Tag Archives: DANGER!

The highest profile victim so far

The BBC delivers a typically-restrained and well-edited story on the The Chosen Few lesbian football team out of South Africa. It’s only 2 minutes, 11 seconds and does a good job of presenting a snapshot of the dangers (violence, rape, and murder) that black lesbians face in the townships in South Africa.

Naturally, the story touches on the rape, torture and murder of Eudy Similane, the voice over revealing a sense of hopelessness to the situation:

“The highest profile victim so far [emphasis added], Eudy Similane, a star player on the national women’s team…”

I am glad that the World Cup is bringing these issues to light, but I am eager to see a real response mounted. ESPN, the BBC, and countless bloggers (among others) have reported the story – let’s see something of substance come out of the coverage to begin protecting these women.

Watch the BBC piece here. Read my original post on The Chosen Few here.

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Ndevana Ladies FC

In some ways soccer brought me to Africa, so it seems fitting that my last full day on the continent will be spent completing a soccer-related task.

Let me begin at the beginning. For the first 35 years of my life sports meant absolutely nothing to me. Nobody in my family cared a lick about physical fitness; there was never a game on T.V. If anything, sports were an irritant. I grew up with two and a half television channels and thought it appalling that every few years CBC would be hijacked for entire summers or winters to show people skating, or running, or working the pommel horse (though I can admit now that this event held my interest; make of that what you will).

And as a queer teenager, the doors to the gymnasium were hardly flung open in anticipation of my athletic contributions. Indeed, in these years I learned who I was – and I was an artist. This realization lead to a lot of swanning around (a habit I have not yet kicked), and to smoking cigarettes (one I have). Also, to wearing of capes.

So, when at 35 years old I joined a co-ed soccer league, I was a little surprised and a lot delighted to discover that I enjoyed playing the game. League strategists wisely put me on the defensive line and used mnemonic devices to improve my performance: when in DOUBT, kick it OUT! And I realized that everything they say about sports is true: it teaches confidence and leadership and teamwork. I travelled to several international tournaments (where I met many outstanding people, including Lady Kennaway himself), and took on a leadership role within the league.

Then, in 2006, the league decided to host an international tournament of its own, and fourteen of us put together a women’s team to compete in the women’s division. I use the term “compete” very loosely here: that first year we sucked hard, ultimately staggering bloodied and bruised to the middle of the dusty pitch to be photographed as the last place finishers. Sports also teaches you about exhaustion, defeat, and humiliation.

Thus galvanized, we prepared for the following year’s tournament by practicing regularly and learning how to play as a team. We were gratified to earn silver in the finals. I could not have been prouder when my team went all emo and refused to choose just one MVP. The honorary game ball was accepted by the 18 of us, and it was quickly decided that teammate Kim Atlin would travel with it on her upcoming trip to Zambia where she would donate it to the kids at the orphanage she’d be visiting.

When things are happy, the circles we run feel not like ruts but like a series of closures. Pieces fall into place and next steps are clear and met with anticipation. So it was that when the team won gold this year I was already booked for Africa. Of course I would take the game ball and I would find a team of girls to give it to. For this, I went back to Sandile, the coach of MDAFA team Mountain Birds.

And so it came to be that I am sitting in the front seat of a VW hatchback, its sides rattling and warping in the G-force of 180 kilometres per hour squeezed out of this shitbox’s tiny, shrieking engine. My last day in Africa would not be complete without one final dose of DANGER!, I think to myself, trying to push mental images of manglement from my mind. The bladder of the ADIDAS ball is flexing against its seams, so tightly am I gripping it between my knees. Sandile sits in the back seat, chatting casually in isiXhosa with the driver, who – terrifyingly – keeps swinging his head around to make eye contact.

Finally, mercifully, we pull off the highway and with the help of several locals, navigate down a dirt road into the village of Ndevana. Ndevana looks the part of a small African village: many of the houses are round with thatched roofs; chickens and children run in the roads. Sandile laughs as two teenaged boys crane their necks to stare into the car. “I don’t think they’ve seen a white person before,” he chuckles.

I am not sure what to expect of this. On the drive here Sandile told me that the Ndevana Ladies FC is sponsored by ABSA (a major South African bank) and that the team has had an impressive season. Suddenly, it occurs to me that this is all wrong: I see myself standing in front of a group of Olympians, holding my paltry offering. Oh God, what if they want to scrimmage? I break into a sweat.

We pull into the parking lot of a school and I am introduced to Gqibile Jacobs, who flashes me a wide and surprised grin when I pronounce his name correctly. I will see that same look on his face in 20 minutes when he realizes I am a soccer player. As we walk to the school room, he tells me the girls are expecting a visitor but he did not tell them who it would be. I step through the doorway and all poking, tickling, giggling, chatting, and horseplay abruptly stops. Twenty-odd curious faces turn towards me, silent. One girl falls off her chair, literally. Well this is awkward, I think.

I haven’t prepared a speech so I just launch into the story: I am from Canada; I know that soccer is not supported as much for girls as it is for boys; I have brought them a ball as a gift from my girls’ team (cue dawning surprised look from Gqibile); I hear they are a very good team and I wish them luck in the coming season. Silence. Sandile speaks in isiXhosa and I realize he’s translating. When he finishes the girls clap and stare at me. Gqibile says, “So… you are a player?” This guy is giving me a complex, I think, and I suggest we go outside to take some photographs.

Me and the Ndevana Ladies FC

Me and the Ndevana Ladies FC

Gqibile tells me that the next time I ask after it, the ball will be “destroyed”. I approve, and bid them farewell. Goooooooooo Ndevana Ladies FC!

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Table Mountain: Terror Edition

It’s 3pm and we have been up since 6am in order to make it to Boulders Bay and back in time for lunch (which was delightful – I recommend the chicken salad at Table Thirteen, 78 Victoria Junction, Cape Town). We’re sitting in traffic, digesting, when Craig asks, “Do you want to go up Table Mountain?” I turn to him and reply, “Oh, we must.” It is a peculiarity of South African conversation that people do not recommend – they instruct – and this is exactly how Mike had answered my inquiry about the rest of our initerary: “You must take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain before you leave.” So it came to pass that despite the late hour and that we were improperly dressed in only shorts and t-shirts, and that we had neither water nor any food, we pointed the car toward Table Mountain with it in mind “just to see”.

When we reach parking lot, we can’t help but be impressed. The view from here – the bottom – is outstanding.

The view from the parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

It’s windy out but the weather seems to be holding. “D’ya wanna?” I ask, and in unison Craig and I smirk: “We must.”

The view to the top cable car station. Note the blue sky.

The view to the top cable car station. Note the blue sky.

Our ticket-taker’s name is Blondie. “Up and down?” she chirps through the glass, and Craig and I burst into giggles. Craig is able to regain his composure long enough to gasp, “Yes, up and down.” “Oh, you are a very dirty man,” Blondie bats her eyes at Craig, “and I like that.”

We board the car with a handful of other sight seers and the door closes. An inexplicably seductive robotic voice comes over the P.A. and tells us to step away from the handrails at the side. We take a step towards the centre just as the floor begins to revolve.

It's moving!

"It's moving!"

We’re both afraid of heights, and despite the heavy cables and robust enclosure, we can feel the wind pushing at the car. As we are lifted higher towards the upper station, we begin to regret our adventurousness.

Why did we choose to do this? Why??

Why did we choose to do this? Why??

A terrible sight for an acrophobe.

A terrible sight for an acrophobe.

We make it to the top and for the umpteenth time since I arrived in Africa I laugh at the official use of the word “hooter” (a “hooter” here is a horn so instead of signs saying “No honking” they say “No hooting”; I have at least a dozen pictures of this.)

Got that? If you hear the hooter come back to the station IMMEDIATELY.

Got that? If you hear the hooter come back to the station IMMEDIATELY.

The top of Table Mountain is astonishing. It’s like Lord of the Rings meets the final level of Super Mario Brothers where you have to hop from cloud to cloud before the clock runs out.

Over the clouds.

Over the clouds.

Under the clouds.

Under the clouds.

We poke around just outside the cable car station for a while. Craig studies the map and we choose a path that appears to go in a manageable ring, marked as an “easy walk” that should take about 30 minutes. We set off.

It is gorgeous: I try and take in the clouds bumping up against the top of the rocks, the birds flying in graceful swoops, the large flat rocks, the trees and tall grasses. We dilly and we dally. I take a tonne of pictures.

Lady Kennaway on Table Mountain.

Lady Kennaway does Table Mountain.

Lord Kennaway pole dances on Table Mountain. The path is so clearly marked... here.

Lord Kennaway pole dances on Table Mountain. The path is so clearly marked... here.

Of COURSE we didn't go down that route. Well, only for a minute but then we came back up.

Of COURSE we don't go down that route. Well, only for a minute but then we come right back up.

This is what was down there. And this is the last Craig ever saw of me. Kidding!

This is what was down there. And this is the last Craig ever saw of me. Kidding!

Table Mountain is majestic and all, but really – some South Africans take these things so seriously! “Table Mountain,” my friend Callie warned me, “is not to be trifled with.” The way I see it, that is basically a dare and so trifle, trifle I did.

The now-famous falling-off-Table-Mountain picture. It was faked, but perhaps this (if not the pole-dancing or ignoring warning signs) is what angered The Mountain...

The now-famous falling-off-Table-Mountain picture. It is faked, but perhaps this (if not the pole-dancing or ignoring warning signs) is what angered The Mountain...

As we walk, Craig tells me the story of his friend Kim, who along with a couple of other people, got caught rock climbing on Table Mountain and had to spend the night in a cave. The next morning when they made their way down, he tells me, their tires had been stolen off their car and the Cape Times was splashed with the headline “Stupid Americans Caught on Table Mountain”. He digs in his bag and pulls out a mint he’d pocketed after lunch. “Want half?” I am not really a mint person but they’re outstanding in Africa – not the pasty saccharine jobbies we get in the West. Here, they are real toffee or fruit-based candies. Delicious. I nod my head yes. He bites off his portion and gives me the remainder… and we each savour the last piece of food that we have on our persons. Which leads into the following conversation:

Have you read Alive?
Yeah, totally!

Well, if I die first you have permission to eat my flesh.
Thanks! Have you seen Into Thin Air?
No, what’s it about?
The mountain climber guy dragged himself off the mountain with two broken legs and the whole time he had “Brown Girl in the Ring” in his head.

What’s that?
It’s a Boney M song.
Boney M? What’s that?
You know! “Rasputin”?
No I don’t know it.
Yes, you do. Anyway can you imagine breaking your legs and having to crawl down the mountain but having a song stuck in your head?

And then I see a snake. Just a little guy – nothing to be worried about, I think as I get up nice and close to take its picture.

It's just a baby...puff adder!

Me: "It's just a baby..." Craig:"...puff adder!"

DANGER! I don’t stick around to argue. (Note: For a really graphic image of what a puff adder bite looks like, click here, but be warned: it’s gross.)

By now we’re far away from the cable car station. It’s just the two of us and the wind. It is very peaceful and I am enjoying the companionable silence. Craig walks ahead of me, leading the way as I stop every few feet to take photographs. At one point we pass a mound of rocks, obviously man-made. “What is that,” I ask. Craig replies, “It’s a cairn put together for all the dead hikers.” “Dead Hiker’s Pile,” I say sombrely.

Forget the wide angle vistas - there are hidden worlds under our feet.

Forget the wide angle vistas - there are hidden worlds under our feet.

Craig leads the way along the path... but WHAT path?

Craig leads the way along the path... but WHAT path?

There is so much to look at, though I am getting a little thirsty. How long have we been gone?

There is so much to look at, though I am getting a little thirsty. How long have we been gone?

Eventually we come to the far edge of Table Mountain. It is a spectacle and I take a million photos, none of which really capture the feeling of being there.

Craig at the top of the world.

Craig at the top of the world.

We peer over the ledge. It’s so high up you can see for kilometres in all directons. Cape Town is beautiful. We can see the new soccer stadium that they are building for the WC2010. It is impossible not to look, and we keep edging along, edging along, edging along…

And then a series of things happens very quickly.

1. I look up and realize that we have followed the path out to a place where my tiny 1 metre ledge is flanked on one side by a rock face and on the other, by a sheer drop.

2. I remember that I am terrified of heights. In a shaky voice I call out to Craig, telling him we’ve made a mistake. Craig (likely hearing the filament-thin barrier between me and arm-flailing panic) tells me to sit and stay. He crawls along the path looking for a place where we can pull ourselves back up onto the table.

3. Craig finds a spot about 100 metres down, but between he and I is 100 metres of terror. I am shaking. Craig comes back and does the sweetest thing: he escorts me down the path, placing his body between me and drop.

4. The hooter sounds. Craig and I look at each other, and half-laughing, half-screaming, we begin to move quicker. We reach our target and haul ourselves back onto the table. We start running through the grass, looking for a path.

5. The clouds overtake us on the mountain. It happens in under a minute. We cannot see, and it is cold.

6. A group of birds take off from a jutting rock. Their wings make a whumpa-whumpa sound that we can feel as well as hear.

7. We locate a path in the grass and begin to jog along it. Craig comes to a sudden stop and I can see over his shoulder that we are steps from a sheer cliff. The look on Craig’s face tells me that like me, he is considering the possibility of a night on Table Mountain.

8. The hooter sounds again.

I look over my shoulder to see if we’re in danger of a #9 (which would have to be a giant ball à la Indiana Jones rolling towards us) as we turn away from the ledge and begin to run back through the grass. My mind is a blender full of precipices, puff adders, and persistent hooting. Craig turns around and catches me stopped for a moment taking pictures. In disbelief, he flaps his arms, Come on! My thinking is twofold: if we don’t survive, the photos will serve as pictorial evidence of what happened; if we do, it’ll be great for the blog.

Following Craig into the unknown.

Following Craig into the unknown.

Puff adder territory. Where is the path??

Puff adder territory. Where is the path??

Then, out of the mist we see it: the Dead Hiker’s Pile!

Looking for two more? Not this tme, Dead Hiker's Pile!

Looking for two more souls? Not this time, Dead Hiker's Pile!

Back on the path, we break into a run. The sweat on my body is chilling in the mist, but we must make it back before they close the cable car station. Still, we stop and take this photo:

Dude! We almost died!

Dude! We almost died!

At last! To the station!

At last! To the station!

When we reach the station it is closed. The door is shut and there’s a gate across it. Craig says he’ll break the window to get us in, but luckily, we see movement from inside. A worker opens the door and lets us in. There are three other shivering people, waiting for the cable car.

In the cable car, heading down.

We caught the last cable car of the day with all of the staff that were left on the mountain.

Thankfully, the cable car operators forego the revolving floor for the descent.

From the bottom, we approximate where we were trapped on the ledge.

From the bottom, we approximate where we were trapped on the ledge.

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Buffoonery at Boulders Bay

I don’t know when the penguin obsession began but after missing them in Argentina (Buenos Aires is too far north), I am determined to see them while I am on the Western Cape. And I don’t mean those benumbed beasts at the aquarium, either. I want happy, free penguins weebling around in the sun. Rumour has it that Boulders Bay, just ouside of Simon’s Town has a penguinery, so off we go.

We’re very lucky. Chapman’s Peak – a winding road etched into the edge of the mountains that run along the coast – has reopened just two days ago. Within 45 minutes of leaving town we are driving a route that is definitely in my top 5 ever.

Morning sun on Chapman's Peak. The mountain in the distance looks like a rhino.

Morning sun on Chapman's Peak. The mountain in the distance looks like a rhino.

They are still finishing up the roadwork (DANGER?) and I am not too sure about those retaining rocks (DANGER!)

They are still finishing up the roadwork (DANGER?) and I am not too sure about those retaining rocks (DANGER!)

After about an hour and fifteen we crest the mountain and are looking down on the ocean. A cluster of houses pepper the mountainside, architecturally different than the brick or cement homes I have become accustomed to. These are monied affairs.

The homes of Glencairn.

The homes of Glencairn, a short distance north of Simon's Town.

The area has a military history. You can see the ships in the distance.

The area has a military history. You can see the ships in the distance.

We reach Simon’s Town at around 8:00am, and ask a parking lot attendant where we can get breakfast. He directs us to the restaurant at Boulders Bay, overlooking the penguin colony.

This view + eggs benedict = excellent breakfast

This view + eggs benedict = excellent breakfast

After breakfast we’re off to see the penguins. To begin, we take the scenic stroll alongside the beach.

Penguins.

Penguins.

Summer is coming to the Western Cape.

Summer is coming to the Western Cape.

Prickly pear. I just found out that these are not indigenous to the area.

Prickly pear. I just found out that these are not indigenous to the area.

In the underbrush, there are penguin homes, each marked with an address.

In the underbrush, there are penguin homes, each marked with an address.

I'm ready for my close-up.

I'm ready for my close-up.

The guy on the left needs to loosen up.

The guy on the left needs to loosen up.

We explore the paths, and then make our way down to the beach where a handful of people are enjoying the sun and sand. We decide we must have our privacy, and begin to pick our way over the rocks.

Craig goes over.

Craig goes over.

The waves hitting the rocks. Craig tried going over, but I had to go under and between. Naturally, I got soaked but it was fun in an Indiana Jones kind of way.

Lacking Craig's upper body strength, I had to go under and between. Naturally, I got soaked.

After a series of overs and unders and arounds we come to a small beach. It is gorgeous and the water is actually warm. I read somewhere that Boulders Bay has the most temperate water on the Cape because the boulders create a bay that is sheltered from the open ocean.

The view from the water at "our" beach.

The view from the water at "our" beach.

For the next 40 minutes we do what anyone would do in this situaton: frolic in the waves, make jokes about the Blue Lagoon, and take pictures of Craig wearing sea shell pasties… I am enjoying the water when Craig looks up from the Boulders Bay pamphlet he’s been reading and announces that he’s going to check to see whether the tide is coming in:

Ummm, DANGER! The tide is coming in so fast that the water level rises noticeably with every wave that hits the shore. Holding my camera high, I splash back to the beach and begin to frantically shove all of our stuff into my backpack. We wade back to the “path” we came in on. It is now submerged and the waves are coming in with force. The water pulls at our legs and the sand (some of the finest I have ever experienced) rearranges itself around and over our toes in a deceptively pleasant way that makes me think for a second that it’s not trying to suck me under. Despite the wooing of the sand, we make it back to the accessible public beach, drawing inquisitive looks as we emerge soaking and half-dressed from a crack between two boulders.

We have to be back in Cape Town for lunch, so we reluctantly return to the car, observing this most awesome sign in the parking lot.

My favourite is the little box in the lower left.

My favourite is the little box in the lower left. Is that a penguin under the rear right tire?

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Shark Fever

As if the lions, holdups, puff adders and giant cockroaches weren’t enough, Craig and I decide to go shark cage diving. The shuttle picks us up at 6am and we drive 2 hours to Gansbaai. When we arrive the driver asks Craig if this is our honeymoon, eliciting derisive snorts and massive eye-rolling. Hours later, back on shore, the company’s cameraman shows a DVD of the trip:

EXT. “SHARK FEVER” CAGE DIVE BOAT – MORNING

CRAIG and KEPH sit side-by-side on the upper deck gazing out at the waves. Seabirds fly overhead. Craig says some (inaudible) into Keph’s ear and they both throw back their heads and laugh.

CUT TO:

EXT. SHARK CAGE – DAY

Five people in wetsuits are in the dive cage.

CHUMLINE OPERATOR (O.S.)
To the left! Down! Down!

The five divers submerge. Moments later Craig and Keph pop to the surface grinning. They give each other the “thumbs up”.

INT. “SHARK FEVER” – DAY

Keph takes a bag of chips from the food basket and hands it to Craig. They smile at each other.

EXT. DOCK – LATE AFTERNOON

The group mills around on the dock. “Shark Fever” is dry docked behind them.

CAMERAMAN (O.S.)
OK, everybody stand together for a team picture.

Craig is facing Keph, his back to the camera.  Camera zooms in and we can see that’s he’s fixing her hair for the shot.

It was the best honeymoon ever.

Click on a thumbnail for a closer look:

A note: We go with a company that uses the instantly-forgettable name Marine Dynamics; for some reason I keep calling it Marine Vibrations. I can definitely recommend them for their customer service, value, and eco-friendliness (they spend some pre-trip briefing time on environmental education, use low-impact methods, and provide a way for participants to donate to their conservation efforts). They also employ people who seem to have a genuine love for the work and the animals.

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Cockroach!

I just had my first run-in with a giant African cockroach. It was about 1.5 x 0.75 inches, and looked like the flat, wet end of a discarded cigar.

It all started as I was making dinner. The potatoes were bubbling merrily in the water, prepping for the ultimate comfort food: mashed. A robust funnel of steam was rising from the pot causing the glass in the cupboard doors to fog over. I was chopping and washing, slicing and measuring, carelessly…ignorantly. Looking for the roasting pan, I opened the cupboard and there it was, as obscene as if a stranger had evacuated right there on the shelf. And then it moved.

I screamed and ran gingerly, rapidly so my feet would barely touch the ground. “OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGodit’sacockroachinthecupboard.”

Craig looked up from his laptop and said, “So it begins.” Stoney-faced, he walked into the kitchen and hand wrapped only in a paper towel, plucked the roach from its perch. He strode to the window and flung it out into the night.

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Additional photos: Addo Elephant National Park

I was less than 3 metres away from a lion for  at least 21 seconds:

While this loads, check out some stills.

Click on a thumbnail for a closer look:

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