Wyk’s 1979 poem devolves into meaningless sentence fragments as the absurdity of the security police’s excuses for the murders of anti-apartheid activists becomes obvious:

In detention-Chris van Wyk

He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while washing
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while washing
He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself while washing
He slipped from the ninth floor
He hung from the ninth floor
He slipped on the ninth floor while washing
He fell from a piece of soap while slipping
He hung from the ninth floor
He washed from the ninth floor while slipping
He hung from a piece of soap while washing.

But Chris van Wyk was writing in the seventies. George Floyd and these US citizens being victimised #WhileBlack are being victimised in 2021 in the supposed ‘land of the free.’

The one person who can claim to be a citizen of the ‘home of the brave’ is Darnella Frazier, who, according to Michael Moore deserves an Oscar for filming the most important film of the year. https://web.facebook.com/mmflint/posts/294248015406143?_rdc=1&_rdr

Gung-ho cops may think twice now about falsifying reports and perpetrating violence against arrestees, thanks to her courage.

I hope that Darnella will receive the trauma counselling needed to overcome the enormity of the horror she and her young cousin witnessed. It is worth noting that Kevin Carter committed suicide a few months after winning his Pulitzer for his Sudanese picture and despite the fact that he chased the bird of prey away and the child reached a United Nations Aid camp thanks to him, the abomination he bore witness to, destroyed him. Let that not happen to those who watched helplessly as George Floyd died.

And let us not EVER forget that the photographer reflects the war that needs to be stopped, the dead and the dying, the bully’s victims. They are human beings first before they are icons of tragedy. And make no mistake there is a war against black people still.

Let more teenagers filming bullies of any sort do what Darnella did though – turn the film over to authorities with the integrity to bring about change and just reparation, not just the internet, so that the world can edge just a bit closer to justice by their actions.

Black Lives Matter. As the famous struggle song by Bright Blue Weeping intones, ‘It wasn’t roaring; it was weeping.’  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeecXiqNzWA

Gaps, lags and other challenges in education due to COVID and what we can do about them

We all knew this would happen: That following prolonged absences from school, we would be counting the cost to the academic (and other) growth of our students in schools.

But as Winston Churchill said, ‘The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.’

Here is some anecdotal evidence from my school, a co-educational combined school of over 1000 children from 4 years to 18-year-old young adults, as well as the observations from my colleagues in what is the largest independent educational provider in South Africa, and a colleague overseas. It’s hardly an academic study, but it may contribute to the educational conversation at this time and assist to redress some of what will be an ongoing process over the next few years.

Our pre-schoolers were particularly impacted in 2020 with many of them either not attending school at all, or not having the right home environment for proper learning. But gaps and lags are being discovering right across age groups in schools.

Core Muscle Strength:

One of the ‘hidden’ milestones in a pre-schooler’s development is core muscle strength and this is gained among other directed activities by sitting at a table of the appropriate height, with a suitable chair. Many children during Lockdown who may even have been fortunate enough to enjoy hybrid teaching during this time, such as independent schools like ours were able to provide, joined classes from Mom or Dad’s bed, meaning that the experience of sitting at a desk was lost. These same children are now battling to sit still in Grade 1 for longer periods, as is expected from a first grader, learning to read and write. For some, just sitting upright is a challenge.

Our Foundation Phase teachers have recommended a record number of learners receive occupational therapy to correct some of these physical lags because they end up having a profound impact on academic development, and both fine and gross motor skills.

How can parents mitigate this at home:

  1. Increased outdoor play, believe it or not
  2. Riding a bicycle
  3. Swinging

Attention Span:

Keeping children’s attention in a post-Covid age is an even greater challenge, both as a result of these physical delays, but also as a consequence of increased screen time that children were exposed to as a matter of necessity during Lockdown teaching and recreation.

Graeme Waite, a fellow principal in my group, expressed concern about the possibility of device addiction – something we can all consider (guilty), but its effect on children and young adults means a reduction of time spent reading longer texts (books), which will affect attention and focus over the long term. With the closure of libraries, access to books has been severely limited and even I, who claim to be a prolific book devourer, admitted at some point last year that I would bankrupt myself if I continued to purchase even second-hand books, and have ended up binge watching series and reading short texts on Google or Facebook (hardly the most erudite of sources).

Reading lags in turn will affect the ongoing challenge all schools have with reading and comprehension anyway, with many children who join independent schools in high school, having the reading age of an 8-year-old.

How can parents mitigate this at home:

  1. Reduce screen time – so turn off the TV.
  2. Play memory games
  3. Build puzzles
  4. Introduce routines at home with clear bedtimes.
  5. Read: to and with your child.

Device addiction:

There are many reasons that tech innovators keep their own children away from devices: Any Google search will inform you of the symptoms of device addiction:

  • Insomnia.
  • Inability to Focus / Complete a Task.
  • Stress and Restlessness.
  • Relationship Stress.
  • Eye Strain.
  • Neck Pain.
  • Social Anxiety.
  • Escapist Behaviour

You may well recognise these in yourself. Imagine these and the damage they can cause in young lives. All of these effects damage your child’s ability to stay focussed and happy at school.

How can parents mitigate this at home:

  1. Set the example: turn off devices
  2. Increase physical activity
  3. Encourage family conversation.

Cyberbullying:

Increased time spent on cell phones inevitably means increased misuse. Spending less time in physical proximity with friends combined with the loss of inhibitions that the anonymity of social media allows, results in reduced empathy. And in the absence of obvious body language cues that their friends are not enjoying the ‘joke,’ much ‘joshing becomes downright mean.

How can parents mitigate this at home:

  1. Insist that your youngster comes out of his room.
  2. Talk about issues in the world.
  3. Ask open ended questions about their day. My family laughs now about how I always used to ask what was the best, worst, funniest, and saddest part of their day and they took turns in answering. But this was how we uncovered the bullying my youngest was enduring at school and some profoundly revealing fears and vulnerabilities came to light. Many a meal was extended long after the food had congealed on the plates, not because they were avoiding doing the dishes (although they probably were), but because they were enjoying the connection (not that as teenagers they would admit it.)

Quarrelling:

Children’s break time conflicts seem to need more interventions from teachers as youngsters battle to navigate social interactions, with the inevitable parental concern that one incident implies an act of war against their child.

How can parents mitigate this at home:

  1. Work with the teachers.
  2. Teach them conflict resolution skills.
  3. Help them become problem solvers by talking about what-if scenarios and how to negotiate conflict with the art of compromise.
  4. Attack a problem, not the child.

Social Skills:

While many families report improved relationships with their children within their homes, the return to school has exposed a reduction in independence and a need to re-establish the social contracts of classroom behaviour and interaction. Children need to be reminded of traditional manners and respect and small things like the importance of greeting others have to be stressed as routines are re-established. High school students seem to be just that little bit more oblivious to people in their surroundings than before.

Kick Starting Sports Programmes:

Izak Nagel, principal of a large primary school in our group, reports the challenge facing schools in reintroducing sports programmes in school life that has largely been academic and health focussed. There is a need to get everything up and running simultaneously, although some schools are opting to reintroduce sports codes gradually, with some doing general ball skills and conditioning before starting specific sports, to accommodate the incremental change from a more sedentary lifestyle many adopted at home to a more vital athletic routine.

Academics:

Principals polled on gaps in academics identify Mathematics as a particular victim of the pandemic: in schools where students have had to attend on alternate days to accommodate social distancing in classrooms, learners are far behind their peers in schools where this was not necessary.

Jen Welte, principal of a faith-based school in Pueblo Colorado says multiplication is a problem as well as kindergartners entering Grade 1 not knowing their letters and being a full quarter behind in decoding.

Of course, Mathematics is a perennial problem confronting many schools, but we have found it has been exacerbated in the last year by well-meaning parents impatiently teaching old methods to their children during home schooling periods.

The Dilemma of Accessing Professional Intervention:

Recognising these lags is one thing and our baseline assessments have certainly identified where the problems lie. Addressing these is another thing, and will take time and an array of interventions, from such things as simply ensuring pencil grips are compulsory on the stationery list to directed bridging programmes and referrals to outside educational professionals.

We are fortunate at my school to have an onsite OT, remedial specialist, and an array or educational support experts including an educational psychologist, a play therapist and a speech therapist, to whom we can refer children so that they can catch up developmentally, but what of children in the state schools where it is well nigh impossible for a Foundation Phase learner to receive any kind of professional assistance or assessment? Many wait years ordinarily to have barriers to learning diagnosed and now with delays caused by Covid disruptions to education, the lack of counselling and remedial support (let alone the kind of clinical assistance required to address things like device addiction and anxiety) in schools is going to further widen the gap between the haves and the have nots.

It is not all doom and gloom though, and educators will always adopt the optimistic view Churchill suggested 80 years ago.

What can we do to mitigate some of these challenges?

  1. Build strong Parent-Teacher relations so individual lags can be addressed.
  2. Follow the advice of teaching professionals when interventions and referrals to specialists are recommended.
  3. Believe in the resilience of your child and empower them to overcome learning gaps.
  4. Recognize that while there may be some significant gaps now in a child’s education, they have gained so much during this pandemic too through closer family ties, overcoming grief in many ways and finding creative ways to overcome boredom.

We have in fact lived through an educational revolution and while there may be some structural damage, the rebuilding and re-visioning may be what was needed to propel us properly into 21st century thinking.

From the ashes of disaster…?

A Reflection on the UCT Fire

Watch | Cape Town fire: Dreadful scenes as UCT Library goes up in flames
photo by Gift of the Givers

The Library of Alexandria in 48BC, The Ahmed Baba Institute of Timbuktu in 2013 and now the Special Collections housed in the Jagger Reading Room at UCT – all that knowledge and heritage destroyed by fire!

Whether such collections are lost through the power of nature, arson or a Kristallnacht type of book burning, the loss of scholarship is tragic. I went down a Google rabbit hole when looking up dates of the these fires and was horrified to realize just how many such fires have destroyed archives of learning over the centuries around the world, most maliciously done.

This photograph of people standing helplessly by as the Jagger Building burned is etched in my mind – It sums up the impotence so many Ikeys felt as part of our alma mater was ripped away by Nature and we were forced to watch it on Instagram or YouTube.

It seems as though some of the collection at UCT may have been protected by fireproof roller doors which were activated timeously but countless pieces were lost, and the Reading Room is gone.  Herbert Baker’s grand pillars seem to have survived though – read into that what you will!

My mother was a librarian. For her, books and the worlds embodied in them were sacrosanct: God help one of us who was caught writing in a book – If it was in pen, not even God would help you – such an act of sheer blasphemy was likely to damn us to hell (but not always heeded by herself as I was to discover recently on opening her copy of the Combined Works of Shakespeare. However, we’ll forgive her brief hypocrisy because it was a treat to see her writing again after 26 years without her in my life.)

She is the one who taught me to read when I was five and the magic of stories, with their worlds of excitement. I remember asking her if she regretted never having been able to travel the world, and she replied that she had been to all the ends of the earth and under it, in her precious books.

She was offered the position of setting up the first library at the new Koeberg Nuclear Plant in the seventies and was really excited at the prospect of being the guardian of research and scholarship there. However, she turned them down in the end. It was only as a parent myself, that I realized the incredible sacrifice she made for my sister and I in accepting a lowly clerical job in a bank (but which paid more) so we could attend the school of her choice, a prestigious girls’ school in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, closer to where we lived. She would have beggared herself in order to ensure we achieved the private school education she had never had.

It was the same when the time came for me to go to university. If I had not been fortunate to be offered a bursary to study at the University of Cape Town, she would have made a plan – she told me she had already contacted the bank manager about it, when my funding came through.

So, for me to see the Jagger building and its African Studies collections so easily obliterated, I can imagine Sylvia Markey groaning in despair and my own soul echoes her moans.

I remember my time in the eighties there: the burgeoning political awareness I experienced immersed in studying isiXhosa and Sesotho; realizing my own privilege and the power entrusted in me to make a difference in our nation; of standing alongside my friend, Xoliswa on Jammy steps as she declared, ‘Look! Bonteheuwel is burning’; of teargas and riot police swaggering along the freeway; of Xoliswa’s rich alto over the megaphone, as she stood outside the Jagger Library as it was known then, singing the haunting struggle songs. ‘We shall Overcome.’

And we did…

… until perhaps we didn’t.

If this fire has jolted anything from my middle-aged heart, it’s a need to do a Mister Chips (I know that’s really dating myself, but I like to think I am in the ‘noontime, not the evening of myself) type of reflection of how I’m doing on changing the world. As I grieve the loss of the writing treasures in Jagger, and the library there that nourished me, as well as the lecturers like Sam Mbiza across the road who educated me and inspired in me a love of the beauty of isiXhosa, and a respect for its cadences, I must ask myself whether I have done enough to promote the study of African literature across my teaching career, which ended up being mainly sharing my own mother tongue with others. Have I filled the world with love – of reading; have I filled the world with hope through education?

It is my hope that another such reckoning closer to the end of my life (a long time away of course, because I still plan to live long enough to be a problem to my own children) will allow me to rejoice in the scholarly works of those whose studies in African Languages started in schools where I have introduced the language to study; that someone I have taught will translate nuclear physics textbooks into isiXhosa; that someone I have taught will win a Nobel prize for literature, and that someone I have inspired is the guardian of the African Studies books at UCT… or the library at Koeberg. I must try harder.

We shall overcome.

We must.

Just no more fires.

Touch not, lest ye sicken…

An Elbow Bump is Not a Hug – Here for Life

Social Distancing is an oxymoron.

Humans find it impossible to avoid close contact and touching. We are just not wired to stay far apart from each other. As much as I wished, in pre-lockdown days, that I could insist that shoppers behind me in the line would stand behind floor decals 2 metres away from me, or imagined ramming my trolley back onto the toes of halitotic queue creepers, such violent fantasies are no longer necessary. And we are struggling without the contact now.

The Maestro and I enjoyed a breakfast at Mugg &Bean this morning and while he enjoyed tasteless and tediously titivating TikTok after his sausages and eggs, I people-watched:

Besides the responsible types who remain masked and greeted their friends from across the wasteland of a coffee shop table (amazing how clean the tables are mind you – sprayed and wiped between each sitting) with an elbow bump, the majority of patrons meeting family and acquaintances, could not resist a hug of greeting. I witnessed hand-patting, arm-stroking and kissing. Shocking.

So much for social distancing.

But it’s not their fault. We humans need touch. According to Professor Robin Dunbar who is an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, primates are reliant on the endorphins and oxtytocins (the good hormones, not the street drugs) that are released when we touch each other. It’s part of being ‘social.’ That’s why, when you add ‘distant,’ it seems so impossible for us to maintain.

It’s one of the things so hard to control at school, or any workplace. It’s why it is so concerning that the nation’s children were sent ‘home’ from school to avoid contracting the virus; yet have been roaming the malls and streets, in packs, unprotected by masks and hanging onto each other. Expect a spike in the stats when they return to school and infect each other and their teachers some more.And it must be really hard for those who live alone or are confined to care homes during the pandemic.

The effects of touch are physiological, bioelectrical and biochemical,” agrees Tiffany Field, founder of the Touch Research Institute at Miami Medical School. “Moving the skin (as, for example, in hugging, massaging and exercise) stimulates pressure receptors which are transmitted to the vagus nerve, the largest cranial nerve that has many branches in the body. Increased vagal activity calms the nervous system (e.g. slows heart rate and leads to EEG patterns that accompany relaxation). It also reduces cortisol – the culprit stress hormone – that then saves natural killer cells that kill viral, bacterial and cancer cells.”

Helen Coffey, quoted in The Independent

So, tactile stimulation heals us; losing it can reduce our ability to fight disease.

Except with COVID-19.

Prof Dunbar reckons we’ll be ok in the long run, but in the meantime, many of us are struggling to stay connected… laughter is apparently good for producing the happy hormones as does visual stimulus, so keep those video calls going with family members in old age homes or those who live alone.

Perhaps there is method in my husband’s weird social media tastes after all.

…naah TikTok is still silly.

Also read:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/touch-skin-hunger-hugs-coronavirus-lockdown-isolation-ctactile-afferent-nerve-a9501676.html

https://www.medicinanarrativa.eu/human-contact-during-social-distancing-interview-with-robin-dunbar

The sting of death during a plague

Woman wearing a face mask looking out window

“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part 3

Several people I know have lost loved ones during the Age of Corona to both the virus and other causes. Our particular lockdown levels have strict limits on mourning though: funerals are limited to fifty persons, wakes and night vigils are prohibited even under Level 3. You can’t hug the bereaved or cross provincial borders unless you are close family. I have not attended funerals of a few people I might otherwise have gone to to pay my respects.

It is bad enough to face the sudden or even expected death of someone you have loved, but not to be able to celebrate their lives and be comforted is especially hard.

Two deaths of famous people this week brought home to me how difficult it must be to grieve in the middle of a pandemic, as well as how sad it is that the lives of two people who spent their whole lives dedicated to our country should not be commemorated with appropriate ceremony at their passing.

Both Zindziswa Mandela and Andrew Mlangeni have passed away this month and I am moved by the fact that both have lost out on the kind of farewell that would be fitting – because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wrote about them in this week’s school newsletter:

I have often wondered about the childhood Zindzi endured as her parents sacrificed so much for the freedom of the nation. Yet she proved her mettle time and time again, missing out on her schooling in the struggle, advocating for her mother to the United Nations (when she was just 12!) and boldly defying PW Botha on her father’s behalf.

Mr Mlangeni stood at Madiba’s side at the Rivonia trial and suffered with him on Robben Island for over twenty years. Our flags at school are flying at half-mast until Wednesday to honour his quiet strength and life of sacrifice for us all. But it doesn’t seem enough.

Our children can learn so much from his wisdom:

“One of the biggest prisons we were afraid of being locked up in though, was the jail of ignorance.”

Andrew Mlangeni, ‘The Backroom Boy: Andrew Mlangeni’s Story

What power there is in learning from the great people who gave up so much for freedom. To our learners I say, respect the education that comes so easily to you now. Those who made it possible studied sporadically, far from home and, in many cases, in prison.

How small these deaths (and their lives) make me feel about moaning about corona-stress; and how sad I am that neither of these two leaders who fought for us with such courage and wisdom can be publicly celebrated as they deserve because of the enemy-virus.

But I take from their lives the knowledge that a life relinquishing selfish goals and focused on the greater good will make a difference; will have an impact and will change the world.

“We need to live in a world that is ego-free and humble ourselves to talent, wisdom, and courage, when it reveals itself.”

Zindzi Mandela, activist, diplomat, poet, daughter, mother

Mourners have only the comfort that Cicero referred to when he said that the life of a person is implanted in the memory of those left behind, and the knowledge that their passing changes us and becomes part of us too.

There is hope in that.

For Future Reference

10 Points to Consider when Reference Checking in Schools

5 ways to know your job interview went well [ARTICLE] - Pulse Nigeria

Most schools have a process for selecting staff that includes checking references for very good reasons: interviews are false situations in which sometimes people present themselves as way better than they are (especially if they are very confident); or they can tank the whole thing because they are too anxious, no matter how much the interviewer puts them at ease. Sometime people hide things, or avoid certain topics.

I have been interviewing staff for almost 20 years and have made both good and poor decisions afterwards, however I have been saved from one or two disasters, as well as made sure we did not miss out on good ones.

Here’s what I have learned:

1. Always do a reference check.

Besides being good business practice, it’s just sensible.  No matter how certain you are about a candidate. Check the person out. You’re not psychic, so you can’t know everything there is to know about a candidate. (And even if you do own a crystal ball and beaded curtains, no ways are you omnisciently foresighted.)

It seems like a no-brainer that someone seeking to employ a teacher would do this, but I have realized that some people couldn’t be bothered or perhaps are so rushed that because they perhaps know the previous institution or trust the former school’s head.

Don’t.

In at least three instances, I know heads who have employed former staff of mine, all of whom, caused us to breathe a sigh of relief when they left; yet none of my colleagues called me to check on the teachers’ time with us. I would have told the headmasters not to touch them with the proverbial barge pole. In all instances, they didn’t last long, but I could have saved my colleagues some pain and suffering (and money).

2. Do the reference check after the interview

I don’t like to prejudge the interview and prefer to check information and queries I have after meeting the prospective employee. A reference check is a confirmation of what you have decided after the interview, not a shortlisting technique.

3. Ask difficult questions

Remember to follow your instincts about certain areas in the interview that perhaps you weren’t so sure about. I have a reference form which has standard questions on it, but there is a section for the ones I want to check with a referee. If my probing in an interview still leaves me with question marks, I make a note and ask the questions outright of those offering a testimonial.

4. If you can’t reach a referee, contact the previous school

You’ll be surprised at what you learn. Sometimes all they can do is confirm that a teacher worked there (and the fact that they only have minimal info on the educator also tells you something); sometimes you learn a whole lot more, that a personal referee perhaps won’t tell you, especially if you suspect a disciplinary issue that might have existed. Listen for what they are NOT saying.

Be leery of staff who haven’t informed their current employer they are looking – this is not a deal breaker though.

5. Watch out for Euphemisms and Hesitations

That pregnant pause when you ask about how the educator relates to her charges or whether there have been disciplinary instances can tell you more than words. You have to be a voice sleuth. Listen for the nuances and delays – they are telling.

6. Always do a criminal check

The group of schools mine belongs to has a tight background checking procedure for this reason. We check a person’s references and we do a criminal check that involves a computer search, a police clearance and sexual offenders register check.

My team once interviewed a person called Michael Engelhart (not his real name of course, and not quite the one he gave us.)

His criminal check came back with convictions to do with the Suppression of Witchcraft Act. It made sense when I realized how many questions he’d asked about the Christian ethos of the school I was at. And then I looked at his name – which was an alias…look again…) Clearly a nutter!

7. Check their Social Media Sites

Look at groups they belong to and read their personal posts. People reveal so much more on Facebook and Twitter than whether they are a cat person or football fan. Look at the jokes they post; their friends pages and the groups they belong to. Even young people are careless about privacy. And if you are doubtful, Instagram is worth a thousand words.

8. Sometimes get a second opinion

Once a superb teacher who impressed us no end in the interview received a damning reference from a headmaster who described her as a troublemaker, which seemed just a bit overdone. We did a second reference and took a chance on her. And she was a remarkable educator.

People lie – even heads of schools can be venal.

9. Be suspicious of Applicants who list a colleague, not the head of the institution, as a referee

Almost every poor appointment I have made has been based on the affirmation of a peer, not the boss. Go to the top.

10. Trust your gut

Ultimately all interviews are a bit of a crap shoot. As much as you must do your homework, eventually you have to trust your gut and make a decision.

School Holidays

End of term 2 – when your hand is in the lolly jar while your ...
Photo Source: https://www.theteacherscoach.com.au/teachers/

Teachers are tired and now they are getting sick.

My school has just had a week’s holiday (well 9 days with the two weekends), when normally we would have had three weeks.

I joke about every holiday being one week too short, no matter the length of the vacation and I stand by that, but the truth is I divide every break into 3 parts: for the first third, I sleep – all day and night if necessary, but essentially if my body tells me ‘nap,’ I head for my cosy bed and nod off happily. In the middle week or section of the holiday, I sleep and do all those jobs you put off for your leave, like having a haircut, visiting the traffic department, taking the next child to get an ID or apply for a driver’s licence or university. In the final part, I aim to do only self-indulgent fun things, like motoring in the country with The Maestro, clothes shopping, special time with my children, reading…and sleeping of course.

This mid-year break I have had to divide the time into three days for each of my holiday divisions: so, I have had 3 days for each. I’m into the final third tomorrow and still feel I need to be sleeping 24-7.

But I can just tuck into some cheese with this whine, because at least I have had a break. The teachers I really feel for are those in the public sector who are not getting a holiday at all, not to mention their students.

You see, they haven’t had a holiday since December. Do not believe officials who say that they were off during lockdown. They were not. They may not have been able to reach all their learners digitally, but they supplied them with work before and during lockdown, many hand-delivering tasks and textbooks to their children’s homes. And in many schools, they did just keep on teaching.

Teachers are going to burn out.

How are they going to reboot, and ‘sharpen their swords,’ as Stephen Covey speaks about, when they are exhausted; they need to rest. Every teacher grinds her teeth when the ignorant masses who believe that they know how to be teachers because they once went to school, say that teachers have half-day jobs and too much holiday time. (One deputy I knew once said that’s a bit like someone who drives a Mercedes thinking they have shares in Daimler-Chrysler, but we won’t go there.) Teachers don’t have half-day jobs and fyi most work through their vacations, both marking and prepping ordinarily. Generally they have worked the hours of a holiday before they get there.)

In April, educators were frantically reinventing themselves as IT gurus and restructuring their teaching programmes. State school teachers are not getting any holiday now. And they, and all independent school teachers, will be working right through to December with a couple of long weekends to break it up. We need to find ways to look after their health, both mental and physical.

In the Department of Basic Education’s commitment to completing the school year, I don’t know that they have considered the teachers (who are dying at their desks btw – just look at the country’s COVID statistics: as at 30 June 2020, 775 state schools across the nation are affected by the virus, and 1169 teachers have been infected  – more than twice the number of children who have contracted the disease – 523; but in the Western Cape in the last week we have laid to rest 2 teachers, as has Gauteng; in the Eastern Cape the count is 18 – that is eighteen – who have died. And that is only 3/9 of the provinces.)

https://ewn.co.za/2020/06/30/775-schools-in-sa-affected-by-covid-19-over-1-000-teachers-got-infected

We are concerned about the frontline health workers who are at risk from this virus, and rightly so, but teachers are at risk of becoming the latest, silent group of victims. Many educators suffer from so much stress simply from being in the classroom, let alone all the other attendant pressures like socio-economic crises in their communities. How many are walking around with undiagnosed, stress-related co-morbidities like hypertension, putting them at greater risk, without them even being aware of it?

And tired teachers get sick. Our educators catch every virus around in an ordinary year, especially in winter. This year they are bone weary. With no real holiday in April, nothing in June, and no break of any significance before 15 December, the government is stretching one of its greatest human resources to breaking point.

Even in the independent school sector, where I work, where many schools have at least had a small break, we have identified this as a problem for us. I think we need to think about it more, before we either break our teachers, lose them to other professions or attend their funerals.

This is the biggest challenge facing schools in the next 6 months. How we address it will determine how we keep our teachers (alive).

My job in the next months is going to be focussed on my staff.

A Good Constitutional and a Mask

Dolphin Inn Blouberg in Bloubergstrand, Cape Town — Best Price ...

The Maestro and I had a delightful over-fifties (his comment) stroll along the beachfront today. (Well, he ambled, while I jogged to keep up – it sucks to be short.)

What we noticed on our route march was how many good citizens of Bloubergstrand are not wearing masks in public at all. (And I’m not talking about just pulling it down to defog your Armani Sunglasses, or when you are dying of heat behind it, when no one is close) It’s a bit scary especially with the wave of new infections washing over our country. Beds are filling up around the country’s field hospitals and ministers are whispering about reversing lockdown levels. Yet ordinary Joe Soaps are tired of it all, perhaps because the invisible virus doesn’t seem realistic to most folks, or we’re just bored of the regimentation caused by COVID regulations.

Yet anyone who has been to a doctor’s room recently will have noticed how different everything is. My son, Michael, suffers from regular, intense migraines and last week had to be rushed to the emergency room at our local hospital. He arrived while the migraine aura was just starting, normally plenty of time to get heavy painkillers and sleep it off. This time though, in the middle of a work day, the queue to be triaged was out the door. So, poor Michael, while not dying, certainly suffered a great deal standing outside in the sun, and reached the vomit stage of his attack before being allowed in, fortunately making it to the loo and not the flowerbed.

The problem is not just corona cases, it’s the protocols requiring complete decontamination of every emergency room cubicle before the next patient can be taken. But what Michael said afterwards, resonated with me: He said he didn’t mind having to wait, even though it was horrible for him) because at least two people bypassing the queue were a small child who couldn’t breathe and a cyanotic, old man … (or 2 COVID-19 patients?) neither of whom could have their family in with them, because of the new rules…and the nature of the disease.

The World Health Organisation says this pandemic is still in its infancy. Yesterday marked 6 months since the WHO was first alerted to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in China and now, with over 10 million cases worldwide and 500 000 deaths, they are saying it is far from over.

I’m just not sure that the good people of the Blouberg quite get it. It’s insulting that people don’t wear their masks to protect other individuals. My mask protects you; your mask protects me. So will you please flippin’ protect me!

My sister says that people are crazy to go to restaurants during this time – I didn’t dare tell her that we visited our home-away-from-home, News Café after our beachfront dash. But they are being conscientious about hygiene that’s for sure:  Patrons are screened, tables are sterilized and marked as such, and staff are masked and gloved.  Eateries the world over are trying creative ways of controlling social distancing like this Parisian restaurant which is using giant teddy bears to occupy banned seats:

Image Source: https://mymodernmet.com/paris-cafe-giant-teddy-bears-social-distancing/

This German establishment also decided to have some fun to remind people to keep apart:

A Dutch diner is using robots to do screening checks and serve customers:

Image Source: https://www.businessinsider.co.za/robot-serves-food-takes-temperatures-covid-19-in-the-netherlands-2020-6

This restaurant, also in the Netherlands designed little cabanas for each table:

Image Source: https://mymodernmet.com/paris-cafe-giant-teddy-bears-social-distancing/

And clever masks are also being designed: Gotta love this one which allows you to open it when you want to eat:

It seems that restaurants are really trying to protect patrons as they begin their post-lockdown life.

The question is: what are Jo and Jozi Public doing to protect themselves?

According to health officials, this virus is quite a wuss when it comes to Jik and sanitizers. And masks work. But the WHO reminds us that the pandemic is speeding up. It is not even close to being over, so we need to get over our boredom with the rules, suck it up and think about each other. Because next time it could be one of us in the queue at the hospital.

So wear a damn mask. Please.